Internalizing ‘On Writing’

I’ve finally finished ‘On Writing’.

I say finally, when it only took me a couple days. A couple days that included critiquing Write About submissions, working on my novel, working, and reading ‘The Way of Kings’. So, I’m feeling pretty good about my pace.

My handy highlighter sat poised through the entire thing, dutifully drawing attention to the things that clicked.

Anyway, I think I’m ready to talk about it.

I bought the only copy the BookBin, the local bookshop since the Borders shut down and Salem has no B&N, had. The 10 year anniversary edition. It’s pretty sexy. The cover has a velvety feel, clinging to my fingertips, the title and his name in bright white raised letters. It feels real good.

The book begins with a segment in which King talks about his youth, and how he started writing. It’s somewhat autobiographical, but it does tie-in with his writing, and so fits. Plus, it’s just really entertaining to read. This is a guy I know very little about. I’ve always enjoyed his work, but I’ve never gotten into some fangirlish frenzy over it, and therefore didn’t hunt down every little tidbit about what makes him tick.

Overall, I felt this segment was candid, and honest. He told his story as he saw it, and how he makes sense of it now that he’s more removed from it.

And then he talks about writing. And the highlighter finds itself a workout. He creates the idea of a mental toolbox. All the things you need to write and how readily available they should be. Vocabulary and Grammar should be in the top shelf, for instance.

Underneath that first layer are more tools. Elements of style. He talks about different ways of putting words together, sentence fragments and the like, and of the power of the paragraph. He also mentions that all writers hear a beat, or rhythm when writing. This was one of the moments where I felt really on board, connected to the book. King doesn’t go into detail about what he means by the ‘beat’. He assumes that the reader understands.

And I do. One Hundred Percent.

And he likens writing and reading to magic, and it makes me happy. He doesn’t mean that writing isn’t work, or that it isn’t skill. He says all of those things, but reminds us that what we are doing is in fact magical, and that we would do well to remember it.

Another big message I got from this book was that I don’t have to study literature and spend every waking moment dissecting the symbolism of the Old Man and the Sea, or something, to be a good writer.

He says that he reads because he likes to. Not to study the craft, but because he enjoys it. But, he also states that, just because he enjoys it, doesn’t mean the he isn’t learning.

It took me quite some time to realize that it’s OK for me to want to write Sci-Fi/Fantasy. My classes focused on general fiction. Real people with real problems. And, it’s all I’ve had published. I’m not saying that these stories aren’t interesting, or without merit. Not at all! But my heart and imagination were always elsewhere, often against my will. I don’t, usually, read general fiction. I read sci-fi/fantasy, almost exclusively. So why wouldn’t I write it?

King tells us that we learn the tools of writing from reading, and I know it’s true. The more you read, the better you write. And I know that what I read has a direct influence on my writing.

Trevor’s always telling me that I have too many books. And in a truly material way, he’s right. I have a lot of them. Two big bookshelves full. And, many of them, I’ve never read. Others are too dear to me to part with, favorites, or large series I’ve only read part of. And so the shelves are brimming. Some books can’t fit in the conventional way, all in a row with the spines facing out, so now some are stacked on top of a particularly flat row, teetering dangerously.

And I love it. I buy more every chance I get. And Trevor groans and complains, but he knows there’s no use. I can’t stop, and he doesn’t really have the heart to stop me.

Anyway, I’ve got the ‘read extensively’ part down, even if I feel like I can never read enough.

All my talk in the last post about fear, insecurity, and not knowing whether I agreed with Stephen King or not could have been waylaid and answered in the very next page of this book. If I’d only sought solace there instead of writing. But, I think it worked out better this way. I vented, worried, and shared some vulnerability. Then I slept hard. And the next day, highlighter in hand, King told me, more or less, that everything will be all right.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was on the verge of reading Stephen’s viewpoint on editing. And it made me feel a lot better. Finish the rough draft then take a long break. At least six weeks, he says. Work on something else, something different. And when you finally come back, you’ll see your story differently. You’ll know it. You’ll know it as yours. But, if you’ve put enough distance in, it will be fresh, like reading it for the first time. He recommends taking notes as you read, jotting down where you know cuts need to be made, or where things need to change. He admits that the rewriting process is daunting, but that it is oddly satisfying. And not nearly as close to your emotions as the initial writing process.

I’ve heard quite a few different takes on how you can approach writing. Sanderson promotes the writing group, King does not. I find myself somewhere in between. I have a small writing group, and I love it, and they give me invaluable feedback. But, I also do really need that time alone, with the study door shut, as King puts it. Time to really work and get the rough draft done. I think, once the editing process starts is when I should utilize the writing group. Or, I should at least try it that way.

It’s a little weird to read King’s take, in which he more or less hermits up for the entire rough draft, while I’m participating in Write About Dragons. I’m posting a thousand words a week, and getting good feedback, but I know I’m not actually benefitting as much as I’d originally imagined. And it’s because my work isn’t finished yet, and people are already picking it apart.

I’m at the tenderhearted stage where one bad word can totally derail me. And I almost let it. I’m waiting anxiously for comments, when I should be writing. So, I think, when it comes to the rough draft, I’m a bit more in Stephen’s corner. He also uses a great image of the story being a fossil. The story exists, it’s the writer’s job to unearth it with as much care and precision as possible. You need the right tools to accomplish this.

But, I do really like the idea of a writing group. A trusted circle of people with the right tools to tell me what works and what doesn’t. But not until I’m ready to fix it.  Halfway through the rough draft is not the time.

Basically, this book is helping me figure out just how I work best. It’s another recommendation. An idea to try out, until I eventually come up with a method that works for me.

Writing everyday is definitely a huge one. And I’ve been doing a great job of that lately. Reading everyday is also important. I think of reading as the food of writing. If you don’t read while writing, the writing will starve. I’ve personally experienced this, and it sucks. I’ve been reading daily since I started this novel. What I’m lacking is a productive space to call my own.

Starbucks isn’t working. Co-workers see me sitting in the lobby as an open invitation to join me. And, for a while, that’s fine. The occasional ten minute break is good for them, and for me. But, increasingly people join me for extended amounts of time, and if I work later in the day, will ask me to clock on early or leave to get product. Basically, I am constantly interrupted. It’s not so much their fault. They don’t understand that, when I sit in front of the computer, headphones in (AFI today), that I’m working. That this is my job. My real job. Sure, I don’t get paid at all for it, but maybe, if I work hard enough, I will someday.

It’s been very frustrating lately. But, there isn’t a space at home that is my own. And I want it so bad! A small room stuffed with brimming bookshelves, my desk and my laptop, maybe with a printer. A place where I can shut the door. A place where I can write.

I want that so bad right now.

Sorry this post lost track of itself. I’ll let the book simmer in my mind for a couple of days, maybe outline some key points, and come back and do the discussion justice.

Right now I’m too distracted and swimming in ideas to really make it work.

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Day Three of Actually Writing

Blogland,

It’s day three of writing, and I’ve got about 2 and 3/4 chapters completed. Today before work I crossed the 6,000 word mark, which in three days is pretty impressive, at least for myself.

Obviously everything is rough at this point, but over 2,000 words per chapter has been something I’ve struggled with in the past.

On an initial observation I’d say it has to do with point of view. In my other novel, the story is told from two separate points of view, but both are in first person. I used to stand behind first person as my favorite to both read and write, generally finding it more entertaining. But now, as I progress through this story, I’m telling it in third person and finding that it allows me to describe things more.

In a first person story, you don’t want to spend too much time or detail on scenery or people, because it might seem odd for your character to spend so much time or focus on something not actually important to the character.

But in a third person narrative describing the setting and other characters seems much more natural, and helps keep the pace of dialogue and action flowing.

Overall, I’m finding third person story telling to make more sense, but there’s no way in hell I’m going to rewrite the entire Kevin Foxx novel now. So I’m hoping that practicing with this new story will allow me to see the novel in a new light, and help give me the motivation to finish those last few chapters.

Anyway, that’s where I’m at so far. 

I’ve got a lovely co-worker who is willing to be my first reader for this new story, so here’s a shout out to Emily. Thanks, even though I haven’t sent you anything yet… oops.

Also, pending how Emily’s readings go, I could have a rough version of the first chapter up either end of the week, or early next week. So keep an eye out for that.

Let me apologize now for the odd rambling gait of this post. I’ve worked an 8+ hour day, wrote for almost two hours before that, and didn’t sleep that well these last few nights. Safe to say my mind is frayed.

It’s time for this little writer to land her butt in bed. Thanks all for getting this far.

 

BZ

 

Let’s Talk About…

Let me start this blog by saying thank you. Thank you readers, followers, commenters, friends, and family. Yesterday the blog saw an unprecedented amount of views. I’m still debating whether my mom was just clicking in to reread things, or if I actually had that many views, but I’m running with the good feeling it’s left me either way.

So, thanks everyone!

Yesterday was also a great day for my novel. I plugged in 1,356 words in less than two hours before my shift. This sudden flow of writing has me glowing and confident in a way I’ve lacked since last fall.

So now here I am, back in my Starbucks on my day off, ready to do it all over again. But what if it doesn’t come as easy today? What if, as opposed to yesterday, I have to fight for every word, and each of them comes after a good solid ten minutes of head vs. proverbial brick wall?

That’s what we’re here to talk about today.

We’re all familiar with the rush of creation; that moment when an idea strikes you. You can see what could be, and you’re certain your sole purpose is to bring it to life. You write feverishly, pen too slow to capture all your brain is giving you. There’s no stopping you.

Until you wake up and there’s quiet. No more sentences zipping by your brain, no more images of what happens next. You’re left companionless in a sea of papers, ideas, and scenes; the aftermath of the mania.

Inspiration has left.

When this hit me late last fall, I convinced myself it happened for good reason. My writing was a terrible shell of what writing should be, I told myself. My novel was stupid. Any sort of thing would discourage me and convince me that I’d made a terrible mistake.

But, a tight circle of friends and family insisted I continue. Told me I’d be a fool to give up now. And their words rang true to a meek voice inside. The me so beat down by self-doubt that it had nearly given up, until someone stood up for it.

So I kept trying. And failing. The novel wasn’t working. I couldn’t do anything of any good. So, I saw other stories, one’s I’d already written in classes past. I put them up for scrutiny and editing and submitted one. It was my first submission in my life, and it got picked up.

Let me stress that this sort of success NEVER happens. I was told more times than I can count to be ready for rejection. But, it didn’t come. What better boost to my ego could I ask for?

But still the novel was giving me trouble. I wrote here and there, but nothing consistent.

I realize now that maybe it was forgivable to not write so much this last school year. I worked two jobs and went to school full time. I had nearly an hour commute to my work and school. Any downtime I had, I slept or spent time with loved ones. I simply didn’t make the novel a priority. I knew I was moving across country soon, and wanted to spend time with those I wouldn’t see again anytime in the near future.

But, now, in Oregon, I have all the time in the world. I have nothing but time. One job, no school, very few friends or family to dole out time to…

And now the novel is important again.

I know this got a bit rambling, but what I’m saying is that, you have to make your writing important to you. If you’re not writing, it’s because you don’t want to. It’s not because you don’t have time. If you really wanted to write, you’d make time.

Your writing is just like any other relationship. If you neglect it, it will be difficult with you. It won’t cooperate. But if you spend time with it, and make it important, you’re more likely to find success. The more success you have the more inspiration you’ll find.

It’s a cycle, and recognizing it is only the start.

Thanks,

BZ

Sunday Samplers- Coming Soon!

All right blogland,

Unfortunately this one has to be kept relatively short; I’ve got a pretty big test in just under an hour, and haven’t really studied yet!

I wanted to bring to my attention that one of the main reasons I started this blog is not being addressed.

The impotus for this blog is to keep me accountable, and to track my writing. But, I’m going to be honest, until last week, I hadn’t written anything new in almost two months.

That is not acceptable. Behavior like that does not a writer make.

And so, I’ve come up with a new element to this blog.

I am going to keep track of how many pages/words I am writing a week. So, every Sunday I will post a small blog under the Sunday Sampler tab detailing how much and what I wrote. I’m currently working on three things: my novel, a sci-fi short story series, and an unamed apocalypse story of unknown length. It’s definitely not a short story, but I’m not sure if it’s got the stuff to be a novel. Novella? Lord I hope not.

Anyway, I need to be more accountable and focus on me REAL job, which is writing, even if I’m not getting paid,… yet.

Thanks,

I’ll see you again Sunday.

BZ

The Lord of the Three Act Structure

It’s that time folks!

Spring break is over, and it’s high time that I posted another blog!

So, first, before I dig in to today’s topic, I want to say that it is a lovely day here in Chandler, AZ. Crisp, clear, and with the recent rain, all the greens are greener. It’s a wonderful day to people watch on campus, and for writing a blog out of doors.

Slightly off topic, this Thursday, the 22nd, if you’re in the area, there will be a New Voices Reading at Phoenix College, in the Willo Room at 6:30pm. I will be reading an excerpt of a short story, so come check it out!

Also, one last memo, the deadline for submissions to The Gila River Review is March 30th, so get those things in!

 

So, the topic of the hour is….. Three Act Structure!

Now, when I say act, you’re probably thinking plays or scripts, but that isn’t the only format that can benefit from this structure.

Think of your story in the most base of terms. It has a beginning (act 1), middle (act 2), and an end (act 3). See! Just by the very nature of storytelling your story is built in three act structure!

But, it can get quite a bit more in depth than just the components of the story. For instance, take into consideration that each act has goals and purposes.

Act 1 should introduce your main characters and the natural world. It should set up the story goals and the danger/conflict should be introduced. Act 1 will usually be relatively short, just a handful of chapters. It should also springboard into the next act.

Act 2 is the meat of the story. This is where the crap starts to go down and people start getting in deep trouble. Your characters will develop and face challenge after challenge in this act, before facing the climax of the story. Act 2 is a large amount of your story, and should be quite a bit larger than the other acts. It should also act as a springboard into the last act.

Act 3 is the climax. That epic last battle between the good and bad guys. There is usually some form of character epiphany, and then some sort of resolution, although plenty of stories end as soon as the conflict does.

Think of the Lord of the Rings movies. In The Fellowship of the Rings, everyone is introduced, and the goal of the story (destroying the ring) is introduced. In The Two Towers, arguably the best movie of the series, everyone is gathering resources, and facing challenges that lead up to the final one. The Return of the King is act 3. Everyone has come together for the final challenge of destroying the ring. The character epiphany is that Frodo couldn’t do it… After all that time! But, the story goal is still achieved thanks to fate and Gollum.

Now, in The Lord of the Rings, they don’t end as soon as the ring is destroyed. There’s about another 30 minutes of wrapping up every last little detail and personal history. Not my favorite ending for a movie, but it was extremely consistent with the novels, so I appreciate it.

Here are some other great examples of 3 Act Structure:

Star Wars (the original trilogy)
Mass Effect 3
Pretty much every play written by Shakespeare

So, take a look at your story and see if it doesn’t already naturally fit into the three act structure. Just fitting your story into the structure can tell you loads about where your story is going and where it really needs work.

 

Thanks guys,

BZ

Revision: When To, and When Not To

Hello blogland,

The semester is in full swing, and I am really starting to feel it. I’ve got my first big test next week, I’m still reading and writing chapters for my novel writing class, I’m reading submissions for The Gila River Review (the deadline is March 30th!), I’m working almost full time, and I’m editing old stories in preparation for the forming of my “portfolio”. And that’s what brings us here today.

As the title hopefully informed you, this post is about when, and when not, to revise your work.

First, let’s get “when not” out of the way. DO NOT revise your work as you’re writing. This is a terrible idea that writes you into circles and corners. I can’t remember who said this, it certainly isn’t my original phrase, but, don’t let the critic sit down with the artist. When you’re in the process of creating new material, keep writing. No matter how many forms of “to be” are penned, or how many adverbs are included, no matter what, keep moving forward. That’s how books get finished.

It took me a long time to realize that a “finished” story and a publishable story are not the same thing. A finished story, as I now understand it, is one that has a beginning and an end, with some sort of plot and character arc linking them. Only after this has been accomplished should you sit down with that red pen and tear it to shreds.

So let’s get to my favorite part: the red pen.

I know this may seem weird, but I honestly love editing more than I do writing. That’s not to say that I don’t love writing, I just really freaking love editing! I feel more accomplished after sitting with a story for a couple hours and seeing all the changes I’ve made on paper (I ALWAYS edit on hard copies) than looking at what I’ve written in a couple hours. That could have something to do with the fact that I don’t ever seem to write enough, but that’s a topic for another time.

So when do you edit?

Right now I’ve got a pretty good system going. I write my current story, which is the Kevin Foxx novel. That is the only story that I am focusing on creating more content. Advancement of plot, characters, etc. While that’s happening, if I find my attention wandering to new ideas, I outline those. That way, I’m not really writing any new work, but when it’s time to, I have full outlines that will help me focus and remember all those great ideas I had. And then, in order to relax the creativity muscle, I edit stories that are “finished”. I currently have five short stories, all varying from as little as three pages to fifteen pages, that are in some stage of editing.

Now, normally I wouldn’t have so many going at once, I’d focus on one at a time, but my portfolio class meets every other week to discuss how to make one of my stories better, so I’m multi-tasking.

Some of my stories need more work than others. For instance, “Goodbye Marla”, “Wild Turkeys”, and “Fallen Star” all need some minor tweaks to make them the best stories they can be. But, the other two stories, a micro-fiction called “You’ve Always Been Good at Crazy” and my only Sci-Fi piece so far “My Final Frontier” are in desperate need of overhauling.

Revision

One of my stories in the process of being edited.

Obviously, if you loath editing, you’re not going to follow the same patterns as I do. This method is what works for me, and I’m still figuring it out. I’m constantly reorganizing how I approach writing, because I believe that things can always be made more efficient. The more organized I am the saner I feel, and the saner I feel, the happier I am with my decision to commit to writing.

So, experiment. Find out what works for you. Maybe this will. or maybe you’ll try this and tweak it to your own needs and create a unique ritual all your own. Either way, I’m glad you’ve made it this far!

BZ

Every Story Offers a Lesson

So, this is a little self indulgent on my part, but I promise, it still pertains to the craft of story.

I want to talk a little about my obsession today, The Mass Effect Universe. So for those of you who aren’t in to video games, let me bring you up to speed. Mass Effect is a game series on the XBOX 360 created by the developer BioWare (also responsible for such beloved titles as Knights of the Old Republic, Baldur’s Gate, and Dragon Age). In the game, a human soldier, either male or female at the player’s discretion, by the name of Shepard discovers that the galaxy is in extreme danger. A race of sentient machines called the Reapers have come to harvest the various races of the universe. They do this every 50,000 years, and wiped out the most advance race in history, the Protheans, the last time.

And so Shepard tries to warn the galaxy, but no one with any clout believes him/her. And so, with a small crew of stalwart and very different races, Shepard must save every living thing in the universe.

Why am I bringing this up?

Well, it’s not just because I can’t get my mind off of it. It’s because there’s a very good reason the final installment of the series is the most anticipated game of the year. Because it has a great plot with characters that are so real, it fuels the player’s need to see what happens to them.

Mass Effect is more than a trio of video games. It’s soundtracks are amazing and nominated for numerous awards. There’s an entire book series spun off from the games that are great in their own right. Let alone the mountains of merchandise and nerdom (that’s right) found on the internet (including earrings my boyfriend bought me for Valentine’s Day).

So, how do we bring this around to creative writing?

We look at what the BioWare writers (may I someday join your ranks) are doing to enrapture so many people.

They created not just a story, but an entire new world that players could immerse themselves in. The first rule of world-building is to define the rules. Mass Effect does this well by giving just enough backstory. How did Earth discover the technology? Where are we on the planetary totem pole? What are politics and religion like? All of this is answered early on in the first game.

But what keeps a story going?

Tension. That ticking bomb. Something that I’m still figuring out. What’s at stake? Only the whole galaxy! Every living thing is at risk, and only Shepard and his/her limited believers can save them!

And then there are the characters. A motley crew of various species and sexes, all with individual backgrounds and personalities accompany Shepard, all with missions and dialogue options to get to know them and gain their unwavering loyalty.

The characters are my absolute favorite part the series. They can be your friends or your lovers, and they can die, which ups the stakes even more.

I’m currently reading the first novel in the spin off book series, and while it’s no Faulkner or Hemingway, it’s still a well crafted story that hooks you in and drags you along for the ride. I’m taking notes on how to build a world convincingly, and how to make villains truly despicable.

Every story offers some lesson, whether it’s a book, movie, or video game. Every story can teach you something, and I plan on doing a LOT of learning over the next few weeks.

If I’ve piqued your interest, Mass Effect 3 releases March 6, 2012. You don’t want to miss out.

And if you’re scratching your head, wondering what in the world I just blathered on about, just remember what I said. Every story has something to offer, even this self-indulgent one.

Thanks guys,

BZ