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?

You Should Tolerate Bad Writing

I’m not a perfectionist. As a writer, this can be a disadvantage. I’m confident there have been times when I could have improved a piece with one more revision or one more re-write. But I must admit, I become bored and just want it to be over so I can get on to my next creative idea.

On the other hand, not being a perfectionist as a writer has its distinct advantages. One of those has to do with the writing process and that enigmatic term we like to call writer’s block. I’m not completely convinced that writer’s block actually exists. Sure, there may be times of uncertainty where one needs to put in the requisite amount of thinking before it becomes clear where a plot should go or how a character should act. However, I do think that, perhaps, sometimes writer’s block is just not be willing to tolerate bad writing.

We have good days. We have bad days. Sometimes the words are clicking with clarity and ease, the phrasings are coherent and the descriptions vivid. Other times every single sentence is a chore and when you look back over your last paragraph, you realize that a second grader could have sounded so clever. When that happens, it’s precisely the moment that you need to be tolerant of bad writing.

In 2002, I started my first novel. The writing was so bad that I stopped on the second page. It took me 10 more years until I finally finished my first novel.

I couldn’t tolerate bad writing. Therefore, I paid for it, languishing away in non-writing pursuits.

Recently, I was working on a section of my new novel and that self-criticism reared its ugly head: this isn’t particularly good. But I made a decision to move on. I didn’t care if it wasn’t good, I told myself, it will eventually BE good.

That’s the key. Bad writing doesn’t necessarily need to remain bad writing. I’ve come across parts of my manuscripts in the past which are terrific and then I’ll reach a section which is quite less than great. I’ve learned to appreciate these sections. For one, I’m happy I can recognize bad writing when I see it. Two, I appreciate the fact that I motored through a bad writing session because it does help further the story. It’s much easier to rewrite and improve a poorly worded section than it is to come up with a completely new section.

Bad writing should be embraced. It’s one of the backbones for good writing. Don’t get discouraged when the words aren’t flowing. Keep moving forward, even if you have to use your 2nd grade vocabulary. On revision day, I’m sure you’ll be glad you have something to work with.

Writing a Trilogy, or is it a Three Part Story

I’ve mentioned before how I am working on my first trilogy. My first five novels were standalones and I’ve always felt that standalones are more interesting reads because, well, they have a tight arc and a thrilling finish. I’ve never been one for built-in cliffhangers (let alone the ridiculous extra scenes that Marvel Studios has become famous for. Please, no!). I’ve never wanted to tease the reader or string a reader along. I just wanted to write quality stories, encompassing one person’s whole worldview in one story. Sequels, series, trilogies were just not for me.

Well, hey. What do they say? People change? So do writers, and that has led me to some unfamiliar territory. When I wrote my latest novel – still unreleased – the story, though quite tidy, didn’t feel over. There were unanswered questions and many new avenues to explore. I decided to thing about a sequel. It let me to a cool idea and then the story took off.

Well, no those two stories are becoming three. My first trilogy.

As I continue to punch away at the keys and discover all the crazy ways this story is taking on new life, I’ve realized that there is a difference between a sequel and a just a longer story. My goal now isn’t to write three related novels. My goal is to write one story, broken into manageable and gripping parts. A large arc over all three with individual arcs built into each section. It’s a challenging yet fascinating process, and it’s forcing me to approach writing in different ways from the past. This can only be good in a writer’s development. I’m excited about that aspect.

To make this work, I’ve dramatically slowed down the release of book 1 so I can finish book 2 and be well on my way in book 3 before the opening chapter ever sees the light of day. As my English colleague says, trilogies planned at one time are better than those with an added sequel. I agree. It’s all about coherence and allowing new ideas be applied to previous ideas. Lots of back editing is needed. Retroactive writing is tough to do once the first story is in print.

The plot of this novel is a challenge. It’s complex, with many characters. It has two main overarching stories which are connected. These stories have spawned subplots and minor characters and it’s a lot to keep straight. It’s a puzzle really. A puzzle I’m driving myself. A puzzle I get to create. I love that aspect of it.

So writers, push yourself. Try something new. Let your trilogies be standalones and your standalones be trilogies. It will be worth it in the long run.

Writing Anywhere. No Pen, No Computer Needed.

Writing is one of the most versatile passions anyone can have. To be productive, you need nothing but your brain and a little time.

Paper is helpful at some points.

Of course, a laptop is even more helpful.

But neither of those are needed. No. Not at all, or at least until “eventually” comes around. All you really need to be productive is an active mind and time to let it explore.

Here’s what I mean. I’m currently working on a variety of writing projects including book two of my first trilogy, a Christmas show for 2017, and a variety of other play ideas. But lately, I’ve been swamped and have had no time to actually write. Yes, it’s killing me, because I want to get back to the stories. I want to push them forward. I want to explore where they are going and how everything will piece together in the end. But, life happens. Weekend baseball trip to Bangkok, theatre projects, rehearsals, work requirements, etc… and I’m stuck looking at another day checked off the calendar without a word written.

But it’s all right. Calm down. Everything is not lost because writing is the most flexible of passions. The crucial element of writing is thinking. A writer must ponder, must weigh options, must zigzag around in the mind before the pen ever hits the paper. And that, the pondering, the zigzagging can happen anywhere at anytime. A stray thought during the day can bring a character to mind and make me wonder about what will happen next. A daily happening can lead to new ideas. The other day, one of the readings from my social studies class I teach talked about a certain type of snake. It jolted my memory of something I’ve written in book two of my novel series, and I started to ponder if I could actually use that snake in my story. I thought about throughout the day as I complete many tasks not related to writing. Finally, I concluded that it would be a wonderful idea and can really add to the story.

Now, have I actually added  it to the story yet? No. Like I said. No time. But I have furthered my writing. I do this many times in many different situations. Allowing your writing mind to connect to what you do in every day life is a great way to move things along and be productive  even when you have no time to actually be productive.

So I guess the bottom line is this: write at all times. When possible, use a computer.

 

 

Wide-Scale Writing

As a writer, I’m a big proponent of wide-scale writing, across genres, for different situations, with different people. For me, it’s challenging and interesting to have the proverbial fire full of various hot irons. With my play production coming to an end last weekend, I took a broad look at the various items I’m currently working on. Here they are:

  • Christmas story “Christmas in the Trenches, 1914” – This is a short story I’m putting together as a free ebook I’ll be publishing very soon, this week!
  • Novel #6 – “A Man too Old, for a Place too Far” – in revision stage. Very close to sending it out to some beta readers.
  • My new full-length play – “The Last Bastion” – working through another revision. Will be sending it to my cast soon, as we will be doing a staged reading of it @penangpac in January.
  • “The Folly of Progress” – a one-act play which is a mixture of 6 short plays. I really like this one. I’m putting it together as part of my May production.
  • Written dialogue narration for my musical revue show for May.
  • Just finished our first complete draft of a collaborative play I’ve written with three of my students.  Tentative name: “The Juggernaut Mystery.”
  • Musical idea – I’ve started a secretive musical idea with one  of my colleagues. Sample lyrics written. Long term, multi-year project here.

There’s probably some more ideas rattling around in my brain, but this is what I love. A variety of writing topics. I jump from one to another at will. It’s how I channel my creativity and keep my million-mile-per-hour brain in check.

If you typically don’t work this way, give it a try. I think you’ll find it invigorating. Or jarring. Either way, it can only help your writing.

Writing Tips: How to Write a Novel.

This post is not about how to write a novel because there’s only one way to write a novel and that’s by stringing together more than 50,000 words into a coherent story. That’s it. You need more words. Get to it. Connect them. Yeah, you wrote a novel.

I realize that the above description may not be helpful to aspiring writers out there even though you cannot refute it’s basic essence. So let me expound a little bit. How writers go about putting those words together is a completely different process for each individual writer. What I do won’t work for you. What she does won’t work for me. But as I’ve complete six novels at this point, I do have a few suggestions, or perhaps even personal observations about the process which may or may not be helpful.

So here we go:

  1. First draft – focus on story. When I’m writing the story for the first time, I do not allow myself to get bogged down in word choice and grammar. I focus on the story and the characters. The story must make sense. It needs to be logical, believable, engaging. The characters need to tell their story, their backstory, their aspirations. Write, write, write and push the STORY forward until you have a coherent, fun, engaging story line.
  2. Second draft – focus on language – I’m currently writing the second draft of my 6th novel. As I’m going back through the story, so of which I haven’t even read in months, I focus mainly on language usage. I look at each sentence and ask myself if I phrased it well. Can it be improved? Is there a better word choice? Does the paragraph flow? Do I repeat words? Is the structure boring? This is a slow, methodical process, but my goal, by the time I’m finished with the second draft, I have the first glimpse of the what my final product will look like. Once the second draft is complete, I’ll elicit feedback from some beta readers to better understand how well I’ve done my job.
  3. Third draft – I incorporate feedback from my beta readers and I begin to analyze how I can improve the flow of the story. I also pay closer attention to grammatical details and try to produce a clean copy for my editor who will receive it at this point.
  4. Fourth draft – I clean up the manuscript according to my editor’s advice, correcting all those commas and small minutia.
  5. Multiple read-throughs. I read it again and again. I read it out loud. I listen to the language. I try to catch any remaining mistakes. (There will be some. Editors are not wizards. I am responsible for the final product, so I have to take charge.)
  6. Finally, when I make it to this stage, when I have exhausted all effort on this manuscript and I’m happy with what I got, I move it into the publication phase.

That’s how I write a novel. How do you do it differently?

Praise is a Dangerous Thing for Authors

I received a hand-written note from someone today. In it, it said this:

“You are a very gifted writer.”

I don’t want to hear this. Stop it right now! This is a blatant attempt to allow my ego to take over and make self-congratulatory remarks. I can hear myself already: “I am pretty awesome.” “It’s so obvious. Why doesn’t the rest of the world know yet?”

Before I go any further, I would like to say that, of course, this note meant the world to me. It was a sincere compliment, talking specifically about the show that this person watched last week. I’m grateful. Touched, really. Humbled.

But I can’t let it mean anything to me. I can’t let this praise get into my head. I need to keep beating myself up over my poor writing skills. I need to live in the writing doldrums, where everyone catches a breeze except me. I’m paddling an aircraft carrier with a broken oar. And it’s not working. I’m starting to sink. And I get depressed every time I look at my writing.

That’s what I need to hear. The danger is real. If a writer was to rest on the proverbial laurels, take in the accolades, and suddenly get lazy in his writing, well, then, game-over.

I can’t afford to listen to such talk. I have a task ahead of me: be creative, really creative, stretch my language skills, look at the world in new ways, edit and re-edit and re-edit the re-edit. This is no time to relax and congratulate myself.

I have stories to tell and characters to create, and they are depending on me. They don’t want to be some shoddy action figure to a cardboard backdrop. They need to be real. The only way to be real is for me to face the facts. Writing is hard. It’s never finished. I’ll never be as talented as others. I’ll never be this or that, but I will be one thing. I’ll be a dedicated writer. I’ll develop my craft and create stories which are worthy of my time and effort.

And the only way I can do that is to not let my guard down. So buck it up, writer. Don’t look at what you’ve done in the past. Don’t re-read those 5-star reviews. This is no time to get soft. Dig in and tell the best story of your life.

PS: Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.