writing process

All posts in the writing process category

Where I’ve Been: or the moment Nano finally won me over.

Published November 22, 2017 by admin

So, I had hoped to pre-write content for this month like I usually do, but things obviously have gotten the better of me a bit, and then….Nano happened.

Yep.

I don’t think I’ve discussed this on here before, but around my other media I’ve been known as not being a huge fan of Nanowrimo for various reasons – mainly because 50k can be not a real word count to hit for most genres, killing yourself for a book may work for some but freak out others, and it focuses so much on the writing, some people tend to forget how important editing is (just ask any submissions editor around January or so how they feel).

However.

I will fully admit I have had a sizeable block for various reasons for the past year and a half or so. I got talked into doing this after I managed to start working on some shorts (that I still need to finish), and I figured it was as good a time as any to figure out if I can still do this word slinging thing.

At the moment I’m hovering a little over 40k, so I’d say I can. Granted, I have no idea how long this book is going to be (definitely over 50k), it is going to take an insane amount of edits to get this presentable, and I really have no effing clue where I’m going with half of this.

And I’m okay with that. I have other things that are outlined to hell and back, my sweet spot tends to be somewhere in between, but this has been an awesome exercise to remind me that I’m actually capable of doing this, and to get me into a routine of slamming words on paper. I was also half afraid that I would get caught up in the numbers or get way competitive, but so far I’ve been able to keep myself okay with whatever I end up writing any given day (and the few days I don’t get to write at all). It’s made me show up more, though, so I’m definitely going to try to keep that feeling going once it’s over. I’ve also been amazed at the friendships I’ve picked up (mostly through other media and not the website for the event, itself), and how encouraging people have been. It’s also interesting to see how everyone is different and has their own process. So all in all, it’s helped me chill out a little and get back to it.

And if I get a new book out of it, hey, win-win!

Though seriously guys, this thing is weird, even for me.

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SJ Reads: On Writing

Published November 20, 2017 by admin

I feel like this is such a typical book to recommend, I shouldn’t put it on the list, but truthfully, it’s damn good. I have mixed feelings on Stephen King as a whole, but no one can argue with his career and output, and this is truly a really unique, interesting way to illustrate a writing career.

on writing

 

Part memoir, part resource on the craft, this title digs deep. You really get a sense of why King writes the themes he does, how he developed his craft, and how it relates to him as a person. He especially relates a lot to his accident (I think this may have been written recently after), and it really shows how much a cellular part of him writing is.

The back half of the book is his suggestions on writing mechanics, a reading list, and even an example of how he edits his work. It’s definitely worth it for that alone, and together the sections really make this a powerhouse of a title. I’ve read it, I’ve listened to it on audio, and I keep coming back to it. Every time I go through my books, this always ends up in the keep pile, and for good reason.

Granted, after reading his fiction off and on for years part of me feels he breaks some of his own rules, and a few things come off a little heavy handed in the back section to me, but then again he’s Stephen King and I’m not. It’s definitely worth a cursory read, as a writer at probably any level will find some sort of takeaway, even if it’s just a reminder of things to keep an eye out for. This is especially good for the new writer or one who feels stuck. It’s no coincidence that so many writing books also pull from the author’s personal experience, and King does this especially well in the first section of the book. His casual and commiserating tone definitely make this book more approachable than some of the more technique-oriented books out there.

Get it here!

SJ Reads: Writing Down the Bones

Published November 13, 2017 by admin

This was actually one of the first writing books that was recommended to me, and one that was given to me, as well. I’ve read it a few times, though it’s been a while. Probably time to read it again.

writing down the bones

This probably works for me because it’s lined up inadvertantly with some of my own explorations into Zen, and I like the admission that both are a constant practice. The author does a wonderful job of painting specific examples to illustrate her points, often from her own life and experience. There are some great writing prompts in here, as well. Over all, she gives the reader (and writer) a lot to think about. I find myself still thinking on bits and pieces of this book when I haven’t read it, and it’s forced me to be more conscious of my own journey and daily experience.

It’s a decidedly postive, encouraging book, as well, so even if some of the information is things that you could find in a lot of writing books, it feels incredibly supportive coming from these pages. You don’t feel like it’s some high and mighty mega-bestseller writing this to fulfill a quota or to humble brag or whatever. Natalie Goldberg clearly cares about the craft and wants to share her enthusiasm for it. That alone is enough to put this book on my shelf over some others. This was the book that got me writing daily once upon a time, that got me willing to just put words down without knowing what they were necessarily for. It’s done me a lot of good over and over again, so I definitely think it’s one worth exploring.

Definitely check it out!

 

 

 

SJ Reads: Steal Like an Artist/Show Your Work

Published November 6, 2017 by admin

Since so many people are doing Nanowrimo, I thought it might be interesting to focus SJ Reads this month on books about writing and creating. I know, way to get original, amirite?

Anywho, let’s start with something light and easy.

I’d had the books of Austin Kleon recommended to me before, but because I am a stubborn beast, I put off reading them. Which I shouldn’t have, because they’re really easy to get through. Deceptively so. They’re the type of books that you can read in a sitting, then immediately have to reread so you can get the full effect.

steal like an artist

 

I really like how empowering this book is, plus his unique approach to his own art and writing is really fun to look at. Kleon discusses how he came upon his technique, plus he walks people through what it really means to be an artist with the obvious experience of someone who’s been there. There are some nuts and bolts things, but there’s also a lot of positivity and encouragement, something that artists of all types just don’t always get enough of. Based on an address to college students, this book is filled with great material that a reader can go back to over and over again. The words are also the graphics, so there’s a lot to take in visually from an actual artistic perspective, as well. This is something that’s really nice for people who are starting to get into their career, or who may need a pick-me-up.  It’s nothing to do with specific technique so much as it is helping you lay out your journey and not feel so alone. Get it here!

show your work

This one is more about marketing (though it’s not really based around that concept). This leads with the idea that generosity and using a network trump networking. Admittedly, this one has been harder to stay with, not because I necessarily disagree with it, but either I haven’t been in the right frame of mind each time I go to read it, or it just doesn’t flow as well as the first book. It does feel like there’s a little more nitty gritty to this one, so it’s a title I plan on going back to. Definitely worth a look, as well. Get it here!

 

 

 

 

Anthology Anxiety: Practical Advice

Published November 3, 2017 by admin

I had a conversation recently with some writing friends about different types of story calls and submissions, and we ended up chatting about anthologies. I’ve been in a few, I love the challenge of writing for them, but I’ve also learned a few things along the way. So pull up a chair, because it’s time for practical advice!

Follow the Guidelines

Seriously, if you take away one thing from this post, let it be this. Don’t try to be too cute, don’t give people what they’re not asking for, don’t expect people to bend anything for you.

Let’s just get it out of the way that yes, I’ve broken this one. John Hartness is never going to let me live down The Big Bad anthology call as long as I draw breath. I was working on a giant costume build at the time for the dayjob, and I ended up missing the deadline and going over word count. However – I also knew him a bit and had emailed him asking if I should still submit and stated that there was a word count issue. He told me to send things as is, so technically I’m not the only one to blame for that monstrosity of a story.

The thing is, I got super duper lucky. Incredibly lucky. NEVER do what I did if you’re going in blind and don’t have a relationship with the editor. Hell, try never to do that if you do, because that tends to tick people off. Get your word count right. Get the theme right. Get your formatting right. Pay super close attention to how they word the call. Which brings me to…

Pay attention to the unwritten rules

There’s a thing in calls that goes a little something like “while we’re mostly taking A, we won’t /not/ take B, but it’s not what we’re absolutely looking for.

Don’t presume you’re going to walk into a slot with a story about B. Unless your idea is so unusual and phenomenal and hits every other part of the theme/call well and is incredibly clean editing-wise, find an idea that goes with A. What this really means is that they’re hedging their bet that they might get a super-phenomenal story that has to do with B (or they may be talking to someone about a story about B behind the scenes. Yes, this totally happens. Get used to it.), so they can’t say they’re not taking it. Still, you’re best served sticking to the call – especially if you’re a new/unknown author. If they want contemporary, don’t go historical. If they want superhero, don’t go sword and sorcery, if they want horror, don’t go paranormal romance with a dark twist, even if there’s some loose room for genre interpretation. Same for other stuff – if they want dynamic characters, don’t rely on narration. If they want world building, don’t neglect that. Give the people what they want and use your own personal genius to fill in the blanks.

There’s a great throwaway line at the end of David Bowie’s Blue Jean video when the plot gets out of control about how he’s being too clever clever, and that term has stuck with me ever since. Seriously, don’t be too clever clever. You may think you’re being awesome and gaming the system, but you may find yourself writing your way out of a potential spot and payday.

Don’t neglect resources

If the editor/publisher mentions that they really like the work of a certain author in this anthology genre/theme and you can read something by them, by all means, do it. I’ve beta’d for people who didn’t get into certain books and it became obvious pretty fast that they were so intent on being clever that they were neglecting what the editor flat out said they liked about the genre, or neglecting other important elements (like characterization, or items of the plot that the editor really wanted to see). What I see and hear a lot of from editor friends and from my own personal experience is that there’s personal interpretation, and there’s flat out not knowing a theme/genre (or ignoring the call/resources). If the call is part of a series and you can get previous volumes, suck it up and do it. I’m not always the best at this, myself, but I can tell you it’s infinitely easier to read the sort of thing an editor likes than try to mind-meld and get that information telepathically.

I’ve also gone around googling genre terms and asking people what they mean to them, because one of the other things I’ve seen is authors misinterpreting or getting stuck on minutae or the parts of the genre that they prefer, that may not necessarily line up with the actual call. Do your homework and your life will be easier.

Plan your story for the word count

The thing that I really had to learn when writing for anthology calls was that word count was king, and there were just some things that I couldn’t do in the context of an anthology story. For Big Bad 2 I had originally wanted to pick up where the story in the first book left off – I /really/ wanted that. But it became obvious pretty quickly that my idea was much too big for an anthology story. So, I had to get creative. I stuck to the world, but went way back in the timeline, and it really served to expand my thoughts on the characters and produce some fun, vintage-inspired horror.

Change things up to work for you

When I wrote The Ruins of St. Louis for Thunder on the Battlefield, I had already done some research on sword and sorcery and had some vague ideas on how to make it my own. The structure was what really was tripping me up, though, until I remembered my high school addiction to watching Xena. While not the same genre-wise, I found that if I structured scenes like I was writing around commercial breaks, I was able to get in under the word count and still have a driving narrative with some interesting characters.

Pretty much, when I’m writing to theme, I write different than if I’m just taking off from an idea that’s popped into my head. It’s a different type of writing for me that takes more structuring. I had to really go through scene by scene with my Sherlock Holmes story, for curious incidents because there were so many stipulations to that call, it wasn’t necessarily in my comfort zone, and I’m a horrific overachiever sometimes. At the end of the day, it took me streamlining my scenes and really focusing on how to reduce the details and still show characterization. You may think 8-10k is a lot (or however many words your given), but when you get going, it’s hard to stop. I have to get really nuts and bolts in my anthology story planning, or else I’d drive myself bonkers (and still sometimes do, anyway).

Give yourself time

You want at least enough time to edit your first draft. Don’t send the first draft in, please. i’ve been there, I’ve done it, I’m always mortified when I get the edits back on those stories if I get accepted. Edit your story. Edit it again. Really go through, not just for line edits, but for content. Does your story hit the right notes and fit well within the theme? Are your characters conveyed well? Do all your details line up? I have a horrible habit of changing the amount of kids my characters have midway through stories, so I always have a list of details I’m double checking. Make sure all your names stay the same, places are what you want them to be, etc. Reduce your stress and plan so you can take the time you need. Instead of spending time in advance worrying about a call, talking about it, daydreaming about it, whatever, use that time to research (but don’t fall down a research hole), pound out your first draft, then finesse the hell out of it. That way you can also double and triple check your formatting and get your cover letter and bio all nice and neat without a panic attack.

Don’t get too upset if you don’t get in

While I’ve taken part in a decent amount of anthologies, I also get turned down a lot. Them’s the breaks. However, it means that I have that many more stories in my arsenal for other things. It’s also why I tend to not write for every anthology call that I come across, and really pick and choose what I want to submit to. These sorts of calls can stress me out for some reason, so I want to make sure it’s with people I want to work with or there’s going to be some good benefits going forward. Like anything, you live and learn, but I’ve also learned to not beat myself up over something that has a limited amount of spots, anyway. It’s all a marathon, not a sprint. Like dating, sometimes you just don’t mesh with a call or a publisher, so you can’t take that to heart. Take your story, dust it off, and see where else it might fit.

So how bout you guys? Do you like writing for anthology calls? Are there certain genres or themes that you look for or prefer?

 

 

 

 

 

The Dread is in the Details

Published October 12, 2017 by admin

There are a lot of things that make horror horror: certain tropes and cliches, different archetype/stock characters, playing up emotional reactions, gore, playing up the action and danger, writing what some people might call at least dangerous or sometimes taboo…

Those are all part of it. But let’s not forget the role of environment and description, hrm?

Admittedly, I love immersive fiction. I want to lose myself in a story, whether it’s something more or less happy like Little House on the Prarie (depending on which book you read), or something more along the lines of Clive Barker. A good book is a good book, and will put you right in the world.

And if it’s horror, it will make you want to run away from that world and hope you can escape before you can remember to just close the stinkin’ book.

Not that I have any experience with that. Ahem.

I’m not sure if it puts me back into a childlike mindset where everything is big and huge and intense, or if it’s just the mark of good writing preying on my human weaknesses, but either way, I dig it. I love that Neil Gaiman really goes into overdrive describing his Midwest settings and people in American Gods. Part of what makes Hellbound Heart and other Clive Barker titles sing is that he really digs in and describes the grotesque in almost loving detail. Part of Stephen King’s genius is really making sure you know all about the town of Derry in It – it’s history, geography, mythology. Plus, he makes sure every character is a full person – to an almost painful degree. That’s the only way we can really feel terrified for them, because if he wrote something to the extent of ‘So then the clown turned into a werewolf and chased after the kids on the bike..” Yeah, no. Granted, that summarizes a good few pages, but it really doesn’t convey the intensity of that scene, or the personal stakes.

When I have the wordcount, I really try to play certain sequences in my head. If I can see them, then translate that into words, I have a much better chance of getting my readers to feel the tension I’m feeling. Mooner more or less takes place in one room, but I made myself really go through that story bit by bit. Everything effects the mood: character description, dialogue and word choice, the phyiscal description of the title character, the emotions conveyed in the motivations for the final reveal…I want my readers to feel the freezing, barren winter, to really get a sense of how dangerous that time period was. Little things really mattered and sometimes made the difference between life and death back then, and it was important to bring as much attention to that as possible, so that when things do go down, the reader gets just what all is at stake.

Although Olde School is technically a mix of genres, I really wanted the scene where Paddlelump discovers dangerous things happening in his woods to be extremely vivid. The reveals just keep coming, so I mentally walked that path with him over and over and over, paying attention to what would be around him, under him, above him, and the thoughts that were going on inside him. You have to be somewhat hyper aware of setting and character and marry those together into something cohesive that also isn’t too bogged down by detail. Every leaf, every crunching footstep, every odd, dripping substance plays into winding up for the rest of the scene, and I picked and chose what to include through how they made me feel when I married to the action of the sequence.

It’s like how the cab of a roller coaster is slowly, slowly pulled up to the top of the first hill – that’s, essentially, what really good description does in horror – it gets you ready to have the bottom dropped out from underneath you and launches you onward through all the crazy stuff. You need the slow tug and pull to prepare you for what comes next. You need that description so you’re submersed enough that the horror elements do what they’re supposed to.

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Wanna see for yourself? Check out my 1800’s-era vampire story, Mooner, to see how details build a bigger picture.

If you’re more fantasy minded (or like some dark elements with your fantasy), then definitely check out Olde School.

Dear Writers: Please Read (A Book)

Published October 11, 2017 by admin

We’re back to some practical advice for this month, so pull up a chair and let’s dish.

About a year ago, I was guesting at a convention and was hanging out with some other authors. The topic of books came up (duh), and what we were reading, and I heard something which was utterly offensive to my poor ears which you think would be cynical to stuff like this by now.

“Oh, I don’t read, I don’t have time. I just write books.”

Or something. I’m paraphrasing. I think my ears are still crying.

Look at that sentence. Look at it!

If you write or want to write, I want you to stare long and hard at that sentence, and never, ever, do that. 

Look, I get some of you probably think this is bottom of the barrel basic knowledge and a waste of a blog post, but I also didn’t think I’d hear an author who was there giving out advice admit they didn’t read books.

And they weren’t the only one. 

I think I stared and was probably lifted up and carried off before I could open my big mouth.

Here’s the thing: to write well, you have to read. You just do. You don’t learn about different voices in action, or structure, or different takes on genre, or well…anything unless you’re actively seeing what all is out there.

And when I say read, I mean read everything. Everything ever written. Right now.

Okay, okay, that may be a slightly tall order. Definitely read, and please diversify. Don’t read only what you write to try to get a leg up, because you aren’t all those other people, and by time you think of the perfect idea to write to market, the market’s gonna change. You don’t read just to imitate people or try to sell. You read to become a more well-rounded artist and person. You may agree with how some people write and not others, and that’s fair. That’s cool…but you also won’t even know what you agree with and why if you don’t start flipping some pages.

Some of the most frustrating conversations I’ve ever had are with fantasy authors who only read like three other fantasy authors. Or people whose sense of the horror genre starts and ends with Stephen King. The problem is that 1) that gives you an extremely limited range and 2) If you are put in the position of sitting on panels or giving workshops, you are then going to be giving people limited and bad information.

Seriously, don’t be that person. Don’t be the “expert” who doesn’t know at least what some of the subgenres of the basics are. Don’t get so stuck in the romantic aspect of young adult stories that you forget other types of plots are a thing, despite having a huge chunk of titles proving you wrong. No one is going to know everything (no, you’re not), but at least get a feel for things that aren’t just your preference. Know some different mediums. Know what you don’t know. Then go read that.

I look at it like this: if I didn’t read nonfiction, I wouldn’t stumble onto some really fascinating things I could use in some of my titles. If I didn’t read folk stories, Olde School never would’ve gotten written. If I hadn’t started reading manga, I wouldn’t be nearly as brave to try new structures and tangent my plots and do different things. Reading graphc novels has taught me the beauty of trying to streamline and be concise. Anthologies have shown me just what you can do with a theme (and a set word count). Ray Bradbury is a master class of short stories, but his essays are equally important. I spent my entire time in college reading a huge range of plays (some required reading, others things that were loaned to me). All of them shaped the type of artist I’m becoming and my sense of story and action in different ways.

Articles, memoirs, poems, speeches, plays – you can gain something from all of these, whether you’re directly applying it into your work or not.

And, yes, you also learn what not to do. Or, you learn what works for you and what isn’t in your comfort zone or isn’t one of your strengths.

And, honestly, if you aren’t taking the time as an author to read, than I’m going to assume you’re writing for very different reasons than I am. If you can’t make time to support the art that you yourself are pursuing, than how do I know you’re developing your craft? How do I know you have any real respect for how hard everyone else is working? No one starts out fully formed and in a vacuum and there is always something to learn. Actors still take acting classes, artists still learn new techniques. Probably one of the most important things you can do if you’re a writer or want to get published is to get thee to your local library (because libraries are awesome) and see what’s up.

Seriously. Read a book. Then another. And another. Rinse, repeat.

So how about you? If you write, how important is reading to you? Do you stay in your comfort zone or read different things? Talk to me about the pros and cons!