Category Archives: Writer Craft

Writing Practice is Where You Find It

Since the so-called election last November,  I have spent a lot of time brainstorming with and learning from like minds on Twitter. It’s an intense place. I chose to follow smart people, all of them as desperate as I am to save our country and the world. Clicking into Twitter feels like entering a cave I have painted with small bright screens, covering the walls and ceiling, each one dripping the concentrated thoughts of a mind that interests me. It’s an ironically private experience of public matters.

The 140-or-less-character tweet became my daily writing practice. As my Twitter skills and tools developed, my tweets grew sharper and deeper. To see what I mean, visit: @merileedkarr

Continue reading Writing Practice is Where You Find It

How to Write Fast

I wrote my new article on the dangers of indoor air in ten days, because I had to.

Last June 13, Meg Merrick, editor-in-chief of Metroscape, sent me a frantic email:

Merilee,

I don’t know how quickly you can turn your article around but we have run into a crisis with our lead article and need to come up with a new article for our upcoming issue. Would you be willing to do the article you pitched now instead of later? Unfortunately, we will need a quick turnaround.

Let me know.

Thanks!

Meg

By “quick turnaround,” she meant “in about ten days.” Normally I would budget six to eight weeks to research, construct, and polish a major feature article, the kind I had been expecting to produce for Meg’s Winter issue.

Ten days? That’s crazy. Could I do it? Continue reading How to Write Fast

Science to the Rescue!

Part 4 of Constructing a Pitch – Dramatic Structure

How do science-as-protagonist stories work?

‘X is a problem. Now scientists can fix it.’ Science comes to the rescue. Science is the hero, that rescues a sympathetic victim from some abstract oppressor, the villain.

Let’s take my previous failed pitches for the Indoor Air story and change the protagonist.

Z suspected her home made her sick. She was right.

Many people suspect their homes make them sick.

Now science can do something about it.

Okay, graceless, but those are the building blocks.

The objective of the hero-character Science is the health of the victims of unhealthy houses, which are the Villain.

My original pitch offered cost-efficiency as the hero’s objective. My god, how unheroic! Back to the drawing board.

Science to the rescue!

Building a Pitch for Building Science

Part 3 of Constructing a Pitch – Dramatic Structure

So my protagonist has to be one or several building scientists. Protagonists come equipped, by definition, with objectives, obstacles to those objectives, and strategies to overcome those obstacles.

(I learned this articulated approach to story structure from Pauline Peotter, in her year-long course “Playwright’s Boot Camp” at Portland State. She refuses credit for inventing the method, but I’ve never seen it anywhere else.)

Who among my building-science sources has these attributes? Continue reading Building a Pitch for Building Science

Play Doctoring

Part 2 of Constructing a Pitch – Dramatic Structure

Here we have on the operating ta— I mean, stage — four characters to build a play with.

Cast of characters –

  • Sick people. They live in sickening houses. Most don’t know their home is making them sick, though some suspect.
  • Health care payers. Sick care, not health care, really. They pay to make sick people better.
  • Contractors. Home fixers. Sometimes healers, if the home they fix was making people sick.
  • Building scientists.  They find ways to make homes healthy, and figure out why houses often make their occupants sick.

Next step – Pick one of those four to be the protagonist. Continue reading Play Doctoring

Hello?

I never thought I would suffer from writer’s block. As a nonfiction writer, questions are the air I breathe. And questions call out for stories to answer them. But for about a year, since my last published piece, words fail me. I don’t know how to tell anyone about it when a story pops up.

Writers talk about finding their “writing voice.” What is that? It’s nothing like a singing voice, or a classroom voice, or a commanding voice. Continue reading Hello?