New Draft, New File

Howdy, howdy!  Another week gone by in the blink of an eye.  It seems like the only way I can keep up with the days is by the difficulty of the crossword, and that’s not a reliable measure.  Maybe I’m just being over-dramatic.  Anyway, this week, I wanted to talk about another new-to-me revision technique that I’ve been trying.  It’s another suggestion from the same book I mentioned last week, The Last Draft by Sandra Scofield.  Basically, you type up the new draft in a blank file.

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Yes, get into it.

In pre-word processor days, writers had to type up each new draft with their trusty typewriter (or write them out by hand if you want to go back that far).  There was no copying and pasting.  No saving the source file under a new name and making changes in the text you’ve already written.  Sure, they had the hardcopy next to them, but still… it sounds like a long and tedious process.  But it’s worth a shot when you’re having trouble getting into the revision flow.

I’ll be honest and say that I haven’t followed Scofield’s advice as thoroughly as I could.  She suggests printing two copies your first draft and doing a bunch of exercises and making notes on the hardcopies and all of that, then revising into a new document from there.  That’s too much work for me.  I’m not being lazy, just mobility-impaired.  Why struggle with shuffling a bunch of papers around when I can use track changes in Word to make notes and achieve similar results?  Technology makes my life easier and more independent, so I try to make use of it when I can.  If I get stuck in the revision process, then I’ll back up and try it another way.

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That’s when we try something new.  Also, panda butt!

However, I did decide to follow her advice about typing the new draft up from scratch.  I open the first draft, highlight the next 1,000ish words (because it gives me a visual of how much I want to get through that day), then open my current draft file and get to typing.  Even though I was skeptical at first, it has been super helpful.  It allows me to focus on the voice of the narrator, which was shaky early in the first draft, and to fix things in my head as I type up the new version.  I’ve added stuff and taken stuff away.  I play with paragraph breaks and punctuation.  It just feels more acceptable to change things around on a blank page than it does on a completed draft.  I’m not disrespecting what I’ve already written, I’m making it better.   Even the stuff that I’ve sworn I was going to type up verbatim ended up getting tweaked to fit the new flow.  It’s been a freeing experience.

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Okay, it’s not as cool of an experience as this, but it’s pretty close.

I, personally, like starting at the beginning and working through things paragraph by paragraph.  But even if you like to jump around and work on different scenes in different orders, typing everything up in a new file could be helpful.  I know people who write their first drafts by hand and type their second draft from that.  There are so many ways to do this whole writing thing.  I’m constantly tweaking my own method, in case you haven’t noticed.  So, if you’re stuck or just haven’t found a way that consistently works for you, don’t be afraid to try a new process.

As always, feel free to share your own methods, comments, or questions here or on my social media pages!

Making Timelines

Howdy, howdy!  How is everyone’s August going?  I’m still on track with the goals I posted last week.  Writing and revision are slow, but I’m doing something every day.  As far as books go, I’m currently reading Sandra Scofield’s The Last Draft: A Novelist’s Guide to Revision.  I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it as a craft book.  It’s not bad, but half the time she seems really into genre fiction and the other half it seems like she’s looking down on it.  I’m just getting mixed messages from it.  However, I have found many of the exercises in the book useful!  I wanted to talk about one of those today: making timelines.

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It’s not bad as far as craft books go.  I’d recommend trying it.

In all of the fiction writing classes I’ve taken, there’s always been at least one hardcore plotter (sometimes, it’s even the teacher).  These are the people who swear by creating outlines and timelines of every little thing before they even begin writing.  I’m not one of them.  Sure, I plot things out in my head, but writing it down feels constrictive.  I like to let my first drafts form organically.  There’s no theme in my mind, no worry about subplots, none of that.  I know point A and point B.  Getting from one to the other should be an adventure.  That’s just how I like it.

I admit that my approach makes revision difficult.  I have nothing but the manuscript to work with, so trying to rework it into something readable can be a daunting task.  That’s why, when someone in my writing group suggested the above-mentioned book, I decided to give it a shot.  And you know what?  It offered suggestions that I had never thought about before.  Did you know that you could write your first draft with no guidelines and then make timelines and outlines and all of that plotter stuff after you have that shitty draft finished?  Because I had never really thought about it.  And now I feel like a complete idiot for not thinking of it sooner.

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Me. Stupid face and all.

So, guess what I did!  I bought a bunch of sticky notes and wrote out the main plotline, filling in stuff and taking stuff away as needed.  In other colors, I took certain characters/groups of characters and wrote out what they were doing and important tidbits that needed to show up in the novel.  Dad stuck them up all over my mirrors and now they taunt me every day until I do my work.  I can’t say I did it correctly.  I didn’t give each little plot point its own Post-It (only the major ones got that honor).  I’m sure I could’ve used different colored pens for different plots and all that crap.  But for my first time, I’m happy with it and it’s working for me so far.

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Why?  Why is this so true?  Timelines as well.  So hard.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that just because you’re not a plotter doesn’t mean you can’t try their techniques during the revision process.  The book offers a lot of different suggestions, some of which I skipped in favor of others.  I’ll read about the ones that I know don’t work for me, but it doesn’t mean I have to do them.  If you’re having trouble finding a toehold in the revision process, pick up a craft book and try something new.  Make timelines.  Use sticky notes or index cards.  Have fun.  See what kind of pretty pictures your story makes.  Or keep it simple like I did.  Whatever works for you.

Speaking of things that work for you (or don’t), how do you go about revision?  Do you make timelines before or after the first draft or not at all?  Feel free to share your thoughts, comments, and techniques here or on my social media pages!

Guest Post: Joseph Carro On Writer’s Block

Howdy, howdy!  Welcome to another guest post.  This time, we have my friend and fellow Stonecoast alum, Joseph Carro.  He’s got some super helpful tips for working around writer’s block, which I struggle with a lot.  So, read on!

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Joe and I at the Harraseeket Inn.  Pretty sure that was January ’15.

On Writer’s Block

By Joseph Carro

Writing can be an extremely frustrating and hopelessly solitary artistic endeavor, and as writers we know and understand this when we choose it as our lifestyle. Yet it doesn’t make it any easier when we’re holed up in the basement, writing the next big thing on our minds. Whether you’re trying to write a blog post, a poem, a screenplay, or a novel – Writer’s Block afflicts us all. I know that personally, real life usually gets in the way and saps my creative juices with its constant demands, but to keep writing I have acquired several techniques which I use in order to get my brain jumpstarted again. My hope is to share a couple of my own techniques with you. I know that many of you have your own techniques, but as a writer – I usually appreciate any new ways in which I can defeat this annoying affliction. Feel free to chime in with your own methods below in the comments section.


WALK OR DRIVE: Walking, to me, is a lost pastime. And I’m not the only one to think so. If you’re stuck on a certain spot in your manuscript or post or what have you, get OUT of that space for a little while. If you don’t like walking, then just sit outside or maybe take a drive. Anything to get yourself out of your stagnant state. Maybe you’ll see or experience something that will ignite that spark. You just have to step outside your comfort zone for a bit. Fresh air does wonders for the mind and the thought process needed for writing.

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READ SOMETHING: As Stephen King once said; “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” Writing is a skill in which you absorb technique and inspiration from reading other writers. To do so, you need to actually read. Sometimes, reading someone else’s work is the perfect way to jumpstart your own. In my case, I will sometimes put aside my writing for one day and try to finish the book I was already reading or start another one. By the time I’m through a few chapters, I’m usually chomping at the bit to get back into my writing project. Obviously, it’s “dangerous” to put aside the writing to do something else (because you can get too much into the habit of doing that), but in moderation I think it works. Just really pay attention to what the authors are doing; their prose, the construction of the novel or short story or poem or whatever, and the way in which the strongest parts of it make you feel as a reader. Try to infuse your writing with some of that magic, without trying to ape their style. Be you.

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LISTEN TO MUSIC: This one is very divisive within the writing community. In one camp, you have people who absolutely cannot listen to music while writing. Or, they at least must listen to very quiet, ambient music rather than anything heady with lyrics. That’s okay, this technique may not be for you either. However – when I’m trying to write a certain scene or a certain tone to my short story or screenplay, I sometimes pick an appropriate piece of music. For a tone, I will generally choose a playlist I’ve created on Spotify or find a playlist on YouTube – for example, if I’m looking for a melancholy tone I will choose a playlist that’s labeled as “sad songs” or “bittersweet songs”. Generally, the mood conveyed through these songs, and the emotions they bring out enhance my writing. It’s all about knowing your tolerance for this kind of distraction while you’re trying to write. This also works if you just need to listen to a song or two BEFORE you write, rather than listening to entire tracks during your actual writing. Just make sure to fire up another song here and there to renew your creative juices and emotions, because sometimes sitting in a chair and writing prose does not automatically generate emotions until you really get into the meat of the story. Writing is both a technical skill and an art, and art comes from emotion. Sometimes, we wade too far into the technical aspects and lose the emotional momentum.

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USE WRITING EXERCISES AND PROMPTS: This method is actually my favorite, and thanks to the internet, there are countless online sources for finding writing ideas. These aren’t necessarily meant to replace the project you’re working on, but are more for trying to write something in general when you’re stuck. However, if you need some distance from your novel, it’s okay to take a brief respite and write something else. A few of my favorite sources for writing prompts are from books I’ve found or have been given. My wife gifted me a sort of “activity book” called 400 Writing Prompts by Piccadilly Inc and that one has given me quite a few ideas. A couple of other books I’ve found to be pretty useful are The Writer’s Book of Matches: 1,001 Prompts To Ignite Your Fiction from Writer’s Digest Books, What If?: Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter, and The Pocket Muse: Ideas & Inspirations for Writing by Monica Wood. There are also lots of online sources out there as I mentioned above, and some of my favorites are Writer’s Digest, Poets & Writers, tumblr, and even reddit. Various bloggers like myself also dedicate entire sections of their blog to writing prompts. My own blog, Away With Words, has just such a section that you can find HERE. I try to do at least one weekly prompt, but sometimes I do more.

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These are just some tools for trying to get back into the swing of things, and my hope is that by using these techniques and resources, you can dig yourself out of whatever funk you’re in and get back to writing. Remember – try not to be too hard on yourself. Writing is hard work, it’s thirsty work, and your brain can quickly become parched when it’s dealing with the same tedious task over and over. Give it some variety and keep yourself from getting mired. Good luck!

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My name is Joseph Carro, and I am a Maine-based freelance writer and editor trying to make it in the big world of letters and semi-colons. I work currently as a barista to (barely) pay the bills, and in the meantime, I’m working on a YA novel, currently untitled, as well as various other works like screenplays, comic scripts, short stories, and flash fiction. Heck, you may as well toss in some comic books with that, too.

I live in Portland, here in Maine – with my beautiful wife and our five-pound chihuahua, Brewtus.

Above photo courtesy of Helen Peppe.

Shaking Off The Rust

Howdy, howdy!  Yesterday was Dad’s birthday, so I want to say another quick happy (belated) birthday to him!  Feel free to leave him a greeting here or on my social media pages and I’ll pass it on to him.  Anyway, this week, I want to ramble a bit about figuring out when to switch projects and when to power through the slow points, which is something I really struggle with.  I was always encouraged to finish a project before moving on to the next one.  But what happens when you try to push through the mental wall blocking you from the story and three months later you’ve only managed to move forward thirty pages?  When is enough enough?

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It’s kind of like when your EVA goes berserk and tries to smash through the wall, but there’s just more wall behind that wall, until it finally it runs out of energy and you, the pilot, are left a bleeding and broken mess.  Yeah, like that.

Lately, I’ve been feeling a little (okay, extremely) stagnant when it comes to my writing.  I fully admit that I haven’t been working on that front as much as I should, even though I have no excuse not to be writing.  But the words refuse to come.  I know the storyline and everything, but the novel doesn’t excite me at the moment.  In fact, it doesn’t instill any emotions in me.  That’s not to say that I’ve given up on it.  Not at all.  I know exactly why I’m lacking any emotional investment in this book (it’s the second book in my Demonic Jewels series, the first of which I’m querying agents with and I can only take so many rejections before I start questioning the entire concept of the series, but that feeling will eventually pass, I hope).  And I’ve been trying to push through all of this for the better part of three months, but it’s proving impossible.

I’ve tried a number of tactics to get past the wall.  I wrote some short stories then tried to go back to the novel.  Didn’t help.  I worked on revisions to a different novel then tried once again to get back to Bailey and her crew.  No luck.  I even tried just plotting everything out in my head so I’d know exactly where I was going when I sat down to write (a method that has worked well in the past), and still nothing.  What else can I do?  Seriously, I’m open to suggestions.

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I don’t think dropping an anvil on me will work, but you can try!

However, over the past two weeks, some characters who have lived in my head for many years (at least 12) have been pushing their way to the front of my mind.  Normally, they only bring vague story ideas with them, but this time they have something concrete that I’m actually super in love with.  It’s well outside of my wheelhouse, combining fantasy (I can do that) with a cozy-esque mystery (not so sure I can pull that part off) and a dash of romance (will probably fail miserably at that part).  But I’m excited just thinking about it, and the last thing I felt this way about I finished in record time.  So, I’ve decided to put Bailey on the back burner again while I revise my other novel-in-progress and write this new one.  Is that a stupid decision?  Maybe.  But if it gets me writing, who cares?

wish+me+luckWhat about you?  What do you do when you can’t get past a block on a project?  How do you know when it’s time to set things aside and try something else?  Leave your thoughts or comments or questions here or on my social media pages!

Chase Them Up A Tree…

Howdy, howdy!  I was recently talking to a friend about putting our characters through hell (whether literally or figuratively).  He was a little worried that people would be upset and accuse him of torturing his young female characters simply as a catalyst to turn them into “strong, empowered women,” as if that’s a bad thing (the torture as a catalyst thing, not the strong women thing).  We talked about the story and that certainly doesn’t sound like the case, but so what if it is?  What’s wrong with strong female characters having a tragic background?  A lot of male characters have it pretty rough before becoming heroes, so why should female characters be any different?  It got me thinking about some of the most common writing advice I’ve heard: chase your characters up a tree, then throw rocks at them/make them walk through the fire/etc.

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What does that even mean, chasing them up a tree?  Well, it means that you should put your character in a bad situation, then pile on some more trouble.  Nobody wants to read about a person who goes to the beach, where it starts raining, and they immediately find shelter in a dingy little restaurant where they have a nice meal, then they go home.  For genre readers, make the restaurant haunted or infested with pixies or run by some super attractive person who seduces the protagonist.  If you’re more into literary fiction, throw in some existential angst or a discovery of some lost love or an awkward conversation with a guy who knows the protagonist but the protagonist can’t remember him or whatever.  In other words, it means you need to keep things interesting.

Another piece of advice to new writers, usually used as an explanation for running characters up a tree, is to make them walk through the fire.  This kind of thing is especially easy to understand if you’re into genre fiction, because the Hero’s Journey often requires entering an unknown world (sometimes actually made of fire) and having the hero traverse the treacherous land.  Whether they come out unscathed or not is really up to you.  Either way, they’re forced to face numerous obstacles or trials along their journey and it transforms them into the people they become.

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In my humble opinion, I don’t think we should really worry about whether or not people will approve of our stories.  If your character needs to be tortured physically or mentally to move the plot along and help them develop into who they need to become, whether male or female, go for it.  That’s not to say that something so drastic is always needed.  Maybe your character grows up in a loving home and stumbles upon an adventure randomly.  After all, one of my own characters is surrounded by supportive and caring family throughout her adventures.  That’s great too.  Trust your story to tell you what it needs, not judgmental people who think violence has no place in literature.

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Disclaimer: I am by no means endorsing gratuitous violence or anything that’s done “just because.”  It has to move things forward and serve some sort of purpose.  That being said, don’t worry so much about what people might think and just write your stories.  If things feel a little excessive, that’s what revision is for!  You can always change things up later on.

What about you?  Do you find yourself worrying about things like this or are you all about running characters up trees and pelting them with rocks?  Share your thoughts here or on my social media pages!

When In Doubt…

Hello, hello!  I thought I’d share a little update on the agent search saga.  I received a rejection from the agent who requested a full copy of my manuscript.  It was the first rejection that I couldn’t attribute to slush reader denial, and I admit it threw me a bit, emotionally.  They loved Bailey (the main character), but they suggested reworking it into a non-fantasy book because they felt my writing was strongest in the non-fantastical parts.  I panicked.  How was I supposed to rewrite this particular story without fantasy and keep it from turning into a memoir or something similar (there’s too much of my younger self in Bailey to keep her in the realm of literary fiction even if I managed to peel the fantastical parts away)?  I’ve always been against crossing into CNF, especially when it involves elements of my own life (I’m not that interesting, I swear).  I have nothing against people who want to write that type of stuff, but it’s just not who I am.  So, I let myself be overcome by doubt for a couple of days.

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Me normally?  Kyoya.  Me on rejection day?  The twins.  I will never be Tamaki, though.

It’s been a long time since I’ve received a critique (no matter how small) from someone who held my inner writer’s fragile little ego in their hands and had the ability to crush it.  I love my critique group dearly, but I know they’ll give honest feedback in a friendly manner.  When I was in school, I actually liked the people who were brutal with their feedback.  I welcomed it.  But over the past couple of years, I kind of forgot that a critique is just someone else’s opinions, whether that someone is a friend or a teacher or an agent or whoever.  It’s simply one person’s opinion.  Yeah, it’s harder to hear some people’s thoughts than others, but the story is still mine.  I can’t help but feel like I’ve gotten a little weak for forgetting that.

For a couple of days after I received the rejection, I stopped working on my current WIP (the second book in the series).  What was the point if I was just going to have to change the first book completely?  Then, I remembered something my mentor for my thesis semester (Elizabeth Hand) wrote in my evaluation.  She basically said that I was always extremely open to suggestions for edits and revisions, but that I had zero qualms about saying no to things because I knew what was best for my story.  That was when I started working on my WIP again.  This series started as litfic and went nowhere.  It wasn’t until someone suggested I write it as the kind of stuff I actually enjoyed reading that it started moving forward on its own.  I just can’t abandon that story yet.

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My usual reaction when I come across suggestions that don’t fit my stories.

Sometimes, we all need a little reminder that we’re the creator of the worlds we write about.  We choose which suggestions and comments to implement and which ones to ignore.  That’s our decision to make as writers.  I know it’s hard to ignore some people’s critiques, especially when they’ve been in the business a lot longer than you and when they’re successful and you’re just getting started.  Be open to suggestions, but don’t be afraid to say no if it doesn’t feel right.  You know what’s best for your stories.

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No matter how hard it is.

So yeah, when in doubt, trust yourself.  I’m going to try to remember this as future rejections roll in.  I can’t promise I won’t temporarily panic, but I’ll get over it given time.  If you’re in a similar situation, you’ll be okay too.  Let yourself freak out a little if that’s your thing (I, personally, prefer to avoid that step), but then remember that you know what you’re doing.  We will succeed… eventually.

The Most Common Writing Advice And Why I Disagree

Howdy, howdy!  I hope everyone had a fun and safe Halloween, and got tons of candy (whether you went trick or treating yourself or stole it from your kids/nieces/nephews/siblings/etc.).  Today, I want to ramble a little bit about some common writing advice that I really disagree with.  If you’re a writer, chances are that you’ve heard this statement at least once (and probably way more than that): write what you know.  On the surface, it sounds like common sense.  If you don’t know about something, how can you write about it?  But so many people take it too literally.

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No one wants to read about that, Calvin.  Unless the guy is transported into each show, then maybe.

 On the one hand, some people argue that the saying refers to emotions.  We’ve all experienced love and hate and happiness and anger, so our characters should too.  I agree with that reading of it to a point.  Characters need to express multiple emotions in order to be well-rounded.  My issue with this explanation is that we all experience and express our emotions differently, so our characters should too.  For instance, when I rage, I stew in my own thoughts and plot revenge.  I don’t really know what people who scream and cuss and break things are thinking or feeling.  Does that mean I should only write characters who stew?  No.  It just means that I have to work a little harder to understand and flesh out my characters who are screamers.

On the other hand, there are the people who think writing what they know means writing about things they’ve done or stuff that’s happened to them.  I actually started writing Garnets and Guardians because people kept telling me to write what I know.  I know about spending your childhood in and out of the hospital.  But honestly, that’s boring, so I threw in demons and references to different mythologies and a protagonist with a disease that’s fairly different from my own.  These are things that I knew little to nothing about.  Hell, my protagonist can walk.  I don’t even remember what walking feels like.  Does any of this mean I shouldn’t write about these things?  No.  It simply means I have to study up on them.  Writers enjoy research (supposedly).  It’s half the fun of writing.

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It’s kind of like that.

 I guess if I were to rewrite the quote, I’d probably go with something like “write what excites you.”  Not in a porny way, though.  What I mean is, if you’re super interested in writing about a guy who has to fight ice giants while climbing Mt. Everest, but you have no idea what mountain climbing entails, go out and learn about it.  Sure, once you learn about it, you know it, and thus the original quote applies, but it’s still up to you to study these things in the first place.  If it drives you to research something, it’s worth writing, even if you have zero experience with it.  So, write what you want.  Learn things.  Don’t limit yourself just because you’re inexperienced with something.

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Because Odin. And election day is soon.

 What’re your thoughts on “write what you know?”  Is there any common writing advice that you disagree with?  As always, feel free to share your thoughts and opinions in the comments or on my social media pages!