Friday, June 27, 2014

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Choosing Between Your Darlings

It’s been said that, to be successful, a writer has to learn to kill his darlings. Darlings, if you haven’t heard, are those sentences, paragraphs, scenes, or chapters you love as a writer, but which don’t fit into your story. Maybe they slow the pacing, or confuse the reader, or perhaps they’re just unnecessary. Whatever the reason, no matter how much you love the beauty or cleverness of your words, you have to get rid of them for the sake of your story.  Even if it hurts.

I’ve had to do this myself. A lot. (sniff) I’m so much better at coming up with ideas than I am at converting them into words, so I generally have way more ideas than I can wedge into a scene. When I’m writing the first draft, I’ll jot down every idea that comes to me, even if they’re contradictory, figuring I can always decide which ideas to keep once I know the direction the scene is headed. This means a significant portion of my editing process involves deciding what stays and what goes. And when I decide what goes, I often appease myself by moving the passages to another computer file with the promise I’ll use them one day in the future.

But sometimes, this pile of ideas coalesces into two distinct camps, two different ways I can accomplish the same scene. And instead of buckling down and deciding which route I should take, I waffle about and try to find a way to fit both concepts into the scene. Occasionally it works, but usually all I get is a mess that brings the writing to a screeching halt for days, sometimes weeks. (Yeah, I can be stubborn) Eventually, I build up the courage to pull the plug on one of them and get on with it, but it's hard. Once my ideas have been transferred to the page, having to give one of them up is like having to choose which child is my favorite.

But my goal for the rest of the year is to write faster, so I’ve become more ruthless about making these decisions earlier in the process. Can I maintain this ruthlessness for the rest of the year? I’ll let you know in about six months.

 Do you have any special rituals to make you feel better when you get rid of your darlings?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

My Six Month Writing Report Card

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
June is half over, which means we’re almost halfway through the year, which means, of course, that I’m halfway through my goals for the year, right? Arggg!

Writing is definitely progressing better than it did last year, but it’s not hard to see my current pace isn’t going to get me where I want to be by the end of the year. People build houses in less than six months. Why can’t I finish a story in that time?

The reasons are many, and being a slow writer is definitely one of them, but even taking that into account, I still find my wheels spinning far too often.  So I’ve decided to make some
changes in the way I approach my writing.

Rearrange my writing activities to maximize work flow. I’m no longer at the point in my writing journey where I can jump onto the computer for a quick ten or fifteen minute spurt of writing and get much accomplished. I need more time to slip into the fictive dream. So instead of concentrating on whatever I think is most urgent at the moment (writing a blog post, reading other people’s blogs, critting/editing/reviewing a book, writing my book, etc.), I’m going to arrange the priorities to better match my habits. For example, less working on my story at night when my muse is too tired to be inventive. Reading other blogs during the evening instead of the morning when my muse is at its best.

Keeping up with other blogs in a timely manner. In a followup to the previous paragraph, I plan to develop a schedule for keeping track of the blogs I follow. Instead of haphazardly reading them whenever I think of it, I’ll align my blog reading habits with the posting habits of each blogger. To be honest, I’ve always been pretty bad about scheduling stuff (just ask my wife), but I do find that it works well for me when I force myself to do it.

Setting the mood. I’ve  previously posted about my problem with playlists and how anything other than ambient soundtracks distracts me from writing. I recently discovered that white noise brings out my muse, so I dragged an old, noisy, air filter unit into my office at home. I seriously doubt it filters the air much after all these years, and I have no idea how much mold it’s spraying into the room, but the sound it generates lets me tune out the rest of the world. Recordings of thunderstorms also do the trick.

Not being so stubborn. Sometimes, when I get hung up on a scene or chapter, I insist on banging my head against the keyboard for days (even weeks) trying to make headway instead of moving on to some other chapter for a while. I don’t want to fall into the habit of running away every time I hit a difficult scene, but I think working on a different chapter for a few hours every now and then will help get the writing juices flowing again. It’s the way I used to write back before I joined crit groups that expect a constant (and linear) flow of words, so we’ll see how well that goes. 

What have you done to increase your writing productivity?


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

How Do We Know When Our Stories Are Finished?

Every day I receive a “Kick in the Pants” email from David Farland’s blog. They’re filled with valuable tips about writing and I always look forward to them. Last week, he posted a link to a Q & A video about writing, and one of the participants asked the following question: “I still wake up at night with new ideas and revised dialogue for my story. How will I know when my story is finished?”

David’s response was that as long as his brain was still sending him new ideas then his story wasn’t finished. In other words, this was his brain’s way of telling him the story wasn’t ready for prime time. While I see his point, I’m not entirely sure I agree with it. At some point, I think you have to put an end to the tinkering and say “enough is enough,” even when your brain is still churning out ideas.

Although I’m writing my own stories these days, I still occasionally work on the fanfic story I began writing over five years ago. I learned a lot about writing during that time, and my fanfic has gone through countless revisions as I applied everything I’ve learned. Yet despite the fact that some of the earlier chapters have probably been edited and revised umpteen million times, I still occasionally dream up new ways of tweaking them. (Usually during a shower or while I’m driving to work.)

The question is: Do these changes really make the story better after all this time? Sometimes yes, but usually not by much. I suspect these new ideas are more like shiny new toys, perhaps some new technique I just discovered in a writing book. Fun to think about and experiment with, but not really improving the story. Different perhaps, but not better.

So I’ve come to understand that I’ll never stopping thinking of new ways to write a chapter, even long after the chapter has been finished. At some point, I’ll just have to force myself to write “The End” and move on. Because if I wait for the ideas to stop rolling in, I’ll never publish a story.

When do you stop making changes to your stories?

Friday, June 6, 2014

Friday Links -- Volume 33

Another good week for me.  The garden is almost finished (I'll post pictures later), I made good progress on my stories, and after today, I won't have to help the kids with their homework again for another three months. Woohoo!

On the downside, Hostess still hasn't gotten around to making Suzy-Qs available yet.  What's the holdup?

Anyway, here are this week's links.  I found the first one particularly useful, since I have trouble with setting. Enjoy!


The Building of a Setting

Make Your eBook Look Great and Sell it Everywhere

What Are Your Secondary Characters Good At?

Self Publishing With NookPress And Marketing To Nook Customers

How to Write a Story: The Creative Process… One Writer’s Take

The Escalation of Complications

Increasing Visibility on Amazon with the Big-Fish-Small-Pond Strategy

Novel Diagnostics—How to Tell if Your Book Might Have Terminal Problems in TEN Pages

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Insecure Writer And Not Knowing How To Tell A Story

Today is June's contribution to Alex Cavanaugh's Insecure Writers Support Group.

Update: Last month I was feeling a bit insecure because I wasn’t feeling insecure enough. That’s no longer a problem. I now have a new insecurity, which means I’m a real writer again. Yay! 

So why am I an Insecure Writer this month? 

Because I worry that I’m not a good enough storyteller.

I’ve never considered myself a good writer. I write well enough to publish research papers, but fiction is another animal entirely. Research reports can be, and are often expected to be, rather dry affairs. Nothing but the facts, ma’am, laid down in the proper format. Fiction is different. The choice of words, the subtle use of emotion, the voice; all these things go into the making of a good story, and I’m just not as competent in those areas as other writers I know. I’m not being humble or pessimistic here. It’s a simple fact, and I’ve come to accept it.

Despite this, I always figured if I had a good enough tale to tell, readers might accept my less than stellar writing. But lately I’ve been wondering: what if I really don’t know how to tell a good tale? What if I don’t have the knack for organizing it in order to maximize the tension? What if the parts of the story I find boring (and thus ignore) are the very parts everyone else wants to know? What if I don’t know what I don’t know about storytelling? Hmmm...

Some people know how to tell a story. Others don’t. Am I the former or the latter? Trouble is, I won’t know the answer until my book is finished.