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  1. Welcome to Bookends Writing! We’re Jon & Erika, a writer-editor team, the prime movers behind Bookends. We help writers navigate the writing and book publishing process and achieve their writing goals. If you’ve always wanted to write a book but feel overwhelmed or don’t know where to.
  2. BookEnds Literary Agency opened its doors in 1999 and, with the addition of BookEnds Jr. In 2017, touts a robust client list of over 300 authors and illustrators. Specializing in representing fiction and non-fiction for all ages, we can proudly call a number of award-winning.

In workshops we tend to talk about point of view and character rather than the psychological resistance we must overcome to realize the potential of our work. We shy away from discussing the challenges of the writing process in favor of the relative concreteness of craft.

My BookEnds mentor, Paul Harding, didn’t shy away. Through his close reading and annotations of my work-in-progress, he helped me identify forms of self-sabotage and practical ways to remedy them. A case in point: how do we generate energy on the page? Sure, we know it when we read it: “the heat,” some call it. But how do you generate this heat? And how do you stop yourself from tamping it down?

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Paul gave me vocabulary to think about this challenge, borrowing concepts from Newtonian mechanics to dramatize the opposing forces at work.

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First up is centrifugal force, which pushes energy outward to spin off in all directions. Also called inertia. (You guessed it, this one is bad). In prose this happens when the writing lacks focus. There’s an overabundance of themes, actions, characters, or information as if the writer is, as Paul described, jumping the rails to see what’s over here and what’s over there unintentionally creating a crippling and dreadfully familiar-to-me narrative sprawl.

This happens not because we don’t have the technical chops or aren’t good writers. It happens because we fear our story isn’t sophisticated or original or interesting enough and so we keep accreting more stuff to our story. We fear commitment to this story, so we keep adding more in an attempt to hedge our bets, when hedging doesn’t work. The reader bounces from one idea to the next before the necessary connections are made to make the reader curious and interested enough to want to keep reading. The energy dissipates, leaving no heat.

The solution is to resist succumbing to our anxieties and seeking answers outside the book but rather to stay in it––in the moment, in the story, in the character––trusting the answer lies within. That’s how we cultivate centripetal force––from Latin centrum, “center” and petere, “to seek”––directing the energy inward. Does this sentence convey exactly what I want to convey in the most vivid way possible? Does that sentence do the same, not by adding something new, but rather expanding and deepening what I just conveyed in the last sentence? That’s the way, as Paul showed me, going one sentence at a time. Staying in it. Staying present. That’s what staves off resistance, builds heat, makes art.

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Write this on a Post-It and stick to your monitor (I did):

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Resist centrifugal forces!

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J. Greg Phelan was a BookEnds fellow in 2018-2019 and has an MFA in creative writing from Bennington College. His articles, reviews, and essays have been published in The New York Times, The Millions, and America magazine. He co-founded a writing center on the Jersey shore called Project Write Now where he is an instructor and the board chair. He is currently working on a coming-of-age novel set in the summer of 1964.

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