Tag Archives: writing tips

Impatience

If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn’t brood.  I’d type a little faster.  ~Isaac Asimov

No news on the personal front. Sigh. It makes me more impatient the longer I have to wait. Oh well. I just have to take a deep breath and know that the news will come when I least expect it.

The lack of news and my impatience over it makes me wonder, how in the name of heck did I ever decide to become a writer? In an odd sort of way, writing does require a decent level of patience. I have to sit down and type out the words. Then I have to put them out there. And then I have to write some more.

I’ve been reading a lot of Dean Wesley Smith’s blog and his series on Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing. It is really interesting. I don’t know if I agree with it all, but I definitely find it informative. I like that he makes me think.

One of the things that he talks about is Heinlein’s rules for writing:

1. You must write.
2. You must finish what you write.
3. You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
4. You must put the work on the market.
5. You must keep the work on the market until it is sold.

Now I’m not sure that I entirely agree with this set of rules. However, it seems solid enough and a good place to start. For me, in my process, “editorial order” is my brother. He is my first reader and helps me to see my writing through a reader’s eyes. I don’t take that one literally.  At the same time, I think it is good advice not to polish for so long that nothing is ever done.

Further, I can see my own pitfalls in this list. Right now I am getting back on the writing bandwagon. And I know I can finish. However, I am stuck on numbers four and five. I’m not going to lie, I’m scared. There is a pit in my stomach when I think about moving forward.

I know that I can’t stay in stasis forever, but there seems to be a precipice in my mind when it comes to making the jump to get published. Part of it is my personal impatience. No matter what route I take – indie or traditional – I will have to wait for a response. There is that tinge of impatience again…instant gratification would be wonderful. Or possibly horrible.

And oddly enough, I am terrified of failure, but success frightens me even more. Tonight is making me think about the enigma of writing. Why should anybody care about what I have to say? Who says anybody does?

So far as I know, no one does. And yet, I cannot stop writing. The stories come and I write them down. I finish one and write another. Perhaps I could be an Emily Dickinson, but what fun would that be? I will get there eventually. I just need to give myself permission to jump off that metaphorical cliff. Who knows? It might be fun.

©K. Klein 2013

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Shitty First Drafts & NaNoWriMo

“Now, practically even better news than that of short assignments is the idea of shitty first drafts. All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts” ~Anne Lamott

If you haven’t read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott – I highly recommend it. It is a book that discusses craft and other writing related things. But what I took out of it the most is that it is ok to write messy, shitty, plot hole ridden first drafts. I spent a long time paralyzed by the idea that I had to write a perfect first draft. It also helped me realize that it is ok to be a kind of crazy writer and that I am not alone. Sometimes writing is such a hermit activity it is easy to think that I am the only one who feels this way.

In any case, I cannot tell you the amount of tyranny that my inner critic ruled my writing life with…that voice, which is helpful during edits and rewrites, is downright stifling when I am just trying to get the story on the page. Part of the initial resistance this NaNoWriMo has been my need to stuff the inner-critic back in its box. He had his mustache-twirling tyrannical joy fest when we edited my pre-NaNo novel. And now it is time for some quiet time in the box. Really. And I don’t feel bad about being mean to him; he is a tyrant after all. (And he was mean to me first.)

Shitty first drafts coupled with NaNoWriMo have allowed me to complete several first drafts now. This November I am rediscovering the joy and the pains of writing a first draft from scratch. Last NaNo, I ventured to write a sequel so I didn’t have to root around as much in my world-building. I am building this new world from scratch. It is terrifying and so much fun at the same time.

I am also learning new things about my craft and my style. I have read Rachel Aaron’s awesome blog post about going from 2k to 10k a day. I haven’t hit 10k in a day yet, but I have hit 5k two days in a row. Just by jotting down the basic events of what I wanted to write for that day. I really enjoyed how she explained her triangle of enthusiasm, knowledge, and time. Check out her post for more information.

In the great pantser vs. plotter debate, I always thought of myself as more of a panster. But I think that is somewhat of a lie; I always hit writer’s block when I don’t know where I am going with the story. I think that I am more of a mental planner. Like I have an idea of where the story is going in my head. A rough outline I guess. So now here I am jotting down brief pre-writing session lists. I am not quite to a full outline stage of planning. Perhaps I am a pantser with plotter tendencies? I don’t know entirely. Although even the greatest planners do get sidetracked from their outlines and plans sometimes – so I don’t think anyone is purely one or the other.

So what do you think? Are you meticulous in your first draft? Do you write shitty first drafts? Are you a plotter or a punster? Or both?

P.S. I am super happy the election is over!

P.P.S. Sorry it has been a while since I blogged, I caught a stupid cold.

©K. Klein 2012

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What is in a name?

Nicknames stick to people, and the most ridiculous are the most adhesive.  ~Thomas C. Haliburton

Usually when I am writing a novel I am quite fussy about my names. I either want a specific sound. Or I am aiming for a meaning or association with something such as the sun or moon or any number of other objects. Sometimes, although not usually, I will have a character arrive in my mind and introduce themselves fully named. I once had a character arrive and say hello my name is Will – you’re going to need me. It unnerved me because I had written two-thirds of the first draft of novel-1 when he did this.

It is interesting to see what names of character evoke. For example, let’s take the characters from my description from Wednesday – Miss Andrews, her sister (Mrs. Saunders), and Mr. Saunders. From the way they are addressed they’re probably not from the modern times. For the most part we don’t go around addressing people by Mr. Smith and Miss Johnson anymore. It seems to stiff and formal for our modern form of communication. We usually address people by their first names such as Jane or John.

There is also the question of what are their first names and how does that affect their characters? And do we get a picture of where our characters are from by the names we give them? Right now, without giving my description’s cast any first names they seem vaguely British. Perhaps they hark from the last nineteenth or early twentieth century. Their parlor had a fireplace, but no television or radio. We don’t know what other technology they have access too.

Does the perception of the reader change when we give our characters first names? When it is revealed that Miss Andrews’ first name is Eleanor or that her sister is Prudence and her brother-in-law is Charles. The first women’s names seem a bit on the old-fashioned side. Charles is pretty common overall. These names evoke pictures of what sorts of people who these characters are or might be.

Names are powerful. They can help to provide dimension to the world of the story I am trying to bring alive.  Some of my favorite fictional names include Fitzwilliam Darcy, Albus Dumbledore, and Gandalf the Grey. Each provides a different picture of whom that man is. I love how names can help to paint the picture of our world. What are some of your favorite character names?

©K. Klein 2012

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Movies in my mind

My characters and stories are incredibly visual to me. When the writing is flowing I can see the story in my mind and part of my job is to transcribe those images into the ethereal nature of words. Finding the right amount of description is a challenge for me. Often, my brother’s biggest complaints about my writing are him wanting more description.

However, I tend to err on the side of caution and begin by under-describing rather being too detailed. These days readers don’t want pages upon pages of minutes details; some writers can get away with it. Most cannot – and so I try to balance my own images with the needs of my readers. Part of the reason I write is so that my world can come alive through sharing it with others.

One difficult piece of description for me is the spatial aspect of it. When describing a room – where are the things in the room in relation to one another? Where are the people in relation to the things and each other?

For example, I love old houses with parlors. So how does that look to my mind? Or yours?

The parlor felt rich done in earth tones. A fireplace stood on the far wall away from the door; flames danced merrily within its confines. In front of the fireplace sat two comfy chairs with a table in between. Nearby the large picturesque window was a couch. Across the room from the couch was a large antique wooden desk with a hardback chair; the desk top had clutter of papers and books.

This is a rather rough description. Considering I did it kind of on the fly it isn’t too bad, but it still feels a bit stiff. What if we added in some people?

Miss Andrews walked into the parlor and sat on the cream couch near the large window. Mr. Saunders greeted her from the desk across the room; she returned his greeting. However, she did not wish to chat and instead took in the room. She enjoyed the view of the fire as it danced merrily within the fireplace. Her sister sat in one of the chairs in front of the fire, but didn’t say anything. Miss Andrews walked over to her and they chatted quietly as Mr. Saunders cleared the clutter away from his desk.

I like this better; it feels a little less stiff now that there are people populating the room. However, it still doesn’t feel to me like it has come alive. Perhaps adding in a bit of Miss Andrews’ emotions will help to set the scene.

Wiping away tears, Miss Andrews entered the parlor. She walked past the desk and Mr. Saunders greeted her; she returned the favor. Mr. Saunders not noticing her distress continued to clear the clutter away from his desk. Not wishing to speak she walked over to the cream couch and perched upon it. From there she enjoyed the view of the fire – it danced merrily. Her sister sat in one of the comfortable chairs before the fire; she turned and asked after Miss Andrews’ day. Miss Andrews walked over to her sister and whispered her discontent.

Of the three descriptions, I think the last one is the richest. It has layers of things, people, and emotions. I could probably stand to go over it again and throw in brief physical descriptions of Mr. Saunders, Miss Andrews and her sister. However, I tend to prefer not to give too much description of my characters. People tend to imagine them how they want even when description is provided.

How do you handle descriptions when you write? Does it take multiple drafts for you to get your vision across? I think my final description could still use some work. What would you add? Or take away?

©K. Klein 2012

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Brainstorming

NaNoWriMo is approaching and I have been busy trying to help friends with their ideas and stories. In the past couple of weeks, I have batted around ideas with one friend on Facebook chat. We chatted about her idea. I asked her questions and gave suggestions.

Some questions I asked her included: Where is it set? (On earth? In space? In another dimension?) What is your character’s name? (Or are there multiple point of view characters?) Is there magic involved? That last question is usually a yes for me; I can’t seem to write a story without a magical element.

Another way to get the muse in gear is to spend some time alone brainstorming. Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way calls these Artist Dates and discusses it as a way to refill the creative well. For example, it is a lovely time of year to take a walk. Heading to a new place can spur ideas. A day at the museum can fuel ideas. My favorite museum in my area, currently, is the art museum.

Finally, if you have a writer friend in person or just by yourself a great way to brainstorm is to just get ideas on the page. Sunday night another friend and I did this. We took out a notebook while hanging out in her apartment. She wrote down one word and I wrote down one. We sometimes built off of each other. I tried to write ideas that sprung off of her idea. We were trying to think of ideas because she wasn’t sure if she wanted to do NaNoWriMo. I’m still not sure if she is going to or not. I hope so, her idea seemed like fun.

The great part about helping my friends to brainstorm is that it helps me too. It gets me thinking about the possibilities of my work. It is sort of like turning the compost. If you aerate it and are patient, eventually your compost makes dirt.

To be honest, I haven’t taken myself on an artist date recently. Perhaps it is a time to take a walk or something. What do you do to get your creative juices flowing? Do you brainstorm alone? Or do you bounce ideas off of friends?

©K. Klein 2012

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Writer’s Block?

“Discipline allows magic. To be a writer is to be the very best of assassins. You do not sit down and write every day to force the Muse to show up. You get into the habit of writing every day so that when she shows up, you have the maximum chance of catching her, bashing her on the head, and squeezing every last drop out of that bitch.” ~Lili St. Crow

I am not going to lie, the last semester of graduate school kicked my butt and I stopped writing every day. I am a bit perturbed because it took me so long to get into the habit the first time. I am still struggling with it now. (Hunting for a day job doesn’t help either). But that is me.

I’ve heard many writers say there is no such thing as writer’s block. I don’t know whether or not I agree myself. I think that writing is such an intensely personal thing that I can’t know if it exists for other writers. However, I do know one thing; it does exist for me – sort of. Please, let me explain. When I do not want to write there is usually a reason. I suffer from writer’s anxiety, writer’s depression, and writer’s fear. I occasionally suffer from writer’s denial of reality. Overall, I think it is easier just to say writer’s block.

When I don’t want to write or feel blocked it is usually because I don’t want to face the reality of the situation. There is an underlying emotion that the writing is bringing up and I want to run away from the emotion. And I can’t write about it and still run away from the emotion. (I never said I played nice with my emotions). It isn’t always that I am trying to run away from my emotions.

Occasionally, I have written myself into a corner and don’t know what is going to happen next. Or, I know what is supposed to happen next, but it doesn’t feel right. And the plan looks like it is falling apart. I don’t handle the plan falling apart well; it might be a slight tendency towards perfectionism. At this point, I start to avoid the page because I don’t know what to do. And I am afraid of failure.

If I don’t write – I can’t get it wrong. I know. I know. It is not exactly logical.

However, if I am smart, I ask myself what is wrong? For example, I am working on my rewrite in a two-pronged way.  I am writing the chapters out longhand and I am typing up the longhand chapters. Not the most efficient method ever, but it works. I think. The point being, I am still stuck on how to make Chapter 24 work; it is the lynchpin of the novel. I really don’t want to screw it up. Even more, I don’t want the plan to fall apart.

So in an effort to do something productive towards the rewrite, I have been typing up the longhand chapters I have. I came upon Chapter 16 and realized the longhand version is wrong. I couldn’t explain it to myself. I looked at it again and realized I needed to do my research.

This ended up with me looking up how to write an alphabet encryption and creating a cipher. I haven’t written the new Chapter 16 yet, but now I know what is happening. I have a better mental picture of where the chapter is going and a clear path to connect it back to the overall plot of the novel. It took me staring at the screen, getting frustrated, and then scribbling in my journal to realize I needed to do my homework.

That worked for me. I don’t know whether or not it would work for others. I figured out what makes me tick and actively work towards keeping the words flowing. That doesn’t mean I don’t hit fits and starts sometimes. Now I know not to stop writing for six months, but actively go back to the page and try to figure out what is going on so I can fix it and move forward.

©K. Klein 2012

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