Throwback Thursday: “I Suck at Writing” Revisited

i-suck-at-writingThis one goes back to Jan 13, 2011. There is still a great deal of truth in these words.  I will say that for the record I don’t say those words very often any more. I have gotten better. I can recognize mistakes much easier now and I have learned to trust that inner voice. But imposter syndrome is a real thing and I still deal with that when I am around friends that are published, even though they keep encouraging me.


You ever read something you’ve written and then throw your hands up in the air and tell your spouse “I suck at writing!”?

I’ve done it several times in the course of writing my novel, but I think I’m coming to the realization that sometimes I do suck. Not always, but sometimes I do. I am figuring out that I need to trust that inner voice that is telling me I suck. I’ll come back to that.

I’ve also read scenes that I said to myself, “Damn, that’s pretty good!” Sometimes, not always, and not nearly as often as I would like, but usually I’m somewhere in the middle. There is a big gulf between “Damn that’s good!” and “I suck!” Large parts of the story are moving between the big scenes in the outline, and I often don’t know for sure where I’m going between those big scenes. A lot of it might end up on the cutting room floor during the rewrite, but it’s good for me to write those scenes out so that I know where it’s going. I have the outline in my head (part of it on paper) but I do what is referred to as “Discovery Writing” for the stuff in between. I’ve had to back-track a couple of times because my characters were leading me down a dead end or a direction that would completely change the story. Sometimes those tangents are good enough to make me tweak the outline. Letting the characters bring the story to me is one of the great joys of writing.

I’ve heard many authors and writing coaches suggest that if you are stuck on a scene to just move past it and come back later, but my brain doesn’t seem to work that way. I need to know what’s going to happen next, because it might change everything. I grind on a scene for hours sometimes. I’m not what you would call a fast writer. The most I have ever written in one day is about 4000 words. It’s usually a lot closer to 500. But I struggle to get it right the first time. I’m not going to be one of those writers that can pump out a book every 3 months. It’s just not gonna happen. Not unless I see a major change in my skill set. I’m ok with that.

Getting back to listening to the inner voice, it can be very frustrating to work on a scene for hours then sit back and read what you’ve written and lament to your spouse that you should give up writing. What this usually means is it’s just not crafted right. Maybe it’s a scene that needs to be skipped because it’s boring, if you’re bored so is your reader. Sometimes the struggles mean it just needs to go. Sometimes it means you are making the reader read your story instead of feeling the story.

After working one of those scenes that made you say “I suck!” until it feels right can really validate you. It can make you feel like maybe you can write after all; maybe you do have what it takes to do this as a professional. Sometimes the POV needs to be changed or maybe you need to add some movement so it’s not all just dialogue. People rarely just sit still and speak. They play with their hair and scratch their face and other body parts and fidget all over the place. Show that to your reader. Put them there in the scene so they can see the entire picture.   Let them feel the emotions of your characters, don’t just tell them that your character is nervous or angry, show them.

Trust yourself when you read back over something you’ve written and want to throw up. Just go back and fix it! You can do this!  You’re a writer after all!

 

Clear Ether!

I’m Baaaaack!

I’m in a good place right now. I finished Air War College a few weeks ago, and then my father-in-law took all his kids and grandkids (including me) to Disney World for a week.  We had a wonderful time together despite the fact that it rained every day.  We all got along; nobody got hurt or sick or sunburned.  Just so happened to be a Star Wars Weekend also, and for anyone that knows me or my family that was a big deal.  Only downside was my boys’s aggravation with the sporadic internet in our room.  We also went to Universal Studios for a day and the Harry Potter castle ride is probably the best ride I’ve ever been on.  All-in-all an awesome trip!

Now I’m back to work and we actually don’t have any major deployments or inspections this summer. It’s the first time in a very long time that we have the summer off to focus on training and getting in some R&R for our people here.  I’m turning my focus back to writing and revising my novel and working out.  Both are going slower than I would prefer but I’m getting on track and have the first chapter in the can now.  I’m not touching it again until a Beta reader sees it. (For those of you that offered to Beta read, I might actually have something to send out by the end of summer)

I also got my package in for the Master’s program and I’m waiting to hear if they accept me.  The ideas are percolating again and I actually added some nice touches to open the book and I’m excited to get through the revision. I have probably one more pass for key words and a read-out-loud pass to do before I call it completely done, but I can see a light at the end of the tunnel.  I’m about a quarter of the way through right now and if I can avoid playing Diablo 3 or Star Wars: The Old Republic I should be ready to start on book 2 before the summer is over.  I’ve already started outlining it, which is something new for me.

Oh yeah, I still need to do a synapsis and update my query letter.  At this point I am leaning toward trying to get an agent, instead of self-publishing, but I’m not locked in to that if it drags out.

My output on this blog has fallen off quite a bit, but the things that were blocking me have been lifted.  I may change my format a little to try to do this more frequently, we’ll see how that goes.  Anywho, I’m back in the saddle.

Clear Ether!

 

 

 

Let That Thing Fester

The title of this post is so awesome that I feel like the post itself isn’t going to live up to it.  I actually thought of saving it for another post on the subject but I’m going to go with it anyway.  I’m having issues finding time for this currently, and I ‘m not proud of it.  I know I’ve been absent lately but I have been doing the job of three people at my day job (literally) and cramming for my Air War College Exam.  The good news is we have enough people back at work that I can get back to just doing my own job and I got the results back from my exam, which I passed with an excellent!  I’m only one test away from finishing now, so I’m buckling down to get through it and then I can refocus on finishing the edits for Clear Ether and get it out to some beta readers.

I actually had a little down time in there while I was waiting for the exam to be graded.  I was initially expecting four weeks of waiting but it only took four days.  At any rate, I had time to do some revision on the first few chapters after feedback from my alpha readers and I actually feel like I have enough distance now to see it like someone else wrote it.  I was able to make big cuts and move some stuff around and really focus the POV.  Getting that distance is key.  I got some great advice and some great feedback from my alphas, thank you!

When people tell you to put your manuscript in the drawer for a month or two and let it ferment, they aren’t kidding.  I did some preliminary editing after only a few days, but I was really having trouble seeing the errors.  Stacy can tell you I went off the reservation with the word “just”.  It was laughable how many times I used that word in one chapter alone.

As the creator you can often have a hard time detaching yourself from your own POV.  You already know everything that happened and all the background details and motivations, so when you go in to start your revisions you can’t divorce yourself from yourself (Austin Powers anyone?) without giving yourself enough time after the manuscript is finished.  Completing the manuscript is a huge thing.  A lot of writers never get there, so I’ve heard.  And I know I was excited, not because I finished the manuscript, but because I was one step closer to being published, and I wanted to get on with the revisions.  I’m here to tell you that you have to wait a bit before you take that next step.

The manuscript is near and dear to your heart.  You’ve invested a lot of energy and time getting to “The End”.  Carving up your baby is simply not feasible at that point.  Any believe me, it needs to be carved up and have great chunks removed and tossed in the waste bin. (Boneyard)  It’s like a grotesque turkey that has too many legs and wings and parts sticking out and it needs to be prepped and oiled and baked to perfection still.  But before you can do any of that you need to stick it somewhere dark, where you will leave it alone, and let it fester for a few months.  When you put it away it looked like a bright shiny baby, when it comes out it will look like Chucky, and you can stab it and carve it up.  I must be hungry.  Enough of the carving analogies.  You get the idea.

When you get it back out you will be able to see it as a work of literary fiction instead of “your precious”.  You can see the POV errors and the extra background that really isn’t germane to the story.  You can see the bad dialogue tags and the dreaded adverbs and poor word choices.  You can see the poorly written sentences, and maybe there are chapters that really don’t even need to be there.  At the very least they need to be massively trimmed and combined with another part somewhere else.  It is eye opening … really.  Put that sucker away!  Don’t touch it!  Ah..I see you going back to look at it, I said leave it alone.

Anyway, as an aside, I’m also in the process of applying for a Master’s program in writing, so I had to put some finishing touches on some writing and then write a Letter of Intent.  It was kinda fun actually. I’m shooting for the Seton Hill University Master of Fine Arts in Writing Popular Fiction degree.  It is a distance learning program that will only require me to spend 5 days each semester on campus.  That works great for my busy lifestyle.   The cool thing is it is designed for you to have a publishable novel length book at the end of the program.  I’m very excited about it and have my fingers crossed to get in.  It’s a small Catholic university near Pittsburg, so it’s also driving distance, at least until I move.

I hope you are all having great fortune in your writing and reading!

Clear Ether!

 

Review – Confessions of a Freelance Penmonkey by Chuck Wendig

I’m reading Chuck Wendig’s book on writing, CONFESSIONS OF A FREELANCE PENMONKEY, and it’s not only chock full of good writing tips but is also very entertaining.  He has a flair for metaphor and colorful language, so be warned.  But, I absolutely love Chuck Wendig, he is irreverent and cheeky  and is genuinely funny.  One of the things I’ve plucked out of the reading is something I didn’t really have in mind when writing the book, but I think it’s instrumental in creating a story that is engrossing and something that will draw the reader to the next page.  That something is tension, or more precisely, building the tension. 
It should start out slow but the tension should build incrementally to a simmering boil until the climax where it should … climax.  I’ve made some notes and know where I need to work it in.  It shouldn’t hit you in the face, but be a subtle increase until you can feel it as the reader.   

I’ve also been thinking about the follow-on stories.  Once I print this, I can’t really go back and change it to make it fit the story arc better (well I could if I self-pub this but that is not how I’m going to roll), so I’m trying to figure that stuff out now so I can bring in some foreshadowing or more importantly make sure the right characters are following a story arc.  I’m not an outliner normally but I can definitely see the need for it, especially for a series of books where you have overlapping characters and an overarching story arc that needs to be built in.   I’m making progress on both fronts, revising/editing and developing the plotline for books two and three.  There’s lots of lines of backstory on the cutting room floor.    

 
Clear Ether!

Arguing with the Reviewer (Bad Idea)

     A friend of mine stopped me the other day to tell me that he had posted his very first book review and to their surprise the author wrote them back almost immediately.  His review was a 2 star review and although he was polite he pointed out some things he didn’t like about the book.  It was in a genre he is very well read in and felt like the book didn’t live up to expectations.  He did write a few nice things too.  


     The author made persuasive arguments as to why he did certain things, persuasive enough that my friend changed his review to make it 3 stars and took out a few negative comments.  But the fact that the writer went through this trouble kinda shocked me.  Not to the core or anything but I was surprised.  My friend was surprised too, but also intrigued and I think he liked the interaction actually.


     Right after I made up my mind to write about this Joe Konrath beat me to the punch of course with this post about ignoring the praise and criticism of people you don’t know.  Obviously this author ignored that advise.


     He received a lot of negative feedback because of the title he gave the post.  Not Caring.  I think a lot of his readers missed the entire point but that doesn’t surprise me really, but that is a post for another day perhaps.


     I know Ann Rice just got a lot of negative publicity for arguing with her detractors on Amazon, but they say any publicity sells books.  Book Slut covers that story here.  It’s hard to believe that was 7 years ago.


     Abraham Lincoln once said, “He has a right to criticize, who has a heart to help.”  Contrarywise, if you don’t really want to help, you should shut the hell up.


     As I get closer to finishing the novel revisions I am thinking more about what happens next.  Getting constructive criticism from someone you ask is a lot different than any kind of criticism from someone you don’t know who may or may not “get” what you were trying to do.  But going out there and arguing with reviewers doesn’t appeal to me.


     Max Barry just posted this bit about Schlepping the Book and how it feels to get good and bad reviews.  I love Max Barry!  He is funny, articulate and has a great imagination.  Three things I would love to be able to claim. 


     Putting my book out there on its own will be a surreal experience for me.  That is the point of publishing, you know, getting it out there.  I’m not sure how I will take the criticism, both good and bad.  Hopefully I can take it in stride and not let it effect me.  The point that Konrath’s detractors were trying to make was that you should care what people say, in order to fix what’s wrong.  But wrong by whose standard?  That’s a fickle master I wouldn’t want to have to answer to.  You will never please everyone.  Is it arrogance to say the book is exactly the way you meant it to be?  We can all keep revising our books endlessly, and with eBooks we actually can keep revising them after they are published even.  That’s another can of worms.  


     I think I like what Heinlein said in his business rules, that Dean Wesley Smith recently posted, “Refrain from rewriting except to editorial order.”  Meaning his editor’s comments.  The rest of his rules are just as good. Finish what you start and get it out there!


     Time will definitely tell.  I have the goal of not letting it effect me.  That’s not saying I don’t care.


Clear Ether!

"I suck at writing!"

You ever read something you’ve written and then throw your hands up in the air and tell your spouse “I suck at writing!”?

I’ve done it several times in the course of writing my novel, but I think I’m coming to the realization that sometimes I do suck. Not always, but sometimes I do. I am figuring out that I need to trust that inner voice that is telling me I suck. I’ll come back to that.

I’ve also read scenes that I said to myself, “Damn, that’s pretty good!” Sometimes, not always, and not nearly as often as I would like, but usually I’m somewhere in the middle. There is a big gulf between “Damn that’s good!” and “I suck!” Large parts of the story are moving between the big scenes in the outline, and I often don’t know for sure where I’m going between those big scenes. A lot of it might end up on the cutting room floor during the rewrite, but it’s good for me to write those scenes out so that I know where it’s going. I have the outline in my head (part of it on paper) but I do what is referred to as “Discovery Writing” for the stuff in between. I’ve had to back-track a couple of times because my characters were leading me down a dead end or a direction that would completely change the story. Sometimes those tangents are good enough to make me tweak the outline. Letting the characters bring the story to me is one of the great joys of writing.

I’ve heard many authors and writing coaches suggest that if you are stuck on a scene to just move past it and come back later, but my brain doesn’t seem to work that way. I need to know what’s going to happen next, because it might change everything. I grind on a scene for hours sometimes. I’m not what you would call a fast writer. The most I have ever written in one day is about 4000 words. It’s usually a lot closer to 500. But I struggle to get it right the first time. I’m not going to be one of those writers that can pump out a book every 3 months. It’s just not gonna happen. Not unless I see a major change in my skill set. I’m ok with that.

Getting back to listening to the inner voice, it can be very frustrating to work on a scene for hours then sit back and read what you’ve written and lament to your spouse that you should give up writing. What this usually means is it’s just not crafted right. Maybe it’s a scene that needs to be skipped because it’s boring, if you’re bored so is your reader. Sometimes the struggles mean it just needs to go. Sometimes it means you are making the reader read your story instead of feeling the story.

After working one of those scenes that made you say “I suck!” until it feels right can really validate you. It can make you feel like maybe you can write after all; maybe you do have what it takes to do this as a professional. Sometimes the POV needs to be changed or maybe you need to add some movement so it’s not all just dialogue. People rarely just sit still and speak. They play with their hair and scratch their face and other body parts and fidget all over the place. Show that to your reader. Put them there in the scene so they can see the entire picture.   Let them feel the emotions of your characters, don’t just tell them that your character is nervous or angry, show them.

Trust yourself when you read back over something you’ve written and want to throw up. Just go back and fix it! You can do this!  You’re a writer after all!

 

Clear Ether!