The Apple Tree & Writing

The idea behind the following metaphor is not new. Other writers have expressed similar ideas. This is, however, how I envision a successful writing process.

Here goes.

Writing is an apple tree full of red, ripe apples. Every apple is an idea. From a distant observation, each fruit looks equally delicious. What a bumper crop! You shall never run out of things to write about.

However, the writer would be wise to show restraint and not impulsively climb the tree to pick every reachable apple, for every reachable apple is not a quality apple. A conniving worm might be eating out the core. It’s impossible to tell at this point.

Good ideas are more apt to come to fruition when accompanied by patience

So what’s a writer to do? Find a comfortable beach chair. Put on a Hawaiian shirt, keep the front unbuttoned, and have a beverage of choice within arm’s reach. Sit in the chair, stretch out your legs and ponder the apples. Patience leads to a little miracle called inspiration.

One by one the rotten apples will begin falling from the branches. Caution: a writer may not want to sit directly under the tree.

Once the rotten fruit has revealed themselves and lay a stinky mess on the ground, what remains is the one true apple, the sweet one, the crisp one, the one you desired all along, only you didn’t know where it was on the tree.

Suddenly, there it is. Redder than the others. Sweeter than the rest, with a hint of sour crispness which will make the plot even that much more unpredictable. Choose that one. The one remaining.

Be patient. Be observant. Allow nature to do the rest.

Then place that apple into your hand and devour it with every bit of strength that you have.

 

 

Which Perspective is Better? A Writer’s Dilemma

The more I write, the more I analyze my writing. Why do I make the choices I make when writing? The answer to that is unclear. I guess a lot of my decisions concerning writing comes from the gut – it just feels right. I suppose that’s part of the creative process, letting ones inhibitions go and seeing where the melodic drippings of your mind will take you.

But there are times that writer’s have to make decisions which will have a great deal of bearing on the quality of the story. Of course, it’s never clear in the end if the correct decision has been made. That’s all a matter of opinion and perspective.

Here’s a tangible example. I’m in the middle of my next novel. I’m writing it from an omniscient narrator point of view, but of course I’m being careful not to head-jump around with my perspectives. So I’ve chosen three main characters to be the ones who provide perspective for the different scenes. I decided early on never to write from the perspective of the antagonist because I didn’t want to give away her motivation or thought-process. I wanted that to be a matter of conjecture on behalf of the reader.

The two main characters which provide perspective for the story is a husband and wife. The husband is the stories main protagonist, so his perspective tells most of the story. However, I felt it important to let everyone know what was going on with the wife as well.

The dilemma comes down to this: in any given scene where both of these characters play a main role, how do I determine whose perspective to use?

No easy answer here. A writer needs to dig in and think about what he or she intends to say, what needs to be revealed, what motivations need to be hidden. In one particular scene when the husband is coming home after having committed a grievous act which will alter the rest of his life, I decided to back away from his perspective and allow the wife, who knows nothing of this act or why the husband is acting so strangely, to bring it out slowly. So while the readers have followed the husband through the committing of this act, they are suddenly shielded to the man’s state of mind after he committed it. They don’t know how he’s handling it. They don’t know how he is taking it. They only have his actions and words to fuel their speculation – the readers are stripped bare of his thoughts, but they can feel the crescendo of anxiety building up inside the mind of the wife.

Was it right to write that scene in this way? I don’t know. Writers never know. We just have to make the best decisions possible and hope it all comes together in the end.

How do you go about making your writing decisions?

Writing: The Difference between being Finished and being Done

I don’t know how other people write. That makes sense. I’m not other people.

But I do wonder sometimes the various methodologies (or lack thereof in my case) applied to craft. I was particularly thinking about first drafts recently, and I realize that I am a “run and gun” offense on my first draft. I don’t slow down for anything, not even vocabulary or grammar.

What exactly does that mean? My first draft is focused on plot, and characters – but, if I had to pick one of those, it would be plot. I’m trying to find the common thread that’s going to weave this story together from start to finish, and since I’m trying to discover what it is, I rarely have patience to write it the right way the first time through. Just get it finished!

So a typical writing session will be me whipping through several chapters or mowing down several scenes just to better flesh out the story.

But the editing process begins at the very next writing session. When I start re-reading my machine-gun literature, it becomes painfully obvious that it’s mediocre writing at best. It needs a lot of work and refinement. As I re-read, I begin to parse out the phrases better, I begin to substitute more interesting vocabulary, and I begin to give characters the flair they should have but don’t yet have.

Once I reach the end of my last session, I’ll machine-gun it some more, extending the story out as far as I can at the moment.

Once the first draft is complete, the refinement begins. It’s a matter of looking at each and every sentence. Is the vocabulary solid and interesting? Do the sentences flow together well? Do the details of the characters match what has been said about them previously? Are there huge plot holes which need to be filled with a whole new writing session worth of material?

Once the second draft is done, I start the third draft, fixing the myriad of items which I missed on the second draft. The language begins to get crisper and the content flows smoothly.

By that point, it is “finished” but  not “done.” I see these as two distinct different things. Finished to me means that the story I want to tell is complete. “Done” isn’t accomplished until it’s actually sent for publishing which could be several months to a year after it is “finished.”  The “doneness” of a project is accomplished over a long period of time, working on nagging issues, improvement in vocabulary, fixing typos, and concentrating on making the “done” manuscript the absolute best that it can be.

That’s how I look at my writing process.

What about you?

Approaches to (Drama) Writing Part I: Be Fearless

A colleague asked me to speak to an English class about drama writing. This was a good opportunity for me to spend a little time to think through the processes I use when writing drama (or creative writing in general.) Mostly, my procedures are nothing learned or formal, but merely intuitive responses based on trial and error. I’d like to take a few posts and talk about my procedures in hopes that it might encourage others in their pursuit of writing drama. Part 1 is not exclusive to drama writing. It’s an essential part of any type of creative writing.

Drama Writing – Part 1: Be Fearless!

When you start writing drama (or any creative writing), you will find yourself saying things like this:

“I don’t know what to write about.”

“I have no good ideas.”

“Look at what I’ve written. It stinks.”

If you find yourself saying any of these or similar platitudes then you are well on your way to being a writer. Here’s one to crochet on a pillow and put in your writing room: Doubt is the bedfellow of a writer.

Undoubtedly.

There are many reasons for this. One of the most obvious reasons comes from comparing one’s work with that of other writers. We’ve all read something which we really admire and think, “Wow, I could never write like this. I could never be a better writer than this person so why even try.” You may feel like sulking in despair and throwing your pen into the trash. But while the previous sentence may be true, the inverse is as well, that author will never write like you. There’s only one you. Capitalize on it!

Secondly, vulnerability is embedded into the fabric of writing. If you ever want to say something memorable, if you ever want to communicate effectively and correctly about the human condition, if you ever wan to connect with an audience, you have to be vulnerable in your writing. You have to go places in your writing where you typically don’t want to go. You have to write things which will make your friends raise their eyebrows and look at you funny. They will wonder if you are really losing it, or if you have finally fallen off the deep end. All those doubts they had about you will be confirmed. Are you sure you are ready for this?

Third, an issue interconnected with vulnerability is the judgment which inevitably will come along with it. Fairly or not, writers who let others read their works will be judged. Some people will understand what you are saying. Others won’t, and that judgment can hurt. I remember after I published my first novel, I had some friends who treaded lightly around a few topics which I broached in the book. Some even asked me, “Whoa, what’s going on in that mind of yours?”

But what I have learned more than anything else about writing is that writers don’t let unfavorable comparisons, painful vulnerabilities, or ruthless judgments stop them from writing.

Writers must be fearless! This is the foundational stone upon which your writing must be built, and I think it’s also the first step that must be understood when attempting to write serious drama (or any other genre of creative writing.)

Understand at the beginning that failure and doubt will follow you everywhere, but you must not give in to their begging and pleading.

Now that we all understand what to expect, we’re ready to move on to step 2 of drama writing.

Next Up in Our Drama Writing Series – Part 2: Writing Starts in Your Mind

After Hours and Hours: Still No Idea What I Have

One of the projects I’ve been working on lately (and for a while) is 10-minute concept musical about the end of the world.

I started it last year with some basic brainstorm writing and a chorus melody that I liked which has become kind of the focused anthem for the piece.

Recently, probably about two weeks ago, I finally got back to it and I’ve been putting in a bunch of hours here and there trying to sort it out and get it finished. Honestly, pieces like this usually just fit into place in a hurry for me, but for some reason, this one is being quite stubborn.

The basic idea is that two people’s day is interrupted by someone dropping a nuclear bomb nearby. The tone of it is rather light-hearted and funny, though I’m trying to build in some poignancy as well. I really don’t like light pieces of entertainment without purpose. That’s just not me.

So I’ve been singing it over and over in my mind, slowly chiseling away at the melodies, structure, lyrics, and overall theme of the piece. Over the last two days it is finally starting to take shape. I use audacity to make simple recordings of my ideas – just me singing – it’s painful to listen to sometimes – and yesterday I recorded a rough version of the first seven minutes. Since then, I’ve started shaping the final three minutes.

But what has struck me about this piece, is that I have NO idea of what I have here. Will other people understand it?  It’s not a straight narrative and it has a hodgepodge of melodies, some which come back around and repeat. I kind of like it, but perhaps no one else in the world will understand what I’m getting at. That’s probably an overstatement because it’s not that abstract, but what if it’s produced and the audience doesn’t get it? What if no one laughs? What if they think it’s stupid?

Or what if they stand and applaud?

Creativity can be flipped on its head in the matter of seconds. There are no guarantees, and what I keep telling myself is to produce the best possible work that I can. Make sure that I am happy with it and that it represents what I want to say. And then let the chips fall where they may.

I do hope that this one will be produced at some point this year. I just can’t tell what the reaction will be. Such is the life of a creative writer or any creative artist for that matter.

So here’s to you: “It’s the End of the World and I Love You.”

An Interesting Quote from Ecclesiastes for Indie Authors – 1

Look at this interesting quote from Ecclesiastes 7:

“The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride.”

Lesson 1 for the Indie Author: Ending is better than beginning.

Boy, that sums me up as a writer pretty well. Writing the end of a novel is always better than writing its beginning.

I’m sure you’ve seen this quote about writing: “I don’t like to write, but I love to have written.” Michael Kanin

That’s not entirely true for me. I have matured over the last couple of years, and I enjoy the journey of writing much more than I used to. When I wrote my first novel, I was so frightened that I would run out of words that I couldn’t wait for it be finished, so then I would know if I accomplished my goal or not. When it was finished, I looked back in awe and a sense of accomplishment. It felt good “to have written.”

Part of the reason I love the ending of writing so much is that I get to discover how the story turns out. I often don’t know until I get there. I have all of these loose ends, and I wonder how they will fit together. They always do, in one way or another.

So as a writer, I often race towards the ending. Sometimes too quickly. (I need some of that patience.) I’ve learned a lot about the give and take of a story over the last couple of years. Yes, it’s fun to get to the ending, but it’s even better to get to an ending of a quality story. So while my eyes are continually on the goal, I’ve learned to flesh out the details much better and develop the scenery and background which is going to make the ending all that much more satisfying.

But still, getting to the ending is great. All writers know the feeling when that first draft is finished. Or that second draft. Or any subsequent draft. And ultimately the final draft. It’s literally a chapter of a writer’s life is coming to an end. Sure, it can be bittersweet, but it’s much more of a celebration. At least for me.

Tomorrow I’ll tackle the pride and patience issues.

 

I’m sure my writing is uneven because my brain is uneven

Before bed last night, I clicked on Scrivener to read over a chapter from my new novel. I was tired and had few expectations for greatness as my blurry eyes started scanning down the page.

And then the strangest thing happened, words flew randomly out of my head, and they made sense. Some even bordered on profound. Others elegantly enhanced the previous draft. I felt like I was on fire. My brain could do no wrong. It was a great feeling.

Unfortunately, it’s a feeling that visits me much too infrequently.

Writing always comes fairly easy for me, but I must admit that it’s not always great writing. For every profound statement there are plenty of duds like “There was something non-descript and uninteresting sitting on the counter. I think.” Hopefully, I exaggerate.

But the larger point is this: a draft of a novel or a story or whatever will never be written evenly. Some passages will naturally soar the first time they are written and other passages will naturally sour after they sit for a while.

What’s a writer to do? The only thing that can be done. Re-read. Re-write. Re-word. Re-phrase. Re-do. Renew.

The rough stretches and awkward phrasing can be eliminated, but that is where the writer earns his keep — thriving in the trenches. We can’t afford to live off the harvest of a fruitful and plentiful mind. That might only come around once in a great while. But any poor sentence can always be re-written and made better.

So I write regardless of how well my brain is cooperating. Even when I don’t feel so inspired or when words get jumbled and I keep using the same phrasing over and over, I don’t stop writing. I keep pushing through for quantity, knowing that I will be back to comb through once again (or more) for quality.

My draft writing is uneven. It can range from excellent to poor, but it never stays that way.

 

When writing, I don’t want to sound smart. I want to sound real.

I was reading some reviews written by some readers of a particular novelist whom I am not familiar with. The readers were noting some of the rather bizarre metaphors that the author was using and said that if you liked the sound of these then you will like this person’s writing.

The metaphors themselves seemed a little pretentious with rather complicated and strange imagery which wasn’t really very accessible to the mind – at least not my mind. It got me thinking once again how as a writer, metaphors are meant to add to story – add to the reader’s visual perception of the storytelling. If a metaphor makes a reader stop and think “what in the heck does that mean” then I think it has lost its purpose.

Metaphors aren’t meant to make a writer sound smart.

I’m sure all of my metaphors and imagery do not have the desired effect on my readers. I’m sure I have swung and missed on some of my attempts to strengthen the meaning of a line. But as I write, my over-arching goal is simple – don’t try to sound smart, try and sound real.

That’s what I think good writing is. Words that flow in a natural and real manner. Words that paint pictures which etch out the image of the characters into vivid visualizations. Words that bring out emotion and humanity. That is the goal in my writing.

I try to keep it simple. I will not construct elaborate metaphors unless they will be completely obvious and helpful to the reader.

That’s how I approach my writing. I don’t always succeed and there is always room for improvement, but I want my writing to be accessible, real, and emotional. Not distant and pretentious sounding.

But that’s just me.

There’s no way to know if you should “blow-up” your writing

You’re cruising along in your writing, following a certain idea, a certain rabbit trail that has you darting and dogging over and under a thrilling maze of obstacles until you are satisfied that you have what you want.

And then, you get another idea – an idea which will completely restructure everything you just wrote. This new idea has merit, for sure, or I wouldn’t be talking about it, but will it make the story better? Will it add anything or will it become an unnecessary distraction?

Should you throw your “idea-bomb” into your writing and blow things up and start again?

Unfortunately, there is no correct answer to this question.

I’ve come across this issue on a play I’ve been working on. The play itself has a simple setting with only two characters. Most of the play has already been fleshed out and written, and I expected to let the writing cruise on home to finish this bad-boy.

But a new idea hit me. I could suddenly add a new character about half-way into the action to completely change everything. I’m tempted by the possibility, but I am unsure if, in the long run, it would be the right thing to do.

What’s the only option? Write it both ways and compare.

If that seems like the most time-consuming thing to do, it is.

Do I have a huge amount of time to write? I don’t.

So now the decision comes.

And the decision solely rests on the writer. Would it be wrong to ignore the new idea and stick with the original? Not at all. It might even be preferable.

Would it be wrong to delay ending the project by exploring some new writing avenues? Of course not. Writing is a marathon not a sprint.

Will the writer’s decision be easier by writing a blog post about the dilemma?

Absolutely not.

I was hoping for another answer, but there you have it. Only the writer can make those decisions.

Good luck making yours.

What does a successful writing session look like?

Yesterday, I posted a silly philosophical rant prior to sitting down and writing out an idea that I had for a short play.

I probably jinxed myself because I went on about how within the next two hours I would be “changed” because of the inspiration which I just put down on paper.

I currently must have egg on my face because my magical two hour writing session fizzled. So I tried again this afternoon on the same idea and nothing. I just went back and forth with various ideas, but I couldn’t quite pull the trigger on any of them. It just didn’t feel right.

This is quite rare for me. When I sit down to write, typically 1000-3000 words will fly off the keys with remarkable ease. But it just didn’t happen. Does that mean my writing sessions of yesterday and today were unsuccessful?

Not in the least.

I’ve said this before, but I really believe it. Writing is mainly done in the head – in your mind and thought-process. Sometimes the idea is so tangible that the mind goes and the fingers have trouble keeping up. But other times the mind needs to slowly gander along the winding river of creativity to see what is currently in bloom. It needs to explore certain dark, dusty avenues to clear out the cobwebs. It needs to remain noncommittal, so the thought process has time to mature and be ready to spring forth.

This is not writer’s block. This is mental writing.

For all my time and effort, I may only have two different starting points of my play – each with about 200 words – but I am putting in some serious think time to see which, if any, is the way forward with this idea.

It’s not always bad to walk away from a writing session without much tangible proof that you have actually been writing.

It’s OK to step back and let your mind sort things out. I’m pretty sure that you will one day be rewarded for your patience. I’ll let you know when this particular play has finally worked its way out of my mind.