Writing is Personal? Since when? (Writing Tip No. 7)

“Curiouser and curiouser.”

Writing is Personal? Since when? (Writing Tip No. 7)

The Writing Part

Any writer throughout history will tell you this (yes, I’ve met and asked them all): writing is you and your soul on paper. Once you release your words, they are for public fare. Can you live with what you’ve written with no “take backsies” or rewrites? If you answered yes, then maybe your manuscript is ready to get out there. Maybe that is the key to knowing when you are finished with anything. When you can see your words there, as they stand; they represent you in many meaningful ways. No matter if you’re writing an autobiography or a brilliant fantasy of a world where ordinary people never have to choose between being Team Edward or Team Jacob—if you are writing that book, please let me be your story’s first eyes!—the quest is always the same. Love your words and your words will love you back. It’s a symbiotic relationship we often take for granted. But then again… they are only words.

But you own them! Make them go! Get your crazy eyes on and write how you feel and how it matters. Then throw out that scorned teen’s diary nonsense and start over. Extreme? I’m just guessing. Cuz that’s where I go at some beginnings. But your own bad or cliche* writing can give you perspective and help you move forward with your craft. Take a step back and ask, “What’s wrong with this picture?” Overall and in pieces. If it’s yours and perfect and you approve, set it free.

Or just keep a stack of thought and story-filled notebooks under your mattress and enjoy them all for you only. May whatever goal you seek for your work come true. And while we’re askin’ for stuff… may God bless ponies and bunny rabbits.

The Reading Part

I am reading Watership Down as an audible.com book. And please don’t tell me that listening to a book can not be claimed as reading a book. I won’t have that argument because it is silly. I’m still getting the story. At any rate, please, no spoilers either. I have never read it and so far as I can see early on, it is quite magnificent. If you are familiar, I am so rooting for Fiver. I mean, why wouldn’t you be? Wait, don’t answer that. We’ll talk again in a few weeks. But the main plot of the story is that a group of bunnies leave the comfort of their home in the meadow because of an unfounded prediction that the entire herd <?what’s a giant group of bunnies that live together called? a common probably.> common would perish. That’s abouts alls I knows and I don’ts know no mores. I said there’d be unecessary plurals at some point earlier today.

But I do need to pick up my kindle again. I tried a few books recently but they all sort of petered my interest quickly out. In fact, the last good novel I read was (semi-ironically) The Reader. It’s a brutally honest look into the heart and mind of a former female Nazi guard and her torrent love affair with a 15 year old. Unbelievable that I had never heard of this book before but it was an excellent read to say least and it would be a wonder if it is not banned. Though I do believe there is a large gap between banning a book and quietly accepting one. I have a feeling that the educational community does the latter and doesn’t really draw attention to the book by teaching it. Though if a student found it on his own, he’d probably be encouraged by the school system. I would hope, anyway. Clearly these are only speculations on a much broader subject. It’s also one I didn’t mean to stumble into. So, with that…

The Part That Talks More About The Picture

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The Part Where It Ends For Now

Today, a friend of mine sent me a literary quote and it speaks for itself:

In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life. It goes on. — Robert Frost

The Ides — Write About A Day (Writing Tip No. 6)

I’ll have an orange Julius, please. What is that, something orange-y?

Every year this happens, a date comes along and you are reminded of what you are supposed to be reminded of. We had one such case just last month on February 2nd. There were no surprises, Puxsatawney (holy geez, did I spell that correctly without checking?) Phil came out and did his little Caddyshack dance or whatever he does and that was that. Since 2/2, there were probably a few other dates that made you sit up and remember, “Hey, this is how I’m supposed to feel today!” but for the sanity of getting to my point let’s ignore those.

Valentine’s! You forgot Valentine’s Day!

Did I? Check yourself.

Now here we are today, ready to embark upon the Ides of March. What are we supposed to do? Ah yes, BEWARE! Beware of what?

What’s going on in my life that I should be wary of? Is it wary or weary and which is worse? Oh crap I’ve got that big meeting today with So-And-So McCluster & Co. What if the whole bunch of them are just lying in wait for me, ready to pounce and stab and betray. And you, Popeye? You too?

We should not fret over the Ides too march (much), lest we tear our own eyes out going crazy just putzing around, anticipating the punchline yet all the while unable to stop it. Oedipus did that, too. He was the worst at it. Does he have a day?

If he does, no doubt it’s in the dead-heat of August.

Ha!

So then what is the moral of the story? Enjoy every day as if it were your last, I suppose.

It can be. If you choose to view today in that cheerful manner. It is true that one day… the Ides will come, either cloaked or unmasked, for you too. Surely for all of us. But don’t let that bring you down. Have yourself an alrighty time with everything that you do today. Don’t even think about it.

<With his back turned>
Think about what?

———————–

Today’s prompt: Write about a day.

Are your characters your own? (Writing Tip No. 5)

What happens to a dream deferred?

Son of a bitch, Langston, how the hell should I know? My whole life has been about pursuing the ever-elusive literary peach. I think that in recent months I have actually crawled much closer to the answer than ever before. But that still leaves me wilting here, contemplating inspirations. I’ve been writing like a freshly born madman for weeks. Some of it has been solid but most of it has been, um, not. I figure that’s okay because it is better to have written and lost than to not have written at all. Can I share a secret with you?

Yesterday, as my fingers were tapping away at some nonsensical jargon, I happened upon a new character. He just popped up unawares, completely out of the blue. He said, “Oh hello, I am in your story now.” What could I do but welcome him with open arms? Sometimes, as writers, we really have no choice in the matter. At any rate, he seems to be a nice man. He is an artist. He’s not well known and I doubt he ever will be but he has passion and he has style and (let’s not hold this against him, please!) he is French.

His name is Gustav Plonchet and if you steal him from me I swear I will hunt you down and I will murder your entire hard drive while you are sleeping! But here is the funny thing… I know very little of the art world. Truth be told, I wish I knew much more. But as I was writing this scene and Gustav, an amateur painter on the rise, forced himself upon me from virtually out of nowhere (as far as I could ascertain), I let him introduce himself for a bit before something inside me said, “What kind of a name is this?” I knew that he was 100% a figment of my imagination but his moniker sounded real. I actually believed that such a man could exist. His name, to me, sounded as if he was familiar, as if I may have met him on the street 8 or 15 years prior. Naturally, I had to Google him.

No!!

Listen – This is wrong. The rest of this story is extremely coherent and circumstantial. I regret not the fact that I took some time to research my own imaginary character; what I do regret, however, is that I took the time to research him mid-flow. I tweeted about this recently when I was busy thinking unrelated thoughts: Writing is hard. Distractions are easy. Make like a hard-at-work poet and re-verse it.

In a nutshell, don’t get distracted! No matter what! This is such hard advice to follow. Look at me! I’m proof. I am as addicted to the internerd as the next person. In everyday life, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. But while you are writing, you should remain, as much as you possibly can, completely and utterly within yourself. Let your story and your characters be your guide. If, by some chance, you feel an irresistible urge to jump on the world wide whatever and go star gazing for nonsense, stow it away for some other day. It’s only going to lead you astray.

You understand.

What is the moral of the story? Here it is: Right smack in the middle of my scene, just after I had introduced this new character I called Gustav Plochet—I had given him a face and a height and a mustache and a few other idiosyncrasies—I decided to put down my pen (ie. minimize MS Word) and, just for shits and giggles, Google him. My train of thought was broken, the scene was broken, and I was taken out of it. In those regards, all was awry. HOWEVER… as it turns out, when I googled “Gustav Plonchet” the aliens in the machine asked me if I meant “Gustave Planche?” Ok, sure why not? So I clicked on that dude’s name and lo and effing behold… guess what? Jean Baptiste Gustave Planche was a literary and art critic in France during the early 19th century. Of course this is absolutely fascinating to me and I have to find out as much about this guy as I possibly can so I can inject part of him into my character. But as I’m doing this, as I’m learning about the real Jean Baptiste Gustave Planche, more and more time is going by and I’m starting to veer further and further away from whoever my own Gustav Plonchet was supposed to be! And the longer I am away from my story, the more I am learning about history—which is good! but not good for storytelling.

All good sense aside though, how cool is it that my Gustav is almost a real dude from like… history? Ha! Anyway, I thought that was pretty righteous. Who knows if, on some level, I knew that and my brain pulled it up as I was just type type typing away. Does it matter? I guess the point is that since all this happened, I have yet to go back to that scene. And that’s partially because I’m afraid that the real Gustave Planche may become my Gustav Plonchet. And is that ok? It’s kind of a mindfuck.

Long story short: save the internerd for the after party.

Write now. Write well. Write on.

-LW

Great books come from okay first drafts (Writing Tip No. 4)

I haven’t read a good book in awhile. I’m listening to Stephen King’s latest “11/22/63″ on my long commute to work every day. Does that count? I’ve just been so busy setting up my web site for my freelance writing/editorial business that may or may not be taking off soon. I’m also running like a madman (I’m training for a marathon), and most importantly, I’m writing my YA book. I gave myself a deadline to have the rough draft finished by March 10 in order to apply for a Work-In-Progress Grant from the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) before the deadline. My current writing goal for this is to put down 2,000 words a day. I’m about 8,000 words behind since I set my goal a couple weeks ago. The words keep piling up day after day! It’s an insane amount of work to slam out in a very short amount of time that rivals the 1,666 words a day challenge of NaNoWriMo each November. I tried NaNoWriMo twice before. I got close both times. About halfway. That’s close, right?

I’m not too worried about the daily writing goal. I wish that my only job was writing. I’ll bet Stephen King laughs in the face of 2,000 words/day. Have you seen the hardcover version of “11/22/63″? You could kill a brontosaurus with it! That is, if you found some kind of rabbit hole in the back of a small town diner, stepped into it, went back in time carrying King’s latest novel, blew past the assassination of JFK all the way to the mesozoic, met a brontosaurs, raised the book and… oh my God, how could you do that? They’re so cute! What’s wrong with you? Gosh.

You may be wondering: how much of my new YA novel is actually good? Well… I’d say about half of it. That’s pretty good! When you’re writing a rough draft, I don’t think you should necessarily put too much emphasis on quality. Did he really just say that? Listen, if your first draft makes you want to puke and die, you might want to reconsider a few plot points. I’m not saying you should strive toward mediocrity (although look at how successful Stephenie Meyer is – oh snap!), but don’t dwell on making it perfect the first time out of the gates either. For me, a first draft is just about getting it down, pouring it out, and moving through the story. Occasionally, I do find myself editing a certain paragraph over and over again. When that happens I try my best to pull away from it, maybe highlight it first, save some notes on it for later. But move along, son. Nothing to see here.

It’s a good philosophy. Works for me, anyway. I once read an interview Tom Robbins (one of my favorite writers, but he hasn’t written anything in awhile has he? What’s up with that?). In the interview, Robbins said that when he writes, he has a general idea of where his story is going to go but he perfects every single sentence in the novel one by one. He writes the opening line, stares at it, re-writes it, re-writes-it, tweaks it, re-writes it again, makes it amazing, then moves on to his second sentence. He works this way through his entire book! I could never do that. I gotta just write, man. Robbins’ way seems like it would give me an ulcer by Chapter Two. But then again, read his opening line to Another Roadside Attraction: The magician’s underwear has just been found in a cardboard suitcase floating in a stagnant pond on the outskirts of Miami.

The man may be on to something.

Get It Down, No Matter What (Writing Tip No. 3)

I tweeted last night: “What to do when you want to blog but are too far from your computer and too tired to move. Tomorrow at www.literarywonderland.wordpress.com.” At the time, it seemed like a perfectly good idea. I could go to sleep and dream of peaceful things, wake up, have a day, and then write something brilliant that would rock the blogosphere! Guess how that worked out?

Man, I must have been half asleep when I sent that! What was I going for?? See this is a perfect example of why I should just curl up every night with my laptop. It doesn’t make a very comfortable pillow but I suppose I could rest it on my nightstand and bust it out when inspiration strikes.

So what should you do when you have a creative notion but are too exhausted to do something about it? If your answer is “I do anything I possibly can to preserve it” then you’re on the right track! Some writers keep a notepad by their bed, others whip out their smart phone or iPad and jot it down before it slips away. However you can do it—talk into a tape recorder, wake up your very understanding wife and ask her to remember it, write it on the inside of your eyelids with mascara—I don’t care, just save it somehow! Our brains aren’t equipped to handle brilliance during slumber! Or at least I know mine isn’t.

There have been too many times in my life that I have jolted awake in the wee small hours of the morning, fallen crazy in love for some damn good writing idea, and, confident that it was simply too good to forget, I would fall right back to sleep, safe with the knowledge that, of course I’ll remember it tomorrow. Of course I will. This is the big one! But then, lo and behold, when the crow crows, all that remains on the tip of my tongue is one great and sour DAMNIT!

Write it down, folks. Our subconscious is too precious to ignore, too slippery to contain, and too merciless to give us a break. Let’s start losing some sleep for our good ideas before we lose more of our good ideas to sleep.

Good night.

Ready to Query? How to know for certain. (Writing Tip No. 2)

I finished writing my novel over this past weekend. No parade was held in my honor. The mayor of literature did not give me the key to Imagination City. Not one congratulatory blimp flew over my town and no fireworks were shot into the sky in my honor. What did happen was more restrained. I went out to dinner with my girlfriend and together, we drank a nice Caymus cabernet sauvignon and ate steak. The funny thing is that we had previously made a bet where, if I did not finish writing my novel by a date in late December, I would take her out to this nice steakhouse in our area. The irony is that I lost the bet and did not finish in time. I booked the dinner three weeks ago and, during the course of those weeks, I did finish my manuscript to a point where I am 92% satisfied with it overall. In fact, I finished editing the final chapter (the epilogue) the morning of our big steakhouse date. So take that, Fate.

I have been working on this novel for a little over two years now. And when I say “working,” I mean that I have been sporadically writing it, playing with different chapters and ideas, re-writing, and taking long, guilt-ridden breaks from the work. Writing is hard, folks. But it is an art form that should not be rushed. Nor should it be ignored. I’m just so happy today to report that, after being more or less obsessed with my protagonist for so long, I have finally come to the other end of it and I can see him clearly, I understand his arc and his journey, and again, I am at a 92% satisfaction rate. I gotta figure that’s pretty good.

And so, I am now in the process of looking at different agents, studying up on who might be best to send a query email to. My 2012 Writer’s Market Deluxe Edition arrived last week and I have had several moments to both peruse and read certain articles in the mammoth book as well as begin to start looking at the various listings. It’s a godsend of a resource. I can tell you that right now. I will most likely be doing more thorough reviews in the future but to start, I will just say that I am loving what little I’ve taken in already. But more on that later.

What we want to know right now is this: Is a 92% overall satisfaction rate with your book an acceptable time to start querying literary agents. To each his own, but I say yes! Every agent is different of course, and you really should do your research on what they want to receive and how they want to receive it before just blindly sending your work out there with one general query for all. No no no no no. That just won’t do. When shopping out your work, you want to do so with finesse. You’ve taken the time and probably lived through a lot of heartache and joys as you exercised your creativity and passion to get to where you are right now. It would be ludicrous to take any less of a steadfast, directed approach to seeking representation for your efforts, for your story. Your words deserve the best, do they not?

I knew a guy once—and by the way, this is totally made-up—who finished writing his magnum opus after 45 years and said to me, he said, “Literary,” cuz that’s my name, see, “Literary, I’m gonna write one query letter and I’m not going to put too much effort into it because I’m too danged exhausted from actually writing my masterpiece over all those decades. I’m just going to slap together some nice How Do You Do and email it off to about 100 different agents and see if any bite. I’m not even going to find out what their names are. My work will stand for itself. They can be happy with a Dear Sirs salutation. That ought to be fine. There are no women working in publishing—it’s still 1955, right? Besides… the work stands for itself! They’ll appreciate it for the genius that it is. They will!”

Well I’ll tell you what, my good (fictional) friend did just that. And do you know how many literary agents wrote him back expressing an interest in his work? That’s right, only 7. And then he went on to sign with one of them and he made a million bigillion dollars and lived happily ever after in a palace somewhere in Egypt. But I like to think he was the exception to the rule.

Do the leg-work, kids! I’m definitely going to, anyway.

Write on.

-LW

Chapter 1 or 7: Moving In Stereo (Writing Tip No. 1)

I am well and deep into the finishing recesses of my book. It’s been two long years of fighting certain aspects of it, not least withstanding periods of sluggishness, but now I am nearing the end. Or perhaps the beginning? Alas (or ha!), I am seriously considering switching the two. I’m currently re-writing the first draft of my epilogue and thinking, well damn if that couldn’t be the Prologue, instead! It’s an interesting thought, I wonder if my story will have the gumption to do it.

Have you ever moved chapters in haphazard or organized ways to see if your story could work differently? You might have to change tenses or turn some chapters into flashback scenes or go completely Boznai bananas and do a killer Pulp Fictiony kind of thing to make the full work make sense as a whole. (Whew.) However you may have done it in the past, I applaud you. It’d be cool to hear your story. Did shifting the timeline of your story improve it? Did your tale reach new heights?

If you haven’t done this, and you don’t think it’s an off-its-nut idea, you should try it. Or, if you don’t have a book to experiment on, if you’re a poet say, I’m sure this idea is not new to you. I’ve dabbled in poetry a great deal in the past and come off with an approximately 20% personal satisfaction rate overall—the rest is 70% drivel (do that math, it’s different than you’d think)—and having dabbled, I do know the great and untarnished joy of taking poetic license (pardon the pun) and dancing your many lines and stanzas from top to bottom to sideways to shelf and back again! It can be, at its finest, a wildly creative ride. Practice it more if it works.

LW

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