Category Archives: Writing

Writer’s Log: 1301

So, yes, I did have to splurge with an extra pint or two of writer’s blood squirted from my wrist-severed arteries at the wall of creativity. Ooh, does that look like Galadrial (Sissy Spacek style…?)

And I would say that, looking back at the process that produced this exquisite expose’ of narrative bliss, those that say you must sit-the-hell-down-and-write-the-fuck-out-of-your-story-UNTIL-IT-IS-DONE! are bite-the-head-off-the-chipmonk wrong. Yes, they’re that bloody wrong.

Not all the time they’re that wrong. If you have a straight month of ten hours a day to burn writing fiction, then sure, I can see that they’re on the leaning-in side of right. But just barely, tipping like they’re about to fall into the pond if they lift an eyebrow at what I’m about to say next…

Which is, take your damn time. Re-read everything you’ve written to date. Review and revise and revisit and redo whatever it is you don’t like about your story up to that point.

Kerplunk!

How the hell else will you maintain continuity over an extended period of writing time? Say you can only write at night, for an hour, three times a week, every third month, during leap years? Of course you’ll have to go back and read what you’ve previously penned. “What the hell did Siegfried say he was going to do if he found Myrtle, ass-end-up in the bath with Roy?” Do you remember? I sure as hell don’t. Well, you better go back to the beginning and reengage your consistency engine…

The point is, for me personally, I was able to take seven months and write a pretty good story. And the only way I could do that was by cycling back again and again to the beginning to recapture the tone, the plot, the voice of the characters. So, bollocks to those that say you must write your novel in a flurry. NaNoWriMo my ass!


In addendum…

One aspect that also affects one’s ability to saddle-up and get wrangling those words right out of the chute is — ya can’t. I can’t. Writing is not like wrangling horses, chopping wood, working in a kitchen, or construction or any of hundreds of jobs where the task it set and a pattern is established for the work at hand.

Writing, to me, takes flow; takes presence of mind. It takes rolling a handful of marbles over the chinese-checkerboard of my mind until they all find their own personal niche: boop, boop, boop. And this takes time. Re-reading of prior chapters, perhaps. Or just note taking while I envision, not just the story, but the voice (my voice) and those of my characters. Again, this takes time, often an hour or more while I bump around, avoiding the task, but thinking about the story… Until the groove starts to show itself.

Writing without a groove is work. And yeah, I’m doing that right this instant. But when it’s story time, and I’m groovin’ with the flow of the plot and the conflict and the enchanting sounds of the words in my mind as they tinkle from my fingers through the keys and onto the screen, well, that there’s pleasure. Not considered work at all.

Trying to cram write? Sorry, but, fuck that.

 

 

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Writer’s Log: Hour 1291

I finished the 1st draft of my second novel yesterday.

This one is 488% better than the last one (approximately).

70,000 words written on the weekends since April, 2017. That works out to about 1200 words per day. And since I wasn’t /that/ dedicated to the process, I’m sure the day count is fewer and the words/per day is greater.

Why should one care? Oh, no reason. Some of us are attracted to statistical analysis; it tends to lend a context to the daily slog. But it’s only a curiosity. Unless one is trying to gauge how much one can write (or create) before one’s Alzheimers kicks in – and renders one incapable of writing or creating anything. (A close, genetically similar aunt died of early onset Alzheimer, so the thought forever scratches at the back of my mind.)

This novel is the one with pictures, Fiverr artist pictures, an experiment of sorts. But I only commissioned 12 illustrations thus far ($), and won’t do the rest (~40) until I get some feedback from an agent.

And of course, as I designed the story, I ended with a much more expansive arc than I could fit into one book. Which means the /complete/ story (Harry Potter style) must span two or three novels. I’m always torn when I read something like this; how dare you author, not wrap every-bloody-thing up in one story! But, now I must commiserate. It’s hard.

This story is full featured and complete unto itself, of course. But the denouement leaves the door wide open for additional questions and shit, now that I think about it, I better write a bit more regarding this tidy package, with ribbon and bow, that has this rat eating a hole out of the bottom corner… Sorry, be right back (or not).


The role of a critic

Are you critical?

I hope so. Being a critic means you have an opinion. And having an opinion means you know what you like and don’t like. Which is pretty important in this day and age of myriad choice.

If you have strong — accurate — opinions, like Siskel & Ebert, you can actually build a reputation on your likes and dislikes. Siskel & Ebert never made a movie, they weren’t formally trained in film or screenwriting, they really had no more credentials in judging film than you or I. But, they had a venue and a voice and they were, well, critical. Not negative, mind you, by this I mean they could critique a film and summarize the good and bad of them in a way that made sense to you and I.

I take this to infer that one doesn’t need a graduate degree in some entertainment medium to provide a critique. It helps if you can explain why you do or don’t like something in a film, show, or novel. But, you don’t need formal training to have an opinion, an accurate valid opinion. Siskel & Ebert proved this.

I point this out so that the next time someone asks you what you think about X, Y or Z movie, TV show or NYTimes bestseller, you can feel confident in giving your honest forthright opinion on said media.

Additionally, and more to the point, the next time a friend or family member asks you to critique some work of theirs don’t placate them. Encourage them, of course; if they create something — whatever it might be — support their creativity. But don’t negate your opinion by burying your true thoughts on their effort. That would be worse that lying. They’re looking to you for your Siskel & Ebert opinion. So, give it to them.

Too often, friends and family members, who beta read or beta watch a creative piece produced by an author or videographer, lie, thinking they are being “nice” by protecting the creator’s emotional state: “She tried SO hard, I couldn’t tell her what I really thought.” Don’t do them this disservice. They really, really want your honest opinion. Only an honest opinion will help them progress.

Let ’em have it. Thumbs up or thumbs down.

(Substantiated of course, but be brutal, really.)

 

 


Informed, piqued, challenged

But not entertained.

Not fully. Not in the robust sense of being entertained, of enjoying entertainment.

To what am I referring? To everything you will read on the web during the day; during your arduous slog through your social, business and informational treading of life’s daily data toil.

Like this post for instance. I don’t overtly wish to entertain you. I do intend to swipe at your subconscious; bat around your interests; toy with your beliefs, assumptions and predilections. But I’m not setting out here to entertain you. I’d rather stick a wet finger in your ear.

And that’s what all the web, during the day, during my reading of news and articles and tidbits, should do. Inform me. Fill me with awe and admiration of the data you’ve compiled and arranged and elucidated — upon the behalf of your argument.

But don’t spend hundreds of words poetically couching your argument in narrative. I don’t want to be intentionally entertained by you while you write to me about the genome, or Mars, or why bluefin tuna are dying out, or how hard it is to build a Javascript library that lasts the tests of time.

No. Just give me the facts, ma’am! Don’t try to be a story teller. Just get to the bloody point.

I will get my expanded narrative entertainment reading what are presented and acknowledged to be actual entertainment focused articles, stories and novels. When I want to be entertained through the written word I’ll pick up a novel.

Therefore, if information transmission is the primary intent of your writing (and most daily web writing is these days) — don’t fluff it up. Don’t beautify it.

Like I tell the doctor with bad news, “Just give it to me straight.”


A box canyon

Writing a long story, a novel say, is like taking a world spanning journey but ending up in a box canyon. Or maybe it’s like walking an unknown trail but every so often you fling out a spool of thread letting it drag along behind you.

The point is, when you start writing a book you have the wide universe open to you. But as you go along you create these tendrils of story dependency that you must remain loyal to. Every new thread ties you to a logical canon you must not betray (or forget about or violate, etc.)

Say you want to write a story about a young man who meets and influences a famous person in history. So this person starts off as a child slave in Rome circa the year 500 CE. He’s got a limp from when he was very young, a wagon crushed his foot. But his eyes are lovely and his smile, a shimmer on a clear pond. His mother was a slave to a kind senator whose wife was ugly and hated the boy’s mother for her dark-haired beauty.

You see how easy it is to create a world where before nothing existed.

But let’s say that 50,000 words later this boy, now man, needs to make a journey on foot. Well, remember that he’s crippled, so whatever road he takes he must be crippled the whole way, it must influence his entire trip. He meets a woman who reminds him of his own mother, dead now for four years. Oh yeah, what did his mother look like? And who was that senator he slaved for as he can now mention his name as leverage? And what did that senator’s wife say to him when he was twelve, caught stealing honey, and viciously giving him that scar beneath his right arm?

A wide universe eventually turns into a box canyon at the end of the story. All those early decisions become a log of canons that cannot be violated. You must remember every one. Sure some will become natural characteristics of the story but others will be these threads that tie you to the core path of your plot. And tighter and tighter they bind you until at the end, you’re like a worm trapped in a cocoon and the only place left to write is that hole at the end of your tale.

 


Plan or Peregrinate

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”

From this source: http://www.tolkienestate.com/en/writing/letters/letter-163-to-wh-auden.html

If you read that (and I suggest you do, but just skim the droll languages part in the middle) you’ll find that that is all Tolkien wrote for years before he: drew a map (Thror’s Map) and then wrote the story The Hobbit.

It would appear that Tolkien both wandered while writing, and also plotted out a plot. He did both, over time, weaving an expansive experience of events, landscapes and peoples.

I point this out as many people might believe works like LOTR were planned, designed, architected. It turns out they weren’t (or it wasn’t, and I expect many others were not either).

The idea here is that one must do both, plan and rove, outline and wander. To think that you could write an entire cogent, cohesive story without any form of deliberation is hubris indeed; bumbling along until the end when voila — masterpiece. But in opposition, to adhere to a strict structure A, A.1, A.1.i, A.1.i.a… Ugh! What a bore. Where’s the novelty in that? Where’s the exploration, the discovery?

So you need both.

One way to go about getting both would be to wander, yes, through the telling of your story, discovering the plot, as it were, but to do so in an extended timeline. Write a chapter or three, and then let them sit, marinate, develop in your mind. That way when you come back, a time later, you will have evaluated what you’ve already written, but also dreamed of intrigue or complications, new characters or destinations, and wondered how you were now going to weave these into your story… So you have to then revise what you’ve written early on, to integrate your new plot twists which now allows your mind to develop a larger more expansive storyscape.

I wrote a piece here about Write is War. Writing is strategy and tactics. You have to have both to win. I think Tolkien waged his writing war well. In the end, if you write something that sells, I think you too will have learned that you have to plan AND peregrinate (meander).


Other comments from that letter above I found intriguing…

“I wrote the Trilogy as a personal satisfaction, driven to it by the scarcity of literature of the sort that I wanted to read”

“…find ‘interpretations’ quite amusing; even those that I might make myself, which are mostly post scriptum: I had very little particular, conscious, intellectual, intention in mind at any point*”

“In any case if you want to write a tale of this sort you must consult your roots, and a man of the North-west of the Old World will set his heart and the action of his tale in an imaginary world of that air, and that situation : with the Shoreless Sea of his innumerable ancestors to the West, and the endless lands (out of which enemies mostly come) to the East.”

“Anyway I myself saw the value of Hobbits, in putting earth under the feet of ‘romance’, and in providing subjects for ‘ennoblement’ and heroes more praiseworthy than the professionals”

“So the essential Quest started at once.”

“But I met a lot of things on the way that astonished me. Tom Bombadil I knew already; but I had never been to Bree. Strider sitting in the comer at the inn was a shock, and I had no more idea who he was than had Frodo.”

 


You’re writing for me

As a fiction writer, you are not writing for yourself. You can write for yourself, but don’t expect anyone else to read it. Just twiddle away, write your hundreds of words a day, living in that artificial world you’ve constructed and enjoy it. But don’t expect ME to enjoy it.

You see, if you’re writing for an audience, then you have to realize you’re writing for an audience — right-up-front.

Sure you’ll go on your own private journey while you pen your story. The climbing of the icy mountain, the scuba diving off the coast of Ecuador, the rickshaw trip through the back roads of Cambodia, or Fantastica or wherever.

But while you journey and write, remember that it’s me you’re trying to engage. By “me” I mean us, we, your potential readers. Every word you write, phrase you turn, paragraph you ponder, must be done so imagining someone else reading it.

Not you reading it.

Someone, anyone, everyone else reading it. That has to be your constant, back of your mind Buddha, the little fellow who sits there and reminds you, “Hey, I don’t know what that ‘eponymous’ word means! Maybe there’s a simpler, clearer word…”

And it’s not just phasing or your lexicon that matters. It’s the big stuff. Like how fast is your story going? Do you really need all that extra description? Don’t you think that having him fail four times in a row is a bit much? Wouldn’t just twice be enough, with a clever word slipped into infer additional efforts?

Writing’s hard. Writing well is nearly impossible. But if you try it, remember, it’s not you you’re writing for. You’re expressing these wonderful visions so that WE can experience them.