The Early Chapters

I’ve struggled recently with my manuscript (you can read an excerpt here) and connecting the first chapter to the next.

Do I spend some paragraphs on exposition?

How do you cover a significant amount of physical distance where nothing interesting happens? And do it without it feeling trivial or boring?

I’ve tried to answer these questions by writing and not thinking about it. But this has resulted in four different versions that I don’t like. That I keep throwing out. Maybe the process is honing on what I really want, but it seems like a blind dive.

I still enjoy writing the scenes. But eventually, it feels like I’m not making progress. This isn’t true, but it still feels that way. I think I’m drawing conclusions on what is working, but it’s slow and requires a lot of analysis not only of the text but also my own expectations.

My expectation and typical style is to avoid too much exposition. But in the fantasy genre and writing about new cultures or environments, readers usually need that to feel a part of the story and give them some ownership of understanding.

So balancing my style with what the reader needs is taking a lot of time.

What is so hard to keep in mind is what my friend Erin says best, “No writer consistently produces good stuff from their daily grind. So stick to the routine.”

True.

Trust the process.

You Probably Want Inspiration Too

Let’s face it: you have a hard time finding inspiration. 

Allow me to define that. 

Inspiration comes in a flash yet instills lasting courage and drive. It makes you want to get back to it, every morning, without fail. It gets you past the distractions, the imgurs, the forums, the quick memes and videos… the Internet. It makes you thirsty to get back into the trenches, fight in the scrum and the dirt, through the blood, sweat, and tears. 

Inspiration makes that shit exhilarating. I believe that inspiration lets you look beyond your frontiers, and lets you know, “Hey, that over there, those greener grasses? It’s in reach. Yeah, go get it.”


If you think that you’re struggling in your writing, finding it hard to place the pants to the seat, then you gotta look for some inspiration. These are hard to find. It will take time, and do not let the false inspirations get you. 

There is little worse than believing that you are inspired, only to burn out. You only have so many burn-outs in your tank. The discouragement from these is brutal. Really think, really believe that when you have found your inspiration, that it will take you far, push you to grow. 

After you’ve done that, the necessary stuff—the stuff that you kinda hate and avoid doing—makes sense, and you understand the purpose behind the brutal, daily work. You are officially inspired to chase your dreams, one step at a time.

get after it

Read this great article by CJ Lyons:

http://www.norulesjustwrite.com/three-game-changers-to-launch-your-career/

I’ve never read her stuff, but that hardly tarnishes the advice. It’s good stuff.

Highlights of the article:

1. Write 2k, read 2k, every day.

2. Lyons cut back to 40-hours a week at her job (community pediatrician) to focus on writing. Crazy. Crazy and awesome.

great ideas upcoming—wait I lost it…

How many ideas do you have in a day? If your heart is pumping, I’m betting on hundreds. If you’ve had a decent breakfast, maybe even thousands.

How many of those ideas are any good? Well… probably one or two. For a day, try to classify every idea you have. Is this a good idea?

Should I cross the street when a car is about to hit me? BAD

Does this yellow shirt look good with my saffron blazer? DON’T ANSWER THAT

Should I eat a burrito for lunch? GOOD

But what of the serious stuff, the kind that merits a call to someone:
“You will not believe the wonderful fart my brain just had and there will not be one dry eye at the end of this Wonka ride.”

That’s right, folks. Every once in a while, you have a great freaking idea.

And, where, pray tell, does that great freaking idea go? Probably down the great freaking idea gutter, which, unsurprisingly, is the same gutter used for shitty ideas.

Save your great freaking ideas. Buy them a nice home somewhere on a slip of paper, better a journal, even better ten journals, and crazier (Memento-style) yet, a tattoo. But get it down. Make some other piece of universe remember for you, so when you have the time, you can make it a real freaking great thing.

That’s all folks. Now, excuse me while I bash my head trying to remember that great freaking short story idea I had earlier today.

—–the end—–

Energetic Writing

Last night, I wrote about 3000 words after work. It took me 5 hours. And I was exhausted almost the entire time. Of course, the only reason I’m pushing myself to these limits is because of the Amazon contest (ABNA). From the get-go, I didn’t feel like writing. A long day at work and a long commute meant that the last thing I wanted was slogging out three thousand words. But I needed to find a way to do it.

I’m a flow writer usually. I do normal things and ruminate on the things I noticed throughout my day. Then I write about it. It’s hard for me to manufacture material without thinking about it thoroughly, but I also don’t take very many notes.

That’s not really possible when you’ve got a deadline to hit. So for those writers trying to hit a word count, here are some things that I do.

1. Spreadsheets
Anyone who hasn’t used a spreadsheet, probably has avoided it for personal reasons, but there are many good reasons why spreadsheets are your best friend. They:

  • list characters and their traits
  • map timelines and events
  • easily modify according to your new ideas (read: move huge chunks of text)
  • provide multiple sheets within a single document
    • less mouse clicking means more typing time
  • track word counts
You get it. I love spreadsheets. I think they’re a good way of consolidating all your information in one place so you can assess it quickly. With word docs, you’ve got less space. Just try it. 

Also, by setting word count goals on the spreadsheet, it’s easier to visualize your target than when you look at the count tracker at the bottom of the word doc.



2. Words Per Hour (WPH)
Just how fast can you type? Well, that doesn’t really matter. It only matters if your typing can keep up with and correctly interpret the weird things your brain wants. I can’t type that fast, but my speed as adjusted to what I’m thinking and expressing. It’s hard to keep that consistent over five hours.

It gets tiring, but if you set a goal every hour (or whatever preferable interval) you’ll find it markedly easier to push yourself. I set a modest goal of 600 WPH, or 100 words per 10 minutes.

100 words isn’t that much. A set of dialogue lines. A paragraph or two of setting or action. The segmenting keeps your foot to the gas pedal. Maybe you wrote that last 100 quickly? You reread it, make some adjustments, OH SNAP, the next interval just started, now I only have 8.5 minutes to write 100 words. And it goes and it goes.

3. Allow for breaks
You gotta keep fresh. As much as everyone loves hitting an inspired spurt of writing, giving yourself some breathing time will ensure that you don’t burn out. If you think you need a break, you probably do. Don’t bonk your head for inspiration when it’s run dry. Your head might explode.

Get some water, play with your pet, or in my case, watch some soap operas with my grandma. With a steady diet of breaks, you’ll find that when you sit back down, you’re ready to go again, and that is the type of groove you want.

– – –

And that’s my super short list for staying energized (not necessarily inspired). While they may not be needed by those of us writing without deadlines, these can be helpful for maintaining a writing routine that lacks deadlines.

Just remember, set yourself straight, and the writing will come.

Creating characters (the process)

It’s a hard thing: making a memorable and honest character. Strong writers are determined, no matter what, to get their characters right. And it’s no overnight process. 

When I first started writing, I thought that putting my character through tough battles and emotional trauma would turn them into a real character, a spirit that would manifest in the mind of the reader. Of course, after many years of writing and hundreds of stories later, you get to understand that characters aren’t made in whatever you decide. 

You’ve got to really know your characters, and once that process is complete, they start doing not what you decide but what they decide to do. 

I have never experienced a first draft that earned me a character’s trust. It’s only been in the revisions when they’ll speak up. 

“No, no. I wouldn’t do that. I’d do this.” 
“That doesn’t make sense. I’d do this.” 
“I don’t talk like that. Can’t you hear me?”

Slowly, their ideas and tendencies will come to you. So, if you think your characters aren’t solid, aren’t real, then spend more time with them. The more you write about something (really, anything), the more you understand it and the soul of it. 

And that’s really what writers are chasing after.

Stomping on Writer’s Block

No one said it’d be easy. I know that and never expected revising my manuscript to be anything but difficult. But revising under deadlines are not to be messed with. I have about three weeks left to revise my manuscript into something fashionable for submission. I crunched the numbers for the minimum word count of 50,000.

I’d need to get through about 2500 words a day.

Let’s just say that one more time for comedic effect:

25-FREAKING-HUNDRED

Good. I think that was good for both of us to get out of our systems.

And well, when I ran the numbers, my head spun for a little bit. I paced around my cold room, blew into my hands, and slapped my face. Then I sat down and started. It’s been like that for a week now.
And, of course, the sleep is dropping off.

There may be a problem when I wake up and my computer is sleeping beside me on the bed like a faithful pet.

Sometimes, I laugh at myself as I wake it up from hibernation. “Yo, who told you you could sleep on the job? What do you mean I fell asleep first? Don’t talk back to me!”

But always, I keep going. Late at night, early in the morning, after you’ve finished work. These are the times when night-writers have to get their work in. Let’s be honest: we’re hardly in the mood when we think about it, but when we sit down, it’s glorious. Usually.

Sometimes, the mood isn’t there, manifesting its ugly head as “writer’s block.” But that stuff is just hearsay and scuttlebutt and boogeyman speak. I don’t buy it. You can get past any of your desires and false-gods pretending that you don’t have the chance to write. It’ll take some creativity, but luckily for you, that just happens to be up your alley.

Here’s a small list of things I do to jog myself into writing:
1. I get up and breathe deeply.

This kind of gets at why you feel sleepy at some parts of the day. Subconsciously, when we’re a little bored, we only take in shallow breaths. Something like running in energy-conservation mode. And your body, with less oxygen, feels more tired. So, get up, breathe a lot. Walk fast in tight two meter circles. I dunno. But breathe. Then, when you sit down, maintain good posture to keep the air flowing. I dare you to try it.

2. I find other ways to engage in my created world.

Are you writing a fantasy book? Do you have a map of all the crazy places your characters are going?  Why not? DRAW THAT RIGHT NOW. For me, it feels amazing drawing maps. It gets me involved with the world and I get down into the world itself, imagining the hills, mountain ridges, glades, rivers, plains, and run-down villages. You gotta do something that gets you back into the world.

3. Read out loud.

This serves two purposes. First, it lets you know that, yes your accents are truly as horrible as everyone says they are. I recommend doing this in public for truly pressured writing. Second, it manifests your characters in a totally different way for your mind. Some people can imagine the voices of their characters really well. That’s awesome, but for the rest of us, it can be helpful and comforting to have that character’s voice (even if it is yours) in the room with you.

4. Write your characters in a different setting.

I rarely do this, as the other methods are more effective for me, but I do think that putting your characters out of setting can help you gain a better feel for them. You get to know them better, and they’ll drive your (or their) story for you. It’s a little something like magic. I think you know what I mean.

Anyway, every writer is different but hopefully, some of you are kinda like me and these tips are helpful.