Once again I will start National Novel Writing Month. I say start because I haven’t “won” since 2010. So it’s my tenth anniversary! I missed the last two years but I am giving it the ol’ college try again this year. It will be good to get back into a daily writing practice and if you are so inclined you can join me and be my one of my writing buddies!
If you don’t know what NaNoWriMo is I’ll briefly explain. It is an annual writing challenge to “write a 50,000 word novel” in one month. The timer starts at midnight of Halloween and goes until midnight of November 30th. In order to stay on pace you have to write 1667 words a day. It can be a daunting task. I know the year I “won” it took almost every free moment I had, and my wife was not happy at me. At all. I vowed I wouldn’t do that to her again, and I didn’t. And it really is about writing every day. 50k words is not really a novel either. That would qualify as a novella. The year I “won” I felt like I had written half a novel. it could be a series of short stories. Or essays. The entire point, again, is to write every day. Nobody is coming to your house to make sure you are following the “rules.” Jut have fun with it and write what you can. If it’s only a 100 words a day, then that is still 3000 words by the end of the month. And that is 3000 words more than you had before you started.
I use it to springboard a new story usually. Sometimes I take an old story out and try to add to it. I haven’t hit the 50k mark in a decade but this might be the year. If not that’s okay, too.
It’s not like I haven’t heard the advice to create a strong antagonist to make for a strong contrast and conflict for your protagonist. But so far, my first four novels haven’t had much of an active antagonist. They have been more of an agency or an off-screen mover behind the scenes, or simply the situation itself. I can see where that might be part of my issue with trying to sell the stories. I have yet to develop a story with a classic antagonist.
I have even made plans for a mystery series, and don’t have any ideas about antagonists for that really, other than the overarching plotline, but even that one is off-screen for the entire series of books.
I’m trying to beef up the antagonist in my current WIP, and he continues to get stronger. I think this story is very close to finished and it has been a long haul getting here. Three major rewrites, multiple POV changes, from third to first and back to third, a gender swap for nearly every character. All these things informed the story and made it better.
But it seems my mind tends to find stories that don’t have a classical bad guy. Most of the ideas I get are hero vs environment. I’m not sure why that is.
How do you start your stories? Do you outline? Doing this intentionally by plotting it out in advance is probably easier. What do you think?
I recently finished a complete overhaul of my latest manuscript, after getting some great feedback. The story has changed drastically, so have a lot of the characters.
I noticed that PitMad was coming up so I decided to brush off the pitch and see if I got any bites. The event is sponsored by Pitchwars.org
Kurestin Armada (@kurestinarmada) an agent at Root Literary said this in a Tweet:There are so many pitch contests now that most of the agents I know are fatigued and sit out more than we join—so if you’re feeling like your pitches aren’t getting a lot of traction, it may very well be that the right agents for you just aren’t doing this round
So there’s that. And she’s not wrong. I applaud the efforts of those trying to support writers, and all of these pitch contests are free, except for the time the writer has spend preparing.
You only get to do three pitches and the contest goes between 8AM and 8PM, so you have to space them out for maximum effectiveness and hope you get some RTs and likes. The likes are supposed to be reserved for AGENTS. Anyway, here are my three Twitter pitches. Had to stay under the character count:
Cole’s life is in disarray after his memory is stripped in a brutal attack that destroys his neurochip. Now the centerpiece of a government cover-up, he must expose the truth behind hundreds of mysterious deaths before they shut him up for good. #PITMAD #A #S #SPF #SF
A brutal attack destroys Cole’s neurochip, strips his memory, and leaves his life in shambles. Now the centerpiece of a government cover-up, and unable to trust anyone, he must expose the truth behind hundreds of deaths before they shut him up for good. #PITMAD #A #S #SPF #SF
A brutal attack destroys Cole’s neurochip, strips his memory, and leaves his life in shambles. Deep state treachery and a manhunt make exposing the truth a daunting task. Blake Crouch’s Recursion meets William Gibson’s Zero History. #PITMAD #A #S #SPF #SF
I have the book out to a few Beta Readers and will be sending it out again on sub when I get their feedback. So far it has been positive.
Good luck to everyone out there trying to get some attention for their manuscripts!
Funny how easy it is to not do something. The longer you keep from doing it the more impedance builds up. It might be working out, or keeping up a blog, or writing a piece of fiction. Or maybe you put off making a call to a close relative and then it started to become a thing because you had gone so long without calling.
Last summer, I had managed to run a streak of almost four months where I posted five days a week. I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep it up forever. But what surprised me was how sudden it happened and how easy it was to not post anything. I had a run of bad luck physically. Multiple doctor visits for different things. Pneumonia really knocked me on my butt. But even before that I had stopped blogging when I herniated myself. It wasn’t like I had to exercise in order to blog, but the two became linked somehow. Then I ended up going to Oklahoma to work for several weeks and after I returned I got sick.
But the only way to confront this kind of impedance is head on. You pick up the phone and call and try not to make a big deal about how long it’s been. You get out your workout clothes and start back slow and easy. You post something to your blog and make a new commitment to doing it regularly. Maybe not five days a week.
Fortunately, the impedance didn’t effect my writing too much. I finished my last editing pass a few days ago and sent out the piece to a friend of mine for a beta read. It feels finished. I want to be done with it and move on to the next project.
Finishing that project has brought me to a new starting line. I’m healthy again. I’m going to start exercising regularly next week and I’ve started working on my next project.
Part of this reboot comes with some changes. If you have been following me you may have noticed a name change, both for me and for the web address. I decided on using a pen name and I bought a new domain name for the blog. I had been doing some ancestry research and discovered I had three grandfathers with the name Hieronymus. Hawkes is another family surname and I like the alliteration. I have a new Facebook page and a new Twitter persona. I’ve been on Twitter for almost twelve years, so starting over is a bit daunting.
My new project is a piece that I started while I was working on my MFA, just for a palette cleanser in between edits. It was something that was as close to universally liked as anything I had written before. I only have about 7000 words, but the ideas are solid and the thing has some real potential. I debated throwing it all out and starting over. I’m actually still debating that, but I did some work on the opening chapter and I may keep it.
I am toying with the idea of cutting some of it out and creating a short story out of it as a teaser for the novel. I would have to cut it down by about half to get where I would need for the word count. It would be a good exercise.
This is from April 2011. I had been on a writing hiatus here for some reason. I noticed a big slowdown in posting here as well. I have learned a lot since I wrote this, and realize that relying on the muse is not something a professional writer can afford. When things aren’t sparking and you have a deadline you still have to write. There is where understanding how the craft of writing comes into play. The are no hard fast rules for writing, but understanding structure and story design are a must.
Writing regularly does spark ideas. Think of it as a lubricant. It does create a more fruitful mind for creativity.
Not writing has been a weird place for me. I think about the act of writing during most of my free time now, but my muse has been strangely silent. I think about the fact that I am close to finishing and know I have a few scenes left to put together, but there is no spark. This leads me to believe that writing, the actual act of putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard actually sparks the muse and keeps the creative juices flowing. The more you write the more these creative pathways open up and tap into that right side of the brain and free the little fireflies of imagination.
I have often heard people ask writers where they get their ideas. I’ve had people ask me that very question, but from everything I’ve read or every time I talk to other writers they all say the same thing, ideas are the easy part. Writing seems to snap into place a cable in your mind that lets the creative side of your brain be heard over all the stuff the left side of the brain is dealing with on a daily basis, trying to get you through your work day. (unless you are an artist of some sort of course).
The answer to where do the ideas come from is, they come from the writer’s brain. It’s almost like a muscle though, it needs to be exercised. You need to read…a lot! You need to actually write, not just think about writing or talk about writing. You need to actually do it! World building is fun and is a nice creative outlet, but don’t stop there. Create some characters and give them a problem to solve and write some scenes. You will be surprised what your mind will come up with if you give it a chance. The more you do this the more other ideas will pop into your head, stuff you never dreamed of. Then you get to connect the dots or rearrange the puzzle pieces to make a story outline. It’s really that easy to get started.
I made the mistake of downloading World of Warcraft Classic late last week. My boys started playing, then my wife got an invite from an old friend that was in our original raiding guild, that they were putting the band back together. It was enough to draw me in.
I had great intentions this weekend of putting the finishing touches on a piece that I had received feedback on. I had plans to write a bunch of post for the blog.
None of that happened.
I played WoW Classic all weekend. Pretty much nonstop. I think we will be doing our first raid either tonight or tomorrow.
In order to finish my first novel I gave up playing these types of games. I didn’t play during my MFA program either. It is a time sink.
I will say that going back to classic reminded me of why I played it. It is fun. You earn everything you get and there is something intrinsically good for the endorphins you release. I am going to have to step back from it . . . well, maybe not today. But at some point, if I ever want to get any more writing done . . .
Anyway, it was nice seeing you all again, I have some ears to collect.
This goes back to March 2011. I was pretty tough on my own skill. I have improved. I can write a nice scene, even a descriptive scene. They don’t come naturally to me, but there is this thing called craft. I am working on trying to write descriptive snippets, in the style of William Gibson. Snippets are fine. They are good in my humble opinion, but there is a point when the description goes overboard. I have seen wonderful writers, whose work I admire, go off the rails. Well, you can read this for yourself.
You know, I have a lot of respect for authors that can write wonderful prose. I know I’m not one of them, but not for a lack of trying. I think they have a gift for using picturesque words and putting them together just the right way to evoke an image in your mind. The really good ones make it so it’s hardly like reading at all, more like experiencing the story. Then there are those that have a great gift for creating imaginative and off the wall ideas that mere mortals just shake their heads at in wonder and amazement. Some are actually gifted with both and they are the great ones we all admire.
I just finished reading a book by one of my favorite new authors and he has a gift for dialogue. He has some amazing ideas for setting and his characters are layered, complex and interesting. His plots are full of twists and turns too, he is really very talented but I have a nit to pick. Way too much description! I mean WAY TOO MUCH. Paragraphs of detailed minutia. I actually skipped entire sections because I just didn’t care. I started in, but the things he was describing were so complex that I wasn’t able to see it clearly in my mind’s eye. After a while I just quit trying. If he started off on another wave of informative adjectives I just escaped to the next paragraph, and then the next one often times. They were superfluous to the story, but he apparently felt I needed to understand how many great ideas he had that he was compelled to share with me. I understand this desire. Authors fall in love with the worlds they create and the more different from normal they are, the more the desire to describe increases.
This is a lesson many of us need to heed. We just spent an enormous amount of time building that world with all kinds of cool environments that nobody has ever thought of before and we are just dying to share them with you. But the only description we should be sharing with you is stuff that is germane to the story and the character that is carrying the perspective. Some description is of course necessary, but the trick is not going overboard with long paragraphs of stuff that will have no impact on the character or affect the flow of the story. If anything I tend to be too sparse with my descriptions, so it really bothers me when someone goes the opposite way and loads up on the description. Where do you fall on the description scale? I know I’m way on the side that has very little.
This from Feb 18, 2011. Stacy has published several books now. She has done very well. We haven’t worked together since I started my Master’s program. I was simply too busy to work on other stuff, but we have kept in contact. I’m very proud of her and a little bit jealous. I need to get busy and knock out a few more novels!
Natalie Whipple has written a lot of books as well and her blog is still going.
This week I had something nice happen. I connected with a new writing partner! I’m very excited about it. She is a little farther along in the writer metamorphosis, she has two novels completed already, but has agreed to work with me. We shared some of our chapters and did line edits for each other and it was very eye-opening. I met her over on Natalie Whipple’s blog: http://betweenfactandfiction.blogspot.com/
She set up a Writing Buddy matching thing, which seems to have really taken off and is no longer on her sight. I feel very fortunate to have wandered over there at the right time.
I learned that it is much easier to edit someone else’s work than your own. This is likely for at least two reasons I can think of off the top of my head. First, it is material you aren’t familiar with. I can tell you my first chapter has been edited so many times I’ve lost count. I’ve rearranged it half a dozen times also. I’m intimately familiar with the story, so much so that I have a hard time seeing it clearly now. It really pays to have a fresh set of eyes on it.
The second reason it a little more esoteric. It’s not my story, and I have nothing emotionally invested in it. I haven’t spent 3 years toiling over it and stroking it and coaxing it to life. I can see sentences and structure and see things that are slightly confusing because I don’t know what the writer had in mind when they created it. As the creator you know the entire story of every character, at least as far as you care to. You know what they are thinking when you’re in their head, but the reader only sees the words and sometimes as writers we can get a little lost in there. It helps to have someone able to show us where the dots aren’t connecting properly.
I hope you have a writing buddy, if you don’t I am highly encouraging you to get one. We’ve just started working together and I am already reaping the rewards of that contact.
This originally posted Jan 28, 2011. I still believe it. Words are magic. They allow the writer to talk to the reader telepathically, from anywhere in time to whenever they pick up the book. And names create an image, whether it might be the name of a business or a new gadget or a person you just met. It shapes your perception, maybe a little and maybe a lot.
I have a question for you writer’s and aspiring writers out there…do names matter?
I know there are many approaches to actually writing a novel from outlining to discovery, and every iteration between those poles. NaNoWriMo taught me to write every day, and I’ve read over and over again that when you write you should just keep going, letting it flow out the right side of your brain and fix it later in the editing phase. But my brain is already full and if I learn something new I have to forget something to make room for it, and I have no idea what that lost tidbit is going to be. It might be the great idea I had for the edit that I didn’t take the time to fix earlier.
I’m one of those people that have to fix it on the spot, if I can. I can get hung up on a scene if I’ve introduced a new character that I wasn’t planning on, and I don’t have his/her name. So much is wrapped up in a name; their whole essence is in that name. I’ve heard the horror stories of editors or publishers demanding a name change! Don’t they understand what you have invested in that name!?! You might have spent hours or even days trying to find just the perfect name. And it’s not just characters, it’s ships and planets and weapons and continents and lakes. You get the idea. This is world building, but to me it’s more than that, it’s world CRAFTING. I’ve heard people say that names don’t matter…WHAT IS WRONG WITH THESE PEOPLE!?! We world builders know different! We’ve put our blood, sweat and tears into those names, they have power!
Okay, maybe I’m getting a little carried away, but I do think it matters. Names set a tone and paint a word picture when they are done well. If I name my main character Rupert or Sterling, it creates an image in your head. Doesn’t it? What about Mad Dog or Killer or Whysk?
Names anchor the ambiance of your setting, whether it’s grim and dark or whimsical and magical. They evoke image and imagination. They have soul or lack soul. Names alone won’t make your story good, but I do think they can help both the writer to imagine and the reader to get absorbed. I would love to hear your opinions on this, unless you disagree with me you cretin!
This dates back to Jan 26, 2011. As I read through this I still think it is pretty much on the mark. Soon after I wrote this I read a book by Lisa Cron, called Wired for Story, that put an entirely different spin on what makes for a good novel. There is some distinction here, between good writing and a good book. I don’t think the two have to be aligned. In other words you can have a book that is written well but doesn’t tell a good story, and contrarywise, you can have a book that is written poorly that tells a great story. According to Lisa, the good story would trump the good writing. I personally have found this to be true to an extent. If the writing is truly bad it may be too much to get past. But as a general rule I think it is true.
It is a gift to be able to turn a phrase in such a way that we actually set back and go, “wow.” It does happen. I think of Laini Taylor, at least the first half of Daughter of Smoke and Bone was amazing. The second part of the story takes on a different tone. On the other hand I love it when I have read a bunch of pages and then realize that I was experiencing the story and it didn’t feel like reading. That is always my goal. I’m not sure you can be taught to be a “great” writer, but you can learn the craft of writing, and it is something that you can rely on when you don’t feel like writing or the muse is quiet. If you want to write for more than a hobby you can’t rely on the muse to strike.
I downloaded a free version of Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper on my iPhone Kindle app. I read the entire series many moons ago when I was a young man and my recollection of the story doesn’t match the reality I’m faced with reading it now. I remember the characters and the setting as being quite awe inspiring, and they are, but the prose are so heavy and overblown with description and obtuse phrasing that it’s very distracting from an author’s perspective.
I am starting to get the feeling that reading now is going to be like riding on an airliner is for me. I fly large jets for a living and I’m not a great passenger now, as I know what every noise is. I really don’t want the flight attendant to ask me if there is anyone onboard that can fly a jet. I find that spending the last couple of years writing and learning about writing has made me acutely aware of story and prose. I still enjoy well written books as much as the next person, maybe even more than before, but if the writing is marginal I have a much lower tolerance now.
I don’t think the Cooper’s books would sell today, at least not in their present form. Mr. Cooper would get a rejection letter that would tell him to keep trying, that his characters were memorable and the setting vivid, but his story just didn’t quite fit with their vision, and good luck. Does that make it a poorly written book? I don’t think so. The thing we have to remember about “the classics” are they were groundbreaking in their day and the rules for writing were different, as were expectations. Some of them hold up quite well, but idioms and commonly used words were often contrary from what we are used to now. I thought about trying to get my young son to read it, but I think it’ll have to wait a few years.
On average the populace is WAY more educated today and in this fast-paced, gotta-have-it-now world our expectations to have something user friendly and easily digested have dramatically increased. I think we all (well, most of us anyway) recognize good prose when we see them, and I really appreciate when an author has me feeling a scene instead of reading it. But even then opinions vary on what makes good writing. Some appreciate the sentence structure and rules of grammar as the gold standard of writing, while others want something that goes down easy and doesn’t bog us down with a lot of description or big words.
What sells? Is that important in your calculations of what kind of story to write and how you want to write it?
Ultimately I think you have to write for yourself. You can’t fit your square novel in the round hole of publication. You should write about things you have a passion for and in your own voice. You have to figure out what that voice is. And that is a blog for another day.