Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Note About The Links to Useful Writing Stuff

Just a quick note about the Links to Useful Writing Stuff. Not every method works for every writer. But these are links to info that should (at the very least) give you something to think about as you explore which methods work best for you. I am a firm believer in trying out what works for other people. Even if it doesn't work for me I usually learn something along the way about how I work best.

Here's a quick breakdown of the links I've provided.

One Pass Manuscript Revision
Holly Lisle has been writing for a long time and this is her best practice method for revising a rough draft in a single pass. I, personally, don't do it this way but the individual techniques laid out are very useful whether you apply them in one sitting or over the course of several drafts. 

The Snowflake Method for Writing a Novel

Randy Ingermanson has written a great article on how to develop novels from the initial idea into a rough outline into a detailed outline and then into a rough draft. Again, while I don't use this method verbatim, there are many useful techniques in here. And the article may help you to answer the question "I have an idea, how do I make it into a novel?"

The Absolute Write Forums

Absolute Write is a massive writers forum. They have subforums on just about anything writing related and the membership ranges from published authors to those of us still in the "aspiring" category. Even if you never post any questions yourself, just reading the conversations about writing (including genre-specific forums), agents, formatting, etc will give you an invaluable education. 

NaNoWriMo Follow-up

I included this because, while The National Novel Writing Month occurs only once a year, there are other challenges that happen year round and include everything from months to edit existing novels to posting on your blog every day for a year. Check out the bottom of the page I've linked to for info and links to a bunch of inspirational challenges. 

Monday, December 21, 2009

Testing. Testing. 1... 2

Currently I'm looking for a new layout for the blog. Bear with me as we work through the technical difficulties.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Writer's Commandment Number Three

James MacDonald, in giving advice to new writers, has said many times over that it is important to give yourself permission to write crap during the first draft. (He has a lot of really wonderful advice on writing commercial fiction, most of which can be found here.)

My third writer's commandment is inspired by that gem of wisdom.

Writer's Commandment Number Three: Thou shalt remember that some words is better than no words.

That sounds cryptic and ungrammatical. But here's the thing. Whether you're writing a first draft or a fifteenth draft at some point you will get caught up on some point that you don't know how to overcome. Maybe it's how to reveal a key piece of information. Or working out the snarls in a love/hate romantic subplot. Maybe it's just getting your MC out of the hole in the ground where he is determined to hide until the whole damn thing is over with. The fact is, at some point you will get stuck.

This is frequently (and erroneously, in my opinion) termed writer's block. The only way around it is through it. And by this I mean, in order to get unstuck you will - at some point - have to write yourself out of the hole in which you have landed.

And when it comes to getting stuck - and then unstuck - the best thing to do is NOT to stop writing. Some words is better than no words. Even if they are "bad" words. "Worthless" words. Even, dare I say it, utter crap.

Sometimes what you need is momentum. When I get stuck I start off my next writing session working on something else, usually a short story. I write for about 30 minutes. That's enough time to get the creative engine warmed up and all the processes necessary for writing engaged. Then I go back to the "block," the whatever-it-is that has me stumped and I try again. I don't attempt to spew forth polished prose. Instead I start with something simple.

"James walks out the door." 

Good, now he's outside and no longer hiding in the safe house. Then what?

"He has decided to go to the train station and catch the first thing headed for the buttcrack of nowhere. All of this, the prophecy, the heroic posturing, the love and manipulation, will be left behind. They can burn in hell for he cares. He will be somewhere else, living a normal life.

"Reaching the corner, he stops and looks to see if there is a bus in sight. He could walk, but his backpack is heavy and the sword, which he hasn't quite been able to leave behind, strikes the back of his leg with every step. There is no bus. In fact, there is no traffic at all. 

"The ground shivers and a crack skitters across the pavement trailing smoke and pale flames and the scent of brimstone. Looks like the demon is doing what it set out to do. Suddenly James realizes that Emmy and John and the rest of them will burn in hell if he doesn't do something."

And there you go. Suddenly, I've moved past the sticking point and the words are flowing again. It is not always that simple. If I try to just hammer something out and I get nothing, the next best thing is to free write about the problem. I need James to leave the house and see exactly what fate awaits his friends. But he's determined to stay in hiding. So something must make him leave. Maybe he decides not just to hide but to leave town alltogether. Etc, etc.

Then I move on to the next scene. Even if that one is still very rough. Even if it's still incomplete. That's tricky, because the little voice that always tries to suck the life out of your creative momentum will say "But what if this chapter/scene doesn't make sense with the rest of the story?" The answer is simple. You, being the kick-ass writer that you are, will fix it.

That's it. Fix it later. You have the skills to do that. If you don't, you will learn them. Not every scene is going to flow smoothly from one to the next on the first pass. Maybe not even the second or third pass. But you will be able to fix those bumps in the road. And when you hit one the first time don't stop writing and wait for the hole to fill itself in.

Some words is better than no words. The best cure for "writer's block" is writing. The best solution to a problematic plot point is working through it. Even if you have to skip over it and come back later. I highlight crappy sections in my manuscripts (as I write them) and put in a tag like this. Then I move on. Eventually something in my brain will turn over and I'll think "That's how that scene should go." And I fix whatever wasn't working. 

In the meantime, I keep writing. Because I can't fix anything if I'm not putting words down on paper.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Writer's Commandment Number Two

A few days ago I laid out what (to me) is the primary writers "rule." Not comparing yourself to others and then moping around because you can't produce as many words or your prose is not as polished on the first draft or whatever it may be. (And most importantly, not hating those that are more skilled in any area than you are. I don't care if they type faster than you do or have a fucking thesaurus in their brain, no hating. It only makes you look shabby.)

Before I go on to commandment number two I thought I would clarify one point that was raised by Scarlett.

If you are in a mutual writing partner or beta-reading situation you may find that it is beneficial to make some comparisons between your work and your partners. That is a different kettle of fish. A) You are making the comparison to someone you know on a somewhat personal level. B) You are both striving to make the other person a better writer/help them strengthen their weaknesses.

My caution is against that general "S. King is a best seller and writes three books a year and I don't understand why I can't do that. I bet he has a group of writers that draft his books for him and then he just puts a little polish and his name on them." You can insert the name of any author (published or unpublished) in there. Don't do that. It's destructive.

Now, for commandment number two.

Writers Commandment Number Two: Thou shalt not compare thyself to another writer for the purpose of making thyself feel better about thine own writing.

This is the one that really gets me. Because I know that I'm good at what I do. (And I'm not saying to adopt false humility about your skills. If you're good, you should say so. Maybe not all the time, but it's okay - more than okay - to own the fact that you do something well.) But I tend to start looking at other work, especially that of other unpublished authors or newer authors, and I think "Hey. I am so much better than they are."

The problem with this is that when you think you are better than everyone else, it is a very small step to the thought "I don't need to work as hard because I'm already good."

Any writer, every writer can always be better than they are now. I can be better than I am now. No matter how much more vivid my prose already is, no matter how cool my characters are, there is always room for improvement.

Don't let yourself get lazy. Don't get caught in the "Well, I'm already better than author X and they're published so I don't have to worry about improving my craft any further." And I know that there are very few who would consciously say/think something like that, but unconsciously is a whole different story. It all starts with looking at something someone else has written and thinking "Dude, they suck."

So, write. Be confident. Don't judge.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Writer's Commandment Number One

One of the first things you hear as a writer is that there are no rules when it comes to writing a novel. This is true. However, I have come to the conclusion that there are certain rules that apply to the writer or the practice of writing that have nothing to do with how-to-write-a-novel.

Before I confuse you any further I shall demonstrate by laying out my first rule of writing. A Writer's Commandment, if you will.

Commandment #1: Thou shalt not compare thyself to any other writer for the purpose of beating thyself up regarding personal writing practices.

An online acquaintance just wrote a rather long rant about authors/writers who criticize her for the amount of words she is able to write in a single day. For the most part, I agree with her. But the thing I really started thinking about was how deadly it can be (creatively, of course) to start comparing what one does writing-wise with what someone else does writing-wise.

I type pretty fast. Not super-fast, but still fast enough that when the thoughts are flowing I can put 1500 words on the "page" in a little under an hour. This is partly because I have taken the time to actually learn how to type. While typing (or writing - if one does this by hand and not on computer) is not the most important skill in becoming a successful writer, it is a very useful tool. My speed is also do in part to the fact that many times I have run through scenes in my head while I'm doing other things and when I sit down I am prepared to put all of it on paper. (Doesn't always come out that easily, but most of the time I'm typing out something I have already mentally "written.")

So, given the amount of time I am able to scrape together for myself I can usually turn out around 3k a day. If I sit down with a good idea of what to write. And I'm not tired. Or hungry. Or otherwise distracted. (And yes, I chose to have a family. It is not an excuse it is merely a fact. I do not have the same amount of free time now as I did when I was single.)

3k a day is a very respectable number. At that pace I can (theoretically) finish a first draft in a month.

But it's still hard not to get frustrated when I look at other writers I know (like Lori Witt) who due to less strenuous demands on their personal time and (probably) a lot more discipline when it comes to writing can write an entire first draft in eleven days. (And we're talking a whole first draft. Not just a NaNo-like challenge of 50k. But the whole damn thing. Beginning. To. End. I get tired just thinking about it.) It's hard not to get frustrated when I see people say they only need one, maybe two, passes editing a rough draft to get it ready for submission.

I think I am not alone here. Others must feel this frustration too.

The solution is not (as Scarlett has pointed out) to deride those who do better than we do. It is not to accuse those who can churn out 5k a day of being hacks or to say "Oh, well I prefer to focus on quality." That is cheap. It only makes the ones saying it look petty and insecure. (And I would like to point out that while I've never been accused of producing volume at the expense of content, I have been exposed to the "I don't know why anyone would write about vampires. That's so overdone. And unoriginal." argument. And all I can say is, once you read my book you'll eat your damn words.)

No, the solution to the problem is to stop comparing how you write to how anyone else writes. I am all about getting people to write every day, to learn how to reach daily word count goals, and produce rough drafts in a month instead of a year. But not everyone writes that way. I have learned (through much blood and tears) how to turn off the filters and write. But not everyone writes that way. Not everyone can write that way.

That is okay.

I don't want someone looking at what I do and feeling bad about how they produce a book. If you are writing you are doing it right. If you put words on the page, one after another until you have a sentence and then a paragraph and finally a chapter, you are doing it right. Whether it's 5 words a day or 50 or 5,000, you are doing it right.

Don't look at someone else and let their accomplishments get you down. That is counterproductive in so many ways. If you want to compare yourself to someone, look at your own work. Anyone who writes every day will improve month to month and year to year. That is what counts.