Mysteries of Nature

writing_instruments I know it’s in my nature to write.  To want to write, anyway.  But getting to the keyboard and actually turning something out has proven to be a challenge, and not in a good way.

The why behind not writing has, therefore, been very mysterious to me.  No matter how I tried I just couldn’t seem to get over the hurdle and get to pounding the keys.

I looked for some way to break the chain of inertiaNaNoWriMo came to mind readily and quick this year.  The problem with NaNo is, it’s ruthless, relentless, and promotes a sensation of failure among those who don’t accomplish the 50K in 30 days.  At least that’s what I’ve seen from those I’ve known who tried it.  The pressure is too much.  It’s a fun idea, but I think part of the problem lies in the timing.  It’s not like the holiday season doesn’t have enough pressure already.  Tack on trying to get a novel written in a short month and it’s a recipe for failure.

So I kept looking.  I’d been seeing this #FridayFlash thing going around Twitter for a couple of months through my buddy Al Bruno III and he graciously invited me to join.  It’s a movement to post flash fiction every Friday and then collect them into a collector site and give folks some exposure.  At least to each other.

But there’s another benefit.  When I finally accepted Al’s invitation, it made me do something I hadn’t done previously.  It made me write.

So far it’s been a lot of fun.  I’ve written a couple of flash pieces (less than 1000 words), and you can see those over at my fiction blog if you’re interested.  They carry the “#flashfriday” label in the title, except my first effort (which is titled “Morning Commute” if you’re wondering, which you probably weren’t).  It’s tough to try and tell a full story in that small a space so a lot of them end up being vignettes instead, but they’re a lot of fun to do and I’ve noticed it’s forcing my prose to be tighter and more concise.  My wife actually made me chop one of them so hard I was afraid I’d lost something in the cuts, but it turned out pretty well.  (It would’ve been too saggy and telegraphed without them, so kudos to you, babe!  Good eye!)

I’ve started writing them ahead of time to post on the Friday following, and then I go and add the piece to the collector when I have time on the actual day.  For now, it’s the only fresh writing I’ve done, and it feels pretty good.

If you’re looking for a way to practice, stay sharp or sharpen up, and like reading short, punchy pieces and offering some feedback, give #FridayFlash a shot.  You might like it.

Thanks, Al.

-JDT-

All original content © 2009 DarcKnyt
ALL rights reserved.

Indecision

Expertoys 1/6 Scale Hand Tools Set (Colour)

I think I mentioned last week I have a hard time deciding what tool to use when I sit down to write.  This isn’t always the case, but lately, more and more often I find myself staring at the screen, wondering what the heck software application to open and write in.  You know, when I actually do the writing.

For features, it’s really hard to beat Liquid Story Binder XE.  It does everything you can imagine, from mind maps to planners to sequences to note cards to construction of the manuscript.  Amazing bit of software, designed for writers to immerse themselves in the writing.  It even allows you to make playlists and download images and wallpaper to help set the tone and mood of your writing.

It can be used in a scene-based way, but it’s true nature is chapter-based.  I don’t have a problem with that, but it really throws some people off, and some folks asked the developer to incorporate a method for easier scene writing processes (which he did, and there’s tutorial for it on their website, too).  It’s really amazing, and sometimes it overwhelms me just a teeny bit.  So I don’t always use it.

Next favorite is yWriter.  It’s similar to LSBXE, but it’s actually scene-based.  You have to have an initial chapter and then you can create as many scenes as you like in that chapter, but it’s mostly scene-based.  It’s also very complex in how it provides details of the project.  Is the scene action or reaction?  There’s a place to set up almost every aspect of the scene you can imagine, including time elapsed, location, characters and items involved, etc.  I ignore most of those powerful features – I’m not that smart.  So I just use it as a lightweight word processor, include chapter- and scene-descriptions as appropriate, and then do the writing.  Very cool.

But again, overwhelming sometimes.  So I don’t always reach for it.

I also have one called Page Four, which is a tabbed software with the ability to keep “notebooks” and “pages” within the notebook.  In this way, you can construct the project however you like.  You can make each page a scene, or each page a chapter of multiple scenes, or whatever.  But it’s all in a hierarchy of pages and notebooks.  Not as feature rich as the aforementioned packages, but very cool and easy to use.  Easy on the eyes, too.  This was the first “writing” software I used, and I love it to this day.  But it’s got a different way of outputting files, so I don’t have a lot in it, and nothing’s in it that resides in other software.  It’s just not as easy to get to it as some of the others, I found.

And I use a myriad array of text editors and full-screen text editors, just to get things done.  My preference is for those which allow font selection and reduction into a windowed mode.  I don’t always like full-screen mode.  So, I like Write Monkey and Dark Room best, but Q10’s pretty cool too.

In the end, though, the one I find I reach for more often than any other when I just want to crank something out and not fuss with it too much is Rough Draft 3.0.  It’s a lightweight word processor with four different modes: screen writing, prose writing, stage/radio play writing, and normal mode.  These have to do with how it handles the enter key and tabbing.  I just use normal mode, personally.  And it lets me just flow.  If I want it, there’s a spell checker, but no grammar checking utilities.  Nothing to get in the way of your words, your way, and no annoying green underline or red squiggles if you muck up something.

Once in a while I’ll use Word because of it’s more powerful spelling and grammar check utilities.  But Rough Draft also runs from a thumb drive, and if you’ve known me for any length of time, you know I love me some thumb drive apps.

But man!  I gotta find a way to just … decide and stick with one of them.  The choice of tool takes longer than the writing, and sometimes stops me from getting to the writing.

What special tools, if any, do you ply in your hobby, craft or trade?  Do you have a favorite thing you reach for before anything else to make the magic happen?

-JDT-

Yowzers.

The human brain

What a day we had yesterday, huh?

Man!  That was some party!  You guys sure know how to shut up a traffic and comment whore, no two ways about it.  More than 200 hits on my post, more than fifty comments.  Yowzers!  You are the most incredible group of people I know.  You’re wonderful, really, and don’t let the fact that I don’t know any other group of people diminish that compliment, either.  You’re wonderful people, each one of you.  Yeah, you too, WIGSF.

So, while I bask in the afterglow of that euphoric, mind-numbing high — why bother trying to top or repeat that experience? – I’ll instead tell you all the boring stuff I’ve been up to this week.

Job hunting.  Priority one, all the time.  That’s a given.  No news to report, though.  Things are taut to say the least.  We’re doing okay, but the final clock is running.  We need a long-term solution soon.  If you’re the praying kind, we can sure use ‘em.

My kids’ computer is acting up.  The DVD/CD drive isn’t always working.  For some reason, it works when it comes out of sleep mode or when it’s first powered on.  On warm boot, though, it doesn’t read discs.  It just buzzes for a minute, acknowledges there is a disc in there, but you can’t see the contents at all.  So, I’m going to re-image the machine (which is IT speak for restoring it to factory condition) and see if this issue is the result of something I’ve done.  Wish me luck, ‘cause I can’t afford a new computer, let alone two of’ ‘em (if you don’t know, my beloved has been without her computer for months).

No matter how I try to think about horror stories and horrifying things, Mapelba’s post about drawing bunnies yesterday haunts me.  I drew a bunny with my new Sharpie pen.  It sucked.  So I drew another one.  Not good.  Another.  Better.  Kept drawing them.  Thanks, Mapelba.  I have a page full of bunnies where horror story ideas were supposed to go, and I see more bunnies in the future.  You’ve done something viral to my brain.  I need to figure out how to fix it.  (J/K.  Not your fault of course.  But hey, I can’t own up to bunnies, now can I?)  And, while I was at it, I drew WIGSF’s chickephant.  (Check out his post from Wednesday for more information about chickephants and how you can get one.)

Um … OH!  In the biggest news of all, I think I’ve finally, with your help, figured out the story planning and structure method which suits me to a tee.  It’s a system I learned about from this guy, who I found through this guyBryce, I can’t thank you enough brother.  You’re the man.  And Larry’s method looks like it’s really going to work for me.

How do I know?  Because I took my WIP and my finished manuscript and started analyzing them according to the structure proposed by Larry Brooks.  And what I found is, I was doing almost everything he suggested on instinct.  I followed his plan, his system as I think of it, almost to the letter.  So what’s the big deal then?  If I already knew how to do it, why is this so danged exciting?  What are you, a moron?

Well, yes, I am, but that’s beside the point.  The point is, there’s a system I can learn, adapt and work when I’m stuck.  I’ve been following it instinctively, but not completely.  Knowing a lot more about it now, I can actually address the problems I faced instead of just floundering around.  (The time I’ve spent floundering, by the way, wasn’t wasted at all; I did some terrific craft-learning during that time and it paid off big-time.)  I know what has to come next, or what can come next, or what possibilities exist.  And I know how to move forward.

That’s not saying I will.  That’s saying I can.  So that’s a major victory for me.  I feel more in control of my writing than I ever have before.  I feel like, for the first time in my writing journey, I have control over my writing, in ways I never did before.  I don’t have to outline; I can write organically if I choose.  This works with or without an outline, and folks, I hate outlines.  I’m going to try synopsizing my work and see how that goes, but no outlines.  Hated ‘em in school; hate ‘em now.  So they’re out, and I can move forward.  I can.  I can do this.  And for the first time ever, in my life, I am confident in my writing ability.  I am confident.  I was doing it right, all by my gut and wit.  Now, I have even clearer ideas what to do, and I feel unstoppable.  Move over Stephen King, here I come.

Well, soon anyway.  Heh.

That’s about it.  How’s it by you guys?  Big plans for the holiday weekend?

-JDT-

Tell Me a Story

Hemingway posing for a dust jacket photo by Ll...

Yesterday I asked you all about your secret weapon for busting through walls.  Creatively, in work, in life.  I wanted the secrets you hold, that hidden bazooka, and some of you have one.  Others don’t.  Either way, thanks for sharing and I appreciate it.  I’ll remember you kindly when I take over the world and rule with an iron fist.  Obey the Fist!

Anyway, along those same lines, I’m reading what I feel is a very helpful book about writing from everyday life.  (A review will come, if I’m as impressed later as I am now.)  The book discusses how the author organically developed a teaching workshop method for writing instruction which really works, and even gets non-writers writing in ways they didn’t know they could.  One of those techniques involves more pre-writing exercises than actual writing.  When the workshop participants have done the exercises, they find the writing more fluent and easy.

The technique of free writing is one of the techniques for smashing through block, getting started (as in, winning the staring contest with the monitor – remember that one?), and a few other things.  But for developing a story, he has a masterful technique I thought was nothing short of brilliant.

Storytelling.

Yeah, yeah – isn’t that what all writers do?

Not storytelling in the writing sense.  Storytelling in the literal sense.  Actually tell someone the story you’re considering.  This can be anything – fiction, non-fiction, memoir, even poem or verse – and it works very effectively.

The technique can be used in concert with a taught or teacherless writing group, or with individuals working alone, so long as you have someone astute and clever like my beloved to work with.  Find someone you know thinks about things and work it with them.

What you do is, tell the story to the other person or group.  The group then poses questions back to the storyteller about aspects of the story they want more information or detail about.  You’re obviously telling the story from an overview perspective, but the listeners may ask you to delve more deeply into things like dialog.  They can ask for clarity about any aspect of the story, and if the storyteller can’t provide the requested detail(s), the story’s not ready to be written.

When I thought about this, it sort of dovetailed with another writer’s suggestion.  Tell your story, but do it in ten minutes.  Give yourself ten minutes to orally tell your story to someone (he used his daughter and Cinderella as practice during their ride to school every morning, which took ten minutes).  The writer claims this will force the writer to think about their plot and plot points, their story arc.  Any problems they have will manifest by being brushed over or causing the writer to think more about the story.  If you can tell the story and not have huge gaping areas where you brush over it or “yadda-yadda” the listener from one point to the next, you’ve got a plot which flows.  If not, well … there you go.

So what do you think?  Has anyone practiced this technique?  If so, what did you think?  If not, do you think it will work as claimed?

-JDT-

All original content © 2009 DarcKnyt
ALL rights reserved.

Fear of Success, Fear of Failure

Writer's block

I’m asked, every once in a while, if I’m afraid of success.

Usually, this comes up when I talk about being in the middle of the most vicious writer’s block I’ve ever experienced, or when I talk about how I’ve had ample time to complete the edits on my manuscript draft but just … don’t work on it for some reason.  Sometimes, when these topics come up, someone will ask if I’m afraid of success.

Everyone has some fear of rejection.  Usually it’s mild and gets us beyond that hump when it first happens.  Other times it’s flat nasty and paralyzes us cold.  Either way, most folks accept to varying degrees the idea of fear of rejection.  It makes sense.  No one likes to hear they’re not wanted in whatever capacity.  Heck, I just hit a wall and slid down in a greasy pus-like ooze over my last rejection – a job interview.

Still, the question of whether I’m afraid of success is a tough one.  Yesterday’s post talked about how I won’t settle for anything less than mega-success where publishing is concerned.  Everything else will allow me to say I at least tried, but it probably won’t give me the joy and happiness of the super-ride.  (I can’t say for sure though, ‘cause … y’know.  I haven’t tried or anything.  For all I know, I’ll be bouncing off the ceiling.)

But not having tried yet, I can’t say for sure if I’m afraid of success.  It’s not something I have to worry about right now.  I’m many things, but “successful” isn’t one of them.  And since I can’t focus on things which aren’t immediate needs for more than a few minutes right now, I can’t speak with certainty on desires.

I’d love to be successful, but that’s not to say I’m not afraid of it.  A lot of people love to skydive but that doesn’t mean they aren’t going to scream in flat abject all the way to the ground if (I say “when”) something goes wrong.  They like the thrill; not so much the consequences.  Since I don’t know the consequences of what I’m going after, it’s entirely possible I’m doing all I can to procrastinate on making the necessary steps because I can’t stomach the idea of being successful.

In truth, the odds of out-of-the-gate success are really poor in this, my chosen love.  Almost no one has immediate success.  Those that do are rare, exceptions, and for the vast majority of people the vast majority of the time, there isn’t a doggone reason to worry.

Still, it’s an interesting idea, and something I don’t know how to explore without … well, you know.  Without flat out trying.

What about you?  Some of you, my fellow writers, have taken more of the steps than I, and have experienced levels of success and/or failure I haven’t breached yet.  I can’t speak to what fear of success or fear of failure looks like, smells like, tastes like, feels like … but you can.  How did you know which it was?  Was it either?  Or did you just not think about that, like the person strapped to a tablecloth jumping out of a perfectly functional plane at 10,000 feet?

Ideas are all welcome.  I’m curious beyond reckoning.

-JDT-