Toastmasters: Where Authors Are Made

Toastmasters: Where Authors Are Made. Go ahead, fellow Toastmasters. Consult your manuals. Check the Toastmasters International site. No, you are not crazy. The real slogan still reads Toastmasters: Where Leaders Are Made. But I think most Toastmasters would agree that the organization helps us to grow in a great number of ways. We become better speakers, true leaders, and in many cases, real writers. If you google the topic, you will find an assortment of articles and podcasts about it and testimonials from individual members who have become published authors. It stands to reason that Toastmasters would be beneficial to those of us looking to publicize and promote our books. But I’d like to share with you a few of the ways Toastmasters helped me with the writing process itself and allowed me to take Once in Love with Lily from a fun, little National Novel Writing Month project to a published novel.

First, crafting speeches gave me an edge when it came to structuring my story. In the beginning, I struggled with the story arc. While the action was intriguing, it lacked the proper flow. Then one day, my editor, fellow Toastmaster Eileen James, said to me, “Think about how you put together a good speech. You begin by thinking about the end. Where do you want to go with this speech or story? What is the intended ending? Now, how do you get there? Remember to tie the ending back to the beginning to satisfy the audience’s need for cohesiveness.” A novel is a bigger project than a speech, but it still has an introduction, body, and conclusion. Once I started thinking of it that way, I was able to put together a story that was grounded, but showed growth, as the characters learned real lessons.

Second, through my experiences as an evaluator, grammarian, or ah-counter, I learned to become a good listener. This can be very helpful when coming up with ideas for stories. (Consider that fair warning that anything you say can and may be used against you in a future novel!) In addition, it helps to create realistic, natural-sounding dialog. I’ve become accustomed identifying patterns of speech, accents, verbal ticks, colorful quotes or phrases. I’m not that creative after all. I could never have come up with something like “He’s all hat and no cattle.” But bits like that are the things that make characters real and, I hope, make the dialog come alive on the page.

Third, as early as project four in the Competent Communicator Manual “How to say it” we are taught to look at word choice, to choose words that paint a vivid picture and convey the most accurate visual or explanation possible. If I hadn’t known “how to say it”, I might have kept descriptions simple with something like: “As she walked down the streets of New York, she couldn’t help but notice how crowded and noisy it was.” But thanks to my Toastmasters training, I came up with this:

She headed down 8th Avenue through the throngs of people already crowding the streets. “Ah, New York,” she thought. “The honking taxis, the charming street vendors with their poached sunglasses and purses, and the faint smell of homeless that lurks just off the main drag really give it a certain je ne sais quoi.” She crossed the street against the light along with the natives, leaving a gaggle of tourists in the dust. (Excerpt from Once in Love with Lily by Cathryn K. Thompson)

Which example did the better job of transporting you to the streets of NYC? Of course, the second example would be pretty wordy for a typical 5-7 minute manual speech, but in a novel there is room to elaborate.

I can’t say that Toastmasters has taught me much about romance. There is a code of ethics to contend with, after all. But it certainly has helped me to hone my writing skills, to tell a story with a goal or lesson, to depict true-to-life characters and conversations, and to choose the best way to say it when it comes to setting the scene or conveying emotions. I never knew I had an author in me. Maybe you do too. You never know when or where inspiration will strike. When it does, Fellow Toastmasters,  take advantage of your already vast experience. Write it down. Develop it. Tell your own story. Even if you have to publish it under an assumed name! Show the world what Toastmasters has done for you.  If you’re not a Toastmaster, visit a club near you and experience it for yourself. Toastmasters: Where Leaders… and Authors… Are Made.

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This Is Not a Setback

NaNoWriMo Week Two

My goal for week two was to work on closing some of the gaps in the story and make some strides toward completing my draft of the sequel to Once in Love with Lily. The good news: I did just that. I worked my way through the first several chapters and added new material to help form a more cohesive story as well as add some tension where needed. The bad news: I had to murder a few of my darlings. Some of my favorite scenes had to be cut to tighten things up and I ended up with three thousand fewer words this week than I had at the end of last week. Now, I know what you’re thinking. “You’re going the wrong way!” It may seem that way, but I assure you, this is not a setback. It’s all part of the process. At least that’s what I’m telling myself!

My goals for this week:

1. To continue editing and adding, but actually make my word count go in the right direction.

2. Research and Development. I can’t give you too many details just yet, or this post would need a spoiler alert. But, I can tell you that Lily is going on location. She’s headed somewhere I’ve never been. So, it looks like I’m going to need some inspiration. YouTube and Pinterest, here I come… Again!

Reporting In

NaNoWriMo Week One 

 During NaNoWriMo, the traditional goal is to write fifty thousand words in thirty days. It’s supposed to be a novel that you start from scratch on day one. I accepted that challenge in 2011 and finished the first draft of my first novel Once in Love with Lily. This year, I began on November 1st with a unique goal. Instead of writing fifty thousand words of a completely new novel, my goal was to complete a workable, readable draft of the sequel to Once in Love with Lilly. I had already written several drafts and I was still waffling on content. So, I had decided to start from scratch one more time and knock it out in thirty days. I kept up with my daily word count and for the first three days, and I was feeling quite pleased with myself until…. I committed the number one NaNoWriMo sin. I re-read what I had written!

Every one knows that if you’re trying to knock out a novel in a month, you don’t have time to read and edit, but in this case, I’m very glad I did. As I looked at my “fresh start” with fresh eyes, I came to a huge realization. My hero was distinctly unlikable. I had become so concerned with creating the hook that agents keep talking about, that I had destroyed one of the beloved characters that had hooked my readers in the first place.

Somewhere along the way, I forgot who I was. I tried to become a plotter who focused on structure and eight point story arcs, when I’m anything but. I have always claimed to write from the heart first and the head second, to be more concerned with meaningful relationships, quality drama, and realistic dialog. I’ve generally found that if you tell a good story, proper structure will naturally evolve.  Ever a victim of self-doubt, I had allowed my own insecurities about my lack of formal training in the craft to cloud my judgment.

Once I had that aha moment, I went back to my original plan for the story and began cut, copy, and paste together all the usable pieces from the subsequent drafts. What I now have is about forty thousand words of a story that still needs a lot of detail, a ton of editing, and a fair amount of restructuring before it’s ready for public consumption. Still, I’m comforted by the fact that it is a much truer version of Lily’s and Tony’s story.

This week I hope to complete several new chapters that will begin to fill in some of the holes in the original plot and find ways to weave some subtle humor into the somewhat serious plot. I’ll keep you posted!

If you are interested in reading the original, Once in Love with Lily is on sale for.99 cents at the Amazon Kindle Store now through November 15th. Click here to view the book trailer.

Lily cover