What was it Lennon said?

Life is what happens when you’re making other plans?

Well, I’d like to say that Life was why I haven’t updated this in however long it’s been.

But, I really just sort of decided to piss away spend my time doing other things.

Like many out there, I spent a lot of time on social media.

Social media can be one of the greatest ways to get connected to other writers and let the public know what you are up to in terms of your writing.

But like most things, it needs to be focussed.

You need to sit down at your desk with a plan for what you want to accomplish during that session.

What works for me is to “drop in” to social media; I do as much work as I can offline — for example writing this blog entry in MS Word– then post the work to whatever social media venue I am interested in adding my content to.

This way, I can create product, get it written and only use the internet to deliver that content without the temptation to use the internet and my time to do things that were unscheduled.

What we need to remember is that, if we are to create something lasting, something worth reading, we need to give those things the time and effort above other activities.

Designate a time within your writing scheule to expand your social media presence.

For example, have Tuesday and Saturday be your “New Blog Entry” days, posting new content those days at 10 AM. Then, in the days in between set aside times within the schedule to create new content for these blog days. Think about what you wantr to say, write, re-write and expand your online presence entry by entry.

 

 

 

Too Much Too Soon.

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As a break from my latest novel, I’m revisiting the draft of the one I wrote over a year ago. My plan in taking so long off from re-visiting it was to have the complete drafts of two novels to work with, so that I could do in-depth and comprehensive edits revisions.

At least that’s what I told myself.

Turns out I hate editing and revision with a passion and was putting it off for as long as possible.

However, a few days ago, I opened up my scrivener file and started going through the manuscript.

All in all, there is a lot of good stuff in there.

Not amazingly polished, although, if I do say so myself, there are large chunks that I thought were less cobbled together and clunky than I remembered.

However, there are also a LOT of parts of the manuscript that are just me doodling and playing and really just having fun with seeing where a scene might go.

Stephen King says that revision should shoot for first draft minus 10%.

Well, sorry, Steve but this book’s bloated more than…well, it’s pretty bloated.

Conservatively, I’m looking at a cut-rate that’s about a third of the current length, so we’re talking thirty THOUSAND words.

And the hardest thing to do when you are making those edit cuts is trusting yourself to know the vision of where you want the story to go.

It’s easy to second-guess yourself, especially when you are a beginning novelist and learning to trust yourself is still a skill  in the beginning stages.

However, you need to say to yourself, ” Even though I love this scene, is it really going to make this story better by leaving it in?”

However, we still cling to the old idea that if you throw away a scene or chapter it’s gone forever.

There’s that stereotypical scene of the writer angrily pulling the paper out of the typewriter and crumpling it up and tossing it next to an over-flowing basket by their desk.

Thanks to technology, though, you can cut that scene and paste it into a folder on your computer.

It’s saved there for the future, where you might be able to use it for another novel or blog.

Heck, it might even make it back into the book in a later draft.

THe thing is, it’s great to write a lot and get the juices flowing and be willing to turn off the Internal Critic and go for it in the first draft; that’s what it’s there for.

The thing is that you have to be willing to let go for the sake of the story and remember that more is not always better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baby got Back: How to use Backstory to make your front-story better.

Like most readers, I like well-rounded characters.

As a writer, I know the difficulty that sometimes arises from trying to create them.

So, what is the best way to create great characters that your readers will fall in love with?

Get to know them yourself.

One of the things that I always thought of  when trying out these “Character Interviews” was that it seemed to be a Catch-22: You needed to know about the character in order to be able to answer the questions. Yet, you only knew about the character BY doing the interview.

So, how did you get around that?

Maybe by treating the interview the same way you treated the manuscript; do a ‘first draft’ then revise the interview on the second pass through.

The thing is, as always, to have fun with your writing.

And surprise yourself by answering the first thing that comes into your head.

“Favorite Fruit?”

Paul Lynde.

 

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I kid…

But just let fly and see what comes out.

There are several questionnaires online, ranging from ones with only a few question to one with one hundred questions.

How much do you need to know beforehand?

Not that much, I’d say.

Think of it as an acting class, without the potential embarrassment of having to get up in front of everyone and pretend you’re a tree.

Sit yourself down, get a beverage of your choosing and just start answering the questions, as if you were that person and a real life interviewer was seated across from you.

Or, take a blank page, have your character and another sit at a table somewhere, over dinner or drinks and start with:

(Insert Character 1) leaned back in his/her chair and said, ” So, tell me about yourself.”

(Character 2) cleared his/her throat and said, ” Where to start? I was born in……”

And go from there.

 

 

 

 

 

If You Write, You Are a Writer

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One of the things we face as writers is the idea that, unless we are published, we are not ‘real’ writers.

What we need to do to break through this idea of ourselves as ‘fakes’ or whatever self-diminishing term you are using is to look at writing as a state of mind, rather than an end result.

We are Writers because of the way we look at the world. We see things in our world and wonder how to put them into our writing; we overhear conversations in the supermarket and think about how that would fit as a talk between our heroine and her friend.

 

Remember that every Writer who has achieved fame and ‘success’ started off where you are; handwriting or typing word after word onto a page. There is no shortcut to having your work written. You simply need to get down to it.

Look for hacks but don’t spend all your time preparing to write better. You only write by writing.

The Artist’s Date as refilling the well.

Refinding the muse.

 

We’ve been told that when our creative energy is lagging sometimes a break to revisit our favourite writers and being inspired by them can help us refind the ‘muse’. However, sometimes we find ourselves comparing our early drafts to their finished ones and are discouraged rather than encouraged.

I think that a different way to recharge the batteries is to visit the work of an artist in a different media. Go to the museum, go to an art gallery, watch a movie or listen to an album. Find a way to get out of your own way as a writer.

 

People often talk about ideas as a writer and how important it is to pay attention to them and honouring them and all that.

While it’s important to have ideas and to keep track of them, ideas are useless by themselves. You need to act upon them.

So, in a way, ideas are really the seed of the story in the way that wheat is the base of bread; it’s the start but there’s a lot of work and skill required to create the bread of a story.

 

Nanowrimo—-Hurts so good.

 

 

 

Is Nanowrimo a bad bad thing?

I’ll just say it.

Yes.

Why?

Because it makes word count seem über alles.

I’m sure I’m simplifying it a bit but not overly so.

You have your monthly word count goal and there are prizes galore for when you cross that golden finish line with enough words in the bank to justify it.

And most of the time the words are shit.

(Hell, the official word counter that you enter them into to “verify” that you’ve written your 50,000 words or more doesn’t even check to see that they ARE real words or that you haven’t just C&P-ed  some sentence over and over again.)

Not to say that they don’t have good hearts or actually want to help writers out.

It’s just that writing the equivalent of a novella in a month usually makes for piss-poor prose.

Forget Jack Kerouac and his alleged 3 day Benzadrine-fuelled pump-out of “On the Road”.

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It’s a lie, an urban legend, a cool story and that’s it.

The problem with churning out fifty thousand words in a month is that at the end of the month, you can have one of two things:  a stew of words and the basis of a good novel– or you can have such a mess that you feel like untangling the story from it is like separating wet Kleenex™ and give up after a few angry nights, vowing never to let yourself get hurt again in a relationship with writing a novel.

There are ways to help yourself out:

If you don’t want to end up on December 1st with 250-ish pages of mush, I think that one solution to this is spending the month before getting ready,, taking notes and generally getting a feel for the basic direction that you want the writing to go.

This doesn’t meaning that you pre-plan everything you want to say.

It just means that you have SOME idea of the direction you want to go.

If you want to end up with a draft of something.

Thinking of it  as saying  “I want to end up in Toronto.”

There are several ways you can go to Toronto and they will all give you a different driving experience.

However if you walk out of your door, get into your car and start driving and turning at random places, just because in the heat of driving, you started making decisions with no over arcing goal as to where you want to go.

You end up 200 Kms in the wrong direction and lose the will to now drive the 500 Kms to Toronto.

Now, all that driving around may give you great ideas for getting astory together; there might be snippets of things you see that you say “Wow, that would be something if I could just weave that into a story.”

But that driving isn’t a destination in itself, which is kinda what you want to have at the end of writing 2000ish words a day for a month, if a draft is what you are going for.

HOWWWWEVERRRR.

Say you don’t.

Say you want to just want to blow:

 

“Here’s a guy and everyboy’s there, right? Up to him to put down what’s on everybody else’s mind. He starts the first chorus, then lines up his ideas, people, yeah, yeah, but get it, and then rises to his fate and has to blow equal to it. All of a sudden somwhere in the middle of the chorus he gets IT- everybody looks up and knows; they listen; he picks it up and carries. Time stops. He’s filling empty space with the substance of our lives, confessions of his bellybottom strain, remembrance of ideas, rehashes of old blowing. He has to blow across bridges and come back and do it with such infinite feeling soul-exploratory for the tune of the moment that everybody knows its not the tune that counts but IT”

Jack Kerouac. ‘On The Road’

 

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Then blow.

Know that what you’re writing might not be the thing that ends up in the final draft.

Any of it.

You want to to write fifty thousand (or a hundred thousand or a quarter million) words on the backstory of the guy with the green jacket the two main characters pass on the street on page 156 so that you know exactly WHY that green jack is so important to him, go ahead.

(Like you ever need permission from me to write.)

[I’ll probably devote a post or two to backstory, because I kind of like the idea of it.]

However, before you throw yourself into maelstom of Nano-s know the why as well as the what.

I think that it will help you come out of the process with a much better product and better mental health.

 

 

Everything you do should be making you write the story.

“Hello, my name is Mike and I’m a dollar store addict.”

“Hi Mike.”

One of the things that I love in dollar stores, besides the cheap candy and chips is the stationary section, in particular the composition books and the index cards.

For my last novel, I tried plotting everything out onto multi-coloured index cards,splitting up things like plot, character, ideas, and questions onto different colours. It made things easier in some ways: I knew all the blue cards were about character and I could reference them faster if needed.

But I found that too quickly the cork board I bought at the local stationary supply store was full, then over-full, then crammed with cards everywhere and tacked together to the point where I was no longer writing, I was compiling.

 

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I like knowing where I’m going in a story; too easily can I go off track when writing because I like to write to see where things are going, without really thinking about the plot.

My characters love to take on lives of their own and have conversation that are independent of what I want.

As much as I love this, I often find that I’ve written half a dozen pages about something that doesn’t really advance the plot.

So, as a bit of a wall against that, I try to know before I write a scene where I want to go with it and where I want it to fit into the next scene and the book as a whole.

As much as I want to get to know more about one of my characters, I think an equally important thing to consider is the fact that there has to be some sort of constraint on the amount of daisy-picking I allow myself to do.

There’s obviously going to HAVE to be times when you free-associate and let your sub-conscious work through things: some of the best character trait seem to fly out unbidden during conversations with other characters and that a great thing to have happen….If you are also writing the actual story as well.

And here’s where we get to what I think is the crux: You have to be writing a lot to justify lolly gagging or going off on tangents.

If you are spending all your time figuring out your characters’ motivation, background, favourite pizza toppings etc etc etc (I know there’s only supposed to be one ‘etc’) and not very much time APPLYING that knowledge to making the story happen, then you’re not serving your writing self well.

Not to get me wrong; I love world-building and having the kinds of deep characters that really seem like they are part of a rich and complex world.

It also helps tremendously to know a lot about a character, so that I can make plotting and character decisions from a place of familiarity and ‘logic’.

However, ultimately, everything we do in the service of creating a book must serve story and the best way to serve story is to tell it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The different types of “Peril”

When we see the word ‘peril’, we often think of the physical, a  ” damsel tied to a railroad track” type of danger, the kind where the Good Guy™ better do something and fast or there’ll be a messy corpse somewhere .

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The truth is that these days, most stories are not that cut and dried about what constitutes ‘peril’ and danger and whatever other tribulations that occur with a story. A lot of the conflict within a story comes not so much about out and out “Danger” as it does from opposition; opposition to getting that girl, that job, that week off when you need it.

The ‘peril’ comes from the potential negative consequences of not getting the thing you desire.

And sometimes (heck, most of the time in your better stories) Perils can be stacked up like sticks in a Jenga™ game; solving one issue might not solve all your issues. In fact, solving one thing might create another problem: Getting that big promotion means that you might have to miss your girlfriends’s best friend’s wedding and THAT could be a real game-changer in your relationship.

 

When plotting out your writing, take time and effort to make your perils interesting and complex.

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Don’t worry about being ‘convoluted’; readers like a bit of messy in their fiction. Our lives are often messy and complicated and hard to unravel, why shouldn’t our reading be a little of the same?

The best writing has us constantly wondering whether or not the ‘hero’–another concept that can be used in a lot of differing ways to make the story interesting– will overcome all the things that stand in their way and make it to the final pages of the story having achieved all that they want to.

Often the best thing about a novel is that the reader is anticipating something coming ‘down the pipe’, based of what they see happening in the story:the joy of being a reader and having that feeling of suspecting something will happen and seeing it come to pass.

Will the arrogant  character see his arrogance before it’s too late?

Will the friendship survive the decision a character needs to make?

Will…….well, whatever you want to happen…will it?

 

Ideally, peril should be just one part of the story, with characterization, setting and plotting being the other things that mesh with it.

Peril, like any part of good writing, should seem organic to the entire story.

Peril, to me is something that, when it comes to the character, the reader should not feel like it was introduced just to move the story along or simply to give the character ‘something interesting to do.’

Peril should be something that comes out of the situation that is set up by the parts of the story that have come before.

As long as the peril and the resolution of it flow naturally and logically from what you’ve written, readers will accept it, even if the peril is something they don’t want for the character.

So, go out there and write some interesting, imaginative ‘peril’ for your characters  and an even more interesting way for them to overcome it:

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