Category Archives: Craft

Rebooting

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Last month, I had a post called “Resetting”, wherein I described the woeful lack of progress on the first draft I assigned myself to write between April 1 and June 30. Unfortunately, the trend described in that post continues anew, although I did get the opening chapter and the following one done. Other than that, however, this period has not been as productive as I would have liked.

The problem is still the same: the inner voice heckling and disparaging the content I’m writing as if it the worst dreck ever created in the history of the world, thanks to an asshole I thought I had drop-kicked out of my psyche eons ago. So, clearly I still have some work to do on that front. The upside to this is when I do break through more than the handful of bricks I have  hammered out of that wall, the words do in fact flow, and the objective, rational me knows those words are not all  terrible.

I’ve been reading about strategies for dealing with this thing and I am implementing some of those to continue to challenge myself to start writing, keep writing, finish writing, edit the writing, and publish the writing. Today, I’ll add those to the mix, and  see where it takes me.

New outlook, new mindset. The goal now is a reboot as well: finishing the first draft of the current work in progress in the next 90 days, starting today.

Discipline. Willpower. Strength. These are good goals to have. They will be even better goals to reach.

Whatever you are working through, I wish you nothing but the best possible  success.

Truisms

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Rolling Stone has an interview with Stephen King that goes into various subjects. I think the last line of his answer to this question is undoubtedly a truism.

How would your life have gone if you hadn’t become a writer?
I would have been a perfectly adequate high school English teacher, possibly a college English teacher. I probably would have died of alcoholism around age 50. And I’m not sure my marriage would have lasted. I think people are extremely hard to live with when they have a talent they aren’t able to use.

 

Florida Man, the renewable resource

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Everyone knows the jokes about Florida Man and Florida Woman, I’m guessing. It’s a crazy state down here. People may believe Carl Hiaasen simply conjures the outlandishly funny things in his books out of a twisted mind, but really, the inspiration for those things surrounds us here. Since we are not all Mr. Hiaasen, however, were some of us to write in our novels these things, people would scoff at how unlikely the events and the actions of the respective Florida duo were. Simply put: in Florida, it seems there is no event so outlandish that it could not be true. Case in point: “Pork Chop” buries boss in dirt with a front loader and then beats him into unconsciousness with a ladder.

Florida is tragicomedy gold. Ponce de Leon should have been looking for that instead of the fountain of youth.

Writing slowly and the myth of relative goodness

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If you listen to some authors – a ton of very famous authors, writing literary fiction in particular – you would think writing, the act itself, is a torturous process, eliciting words by yanking them out of one’s very soul, and chiseling them onto paper, only to wind up discarding hundreds or thousands of words to net a paragraph at best or merely one word in the end.

While it may be a painful activity for some people, I’m not a big believer of the tortured artist thing, in any sense. That includes both the physical side (drugs, alcohol) and the mental side (“I wrote a whole book that took three years and scrapped everything but the first sentence!”).

I get that it may be difficult to write in the sense of actually getting the words on paper due to some issues, like a huge load of self-doubt, brought on by whatever factor helped build that wall. But these things do not have to result in a grand output of ten words a week that are deemed good enough to keep.

On the other side, there is, for some reason, this idea that writers can only write one book a year and have the book be good. While this may be true for some writers, I have a suspicion that a lot of writers think they can only write well if they only write one book per year, because there is a persistent theory that any more than that would automatically poor writing. I don’t agree with this. After all, I’ve read a number of books that were written in the course of a year (or more) and have found them to be terrible. This is because it is not the amount of writing a writer does that makes it good or bad, but the amount of editing and review a manuscript goes through that does (assuming that the writer is at least halfway competent at the craft and can tell a decent story). Just as it’s difficult to tell from a manuscript when a writer had a bad day, or was sick, or was dealing with some kind of issue, it’s just as difficult to determine from that manuscript when a writer was writing very quickly, or rather slowly on any given day.

Does this mean I think every writer could pump out multiple novels per year? No, of course not. Some people simply write more slowly than others, because every writer is different. My nitpicking here is related only to the myth that writing quickly automatically means the writing is bad. It isn’t.

Now, I may have a slight advantage here because I’ve had stories kicking around in my head for quite some time – decades, in a couple of cases – and by brain has been whirling them around for all this time, honing them, discarding things that are not interesting, and in general, keeping the hopper full. I also tend to write very quickly most of the time, which is part having those things in my head all this time, part dealing in the tech support world, where the tickets never seem to end and need to be worked through as quickly as possible, and because, thanks to my aha moment, the floodgates are now open, allowing everything to flow downriver.

There are some ideas I’ve had, though, that are very recent. Just today, in fact, I had an idea for a humorous series of books, that came into being from the mere fact that someone had two cell phones in their purse (no further details, sorry). The character who will wind up as the main character is already being fleshed out in my head, along with a job, and a couple of potentials for what would be the first book of the series. When it comes time to write on that, I’ll likely have much more, and I think it will be no different than what I am working on now, with the words flowing onto the screen as I work my way from Point A to Point B. Do I think the writing I’m doing any worse on this project than it would be if I wrote more slowly? No. In fact, I am quite pleased with how it’s going, and I expect to continue both in this routine and in the feeling pleased arena now that I am able, once again, to put words to paper.

Speed does not always kill – not in writing, unless someone speeds through so quickly that they do not bother with editing at all before putting a work out to the world.

Transitions

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I am at the point in the current WIP (that’s “work in progress” for those of you unfamiliar when the particular jargon of the crazy people who make up stories and write them) where the whole show needs to transition from what I’m dubbing the intro phase and into the “give that snowball a nudge to start it rolling down the hill” phase. This is where the action will start to ramp up now that we know the principal players, we know the issues that exist and that they need to overcome, and we get to see the things they do that will ultimately lead to some kind of conclusion – in my case, with this WIP, it’s the question of catching the bad guys. Or not. Are these scenes the absolutely most exciting things in the book? No, of course not. But, like a solid dwelling, it does help to have the foundation poured so the rest of the structure can be built atop it.

On we go….

How true is that fiction?

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“The trouble with fiction… is that it makes too much sense. Reality never makes sense.” – “John Rivers” in The Genius and the Goddess (Aldous Huxley)

Case in point: someone messaged me with a link to a news story about a man who decided to live like a sheep for awhile. He created prosthetic legs to strap on to his arms, wore a helmet, and actually wandered around with a herd of sheep in some pastoral setting near the Alps. And he did this after determining the logistics for living as an elephant were not workable. Really. Oh, and a shaman was apparently the one who broke the news to him that he should be a sheep instead of an elephant, although I think the shaman was being kind and polite, while thinking that a jackass might be a better fit.

That is a true story. If I were to encounter the relation of this story in the midst of a larger novel, it would probably rock me out of the overall story. This is not because I think it so odd as to be unbelievable that someone did it – obviously, people do many, many odd things, often without any particular reason at all – but it’s so absurd that unless the novel itself were a satire or absurdist fiction, I think it would be rather jarring – after all, in reality, just how many people have thought, on their own, that someone would live as a sheep for a bit. This is why they (the mysterious “they”) say truth is stranger than fiction. In fiction, it takes work to suspend disbelief and enmesh yourself into the world created by an author, regardless of whether or not that author has populated a world that we would recognize. Anything that appears, like “man lives as sheep” in the course of a regular storyline would cause me, as a reader, to stop, step back, and ask what was going on there, disrupting the flow of the narrative. This is even while intellectually knowing such a thing could be, and probably has, been done.

The language of another field

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The perils of working (forever) in tech-related jobs. What I wrote:
 
“He pointed at the spam immediately to the right of the door.”
 
What I meant to write:
 
“He pointed at the stack immediately to the right of the door.”
 
Regular spellcheck is not going to catch that, so today’s tip is not to rely solely on that particular function.

Fun times

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It’s good to feel really jazzed about writing again, instead of viewing it through the lens of discouragement proffered by those who have their own issues they want to make another’s.

Growth. Or not.

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I can do without the god stuff at number eight, but number four….number four is my personal demon. It’s a voice that dates back decades thanks to – cover your eyes if you’re averse to foul language – a manipulative, condescending, hypercritical, alcoholic, emotionally abusive douchebag. Amazingly enough, although I thought I had put that person behind me, I realized while pulling weeds that the root of all of that gut-churning angst was those (formative, vulnerable) years growing up in a household with that constant hammering. They – the “they” we all know and love/hate – say the first step to tackling a problem is learning to identify the problem. It works in the tech world, in writing, in just living from one day to the next. The second step: working a way out. That’s the step that needs to be taken, the puzzle that needs a solution.

Nine Ways to Stunt Our Writing Growth

A glimpse into the past

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I just reread something I wrote two years ago, almost to the day. A scrap of a fragment on an old drive that now serves as an archive, sitting with a half dozen or so other scraps. I have to admit to my horrifically self-doubting self that if I came across this as someone else’s work, I would deem it quite good. It’s a nice surprise.