Fireflies & Laserbeams

Throwback Thursday: What makes good writing? – Revisited

Thursday August 1, 2019 | By Hieronymus Hawkes | Blogging | Leave Comments

377b0-writingCan you believe it's August already? 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.   Clear Ether

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Am I a Blogger or a Writer?

Wednesday July 31, 2019 | By Hieronymus Hawkes | Blogging | Leave Comments

75226-commitmentIs there a big distinction between the two? I have to write to blog. My average word count for a blog post is just under 500 words, and that is over nine years. That is about two pages of a novel. Two pages of a novel or, in my current case, two pages of a short story that I could be writing to finish those stories. I enjoy both. The novel or short story has a structure, it can be lose or fairly well-outlined, but it is always there waiting on me to add more words. The blog has a different structure. It requires constant care and feeding if you are going to maintain it. The thing about writing fiction for a story is that there is no pressure to do so much in a given day or week. Unless you are on deadline. And for those of us that do not have a contract or an agent, the time is unconstrained. It doesn’t matter to the novel if I add more words today or not. Do I feel guilty? Yes. Some days very much so. Others not so much. That freedom is one of the few perks of being unpublished. I worry that once I am published that I will have to sit my butt down every day and dig those gems out of the word mine. But for now I can breathe easy. And don’t ask me why I decided to start blogging more regularly again. I can’t even give you a good reason, other than I wanted to. I follow a couple of writers that blog regularly and have managed to keep it up for a long time. One less so now, as he is having more writing success and appears to have less time or desire to blog. That is at the crux of it. I have set a daunting schedule for myself. I am trying to blog consistently five days a week. I don’t know how long I can keep it up, or if I will run out of things to talk about. But that was never really my goal when I started this. The reason is twofold. One is simply to have a place for my readers to connect with me once I am published. So there is no real agenda other than that. But the second reason is a little more esoteric. I will be fifty-five on my birthday. I feel like I have accumulated a fair amount of life knowledge or what you might consider wisdom, and at times I feel the urge to share some of it. I remember when I was in college, taking my first philosophy course, and I felt the desperate need to write down my own beliefs. My personal philosophy. I did. I have no idea what happened to those pages, but I would love to read them now and compare notes. One of the things you may struggle with as you age is reflecting on what you have accomplished, and just as importantly, was it enough? Have you made your mark on the world? If not how do you fix that? You might write a book. Or run for office. Or start a new business. Or go back to school and try something new. Or do a blog. It’s a simple thing, but it’s a little bit like a needy pet. You need to brush it and feed it and clean up after it. It requires time. I have a friend that posts twice a week, and has maintained that for almost a decade. She writes about writing. Singularly. We started at about the same time, but she has maintained that rhythm the entire time and my history is all over the map. Not only in regularity, but in topic. Having this place to bloviate on whatever topic I want is a way to move that ball forward a little. I don’t even know if there is a goal line, but it have the illusion of making some sort of progress toward some place far ahead in the mist. I can write about whatever I want. I do write about writing sometimes, because it interests me. There are a lot of things I want to write about that have nothing to do with story craft. I may actually write them someday. I’m sure there will be adjustments that have to be made going forward. I honestly don’t know If I will have the time or inclination to post five days a week forever. I’m almost certain I won’t. But for now that is my plan. The downside is it does take me away from working on novels and short stories. There is only so much time in the day. I am still working to find the balance since my quasi-retirement, for working out, spending time with my family, playing video games, drawing, and writing. Blogging is just one thing I enjoy doing. I have discovered over the last forty or so years that my attention span is often short. I throw myself into things wholeheartedly, and then, when I’ve had my fill, I push it to the side and do something else. I often come back around to the thing, but it is rarely with the same gusto as the first time. Knowing that about myself is a good thing. I try to temper my involvement in some things because of it. But so far I have managed to keep my interest heavily invested in writing. It has been fairly steady for about eleven years now. I honestly believe it will be something I court for the rest of my life. And whether it is simply writing a blog post or working on an epic fantasy, it will be time well spent. If you write, how do you approach these things?

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The Naming, How Do you Title a Novel?

Monday July 29, 2019 | By Hieronymus Hawkes | Blogging | Leave Comments

IMG_1937I’ve completed three manuscripts, and titling a book is always a pain in the ass. You want to have something catchy, but also you want to give the prospective reader a clue as to what type of book you wrote, the genre and the style. The book cover will help with some of that, but that’s an entirely different post. I did some research on different techniques and one espoused the idea of a one word title being the most effective. But try to find one word that evokes the theme of your story and hasn’t been used already. (And is still enticing.) It’s very similar to titling a movie. Should it be an action verb? A noun? That’s so passive, which might work if you are writing something boring. I’m kidding, I actually had one of my books titled with a noun for a short while before changing it. Not sure if that was the 3rd or 4th title. Think Caddyshack or Inception or Run. It’s probably on par with writing the first sentence. I don’t think there has ever been a poll done to figure out how many writers kept the first sentence of their original draft, but I am going to guess it is infinitesimally small. You will rewrite that booger a thousand times to get it perfect, and even then it’s probably not really sublime, which is what you want. I recently pitched to an editor with my working title and, in not so many words, she said it was too boring and asked me if I was attached to it. Is that a thing? Do writers actually get attached to the title? The working title for my last manuscript is Perfect Working Order. I don’t know. Maybe it is too nebulous. I think that is the 6th or 7th title. I googled to make sure there was no other book with that title. The key word here is working title. I will gladly change it to sell the book. If you want to name it Explosions and Murder! And you think that will sell, then by all means change the title. I wonder if there are people that help with book titles. Wouldn’t that be cool if you had a gift for naming books? “Let me see that. It’s so obvious. You should name it, ‘I’ll never turn to the Dark Side.’” Do these people exist? I write fiction, so maybe it’s possible, but I certainly don’t know of any. I hit on the idea a while back of using a line from the manuscript. That is where the title of my last M/S came from, then I saw this week someone else saying that was a good technique. But if it’s a 240,000 word novel it might be hard to find one line that encapsulates the entire book. Hell, even a 40,000 story is a lot of words to pick from. Another theory is to make it as obvious as possible what the story is about, without being too cliché. And it obviously works well in a straight forward story. Something like The Breakfast Club or Toy Story or Fatal Attraction. Somebody is coming up with these. No matter how you slice it, it’s not easy. Don’t expect to get it right the first time. And don’t waste a lot of time worrying about it when you are writing the novel. Although, it is a good way to avoid writing.

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Throwback Thursday: The Future of Publishing Revisited

Thursday July 25, 2019 | By Hieronymus Hawkes | Blogging | Leave Comments

These are from a series of posts I did back in the week of December 10, 2010. This was the week I discovered Dean Smith and Kristine Rusch. Other than updating a few of the links below,  and the price model that is referred to at the bottom is probably out of date. Otherwise, nothing much has changed in nearly ten years. booksThat amazes me. Back then a lot of people were saying it was going to be the end of traditional publishing. But Kris was right on the money, although the Big Five haven’t completely figured it out, even now. They are not going anywhere. If anything, it has only made it harder for unknown writers to break in to traditional publishing. This makes me scratch my head. We will see what the next ten years bring.


Part 1 I don’t know where everyone gets the idea that the costs of publishing eBooks are zero. I see that comment all the time. If you want someone to edit the book or prepare it for the zillion formats that eReaders use it comes with a price tag. That stuff doesn’t happen all by itself. If you expect the author to do that stuff you are going to see a lot fewer books coming out or coming out in limited formats. The biggest complaint most people have about eBooks is the poor quality of editing, so if you think you are going to self-publish without the proper number of rounds of the editing process you are setting yourself up for failure. Self-publishing is growing dramatically and so is the eBook market. It's leading to a problem of differentiating the good from the bad. Some new filtering mechanism is likely going to develop to separate the chaff from the wheat, but I haven't seen it yet. There is still a lot of crap making it out into the online market. There are a lot of well-known authors making an effort to take control of their publishing but it does take a toll. I think marketing is a huge issue, maybe the biggest. If you can't reach your audience you aren't going to sell any books. Having an actual marketing plan and following through on it will likely be the difference of success or failure of your book, and that holds true for eBooks and traditional paper books. Large publishing houses can market your book in a way that you will likely never be able to manage unless your name starts with J.K. Publishers have their place in the scheme and I don’t think most authors want to do those things that publishers can bring to the table. It takes away time from writing and a lot of it requires a skill set they may not have. It's all a matter of finding the right pricing structure that will make the publisher a viable entity and still provide the author with the appropriate level of compensation for their efforts. Some of the publishers are figuring it out and moving in the right direction now. Time will tell if the big publishing houses will figure it out. Part 2 Just after I finished my last post
Jane Fancher posted that she had run into Patty Briggs this weekend and mentioned that she was releasing a new book and posted a link to it. In that post Mike Briggs, Patty’s husband who runs her website, linked to another post by Kristine Kathryn Rusch about the very subject I had posted on earlier. Her blog is usually focused on the business end. She knows the publishing industry from the inside and from the writer’s perspective and she is in the middle of a series of articles trying to define where the industry is heading and what it means to writers. I am linking all the posts below that she has already published as of today. They are lengthy and very well researched and very informative. http://kriswrites.com/2010/10/21/the-business-rusch-changing-times-overview/ http://kriswrites.com/2010/10/28/the-business-rusch-understanding-publishing-changing-times-part-2/ http://kriswrites.com/2010/11/04/the-business-rusch-challenges-for-big-publishing-changing-times-part-three/ http://kriswrites.com/2010/11/10/the-business-rusch-how-e-books-will-save-big-publishing-changing-times-part-four/ http://kriswrites.com/2010/11/17/the-business-rusch-the-nimble-presses-changing-times-continued/ http://kriswrites.com/2010/11/25/the-business-rusch-bookstores-changing-times-part-six/ http://kriswrites.com/2010/12/01/the-business-rusch-writers-the-overview-changing-times-part-seven/ http://kriswrites.com/2010/12/08/the-business-rusch-bestselling-writers-changing-times-part-eight/ Here is just one snippet from her outstanding blog:
"Enter electronic publishing—which is, as the bloggers say, a game-changer. But it’s not a game-changer the way that the bloggers believe it is. Electronic publishing will enable Big Publishing to change its business model. In other words, electronic publishing won’t cause the demise of Big Publishing. Electronic publishing will save it."
Part 3 The publishing landscape has changed dramatically in the last two years and continues to change. Distribution was always tough for a small publishing house and forget it if you were trying to self-publish. But that's all changed now. Dean Wesley Smith has a section on his website devoted to debunking the myths of writing and publishing a book. Here is one gem I found in the comments section below his post about self-publishing:  
Put your novel up on Kindle. Cost: Free Put your novel up on Smashwords, which gets you to Sony, Nook, iBook, and other places. Cost: Free Put your novel through CreateSpace in trade paperback form in POD. That gets it to Amazon. Cost: Free (or $39.00 if you want better distribution into all stores.) Put your novel through LighteningSource in trade paperback form in POD. That gets it to Ingram. Cost: around $100.00 No reason for a self-published author these days to pretend to be a traditional publisher and go into the produce model. And besides, why do it until you’ve tried to sell it to a traditional fiction publisher first?   --Dean Wesley Smith
  Here is a link to his “Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing” website. It’s chock full of great information and advice for someone trying to break in to the writing business: Dean Wesley Smith I highly recommend it! All this reading I've been doing has convinced me all the more that I just need to spend more time writing and worry about the other stuff after I finish the manuscripts. I'm back at it....

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Throwback Thursday: Writing Guilt Revisited

Thursday July 18, 2019 | By Hieronymus Hawkes | Blogging | Leave Comments

[caption id="attachment_1480" align="alignleft" width="200"]Guilt_Finger Credit to Gaël Blanchemain [/caption] This goes back to Dec 30, 2010. So, if this is actually true I started this writing journey 12 years ago. I don't think that is really accurate. Maybe I thought I had started, but I hadn't actually written anything yet. I was close on the retirement part, but I left a year earlier than this estimate and ended up taking another full-time gig that I like a lot. The guilt is still a thing, though.


I started down this writing road about 3 years ago, or was it 4? Slowly but surely I've learned the tools of the trade. I've also slowly become more immersed in the act of writing. I have a day job still and will for at least 9 more years, but I'm preparing myself for writing success and a career after my current career. I write more and more in my spare time. When I'm not writing, I'm thinking about writing or blogging about it. I recently saw a quote:
"Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don't feel I should be doing something else." - Gloria Steinem
I find that to be very true. Then there's this one:
"Being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life." ~ Lawrence Kasdan
LOL, it's so true. I used to like to watch a few TV shows or catch up on DVDs of movies that I missed at the theater. Now I just write in my free time and if I'm watching one of those TV shows or a DVD I feel guilty, that I really should be writing instead. Anyone else have this issue? Clear Ether!

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Yeah, I Write Poetry

Monday July 15, 2019 | By Hieronymus Hawkes | Blogging | Leave Comments

When I was at In Your Write Mind last weekend, I took a workshop on Poetry. One of mywriter juice good friends, Suz Jay, sent me a link for a Writer’s Digest contest this week and it seemed like fun. I spent a half hour and wrote a poem. This is a particular style called Zejel. It is an old Spanish style, with a specific rhyming scheme. As it turns out I like this. It fits my short attention span very nicely. I hope to do a lot more.   Anyway here it is, please to enjoy: Writing Spilling your guts upon the page Racking your brain, confine the rage Squeeze your heart and open the cage   Character, Setting, Conflict, Story Try and Fail, Nail your Quarry The elusive plot turned Allegory Keep on bleeding, you’ve set the stage   Plots and Arcs and Point of View Mix it all into the stew Maintain Voice all the way through No pity for the war we wage   Show don’t tell, crank up the dial Active voice all the while Don’t forget the Elements of style Now your drama has come of age

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5 Things: My favorite Music to Listen to When I Write

Friday July 12, 2019 | By Hieronymus Hawkes | 5 Things | Leave Comments

I can write when its quiet. I can sort of write when the television or streaming device is playing. I can write when I am in a public space and its not horribly loud. I am pretty damned good at tuning this out (Just ask my wife.) But if I have my druthers I like to listen to music when I write. Here are 5 of my favorites in no particular order.

  1. Soundtracks are great, especially science fiction movies or adventure movies. My favorite of all time is Tron Legacy by Daft Punk. I listen to this pretty regularly. Pirates of the Caribbean are all pretty good. Ironman soundtracks are also great. If you are doing horror I would recommend the Diablo game soundtracks.
  2. Playlists are also great. I made a bunch back in the day when I started using iTunes. One of my favorites in one with Alterbridge, Breaking Benjamin and Three Days Grace. I listened to this a lot when I wrote my first novel, so it has become a nostalgia thing now.
  3. Build your own playlist for that project. I haven't really done this all the way. I've started a couple of times but never really finished it. I have done like a soundtrack for the movie that might be made. That is always fun. But building the soundtrack takes considerable time, time I would rather use actually writing in most cases.
  4. Pandora is good for music if you don’t have anything particular in mind. I like Bread Radio for 70s stuff and Talk Talk Radio for 80s stuff. I have a bunch of other stations, too.
  5. Spotify is unbelievable. I can pick from so many things. Songs or Albums or playlists or a particular band or even a mood. My son in law made some really great playlists. I have been listening to a lot of 311 recently. Radiohead really works for me. It is eclectic enough that it doesn’t distract me.
What do you listen to? Who are your favorites?  

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Throwback Thursday: “I Suck at Writing” Revisited

Thursday July 11, 2019 | By Hieronymus Hawkes | Blogging | Leave Comments

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!

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5 Things I Love About Writing

Friday July 5, 2019 | By Hieronymus Hawkes | Blogging | Leave Comments

  1. Pride in a job done well. It’s amazing when you write a passage that really sings. If5325-you-should-be-writing wouldn’t call it a muse thing or being struck by lightning, but craft, at its best. You have managed to really get into the head of your character and moment happens that shines on the page. We all aspire to that constantly, but truth be told it simply doesn’t. I read a book by Lisa Cron, Wired for Story, and she talks about how good prose are wonderful but the real trick is telling a good story. So, it’s not hugely important to be able to write amazing prose to be a successful writer, but you do have to be able to convey story well. All that said, it’s still a joy to write a good scene.
 
  1. Magic. There are moments when you write when magic happens. You are in the head of your character and you have a fence post you are traveling towards, assuming you have even a sketchy outline, and then the character goes in a completely different direction than you had planned. You didn’t see it coming, but it works even better. Those are the moments we all write for. It makes for more work potentially, because now you may have to replan the outline, but let me tell you, it is worth it. It happens with free-writing as well, when you characters do something that surprises you.
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