I know that I should be able to produce more than a chapter in a week. Lately, though, that’s been my rate of progress. Because there is the matter of a nasty cold (could’ve been a mild case of flu, hard to tell, but it lasted more than two weeks,) a bathroom remodel, writing this blog, don’t you know, and of course taking people to wherever they want to go in the mornings. I think this is the sort of spot where a lot of writers become frustrated and think of quitting. Not me. Let’s face it, at a chapter a week, I can have the puppy drafted in about a year, year and a half tops.* And, there’s my point: it will be finished.
I think that a common mistake writers make with a book is that they want it to be done now! Never mind that the first draft, to quote Hemmingway, is shit. Never mind that it took Twain a couple of decades to write Huckleberry Finn. Never mind that you need to sell the thing to make it worth all the work. You want it done NOW!!!
I’ve been inserting a few scenes when I could (to be honest, the cold was the biggest obstacle — lack of energy to the max,) and by gum my story is progressing. Times like this are why I make notes in the margins of my manuscript (using Word.) I know what’s happening, and if it’s a shift in scene or action, my last note tells me where to go next.
It would be great to sit around the roaring fire outside the hide shelter and regale my tribe with tales of monsters and gods having epic battles. Heck, it would be great if somebody bought my book, right? But nobody can buy a book that isn’t ready to be read, and no book ever got ready to read until its author sweat enough blood to make that happen, even if it was only a chapter a week.
What do you say? Ready to go knock out a few sentences? That’s the stuff!
*The bathroom project proceeds apace, I’m healthy, and carrying people is only for mornings, so it will be a lot quicker than that, I imagine.
I was just listening to a playlist of Leonard Cohen, who was one of my favorite musicians back in the vicinity of 1970, more or less. Of the others I favored in those days, many covered Bob Dylan songs. Dylan and Cohen were, reportedly, mutual fans. Some years later I discovered the music of Bruce Springsteen. What these three composers have in common is top notch lyrics. That is, they are all excellent poets. Maybe that’s why I’ve never written any serious songs that were worth the trouble to sing: I’m a lousy poet. But, looking back, I see that I was certainly given the opportunity to enjoy a lot of great poetry. Dylan won a Nobel, of course, but Cohen’s lyrics grabbed me the moment I heard them. I don’t know who Suzanne was, but I’d have been happy to meet her. And, then this, from The Boss:
Beyond the palace hemi powered drones scream down the boulevard,
Girls comb their hair in rearview mirrors while boys try to look so hard.
The amusement park rises cold and dark; kids are huddled on the beach in the mist.
I want to die with you, Wendy, on the streets tonight, in an everlasting kiss.
Not bad, huh?
I hope that the youth of this moment have some exposure to something as excellent. I was privileged, still am, to have lived when poems like these three wrote sold incredibly well. Everybody should be so privileged, don’t you think?
Newer writers always have a lot of questions about writing, and the process of writing, and whether they really are writers, that sort of thing. Well, friends, you are in luck, because this week, I’m going to answer some of those burning questions so that you can rest easier knowing, well, knowing this stuff:
1. Am I Really A Writer?
Well, let’s think. Do you sit down at a blank screen or paper, and leave when there are things written on the screen or paper? If you do, then, yes, you are really a writer, whether you get paid or not, whether you feel compelled or not, even whether you enjoy it or not, you are a writer. Next question.
2. When Will I Know that I Have Succeeded as a Writer?
When you accomplish what you’ve set out to accomplish. If that’s publish a book, then when your book is published. If it’s make a living at writing, then when you can quit your day job. If it’s get rich like John Grisham, you could be in deep doo doo. Hey, gotta be realistic.
3. What Are the Rules of Writing?
There aren’t any.
Except that there are.
Your high-school English teacher mentioned a lot of them.
Even though they don’t matter.
My favorite quote about rules is from Pablo Picasso:
You must know the rules like a professional in order to break them like an artist.
4. Should I Publish My Own Work or Get an Agent and/or Publisher.
5. Isn’t Publishing My Own Stuff a Lot of Hard Work?
Of course it is. That’s why you get such stingy royalties out of the big publishers. If you decide to go to the expense yourself, of course, you get 100% of the net proceeds from the sale of your books. You choose.
6. Are there Any Good Books on How to Write?
Yes. Yes, there are.
7. Which Books Are Those?
The ones you learn valuable lessons from.
8. Are You Serious?
Yes I am. This is all the true state of the art of writing.
This is one of those dull, “how I’m doing” posts that you dread. Go on, you know you do. I conceived of a book about a US President who fakes his own death as his popularity tanks, in order to be remembered well. I mean, look what it’s done in the past for artists like Jim Croce, Janis Joplin, or politicians like JFK! More recently, Cobain and Shakur! Sometimes, dying is absolutely the best thing you can do for your career.
So, okay, maybe this president isn’t entirely rational. It happens.
I dug around our extensive library of writing books and found one on writing a mystery, since a thriller is a subset of mystery, of course. Thus it was that I had a pretty good grasp of where I was going when I created my brand-new document, in my brand-new folder, all for this latest project. It has been enlightening.
Of course, although there is an unknown element to the reader, I know exactly what’s going on. (I’m not telling yet. The first draft isn’t finished.) But as I’ve gone along, chapter to chapter, I keep finding myself inserting new characters (and notes about inserting them into the story earlier) and new subplots that I hadn’t thought of in my initial planning. One of those subplots is an elaborate red herring (for my protagonist, not for the reader,) which will make it easier, and more satisfying, to damn near kill the woman during the climactic sequence. Right now, she thinks her biggest issue is not getting arrested in Dubai. Hah! If only she knew, right?
I was “better prepared,” in the sense of outlining, plotting, and thinking through, this novel than any other project I’ve attempted. And, guess what? I’m still outlining by writing! I guess, if that’s your style, that’s what you end up doing.
I sure hope this one gets to see the light of day eventually. At the rate I’m going, I’m thinking that the turn of the century would be a good release date. 🙂
What is a story? It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It involves overcoming adversity. It’s always third person, in spirit.
The beginning is always a normal person, even if it’s a rabbit, or space alien, or the Elephant Man. Whatever is in the middle of the tale is Normal. Then Normal has a problem, which it tries to solve, but which goes right on getting worse.
The middle follows the beginning in style and content, except that the problems grow and fester and grow some more. The final problem, one that introduces the end, is one that threatens all (normal) life as we know it. Whatever that means in context.
The end is when the problems either get solved (that last one must be or Normal is dead,) or accepted, or become irrelevant. Now Normal is different, but still Normal.
The genius of the real man behind the Don Draper character in Mad Men was that he knew that an effective advertisement tells a story. An ad is an example of simple, persuasive writing, and nothing more. But, done correctly, the viewer inserts himself/herself into the story presented by the ad. That spot he did for Coca-Cola on the Italian Hillside was the thing that transformed Coke from a popular soft drink to a cultural icon. Stories work.
In a memoir, you tell facts. This is different from a novel, which is essentially a pack of lies. But the facts you tell must still present a story, in the format listed above. Otherwise, nobody will want to read it, and your memory will molder on a back shelf somewhere.
Want to write a successful legal brief? Make it tell a story. Keeping a journal (newspaper column, maybe?) Make it tell a story. Wondering how to make that textbook more appealing? Make it tell a story. Stories sell, no matter what the product is. So, if you’re a writer, you can be proud of yourself for producing what many people know nothing about. You, you know how to tell a story.
And how do you do that? Well, there’s a story in that, isn’t there?
Keyboard. Maybe you dictate. Use a pen. A pencil. Point is, I’m back to writing.
(Sort of a shame. That rant last week got a lot of attention. But, anyway.)
Regular readers of this space will have noticed that I post more items from Odd Godfrey than I do from myself. The reason is simple. Leslie is out in the middle of the wide ocean, with plenty of time between watches to compose things. I have stuff to do. (If she reads this, I’ll tell her that some hacker wrote that line.) No, of course she has much to do. Read her post from October 10th if you want to get a better idea. And she writes. A lot. Which brings me to my point.
All of my working life I managed to incorporate writing into whatever job I had. “A newsletter? I’d be happy to make one!” “A new manual for operating the furbermeizer wrangler? Coming right up!” It didn’t matter what the job was, I’d write something about it. In short, I have been a writer for my entire life. I’ve been a serious writer of bald-faced lies for only the past ten years, maybe less. It took me years to learn how to create lies in a manner that people (may) want to pay for. I persist, due to the one piece of advice I hear from every published author I meet: Keep Writing! I do! I do keep writing! Look, I’m writing this as I write! Leslie Godfrey is also a writer. She writes from the vast expanse of the oceans. (Plural oceans. Read her stuff if you wonder why I say that.) If you’re wondering if you’re a writer, here’s a clue. Do you write stuff? Even when you don’t have to write stuff? Do you feel bad when you don’t write the stuff you meant to write, or maybe not on time? If the answer to any of that is “yes,” then, you, madam or sir, are a writer!
I aspire to one day being able to write advice from the point of view of someone who has sold a raft of books. That day hasn’t happened yet, but I keep on writing. So, this may seem like an obvious way to get back on topic after two weeks ranting about disasters and gun control, but this week’s advice is simply this: Close your browser right now, open your word processor, and write something, dammit!
I know I am! Here it is Thursday, and no Wednesday post! Shame on me, huh? So, there’s this week’s theme: forgetting.
There are two aspects to forgetting that I can cover now. One is what happens when you don’t see your latest project for a few days, and when you do open it again, you can’t remember who is doing what with whom and why they’re doing it. So you have to read the whole manuscript over to be sure that you know where you are. If it happens to me, it happens to you. Don’t bother trying to deny it. That, to be sure, is a nuisance of the first order.
A more important aspect of forgetting is not remembering your preconceived notions about what is going to happen in your story, be it next, or six chapters on, or in the climax. I’ve read many authors talk about how their characters always surprise them, and I have to say that my characters certainly do. Apparently, if you do a good job of inventing a fictional person, that person will be as willful and impulsive as any real person, and you need to let him or her tell you what is coming next, because, after all, you really don’t know, do you?
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have a theme, or that you shouldn’t know the “mileposts” of your story. I’ve read that there are as few as one (1) plots in reality, so the truly important thing is how your characters get from point A to point B. You know where they’re going to end up. Everybody knows where they’re going to end up. If it’s a romance, they’re together and Happy Ever After. If it’s a spy thriller, the protagonist triumphs in the end, and the evilness (whatever it is) is no more. By forgetting how you first thought of your people getting there, you free them to pick their own path, thus delighting you, and your readers.
I drive for Lyft as part of an effort to save for retirement. This morning I got caught in just enough of a rainstorm that my car was covered with spots. As I like to keep it looking squeaky clean, I ran it through a carwash where I have an unlimited wash plan, and it came out looking really nice, shiny, and clean. The next person I picked up was blind.
I could not make that up, but I can certainly use it some time. In fact, I’m wondering how I can work that sort of incident (doesn’t have to involve driving for Lyft, of course) into what I am currently drafting. This post is a partial answer to the eternal question, “Where do you get your ideas?”
Well, I drive for Lyft, and . . .
It’s that easy, really. Absent something you couldn’t make up, all you need to do is wonder “what if?” Let your mind take off on whatever’s going on. Let it soar into something less boring. That guy in a wheelchair? What if the wheelchair frame can be rearranged into a powerful weapon? And what if the guy can not only walk okay, but he’s the master of the deadliest form of martial arts known to humanity? What if he’s actually your grandmother? What if your grandmother secretly invented the deadliest form of martial arts known to humanity? What if, what? No, I’m not in class any more, I don’t have to pay attention! Take that, Miss Taylor!
From real things you couldn’t make up to flights of fancy, ideas can be the easy part. If only it were so easy to avoid superfluos modifiers, huh? That’d be really, truly, awesomely, positively, incredibly, wonderfully wonderful!!!!!!!!!
So Here’s the Thing, Folks, I’m working my butt off at our Arizona place (well, when the day isn’t too damn hot) but anyway that means I haven’t written much, including a post for this week. So, here is one from Chuck Wendig. He can seem crude, and he is crude, but his books are grabby, and he knows whereof he writes. He has a new book out, too.
Self-promotion. Marketing. Advertising. You gotta do it, they say. You have a new book out, you have to let them know. You have an old book out, you have to let them know. A book sale, you gotta le…