Friday, January 17, 2014

Day... 16? Damn: Writer's Writing (of Words and Wonders)

Why does this month have so many damn days!

Whelp. I guess I'll talk a little bit about me and my writing style, I suppose. And I mean real writing, not this blog where I've been known to phone it in from time to time...

I enjoy reading science/speculative fiction and fantasy. Normally, that's also what I write. The book I've been working on most, mostly due to using it as my final project for my Creative Writing Master's, is actually a Young Adult Historical Fiction. I don't suppose that I'll only right YA, and it is unlikely I'll ever try historical fiction beyond this series either, but I've enjoyed branching out and find having to do so much research refreshing. Well, refreshing and somewhat frustrating due to not always finding the sources I'd like for my novel set in Japan during the late 1600s...

Trying to come up with authentic names is murder.
When I write, I generally have to set a schedule for myself. During the course of a day I may jot down notes related to any of the stories I'm working on, or even passages for works I don't KNOW I'm working on, but I can't get into actually writing unless I've set time aside for it and am relatively undisturbed. I don't schedule this in as often as I should, and I've got plenty of excuses as to why not -- every (poor) writer knows them, so I'll omit them for now.

Ever since I was a kid, I always imagined fantastic worlds or events. I assume I wasn't particular happy with what I was given and the books I was always reading offered so much more -- it is natural, then, that my imagination would bend in that direction. Putting these ideas on to the page, while difficult, has simply felt right. I won't say therapeutic, because my life has turned out pretty decently thus far, but these stories are always in the back of my mind and it is refreshing to clear up some space.

I have never been published. I've never completed something to the extent that I felt it was publishable. My current project, the YA novel, is the farthest I've ever come, and it is only just now starting the second draft/revision stage. So the tips I'm about to list should be taken with a grain of salt. Sure, I have an English BA and a Creative Writing MFA, but I've yet to get to the stage where all of these tips have proven their worth.

But read 'em anyways, because I said so.

My professional suggestions for potential authors (or writers of any kind, really):

1. Set no less than an hour a day for writing, and try to do it at the same time every day. If you do this, you will quickly get into the habit and writing will become easier for you. This is the hardest hurdle for me to get over since moving back to MA. Hopefully my schedule is solid now and I can start planning better, but we'll see.
1a. If you're worried about writer's block, don't be. Write about whatever. The act of writing will be your exercise, allowing you to build the appropriate muscles to beat the crap out of any blocks that hold you up. Also, it's entirely possible you'll find something useful in your daily exercises. I've found using prompts helps in that regards.

2. Only work on a single project at a given time (I suppose this one is more for novel/story writers). If a great idea pops up for your Steampunk/Private Detective novel, jot it down somewhere you'll remember it and then turn back to what you've been working on. This is the only way to finish a book, in my opinion. Otherwise you'll get caught up in the "creation" stage forever. This is almost like the "honeymoon" stage in relationships and, while it's great, it doesn't make a complete story (or relationship, to continue the metaphor).

3. Even if you're not sure where your story is going to wind up or the exact path it should take, keep writing! Even if it seems random or not always perfect, it doesn't need to be solid through the first draft. As you write more, you'll learn more about the characters, the world, and the relationships between. Then, when you are going for your next draft, you'll be that much more informed. You'll know what to cut, you'll have an idea of what imagery you should populate throughout, and you can keep an eye on character relationships to make sure they're heading where you need them to.
3a. Write on until you reach the end of the book. Do NOT revise midway through or try to keep every single thing coherent the first time through -- you'll never finish because something new WILL pop up. If a major character shows up for the first time towards the end of the book, that's fine -- you can work them in on the next draft.

4. It WILL take multiple drafts before your story ever approaches completion. Also, your story will more than likely never FEEL complete -- you'll have to use your best judgement. Then get someone else's opinion.
Love the smell of giant, red x's in the morning...

5. Speaking of other opinions, it is incredibly helpful if you can get into/find a workshop with other writers. You can have your work read and suggestions made from like-minded individuals, and you'll grow as a writer when you start doing the same for others. Both of my degrees gave me a decent amount of workshops as classes. There are, however, local workshops or online workshops you can find that are not affiliated with a school. You could also create a group yourself, if you know enough readers/writers.

6. Read relevant material to your current project, but not to the exclusion of everything else. You don't want to be a direct copy of your favorite author, you'll need to be your own writer. We generally develop out own styles as a mix of many others. I've been getting inspired via Lovecraft for my eventual Steampunk/Private Detective novel, but I don't plan on making it a horror story, or feature any monsters.

7. Don't give up! Even if you eventually realize the work you've been doing for the better part of a year isn't going to be what you expected or be successful, use what you've learned for your next story/project. Keep an eye out where you can possibly salvage scenes or characters or locations or themes from your now-defunct story. There's always a kernel of good when you write, even if you don't see it initially.

8. Don't be afraid to start over. Many novels started out in the first person, only to be changed after several drafts. It's a lot of work to change something like that, but it isn't impossible. Even if the story isn't working in general, you can always try again. Maybe the main character is wrong, drawing the wrong focus from then reader. Possible you need to add or remove characters. Don't be afraid to butcher your work.
8b. DO make copies of your work, and save them separately before each major edit. You don't want to change your 1st person novel completely through, only to realize it worked better in 1st and not have a copy of the original manuscript.

9. Use technology to your advantage.
It's my file and I want it now!
9a. For storage and easy access, I use Dropbox for all of my stories. Then I can access it anytime from the internet, made even faster if you're able to download the application on multiple computers -- I have my folder on my computer, The Wife's laptop, my work computer, and several more locations.
9b. I don't want to pay for it so haven't yet, but Scrivener is something I will eventually pick up. It allows you to break up your work creatively, formats it however you'd like, and allows for very clear note-taking, timeline creating, and more. I'm a bit too cheap to drop $40 on it at the moment, but even the demo seemed as if it is the perfect writer's tool, no matter what you're writing.

10. Ask for help. If you need suggestions, you don't have to find all of them inside your own skull. You can ask friends, family, other authors, or even strangers for an opinion, thought, or preference. You can also do something as simple as people-watch at your local mall. Folks are always doing interesting things when they don't imagine they're being watched. Sure, that s
ounds a bit creepy, but I'm not telling you to go on Safari -- stake out in the cafeteria and just watch the tables around you. Have a notebook to jot down interesting tidbits of conversation or examples of unique characters. You don't have to use these notes, but they can be a fresh source of inspiration you won't get by sitting in front of your computer screen, idly pressing the space bar, hoping something brilliant will spring from your tired mind.

11. Do your research before blindly sending out your work to be published. There is a lot more that goes in in book publishing than any layman realizes, and it is a terrible, cruel, sanity-curdling beast if you aren't prepared. And it's just crappy when you are. So do your research and don't lose hope -- a rejection isn't the end of your creative career, it's part of the process.

Alright, that's all I've got for right now. Down the line, when I'm struggling with posts, I'll possibly post some prompts for potential writers out there. Keep an eye out for the "Writing Prompt" label.

Happy writing.


  1. All great advice, very solid. Although I have never been one to write every day, some days are just impossible. I really have trouble with the second suggestion, that is - it's great advice because once you start really writing a lot, it's just crazy how many ideas pop up. Following them around, getting distracted, is a surefire way to never finish a thing.
    My biggest issue is that I like to write all sorts of things and people really want to put you in a box. I write poetry and memoir and short stories and I am trying to rally some discipline and get back to a novel I am midway through (distractions!). I like literary fiction, sci fi, ghost stories, kidlit, mysteries. Professionally that is not great as you get farther if you are clearly marketable. And with limited time I can't pursue all these zones. But I hate that.

    1. I have the same problem about daily writing, but I have a strong recollection of it being beneficial when I HAD to while working on my MFA.

      And I'm ALWAYS writing tidbits for my other stories, and often think they're better than my current project (I know it's going to be the rankest genre fiction, but I am really excited about the Steampunk/Detective novel), but I also know I'll never finish anything if I don't stay on the single project.

      For you, you should try and incorporate your multiple-genre preference into your work -- maybe have a character be a poet or find poems. To give a nerdy example, Tolkien went so far as to create mythologies, poetry, and languages for The Lord of the Rings series (and they didn't even know what cross-genre was back then!). Having read some of your writing, I really think you'd have no problem combining all the things you like. A sci-fi, ghost infested, kidlit mystery sounds awesome to me!

      The other thought would be to bust out a feverish couple of short-shorts when the feeling strikes you and then get back to the main project. Don't know if that's easier or harder -- I'm really trying to not lose focus. For the second draft, I'm trying to do at least a chapter's worth of revision a day. We'll see how that goes...

      Good luck! And thanks for stopping by the blog!