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Posts Tagged ‘writing’

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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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I am faced with a quandary. I want to write. According to my own personally selected Word of the Year, DAILY, I need to write daily. This word was selected to support me in my desire to write.
I also need to exercise daily.
I need to learn something new daily.
I am not sure there is enough day in each day to allow me to do all I wish to do daily.
OR there may not be enough energy in me to do what I want to do every day. I am getting older.
At the end of the working day, sitting in front of my computer all day, I do not feel the energy or the urge to sit in front of my computer at home for an hour or two. (Would that be “urgenergy”? English changes every day).
My lovely wife wants me to visit with her, as she may have been alone and working hard all day at her art business, or on a painting. I am inclined to do this with her. I like visiting with my wife, she is an interesting person and I like her. Also there is the idea of making and eating supper. Some days she cooks and some days I cook, but we must both eat and that takes time. As does cleaning up after dinner. By the time all that is done, it is time to relax for a bit, with either a book or the Ijit Box (TV) We like movies and British TV dramas. Netflix lets us watch several episodes at a time. Without commercials.
And then it is time for bed.
I wonder how much of what I am experiencing is Resistance a la Steven Pressfield? Probably most, if not all of it.
A friend and fellow writer, told the story of working at a local paper and stopping his work each day at noon and writing a part of his novel over his lunch hour. He did this more or less faithfully every day, and at the end of a year had a complete first draft. He wrote on weekends too. Longer on weekends, but on the same project. He also did free-lance work to help pay the bills. That is amazing to me. That is commitment and a terrific work ethic. It is the ability to switch gears from doing “work writing” to doing the “Work of Writing”, and then switch gears back. Almost Every Day.
Commitment is hard. Work ethic is hard. Work ethic involves sitting down and starting. It might have been Neil Gaiman who said, “Writing isn’t hard. Sitting down to write is hard.”
Starting is hard. Sitting down and starting is really, really hard. There is a reason why the word “starting” sounds so much like the word “stuttering”. Words have to be pulled forth with effort. Fragments of concepts  pr…pr…pr…pressed together. Fingers have to be taught where the keys are on the keyboard again. The idea machine needs a good firm kick to get it to cough up some icky hairballs of original thoughts.
Until you start working on something you really want to work on.  Something you are pulled into by your muse. Something you come to love. The words flow, the ideas spark forth, fingers fly, paragraphs build and lo and behold, hours have gone by. Not such a great thing to happen at work, over lunchtime, because it is a wrench to stop. But better if it happens there than to not happen at all.
Ah! Maybe that is the thing to grab and concentrate on. Getting to that feeling, that flow, even for a short time, is better than not getting there at all, because there is “not enough time.”
So. I’ll fit in my workouts at noon. And also use that time to think about writing, or reading about writing (daily learning).
And I will fit in an hour of writing time someplace, in five minute pieces if I have to, over the course of the day.
Every day.
I shall pick away at RESISTANCE, until it becomes resistance. Until it fades away. Until I overcome it.
Daily.

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Edmonton: A new week. This one promises to be somewhat warmer than the last two. -18C this morning with a high of -6C promised. We shall see.
Quinn MacDonald’s post was about re-examining my Word of the Year.

My word is DAILY.

When I first wrote it down I coupled it with other words: Effort, Habit, Consistent, Commitment. I think it works with all of these and it seems to me to relate to many things in my life. One thing they relate to is lists. Lists are great. Lists are a way to capture things that need to get done, or packed, or put away, or bought at the grocery store. Lists are a way to ensure we are working on the things that are important and not getting dragged down the rabbit holes of distraction and instant gratification. (See this great post on WaitButWhy.com about procrastination. Later. After you finish this short but pithy self-examination.

Lists are good. Here is my list for 2015:

I need to write daily.
I need to exercise daily.
I need to be mindful of eating habits daily.
I need to commit to my job daily.

Lists are great, but for me they seem to stand as silent judgement on all I did not get done, which says more about me than it does about my lists. So now, my list is above.
I still need daily to-do lists, calendar reminders, ticklers, post-it-notes, and “git ‘er done” prompts. They all need to ft into one of those four categories though.

This list seems like a list I can live with.

A list that may assist me.

Daily.

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Yesterday I was feeling listless. As in I had not even done a To-Do list for the day, not to mention not doing anything that should have been on it. It was a gorgeous sunshine filled January day in Alberta. Cold, crisp lovely. I felt I had cheated myself by not getting anything done. I felt depressed. That got me thinking about depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD – the winter depression). Then my daughter shared the blog post below and I found myself writing about depression and mental illness generally.

Mental illness affects us all. I suffered from depression and got counselling and medication to overcome it. It is the most common never-talked-about-illness that all humans suffer from – sometime. We just don’t talk about it. Strong, healthy, “Good” people don’t get it. Or they say they don’t. It reminds me of all those people who brag about never missing a day of work. They’ve BEEN sick, but they have come in and shared it  with everyone else, while saying, “I’m FINE!”

Can you imagine if head colds were shameful, or if there was a stigma associated with the flu? No long line-ups for shots, or cute commercials about “The Man-Cold”. We’d sneeze and sniffle behind closed doors, smuggle chicken soup in our coffee cups at work to seem “Fine.” We wouldn’t talk about it.

We don’t talk about mental illness either. Why?

Because we fear people look down on us when we talk about it.  We fear to be deemed self-pitying, selfish, or wallowing. We have seen others judged and mocked, we may have taken part, or had similar thoughts about another person’s weakness. As if it was catching. As if it was the flu, or the common cold, or the plague. As if talking about it could make us ill. In fact, talking about it IS THE CURE.

We need to talk about it. This man is talking about it. His posting is worth reading:

http://kieranmoolchan.com/2014/01/28/hi-sorry-to-burden-you-but-im-thinking-about-killing-myself/

Depression and other forms of mental illness affect us all. Remember you are loved, seek out and speak to a professional in confidence about your feelings and fears. Remember your hopes, dreams, plans and goals.

Remember you are the light in someone else’s world. To them, you are a symbol of hope and the brightness of the future. Do not rob the world of the bright shining light that is you.

 One of the problems with depression is that you feel completely alone, in a pit of despair, cut off from the bright shiny happiness that is the world outside you. There are people who will listen to you and help you, who want to fuel the fire in your soul so it blazes forth warming and enlightening everyone around you and everyone who hears of you.

 I have stood on the ledge. It was not my fear of dying that kept me from leaping. It was fear of heights. My fear of falling overcame my fear of living.

 So I had to learn to grow wings and fly. It is hard to be depressed when you’re flying. Scared, nervous, or worried maybe, but not depressed. Because you are going somewhere. Working toward a goal, making a change, being alive. You may need help to get there. You probably will need help. Flying is hard. Living is hard.

 Be alive. My grandparents used to say, “Where there’s life, there’s hope.” I used to think that was trite and short-sighted.

I was wrong.

In this case it is completely correct. Where there is life – there is hope.

Get help. Grow your wings. Live. Fly. Shine.

 *************

There are a number of GREAT Ted Talks on the subject of depression, and overcoming it.

This is one of the best: http://www.ted.com/talks/kevin_breel_confessions_of_a_depressed_comic.html

 Places you can get HELP:

http://www.suicide.org/hotlines/international/canada-suicide-hotlines.html

http://www.suicideprevention.ca/in-crisis-now/find-a-crisis-centre-now/

http://www.cmha.ca

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