Just Write

There’s always a ton of writing advice floating around the internet, and there is certainly no shortage of books on writing.  I touched on that a little the other day in talking about a post by John Scalzi. One thing that they almost always have in common is the advice that you “just have to write”.  Always be writing.

In all honesty, I should be the last one spouting this advice about.  I’m one of those people who hasn’t made it a priority to find make the time to write. That’s the core difference I think.  If  you think of it as “finding” the time to write, you won’t.  If you, instead, think of it as making the time to write, you have a much better chance of actually doing some writing.  What you write, I think, doesn’t matter nearly as much as the fact that you wrote.  If, at the very least, you use a daily writing prompt of some sort to push you to write, that is a start.  It’s something.

Does it work?  Sure it does.  Looking back at my experience during NaNoWriMo last year, I can say for sure that it does work.  I won.  I wrote over 50,000 words in the month of November 2009.  Since then, when I didn’t have that extra little bit of external push?  I don’t have an official count, but my guess would be something around 10,000 words.  In eleven months.  Why?  Because I haven’t made the effort to write something everyday like I did during NaNo.

As November creeps closer this year, I’m beginning to prepare for NaNo again.   Things are busier this year, and I have a number of ready made excuses for not hitting that 50,000 mark.  But, I’m going to do it.  And then, I’m going to try and finish the year off strong.  Maybe not with a 50k a month writing habit, but maybe something like 10,000 words a month.  That’s less than 350 words a day.  I know that on a slower day in November I easily wrote 1000 words.  I can do it.

If you’re serious about becoming a writer, you’ve got to write regularly.  Make the commitment to it.  Do something like NaNo.  November is a busy month, so if it won’t work for you, try it in January or February.  Bust your word processors balls and write 50,000 words in a month.  I think you’ll be surprised where you make time to write.

Scalzi on Finding Time to Write

One of my biggest issues with writing is finding the motivation and time.  By which I mean finding the motivation to make the time instead of sitting down in front of the TV or reading.  Of course, most of the advice that you’ll find from established writers is that if you want to be a writer, you’ve got to write.  John Scalzi, a writer whose writing I admire, had some choice words for people like me today.

So: Do you want to write or don’t you? If your answer is “yes, but,” then here’s a small editing tip: what you’re doing is using six letters and two words to say “no.” And that’s fine. Just don’t kid yourself as to what “yes, but” means.

There’s plenty more in his post.  A bit of a tongue lashing reality check for aspiring writers everywhere.  A deserved one in most cases.  And goes back to one all important fact.  If you aren’t making time for something that you “want” to do, do you really want to do it?

It must be the day for this sort of advice too.  Tobias Buckell did a nice video on writing tools in which he says something along the same lines.

Checklist of Fiction Writing

Jessica Page Morrell has a blog!  In case the name doesn’t ring any bells, she “Between the Lines: Mastering the Subtle Elements of Fiction Writing“, which I deemed to be the best book on writing that I’ve ever read.

In any case, you really should probably subscribe to her blog, it’s got some tasty tidbits available.  For instance, she recently posted the Fiction Checklist.  It’s a checklist of some basic things that should exist in your fiction.  I don’t think it’s meant to be such a checklist where if you miss one or two that your writing is trash, and it certainly isn’t meant as an all-inclusive checklist, but it has some very nice points to make.

Thoughts on Self Publishing

I’ve seen quite a bit of debate recently over whether an author should use a self-publishing route to publish a book.  Of course, as an unpublished author, the debate interests me because I would like to become a published author.

From my reading, and a bit of self deliberation, I’ve come to the conclusion that I just don’t think that self-publishing is for me.  Probably the biggest issue I have with it is the procedure.  In the normal flow of publishing, the novel goes to an agent, then to a publisher and is then published.  If either the agent or the publisher don’t think it’s worthy of publication, it doesn’t get published.  Despite what I think about my own writing, agents and publishers have far more experience than I do with what sells and what doesn’t.  So, if my novel gets rejected, it’s off to the next agent or publisher.

More importantly, if the novel gets an agent and/or a publisher, it validates (to me) my writing.  I know that it’s good enough.  Any question of that is erased from my mind.  Until I start on the next book anyways.  😉

By self-publishing, you don’t get that validation.  For all you know, you’re publishing a flaming bag of dog poo.  But, that’s me.  I need that validation.  I could never be sure of my writing without it.  Maybe that doesn’t make me a very good writer?  I don’t know.  Or, maybe that’s more normal than I know.  Whatever it is, it’s the reason that I don’t think I could self-publish.

Of course, that opinion is subject to change after my “greatest” novel gets rejected by 30 or 50 agents.  We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.  I’ve got to have the “greatest” novel first.

Novel Selling Survey Results

Jim Hines, author of The Stepsister Scheme (along with other wonders that reside on my “to read” list), has been conducting a survey of published authors over the last several months.  The final day for it was March 15, so he’s begun compiling the data and giving us some interesting numbers.

Did you know, for instance, that the average author sells only one short story before becoming a published novelist?  Interesting.  Take a look at the results so far and keep an eye out for the rest of the results.

Collection of Rules for Writing Fiction

The Guardian asked a few of their favorite authors what they kept as their rules for writing fiction.  What they came up with is a wonderful read.  Some are purposefully thoughtful while others are just as purposefully opaque. A few of the tidbits.

From Elmore Leonard’s ten rules:

Avoid detailed descriptions of characters, which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants”, what do the “Ameri­can and the girl with him” look like? “She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.” That’s the only reference to a physical description in the story.

From Jonathan Franzen’s ten rules:

It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.

From PD James’ five rules:

Don’t just plan to write – write. It is only by writing, not dreaming about it, that we develop our own style.

And that’s just in the first half of the article.  (Well, it’s more of a list of lists, but you know what I mean.)

Go, now, and read the rest of them.

Writing for Writing’s Sake

Writer’s block.  Such an ominous phrase.  Even more so if you are a writer (or fancy yourself one).

I’ve spent my fair share of time hiding behind that wall, staring at a blank notebook or white screen, unable to pick up the pen or peck at keys on my keyboard.  And truthfully, sometimes the words just won’t come.  But, writer’s block is not that scary.  You just have to know how to go around it.  Not through it.  Around it.

I’ve found that trying to go through it can be catastrophic.  Eventually, you bend your quill on the wall and walk away thinking you just don’t have the tools.  Not so, but it certainly feels that way.  So, I go around it.  And it works.  Of course, going around your block can be almost as difficult as going through it.

What do I mean by going around your block?  Write for writing’s sake.  It doesn’t even matter what.  If you’re truly desperate, you can open up your dictionary and writing a short sentence about each entry.  (Aardvarks are a funnily named animal.) (Baboon is even more funny. Especially if you pronounce it Bah-Boon.)  Find your grocery list.  Write a sentence about each item.  (Milk is white and contains calcium, which is good for your bones.)  (Bread is a wholesome food.  Unless you have Celiac’s Disease.)  If you’re feeling uber adventurous, write a paragraph about how the food makes you feel. Or how you feel about the animal.

If you want to stay in a more fictional bent, cruise on over to CNN or Fox News.  Take the first story that catches your eye.  Now write a fictional short of a few paragraphs about the situation.  Mud Slides in California?  Write about a boy caught in a truck bed of a truck that is being pushed down the hill towards a cliff.  What does he feel?  How is he saved?  Is he saved?  Snow storm in Texas?  Write about a 40 car pileup and how the people at home react when the people in the pileup don’t show.  Who’s mad at their husband/wife/other for not showing up for Timmy’s basketball game?  Who immediately expects the worst.  Then, write about their thoughts and feelings when they find out what really happened.

I think we get stuck too often behind the wall with the phrase “write what you know”.  Yes, that is always best; but much like a diet or a workout regimen, if we only eat the stuff we like (“know”) or only do the exercises that we like (“know”), we’ll end up fat and out of shape.  So too will our writing engine end up fat and out of shape.  Sometimes, you’ve got to push yourself to stretch your boundaries and exercise your imagination.  And that probably is going to mean writing outside of your realm of knowledge.  We’re not looking for Hugo level results.  Heck, make stuff up.  (A UFO caused the pileup on the snowy highway in Texas.)

Sometimes you have to just write for writing’s sake.

What Do You Write With?

From author to author, we each have our own little fetishes about what we write with.  Some prefer loose notebook paper and pen.  Others like notebooks of any sort.  Real purists even use fountain pens.  And still others prefer their computer.

I’ll admit that there is a little twitch of something when I write by hand.  The scratching of the pen on the paper.  But when it comes right down to it, I type so much quicker than I can write with a pen.  So, my preference is to use a computer.  If I had my way, I’d have a nice laptop that I could carry about and use wherever.  My budget doesn’t yet allow for that, so I’m stuck to using my desktop computer at home.  It does the trick nicely enough, it just isn’t portable.

Despite my preference for a computer, there isn’t always one nearby.  So, I’ve taken up the habit of keeping a small notebook in my pocket with a pen.  It’s a cheap Wal*Mart knock-off of a Moleskine pocket ruled notebook.  Frankly, I think I should have spent the extra money for the Moleskine, but it’ll do for the here and now.  My little pocket notebook gives me the ability to write down little bits and ideas whenever they pop up.  And it’s very handy.

I also have a large Moleskine notebook sitting at my desk.  It doesn’t get used as much as the other notebook, or even the computer, but it gets a bit.  For both, I am currently using a Pilot G2 pen.  It’s got a nice fine point and the ink is relatively fast drying so there is little smearing.  It also doesn’t bleed through too badly.

When it comes to the hard core computer writing, I have a bit of a more complex set up.  Obviously, since my desktop doesn’t travel with me, I needed to find a way to take my stuff with me.  For that, I’ve got a Western Digital 120GB passport USB drive.  It works well for carrying around my data.  Some are content to type away in Word or Notepad.  It’s too disorganized for me.  I’ve tested a few softwares.  Each of them had to have one requirement.  Free.  The one I finally settled on was yWriter.  It’s created by an author, which lends to it’s usability.  It’s simple, yet allows for fairly robust control over structure and plot.  With it, I can keep notes on each chapter, scene, and on the book overall.  It’s got a word counter if you need that (Helpful for nanowrimo) and even gives you a count for the day if you want that as well.

That’s what my current set up is.  What’s yours?

Inspiration Struck Briefly

I wrote a full novel of over 50,000 words last November.  A full novel!  I was so excited!  I even managed to do a little bit of editing on it in December.  Not much, but a little.  Then the holidays struck and I haven’t touched it since.  In fact, it’s been over a month since I even looked at it.  And, while I still haven’t looked at it, I have done a bit of writing.  Baby steps, I guess.

Inspiration struck and I pulled out my handy notebook and jotted down a few lines.  And then, later, I added more.  Woo! Hoo!  I had forgotten how wonderful it feels as the words spill out onto the page or screen.  I prefer typing to writing as I do the first faster, but I find that a notebook will do in a pinch.  Especially when that notebook is a moleskine.  But, that’s a topic for another post.  I’m just excited that I wrote something.  So excited, in fact, that I’m going to share what I wrote.

The sliver of a moon whispered sweet nothings into my ear.  My anticipation grew.  It would still be days before she grew full and our passion would be released.  Call me whatever you want.  I’ve been called many things, by Werewolf is the most common.

Many carry the misconception that my kind are only werewolves during the full moon.  The full moon is merely when the moon’s pull is greatest.  It ebbs and flows with each cycle.   Another misconception is that we have increased strength and are violent.  In fact, we are no stronger than any other man.  The violent part is mostly true.  It’s in the nature of what we are.  The moon’s whispers grow louder as it grows fuller.  Eventually it becomes so loud that one can hardly hear ones own thoughts.  It drives you mad.  And violent.

My name is Argyl.  And I am a werewolf.

It’s nothing special.  Mostly, it’s rough around the edges and the flow is jumpy.  But.  It is something written that wasn’t several days ago.

I’ll settle for that.

Between the Lines: Mastering the Subtle Elements of Fiction Writing

Between the Lines: Mastering the Subtle Elements of Fiction Writing

By: Jessica Page Morrell

There is a line which prospective authors like to toe.  That line is the line between reading too much about writing and not doing any writing, and doing too much writing without truly knowing what it is that they are doing.  Everytime I read a book about writing, I feel as if I’ve fallen off of some cliff that is that line and have plunged into the land of the people who read about how to write but never do any actual writing.  (Unless, of course, you count a blog post.  I don’t.)

There are many who would not recommend reading any books on writing, but merely using what talent you have and practicing until you are good enough to be published.  I’m not one of those people.  I believe that if you can learn something about writing and hone your skill a little between practicing, you should.  After all, if a book like this one will save you several rewrites, that’s that much more time you’ll have to write the sequel to your novel.

On to the book itself.  I’ve read several books on writing.  I’ll save you the list, albeit a short one, and suffice to say that some are a complete waste of time.  This book, Between the Lines, is not one of those.  In fact, if I were asked which of the books on writing I’ve read is the best, this would be it.  Morrell doesn’t mince words and tell you about the process of writing.  If you’re looking for methods and places of writing, this isn’t your book.  What you do get with this book, however, is a very indepth look at the elements that make a regular old novel into a great novel.  Even a bestseller.

Throughout the book, Morrell breaks down those elements and pairs them with specific examples that illustrate why they work and where.  I found that she didn’t preach or lecture about the elements either.  Each of the chapters/elements is given in very plain and understandable language and the author doesn’t assume that the reader is a complete idiot.  With each of the elements, I found myself thinking to my current work in progress and, in nearly every case, finding something (or several somethings.) came to mind immediately that could benefit from that element.

Overall, this is a very powerful book for anyone who writes, whether it be fiction or not.  As I said, I would recommend this book over any of the other writing books that I have read so far.  If you’re a budding author, I suggest you find yourself a copy of this book and give it at least one read.  Pick it up at your local library, B&N, or Amazon.  I think you’ll thank yourself, and I guarantee that if you use the advice given, your future editor will likely thank you as well.