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Unorthodox Writing Tips 41 – Once you stumble

I had an unbroken streak of writing daily updates that ran from the beginning of the year until just a few weeks ago. That streak broke while I was on vacation and I had intended to get back on the horse once I arrived at home. I got a few out, but not as consistently as I had done. It’s not so daily anymore, but rather than focus on what happened, I need to focus on what I need to do to get back on track.

Combined with the loss of focus, there are also a number of other things that are weighing on my mind. None of these things are under my control and there’s really nothing I can do about them, yet I’ve been obsessing about them for a few days now.

One was the loss of a family pet. You get very attached to animals. It’s not easy to just say “Oh, it was just a dog.” There’s now a hole where that dog used to be. It was very difficult for my favorite daughter to take and I keep worrying about her.

There’s also submissions I have out that I’ve been waiting to hear word back from. For several months now. Waiting sucks and while I obsess about one thing, why not a few others.

Then I read a few bad reviews of a story I wrote. The people I sold the story to loved it. It’s not getting bashed because the writing is bad. So I shouldn’t let this get to me. But I have.

And finally there is someone online that I respect and based on comments I’ve read and posts I’ve read from this person, I get the feeling that this person thinks I’m an internet troll for some reason. I could reach out to this person, but I’ve only had one interaction over the years and that was in person, not over the internet. So I’m unsure how the person really thinks of me. This has bothered my deeply but rather than be an internet troll and reach out to the person and ask “What did I do and how can I correct this?” I think the best course of action is to just avoid contact with the person all together. The last thing I want to do is gain the reputation of being an internet troll or anything like that.

So with all this weighing on my mind, it’s been difficult for me to type up words. Yes, I’ve been obsessing. Yes. I need to stop obsessing. How? I need to take my own advice. Just sit down and write. If I’m in the mood or not, the only way to get back on track is to sit and type like a fury. None of these things are under my control and as difficult as it might be to put them aside it’s better for me to just move forward.

I can’t bring a dog back from the dead. I can’t make a publisher or agent read my submission faster, I can’t change people’s feelings about my story (and it’s folly to try). I also can’t change a person’s feeling about me if, as I suspect, those feelings have been there for a long time.

What can I control? My word count. I can sit and write my stories. I can escape into my own little world that I have complete control over and have my characters do my bigging. I can bring them to life and hopefully entertain people along the way. I have a blast when I write and it helps me forget about all those things in my life that are out of my control. Even if it’s only for an hour a day, that little bit will get me further along.

Yes, I stumbled. I have a hole in my daily streak of writing. But I had a wonderful vacation. Yes, there are things that are outside my ability to control, but shouldn’t stop me from writing. I need to take a page from Jay Lake. The man has cancer. Again. This is the fourth time for him and the outlook is bleak. He’s still blogging daily. I’m not 100% sure but I think he’s still writing fiction daily. He’s a mess mentally (if you read his blog you’ll understand why) but he’s still writing. Yes, I can obsess and still write.

You can do the same. You can be depressed and still write. You can have something in your life that you can’t control and still write. If you have free time you can sit down and type words. Writing can be therapeutic. It may even help you get past that which you’re obsessing about. You might even be able to channel that negative energy into your character, have them deal with a similar situation, and have them resolve it. Write what you know. Use that negative energy to your benefit.

I’m going to go do that right now.

Until Next Time!

WOO WOO!

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Unorthodox Writing Tips 40: How to Finish Something

Can I tell you a secret? You promise you won’t tell anyone? I’m going to let you into a secret on how to finish that book or short story you’re writing.

Type ‘The End’.

Okay, but seriously, how do you get to the end of a story. It’s such a long path. There are so many words you need to write to complete a story.

I use Outlook for my email. It’s easy to let the email pile up. It doesn’t take up much space. I can order it however I like. I don’t have to worry about how much space it takes up because it’s not physical. I can just let it accumulate and I’ll get around to organizing it later. Today I looked at my inbox. It was over 200. At one point I used to have over 2000 items in my inbox. I need to reduce that number. How do I do that? A little at a time. I’ll move items into folders if I don’t want to get rid of it and I’ll delete older items that I no longer need. I know I’ll be able to get it back to below 100 in a few days of spending a little time each day dedicated to reducing that number of items in my inbox and keeping that number low.

The same thing works for getting a piece of fiction (or non-fiction) written. For me, I try to knock out at least a little bit each day. I know how many words I want to write and how far I need to get. I have a clear and measurable goal. Each day I keep track of the number of words I’ve written and I can see the number of words I need to write to complete a work go down. I dedicate a little bit of time every day and just type.

Honestly. It’s that simple. Even if you only spend fifteen minutes a day writing you’ll get closer to your goal than if you spend no time and try to cram all your writing into one binge session. Yes, it’s possible to write in a binge session, but for me I’ve found it easier to write a lot of words in a shorter time. If I have two or three hours of free time I’ll fill it with something else rather than sit and write. So I try to set aside at least 30 minutes a day to write.

Well that’s not a lot of time, is it?

For me, it is. I type quickly. I can type up to 2500 words in an hour. Yes, writing fiction. So it’s not difficult for me to take 30 minutes and write 1000 words. It’s harder for me to find the free and quiet time. Once I have it, I know it’s not a lot of time and I need to get writing from the word go. If I set aside a lot of time, I’ll find myself playing angry birds, temple run, reading a book or comic book, or even watching TV figuring I have all this free time, let’s see what else I can do.

That’s where I need to restrict myself. If I write for my 30 minutes, great! Then I’ll do something else. If I don’t write for those 30 minutes then I know I need to spend my time writing. If I get done with my 30 minutes and I feel like going longer, awesome! I’ll write longer and see just how many words I can knock out in that given day. So far this year I’ve had a few days where I’ve written over 6000 words. I don’t even feel I’m writing at my full potential on those days because I took breaks, played games, watched TV, and other things instead of just writing, but perhaps that’s what pushed my forward. Knowing that I could do more than I was doing.

I know I’ve said this many times, but writing daily and keeping track of your progress is helpful in many ways. It keeps your goal in front of you at all times. It makes you think and rethink the choice of playing a game or writing. Should I watch another episode of True Blood or should I sit down and write first? Will I find inspiration when I read that comic book, or will I feel rewarded after I’ve written and then enjoy the comic?

Type a word. Type a sentence. Type a paragraph. Continue this until you type ‘The End’. You don’t have to write for hours every day. Once you get the hang of sitting and writing in those little periods you can see your word count go up. It’ll go up dramatically faster than you think it will. You just need to make the time, sit down, and write. You can do this.

Until Next Time!

WOO WOO!

Unorthodox Writing Tips 39: Fearlessness

It’s easy to find yourself afraid at some point in your life. For many people it starts with a fear of the dark or the fear of being alone. Perhaps a fear of high places and the fear of falling. Fear comes in many forms and some people never conquer these fears.

My mom is afraid of anything that is alive and flies. If it’s alive and it’s in the air, she’s freaking out. That’s just how it goes for her. I had a buddy whose son was terrified of butterflies. Some fears are tangible, others not so much.

Some people are able to look fear in the eye and not flinch. They live for the rush. They fly the fastest planes, they do double front flips on BMX bikes off massive jumps, they risk life and limp to do things that normal people wouldn’t even thing of doing.

Then there are people just like you and me. We lead normal lives for the most part. We not out driving cars at 200 MPH but instead driving at the posted speed limit (maybe we’ll creep a little bit over) on our way to the grocery store or to drop off the kid(s) at a sporting event. Our lives are filled with many mundane things. Something fearful might rattle us, but for the most part we understand what scares us and either avoid those situations or know how to handle ourselves.

If you’re reading this and you’re like me you also write. Or you want to write. Or you’d like to write more. Deep down there’s that lingering fear. What will others think of this when they read it? Will anyone read it? Will I be able to handle the rejection if someone doesn’t like it? What if I get a terrible review? Is my writing good enough? This is an awful lot of work to put into something that I might never make any money doing.

That’s where you need to realize what this fear really is so you can face it. It’s the fear of the unknown. People face this under normal circumstances. My Favorite Daughter is afraid to go on Space Mountain because she’s never been on it and can’t see it. Yet she loves Thunder Mountain because it’s (for the most part) on the ground. She’s scared of what she can’t see. Her only way to over come this fear will be to face it head on and deal with the aftermath of her decision once she’s ventured forth.

That’s what writing it all about. It’s putting aside that fear for a moment and trying it out. Then putting that fear aside again and continuing. It’s putting that fear in a box, locking it away and pushing on. Once you’ve completed a work, it’s keeping that fear and doubt in check and sending your work out for others to look over or to send it to an agent, a publisher, a market. Yes all those bad things might happen. They all might happen on your first work. They might all happen on your second through tenth work. It might happen over and over again.

This is all a learning process. Even established writers still struggle with these same fears, but they’ve understood that if they write something to the best of their abilities, learn from all those early issues their work had and applied it to works going forward. They not only learned from those early works and what needed to change with their writing, they also learned to manage that fear and keep sending out work despite the knowledge that even though they’ve been published before, this might get rejected just as quickly as anything they’d previously written.

Writing is an unsure prospect. It’s not as easy as quitting your job at one company and looking for a job in another company. In publishing things change quickly. I’ve read many stories about an author well liked by an editor at one publishing house only to see that editor get replace with one that can’t stand the author’s work. Suddenly they went from a near sure thing to being right back where they started. This has been happening to mid-list authors for years.

There’s a lot to be afraid of when it comes to writing, but there is nothing to be afraid of when it comes to the actual act of creation. If you’re seeking publication then it’s a matter of perseverance. It’s a matter of facing the fear of rejection and moving on. It’s a matter of being the type of person that will continue to type out stories and put them out there to see what sticks.

Writing isn’t easy. I’ve said this many times before. Those who face the challenge, learn from this mistakes to improve their craft, and face their fears head and and continue even when it seems like you’re the only one that likes what you’re producing, those are the ones that will find publication. Those are the ones that have a chance at making this into a career. Don’t be afraid. Sit, type, submit. Repeat as many times as needed. It does get easier as time goes on and you’re realize it’s not as scary as you’re making it out to be.

Until Next Time!

WOO WOO!

Unorthodox Writing Tips 37 – Getting Back on the Horse

I had a vacation. I also had a few days off before my vacation actually started where I was busy getting ready for my vacation. I also quite busy with work once I got back from vacation. All that meant I had precious little time to actually sit and write words. I wrote my daily blog posts, but I didn’t get any fiction written. That means that I have a long streak with no fiction writing.

Unfortunately that means I need to get myself back into the fiction writing mode. My fingers aren’t used to typing fast for long periods and I’m also not used to thinking ahead of where my fingers are typing. This is an interesting way of typing where my mind will actually be several words ahead of where my fingers are at so I’m always pushing forward. It’s just the difficulty of getting my brain back into that gear and now that I’ve had a number of days without doing this task, I need to get back on track.

How do I do that?

I’m so glad you asked.

I sit and write. No, seriously. It’s that simple. I keep saying that this writing stuff is as simple as just sitting and writing. I sat down and wrote a blog post. Those come easy for me and require little thought. I can just type and go for it. I then wrote a movie review, then a book review, then another book review. With each of these they 1) added to my annual word count and 2) got me back into typing fast and getting ready to jump back into my fiction.

The story had already been written so I know what’s going to happen. I just need to sit and let the action happen. The words will come out fast and furious. It’s all about practice and there’s nothing better than just sitting and doing. For me it doesn’t matter if I haven’t written for 5 days, 20 days, or 3 years. If I don’t sit and write I know it’ll only be that much harder tomorrow. Each day I let slip is a day that I’m not practicing and a day that I need to work at getting better again. It’s not like riding a bike. You don’t ride a bike for years and you can just hop back on and go. With writing you need to be actively thinking ahead and knowing what you’re going to write so when you get there it’ll flow along better. Sure you can write a lot in one sitting, but if you’re not writing on a consistent basis, it’s that much harder to get to the end.

At least for me it is.

I’m sure there are some people that can write brilliantly by writing once a month and cranking out 5000 or 10000 words in a sitting. I write a couple thousand words a day (on average, in fact of this writing I’m averaging only 1447 words per day due to a slow start and vacations) and I’ve written over 280000 words so far this year. That means if you write 10000 words a month you’ll have 120,000 words. Slow and steady is getting me up to my goal and beyond what I could do with burst writing. I used to burst write. I’d write a lot over a couple of days, then nothing for a couple weeks, then a lot over a couple of days. I’d get about 100,000 words done and I’d be fine with that. I’m no longer content with just writing what I now consider such a small amount. I want to, NAY! I need to write more than that. This is what’s driving me to write as much as I am. To prove that I can do it and to keep doing it over an extended period of time.

Remember, I’m doing this as a part time job meaning that I need to spend time as often as possible and write. Writing a little bit each day is serving me better than writing a lot only a few times a year. It’s also helping me get better because I’m at it daily and not just poking away a block here and a block there.

Back to my point, being that I haven’t really stopped writing something on a daily basis I was able to sit down and get back at it a little faster than I used to. Back when I burst write it might take me a couple of days of looking at the screen before I found the motivation to write. Now I have the motivations at my finger tips and can just sit and go. It feels great. It really took a long time to make this a habit of sitting down daily and writing. They say that it takes at least six months of doing something before it becomes a fully formed habit. I’m over that six month mark and I see no signs of stopping.

Hopefully I won’t fall off the horse often. Vacations will do that, but I know now that I can sit and write after I get back. My fiction is there waiting for me. The characters are calling me. I can hear their voices inside my head begging me to get them through their adventure. I’d better heed their call.

Until Next Time!

WOO WOO!

Unorthodox Writing Tips 31 – Confidence

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!

WOO WOO!

UWT 28 – Read Something Different

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!

WOO WOO!

UWT 27 – Experience Something Big

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!

WOO WOO!

UWT 26 – Experience Something Small

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!

WOO WOO!

Unorthodox Writing Tips 25: Talk to someone about it.

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!

WOO WOO!

Unorthodox Writing Tips 24: Consumption

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!

WOO WOO!