Do You Have Writing Goals?

There is no better proof of being a writer than writing, and writing, and writing some more. I’ve met a lot of people in my years who have indicated that they wanted to write a book, or they have ideas for a book, or they have written one book, or they have started a hundred books. All of those are good in and of themselves, but for me, being a writer means producing varied works over a long period of time. It’s a daily task whether or not any digital pages have been written. It’s an all-encompassing passion which you cannot escape, literally, ever single day of your life. Writers do not become writers on a whim or because they finally finished their manuscript from high school. Writing requires discipline but writers don’t need to be disciplined to write because it’s a natural out-flow of who they are.

It took me many years to call myself a writer. I’m an author because I’ve published five novels. I’m a playwright because I write plays and have them produced. All of that has made me a writer. I don’t dare attach other adjectives to that moniker. I don’t consider myself a good writer or a great writer or an average writer or a poor writer. I’m simply a writer. Adjectives get attached to writers by critics and readers. I can’t control which adjective a reader attaches to my name, I can only control what I type on my blank screen. That’s it.

So it’s best not to think in terms of whether something is good or bad or just plain silly. In my view, a writer should think in terms of goals, long-term and short-term, and work towards accomplishing those goals. If you do that and put everything you have into your creativity, you’re a success, regardless of the adjectives plopped in front of your name.

When I just started out pursuing writing as something more than a passing whim, I recall telling myself that I wanted to write a novel a year for seven years and then see where I am at that point.  Well, I’m happy to announce that today, during my afternoon writing session, I completed my seventh novel. Seven novels in seven years. This on top of a regular job, family, and a myriad of other writing projects I’ve taken up over the years. I’ve done what I’ve set out to do and that, in fact, feels good. But achieving this goal is not the end by any means. I can’t wait until I hit double digits in novels written. Where will it end? Could I hit 20 novels written by the end of the next 10 years?

Who knows?

You don’t have to meet every goal, but they help you determine if you are actually serious about this writing gig or not.

I am. I have goals which I’m never going to stop shooting for.

What are yours?

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.


As 50,000 Loses its Luster …

Every novel accomplishment should be celebrated. That is why 50,000 still has meaning to me. I’ve told the story many times about writing my first novel and scratching and clawing my was to 50,000 words, feeling like I had accomplished the impossible task. I am a concise writer after all. It was a lot of words for me.

50,000 is the standard number that the industry calls a full-length novel. Nowadays, it’s nearly a non-issue for me except for the fact that every novel should be celebrated. Earlier this week, I broke through the 50,000 word barrier (now sitting at about 57k) for my seventh time.

It’s funny how a writer progresses. The count, in the past, became an obsession of mine, and probably still is seeing that I’m writing about it. But I’ve learned that it’s all, 100% about the story you want to tell, regardless of its length. This just so happens to coincide with my ability to write more complex and involving stories which easily produces a work well beyond the 50,000 word range. The book I’m writing now is a continuation of my 6th (yet to be released) novel, and I intend to expand it to be a trilogy which will top out over 200,000 words. That is a prospect I never thought I would be able to do: write a story beyond 200k. Are you crazy?

I guess I am.

Conquering the 50k milestone was a theoretical hurdle I had to become comfortable with if I wanted to be a novelist. That mission is accomplished. Now I’m tasked to write quality stories that engage readers and make them think. This is, of course, still a work in progress, and the struggle to write quality books will never end. One must always be willing to spend more time, revise two more times, and push the limits of one’s satisfaction and patience in order to produce the best book possible. From now on, this is my goal.

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.

Justify the … Idea. It’s How I Write

In my theatre arts class, we play a game called Justify the Pose. I say ‘go,’ and everyone tears off around the room doing whatever they like. When I call ‘stop,’ they  must freeze in whatever awkward position they find themselves in, whether they are mid-step or standing on a desk. Then I call out a couple people’s names and they have to justify the pose, on the spot they have to think up a situation in which they might find themselves in this position and then act it out. It’s a great game to get the actors thinking creatively about how to understand certain situations.

Recently, I began to realize that this is exactly how I write. I try to justify the idea.

This is a great way to generate ideas and force a writer to think creatively about a certain idea. Here’s how it works. A random image pops in my head and I immediately think what could justify this situation. What would be the back story? Why would this person be in this situation at this time?

My entire second novel was started on a premise like this. One day I had a random thought of a woman from a second story window seeing a man below wearing a red hat. That’s all I needed to write an entire novel. I began thinking why this woman would be interested in a man wearing a red hat. What was his relationship to her?  Was he a bad man? Was he trying to hide something?

I’m currently working on a trilogy which is based on the same time of premise: a strange image which makes no sense, but I forced myself to give it meaning and make it make sense. In doing so, it forced me to think creatively and I ended up with a novel (and soon to be novels) which are beyond what I thought I could ever think of. But I now know that’s not the case. I can make anything work if I give it enough time and brain power.

So give it a try. Take an idea, a random idea, a bizarre idea and try to justify it. It’s fun and you never know what you’ll end up with.


Was I Sleeping 4 Times Through This Chapter?

Revision work never seems to surprise and frustrate me. I have been doing some fairly significant re-writes on my next novel up, and each revised chapter had its moments in the grinding machine of my mind, polishing and burnishing each one a little closer to the end result. And then yesterday, I came across a certain chapter that was so poorly written that I had to ask  myself a question: Was I sleeping when I wrote this chapter? And when I revised it three previous times?

It’s bizarre, actually. Were the writing Gremlins having their best inside my Scrivener, choosing just to sabotage one chapter so as to not make it so obvious?

I really don’t have an explanation of such inconsistent writing, especially after this is the fourth revision of this chapter.

It only reinforces what I’ve been doubling down on lately: take your time. That’s the beauty of being an independent author. I don’t have deadlines to meet. Sure, I want to consistently put out work, at least once a year. But don’t stress over fake deadlines and fake writing goals.

There is only one writing goal: write the very best story possible. Period.

To do this, it needs time. A manuscript needs time to simmer, time to aerate, time to reveal its cracks. Obviously, certain cracks can be hidden in plain sight, but they are there, plain as day, they only need to be looked at once more and they will reveal their fatal flaws.

Which is good, because then you can correct them.

So once again I say slow down, Mr. Revisionist. Slow down, Mr. You Are Typing Too Quickly. Slow down and read those words out loud. Here the flaws, listen to the cracks, and boldly insert the solution.

This is going to be a great novel. How do I know? Because I see its flaws and I haven’t turned away yet.


“Not So Fast,”Book 1 says to Book 2.

In a previous post, I talked about how I’m writing my first sequel, possibly series, and I keep discovering things which I am sure series writers knew in their kindergarten years of writing: slow down!

The reason for the slow down is that I now realize that book 2 affects book 1, or at least can affect book one. Silly for me to thing it was the other way around. Yes, of course, book 1 is the driver of book 2, but by the time I started writing in book 2, it became obvious as the sand on the beach which I’m currently staring at that I could make book 2 better by changing some aspects of book 1.

This is where outlining comes in, which by the way, I don’t do. I can’t stand outlines. Even if I took the time to write out where I wanted my stories to go, or the overarching aim I’m shooting for, it would be a waste of time. My brain is too scattered. It’s too inconsistent. It’s driven by new ideas in new directions every single day. I would most likely deviate from my outline on day 1. So  what’s the point and what’s the solution?

The solution is simple. Slow down.

My book 1 has been finished for a long time. I could have already published it, but I’m glad I didn’t. Once it’s published, it’s locked in. So as I write book 2, I’m able to dip back into my book 1 plot and make changes which won’t be fully realized until book 2. Yes, I’ve already done this, and it’s a big deal and will make the overall series of books, whether 2 or more, much better because of it.

Bless your  keyboard if you are one of those lucky ones who has an organized brain driven by an outline. Good for you! However, if you are a writer like me, and tend to have a tangled mess up there, the best way to protect yourselves is to slow down. As new ideas come to you, you’ll be able to adjust your previous unpublished work.

The longer wait will be worth it in the end.

The Loss of “Risque” and the Loss of Thomas Sowell

Economist Thomas Sowell has retired from writing his column. The world will be poorer for it that is for sure. The 86-year-old signed off for good with his final column on December 27. I do encourage you to read his backlog because he’s a man who bothered to check the facts before he wrote and he used a remarkable clear common sense so lacking in analysis today.

His next to the last column probably was a foretaste that the end was near. It can be read HERE, and you owe it to yourself to read it. (His final column is HERE!) It’s so profound and so simple, with too numerous of memorable quotes to add to this post. But I wanted to  focus in on this one line he wrote – “…  the word ‘risque’ would be almost impossible to explain to young people, in a world where gross vulgarity is widespread and widely accepted.”

The loss of “risque” is certainly a fact. Whatever kind of media – movies, TV, books – have pushed “acceptable morality” and “standards of behavior” out the window. The f-word is embraced in every form of entertainment where it is allowed. It hasn’t made it’s way to network TV yet. The visual imagery of sex and violence at any level would no longer be “risque.” It’s all been done. It’s all being done. But the question must be asked? Has it made our storytelling better?

We’ve certainly come a long way. I remember watching an episode of M*A*S*H in the late 1970s and my dad was in the room. He wasn’t watching and he never watched TV. I mean never. And in this rather poignant episode, Hawkeye played by Alan Alda looked over at one of the low-life characters who had done something despicable, and he said “you son-of-a-b**ch!”  I remember it all vividly, because I was shocked to hear that work, and my dad turned around from his desk and asked “What are you watching? Turn that off!”

I did.

“Risque” has come and gone, and we are not better off. Now the vast majority of writers have jumped on the f-train, thinking their new found freedom to express themselves has opened a door to a new level of gripping storytelling. It hasn’t. I haven’t joined that train and I never will. Vulgarity is not appealing to me. Never has been, and any good writer should know that you don’t have to use vulgarity to have a vulgar character.

Another reason I won’t shed the “risque” in my writing is this: why would I want to do what everyone else is doing? I do, at times, use some swear words in my book. They are the mild ones, used only when I think they further the elements and emotions of the story. But I make it a point never to turn away a reader because they don’t like to read vulgarity. Especially when it’s pointless.

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?

See a Play: Write a Play

On September 24, I saw a terrific rendition of Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” at the local performing arts center.

Earlier that week, I was starting to formulate a concept for a full-length play. I don’t write too many of them. In 2014 I wrote “The Secrets of the Magic Pool,” and in 2011 I wrote “Romans on the Couch.” I’ve collaborated on other full-length musicals and plays with students, plus I write dozens of short 10-minute plays for a variety of uses. I was starting to latch onto an idea, but remained unsure if it would come to fruition.

Well, Sept 24 arrived. I was riveted to the dialogue and the “zoom-in” focus he provided by intensely going after only four characters. The setting was simple, but the issues of life, dreams, hopes, and family lingered large. As I left the play that night, I decided I would follow Williams and make my new play only about four characters. One setting. One weekend. And I would push and develop the characters with purposeful intent to drive home the overarching themes of the play.

Yesterday, October 9th, I finished my play. (First complete draft, that is.) I became so consumed with the characters and plot that I grabbed every bit of time I could over 14 days to finish this full-length, 17000 word, one-hour and forty-five minute play. Over the weekend, I took Friday evening, Saturday afternoon, and finally, Sunday afternoon to finish it. It’s called “The Last Bastion.”

I’m really pleased with it so far.

I don’t want to share any specifics about it yet, but I’ll be pushing it forward over the next few months. I need to do a lot of editing and re-writes, correct character issues, and work on word usage, so that will take some time. Once I’m happy with the overall script, I intend to do some workshop readings of it, hopefully with some professional actor friends, to get feedback for revisions. I want to send it to theatres in 2017 in hopes someone would be interested in debuting it. It’s an adult piece, blending politics, love, religion, culture, and family.

I love productive writing sessions, and they typically come through strong inspiration and solid source material. Thanks T. Williams for the former.