It’s OK to suck

While I have never been diagnosed, I believe I have a number of ADD tendencies.  I tend to move from one task to another, leaving various tasks only half complete.  It’s hard for me to sit in one place doing only one thing for too long.  Obviously, you can see how this makes being a writer difficult.

I can cope with this.  When I write, I listen to music, which makes me feel like I am doing multiple things at once.  I also will take breaks to check Twitter, get a drink, dance the hokey-poky, whatever.  This said, the one trait that I have that makes writing hard, and has been fatal to other WIP in the past, has been my desire to have everything perfect now.

The “make it right the first time” demon has sabotaged many of my endeavors in the past.  Whether it be the three other partial novels I have, or my career as a sax player, I have been plagued by this monster that allows for no time.  It sits on my shoulder, insisting that I must do it right the first time.  Revision?  For fools it tells me.  It whispers its poisonous diatribe over and over in my ear.  It tells me lies  like “[Insert author name here] writes perfect stories in one sitting.”  So by the time I finish a chapter and things haven’t turned out quite right, I get easily discouraged and start to doubt the strength of my story.  This demon has me believing that the only time I will be successful is when I sit down and the words flow with no effort and I write a book in a matter of days that requires no editing and will be published a month later.  It’s taken me some time to realise the demon is in no way realistic.

Twitter has been a freeing experience.  It has allowed me to follow writers as they work.  You know what I found out?  They all suck at one time or another.  At some time, they all finish a chapter and call it complete rubbish.  Some have gone so far as to completely delete the whole thing and start again.

My demon still sits on my shoulder.  It still protests loudly when my writing sounds like the stunted first steps of a toddler.  But I am learning to ignore it.  I am learning that if I am ever to truly call myself a writer, I need to write.  And not just write, but finish.  It is not important to be perfect the first time around.  It doesn’t matter if the first draft is utter rubbish and breaks every rule of grammar and contains none of the plotting devices that create a page-turner.  What matters, is that it is finished.  What matters is that something exists that wasn’t there before.  By having completed a first draft, already part of the battle is won.

It’s OK to suck the first time around.  Heck, it’s OK to suck the second time around.  Maybe around the third or fourth time, you should suck considerably less, but there may still be room for improvement and it might require a great editor to help you realise where and how to fix it.  By letting myself suck, I am getting further ahead.  By focusing on the story and the ideas, I am creating something better and stronger.  The words will come.  The revisions will add the depth my first draft lacks.  By the time I finish the first draft, I’ll know my characters better.  I’ll know my world better.  Once I know these things, I’ll recognize places where I can let those things shine through where I missed them the first time around.  My demon is wrong.  Great writing doesn’t happen immediately.  It happens over time.  Revision is where the truth of your quality as a writer will be born.  A road doesn’t start out as being smooth.  First, there has to be the messy hacking through the forest, the churning of earth, the repeated flattening again and again.  A story is much the same.

I suck.  And that’s OK.

Sometimes Inspiration Makes Writing Harder

So you sit down to your work in progress.  In your brain, scenes are flashing that you are about to write.  You are inspired!  You know deep down that what you are about to write is the turning point of your novel.  It is this one spot where everyone hits the ground running and doesn’t stop until the mythic words “The End.”  Only, the words don’t come.  Despite your giddy high of inspiration, the scene is difficult.  It stutters and shuffles along at a lumbering pace.  You start to doubt yourself.  You start thinking ‘This is the wrong thing for me to be writing.’  Perhaps you scrap the story all-together.  Welcome to Chapter Two.

The above scene played itself out over my last several writing sessions.  I knew what I wanted, knew where I had to be.  Despite that, I couldn’t get the words out.  Looking at what I’ve written, I’m not satisfied.  Where did it all go wrong?  Was my idea too weak?  Am I just not up to the task of writing my own story?

Being an author is a solitary exercise.  Yes, we can have critique groups, we can tweet until our fingers bleed, but when it comes time to write the tale burning in our minds, we are alone.  Which I have discovered, quite painfully, compels me to play mind games.  I go from one moment loving my characters and believing fiercely in their tale to the extreme opposite.

My current work in progress stands at just over 10,000 words.  Guess what, it’s the third project to hit that landmark.  Funny enough, it has not even surpassed my other two projects that have found themselves shelved.  When I wrote the others, I was inspired, yet they’ve not been completed.  What’s the problem?

I think, and maybe this is just me, it is a fear of failure.  When I have only the vaguest of ideas where my stories are going, I write easily.  When inspiration truly takes hold, I stall.  See, I play the worst of head games.  Because of inspiration, because of ideas and direction, I impose an expectation that I will write something profound and wonderful.  As the words dribble out, I start to doubt myself.  In the back of my head, a nagging voice starts whispering “This isn’t how it’s supposed to sound.  This isn’t half as cool as it was when you were thinking it.  You’re lost, let it go.”  All too often, I have listened to the voice.

This time, I will not be denied.  This time, unlike so many of the others, I know my work is what I have to be writing.  I know that if I fail, my dreams of writing will perish.  I must finish this, regardless.  Besides, through my Twitter friends, I have learned that virtually no one delivers a grand novel the first time around.  The books we hold in our hands have been written, re-written, edited, and polished several times over.  What matters now is getting the thoughts on paper.  What matters is crafting the story.  Once the story exists, the rest is just choosing better words to express it.

So inspiration is both vital life and poison at the same time.  The antidote is a healthy dose of realism.  I need to talk to myself as much as my characters and story do.

To combat this, I suggest the following; when the greatest of inspiration hits, write down the ideas.  Sketch out what you have.  Then let it sit and percolate a few days.  Once it’s boiled and cooled, sit and write.  That was how I got through chapter two.  I let it digest longer.  The more time I gave it, the easier my stomach accepted it.  Once I sat down to pen the final thousand or so words, I had better ideas, a stronger sense of what I needed to do.  I wasn’t running on pure giddy inspiration, I was running on cooler-headed thinking and, most importantly, planning.

So what’s our single word that all the blah-blah takes us to today?  Planning.

Inspiration makes things hard.  It fills us with expectations, pumps us up to an almost drug-like high, and then kicks us when we realise that it’s just not enough to get the job done.  Inspiration is one part of the equation.  Working that inspiration into something more manageable, taking time to shape and mold it, yields results.  At least, that’s my experience.

Choosing the Right Title & The Call

In the spirit of my previous post, I present to you some articles I found very interesting and helpful.

Understand also, I include these because one day I know I’ll want to go back and look at them.

The first is a post by Chuck Wendig about Choosing the right title for your work. I really enjoyed how he shared insights but also his own insecurities about a fairly critical task.

While on the title kick, here’s a quick link from Bubblecow on coming up with a good title.  Good ideas to consider!

Finally, I pass on a link I discovered while in my Twitter chats last night.  Sending out queries to agents to get represented is a pretty big step.  Waiting, as many participants related, sounds horribly nerve-wracking.  But when the agent calls, how do you know they are the right fit?  What kinds of questions should you ask to keep from getting into a messy business relationship?  That’s the purpose of this link, The Call or What to Ask a Literary Agent When Offered Representation.

Hope these help on your own journey!


It’s blog, it’s blog, it’s better than bad, it’s good!

So I was up last night following two interesting Twitter discussions.  The first, found with the hashtag #yalitchat, was a group of writers, editors, agents, etc, all discussing Young Adult literature.  It’s a regular occurring chat with a different focus each week.  Last night focused on knowing when to start sending out querries on your manuscript, but mostly ended up focusing on dealing with rejection!  That chat then spiraled out into another chat, found with hashtag #askagent.  My eyes were going blurry, and really, it is damn hard to keep up with the ever spiralling refresh of new tweets.  One interesting thing that came out was a comment from an agent that aspiring writers shouldn’t have a blog that deals with writing.

This left me with a bit of a cunundrum.  I just started this site, ummm, on April 3rd (just had to go check!).  It was so strong in my mind that it had to be about writing and my journey as a writer.

See, the web is filled with advice.  So much advice, that frankly, it can be overwhelming.  If you search for how to succeed as a blogger, the common pieces of advice you receive are 1) Blog what you know and love 2) Keep on topic or else you’ll never gain readers and/or lose those you already have.  So, if I want to be a writer and spend a great deal of my free time writing and researching to improve my writing, what is it you think I love?  Well, this is a bit of a pickle.

So I go to a few of my favourite authors’ blogs to see what they write about.  Guess what, they write about writing, their interests, and what they are currently doing to publicise, or sell the rights to, their work.  The advantage existing authors have is that they are already paid writers.  They can write about damn near anything, and their existing fan base will come check it out.  Neil Gaiman goes all over the world, meets tons of interesting people and does all that because of his existing body of work.  Now, take me.  I’m not published.  Hell, I don’t even have a finished manuscript to show.  If I wrote about my day, it would read something like, “Today, I woke up, got the kids to school, put some laundry in, emptied the dishwasher, checked my email, ate something, picked up the kids, watched TV, ate something, put the kids to bed, wrote, went to bed.”  I’m totally gripped by that, aren’t you?  No?  Damn…

Simply put, the average joe who is trying to work toward fulfilling their dream of being a writer probably doesn’t lead that amazing lifestyle that people might be interested in reading.  We’re just like you.  Maybe.  So what does an aspiring author do with their blog?

Balance.  That’s right, balance.

Side note: Notice my blogs these past two days boil down to one word?  Yesterday was Why? and now today is Balance.  Now back to our regularly scheduled program….

I guess having a blog that is filled with nothing but advice on writing when I’m not even a published author is, um, pretentious?  Really, why should you listen to me?  What the hell do I know that you don’t?  Nothing.  So what I’m doing is sharing my experience.  It might be right, it might be the most wrong thing in the entire world for you.  But it doesn’t hurt to try, right?  An aspiring writer’s blog, from what I can tell, needs to contain a balance of advice, pointing readers to things we find interesting, book reviews, personal experiences, maybe even some whining about how our writing makes us feel insecure.  After all, writing is as much about discovering yourself as it is your characters (ooh, that’s good, I’m going to tweet that!).

So there you have it.  Balance.  Long winded to get to that simple answer.  But you know what they say, it isn’t the destination, it’s the journey.  LOL!

The Most Important Question is “Why?”

If you follow me on Twitter, or just check out my Twitter feeds on the site, you might have noticed my two tweets from yesterday that stated,

As great ideas increasingly come, they bring with them certain logic problems to be solved #amwriting

Great thing about solving logic problems though, it helps to deepen the story & present new & interesting directions #amwriting

I thought that I would expand on those two thoughts today.  I don’t claim this is the reinvention of the wheel, nor that this advice is in any way new or ground breaking.  It’s just that yesterday, this made perfect sense to me.

I spent most of the day driving in the car with my wife.  I would either contemplate my current WIP, or openly discuss it with her.  The more ideas I thought of, in terms of plot, overall mythology and character development, the more I realised there were problems.  For instance, if the main character does action B, what happened to action A?  If the character has to do action B for the plot to progress, I either have to insert action A, or explain why it makes perfect sense for action A to be skipped.  Or, if a certain scene has to exist to accomplish something in the overall plot, how does that scene occur?  Why do we end up there?  Why?  Why?  And most importantly, Why?

As I forged ahead and answered a number of these nagging Whys, I realised just how much deeper my plot was becoming.  I also came to the realisation that a stronger inner logic was forming that would give the world a better grounding.  In sci-fi, fantasy or spec-fic particularly, but I suppose horror, romance and just about any genre that bends, adds to, or all together disregards, our common reality, it is important for there to be rules.  If Superman can fly, why does he fly?  Answer: he’s an alien.  So did all of Superman’s people fly on his home planet?  No.  Why?  Because they had a red sun and it is our yellow sun that grants him these powers.  See what I mean?  As you answer the question why, your mythology deepens.  The further down you dig, eventually you will hit firm bedrock and you’ll know that your mythology makes sense.

Using my Superman example, we now have several plot points that we could include in a novel.  Superman is an alien but our story is set on Earth.  How does he get here?  Superman never had abilities on his home world, so he would develop them here on Earth.  That could be an extensive storyline.  Oh wait, eight or more seasons of Smallville owe their existence to this kind of thinking.

Think about this.  The Twilight series started with a dream about a girl laying in a field with a boy who sparkled in the sunlight.  That’s it.  By asking the questions of why does he sparkle, why are they together, and I’m sure numerous other why questions that came along, a whole series was born.

Harry Potter could have started as simply as an image in the author’s mind of a boy with a scar.  Why does he have a scar?  Why did someone try to kill him? You see how this is going?

By constantly asking why of our stories, situations, characters, etc, we create the bulk of our story and provide ground rules that will keep our reader engaged.  When we make rules up on the fly or break established rules of our world without sufficient reasoning, we lose our audience.  As an example I present you with a tale of two movies, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and The Matrix.

While considerably different movies, both featured incredible fight scenes where characters defied gravity.  In the Matrix this was explained.  The very foundation of the movie allowed for the flexing of typical laws of gravity.  Audiences were thrilled and totally into the wire work on display.  When I left the theatre, all I heard from people around me was that the movie was amazing and how the fight scenes were incredible.  Crouching Tiger did not really explain the abilities of its characters to defy gravity, it took it for granted that the audience watching the film was acquainted with the cultural heritage it came from and would therefore accept what they saw without question.  Unfortunately, seeing this in a Canadian theatre, there were clearly people there that thought this was a Chuck Norris film.  Walking out, I could hear people muttering how it was stupid that they could fly etc.  Granted, cultural ignorance of the genre contributes, but it illustrates my point.  People will accept the breaking of accepted laws, as long as you give it a reason grounded in the world of the story.  By doing this, The Matrix found a much larger accepting audience than it would have if it just took for granted everyone watching loved anime and its penchant for defying gravity.

If your character does magic, why?  Does everyone in your world do magic?  If not, be prepared to answer why.

Embrace these logic problems.  They present incredible opportunities to develop plot and character.  As I said, this is just my observation from my own journey through the creative process.  Hope it helps.

Using Familiar Style

Sometimes, as writers, we feel the need to use large and overly cumbersome words to express ourselves.  This is probably due to an inner need to sound intelligent, or perhaps to create a certain effect (such as stringing a number of similar sounding words together).  But is this appropriate for Young Adult fiction?  Peta of blog ILBNH makes a pretty good case that it is not.

Instead of filling our books with overly complex words, Peta suggests using Familiar Style.  What’s that you ask?  Well, I’ll direct you to her article so you can get the info first hand.  Follow the link to read What Familiar Style is and Why You Should Use It.

What Harry Did Right

When approaching Young Adult fiction, there is a singular holy grail of modern achievement.  I can’t recall a series that had such equal appeal across age and gender.  Naturally, I’m talking about Harry Potter.

Now, when you have a series as big as Harry, there are going to be the naysayers and pundits that want to tear the book apart and justify why it should not be the success it clearly is.  As writers, I don’t think any of us really care about Harry’s grammar, structure or any other negatives people drag up.  What we care about is, why does it work, and how can we use those lessons to improve our own chances of success.  Well, I have a handy series for you to look at that can do just that!

Jane Friedman’s website There Are No Rules contains a wealth of advice and information.  One particular series of articles, contributed by guest writer Jim Adam takes a look at The Strengths of the Harry Potter Series.  There’s a wealth of things to learn from looking at the fundamental elements that makes Harry Potter work.  I know the first article, on being able to sum a plot in one sentence, gave me some serious pause on my own work in progress.  I went back to ensure my story held up to this seemingly simple test.  Initially, it didn’t, and I realised I was writing more of a concept than an actual story.  Some serious soul searching and digging in the guts of what I was writing eventually produced that simple sentence, and I found almost immediately everything seemed more cohesive.

So go check the link.  I found every single one of the points useful and will be returning again and again just to check.  There are far worse role models.