Hi, I’m back.

siwc2017

At SIWC 2017 with two of my writing mentors, Hallie Ephron and Diana Gabaldon.

It’s been a long hiatus. My last post on the 5writers blog was in August 2016. Gasp, can that be true?

I’ve been away so long, the whole WordPress interface has changed and now feels like an alien planet. Even my very brief writing renaissance after attending last year’s Surrey International Writers Conference didn’t lure me back to blogging.

And since I’m in a confessional mood, the truth is I haven’t written anything in a year. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

But here I am, fresh from SIWC 2017, screwing up my courage to face the blank page once again, and wondering how to pick up the 5/5/5 narrative.

Fortunately for those of you who’ve wandered over here today out of curiosity, I learned a game-changing lesson at Surrey last week. It’s a truth so dead simple, a first grader knows it intuitively. Somehow, though, once people become “writers” and start novels and fall in love with their own words, they often have to learn it all over again.

Take out all the boring stuff. There you have it.

Abracadabra! This simple rule releases me from catching you up on my past 12 months. From a writing perspective, it would be the most boring of topics. I can summarize it very succinctly.

Lost momentum.

I believe it happens to every writer at some point. And therein lies the more interesting tale. Some abandon writing for years while continuing to wrestle with their unfulfilled creative urges. Some find other passions. Some lose their enthusiasm, or maybe their courage. Without the kind of crazy optimism it takes to climb Novel Mountain, many never return.

But for those of us who have temporarily lost heart, or drifted away, or simply procrastinated so long that even the thought of writing has become an embarrassing reminder of our failures … is there a way back?

Of course there is.

My own journey, like every writer’s, is unique. But if you should ever become a lapsed writer like me, I offer you these scribbled directions based on my wandering route home to Writerland. Maybe it will help you find your way back …

Start with this: Where the hell am I?

It’s always good to start with wherever you are. If you don’t know, find out.

I’m talking about “where” in very broad terms here. Where are your head and your heart? And equally important, where are you in your life? You’re the protagonist here. It’s your character arc to shape as you will. If it’s all working beautifully for you without taking on the burdens and pleasures of writing again, then just carry on. You can stop reading now. Go in peace and have a wonderful life.

But if your world seems somehow incomplete – a little emptier maybe – without writing, then just simply resolve right now to get back to it.

Next: Face forward.

No, no – DON’T LOOK BACK. Turn around, look ahead. Let the past go. That’s it! Don’t explain. Don’t justify. Don’t drag out that tired list of excuses. In fact, this is a good time to just stop thinking and go with the flow. If writing is calling you, answer.

Now for the hard part: Drop your burden of fear and self-doubt.

Do it deliberately. Just toss it to the side of the road. But what if I never get published? you ask. What if I fail (or fail again)? Well, define “fail”. If you love wordsmithing, if you get stimulation from creativity, if storytelling gives you pleasure, then writing is its own reward. And like everything else worth doing, the more you do it the better you get. It’s a journey. Do the diehard golfers you know beat themselves up because they might fail to qualify for the US Open? Yes, getting published traditionally is kind of a lottery, no matter what the gatekeepers say. But if getting published is a primary goal, you can do it yourself these days. There. Excuse gone.

Get some writing friends.

I wouldn’t be in the game at all if I didn’t have the support of my wonderful 5/5/5 writing colleagues. A writer’s journey doesn’t have to be a lonely one. Get in a writing group. Or start one. Join a book club. Get to know your librarian. Don’t just hide away and hope for the best.

Study craft.

You have to get your head back into it. But before you worry about publishing, or pitching, or blogging, or anything else … study craft. Get the books. Take the workshops. Check out the craft websites. Subscribe to the trade publications. It’s a lifelong learning curve, and a fascinating one. No one makes it just on “raw talent”. Craft can, and must, be learned. And remember this Taoist wisdom: When the student is ready, the teacher appears.

Read.

Take a deep dive into good writing, especially (but not exclusively) the kind you want to do yourself. The more I write, the more I read. It’s all part of the same process. But when you’re not writing – for whatever reason (don’t explain, I don’t want to know) – then pick up a book and read your heart out. It’s inspiring. And it teaches you while it entertains you.

Launch your comeback as a scheduled event.

When you’re ready to “come out” as a committed writer again, get some skin in the game. Go to a writers conference and sit in a room with HUNDREDS of other writers. There’s a whole writing community out there. Enjoy the contact high. Listen to the agents, the publishers, the editors, the other experts presenting … and learn. Take notes. Talk to everybody. Don’t be shy. Remember, if you write, you are a writer. Not a wannabe. Think of the whole shebang as a celebration of your return to the writing life. Wasn’t it nice of the conference organizers to hold it in your honour?

Make use of the momentum.

Anyone who’s ever gone to a good writers conference, ready to learn, comes away from it energized and inspired. Don’t waste the momentum. It doesn’t last forever. When you get home, write something. Immediately. Don’t wait more than a few days to get a new routine established and commit to your writing practice. I didn’t take advantage of my momentum after SIWC last year. It won’t happen that way this year.

This year I’m happy to say, “Hi, I’m back.”

 

 

Who are we writing for?

who-are-we-writing-for-Silk’s Post #158 — The 5Writers are rolling again. Fingers flying over the keyboards. Chunks of time swiped from Normal Life to commune in solitary confinement with the muse. Free moments in between Other Important Things given over to imagining snips of dialogue or the delicate placement of plot points or the exact shade of a protagonist’s eyes.

Our own eyes scan public places for characters and their stories: travelers fidgeting tensely with their passports in the airport; mid-summer sidewalk cafe patrons sitting alone together with their iPhones; boaters walking the docks with burnt noses and three leashed dogs. Maybe we’ll see someone to add colour, or maybe we’ll find the inspiration for a whole new subplot.

Our families and friends may notice our blank stares from time to time, moments when we’re checked out of reality and are looking inward to a story twist no one else can see. Yet.

The miracle is that even one of us escaped from our writing desert, where we’ve been mostly trudging through a lengthy dry spell punctuated by the occasional sip of creativity at rare oases. Attempted re-starts at a sustained and serious writing life over the past year or so have been mostly mirages.

I can’t overemphasize how difficult this kind of drought is to overcome, even for professional, previously published writers. Which we are not.

So the fact that we have managed to re-boot our 5Writers critique schedule and our individual writing efforts as a group is pretty miraculous. Some will achieve momentum more quickly than others, that’s natural. Just as some may hit another hurdle to overcome, while others may find a clear path ahead.

But the statistics tell us that many, many more writers start a book than finish a book, and we’re determined to buck that trend. (I’d love to quote some stats here, but since I’m writing this offline while floating on a boat in a small bay in the San Juan Islands with sketchy cell service and zero wifi precludes it. However, I’ve gawked at the numbers before, and I know there is a shocking, planet-sized gulf between the large number of writers who give up and the smaller number of writers who follow through to “the end”. And an equally gigantic gap between the number of finished books and the number of books that actually get published.)

One of the key differences between giving up and following through may be the answer to the perennial question a writer must eventually answer: who are you writing for?

I just read a stinging observation in a favourite novel, in which a jaded inspector describes people at a demonstration in Moscow as “… a middle-aged intellectual crowd. Publishers who abandoned their writers, writers who wrote for the drawer … romantics who lamented a rendezvous with history that never took place.”

I think I can say with confidence that none of the 5Writers are writing for the drawer, at least not on purpose.

Rather, at the opposite end of the wide spectrum of possible goals for writers, our critique group actually began under a different banner: The Future Bestsellers Group. A moonshot goal.

Given our trials, our achievements, our learning, our disappointments, our experience, our growth, and now our resurrection, I think the 5Writers have a better handle on who we are really writing for – and for each of us, individually, that falls somewhere between the drawer and the bestseller lists.

Here, I speak for myself. I’ve come to embrace the idea that I write, first, for myself, and second for the kind of people I like to talk to.

I write for people who are interesting and interested, who have ideas and like to discuss them, who have empathetic hearts and curious minds. I write for people who love a puzzle, a mystery, a challenge, who seek truth whether or not they expect to find it in any absolute, unchanging form. People with open minds. Smart people. People who know they don’t have all the answers, and that no one else does either. People who care about others. People who cherish their values. People who feel deeply. People with a sense of humour. People who love words. People who love story. People I could stay up all night conversing with, perhaps over a few bottles of wine. And, of course, the most important item on their resumes: people who love to read.

When I’m feeling high and hopeful about my writing (and, thus about my chances of getting published), I think of this group of people as a crowd big enough to support a bestseller. When I’m in a trough of writing angst, sure that no one outside my 5Writers group will ever read my manuscript, I try to think of something else I’d rather do with my creativity, my mind, my words, and I remember that I write because it’s what I love to do most. I write for the experience, not the drawer.

But here’s some good news!

Ever since the whole Brexit tantrum, when the the Brits collectively decided to pull up the drawbridge and pretend globalization has not already occurred, I’ve been thinking about the global marketplace for writers.

This is especially interesting from the perspective of the sentimental vestige of Rule Brittania called The Commonwealth (where I now live, in Canada), and also that other former British colony where I was born (the US). The irony of Brexit is that it’s a reminder of the global power England once wielded.

The legacy of English dominance in the colonial era is still incredibly significant — in fact, it’s such a big a part of our global landscape that I think people don’t even notice it anymore, like the fact that the sky is blue.

That legacy is the English language.

Happily for us, it’s the language we write in — which is the most widely spoken language in the world by far. Wikipedia tells me there are 2,400 million English speakers in the world today. The next closest language is Mandarin Chinese at 1,090 million. Now, even though English has under 400 million native speakers, compared to about 950 million for Mandarin, it has become dominant as the world’s second language of choice. This virtually assures its continued spread in today’s era of globalization – which will continue, Brexit notwithstanding.

In fact, the new prime mover of world order – namely business/commerce – which has enthusiastically adapted to globalism even as political, cultural and religious institutions have resisted it, has adoped English as its own Esperanto.

I therefore dare to declare that English-speaking writers are in one of the most advantageous positions in the world today to practice our profession in a growing, rather than shrinking, marketplace.

Yes, worthy books get translated and can succeed (sometimes spectacularly) in places where people don’t normally read the language they were originally written in. But doesn’t it make sense that the more English speakers (and readers) there are in the world, the better the market odds get for writers of books in English?

There — doesn’t that make you feel good? And hopeful? And enthusiastic about pounding out some wordage today?

Reclamation of dreams

abandoned-farmhouse

Silk’s Post #153 — I’ve always been fascinated by abandoned places, attracted to the empty stage sets of lives now relocated, or finished. I wonder whether those lives were recorded somewhere, whether they’re recalled by someone, or whether they’re irretrievably lost to memory.

But I’ve never stepped into an abandoned place where the dreams that once filled it did not come instantly to life, leftover shreds of hope and intent that were once the substance of lives that mattered. Dreams echo. The imagination leaps ahead, visualizing rooms full of furnishings and people, creating scenarios. The heart aches with the sorrow of abandonment, the weight of time. But simultaneously, it longs to know the story whose traces have been left behind. Who were these people? What happened to them?

If you’ve been following this blog, you’ve probably noticed that, lately, it has been feeling, well, a bit abandoned. Once animated by four or five posts every week, it now sometimes has only one or two. In some recent weeks, it has been a room empty of conversation.

And so, are the 5 Writers moving out? Moving on? Deserting our writing lives and taking up residence in some other other space, to live some other life and pursue some other truth? Honestly, I don’t know the answer, and it will likely be a different answer for each of us.

But here’s what I do know: As I walk through the 5writers5novels5months blogspace, I’m haunted by the richness and vibrancy of our dreams, our hopes and our intents. And I long not only to foresee our story, but to create it.

Of course, the only stories I can create are my own: both my reality and my fiction. Because I have three books, manuscripts that literally sit within the reach of my hand right now, that I have all but abandoned.

One is finished in first draft: my firstborn. It’s the one closest to my heart because it’s the most personal, set on the island I call home. It’s also the one with a plot structure so flawed it will need multiple surgeries to bring it to life, and even then could still turn out to be a Frankenstein of a book.

One was my entry in the original crazy 5writers challenge starting in September 2012: my attempt at a relatively formulaic genre book. Like a horrible mother, I abandoned it halfway through, bored with a plot arc that failed to matter enough to me. It will need an infusion of consequence, something to make me care about finishing it.

One is the book I’ve been working on since 2014, but although it’s a theme-driven story that I do really care about, I have made pathetically little progress. It needs nothing more than an author with the will to write write write. A writer with the burning desire to know the story.

The whole idea of abandonment touches deep emotions. When I chose this topic for my post, I wandered the net looking for abandonment definitions and references, and found them to be universally distressing and depressing. It’s the sad, broken face of failed dreams, the antithesis of the fresh start.

Now, simple logic and emotional intelligence would dictate that the road back to productivity for a blocked writer really needs to begin with a fresh start.

Of course! That’s the ticket! It sounds like much, much more fun than revisiting abandoned manuscripts, cobwebbed with frustrations, guilt and regrets. Wind up the run-down clock once again! Re-infuse my writing life – both novel and blog – with a new sense of purpose and commitment! Get excited about a brand new story, one with endless possibilities and – as yet – no flaws, troubles or broken promises to drag me down!

But that’s not what I’m going to do. You probably already guessed that.

I feel drawn back to that which I’ve abandoned. I have an ache to reclaim those dreams, to re-animate the characters I gave birth to, and to nurture them to maturity. I want to rediscover the soul and the hopes and the naive confidence of the neophyte novelist I was six or seven years ago, when I felt like I was bursting with creative energy.

I want to re-engage the writer I was, back when writing was what mattered most to me, was at the centre of my self-identity. When it was a mission, a seemingly achievable mission. Before I realized how hard it would be to do such a thing really well – as well as I demanded of myself. Before I discovered how challenging it would be to sustain my enthusiasm over the long arcs of time required to finish novels that had some hope of getting published. Before I understood the true costs and disciplines of the writing life.

I’m a different writer now. Better, but less idealistic. I’m like a middle-aged woman returning to a childhood home after the family is all gone, after experiencing the successes, failures, joys and regrets that life inevitably delivers. And I know that reclamation of those earlier dreams will be a process of putting past hopes and present reality side-by-side and accepting the obvious differences. And moving on from there.

I have yet to decide which of my three books to embrace again, but I sense that doesn’t matter as much as how I step back into my own writing life and embrace my dreams again, after disappointing myself by abandoning them.

The important decision, though, has been made. For me, giving up is not an option.

Banish the beast

0deeb621a3144513fb2e81ec8d986702

Helga’s Post #122 —  The start of a new year is upon us, the symbolic signal to push the reset button. It’s an opportunity to let go of last year’s failures and disappointments and to embark on new beginnings. As Joe put it so succinctly in his recent post, whatever happened last year, simply ‘fuggetaboudit’.

New beginnings are always good. Imagine if we wouldn’t be able to have them. It would feel like being in a swamp with your feet stuck in mud, unable to move forward or back. Just stuck in untold misery and boredom. Even those who lead a satisfying life or believe they have a happy life, would do well to push that reset button. Just like nature, we all need renewal of some kind to keep us engaged in life and to experience it to its fullest potential.

I too have pushed that reset button on a number of levels. Getting used to single life in all its implications, for one. On a practical level it meant to acquire skills I never had, and to learn them in a hurry. Using tools that I never held in my hand before, learning about the mechanics of running a house, and chasing elusive plumbers, electricians, and my all time favorite, cable technicians. I am not complaining (too much) though. In fact, I get satisfaction from becoming self-sufficient and realizing, hey, I can do this too, on my own.

A new writing project is also part of the reset button. It started last year, but I decided to abandon it after the first three chapters. The characters were one-dimensional. They were in their mid-thirties, which is the age of a high percentage of characters in commercial fiction. I decided to start something different. More mature characters. That too is a reset button. I spoke to the local librarian recently, asking about the demographics of patrons. Not surprisingly, it’s people over sixty and up. And what kind of books do you think they most likely want to read about?

Romance. Yes, romance, was the overwhelming answer. Not necessarily strictly books in the romance genre, but any book that has romance as an important component. It can even be a mystery, or a suspense novel, no matter. To my mind come John LeCarre’s books. Inevitably, his novels have a beautiful, intense love story embedded in his hard-hitting espionage theme.

This caused me to reconsider my choice of demographics for the main characters in my work in progress. No thirty-somethings this time. Aside from the cookie-cutter cliché, at that age people haven’t yet acquired the hard life experience that shape and define more mature characters.

Have I made the right choice? I will know as I continue writing the story. I realize it’s risky, but to quote George Burns, I’d rather be a failure at something I enjoy, than a success at something I hate.

With that in mind, I will keep my post short so I can get back to real writing.

I wish you all a successful reset for the year ahead. Above all, don’t forget to live. Dance as if no one’s watching; sing as if no one’s listening, and live every day as if it were your last. And write as if no one will ever read your work.

Banish the beast, your internal editor. That’s when we can truly write with abandon.

Don’t wait to write

Karalee’s Post #128

rock on beach

Our 5/5/5 group have all in our own way expressed how we try to organize ourselves to write, how procrastination is a non-starter, and how life pulls us from our offices and computers where our characters are developing and waiting to be born.

And we all know how we hate waiting.

We don’t want to wait at the doctor’s office, or the dentist, the ferry lineup, in traffic, or in the grocery line. We complain miserably about all of this waiting, yet we do it because it is part of our everyday lives or put into our lives on some sort of schedule.

Imagine then, how our characters must feel. We leave them half-formed physically, mentally and emotionally. They literally can be abandoned mid-sentence just about to be shot or die in a car or airplane, or while falling skiing with their leg in the middle of snapping as they hit a tree.

Then we return and change their names, alter their physical, mental and emotional attributes and dump them in a different situation, and then once again LEAVE them hanging.

Waiting.

How can we as writers go to bed at night knowing that we’ve abandoned someone that really needs our help to move out of the situation that we’ve put them in? Guilt should keep us awake at night every night until we have the decency to grab up our computers and do SOMETHING. Even if the situation worsens, at least it is changing and our characters aren’t suffering the same instant over and over.

Be empathetic. Imagine it’s you sitting in an airplane about to crash. You’re strapped in with the oxygen mask over your face and the plane is in a nose dive. You know you are about to die, yet it goes on and on and on. Days. Weeks. Months. Sometimes years. It goes way beyond the laws of gravity.

So I sincerely ask all the writers out there, especially my dear 5/5/5’ers, be empathetic and PLEASE keep writing so you can let your characters do what has to be done. Don’t leave them waiting any longer than necessary!

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Short Stories Written:  Two. I committed to finishing them and that was the inspiration for this blog and the reason I didn’t get a blog written last week. I chose to keep writing. I didn’t want to leave my characters hanging in limbo while I went to bed . I wrote. I created. I finished.

Short Stories sent to Competitions:  Two. Great incentive to be kind to my characters and reach The End. Thanks Joe, for lighting the fire under me to get my work off. Now it’s a different kind of waiting game to see if my stories pass the judging stage.

Exercise:  I must be one of the three people Joe knows that runs. In the past couple of decades I’ve completed one marathon, a dozen or so half-marathons, and many 10 km races. My race days are over due to sciatica (accumulation of wear and tear on my back over the years and exacerbated from dragon boat racing). I still run 3x/week but slower and shorter. Joe is right, what the exercise is doesn’t matter, rather it’s getting out there and doing something to get the circulation and muscles working.

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Perspective Photos:

Tammy close up

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Umbrella B&W

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy writing!

 

Write for the right reasons

Karalee’s Post #124

Tammy hidingI have let my attention be diverted away from writing, hiding actually, telling myself that everyone self-publishes these days, so the chances of me “getting noticed by the big world out there” is minimal at best.

I’ve also been putting effort into my new business and enjoying getting out of the house and the seclusion of writing and being a stay-at-homebody-mom.

I have no complaints about my privileged lifestyle, yet in these last few months I’ve felt an inner pressure building. I’m full of words and ideas that I’ve let wall up inside like a dam somewhere between my stomach and my fingertips. I’ve also been feeling like I’m letting my writing group down, being constantly late responding to almost all communications.

Procrastination of the guilty kind. It’s like being stuck in the muddled middle of life.

But then our group forges ahead, determined to jump-start our writing that we all love to do, yet somehow we let it take a back seat to other things in life. I’ve made a six word commitment: 5 short stories in 5 months. Six words full stop. I haven’t written another beyond that.

So today I started writing. Deadlines are amazing motivators. I carved out three hours away from all distractions in the house and purposely sat down in new territory.

The words started flowing.

Oh, I looked out the window at Granville Island and took pictures of the spectacular view, but it didn’t distract my thoughts. I was in the groove!

What I noticed was an overwhelming feeling of being in the right place. Not only physically, but emotionally too. Excited peace overcame me. An oxymoron I know, but that’s how it felt. Reuniting with writing has shown me how much I truly enjoy creating something from nothing using the power of my mind.

Right now it doesn’t matter in the slightest if I get published or not. What matters is feeding my passion. That is what is needed to become good enough to be published whether traditionally or by oneself.

Beyond everything else, I need to write for the right reasons!

I give a huge THANKS to my fabulous group for not booting me out and for coming together once again to make personal commitments that give us direction.

And thanks to Elizabeth Lyon commenting on my blog last week. She helped put into perspective that we all have many things in our lives to distract us from writing. Our passion brings us back. You can check out her new book Crafting Titles. I’m going to use it to help me in naming my 5 short stories!

5/5/5 challenge this week:

Short story word count:   Story 1 –  500 words

Blog posts written:  1

Gratitude for: The changing colors of autumn and the beauty of the city of Vancouver.

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Perspective Photos:

heron in flight

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

tugboat and bridge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Writing!

Procrastination redux

now-later

Silk’s Post #141 — It’s after midnight as I write this post. That means I’ve missed my assigned posting day of Monday and slipped silently, under the cover of darkness, into Tuesday. It’s my old nemesis, the monkey on my back, procrastination. And it’s bedevilling me again.

My tardiness this time is filled with portent. It’s a sign. Why? Because by missing my deadline I have landed on exactly the right day of the year for this post.

That’s right: today, October 6th is the one-month anniversary of Fight Procrastination Day. What better time to celebrate it than a month late?

Never heard of Fight Procrastination Day? Neither had I until I stumbled upon it in, of all places, a blog on the Psychology Today website, as I searched desperately for some fresh insights into why I always seem to be chronically behind, and what to do about it.

Of course, as soon as I learned there was such a thing as Fight Procrastination Day, that set me off researching its origin. It’s one of my favourite online procrastination tactics. Unfortunately, the beginnings of this observance are murky. It seems to have materialized from the ether and I was unable to find any reference to when it started or who started it.

I did discover, however, that Fight Procrastination Day shares its celebration on September 6th – which, ironically, was the day after the launch date of our 5writers5novels5months challenge – with Read a Book Day. Cue the theme music to Twilight Zone.

Just over one year ago, on September 30, 2014, I wrote my most popular blog post ever, Wasting Away in Mananaville, and shared it in the Books and Writers group on Linkedin. To date, it has drawn 5,847 comments. Seriously. To this day, people are still procrastinating on their books by spending time commenting and chatting with each other on this thread. I created a time-sucking monster.

But that’s procrastination for you. It’s a zombie. Persistent and unkillable.

It’s also a favourite topic for writers and other creative types – yet more evidence that procrastination is a widespread condition. Kind of a psychological pandemic. The number of analyses, explanations, serious prescriptions, folk cures and pithy quotes I’ve read on procrastination could fill a whole book. But here, courtesy of International Business Times, is a curated list of the “10 Best Procrastination Quotes” celebrating procrastination, published on the occasion of Fight Procrastination Day.

“Procrastination isn’t the problem, it’s the solution. So procrastinate now, don’t put it off.” — Ellen DeGeneres

“I never put off till tomorrow what I can possibly do the day after.”  — Oscar Wilde

“If it weren’t for the last minute, nothing would get done.” — Rita Mae Brown

“I’m a big believer in putting things off. In fact, I even put off procrastinating.”  — Ella Varner

“The scholar’s greatest weakness: calling procrastination research.”  — Stephen King

“Nothing says work efficiency like panic mode.”  — Don Roff

“If you ask me, reincarnation is just another way to procrastinate.”  — Chuck Palahniuk in “Lullaby”

“Procrastination is the art of keeping up with yesterday.”  — Don Marquis

“Procrastination is like a credit card: it’s a lot of fun until you get the bill.”  — Christopher Parker

“I think of myself as something of a connoisseur of procrastination, creative and dogged in my approach to not getting things done.”  — Susan Orlean

So, happy Fight Procrastination Day! Sorry I’m late.


5/5/5 challenge scorecard for the week:

New pages written:  10 (that’s all?)

Word count: 9,320

Rewrites:  None

Blog posts written:  1

Research done:  Many little side-trips

Best new thing: The golden fall light – it’s my season

Apple progress:  18 jars of home made applesauce; only 2 laundry baskets of apples still left that need something useful done with them (pies a strong contender)

applesauce

 

 

Making it up vs. making it real

research-key

Silk’s Post #139 — As the 5writers and friends dive into our second write-a-book-in-five-months challenge, we will all (at some point) come face to face with The Research Conflict.

I’m dramatizing, of course – isn’t that what writers do? But especially at the beginning of a fiction project, research certainly can feel like a conflict. It keeps insistently horning in, begging for attention just when we’re trying to lay down some narrative riffs, slowing our progress and often carrying our attention off in far-flung directions.

How to manage simultaneous research and writing is a topic we’ve talked about before in this blog (search this site for “research” and you’ll see how many posts pop up), but it all came rushing back to me last week when I tried to get off to a quick start and pile on some wordage. For me, early progress is the critical push I need to keep momentum going. As Karalee noted in her recent post, “Commit to finish”, most of us are much better starters than we are finishers.

The last thing a writer needs is to get bogged down at the starting line, dragging a heavy load of research references along.

Now, we’re all writing different stories in the 5/5/5 challenge, with some projects still to be confirmed, but it looks like at least four of us are writing real-world fiction in which settings, topics and context will require a high level of accuracy and authenticity. Two of us have added the extra challenge of writing historical fiction, and at least two of us have chosen settings in places we don’t live – and perhaps have never even seen.

All to say that most of us are embarking on a research journey as an integral part of our story development. We’re not necessarily starting on a blank page, however. A lot of homework has already been done in preparation, and there may even be some outline-ish story plans lying around. Most of us also have early chapters drafted (some of these written quite a while ago and pulled out of the drawer again on September 5th).

But regardless of conceptual story plans, or background reading, or research notes … you know what happens when we sit down to actually write a scene. A ton of fresh questions suddenly materialize, demanding answers before we can confidently craft that next paragraph.

For example, I have an opening scene in a prison visiting area. Yeah, I know. What was I thinking? I’ll probably lose eight out of 10 readers in the first three pages (and the two that read on will be weirdos), but it seemed like a good idea at the time. I’m happy to say I’ve never had the pleasure of sitting in a prison visiting area, but as a writer that’s now a problem. I’ve seen lots of them on TV and in movies, but since this is a specific prison, I need to describe a specific visiting area, not a generic one.

My choices: 1) go there (not now, thanks); 2) search for information online (did that for half a day, didn’t find a visual representation); 3) call and request a photo or description (maybe later); or 4) make it up.

I chose to make it up, and that was okay.

Until curiosity got the best of me and I made another foray online, dug deeper, and deeper, and actually came up with some footage of the visiting area in that particular prison. Woohoo! I couldn’t have been more excited if I’d discovered a forgotten winning lottery ticket in the back pocket of my jeans. And all it required was, oh let’s see, about 8 hours of research.

Wow, this book is going to take a loooooong time to write at that pace.

There are lots of strategies writers use to work around this research vs. writing time/distraction conflict. Some dedicate a significant preparation period to research and outlining, then barrel on through their first draft without interruption. This doesn’t work so well for “organic” writers (sometimes called NOPs or pantsers), however. Others flag unresearched items with a “check later” note, and just keep their writing pace up without breaking stride – not a bad idea.

Most of us probably do a bit of everything: some basic research in preparation for writing, some interruptive side-trips while writing the first draft to research critical points that affect context or plot points, some good old making it up as we go, and some clarifying research at second draft stage.

But while that’s all well and good, it may also be worth thinking ahead about the level of detail and accuracy really required to tell a particular story authentically, and engagingly.

That’s my challenge to the writers on our 5/5/5 journey: stop now and consider the most congenial balance between making it up vs. making it real.

It is fiction, after all. It just needs to feel true, to be authentic enough to suspend disbelief. Yes, inaccuracies will be picked up by readers who are more intimate with your topic, or setting, or context than you are. It would be nice to make everyone happy, but the majority of readers really won’t know whether there are 15 cubicles in the prison visiting area, or 20.

And there’s another, even more important, consideration: the story flow. All the details that make a book “authentic” are really there to set the stage for your play. Story is king. The factual details should add texture, context and sometimes meaning – but not distract.

Inaccurate details or lazy generic writing distract. Have you ever read a book that made you mentally chew out the author for “obvious” blunders or frustratingly vague or clichéd descriptions? Of course you have. Even famous authors can be guilty of this. Tsk tsk.

But equally distracting is an avalanche of carefully researched, totally accurate details that are entirely irrelevant or unnecessary for telling the story. It’s just show-offy. Look how much research I did! When I encounter this, I want to scream I don’t care, just get to the point for crying out loud.

If I may repurpose the sly quotes Stephen King chose to open his wonderful book, On WritingI think they perfectly frame The Research Conflict …

Honesty’s the best policy.   — Miguel de Cervantes

Liars prosper.   — Anonymous


Word count:  5,658

Rewrote:  Prologue

Blog posts written:  1

Research done:  2 days’ worth

Best new thing:  A weekend of harvesting the apples in our orchardapple-harvestjonagolds

Thought of the week:  Like so many other aspects of modern life, politics has now fully metamorphosed into a reality show. What’s next?

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.

The subjective nature of our business

Joe’s Post #146

twilightOne of the hardest things to come to terms with as a writer is the subjective nature of our business. In simple terms, as much as we try to learn the craft, the techniques, or the tricks of the trade, it comes down to taste. Some people will like it and others won’t. Like the Twilight books. Or cucumber water.

I'll give the plot away.. it's about an ant man.

I’ll give the plot away.. it’s about an ant man.

I was reminded of this when our family went to see Ant-Man. As an editor or publisher (or agent), had this project landed on my desk, I would have rejected it. I mean, hey, it’s about a superhero who’s an ant?

What the hell?

But let’s say I bought the story. Let’s say I even made a movie with Michael Douglas and Paul Rudd and that hot chick from Lost. Let’s say I added some nifty special effects. Let’s say, by the end, I kinda thought it was good.

Well, was it?

The reviews were mixed. The youngest boy thought it was 10/10. He loved the idea of being an ant. He’s eight. The oldest boy thought (I kid you not) that he didn’t connect with the characters and all the emotional stuff seemed just, you know, thrown in. He’s 12 going on 30. The Prettiest-girl-in-the-world gave it 9/10 and for her, that’s really 12/10 since it’s a movie about super heroes and didn’t star Tatum Channing (or Channing Tatum, I can never remember).

I gave it 7/10, mostly for reasons the oldest boy mentioned, but it did make me laugh and I loved the world they brought us into.

And that’s the thing about all creative endeavours. Some people will like it and others want more Tatum.

But why does this matter? Why write about it?

It’s because we’ll always receive a butt load of rejections. Despite our best efforts, these feed all the wrongs dogs that live inside of us. Fear. Doubt. A feeling we’re not good enough.

The truth could be completely different. It’s all subjective. Maybe an editor had read 4 proposals about unicorns mating with jelly fish and yours was the 5th and no matter how good it was, they really were sick of uni-jellies. Or maybe their boss wanted a book about cave dwelling monks who fed on human flesh and you just sent in a story about loving your neighbourhood dog.

Who knows?

rhIt’s why Heinlein’s advice about writing and sending it out, then writing and sending it out, is still the best advice to remember. Get enough stories on enough desks and your odds of getting published are increased exponentially.

Cuz, you see, subjectiveness works in our favour as well.

Let subjectiveness inspire you.

************

So, back to some stuff that I was doing, but forgot about since I’m getting old. Links! Please check them out.

Robert J Sawyer. Great writer, great advice on breaking in.

SFWA – a great organization with plenty of outstanding forums

Nathan Bransford – Again, great advice on a wide variety of writing subjects.