Post NaNoWriMo Insecurity (Insecure Writer’s Support Group)

Author’s Note: Another first Wednesday of the month, another post for The Insecure Writer’s Support Group. Be sure to check out the many other writers participating in this blog hop. Many thanks to Alex J. Cavanaugh for leading the IWSG. Thanks to the awesome co-hosts for the December 4 posting of the IWSG Julie Flanders, Heather Gardner, Kim Van Sickler and Elsie is Writing!

This Blogging Things Works Wonders! (Insecure Writer's Support Group)

 

I wrote a post last night talking about what to do post-NaNoWriMo, and how despite not reaching your 50,000 word/30 day goals, you shouldn’t consider yourself a failure. I didn’t make it to 50,000 words in 30 days, yet I’m refusing to hang my head in shame. I got started on a work-in-progress, and I’m extremely excited about the direction the WIP is going. I can’t be bothered with “winning” and “losing,” and I cringe everytime I see someone refer to themselves as a “failure” for not “winning” NaNoWriMo.

I posted this on my Instagram feed last night

photo

My post earned the following comment: “So the other people should be declaring themselves failures?”

I responded, “Nope. NaNoWriMo unintentionally creates this “winners” and “losers” mentality, meaning quantity somehow trumps quality. No one should declare themselves anything, except “finished” when they’ve reached the last page of their novel.”

It got me thinking about a lot of the congratulating that’s taking place by those who’ve “won” this year’s NaNoWriMo. Of course they should congratulate themselves, and hold themselves up for praise. I congratulate you, as a former winner myself. However, I can strongly feel the insecurity from those of us – well, I’m excluding myself, for obvious reasons – who are made to feel that just because we didn’t finish what we set out on beginning November 1st, that somehow we’re “losers.” Or “failures.”

Writing is a competition in which the only person you’re being challenged with is yourself. It’s like a marathon, and you’ll hear a lot of comparisons made to running and writing; Haruki Murakami even wrote an entire memoir called What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. You’re not competing with other writers to see who can reach 50,000 words first. You’re competing with yourself to see if you can write the novel you’ve already written in your head.

As writers, we deal with enough insecurities, about our writing, about the publishing process, about whether or not we’re cut out for this whole writing thing in the first place. What we don’t need is the good intentions of NaNoWriMo to foster needless competition, thereby further fueling our insecurities.

Me thinks this writer may skip NaNoWriMo 2014, just on principle. What say you?

Post-NaNoWriMo: It’s Not About Winning or Losing or Failing, It’s About Finishing What You Started

So you took part in NaNoWriMo 2013. Some of you successfully cranked out 50,000 words or more in 30 days. That’s outstanding. If this is your first time, double outstanding then!

But this post isn’t written for those of you who’ve met the 50K in 30 days goal. You’ve gotten enough congrats and accolades; you don’t need any more from me. I’m talking to those of you who didn’t meet the 50K in 30 days goal. 

Yeah, you. That’s right, you. Listen up.

Some of you didn’t make it, for whatever reasons. Life got in the way. The work-in-progress got a little unwieldly. Whatever. Some of you made it to Day 30 just several thousand words short. Some of you probably threw in the towel around Week Two. The point is, you didn’t finish.

Am I going to give you grief about this? Nope. Because I didn’t finish, either. I knew I wasn’t going to. My total word count for NaNoWriMo: 14,474 words. I was well aware I wasn’t going to have the time I’d wanted to fulfill the NaNoWriMo goals, but no matter. I’d written a solid outline, figured out my plot points, got to know my protagonists, learned what the concept of my WIP is, and wrote a synopsis that for once doesn’t make me want to squirm. Guess what? I’m perfectly fine with not “winning” NaNoWriMo this year. It doesn’t make me a failure, because I’ve got an unshakable belief in my WIP, and that doesn’t mean I’ve failed.

Ah, there’s that word: failure. That word’s been bandied around a lot in many a blog right before the end of NaNoWriMo, and in blogs post-NaNoWriMo. I’ve read a lot of “I failed at NaNoWriMo” blogs over the past few days, and not just from the first timers trying their hand at this marathon writing thing, but from those who’ve taken part in NaNoWriMo before.

“Didn’t reach my 50,000 word count in 30 days, so I failed at NaNoWriMo.”

Failure. Failed. Fail.

You stop using those words RIGHT NOW.

You are not a failure. To quote Gene Kranz, “Failure is not an option.”

Yeah, we live in a competitive society, and we treat the concept of 50,000 words in 30 days as a competition. But we’re missing the point of NaNoWriMo. Sure, it’s great to reach the 50K in 30 days goal, but once you’ve started on your manuscript, the real competition is with yourself, to finish the manuscript. So whether you’ve reached 50,000 words in 30 days – and if you did, give yourself a giant pat on the back – or if you didn’t, you’ve got work to do.

Look, calling yourself a failure means you’re selling yourself short. Once you start using the word “failure” when it comes to your writing, you become used to describing both yourself and your work as “failure.” So fucking what if you didn’t bang out 50,000 words in 30 days? Take comfort in the fact that there’s a lot of people who wrote 50,000 words of pure shit and have smugly declared themselves “winners!”*

Because NaNoWriMo isn’t about winning or losing. NaNoWriMo challenges you to write within a specific time frame, but the true purpose of NaNoWriMo is to challenge you to write, period. I was one of those newbies, all full of hope but without a clue as to what I was doing, and by the second week, all was lost. So I declared myself a failure. Last year, in spite of so many challenges, I plowed through, and met the 50K/30 days goal, but even if I didn’t meet the goal, I was writing, and I was going to finish what I’d started. That’s what NaNoWriMo asks of you: finish what you start. It shouldn’t matter that you’ve only written 22,714 words in 30 days. What should matter to you is that you started something that’s grabbed your attention, enough of your attention to wrest out 22,714 words. So finish it through. See where it leads you. Because you don’t want to be that person that never finishes a damned thing they start, and then spend the rest of their days lamenting this very same fact.

So here’s the deal I’m going to cut with you: I’ll ride your ass about finishing the novel you started more than a month ago, if you promise to do the same. Need the motivation, the push, someone to vent to? I’m here for you. Point being, writers shouldn’t have to go at this alone. Writers support one another, and if you’re feeling like you want to take your laptop outside and fire several rounds from a 12-gauge shotgun at it, don’t. Press through, but most importantly, reach out. I’m happy to listen.

And while we’re at it, I’m going to ask you, dear reader, to go ahead and get on me about the progress of my manuscript. You’ll notice I put a word count widget to the right of this blog. I’m going to update this every few days, and talk about my progress as I go along. Of course, I expect a lot of you to ride my ass in return. It’s only fair.

So let’s recap:

  • Hitting your target goals is great, but refrain from calling yourself a “winner.”
  • Not hitting your target goals should not be a reason to turn you into a mopey sad-bastard, so refrain from calling yourself a “loser” or a “failure” because you’re either 1,000/5,000/30,000 words from finishing what you started on November 1st.
  • You started something. Now let’s finish it. No matter how long it takes.

 

* – Speaking of which, NaNoWriMo is notorious for having produced some terrible writing from people who believe that simply hashing out 50,000 words or more in 30 days, and not bothering to either edit or ask a friend or colleague to give their steaming pile of unfettered literary horseshit their honest and brutal feedback. These same misguided bunch will either A) send their first draft manuscript to every agent and publisher in the country, and then gnash their teeth wondering why they’re not getting a response, or, B) self-publish this first draft, thereby adding to the thousands of volumes of poorly written, badly spelled, terribly edited self-published crap that will no doubt add to the negative reputation self-publishing gets, especially among the old guard publishing houses and their sycophantic acolytes.

In other words, don’t be this loser. Edit your work. Then edit it again. And get a few people to read it before you send it in or throw it up on CreateSpace or SmashWords for the world to read.

A few other blogs to read and motivate you:

From Chuck Wendig – NaNoWriMo: On the Language of Losing

From MJ Wright – How to Write and Not Be Driven to Eat Your Own Weight in Lard

 

The Obligatory NaNoWriMo Survival Kit Post

As zero minus NaNoWriMo approaches, it’s important to take inventory of what you’ll need to get you through the Month of You Questioning Your Sanity. This is called the NaNoWriMo Survival Kit, and you can add whatever you choose you think will help you through. Your survival kit will likely consist of the following tools:

  • Laptop – mine is a Samsung RV511, which is starting a show a little wear and a bit slowness of foot, but it’s still a fine laptop.
  • Pens and notebooks – always keep a few notebooks (I favor Composition-style notebooks, simply because I write left-handed) and several dozen of your favorite pens – mine are PaperMate Ink Joy 700RTs, in black ink – handy, wherever you are, wherever you go.
  • Your favorite Word Processing software – I love Scrivener. If you’re using it, you’re already in love with it. So much you want to marry Scrivener and make babies with her. If not, you’ve already fancied something else. That surely works for you. Again: whatever works for you.
  • Books – For me, books serve one of two purposes: one, they’re books that inspire me – for example, Slaughterhouse-Five, American Gods, and Watchmen were books that I’d turned while working on my last WIP – and; two, they’re essential tools for writers. Stephen King’s On Writing is essential reading for writers everywhere. Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing is an excellent collection of essays on the craft of writing, and it’s also essential reading. Outlining Your Novel is the best books I’ve read on the art of outlining and plotting, and it’s a fun read, too. The 3AM Epiphany offers more than 200 writing prompts that will take you out of your comfort zone. I turn to it for a quick inspiration when I need a writing push.
  • Music – If you prefer to write in silence, your name must be Jonathan Franzen.
  • Caffeine and snacks – also your call. I love Starbucks and peanut butter. I also enjoy bourbon. I’m also insane.
  • Totem – something tangible to hold on to, a security blanket. Mine is this mug below, the greatest piece of advice ever dispensed:

 For some of you, this will be your first attempt at NaNoWriMo. You’re feeling the butterflies, eager to do good, yet so desperate not to fail. For others, you’re now salty veterans at this. You know the tricks. If you nail the 50K, awesome. If not, what the hell. Some of us have really geared ourselves up for this. Some of us have decided at the eleventh hour. Hell, you might be reading this, and be on the fence, and decide, “Why not? I’ll give it a go.”

The good people at NaNoWriMo will tell you this is the most wonderful time of the year. They’ll shower you with pep talks and tons of cheerleading and how-to’s and all kinds of crucial caveats to help you land your target numbers. They’re absolutely right, because writing is a discipline, and if there’s a way to help you maintain that discipline, well then, you best listen. But it ain’t the most wonderful time of the year, that’s fo’ sho’.

I mean, let’s face it: November is a SHITTY TIME OF THE YEAR to actually do this sort of thing. For us Americans, at least; we miss at least four, count ’em, FOUR days of quality writing, with the Thanksgiving holiday. Think about it: either family’s come over to visit for the weekend, or you’re trekking to visit the family, and chances are your Aunt Martha and your Uncle Lou, who haven’t seen you in twenty years, really, really, REALLY want to spend lots of time regaling you with details on their cruises to the Caribbean, and all their chat is gonna cut into your quality writing time. That’s 6,668 words, at the very least, you’d  miss out on writing. Unacceptable! Wouldn’t another time of the year be a better time to do this. Yeah, they do the Camp NaNo in July, but, frankly, everyone ramps up to do this in November, even if November’s a shit time of year to be embarking on something serious like this.

Oh, wait…this really isn’t supposed to be serious.

Yeah, you read right: this really isn’t supposed to be serious. The purpose of NaNoWriMo is to test yourself, to prove that, given a specific set of parameters – 30 days x 1,667 = 50,000 words – you can write the first draft of a manuscript. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to make sense. It can be 50,000 words of complete gibberish. The point is, it’s supposed to all be fun.

Because after all the pep talks, after all the useful advice on how to properly prepare for NaNoWriMo, chances are you’re not going to be satisfied with what you’ve written. Chances are you’re going to sweat your totals. Chances are you’re going to write some truly quality material, but you’ve only churned out 27,000. No matter: none of that makes you a failure.

Of course, I could be wrong. And I probably am.

This survival kit will also come in handy to remind me that while I’m participating in NaNoWriMo this year, my goals aren’t as lofty as they were last year, so I won’t pull my hair out when I only have 22,718 words written, and it’s November 27th.

Because unlike you, I really don’t think I’m going to nail 50,000 words in 30 days. And I’m perfectly fine with that. What I’m not fine is not getting my project off the ground. If this is the month to get your writing going, then that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to bend the rules a bit, because, frankly, I like breaking the rules. Knowing what the rules are helps me to better appreciate what the rules are as I’m breaking them. Call me a rebel. So be it. But I will be writing this month. As will you.

And we’re going to have fun doing it. dammit. Even if that means forcing you to laugh at my lame jokes. I mean it.

Okay, maybe not.

Alright, remember: THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE FUN. SO MAKE IT FUN. If you hit your daily targets, reward yourself with something fun. A cookie. Your favorite TV show. A nice cold beer. A shoulder rub from your honey. Porn. Whatever. Just don’t beat yourself up if you’re several hundred or several thousand words short. Word counts don’t mean shit if there isn’t something quality somewhere in between the lines. So make each word count, even if that means going for fewer words, and ramping up as each day goes by.

Make it fun.

Don’t beat yourself up.

And no porn.

Ready? Yeah, you’re ready. This isn’t your entrance exam to Harvard, after all. This is something you want to doSo have fun doing it.

If you’re doing the NaNoWriMo thing, feel free to buddy me; I’m Dabi71.

 

To NaNoWriMo, or Not to NaNoWriMo…

…that is the question, whether ’tis nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of…

OH, ENOUGH, YOU POMPOUS PRICK. GET ON WITH YOUR BLOG!

Ahem!

So, yeah, that really is the question. We’re less than 3 days away from NaNoWriMo 2013 kicking off, and I haven’t tossed my name into the ring yet. Several weeks back, I encouraged, even extolled, why one could never get started on planning for NaNoWriMo soon enough. I was planning such a thrust, a full-scale, all-fronts conquest of a new work-in-progress that I was certain I was going to hammer out a more-than-acceptable first draft in 30 days. Plus, it would help me get past the multiple drafts of my current WIP, now languishing in revision hell. More on that fustercluck later.

Easy peasy, lemon squeezy, right?

Yeah, until life got in the way.

Hindsights always a bitch, and, truth be told, there’s never a good time to sell your home, especially if you just want to sell your home to move to a better school district. I’ve bored you enough with tales of my move. We’re still in some weird transitional flux, adjusting to apartment living for a short period, living out of boxes while our new home is being built. And there’s a general sense of busyness everywhere. I’m busy, my wife’s busy. I haven’t had much time for doing the things I enjoy, like blogging, and writing.

Which would lead you to assume NaNoWriMo would be out of the question for me, right? Well…not quite.

I’m in, but for different reasons. I need to flex my writing muscles, and I don’t believe in starting small. Either go big, or don’t bother. But I’ll be blunt here: I’m not going into NaNoWriMo ’13 with the full-throttled brio I had last year. I could use the motivation.

And that’s where you, fellow survivors of NaNaWriMo 2012 (especially you new readers to my blog – welcome!) and who are getting ready to dive once more unto the breach, dear friends (okay, what’s with the Shakespeare, Sanchez?), come into play. I could use the cheerleading.

The thing is, I’m going to go into NaNoWriMo ’13 with somewhat lowered expectations. I don’t think I’m actually going to finish a first draft in 30 days, but I at least intend to get the foundation of the first draft off the ground and running. I have the idea. I’m going to storyboard it – thank you, Scrivener! – over the next couple of days, and then take off from there. I mean, I proved already I could write a first draft, an entire manuscript, in 30 days, so there’s no reason why I can’t do it again. And once I’m done with this first draft, there’s always the fun of revisions.

Oh…wait. About that. So whatever happened to what I was working on last year? The whole superhero-in-a-midlife-crisis shebang-a-bang? Yeah…Well, there’s always been one indisputable piece of advice regarding writing, and that’s this: finish what you started. But sometimes you need a break. Sometimes you need to look at what you’ve written with a colder eye and acknowledge that you just might need to tear it apart and start all over again. And that will happen. But not right now. I’m not going to be a NaNo rebel and work on something pre-existing. Next month is for something new. Next month is the month I challenge myself, even with all the distractions surrounding me. Why the hell not, right?

So let’s do this, huh? Buddy me at dabi71 over at NaNoWriMo, if you haven’t buddied me from last year. I’ll buddy you back and promise to cheerlead you just the same.

Yeah, I’m in.

10 Rules For Writing By Elmore Leonard

In honor of Elmore Leonard, who passed away yesterday at the age of 87, I thought I’d post the rules for writing Leonard compiled in his now-legendary New York Times essay, Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle.

Rules #3 and 4 are ones I stick to pretty adamantly. I’m not a big fan of verbs like “growled” or “snapped” being used to describe dialogue, when “said” perfectly sums dialogue up. And #10 just might be the best rule, outside of “show, don’t tell.”

Thank you, Elmore Leonard.

__________________________________________________________________

WRITERS ON WRITING; Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle

These are rules I’ve picked up along the way to help me remain invisible when I’m writing a book, to help me show rather than tell what’s taking place in the story. If you have a facility for language and imagery and the sound of your voice pleases you, invisibility is not what you are after, and you can skip the rules. Still, you might look them over.

1. Never open a book with weather.

If it’s only to create atmosphere, and not a character’s reaction to the weather, you don’t want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways to describe ice and snow than an Eskimo, you can do all the weather reporting you want.

2. Avoid prologues.

They can be annoying, especially a prologue following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in nonfiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want.

There is a prologue in John Steinbeck’s ”Sweet Thursday,” but it’s O.K. because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: ”I like a lot of talk in a book and I don’t like to have nobody tell me what the guy that’s talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks. . . . figure out what the guy’s thinking from what he says. I like some description but not too much of that. . . . Sometimes I want a book to break loose with a bunch of hooptedoodle. . . . Spin up some pretty words maybe or sing a little song with language. That’s nice. But I wish it was set aside so I don’t have to read it. I don’t want hooptedoodle to get mixed up with the story.”

3. Never use a verb other than ”said” to carry dialogue.

The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with ”she asseverated,” and had to stop reading to get the dictionary.

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb ”said” . . .

. . . he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances ”full of rape and adverbs.”

5. Keep your exclamation points under control.

You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.

6. Never use the words ”suddenly” or ”all hell broke loose.”

This rule doesn’t require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use ”suddenly” tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.

7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.

Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apostrophes, you won’t be able to stop. Notice the way Annie Proulx captures the flavor of Wyoming voices in her book of short stories ”Close Range.”

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

Which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway’s ”Hills Like White Elephants” what do the ”American and the girl with him” look like? ”She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.” That’s the only reference to a physical description in the story, and yet we see the couple and know them by their tones of voice, with not one adverb in sight.

9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.

Unless you’re Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language or write landscapes in the style of Jim Harrison. But even if you’re good at it, you don’t want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.

And finally:

10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

A rule that came to mind in 1983. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. What the writer is doing, he’s writing, perpetrating hooptedoodle, perhaps taking another shot at the weather, or has gone into the character’s head, and the reader either knows what the guy’s thinking or doesn’t care. I’ll bet you don’t skip dialogue.

My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative. It’s my attempt to remain invisible, not distract the reader from the story with obvious writing. (Joseph Conrad said something about words getting in the way of what you want to say.)

If I write in scenes and always from the point of view of a particular character — the one whose view best brings the scene to life — I’m able to concentrate on the voices of the characters telling you who they are and how they feel about what they see and what’s going on, and I’m nowhere in sight.

What Steinbeck did in ”Sweet Thursday” was title his chapters as an indication, though obscure, of what they cover. ”Whom the Gods Love They Drive Nuts” is one, ”Lousy Wednesday” another. The third chapter is titled ”Hooptedoodle 1” and the 38th chapter ”Hooptedoodle 2” as warnings to the reader, as if Steinbeck is saying: ”Here’s where you’ll see me taking flights of fancy with my writing, and it won’t get in the way of the story. Skip them if you want.”

”Sweet Thursday” came out in 1954, when I was just beginning to be published, and I’ve never forgotten that prologue.

Did I read the hooptedoodle chapters? Every word.

The Hidden Truth About “How-To Write” Books

There’s a story I recall about Mickey Mantle, the legendary New York Yankees centerfielder. “The Mick” was blessed with talent bestowed upon him by the baseball gods: he could hit home runs a country mile, had a cannon for an arm, could run as fast as a deer, and possessed an innate feel for hitting. During one season, around the All-Star break, he had the chance to chat with Ted Williams, the Boston Red Sox’ legend, and arguably baseball’s greatest hitter. “Teddy Baseball” couldn’t help but give Mantle some pointers about hitting. Mantle needed to drop his hands some, spread his legs out more for a wider stance. Mantle wasn’t about to argue with The Splendid Splinter’s advice; after all, Ted Williams was the last baseball player to hit .400, so if Ted Williams gives you advice on hitting, it’s because Ted Williams knows what he’s talking about.

Right after the All-Star break, once the second half of the season got underway, Mickey Mantle excitedly takes to the batter’s box with all the knowledge Ted Williams has dispensed…and proceeds to go on a prolonged slump. Mickey just can’t seem to buy a hit.

Mantle realizes what’s wrong here: his swing is totally off, because he’s taken Ted Williams’ advice to heart. There wasn’t anything wrong with his swing; he was naturally gifted, after all. So he went back to basics, regained his timing and mechanics, started hitting the shit out of the ball again, but not before running into Ted Williams.

“With all due respect, Mr. Williams, that was terrible advice you gave me!” the Mick told Teddy Baseball.

So why am I telling you this story? Writing, like hitting a baseball, involves timing and mechanics. When you’re hitting well, or when you’re writing well, it just comes naturally to you. You can’t explain it. You have no idea why how or why you’ve been able to crank out 10,000 words in three days. Just like you have no idea why you’ve been able to tear the hide out of the ball lately. But when you’re slumping, just like when your writing has hit the hall, you’ve got a thousand theories as to why you suddenly suck. So now you grasp at straws, or in my case, you grasp at the nice collection of “how-to” books that are staring, no, laughing at you. Read me, they’re all whispering in unison, and they’re all chock-full of wisdom, and all you want is a spark to get your writing going again.

Instead, what happens is your head is filled with more ideas as to why you’re suddenly failing. You know you can write. Those books are like Ted Williams, full of wisdom dispensed with the best of intentions, but maybe it’s not the best advice for you.

Okay, enough with the baseball analogies.

I’ve always wanted to write, and I’ve known I possess a strong understand of the basics of writing. I’ve written several short stories, and there’s husks of manuscripts lurking about, many of which will never see the light of day. Right now, WIP #1 is stalled, in third draft mode, and I’ve been tinkering with WIP #2, just to kind of get me away from what’s ailing me from WIP. Kind of like being in a hitting slump, and bunting to get on base.

(Oh, shit, I did say I’d stop with the baseball analogies, right? Okay, I’m done, promise.)

I wrote recently about The Plot Whisperer, and how it’s been something of an eye-opening experience for me. I’ve come to understand the importance of mechanics when it comes to building your novel, and it’s both a frustrating and awakening experience, one that I’m glad I’m able to take in now as opposed to when I was younger, more arrogant, less willing to accept help. The Plot Whisperer might be chock-full of New-Age speak (the whole “Universal Story” theme is a bite eye-roll inducing) but it keeps things simple. What I need is simple; The Plot Whisperer has exposed my WIP #1 as being overly complicated. It’s all over the place.

The problem I’ve found lately is that while I’ve written some compelling characters, and there are many well-written scenes, the plot sucks, frankly. I’m having a hard time getting the plot (superhero takes a fall, superhero rediscovers his purposes, superhero redeems himself) and the subplot (his personal life, and the satirical content involving the other superheroes he used to work with) to really gel with one another. The Plot Whisperer is helping me see what’s missing, but it’s also muddying the waters. The problem I’m having with the Plot Whisperer is that it reads like an instruction manual, and I don’t have the patience for it. The back cover of the book calls The Plot Whisperer “a foolproof blueprint.”

And there’s my problem right there: a “blueprint” suggests a whole lot of work. And writing a novel shouldn’t feel like work. I already work for a living. I deal with project plans and blueprints and other “work”-type buzzwords that are making me chafe. I’m reminded of that line from Animal House:

BOON: I gotta work on my game (golf).

OTTER: No, no, no, don’t think of it as work. The whole point is to enjoy yourself.

I haven’t been enjoying writing. Because it feels like work.

 

I also picked up – actually, downloaded on my Kindle – a copy of 2K to 10K: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love, by Rachel Aaron. It was only .99 cents, and, frankly, I didn’t harbor much expectations; I figured it wouldn’t reveal anything I didn’t already know about writing. I was wrong. 2k to 10K has been nothing short of a revelation for me. It’s a short read – 64 pages, tops – and I devoured it in one sitting, and, let me tell you, it’s blunt, funny, concise, and the advice Rachel Aaron gives you is simple (you might even say obvious), logical, and extremely useful. For example, a better way to boost your writing numbers on a daily basis? Sketch out what you have in mind what you want to write. A few sentences, some snippets of dialogue, whatever works. Have a little something to build on. Okay? Now start writing. Guess what? 2,372 words later.

Duh.

Some more guess what? Writing was a lot more fun this time around. Right now, I’ve taken WIP #1 and started storyboarding it, using her recommendations, and I’m finding that I’m enjoying writing it a lot more again. As for the editing part, Rachel Aaron’s got some extremely useful advice for that as well, which I hope to dispense for you in a later blog. I really can’t recommend 2k to 10K enough.

So if you’ll forgive the baseball analogy, I didn’t need to rebuild my swing. I just needed to take a lot of the movement out of the swing, and simplify it.

A caveat: “How-to” books can be tricky, though. I brought up the Mickey Mantle-Ted Williams story at the beginning for another reason; sometimes the advice a “how-to” book can be given to you with the best of intentions, yet can wreak complete havoc on your writing, your confidence, and your psyche. So tread carefully. “How-to” books, like self-help books, are not “one size fits all.” Some “how-to” book simply dispenses terrible advice.

Some “how-to” books will mess with your mechanics. Don’t let them mess with your mechanics.

Guest Post: “What Your Artistic Friend Really Thinks,” by Holly Dutch

This next guest post is a special one for me, as it’s a guest post from a dear friend of mine. I met Holly Dutch a few years ago at a Nickelback fan site Goodreads group, and we hit it off pretty quickly. It became evident quite fast that we were pretty similar in many ways. We shared common interests in books, music, and films.

We also began giving each other nicknames for one another. Truly horrible, disgusting nicknames that I can’t reprint here.

Both of us shared an ambition: to become a published writer. Holly’s made that ambition come true. She’s recently self-published her first novel, Doll of Dawson, and I can’t tell you how thrilled I am for her.

Her guest post, “What Your Artistic Friend Really Thinks,” follows below. It speaks for all of us who waited a little long to pursue our artistic ambitions, only to find discouragement from sources you least expected to. I think it’s a piece a lot of us can relate to.

Holly Dutch’s bio: “For over twenty years, Holly Dutch has been a writer for radio, print, and telecommunications. As a broadcaster, she’s written, voiced, and produced copy, radio plays, newsfeed, and newsletters.”

She can be found online at www.hollydutch.com, and on Twitter at Holly_Dutch.

Enjoy.

 

What Your Artistic Friend Really Thinks

Hi.  Remember me?  I’m that friend of yours who had a dream of doing something artistic, and told you about it hoping I’d get some encouragement.

I write, sing, make music, act, paint, photograph, do stand-up, or have some other craft that you think is great, all too happy that I had found a hobby.  Maybe when I told you that my plan was to jump in and go further with my “hobby” you felt I was making a mistake.  Were you scared that I’d foolishly quit my day job, thinking I was going have a YouTube-sensation-insta-career that usually is the kiss of death once Ellen Degeneres invites me on her show?  Did you think it seemed okay that other people—perhaps famous people—do the things I aspire to do, but didn’t think that maybe I had the chops to be as good?  What was worse—maybe you didn’t care?

You’re right.  Maybe I’m not as good.  Maybe I won’t make a million dollars.  But I want you to know about what I’ve done to get to this point and how I’ve felt.

When I first took on this project, I wasn’t looking for your acceptance or your permission.  I discovered something I loved to do and I wanted to try my hand to see if I could take it to the next level.  I began to invest in better equipment, books, and I even spent time researching with professionals.  My “hobby” was starting to take up much of my time.  I might have even missed calls, forgot to reply to text messages, or even declined offers to go out citing I was busy with my project.  I’m sorry for this, but just like you needed time to take your kids to baseball games or take those night-school cooking lessons, I too needed time to work on what I loved to do.

I became immersed in my craft.  So, naturally it was all I wanted to talk about.  Just like new parents only wanting to talk about their babies, or pet owners talking about their animals, I hoped you would understand that after all the times I was there for you when you had exciting things going on, that you would be there for me during this exciting time: my chance to make my art my new job.  If nothing else, take my art to a level where I could showcase it to the masses.

Maybe you thought it was a pipe-dream.  You offered to change the subject, or politely reminded me not to expect that success was going to be easy.  You warned me that criticism will come, and you didn’t want me to get hurt.  You thought I was taking this too seriously.  The absence of encouragement, replaced by your doubt only told me that you really didn’t believe that my dream could be coming true.  You began to think that normal nine-to-five folks don’t do interesting, creative things and expect to make a living out of it.  You continue to think that perhaps it could for others, but not me.  I’m your normal friend.  I play by the rules and don’t do crazy things like take chances.  Didn’t you think all of these worrisome things have already played out in my head as I began to doubt myself throughout this ordeal?!

No one said I was going to be rich.  I certainly didn’t.  I don’t ever recall saying I would even leave my career, and I definitely knew enough to be realistic about where my bread was buttered.  So, I began the process of marketing.  I made a Twitter account, a Facebook page, and a personal website showcasing what I can do.  Still, you had doubts.

All the blood, sweat, and tears I put in to my project—and still nothing.  You don’t “like” me on Facebook and you don’t think to retweet me.  You had no idea that the work I had put in to make my craft the best it could be.  All those nights I stayed up until three a.m. and the offerings that you would get dibs on my work when it was finished.  I.e.: the “friend fee” (which is free).

Like an obsessive fool, I’m now checking my Twitter constantly, looking for new followers.  I scan my Facebook for new likes.  I check for updates on my website hits.  I check for these things on almost a minutely-basis.  I want to be liked and want to know that what I set out to do reached the world, no matter how small the numbers are.  I worked so hard, and desperately hoped you, my friend, would be supportive and become one of my biggest cheerleaders.

Alas, I have now come full circle.  I started out something I wished to do because it was a dream.  When I worked my tail off to hone my craft, I wanted to be someone you could be proud to call a friend.

“Pacific Rim,” and the Importance of Writing What You Want to Read.

Before I start with this blog post, an explanation as to my absence over the past ten days or so. It’s been a busy week here at the Out Where the Buses Don’t Run compound. Haven’t had much of a chance to to write or do any blogging, no less read anyone’s blogs. I’ve been filling in for a colleague who’s taking a much-needed two-week vacation, and his workload is a doozy; my work hours have increased somewhat, but I’m getting the work done. I swear, when he gets back on Monday, I’m going to make him take me out to lunch. And not to Taco Bell; he’s got a reputation for being a bit of a tightwad, so I’m going to make him buy me a steak for my troubles.

We’ve also introduced a puppy into the family. She’s an eight-week-old pure breed Black Lab we’ve named Sadie. When we picked her from the breeder’s farm, she was the quiet one, but she’s been anything but quiet since she’s come home. Still, she’s a cutie, and I’m glad we have her. It’s been more than 12 years since we’ve had a puppy, so it’s been something of a re-learning process for me, having to re-learn how to break a puppy out of doing things like peeing indoors, and biting, things a puppy think are normal, but are correctable behaviors.

Lastly, we put our house on the market. Before that, a flurry of activities taking place to get the house into a “show-ready” condition. The house was repainted, which meant painters moving everything around and being in the way. I can’t complain, though; the paint crew I hired did a phenomenal job and finished a day earlier than expected. I told them I’d send some business their way. Last Friday, the “For Sale” sign went up on our yard, and the house was listed online. We’ve had three showings already, with another one scheduled for Monday night. To say I’m slightly unnerved by this is an understatement.

No wonder I feel as if I need a shot of whiskey and a cigarette. And I don’t smoke!

I did concentrate this week on an old short story I wrote almost a decade ago. It’s one of my favorites, but I always felt something was missing. I’ve been re-writing it, expanding it a few hundred words more, to give it a little more of a backstory. Not sure what I really want to do with the short story; I’m contemplating expanding it into a long short story, and submitting it to Kindle Singles, something in the 15,000-25,000/25 page story entry.

Before all the nuttiness that took place, my wife and daughter and I did go see Pacific Rim. I absolutely enjoyed it; it reminded me of all those Godzilla movies and Mega-robot cartoons I watched (Voltron, Shogun Warriors, Gobots) as a kid. Pacific Rim was fun, a rock-’em, sock-’em blast with a ton of heart, and I appreciated most that this came from the fertile and childlike imagination of Guillermo Del Toro.

As I watched Pacific Rim, I got the sense that Del Toro was given a rare gift: the ability to make exactly the kind of film he, if he were the filmviewer, would want to see. And that got me thinking about one of the best pieces of advice one can give and receive about writing, or about creating art, in the first place: write the kind of novel you want to read. My thoughts on this were more evident when I read some of the very few bad reviews Pacific Rim garnered, all of which seemed to focus on how Del Toro, a critically acclaimed filmmaker, could make what one critic dubbed a two-hour robots vs. monsters slugfest? The negative criticism seemed to miss Del Toro’s point: Pacific Rim was his childhood, reimagined on the big screen. And it was my childhood, and many other filmgoers’ childhoods as well.

What I could tell as I was watching Pacific Rim was that this film was a deeply personal statement and experience for Guillermo Del Toro. As it should be.

The point being, if we wrote the kind of novel we imagined other readers might want to read, or directed the kinds of films other filmviewers want to read (and that’s something of a slippery slope, considering filmgoers tend to be very finicky, as evidenced by the giant turkey that is The Lone Ranger), then we’re just creating the same kind of art, all disposable, all gunning for one singular and not-so tangible experience. If Quentin Tarantino made Django Unchained as a run-of-the-mill Western that bypassed the issue of slavery and violence, then he’s just making another run-of-the-mill Western; instead, what makes Tarantino’s films so successful and provocative and memorable is that at their core, he’s a fan of cinema, and he’s making the kinds of films he would want to see. A film about a freed slave going after the plantation owner that kidnapped his wife? No one else is going to make it, so I’m going to make it, and it’s going to be spectacular. He writes and directs exactly what he wants to see, were he the filmgoer, paying his money to see your film.

So, as a writer, it’s our jobs to write not for trends, or for what someone tells us “will sell copies.” We must write precisely the kind of novel we as readers enjoy reading. Whether that’s writing for YA or paranormal romance or literary fiction or sci-fi, what we create as writers should reflect exactly our reading preferences. Because writing, like any art, should be a deeply personal experience, no matter what it is we’re writing.

Guest Post: “Paying Your Dues” by Laekan Zea Kemp

Hey gang, it’s another installment of The Guest Blog Post, and in this installment, the guest post comes courtesy of Laekan Zea Kemp. Over at her blog, you’ll be treated to sneak peaks of her works-in-progress, and you should help yourself to what she’s offering, because Laekan is a damned good writer. She’s also written one novel, The Things They Didn’t Bury. You can learn more about it on Goodreads, or on Amazon. I’m planning on picking up my ebook copy once my Kindle comes in the mail next week. You read right, Laekan…

Her guest post, entitled Paying Your Dues, is a gentle ode to those of us, so many of us, who still can’t afford to live the full-time writer life we so badly want to live. And that’s okay. Laekan reminds us that while we are toiling on our jobs, we are still learning, absorbing, gathering material for our writing. We are still evolving as writers. We will always evolve as writers.

Here’s her bio: Laekan is a writer, explorer extraordinaire, and recent transplant to sunny Florida. She grew up in the flatlands of west Texas and graduated from Texas Tech with a BA in Creative Writing.

Here now…Paying Your Dues.

________________________________________________________________

The monotony of a day job can be near suicide inducing. Especially when you know in your gut what you were put on this earth to do and that whatever you’re slave to every day from 9 to 5 just isn’t it. You know it the second you sit down at that bright orange cubicle, your desktop filled with spreadsheets and emails and a million other things that will never satisfy that need just simmering inside you, waiting.

Some mornings it’s hard just to get out of bed. I usually wake up before the alarm and just lay there, staring into the dark, waiting for that loud buzzer that pretty much sums up the tone of the rest of my day. For about a year I would get to work, sit down at my desk, and just stew. I was bored. I was unfulfilled. I was pissed.

I was in purgatory, still am, only now I’m making better use of my time here. Every artist—and every person for that matter—will be forced, at some point in their life, to work at a job they hate. To feel stagnant and lost. To sacrifice making art for the sake of paying their bills. But this is not a form of punishment. It’s a rite of passage.

We have to pay our dues. Not because we have some quota of suffering to reach before we’re aloud to start being happy. But because, down there in the trenches, that’s where we grow. I mean really grow. I can read every book I can get my hands on about writing and style and craft but none of it will ever teach me how to be human. Life teaches you that. Life teaches you all of the chaos and nuances of the human experience—the very thing every writer is trying so desperately to capture.

And if we do want to capture it—the whole truth and nothing but the truth—then we have to concede to a little suffering every now and then. We have to work in a job we hate, we have to overwhelm ourselves with responsibilities, we have to be disappointed and angry and every other adjective on the emotional spectrum. We have to pay our dues.

We’ve all heard the advice that if you want to master dialogue then you have to engage in conversation. You can’t just be an observer all of the time, although most of us writers might find that more comfortable. No. We have to feel the words rolling around on our tongue. We have to taste them. We have to say them aloud and measure the reaction. The same rules apply to writing about the human experience.

We have to meet people we’d rather avoid and fall in love with the wrong person and argue with strangers on the bus all for the sake of creating characters who are just as real. We have to absorb different perspectives. We have to interact with the things that scare us. We have to exist in the real world long to enough to be able to translate it.

So we are not stuck. We are sitting in a bright orange cubicle, not stewing, but absorbing everything there is to discover about this life and we are growing. We are growing even when it feels like all we’re doing is standing still.

 

Why I’m Giving Up Resisting the “Genre Writer” Label

I spotted this article on the Guardian’s website, a blog post suggesting the “genre wars” in fiction may be over.

Is This the End of Fiction’s Genre Wars?”

The article suggests that finally, genre writers are getting the respect they deserve, because they seem to be writing somewhat outside of the boundaries of their genres. Truth be told, I found the column rather naive, and that summary pretty silly.  To suggest that genre writers are finally getting recognition from literary critics (read: lit snobs) seems a slap in the face to genre writers; they’ve always been recognized, even by established literary critics, for their work.

The article also makes mention of the growing trend of “cross-genre” writing, which isn’t so current after all. Countless writers have been blurring the distinctions between one genre (sci-fi, for example) and another (noir, let’s say) for decades. On my bookshelves are the entire collected works of one Thomas Pynchon. The reclusive genius have written one novel after another blending conspiracy thrillers, slapstick comedy, sci-fi, historical fiction, and experimental fiction. Pynchon doesn’t just dabble in different genres; he excels in them, and weaves each respective genre together in a tapestry of post-modern lunacy, both exhilarating and exhausting.

I’ve always felt writers like Pynchon and Kurt Vonnegut both respected and rejected the boundaries of genre. They understood the confines of certain genres, and how those genres place an emphasis on plot, but they also felt restricted by those confines. As do I.

Or perhaps I’m the one being naive here. Yes, booksellers and publishers still insist on the entire classification system of books. Ergo, “genre.” It would be silly of me to assume the Barnes and Nobles throughout this country, and booksellers across the globe, not to mention publishing houses like Penguin and Random House would simply dispose of genre just because writers have crossed genres for years.

I think I’m the one with the problem here. I dislike, intensely dislike, the usage of labels, and to me, “genre” smacks of labelism (is that even a word?). Neil Gaiman is a (LABEL)fantasy writer – although he has branched out with much success. Stephen King is a (LABEL) horror writer – although he has successfully branched out. John Grisham is a (LABEL) legal thriller writer – he too has successfully branched out. I could care less about your labels. I don’t care if your novels are about time-travelling steampunk vampires, written for a young adult audience. I dislike your labels. I care about the content of your work.

But Margie Brimer’s excellent advice piece, “Do You Know Your Genre?” made me realize that using the genre “label” is absolutely vital in branding your work. I’ve resisted having to choose one specific genre to write under, because I don’t particularly care to adhere to the constraints of a specific genre. I’d rather write to a cross-genre audience, but I know that can be hard to pull off.

Therein lies the problem: writing to a “cross-genre” audience.

At its core, my WIP is a superhero fantasy; I’ve created a new hero, based on familiar tropes, and turned those tropes on its head. A failed superhero, if you will. This failed superhero is at times an unlikeable hero, an antihero, even. The unlikeable character, even intentially (think Humbert Humbert in Lolita, although my protagonist is nowhere near his levels of depravity), is an essential element to literary fiction. As is the nothing happens element in literary fiction; for good stretches of the WIP, nothing really happens, in terms of action and suspense, yet there are things happening to our protagonist. He’s a broken superhero, trapped in his one big failure and unable (and unwilling) to move on. His life is a series of comical and heartbreaking moments, until something happens that forces himself to reconsider himself and his place. This is where plots are exposed, and his true character is revealed.

And we all know plot and character are essential elements to commercial fiction. Think of what someone like Stephen King or Elmore Leonard writes, and you’ve got commercial fiction at its finest.

Add all this up (superhero fantasy + literary fiction + commercial fiction) and I think I’ve got something that might add up to “upmarket fiction“. I’ll let the editor of Writer’s Digest (yeah, I’m quoting them, even if I have a love/hate/mostly hate relationship with them), Chuck Sambuchino, define what “upmarket fiction” means:

Simply put, it’s fiction that blends the line between commercial and literary. To further examine this, let’s break down those two terms. Commercial fiction, essentially, refers to novels that fall into a typical genre (thriller, let’s say). Commercial fiction can sell very well because it usually has a tight premise/logline (“Someone is trying to kill the president!”) and people like reading a category like thrillers because it’s exciting. Literary fiction refers to novels that don’t fit into any standard genre classification – romance, mystery, sci-fi, for example. Literary fiction requires the highest command of the language. Not pretentious, over-the-top purple prose – just simply excellent writing. . .

It has commercial potential. It has the ability to infiltrate lots of book clubs and start discussions and take off as a product. It’s a win-win for everyone. I’ve heard a lot of agents say that they are looking for “literary fiction with a commercial appeal,” or something like that. Well, one word that does the job of those six is “upmarket,” and that’s why you hear it so much. If you’re writing narrative nonfiction or upmarket fiction, chances are, there are a ton of agents out there willing to consider your work.”

Some examples of “upmarket fiction” would include Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon. All of which are excellently written, and have enjoyed mass commercial success.

That’s what I’m aspiring to. Not so much the mass commercial success, but far from the niche where literary fiction sometimes goes to die, nor where genre/commercial sometimes restricts. So I’m calling myself an upmarket literature writer. It’s a label I can be happy with.

There. Now I’m adhering to your fancy labels. Happy now?