Writing Crapola

I read a lot of writerly advice. (I’m currently savoring You’ve Got a Book in You, which I am about halfway through.)

One I struggle with is READ WIDELY, EVEN OUTSIDE YOUR GENRE.

May I be frank? Oftentimes, something pushes me out of the story and makes me think, “Why am I reading this when I could spend the time writing?” Or, more specifically, “Why am I reading THIS CRAPOLA instead of writing something less awful?”

I think it’s because I’ve gotten in the habit of reading for the sake of writing.

Ray Bradbury once described how, as a kid, he asked the family doctor about weird lumps in his wrist; his doctors congratulated him on discovering his own bones. I can often see the “bones” of the story poking through its skin, and it puts me off. Even worse, so many writers slavishly follow the Joseph Campbell structure, I feel a sense of deja vu even with books I know I haven’t read before.

The Importance of Word Choice

When yesterday became too dark for gardening and too Friday for housework, I decide to watch a movie from my half-forgotten watchlist. I chose Inception, a ten-year-old blockbuster I hadn’t seen. As usual when watching music-heavy videos, I put on closed captioning. It certainly helped in certain scenes. However…

*spoiler ahead*

As the story reaches the climax, the protagonist holds his dying wife in his arms and gently kisses her face. Or as the caption puts it: Smooches.

Smooches? Smooches!

After I stopped laughing long enough to stop the film and go back, I watched it in a completely different state of mind . Disbelief, suspended until then, came roaring back with its drinking buddy Hilarity.

“Kisses tenderly” or “gently kisses her face” or plain old “kisses” would have been better captions. Why use a word completely out of keeping with the mood?

Slooooowwwww writing

The weirdest thing happened this week. Normally, I start each writing session by rereading the previous day’s work, which primes the pump and gets me ready to write for three hours.

This week, the number of words slowed to a trickle. I still felt like I was writing at my normal pace, but then the bedtime reminder sounded and… 300 words after three hours. Also, I realized I broke a rule of my world and I have to figure how to make things right.

I am going to write in the morning this week and see if it helps.

 

 

Resources for the DIY Writer’s Retreat

Whenever I find good advice while reading about writing, I take notes and make a citation. Soon enough, certain names repeat; e.g. Donald Maass and James Scott Bell. Here are two whose work resonates with me:

  • Elizabeth Sims. I don’t read her genre (mystery), but her sound advice and encouraging tone strike a chord with me.  Many of her articles are available free online.   This week, I’d recommend her “8 Ways to Write a 5-Star Chapter One.”
  • David Farland aka David Wolverton.  Long ago, in a galaxy far away, I read a Star Wars novel and somehow got onto his newsletter mailing list. (These things happen.) Some of his more popular newsletter topics can be found on his blog .  I thought his post “Opening Strategies” would be good and “To Plot, or Not to Plot.”

DIY Writer’s Retreat: Where to Begin?

At the beginning, of course!

Well, maybe.

Now that we’ve chosen what to write, we must choose where we’re jumping in.

I won’t bother to reiterate ways to begin the opening scene. Ruthanne Reid at The Write Practice already did the heavy lifting in Three Ways to Start a Novel(Read it now or later – but definitely read it!)

On the other hand, we can start by writing the final scene. Continue reading

DIY Writer’s Retreat: Choose your battle!

Before diving in, writers should ask themselves: What should I write? What do I want to write?

The answers might not be the same.

The “should” response may include matters of skill and marketability; e.g. you feel competent to write a particular story and/or there’s a market for it.

should work on polishing the rough draft of a SF novel for young adults that I finished and put it aside to “simmer” before the rewrite.  YA novels sell well now, and the premise of mine generated interest from an independent editor.

The “want” response is an emotional one. Characters appeal to you. Writing the action scenes is fun. The conflicts get your heart pumping.

What I want to work on is a fantasy novel for young readers who are advanced enough to handle higher vocabulary but not ready for the content of YA novels.  I started working on a series of stories about these characters when I was child.*  The setting feels like a second home and, with little preparation, I can pick up where I left off in the story.    

 Weigh the options and make a choice.

For me, the fantasy novel is the right choice. The SF novel requires research, including a trip to a currently-closed library.


* I remember tossing it into a burning barrel when I left home for the last time. However, my parents later delivered a box of source material they found in a closet: written scraps, typed character studies, and notebooks!

Keep Going

My goodness! The only social medium I use regularly has blown up over the last three days.* Two news sites I read also went from being information-based to semi-hysterical.

But the teachers are still teaching, albeit at a distance. Today workers and bosses at The Young Human Factory gathered to pack meals and figure out deliveries. It was great to see coworkers, but also to see the parents of former students who were volunteering.

Creative writers are no different. I’ve been encouraged by those who are staying the course through the storm.  I particularly liked The Write Practice’s offering of a 14-Day Coronavirus Quarantine Writing Challenge.

The environmental stress weighs heavily on everyone, presenting unique challenges. One of my home-bound acquaintances wrote plaintively, “My coworkers keep putting their naked asses on my papers.”  I can’t imagine the horror. (Note: I HOPE he meant cats, not his children.)

The veteran writer, David Farland, canceled workshops but continues sending his newsletter. He suggested that fiction writers focus on the problems of the characters in their stories:

As you consider those, your subconscious mind will become more and more grounded in your tale, and you’ll find it easier to write with each coming day. As you think about upcoming scenes to write in the evening, they’ll populate your imagination while you sleep, and you’ll often awake ready to write.

I think it’s good advice and I’m going to follow it tomorrow. Today I’m still doing quality-control via the Internet and correcting essays.


*People sometimes tell me to abandon FB, but it’s the best place to keep in touch across four continents, five languages (only two of which I speak), and several time zones.  This weekend, my newlywed American cousin made a suggestion for helping avoid the coronavirus, which our octogenarian Mexican cousin translated to Spanish and reposted – and it was picked up by other Spanish-speakers.

Side Character Rambling

Last week I excised a favorite supporting character from the novel. For fun (aka procrastination), I took her scenes and dropped them into a separate document: almost 1200 words.

Isolated, she appears to be a shadow of the female protagonist: similar parental abandonment, resistance to leaving home, and attempts to undermine the machinations of adults. It’s as if I subconsciously second-guessed my choices in story elements and character arcs.

In some ways, Miss Superfluous a stronger character than the protagonist she resembles.  I thought of melding them, but their different characteristics grew from particular backstories. For now, I’ll preserve her in a file and hope a suitable story environment can be found for her.

Edits Galore

After a long slog to complete Chapter 9’s draft, I realized that my novel turned swampy somewhere in the previous chapters. Published authors tend to advise completing the draft before editing, but I’m a copy editor by training and a dabbler* by necessity.

The following list details the destruction I wrought editing I did to streamline and improve the readability of the story: Continue reading