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.

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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.

The Germination of Creative Thought

I had one of those eureka creative moments this afternoon. They don’t come around too often, but I love them when they do unexpectedly overwhelm me.

I get creative thoughts all the time. Most of them develop slowing, typically while I’m working on something. One thought will lead to another and the creative process will takes it slow and winding time down the avenue of creativity in my mind.

But today, it wasn’t one  of those slow developing thoughts. It was a brilliant connection in my mind, which immediately led to a distinct image, and a specific plan of how I wanted to do something.

Why do these eureka moments happen? How can I replicate them more often?

I have no idea.

Here’s how this one worked. Yesterday, I was talking to a colleague and we made some production plans for next year. After that meeting, I knew I wanted to find an idea for writing a new short musical which would match with our goals. Nothing was coming to me.

I was in the middle of grading some papers, a mind-numbingly boring task, so I put in some music in the background. My thoughts wandered back and forth between the songs and the papers in front of me. I hadn’t given the musical any type of thought for the entire day.

One song came on and when I heard the chorus for the first time, my brain lit up and I saw this image in my mind and I knew what I had: I had discovered the idea for my musical. It was based on the song title. It was brilliant. I started drawing a picture of it, then I wrote done some associated words, and  before I knew it, I had written a couple lines of sample lyrics. It was a creative epiphany.

Why did it come at that moment? I have no idea. It’s not the first time I had heard this song. But it is the first time I heard this song under the circumstances of wanting to find an idea for a musical. I haven’t even listened to that album for a long time, but it struck an amazing, creative chord this time.

So are creative ideas like this completely random?  Or did I sow the seeds of this idea by what I was discussing yesterday?

There’s no real way to know the answer to those questions. But I wish I could, because I’d love to replicate the eureka creative moments as often as possible, because it is so cool when it becomes that clear.

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.

Mystery Genre? Maybe.

I’ve been working on a side writing project with four of my students for, well, has it been all school year? Yes, I suppose it has. We would have met in August for the first time, and we’ve been taking our time on this one.

It’s a play, untitled, and mish-mashed togethered in a variety of ways, but I do believe it’s starting to take shape. It’s a mystery.

It didn’t really start out as a mystery. It was more like a strange super-hero fantasy, but it has morphed into a game of intrigue, recrimination, and good ‘ole “who dunnit?”

I must admit. I’m starting to get a little fond of this piece and of the mystery genre as a whole. I’ve dabbled in mysterious writing before, but never really did a full-fledged mystery. What I enjoy most about it is trying to piece together all the angles in the most clever and unexpected way possible. I suppose nobody thinks “the butler did it” anymore, so should we make him the ultimate villain? (No, just kidding, even though there is a butler.)

We hope to polish off the first draft of it over the next month, and if I give it my undivided attention (which completely no longer exists in this world) then I think we can do it.

But it also got me thinking: how about a novel in the mystery drama. I did write “Spy Blue” – my play turned novella which is no longer available. But it’s more of a thriller type. I do intend to get back to that story someday and re-write it. But how about an actual mystery. A classically based mystery? I wonder how creative I could get on that.

It’s another option to tuck away in my ever-bulging binder of ideas. Will the time ever arrive when I have nothing to write about?

Boy, I hope not.

 

Inspiration is Cheap. Just Open Your Eyes. (or Ears)

I’m amazed at the inspiration around me. I went for decades not seeing it. But it’s there. Everywhere – Invalidating our self-pitying claims of writer’s block.

Maybe we put blinders on and can’t see it.

Maybe we become so focused on the page that we forget that the page belongs in the world. That’s where it originated, and that’s where it will find it’s conclusion.

Every sight you see is a setting. Every person you watch is a character. Each of them need to be molded and shaped, manipulated and re-imagined on your page, but the spark is right in front of you. What’s keeping you from igniting it?

Even physical sight is not needed, and sometimes not preferred in order to be inspired by one’s surroundings. A breeze, a whistle, a bird’s persistent call, the shifting of the ocean, the honking of a horn, the laughter of friends, the confabulation of lovers, the braking of a car. All of these give depth and insight, we only need to listen. Hear the words, hear the sounds and allow the scenes to come alive in our minds.

And what of words themselves. These pre-arranged letters have a lot to offer on their own. How many of these single words or partial phrases have hidden meanings, unknown characters and plots hanging from them if we only prod them with our minds just a little.

“respectable” – Is it a son trying to please his father? Is it a girl looking for the right man? Is it the banker looking for a neighborhood to move into? Is it the drug addict with an unattainable label?

Stories are hidden behind each word.

Entire books can spring forth from a specific sound.

Trilogies have been erected upon a single panoramic scene.

Inspiration is everywhere, at each turn of every day. Don’t let it pass by.

Notice it and create.

Ideas for Indie Authors: A Novel is Chasing Me. I’m Losing. (and Winning)

When good ideas impregnate the mind, why fight them?

Over the past three weeks, I’ve had a novel idea, actually related to novel-writing, and I haven’t been able to shake it. Even in the midst of revising novel #5, which was supposed to be my priority, this new idea has consumed me every free moment that I’ve had.

When I go to the store, I’m thinking if the characters drink whole milk or skim. When I’m in my bedroom, I’m thinking about this little flying thing that annoys one of the characters and wonder what it would be like to have that happen. (Sorry, I can’t divulge what I’m talking about there.)

And the plot – it’s embarrassingly exposed – like I downloaded the novel’s Cliff Notes and have been cheating on my writing. It’s seemed so easy, so smooth – the dialogue, the characters, the setting – all laid bare in front of me.

This is the type of inspirational groove that I hope never leaves me.

So why am I losing? Because I’ve lost control of all other parts of my life because of this novel.

So why am I winning? Because I love writing this novel and have had so much fun putting it together.

Why has it been so easy so far?

Perhaps it’s an unimportant question that I shouldn’t try to answer. Just count it as a blessing and enjoy it while it lasts.

But I have to say that I might know what’s going on. In this novel, I’m starting from a premise that is completely unlike me. It dabbles in the supernatural and fantasy genres which, if you’ve read any of my writings, you know if not what excites me. I like real, down-to-earth human stories.

However, this unique premise has allowed me to tell a human story in a very different way. It has led to new discoveries and new ideas that I wouldn’t have thought of anyways. And while the end result will be different from much of my other works, the reader will undeniably see the same creative Sasse hand at the helm.

So if your inspiration is stuck firmly in a hole filled with quick-drying cement, shake things up a little. You might find yourself losing a lot of time on a winning idea.