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1.  A Writer’s Journey: Tips on everything from writing good villains to making time to write.  Excellent site!

2.  Creative Liberty: Creative development across all media; this month’s focus is on developing creative momentum.  Especially good for those of us who practice more than one art.

3.  Beanery Writers Weblog: Home of the Beanery Online Literary Magazine.  Includes articles and tips on writing, as well as some really excellent fiction.

4.  Life of a Writer: Advice on writing, finding writing jobs, and juggling writing with the rest of your life.

5.  A Place for Strangers and Beggars: The blog of teacher and SF writer James Van Pelt.  Includes all sorts of interesting and useful advice from a professional.

6.  Becoming a Fiction Writer: An aspiring writer shares what she’s learning as she goes along.

7. Tripping the Muse: Everything from avoiding sexist language to selling your work.

8. Confident Writing: Tips from a writing coach.

9. Hope Writes: Creativity for writers of all stripes.

10. The Writers Group: “Four women share how they encourage, give feedback, and offer critique as they create their unique literary lives.”  A nurturing sort of blog.

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When most people think about politics, they think of government policy, election campaigns, lobbying, and everything that involves the people who run the government.  Of course, politics encompasses more than just government.  Politics includes competition in the workplace, between family members, between members of any organization, even between friends.

It can be difficult to write about politics, however; it’s one of those touchy subjects that almost everyone has very strong feelings about, and many of us would rather not ruffle feathers.  And it’s hard to write fiction about current political affairs without giving your work a very short shelf-life.  But it’s difficult to write without somehow involving politics, whether in the sense of government, or in the sense of competition between individuals. 

If you write fantasy or science fiction, the issue of politics is particularly salient; writing speculative fiction is one way to write about current affairs while giving your work value that lasts beyond today’s headlines.  Many writers have used imaginary political systems to criticize their own, or to speculate about the long-term effects of the decisions their governments have made.

Think today about how politics touches your writing.  Do your characters have strong feelings about how governent should work?  Do your characters compete with others for the best job, the best seat at the table, the most attention from a mentor? Do their feelings about politics affect their actions?  If you write speculative fiction, is the political system in the world you’ve created similar to the one in which you live today, or based on systems from the past, or is it something entirely new?  What does your fictional political system say about the world you live in?

I ran across this post today at Art of Storytelling today.  If you’re feeling frustrated, stuck or discouraged in your writing, just click here.

I was talking with some friends at work yesterday about embarrassment.  Not just feeling mildly foolish, but the kind of embarrassment that makes you want to run and hide. The kind that makes you avoid certain people when you see them on the street.  The kind that comes back to you, years later, in the middle of the night, and you wonder what you could have done differently.

There’s a lot of energy in embarrassment.  It’s a universal experience; all of us have been absolutely mortified at one moment or another.  Thus, it’s an emotion that readers can readily identify with.

If you write fiction, it’s helpful, when writing about strong emotion, to anchor your characters’ experiences in your own; while writing about your own embarrassing moments might not be comfortable, your discomfort can help to make your characters’ discomfort more realistic, more palpable.  In addition, embarrassment and humiliation can be  strong motivating factors for characters; most people would go far out of their way to avoid being embarrassed, and most would go out of their way to redeem themselves after a humiliating situation. 

What are your most embarrassing moments?  Are they experiences that other people would find embarrassing?  What is your reaction to embarrassment?  What kinds of things in your surroundings do you tend to notice?  What physical sensations do you feel?  How long do these sensations last? What is the most embarrassing experience that you can imagine?

For fiction writers, what kinds of things would your character find embarrassing?  How are they different from or similar to what embarrasses you?  How does your character react to embarrassment?

Possession: A Romance by A.S. Byatt (1990)

Roland Michell is a literary scholar who specializes in the work of one Victorian poet, Randolph Ash.  One day, while conducting research, he comes across a draft of a letter, written by Ash to an unknown woman, and for Roland, an obsession is born. 

Part literary romance, part epistolary novel, and part detective story, Possession examines the ways in which life affects literature, and the ways in which literature affects life.  Byatt juggles voices flawlessly; each letter, each poem, and each character are completely distinct from each other, switching back and forth from Victorian to contemporary styles.  The story told in correspondence and poems is deeply sad, and touching, in the way that Victorian poems often are, and the modern story is full of hope.

Readers should be aware that this is not an easy or quick read.  The book starts slowly, each event building on the next, and the language is dense; it requires close reading.  But as the characters become more obsessed, the book itself becomes more absorbing, until it reaches a very satisfying conclusion.

Fans of the fairy tales and epics of Victorian literature should not miss this novel; Byatt includes exerpts and entire texts of poems written by the fictional characters, and they are every bit as lovely as those by Tennyson or Shelley or Byron.

Rating: A

At work, between students, I frequently spend my bits of spare time poking around the Internet, looking for things to spur on my writing. So I frequently search for “writing prompts” or “writing exercises.”

There’s a certain kind of prompt that I absolutely hate; maybe it works well for others, but it doesn’t for me. It might look something like this: “Your character is a middle-aged advertising executive, at work after having a fight with his wife. Describe his first actions of the workday. Make sure to include the words orangutan, withholding, emptiness and pudding.”

This does me no good whatsoever. Unfortunately, this type of prompt has proliferated.

I use writing exercises for a few different reasons. I like to use freewriting exercises to warm up when I sit down to write; I find I’m more productive if I spend a few minutes scribbling as fast as I can without bothering to check spelling and grammar. I also use prompts to generate ideas and seeds for new material. I use specific kinds of exercises to strengthen my skills in fiction writing in general, and to strengthen areas of a given project.

So. For any writers reading: do you use prompts and exercises, and if so, how do you use them? Also, I’m pretty sure I can’t be the only writer around who likes prompts. So, where are the good prompts hiding?  I’m thinking of posting some of the types of prompts that I find most helpful here; what kinds of prompts do you find useful?

1. Endicott Studio : Home of The Journal of Mythic Arts; tons of well-written, thoughtful information about the folklore and fairy tales of many different cultures. Also, poems and stories by the like of Neil Gaiman, Charles de Lint, Jane Yolen and more.

2. Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing: An online course in speculative fiction writing from Jeffrey A. Carver

3. Exploring Ancient World Cultures: An introduction to Ancient Greece, Rome, India, China, Egypt, the Near East, early Islam and Medieval Europe.

4. Dave’s Mythical Creatures: A good place to start when populating your fantasy or science fiction worlds.

5. Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions: To help writers flesh out fantasy and science fiction worlds and how they work.

6. SpecFic World: Advice to Writers: Lots of articles specifically for fantasy and science fiction writers.

7. The Best of Legends: Information on some of the most famous legends of all time, including Robin Hood, King Arthur, Beowulf and more.

8. Ralan’s Webstravaganza: Extensive market information for F, SF & H writers; includes pay rates, guidelines and more.

9. Storm the Castle: Articles for writers, but that’s not all. Stretch your creativity with dioramas, model rockets and classical guitar as well. A plethora of information, nicely organized.

10. David Walton’s Writing Advice: Mostly links, well-organized, from a wide range of speculative fiction writers