Tag Archives: trust the process

Writing an Adventure For Yourself

I was going on a point in my last Thursday’s blog that I have never been afraid to throw out several chapters of a story that wasn’t working when I got sidetracked by another thought and went with it instead, but I wanted to come back to that.

I know Dean Wesley Smith would bite his tongue while thinking that I was a stupid writer if he heard me say that. He’d fix forward and not waste the words he’d written. Time is words written, and that is product being produced, which is something he can ship out the door. He’s not wrong. He’d tell me not to let my story be a “special snowflake,” to get it done and move on to the next story. He’s still not wrong.

I have been pondering this philosophy of mine and questioning if I am right or not, especially in seeing the publishing industry and its process in a new light. I looked at my goals and did the math on them to see how long it would take me to reach them (90 years at that time, 9 years if I committed myself now – both of those are scary numbers) and realized that I had to do something to speed up my process. Neither of those times were acceptable to me. I knew I’d have to break my thinking.

Where does trusting the artistic process meet the road of being a producing artist?

It feels like a fine line. One I’m having to rethink as I walk it.

Smith has this process he calls “looping.” He writes until he runs out of steam, then he loops back several chapters and takes another run at it. He fills in any holes that he might have created along the way. Once he reaches the end of the previous writing session, he keeps moving forward until he again runs out of steam. Then he repeats, maybe not going back as far as he did previously to start again. My own process is generally not too different, except that I may on occasion have to throw a whole section out because it’s just not right. I wish I could always know exactly what to write. Maybe he’d say that I’m only throwing things out because I let the critical voice tell my author voice that I’m doing it wrong. But if that were the case, then why do I feel better when I’ve moved forward in another direction. Usually, though not always, I do feel like throwing it out to go down another path was the correct choice.

Alas, maybe this isn’t something I’ll discover the answer to without writing another 10,000 words while pondering this question and experimenting while examining my own process. I’m sure I won’t figure it out after having just written one blog post about it. It’s definitely part of the journey. As my character, Ellis, would say, “What’s life without a little adventure sometimes?”

When the writing gets hard

Yes, there are days when the writing gets hard. There are days when the editing gets harder.

Go on, Google all you want on creative blocks. You’ll find lots of answers.

Yes, follow all those leads if you will: read a book, take a walk, write anyway, edit anyway, blah, blah, blah.

The truth is there are just some days when you can’t do it. This blog is as much about my journey in writing as it is yours. It is my legacy. Someday someone will come along and read this and know that I’m sharing everything I know about writing with you in order to help you.

So here it is, the truth about when the writing gets hard:

Suck it up, cupcake. No job or career is fun all the time. There are times when you just have to make yourself have the discipline to step forward into the task you don’t really want to do. If you want to wait on the Muse, put down your pencil or delete all the writing files off your hard drive now. You cannot wait for anything. You only have this moment because one minute, one hour from now and it’s gone. Hard work requires discipline. If you want to have your book done, you have to do it.  Put your butt in the chair and do the work or suffer the regret later. That’s your choice.

Now I’m really going to injure those creative block lists. The thing is, they aren’t all wrong either. Sometimes you do need to step away for a moment. A moment! Half an hour or less, if you think that life won’t suck you into something else. Don’t let drama happen to you in order to procrastinate. If you think that’s going to happen, skip this paragraph and move right to the next one.

Just because you don’t want to write one book, or if you feel it’s too difficult of a scene for you to write from where you’re at in your life right now, switch to something else. Yes, you heard me. Start another project. (gasp!) I’ve found that everything cycles around. I’ve learned to listen to my Muse and what she wants to work on. Sometimes I have a schedule for a book and I have to override the Muse — but hey, who really is in control of this body anyway? When she gets a body, she can do what she wants too. Until then, I ask, “What would you like to work on?”, she answers, then I have to decide if it’s really wise or not. My decision. Then I step into discipline, put my butt in the chair, and get to work.

I generally have 2 or 3 projects going at once. My main writing projects right now are, of course, Sacred Knight and The Loki Adventures. After that, I know that I have Dragons of Wellsdeep to write for this blog. If I really don’t want to work on any of those projects, I also have the script for my Weblinks comic (which I’m also lining out at a novel when I have time and inclination), and another young adult story. I like having lots of ideas. I might not feel like working on one story at the moment, but surely there is another which I can easily lean into and work on.

If I don’t, I write anyway. Unless I really can’t. But that’s usually because I’ve gone into a cycle to draw or paint and that’s a whole other can of worms.

So write. Be disciplined, even if you don’t feel like. The Muse will sit down with you when she realizes you are serious. She usually just wants to see you get to work first.

Get to it. Happy writing.

Have you found your writing flow?

In last Sunday’s post, I mentioned how my first drafts are heavy on the action and dialogue and include minimal setting details. I didn’t figure this out overnight. In fact, I didn’t even figure it out myself. My critique partners mentioned it when they asked why I didn’t write screenplays. Both of them were very aware that I saw my stories in a cinematic fashion and I do; I see everything as if I’m watching a movie. They told me that I should stick with my strengths and let a set designer and costumer do the rest of the work.

The fact is that screenwriting is a difficult industry to get into. I certainly don’t have the connections to make it happen, not without more work than I want to put in. I’d rather do a couple more subsequent drafts of adding the detail.

Here’s a colorful tip for getting a visual on your strengths:

Take some highlighters, none that will cover up your text or make it difficult to see what you’ve written and start going through your manuscript. Color dialogue in yellow (or the color of your choosing), setting and other detail words in blue, thoughts, internalization, or point of view indicators in pink, and everything that is left will be narrative.

Let’s have an example (since I can’t highlight, I will change the font color):

Caitlyn looked out the window at the darkening sky while she parted the heavy, velvet drapes with her hands. With the sun fading behind the clouds, she could dare to open up her world some. She reached down to put on her sunglasses, which hung from a chain around her neck. Her grandmother had always kept a pair of reading glasses on this chain, but Caitlyn didn’t need cheaters like that. Dark lens were another thing.

“Ow!” complained Lucky behind her as she drew the curtain across the rod. She glanced back at him, sitting at the mahogany table with his usual pile of papers before him. He capped his hand over his eyes, shielding them from the light of the overcast day. “Did you have to go and do that?”

“If it doesn’t hurt my eyes, it shouldn’t hurt yours,” Caitlyn responded as she opened the other curtain. If only for a moment, she enjoyed feeling human again.

So I have narrative in blue, dialogue in pink, details in reddish-brown, and thoughts/internalization in green.

Now, this isn’t an exact science. Sometimes things could fall into two categories — for example, I thought “chain around her neck” could be a detail or just part of the narrative. I gave myself the benefit of the detail here.

I did write this with the intent of it being a fairly balanced piece. If you have done this exercise for several pages of your manuscript, you should find that narrative is the most common, followed by details, then dialogue, then thoughts/internalization. You’ll see here that the blue (narrative) is the most used, followed by details (6 instances), then dialogue (3 instances), and thoughts (2 instances). If you have a scene which is heavy on the dialogue, make sure you don’t have a “talking heads” scene where the participants are just talking back and forth with no action or setting details. If you are still having narrative and details, but there’s a lot of dialogue, make sure it is balanced and flowing just so it’s not all speech; break the rhythm every now and then. Again, it’s not an exact science, just an experiment to show you how you work. Once you know your own writing flow, you know what you need to work on in the next draft.

Happy writing!

Dragons of Wellsdeep – pages 16 & 17 edit

Dragons of Wellsdeep_pg16_Dawn Blair

Dragons of Wellsdeep_pg17_Dawn Blair

Dragons of Wellsdeep_pg17_edited_Dawn Blair

Dragons of Wellsdeep_pg16_edited_Dawn Blair

We’re starting to get into a scene that was very easy for me to write. I’m starting to feel like I have a good handle on the characters, though what Moonhunter is up to is still a little vague and unclear. It’s developing and that’s good. I’m still also waiting to get his motivation, but I trust that it will fall into place; I’ve been giving it a lot of thought still.

In some ways, writing this is feeling a lot like writing The Loki Adventures. I don’t see the whole journey, only the next step. But, if you’ve been reading the posts I’ve been putting out on Thursdays as well as this one, you know that I’m a big believer in just getting the story out on the page. Once you’ve written something, then you can go back and figure out the actual story. It’s like going to the store and buying clay; okay, that part has been successful, but now you need to mold it into something.  Honestly, I’ve reached a point where I wish my painting was as easy as my writing (strange, because for quite a number of years it was the other way around). Enough whining. Onward!

On these two pages, I’m wanting a lot more description. Yeah, that’s no shocker. I know that I first write with a lot of action and dialogue. You might be completely different. I know authors that write tons of description in their first drafts, then they have to go back and work it in. But for me, I’m moving with the story, transcribing what’s happening. Then I have to go back, re-dream the dream so to speak, and pull the setting out of my head to put it onto the page.

Now that I know exactly what Moonhunter is up to in the next scene, I really need to go back and heighten his worry that Balthier knows something. And because he’s developing his special powers, I need to really slow down and introduce the reader to what he’s doing and why. Again, I know it’s in my head. I just have to get it out on the page for the reader. I know you don’t realize it, but when Moonhunter’s voice deepens, that’s part of the dragon change and him gathering fire within him. You’ll see that again in the next couple of pages that reference is made to it again, along with a note to myself that when Moonhunter is aboard the ship with Balthier and he makes the room hot that it’s him working on his dragon breath. I might not have even remembered that when I was editing those pages, but I did make myself a note to go back and check.

Get it out, get it down on the page. Form into something later, once you know what you’re building.

Happy writing!

Finish Well

You’ve gotten started with your manuscript and you understand the obstacles which your character(s) face.  Now what? You’ve got to finish the manuscript.

As I said in the sample for Dragons of Wellsdeep, I wouldn’t even start editing until I finish the manuscript (under ordinary circumstances, which these edited pages are not). Don’t be surprised if your second story wants to be written in a different way than you wrote the first. Each story is unique and comes into this world however and whenever they want. For my Sacred Knight series, I use a free scripting program called Celtx where I just write the dialog and action in my first draft. The Loki Adventures is written in Microsoft Word. I’ve had to hand write some manuscripts. Others I’ve done on a typewriter. As I said in my earlier post, the equipment doesn’t matter. Just get started. Let the process tell you what you need to do.

But here’s what I don’t want you to do, especially if this is your first manuscript: don’t go back and re-read your writing from the beginning. All you’ll do is find things wrong with it. Your left-brained critic will jump all over it. Or you’ll see things you need to fix and you’ll just take a moment to do that; then you’ve wasted energy and won’t be going any further. This is a sure-fire way to make sure you get stuck in the mud. So don’t do it!

If you think you need to check something, make a note. You can do this easily enough in most word processing programs or with a simple sticky note marking the page. Or dog-ear it and highlight. Just don’t go back. You need to get through the story. Fixing it will come later. I promise.

*** I will note here that I will stop and chuck scenes, chapters, or the whole damn book if it feels wrong, but I’ve spent enough time learning to trust the process that I know in my gut when it’s not working. Do not expect this if you’re working on your first manuscript. It will develop over time. Be patient. If you’ve gotten several manuscripts under your belt and the process is telling you that you’re getting bogged down, you probably are. Go back to where it last felt right and go forward again. Don’t delete anything you’ve written! Duplicate a chapter and rename it with OLD if you need to, start a new draft of your manuscript (I designate my files with d1 or d2, etc. for draft 1 or draft 2 or whatever draft I’m on). Just make sure you’re on the right file. I know I’ve written scenes, tossed them out, then decided that they fit in a different spot so I’ve had to go get them out of another version of my work.  Don’t delete or overwrite files. If space is tight on your computer system (why aren’t you saving to the cloud already?) then buy a flash drive; they have become so inexpensive and is a lot cheaper than having to spend time recreating a scene which will never be right in you mind that second time around.***

I’ve seen stats that say that something like 81% of the population wants to write a book.Out of that 81%, only 7% will actually sit down to do it. From that 7%, only 3% will finish. All the rest give up. Finish the manuscript. Get to the end. It doesn’t count until you pass that finish line. Get it done. Only once you have the whole story out can you know what it’s about and what you need to do to start fixing it. The real work is about to begin, so go treat yourself with a reward. You deserve it.

Get started

I thought we’d play a little game to get the ball rolling. Shall we begin?

What’s the most important part of writing?

Quick, think of your answer! Five — four — three — two — one. What’s your answer?

Did you say, “Having an idea?” Or what about a character? Do you need that to start writing? Maybe you think you need a computer. Word processing software. Oh, oh, what about a program like First Draft which will help you develop your plot. That’s a must-have, right?

Or is it about putting your butt in the chair and doing the work? Half-an-hour or more of uninterrupted time to yourself to think? What is the most important thing?

I’m might surprise you here — you don’t need any of that. None!

It’s great to have an idea for a story or, as what often happens to me, a character that you want to write about, but people write non-fiction based on something they know everyday, so those things aren’t necessary to write. You can write on a computer, or with a typewriter, or with a pen and paper. You can write on a voice recorder and have someone transcribe it later. So there is no required hardware. There is no need for fancy software either. So, the answer must be in making the time, right? Nope! I’ve written standing up in the line at the supermarket, and I’ve used both my smartphone and pencil and paper to do this several times. I often spend 10-15 minutes writing in the morning before I get ready for the Day Job. I’ve recorded passages for my book while driving to work — one of the reasons I always take the country roads to work instead of the highway. The phone just sits on the seat beside me while I yammer and drive along at 50 miles per hour.  I can’t imagine trying to do this at 80 with so many other people on the road. After all, you never drive just for yourself, but for everyone else on the road too! (Great advise my father gave me a long time ago and I think more people need to hear. Speech over.)

So what’s the most important part of writing?

Getting the words down. It doesn’t matter what you write, fiction or non-fiction, the most important is getting it out of your brain onto something that you can edit later. Nothing matters until you get started.

Here’s a little experiment I’m going to run:

I have a story titled The Dragons of Wellsdeep and I’m currently writing it. Each week, I’ll post one page from the story and we’ll edit it. I have no idea where the story is going — it’s not that well developed. I’m just writing and trusting the process. We’ll build this story from the ground up. Normally, I would write the whole manuscript before going back and editing, but for the sake of giving good examples for you to learn from, you’ll share this journey with me. I might end up getting several chapters in and end up scrapping the whole thing because it isn’t working. We’ll see. But I have faith in the process and I’m being led to share this journey with you in this fashion.

Here’s our schedule:

On Thursdays, I’ll release a blog post about writing or editing to help you with the process. Here’s where I will edit someone else’s work or answer a question from you (find out how to submit your work or your question here). Don’t be shy. Anything you submit will help someone else too.

On Sundays, I’ll release the page for The Dragons of Wellsdeep as well as my current thoughts about the manuscript and potential edits I will make. Your comments are welcomed too.

Let’s get started, shall we?