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Writer's Digest presents an excerpt from my webinar, "Three Secrets of the Greats: Structure Your Story for Ultimate Reader Addiction."

Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn, one of the Top 10 Blogs for Writers, interviews me about storytelling, writing, independent editing, and the difference between literary fiction and genre, with an impromptu exercise on her own Work-in-Progress.

Editing client Stu Wakefield, author of the Kindle #1 Best Seller Body of Water, talks about our work together on Memory of Water, the second novel of his Water trilogy.






  • By Victoria Mixon

    So, last month was all about writers conferences, and if you were busy all month actually attending those conferences you can catch up with us here, and here, and here, and especially here (a story of hope!).

    Then last Friday I confessed what happened after that last writers conference, when I got my first agent and my first book published and my whole life turned into one, long, glamorous stroll up the glorious, golden rainbow of publication.

    Except for my publishing house whizzing by on a souped-up roadhog so I wound up hospitalized with a bad case of broken dreams.

    While I was at the hospital I also had a baby (well, nine months later), but that wasn’t the publisher’s fault. That was mine and my husband’s.

    And—for the record—that particular move turned out to be brilliant.

    But actually what I did last week—while I was telling you all that story—was go offline and hang out in the summer sunshine and enjoy the hilarious, charming, and charismatic fruits of that brilliant trip to the hospital fifteen years ago: my son.

    Plus I worked on a novel that used to be a ghost story (as described in The Art & Craft of Story: 2nd Practitioner’s Manual) but is now a god-knows-what involving all my favorite elements of grand, gothic literature only as if it all happened at my house.

    Sort of.

    1. Jadestone Hatchet

    And while I was flexing my arms over my head yesterday reveling in the pure, unadulterated joy of fiction—of being a writer of fiction—I finally figured out how to keep my papers organized.

    For those of you who write fiction, this will be of extraordinary importance.

    It involves an object I once wanted with all my heart and soul when I was traveling in New Zealand as a young, footloose, rather scatter-brained writer (a poem about which trip can be found in the Volume 34, Number 1 issue of The Northwest Review), but which at the time I couldn’t possibly afford.

    So fifteen years later when some friends traveled to New Zealand they brought me home a smaller facsimile.

    No, I didn’t use the little jadestone hatchet to chop up all my notes into tiny subatomic particles so I wouldn’t have to organize them.

    Cynics.

    2. Artist’s Easel

    Instead, I took the artist’s easel my father made for me for my fifteenth birthday—back when we both thought there was a possibility I would become a painter rather than a writer—which I keep propped in the corner next to my desk to remind myself I could so easily have gone to art school and wound up qualified to teach something for which I might actually have to leave my office. . .

    And I looked at the mountain of notes on my current manuscript that I had intended to spend the day sorting so I could clear my desktop for the activity of—um—writing. . .

    And a little lightbulb went on over my head.


    Now, after thirty-odd years of constantly digging frantically through piles of slithering, disorganized, increasing pages of notes on all the books I am, at any given moment, in the middle of writing. . .

    I suddenly have the perfect combination of organizational tools.

    And you will notice, of course, that my notes are classified according to the three great building blocks of literature: CHARACTER, PLOT, and PROSE (with an emphasis upon notes for the Climax).

    3. Cat

    Plus cat.

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    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

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    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

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    9 Comments

9 Responses to “The Writer’s 3 Organizational Tools:
Jadestone Hatchet, Artist’s Easel, & Cat”

  1. Deanna Schrayer said on

    Isn’t it funny how a simple solution can be sitting right in front of us for so long – years even – without our realizing it indeed is a solution? And then one day we happen to glance at it and…AHA! Light bulb moment. So glad you discovered a great way to organize Victoria, and I love the hatchet too. This is a very fun post.

    Now if only I would (not could, would) schedule myself a couple of days to go through all those notes and arrange them on the few storyboards I have hanging in my office….or something, probably something there I haven’t even seen yet…

  2. It’s the creative attitude, Deanna. All of us working in this field must be constantly developing it—what’s right in front of our faces that we haven’t seen yet?

    Of course, I’m glossing right over the fact that just having things organized right now doesn’t mean they’re going to stay organized more than a few days.

    I blame it on the cat.

    🙂

  3. Deanna Schrayer said on

    “just having things organized right now doesn’t mean they’re going to stay organized more than a few days.” I wouldn’t have a clue how that feels…Ahahaha! yea, right…. At least I have two cats to lay the blame on. 🙂

  4. We have three.

    We could play Cat Poker.

  5. I still haven’t found a system to settle into.

    I’ve used both Post-Its and index cards stuck onto a blank wall in my study but, after a while, I stop looking at them (some sort of over-familiarity blindness).

    After doing lots of background work on Memory of Water for Victoria, I carefully copied all the documents, by hand, into a Moleskine pad because, well, it just seemed more writerly.

    Now I’m thinking that, when my trilogy is finished, I’ll want to put that background material into either a collected edition or an interactive website (a poor man’s Pottermore, if you will) so now writing on paper seems like a bad move.

    I guess, like the creative process itself, filing is going to take some time to iron out and settle into a system I can live with!

  6. Too many small notes can become a blizzard very quickly.

    Use ONE post-it (actually, I once recommended four, but even that might be too much, especially if yours are as weird as mine).

    Write on paper.

    The physical activity of working with three-dimensional objects like pens and paper and your desk (and desk chair and typewriter and couch and lawn chair and porch steps and beach) stimulate different parts of your brain and loosen up the ideas lodged in there.

    Shackling yourself to only one form of media, like a computer—especially one you use for lots of other things, like cruising Twitter to find out what #teammixon has been up to lately—creates that same over-familiarity blindness.

    Keep yourself rooted in the real world while you’re brainstorming. Paul Bowles took a walk every day during the writing of The Sheltering Sky and then put that day’s adventures into his novel. It’s a brilliant novel.

    Honestly. . .my easel-&-hatchet system probably won’t last.

    I’ll accumulate too many papers, and they’ll fall off the easel onto the floor, and I’ll slip on them and break a leg, and the next thing you know I’ll be Tom Cruise in a wheelchair shrieking in desperation at political rallies across this poor, benighted, god-forsaken country: “People! Don’t make a terrible, irreversible mistake!”

    My husband will be glad to see me shrieking it someplace other than the kitchen table.

  7. Oh! Almost forgot the most important part of your comment, Stu!

    “After doing lots of background work on Memory of Water for Victoria, I carefully copied all the documents, by hand, into a Moleskine pad because, well, it just seemed more writerly.”

    See what you did there?

    You engaged your imagination in physical activity..

    That careful copying just lodged all that information into the secret recesses of your brain, where it is now a thousand times more accessible to you as your brainstorm your final Orcadian novel, Spirit of Water.

    Which will, of course, make SoW all that much more riveting. . .which exactly the Climax of a trilogy must be.

  8. This is great, It is funny how the easiest solution is often right in front of us! Enjoyed reading this! It has reminded me I have to start being more organised- definitely need a clear out in my office! Very creative post- thank you for sharing!!

  9. Oh, thank you, Jerica. Isn’t the answer always hiding right there in plain sight?




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Authors


MILLLICENT G. DILLON, represented by Harold Ober Associates, is the world’s expert on authors Jane and Paul Bowles. She has won five O. Henry Awards and been nominated for the PEN/Faulkner. I worked with Dillon on her memoir, The Absolute Elsewhere, in which she describes in luminous prose her private meeting with Albert Einstein to discuss the ethics of the atomic bomb. Read more. . .


SASHA TROYAN is a Professor of English at Montclair University and author of the critically-acclaimed novels Angels in the Morning and The Forgotten Island, both Booksense Selections, beautiful stories based upon her childhood in France. I worked with Troyan to develop her new novels, Marriage A Trois and Semester. Read more. . .


LUCIA ORTH is the author of the debut novel, Baby Jesus Pawn Shop, which received critical acclaim from Publisher’s Weekly, NPR, Booklist, Library Journal and Small Press Reviews. I have edited a number of essays and articles for Orth. Read more. . .


BHAICHAND PATEL, retired after an illustrious career with the United Nations, is now a journalist based out of New Dehli and Bombay, an expert on Bollywood, and author of three non-fiction books published by Penguin. I edited Patel’s best-selling debut novel, Mothers, Lovers, and Other Strangers, published by Pan Macmillan. Read more. . .


SCOTT WILBANKS, represented by Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency, is the author of the debut novel, The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster, published by Sourcebooks in August, 2015. I’m working with Wilbanks on his sophomore novel, Easy Pickens, the story of the world’s only medically-diagnosed case of chronic naiveté. Read more. . .


SCOTT WARRENDER is a professional musician and Annie Award-nominated lyricist specializing in musical theater. I work with Warrender regularly on his short stories and debut novel, Putaway. Read more. . .


M. TERRY GREEN enjoys a successful self-publishing career with multiple sci-fi/fantasy series set in the Multiverse, based upon her expertise in anthropology and technology. I worked with Green to develop a new speculative fiction series. Read more. . .


DARREN D. BEYER is an ex-NASA experiment engineer who has worked on every Space Shuttle orbiter but Challenger. In his sci-fi Anghazi Series, Beyer uses his scientific expertise to create a galaxy in which “space bridges” allow interstellar travel based upon the latest in real theoretical physics. Read more. . .


ANIA VESENNY, represented by Beverly Slopen Literary Agency, is a recipient of the Evelyn Sullivan Gilbertson Award for Emerging Artist in Literature and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. I edited Vesenny’s debut novel, Swearing in Russian at the Northern Lights, and her second novel, Sandara. Read more. . .


STUART WAKEFIELD is the #1 Kindle Best Selling author of Body of Water, the first novel in his Orcadian Trilogy. Body of Water was 1 of 10 books long-listed for the Polari First Book Prize. I edited Wakefield’s second novel, Memory of Water, and look forward to editing the final novel of his Orcadian Trilogy, Spirit of Water. Read more. . .


GERALDINE EVANS is a best-selling British author. Her historical novel, Reluctant Queen, is a Category No 1 Best Seller on Amazon UK. I edited Death Dues, #11 in Evans’ fifteen popular Rafferty and Llewellyn cozy police procedurals, which received a glowing review from the Midwest Book Review. Read more. . .


JUDY LEE DUNN is an award-winning marketing blogger. I am working with Dunn to develop and line edit her memoir of reconciling liberal activism with her emotional difficulty accepting the lesbianism of her beloved daughter, Tonight Show comedienne Kellye Rowland. Read more. . .


LISA MERCADO-FERNANDEZ writes literary novels of love, loss, and friendship set in the small coastal towns of New England. I edited Mercado-Fernandez’ debut novel The Shoebox and second novel The Eighth Summer. Read more. . .


JEFF RUSSELL is the author of the debut novel, The Rules of Love and Law, based upon Jeff’s abiding passions for legal history and justice. Read more. . .


LEN JOY is the author of the debut novel, American Past Time. I worked with Len to develop his novel from its core: a short story about the self-destructive ambitions of a Minor League baseball star. Read more. . .


ALEX KENDZIORSKI is an American physician working in South Africa on community health education and wildlife conservation. I edited Kendziorski’s debut novel Wait a Season for Their Names about the endangered African painted wolf, for which he is donating the profits to wildlife conservation. Read more. . .


ALEXANDRA GODFREY blogs for the New England Journal of Medicine. I work with Godfrey on her short fiction and narrative nonfiction, including a profile of the doctor who helped save her son’s life, “Mending Broken Hearts.” Read more. . .


In addition, I work with scores of aspiring writers in their apprenticeship to this wonderful literary art and craft.

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