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The Book I Never Finished

04 Dec

unfinished businesses
Let’s talk a little about reading today.

In case it isn’t completely self-evident with the fact that I want to be a writer, I love to read.

I finish a book every 3 or 4 days, sometimes sooner, sometimes longer  – although, this usually occurs when I am trying to read several books simultaneously and it probably averages out the same.  Like many avid readers, or book lovers or whatever you like to call yourselves, I tend to have books piled up in strategic locations around my house (although fewer, and harder to reach locations since fathering a brood) and take almost as much pleasure from the simple act of gazing over the bindings of potential reads as I do from reading the books themselves. Each pile of books is peppered with variety, providing a selection of material for the right mood, available time, moon phase, etc.

What I Read

Ready for a ‘peak behind the curtain’ moment?

Okay, here goes: I like to read a wide variety of subjects and genres, but fiction before non-fiction. My non-fiction reading is pretty much centered around news & current events, books on writing or language, and historic tomes (I have degrees in History/Anthropology) and while I like the idea of reading Biographies, and have a shortlist of selections I would like to read, I haven’t ever found the time to dig into the genre.

I fell in love with Shakespeare and Voltaire and Joseph Conrad while in high school (I will never forget the moment of shock my grade 12 English teacher experienced when he discovered I had already read Heart of Darkness) and have slowly worked my way through the traditional canon of English lit ever since, and enjoyed most of what I read.

 

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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? :(

 
 

Stream-of-Consciousness Writing

17 Nov

How do you write 750 words a day? 50 words at a time.

Writing 50 words is easy. So 750 words should be easy if you write a series of 50 word vignettes. Whether there is a thread running through to link them altogether or not is irrelevant when it comes to free flowing content, but riffing on a theme would help train your brain to spout on any topic you throw at it.

And let’s not kid ourselves, think what you want of writing, be it art, science, pseudo-science, or mystical calling, it is a trainable exercise that works our brains, eyes and fingers. Your eyes and fingers will take care of themselves as you write, long-hand or at the typewriter (or keyboard as the kids call it now-a-days), but your brain takes a little more effort.

I have always believed that the more and varied exercises you perform, the more nimble you become. This goes equally well for your body as it does for your mind. Repetitive motions and efforts are fine to turn a single, or small group of actions into subconscious habit, but ‘mixing it up’ will enable you to move and think more nimbly and be better equipped to deal with whatever comes your way.

If you want to write, then write, write, write, but don’t forget to read, read, read, do crosswords, play sudoko, and read famous quotes, try translating the language on your food wrappers even if you don’t know the first thing about it (It’s usually French up here in Canada and we all know a little about it, so give it a go!) The point is, don’t ever relax, don’t stop to pat yourself on the back, don’t rest on your… anything.

My wife and I homeschool our children. One of the big things that I have relearned through this experience over the past few years, is every moment is an opportunity for learning, or training. And if you are not doing either, you are sliding backwards. There is no neutral, there is no, stop. Life is an uphill journey, and if you stop moving, you slide back down the mountainside.

And don’t discount physical exercise either. This morning I ran through about 3/4′s of the P90X X-stretch, I love the series and highly recommend it to people who want to get horribly fit, quickly, because I had been getting more and more stiff over the past week and fighting headaches. After 40 minutes of hardcore neck and upper torso exercises I couldn’t wait to sit down and have at my keyboard again as my mind began whirring through the things I wanted to do, and say.

Keep the channels open, exercise to complement your writing habit and you will be surprised at how quickly the words will begin to fly.

This is one of the bigger reasons that I decided to challenge myself to signup for 750words.com. It’s not that I need help writing, I already write. But it is a focal point and is all about stream-of-consciousness writing, which I don’t do enough of. It’s not like writing a news column to elucidate some important societal point, or even like a typical blog post designed and well-thought-out beforehand in order to provide value and gain readership, it’s just simple and it’s practice.

It’s a way to train your brain to riff. I still want to provide value, and I still want to elucidate… and will continue to write typical articles and blog posts. But I also want to think and write nimbly.

Let’s think about a practical application of what I’m talking about. Writers block. Had it? People who write like to moan about it. Google returns tens of millions of results where writers are discussing it (because bloggers ARE writers too). Personally – knock-on-wood – I’ve never encountered it, at least as the Force of Nature that people talk about.

Writers block is the inability to write because of some thing other than a lack of commitment or basic lack of communication skills. I think a lot of the issue with writers block stems from a basic perception of inferiority – after all, the better we become at any skill, the easier it is to see all the things we don’t yet know, and the more aware we become of doing things the wrong way (“Damn it! Was I supposed to use a comma to separate that noun from it’s restrictive term of identification!?!”) the more fearful and hesitant we may become, to write.

Personally, I welcome the fear of using punctuation incorrectly, because it indicates growth. We will always become aware of the rules we are breaking before we become adept at not breaking them.

And I believe regular stream-of-consciousness writing can help. Give yourself a topic, and write. Don’t worry about the rules, don’t worry about the grammar, just write. Try to keep it on topic, or let your brain take you on it’s own course. But write. You will thank yourself when you get half way through your next story, or novel, and are faced with a plot problem that you can’t see your way around – just take a simple angle at it, close your article, or story, grab a notepad, or text editor, and write. Let your brain steer you through. You may or may not actually use the content in the end, but I’ll be you get something good out of it.

hmm… my 750 words seem to turn into 1000 words everyday. I better sign off for today and get back to my NaNoWriMo story.

Until tomorrow, good luck with the writing everyone!

 

The Start of Something Grand

16 Nov

StartThis fall… really, over the past couple of weeks, I have made a few commitments to myself regarding my writing. Primary, is the fact that I need to write more.

Starting today, I will be writing daily a minimum of 750 words. Actually, I wrote 3k words yesterday for NaNoWriMo, so I suppose I had already started.

I also believe in the power of free writing, and journaling. First, practice makes perfect, but also, it helps to have a no-holds-barred venue to write in. Just like an Opera singer would never go out on stage without performing vocal exercises, and an athlete would never hit the court/track/rink/whatever without first stretching and warming up, neither should a writer write without tapping into the unconscious first.

Today I signed up for 750words. It’s just a tool to help keep you motivated. You can type in your 750 daily into your account and take a monthly challenge (30 days forms a habit!) and it will hassle you if you miss days.

For the most part, what goes into 750words stays in 750words by the looks of it, but I’d like to share my todays, first, post with all of you.

I’m not sure if I’ll be copying my 750 word brain dump every day, but I may once in a while.

Without further adieu, today’s article is ‘The Start’. This is meant as a free-flow, stream of consciousness writing.

 

Ferrari 750 Scaglietti Spider

Ferrari 750

Okay, here I go. I have joined the site 750words and will be writing daily from now on. No exceptions. Come rain or shine, health or sickness, peace or trauma – what I want to do, is write every. single. day. for the rest of my life. This is it. There was a line, and I have just stepped over it. It was on a bridge and I just burned it. When I’m done I am going to post it.

I am in my 30′s, so if I pull off 750 words per day, for ever anon, then I am looking down the barrel of a gun loaded with more than 13 million words… and that’s just the warm up. Shit that thought is strangely invigorating!

750 words does not seem like much but I can image that it may become difficult getting all those characters out of your head on a daily basis. See, only 50 words so far, a mere 1/15th of the way there, and I am already worried about the word count…

Yesterday I wrote 3000 words towards my new novel, being written as part of NaNoWriMo, 2012. I really wanted to participate, but lost track of the start of the contest and found myself 1/2 way through and facing a decision: Wait until next year, again, or haul ass and see what I can pull off in 2 weeks.

It is highly unlikely that I’ll make the required 50k words in the 16 days I have left to me, a commitment of almost 3000 words daily, but I decided that the effort is worth it, regardless of whether i make the deadline or not. The point is, I won’t stop at the deadline – NaNoWriMo is just an excuse to do that thing I’ve always wanted to do.

Of course, if I do somehow manage to pull of a final-second Hail Mary pass down the left hand side of the pitch (how’s that for mixed metaphors!) then I will do a happy dance for a week. I am already dreaming about future interviews where I can say, “Well Jane, I wrote my first 50k word novel in a mere 2 weeks”. Not that I am nearly as pretentious as all that.

For as long as I can remember, writing is what I wanted to do. And I have, written that is. But I haven’t made any effort to show off my work, or pursue it in anyway. I just like to jot occasional notes in my journals, which I then put back on a shelf. But that is not what I wanted. I wanted to publish. I wanted to hold a book in my hand that had my name down the spine: VALIANT – hell! I even have the name for fiction, esp. fantasy – and I can write, so I should be a shoe-in!

So why have I not pushed this? Why have I always treated it as a ‘someday’ vocation, ideal, dream? I wish I knew, but I have theories…

First of all, I think I am a pretty unmotivated guy. I have always thought of myself as ‘accommodating of others’ or ‘easy going’ but I am beginning to see the dark side of this attitude – why did it take so long? bah! – the dark side of course is, ‘GET OFF YOUR ASS AND DO SOMETHING BUSTER!’

I WANT to do things from a big picture point of view, and I occasionally do too. But mostly, at any given moment in time, I’d rather read, or play video games, which I find horribly addictive, or watch movies, or play with my kids, or build stuff out of wood, or whatever…

I think the second big stumbling block for me has always been a lack of self confidence… a painful lack. Coupled with painful shyness and it is amazing I survived high school really! I have come a long way over the past 10 or 15 years, but that shy, un-confident kid-that-I-was, will never really go away completely.

… and maybe a fear of looking like a dumbass. Which is way worse than a simple fear of failure by the way. The fear of looking like a dumbass IS the fear of Failure, but coupled with the fear of looking like a Dumbass… in front of Others. Which totally sucks. The famous quote “It’s better to keep your mouth shut and have people think you a fool, than open it and prove them right,” has always stuck with me, and I have lived by it to a large extent, consciously or otherwise. I hate asking questions, I hate looking like I don’t know something, I hate not being perfect.

And sometimes, these stoopid fears keep me from doing the things that I really want to do.

But, another thing I really hate is Regret. Being shy and self-conscious as a kid kept me from doing some of the things I wish I had done. Now-a-days, I hold those regrets close as reminders. Never open the door to regret, it’s a terrible bedfellow.

So with a simple reminder, to myself, that I do not want to get old and not have written is all I needed to hatch an action plan – Write. Every. Day.

I would love to be published… but I may never be. I would love to finish 40 novels, but I probably won’t. I would love to make a difference in somebody’s life using the power of the written word, but I likely never will.

But one thing I can do, is write. From now, until ever, this is a beginning, and I look forward to the ride.

#NotesToMyself