Writing 201

A couple of reasonably well-known writers.
A couple of reasonably well-known writers.

At a certain point, one is simply not a beginner any more. This may or may not happen before or after you actually start selling stories. For myself, I don’t think I’m actually a “rank beginner” any more. Sure, I’m not a post-graduate like Stephen King or someone like him, but I basically know the rules. I may need another thousand hours of practice (assuming that 10,000 hour statistic is valid) but basically, I know the drill.

Some hints:

  • I no longer love my first drafts. In fact, I hate ’em. But they are useful, because at least there’s a story under that mess somewhere.
  • Every so often I can break a rule, know why I broke the rule, and actually get away with it. (“You must know the rules like a professional so that you may break them like an artist.” — Pablo Picasso)
  • I know, in my soul, what is wrong with superfluous modifiers. They’re really, very, truly, bad.
  • My contact list is more and more filling up with writers, agents, editors and book lovers. Eat your hearts out, you who are being forgotten.

I’m still just a sophomore, which is why I titled this post Writing 201. That’s the beginning of the year where you start to think that you know something, but in fact you really don’t. Hey, that’s me! Except at the movies. There, I’m a senior, for sure!

Friends!

I’ve been a member of the Las Vegas Writers’ Group since more or less forever. At least in terms of the group, because when I first joined it was known as the Literati. There hasn’t been a group named Literati in a decade.LVWG Logo It’s a Meetup Group that draws 70 people to a meeting. The July Meeting is on the 21st at the Tap House on West Charleston. Richard Warren has been co-ordinating the group ever since the founder, the late Jay McLarty, died prematurely (and not from drug abuse, either.) Now Richard is going to live the dream as a professor in an Eastern college, and I was either brave or dumb enough to volunteer to take over. (I report, you decide, heh heh.)

Richard will disappear from the face of Las Vegas after the July meeting, and we only have a speaker lined up for August. So, I’m desperate, of course. So who do I contact? Friends, of course!

I started with Mercedes M Yardley, who is one hell of an excellent writer. I’ve reposted her blog once or twice, and if you’ll check my reviews on Amazon, you’ll see several quite effusively positive posts, which I meant whole-heartedly. Mercedes not only volunteered to do a program for me, but she passed me on to several other local writers, only one of which I’ve met, who she believes will also be willing to  do a presentation. This for no more pay than a free supper. (The Tap House does have some good menu items, though.)

Which is why I say that friends are Swell! Or Awesome! Or, I dunno, Keen! Well, they’re great.

Thanks, Friends!

Feedback (See Below)

You might be forgiven for confusing the fact that Leslie and Andrew Godfrey do not write this blog. But, I’m so darned impressed with what they are doing, and their devotion and energy for their cause, that I repost all of their posts. If you click on the link at the bottom of each of my repostings, you’ll see more pictures, as well as the rest of the text.

So, on to my stuff.

Leslie posted today about Feedback. (Actually, I think she posted that earlier tomorrow, but that’s another story.) Feedback is of paramount importance no matter what you are trying to learn. In fact, to rant for a sentence or two, I believe that the worst thing about helicopter parenting is that it denies the children the very feedback on the results of their decisions that they need to become effective in life. So, I’m a writer. I’ll do the thing so many seem to like to do and ask my own question, then answer it. Has feedback helped me become a better writer?

Yes.

Five or so years ago I decided to take the advice I’d been ignoring all of my life and write stuff I like to read. I started with a middle-grade reader, now available in the form of Messy Meisner. (See the sidebar.) But I didn’t just scribble that puppy out one day. In fact, I drafted it during Nanowrimo one year. Didn’t win, because there weren’t enough words in that first draft. But I had a draft. That was the year I joined SCBWI, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. I went to their west coast national convention, which turned out to be the 40th anniversary celebration of the organization. It was pretty cool, like when I found myself standing next to Judy Blume waiting to meet Henry Winkler (this is all true.) But the best part was the feedback I received.

At that conference you can, for a few dollars more, get your work critiqued by somebody already successful in the field. Messy received a critique and ten-minute interview with Jay Asher, the author of 13 Reasons Why. So there is another celebrity that I met there, but more importantly, Jay’s critique allowed me, for the first time, to see the meaning of “show, don’t tell.” That is no small thing. He was not unkind, either, just honest, which is what I’m always looking for.

A year later, my much revised version was critiqued by Claudia Gabel, an author of several good YA books. She was also an editor at the time, so I got to query her with the book after I’d revised it again, this time to provide much needed clarity, remove some superfluous modifiers (they’re just really very bad!) and eliminate other story slowing elements. Okay, she didn’t buy it. But it was, by now, getting to be a decent story. (Click the sidebar link about “How I Became an Author etc.” for more of the story.) These improvements were all because of, taa daa, Feedback!

I have also been in critique groups, and a friend of mine, Mercedes M Yardley, got her start with the help of an excellent critique group. Again, this was Feedback, and good feedback at that!

My message this week, then, is to get yourself some feedback! Don’t just take anyone’s word for how your work is coming along. Rather, seek out those who have succeeded in selling their own words for cash. If you can get that sort of person to tell you what your work is like, you’ll be more than halfway to being an expert yourself, right?

Of course, right! Besides that, remember the rest of the rules, too. Got it? Good!

Indie or No?

kdp-logo-stacked-aNot plugging KDP in particular, but that’s what I used when I couldn’t stand my Middle Grader any more and had to publish it so I could move on. It has two sequels, but maybe we’ll talk about them later. This post is about whether you want to publish your own work, or go the traditional route. There are arguments either way.

With Indie publishing, of course, the advantage is just what I wrote about above: you can publish the damned thing and go on to another project. But, just having a book published does nothing at all for sales, does it? Look on Amazon at the sales rankings for various books. Most don’t have any. Because they, basically, don’t sell. Messy Meisner doesn’t sell. But I don’t really care, because I had my own reasons for publishing. Besides getting the thing out of my brain, it allowed me to concentrate on a YA romance, working title Jake and Diana. Diana is a Spanish name in this case, so pronounce it accordingly.

Jake and Diana is, I believe, a good book, with romance, danger, aggression, Goals, Motivations, Conflicts, some humor, you know, all that stuff you want in a book. I plan to pitch it to an agent and an editor at the RWA conference in a few weeks. Because, yes indeed, I want to go the traditional route with it. I’m hoping that success with an YA will make it easier to market the Middle-Graders. It could work, right?

At the moment I’m drafting another YA romance. I’m not sure if I even have a working title for the working title, but I do have a rough outline and a few chapters out on my cloud drive where I can get at them easily. Jake and Diana is currently being (I fervently hope) beta read. I hope the readers say some nice things about it, so I can use those things in my pitch. I really like the support you get from RWA, so I may stick with YA romances, although I do like a good Middle-Grader. Time will tell. Another thing I don’t know is whether I’ll publish traditionally, or Indie. It may come down to whichever pays better, and how much I want to handle the sheer business of promoting books.

If you’d like a cogent discussion of just what Indie means, really, try this article from Fiction University.

 

Feeling a Draft?

The important thing about being a writer is writing, obviously. If you want to tell a story, the only thing to do is to start telling it. But, nobody that I know of can write a good story in one pass. Sure, you’d like to think that Shakespears knocked out Hamlet over a weekend, but in fact it took him a very long time. Which means that the thing you are going to knock out over the weekend, or week, or month, or however long it takes (longer than any of that for me) is your first draft.

The salient feature of my first drafts is that they are terrible. I try to keep the voices consistent, but I’ve yet to actually do that. I try not to have contradictions in the action, but, well, you know, I’ve never done that either. So, in essence, although a first draft can be a lot of fun, and I truly enjoy putting up things for my characters to (usually) fail at, the result of all that fun and games isn’t anything I’d want anyone but myself to read. Ever. Of course, unlike, say, Twain, who revised right on the original manuscript, I save versions as Word files as I go along, so I suppose that at some point in the future, unless I get up the ambition to delete a lot of stuff, future generations of scholars will marvel at my sheer incompetence. But, that aside, nobody reads my first draft. Nobody.

The second draft is usually the one where I actually do work on the characters’ voices until they are consistent and in character. Honestly, the first draft sounds like I’m at a read-through reading all of the parts. Not that interesting. But, hey, things improve with age, including my revised manuscripts.

With the second, and consequent, drafts, I keep adding things that weren’t in the plot, or the characterization, the first time through. Honestly, sometimes what’s finally ready to be reviewed and critiqued looks like a completely different story, written by a completely different author. And it still, of course, is not ready for prime time.

But, lucky me, I’ve learned to enjoy the revision as much as the origination. Sure, it’s fun to make up new stuff, but it’s also fun to hone it into something folks will want to buy. (Oh, please, let them want to buy!)

If you have a drafting and revision quirk you’d like to share, put it in a comment below. I approve everything that isn’t obvious spam. Looking forward to hearing from you!

Shakespeare in the Original English

Photo by Steve Fey Doggerel by Wm Shakespeare
Photo by Steve Fey
Doggerel by Wm Shakespeare

First, here is a link to click.  Click it and you will see two English Shakespearean actors, father and son, discussing, and reading, Shakespeare both in contemporary English, and in the English of, roughly, 1600.

I noticed a couple of things. First, Shakespeare really did write modern English. In his own dialect it sounds sort of Gaelic, but I had no trouble knowing what was being said.

Second, Shakespeare is better in the original dialect. Instead of the overly dramatic reading that too many players give the material, it sparkles with a whole lot of word play that, too bad for us I guess, simply doesn’t work in our dialect. I won’t spoil it, but there are quite a few dirty jokes in the text. There are dirty jokes anyway, but when all of the puns work as intended it gets considerably funnier.

But, I’ll let these two actors explain how it works. Just click and check them out!

Into It?

*** I was into enough yesterday that I forgot to post anything of my own. Thanks, Leslie and Andrew, for filling in. I guess. ***

Actually, I forgot that it was Wednesday. I get distracted easily, which is one of the drawbacks of the mostly positive thing misnamed ADD. Disorder, my foot! But, be that at it may, it does illustrate the theme of this post.

A few days ago I started drafting a new book. I’d forgotten how much fun drafting a new book is! Even though parts of the process can be tedious. Namely things like outlining, describing characters, and other things that just turn out to be a Word document on my hard drive. Of course, after I’m famous, and gone, archivists will have a wonderful time sorting through all of my old notes, so, really, besides developing a novel, I’m performing a public service!*

But, truth be told, writing the first draft is the most fun. I’ve read quotes from a bunch of folks to the effect that you write with your heart, then revise with your head. And I’ve never liked rules, so getting to follow my lies around by heart makes me feel good. And frequently what comes out is written very badly, but it’s a story. Once I have a story, I can tweak it (oh, twenty times or so) until it’s told well enough that someone might actually pay for the privilege of reading it. (I only write commercial prose. Somebody else can plumb the depths of the human experience.)

So I’m feeling pretty good this week: off on a new adventure with some new people who are, as they always do, doing more of what they want to do than paying attention to what I need in the story.

Where do those characters come from, anyway? <grin>

The Brooklyn Bridge
Brooklyn Bridge
Image is in the public domain (Pixabay)

*If you believe that, check out the bridge I have for sale!

Ideas

Where do your ideas come from?

Somebody asked me that a couple of weeks ago on a boat to Isla San Jorge off of Puerto Peñasco, Sonora. That was right after I told him what I did for a job.

And it’s a good question, because I honestly don’t know. But I get them. And the world is absolutely crawling with sources for new ones. I’ve mentioned how I steal plot set-ups from a certain English playwright at times. That’s one way. Then there is simply paying attention when I’m in a group of people. I mean, everybody is the hero of their own movie, right? So, by observing people being themselves, I can get in on some of the plots.

Then there’s the simple “what if?” As in “What if Superman was having sex with Lois Lane and crushed her by mistake?” Or maybe “What if your junior high principal really was a demon from another dimension? What? You never thought that about your junior high principal? Liar!

So what I say is that middle bit, that the world is full of story ideas, which is true. But, you know, honestly, sometimes I think some devil does give me ideas. Like that demon from another dimension thing? Who’d ever believe that?

Besides every Junior High student in the country, I mean.

Crotch-Punching The Creative Yeti: Exploding More Writing Myths « terribleminds: chuck wendig

I like this guy’s advice. You can subscribe to his blog after you click this link (can’t fool me, huh?) This post explains how writing is a job (no duh) and explodes some common myths about the profession. Good stuff, Maynard!

Crotch-Punching The Creative Yeti: Exploding More Writing Myths « terribleminds: chuck wendig.

Grammar, Syntax, and Rules

Much has been made in recent years about the Oxford comma. In the UK, one always puts that comma before the final item in a list. And, if you aren’t terribly skilled at hearing what you’ve written, I imagine that that is good advice.

I say fairly often that I don’t care about commas. And I don’t. I do care about clarity. So, I would not ever, as in an example I saw on Facebook recently, declare Nelson Mandela to be an 800 year-old demigod and a dildo collector. Also there is the famous Panda who eats, shoots, and leaves. Remember that one? So there are times when I care about commas very much.

The proper sentence for Mandela ends with “. . . Nelson Mandela, an 800 year-old demigod, and a dildo collector.” That Oxford comma must certainly be there, or you are defaming the memory of a beloved leader.

But what if it doesn’t need to be there? Which mostly it doesn’t. What if the list contains items that obviously exclude each other? “For our vacation we packed the car with our clothes, toys and every bit of swimwear in the house.” You could use the final comma there. In fact, depending upon where you used that sentence, maybe you’d want to in order for it to “sound” right when somebody reads it. But with or without that comma, the meaning is exactly the same.

So, the question becomes not “do you always use the Oxford comma?” Rather the question is, “Does the list convey the meaning you wish it to convey?” In order to put a point on my argument, here is my favorite quote from Pablo Picasso:

You must know the rules like a professional so that you may break them like an artist.

Thank you, Picasso.

Now, I suggest that everyone quit worrying about whether a comma sequence is “proper” and concentrate instead on how well it conveys the intended meaning.

End of rant.