Category Archives: Unorthodox Writing Tips
It’s going to happen to you sooner or later. I can tell you with 100% certainty that if you start to write that you will put your hands on the keyboard and BAM! Lightning will strike. You’ll be amazed. It’ll almost be like magic. You’ll be almost as surprised as I am each and every time it happens. It’s like clockwork for me. I put my hands on the keyboard to type some words and…
Yes, that’s right. People don’t take writing seriously. You’re not actually working, after all, you’re just doing something that’s a hobby and you can be distracted at anyone’s whim. What you’re doing isn’t important to them because they don’t see anything you’re producing at that very moment. The person interrupting you might not even understand the creative process or how critical it is for you to just have some quiet time to sit and type without any interference.
It might not even be a person that will do it. You might get a text message on your phone from a person that doesn’t even know you’re writing. Or a tweet. Or an e-mail. Or a facebook notification. Or any number of other places that can bounce you straight from your realm back into the real world. It’ll happen more times to me in a day than I can count. In fact, I’m just getting started on this post and I’ve been interrupted six times by four different people. None of them know I’m writing so they don’t even know they’re bothering me.
What should I do? Well, I’m on my lunch and still sitting at my desk. I should have gotten up and walked away with my netbook and typed this up somewhere else. Totally my fault, but I’m on back to back calls and I’m squeezing in lunch where I can. Yes, I work fro home. I’ve also gotten calls from a listing that expired and other people want to know more about the listing. People from work have questions and I’m trying to type as fast as I can and keep my thoughts together and
Message tone stops me once again
Then a reminder for another meeting.
Then a call from my wife.
Then I need to attend a call.
It never stops. I’m trying to eat while I type this as well. Be glad you cannot see my keyboard.
My point in all of this is that you will be distracted. You need to do one of two things. First you can isolate yourself from any distractions. Go to park, leave your cell phone at home, be disconnected from the internet and be as free from distractions as you can be. You’ll never be 100% free from distractions, but this will limit it to things beyond your control. It’ll just be you versus the keyboard. A contest of how many words you can type in a given session.
My only issue with this is when I’m ready to write I don’t want to pack everything up and head for the hills just so I can be away from everything. If that were the case I’d rent a cabin in the mountains for a couple weeks and write each and every day all day. Or closed resort in the mountains. Or be kidnapped by my number one fan.
No, I like to sit where I am and write from there. As best I can I disconnect from the internet, I inform the wife and my favorite daughter that I’m writing, and put on some headphones. Yes, I still get interrupted, but like I said. That’s going to happen. Being that I’ve been writing every day since the start of the year (2012 if you’re reading this in the future) means that I can isolate myself quickly and, usually, get right back where I left off after a given distraction. I’ll do everything I can to avoid them, but life will step in and say hello from time to time so you need to do whatever you can to manage them.
Yes, I understand you cannot write unless you have a 4 hour block of time laid out, but you need to consider if this is realistic or not. Granted 10 minute chunks are difficult to get anything done in, but it is possible. What you need to do is figure out a schedule, or plan your time, or find some quiet time, and just start bashing out words. It is up to you to do your best to avoid distractions, or manage them, or accept that they will happen, address them, and move on. You will never be 100% free of distraction even if you do manage to isolate yourself in the wilderness. You will still need to eat, drink, sleep, find out where they woodpecker is, avoid bears, well…you get the point. Distractions will occur and it’s more of how you manage them than how you avoid them.
This post is a distraction. Is it a distraction for you or me? The world may never know.
Until Next Time!
I almost didn’t write this post. No, seriously. I almost didn’t I’ve got so much going on right now that I thought that it would be easy to just let it slip by. No one would notice, right? It’s not like I get that much traffic and I think I’ve had one or two comments on these posts. Who would miss it if I skipped a week? Would you notice?
Odds are, no one would notice if I didn’t sit here and type up this post. This isn’t even what I had intended to write about this week.
This has nothing to do with confidence in my ability to type up a post. It has nothing to do with being afraid what others will think. This has everything to do with what I planned for this year. I had planned to treat my writing as a part-time job. That means doing it even when I don’t feel like doing it. I’m good at putting things off. I really am.
I’m sure you’re good at putting things off as well. It’s so easy to justify in my mind why I don’t need to do something. There’s always later. There’ll be more time tomorrow. I really want to watch this TV show. There’s this book I’ve been meaning to read. I’m behind on my podcast listening. The grass needs cutting, the bushes need trimming, the kid has this thing I need to go to.
Some things I got done this week that I didn’t want to get done because they interfered with MY time:
Mounted a surfboard for the Middle School to use in the advancement ceremony (Thank you Millican for helping!)
Recorded lines for J. Daniel Sawyer.
Wrote words in Of Gnomes and Dwarves every day
Wrote my daily blog post
Recorded and edited Episode 4 of Golden West
Went to my favorite daughter’s volleyball practices (every day)
Dealt with a personal issue that should be completely resolved in the coming weeks
Made hotel reservations for my favorite daughter’s last away game
I walked at least two miles four days this week.
I lifted weights almost every day this week.
There’s a lot of things that take up my time and take me away from doing the things I want to do and I didn’t want to do any of these (well, except writing on Of Gnomes and Dwarves) but the point is these things needed to be done. I have new toys to play with. I have more stories I want to write. I have books I’ve bought that I want to read. I have places to go to and people to go see.
I’ll get to them. I’ll have my down time. But I made commitments to other people, friends, family, schools. I need to uphold those commitments. I still need to get my day job done as well. There are only so many hours in the day and if I put something off, it’ll eat into my time just like it’ll eat into my brain. I can’t just let something slide. Just like this post. I can’t just let it slide. I’ve made a commitment to myself and to my readers. For all I know two people are reading this on a weekly basis, but that’s not the point.
The point is, in order to be a professional I need to first act like a professional. If I can’t hold up a schedule that I myself set with my own deadlines, then how would I ever be able to do it for someone that wants to pay me money to do this? I didn’t step into this lightly and I must take full responsibility to my fans and my readers. That means that even if I don’t want to write this post and I might complain about it taking away from my time, the point is, I need to do it.
I need to suck it up. I need to bite the bullet. I need to put on my big boy pants and get the job done.
It’s not always easy. No one ever said this would be easy. It would be so much easier to quit and give up. Nothing worth having is easy to obtain. If you want to be able to succeed as a writer, you need a schedule. I’ve said this many times before, but you need to lay down a schedule, write daily, track your progress, get encouragement from others if you need it. But by all means you need to start and you need to stick with it. You need to write when you’re not feeling it you need to write more when you are. You need to write when you’re sick, when you’re depressed, when you’re happy, when you feel like there’s no point in putting down any more words. You need to keep going.
I’m a writer. I don’t do this for the people who read this. Yes, that’s a great plus when I get feedback from someone. In the end I’m doing this for me. If I didn’t write this post, the only person that would notice, is me. I would let myself down. Sure I might hear from someone, but I would be the first to notice.
If you’re reading this, you mean the world to me. I hope you enjoy what I’m doing here. I hope you get something out of it. Just know that this is more for me than it is for you. If you want to be a writer, you need to write. I cannot express that enough. And speaking of writing…
Until Next Time!
It’s easy to say that you’re not going to let things get to you. I like to think that when I’m sitting and writing that nothing else matters except for getting the words down on that page. I just need to keep plugging ahead and get them out. Eventually someone will read them. Even if they’re awful someone will read them.
Wait, what if I’m writing really badly. What if what I’m doing is so bad no one will ever read this garbage? Do my characters have realistic motivation? Am I describing this bologna sandwich the way I want the reader to see it? Have I put in too much description and back story about that old car that had three bald tires and needs an oil change like my kid needs braces?
I’m a writer. I understand. I’ve been there. I’ve written something that I thought was great, submitted it to the market I had intended it for and got a form letter rejecting it. Well what does THAT mean? Did they even look at it? Did anyone look at it? Then I do some re-writing and send it off to another market. They reject it telling me just where it all went wrong for them. Oh GOD! Now I feel worse. I wrote it, I tried to make it better and the story still doesn’t work. Now what am I supposed to do? Will anyone ever like anything I write?
The best answer I can give you? Probably.
There’s no guarantees when it comes to writing. That’s right, you may spend years writing and never get anything in print. That’s a risk you take when it comes to writing. You know when you’ll get published? Yeah, I don’t either. Why? It’s different for everyone. I had thought for sure by the time I was 40 I’d have a multi-book deal and I’d be writing everything from novels to comics to those little puzzles you see on the back of a cereal boxes. I was going to do it all and write everything I could possibly write and be able to support myself with my writing.
Guess what? Reality sucks. I’m going to be (Jay does some quick math in his head) 43 this year. I’m no closer to publication than I was in 2000. Yes, I’ve gotten a couple short stories published. It took me years to get that to happen. It’s a very long, slow process. It might be another ten years before I see my name on a book (that I didn’t publish on my own). I’ve had to accept that and deal with it. It’s the reality of the publishing world. It moves slowly now, it’ll move slowly next year, and it’ll move at the same slow speed 10 years from now.
It’s something that you need to look past. The only thing that matters right now at this very moment is are you putting words down. Are you writing? Are you banging away on the keyboard and typing words? It doesn’t matter what those words are. Writing is one think you can’t get worse at as you go. It’s a very long learning process and if you’re not spending time every single day you’re not going to get better. At best you’ll stagnate. But in order to get better at your craft and have a better chance of success is to get words out every single day without fail.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. I’m writing daily. I’ve written over 200,000 words so far this year (as of this writing I’m at 213,560). I’m keeping track of my words and putting out more words than ever before. I’ve started blogging daily just to get something out. I might ramble from time to time. I most likely am being ignored by everyone who’s come by my blog. But the point is I’m typing daily and getting words out. If you want to be a writer that’s what you need to do. Write! No one is going to force you to do it and no one will be sad if you don’t. The only person who should be mad or sad is you. If you don’t write, you need to be mad at yourself. You should also be sad because if you’ve got a story to tell and you’re not, you’re letting a litttle part of yourself die.
The only person that can give you confidence to actually write is you. Give yourself the confidence to write. Give yourself permission to work through the tough times and get those bad words out of the way. Odds are most of what you write at the start will be awful, but get past them. Get something written. Read a lot and keep notes on what you like and what you don’t like. Try re-writing a paragraph (or a page) from a book you’re reading (because you’re reading every day, right?) Pick something up and copy a paragraph word for word. Then try to re-write it from memory. Do this a few times. Now put your own character into the paragraph. Change it around so it’s yours. Do little exercises like this to help you build up those writing chops.
You might say something like “Writing the same thing over and over is stupid”. Sure, it might feel stupid and a bothersome chore, but I know a lot of musicians that still sit done every day and do scales. If you’ve ever had a guitar in your hands, scales are tough. Writing is tough as well. You need to train yourself and work hard in order to get better, but in the end it’s up to you to do it for yourself to help build up the confidence you have in yourself to just sit and let the words fall out of your head and onto the page.
It all begins and ends with you. Begin today. What are you waiting for?
Until Next Time!
My favorite daughter plays volleyball. They do drills over and over and over again. The girls are still learning the basics of the game and one of the things they’re getting better at is their platform. The coach gets upset when they don’t have the proper form. Yet still some of the girls will swing their arms out instead of getting into the correct position. Why? It’s easier to just swing your arms wildly and how for a good hit than it is to actually move your feet, set your platform, and hit the ball correctly.
The varsity coach has talked to the girls about this for the upcoming tryouts for varsity and junior varsity. He doesn’t want girls who just go for it. Aggression isn’t as important as correct form. Sure, the aggressive girl who swings at the ball might get seven or eight hits out of ten, but the girl with the correct platform and doing the drill correctly can be trained to his ten out of ten.
I did some body building for a time oh so many years ago. I’d see these ripped guys in the gym and they moved very slowly when it came to lifting weights. I asked my workout partner why they did the movements so slowly when it was easier to just pull hard and snap the weight up. He laughed. “Because you’ll hurt yourself that way.”
What I learned doing my workout the wrong way and the correct way was snapping up a heavy weight puts a lot of stress on your body, mainly your lower back, and joints. Whereas lifting the weight with slow, controlled movements meant it would take longer to do those ten repetitions, but I was getting a lot more from the workout by controlling the weight. You lift the weight slowly and count as your bring it up, and you lower the weight slowly taking just as much time to lower the weight. This control works the muscle harder, giving a more localized workout and not putting undue stress on your joints or lower back.
When it comes to your writing you need to take similar approaches. Yes, it’s easy to write by the seat of your pants. I’ve done that many times when I had just an idea to start with and just began with the banging on the keyboard and waited to see what came out on the other end. Normally I’d have an ending in mind and I’d work toward that ending. On other occasions I’d actually go through the trouble of plotting out a story and working my way through each chapter and then going in and writing. Both styles work for me and I can use which ever suits my needs at the time.
The point is, I have a method. I now follow that method when it comes to story creation and my writing periods. I don’t just ‘hope for the best’. I plan my time, I make better use of that time, and I’m a more efficient writer for it. It hasn’t been easy. I didn’t have a coach along the way to explain each misstep and tell me how to do it better or even where I was making mistakes. Those I had to learn on my own. I had to build my own base of knowledge to work from. Using that base means when I sit and write I’m comfortable with my style and I enjoy re-reading what I’ve written as much as when I wrote it.
Beyond that, I’m getting a lot more practice because I’m taking the time each and every day to write something or edit something and usually to read something. I know what works for me and what doesn’t and why. I can sit and start typing and come out with a great work count when I choose to. I’ve developed my writing muscles, I’ve established my writing platform, and I can bump/set/spike with less effort than when I started.
You need to establish your own level of control. It’s easy to sit and just start typing and want your writing to be good. It’s another to sit and make your writing good. Sure, firsts drafts will always be first drafts and require edits and rewrites. Even a second or third draft will require more editing and beta readers will point out plot holes and story issues that you’ve overlooked. You job as a writer is to write the best story you can. To do that, you need to practice. But don’t just practice, practice control over what you’re doing. Don’t just let the words tell a story, make them tell the story you want to tell in the way you want to tell it. The story may be very different in your head. Your job as a writer is to control the words you put on the page to convey the images you see in your head.
Until Next Time!
As a writer I’ve always heard “Read outside your genre”. That’s all well and good, but think about this. There’s writing everywhere. Someone got paid to write it, but how many people bother to take the time to read it? I’m not talking about things you see every day like billboards or signs, or simple things like that. I’m talking about things you see in your own home.
Go to your cupboard and take a look at what you’ve got in there. Boxes, cans, bags. Everything has writing on it in there. Grab something and read it. What does it say on that cereal box? On that can of soup? On that package of noodles.
Sure, we’ve all been to the store, bought something and taken it home and cooked it. I’ve bought Campbell’s soup for years. I don’t think I ever read the directions because my mom showed me how to make the soup. Sometimes it you look at the label, there’s a recipe on the inside. No, really. I never knew that until I actually picked up the soup can and read the entire thing. There is so much writing out there that I never even looked at before.
Take a shampoo bottle for example. If you forget reading material when you’re sitting on your favorite seat (okay, maybe it’s just my favorite seat) and you need something to read, check out what your shampoo says. Sure, we’ve all done shampoo and conditioner before. Lather, rinse, repeat as needed. But take a moment to actually read what else is on there. Sometimes I’ve actually gotten a laugh out of it and not because it was written intentionally funny, rather it’s written in such a way that it’s corny and you have to wonder who got paid to write this stuff.
When was the last time you read instructions for an iron. You know, those things that make your clothes smooth and flat. All of them that I’ve read say “Do not iron clothes while wearing”. This always makes me laugh, but I’ve run across many items with similar instructions that make you wonder who actually did this to make them have to write that warning?
Speaking of warnings, have you read your toothpaste? It tells you not to swallow more than you would normally use and gives you instructions if you do. I knew my toothpaste had fluoride, but I didn’t know it was a poison until I read about it and figured out why it had this warning.
Even more warnings, check out the labels on any medicines or pills. There’s a plethora of warnings, reactions, emergency procedures. Some even have full pull out sleeves that you can read.
My point is, there’s writing everywhere. You just need to take a moment or two and find it. Words are all over your house and not just in books. Did you ever read that instruction manual for you phone? Neither did I. I know how to work a phone. But you know what, there are some settings I never knew about until I cracked that little book open and just started reading to see what else was in there. I’ve got loads of manuals for every appliance in my house, yard equipment, sleeping bags, places I never even though to look.
So what do I do with all this information? I’m glad you asked.
Most of the time I do nothing with it all. It’s just a lot of words to read to take up a little time. But every now and again I’ll read a label and it’ll spark an idea. BAM! I’m off to the races. It’ll be just that little kick I needed to give my story a little twist, punch, or stab that it needed. Even more, it might even give me something stupid for a character to do that they shouldn’t be doing like ironing their clothes while wearing them.
Speaking of ironing clothes, I should go take care of some different reading.
Until Next Time!
There are big things everywhere you look. Some are far bigger than others and there are times when you might overlook something because you see it all the time. Stop letting things blend into the background and stop and take a look.
Big things came in a variety of different packages. Stop at that building you walk past every day. Is it a public building? Go inside and find out. Check out the architecture. Is there a security guard? Who is listed in the directory? Can you get on the elevator? Take a little tour and see what kind of people are there. Don’t just go inside and be there. Look at everything once you’re inside. Look at the ceiling. How are the security cameras arranged: hidden in smoky bubbles or in plain sight? Are there signs directing you to different room numbers? Does someone stop you and ask if they can help you? Are there a lot of people in the building or is it a ghost town?
Perhaps you don’t live near a big city where you can find a building like this to go inside. Maybe you live in a more rural area. I grew up in one as well. Back where I lived we would help with debeaking turkeys. You want to see something big, look at a turkey barn. Those things are massive, noisy, and smelly. There are so many turkeys in there you’d be amazed. Each year the owner would need to pack up one of his barns and he would call on his friends. Everyone would have a part to do. Those debeaking would have gloves and clippers, the cagers would just wear gloves. Turkeys are big fans on having their beaks clipped and are even more perturbed being shoved into a cage. I got my share of scratches. You want to see something big, check out a local farm. See if the owner will let you on, perhaps give you a tour. It doesn’t have to be a farm with animals, there are a lot of different farms and they’re all huge.
Don’t have a farm or a city nearby but still want to check out something huge? Check out a local monument. It doesn’t matter where you live, there are monuments anywhere you look. Get that smart phone out and do a search for monuments, landmarks, anything local. These can come in the form of statues, parks, bells, any number of different things. Seek them out, size them up. Read the story behind it and find out what its history is. You might be surprised at just how big the history of your home town is.
Got some time? Taking a vacation? Visit somewhere big. I’ve been to a lot of places over the years. The Grand Canyon, The Redwoods, Bryce Canyon, The Rocky Mountains, The Arizona Arches. The Southwest is full of huge and majestic natural places to go. The Grand Canyon is so big that to me it doesn’t look real. From one ridge to the other the distance is so great that it starts to blur into the horizon. The Redwoods are the largest and oldest trees in the world. You can only go through a small portion of the woods, but when you get to the observation platform the trees go on forever. At least it looks that way. So many trees. Even standing on a beach and looking out over a body of water. Watching waves crash in knowing that the water goes out beyond your sight. I’ve even been to Hawaii and looked down into a volcano. The power of nature is beyond my comprehension and I can only sit back and be amazed.
Got more time? Take a road trip. Drive from point A to point B and realize the distance you traveled. When I got out of the Navy way back when I had to travel from Florida to Colorado. It took me a couple of days and I was only able to bring across half my stuff. I had to go back, pick up another load, and head back again. Heck, even when I was in the Navy, I had to drive from Southern California to Minnesota to visit some family. Then after my leave, I had to drive from Minnesota to Florida. I hit a lot of states along the way. It still amazes me how large this country is and I still haven’t seen it all. When I say experience something, I mean it. Road trips are an amazing experience. Don’t just sit in the car and let the sights pass you by. Even if you’ve taken the trip dozens of times, there are still a lot of things to see that you might have missed or that just blended into the background.
As a kid I grew up in the sticks. Way back in the woods. We would drive down to the cities (The Twin Cities) a few times a year. It was a three hour drive and at different times of the year everything looked so different. My kid brain would be amazed with how different it all looked on that trip to grandma’s house. After dozens of times going back and forth there were still things I didn’t remember on the trip before, or had forgotten, or were just plain new.
When I say experience, I mean absorb all you can. Got a camera? Take pictures so you can remember some detail you might forget. I don’t recommend doing this while driving, but if you’re a passenger, take a lot of pictures. Look around, go where people don’t always go. Don’t be afraid to stop at that scenic vista to look around.
Until Next Time!
Inspiration and motivation can be found everywhere. You don’t even have to be looking for it, but if you are looking, sometimes the motivation is easier to find. It gets even easier if you have some idea of what you’re looking for.
I want you to do something for me. Get down on your hands and knees and look around. Don’t just look, but move your hands around. Perhaps you even want to gather what you find into a little pile for closer inspection. Just get yourself down there and take a look. It’s your floor. You don’t need gloves on to perform this exercise. What did you find?
On my floor it’s a combination of dog hair, people hair, a small dust bunny, some dirt, dried spots of water or something (I’m not sure what) but I also have hard wood floors. These things are common enough and float around all the time. If I work my way around the floor, I’m liable to run into at least one ant (I hate ants) and at least one spider. I’m sure I’ll find other bugs if I spend enough time down there, but my knees are old and don’t get around as easily as they used to.
You can perform this same exercise in the rest of your house, but how much fun is that? Go outside. Let’s get our hands dirty a little. You’ve got a patch of grass don’t you? Even if it looks dead or even if it is dead, go a diggin’. There’s always a great collection of bugs to be found if you look hard enough. Anthills are everywhere. What else can you find on the ground outside? What trash is there? Do you pick it up or movie it aside? Perhaps now would be a good time to go get those gloves. Is the trash fresh or has it been well weathered? Do you see foot prints? Can you make out the broken blades of grass? Are some blades partially eaten? Perhaps a clump has been dug up and the roots exposed. Are weeds starting to take over or are they the main covering for the ground? Perhaps you’re looking in your flowerbed and can identify the budding plants or sprouts.
Let’s get even smaller. Now that you’re outside on your hands and knees look closer at the ground, the plants, the bugs. How are they interacting with their environment? Is there a social community down there? Perhaps some piece of trash is more than just an obstacle, it’s a complete road block for some bugs. Move things around, change up the environment. Don’t just leave things they way they were. Look at that spot from different angles. If you have one, get a magnifying glass. Look even closer and see what separates one section of dirt from another. See how the plants interact.
Are you dizzy yet? Usually when I look at something tiny for a length of time it’ll mess with my head. I get a different perspective though. Even though I hate ants, I still will watch them even when feeding them a solution of boric acid and sugar mixed with enough water to make a watery paste. I’ll watch the ants drink and their abdomens swell with the bluish goo. I’ll see where they’re coming from, where they’re going, they’ll stop and tap antenna and continue on their way. I know they’re taking the bait back to their nest and I find that fascinating. How quickly I’ll have a small path of ants transformed into a mass of little soldiers all eating away.
But it’s not all about bugs and weeks. You can do this with anything. Look closer at your furniture. Really, look closer at the fabric of your couch. How does the light reflect when you brush the fabric one direction and then the other. Can you see the texture of the paint on your wall if you look close enough. What about the grain of the wood of your chairs, your floor, your banister, the texture of your carpet or rug. Look closely at a painting on your wall, or the ink of a pen on paper, the fabric of your curtains. If you look close enough, you can make out a lot more than just what your eyes are seeing.
What will this accomplish? It’ll get you thinking of things more than just what you initially grasp. As a kid I used to spend time with tiny cars and running over bugs, piling up dirt, mixing things together with my miniature world and seeing how things blended together. As a kid I wouldn’t even know what I was doing and I’d be staring close at something with my eyes crossed trying to get a better look at what it was. I loved looking at money and seeing all the different grains, patterns, colors.
Take something you have experienced and drop it into your writing. It doesn’t have to be the tiniest thing you find, but perhaps your character is sweeping the floor and a bug skitters out of the way. What kind of bug was it? What did you see on your floor? Or outside? Did something make you jump? Wrinkle your nose in disgust? Move faster than you expected? Perhaps you’re not even sure what it was that you saw but it acted like a bug, but was really something completely different.
Maybe you can even take it a step further. Look at the movie, The Incredible Shrinking Man. His entire world became the small and microscopic. Those little things out of the way. Even looking at more current movies like A Bug’s Life and Antz, or shows like Rescue Rangers. Everything tiny has a purpose and meaning beyond it’s ordinary, mundane purpose. Work it into a story and see where you can go with it. Put things together in a way that might not make sense at first, but will make sense one you have the idea more fully formed.
Don’t take the smallest thing you can see for granted. It’s there. If you get down there and look, it’s there. Why?
Until Next Time!
Have you ever struggled with a scene and just couldn’t figure out how to make it work? Your fought and typed and pained your way through and something just wasn’t quite right? Yeah, never happens to me either. See you next time…
Okay, kidding aside. It’s difficult when you get to a scene and you want to make it right. You’ve done some research, maybe watched a documentary or read an article, but it just didn’t ‘feel’ right. Maybe it’s too sterile. Maybe it’s too stiff. Maybe the vernacular just doesn’t flow the way you feel it should. Talk to someone about it. Find someone who might be in the field of what you’re writing about.
For example, when working on My Teacher is a Zombie I need to understand what made Zombies want to eat brains. I couldn’t talk to a zombie, so I just made that part up. But what the kids were learning in class, that I could talk to someone about. In fact my favorite daughter was a wealth of information when I asked her about certain topics and what her class might be studying at the time. This brought in a dimension into work that would have been missing or I would have had to guess at. Not only did I get topics they might have had during the class, but she also provided me with little things I would have missed like participation points for raising your hand and answering a question, the way some desks are one unit and others had a desk and a chair, the layout of the classroom, the layout of the school. All things I could have incorporated and may in future issues of the storyline.
You know a lot of people. Sure, you’re a writer, you’re an introvert, you usually don’t leave your home unless you have to, but you know a lot of people. Almost everyone you know does something different. Even if you just associate with writers, each of them likely has a day job. Ask them what they do. Go ahead, I dare you. Ask one what they do for a living when not writing. Use this time with someone you know and get some information on their job. Do they use a security badge to get into the office? Do they have a desk? Do they work from a vehicle? What types of tools do they use? Are they in charge of people or a subordinate? What is their boss like? Do they own their own business? Write up a whole array of questions, but of course warn them before hand so they’ll be prepared to answer some questions.
This will open up a variety of things you can pull from to spice up your latest WIP. Adding little things to help your reader relate to you, your characters, and get more involved with your writing. You’ll be able to give your character something mundane to do/perform/look at/think about that a normal person may as well.
Take this one step further. Find someone you want to talk to about a certain topic. Again, be prepared. Get a list of questions. Perhaps you can contact the person ahead of time before you talk and send them the questions you’d like to start out talking about. When you have your conversation, start out with introductions, basic nicety, and ask a question. Allow the conversation to flow organically and as you think of other questions, write them down or ask them. If you can, have a recorder handy. Remember last time when I said watching too many shows will cause ideas to fall away? This is the same thing. You’re going to get a lot of information in one sitting. Your brain is like a glass and the person you’re going to talk to is like a pitcher of water. You won’t be able to retain everything.
If you prepared before you talked to the person, you have a pen (or pencil or tablet), notebook, highlighter. You’ll want to highlight things that make you go “OH! YES!” These are things you’ll be able to use right away. Something that might play into foreshadowing or back story, but something you know you want to use. Then you’ll have a lot of other details. These are things you can drop in “he swiped his keycard and opened the door”, “The middle drawer to cabinet 43 always stuck a little and had to be jiggled to open”, “The warehouse could easily hold a football field under its roof”. Little things that will give that element of realism.
Don’t use everything! Just like you won’t retain everything from the person you talk to, neither will your reader. Nearly everything you get will be your research. If you dump absolutely everything on your reader you’ll 1) bore them to tears even if you’re talking about Nuclear Welders and 2) give them far more information than they need. People like little bites handed to them, not whole meals shoved down their throats. If you put in too much, they’ll skim past it. Just give them enough to be curious that they may even go online themselves to look up some of what you handed them. Open the door and let them walk through, don’t shove them unsuspecting.
Yes, it’s not easy to talk to people. They’re mean, rude, crass, and usually don’t want to talk about work. They’d rather be doing anything else. So start with a friend, give them fair warning, and let it go from there. Don’t be pushy, but don’t be shy. You can even start small. Heck, ask the donut shop owner how many different kinds of donuts they make. They might be happy to just start talking rather than just taking your order. You never know what you might learn, and from whom you might learn it.
Until Next Time!
As a producer of a blog, writing tips, and a lot of fiction, I know there’s a choice that needs to be made: To produce or to consume.
These may sound like different things, but in many ways they feed into each other. Obviously it’s far easier to consume something than it is to produce something. Look at some cooking shows where chefs spend hours making a wonderful creation only to watch it disappear in moments. But I’m getting sidetracked (boy that happened fast this time).
Looking at what you’re consuming is important to good writing. If you’re watching garbage it makes the creative process more difficult. Not just garbage, but too much garbage. I noticed that when I watch reality shows with the wife that my creative side drips out my ear as my brain melts. If I watch one show, I might pick up an idea, a mannerism, a turn of a phrase, something, but watching too much just eats into my brain and I need to stop. Even watching documentaries will do the same. I’ll be so overloaded with information that I won’t recall what was so cool that I wanted to keep or use in a story. It’s all about finding a balance.
Being creative isn’t hard. You can dream all sorts of different things. The brain is a wonderful tool. You can also stifle your creativity. In order to continue to be creative you need to feed your brain. Think of it like working out. You can’t work out day in and day out without taking a break now and again to eat something. You also cannot eat day in and day out without working out. And it’s not just a matter of putting food into your body, but putting the right things in.
If you’re going to consume something, be picky, be diverse, be inventive. Don’t just sit, turn on the TV, and hope for the best. That’s like going to McDonald’s and saying “I’ll have whatever you give me.” Plan out your time when you’ll sit down and know ahead of time what you’re going to watch. Set up a schedule that will allow you the time to watch a show and still get in some writing. Pick a show that might feed that creative need for what you’re currently working on, but try to broaden what you’re taking in so you have a broader view of your WIP.
The same goes for your reading. If you only read the genre you’re writing in, you’ll only regurgitate what you’ve read. You need to expand what you’re reading to allow you to bring in elements that people might not have thought to bring in before. This is how you end up with genre mash-ups that are happening more frequently. People read outside what they’re expected to read and BAM! New genre crossover. Even if you don’t create another genre, you can bring in a little bit of something else that your readers can relate to and gain a firmer grasp of the reality you’re creating.
Just as important, you need to read in your genre (or watch, or play). You need to understand what is being published and why. You should be following the trends. That’s not to say pick a genre and go for it. You also need to decide where your writing best fits or should you be writing in multiple genres. Having a laser-like focus is a good thing, but you need to make sure it’s focused in the right direction. Even better if you can focus in multiple directions.
Beyond genre reading (both inside and out) you need to have a firm grasp on the real world. There’s a lot of ways you can do this. Magazines, blog posts, news feeds, the 10 o’clock news. You need to keep up on current events even it you only find one little element that fits in your story, the real world influences what you’re writing more than you’ll know. Science Fiction of the 50s and 60s was very much a reflection of the times both socially and politically. The writers of that era understood what was happening and looked beyond to generate fiction that people could relate to based on current events.
Even beyond current events, pop icons, genre reading, TV watching, game playing, and all that, you need to do research. Reading wiki is an okay place to start, but you need o look deeper. Take a trip to the local library, get a library card, and open a non-fiction book on something you might want to include in your WIP. Guns, the old west, history, the pyramids, anything. Pick a topic and start reading. Bring a level of realism to your writing because without it, readers will have a difficult time suspending their belief to allow themselves to fall into your story. If you’re writing science fiction, you can’t just fly by the seat of your pants and hope for the best. You need to understand what you’re writing so it makes sense. You need to understand weapons and how they work or someone reading will call you out and expose a weakness in your writing. You need to be well informed.
There are only so many hours in the day. The best you can do is take small bites and press forward. If you discover something that needs to be corrected in your manuscript, write it down as a note and fix it later. Don’t try and fix it as you go. If you get to a point where something needed to happen in chapter 3 so chapter 45 makes more sense, write that down and fix it later. That’s what re-writing is for. To help you make your story better the second time through. Continuous research will feed your WIP, feed your brain, and improve your writing. Not just reasearch, but focused consumption. Don’t just let things fall into your brain. Put them there on purpose.
Until Next Time!
There is something that no one can give you, but anyone can take away. It’s difficult to build or define, easy to destroy and demean. Any writer I’ve ever talked to suffers from one main thing that you, if you’re a writer, likely share. An issue with confidence.
It doesn’t matter if it’s just a matter of “I wonder if anyone will like this?” or “Is this any good?” even the “I got a bad review, everyone hates me.”
You’re never as good as your best review, you’re never as bad as your worst review. I know some authors that are really good. I mean, I LOVE their work. It’s amazing that so many suffer from confidence issues. It’s no wonder the writing community is filled with support groups and beta readers and communities of morale boosters. Writers are creative types and doing something creative makes you always question if you got something right, or if you think you got it right, could it be better? Maybe if there was just this one more change it would have had a better impact with the reader. If the ending wasn’t so weak and just sort of trailed off…
It’s very easy to second guess what you’re working on. Heck, it’s even easier to find anything better to do with your time that’s easier like sitting down and watching re-runs of Star Trek or FarScape or Dr. Who, go to the movies, take a nap. Writing is very hard. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It’s a lonely, painful endeavor that has you pouring your heart and soul on the page and when you finally put something out there people will rip it to shreds right before your eyes.
Alright, enough sulking. Pick yourself up and think about what you started writing for in the first place. Yes, writing is hard. There are a lot of rules of grammar, sentence structure, plot, dialog, the list is nearly endless. And if you’re going to self-publish (go Indie) there’s the matter of where to go, formatting, distribution, etc. Writing requires you to be well educated. That’s not a negative. This is a plus. Why?
Those who take the time to educate themselves will persevere. If you can take the time to write something, you can figure out how to get it into readers hands.
But let’s start with writing first. You’ll hear a lot of advice like your first 1,000,000 words will be crap so write them, get them out of the way, and then get down to the business of writing. I don’t agree with this. Everyone has their own learning curve. You may be able to get it right the first time, though that is unlikely. I wrote four books and a LOT of short stories before I really found a writing style that works for me. I wrote for years before I found any success. I had many stops and starts, but I’ve finally found something that works for me.
I tell my favorite daughter all the time, in order to get better at anything you need to practice on a regular schedule. She loves her volleyball and she’s committed to practicing three sometimes four times a week. I write every day now. Every day. Not just sit down one time per day and write something, but I might get up and come back three, four, even fives times in a day to get the words out. Sometimes there isn’t much time and I squeeze in all the writing I can into one session. Again, your results may vary, but you need a schedule. You need to pick a day/time/place and sit and write. Free yourself of distractions because the longer you write during a session, the longer you may want to write. It’s funny how once you get going it’s hard to stop.
Don’t let anyone read your first draft. Please. I’ve done it. I still get a hard time from my friends when they read something and they’ll know quickly if it’s a first draft. Yes, I’ve written a lot of books and short stories (I’m working on getting up to 15 novels and I don’t even want to go back and try to count the short stories) and not to mention the daily blog posts I started, this weekly writing blog. Just this year I’ve put in 120,000 words and will likely surpass my 450,000 word goal on the year. I STILL have first draft issues. Plot holes. Dialog issues. Misspellings. Wrong word usage. It happens. This is how you know you’re passionate about writing is when your fingers are flying and just typing as fast as your brain can output the ideas.
Once you’ve gone through your work at least once, pass it on to some trusted friends that’ll treat you with kid gloves. Nothing hurts more than someone giving you harsh criticism. It’ll stop you in your tracks, make you question what you’re doing, blah blah blah. Friends will usually tell it to you in a way that won’t hurt your feelings or they’ll listen to you rationalize. If you need to explain what you wrote, it needs to be re-written.
Even if you do get harsh criticism, press on. You’ll get a lot worse when you put something out there for the general public to consume so if you can’t handle what your friends have to say, you really need to toughen up, grow a thick skin, let if flow like water off a ducks back, learn from it and move on. There are some harsh critics out there just waiting to beat you down and they’ve beaten down the best (and the worst). You’re not special. You will get bad reviews. You will see a scathing critic. Prepare for them so they glance off and you keep going.
I’ll say it again, “WRITING IS HARD!” Writing a story is the easiest part. Standing behind your work, showing it off in all its glory, being proud of what you’ve done, getting it into the hands of readers and fending off all the negative feedback. That’s not always so easy. Oh, there will be times when you realize that you did a good job on a story and people will love it and that will boost you up, but just make sure that you don’t get it in your head that everything you write will be gold. There will be ups and downs. The trick isn’t to ‘ride the wave’. The trick is to prepare for the roller coaster. Once you’ve prepared yourself, the ups and downs won’t seem so scary and your confidence won’t take such a beating.
Sit down. Write. Prepare. Get yourself out there. You can do it. You should do it. It gets easier each time.
Until next time!