The List

21462707_1052682281534463_6283699470490206764_nThings I have accomplished today:

  1. Morning chores while overcoming shock.
  2. Editing.
  3. Decent try at working the day job.
  4. Afternoon errands.
  5. Evening meal and chores while watching the death toll rise.
  6. Inktober drawing while listening to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
  7. Shower beer.  (This is an actual first.)
  8. Typing this…

Things that are absent from the list?  Beta reading.  The Low-Budget Writing posts.  Crying, because I’m still numb with shock, and wondering how bad it’s going to get before it gets better, or if this is the new normal.

I have a new short story burbling.  (Some of you might know this, if you’re on Facebook.)  I know that every story is different, and I have already described them as soups or thunderstorms, but THIS one is different.  This one is sapient.  It’s a little troll or Gollum sitting on my shoulder, muttering to its self.

What is it doing?  Grabbing at passing information, tossing some, tucking others away in its ragged clothes.  What is it keeping?  Anything having to do with Saturn’s moons, Titan and Enceladus.  Some psychology, a little biology.  It’s eyeballing my copy of
The Lucifer Effect” by Phillip Zimbardo, which I haven’t read yet.  What are two things I’m positive it has?  My memories of the movie “2010,” and my copy of Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror.”

I think it’s safe to say it’s going to be horror.  I thought it would be a short story, but with the amount of information being hoarded, it may be a novella.  To date, I have only received a short snippet of dialogue.

“Who the fuck harvests their dead teenaged daughter’s eggs, takes them along on an exploratory mission, then mixes one with random biologic samples from some frozen moon?  That’s just…  UGH!”

Cade shrugs.  “Brilliant isn’t the same as stable.”

So, I guess I wait for the rest of the story to see where this goes, and I’m completely sure I’m in over my head.

Happy Writing, y’all!

 

 

 

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Can You Bribe Titans With Chocolate?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve got titan-sized thoughts shrugging their way through my brain matter.  And this is the kind of shrugging that shoulders can do that also hold the Heavens and the Earth apart, so that we humans have a nice, comfy place to live.  They’re important, humongous thoughts; FEAR, and COURAGE, PERSEVERANCE, and some LUST, too.  My head aches from their shuddering footfalls and oversized, grabby hands.  I’m alternating between attempts of fuzzy blanket naps and shoving more other-writer’s-blogs-about-writing into my head, hoping it will all coalesce into an overflowing, bounteous soup of Writerly Knowledge For Me To Share!

But, mostly it’s just a throbbing headache.  Erg.

In more human-sized news, the notes for the Low-Budget Writing Program series is coming along nicely, so at some point I will be sharing something actually useful for new-ish writers.  I get a piece of chocolate for useful posts, so I am super motivated!

I’ll have to admit that both general writing and revisions for my WIP haven’t been going well, and it’s not too surprising when you consider life, but I’ve seen these kinds of temporary blocks before (see attached pic), and just on the other side of them is writing-nirvana.  The state of flow that makes writing as comfortable as slipping on your second favorite pair of pants. (The first favorite pair of pants being reading, of course.)  I just have to find a decent sized crack to wedge some writing into, like opening a safe passage with the jaws-of-life, then more cracks naturally open up, and writing slips in.  Or on, since I was using a pants metaphor.  <sigh>

(I have been known to fall over while putting on pants, so, there is that.)

Happy Writing!

Rules? We Don’t Need No Stinking Rules!

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  1. Don’t bore the reader.
  2. Don’t break the contract with the reader.
  3. Keep writing.

These are the Three Rules of Writing as I currently understand them.  They are subject to change if I get new information.

(BTW, the second rule refers to all the un-written expectations a reader has when choosing your book.  Off the top of my head are; both staying inside but also challenging the advertised genre, sticking to a single grammar/punctuation/formatting style, and plot/characters stay true to themselves.  There are probably more…)

In other news, I’m shoving some amazing information into my brain at a rate that is a bit difficult to process.  What does this mean for you, my giddy audience?  I will be adding to my Low-Budget Writing Program series as soon as I can sort the information out properly.  There will be future posts about fear of writing, profanity, sustained motivation, and (my personal kryptonite) grammar/punctuation.  (I’ll wait to link to the old posts, because I suspect they could use some serious editing and fall cleaning.)

Back to my WIP revisions.  Happy writing, y’all!

Grammar is Hard, and That’s No Joke!

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A writer attempts to take a picture of a book page.

Grammar is hard.  It’s not brain surgery, or rocket science, but it only seems to comfortably fit inside certain shapes of heads.

I do not have the right head shape for grammar.

Take the above list.  It is found in “My Grammar and I… Or Should That Be Me?” by Caroline Taggart and J. A. Wines (The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc., Pleasantville, NY 2009).  This is not a book review because I am only on page thirty-seven.  It did, however, illustrate to me how my particular type of brain reads things.  Again.

I didn’t get the joke until number six.

The shame.

The embarrassment.

Four tingled my spider-sense.  Five waved a red flag.  But it was on number six that my brain made me stop reading for content and pay attention to the grammar.  “Wait, is this a joke?”  I started back at the top.  By number three I was grinning.  Eight, nine, and ten all made me laugh out loud.  (Luckily, I was alone.  Grammar books shouldn’t make you laugh!  Nerd!)

I’ve seen this phenomena described somewhere in all of the articles on writing and self publishing that I have read in the past year.  There are readers who never complain about mistakes because they are too deep in the content, and other readers who complain about every mistake (real or not) that you make.

I’ve gotten better.  Study has helped me become a more efficient writer, but there are still lots of things I can’t seem to hold in my memory.  Mnemonics and funny anecdotes only get me so far.  I still have to rely on the internal “sound” of a sentence, and that can really get you in trouble if you are too deep inside storyland.

Reading for pleasure–and as a beta–has highlighted this tendency.  If grammar and punctuation yank ME out of the story, the writer might need to take a reeeealy close look at their work.

I am a content reader.  As a writer, I will have to be militant with proofreading until I can afford a professional.  I will make a list of things to check for, culled from these grammar books, and reflecting my own blind spots.  The proofreading stage of my current work-in-progress will be later, since I am still in the content editing stage, but forewarned is forearmed.

If you have the same kinds of blind spots, keep an eye on this blog.  I will eventually get the grammar edition of my Low-Budget Writing Program published. Here is the first of the series.

The more you know…

The Low-Budget Writing Program: Part 4 When the Manuscript Goes in the Garbage…

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When the manuscript is going to the garbage can, what do you save?

I’ve been lucky enough to have writer friends who will loan me books they think will be helpful to me. It’s amazing how timely these incidents can be. My observations of synchronicity in my own life make me more aware when my instincts tell me to do things–random things–even when I don’t know why.  Even if I will never know why.

So, I am going to insert a passage from a book I’ve just read, and I’m not going to tell you who the author is, or what the title is, yet.  Just play along, as if it’s your manuscript…

On impulse, I held up her manuscript.  “Okay,” I said.  “We both know there’s a problem and we don’t know how to fix it.  Let’s pretend for a minute that I’m going to throw this manuscript into the garbage.”

She leaned forward in her seat, hands gripping the arms of her chair.  I dropped the manuscript onto the floor beside me.

“It’s gone.  Into the garbage.  You’re never going to be able to write it now.  You’ll never see the characters again.  I want you to think about that.”

I could feel her thinking.

“If you could reach in and pick out just one part of that story, just one thing you don’t want to let go of, what would it be?”

Did you come up with anything?  Instinctually, did you grab for something in your own WIP?  I sure did. Hold on to that thought.

The book I got that from?  “Writing Romance” (Self-Counsel Press, Bellingham, WA 1997) by Vanessa Grant.  It’s written in the workbook style and full of helpful information, and I have found it far more useful than I thought I should.  Since it is nearly twenty years old some of the information is outdated because publishing and the internet has changed, but the Romance genre still has a lot of the same expectations.  Vanessa Grant has a soothing but insightful way of picking apart what makes a good, satisfying story.  She cautions, throughout her book, that anything not working for the entire story must be cut.  (My Sci-fi Romance has some issues I can’t afford to ignore.)

But tucked into that genre specific writing book was THAT little gem.  The Vanessa Grant Garbage Can Test.  Brilliant.   There is a formal exercise included in the book, but I found the narrative  of the original incident far more helpful.  Since my blog is geared for newer writers, like myself, I couldn’t help but pass on that little bit of insight.

WHY are you writing your particular story?  You need to know.  If you lose what is important to you, how can you hope to make it important to a reader?  Anything that doesn’t serve the core of the story will be cut out (and filed away for another story).

Anyway, my own copy of this book will go into the permanent collection of my after-the-rough-draft revision guides.  The rest of the books in that helpful collection are in this article, safely tucked next to the rescued manuscripts that took part in the above nerve-wracking photo shoot.

Back to my revisions.  Good luck with your own WIP.

The Low-Budget Writing Program: Part 3 Take Over the Literary World!

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This is a short post since it’s my vacation week, and there aren’t many writers tackling how to take over the literary world.

To date I have only found John Warner, the master of the fake famous writer quote, in the form of his helpful “Fondling Your Muse” (Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati 2005).  From the confusing dedication to the ridiculous blurbs on the back of the book, it’s packed with awful rules-to-live-by and terrible advice. He explains how and why to write your Manifesto, the place you alternately smash all writers who have come before AND promise to be the light in a dark, sewer-like world.  He also touches on the importance of preparing your Acceptance speech for all those awards you are going to receive.  Don’t miss the quiz, “So You Want To Be A Writer,” that proves only a self-destructive ego-maniac would choose to be a writer.  There is also some stuff about writing, like plot, character, and point of view and such nonsense.  I wasn’t paying attention.  I was envisioning the life of wealthy ease he promised if I followed his path to writerly fame.

Seriously, if you need to share in venting about the ridiculous contradictions of a writer’s life, or you just need a break from Serious Writer Stuff, pick it up and enjoy.

If you missed last week’s post, “The Monster in My Manuscript,” it was about books that will help you analyze and revise your rough draft.

Next week I will start in on the topic of syntax and grammar, in “How to Slay the Many-Headed Grammar Hydra!” [OR, I will keep putting that blog off, in a state of numb panic over my inexperience, and next post about putting your manuscript in the garbage.]

The Low-Budget Writing Program: Part 2 The Monster in My Manuscript

Just when I think there may be some breathing room between culture crises, along comes another one.  Now, almost everyone I know or follow is pointing fingers at one issue or group as being the sum of all the world’s problems.  I think the biggest problem is too many people are screaming their opinions and not taking the time to listen to the real problems.  There is some big picture stuff happening in our culture, but we only see the symptoms.  It’s like those Magic Eye pictures, you have to step back and change your focus, then you see the three-dimensional shark.  Time to wake up, people!

Meanwhile, I will stay in my book-lined safe space and tell you about the “How to” writing books that helped me to understand that the very raw first drafts I scribbled were worth developing into manuscripts, and how I was able to approach revision.

The first of these, and the book I consider the benchmark for storytelling, is “The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers” (Michael Wiese Productions, Studio City, CA 1998) by Christopher Vogler.  It analyzes Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey theory, one of the most basic story structures, from the point of view of a veteran story consultant and scriptwriter.  Vogler really delves into why this kind of story speaks to humans, and cites plenty of examples to help you to understand the concepts.  He even gives workbook questions at the end of each chapter to help you apply the concepts to your favorite stories.  If you read through it, with your own finished rough draft in mind, I think you can’t help but see ways to improve your work.  Vogler admits that any and all of the guideline he presents can be broken, sometimes to great effect, but it’s easier to be a breakout writer if you already know what is expected and actually works. [Since posting this, I have had a chance to read the third edition (2007) of this book.  Vogler goes much deeper and broader into the theory, and you really shouldn’t miss it!]

Because of the popularity of  writing stories from the woman’s point-of-view, usually more introspective and self-creative than the Hero’s Journey, many articles are being written to accommodate this shift of focus.  Personally, I haven’t found any of these articles to be half as effective as “The Virgin’s Promise” (Michael Wiese Productions, Studio City, CA 2009) by Kim Hudson.  This book maps out the journey stages of self-awareness found in many Fairy Tales, and the mythical princess breaking out of her tower plotline.  It is similar to the Hero’s Journey in some ways, but widely different in others.  Don’t assume this it is only for female characters, because it is about the idea of growing beyond the role society has placed on you.  In my current work-in-progress it is the male antagonist/love interest who is firmly on this path, and it was easier to understand him once I knew this.

Another way to check your rough draft is to run it past Noah Lukeman, a prominent New York literary agent, in the form of his book, “The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life” ( St. Martins Griffin, New York 2002).  It is written in a crisp, insightful way developed from his many years of reading manuscripts.  (Over fifty thousand in five years.  Yikes!) The first two chapters are full of questions you had better have an answer to, before you send your work to an agent or publisher.  Probably the biggest impression I got from his advice was Don’t Bore The Reader!  Boredom equals an unfinished or discarded book; a book that doesn’t get recommended, and word-of-mouth is the best promotional tool for a writer.  I personally love his Sahara-dry wit and no-nonsense advice.  Mr. Lukeman also has another book high on my reading list called “The First Five Pages” that I suspect will be just as important to read, since that is where you hook your reader into the whole story.

“How to Write a Damn Good Novel” (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1987) by James N. Frey is another excellent resource you can use to refine your story.  He covers the usual topics of character, conflict, plot, climax, voice, etc… in a very readable and engaging way, but also covers such in-depth topics as theme, premise, and symbolism in a way that makes sense to the writer and satisfies the reader (and how to not over-use these hidden gems).  The age of this book makes it a bit out of date in the current e-book and internet savvy world, but you should still be able to wield those skills he tries so hard to instill. I won’t re-read it after every first draft, but once a year or so might be a good idea.

Another important book, if the sheer number of sticky paper tags sprouting from the closed book is any indication, is “By Cunning & Craft” (Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati 2007) by Peter Selgin.  He covers many of the same topics as the other books, but everyone has their own spin on the way to address and analyze the questions EVERY writer asks themselves when trying to tell a story.  Mr. Selgin has a deeply insightful way of choosing the tone and style of a particular story, and–more importantly–why.  The subtle nuances of storytelling are his to command, and he will show you by example.  He also encourages you to be as true as possible to your voice, as a writer, while still producing a marketable book.  The chapter on Revision is a well written pat on the head, a tight hug, and some wise words as you are sent on your way.

My internal conflict between the writer’s voice and marketability prompted me to grab onto “The Joy of Writing Sex” (Story Press, Cincinnati 1996) by Elizabeth Benedict with both hands when I found it by chance in a used book store, and to not let go until I had it home.  It was one of very few books that addressed this topic when it was published and completely novel in its approach, although now her advice is the standard model for mainstream novels.  Current trends in off-mainstream books have shifted away from “Less is more” and graphic detail is standard for some sub-genres, especially the many bastard children of Romance and all of the other Speculative Fiction genres, not to mention the increasing popularity of Erotica.  Still, I got a lot out of her examples of restrained detail, along with a greatly increased reading list.  And even this main proponent of “less is more” nearly tittered in horrified fascination as she gave a few examples of the bolder, more graphic writers of her time.  My biggest take away from her book was to be subtle if you can, but if you can’t… go all out!

These are the books I have kept as valued hard copies on my book shelf, and I have saved them for going back to if stuck or confused about my writing.  This is a tiny sample of what is available, so please, feel free to add any books I haven’t mentioned in the comments.  What helped YOU on the road to becoming a writer?  It may just be the one book that will help the next writer coming along.

If you missed it, last week the blog was about “Butt in Chair” and getting the first draft finished.  Next week will be something about how to “Take Over the Literary World!”