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Are You Okay?

Source: Are You Okay?

Oh lordy help me. Every time I think I have a handle on writing, on the craft itself and on the ways I write, I trip over something that reminds me I only know about 1/10th of 1 percent of what “real” writers know.

Deciding whether to outline or to discover as I go (seat-of-the-pants writing or Pantsing), for instance. For over 90% of my time spent writing so far I have been a discovery writer. I think of an idea and start writing a scene and then construct other scenes  around it that lead to a whole story. Okay, most of a whole story. Okay, I have virtual drawers full of begun stories. I am sure I am not alone in this. Oh, please let me not be alone in this.

I write my poetry the same way. Think of a scene or be struck by a picture or a thought or a rose petal  floating down the sidewalk in the rain and then start writing. Poems emerge, mostly complete. They require tweaking and maybe a word or rhythm or rhyme change but the idea is all there. It is one reason I like poems. They are short and an idea can be clearly encompassed fast. I am kind of impatient.

Short stories are the same. Perhaps a big idea, or a poignant moment occurs and I encapsulate it in a short story that I discover as I write it. Yes, I have to edit, shorten, tighten, reveal, show-not-tell, but the idea is contained in a few hundred or thousand words. There isn’t room to get lost in the labyrinth twists and turns of my own brain paths, or distracted by hitting the “research” button. Although that happens far too often and I find my story lost among maps of places the story should be happening in, and cute cat videos.

But I digress.

Lately I have been trying to write a novel. A full length 70,000 word novel. With characters and character development and world-spanning changes of venue, action scenes and more motivations than you can shake a head at. It is a lot of stuff to keep straight and I am discovering problems with the organization of it. I am discovering that discovery doesn’t work for long form writing. At least for me. Remember the labyrinth.

Hence, outlines, and discovering how to do them and how they work. What I am really discovering is how much there is to discover. Way too much info for a single blog entry.

Steven Pressfield has talked about the “Foolscap Method” of outlining. As a matter of fact he wrote a book about how he wrote his first successful novel “The Legend of Bagger Vance” using the Foolscap Method (it’s called the Authentic Swing).  Essentially it is putting three acts on a single page to help keep the story straight. It is simple, short, easy (-ish) and good. And quick. You can do it in a single day.  You write down what the beginning, middle and end of your story are. It is a roadmap. You still don’t know what sights you’ll see on the road, but you know where you are starting and ending your journey.

So I think I have it. My novel is outlined on one yellow legal-length page. YAY! Except then I find myself thinking things like, “Why is this story happening?” “Where is it coming from?” “What are the motivations of the 10 or 12 people I am most concerned with?” So I start writing those things down as “outline notes” and “questions to be answered later”, and “character outlines”.

Lo-and-Behold, my writing time dis-app-ears.

I warn you best-beloved, outlining can lead to a place filled with traps and quagmires and twisty paths that can lead you away from writing. Getting hung up on the Perfect Outline can mean spending hours and hours NOT writing your story.

So – Stick with Pressfield and build the short one page “Foolscap Method” road map. Then write your first draft without thinking about why Marcy is motivated to wallpaper her apartment only with wallpaper featuring rose prints. Figure that out later.

Why are you reading this? Get back to work.

Wasting Time

So it is time for my semi-annual blog post.

I’m kidding. But not really kidding because even though I get prompted by my computer, tablet and smartphone, to post something every Wednesday, I still don’t stop and jot enough words to post an entry.

Steven Pressfield calls it Resistance (See The War of Art). Others call it procrastination, and my stepmother used to call it being lazy. Or not trying hard enough. Or not living up to my potential. Regardless it was entirely my fault. I fear she was right. Or maybe they all are. Whatever the cause, I shall today try to overcome it.

Today’s topic is WRITING! YAY! Nothing controversial here! Well really it is about wasting time. Or rather, NOT writing I guess.

I have been writing. Really writing, every day, continuously for over 4 weeks now. It is a milestone in my personal writing resume and I am pleased to be able to note it. I am 3600 words and three chapters into a thriller novel that is stewing around in my brain and stealing sleep from me. It is going well, I just need time to work on it. Okay, I need to take time to work on it. Not make time – no on e can do that , not even The Doctor. But I digress.

Hmmm. Seems I have returned to the topic of procrastination.

So let’s talk about time.

Since I typed those five words in the previous sentence, I have been to my Gmail, read a message about a friend’s birthday today, opened Facebook to write on his timeline “Happy Birthday Old Fart” (this is a displacement technique used to offset my own feeling of inadequate mortality at my own approaching ancient-ness), read a few posts from FB friends, liked a picture of my grandkids at the zoo (so cute!), went back to Gmail, noticed a new post from a blog I follow, read it, was moved, opened it in my browser, asked a poignant question, posted it, came back here and said, “Where was I?”

34 minutes had elapsed. How do we stay on the page, on topic, focused when there is a whole world poised to distract, whose whole raison d’être is to be looked at and to distract us (me) from what we have decided we need to be doing?

  • Decide what is important.

 

    1. What you are doing has to be important to you, important enough that you can agree with yourself to shut down internet access, turn off the phone, put on your blinkers and your noise cancelling headphones and just DO THE WORK.

Yeah, like that has EVER worked! Well, sometimes it has. Like when your job depends on getting that report finished or your wife is expecting a nicely written birthday/anniversary/Christmas card that you bought just before getting on the bus home or that essay is due TOMORROW MORNING!

Deadlines. Deadlines work. If you HAVE to get is done by such-and-such a time you are suddenly motivated and focused and can do the work. Not your BEST work maybe, but who knows because really, do you ever do your best work unless you are under the gun?

The Muse most writers really need

Cartoon by J.C. Hines – buy a mug to remind you!

So provide yourself a deadline to get something finished. Mine is: By 1300 today you need to post your promised blog. Darn – that’s really sneaking up. I’d better get busy.

 

 

  • Set a time limit.

 

    1. I have been using Sarah Selecky’s Daily Writing Prompts to write for at least 10 minutes every day. Sometimes the prompts play into the novel, sometimes they lead to a new story or idea. The great thing is that I write creatively (almost) every day, I look forward to it, and I miss it when I don’t write.

 

So, set an achievable time limit: 30 minutes, 20…10. Whatever you think you can fit in. Do it at the same time every day. get to work early, do it on the bus (then translate bumpy writing later!) Coffee break, the first 10 minutes of lunch, last ten minutes of your work day, last 10 minutes of your day. To quote Patrick Rothfuss: Sit your ass down and Write!
That is enough for now. I don’t want to waste your time.

Writing Every Day

Thank you Sarah Selecky for SarahSelecky.com. Every day she sends out a writing prompt. Thing like: “Write a scene that takes place at the base of a tower.”

The idea is that you (me) write for ten minutes every day. By hand. On paper.

Ten measly minutes. Hardly any time at all. It can be done on the bus on the way to work. Heck, it can be done waiting for the bus.  It takes me longer than that to get comfy in front of my computer and get Word up and running.

The real joy of this turned out to be uncoupling from the tech. No writing on the computer, not on the tablet, not on the phone (blech).

The first stories I ever wrote were in pencil on paper with pieces of wood embedded in it. I graduated to a pen and smooth paper with lines shortly after starting school and discovering that you could write anything in a scribbler.

What I have found is that the fountain of my muse flows smoother when filtered through a writing instrument onto a page. I am not sure if that is because those stories in my head are sourced in my youngster self, or if it just responds better to tactile stimulation.

That ten minute time limit is another mind freeing element. When I sit down with hours to fill with words and worlds of wonder, my internal mouth goes dry and I find myself staring at the empty white screen while something in my head screams, “Let me OUT of here!” in a desperate voice.

But, when I only have to fill ten minutes with writing, well, that is a magical release. The story comes blinking into the light and I can see it all and I write quickly, trying to capture it complete before my time is up. I don’t always get it all down, but I almost always see all of it, and am able to remember it when I return to the page later.

Sometimes the ten minutes stretches to fifteen, twenty, twenty-five or more . When I put down my pen I feel as if I have been making magic. Tired, but fulfilled. Sometimes, the whole story is written down on my paper and I don’t feel as if any of it was forced.

When that happens, it really is magic.

Thank you Sarah Selecky for showing me where I hid the story wand.

http://abcnews.go.com/Lifestyle/free-range-parents-found-responsible-child-neglect-allowing/story?id=29363859

This is insane. The Government in the form of the Maryland Child Protection Services found the parents parents were Responsible for Unsubstantiated Neglect without a trial or any kind of open investigation and without the parents having a chance to defend themselves flies in the face of everything that Americans believe in. It is only a matter of time before this rears its head in Canada, for as the States go, so go we to some extent.

The video link has two stories. The original is from January of this year when the parents were being investigated (never charged – just investigated) for child neglect. The follow-up video has a bit with Nancy Grace the Chicken-Little newswoman from Atlanta who loves to warn us about the danger in well – everything. Nancy says that letting these kids walk around alone is wrong because  “This is not the same world we grew up in…!” She is correct – These are not the “Good Olde Days”. We are living in the safest time in human history. All crime is down and there are less cases of stranger abduction than ever before. Some people would argue that it is because of helicopter parenting and everyone keeping a much closer watch over their kids, but in reality it is because we have a safer society than ever before. These children are being raised the same way my entire generation was, and the generation after me. The idea that kids cannot walk to the park, rink, playing field, school, library, on the subway, bus or on foot is wrong. Those helicoptering parents are creating a generation of children who can’t do anything for themselves because they have not been allowed to! It is CRAZY! I hope those hovering parents are happy when this self-created monster comes home to live in the basement for the rest of its life because it cannot cope with the “real world”. Actually, now that I think about it, they probably will be happy, because then they can keep them safely under their eyes, and their thumbs, forever.

“It is said that your life flashes before your eyes just before you die. That is true, it’s called Life.”

~ Terry Pratchett

I am sad to hear of his passing, but we are all fortunate to be able to read his books and stories and laugh out loud as we encounter him and his characters, either for the first time or for the 99th. He left us a legacy of humor and style. He got his books written and published and I, for one, am glad he did. If you have not read any of his Discworld books, you owe yourself a look.

Terry Pratchett had Alzheimer’s in the final years of his life and it is hard to think about a man of words and stories being robbed of the essence of his existence.

Let his death serve as a notice to all of us who have yet to complete our writings: none of us know how long we have left. Not only how many moments of life remain, but how many useful, productive moments of life remain.

Warning! Warning! DANGER! DANGER WILL ROBINSON!

http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/ai-could-destroy-humans-stephen-hawking-fears-should-you-worry-1.2864576

I detest fear-mongering. People who cry, “The Sky is FALLING” make life more stressful for all of us. But just in case you were feeling all safe and snugly this morning, I thought I would raise a bit of an awareness alarm. This type of development has the potential to harm humans long before the melting icecaps drown New York city.

There are so many things to worry about in this article that I cannot even list them all. Everything they say is alarming. Especially Arnold back on the screen as a terminator.

Exponential machine AI intelligence growth is mind-boggling for a human. Machine generations and evolution are measured in minutes (and eventually seconds).  Whilst humans are trying to figure out how to pull the plug, the machines are evolving at a generation-a-minute rate and figuring out how to become self-powered at the self-sustaining nano-tech level. “Plug who needs a plug?”

The assumption of altruism is disturbing too. “Altruistic” does not necessarily imply empathetic or even sympathetic. Altruism assumes that the altruist is judging things from a human point of view. An Altruist may decide that the best thing for the planet is the elimination, or at least the reduction, of the human race, since we are, to quote “The Matrix”, …”” a virus on the face of this planet…”

Sawyer is hopeful, because he is at heart an optimist and a humanitarian optimist. But we cannot even decide as a planetary people to reduce our fossil fuel consumption because it might affect our “lifestyles”. I do not hold much hope that as a united decision we will come to limit the capability of “smart” machines. Even if we don’t imbue them with our hubris driven egos, we are likely to damn ourselves by giving them relentless logic, unfettered by conscience, human feelings, social awareness and shared evolution.

 

 

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