Archive for the ‘Creative’ Category

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How Writing a Novel is Like Pac-Man

May 18, 2015

Pac-ManSee if this sounds familiar: you’re writing a novel. You have big ideas and really get into the writing process. But your big ideas are really just general plot points and not specific details on how your character gets there. During the process your brain has to come up with thousands of choices about what your protagonist does. At a crossroads do you make him go left or right? Does he take the road less traveled to an exciting and unique adventure, or a safe path toward certain over-done cliché story lines?

I am reminded of one of my favorite video games: PAC-MAN. Pac-Man was MY game as an adolescent. I played it every chance I got. I was hooked I saved, bartered, and even sold every Star Wars action figure just to get quarters so I could play another game of Pac-Man (and am I now terribly regretful I sold of my Star Wars stuff – oy!). I was good. Really good. I won Pac-Man tournaments (which gave me more quarters just to stuff back into the video game), and I could play for hours on just a few quarters. But getting good took practice. I had to learn when to turn left, and turn right at just the right time, and memorize the patterns so I could do it again. Took a lot of trial an error.

When I write it feels like a game of Pac-Man. I have to turn right, or turn left, and see where it takes me. And eventually I make hundreds of decisions that make sense and gets me to completion. The completion, of course, is getting my hero through an impossible maze against terrible obstacles and completing his or her goal.

So get to it. Start writing and making decisions. The first choice may not always be the best, but trial and error will get you through a maze of impossible tasks to finally complete your novel.

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A Bookcase Full of Writing Reference Books

March 18, 2015

BookcaseI have a bookcase. A tall one. I live in the city of the world famous Powell’s Books. So yeah, my shelves are stacked and overflowing with books. One particular genre of books taking up precious space on my bookcase are those from the writing reference section. Dozens upon dozens of books face me each day as I pass by begging me to “Write That Novel”, and exclaiming, “You Can Write Romance!”. I have encouragement from Julia Cameron and her Artist’s Way (and btw, I’m counting today’s blog as part of my morning pages.) And I have all the forensic procedures and poisons I can swallow (sorry, that pun just had to happen.)

Now the big question I’m sure you are begging to ask is, “so have you read all those books?” Of course not! They’re for reference! When I need to know how to pick a poison I have just the guide. If I need a plot structure helper I know where to go. I would say I’ve read close to one-third of them. And many of them I have not even cracked open. So the point is why own so many how-to books if I don’t read them, or even open for a quick reference.

To me it is encouragement. I have succeeded in writing online articles and content, but I am committed to writing a novel. Each time I stop by Powell’s Books I browse the writing reference section to check for another used copy of a handy and helpful writing guide. A novel full of 70,000 – 100,000 words requires a bit more creative thought, planning, outlining and plotting than a simple 300-700 word article. And by a ‘bit’ I mean exponentially harder. My books are my mentor. Stephen King encourages me in his On Writing memoir. Janet Evanovich tells me How I Write and I can model her example.

Could I write without all these books? Sure I could. And so could you. But if writers didn’t need encouragement and support there would be no MFA programs in creative writing. And the Artist’s Way would never have been published. And the Writing Reference section at Powell’s would be boarded over and in its place would probably display blank journals. So I cherish my books, unopened as some of the may be. But I’m confident that when I finish my first novel the investment in my writing reference shelves will have paid off.

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NaNoWriMo – Here We Go!

November 2, 2014
Participant-2014-Web-Banner

NaNoWriMo Participant

Six years ago I attempted NaNoWriMo but failed on an epic scale. I was unemployed and writing articles for a partial living. And on no single day did I want to write 2 -3 thousand words for article deadlines, and then try to write another couple thousand words for a novel. I tried a few days and left it dead in the water.

Cut to six years later I’m sitting here in my living room on October 28 and realized, “hey, NaNoWriMo is just a few days away!” So I logged on and brushed off my old account and updated everything. I have full time employment, but no other serious commitments the rest of the month, so I decided I would throw in my metaphorical hat into the ring for a NaNoWriMo prize.

And in the spirit of the challenge, I would not start any pre-writing or outlining before the challenge started. I also knew I would have to start a day late as November 1st turned out to be a day with my daughters. Nothing would come between that.

So today I pulled out a few of my old Moleskines and read through some of the story ideas I had. I found about four or five good ideas, and chose one. Then I started writing. And with football in the background, daughters fighting with each other, and dinner having to be made, I still whipped out over a thousand words in just a few hours. I can catch up to the daily average easy with that stat in mind.

So off I go, into the wild blue yonder of November, the National Novel Writing Month. I’ll keep you posted.

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Schadenfreude for Writers

March 28, 2013

Schadenfreude

I learned recently that I was to be laid off from my current employer as of the end of the month. I immediately brushed up the ol’ resume and began shooting it out like shotgun fire to dozens of potential employers found on Craigslist and/or LinkedIn. While I was still working full-time and using every spare moment outside of work looking for other work, I was left with minimal, if any, time to focus on the ol’ novel (much less Tweeting about it).

So what is a part-time writer to do? Obviously an instance such as this takes priority over a “hobby” of writing. However, I will admit no defeat in holding off on my writing project for a few weeks since I depend on an income to support my writing habit. On the contrary, the time spent in conflict over the last 2 to 3 weeks has provided plenty of potential fodder for my story. Besides, what is a story without conflict?

If you’re lucky enough to have never experienced unemployment, count your blessings. The constant worry about how to pay next month’s rent, much less put cheap Mac & Cheese on the table is an ever-present struggle. Recently I have realized that my protagonist’s struggle can mirror my struggle. As I try to think of more rocks to throw at my main character, the “ah-ha!” moment comes when I determine that money is the answer. How will she pay the mortgage on the Bed-n-Breakfast? How will she pay for the much-needed maintenance on the historic home? What will she do when a dreaded coastal storm knocks down trees and rips off part of the roof?

The ideas are coming fast and furious. And I feel a little better about my problems because I can come up with worse problems for my story’s hero. Isn’t that the definition of Schadenfreude – to feel pleasure at others’ misfortunes?

So take my example and advice, if you are having problems creating conflict and plot twists, use that favorite German joy of misfortune and give your characters worse problems than your own.

 

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When Do YOU Grab Time to Write?

January 29, 2013

Time running outLike most writers, I’m sure you have the same excuse: “ I just don’t have time to write!!” (extra exclamations added for emphasis). But like the X Files used to say, ‘the truth is out there’, I’d like to say, “the time is out there” .

What do I mean by that, you may ask? I expected that question so let me elaborate. Writers are high maintenance folk when it comes to their precious writing time. Myself included, I’ll admit. If I am going to work on an article or increase the word count on my novel, I want to have a long chunk of time in front of me. I like at least an hour, if not more to really focus and tune in to my theme or dialogue. But we must break through that high maintenance barrier if we choose to be a part-time writer.

The reality is that most of us have daily lives that get in the way. We zoom around town racing to work, running errands, preparing meals, chasing kids upstairs to brush teeth and get them to bed, etc. I’m sure this is sounding familiar.

If you are like the other 99% of writers, you cannot expect time to be your friend. You simply can’t expect to be awarded hours each day to spend in your luxurious and peaceful writing den. You have to take what is yours, and when you can get it. And the truth is, time is everywhere. Here are some examples:

Before Work

I like to get up a bit early each morning before work and spend 30-40 minutes on my laptop before I leave the house. Ugh, I can hear the groans already: “But I HATE waking up early!!” . No worries, then check out the other options below. But if you really want to be a writer and finish your story, you need to make and take time, which means you may sacrifice some sleep doing it.

Bus/Public Transportation

Do you take public transportation? Now there’s a prime example of wasted writing time. Though you can’t spread out like the bus is your own private office, you can jot down some notes on your pocket sized Moleskine notebook. Use that 30 minutes it takes to get downtown to continue plotting out your story, or figuring out a new scene. Jot down notes. Sketch out some new character traits.

Lunch Hour

Once or twice a week I’ll bring a brown bag lunch and my trusty notebook computer. The size is perfect for traveling to work. During my lunch I’ll claim a spot in the lunch room, plug into the iTunes, and type away. If you’ve got a laptop, notebook ‘puter, or any kind of tablet computer, you have no excuse not to use it for your writing project at lunch time.

Dr Office

How long have we all sat in a doctor or dentist office? Or other appointments like the DMV (shudder)? These are other times you can use to move forward with your novel.

Before Bed

Finally, you could switch off that TV (use DVR if you must record your favorite program) and type away for the last 30 minutes of the day. Sit in bed and bring your laptop. Assign this time of day to expand your word count by even 100 or 200 words.

As you can see, the time is out there. If you truly want to be a writer and at some point claim to be a published author, you must find the time to dedicate to your craft. Don’t let time be your enemy – take the time that is yours!

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Trees or Forest?

January 19, 2013

ForestDo you see the trees or do you see the forest? In writing classes we learn that this metaphor describes how we as writers get our stories on paper (or bits and bytes — choose your poison).

Those who see the trees are ones walking through the forest, passing one tree at a time along an unfamiliar trail. This type of writer likes to sit down with a blank screen or paper and begins writing with no plan. Rather, they like to see where the story takes them. Occasionally there may be a diversion onto a trail that goes nowhere, but the adventure was not lost and can be helpful somewhere further down the trail. Usually there are a higher number of revisions to this process, but these writers like the exploration.

Other writers may like to have a map of the forest in front of them, before they begin trekking through unknown territory and risk getting lost. With a pre-determined plot already outlined, the process of writing the narrative is quicker and the book falls into place much faster. Some writers say this method hinders creativity during the process of writing. And staying strict to a pre-determined plot results in a stifled story.

One camp of teachers and writers will advocate that structuring a plot before you write is the best way to go. But others, even famous novelists, will tell you that they sit down in front of a keyboard and begin typing a book from beginning to end, without ever planning where it goes.

The truth is that there is no absolute correct and proper writing procedure. But, we as writers need to figure out how we work best. That much is essential if we are to succeed in our writing.

For over a dozen years I always thought of myself as a “tree” guy, liking to make up a story or non-fiction article as I go along. However, I have a lot of false starts on my hard drive because of this.

During the three years I wrote online articles for a living, I learned to start with at least a basic structure. I outlined how-to and “tips” articles so all I had to do was fill in the gaps.

When 2013 rolled the calendar I decided to re-visit my fiction writing, and I applied similar structuring to my stories. So far I have a novel in progress with a basic outline, and dozens of scenes sketched out. I feel more confident that this story is going somewhere and am encouraged to keep writing.

Perhaps you need to take a look at your writing method. Is your current paradigm working for you? Take some time to seriously consider whether you should change to a look at the trees, or view the forest to help your writing more productive.

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Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

January 9, 2013

moleskine notebookThe #1 question most authors get asked during interviews is “where do you get your ideas?” What a silly question. I’d like just once for a best-selling author to answer something like, “I get them from frequent dumpster diving, and I root around in back alleys. Plus I’m a cyber stalker and I steal ideas from other authors.”

While it is a silly question, it is one of those queries that rattles about in everyone’s mind. So where do story ideas come from? That question is good for both overall story ideas and themes, and more specific ideas for plot development and scenes.

Every author has his or her own method of collecting ideas. Here are a few that I use:

1. Observation

This is probably the most-used idea catcher in use by all authors. While we like to write and believe we are creating something out of nothing, a lot of what we put into our writing comes from past observations. Even JRR Tolkien wrote an entire new world based on pre-written Norse mythology.

Observation happens every day. We have plenty of observation about our families and friends. These memories help fashion who we are and who we become, and also add flavor to our story characters.

One form of observation some writers like to do is people-watching. Sit down in a bar, or a mall, or even a busy downtown street on a sunny day. The people who walk by can provide some great character traits and dialogue. One reason that Quentin Tarantino’s movies are so good is because of the dialogue. Tarantino admits a lot of his snappy cinema dialog resulted from being a casual observer of actual dialogue. Take the time to be an observer and don’t be afraid to incorporate what you hear/see.

2. Jot it Down

It is frequently stated that inspiration rarely comes when you sit down to type out your story. It is wise to carry a small notebook or audio recorder to jot down ideas when they strike which is usually a least-expected moment. This also works for jotting down character or idea observations from #1 above.

I use a soft cover plain lined Moleskine notebook. It fits perfectly in backpack or shoulder carrier. I am on my second Moleskine notebook. I seem to like to write down a lot of ideas but fail on the motivation to follow through with them. Despite my laziness, I’m glad I have these documented resources to browse through when I need to, or have a new idea I want to expand upon.

3. Dreams

Rarely do I remember my dreams when I groggily wake up each morning, but sometimes I have such a vivid dream before I awake that I have to write down some details. I recommend having a notebook or pad of paper by your bedside so if it happens to you, there will be no excuse to get the vivid memory down before it fades.

These are but just a few main methods of capturing ideas. I say capturing because as mentioned, ideas are elusive and rarely come forth on demand. When your ideas strike you, be prepared to save them.