Back to my Roots

When I was growing up I loved to read.  I’d read anything and I’d tear through a thousand page book in a week.  It would go everywhere with me until it was finished.  As much as I enjoyed reading, it wasn’t until I was thirteen that I discovered how much I loved to write.

When I was a Freshman in High School my friends and I used to have an hour long bus-ride home from school.  We were all avid horror and fantasy readers, one day we decided to use that time to write a short story on whatever topic we wanted, at the end of the ride we’d vote on who’s was best.

I wrote a short horror story about the four of us, my three friends and I.  We went camping, told scary stories around the fire, and one by one started to disappear.  We figured that one of the urban legends from the stories was actually real… but in the end found out that one of us was a werewolf (before they were trendy) and had invited everyone out to make meals of us.

It was scary, the descriptions were gory, like the horror flicks we loved, blood everywhere.

I won the little contest and discovered the joy I got from their reactions as we traded pages.  It was a blast to write something like all those stories that I enjoyed and have other people get a kick out of reading it.  Those little story contests became a regular part of our rides from then on.

Fast forward two decades.

This week I’m working on a new project.  As I was writing I realized I had a little hole in my plot, the characters were going to have to spend the night out in this hazardous place.  That wasn’t supposed to happen originally but it was just the way it worked out.  Thinking about that scene I figured I could just gloss over it, “they found an abandoned cabin to stay the night and nothing happened”…  but that’s not what I ended up happening

Instead, I spent the last two days writing over a dozen pages about the characters being haunted all night by creepy visions and monsters.  It just kind of evolved on the page into this huge, scary situation that I had so much fun creating.

In thinking about the project and the last two days it all kind of reminded me of writing those stories on the bus.  Those creepy, gruesome, edge-of-the-seat tales were what got me started writing to begin with because they were so much fun.  Even as a little kid, those R.L. Stein books were my favorites.  As I got older I transitioned into Stephen King and Dean Koontz, as well as a plethora of fantasy writers like Robert Jordan (RIP).

So I’m taking some time today to enjoy the process and remember what makes writing and reading enjoyable for me.  My last few projects have been pretty tame on the scare-o-meter, maybe my next one (or this one) will end up a few marks higher.  And if you find yourself hitting a slump, maybe thinking back to what you first loved about reading and writing will help get those juices flowing again.

An Observation

It’s been about a year since I started writing seriously.  I’ve ‘finished’ five big first drafts in that time but have hesitated to publish anything.  One of the reason is that I haven’t had the time or money to put into getting good edits done but the biggest reason is that every draft is a learning experience.  Writing so much, then reading and revising, has taught me so much about the craft.  Every time I look back at one of my early drafts I realize how far I’ve come.  As I want my first published work to be the highest quality I’ve been focused on learning rather than publishing.

An excellent example is my Camp NaNo project.  I hesitate to call it a ‘throw away’ novel but it didn’t have a lot of promise going into it.  Whenever I get involved with NaNo I pick out one of my ideas that light, easy to write, and doesn’t have a lot of depth.  The idea being that it should be easier to keep up the high word count daily.  If it sucks, no big deal, it’s just for fun (I’m even posting it on Wattpad as it gets written).  However, even with the not-so-serious premise and some edits I know I need to make, I can still see how far I’ve come in the last year.  Even writing something I’m not that invested in, the quality of the writing has improved dramatically.

While I still consider myself a student of the craft, it’s awesome to see the difference.

If you’re curious, it’s available on Wattpad (and getting closer to completion every day).  Feel free to leave comments or critiques, I’m always looking for feedback.

http://www.wattpad.com/story/35668423-geeks-greens-and-guns

The Snowball is rolling

I roped one of my friends into participating in Camp NaNo this month.  She’d always wanted to write but never made the time, so I convinced her to give it a shot.  Over and over I told her that it was so much easier to keep up the word count every day than it was catch up later on.  Over and over.

I wish I’d taken my own advice.  The month got busy, and I’d known it would, but I’m about two days behind on my word count from where I wanted to be and I’m rapidly running out of time to get caught up.

Hopefully all of you are doing better than me.

The good point out of all this is that the story is finally getting to the best parts, so at least it’ll be fun to write.

Win or lose, NaNo is always an experience.

Where do you get your ideas?

When I talk to non-writers about projects there is one inevitable question; where do I get my ideas?  There seems to be this magical aura around the subject as though writers have tapped into some underground magical force that no one else can find.   Or maybe they think we’re genetically coded in some unique way to boost creativity.  That’s not the way it works, at least not for me.

They want to know where I get my ideas?  I keep my eyes open.  Wherever I’m going, whatever I’m doing, I’m paying attention and keep an open mind.  A dozen times a day, at least, something occurs to me.  The comments people make, how they move, how they look, what’s on TV, who’s at the restaurant.  Words, phrases, scenes, subjects, they’re constantly bouncing around my head and rearranging themselves in different ways.  Hey, that’d be interesting in a story.

I’m sure that isn’t an ability that’s unique to me.  In fact, I’m pretty sure just about anyone can do what I do.  Most people probably have a ton of good ideas for stories that occur to them.  But here’s the key thing: writers do something about it.  When one of these ideas occur to me, I don’t move on and forget about it, I let it wiggle around the back of my head for a while.  What kind of characters would be involved in a story like this?  What kind of plot would it have?  Where would it take place?  What kind of twist can I inject?

Sometimes I evaluate the idea and decide it isn’t that good, not all are going to be, but the ones with any promise get written down.  The really good ones, I’ll find the time to write out at least a page synopsis and notes so I can dig into it deeper later on.

But I’m always paying attention, always thinking.

Here’s an example:

A couple weeks ago I was struggling with the name for a project I was working on.  You might remember that, I wrote a post called It’s all been written.  Usually I have a title before I start writing but that story was giving me fits.  I kept checking ideas online and all the good ones had been taken, so I emailed a friend and asked for her opinion.

She wrote back an innocuous suggestion that didn’t remotely fit the story… But I thought it was a hilarious.  Immediately my brain kicked into gear.  What would that story be like?  What kind of characters would it have?  How would that work?

I could have disregarded her title idea and moved on because it didn’t fit my story.  Instead, I got a really amazing idea for a new one just because I was paying attention and I kept an open mind.

So, there might not be any mythical well spring of story ideas out there (if there is, point me in the right direction) but paying attention and writing things down is almost as good.

Why I’ll probably never be an indie success

If you’ve been following for a while you’ve probably realized how infrequently I post.  There’s a reason for that and it’s the same reason that I’ll probably never be a “successful” indie author:

If writing feels like work I don’t do it.

It’s just that simple, if writing feels like a chore than I stop.  I’m sure there are some very talented, smart people rolling their eyes at that but give me a chance to explain.

I’ve loved writing for almost as long as I can remember.  I loved it because it was such an amazing way to escape the daily grind, to explore new worlds in new ways.  But the biggest reason that I loved to write was because it was FUN.  Creating characters, coming up with back stories, coming up with a creative twist is just so much fun.

Over the last year that I’ve been seriously writing, putting time and energy into finishing projects, there are so many things that I’ve learned.  One of the biggest lessons is that you can’t fake it.  And really, you shouldn’t even try.  If you’re writing to make money or fans, or if you’re not into the project or scene, it shows.  I could force myself to write a blog post every week but then it would be work, it wouldn’t be fun, the posts would be uninspired, and I don’t delude myself into thinking that readers aren’t smart enough to realize that.

What this also tells me is that I’m probably never going to be an indie success story.  I don’t like social media, I don’t like marketing, I don’t like putting myself out there, branding myself sounds painful, and half of the tips for success would be a lot of work.  I could do all of that, I could do all the “right” things, I could form myself into the shape of the box, but that would turn this thing that I love into a job.  I already have a job, I write because I love it.  And I’m certain that even if I did those things the writing wouldn’t be the same, the lack of fun would come across in anything I published.  I want more than that and readers certainly deserve better.

So, I’m not going to fight it, I’m going to write what I want, when I want, and continue to enjoy myself.  And if I end up making any money, or gather millions of fans, that’ll just be a bonus.  If enjoying what I do means that I’ll never be a big “success”, well, I suppose that really depends on your definition of the word.

Well rounded characters

One of the things that I struggle with sometimes is creating characters with depth.  It’s really easy to fall into superficial stereotypes, descriptions and reactions.  One of the things that I try and do is figure out what kind of intelligence the character has.

The summer before I started High School, I got enrolled in a mentorship course.  I had zero interest in taking it but my mom told me that my best friend really wanted to but would only go if I went too.  So, after arguing for a while, unsuccessfully, I agreed to go but only to hang out with him.

My best friend at the time was Pablo.  His mother was one of those types that had his entire future planned up until University, which classes, sports, and extras he would take to set him up for success.  She had a ten-year plan for him, made sure he knew it, and always pushed him to achieve perfection in everything.

Almost as soon as I arrived at the class and sat down with Pablo, we realized that our mothers had set us up.  He hadn’t wanted to take the class either but his mom told him that I wanted to.  She’d convinced my mom that the class would look good on our college applications and they tricked us into going.  We spent the next six hours stewing.

The mentor ship class was some kind of new age thing based on pop psychology, it was really weird.  At one point they had us all laying on the floor, eyes closed, imagining that we were walking down a corridor filled with doors.  When you open the first door, what do you see?

While most of the class was fairly ridiculous to a couple of fourteen year-olds, the portion on different types of intelligences was interesting.  According to the teachers there were seven different personality/intelligence types and they were arranged by colors.  I think I was a green, if I remember correctly.  Each type learned in different ways, had different strengths and weaknesses.

Neither Pablo or I signed up for further classes and we both refused to enroll in the follow up program in High School.  When our mother’s came to pick us up, we had some harsh words for them.

As much as I didn’t like the class, the perspective I gained on intelligence/personality types has served me well over the years.  It made me think about how I might be better at sports than another kid but that he was probably better than me at something.  Or the kid who gets straight A’s on tests is probably not as good at something as a popular kid with bad grades.  Each different type has strengths and weaknesses.

That perspective also helps when I’m trying to write full characters.  Maybe I’m writing about a character with a weakness, I don’t want him to be flat so I balance that out by figuring out what he’s good at.  If the guy can’t count to twenty without using all his fingers and toes maybe that’s balanced out when he can paint like Picasso.   Or fix diesel engines like a pro.  Or he’s a shark at the poker tables.  Even if those things never make it into the story, it gives the character more depth in my own mind which helps put more depth on the page.

A little slow

I haven’t been spending much time on WordPress over the past few weeks.  I’m sure you can relate, sometimes life just gets busy.  And when life gets busy I prioritize, which in this case meant using what little free time I’ve had to work on things that are higher on the list.  For example, family, friends, and projects.

That said, I have some good news.  I’ve started work on my submission for Write Club Fight Club.

In case you haven’t been paying attention (shame!), Write Club Fight Club matches up two writers and provides a challenge.  The writers submit their work and readers vote on the best piece.  We have some interesting conditions placed on our fight, which can be found here. I’ve been paired up with N.J. Layouni, we’ve been scheduled to “fight” on October 2nd.  

I’ve been pretty psyched up for Write Club Fight Club ever since I heard about it.  So, you might think I jumped right into writing as soon as the matches and conditions were announced, that wasn’t the case though.  I was really busy and decided to let the ideas bounce around for a while.

Yesterday, I put fingers to keyboard and the story started to flow.  I’m excited, can’t wait to see where this all goes.

Stay tuned!

Time vs Energy vs Words

The last few months, my writing routine has been knocking out between 20-30 pages a week.  I’ll grant that they aren’t quality pages, they’re mostly unedited, but I’m trying to get the drafts finished before I really dig into the editing process.

The last two weeks though, I’ve been working so much that when I get home I basically collapse on the couch.  Then, maybe watch a little TV and head to bed.  Last week I wrote about 15 pages and they were terrible.  I’ll probably end up tossing them rather than facing a grueling process of turning them into something readable.  This week… I’ve written maybe 5 pages.

Exhausting work, my writing’s kryptonite. Continue reading “Time vs Energy vs Words”

Started a new project

(Image from an interesting post on Good E Reads)

I hadn’t realized how tied up my brain is with my daughter’s book until last night.

I was really trudging through my writing time, just struggling to add a couple new pages to her story.  It wasn’t writer’s block, nothing that serious, but it was work.  The words were reluctant, difficult, and stubborn.  I got my pages done and then closed the word processor with relief.  Done for the day, whew.

But there was another document open. Continue reading “Started a new project”

Two Miles to Humility

(I wrote this right after it happened in 2008, I had plenty of time off my feet to work on it.  Enjoy!  WordPress didn’t like my formatting, so it’s a little off.)
Two Miles to Humility
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I’d like to think that I have reached the point in my life where there aren’t too many big life lessons left to learn.  However, it’s when you think you don’t have much left to learn that you end up being forcibly shown how little you actually know.
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My wife, Carrie, is an amazingly gifted woman.  I say this with some confidence because I’m fairly gifted and she is far more talented and gifted than I am.  When applying for a University, eight years after High School, I was required to retake the SATs.  I studied for two weeks and scored a 1390, two hundred points higher than I had almost a decade before.  I’ve learned through the years that given a little time and effort I can truly accomplish anything I put my mind to.  My wife, on the other hand, can match any accomplishment of mine almost instantly, and with little discernible effort.

Continue reading “Two Miles to Humility”