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What a publishing deal! I haven’t yet written about my interview with one of our Art of Writing writers who recently received a publishing deal that has ‘sent ripples through the publishing world.’ Started five years ago on one of our retreats, this book has garnished a 6 figure advance in the USA and Australia.

To read her reaction to this deal is more than encouraging. It’s inspiringly thrilling. Because she is just like us. Trying, honing, working, writing, constantly thinking about and evolving her text. So further to my series on Why can’t it be you? here are some of our writer’s thoughts and reactions upon signing her publishing contracts.

“I never thought this would happen to me. This is my first book. It took me about five years to write because I work and also have children. But I scraped the time together while my husband brought me cups of tea.”

“It’s always been a dream of mine, to write a book, so I thought I’d give it a crack. If I hadn’t booked in with the Art of Writing I would never have been forced to write those first 3,000 words. Sometimes you have to put yourself in the situation where you must write. People are waiting for your text. Lisa’s request for 3,000 words made me start.”

“Each day I moved the story forward. Just a little bit but it was moving ahead. I stayed with it.”

“I didn’t want to show up to the Art of Writing without having done my homework.”

“I’d had the idea in my head for a while. I felt a need to write it.”

“From now on I want to help older writers. I could never have written this book when I was younger. This is an accumulation of experiences, thoughts and my life’s understandings. It’s the older writers that already have the ideas and maturity. They’re the writers who need help getting their stories down. I needed years to grow the layers in my book.”

“I never expected this kind of success. I am still in a state of shock. I thought at best my family would find my manuscript in the bottom drawer of my desk during my post-funeral clean-up.”

“I wrote with my Art of Writing pen – I call it my luck pen!”

Do you love writing? Would you like to join The Art of Writing team in Tuscany? Let’s dream, plot, write, learn and grow as writers for a week together.  Email me at lisacliffordwriter@gmail.com so that I can tell you more about our annual creative writing retreats.

The post Landing that dream publishing deal. appeared first on The Art of Writing.

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The Art of Writing by Lisa Clifford - 3w ago

One of the strongest emotions I had towards the end of our magical June Art of Writing retreat in Florence this year was: Why can’t it be you? Publishers and agents are constantly scouting for new talent. They want the next wonderful book. Why can’t that book be yours?

Publishers want your work. They need you, the writer. We often think agents and traditional publishers are doing us a favour by listening to our story lines, plot twists and personal memoir journeys. Not true. Without writers learning, growing, pushing themselves, they wouldn’t have a job. Writers keep agents and publishers employed. Your unique voice sustains a whole industry.

Left to right. Martha Ashby: Acquisitions Editor HarperCollins UK, Lisa Clifford: The Art of Writing, Jane Corry: Penguin thriller writer and our June 2018 teacher, Matthew Ferrara: Motivational speaker and creativity workshop inspirer.

Please don’t think you are not good enough. Writing a good book/novel/memoir does take time. You can expect four, five, six drafts – sometimes many more. You can expect to send your work off then have it sent back with huge structural change suggestions. Character foundation questions or character eliminations. Plot changes. I even had one editor ask me to change the end of Death in the Mountains, only to change their mind after I’d re-written an entire ending. They preferred the original ending (grrr).

One of our earlier AoW writers finally finished her manuscript. And guess what? She’s been offered an extraordinary two book deal in Australia and New York. It took her FIVE YEARS to write her novel. How wonderful though! How extraordinary – she never believed it would happen to her but it did. I will write more about our writer’s experience in my next Blog.

Why can’t the next successful writer on the best sellers list be you?

It has to be someone.

The post Why can’t it be you? appeared first on The Art of Writing.

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For this week’s blog, I had the pleasure of speaking with the wonderful Jan Wallace Dickinson, author of the newly published The Sweet Hills of Florence. Here is what she has to say about characters, writing, and becoming an author.

How was the idea for your book planted?

Possibly even when I was child, listening to my parents talk. But later when I studied the history and literature I was enthralled. I had been going to do a Masters on Fenoglio, but then decided I didn’t need another degree, or rather, my sister said in her inimitable way, why the hell don’t you just write the thing in a way that might possibly be interesting!

Did you fall in love with any of your characters?

You are always a little in love with each of the characters. Certainly with Ben & Clara. But also a fondness for some of the minor characters. I loved the funny old characters, but then my editor, who is brutal, said to me, ‘Enough with all the little old men’! So I only left a few in! Enrico has something of my father about him. Delia & I share a bit of a world view. I admire Annabelle.

How long did it take you to write? Or do you think it’s a lifetime of researching that has come to fruition?

I wrote the book over a period of five years, then two years of getting to publication, so I have lived with this book for seven years. It is, in a sense, a lifetime of work, and someone said to me just today that this is the logical drawing together of all the threads of your interests over so many years.

What was your writing schedule, as in, how did you achieve the full stop?

I never quite know how to answer this. I definitely do not sit down for a set period of time each day. There is never a day, ever, when it is not in my mind. I fill my notebooks as I sit waiting for a train or fill my voice recorder as I drive. I write passages on planes and in airports. I send myself email notes while I wait for an appointment. But then … I take a week and I do NOT surface. I write eight hours a day, every day, and I do not leave the house. The thing I love most about writing is that you are never, for a moment, left without something wonderful to mull over, to roll around in your head, to think about. It’s the world of ideas that I love.

What tips would you have for aspiring writers?

Just do it. Most writers don’t become rich or famous, it’s just something we have to do. So many people tell me they would like to write a book, but when I ask them next, how it’s going, they say they haven’t done much. That’s not being a writer. I have always been a writer, ever since I was four years old. It’s only now that I am also an author. 

Do you love writing? Would you like to join The Art of Writing in Florence? Let’s dream, plot, write, learn and grow as writers for a week together. Email me at lisacliffordwriter@gmail.com so that I can tell you more about our annual creative writing retreats.

The post On writing, publishing, and falling in love with your own characters. appeared first on The Art of Writing.

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The Art of Writing by Lisa Clifford - 2M ago

Last week Matthew Ferrara talked about connecting the art of writing with the art of photography, which he will be teaching in much greater detail in his Art of Writing ‘Connect the Arts’ lecture in June.

Matthew is also an absolute leader in teaching writers how to connect to their readers online. For this week’s Blog, let us concentrate on his class on ‘Developing Your Platform’ class, which he will also be hosting for us in June and where he will advise each of us on our internet profile and help us work out how to master social media networks. I for one, am in desperate need of this kind of tailored information. We can reach so many people through the internet if only we understood more about it. Matthew says that now more than ever every author, in fact, every business, needs an online strategy.

“Writers today have lots of online options for creating long-lasting connections with their readers. They are building strong communities of loyal fans, who provide them with feedback and ideas for their future projects. Online communities are one of the strongest sources of referrals and testimonials that can boost your book sales. Every author needs to develop an online strategy that contributes to their lasting success.”  

Matthew will lead us into his Art of Writing talks with a series of tips and tricks in understanding the different kinds of social media and how they can work for you. Here is what he has to say about the importance of listening to your readers to help you understand your online brand:

Great Authors Listen, then Write. One of the greatest opportunities of modern technology is the ability to “talk” to so many of our readers and fans. With social media, it’s easy to send updates on our next book, book signing appearances and continue the conversations we start in our books. Yet great writers know that the source of their best efforts starts with their ears, not their fingers: listening to the ideas, feedback and comments from readers is a rich source of materials. In many ways, successfully building your brand using the web starts by opening “listening spaces” using social media, video and your blog. Ask questions that get your readers involved: Which way should you go? What character should you add – or kill off? What moved them the most in your last piece? Don’t waste the opportunity to get people connected to your characters, your ideas and your brand by merely using social media as an announcement tool. Curate simple conversations that offer them a stake – a chance to influence – your future work. When your ears do the listening, it’s easier for your fingers to do the writing.

Sincerely and personally, I am beyond excited about Matthew’s classes, and I cannot wait to hear more of what he has to say. 

Do you love writing? Would you like to join The Art of Writing in Florence? Let’s dream, plot, write, learn and grow as writers for a week together.  Email me at lisacliffordwriter@gmail.com so that I can tell you more about our annual creative writing retreats.

The post Developing Your Platform appeared first on The Art of Writing.

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Look through your lens before picking up your pen. In Matthew Ferrara’s words, here’s how he uses photography to help flesh out characters and scene setting, and to jumpstart his creativity when he’s feeling stuck. His class on how to Connect the Arts will be at 16:30 on June 5!

As a writer, one of the most important things we do is “set a scene.” The places where our stories unfold are as important as our characters and their actions. Developing interesting and heart-felt scenes is hard work: It’s more than describing the features of a room or buildings on a street. Helping readers get a sense of detail, dimension, sounds and light challenges us to see the picture very clearly in our heads first. Then the words can flow across the page. One way I help myself do this dovetails with my other passion – photography – to visualize real scenes I’ll turn into places for my stories and articles.

As a photographer, each photo is like a dozen opening paragraphs compressed into a few inches of space. Just like an opening chapter, I have to compose each shot as I take it; frame the moment; highlight the action and draw the reader into the action. My camera is like a drafting tool. If I’m going to open a story in the countryside, I drive out to a place near my house and take my camera for a walk. I’ll capture different times of the day, try different angles and play with the light. Sometimes I’ll spot something I almost overlooked, like an odd rock formation or a camouflaged bird in a tree. Those surprises encourage me later to vary my starting points for setting a scene.

Other times, I spend the day photographing people on the street. Catching a waitress in a café or a clever street performer helps me save glimpses of character traits for future stories. A unique smile or a strange piece of clothing journeys from my camera to characters on the page. I’ve learned to “always be on the lookout” for a scene, some action or clever ray of light that can catch my reader’s attention. When I draft articles and need new ideas, I sit with my computer and flip through photos until something jumps out at me. If I get stuck describing a place or a person or even a plate of food, I look back through my shots to give my brain a gentle jolt of creativity.

Connecting different forms of creativity – photography, dancing, painting, cooking – to our writing is a powerful way to think of new ways to compose scenes. Every art form has unique perspectives and powerful ways of using places, people, sights and sounds, just like a writer does. To make my stories come alive, I often start by looking through my lens, before picking up my pen.

Florence at sunset

The post How Photography Can Help Improve Your Writing appeared first on The Art of Writing.

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Continuing our look at character building, here is the second part of my series on how to create interesting characters. These two paragraphs were written by Martyn Bedford, our 2017 Art of Writing teacher. It’s wonderful advice.

It’s important that your character develops in the course of the story. By the end they should be different (either practically or emotionally) than they were at the outset. This can be subtle or dramatic but the lead character needs to have changed in some way. If they end the narrative as they began it, unaltered by what happens along the way, there is no story.

To be ‘real’, a character needs to be particularized not generalized – by that, I mean they must not be stereotyped, but individual and unique. Paint him or her in small details rather than broad brushstrokes.

In other news:

Emma Fraser, our Art of Writing manuscript assessor, tells us that Bloodhound Books are opening up for submissions on March 10th. This could be a great ‘in’ if you are working on something with suspense.

http://www.bloodhoundbooks.com/

And why are publishers still coming out with hardbacks first?

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/feb/25/book-clinic-why-do-publishers-still-issue-hardbacks

Lastly, the link below is a nice Infographic from Global English Editing and the Expert Editor.

On the writing routines of 20 famous writers. I enjoyed it because am always struggling with my own writing routine!

https://geediting.com/daily-writing-routines-20-famous-authors/

The post How to create interesting characters, Part 2. appeared first on The Art of Writing.

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Last year I grew as a writer. All thanks to Martyn Bedford. This special, kind and giving English gentleman walked me through some marvelous moments in character building and on creating interesting characters. Martyn Bedford was our main teacher at the Art of Writing last June. His teaching techniques were sublime. Not only do we LOVE Martyn’s books, we also love that he is a Creative Writing teacher who actually writes. So much easier to trust a teacher who does what they teach.

Here are some of Martyn’s valuable words of wisdom on creating interesting characters.

For me, character is the key to any piece of fiction. It is more important than plot, because if we aren’t interested in the character(s) we won’t be interested in what they do or in what happens to them.

Drama is human, not inanimate.

So give them desires, fears, attitudes, emotions. Ask yourself: What motivates my protagonist? Who is she/he? What does she/he want and why?

Become an actor playing the part of that character. In each scene, get inside their head, or put yourself in their position, and let that inform how they speak, think, behave, feel. Take us inside your character’s thoughts, let us see through her/his eyes.

Wherever possible, instead of telling the reader about your character, show her/his inaction and dialogue. Let us see for ourselves what she/he is like.

Be sure to make your hero or heroine central to the plot – the story’s driving force, its beating heart. And take care that she/he is active rather than passive. In other words, don’t make the main character little more than a window on the story or a piece of driftwood floating on the tide of other character’s actions.

Martyn Bedford:
https://www.curtisbrown.co.uk/client/martyn-bedford

This year Jane Corry will be our Art of Writing teacher, in Florence, from June 3-8.

This is Jane’s second time with the Art of Writing because we adore how she teaches us to infuse suspense into all our projects. Let’s face it, nowadays if you don’t hook your reader quickly, your readers won’t want to turn the page. No matter what you are writing, a family history, historical fiction, a romantic comedy or your own memoir, engaging your readers immediately is more essential than ever.

More on Martyn’s character building tips next week. And all the very best to you from a freezing Florence. It snowed in the mountains around Florence yesterday. Very conducive to writing.

The post The key to creating interesting characters. appeared first on The Art of Writing.

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Writers often ask me where they should start their story. They have the idea in their heads. Scenes, thoughts or characters whirl in their imaginations. That’s where you should start writing. With whatever it is that is tugging at your mind.

This point is clearer, in an old Blog post recently found by a reader: Start with a fragment. John then sent a series of questions. I have outlined them here for this week’s Blog. I hope this helps!

I wonder about your research methods, and how much, if at all, they vary for non-fiction or fiction. Do you scout sites/locations, just as film crews do?

With my Creative Non-Fiction books I always scout the real location. Though what ends up on the page may vary greatly from the original site, I find it necessary to go to the location.

Was sketching the only way you could recreate an appropriate scene? I expect that you have also used many images, both your own photos, and those available on the web, to provide colour, texture and detail to stimulate your imagination, but are there any of the old mezzadria farmhouses still preserved in a state that reflects the early 20th century?

When I sketched the old Tuscan farmhouse setting for Death in the Mountains I needed to understand the feel of the living room and kitchen. If I know what it looks like in my imagination, readers will too. I won’t get confused, so my readers won’t get confused. Stories often play out in kitchens and living rooms. So we must know exactly their dimensions and building materials. Knowing those elements gives us sight, sound, smell and touch. If I know what the floor is made from, I can imagine the sound of footsteps, or creaking wooden floor boards. The sounds of children playing on floor boards etc.

Do you ‘walk through’ your rooms/scenes, in or out of character, to get the feel of the setting and to capture ‘their’ reactions? I guess I’m trying to see how you visualise what you are creating.

Yes, when I’m writing, I am inside my head so much that I don’t even see my office, I see my site or location. My characters walk. How many steps does it take? When Artemio was attacked in his barn, he crawled to the house. How far away was the barn to the house? He fell against the front door. How? What exactly did his body do? How did Bruna drag him in, a woman on her own? How did Felice and Bruna drag him up the stairs? How close was the door to the stairs? You have to totally immerse yourself physically and mentally in the scene’s action, understand everything about it. Only then you can describe it. You have to feel it happening.

Does it in any way approach being an observer, describing settings, even ‘recording’ conversations?

Yes, I record conversations and interviews all the time. Try to get the nuance of voices, dialect, sayings, odd phraseology. Tone too – gravelly, high pitched. Voices reveal so much and later, when I’m transcribing I can find so much more description.

Thanks so much John! Don’t hesitate to write back, everyone, with any thoughts or questions.

I hope others are as interested in your answers as I am. Thanks again for sharing aspects of your writing process with us.

John

The post But I Don’t Know Where to Start! appeared first on The Art of Writing.

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The Art of Writing by Lisa Clifford - 2M ago

Don’t know about you, but when I meet a literary agent my questions bubble up like an overfilled glass of champagne (yep, I’ll consume champagne even as a metaphor).

When Washington Literary agent, Deborah Grosvenor, told me she’d be popping through Florence in May, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to give you the chance to ask Deborah anything and everything you’ve ever wanted to know about publishing.

How often do you get the chance to sit and chat with the woman who discovered Tom Clancy? The former editor who accepted the manuscript The Hunt for Red October, after it had been turned down by numerous other publishers?

The Art of Writing will gather old friends and new for an evening on:

Publishing Your Book in Today’s Literary World. An Evening with Deborah Grosvenor. May 18,
At 18:00,
Palazzo San Niccolò,
Via San Niccolò 79. An Art of Writing Event
www.the-art- of-writing.com So looking forward to seeing you there! Lisa Clifford
The Grosvenor Literary Agency is a full-service boutique agency representing writers across a variety of subjects. The agency’s emphasis is on strong, serious, interesting nonfiction. We also represent quality fiction on a selective basis. Agency clients have received numerous awards and honors, including the Pulitzer Prize, the MacArthur Fellowship, the Lincoln Prize, the Thurber Prize for America Humor, the National Endowment for the Arts grants, the Nieman Fellowship, the Alicia Patterson Fellowship, the Council on Foreign Affairs Arthur F. Ross Award, The Charles Bronfman Prize, and the Grawemeyer Award. Client writing has appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Vogue, “O,” Best American Travel Writing and a range of other publications.

Do you love writing? Would you like to join The Art of Writing team in Tuscany? Let’s dream, plot, write, learn and grow as writers for a week together.  Email me at lisacliffordwriter@gmail.com so that I can tell you more about our annual creative writing retreats.

The post Pester an agent night! appeared first on The Art of Writing.

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I like it when readers ask questions. It feels as though the core of what I’ve written has touched a heart, in a special way. When John Hingston read Death in the Mountains, he very kindly wrote to me in Italy with a series of questions. I felt you’d enjoy his thoughts too. It helps writers persevere with their work when they read what and how other writers handle their creative work.

Do you need to love words to be a writer? Are you primarily an entertainer or a communicator?
Yes, I think a writer has to love words. You need to turn words over, to make sure they perfectly express what you are trying to say. A writer has to communicate uniquely, in their own voice and invent different ways of expressing emotions. I’ve always been a communicator as I started my career as a journalist. Communicating is a huge part of journalism. Now I think I am primarily an entertainer. In fact, when my publisher asked me whether I was ready to leave non-fiction and move into fiction he asked me just one question. ‘Are you ready to move into the world of entertainment?’

Does your purpose change with the project/book you’re engaged in creating? 
Yes, stories morph and move as you write. You start with an idea, then it generally changes or takes shape. Ideas strike as you write. That’s why it’s important to keep writing, even if you’re not sure how the story will finish. It’s only when you are writing that ideas can flow.

Do you constantly have your audience in mind or do you give yourself some rope to range about, and then pick things over during editing?
I usually have an audience in mind. Almost all my readers love Italy in some way. So my name has, over the years, become synonymous with Italy, Tuscany and Florence. I always pick things over when editing, over and over and over. But generally most of my readers enjoy ‘armchair travel in Italy.’

Do you distinguish between writing for yourself and writing for others? 
Yes and no. I always write what is important to me at that moment of my life. I couldn’t write The Promise now. I couldn’t write Death in the Mountains now, or Naples, A Way of Love. I am ready to write a contemporary, fiction, thriller set in Florence that has a deeper message about inter-cultural marriage. I am writing it for myself but I would hate to think it would bore people.

Do you start with a big idea or a phrase that sounds good?
I start with a huge idea. And it has to sound good (at least to me). I always try to write the opening with a big bang. Start with action. It helps me drive the narrative and the story as I go. If I don’t’ like the story it won’t get written so it’s imperative that the writer is in love with their story, or it won’t sustain them for 80,000 words.

Can/do you compose at the keyboard or is the computer more a tool for assembling and editing the sections as they acquire form?
Usually, I write daily in long form on the computer. Though I tend to hand write when I need to think more deeply and find personal or distinctive phrases. I also tend to edit on hard copy in a café. I print off what I’ve written and read it like I would any book in a café. If it holds me, I know I am onto something. I do my best writing up at our old family farm, completely undisturbed, totally absorbed in my characters and the story.

Finally, have you looked back at your fb account where you asked tourists/travellers for feedback on their love of Italy? Has it turned up anything interesting or provocative?
Yes, for Rome (I live in Florence so Rome is not my stomping ground) I’ve been given some wonderful tips.

How soon before your next book is published?
I hope to finish this first draft by November or so. June, July, August will be frantic with The Art of Writing and my children on summer holidays. So my word count will diminish. I want to go to Hong Kong to see my mother in July and I will take my 17 year old son Leo. I would like him to spend some time with his grandmother. I’ll take my new book with me and work on it there. This story will take many drafts. So if I am happy with it by early next year, it would be out late next year. Normally I submit my manuscript in May and it is released just before Christmas.

Thanks John, for sending me these questions. I’ve enjoyed thinking about the answers.

If you would like to write with questions, don’t hesitate.

Do you love writing? Would you like to join The Art of Writing team in Tuscany? Let’s dream, plot, write, learn and grow as writers for a week together.  Email me at lisacliffordwriter@gmail.com so that I can tell you more about our annual creative writing retreats.

The post Answering a reader’s questions. appeared first on The Art of Writing.

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