I’ve been very curious about THE WRITER’S COMPASS ever since I’d seen it on display at a local bookstore. Little did I know that a year later, the author of the said book would leave a message on my blog and give me the chance to read her book and interview her.
Of course, as soon as I saw Nancy’s message, I jumped at a chance. And ever since then, Nancy and I have been emailing back and forth. Last month, she showed us her workspace and shared writing tips on my Wednesday Writer’s Workspace series. Nancy is one of the most generous authors I’ve encountered. She graciously sent me a signed copy of her book for review, and even sent another signed copy for this spotlight week’s giveaway. She’s also agreed to do a writing workshop with my group, CBW-LA, next February!
This month, I’m so pleased to feature her and her awesome writing book on my Spotlight Week.
Without further ado, I present the ever generous Nancy Ellen Dodd!
The Generous Nancy Ellen Dodd
1. Tell us three random, unique, or weird facts about yourselves.
I’ve been married three times (which I’m not proud of by the way, but you asked). I love love and romance, in fact, I was fortunate enough to officiate at a close friend’s wedding. I love watching people who are in love. However, I finally figured out that I’m no good at it and finally retired my veil.
2. When did you first realize your passion for writing?
Even as a child I told myself stories and had a lot of imagination, but in junior high I wrote part of my first novel. In high school I wrote a play called “The Hero” that one of my teachers said that if I didn’t do something with it, he would. The play became a short story about Vietnam, which I temporarily sold as a kindle book. My good friend Kevin Sizemore produced is as a short film a few years ago and we updated it to Afghanistan. It won a couple of film festival awards. It can be seen here: http://www.spike.com/video-clips/j9hp28/the-hero. Every time they update their website the count starts over, but I know that tens of thousands of people have watched it from previous counts. Seeing something important enough to be produced from your early work is very gratifying.
3. If you were stranded on an island, what three books would you love to have with you?
First of all The Bible; Swiss Family Robinson (the original version by the storyteller’s son Johann David Wyss, not the one where the French writer added fantastic stories) or Robinson Crusoe, hopefully I’d get some survival tips; and probably the complete works of Sherlock Holmes to sharpen my wits.
4. What do you think makes a good story?
I think that a good story is one where we are inspired to be better than who we have been in the past, both personally and collectively.
5. Where did you get the idea to write THE WRITER’S COMPASS?
For decades I have been taking notes and compiling questions for writing. I created a hand-printed workbook using some of what I’d learned and sold it to local writer’s groups. It became one of the early self-published books on Amazon. Then I stopped publishing it while I was getting my university degrees in writing. I created a much broader program with the questions on about 50 5×8 cards and developed a story map. Other students in my program paid me to teach them what I was using because they could see that I had figured out some things that they hadn’t.
When an agent called me at the university on another matter, and I learned she also represented books on writing, I sent her my idea. She took it straight to Writer’s Digest and after several revisions to the proposal, they bought and published the book.
6. One of the things I really found very useful in THE WRITER’S COMPASS was the section on the Story Map and the 7-Stage Process. How did you go about developing this wonderful process for story creation?
The story map came when I was in a playwriting class in the master’s of Professional Writing program at USC. It’s like a light bulb went off. The professor was teaching the 3-act structure, which of course I’d read about many times, but watching him diagram it on the board, it occurred to me that if I could go through all of my books and notes and put all the “words” used for the elements of writing on the 3-act structure chart, I’d never missing writing important information again. I have my original diagram, which I did on PowerPoint. I quickly discovered that everyone was pretty much saying the same thing using different words and adding in their own variations of method. I then simplified the diagram and chose words that made sense to me.
When I started teaching advanced screenwriting at Pepperdine, one of my students said, “You use the same diagram that our playwriting teacher gave us.” It turned out that she graduated from the MPW program at USC and that the diagram I gave to my professor he was giving out to subsequent students. So she was also using it to teach from and had no idea she was using the diagram I developed. Of course, all of this knowledge is built on Aristotle’s dramatic principles and Freytag’s pyramid.
The 7-Stage process was all the notes and questions I had been collecting and developing over the years that I’d put on the 50 index cards, and which I had already arranged in stages for more efficient revising.
7. The Structure Chart and the Story Tracking Sheet are just two of the many useful tools you share with readers in THE WRITER’S COMPASS. Have you come across or developed new writing techniques since then that you would love to have included in the book?
Currently I am studying many of the newer methods and techniques that authors have developed over recent years to see what I can add to my knowledge and teach and lead the students to. I’m also looking at how to incorporate the hero’s journey, which is a mythic approach while my approach is based on Aristotle.
In fact, I just taught a Webinar on “Winning Sci-Fi/Fantasy Story Structure” through The Writer’s Store and I encouraged the students to learn the hero’s journey for this because it is all about the mythic quest, which is usually basic to this genre.
8. In the book, you recommend using notebooks and index cards to keep track of story ideas. What other tools do you use aside from these? Do you also use voice recorders, or other software programs?
I sometimes use voice recorders if I’m driving, only I don’t like listening to the sound of my own voice, which I find many of us don’t, so I sometimes don’t play them back and rely on memory. If I’m on deadline, I use Word. I often use Excel to capture notes because I can use it as a database and sort my notes in various ways and can include all of my notes for everything I do and all my projects in one file. I’ve tried Access, because it is a database, but find I can’t see it all and I need to be able to lay everything out and see it.
I’m also trying something new both as a portable storyboard and to organize myself. I got the idea from Save the Cat, and Blake Snyder got it from Mike Cheda the script consultant. Use a large sketchpad, open it flat and draw 4 even lines across both sides, then use post-it notes for your ideas and you can move them around like you would index cards on a story board. I have a large monthly calendar and I’m using it to organize my “To Do’s” and the unused pages inside as a storyboard. I love the concept and it’s really helped me in organizing because the size gives me more room to organize my work. Of course, I’d read a book years ago on organization that suggested Post-It notes as a way to move to do’s around, rather than lists, but didn’t realize the problem was the size of my calendar.
9. Aside from THE WRITER’S COMPASS, you have written numerous blog posts, screenplays, plays, short stories, short films and novel-length work. Which of these genres are you most comfortable with? Which genre do you find the most challenging?
I always say that my favorite form is the one I’m currently writing in, as well as the most challenging. I love every form of writing. Right now I’m going back to finish all the novels I was waiting until I knew enough to finish. I’m also starting some new work on a new screenplay. (Shhh don’t tell my agent, he wants me to stick with finishing the novels.)
10. You are a university instructor, an editor and a writer, among other things. How do you go about juggling these different aspects of your life?
Very carefully. Refer to portable storyboard above. And juggle is the correct word. One of my daughters and my granddaughter live with me. If it weren’t for my daughter insisting on making vacation plans, I probably would work nonstop. I am constantly in pursuit of new ways to organize myself and keep myself motivated. I always look at what’s due next, but then I have to keep in mind that what’s due in a couple of weeks make take more time than I’ve allotted for it and I have to start it now. So I try to prioritize by the amount of time I need to finish a project and what is the next thing due.
I have to be careful because whenever I slow down and get bored, I start looking for new projects, then suddenly I find I have half-a-dozen things due at the same time. Yikes. But I love it. God has blessed me in so many ways and I waited so long and worked so hard to get to this point, I plan to enjoy every minute of it.
11. Tell us about your path to publication. What is the coolest thing about being a published author?
Hmmmm. I guess just being a published author is the coolest thing. Really, once you realize, “Oh, the whole world didn’t change, I still have to keep on keeping on,” then you settle down and go back to work.
Truthfully, getting published opened doors for me to have more teaching opportunities and to meet people like all of you, which I really love.
12. What’s your typical day as a writer like? Do you have any writing-related rituals or quirks?
I try to get up around 6:00 am, write out my prayer, read from the Bible and do some devotional reading, this starts the day right and helps me set my priorities and gives me peace that God is in charge and I’m just trying to see what He wants me to do today.
After that I either write or I work on projects with impending due dates or I do the notes on my student’s work. I drink lots of hot tea and eat burnt toast during this time.
My writing rituals change and morph, the one I had a few weeks ago I’m not doing right now, maybe that’s why I’m writing less right now and finishing projects instead.
Then I get ready for work and go to the office and handle all the stuff I need to do that day. I come home around six and spend time with my family, eat dinner, and/or work on more projects.
Okay, I confess! In the evening I watch “The Young and the Restless” on my computer. I know, it’s a soap opera, but as a child we watched soap operas. We only got like three stations during the time we had to watch. So, while we were shelling black-eyed peas or snapping green beans or cracking nuts, soap operas were what was on. After decades of not watching, I was getting my car serviced and Y&R came on in the lobby and I was fascinated because it was the same actors from all those years ago. They felt like old friends. I got hooked again. Anybody got any peas I can shell?
13. What do you like to do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies, sports, or crafts you like to spend time on?
I love to read or mainly listen to audiobooks, watch movies, I’m a big TV buff, only we don’t have cable any more. And we like to go camping. Disneyland is one of our main play attractions—I mean so much imagination and exhilaration and childlike play.
14. Are you currently working on any other projects?
Yes, but I don’t think your blog is that long.
Actually, I’m seriously considering teaching a Skype class. I just had a Skype meeting with some of my online students and we really liked the personal connection and I like seeing my students’ faces.
I’ve also been approached by a publisher to write a specialized book for them on storytelling, so I’m working on the proposal.
Plus I’m making notes on a magical realism series of history books for students that I’m excited about. And I have a play I’m turning into a YA novel, and the screenplay I’m storyboarding and …. well that’s enough.
15. What advice would you like to give to writers on the road to publication?
Accept where you currently are and then grow from there. You don’t have to be a genius or a literary icon. You don’t have to start out knowing everything. You can find an audience, even a small one, while you are learning.
Find out your writing triggers and use them to establish a discipline.
Read lots of different writing books and see what works for you. Don’t get discouraged if something doesn’t work, read another one, take a different class—you’ll learn and you’ll grow and you’ll develop and you’ll find how to approach writing in a way that works for you. Not everything is right, nor is everything wrong, it just may not work for you.
You might find out that instead of writing, your passion is for editing or publishing or teaching and you might be able to help someone else. If you have a passion to write, then write.
Sometimes the writing hibernates while we are involved in the urgency of our day-to-day lives, give it a chance to come alive again. Do what you can to stimulate your imagination, then put your pen on the paper and push.
Come back this Friday for the final part of the Spotlight Week, where I give away a SIGNED COPY OF THE WRITER’S COMPASS
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