5 Minutes Alone

Writing is as much a habit as it is anything else.  You’ve got to sit down at your computer, or with your pad and pen, and write if you want to get any writing done.  Don’t do that, and you’ll end up with nothing completed, and most of your best ideas forgotten into the ether.  But, if you’ve ever participated in something like NaNoWriMo, where you have to consistently sit down and write for an hour or more a day, you know that it can also be a chore to sit that long and churn out text.

The majority of that feeling is coming from the fact that you don’t normally do it.  Then you decide to torture yourself a little and do it for 30 days straight.  Ouch, right?  Well, there’s a fix to that.  You have to develop the habit of writing.  I’m as guilty of not doing this as anyone else out there.  Sitting down for an hour or two at a time is just hard to do.  Especially when you have to carve that time out of some other activity that you’ve been doing for some time.  That other activity is a stronger habit, and is easier to do, so it wins.

Here’s how I think you can break that problem’s back.  5 minutes alone.  We can all carve 5 minutes out of our schedule.  Find 5 minutes, and do nothing but write for those 5 minutes.  You can do more, if you find yourself so inclined, but you must do 5 minutes.  Do that for a month, maybe two.  You’ll find that, by the end, those 5 minutes are pretty easy to come by.  And you’ll also find that you’ve got a heck of a lot of text to work with as a result.

Each month, increase the required time by 5 minutes.  By the end of a year, you’ll be doing an hour straight.  Probably more.  In short, you’ll have developed a habit.

p.s. extra bonus points for naming the band who’s song title I borrowed for this post.

p.p.s. bonus points are worth nothing.

p.p.s. Just in case you can’t figure it out: here

Who Decides?

Who decides which manuscripts should be published?  From a purely technical standpoint, the current state of publishing is that a manuscript must first be picked up by an agent, then that agent must find a publisher to pick it up.  It’s a double gated system.  The manuscript must be decided upon at each gate in order to advance on to being published.  But, that’s all changing, isn’t it.

It used to be so much harder to go the self published route.  Anybody could write a book, and take it to a printer.  But, getting any sort of distribution was extremely difficult.  The author would have to take up the car salesman mantra and knock on every door of every bookstore they could reach in hopes that one or two of them might agree to find a bit of shelf space in the store for the authors book.  Now, it can be as simple as a bit of formatting and a few button clicks, and you’ve managed to upload your book onto the shelves of one of the largest bookstores in the world.  Shelf space is cheaper now.  Without the limits of a physical shelf, a bookstore can hold an unlimited number of digital books.  As a result, the barrier to entry has lowered.  Self publishing is, suddenly, very easy to do.

I, personally, am still on the fence.  I’m attracted to the lack of barrier that the self-publishing route has.  But, I’m also attracted to the gates of the agent/publishing house route.  Gates mean exclusivity.  If you can get through those gates, you join a limited group of people.  But, if you sell enough books, does it matter which route you went?  Not really.

I noticed a post by someone over at Bookends, LLC‘s blog.  It went like this:

Just because friends, family, and coworkers tell you to write a book doesn’t mean it’s a book that should be published.

As I read it, a part of me reached for my pitchfork.  My hackles went up.  And I clicked through to see how badly they’d been skewered in the comments.  And, it turns out, they weren’t.  A majority of the comments are positive.  There’s a few that took up the other side though.  And it’s those I agree with most.  Who are they to decide whether “it’s a book that should be published” or not?  Did I miss the memo that announced them as supreme deciders of publish-ability?

Yes, agents and publishers know a great deal more about the market that you or I do.  Yes, some of them are very, very good at their jobs.  But, I also think back to how many stories we’ve all heard about the manuscript that got rejected 30 or 40 times before someone took it and then it hit the bestseller list.  The real truth is that not everyone likes what everyone else does.  Thank goodness, or there wouldn’t be any market for certain authors.  I’ve personally read (or tried to read) two books this year alone that I thought were absolutely terrible.  These weren’t random books I picked out of the bargain bin on the Kindle store.  These were bestsellers.  Classics by some peoples standards.  I didn’t even finish one of them.  I thought they were that bad.  If I had been the agent that either had come to, or the publisher, I would have rejected them.

If agents and publishers can miss good books, and put bad books through, what right do they have determining which manuscripts go forward?

If your friends, family, and coworkers tell you to write a book, write it.  That’s first.  Just write it.  Then, take it and get an editor to look it over.  Get some beta readers to read it through.  Edit it.  Send it to an editor again.  Once you’re darn well sure it’s ready to go, decide whether you want to go through the traditional publishing route or not.  Send it to an agent, or not.  But, send it somewhere.

I said I was on the fence earlier in this post.  But, I’m leaning towards the self publishing side more and more each day.  Who decides whether a book is any good or not?  In the end, it’s the readers.  And, if the readers are the ones who decide, why are we wasting our time trying to get through gates instead of putting out the best book we can and letting the readers decide.


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?