Top 10 Discoveries About My Book

Joe’s Post #180

This is how I imagine the book cover. Only with the shadow of a man in a coat and hat looking all detectivie

Are you surprised how your book turned out?

Now, spoiler alert, this is a longer post than normal. Get into your comfy underwear, pour yourself a glass of whiskey, put your feet up on the dog and continue.

Yager’s War has come so far since it’s inception back in 2016, but my first historical novel has finally been sent off to my first readers – Two professional writers, and one person who lived through that time.

Oh, but that seems so long, ago, now. A lifetime. And in that lifetime, I learned a lot about my story, which kinda surprised me since I thought I pretty much knew everything about it when I sat down to write it.

So, what did I discover?

1) I discovered that I can’t eat well and write. Now, this doesn’t have anything to do with the novel, per se, but if anyone is looking to write a character in a novel who writes for a living, it’s a good trait. Not a healthy one, but something odd. Quirky. Stupid. Peanut M&Ms. Pop. Pizza. Oddly, I didn’t drink. Sorry Hemmingway.

2) I discovered that I sat down to write this because I love history and World War II history in particular. But it’s not a love based on battles, but stories. It’s something that’s not being taught a lot in schools. It’s all about facts, maps, (wait, I love maps, too), and dates. Even without a specific person, there is a narrative that thrills me. The massively outnumbered Jews who fought the Germans in the Warsaw Ghetto. The 500 Spartans at Thermopylae. The Alamo. Then it hit me. I love the underdog. The few who stood up when it mattered BUT died in the end. All knew they would die, yet still fought the fight. That leaked into my novel in a big way (and will certainly be a major part of the second and third novels.)

3)

Iron Lungs. Therapy for polio. But it looks like something out of a horror movie.

I discovered a lot about things we understand now, understand back then. Polio. PTSD. Asperger’s. They’ve all existed since the beginning of time. Like the Queen of England. But we’re only now understanding them fully and I was surprised at the complexity of each one of those subjects.

 

4) I discovered ‘what to keep in and what to take out’ was tougher than I ever thought. Yanking out a whole subplot ain’t easy, my friends. It’s like trying to yank off a skin tag, it’s quite painful and wants to snap right back. I can still use a lot of what I wrote or imagined in my next book,

5) I discovered I could fall in love with one of

Amelia Anderson. (AKA-
Bryce Dallas Howard)

my characters. It’s amazing how much a story can change even from the 2nd draft, to the third. I yanked out some decent writing about my character’s interaction with a family to explore a love interest and I fell in love with that love interest. Amelia “Amy” Anderson, a brilliant red-head with Sherlock Holmesian Asperger’s. Socially awkward. Kind. Driven. Beautiful (of course, cuz, you know, I’m a guy.) I dream about her now. Don’t tell my wife.

6) I discovered it’s tough to choose what research to use and what not to use. I had to cut research out. Oh, that fine line between having authentic historical details and way, way, way too much information… it’s so easy to cross because information is so fun! (You know what I’m talking about, Paula!)

7) I discovered that I could make myself cry while writing. Not, oh god, this is terrible, but I moved myself at some of the tragic scenes. Maybe no one else will shed a tear, but it’s odd that I could actually get in touch with emotion. Without whiskey. Thanks to Don Maass for making me live in the pain for a while.

8) I discovered, much to my horror, that it was not as much fun, sometimes, to do research. Now, this really shocked me. I love learning new facts. Like did you know that the Kaiser, the Imperial Emperor of Germany, fled to Holland? And had the nickname of the Woodchopper? But trying to get all my facts right, like what soap the Dutch used for dishes or what goods were sold in the Waterlooplein market, well, that took a bit of work and I often got distracted tracking down other details.

9) I discovered this is not, at its heart, a who-killed-Roger-Rabbit story. This is a Jewish

Lest we forget

story. Again, a bit of a shock. Not that I didn’t have Jewish elements in it, but on the last rewrite, it really hit home how much I needed to tell the Jewish story here.

10) I discovered it’s a feminist novel. This came as the biggest shock. BIGGEST. Like finding a spider in your underwear.  Both of my main female characters are strong, independent women in a time where such things were not the norm. Maybe it was all the women in my life who influenced that. My mom who went to university and graduated as the only woman in her class. My wives, Margot and Corinne. My inherited great Baba, who designed and built a frigging church.

But all those discoveries aside, the novel will get one last polish from my first readers, then it’s off to the agent.

It is the best thing I have written, but something not achieved without great pain and anguish. Ask my wife who’d find me wandering around the house muttering, “No, that won’t work, won’t work, my precious, he has to die, yes, die but how, dammit, how?”

It’s been an interesting journey, combining my deep emotional connection to the Netherlands (based on my visits there and my reading of the holocaust), my love of a good thriller, and my love of books that touch a poignant chord within us all.  But, as any writer should, if someone has a way to make it EVEN BETTER, (my first readers, my agent, my editor, Bob the grocery bagger,) then I’ll kick it up yet another notch.

Because I not only want it to be the best story I’ve ever written, but one of the best others will ever read.

The art of course correcting

compass

Silk’s Post #146 — The course to your writing goal is rarely a straight line (a reality writing shares with most other life goals). When you start writing a novel – especially if you’ve done all the work of outlining, or at least envisioning the story arc from start to finish, you think you know where you’re going.

But when you encounter an unexpected impasse, what do you do? Press on ahead, no matter what? Or reassess and correct course?

In other words, can you – and should you – be flexible enough to deviate from your carefully-planned roadmap? Without feeling like you’ve given up, or failed? Or should you go backwards and try to “fix” whatever narrative deficits have brought you to this troubling nexus?

For some writers, the answer is “forward-ho!” Forge on to the predetermined end, and fix whatever problems are causing a sense of discomfort or dislocation in the second draft. Nothing wrong with that strategy, especially if it keeps you on-track with your writing discipline. Mind you, you may be spending a lot more time with your second draft working out stubborn plot or character problems than you had imagined. But it’s a way forward.

And forward is where we must go.

Other writers may pull up the reins, look around at their storyworld surroundings, and realize they’re just plain lost. How did I get here? Everything’s wrong! Feeling trapped in the bog of the mushy middle is no fun, and I wonder how many books simply die right there … slowly sinking into the quicksand of confusion and lost momentum.

To be brutally honest, some unfinished and unworkable stories do need to be given a decent burial rather than continue to suck energy out of their authors, to no good end. But many others are salvageable – maybe even brilliant, eventually – if the writer is willing to let go of the original prescribed plan and let the story bloom in its own natural time and manner.

What happens when an author gets to the narrative’s mid-point, for instance, and realizes – with horror and probably a wrenching ache in his or her gut – that the protagonist should  actually be someone other than the chosen lead character? Or that, even worse, the protagonist is terminally boring, or unlikeable? Or that close third person isn’t working at all, and the story should be told in first person? Or that the whole “voice” of the book is wrong? Or that the story is actually a mystery, not a romance, and needs major structural revisions?

Ah, but these are the lucky authors. The ones who can actually see what’s wrong in the course of the first draft. Why they’re struggling, why they’re swimming against the tide. For many of us, these insights may not come until much later – although “later” is still not “too late” when it comes to a novel. Many resurrections take place in the second or third draft.

However, making a decision to correct course in the middle of a writing journey can be more than daunting. It can be debilitating. Demotivating. Discombobulating. And, seriously – do we need yet more hurdles and self-doubt in our sometimes stuttering writing practices? After all, we’re not out on the high seas in a Clipper ship, our very lives dependent on finding the right course to make a safe landfall. We can just tuck that off-track manuscript in the bottom drawer and go do something more rewarding.

Persistance can be hard, but it can have a big pay off.

Correcting course requires some potentially painful choices. And they can be humbling.

It may mean literally throwing away a lot of stuff you worked hard on, and struggling to convince yourself that it wasn’t just a waste of time. It may mean psyching yourself up to counteract the demotivating experience of having to go backward before you can go forward. It may mean admission that you over-reached, or didn’t work hard enough, or didn’t work smart enough, or picked a genre that isn’t your forté, or any number of other writing sins.

And sometimes the worst sin of all is simply neglecting your writing practice. Maybe you’ve left your manuscript untouched for so long that it has become a kind of skeleton in your closet, Exhibit #1 in the damning case against your sin of omission, a personal rebuke. Maybe you got stuck somewhere along the way, the going got tough, and you put it aside for later. Now it’s later, much later. Are you going to keep avoiding it? Or summon your courage and seek a fresh direction?

To recognize you need a course correction, you have to admit you’re on the wrong track. And who likes to be wrong?

But this is where the art of it comes in – the art of nourishing your writer’s soul. Writers all work essentially alone. Yes, you may be lucky (as I am) to have a writers/critique group, or an editor, or a mentor, or any number of wonderful, supportive people in your writing life. And that really matters. But when the words go on paper, it’s just you and the blank white page. You are an enterprise with a staff of one: yourself.

You have to look after yourself and your assets – your mind, your imagination, your health, your skills, your commitment, your creative spirit, and maybe most of all your enthusiasm.

So don’t look back. Don’t beat yourself up. Give yourself huge points for making the decision to get back on track, take a breath, then get to work with renewed hope and energy. Because although writing is hard work, it should be joyful work.

In my own experience, writing feels incredibly good when it flows, when I know my scene, or my character, or my storyworld, or my narrative arc is working well. It only feels bad when I’m grinding my gears because something’s broken down.

Course corrections are positive. They mean you’ve learned something essential. They mean you’re becoming a better writer. And, hopefully, they lead you away from the struggle of wrestling with something that isn’t working right, and back to that euphoric place all writers seek: The Zone.

And The Zone is where I hope I’m bound this week. Because I have to admit that, of late, I’ve been guilty of the sin of neglecting my writing practice. Yes, right in the middle of the 5writers5novels5months challenge. While the hardy NaNoWriMo participants gushed hundreds of thousands of words during November, my writing output barely filled a teacup.

I was stuck with a few pretty major holes in my current story. Who, exactly, is my villain? How does the story end? And what motivates one of my key characters to take the action that unlocks the whole flow of the plot arc?

Yeah. Big questions. Until I answered them, I was paralyzed. I questioned whether the whole book premise even made any sense. I wondered whether I was capable of writing it, given that it’s a story far outside my own personal experience. I felt like a fraud, taking on a complex, dark, “big idea” story as a novice writer living my idyllic life on my nice, safe little Pacific Northwest island.

So I stalled out. I found other things to do. And my underfed manuscript sat abandoned on my drive. And meanwhile, the 5/5/5 challenge clock ticked towards our deadline.

But, almost unbeknownst to me, my mind kept at the story. Wouldn’t let it go. I wasn’t even aware I was processing it until last week, when the answers to my plot and character questions suddenly popped into my consciousness while I was driving to the grocery store. All in one big epiphany!

So I’m back to the keyboard, and it feels good. Not quite Zone-like yet, but I have renewed confidence I’ll get there.

But now a new course correction is needed.

Because I know I’m not going to have this first draft finished by our 5writers deadline – artificial as it may be – of February 5th. It’s just not going to happen. So I polled the other 5writers, and it seems I’m not the only one whose productivity has fallen a bit short of where we all should be in our stories by now – if we want to be typing “The End” in exactly 60 days.

Rather than avoid the problem, deny the reality, guilt ourselves into a demotivated state of inertia, painfully wedge enough scraps of writing time into the holiday season to make up for lost time, or just give up … we are discussing a course correction, including a reset of our challenge deadline to April 5th. This would also give us more time for mutual support, including some in-progress critiquing and feedback, and virtual group meetings.

Paths to any goal in life, after all, are just plot lines. They do take twists and turns, with something to learn around every corner. And if you’re afraid to make course corrections, you may never get there.

Wheat or chaff? It’s all about relationships

Image

Helga’s Post #119: What makes a story really and truly tick?

We all know the answers, so no point preaching to the choir. What does get overlooked more often than what’s good for us writers, is this:

The power of relationships.

Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? Yet it’s so common to forget about it and rather focus on getting characters right. Powerful characters that we hope will keep the readers turning the pages of our story. In fact, it’s the relationships between these strong and interesting characters that is the make-or-break aspect between a flop and a bestseller.

Sure, a good plot helps. Suspense and pacing is crucial. Setting will frame the story. Credible, three-dimensional characters are all-important. But interesting characters by themselves are not enough to make a book roar.

It’s how the characters relate to each other that defines the story – and may well determine the book’s future success or failure.

This was brought home to me again after watching the movie Bridge of Spies with Tom Hanks.

Never wanting to miss a Steven Spielberg flick I expected much and was not disappointed. In fact, I was quite shaken, not because of the plot, setting or acting, all of which were exceptional, but by the superbly acted and unusual relationship between the Russian spy and the American lawyer assigned to defend him. I will not do a spoiler here, rather I recommend this movie to any of you writers out there. Go and watch it with a view of judging what makes this film as powerful as it is. Then go back home and try to weave these aspects into your own story.

The plot and genre also acted as a huge attractant for me, so please keep that in mind about my starry-eyed review. The setting of the film is late 1950s Brooklyn and later East Berlin, height of the Cold War scare. Height of the hysteria and hatred around Soviet Russia. Spies working each side of the two worlds. Time of the apocalyptic fear that gripped America during the dark days of ‘Mutual Assured Destruction’. Based on the 1960 U-2 incident during the Cold War, the film tells the story of lawyer James B. Donovan who is entrusted with negotiating the release of Francis Gary Powers—a pilot whose U-2 spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union—in exchange for Rudolf Abel, a captive Soviet KGB spy held under the custody of the United States.

I loved it for its excellence but also as it reminded me of my novel Closing Time (unpublished), the manuscript collecting cobwebs under my bed for the last five or six years. Its setting is 1958 Vienna, the story based on true events but with fictionalized characters (other than President Eisenhower and Nikita Khruschev). Its focus is also the Cold War, the topic negotiating the limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty between the superpowers. It was the second novel I wrote. At the time I thought it was pretty good but a number of rejections from editors and literary agents made me doubt my earlier enthusiasm. And so it lingered since.

Watching ‘Bridge of Spies’ however made me rethink my own story. Perhaps it’s worth dusting off the cobwebs. Sure, it needs a total re-write. I may have to change my protagonist and the antagonist, but these are relatively small details. I have the setting nailed, because that’s where I grew up. A little later than the time of the story, but I can relate.

The major part of the rewrite will be my characters’ relationships to each other. My mind is going into overdrive as I write this.

Thank you Steven Spielberg, not only for a great movie, but also because you have done me a great favor. Maybe you have spawned a book worth publishing. Thanks for the memories.

 

Write on!

when the clock strike midnight,

In retrospect, the title of today’s post, “Write On” seems more than a wee bit hypocritical, since my exhortation to ‘keep writing’, which was actually written last week, fell through the cracks, interrupted as it was by my week at USTA Nationals in Surprise AZ.

Ah, well, another road, paved with good intentions.

But I did get that blog post written last week, even though being on the road and other issues meant I didn’t actually get it posted.

Perhaps I will make up for it this week, by sneaking in a remedial post before I’m once again, ‘on the road again’.

Written Last Tuesday, at YVR International Airport:

One of the looming perils we unpublished writers must constantly be on the lookout for is that ubiquitous menace known as ‘evil wee beasties who lurk in the dark’. Half-formed, unseen creatures who slink behind us, dogging our trail, snarling, ready to lunge at the slightest opportunity.

Creatures who feed on ‘self-doubt’.

Omnipresent, like wolves trailing a wagon train.

These evil wee beasties and they’re related brethren lurk in the woods, at night. They hide in the shadows, crouch behind rocks, yipping and howling, until our dreams turn to nightmares.

When we wake, things look brighter.

For a while, the beasties seem safely at bay. You go about your morning in a delusional state of cheerful optimism. I’m safe, you think.

At least for awhile.

But do not fool yourself.

You make a fresh pot of coffee, maybe answer a few emails, settle down into your ‘writing space’ and then, just like that, it happens: you read what you wrote yesterday and you see in an instant that the wolves are back, scratching at your office door, howling to be let in.

Your thin veneer of safety and security crumbles… self-doubt is right there… right outside the door.

Take heed. You cannot afford to relax for even a moment. You must keep constant vigil.

Even as the evil beasties yip and snarl and howl until you must cover your ears, lest you go mad. Write on! For if you do not, you’re lost.

Instead of starting on Chapter 12 as you planned, you suddenly find yourself back at Chapter 1, rewriting your ‘opening’.

Put it down! Now! Go back to Chapter 12! Write On!

It’s not that I am completely unsympathetic. I know the temptation of lingering over Chapter 1. You know it well. Chapter 1 is your friend. You feel in familiar territory here. Your writing is strong, the wolves far behind.

Why not fix up Chapter 1 just a little more, you think. After all, isn’t it the most important chapter? Don’t all the experts say that if you don’t hook them in with the first word, first line, first paragraph you’ll never get an agent, never sell that book?

Well, to that I say ‘poppycock’.

Your Chapter 1 isn’t going to be worth diddly-squat if you don’t finish the book.

You’re never going to show it to anyone if you don’t finish the book.

Put down Chapter 1 and quit messing around! Your date today is with Chapter 12, or 14, or 42 or wherever you last left off. Your job is to Write On.

Finish the first draft.

But what about Chapter 3?

What if now, in retrospect, you’ve discovered you’ve disgorged way too much back story much too early in the book.

I mean, how can it hurt to just go back and fix that one little chapter and…

No. Write On!

Maybe you’re committed to pressing on, maybe you’ve just flipped back to your latest pages, just to see where you left off and then… OMG!!

You read your latest pages with critical dismay.

What started out so promising last night when you crafted those words at midnight has now morphed, in the cold grey light of dawn into sheer, incontrovertible drivel.

Oh yes, I’ve been there. I know of what you speak.

So, what are you to do? What are we all to do?

Fix it! Your brain screams. For that is your natural inclination, goaded on by what I like to think of as our ‘evil twins’ aka the voice of your inner ‘self-editors’.

Cover your ears. I beg you! You must ignore those voices of self doubt and Write On!

Remember, it is not safe to dawdle here. Wolves lurk in them there woods. And those wolves are hungry.

Press on at speed! Write on! Write on!

Back in the midst of our original 5 months challenge, I expounded on just this theme. I think at that time, I used the ‘Rollin’ Rollin’ Rollin’ theme song from ‘Rawhide’.

But in retrospect, I think I like the wagon train analogy even better.

Think of it, those wagons are full of your most valuable assets: your characters… your plot… tension and conflict, climax and resolution. Your job, as author, is to get everyone in the wagon safely to the end of the trail, even with those terrible wee beasties, howling in the woods.

Write On! For if you don’t, your first draft will never get finished.

Now, I admit, we are admittedly on the verge of straying into ‘chicken and egg’ territory here.

I hear you.

You say you cannot move forward until you are firmly convinced that you’ve got the right characters huddled in those wagons. And as far as the plot is concerned, how can you ever know that it is all going to work out in the end until you know all the obstacles that might be encountered along the trail? All the antagonists and villains who may be along for the ride?

Well you can’t, of course.

You need to know some of that, sure. But my impassioned argument is that you must, as much as possible, just Write On.

Get the first draft done! Tell the story to yourself, from beginning to end. Find out where your characters want to go, and why. See where they lead you. Maybe you are being led into a swampy quagmire or ‘boxed-in-canyon’.

You can’t know for sure.

But you must keep writing. Because if, in the end, all you do is rewrite and rewrite until your first or second chapter is ‘perfect’, you’ll never get that first draft done.

Now, I still see you shaking your heads.

You think my advice for the day to just ‘Write On’ is just a candy-ass pantser’s approach to writing.

You think that a real writer would have spent hours and hours working out the plot and crafting a rock solid outline, would have no chance of straying into boxed-in-canyon or swampy quagmire.

Well?

That’s what you’re thinking, isn’t it?

And the truth is, you may be right.

Because, that, dear writing friends, is the ultimate dilemma.

But I still fervently believe that you have to just Write On, at least in the first draft. Until you get a solid feel for your characters’ dialogue, your characters’ inner conflict and all those other ‘intangibles’ like voice and pacing that every writer knows they must nail, but usually has no idea how to find.

I do think, however, that the faster you can tell the story to yourself, the more naturally cohesive your story should be.

Theoretically, anyway.

Because we are, from time immemorial, natural storytellers. Our stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. Our goal, as writers should be to write to that end with as much tension and conflict that we can possibly create in our first draft fiction, without getting waylaid by the temptation to re-arrange commas and semi-colons in the same manner as the doomed passengers on the Titanic rearranged the deck chairs. (And yes, I know that this is most definitely a mixing up of my whole wagon train metaphor, but I couldn’t resist).

So, this week’s post is intended as a gentle exhortation to my 5writers group and also to all our followers, (especially those about to embark on their own epic journey: in the blood sport known as NaNoWriMo): Write On!

Write the first Draft!

Just do it.

PS: You shouldn’t even be reading this post anyway.

Not until you finish your first draft. Remember, the clock is ticking!

.

Putting it in writing

Karalee’s Post #123

I willI’ve missed a couple of weeks of blogging. Sometimes unexpected things happen in life that changes your perspective and stuff that seemed important really isn’t. These things change one’s perspective and even one’s view of the subject matter in one’s writing.

This has happened to me. I’m making adjustments in my writing too. My short stories may take on a completely different bent from my norm of mystery, especially murder mystery.

I’ve committed to 5 short stories in 5 months. Five in five. Sounds quick. Almost easy. Go ahead, say it. Five in five. It has a good ring to it. Sounds almost lyrical. Must be easy. Right?

It’s easy to write down. But, once it’s down, well, it’s in writing! Suddenly it’s a stronger commitment than a thought kept between the ears immersed deep in my grey matter where no one but oneself has a clue about it.

That got me thinking. Putting something in writing can easily be a one-liner (unless you’re a lawyer, and I believe that’s an impossibility). What that one-liner can represent though, can demand a HUGE amount of work behind the scenes. HUGE.

Here’s what I mean:

Things that are easy to jot down:

  1. I will write a novel in 5 months.
  2. I will write 5 short stories in 5 months.
  3. I will run a marathon.
  4. I will quit eating sugar.
  5. I will visit my mother for a week.

What those things really mean:

  1. I will sit at my computer for hours, HOURS, making stuff up; outlining; mind mapping; researching history, science, backstory, and character development; PLUS manage all the other aspects of my life like a job, cooking and eating and doing the dishes; PLUS actually writing 1000 words a day of good stuff that adds conflict and character development and moves the story forward.
  2. Ditto for 1 above x 5 minus the big word count.
  3. Starting 3 to 4 months before the marathon I will run 4 days a week building up time and distance slowly to a good 4 hour run 10 days before the race; work on interval and weight training the other days; eat properly which means more time shopping and cooking and doing dishes; and get a proper sleep every night. Oh, go to work every day too!
  4. This is a mind and body game that can drive a person mad. Substituting with salads and other good home-cooked meals means more shopping, cooking and dishes. Distracting oneself by writing, reading, gardening, watching TV, sitting on one’s hands, or training for a marathon to remove oneself from temptation can take hours of time.
  5. This one takes lots of prep. Phone calls, multiple times to arrange and remind said mother. Then there’s organizing my house affairs to leave, packing clothes and dogs, driving 14 hours, visiting and spending all day helping sort my mother’s house and garden, looking after the dogs, driving home again only to get my house back in order.

See what I mean? All these activities started out as a simple one-liner. Each represents an immense amount of work.

In conclusion I must say that the moral of this post is that when you put something down in writing, make sure you are a lawyer so you get paid for it!

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Short Story Progress:   I’m thinking of themes and am inclined to write outside my box.

Perspective Photos:

Vancouver fog

 

 

 

 

 

 

airplane landing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy writing.

 

Commit to finish

Karalee’s Post #122

Well, Paula threw down the gauntlet to challenge her group and the world at large to write a first draft in five months starting September 5th. The date was chosen three years ago to signify the five of us in our writing group with September being the month for new beginnings. For many of us September coincides with the end of summer holidays and the beginning of a new school year when we were children. As adults, September is often the beginning of new projects or a new set point after holidays.

September is for renewal.

A new commitment makes sense and is imperative really. So why not choose something you love to do? It doesn’t have to be painful like needles and a full sleeve tattoo, or piercing parts that were never meant to be pierced. Or running up hills or spinning in spin class until you throw up all in the name of getting into shape.

Choose something challenging and satisfying. Then do it!

That’s the reason I’ve titled my blog post ‘Commit to finish’ as opposed to ‘Commit to start.’

Why?

I find that myself and many of us in the western world are good to go at the starting gate. Take New Year’s Resolutions and the thousands of people that start in the gym and go whole hog for a couple of weeks only to peter off. The same can be said for diets, or keeping the house clean, gardening, sorting old photographs, purging your closets, and on and on.

And of course, writing the book you always said you would.

I can bet that most of us have many starts to many books. We have an idea of what happens in the middle and maybe a good feel for what will happen at the end or what needs to happen. The beginning though, is my nemesis.

All of my stories have taken an extraordinary amount of time to perfect the start. My beginnings have sucked up too much energy, causing an overload of angst, cursing, emotional highs and lows, and so many rewrites that it seems impossible to even get to the muddled middle, not to mention nowhere near the exciting slide to the finish.

My beginning often takes away from my end.

It can be extraordinarily difficult to reach the finish gate, so if you are like me, put blinders on and get past the first two to three chapters. Accept they are far from perfect. In all likelihood, you aren’t even starting at the right point anyway, so don’t waste time on it. Keep going.

Keep going ……… and going ……. and going ….. until ……… the …….. VERY …… end.

Siwash RockI refuse to get stuck at the beginning, so like my fellow 5Writers, I’m throwing in my gauntlet too and making a commitment to write. I’m choosing differently though. That is, I’m choosing a story type that I can manage with my new business where much of my energy is focused at the moment. I’m choosing to write short stories.

Five short stories in five months! 1writer5shortstories5months

 

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Perspective Photos

Siwash Rock

The Nest UBC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Writing!

Welcome to the 5writers5novels5months reprise

555-redux

Silk’s Post #137 — Day three already. Paula threw down the gauntlet on our second 5 month challenge on (appropriately) September 5th – the very date we began our original crazy venture in 2012.

The clock is already ticking. Quietly right now, but it’s bound to get louder. And louder. And LOUDER. Like Edgar Allen Poe’s haunting theme in The Telltale Heart. WRI-ting. WRI-ting. WRI-ting.

It’s exactly what I need right now.

Maybe you do too? If so, please join us in the challenge and check in with your progress in the comments space. To date, all the original 5writers have signed up for either a novel or, in Karalee’s case, a series of short stories. Plus we have at least one visiting writer who’s committed to hitchhiking with us. It’s more fun with a crowd, so feel free to jump on board any time!

I have a kind of dark plot in the works. Murder, jeopardy, quest, high emotion, moral dilemma, and a little gallows humour thrown in to wash it down with. My kind of story.

If you’ve been following the 5writers5novels5months blog for a while, first of all: Thanks! Especially those of you who’ve stuck with us over the past year or so while we floundered around producing … well … not very much novel writing, and a rather erratic schedule of blogging.

If you actually followed our 2012 original challenge to each write a novel in 5 months, you’ll remember that I was the tortoise. While swifter 5/5/5 members sped by me, words flying on the pages and pages flying off the printer, I plodded and plotted on. The way that was supposed to end was with “slow and steady” winning the race.

But that’s not what happened, I’m afraid.

I got the “slow” part down pat, but never quite got the hang of the “steady” part.

Here’s what I did get out of it though, and I don’t regret a moment:

  • I made it halfway through a manuscript that I still think has some good potential. I just need to  hook it up to some electrodes and wait for a good electrical storm to jolt it back to life (but not this time around).
  • I learned how to design, write and maintain a blog (or our “lite” version of one anyway), and now consider it to be the equivalent of learning typing in grade 7: an absolutely essential skill that has now become instinctive and, thankfully, I’ll never have to learn again.
  • I got to know and love and work with an extraordinary, talented group of 5/5/5 writers who have (in turns) cheered on my writing, supported my efforts when they flagged, beat me about the head when I wrote crap, pushed me when I was unproductive, and soothed my bruised ego when needed. They are my angels.
  • I met a whole community of dedicated writers online and realized most of them are going through the same struggles I am – some more successfully, some less. Here I found yet another layer of unexpected support from our blog readers, and from the generous writing gurus who share their knowledge and experience with the rest of us through their own terrific blogs.

So … now that I’ve had nearly two years of (I’ll admit it) writing in circles without much to show for it, I’m ready to take up the challenge again. The question is: can I rev up my productivity, get my groove back, and keep my enthusiasm up for 5 months and complete a whole first draft this time around?

It’s a long journey.

My second blog post in September 2012 was titled “Arithmetic for Writers”. That’s where I first calculated (after already committing to the challenge) what would need to be actually done to produce a full length novel in 5 months. It was scary as hell.

The rough math: 100 days of actual butt-in-chair writing at 1,000 words a day average.

That’s four pages a day. Doesn’t sound so intimidating at the outset, does it? Piece of cake! A monkey with a typewriter could manage that.

But just wait until October, when the calendar shows how many suns have set without 4 pages having been produced that day. Wait until November, when the catch-up panic starts to rise in the craw like acid reflux. Wait until December, when the holidays greedily gobble up time.

I’ve called myself the 11th-Hour Queen, and my post on procrastination, “Wasting Away in Mañanaville”, elicited an astounding 6,000 comments on the Linked In Books and Writers group page. But there comes a point in a long project where you just can’t catch up fast enough to meet your deadline if you’ve fallen too far behind. And that point is much earlier in the process than the 11th Hour.

So my pledge this time around is simple: DON’T FALL BEHIND.

And as much as I resist scorekeeping, I’m going to resort to a tick-tock report in my blog posts during this new 5/5/5 challenge, like the dreaded weigh-in at a Weight Watchers meeting. Ugh.

So here goes for this week:

Words written:  4,568 (yes, I got a head start)

Blog posts written:  1 (a day late)

What I’m reading:  Light of the World by James Lee Burke; Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee.

Best new thing:  Stephen Colbert is back

Thought of the week:  If you’re planning to write a whole novel, you better fall in love with your story first. Like head-over-heels in love. Otherwise it will someday live in your unloved, unfinished novels drawer and haunt you.

James Scott Bell on 7 Things That Will Doom Your Novel

JSBJoe’s Post #147 (though it shouldn’t count as a Joe’s Post) — Every so often, I take a few moments to read some of my most favourite inspirational writers. My mentors, if you like. Yesterday, I re-read something that really struck me by James Scott Bell (via Writer’s Digest.) Please check out his entire article as he tends not to be all blah-blah-blah preachy, but does what all good writers do. He entertains us. Plus, you can pick up a free download on how to write a novel). So, without further boring-Joe commentary, here’s James Scott Bell’s 7 things not to do, and my thoughts. Enjoy.

7 Things That Will Doom Your Novel (and How to Avoid Them)

By: | June 5, 2012 – Writer’s Digest

inspirationOh, my goodness, this is a hard one for me not to do. I honestly think it’s the difference between pro writers and wannabes. Pros get it done, day in and day out. Like taking fish oil every day. Or eating kale.

Simply put, they make inspiration happen by sheer force of will. Or they will find a way to get inspired. For me, that way is often by reading, but I need to readjust my thinking on the whole ‘waiting for inspiration’ thing.

2. Look over your shoulder.

Bell writes about the inner critic here and that inner critic is born from fear. Of all the things I have to overcome, this one is the most difficult. I love writing, but hate rejection. It’s like a hockey goalie loving to be a goalie but hating to get pucks in the face.

To be a writer these days, we need to be like the old school goalies, like Gump Worsley one_worsley03who never wore a mask and took a lot of pucks in the face for something he loved to do.

Insane? Maybe. But aren’t writers, by definition, insane?

So you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to put up his picture and look at it every time I get all ‘fraidy cat about sending out a query. I mean, he took pucks in the face and his mom had named him Gump.

3. Ignore the craft.

I don’t do this. It’s not one of my issues. I read about it, have a critique group and constantly look at other writers to see what they’re doing and how they’re doing it.

4. Keep a chip on your shoulder.

voodooEver have one of those friends who call you on your bullsh*t? You kinda hate it at the time. You may even get mad at them and threaten to pee on their petunias or make a voodoo doll of them and stick that doll with a million needles, then light it on fire, then toss it in a tub of acid while screaming at it, “I hate you, I hate you.”

Everyone does that, right?

But Bell’s right. I have to let go of the chip on my shoulder. So what if agents don’t get back to me? Why should that stop me from getting another query out? (Hint – the answer is this is really masking fear, again.)

5. Write for the market only

I’ve only done this once. And I did it this year. For an open call from TOR. Otherwise, I’m like an anti-market writer. I don’t write to the latest trend. I’m not even sure what that would be, to be honest. I write what I write.

But Bell also talks about voice and that’s something I’ve worked hard on. But here’s the odd thing. I think I have several voices.

Ok, stop looking at me like that. We all hear different voices in our heads, right? Right?

I love my noir voice that I used for my Lou Rains novel and my WW2 mystery set in the Netherlands. I love my goofy-Joe voice that I use for blogs. I even love my YA voice, but I seem to be the only one who does.

See, for me, voice comes a lot from character and genre. Part of the fun is playing around with voices, seeing what I can do. Like trying on a different style of underwear to see what fits. Bikini briefs, not so much. Boxy boxers, nah. But a nice pair of boxer-briefs, yah, I don’t put those back after trying them on.

But of all of all my voices, the goofy-Joe blog voice may very well be my most authentic.

6. Take as many shortcuts as possible.

This really applies to self-publishing, a route we 5/5/5 may be taking soon. Read up on what Bell says. It’s gold.

7. Quit

never quitAlthough some days, the days I look at my stack of rejections and think, hey, maybe I just don’t have the skill to be a writer, I admit, I do think about quitting.

But I don’t. I’m really not sure why. Overwhelming evidence seems to suggest that I’ll never be able to make a career at this. So why continue?

I write because I need to write. It’s a part of me. Like Gump needed to be a goalie and probably would have been happy to play even if he was never picked up by the NHL. So, if I continue to write, continue to persevere, continue to improve and combat all the how-not-to-succeed things inside my head, maybe one day I’ll make it.

*****

megan foxAnyway, that’s it from me, today. Going to take down that picture of Megan Fox fixing her car and put up Gumpers. Going to finish off my 30 pages for submission to my writing group. Going to get in the headspace of a successful writer and write me some writing.

For anyone interested, here are a few awesome links to writing guru’s you should check out. Other than Mr. Bell.

Donald Maass (on character)

Hallie Ephron (supporting characters)

Nancy Kress (writing flashbacks)

These are all short, fun articles. Easy to digest. But you can also follow-up on those writers a bit more and see what other bits of advice they have to offer.

Also, if anyone would like to post their comments on what JSB had to say, let me know.

Hugs.

 

 

 

Wayfinding on the writer’s journey

lost-lake-milestone

Silk’s Post #119 — We 5writers blog a lot about making progress on our writers’ journey. Or, more to the point, not making progress. We have seen the enemy, and he is us.

We have identified the many and varied hurdles we all face – things that hold us back, drag us down, keep us from forging ahead, or even prevent us from enjoying the journey. Our demons include writer’s block, procrastination, distractions, self-doubt, lack of discipline, competing priorities, inspiration deficit, disorganization, fear of failure, lack of focus, time constraints, ad nauseum … you name it, one of us has been stymied by it at one time or another.

Based on the fact that my post on procrastination last fall, Wasting Away in Mañanaville, has now attracted nearly 1,800 comments in the Linked In Books and Writers Group, it looks like we’re not alone.

But, frankly, I’m tired of hearing myself talk about why I’m not getting there.

I just want to get there.

The “writer’s journey” – a parallel with the fabled “hero’s journey” – is exactly that: a quest for a desired outcome (in the writer’s case, reaching “the end” of a compelling story) that requires wayfinding over unfamiliar and difficult terrain, and the determination to overcome all sorts of hurdles to see the mission through. Maybe all writers should wear a T-shirt that says “I AM FRODO” in solidarity.

So, for the next few posts, I’m going to try to offer some tactical ideas to overcome these self-imposed obstacles to progress on the writer’s journey.

You may object to the idea that most hurdles are self-imposed. You might argue that some obstacles are thrown at us by a world that isn’t really designed to support people who have creative callings which may or may not ever make any money. Okay, granted. But we can’t turn the world into an artists’ utopia, sorry. The one thing we do have the power to change is our own reaction to external obstacles. If the world gives us a wall, we can beat our heads against it. Or we can go around, over, or under it.

So, really, I’d argue that all the walls are our own walls.

What I’m looking for is tactics that will help me, personally. So I’m not talking about advice like “just do it”, which I consider to be the most unhelpful comment in history. “Just do it” is not something you say to encourage someone (at least not someone like me, and I admit I may be hypersensitive about performance). In the boosterish but unforgiving language of athletic coaching, it says “I’m tired of listening to you – just quit your whining and get on with it.”

In fact, whenever I hear the word “just” in preface to a piece of advice, my inner skeptic takes her battle stance and goes on full alert. “Just” belittles the problem and suggests that anyone who hasn’t figured out how to solve that problem isn’t trying very hard. Or perhaps is an idiot.

The worst thing is when you find you’re saying things like this to yourself. This is supremely inhibiting. Essentially, you’ve just dismissed your artist and thrown cold water on your spark. The inevitable next step is a chocolate binge, or your preferred equivalent.

So don’t go there. Instead, you might focus on wayfinding.

Writer’s Journey Tactic #1: Milestones

Every journey requires wayfinding in order to get from the starting point to the destination, without getting lost in the wilderness or stuck in some dead-end place with an empty gas tank. The writer’s journey can be a long, daunting trip.

Some of the most helpful advice cited in my recent post on How to overcome writing inertia was this common sense prescription from Mark Twain:

The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.

Writing a novel is nothing if not a “complex overwhelming task”, but how do you break it into small manageable tasks? Often, this seems to be visualized in a mechanical way, like Henry Ford’s assembly line with its efficient division of labour.

On its face, this seems to make a lot of sense, and there’s no shortage of lists in the “how to” blogs and books that lay out the sequence of a novel’s construction, neatly broken down into discrete tasks. Of course, there’s no agreement among them, including the order, the tasks themselves, how big the chunks are, or how they all come together to form a novel that actually works. This is because different writers get there via different pathways. Also, these helpful lists are silent on what to do when you hit a wall.

Writing a novel in 16 steps (Novel Writing Help)

  1. Get motivated.
  2. Harness your natural creativity.
  3. Get organized.
  4. Discover your market.
  5. Discover yourself.
  6. Prepare to plan your novel.
  7. Sow the seeds of theme.
  8. Create the characters.
  9. Build the setting.
  10. Write the plot.
  11. Decide on the point of view.
  12. Add the magic ingredient of time.
  13. Write the first draft.
  14. Revise what you have said.
  15. Revise how you have said it.
  16. Publish your novel.

Writing a novel in 9 steps (by Kasia Mikoluk on the Udemy Blog)

  1. Pick a genre.
  2. Start from the end.
  3. Create your characters.
  4. Make an outline.
  5. Write the first draft.
  6. Get yourself a drink.
  7. Rewrite.
  8. Edit.
  9. Party.

Writing a novel in 5 steps (Mythic Scribe)

  1. Summarize your idea.
  2. Write a synopsis.
  3. Outline your story.
  4. Write with abandon.
  5. Revise your manuscript.

 Writing a novel in 4 steps (Writer’s Digest)

  1. Develop a kick-ass idea.
  2. Create 3-dimensional characters.
  3. Give yourself deadlines.
  4. Sit your butt down and write.

Any of that seem really helpful for “breaking complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks”? Hmm. No, not to me either.

I think there’s a different way to break down this long journey, and it’s through …

Milestones.

These don’t need to be based on completion of tasks, checklist-style. They can simply mark points in the journey that are meaningful to the writer. They can be practise or craft goals, like writing every single day for a month. They can be epiphanies, “aha!” moments that change everything. They can be waypoints that mark the completion of “legs” on the trip, like inns along the road.

Milestones are the moments when a writer reaches a significant point in the creative process that is meaningful to their progress. These need to be recognized and capitalized on – not ignored or rushed past. If you were literally hiking up a steep path, a milestone moment might be when you reach a viewpoint, where your natural inclination is to stop, catch your breath, take a swig of water and appreciate the panorama.

But not only would you take a break and enjoy the view – maybe give yourself a pat on the back for making it this far, and gather your energy to press on – you would also do two very important things:

  1. Figure out where you are. Milestones orient you in time and space. Wayfinding for a writer means taking stock of your work and yourself at those points where you have a real sense of where you are – a clear perspective – which may or may not arise from a task-related achievement.
  2. Start over. Each milestone generates a new beginning, where you’ve acquired some fresh insight that can help you on the next leg of your journey. In this way, the long and arduous path of writing a novel doesn’t have just one start and one end – instead it’s a series of fresh starts from milestone to milestone.

This is a different way to break down a daunting journey into a series of manageable legs. For each writer, the path and the milestones will be unique. The trick is to be mindful. You need to be aware of when you’ve reached a personal milestone, and then take advantage of it.

Of course, not every milestone will necessarily be a happy one. You could also find yourself lost in the woods, at which point it’s time to stop and do some orienteering so you can get back onto the path. Maybe your epiphany is that you’ve chosen the wrong protagonist, or that the first person point of view isn’t working. That’s all part of wayfinding.  Some fresh starts require retracing your steps.

I love this thought on writing process from Walter Mosley in his excellent how-to book This Year You Write Your Novel:

The process of writing a novel is like taking a journey by boat. You have to continually set yourself on course. If you get distracted or allow yourself to drift, you will never make it to the destination. It’s not like highly defined train tracks or a highway: this is a path that you are creating, discovering. The journey is your narrative. Keep to it and there will be a tale told.

One last thing. Celebrate all your milestones. You’ve earned it.

Do you need to make a resolution to write?

Karalee’s Post #99

Our 5Writer’s group is resetting their compasses to point to the directions each one of us desires to take in 2015. Of course we are all writers, so when I gave my resolutions a quick thought (I’m not one to make resolutions on January 1st just because it is January 1st) one of the first ideas that came to mind was “I will make a resolution to write.”

Last year was an okay year for my writing productivity, but the mere thought that a writer would think about making a resolution to write struck me as odd. Writers write, so either you are a writer or you aren’t. But hey, that’s not reality either. There are as many reasons that can stop a writer from writing as there are writers.

So in fact, that isn’t the statement that is really meant by that resolution. It’s like subtext in writing itself. What is underlying the resolution to write? I think the question should be, “What is stopping me from writing?”

Silk’s last post clarified many of the reasons writers get stalled from following their passion. The post is worth another read.

What helped me last year was setting a daily writing time commitment of 3 hours where I sat in my office without social media interruption and took care of my writing needs. If I didn’t write per se, I was thinking about my story, the characters, the plot, climax, and all the wonderful “what if’s” that spur one’s imagination.

This year I won’t resolve to write since I know that is already happening, but to enhance my skills I commit to do the following activities:

1. Read more.

It’s great to have some fun things on my To Do List! You may want to set a reading commitment with a reading challenge like below.

reading committment

2. Enter more Short Story contests. I like writing short stories and this is a great way to keep developing my skills with characters, plot and settings. Writer’s Digest has many contests throughout the year. You may want to check them out too.

short story committment

3. Journal and complete one exercise daily in the book my wonderful family got for me.

writing book 642 ideas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Writing is a wonderful privilege and being mindful and grateful will continue to keep it that way.

gratitude

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What are your writing plans?

Have a great 2015.

Happy writing!