Developing Good Writing Habits

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When I started this blog a year ago, the words flowed and writing daily came naturally. After taking a two month break, I thought it would be easy to get back into the writing habit.

Unfortunately, I’m struggling for a variety of reasons. First, I’m having to carve out a time to write after work. That’s harder than it sounds. I’ve now got daily exercises for my shoulder. That eats into the time I have available.

Speaking of my shoulder, I’m still hurting a bit when I type. I’ve got to take frequent breaks which disrupts the flow of thoughts. I’ve started a story on my weekly writing challenge two or three times and then completely lost where I was going with it after having to take a much needed break. The pain, though less than it was, has also affected my thinking processes. I’m unable to get into the writer’s zone.

So, do I wait until I have completed physical therapy? Or do I press on and try to write every day? My thinking is the latter is preferable. I may be writing dreck for a while until I can get into the groove. I’m also not going to worry about my prompt for the week until I can sit and write for a complete hour. Once I do that, I may be posting multiple short stories during each week until I get caught up.

It’s settled then. For me to develop good writing habits, I need to write everyday. Even if it is complete garbage. Bear with me, it will get better.

Weekly Progress Report #42

Sometimes you have to take a step back in order to go forward. This past month I’ve been focused on editing and revising. It’s become a chore. Yes, it advances me to my goal of being published, but detracts from the main reason I’m writing. Mainly, the joy of writing a story. Sometimes they are received well, other times they fall flat. Regardless, I enjoy writing each and every one of the stories. The more I write, the better the stories and more importantly the better the writing.

I looked back at some of my early writings and I cringe. What was I thinking? Some of them look like a total hack job. This shows me how far I’ve progressed. I’ve still got a ways to go. It is said that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at anything. I’m not anywhere close to that number yet. I’ve yet to complete a novel. I’ll work on it in spurts, then something will come up to distract me from it. It takes a bit to get back into writing the novel.

I don’t expect my first novel to do well. Maybe my fourth or fifth. Just like writing short stories, it takes practice to write a novel that I will be proud of. Writing the novel is a major project. Editing my memoir is a major project. I’m not at the level of writing to be able to do both at the same time. I could edit and revise on certain days of the week and write the novel on other days, but it doesn’t quite work that way with me. I need to write on the novel for several days in order to get back up to speed. Once I stop writing, then I have to start the process over again.

I hope to do the final revising of the memoir this week. Maybe I will and maybe I won’t. I’m not going to pressure myself. It will come when it needs to come. Meanwhile, I will post my weekly writing challenge tonight. It’s a hard one in that it could go several ways. I always have a problem with these type of prompts. So many ideas, but only one story. I could write multiple stories on the prompt, but I feel that would get repetitive and negate the purpose of the challenges.

Till next week, time and tide wait for no man.

Enough is Enough

I have edited, re-edited and edited some more. I need to quit fiddling with my memoir. The editing software is great for pointing out where I went wrong, but it doesn’t help much in suggesting how to rewrite it. Okay, it does well in most problems, but in others, it is no help at all.

I’m going to let it sit and rest for a while. Sort of like letting a steak rest after cooking it. I’ll do a complete read of it this weekend and barring anything jumping out at me that looks wrong, I’ll get it ready for beta reading.

Meanwhile, I have an idea for a book cover. An original one no less. I’ll work on that for the rest of the week. I might even try to do two or three and then throw up a poll for what looks best. I did look into how much it would be to hire someone to design a book cover. Wow! The prices are clearly out of my reach.

My goal is to have it ready for publishing by the end of July. In order to do that, I have to do the following:

  • Beta read revisions
  • Book cover design
  • Book blurb
  • Back book cover design
  • Acknowledgements
  • Copyright page
  • Title page format
  • Final format for KDP.

A lot of work still to do. I could resume writing on my novel, but I find it hard to switch back and forth. I don’t think I’ll ever be the type of author that cranks out work every year. Honestly, there are a few well known authors that do publish regularly that after a while it seems like the same book over and over, just the names and places have changed.

P.S. If you are an aspiring book cover designer and need practice, feel free to contact me.

Weekly Progress Report #30

Still haven’t found a routine of writing yet. Eventually, I want to carve out at least 2 hours a day. I’ve found that it takes me about 30 minutes to get into the groove of writing. Then it’s like a burst of creativity that flows directly from my mind to the words on the screen. That last for maybe an hour and then I wind down. It was hit or miss this week to find the time to write.

The end goal of course is to become a better writer. That requires practice, practice and more practice. It was once said that 10,000 hours are required to become a master of a skill. At two hours a day, I should be a master writer in about 13-14 years. Wow! Let’s rethink that analogy as I don’t think that really applies to writing.

I do think by challenging myself and trying different aspects of writing, it has the effect of expanding my writing knowledge. That being said, I have two main challenges each week. The Six Sentence Story is a great challenge as I have to write a complete story in only six sentences. I’ve read other Sixer stories that seem like each sentence is a paragraph. When I write one like that, it seems very clunky and hard to follow. I have become comfortable in writing sparse, to the point Sixers. I’ve been amazed at the breadth of responses to each one. Everyone sees the story in a different way. This week I’m going to try to put in more detail as it will challenge me to define the sixer without being clunky. I may fail, but that’s okay as I want to push the limits of my writing ability.

The Weekly Writing Challenge is another area where I make a concentrated effort to take the prompt in a different way than expected. When I read the prompt after drawing it from the bowl of doom, I almost always discard the first idea that comes to mind. It’s more than likely the usual trope that everybody has seen hundreds of times. I’m looking for ways to surprise the reader with new ideas, new thoughts and new directions for the prompt. For the most part, I think I succeed. The concept is there, but to make it also interesting is the rub. I’ve not always succeeded there.

I had listed my projects last week, so let’s take a look at where I stand:

  • Finish first draft of Part 3 of My Cancer Journey
  • Rewrite short story Lump
  • Rewrite short story The Curse
  • Finish first draft of Part 2 of The Altered Wars
  • Setup Storylines page on this blog
  • Continue the Brandon Sanderson lectures

I did finish the first draft of Part 3. Got started on the first draft of the Aftermath of My Cancer Journey.

After much procrastination, I finally continued the lectures. I didn’t think I would learn much, but was very surprised. Worldbuilding wasn’t high on my list to learn about, but I ended up learning a lot of new things. I put some of them to work in “The Attic” and really liked what I came up with. Expect to see at least two more lecture notes this week.

Didn’t touch any of the other projects. Their time will come when it is supposed to and not before it’s time. I’m thinking I need to learn a bit more about the craft of writing before I can tackle those projects.

Till next week, time and tide wait for no man.

Hope is Painful

Original Artwork by Mrs. D

For several days, I haven’t been able to continue writing my memoir. Not that I had writer’s block, but I felt that it was missing something. I couldn’t figure out what the problem could be. I would sit down each evening and write a paragraph or two and then delete it. Nothing felt right.

Last night, Mrs. D and I were watching the last episode of Season 1 of “The Good Doctor” on Hulu. Towards the end, one of the characters that had been diagnosed with brain cancer stated, “Hope is painful.”

I felt like I had been kicked in the head at that moment. Emotions started welling up out of no where. I struggled to contain them. I got a bit snippy with Mrs. D and realized I needed to remove myself less it got blown all out of proportion. As I sat on our back porch, tears flowed from my eyes. I didn’t know why that phrase had triggered this emotional outpouring.

I realized that I had been repressing emotions and feeling for the last year, trying to at least look strong in my ordeal. They had bubbled up and now overflowed. After a time, I felt like I could control my emotions and went back into the house to apologize to Mrs. D. for being snippy. She didn’t even realize that I had done that. We talked for a bit and the emotions got stronger once again.

What is going on?

I felt silly and a bit ashamed, but Mrs. D. reassured me that I had gone through a very tough time and it was okay. As I went to sleep last night, I couldn’t help but think of why I was going through this now.

This morning, waking up refreshed in body, mind and spirit, I came to the conclusion that the events of last night were necessary for my mental health and also kickstarted the beginnings of an idea of how to continue my memoir. I had fallen into the trap of “This happened, and this happened, and this happened and so on”.

I knew then that I needed to put in a section about how hope is painful when you keep getting your butt kicked.

I had a very long day of driving over 200 miles and doing deliveries. See the below picture of one of the loads I hauled.

Septic tanks

After work, I came home and in a burst of writing, finished Part 3 and got a good start on the Aftermath. I felt like I was in the fabled writing zone. It was a great feeling!

I Goofed, Or Did I?

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My gut instinct last night was not to publish Part 4 of The Curse. I didn’t know why so I overrode what I felt and published it anyway. It bugged me all last night and this morning. I read it again and now I see that I should have followed my instincts.

I wrote Part 1 almost ten years ago and didn’t write another word until I started writing again last September when I was casting around for an idea to write a story. After the first draft, the story ended up being about 1800 words. I had a couple of people beta read it and from their suggestions the story expanded to about 2500 words.

It still didn’t seem right, so I sent it off to another beta reader. I tweaked and added a whole new section which brought the story to 3100 words. By this time, NaNoWriMo was about to start and I decided that The Curse was complete and ready to go. In the next few months I submitted it to six different magazines and received six form rejections.

With every thing going on in my life and the writing challenges that I had set up, I didn’t make the time to go back over the story and see why it was getting rejected. Frankly, I gave up on it getting published. A month ago, I didn’t have anything to write on a Friday and as a lark, I posted the first part of The Curse. It seemed well received, so I decided to post the rest in installments every Friday.

Normally, I like to keep my posts between 400 and 800 words. Anymore than that, it seems to long for a blog post. I know when I read a story on someone’s site that is well over that, I rarely finish the story. After posting Part 2, I was surprised that readers were saying that I had left it as a cliffhanger. I was even more surprised when after posting Part 3 that it looked like another cliffhanger. Why it was so unexpected is that when you read the story in whole, there isn’t an obvious moment where you think “Cliffhanger!”.

Part 4 was hard for me to figure out how much to post. I tried three or four different ending spots but nothing seemed right. Finally I said the hell with it and just posted what I did. I realized afterwards that I needed to add a short note that Part 5 would be posted next week as it looked like the story had ended.

I didn’t get the reaction that I had been getting from the previous parts. I now know why. Part 4 is just a massive info dump. I had been ratcheting up the story up until that point and then it goes completely flat with the dump. Now I see why the story had been rejected repeatedly.

Back to the drawing board.

I’ve got some ideas on how to fix that part. Mostly by eliminating a lot of the info dump and adding in an action sequence or two. Then instead of doing a paragraph telling about the trek to Canada, I’ll need to add in more story lines and more characters. I expect the story to almost double in size by the time I’m done.

In retrospect, it seemed like I errored by posting Part 4, but instead it has given me insight to why the story wasn’t working and how to fix it. I think this was an inspired exercise by posting the story in serial format. I had thought to delete the Part 4 post, but I’ll let it stay to remind me to stay away from the cursed info dumps.

What a Great Problem To Have

I’ve been bombarded with ideas in my head for the last twenty-four hours. Each and every one has the potential to be a great story. I keep flipping back and forth between ideas and can’t seem to focus on any one of them. My writing process is that I visualize most of the story in my head before putting down any words.

I did sit down and attempt to write down the ideas as I remembered them, but I think I lost a few here or there.

Only way I know how to focus and write with all these ideas is to go back and write on a previous project. I wrote about 700 words on My Cancer Journey. It has calmed the idea storm going on in my head, but mostly because the part of the story I am writing is where I get angry at the medical establishment. I could feel myself getting angry all over again while writing.

The emotions are still raw and I need to step back and let time smooth down the rough edges.

Weekly Progress Report #27

What a change a few days can make. The first part of last week, I worried that my story idea well was going dry. This is not necessarily a bad thing as it caused me to finally start watching and learning about writing. Watching and taking notes has enabled my feeble brain to explode with ideas for stories. At the same time, I learned a valuable lesson in that ‘ideas’ don’t make a great story, writers make a great story with any idea.

The series I’m watching is 13 lectures which I’ll do one every few days when I have time, but at least 2 a week. After that, I may continue by seeking out new lectures to watch.

Mrs. D after reading my latest Weekly Writing Challenge said, “I see what you did there.” She was talking about returning characters from the last week challenge. I got to admit that the Harry Gruen character is growing on me.

Had a bit of a scare earlier in the week. My PC kept shutting down spontaneously. Turns out that there was quite the buildup of dust and hair inside the PC. A quick cleanup with a vacuum and a can of compressed air and everything is working great again. This got me to thinking about just how long can my PC last. It is well over 8 years old. I’ve upgraded the video card twice in that time and put in a new power supply. Fear of losing my data, more specifically, the stories I’ve written is a concern. I ordered an external hard drive on Tuesday which arrived on Friday. Pretty good for free shipping and wasn’t supposed to be here until next week. Backed up all my important stuff to the new drive.

Till next week, time and tide wait for no man.

Brandon Sanderson Lecture #2 – Plot Part 1

Overall impression – Getting into the nuts and bolts of writing. The easy going Brandon from the Intro lecture is gone, now it’s fast paced with lots of information. Brandon actually speaks faster and faster as the lecture progresses. Great use of examples using Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and his books which I’ve not actually read.

Below is notes I typed while listening to the lecture. Some of it may not make sense to you if you haven’t listened to the lecture. These are merely highlights of what I picked up on during the lecture.

Most of the time books are not just one idea. Ideas don’t make a book, Authors make ideas work.

3 parts of Plot: Promises, Progress, Payoff.

Types of promises: (Intro to the piece) Don’t have to have them in first draft, but in revision look to make sure you include them.

Tone Promises – Sets the tone and style (Don’t start a wacky comedy book with a tragic incident)

Character Arc Promise – Character desire and what prevents them. (how the character is going to change) Iconic characters do not require an Arc. i.e. Sherlock Holmes, James Bond

Plot Promise – What type of story are you giving the reader. (adventure, romance, horror)

Progress is the most important part of the plot and the hardest part of writing.

Progress is in the complete control of the author. You want to create the illusion of progress for the reader. This is done by the story arc. (Why people are turning your pages) Progress must match Promises or Promises must match Progress.

Payoff is where you make good on all of the promise and progress. Talked a bit about twists.

Part 2 will be on twists and plot types in detail.

All lectures of Brandon Sanderson are now linked on the Storylines page if you wish to follow along in order.