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Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Writing Street Smarts

14 Dec

Dark Trail
I’m going to start with a common, but, I think, often overlooked piece of advice for new writers, and finish this post off with my own personal number 1 piece of advice for new writers.

So, to start, the common advice for writers: ‘Read, Read, Read.’

We’ve all heard it before, but I don’t think I really understood. I always thought it was trite and of little practical use. Not because I don’t believe in the power of reading, but rather because I already read, all the time. I wanted to write because I loved reading first, so what was the point of being told to do what I already did plenty of?

Lately though, I’ve had conversations that make me rethink ‘Read, Read, Read.’

I’ve been talking to a number of early stage writers, people just getting started and trying to get their first books written or published. More often than not, the conversations end up revolving around peoples insecurity with the rules, forms, and techniques of writing. “The correct use of tense”, “The proper use of flashbacks”,”How to create tension”, etc.

These conversations have reminded me of similar talks I heard while attending University, with people who spent hour after hour memorizing information and techniques from textbooks. These people loved testing each others knowledge but never really learned how to actually apply the information.  They could soliloquize about their chosen fields through to the wee hours of morning, but often couldn’t figure their way out of a paper bag if their lives depended on it.

Through my years in corporate we would silently roll our eyes each time a fresh MBA was hired. They would walk through the door expecting the world because of their higher learning, only to flounder through their first projects – school book learning is simply no substitute for real-world learning. I’ll come back to this below, but suffice it to say, this observation taught me more about life than any actual course I took while earning my own degree. I learned to identify and ‘hang out’ with people who were not only learning something, but understood why they wanted to learn it, and spent time trying to figure out what it all meant in the big picture.

So let’s talk about writing again.

Another viewIf you stayed in school for an MFA, you should know all about things like the proper use of tense or how to ‘express coordinate ideas in similar form’, and you will have the ability to wax poetically on the subject or help others see where they went wrong. You will be able to TEACH the subject of writing.

For everyone else it’s more important to focus on developing a SENSE for good writing, than to know the proper terminology, and the best way to accomplish this is to ‘Read Read Read’. Not textbooks, or books on how to write, but reading books, novels. If you enjoy reading, and read regularly, you will know almost everything you will ever need to know about writing.

Let’s call this idea: ‘Writing Street Smarts’ vs. ‘Writing Book Smarts’.

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Writers Advice

06 Dec

Advice Dog on Writing #1
Welcome to a new column here at Prefect Writing: Writing Advice, for Writers Who Write, by Other Writers… who, ah, Also, er, Write… um… Maybe I should simplify that a bit eh? Let’s call it Writers Advice.

I don’t know whether I’ve mentioned it or not, but I’m a Gemini. Growing up, my mother was really into the whole New Age scene and my house was full of associated books, and crystals, and tarot cards and other esoteric paraphernalia. I grew up on the outside of this culture, never quite buying in to the same level as my mother, but enough to be influenced by it in a significant way and when I discovered the fantasy genre everything kind of fell into place in a way that made sense in my head.

I grew up living and breathing that ‘stuff’, and wear the term ‘Gemini’ like a comfortable old coat. Now-a-days, of course, I laugh at star-signs while in polite company, and don’t think about it very often, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to shake it completely – I’m a Gemini and that MEANS something to me.

What? Well, a lot of things really, but probably the most significant, and the only impact that I typically reference being a Gemini for, is this:

 

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Join A Writers Group

06 Dec

On Monday night I attended my first ever writers group. It was a pretty relaxed affair at the Barrie Writers Club meeting and only a small portion of the regular members were in attendance, which was a nice way to try out something new.

I’ve attended a local Spoken Arts night (Writers reading poetry and prose that is held monthly in Barrie) a couple of times, but just trolled from the back. Poetry really isn’t my thing anyway. I like hearing good poetry (a completely subjective definition of course, especially in the world of poetry) and I like to write bad poetry, but I don’t particularly understand most modern poetry. It gets too abstract for me, I think I get more analytical the more abstract writing becomes and that’s just not a good way to approach poetry.

Either that or it’s just getting harder for people to write poetry. By which I mean, if the ultimate goal, the ‘high destiny’ of poetry is to distill human truths into their most basic constructs, then there isn’t anything left to write about. After all, there are only so many human truths, and truths are timeless, therefore, once they’ve been distilled… well, everyone today is just playing with some other person’s metaphor.

Any who… Let’s save the poetry discussion for another post.

Writers groups are important for writers just starting out, and for many writers, will always remain an important aspect of their writing life. Today I wanted to look at Writers Groups and how you can benefit from them.

CamaraderiePiPho Group Hug in Ilocos

Let’s face it, writing can be a lonely endeavour, with long hours spent tanning in the artificial lights of our best friends… er, monitors.  And most of us just aren’t designed for the level of solitude required.

A writers group can provide multiple levels of support and understanding of the process you go through. It’s the simple reminder that other people are interested and that other people are going through the same soul-searching, lonely work we submit ourselves to.

Also, at a writers group everybody comes with all that knowledge built in, they know how hard the process can be. You don’t even need to HAVE the conversation, you can see it in their pale faces and the slightly shadowed looks in their eyes – they know, and they know you know.

A Writers group is a community of shared suffering, and oddly enough, that’s a comforting thought.

 

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8000 Word Day

02 Dec

Writing High
Yesterday I woke with a story in my head.

Not a full story mind you, but a thought, a kernel of an idea. It was compelling and I wanted to get the concept down before it faded so I rolled out of bed and booted up scrivener and started typing.

At first it was just generalities, there was this couple and they did a thing and then something happened, all so I could dump it out on a page. Just a page. 1 page I figured, and then I’ll break fast.

But 1 page became 3 and then 10 and I still had something I needed to get out so I kept on writing.

It felt good. Really, really good. I am used to having ideas flow when inspiration hits, but this was something new. The first time that I truly felt like a muse had sat down in a chair beside me and whispered into my ear.

As I wrote, the plot became evident, and then the theme settled over my shoulders like a mantle, an aegis, and I wrote and wrote. Through breakfast, through lunch, I wrote until dinner before I was finished. Before I had it all out.

It sort of felt like I was holding a fire hose all day onto which somebody had installed a garden nozzle and I desperately held on, hoping to get it drained before it burst.

When the dust settled I had hammered out 7,500 words. I don’t know if that is great, or good, or ok. I don’t believe it matters in that sense anyway, because 1,000 good words trumps 5,000 shitty words any day of the week, but I was feeling the high.

 

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Writing, writing, writing

01 Dec

Fail RoadSo NaNoWriMo 2012 is over and NO, I didn’t finish and YES, that’s okay.

I started late and figured it would be a miracle if I did finish, but I started anyway. And I spent most of November writing furiously:

  • Half a NaNoWriMo launched novel
  • 2 short stories, 1 submitted to an online mag.
  • plenty of blog posts

More importantly, I’ve been writing everyday.

This writing gig is harder than I thought in some ways, and easier than I expected in others.

I think, having been a writer in one capacity or another for so long, that turning my attention on fiction has been a pretty smooth transition so far. I know the basics, and grammar, and the proper usage of punctuation, etc. So it’s just ‘different’ writing, and that’s comfortable, like pulling on yesterday’s jeans.

On the other hand the more fiction I write, the more things like form and theme are settling into my brain and it often feels like I’m wallowing in a fish net; I can see the other side, but am having a hell of a time getting there some days… okay, possibly most days.

I’m not a worrier. So I don’t and won’t languish over the fears that are a natural extension of this. I’m not worried about whether I’m good enough, or not – I have always assumed none of us are good enough anyway, and we should just keep trying to do better tomorrow that which we tried to do today.  But those fears are persistent, and they’re always scratching at the cellar door, trying to find a crack big enough to push through.

And I’d swear somebody has been feeding them.

Writing… bah humbug.

So, everyday, once I’ve convinced myself that I won’t dwell on those trembling fears of inadequacy, once I admit that I probably suck anyway, and once I remember that I want to write because I love the unfolding process, not because I think I have this incredible story that everyone needs to read, once I have all of that out of the way, I can finally sit down and write once more.

Life’s like that. I think. Not that I would actually know, I don’t know any other writers well enough to ask if this is unique or par for course, part of the sine qua non of writing (thank you Margret Atwood for that reference.) But I like to approach everything as if it is perfectly normal in that situation, whether I have any frame of reference for it or not. Firstly, it helps squash all that self-doubt (of which I have plenty) by reminding myself that it, whatever ‘it’ happens to be at that moment, it is perfectly normal and I should just get on with ‘it’. Secondly, every once in a while, it lets you do something extraordinary after you have convinced yourself that ‘it’ was ‘no big deal’.

I love writing though and the more I do ‘it’, the more I write, and the more I think about writing, the more I become obsessed with ‘it’ and the more I want to get serious about ‘it’.

Okay, enough with the whole ‘it’ thing.

So, in the spirit of getting more serious, this weekend I ferreted out the fact that there is a local writers group – The Barrie Writers Club. I had poked around a few times before and not come across them somehow. I sent a letter to the group to get more information and am really looking forward to going out and attending their next meeting.

Busy week ahead… my goal is 5000 word days, so I can get a draft of my novel finished before the holidays.

wish me luck!

Michael P.W.

 

 

 

 
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The final stretch of NaNoWriMo

26 Nov

Happy, Sad, Mad, GladI’m feeling torn right now, discordant.

On one hand, I am falling miserably behind with my NaNoWriMo novel. This is frustrating because I really wanted to get a rough draft of something down on paper for this challenge. I wanted a victory. But I am a mere 15k words into the necessary 50k needed by the end of November.

On the other hand. I’M 15K WORDS INTO MY FIRST NOVEL – HELLS YA!

So, I’m feeling a bit weird about the whole thing I guess. I’m not exactly upset, but I’m not thrilled either.

I started late and only had 15 days to complete the challenge, which meant a required 3k (or close to it) words per day. Then it took me a couple days to wrap my head around the beginnings of the novel that I wanted to write.  I lost another couple of days struggling with some big whys that I just couldn’t continue writing without.

Now that I have most of my novels ‘big questions’ outlined in my head, a good handle on the people and the plot and I’m busy hammer away at the keyboard. But there just isn’t enough time to succeed in the way I had wanted to.

I’m not really into doing any of those ‘dirty little NaNoWriMo’ hacks that you can find all over the internet right now (you know, like doing a find and replace to change your main protags name from ‘John’ to something like ‘John, the hero of the vale, defender of the weak and all around nice guy’ – sure, you may get an extra couple thousand words out of it, but you’ll feel dirty.) So, unless the 9 muses descend from Mt. Helicon to imbue my hands and thoughts, the best I can hope for is about 30k words by the end of the week. Not that I’m laying down or giving up. I’ll spend the week writing like I’ve never written before – I live for challenges. But it is a little disappointing to be falling further behind your goals every day.

 

Writing BooksOnwards and Upwards.

So I have to remind myself a couple of times a day to Suck it Up Cry Baby! And keep moving.  :)

It has been a good week really. I wrote a HowTo guide (building bunk beds) for Instructables that won me a years membership on the site (Woot for first efforts!) I also submitted a short story to an online Canadian SciFi publication (haven’t yet heard back on that one).

As much as not beating the NaNoWriMo challenge is bothering, and will continue to bother, me for awhile, I will continue to try and look at the experience as a success. I have dropped the ball on NaNoWriMo ever since I first heard about it, 7 or 8 years ago, most years not even starting, the rest barely getting out a couple of thousand words before getting hopelessly distracted. But this year I will finish my novel. Maybe not in November, but by the end of 2012 my first novel will be written and edited at least once. Merry Christmas to me.

So I just wanted to take a moment and say something to everyone who made it past the first week of NaNoWriMo: Congratulations! If you finished, or are about to finish, Way To Go! If you are wallowing somewhere behind the curve, struggling with characters who don’t want to do what you have in mind for them, or something equally frustrating, Congratulations to you to. This gig – being a writer – is bloody difficult. And you are trying to make it work. Don’t stop!

I wish you all, all the luck in the world in both finishing your novel and in eventually getting it published.

 

 

 
 

Can’t Write?

24 Nov

August 20th 2008 - Inspiration pt3

Muse, oh Muse, where are you?
I have books and blogs to get through.
Outside the shivering wind is cold,
but within the fire warms my toes,
as I sit here staring, trying to create anew.

 

When you’re sitting staring at an empty screen, writing anything is better than writing nothing. Personally, sometimes, I like to write bad poetry. I have very little to judge good or bad poetry against mind you, I just accept that I write bad poetry and move on.

My tools are grammar, punctuation, plot and character, not meter and rhyme and ancient erudite references. I read, a lot, but I don’t read poetry. This is the primary reason I know that my poetry is poor – I don’t read poetry. You can never write that which you do not read. (I’ve been practicing making up/writing aphorisms lately, how was that?)

But it doesn’t matter. I’m not trying to be a great Canadian poet. I love writing bad poetry – no constraints, no rules to reign in creativity, no worries about what anyone else will think. (I’ll tell you what to think if it helps: That poem up there, at the beginning of this post? It’s bad. It’s just a start of course, but it’s even a bad start.)

But the point is that it doesn’t matter. The point is: I broke 5 minutes of starting at a blank screen trying to write my NaNoWriMo novel, by writing one line that quickly turned into two and then turned into a small (bad) poem, which then turned into this respectable blog post regarding Methods to Stop Writers Block.

I’m going to start this paragraph, the 3rd in a row, with the same comment as the previous 2, to ensure it sticks: The fact that I write poems poorly JUST. DOESN’T. MATTER. When you need to start writing and you can’t, just write something. Stop trying so hard to write what you need to write, and write something. Open the door for your muse to come inside, it’s cold out there so let her get warmed up, give her some coffee, let her get settled, THEN return to what YOU wanted to write, you egotist.

Look away from the subject you are trying to drive towards, and take a short trip elsewhere. Write something else. A note, an email, a tweet, a shopping list.

Just write.

I love writing. I love writing poetry and prose. I love jotting notes on post-its, in journals and even, occasionally, on the palms of my hands. I don’t often run into writers block but I have found the easiest, and often only, way to get back on track is to return to a ‘happy writing place’. For me, that is occasionally bad poetry, with it’s little bundles of prose and the need to engage the brain to think laterally for rhymes and references and words on a finite scale.

You don’t have to write poetry to overcome Writers Block of course, but you do need to find some writing chore that engages your muse on a small scale. If you don’t you are just a hack. Writers write. Every day. Not when the muses are nice enough to stop by for tea. You can’t wait for ‘the call’, although on those occasions when the lightening does strike, write like you are holding the last pencil on earth, you have to write every day.

So make it easier on yourself when you can’t think of the next thing to say and do some prose-aic calisthenics (see what I just did there?) After all, you wouldn’t start jogging without warming up your legs, so don’t start writing without warming up your brains – yes, all of them.

Your muse will thank you for it.

 

First Short Story Submission

22 Nov

Procrastination is the mother of invention… um, source of all evil?

          Procrastination is the art of keeping up with yesterday.
           ~Don Marquis

Whatever Procrastination is, I do know that I would never get anything done if it weren’t for that last minute!

procrastination

Lately, I’ve been busy plotting away and typing my fingers numb, trying to write my first novel for NaNoWriMo, an achievement that seems more out of reach every day that passes; not because I’m not writing, but rather because I only started on the 16th, so I have a mere 2 weeks to write my novel – a tall order by anyone’s standards I presume. But I’ll talk more about NaNoWriMo in another post.

So, never one to be entirely sensible, yesterday, instead of diligently pushing my novel forward, I thought I would take a bit of a break and read some short stories online. I’ve been reading a book of Hemingway short stories and I really wanted something to contrast it with (and yes, I do realize the ridiculousness of contrasting Hemingway with modern flash fiction written by amateurs.) The Short Story is not of format that I read much of… or any of really.

Well it turns out that I enjoy reading the format, and the shorter the better. Flash fiction with tight little sentences and a small driving plots and glimpses of interesting characters and places.

So there I was, minding my own business and reading my way through a dozen or so short stories and didn’t I come across one particular yarn that sent my muses into a tizzy! I was compelled to dive into a new idea, a simple thought in a new format.

In less than 2 hours I had a decent draft of a new short story completed, about 900 words long. I was flushed with accomplishment and excited to show someone. But I decided to put it out of my mind, at least for a night.

This morning I sat down and gave it a critical reading. It needed tweaks. There was no sense of place or character, but the plot was great and driving. So I tightened up the ending a little and added a little more depth to both the character and the location throughout the story – bringing the word count up to 1250 words.

I already knew I wanted to submit it to aescifi.ca, a publisher of Canadian SciFi, so, once I had finished my editing, off it went.

I then spent 2 more hours reading more short stories and especially the writer biographies to try and find out where else everyone was publishing. I now have about 12 online and print mags and podcasts to look into and began plotting out my next short story.

On the down side, I realized after all this work that I didn’t put much of a bio on my submission to AE, I had meant to go back and write something once I had everything in order and forgot.

Why Short Stories?

245a Short Stories Oct-1949 Cover by Charles Wood - Includes Loot from Badakhshan by E. Hoffmann Price
As a reader, short stories offer peaks behind the curtain. Short glimpses into somebody’s reality. You really get a sense for what’s going on inside of someones head when you read their short works of fiction, something that is largely lost in a full length novel I believe.

But as a writer, the short story offers just as much – something I wasn’t expecting. You can take any random idea, any errant thought, and by bearing down you can have a passable story in an hour, maybe two. After a little more time on edits, you have a decent little story, a capsule for your idea and talent. It’s like instant gratification for authors. It’s the Twitter of Fiction.

I don’t know if my story will be accepted (Dear http://aescifi.ca editors, please accept my story – it rocks. Promise!) but it doesn’t really matter. I loved writing it, and really think this is the start of something good.

Of course, I’m dying to share the story, and have someone else tell me what they think and now I just have to wait it out.

I’m pretty pumped after everything is said and done though and I’m ready to dig into my NaNoWriMo novel now that it’s 9PM…

hrm, I only have to hit 4000 words tonight – NP right? :(