Outline the Ending! Really?

I’ve been inundated with those Master Class video ads on social media lately. I’m sure you’ve seen them, and I have to admit, some of them certainly catch my eye. I was real curious to see what Ron Howard and Martin Scorsese said about film-making, and even their introductory videos were quite engaging.

Of course, there’s a bunch of well-known writers on there as well, and I am, as a writer, interested to hear what they have to say. I like to keep my options open. I like to learn and grow in my craft, but whenever someone says how important it is to do this or that when being a creative writer, I usually balk at it and tell them to slow down the bus!

Writing is different from film-making or some of the other arts because it’s so subjective. There’s no one formula. There’s no “best practices” which will insure success. Sure, there are some writing guidelines which may help, especially for young writers, but blanket statements are not that helpful.

One well-known writer on the Master Class videos said how important it is to outline. You must outline, outline, outline like crazy. Outline until the cows come home. Outline through all your holidays. Outline until you’re blue in the face, or until the next season of your favorite show comes out. OUTLINE!!!! Okay, I might be paraphrasing here.

But the point is, this particular writer emphasized how important outlining is. And in reply to that, I say hogwash!

It might be important to you. It’s obviously important to him. It’s not important to me. Now you might think to naturally side with him because he’s famous and rich and I’m not. That’s a valid point. But if I may, I content his outlining obsession has nothing to do with his success.

Here’s the problem I have with outlining. For me, it’s basically useless, because by the time I  hit the third chapter of my outline, the rest of my outline has no validity because I’ve changed the story so much since my original ideas.

Why?

Simple! Writing leads to new ideas. New writing leads to newer ideas. To think you can sit down and know the ending of a creative story before you actually start writing is rather preposterous. That’s like chaining yourself in and not allowing your ideas to grow as your story grows.

So if you do outline, I’d offer this advice. Don’t let the outline be the ultimate driver of where your story is going. Use it as a guide, but as your ideas develop, please feel free to change your outline. Please feel free to change your ending!

Just today, I completely revamped an ending to a play which I thought I had finished yesterday. But it wasn’t sitting right for me, so I had to go back and change it.

Now, with all that said, it doesn’t mean that I never outline. I do loosely outline at times when I think I see where the story is going. For example, on my new fiction trilogy, I do know the ending of book three. But I only know the ending because I already wrote book 1 and 2. When I was writing book 1, I didn’t even know how it would end. But now that I’ve written 2/3’s of the trilogy, it has become obvious to me what the ending must be. Great! No problem!

My ultimate point here is that there is not one correct way to write. It’s so personal and subjective. Do what you are comfortable with. Follow your passion and your story. Allow it mold and form what you want to say. Never allow preset guidelines to determine where your story must go.

You know where it’s supposed to go. It’s in your heart. You were made for this moment. Create and discover what you never thought possible.

Novel Writing: Time to Do the Heavy Lifting

Novel Writing: Time to Do the Heavy Lifting

I’m writing my first trilogy, and I must admit, the first 2/3s has come rather easily. Book one cruised by and set-up book two perfectly. Book two introduced some new characters and the adventure went farther, deeper, and more enjoyable than I could have anticipated. Even the ending flowed, setting up book three.

But now, well, I’ve just realized something. If I want this series to end in book three, which I do, then it’s time to do the heavy lifting. By heavy lifting, I mean I need to invest some serious amount of time into thinking, yes thinking, before I get back to writing.

I know the ending of the trilogy. It’s a no-brainer in my mind, but I sat down yesterday and did my first actual writing on book three, I realized that I got a lot of work to do if I’m going to tie all these lose ends together, because I have a lot of loose ends. This series has a plethora of related plots, which have worked well up to this point, and I am confident that they will work well through the ending, but admittedly, I don’t see it all yet.

Now some might call this writer’s block, but I think that’s nonsense. I have plenty of things to write about in this novel and I could go and whip off a chapter right now if I’d like. But, in my mind, this is the crucial moment. The moment of decision which is going to affect a reader’s overall view of this trilogy.

The problem is all about choices. There are so many choices to make. Here are a few:

When should the story pick up again? Immediately after book 2?  I think not. I need a new clever hook, and I have that, I believe. The new book will start in 1348 Europe, the Europe that’s being decimated by the black plague. Has my series had anything to do with that so far? No. That’s why I think it’s cool. A reader will start wondering what in the world this has to do with the plotline, but they will be rewarded, I, as the writer, must make sure of it. And I will.

But after my jaunt in time is finished, how do I pick up the lives of the main characters? Is it the next day? The next week? The next year? I’m currently leaning towards week.

If I choose week, what has transpired that the readers are going to need to know about? And how do I insert that situation? Should I isolate the main characters? Should I have them together? Each decision changes the way the book will flow.

What about the villains? Are they going to get away with it? Are they going to be tracked down? How? What surprises await them? What surprises await the readers?

Do all of my character’s actions feel justified by their motivation?

So I am at a writing crossroad, but before I choose, I must consciously weigh each path and then choose one. Will I ever know if I chose the right one or the wrong one? No. Writing is so subjective that it makes reading extremely subjective.

All I can do is do the proper heavy lifting in my mind and then hope for the best. Here goes.

A Look Back, A Look Ahead

Here’s what I was able to accomplish as a writer in 2017:

  • January Staged reading of “The Last Bastion” @ Penang Performing Arts Centre
  • Started a historical musical on a unique person in US history with a musician colleague of mine. This is a long-term project.
  • Finished editing and production aspects of the first book in my new trilogy: A Man Too Old for a Place Too Far – published it in  December
  • Finished the draft of book two of my new trilogy: The African Connection
  • Rewrote 6 sketches into a one act play called “The Folly of Progress.” Produced it as part of my show in May.
  • Wrote my third Christmas show, this one entitled “Tales of Christmas.” It was produced and performed by The RLT Players in December.
  • My play “Safe Spaces” was performed at the Gallery Players’ Black Box Festival in Brooklyn in June.
  • I was awarded the Greywood Arts Winter Writing Residency for 2018 for my play “The Last Bastion.”
  • I wrote an anti-bullying play entitled “Project B” for my new school.

I wrote my first baseball short story, “The Hundred Pitch At Bat” – more to come with this.

 

And 2018 writing goals …

  • Publish book two of my trilogy.
  • Write book three THE FORGOTTEN CHILD of my new trilogy.
  • Finish a play I started several years ago “EMBRACE”
  • Finish a play I started about Nat Turner.
  • Write a new show called “Crazy as Love” for my new drama group The Sun & Sand Players.
  • Write the book to my long-term musical.
  • Write more baseball stories which will eventually be an anthology of stories about a fictitious independent minor league baseball team.

This should get me started. I plan to do a lot of this during my winter writing residency in Ireland.

Happy New Year everyone. What are your writing goals?

 

 

Writers: You Can Only Control the Process, Not the Results

Writers: You Can Only Control the Process, Not the Results

Every writer wants to sell more books.

Every writer wants to find more readers.

But if you are writing for the purpose of results, you’ll be frequently disappointed in this cut-throat, highly-competitive business.  The faster you realize that, as a writer, the only thing you control is the process, the faster you’ll be at peace with the results – whether good or bad.

I figured this out long ago. I began novel-writing and play-writing because I couldn’t contain the creativity that started bubbling over in my brain. It became my release and eventually my passion. When I eventually decided to start putting my works out in the public eye, I received a rude awakening – not because the results were bad, no, because the results were good.

My first novel started to sell some. Then reviews started coming in, positive reviews, and before I knew it my first novel had racked-up 80+ reviews on Amazon. I was floored and even thought quietly to myself that this isn’t so hard after all.

Ha. That’s when my rude awakening began to seep in. I suppose it was more gradual than rude, but it was certainly real nonetheless. Book two, for some reason, seemed more difficult to market. Then the rules changed at Amazon, and certain big promotion sites changed the way they did business. Everything got more competitive, and before I knew it, I had no idea how to sell books anymore.

Well, it turns out that I didn’t know in the first place. When I think back upon it, I have no idea how my first book did so well in getting reviews. Am I doing anything different now? Yes, actually. I’m better at marketing now. I work harder now. And has it led to more results?

Not really.

So what’s the deal? For me, the deal is that I don’t know how to sell books. But who cares!

Not me. I know what I can control and that’s my writing process.

So I ask myself these questions:

Am I writing the stories I want to tell?

Am I putting the proper time into revisions: 2nd, 3rd, 4th drafts?

Am I meticulous in the editing process?

Do I have an editor helping me improve my book?

Have I recruited beta readers to give me early feedback?

Am I purposeful when thinking about cover design and book layout?

Do I put time and effort into recruiting reviewers who will post honest reviews?

Do I market with variety in mind?

Am I trying new marketing avenues?

Am I adjusting to new trends and reading up on new developments?

Am I reading other blogs to get feedback about process and the book industry in general?

Am I striving to be better?

If I can answer “yes” to every one of those questions above, then I simply do not care about results because I can’t control them anyways.

I can, however, control the process. If I can look back without regrets and say that I’ve written the book I wanted to write and I marketed it in the absolute best way I know how, then I think it’s safe to say that I have successfully fulfilled the requirement of my passion for writing.

How about you? Are you concerned with results or process?

Are you feeling lucky, Photoshop?

I know. I know. I’m an author. Leave the design work for the professionals. And don’t EVER attempt to design your own book cover. Foolish, it is.

I agree with all of the above, and yet …

I can’t help but tinker.

When I use Photoshop, it’s 10% know-how, 30% You Tube videos, and 60% dumb luck! I have, at times, designed things which I consider acceptable. I’ve even had some people occasionally mention how my skills are getting better. But the reality is, Photoshop is a supped up 50s convertible and I approach it with a screwdriver made for eye glasses. It’s a bad miss match.

However, I’ve been getting lucky lately a little more often than I have in the past. I had toyed around with the design of my new book and I got to the place where I felt it was nearly acceptable. I received some feedback from folks, mostly positive, and kept messing with the minutia until I thought I was finished. I was even going to seek some professional help to clean it up and then design the book’s sequel. I had tried once to use the same template to create book 2 but it was disastrous, so I abandoned the idea.

Until about a week ago. For some reason, on a particularly creative and cocky day, I decided to work on book 2 again. And voila! Within a matter of 10 minutes, I got lucky. Perfect photo, edited into the background, I was amazed at how good it looked. It was in fact way better than the cover I thought was acceptable for book 1. This burst of creativity led me to try to create a cover for book 3, even though I haven’t written it yet. After another short period of creation, I had book 3, it looked fantastic, way better, in fact than that book 1. I was lucky again. Twice in one week.

That made me go back to the book 1 cover again and I started a redesign, one that I never would have thought of six months ago as I was designing it. One idea led to the next and I finagled enough luck out of my keyboard to substantially improve the cover for book 1.

So is it luck? Or am I getting better?

I’m convinced that’s it both. I’m not a good enough designer that I can set out with a goal in mind and make it happen. Oh no, those are the real artists. But I am at the point where I can take what I have, work with a bunch of scenarios until I will hopefully come across one combination which I will be satisfied with.

That’s where I am with Photoshop. I can easily spend three enjoyable hours cutting, erasing, editing, recoloring, combining, and importing all kinds of items in the search of the elusive good design. It’s a welcome respite from writing, a different type of creativity which is fun and challenging.

So whatever it is that you enjoy doing, even though you feel like an amateur, keep at it. You might find that you end up getting lucky more often than not. And soon you’ll realize that your luckiness is not the result of random accidents.

NOTE: I’ll be releasing these covers in the near future. Hope you like them.

Adding an Element of the Supernatural to My Writing

My writing, especially my novels, for the most part have been grounded in real life. It’s my nature to keep things focused on the tangible. I love stories of humanity, embedded in history and real-life drama. It’s what I seek in my movie-watching as well. I’ll take “The Bridge of Spies” over any Marvel movie any day of any week of any year. (Please, I hope I don’t get started on super hero movies. Please, no.) The only place I have dabbled in the strange and unrealistic is with my one-act short plays. I’ve written a bunch of crazy stuff, even about inanimate objects, but they are still all meant to tell human stories even if there are no humans in the story.

My novels, on the other hand have always been protected from the craziness. My debut novel, Beauty Rising, focused on a tragic story about thirty-something who finally grows up when he takes his father’s ashes to Vietnam. My second novel, The Recluse Storyteller, is about a secluded, lonely woman who tells wild stories to herself. The Reach of the Banyan Tree is my historical Vietnam novel about three generations of American men who were affected by Vietnam during three different time periods. A Love Story for a Nation is about an ex-writer, who after experiencing a terrible tragedy, decides to protest a brutal government regime by standing quietly in the city square. And finally, Which Half David is about a mission worker in Southeast Asia who becomes tempted by an old flame.

Human stories, real life, tragedy, drama, heart-gripping dialogue, and humor. No crazy fantasy or supernatural elements.

Until now.  And it’s a trilogy.

My soon-to-be-named trilogy is two-thirds written. Book one is having its final edit as I write. It’s coming soon. I have a book cover – still not revealed. Book two is finished. I’m working through it’s second draft and book three is partially outlined. And I’ve done it. I’ve expanded my repertoire.

I decided to write this on a whim, when I had a strange thought in my head, a small girl in a white dress, eating a pomegranate, hovering over an old man sleeping. That was the genesis of my trilogy. Why I had that particular image in my head, I have no idea. But it was there, and I used it.

I first had to start justifying the scene. This small person was hovering. People don’t hover, and they don’t do so eating pomegranates. That would be terribly messy. So I had to decide what makes her hover, who is she, what is she, where did she come from, why is she hovering over this old man’s bed?

That is where the exciting discovery part of writing took over. I just started writing and before I knew it, the old man was being whisked through time to various important points of 20th century history. As I wrote, I began including another character to help balance out the little flying one. Then I had to create their backstory and justify how they can do all of the things they do. I did all of that, but I don’t tell the reader everything. It’s part of the mystery for them to discover for themselves.

I’ve had so much fun writing these books, and while they are a departure from my normal stuff, they are, in some ways, not that different. I’m still telling human stories, embedded in history, but this time, we have some new and fun companions along for the ride.

I can’t wait to share them all with you.

Soon. Very soon!

 

Crazy Ideas

When writing, should you use your ‘crazy ideas’?

Down below all the draft chapters of my new novel in my precious Scrivener writing program, I noticed a folder I entitled “Crazy Ideas.” I had stashed every outlandish plot idea that I had thought of in case I had the courage enough to actually use it. When I originally jotted down these ideas, I had doubted that any of them would ever make it into my manuscript.

I was wrong. All of them made it.

Why? And was it the right choice?

Let me explain the ‘why’ first. As the plot of my book unfolded, I had decisions to make: do I play it safe or do I try to push the envelope on this plot, making it more complex, more intertwined with additional layers of intrigue. Or should I play it safe and forget the crazy stuff because there is a risk to writing using the crazy ideas.

What risk?

Will I be able to make it all work?  Will it make sense? Will I be able to make sense of it? Will it stray out of plausibility and into unbelievable coincidence? Will it make the plot too dense, too heavy with overlapping objectives?

All of these are tangible risks of trying the crazy ideas. But I realized that I couldn’t do it any other way. If my novel is going to burn up under its own weight, it’s going to go down fighting with all its potential visible and apparent to the reader.

And now, as I’m writing the final few chapters of the book, I’m feeling the strain of my decisions. It’s hard making sure all the strands of this book will come together in a tidy and coherent fashion. It will take a lot of thinking, rewriting, revising, and good old-fashioned luck to pull this off. I’m going to try the best I can, which leads us to the final question.

Was using the crazy ideas the correct choice?

This ultimately will be a question for my readers.

 

In My Writing World

Here’s an update on what’s on my writing plate.

Book 1 of my new trilogy is currently with my editor. It’s weeks away from being finished. Tentative release scheduled for December 2017. This is a crazy one. More details to follow.

Book 2 of my new trilogy is 80% finished. (first draft, that is) I’ve been working hard this summer on this one to make it an exciting follow-up. Titles are still tentative for all the books in the series, but they are coming. This one would be on schedule to be released about 6 months after book 1. Tentative: mid-2018.

Last week, I took a break from novel writing and wrote this:

HundredPitchAtBatsmall

My first baseball story! It’s been a long time coming. I had such a fun time writing this last week that it spawned a whole series of ideas for more baseball stories. So I now have a long term goal of writing a collection of baseball stories that I’ll publish at some point in the future. I am a W.P. Kinsella fan, so my writing hopes to be in the tradition of his wonderful books.

Just finished a short play, “Silent Night: The (Almost) True Story” which is a modern re-make of the Hans Gruber and Joseph Mohr story about the origins of the song. This will be directed by my good friend as part of an upcoming Christmas show.

And long term, I have a musical project I’m working on with my composer buddy. Plus, I have book 3 of my new trilogy to write.

I also guarantee you that additional writing projects will be popping up at any moment because that’s how my brain works.

That’s a little update on where things are heading for me. What about you?

A Writer on Pause No More

I’m a writer.

But it’s not what buys the bread and puts kids through college. For that, I am also a teacher.

But the best part of being a teacher and writer is, of course, summer. Summer is when I can hit the resume button and become a full-time writer again. I am at that blissful part of my year as I currently write this. Writing happiness has returned once again.

I’ve had the most wonderful writing routine the past three days, and it looks sustainable for the next month or so. I carve out of my day about three hours to sit alone with my laptop, immersed in my thoughts, and punch out as much coherent dialogue and description that I can during that time frame. Then I pack it up, get back to family time, cook some dinner, and ponder where my next writing episode the following day will take me.

Three hours is typically the maximum amount of time that I can concentrate on writing. Sometimes only two depending on how the chapter is coming together. By the time I reach the two or three hour mark, I’m ready for a break. I need to allow what I have written to sink in my brain and make sure it is exactly where I want to take the story. I don’t like to get too far ahead of myself. Three steps forward. The next day, I’ll backtrack and re-read what I wrote. Edit and revise. Check and double-check, and then plow on to the next chapter or segment. When I get to do this this everyday for two or three hours, I can make a lot of headway, and within a month, I can have a solid outline for a complete novel.

I’m currently working on book 2 of my first trilogy. I’m already over the 42,000 word mark while cruising into the latter half of the book. I’m having a blast with this story and can’t wait to see where it will take me.

A summer where the pause button is no more. The pedal is to the metal. Full speed ahead. It’s exciting. Stay tuned.

How about you? How do you carve out time for writing?

Writing Progress isn’t Always Visible

A month ago, I boasted that the first novel in my first trilogy was complete and the second novel is half-written.

Today, I can boast that the first novel in my first trilogy is almost complete and the second novel is half-written.

Wait. What? Am I moving backwards?

It may feel like that. Writing has a way of moving at a glacial pace. But that is okay, even preferable. Sometimes you need to take a step backwards if you want to jump two steps ahead.

I started writing this first novel back in December 2015. Trust me, I’ve never dilly-dallied so much. The issue arose when I decided that the story needed to continue, so I put the brakes on my novel in hopes of mapping out where I wanted the story to go.

I assured myself that the first novel was still complete. Just in waiting.

I was wrong. So I revised it once again.

Then I pushed on to novel two and got about half way through it when I realized that novel one still wasn’t sitting right in the pit of my writing stomach. I sighed deeply and decided to look at it once more. I am so glad I did.

Besides fighting back some discrepancies which arose from writing book 2, I found a host of other mistakes and poorly worded phrases which I swear were NOT there the last time I edited it. Those blasted writing gremlins. Sabotage. Clearly. I had actually sent this previous version to my editor whom I am glad hadn’t started reading it yet. Because, no! Stop! It wasn’t ready. Just kidding.

It can feel like I’m getting nowhere because book 2 is still only half way complete. That was last month’s news as well.

But I look at it like this. I am strengthening the foundation and core of this entire story. By revising one more time, I am pushing the quality to a new height which will benefit all three of the books of the trilogy.

Writing progress comes in many forms. It’s not only when you write a new chapter. It’s also when you put the building blocks in place to create better chapters in the future.

I had an artificial timeline of when I wanted to release this first book, but all that must take a back seat to quality. Must. Timelines and expectations have to wait.

I want to do this right, so let the unseen writing hand get to work.