Short Bursts – Not Burned Out

Hemingway used to be one my least favorite writers. Now, he’s one of my favorites. I thank him and his advice in his book – A Moveable Feast, for my current progress.

His advice is simple and genius.

Write the scene in your mind and then stop when you think of the next one. Sounds silly, right? Why stop?

The simplicity of this advice is that you never come to the page empty. You always bring something with you, and are ready when a spare moment presents itself.

This is how I’ve written lately and it has allowed me to have a consistent flow of words and I’ve not had to sit and think where I am going next.

I am never empty.

Never lost.

This is genius because then the well of creativity never runs dry. You always leave a little in there. A little sip to keep you going.

If your well is dry. Try to do things that fill it. Then don’t drain the tankard in one gulp.

Cheers,

Bob

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Novelist, Do You Use Visuals?

I am huge fan of Sherlock Holmes. I love his wild genius and untamed spirit combined with the relentlessness he uses to solve a case. Now, I understand this is fiction, but those abilities are quite attractive to the would-be novelist.

Though I don’t have these super powers, I can incorporate some of his tricks to my writing life, and so can you.

One such practice that has assisted my progress lately is having a white board where my I can take in my tasks, ideas, and notes at a glance. I can keep track of my tasks of the week and erase them when I am done, which is tremendously rewarding and gives me a hunger to attack another. I am able to pause after a furious fit of writing to check on the direction of my current chapter to make sure it is on target.

This does not have to be an expensive endeavor, my wife surprised me with the cardboardesque wipe boards (because she is awesome) and some dry erase markers (more awesomeness) for about $10.00. Not bad.

So writer, do you use visuals? If so, please share below!

Cheers,

Bob

Do Bad Things To Those You Love

There are many reasons for writing a story. That thing that inspired you, the character(s) that would not shut up, that horrible tragedy you suffered, or a place you visited or book you read that required some sort of artistic response.

However you wound up here, you are beside me and all of the other fiction novelists wanting to bring your book to life.

When I first started writing, I discovered a few characters I really wanted to know. I wrote a draft of a book with them in it, and it was terrible. But, it was also a stepping stone up to a bigger world and some of the characters stayed with me. I want to write because of them and I want you to care about them.

The hard part about this is that I can’t just tell you about their day. I could describe their upbringing, dreams and nightmares, and where they live and the people they know in their world. But that would be stupid boring to you. They’ve lived in my head for a decade and I know them very well. If I mentioned them to you, you might be nice and say you care but you don’t. You don’t know them like I do and I get it.

This is going to hurt.

So, I have to do bad things to them. I have to put them in horrible situations and sometimes even kill some of them so you will care. I have to make you worry for their safety, wonder about the impact of a lie they told or a discovery that they have to hide from everyone or the world may end.

In the next book in my series I killed a character in the opening. The characters I created have already suffered enough in book one, but this one had to go. It just didn’t make sense for them to continue and they had to exist in the previous book. Now, they are gone. The hard part about this is that I loved them. I truly did. I had someone in my life just like them when I was fifteen.

Writing is fun. It’s a thrill to put together a story and even more so when people enjoy reading it. It is also hard because in the end, we may have to torture them.

How about you writer? Are you having a hard time hurting those imaginary people you love?

Cheers,

Bob

What Is Your Scene/Chapter Aiming At?

I mentioned in the last few posts that I am reading James Scott Bell’s The Art of War for Writers. It is an essential guide for fiction writers.

Through my interaction with it, I’ve come away with a hundred different ideas. It’s like each paragraph holds four morsels to help tighten up your prose and create books that will continue to ratchet up until the final page.

One of my recent takeaways was to make sure you have a focal point for every scene you write.

Each portion of your work should be directing the audience toward something. What I mean by this is that there is something they are looking forward Archerto, some dangly little cookie that is just in front of their face. Is the character to have a visit from someone? Are they finally going to go through that door? Has your character had enough and it is time to speak up after months of getting trod on? Whatever it is, there needs to be a purpose for each scene, or in other words, the scene’s bull’s-eye.

It’s hard to write a book and be in a fictionalized world and not write for me. In a way I am. I would hope I am entertained at the placing of each word after the next otherwise why would I spend all of this time by myself typing away? But, one thing to keep in mind is that focal point. The place in the distance we are herding our audience. It’s a crescendo that is building and then instead of handing it to them, take it up an octave. This could be an action or a reveal that comes completely out of nowhere.

To take it from Mr Bell –

Every scene in your novel should have a moment or exchange that is the focal point, the bull’s-eye, the thing you are aiming at. If your scene doesn’t have a bull’s-eye, it should be cut or rewritten.  Art of War for Fiction Writer’s pg 113.

So as you consider your next chapter – the one with the scene at the café or the grocery store or standing on the parapet overlooking the battlefield, remember, what are you aiming at?

Cheers,

Bob

Is Jon Acuff A Liar?

I respect Jon Acuff and thoroughly enjoyed his books. They were inspiration to me and if I had an inordinate amount of money I’d have them all in hardcover. They were water to my creative soul, and gave me drive to work hard and joy at being productive. Unfortunately, I tried to implement one of his suggestions and I failed, utterly.

DawnAround the country there are people who get up and meet at 5am. These people have taken a page from Acuff’s book Start. I don’t recall the official title of these stoic individuals but something like Starters or 5amers comes to mind. Anyway, Mr Acuff says starting early can help your productivity throughout the day. Start goes on to say that it’s easier to do whatever it is you strive to do or be (WRITER!) before the day’s cares and stresses have at you and sap your energy. I wholeheartedly agree with this. If I get up early and pray, read the bible, have a bit of writing time, then enter my day, it is 100% more productive than if I just get up, stumble to the coffee pot and then to work.

You may or may not agree that there are morning people and night owls. They may be subjective terms that mean productive members of society and unmotivated slackers. But how does Mr. Acuff expect me to get up at 5am when I’ve just been up at 2am and 4am with my children? And I won’t even mention my cat. Bandit, I love you, but clawing my face at 3am is not appreciated. Ever had sick kids and be up all night? Try getting up when you are already up. Ouch.

Though it was a huge inspiration, I find myself diverting from a lot of what is said in the book Start to “what works for me whenever it works for me and does not take away from my family time”. I’ve wasted a lot of time looking at what other people do and try to implement their formulas. The thing is I am not them. Their plan worked for them during that portion of their life and got them to where they are today. It might not work for you and me. We might have to find another way.

I was talking with my wife the other day and lamented the fact that I simply cannot count on the morning hours to write, not at this juncture in my life anyway. It has worked in the past, just not now with children this young. She asked me what worked for me and I thought about it. When is the perfect time for me to write?

I‘d like to think of myself as that responsible morning person: get up, make coffee, and put the house in order before anyone is up. I get some exercise in, some writing too, and have an effective morning launch into my day. But maybe I am that slacker night owl that writes until 1am four nights a week.

So for now, I am going to write when I can count on it: when everyone else is asleep and I am awake. Per my wife’s brilliant suggestion, I cleared a shelf next to my bed and bought a 15$ fan to curb the clickety-clack of the keys on my laptop so my wife can sleep.

I guess the idea of Start is to, well, start. Mr Acuff, you weren’t wrong there. Thanks for the inspiration to keep going.

Write 500 words today!

Cheers,

Bob

My Writing Process Blog Hop

Jeff Chapman, a friend and local writer asked me to participate in a blog hop discussing my writing process. Jeff writes speculative fiction that falls somewhere in the fairy tale, fantasy, and ghost story genres. You can read Jeff’s post here. Thanks for the invite Jeff!

What am I working on?

I’ve finished book one of my Seven Sages fantasy series and sent that off to an agent. She is reviewing it now. I have started the second one, and plan to finish that by the end of the summer. I also have a few short stories to submit but I generally write whatever I have a passion for at the time, but I don’t like leaving things unfinished so I don’t allow myself to get distracted from my main project too long. So to make a long story short, one book and a few short stories at the same time.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

A great question, Jeff! Whenever I hear the word fantasy, I cringe. I immediately think of a bare chested man hugging a snow leopard on the cover. But I write fantasy so yes, this is a paradox. My fantasy has more dialogue and mystery, than sword wielding and battle. Although, these are not missing from my work. I love the works of JRR Tolkien (what fantasy writer doesn’t!) but I also like a good mystery book as well and I’ve tried my best to blend mystery and YA, in a fantasy world.

Why do I write what I do?

Sir_John_Mandeville's_Travels
From Sir John Mandeville’s Travels cir., 1410

Sometimes the story finds you. I really enjoy history, not just memorizing dates, but works like Fantasy Islands of the Atlantic –stories about Islands that appeared on maps for centuries that never existed. Or 1421 the year China discovered America, and listening to these arguments. I am reading the Travels and Sir John Mandeville, which is an account of a trip from England to Jerusalem all the way to the steps of Asia and the tent of the Great Khan. This account was a complete lie, with mystical beasts and extraordinary tales, but reigned as the authority on countries in the east for centuries. I stumbled across the idea of my book and my world while reading books like these about nine years ago. I’ve been writing short stories and books in this world ever since.

How does your writing process work?

I write whenever I have time. Sometimes that means I bring my laptop into bed and write late into the night. Other times it means I am up at quarter to six to get my words in. As I have three kids under five, anything can happen at any time, so I have to steal writing time to write when I can. My wife is always gracious and allows me to chase my passions. I could not do it without her.

In regards to what I do when I write, I always read the last two paragraphs I wrote before to get a feel for where I need to go. I usually stop writing at a point that is extremely interesting to me, so I have something exciting or interesting to write when I come to the page again. At times I am tired and spent. However , a book does not write itself, and writing is about coming to the page consistently whether you have the appetite or energy for it or not.

Thanks for the invite Jeff.

I’ve asked Josh Mosey to participate I (and a few others I’ll add later). He’s a blogger, flash fiction writer, part of the Weaklings, cofounder of the Jot Writers Conference, and a good friend. Check out his post next week, but check out his blog for now.

Cheers,

Bob

 

 

On Waiting For The Perfect Words

My first book was horrible. No, worse than that. It wasn’t even a book. It was a bunch of words cobbled together and then tossed in a blender. I thought it was interesting and well written at the time (if I showed it to anyone of you reading this I’m sorry. I’m sure it was painful). I remember a few sentences I wrote, “The horse beside him trudged slowly onward beside him.” And also, “after walking through the forest for an hour, they can to a large forest.”

Forest Path
Look! Another forest!

Ouch.

First drafts are terrible. I thought what I wrote was good at the time (roughly 10 years ago). Really good. I think I even had delusional thoughts of being a professional someday.

It did not take long for me to come back to earth. I reread it after setting it aside for a few months and realized how poor the writing was. I did not roll up into a ball and cry, however, I was proud. Proud, you ask? I was proud because it was done. I’d written a book! And every new draft I’ve written since has been better. Better planning and grammar. Better mechanics and literary tools to create something more beautiful. It is more than that though. Each word put on the page is a march along the path to publication. At times this path might lead me further away from my goal, but I am on a road. Occasionally, I find a short cut.

I write this post to those who fear of doing it wrong. It may be something you’ve heard a thousand times here and possibly with a writer friend or two but excellent planning without any actual writing is useless. It’s like planning and saving for a trip but when the time comes, you report to work.

As a writer, my goal is to tell a story. I want to finish one and do the best I can, but writers must learn by reading a lot and writing every day. Don’t believe me? Head over to Kristen Lamb’s Blog, she’s a professional. Yesterday’s post was about balancing writing and life. It is worth your time.

I hope you find courage and tenacity today my friends. Courage to move forward into the unknown of another page and tenacity to get up and do it again tomorrow.

Cheers,
Bob

I Am Not A Panster

If you ask my wife she would tell you that I am not a detailed person. Most of my friends would say the same. My boss would say I am color blind, but let’s not talk about all my faults at once, okay? I’d like to think I can be detail oriented, but it eludes me. I am a hard worker, tenacious at times, even going without sleep if necessary to complete a task or project. But alas, I have no fine tooth comb. If I ever did, I lost it. Forever.

Panster. When I first heard the term I was confused. Panster, what the? For those of you who have not hear the term it simply means sitting down and writing by the seat of your pants. No plotting or planning, just take a blank page and fill it and move on to the next one. And, though possibly to the ridicule of some, I’d like to say being a panster is not for the serious writer.

Blank pageLiterary giants, and even little ole me, agree that there is a firm rule that there are no rules to the craft. This is true, however, only for the process of getting the book down on the page. You do not follow rules A,B, and C and voila, Dante’s Inferno or the Grapes of Wrath. But I’d like to argue that you also do not sit down with a clear head and there you have the next great American novel or wildly successful YA series. It just cannot happen.

I think it is clear that the two works mentioned above along with most books have a plan, from the beginning. Formulaic or not, the author knows where they are going for the most part. This plan may change and by happenstance or eucatastrophe a beautiful part of the story surprises the author, but only because the other puzzle pieces are laid down. The author knows what size and shape the missing pieces must be in order to make the story work.

Details are not my forte. If you find forming plans too constraining to your free spirit artist, I understand. But keep in mind there must be some form of trajectory. Perhaps not the first draft, so the story is not snuffed out when it is a wee amber, but at some point it will have to be molded into a story. Planning will give your story more of a chance and save you a lot of grief in the editing process.

If you only want barebones guideposts, I suggest you write down the following for each chapter in your book:

Chapter (title)

–          Name of place (or places) this part of your story occurs

–          What the weather is like

–          What characters are involed

–          What would you like to happen. (Write three sentences of your plot)

Do this for each subsequent chapter.

Planning is for the professional, pansting is for practice.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic below.

Find some time to write today!

Cheers,

Bob

Focus On The Long Haul

We live in a microwave society. If you want something you can have it now. Right now.

We sit down to write a novel and after the first page or maybe the first sentence we get stumped. We had this grand idea and suddenly it evaporates before our eyes. We’re left with drivel. And writers hate drivel. We scrapped the idea whip up a fresh one and start anew.

This idea turns out the same as the last. It is garbage. Pure garbage! It is then we get mad. Our novel isn’t good. We wasted our time and soon decide we’re not cut out for it. So we start a different dream. We’re going to open a bakery!

MicrowaveBut we need to focus as amateur writers on the long haul. We need to focus on the slow plod step by step. Writing a novel and becoming a novelist does not happen overnight. It doesn’t happen in a day. Or a month. Or year. Or two years.

But what happens over those days, months, and years if you stay faithful to the path? You become better.  You find one sentence you can love. And a page! And 90 pages!!

And soon a few years down the road we have a novel.

If you’re frustrated today and your idea is just not working out. If you’ve been haunted by that same sentence for the last month. Keep things in perspective. As a novelist, we’re in for the long-haul. Not something quick and easy. We aren’t making this out of a box. We’re growing our own vegetables. Creating our own recipes. This is going to take some time. Let’s just hope we have the gumption to continue on. Because in the end that’s what matters.

If you’ve taken your eyes off the prize of finishing your novel, keep going. Understand this isn’t happening in a second. Understand we are going to have to reference books and reread the things and take classes and edit our work countless times.

Writer, I hope you can find some encouragement in this. Good novels do not happen overnight. If you’re still working on yours and it’s been over a day, perhaps yours will turn out to be a great one – if you keep at it.

Keep writing and take advantage of your weekend. Elbow out some time to write!

Cheers,

Bob

My Book’s Afraid of Rejection

A few months ago I was talking with Josh Mosey, a member of my writers group the Weaklings, about my novel. I had just talked with an acquisitions editor which turned out to be a very shady experience and I was ready to look for another place to submit my novel.

About a year previous, I submitted my work to agent. She loved the idea but said it needed a lot more polish. Between now and then I ran into her at a few writing events and she would always ask if I was still writing and to send her my stuff when I’m done revising.

I would tell her I’m working on it and I’m still plowing ahead. And I was. I wasn’t lying. I was Really.

Recently, having after having a discussion with Josh, he encouraged me and basically said; look it’s time to send it to her. You need to do it. I emailed and asked if she would take another look.

After a few weeks, she contacted me and asked me to send my manuscript. Two things happened in that moment. One, I was unequivocally exhilarated to pursue my writing career with everything that I had in me. Two, I began to be afraid.

Night SkyThis is every writer’s dream, right? The moment of truth. But, I didn’t look at it that way. Instead, my mind started to race. I got to the point of sending it and relented. I knew deep down that it needed another good edit. It’s not every day an agent gives you the green light to send over your work and I wanted it to be great.

After doing some soul-searching I replied saying that it wasn’t ready after all. There are a few more things to tweak. She replied saying to send the best book possible when I’m done.

Right now my book is about 93% done. I’ve drafted it about ten times. Some parts even more. There are little nooks and crannies that I still need to shine some light on as well as a few pages that I just need to kill.

Though I’ve been writing for years, I honestly don’t know when a book is done. I constantly tweak and pick at it to make it more polished. However, I realize that some point I am stalling. I’m worried about what lies on the other side. What if the agent says no? What if they say yes? Either way it is a road to a lot more work.

Be brave.

Keep writing.

Cheers,

Bob