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Writers: Chip Away like a Sculptor

The story is there. Already.

It’s in the mind. It’s composed of memories and relationships, small pieces of information from earth, and deep dreams which probe the vastness of the unknown.

The story is already created.

It simply needs to be released. It needs to be formulated in a way that will make sense to everyone. It needs to be sculpted out of the mind.

Creativity is taking the building blocks of “know” and marrying them to the unknown in unique and previously not-thought-of before ways.

This is why a draft is a draft. It has yet to be refined. It has yet to be feel the full weight of the writer’s chisel.

Each character wants to run away with the story. Each character tries to assert themselves in a literary coup which will shift the story line in one’s favor.

But the writer must be steady.

Each setting wants to take up residence in the whole of the story. It want to be the all-in-all background. It wants to stake claim to the glory. It wants to be remembered.

But the writer must be patient.

Each word and phrase and paragraph wants to plant its roots deep on the page as an immovable font which becomes an indelible part of the story. Congruent or not.

But the writer must be ruthless.

The writer must reign in the characters and choose the one who honors the most favored literary path.

The writer much focus the setting which best optimizes the character and the story.

The writer must cut and chip and scourge the manuscript of the words and phrases which don’t add life – as beautiful as they may be – as poetic as they may sound. Poetry in the wrong place becomes dead prose.

A writer must be a ruthless sculptor – focused intently on the story inside.

Narrow. Tight. Pull. Twinge.

With steadiness, patience, and ruthlessness, the right story will emerge.

The Problem of Authorship: Another Beautiful Idea, Still No Time

One of the most frustrating parts of writing is having an accumulation of new ideas but no time to explore them.

Grrrrr.

This weekend I found myself driving for nearly fifteen hours on a fun road-trip for work – certainly nothing wrong with that. The problem occurs when I find myself staring dizzily at the road for hours on end, fueling myself with junk food, chocolate, and Coke Zero, and unable to do anything but think up new writing ideas.

It’s fun, actually. On the way to our destination, I came up with a phrase that I really liked. Sorry I can’t share it because I know there are spies in the midst ready to steal. (or maybe I’m just paranoid) But upon arrival, I sent myself an email with that phrase as the title just so I wouldn’t forget it.

Today, as I was driving home, I re-pulled that phrase out of my brain and started thinking through scenarios which might be an interesting angle to turn that phrase into a novel. I know, from a phrase to a novel is quite a jump, but that’s how my brain works.

It wasn’t long when I imagined the protagonist suddenly arriving to a tropical beach – sorry I can’t tell you how he got there or why – when all of these ideas start flooding me. Before I knew it, I was ready to give the story a sequel – AND I DON’T WRITE SEQUELS! So I went from a single phrase to two novels or more in the matter of a zoned-out driving session.

I couldn’t stop there. I arrived home, opened Scrivener, and jotted down all of my new ideas. I even started writing out some of the dialogue with three of the characters. It’s peppy and fun – and quite mysterious – very different from what I’ve done before, but I really like this idea and I want to develop it.

BUT

Here’s my reality. I am three months away from the publication of my fourth novel. I am already 2/3s into the first draft of my fifth novel. I have two major dramatic writing projects on my plate for this year. And the ultimate reality is that I have a full-time job which requires a lot. When can I get back to the fascinating beach scene?

I need to take few shallow breaths and relax. I can only do what I can do what I can do.

I do suppose that a glut of good ideas is better than a dearth of good ideas.

Hang in there, characters. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.

An Approach to Drama Writing Part II: It all starts in your mind.

Part II on my short workshop on writing drama (applicable to other genres as well. Part I was on Being Fearless. You can read it HERE!

Writing is accomplished in your mind. It’s edited on paper. (or electronic paper)

One of the great myths of writing is that it is accomplished when you actually start putting ink to paper. I have found that to be grossly untrue. Writing is a mind game, an exercise in thinking, an exercise in idea creation, an exercise in fleshing out ideas and thinking about characters and scenes long before you ever put anything down on paper.

Start  with a word or phrase

The most important part of writing is generating thoughts which connect and help expand an idea. One of the most effective ways I have found to generate ideas is by starting with a word or phrase. Here are some phrases that I came across that I liked which eventually turned into short dramatic pieces:

  • If Love is a Crime
  • More Heart, Less Attack (stolen from a song title)
  • Captured in Time and Space (stolen from an album title)
  • There is no leaving

These are phrases, some random some sourced from other places, which stuck with me for one reason or another and I started ruminating on them. I started asking myself in what type of situation might showing love be a crime. In my history class at the time, we were talking about slavery and that quickly gave me my answer: giving aid to a runaway slave. So I took that phrase and developed it into a short play and then eventually a short story.

I basically did the same thing with the other phrases above as well. I thought and thought until I fit the phrase into an appropriate situation. Each one turned out to be a good piece of drama.

Start with an image or scene in your mind.

Another great place to start your drama writing is just taking a simple image in your mind and starting to think through what type of situation could it create. When I was growing up, there was a lonely tree on top of a high hill which always visually stuck with me for some reason. As I was writing my second novel a couple years ago, I encouraged myself to take that image and try to use it. Who would climb a hill and sit under a lonely crab apple tree? Could they be trying to escape something? Could they be climbing the hill in order to look out over the valley trying to see something? I let my imagination take me away and eventually used it as an integral part of my novel. All it took was thinking time.

I also had an image of a man standing in a square with an umbrella in front of the gate of the presidential palace of some country. I kept asking myself why a man would do this? What might be the situation? A protest? Waiting for someone? I used this image to create a short play about a man waiting for a revolution. More recently I took that short play and wrote it into a novel – my fourth coming up later this summer.

What’s the point?

What I’m trying to get across when writing drama (or anything for that matter), is that your initial idea does not have to be elaborate. It might not even be an idea a first, just a phrase or an image rattling away in your mind. All you need to do is let that phrase ruminate and give your mind time to generate some possible ideas which you can explore on paper. Keep it simple. Think who might be in that setting and why? What might this word or phrase mean? Is there a particular place associated with it?

Now just keep it going. You’ll be surprised at how your ideas will blossom.

Next up in part three of writing drama: Take that scene and create your characters (or vice versa)

Bad Writing Sessions – Push Onward

Ahhh! The tortured writer. Tortured in thoughts. Words that taunt. Phrases which elude. Plot which plods. Characters I don’t care about.

When will it end? Perhaps when I end this tortuous session.

We’ve all had them – those unproductive sessions when nothing flows right and everything sounds exactly wrong.

That was me this afternoon. I did manage to squeak out 1000 words, which is better than nothing.

Or is it?

It was one of those days that I question the assumption of being a writer. Everything sounded so bland and stale. Those words keep ringing in my ear. What words? “Every novelist only has one novel.” No, it can’t be. Am I re-writing my old novel or borrowing plot or characterization. Is my voice in this one even distinguishable.

Help, where will it end?

Get a grip, writer! You know how things work.

One day your fingers are magical, the next day they feel like lead. One day your thoughts flow like the amazon, cascading down a myriad of waterfalls – invigorating, cleansing, inspiring. The next day you are a stagnant pond covered with green crud.

Today I was the crud.

But don’t give up hope just yet. Perhaps something will grow out of the crud. It might even be beautiful.

Never give up.

Push, renew, re-write, and try again.

Okay, charge forward, indie author. One session or a thousand in the crud will not hold you down. Remember the past, use it for the future.

If the time is not now, it will be soon because just as long as you continue to put those lead fingers to the keys, there’s always hope.

Don’t Take Good Ideas for Granted. Plan ahead!

Have you ever been in such a good creative patch that you are overflowing with ideas and not enough time to accomplish them all?

Relish those days.

That’s what I keep telling myself. I am currently overflowing with ideas. I’ve started to map out my drama writing 13 months in advance because I’m producing too much work than I can actually use for the moment. What an amazing problem!

And my novel writing, I have #4 being read by some advance readers ahead of a 2015 release, and I’m 15,000 words into #5 with ideas for #6 and #7 just sitting impatiently in my brain.

I remember a few months ago over the summer that I felt my writing creativity was in a slump. I had an impending deadline for some short dramatic pieces, and I had to really slosh through, and muddle my way around until the necessary scripts came to fruition.

But more recently, when I’ve been swamped with work, I’ve been approached and asked to write a couple scripts (ASAP) for some competitions. Both times, within a day, I had produced two very solid scripts that thrilled the people who needed them. The ideas were just in the forefront of my mind and the words flowed without impediment.

Here’s a key and something that really helps. WRITE DOWN IDEAS! No matter how big or small or no matter when they come to you. Words, phrases, titles, situations, just write them down. When I need an idea, that is the first place I go to.

Example. I started writing a short musical about a month ago, but I set it aside recently. When a person approached me this week about needing a duet act, I immediately thought about the musical and wondered if I could re-work the scenario as a theatrical piece without music. I kept the overall setting, changed the characters and situation, and it worked beautifully.

One idea playing off another. If I hadn’t written down the first one, the second one would not have turned out so well.

I strongly encourage all writers to keep a running list of ideas which will serve you well in the future, and it will help avoid being completely idea-less in the future when your creativity goes through a difficult period.

 

Writing: Can I do it again?

This seems to be a re-occurring theme for me, and I suppose for many writers: Can I do it again?

The ‘it’ is write. Can I repeat the magic? Do I have another story in me? Will the clever hooks and twists and turns be so evident in my next writing as in my last writing? Will I be satisfied with what I am about to write? Will I put in the required time and thinking necessary to make it good and worthwhile?

Can I do it again?

Self-doubt is never far removed from any writer who is being honest with themselves. For me it cyclically comes in the back of my mind when a new writing season is upon me because, I guess, my writing is quite cyclical.

I mainly have two main writing seasons each year: summer and Christmas vacation. I usually have two months each summer where I have some significant time concentrating on my writing – usually able to spend at least a couple hours a day on it. Around Christmas I have 3-4 weeks of the same. In between those times I do write, just not consistently because of the many other demands upon my time.

I’m finally closing in on my cherished summer writing season, and, like I usually do, I can’t wait to get started, so I always start writing things here and there, jotting down ideas, and, essentially, gearing up for the big writing marathon around the corner. This week I’ve been working on some short dramatic sketches which I’ve had on tap for quite sometime. My summer writing always consists of writing about 8-10 dramatic sketches and a novel. It’s quite a lot. I’m way ahead of the game this year. My next novel is already about 40,000 words finished so I should be able to polish it off nicely this summer. The sketches typically come to me easily, but just this week as I was writing one I started having those thoughts again: Can I do this again?

I’ve been real happy with the results of my dramatic sketches the last couple of years. I’ve gotten a lot better at it and even had the privilege of winning a couple awards. But I still wondered if I could repeat the quality of what I had previously done.

The one sketch I’m working on now is giving me some trouble. I like the idea, but the ending is not easily flushing itself out yet which has been a little frustrating. But I just need to remember my procedures and trust my instincts which have led me to write 30 dramatic sketches in the past. And what are those procedures?

1) Put in the time.

2) Think.

3) Don’t be satisfied with the first thing that comes into my mind.

4) Add details and texture to the story – even when its short (especially if its short)

5) Read it again. Think.

6) Think some more.

7) Don’t be finished until you have to.

Then move on.

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.

A Momentary Stare at a Blank Page

Before I go and write I wanted to reflect on the blank page that awaits me.

I have an idea in my head and I am ready to start putting it on paper. Two hours from now the blank will be filled, but I am not yet sure what I will have.

Will the words be meaningful? Will the plot fit together? Will my jumbled idea about 4 chairs suddenly flow and stream the right emotions to touch an audience? Will it be moving? Will it be memorable? Will people walk away and ponder? Will they be entertained? Will they be changed?

But right now it’s only blank.

Only time stands in its way. It’s pure the way it is. It’s an untapped idea, but once I start exploring it will no longer be that way. Once I begin, the ideas and thoughts that rattle around in my mind will be affected by it. I will no longer be the same once the page no longer stands empty.

But right now it’s only blank.

The muse has spoken. All it needs is time and direction to rearrange the letters, to blend all the words, to connect all the ideas, to form something larger than each of its individual parts. All it needs is time and that is what I will now give it.

Right now it’s only blank.

But now for long.

A Momentary Lapse Into Sanity

Every once in a while my writer’s mind will surface from the deep belly underworld of my Mariana Trench-like mind to breath the normal air of my surroundings. What is it that I find when this happens?

Normal things, mostly. Like baseball, for instance. I’m not a writer when I’m a baseball fan. Everything turns off and I can focus for enjoyment on a game.

Cooking. This is another good one. I’ll become embroiled in a cinnamon roll or up to my elbows in a white sauce, far away from the twirling tributaries of my mind.

I suppose there are other activities which bring me back to sanity and let me be a normal human being, but other than these few items, I find that my writer’s mind is a constant dynamo, a steam engine sailing through the open plains, heading to Promontory Point and onward to the California Gold Rush.

I can’t watch a TV show or a movie without being a critic, either wondering why the writer of the script got this job or thinking how brilliant it was, wishing I had thought of it.

Exercising is the worst – or the best – depending on the day. Walking the hill behind my house with my ear buds blasting is a sure fire way to get my writer’s mind working into overload.

It is so easy for me to get sidetracked with a thought. I want to chase the rabbit down the hole every time. I want to take every scenario that pops in my mind and see where I can take it to.

Often times, a random phrase will pop in my mind and I’ll force myself to sit down and write a short play about it. It could be anything. “The armadillo said ‘yes’.” At this moment, this random phrase was the first thing that popped into my head. I have no idea what it means, but it sounds like an excellent start to a short play. I shall write it and let you know how it turns out.

Now I can’t get that phrase out of my head: “The armadillo said ‘yes’.”  I just stopped writing this post and morphed into a trance-like state repeating this phrase, wondering what it could mean. Then I realized that I just proved my point.

Which is what?

That every once in a while writers emerge from their thoughts and have a momentary lapse into sanity.

But for the most part, don’t try to understand us. People often ask me how I think of things to write about. I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that it is probably not the right question to ask. The question to ask is “how do you not think of things to write about”? This question is much easier to answer. I do the few things (like baseball and cooking) which bring me back to the surface and let me breath the normal air.

I won’t be up for long, so make sure to catch me when you can.

Writing with the end in sight? Or writing to discover?

I read an article where an author said they he recommends knowing the last line of your book before knowing the first line.

Well, I couldn’t disagree more.

I’m not saying his way doesn’t work. It did for him. But it could never work for me. As I mentioned before, I write to discover, not to tell a pre-ordained story.

That’s just the way I work. My process is all about the creativity and discovering where it will take me.

Tonight, I started my next novel. I didn’t know what was going to happen in my first chapter, but as line after line was laid down, it began to take shape. What’s interesting is that as I wrote, I began planting seeds which will one day be realized in subsequent chapters. I wrote about an item. I don’t yet know its complete importance to the story, but it will flesh itself out as the story unfolds. It will add layer and depth as I go along.

This doesn’t mean that I am completely directionless. Not at all. I have a general direction of how I want the story to go, but I also know that as I create, my ideas will improve and that will change the directions that the characters take. It’s a guided discovery process.

It would be foolish for me to try to figure out what the last sentence of my novel will be. Because even if I did, it wouldn’t stay that way.

So how should you write? Only you know. Whatever works for you, do it! But remember, the most important part of writing is putting down the words. Just get them down, even if you don’t necessarily love them at this point. Get them down and let the process take care of the rest.