Tuesday, 30 January 2007

"On Writing" by Stephen King

While away on my short camping trip I thought I would re-read Stephen King's great book on the art of writing called "On Writing". Now I've read this book before a few years ago, when I was going through a phase of buying lots of "how to" books on writing fiction hoping they would inspire me to keep writing. Unfortunately they didn't at the time. But I think I enjoyed Stephen King's the most out of all of them.

On Writing is a little different to most of the other texts out there on writing fiction. SK starts out the first third of the book in almost autobiographical fashion so you can maybe gain some insights into his head space when he writes. Lets just say for someone who is oh so very famous now he came from oh so very humble beginnings. A very poor family, terrible ear infections, dead end jobs and even alcoholism and eventually drug addiction to boot (can't even remember writing Cujo). The one constant he had through all those times was writing. Writing writing writing and a never say die attitude. I think this is one of the things I admire about him most, despite all the rejections, despite all the setbacks, despite being truly dirt poor white trailer trash, there was always writing.

The middle of the book talks about how SK writes today, his regimes, his thoughts on the craft and his utter, utter disdain for the adverb (have I used one yet? God I hope not...) and his ideas behind plot and story. It's interesting to note that SK is another author who doesn't do a lot of pre-planning or plotting before he starts to write. He just gets his initial idea, shuts the door to his office, and dumps everything out of his head in his first draft. It's the second draft when he "writes with the door open", when he lets others see it. But that first draft, it's just one big ole purge.

The end of the book talks about almost dying after being hit by a car while on one of his daily walks. This man came so very close to death, and then crawled back from it. Maybe it was payback for the author he tortured in Misery :-)

I really enjoyed On Writing as SK talks about most of his writing coming from a gut feeling, an instinct, and not worrying too much about what is going to happen next because your characters will let you know. He talks about doing his 2,000 word a day quota and if he is done by 10:30am then great, if he is still plugging away at 3:30pm it doesn't matter, just as long as he gets that 2,000 in. Now that I am writing every day SK's book has been very inspiring and I'll keep working to my goal.

For my next book - yeah keep talking positive - I'll be upping my daily word quota to a minimum1,000 a day. I'm hitting that mark most nights now, but for the next book I want to get really serious. When I get to book number three and I have quit the day job because of the $300,000 advance I'll get, then I'll go to 2,000 a day just like SK.



Yeah so anyway, if you are keen to buy another book about writing, but are a bit tired of the same ole "You must know the book's premise" etc (not that it doesn't have it's place) then On Writing is something you can enjoy a bit more for it's very readable quality and advice.

Sunday, 28 January 2007

Writing While Away

Alrighty, I've learned a few of things from my little camping trip away.

One, I still need to write, the very thought of not writing for five days was something that concerned me greatly. To the extent that I even got my daily quota out of the way on Wednesday before I left just in case I didn't do them later for some reason. So I actually only wrote for four days. But even today, still on holiday knowing that my computer was only a few hours away, I still did a few pages while sitting in a cafe enjoying a coffee.

Two, I can write by hand, but I hate it. I hate it because it is too slow, it takes too long. My brain is galloping ahead with settings, dialog etc, and my fast cramping hand is still scrawling the first sentence. I did 2,500 words over the four days where I was writing in a journal so I did well and above my self imposed minimum 300 words a day, quite happy about that.

Three, despite being able to do that meagre output, the massive downside is when I got home this afternoon and I typed it into the computer I gave myself a splitting headache and actually started feeling a little queasy. I suspect this is a combination of looking at the journal, down to the keyboard, up to the monitor, down to the keyboard, back to the journal etc etc etc (I can type reasonably fast, but I can't touch type). This is actually a real shame because I did enjoy scrawling in the journal when my hand wasn't giving me grief. I wouldn't do it all the time, but a change of scenery without looking like a pompus twat in a cafe with a laptop would have been nice. The headache and nausea is going to rule out transcribing from paper to computer in the future though.

But I did survive, there was output, I made it, and now I'm back. I don't think the handwriting I did was of the greatest quality due to not being able to delete and re-write an entire paragraph in a minute. But it was enjoyable all the same and tomorrow I'll be keen in getting some more words done on the ole faithful puter so I can get into the home stretch of this my first novel.

Tuesday, 23 January 2007

Away For a Few Days

Well five days actually, returning Sunday (Australian time, makes that Saturday night US time). Off camping tomorrow to unwind a bit, relax, and try writing some of this damn book by hand. Yup, not looking forward to that, but even if I did have a laptop I wouldn't feel comfortable leaving it in a tent all day. So anyhoo, for those wonderful people following my progress, I'll be back soon.

Sunday, 21 January 2007

Writing Addiction

To think I have spent so very many years wanting to write (and not being able to) yet now that I have started I can't seem to stop. Not only can I not stop, but I think about it all the freakin time!

From this coming Wednesday I am supposed to be away on a long weekend camping trip and whilst I am looking forward to it, I can't help but think about what will I do if I don't do any writing for the five days I'll be away. I don't have a laptop and running the computer in the tent isn't exactly an option. Mind you, as a highly intelligent friend at work oh so cleverly suggested, what's wrong with a pad and pen? Well for one, I am a reasonably quick typist and for two, I hate writing by hand. At the end of the day that's probably what I'll do because I just can't bear the thought of not writing for that long.

Last week I was in a meeting with some managers, very important things were being discussed I'm sure of it. But personally I was thinking about the character I had just killed off. I have no problem with killing characters, no problem at all. My issue with this particular character is that in killing him I am possibly putting the stops on my protagonist being able to leave to do the next thing he has to do. So I spent the whole meeting tossing up the pros and cons of killing the guy v's just almost killing him but not quite. To say I got nothing out of the meeting is an understatement...

So I'm always thinking about writing. Like when I'm lying in bed. Or driving the car, or on the motorbike. Doing the shopping, cooking dinner. Just about anything, in the back of my head I'm non stop thinking about what I am doing with this book and the things that have happened in it and the things that still need to happen yet. It doesn't stop, make it stop!

And when I'm not thinking about this book, I mean actually NOT thinking about it, what am I thinking about? I'm thinking about which story idea I want to write next. For crying out loud!!!

Thursday, 18 January 2007

A Fresh Set of Eyes

The lovely Jennifer Talty has done me a great service just recently, she gave me a short critique on one of my scenes. She had written saying that her interest had been piqued at how I was describing a nightmare scene that I had done. At first I wasn't going to send it to her as I have been wanting to finish the first draft before having anyone really see it. But she was keen and in the end I'm glad I sent it to her.

I made no bones about the fact that the scene was pretty much straight from my brain onto the paper without the benefit of any editing. At first I thought I had done the wrong thing by sending her an un-edited version of my brain dump. As it turns out the things she has picked up on I don't think I would have fixed in an edit anyway. And I agree with everything she has shown me.

So what advice has Jennifer given me?

1st: I need to watch the length of a lot of my sentences. They can be too long, with too many commas, when shorter sentences can give more impact to what I am doing.
2nd: I need my protagonist to be a bit more involved. This was supposed to be a powerful scene where he was witnessing something quite disturbing. I had failed to show what he was going through mentally and physically and instead left him almost a viewer of his own scene.
3rd: She picked up on a couple of instances where I had really overstated what was happening when it was already quite obvious.
4th: She rearranged a couple of sentences for me to show how they could have greater impact compared to how I had done it.

And heaps of other ideas, tips and techniques.

Being shown those things has really opened my eyes. They are great suggestions, she has spotted stupid mistakes I have been making AND she gave me examples in every case of how it can be improved. So you're probably thinking I'm now going to go back and re-write that scene and make it perfect and glowing using all of Jennifer's recommendations. Well if you are, you would be wrong.

No, Jennifer hasn't wasted her time, quite the opposite. She has basically opened my eyes to some things I sub-consciously already knew were there, and some other things I hadn't realised at all. These are all going to be featured in some form or other throughout this entire manuscript.

So instead of trying to fix this up now and possibly end up stalling myself in the process, I will be sticking with Plan A and forging ahead to finish this first draft of my book. From this point on I will most certainly be conscious of what Jennifer has said, and trying to apply wherever possible, but at the same time it's even more important to get this draft finished and put to bed than it is trying to make it a literary masterpiece in this first run.

Jennifer, I am indebted to you. I asked for an opinion and most certainly got one. Your delivery was great and I wasn't at any point thinking, "Who the hell is she trying to tell me how to write." (although my reply email might have got her on the back foot momentarily (hehehe)). Certainly once the second draft is done you will be getting the whole schlamoo in one hit and you will see where these silly ideas have come from.

Thank you.

Sunday, 14 January 2007

A New Milestone - 100,000 Words

Say it with me, folks. Big words now, big noise, from the pits of your stomachs, ONNNNNE, HUNDRED, THOU(big mouth now, big mouth)-SAAAAAAND, (really deep for this one) WHHOOOOOOORDS!!

Yuh that's right, 100,000 words, or 101,297 to be exact. Hey what do you know, I have a novel on my hands. Doesn't mean they are readable words, but there is a lot of them all the same, and I think I have close to a quarter, or half as much again before this project is finished.

I think my writing has improved immensely since I started this project and I find myself thinking a lot more about how the characters are interacting with each other, how the settings are impacting on them, and trying to do my best to evoke emotion in the reader. I certainly know what I did today evoked disgust with what I wrote, but it was good disgust.

Let me explain. I needed a powerful scene, powerful emotion, I needed something that would hopefully hold a reader the same way a train wreck is about to happen that you just can't look away from.. I think I got it, or at least I'm getting it, I might have gone a little overboard with how the characters are talking to each other in some very confrontational scenes. The second draft should tighten it up a bit, focus the words a little more.

So yay for me, another month or two and I might be done with this first draft *sigh*

Friday, 12 January 2007

A Little Bit of Fun

Ok, so you're sitting there, nothing is coming to you, your mind is a blank. So instead of trying to force yourself to think of "what happens next" why don't you do something silly instead?

I was messing around with some work mates filling the Inbox of a colleague who had the nerve to be on holidays while we were at work. So we were just sending stupid emails back to each other for the sake of it. I thought I would mix it up a little and try to include words starting with the same letter in different emails. The following gibberish is the result:

I've been frequently frustrated by my foiled and failed attempts to provide forthwith a flurry of furious humour of what would no doubt be personal faux pas, instead I'm forced to resort to fabricated follies of flatulence.

Well I wouldn't want to prevaricate on the possibility of procrastinating positions of power with the prevailing pervasiveness of posturing by prominent pedestrians in the halls of this place.

Do you think the culmination of consecutive correspondence may have the consequence of convincing her not to continue her crusade as a contributor to our all conquering cavalcade of curiously compulsive contact?

What did I discover by doing this? It's a great way to take your mind off whatever it is you are struggling to work out! The rules are simple, a silly sentence using words that start with the same letter preferably of multiple syllables. Try to avoid using a thesaurus if you can so you are flexing that mental muscle to the fullest.

Give it a go, you get to waste a little time and you might actually have a chuckle in the process.

Tuesday, 9 January 2007

There's something missing

At this point I haven't read my work in progress from start to finish (I'll save that for when the first draft is finished) but I know something has been missing from my writing. What I have written so far, I feel, has been heavy on dialogue and being a first person point of view I feel a little locked into a lot of dialogue with this format. Still, I try to throw in description here and there, to show what the characters are doing, to try and give an idea of how they are feeling instead of them just saying, "I feel guilty" or whatever. But the thing that is missing is stuff like this:

There was a ruined church along the way, an old Methodist meeting house, which reared its shambles at the far end of a frost-heaved and hummocked lawn, and when you walked past the view of its glaring, senseless windows your footsteps became very loud in your ears and whatever you had been whistling died on your lips and you though about how it must be inside - the overturned pews, the rotting hymnals, the crumbling altar where only mice now kept the sabbath, and you wondered what might be in there besides mice - what madmen, what monsters.
Stephen King, "Salem's Lot"

THAT is what is missing from my writing so far. Those poignant moments in text where the imagery is just slammed into you and the subtle nuances in what is said can leave quite the chill up your spine. I know I gave it a crack in one of my earlier scenes, trying to write something that was atmospheric, descriptive, really attempting to set a mood with the reader, and it was OK in a fashion. I won't really know how effective it is until I do a full reading. But I'm always humbled by what Stephen King has been able to make me feel with his writing over the years and Salem's Lot was only his second published novel.

Sunday, 7 January 2007

Backup Your Work!!!

Well this weekend has pretty well been a write-off. I did my words yesterday (Saturday) and was looking forward to another productive day today, but my computer wouldn't start. Long story short, it looks like my computer took a power spike that has wiped it out. It's taken me all day to get my other computer up and running to a point where I can use it (now 7pm Sunday).

What's my point? Well if I didn't have a backup of my novel on a USB stick (plus CD-Rom) my 90,000 words I have done so far - and all my other very important files - would be gooooooooooone...

My personal regime is copying my novel onto a USB stick every night when I am done for the day. Every other week I also burn a copy of my novel onto a CD-Rom. I do this because USB sticks aren't renowned for their reliability, so I make sure I have a backup, backup.

What else do I do? Well what would happen if (god forbid) my house burnt down? In case of this I also have an offline copy of my novel in the form of an email sent to a friend. Sure, if my house burnt down loosing my book will be pretty low on my priorities, but the thought of going back and starting it from scratch isn't a thought I relish and it takes me all of thirty seconds to send a copy to a friend.

Now I'll just wipe the sweat of fear from my brow and see if I can concentrate enough to punch out a page or two tonight. So what have you done recently to protect your work in the event that your computer blows up?

Wednesday, 3 January 2007

He Wrote, She Wrote: How to Write

I was following links of blogs to blogs to blogs and found one by Jennifer Talty where she has posted about a year long online course (or series of posts) about, funnily enough, writing and finishing your book. The course is by Jenny Cruisie & Bob Mayor who between them have forty-six published novels, so it sounds like there is some good knowledge there to tap into!

The syllabus looks very interesting and covers everything from starting, plotting, characters, scenes, sex (yes sex), publishing, editing and a whole heap more. In the site's FAQ they make no bones about that the intention of providing this free series of courses for the next twelve months will lead to a published non-fiction book on how to write.

Hey, if they deliver the online content for free, who am I (or anyone) to begrudge that?

Anyway, the first "lesson" has been published encouraging people to think about their one sentence idea, that sentence that basically kicked off your book. I had a think about mine and came up with:

“Can a *** based on an ancient myth surrounding *** be the answer James has been seeking to cure him of his ***?”

I've deliberately censored the key words surrounding my plot idea, but it was an interesting exercise all the same in trying to keep it down to a short concise statement/question of less than 25 words.

Is not telling anyone my idea a sign of the true novice writer, someone so naive that they would actually think someone else could "steal" their idea? Well I don't care if it is. Check back with me after I have published my first book and see if I think different.

I've added the site to my own bookmarks and plan to check it out to see how it goes. If you want to have a look at He Wrote, She Wrote: How to Write then follow this link.