Looking Back to Move Forward

Joe’s Post #170

writing quoteSo after the writer’s group meeting, we came to one big conclusion on how to rekindle the fire for writing.

Go back to what worked.

Makes sense, right?

Makes sense, right?  I mean if you lost weight by doing a combination of yoga, smoothies and hanging upside down, why not got back to that?

Here are the 10 things that worked for us.

  1. Meet regularly. Yup, easy to say, harder to do, but we all made a commitment to commitment. Dates were booked. Hosts or hostesses chosen. Calendars were marked.
  2. Set deadlines. I hate to admit it, but without a deadline, I’m like a little puppy who finds all sorts of interesting things to do when what I should be doing is taking a poo. Oh, that sniff is nice and this tastes good and what’s that over there? Deadlines, however, put a leash on me and while that metaphor now wanders into the weird, what I’m saying is I get stuff done when I HAVE TO get stuff done.
  3. Get back to critiquing. It helps as a writer to figure out what things worked and didn’t work by reading other writers.
  4. Write 30 pages for that deadline. Just 30. Now, at one time, I could do that in a day. Ok, maybe two since I type like a drunken gorilla, but 30 pages in two months, that is so completely doable.
  5. Set the bar low. (see the 30 pages and deadlines above). The reason a low bar works is that if you get too lofty a goal, then when you fail, you feel like crap and tend to find other things that make you feel better. Like eating chocolate or watching Game of Thrones for the 100th time. But with a low bar, I find not only do I hit a goal, but I exceed it, thereby feeling good, thereby writing more, thereby feeling good… and on and on.
  6. Become a part of the community, again. Being an introvert and thinking I can achieve success alone may not actually be possible. For me. So, we’re all going to work on not only connecting as a group on a regular basis (and not just the meeting every other month) but find a way to expand our connections. You know, network and stuff. (Someone get me a drink.)
  7. Go to Surrey. Not to pitch, though we could do that, but to get inspired by other writers, but workshops, by crawling out of our hermit caves and talking to people. (Make that drink a double.)
  8. Find another writer to add new blood to our group. The problem is, we need to become a group, again, before we can add a few more bodies. That means hitting blog deadlines, writing 30 pages, and providing something of value to future potentials.
  9. Write what we want, not what we think will sell. I think that one of the killers of our writing goals has been the idea we should write the novel that will sell millions instead of writing something we’re passionate about. Passion will get the writing done. Not $$$ signs.
  10. Drink more coffee.

Will it work?

I dunno, but it’s worth a try, because, in our current state, we’re feeling shame, a sense of failure and our writing has largely ground to a halt.

 

 

Turning point

Silk’s Post #157 — In two hours I’ll be sitting down around a table with the other four of the 5writers. By the time I stand up again to leave for home, my writing career will have taken a new path.

At this moment, as I sit on a ferry crossing the Georgia Strait to Vancouver watching the fir-clad shores through Active Pass crawl by the ship’s windows, I don’t know what that path will be. This is the last moment I can capture my feelings about The Big Drought in my writing life before I decide what comes next.

Writers whose passion never flags, whose dedication never falters, will have trouble understanding how I – and to varying extents the rest of the 5writers – lost momentum over the past few months. Or maybe over the past two or three years. Our 5writers5novels5months blog has been all but abandoned since the start of 2016, some brave efforts at a rally notwithstanding. The simple functional reason is that our collective writing output has slowed down to a trickle. For me, less than a trickle. Not even a dripdripdrip.

But the bigger question is: Why?

While each of the 5writers has undergone significant life changes since we embarked on this journey together six years ago (can it have been that long?), that’s the too-easy, unsatisfying, explanation. Competing priorities, new interests, personal setbacks and triumphs, family matters, lifestyle changes – all have had their influence. There’s only so much time, after all, and how we spend it comes down to necessity and choice.

Choice is the point. A passion for writing – a mission to complete a book and get it published – is inherently a crazy ambition, a calling, a driving obsession, an act of faith. We all know how many published writers there are in the world. One zillion. For every published writer, there are probably 100 unpublished writers. We knew all that.

Yet, like most writers who love the creative process and (somewhat blindly) follow their dreams, we chose to believe in ourselves. We chose to spend our precious time tapping out words without knowing whether they would ever reach an audience.

True writing passion is supposed to be unquenchable. A life’s work. Not a transient hobby.

And yet. Here I am with three unfinished books and virtually no new pages so far this year. No wonder it’s been challenging to keep the blog going. Writing about our writing progress and the lessons learned along the way became the biggest chunk of my output of fiction.

But today the 5writers meet again. It will be a reckoning of sorts.

Can we resuscitate our gasping blog? Only if we can renew our writing commitments. Some of us may burst into bloom once more. Others may fade. No choice is wrong. And it’s not that we need each other’s permission or depend on each other’s choices to make our own decisions and go our own way. We’re five different people writing five different things, not a collective that can only thrive or perish as one.

However, we are each other’s witnesses. We each promised ourselves we’d become serious (aka, published) writers, and we pledged to support each other in those efforts.

It’s so easy to let individual passion for a difficult and emotionally risky venture die quietly while no one else is looking. To busy yourself with other matters, salve regret with new diversions and let forgetfulness heal your disappointment in yourself. My abandonment of what once was an animating passion is a deep, slowly diminishing ache.

But someone is looking. My cherished writing colleagues. Their witness is something I can’t put in the bottom drawer and forget about, like my manuscripts.

And today, I have to think about it all. Talk about it. Unflinchingly. And make a choice about my future path as a writer. It’s going to be a turning point that will impact my life in a big way. In just a couple of hours.

Thank God for a great writing group.

Stay tuned!

First Story Part 2 – How To Write It

mood01So how do you get a 9-year-old to write a story? Sure, it’s hard to get his butt in the chair and actually write, but once there, what does he do? What have they taught him in grade 4?

Much to my shock, it’s actually quite a bit. And yet, it’s also quite simple.

Here’s the thing. There are hundreds and hundreds of books about how to craft a story. Seems everyone has an idea. Stephen King. James Scott Bell. Dilbert.

But looking at the 5 page hand out the teachers gave The-Youngest, it made me realize that sometimes it’s actually not that complex.

Forget the 400 page books on character. Forget the tomes on plot. Forget everything about what you’ve read. Here’s how to write.

Like you were 9 and you had nothing in your head on how to actually do it.

#1. Ask what if. It’s that easy. It’s the basics of story-telling. What if you were transported to the minecraft world? What if you were an NHL goalie and you were in a shootout for the Stanley Cup? What if you were a new Stepdad and spent most the time being constantly confused and bewildered?

What if we could bring dinosaurs back to life?

What if we could bring dinosaurs back to life?

All stories can start from there. All of them. What if Dinosaurs came back to life? Jurassic Park. What if a giant shark decided to attack a beach community? Jaws. What if there was a school for wizards and by writing about it, you could make billions of dollars? Harry Potter. What if women liked porn and bad writing? Fifty Shades of Grey.

See? If in doubt, start with what if.

#2 But where can you get the what if ideas? Try, Building Ideas With Memories. I call it mining your own life, but it’s the same thing. The-Youngest looked at what he did on vacation, what made him scared, what hobbies he had, what events in his life were important.

#3 Begin with Something Happening. In the case of The-Youngest, he had to follow “The night I followed the (blank), this happened”. So, “The night I followed the cat and the cat had to fight a dog.” Isn’t this the essence of how to get a story going? A character, in movement (following), another character, (a cat or turtle or bunny) when something happens.

So, what could happen in Minecraft? Or in an NHL game? Or to some poor stepdad who has no idea how to scorekeep?

After much thinking and talking with The-prettiest-girl-in-the-world, aka his mom, he settled on a minecraft story.

#4 Figure out who your good character is. Figure out your bad guy. What traits do they have? What defines them? Make notes.

Dark Knight succeeds mostly due to its characters

Dark Knight succeeds mostly due to its characters

All stories, yes, all stories, succeed or fail on their characters. Howard the Duck sucked so bad because, well, Howard the Duck sucked so bad. The Dark Knight succeeded because it had a tortured Batman and one of the greatest villains of all time, Heather Ledger’s Joker.

So, The-Youngest made himself a list of traits. (Interestingly enough, one trait was that the bad guy was good looking, while his good guy was ‘not good looking.’ Hmmmm. Interesting.

#5 When you write, use feeling words. It’s how we connect to the characters. We need to feel what they feel if we are to feel for them. Wait, does that make sense? It sounded good in my head, but whatever, think about how your character reacts to what happens. Not just physically, but emotionally. How does it affect them?

Annoyed. Scared. Disgusted.

He made a list.

#6 Use your senses. Smell. Taste. Sound. Sight. Touch.

This is to draw us into the world. A world with 5 senses becomes real. It becomes relatable. Now, I’m not sure he actually remembered this in his final draft, but it’s something to keep in mind when writing. Eating zombie flesh tastes yucky, right? Smells bad too, right? But how does it taste? How would it feel in your hands? What details are so totally gross that you can barely stand to look at it?

He may have forgotten about this one a bit. As do I.

#7 How does your story begin? How does it end?

I always know this, but I struggle with the middle. Still, as a learning tool, it’s vital. If you know where it starts, you can, uhm, you know, start, and if you know where the story is going, where it will end, you can throw things at the characters that prevent them from getting there. Until they do. The end.

#8 Then you write.

Seriously.

So he began with an idea.

What if someone hacked into his minecraft account and destroyed his valuable supply of diamonds, blocks of gold and stacks of ender pearls?

He worked on his characters, the good guys, Florence and Flo. He worked on his bad guys who had made a fatal mistake of leaving a small electronic trail F&F could follow and exact revenge.

He knew where he wanted to start, he used a few ‘feeling’ words, and he wrote a pretty damn good story.

It is here if you want to read it.

Nothing like a good minecraft story

Nothing like a good minecraft story

FLOYD AND FLORENCE’S MINECRAFT ADVENTURE

This is a story about how 2 cousins named Floyd and Florence helped the police capture Henry and Jerry. They are wanted all over canada for major robberies. Floyd is 15 and Florence is 12. Floyd is an expert minecrafter and Florence is a noob at the game. Florence is staying for the summer break at Floyds house.

 Floyd helped Florence make a tree house. Florence learned how to place a block, how to hit, how to move, how to mine and how to craft. Together they created a giant castle with a moat.They have 3 double chests full of diamond blocks. These are super hard to get.

One night when Floyd is out with Florence at mc donalds, SOMEONE BROKE IN TO Floyds back door and went straight after the computer. They put it in their bag and they left. Henry and Jerry (the bad guys) hacked into Floyds computer and got on their server. They destroyed Floyd and Florence’s castle but they accidently left a sign there saying where their campsite is on the server. Floyd and Florence were very upset at first but then remembered that they had a backup laptop hidden in the basement.

While Florence is asleep Floyd goes on to the backup computer and gets the server. He follows the sign Henry and Jerry put there and he finds their camp site and gets their stuff back. Floyd sets up a trap at the camp site so when they go in their big main shack it will blow up. The trap is also a virus. It tells the police where they live.

When the police get to Henry and Jerry’s they arrest them. They find $3,000,000 worth of stolen things. Floyd and Florence get rewarded $1,000,000 and really good laptops. Floyd and Florence bought a lot of NERF GUNS and video games. Their parents let them play Minecraft any time they wanted.

the end

I was so proud of him. The ending even made me laugh.

It’s amazing what your children can teach you. In this case, it was to remember, at the end of the day, a story is pretty simple (and writing one can even be fun!)