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!

To write or not to write everyday

Joe’s Post #139

Is there a right answer?

it hardcover_prop_embedStephen King believes in writing 1000 words a day, 6 days a week. Hard to argue with the guy who wrote about killer clowns and domes and sold a zillion books  There’s also a 750 word/day club. I even suspect there’s a 12 step writing-every-day program.

On the other side, people like Paula or Cal Newport argues that such a regime is for full-time writers, only, that we doom ourselves to failure by setting such an artificial deadline.

So let me present another POV.

I doesn’t matter.

Write every day if that motivates you. Personally, I find that such a goal is good enough to keep me going in the short term, but not good enough for a long term project like a novel. For that, I need to be in love with the idea or the characters or a really comfy chair.

If writing once a week for a good 5 hour stretch works, that’s ok, too. Or writing a novel in month. Whatever.

I think it all comes down to motivation. What makes you want to sit alone in a room, stare at a blank screen and try to knit a story from the cobwebs in your brain? What makes you commit hours and hours and hours to something only your cat or critique group may read? What makes you put aside family, the latest Bachelor episode or a golf game so you can put words on a page?

torFor me, it was a deadline that motivated me to write. A deadline from an open call by one of my favorite publishers. TOR. They were looking for novellas. 30,000-40,000 word length.

I had a short story that I loved and thought, hey, why not turn it into a novella? I loved the setting – NY in a slightly altered universe, one where magic is creeping into the world little by little. I loved my character – a creature of the old world, a Fey, who means to misbehave like Malcom Reynolds in Firefly, and uses his magical talents to solve crime. I loved the plot, but I knew I’d have to create a new one for the novella.

It didn’t matter that it wasn’t quite what they’re looking for. It didn’t matter that I’d never written a novella. I didn’t even matter that we were out of motivational wine and chocolates.

I just decided to write.

In 10 days, I’ve got 80 pages done. Oh, I know, it could be better, but that’s 80 pages on a brand new story. I was writing again. About 15,000 words worth.

Due to commitments, I couldn’t write every day, but if writing every day gets you back to writing, then I’m all for it. I didn’t write one day for 5 hours, but if writing once a week for 5 hours gets you back to writing, then I’m all for it.

In the end, whether you’re inspired by a deadline, a daily goal, by a trip you took, an adventure you had or something you just need to get off your chest, writers write.

So, as Silk said, this day we write, but I have to ask…

What process to you use for writing? 

*****

Best show last week – Game of Thrones. Without a doubt, though I hear good things about Outlander.

Book that I’m reading at the moment –  Reading Sean Sommerville’s latest book. The Unforgiven. Man that guy can write.

Pages written on new book  80 pages on the new novella.

Social media update – If you like this blog, please follow us or share us on facebook

Best thing last week  Back to writing, again. 80 pages is not bad.

Worst thing  Finally over my cold, but it’s left me with diminished hearing. Dammit. I may need to get a hearing aid. I greatly feel this is the beginning of the slow slide that will eventually see me in adult diapers and a hover-walker.

For anyone interested in the TOR open call, see this link.

 

Fear pt 2 – Guest Blogger Sheila Watson

The 2nd part of Sheila Watson’s Blog about Fear. I think this will strike some chords with us all.

Fear – Part Two

We have (I hope) acknowledged that we are afraid when it comes to our “real” writing and that fear prevents us from writing.

This week I want to talk about why I think that is and what we can do about it.

We (writers) have two beings living inside us.  The first is our creative self and the other is our critical self.  These two sides of self are incompatible.  They don’t get along and they can’t both drive the bus.

Think of your creative side as a child on a playground.  Imagine the biggest, most elaborate, most amazing playground ever invented (whatever that looks like to you).  Your creative side wants to jump and climb and run and tumble and dig and swim and fly.

Then your critical self comes along like a prudish English nanny and starts to try to protect you from getting hurt.  Your critical self demands that you stop jumping and climbing and running and tumbling and flying.  She worries that you might fall, or get dirty or skin your knees or look foolish.  She tells you that playing is dangerous.  The nanny’s job is to make you afraid of what might happen if you play.   She makes you believe that the fear is real and that something really awful is going to happen if you play.

And it gets worse.  Your nanny — your critical self — does not know how to tell good stories.  She sucks at it.  I mean, she really, really sucks.  Just imagine the nanny trying to walk across the top of the monkey bars.  Not.  Going.  To.  Happen.

We need to lock nanny out of the playground.  At least until we get our playtime in.  We have to be able to play fearlessly.  We have to be able to write fearlessly.

So how do we do that?  How do we trick nanny into staying outside the playground gates?  Here are some ideas.  Let me know in the comments if you have any more.

Do fifteen minutes of “practice” at the beginning of each writing session.  Just write your story for fifteen minutes. Consider it a warm up; a practice run; playtime.  Then throw it away.   (Yes, really.)

Set the timer on your phone for one minute.  Write two sentences under that time pressure.  Repeat.  Then try four sentences in two minutes.  Eight in four.  Ten in five.  Ten in ten.

Set your ink color to white.  Just write.  Change the color and edit it later.  For now, just write.

Half and half.  Decide how much time you are going to devote to writing this day.  Write and play for half that time.  Then go back and fix it during the second half of your time.  Creative side first.  Critical side later.  Never on the playground at the same time.

Whatever it is you do to trick your nanny into staying out of the playground – remember that writing is the doing.  Do.  Write.  Write more.  Write fearlessly.

*****

Bio: Sheila Watson is a wife, a mom, a self-defense instructor, a 2nd degree black belt in Taekwon-do, a wanna-be chef, a dog companion and a writer of tall tales, fanciful stories, occasionally useful commentary and rather wordy status updates.

If you liked the blog, please follow us or share on FB (or any other form of social media-type thingees.)

Keep your promise to your readers

Helga’s Post # 106: During our recent downsizing from house to condo I was forced to part with a multitude of boxes containing heaps of notes and articles about writing. I lovingly and dutifully collected this treasure trove over years at writing workshops and conferences. I had even hoarded term papers from writing classes of my university years.

A painful process, judging what to keep and what to shred. Most of it went to the shredder. I did not want some dumpster diver getting his hands on my early manuscripts, basic though as they were.

I still recall some of my creative writing classes at Simon Fraser University, and the first year I attended the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. Like a dry sponge I absorbed every word of dispensed advice! I made copious notes of everything my professors and workshop leaders offered. More importantly, I believed every word from my classes and conference workshops. Passionately.

Then came the second year of the Surrey International Writers’ conference, and the third, and more after that. They turned out to be still interesting, but much of the information was by now repetitive, and quite a lot of it contradictory. The most obvious that most of us are familiar with: Always outline. You can’t ever finish a novel without. Never outline. It will stifle your writing. Each camp has its devoted disciples.

Gradually, I sifted through all the learning from my early writing years and applied what sounded most practical for my style. Not only ‘applied’, but relied on it. But here’s the rub: I got increasingly stuck trying to squeeze the multitude of ‘rules’ into my writing. I tried to use them all. I spent more time trying to write to the ‘rules’ than letting my story flow. After a while I felt like getting buried in an avalanche.

Until I realized that it wouldn’t work for me. Time to change tactics. To find a better way.

I am not suggesting that new writers should disregard writing rules. Every writer needs some rules. But the key is to be selective. Just as some writers absolutely have to outline, it would stifle the writing process for others. We need to apply the rules that suit our individual style and preference. Cherry-picking, rather than one-size-fits-all.

Nonetheless, some cardinal rules apply that have stood the test of all writing styles. Take those related to starting your story. Mountains of books have been written about the pivotal ‘First Chapter’. If it doesn’t start right, nobody will read your novel. Those rules are ironclad. Ignore them at your peril.

Some of the cardinal rules that have been most useful for me are also the most basic. They continue to serve me well. Here they are, in a nutshell:

Start your story with an action scene. That applies to all genres from romance novels to thrillers. Start with the ‘real’ tension and conflict. Don’t start with the main characters reflecting on life, thinking about their current or past situation, or contemplating doing something.

First chapters are a bit like speed dating. A reader knows within a few minutes if they will be interested enough in your story to continue. They might hold a really good book in their hands, but your story has to grab them or they’ll drop it and never buy another book you wrote.

Avoid backstory on your first pages at the fear of torture. Don’t spoon feed your reader with detailed explanation. Let them guess – less is more. Use dialogue instead of narrative. And by all means, use conflict. Ideally the main conflict of your story should be clear at the end of the chapter.

In my early attempts at writing I made the mistake of introducing my protagonist in a way to ‘force’ my readers to like him/her. I did this either by ‘telling’ a heroic quality early on, or by giving her/him some kind of flaw, counting on the reader’s empathy. Reading through my first manuscripts I notice how hard I tried to have my readers ‘like’ my main character in the first few pages with all kinds of backstory, when instead, I should have focused on an action scene to keep my readers turning those crucial first pages.

Consider this: Your first chapter is a promise to the reader. It tells them what kind of story they can expect to get. Without going into details, or worse, backstory, the reader should know the main conflict of the book and have some sense of the main character’s personality.

headhunters

Headhunters: How did we get from this…

Keeping the promise to your reader is of utmost importance. We can all think of a book or movie that broke that promise, and we feel cheated at having wasted our time. For example, I watched ‘Headhunters’ on Netflix the other day, a movie based on Jo Nesbo’s book by the same name.

I was intrigued the way it started: Stylish Scandinavian setting and actors, beautiful house and art exhibits, great theme (high-end art thefts to support a lavish lifestyle), all the right things. Our protagonist gets in trouble, finds his wife cheating him, etc. But then the theme gets derailed and confused.

.... to this ?

…. to this ?

Suddenly I find myself watching a horror movie, with some disgusting scenes including when he has to hide inside the dump hole of an outhouse. All the way, deep down, and then we are forced to watch him emerge in glorious detail. And on it goes for most of the film. So where’s the theme? Suddenly the lavish lifestyle is gone, and all we get is blood and disgusting other stuff. To me, this is a good example of a broken promise. If the film had started differently, fine, I knew what to expect. But that way I felt kind of cheated. As an aside, book reviews praise this standalone work by Nesbo. I assume the filmmakers used his theme as a platform for the gory version.

After all the lectures and conferences I’ve attended over the years, the first and most useful rule then, is this: If you’re writing a murder mystery, don’t start your first chapter like chick-lit. Or vice versa. Set the tone and stick to it.

Once you got your first chapter down and you haven’t lost your reader, things will get easier. And more fun.

(Until you get to the sagging middle)

Basically, you have to write

Karalee’s Post #90

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Our writing group is busy preparing for our fall two day retreat meeting starting tomorrow. We do have a long to-do list and it does have a lot to do with writing fiction.

 

On the other hand, we need to stay focused in order to make sure the list doesn’t remain in the to-do category.

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I’ve recently gone back to the basics in outlining a new manuscript and already feel a bit stuck.

 

 

If you believe in karma, meant-to-be concepts or in sheer luck, it does happen at times.

I follow a blog by C.S. Lakin called Live Write Thrive and she sent a title today called ‘Ramping Tension to the Max in Your Novel’. Now I don’t know if you experience this phenomenon, but when I’m stuck, or on the verge of understanding a concept, or need to learn about something in particular, often the solution arises from unexpected places. Sometimes it is downright eerie, but maybe every so often my stars align or something.

So when Live Write Thrive popped up in my inbox today it must have been meant to be. Not only does it address the topic of tension, and the concept suddenly became clearer to me, she also gave a her checklist at the end of the blog to go through in designing and writing your novel.

All in one place! My lucky day, but then, I was ready to delve into the whole topic and much deeper than before as my learning continues.

Her checklists are as follows and each are definitely worth a close read:

  • concept with a kicker
  • protagonist with a goal
  • conflict with high stakes
  • theme with a heart
  • plots and subplots in a string of scenes
  • secondary characters with their own needs
  • setting with a purpose

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I’ve discovered that learning about writing also teaches yourself much about, well, yourself. Me, I have a whole book in my head at once, but have difficulty talking it through out loud as well as having my story flow like a movie on the page.

 

So thank-you this week C.S. Lakin, I will definitely work through your checklists!

Last week I touched on the release of Kindle Unlimited. This week in the blog Build Book Buzz  readers are encouraged that when they download with Kindle Unlimited to read 10% of each book. Why? If they don’t then the author doesn’t get paid.

Just another little point for us aspiring authors to understand in the self-publishing world.

Happy writing!

 

Black sheep

 

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Paula’s Post #76  — My apologies for being a wee late with my post this week, but I’ve been travelling in Scotland. Part of this trip is to reconnect with the relatives in Scotland, but this journey also affords an opportunity for me to visit the Western Isles, specifically Skye, the setting for my latest novel.

If you’ve travelled in this remote region, you’ll know the staggering beauty of these rugged islands and the warmth and courtesy of the people. I haven’t yet been able to download my photos, but would like to share with you just a few of my impressions.

1) The roads in Scotland are scary – really scary. My husband is driving and I spend much of the time yelling out ‘mirror’ meaning we are about to crash said passenger side mirror into a wall or a parked vehicle. My husband then immediately shouts back ‘truck’ meaning a huge oncoming lorry is bearing down on us, scaring us silly and crowding us off the road. My husband is an excellent driver and has driven on the ‘left side’ in the UK many times, but the narrow mountain roads of ‘The Highlands’ are a new challenge. Thankfully, we’ve only bashed the mirror once, and it seems to have survived the experience unscathed.

2) The Western Isles are a great place for writing… provided you’ve brought enough adapters for your ‘devices’ and don’t need the internet. Are we typical travellers? I don’t know, but between us, we’ve assembled one laptop, two iPads and four iPhones. Oh, and the 99 pence Scottish Pay-As-You-Go phone we bought the first day for the purpose of making local phone calls here. The first seven devices require charging frequently, – unfortunately, we have only one electrical adapter so we are severely hampered in our ability to keep ‘current’ (pardon the pun). But the lack of ‘current’ pales in comparison to the availability of internet signal. While we did have reasonably good service at our lovely hotel in Skye, our subsequent stops in Oban and pastoral Dumfries and Galloway have been a ‘challenge’. In the latter, we stayed with my husbands relatives, a charming couple in their 80’s who are incredibly active and vigorous, but see no need for ‘connectivity’: no mobile phones,  no computers… no Wi Fi. How quaint.

3. Daylight: If you write best when it is light out, this is the place for you. When we were on Skye, I found myself researching my families history well into the wee hours of the morning. Glancing up from time to time, I was surprised to see that it was still light past 11 o’clock at night. I admit I got a little carried away and carried on until it was ‘dark’. But even I was shocked when i heard ‘tweet tweet’ … ‘tweet tweet’ … and discovered the birds wake up and start singing somewhere around 3 am… because it was already getting light again.

4. Darkness: This is not the place to write if you require the cloak of darkness for inspiration.

5. Family History – Are you a MacDonald or MacLeod? Between the beginning of the 19th C and the middle of that century, Scotland suffered through a period of ‘depopulation’. The Highlands, and particularly the Western Isles such as Skye, Lewis and Harris were hardest hit. the crofters’ livelihood disappeared when traditional farming and kelping industries collapsed and the landlords moved to sheep as a more profitable alternative. This lead to the infamous Highland Clearances, a time when poor tenant farmers were evicted from farms to make way for grazing. Like the Irish, these incredibly poor families survived on a diet primarily based on the potato, but when that crop became blighted and failed, people starved. Emigration schemes linked to eviction, left little choice to the crofters. Though, as my own family research has discovered, not all left voluntarily. Either way, the greatest loss occurred in the islands, particularly Skye… and times of great turmoil lead to many dramatic stories. One of these stories, I’m planning to tell. The story of the ‘black sheep’ of my family.

But that’s enough of a hint for now.

We’ve now left Scotland after a fabulous visit with the rellies in Dumfries and Galloway, in the Southwest. We spent last night in historic York and this morning, we will be exploring the City. I’m sure I’ll find inspiration for a hundred more stories, but for now, I’ll resist temptation and try to focus on Skye.

 

 

 

The voice

 

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Paula’s Post #71 – This past ten days, we 5writers have been focusing a lot on the ‘it’ factor. First Silk posted about ‘That can’t look away ingredient’ , then Joe followed up with his own examination of what makes a storyline ‘addictive’ in ‘The it factor’, now in yesterday’s post I see we have Silk back for another kick at the cat with ‘Where does ‘it’ come from’.

I’d like to say I know where ‘it’ comes from, but I’m afraid that like my 5writer colleagues, I have more questions than answers in the search for the elusive ‘it’ factor.

Yet in researching today’s blog post, I did discover that best-selling author Stephen King found the word ‘IT’ sufficiently powerful to title and anchor an entire novel.

For Mr. King, the ‘it’ factor appeared in the disguise of an ‘evil murderous clown’ preying on a town’s children. Deeply rooted in the commonality of childhood fears, he later wrote that the book was inspired by his recollections of an oft-recounted childrens’ fairy-tale: The Three Billy Goats Gruff:

I thought of the fairy tale called “The Three Billy-Goats Gruff” and wondered what I would do if a troll called out from beneath me, “Who is trip-trapping upon my bridge?” All of a sudden I wanted to write a novel about a real troll under a real bridge. I stopped, thinking of a line by Marianne Moore, something about “real toads in imaginary gardens,” only it came out “real trolls in imaginary gardens.” A good idea is like a yo-yo–it may go to the end of its string, but it doesn’t die there; it only sleeps. Eventually it rolls back up into your palm. I forgot about the bridge and the troll in the business of picking up my car and signing the papers, but it came back to me off and on over the next two years. I decided that the bridge could be some sort of symbol–a point of passing. I started thinking of Bangor, where I had lived, with its strange canal bisecting the city, and decided that the bridge could be the city, if there was something under it. What’s under a city? Tunnels. Sewers. Ah! What a good place for a troll! Trolls should live in sewers! A year passed. The yo-yo stayed down at the end of its string, sleeping, and then it came back up. I started to remember Stratford, Connecticut, where I had lived for a time as a kid. In Stratford there was a library where the adult section and the children’s section was connected by a short corridor. I decided that the corridor was also a bridge, one across which every goat of a child must risk trip-trapping to become an adult. About six months later I thought of how such a story might be cast; how it might be possible to create a ricochet effect, interweaving the stories of children and the adults they become. Sometime in the summer of 1981 I realized that I had to write about the troll under the bridge or leave him–IT–forever.

Now, I must confess I do not have an obsession with either billy goats or bridges. Nor do I have an irrational fear of clowns (at least I do not think I do). But I can say that the books I am most passionate about writing have a similar gestational history to Mr. King’s novel, ‘IT’. A nagging voice that echoes through my subconscious, a dropped thread that reappears when I least expect it.

In the past, this nagging voice has led to one completed novel that I can say that I am proud of, (the one I co-authored with my fellow 5writer Helga) and one still incomplete but promising novel, (set in pre-war Honolulu) that I can say I’m also quite proud of and which has been the object of much encouraging feedback from my fellow 5writers.

But now, that nagging voice is back, apparently coaxing me to write a historical novel set in Scotland, loosely inspired by my own family history.  For me, that ‘nagging voice’ will not be silenced, though right now, I can’t help think I should be writing something else.

Something a little less demanding. Something requiring a little less research. Something a tad less complex.

So to listen to ‘this nagging voice’ or not? Like Shakespeare put it all so aptly, ‘that is the question.

Do you have your own little nagging voice, coaxing you to write a particular story? If so, are you listening to ‘the voice’ or ignoring ‘it’.

I’d like to know.

Paula’s Update:

Kilometres driven this week – 2551

Bed’s slept in – 6 (believe me, that sounds racier than it actually is)

Dog’s transported across international borders – 2

Pages written on new novel – 0

Nagging voice intrusions – 17 (but who’s counting).

Don’t succumb to self-doubt

Karalee’s Post #68

Generally I feel positive about writing and getting to know my characters and creating a story that needs to be told. After all, like Silk put it, we are storytellers.

But truth be told, right now I’m struggling. I feel lost at the beginning, lost in the maze in the middle and can’t fathom getting to The End. Oh, I have down days and question the rational of following this passion that is sure to be padded with rewrites and rejections, but to be down for any length of time is unusual for me.

I know it’s a passing phase that I’m sure hits most writers on and off. My outline is quite good and I should be raring to go on my new story.

So what is the problem?

Self-doubt is creeping in. It has visited before and I can usually do my research and write through it. But with this story I am expecting more of my writing and I truly want to write an awesome story to support my awesome premise. 

That is taking me to the point where I’m questioning whether I know enough to write about this story I want to tell. I’m not savvy about politics or computers or how banks and the financial world works. How can I make my story believable?

I’m dealing with it by watching mystery and thriller movies and serials. Our family subscribed to Netflix over the Christmas holidays and for the first time I can watch shows ad nauseum at the push of a few remote control buttons. I have been pulled into viewing serial programs and I’m constantly digesting how the plots are set-up and the characters developed and change.

Oh, I’m sure this cloud of self-doubt will pass as I get back to writing. I allowed my routine to be interrupted during the Olympics and I’m taking a winter vacation with my husband next week for a couple of weeks so I’m dragging my tail in my writing productivity.

I will take the advice Joe gave a couple of months ago and RESET.

reset

 

I will make a new To Do list and stick to it:

  1. After morning exercise, apply bum glue in readiness to meet writing goal.
  2. Write until my set productivity is met (scenes with a word minimum).
  3. Reapply bum glue until word count is met.
  4. Enjoy the process.

 

Research is huge for this story and I know that it can be done. I merely need to apply myself, and as my productivity sets in again, self-doubt will once more settle on the back burner and allow my creativity to reemerge.

Happy writing!

 

 

Writerlust

writerlust

Silk’s Post #71 — For a writer, nothing beats the feeling you get when you start on a new story. To riff on Paula’s great post last week, “Serial monogamy”, it’s like the rush of falling in love.

I call it Writerlust.

You’re vibrating inside with the thrill of possibility. Your endorphins kick in. You’re filled with energy and purpose. Ideas bubble up out of nowhere, and bits of dialogue play in your head. The world looks a little brighter. You feel a little smarter, a little cooler, a little more adventuresome, a little more confident. You wake up in the morning excited about spending the day with your hot, new muse. You hit the keyboard before the coffeemaker has even finished gurgling.

doris-dayI’m feeling the love right now. I had a chance to discuss my new book concept with my 5writer colleagues last week, and got a pretty strong thumbs-up. At least that’s how I heard it, because, in the immortal words of Doris Day, “Everybody Loves a Lover.” When you’re in Writerlust, your infatuation is contagious and everything sounds like an endorsement.

But I’ve been hurt before.

I’m no Romantic Advice columnist, but I’ve decided I should give myself a little talking-to. Just, you know, in case things don’t totally work out the way I hope. Just on the off chance that I actually cannot write my amazing new story in a month-long gush of boundless creativity, skimming across the surface of the Saggy Middle Swamp on magical writer’s feet towards an orgasmic climax that no agent or publisher will be able to resist. In one draft.

So … Notes to Self:

Enjoy your euphoria right now. Don’t let anything bring you down to Earth too soon – stuff like preparing your tax returns, or cleaning anything that’s been let go for a couple of years, or trying to fix the first draft mess of your last unpublished book, or making your first attempt at serving a turducken to dinner guests. Remember, euphoria is ephemeral (see how good you’re getting with those esoteric “e” words?).

hotel new hampshireTake this opportunity to become obsessed. You will need to survive the many dangers and deprivations of your writing journey on the fading memory of these fleeting feelings of Writerlust. So right now, while you’re thirsty to write, drink the Kool-Aid and commit yourself totally to the story you’re in love with. Take the sage advice of the madly successful writer John Irving in Hotel New Hampshire: “You’ve got to get obsessed and stay obsessed.”

Inoculate yourself against perfectionism. Okay, right now your book is perfect. That’s because you haven’t written it yet. It’s just a sexy mirage in your head. One morning, when you have 25,000 words on the page, you’ll wake up and look at your darling story and see what’s really lying there beside you in bed: something far less than perfect. It may snore. It may have bad breath. Or missing teeth. It may have packed on the weight in all the wrong places. You may wonder what you were thinking, bringing this thing home with you. But if you’ve inoculated yourself with the anti-perfectionism serum, everything will be okay. You’ll give your story a knowing look – full of love and sympathy – and get back to work, confident that you can get it in shape at rewrite time. A great story always cleans up nice.

Put on your chastity belt. While you’re living with the story you’ve said “I do” to, keep your roving eyes on the straight and narrow. No flirting with other new stories. No tearful calls to your old bookfriend in the middle of the night – the one abandoned in the bottom drawer that’s looking better and better compared to the new story you’re struggling with. No giving-in to aching desire when you read your favourite writer’s newest book and realize it’s better – way better – than the story you’re deeply involved with. Buckle up and be true to your sweetheart.

Remember that you can’t hurry love. Who could forget the sage words Mama said, as immortalized by The Supremes:

can't-hurry-love

You can’t hurry love
No, you just have to wait
She said love don’t come easy
It’s a game of give and take

When you’ve been living with this story that you’re marrying for months and months … and you just can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel … and all your writer friends are already working on their query letters … and there are moths fluttering out of your file of agents who told you to send them a chapter (but not until the book is really, truly finished and it’s the best it can possibly be) … and on bad days you wonder why you ever fell in Writerlust with this story in the first place … well, just sing yourself this song. Don’t try to jump into bed with the first passing agent and allow yourself to suffer from premature evaluation.

Wise words to be sure. I will likely forget it all as my life with this new story stretches from days into weeks, and weeks into months … as my Writerlust heat cools and I encounter the tepid ennui of writer’s fatigue, and the cold sweats of writer’s block. So it’s a good thing I wrote it all down. Now I just have to remember take my own advice.

Writing a novel involves a long-term, committed relationship, not a one-night stand. It demands a huge chunk of your life, and there are times when every writer wonders whether it’s really worth the time, effort and angst.

The gurus advise us: Write what you really care about. I’d add: Follow your Writerlust. Make sure you’re all-in with both your head and your heart before you start.

fire-in-fictionThis goes beyond craft and technique. When agent/lecturer Don Maass titled his great 2009 book The Fire in Fictionhe didn’t just mean the fire on the page, he meant the fire inside the writer. I think that only a wild passion for your story at the outset will sustain you through 400 hard-won pages of writing that is capable of captivating a reader.

At least I hope so, because I’m deep in the embrace of a story I love and I’m going for it.

Confessions of a NOP

reluctant-cat

Silk’s Post #63 — I’m looking forward to outlining my next book the way a cat looks forward to a visit with the vet.

Can someone remind me why I thought it would be a wonderful idea to start outlining, and even worse to make outlining the focus of our next 5writers challenge?

That’s right, in the first week of February next year – the 5th to the 8th, to be precise, if all goes according to plan – the 5writers will be hunkered down somewhere ripping apart each other’s outlines for our next books. Hopefully someplace warm. With a well-stocked wine bar. And another one of those giant bowls with half a candy counter dumped into it like the one Paula brought to Whistler. I estimated the bowl contents totalled about 15,000 calories.

See? I’m already wandering off the subject of outlining. That’s because – I admit it! – I’m a confirmed NOP. No Outline Person. Uncouth people call us “pantsers” – as in “flying by the seat of your pants.” And the closer our new deadline gets, the twitchier I’m becoming. By January, I’ll be hiding under the bed with the cat.

Oh, I know what you’re thinking. Suck it up, Silk. If anybody needs the discipline of an outline, it’s you – the 5writer who still hasn’t finished her book from last year.

I know you have a point. And I’ve listened to all the arguments about why outlining is the way to go.

Paula became a convert last year, whipping out her first action-packed YA novel in, like, two weeks thanks to her well-planned outline. Okay, maybe not two weeks, but fast. And no one has more story concepts than Paula, so the faster she can write, the better.

And Joe is keen because he’s tired of rewriting rewriting rewriting all his books. But then, Joe – our resident overachiever – has actually written many books (note the plural), so no wonder he’s tired of rewriting. I’m still stuck at one-and-a-half books, myself.

Karalee is enthusiastic too. But Karalee is congenitally enthusiastic – don’t I wish I had her energy! And she has the determination of Superwoman. She runs, she rows, she climbs mountains, for Pete’s sake! She’ll take to outlining like a duck to water.

And Helga … well, no one loves a cunning plot more. She aims high, emulating her idol, John le Carré, whose plots are famously complex, dense and intellectually challenging. Outlining is the perfect methodology to combine Helga’s favourite story ingredients in a meticulous recipe for intrigue. 

Yes, I get the logic, I really do. The case for outlining as a writer’s discipline that will help us get the plot job done – hopefully the first time. My angst about it isn’t coming from my cortex. It’s radiating up from my limbic brain. Feral fear of captivity. And, if I’m honest, a streak of cat laziness.

We all started as NOPs. Following the scent of our stories with our noses from the opening lines to sharply – or hazily –  imagined endings. But at some point in all our books, we’ve occasionally lost the trail and become mired in the Swamp of Saggy Middles. That’s why we’re trying to become OPs instead of NOPs. At least this once.

In his indispensable book Plot & Structure, writing guru James Scott Bell looks at the “longstanding feud between the NOPs and the OPs.” Here’s what he says about NOPs:

“The NOPs are the … happy folk [who] love to frolic in the daisies of their imaginations as they write. With nary a care, they let the characters and images that sprout in their minds do all the leading. They follow along, happily recording the adventures.

Ray Bradbury was a NOP. In Zen in the Art of Writing he says:

footprints‘Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations. Plot is observed after the fact rather than before. It cannot precede action. That is all Plot should ever be. It is human desire let run, running and reaching a goal. It cannot be mechanical. It can only be dynamic.’

The joy of being a NOP is that you get to fall in love every day. But as in love and life, there is heartache along the way.

The heartache comes when you look back and see nothing resembling a plot.”

Okay, so the OPs must be doing it right then … right James Scott Bell? He says:

“The OPS … seek security above all. They lay out a plot with as much specificity as possible. They may use 3″ x 5” cards, spread out on the floor or pinned to cork board, and rework the pattern many times before writing.

Or they’ll write a plot treatment, 40 or 50 pages written in the present tense. Then they’ll edit that like they would a full manuscript. And only then will they begin the actual novel. 

Albert Zuckerman, an OP, says in Writing the Blockbuster Novel

house-plan‘No sane person would think of setting out to construct a skyscraper or even a one-family home without a detailed set of plans. A big novel must have the literary equivalent of beams and joists strong enough to sustain it excitingly from beginning to end, and it also must contain myriad interlocking parts fully as complex as those in any building type.’

The value of the OP approach is that, with experience, one can virtually guarantee a solidly structured plot …

The danger, however, is the lack of that freshness and spontaneity the NOPs are known for. An OP may get to a place where one of the characters is screaming to do something other than what’s written down on a scene card. The OP fights the character, whipping him back into submission. But in doing so, he may have missed the exact angle that would make his plot original.”

All to say that there are multiple ways to fail with your plot – all of them easy to see in retrospect and easy to describe. But how to build a successful plot is much more elusive and difficult to prescribe.

What I know is that I’ve signed up for the outlining tour-of-duty and I’m going to march forward with determination towards that goal. Just the idea of 3″ x 5″ cards literally gives me hives, though, so it looks like I’ll be writing the 50-page plot treatment.

Hopefully I won’t have to have someone put me into an overlarge cat carrier, stick me on the back seat, and drive me – yowling – to the Great 5writers Outline Retreat in February.

That candy bowl better be there, though.