Sunday, February 28, 2016

It's Not "Easy"

Writing is fun, draining, exhilarating, emotional, and scary.  It takes you from the limits of your imagination to the heights of prose by painting a mosaic that draws other people to you.  It can be joyful as you pour your heart out to create the perfect story.  However, one thing it isn't is "easy."

I say this because I recently read a post on a business blog that said that writing was the easy part of what this person was trying to do.  As I thought on it, I realized that this person was doing it all wrong.  There's nothing easy about writing, especially if you want to do it right.

Sure, any idiot can sit in front of a computer and type a few words, maybe even crafting a coherent storyline, but no one will want to read it.  True writing requires time, effort, and study(the thing on this list I've found that most people don't want to put in...they just want to write, and the results show it).  Whenever I come across someone who tells me that writing is easy, I usually ask them what they've published.  At that point, I get hemming and hawing about how they haven't had the time or the system was against them or they didn't have the connections.  It's always an excuse, but they have to resort to that because writing is "easy."

Someone once said that in order to master any activity, you have to spend 10,000 hours doing it.  I don't necessarily think that's true since you can hone natural talent better in some cases than in others, but I do accept the fact that you can't just plop down and expect to poop out Harry Potter.  Writing takes effort, and that effort has to be more than just time.  You need to think about what's going on paper, and you have to constantly ask yourself if it's good or it sucks.  And when you figure out it sucks, you have to be willing to go back in and re-write that part.

Readers can tell the difference between someone who put in effort and someone who just farted out a bunch of gobbldy-gook.  Remember, even when you put in the hard work, not everything you write will be good.  For that matter, not everyone who writes will be good, no matter how hard they work, but I guarantee you that you won't be good if you put in no effort.  Even those with lots of talent have to work(think Peyton Manning versus Ryan Leaf).  If you think it's easy, you'll find yourself easily writing bad stuff.

Thursday, February 25, 2016


Thanks to the wizards of the computer world, we aren't always having to type in a specific script.  We can change to whatever we want whenever the mood suits us.  We can go bold, or we can underline our point, but we aren't limited to the default font if we don't want to be.

However, changing fonts needs to be reserved for the right instances.  Imagine if my whole post was typed in italics.  Would you have any idea when I wanted to emphasize a certain word?  Or would you read it as if I meant to emphasize everything, so everything is important?  More likely you'll think I'm in a thought process or a dream at best, or that I'm a nutjob at worst.

I've played with fonts in various works.  In Salvation Day in particular, I changed up fonts to match the mood.  However, I did so sparingly and agonized over which fonts and how long to go for.  The point is that changing up fonts can be a good thing when done in defined points and not all the time.  Readers will quickly grow irritated and chalk you up as some hoity toity elitist, and most folks don't like elitism.

When you change up fonts, go through all of them and ask which one will enhance the story at that juncture.  After all, that's the point of changing up fonts - to enhance the mood.  If the font doesn't enhance the mood, if it's just in there for the sake of being in there, get rid of it.  You may not feel like as grand an arteest, but your readers will thank you, and they'll do so by sticking around.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Control Over Development

I've discovered something interesting when I write.  Every character, just like every person in real life, has a personality distinct to itself.  Just as with friends, we discover this personality and person over time until we think we have a pretty good picture of who that person is.  Sometimes the person is just who we thought they'd be when we met them, and sometimes they surprise us, but each one is unique.

In writing, this can happen intentionally or unintentionally, but it will happen, so take control of it.  There have been times I've started a novel with a good idea of who the characters were, but I took little time in the beginning to develop them at the rate I wanted them developed.  What I discovered, much to my chagrin, is that the characters began to develop on their own, whether I wanted them to or not.

Every character that is going to have an impact on your story will make himself or herself known, but it's up to you to guide them into what they become.  You need to have a plan, preferably even before you outline, that lets you know the milestones along the road you have to see.  If not, they may grow in ways you didn't originally envision.  Maybe that confident man that is destined to save the world comes off as a bit meek.  Or, as happened with a work of mine, maybe the villain you meant to terrorize everyone, including the reader, comes off as bored with what he has to do rather than swept up by it.

I view this similar to the way we raise our kids - they're going to grow in unexpected ways anyway, but it will get completely out of control if we don't exert influence along the way.  I've had characters surprise me, but usually within the foundation I set up.  If I pay no attention to a character's growth, then I have no reason for surprise when they act in ways I didn't originally intend.

Like with your kids, take charge of your characters, all while accepting that they're going to do stuff that doesn't always make you happy.  However, if you guide them properly from the beginning, they'll usually turn out okay.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Don't Let It Become A Grind

We writers put enough pressure on ourselves.  From the right plot to how we describe the mood to which characters get more billing, we fret over every little detail in our work.  With all of this in mind, it serves us to remember not to add any additional pressure.

Even with all of the stuff that consumes our mind, writing, at its essence, should be fun.  After all, we're in this for a joyful reason, and when the joy goes away, so does most of our ability to write well.  And one of the easiest ways for the joy to go out of writing is to turn it into a grind.

Yes, writing is work, but that doesn't mean it needs to be depressing.  Here's what I mean - although we want to complete our work and write as much as possible, we can't set a schedule so arbitrary that we'll put anything on paper just to satisfy the work requirements of x number of pages or y number of words per day.  I've fallen into this trap on more than one occasion, and it has made writing something I dread rather than look forward to when I do.  Instead of thinking, "I can't wait to find out what happens in the story today," I think, "Damn, another 3,000 words and I can go to whatever fun thing I wanted to really do today."

Writing is a creative process, and it doesn't always follow the schedule you want.  There are days I can write 10,000 words and not bat an eye.  Other days, unfortunately, I can sit at my desk for two hours and barely pour out 300 words(when I'm cooking, I average 1,000 words every half an hour).  It's the second scenario that we need to recognize, and when that happens, we need to just walk away.  It's going to be wasted effort anyway since you're likely to discard it upon review.  I've gotten rid of a week's worth of work because, on second look, it was horrible, and that was usually when I just wasn't into it.

Maybe your outline ran out.  Maybe you got distracted with the chores of everyday life.  Or maybe it just wasn't meant to be that day.  Whatever the case, don't force it, because it's going to drag you down.  Once that happens, it becomes a self licking ice cream cone that shuts off the creative process.  So lighten up and know when to walk away.  You'll be a better writer when you're enthusiastic about it.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Short Story Outlining

Most of us outline the novels we write.  After all, it's hard to come up with idea after idea on the fly, so we need a spur of some kind to remember the general storyline.  But does that apply to short stories too?

You bet your ass it does.

I've got about ten short stories prepared for a short story collection that will come out in a few years, and I plan to write another 15-20 following the completion of my current book.  That's not to say I've only written ten short stories, though, for much of what I've written was pure garbage.  What I've found from those stories that stunk was that I tried writing them on the fly, and they floundered as a result.

I've learned that I need to outline...everything.  Short stories may seem less intimidating or in need of detailed thought than a novel, but that's absolutely not the case.  They're stand alone stories that deserve as much attention as you give any other piece of your writing.  The solace you can take is that you won't be outlining for as long, but try to pump out a short story without a reference, and you'll find yourself in the wilderness.

Sometimes our outlines are short since we know what we want to write and only need a guide to get us there.  Other times we have a set piece of dialogue or action that we envision being specifically followed, so we need to put more on paper before we write.  Whatever the case, we still need to outline, and a short story is no different.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

What Will Readers Tolerate?

Life can be shitty.  In order to create compelling drama in our work, we have to show that shitty side of life.  It's taxing at times to stay in the muck, but it's a necessary part of writing that killer novel.  On the other hand, just how far can you go?  At what point will the audience declare you a (pervert, bastard, psychopath) and put you down in disgust?

This is hard, and it depends on the audience you want to target.  If you're writing a YA novel, the audience knows that heartache is part of growing up, and they'll put up with it.  However, they're unlikely to put up with the rape of a main character, especially if described in detail.  If you're writing a religiously themed novel, you can show the Devil to be clever and handsome and kind, but only if you make it clear that this is all pretense and that he's really conniving and deceitful.

So, how do you know?  Here's the shitty answer to go along with the shitty world - you don't.  It's going to have to be your best guess.  Audiences may tolerate some things wildly outside of the box, but only if you quickly put them back in the box.  For example, in Salvation Day, I had to describe a young mother's murder in pretty gruesome detail.  Truth be told, it was one of the hardest things I've ever had to write.  However, it was necessary in the context of the story in order to understand Hell, and I made that abundantly clear in both the prelude and the aftermath.  Doing so out of the blue might've turned people off, but I think it draws people in since it fit the story.

Our minds can go to some dark places, but even as readers, we'll read only so much.  Imagine a police detective on the trail of a pedophile - how much can you describe the crime before folks show up at your door with pitchforks?  If you want to write a thriller about terrorists threatening the US, how much can you set up the mindset of the terrorists before people start calling you an obvious traitor to America?

Darkness can lead to some great writing, but it has to be done without straying too far from societal norms.  Yes, we can gripe about that if we like, but we'll be griping alone, for no one will buy our work.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Criticism And Ego

I've once again ventured into that fragile world where I'm trying to balance the need for honest feedback to make my work better with an ego that demands everybody like me.  I sent the first 10,000 words out to six beta readers and asked for feedback.  Two have already sent back stuff, and I'm waiting on the rest.

My ego wants those who write me back to tell me I'm the greatest writer ever, that I don't need to change a thing, and that they can't believe I'm not already on the New York Times' bestseller list since I'm obviously that talented.  The realistic part of me knows that's not going to happen no matter how much I want it for my feelings.  The pragmatic writer in me knows that if I got that feedback, it'd be just as useless as a comment board post that told me I sucked.

Putting away the ego is hard.  We can yammer all day about knowing the need for good criticism that makes our work better, but, deep down, we're all little kids who want everyone to like us, and it hurts when someone tells us they didn't like what we wrote.

A couple of tips when confronting this reality:
1.  Remember, you don't have to take their advice.  Reading tastes are subjective, and no matter how much we want everyone to like our stuff, not everyone will.  However, it's entirely possible that such criticism is as poorly thought out as they thought your book was.  This works best if you can look at the advice objectively - was it well thought out?  Did it make sense?  Did the reader even understand what they were looking at?  Did several of your beta readers catch the same thing, or was one of them an outlier?

2.  Ignore the impulse to engage on criticism!  This goes back to not engaging critics on review sites.  No matter how much a beta reader's comments hurt you, don't say anything but "thank you."  Remember, that person is doing you a favor by looking at your work on their own time free of charge...and you asked them to do it.  There have been times I've gotten criticism back and had the urge to type out a nasty reply about how that person obviously didn't get the point of the work(likely because they lacked the mental capacity...and their sexual prowess was questionable too!).  You have to stow your ego and remember that you need the feedback, and you don't have to take it.  If word gets out that you berate beta readers, you'll have a tough time finding another.

3.  Re-read the criticism a second time.  Face it - the first time you read someone's critique of your work, it's probably going to hurt(or at least it should if they're doing it right).  You might pout or declare that you stink and you'll never write again(along with writing that person out of your life).  But take some time to let it simmer.  Once you've calmed down, go back in and look at what they write about your work.  You'll be amazed by how much more objective you can be the second go around.

You're going to have to put yourself out there.  Isn't it better to discover the flaws while there's still time to fix them?

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Two At A Time

I've decided to try something a bit different for my latest novel.  Most books follow around the main character and remain consistent in how that character sees the world.  Even the novels that use multiple points of view tend to use the same narrative(and in multiple POVs, it tends to be third person limited).  But I thought, what if the audience heard the story from a third person narrative in one instance but experienced another's through that character's eyes?

My latest work - still untitled - uses two main characters.  One of them is seen through the "usual" storytelling technique of third person limited.  The other lets us see the world through the use of first person present tense.  And in something I thought would be completely different, the first person experience is done through the eyes of the villain - Satan himself!  I felt it would be really cool if we got to see the underpinnings behind the bad guy, but I wanted to see if I could do it in a way that would make the audience still root for the good guy.

This could, of course, be a disaster.  I've never done anything remotely close to this, so there's a bit of hit or miss with regards to getting the characterization right.  There's also the very real possibility that the audience will identify more with the villain than with the hero since we get to understand the villain's motivations a lot better.  It's a subtle balance, and although I know the story I want to tell, the specifics of doing it are what I spend most of my time on.

I also know that while the potential for disaster is high, so is the potential for reward.  This could prove to be something so out of the ordinary that it might draw people in.  To be honest, I have no idea, but I know I'll at least learn from the experience.  Whatever happens, it's going to be fun.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Angry Blogging

I think most writers are creatures of passion.  After all, it takes passion to put emotion into what we write.  Unfortunately, there can be a downside to that - blogging while angry.

If you're anything like me, it's not terribly hard to get your blood up over something, whether it's something as serious as a friend betraying you, or as inconsequential as forgetting to put the cap back on your water bottle and having it spill all over your work station.  Yes, it's silly, and it fades quickly, but that little kid inside all of us is just begging to get out and throw a tantrum.

It happens to all of us, and it's not a big deal, but we have to remember to take a step back from it before we resume typing.  I've made the mistake of not calming down from an outburst and writing things not fit for human consumption.  This is fine if you're writing a novel or short story that's not for immediate reading, but when it comes to a blog post or replying to a comment, it can be bad ju-ju.

It doesn't matter if what you're writing about or the person you're writing to is completely innocent - if your blood is up, you can write things you may later regret.  They can be mean, or just plain snappy, and they can do irreparable harm to your career and your relationship with who you're writing to(be it a specific person or an audience, like this one).  Believe me, I can have a mean streak that would make Jack Lambert blush, so it's not pretty when it flies out.

This is what makes being able to step away when worked up over something so crucial.  It can feel good in the moment to just let loose, but not only will it make you look like an ass, but you'll feel terrible about it when you finally do calm down.  At the very best, you'll have wasted an enormous amount of time writing something which, upon later reflection, you'll know is something you'd never post.

So walk away from your keyboard when you're mad.  While writing on emotion can be productive when properly tempered, emotion untampered by reason is destructive and leads to regret.  Calm down - you'll thank yourself later.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Why No Pictures?

I was recently asked why I haven't had any pictures on my blog recently.  After all, they point out, the early days of my blog was chock full of witty pictures that enhanced my posts.  Those pictures gave a chuckle to otherwise serious topics, so couldn't I bring them back?

I wish I could, I really do, but I don't want to be sued.

Everyone reading this needs to remember that copyrights on pictures is kind of a big deal.  I realize that websites all over the place pull pictures and post them, but that doesn't mean that what they're doing is legal.  In most cases, someone owns that picture, and they have every right to demand payment if you use their work, both from a legal and moral standpoint.

The internet has given a lot of us a sense of self-entitlement when it comes to stuff.  We see something online and feel like it now belongs to us, or at least that it no longer belongs to the person who created it.  Sorry, but that flawed thinking will put you in a courtroom faster than the humiliation of announcing the wrong winner at some beauty pageant will get you death threats.

So what's the solution?  As previous posts have shown, you can always post your own pics.  I've taken plenty, mostly of wacky things my daughter has done, but my current work situation makes that difficult since I don't have my phone with me most of the time.  In other words, I can't post photos I don't take.

And let's be honest - it's hard sometimes to remember to take photos and/or find the right circumstances.  Since we don't always know what's appropriate to post as relevant - I usually think of it on the fly - we rarely get to set up the right shot.  How do I take a photo of a hillbilly pulling roadkill from the highway if I don't know that's the photo that would work in a post two weeks from now?  Therefore, many of us don't bother.

This is where the work of this comes in.  You have to be ready to take them, and you have to be prepared for many of your photos to never be relevant, which can be soul crushing.  If you find it too much work, then don't take them, but just know that that means you won't have fun photos on your site unless you're willing to risk some photographer or company coming in and demanding $20,000.  As much as I enjoy writing this blog, if I have that much money, it's going somewhere else.

Thursday, February 4, 2016


Deadlines can be nerve wracking.  You wonder if you'll be able to meet the demands of a fickle audience or editor, and they can create so much stress that it can be paralyzing.  Whether it's for school, a job, or a family obligation, few things induce panic like knowing you have a timeline to meet and you're just not going to make it.

Under the right circumstances, though, deadlines can also be motivating.  Right now, I'm under a series of them.  As I mentioned in my last post, I'm in the middle of a new novel.  At the moment, I have seven beta readers who are helping me out, and they're demanding new chapters.  Since I need their input - and I don't want them to get bored and forget about me - I've set a weekly deadline to get them more stuff.

This is a motivating factor for me since I'm having fun writing this one.  Not only do I want to just write it, but I want my beta readers to be able to get it and get back to me quickly so I can determine what's valid and what's not.  In those late night hours, when I'm tired and want little more than to find the comfort of my bed, it pushes me to write just a little bit more.

John Grogan of the famous Marley & Me worked under a deadline while writing.  His editor would ask for a chapter to be complete at a certain point, and that deadline helped Grogan find a concrete goal to achieve.

Some of us operate better under pressure, while some of us get crushed by it.  I think a little bit of pressure can motivate you to push past the point of exhaustion when you need to because you have others counting on you.  And this is a good pressure, because it's something both sides have agreed to.  It gives me a goal to work towards, and it gives my beta readers something to look forward to each week.  It's not like we're racing the clock to defuse a nuclear bomb, but we've each got expectations of the other, and those expectations compel us to work harder.  Neither of us wants to let the other down.  So look to see if such a thing would help in your own writing.  Of course, it helps if it's a fun project, so make it fun if you can.  After all, the right pressure creates diamonds.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Joy of Writing

We've all been there - we've got what we think is a great idea, the writing flows out of us with ease, and we take joy in doing what we love doing, writing.  It's a rare time in a writer's life, for so many times we're searching for that sweet spot, aware of just how fleeting it is.  When you finally reach a place where you're not just having fun, but you're so excited that you plan your entire day around getting in front of your computer to write, you want to grab hold of that feeling and never let it go.

That's where I am right now.

In the past couple of weeks, I've begin writing my new novel.  It's a heretical notion about what life would be like if the Book of Revelation was just propaganda and the Devil wins the Battle of Armageddon.  I thought it would be a neat little idea to play around with, but I had no idea just how easily the prose would come.

Don't get me wrong - I've had fun writing other books, but I haven't had this much fun since my first couple.  While outlining, the images have come into my head so fast that I've had to consciously slow them down.  And while at the computer, I haven't been fretting over which word goes where or encountering obstacles that have make me wonder if this is all worth it - I've just been able to pound out the story.

I know that I sound like a giddy little schoolgirl who has just discovered roller skating or something, but this kind of fun isn't something we writers get to have everyday.  Those of you who've ever labored over a story and beaten your head against the desk in frustration, back me up on this.  Finding yourself totally immersed in the process is like finding the right love - you can't wait to get back to it, and even when you're not writing, you find yourself thinking about it.  There's a kind of innocence to it, and not only is it rare to find, it's rare to realize you've found it.

Sorry for the gushing, but this is a great feeling, and it's driving me into a blissful insanity.  Time to get back to it.