More good writing advice: Don’t talk your story away.

Don’t think it away, either.

I have to admit I got this one from an episode of The Waltons called The Literary Man from Season One.

A older writer named A.J. Covington passes through Walton’s Mountain and regales John-Boy with tales of his travels and the stories he planned to write. Late in the episode, the old writer confessed to John-Boy that he didn’t really write any more.

He had made the mistake of talking his stories away.

I never heard of that, but it made sense immediately.

There’s something about the rhythm and crackle of decent writing that needs to come to existence on the page, not the tongue.

Once we speak it, we might compromise it somehow.

I don’t tend to talk my work away but I do have a tendency to think about my ideas too much. I try to avoid that kind of thought, though I don’t always succeed.

Instead, once I get an idea about a direction to take or a scene to tackle I try to get right at it; words on paper as quickly as possible.

More good writing advice: Don’t talk your story away.

Best writing advice ever!

I’m in deep into the sequel to my first novel,  John J. McDermott & the 1971 U.S. Open.

The working title (and my bet the final title) of the sequel is Cottonwood.

I am dedicated to moving the narrative along at a rapid clip. I hike fast. I play golf fast. I speak fast and I write fast, until I take a break, which I did too often with JJM.

That’s a mistake I will not make again. In fact, I’ve put a serious time limit on writing the narrative to the sequel. I want to finish the narrative by the end of 2019. It’ll take another three to five months to edit and format the dang thing, so it’s really not all that fast compared to other writers.

Anyway, I wanted to pass along the best writing advice I ever heard. The advice is in Doug Nichol’s 2016 film, California Typewriter and it came from the late Sam Shepard.

I’ll paraphrase the advice:

Never quit when you’re stuck. When you start up again you’ll still be stuck.

Now the funny thing is that I rarely consider myself to be struck. If I fail to work on my book it’s nearly always because I’ve been distracted by lesser things like work. But, there’s still a lot of wisdom and usefulness to what Shepard said. Since I heard his admonition I try to quit when I’m on a roll I know I can keep it going later. In fact, a lot of times the momentum of the roll is actually enhanced by the renewed energy that comes from taking a break to go on a hike or drink a fine IPA.

When I do nudge up against stuckness (to borrow a word made up by Robert Pirsig) I dedicate myself to the kind of written thrashing about that, if I’m lucky,  gets a few more words and hopefully good ideas onto the page. The small success of getting those kinds of difficult words down blunts the sharpness of feeling a little stuck and replaces it with the confidence that a way forward can be found with a bit more effort.

Anyway, think about what Sam said the next time you find yourself stuck.

 

 

Best writing advice ever!

How to (and how NOT to) discuss a friend’s new novel.

I’m going to take a few minutes to explain how to discuss a friend (or loved one’s) new novel.

Please consider & accept my premise:

The novel was a royal pain in the ass to write. It was a wholly unreasonable thing to try to create while holding down a day job.

It started out hard & got harder.

Then, as if by magic, it was done.

In the end, the writer failed in ways he never imagined.

In the end, the writer succeeded in ways he never believed possible.

A book should be read, it must be reacted to, so the writer gives it to the audience he imagines will be the most kind and receptive and responsive.

You’re that audience and I’m going to tell you what the writer wants you to say and ask (and also what he hopes you won’t).

First, be aware the writer knows his novel is flawed.

He didn’t write the novel to get rich.

He didn’t write the novel to become famous.

He wrote the novel in an effort to convey an idea or series of ideas in the best and most engaging way he could.

Let’s cover those pesky don’ts first.

The writer doesn’t want to hear what you’re reading right now and that you’ll get to his book when you’re done. The writer doesn’t care when you read his book, only how.

The writer doesn’t want to be asked how he intends to promote his book.

The writer doesn’t want to be reminded how nice it is that it’s become so easy for anyone to write a book and sell it on Amazon.

The writer doesn’t want to be asked how many copies have sold so far.

The writer doesn’t want to be asked if he he’s going to send the book to any real publishers.

Let’s move along to what the writer does want you to ask about.

The writer wants to know if you liked the book. He wants to know if you found any of the characters to be likable or loathsome or fun or frightening.

He wants to ask him how he went about writing the characters the way he did.

He wants you to ask if any of the characters were based on people he actually knew or knows.

He wants you to ask what it was about the real person that made him want to form the person into a character in a fictional book.

The writer wants to know if you didn’t like the book.

He really does. Trust me on this.

He wants to know if you simply didn’t find the story intriguing or the characters engaging. If he fell short, you’re his best chance of figuring out he did and, just maybe, why.

The writer wants you to ask how you decided on the book’s sequence. He wants you to ask how you were able to handle the different times and places while maintaining the book’s coherence and flow.

The writer wants to be asked why he decided to write a book at all?

Why make an effort to do something that took literally thousands of hours and, in many cases, years to complete with a vanishing a chance of financial compensation?

It’s a valid question every aspiring writer has asked himself not only when he set out to write the book, but very likely every single time he sat down to work on it.

The way you ask that question may help the writer draw a closer to his own answer when he asks the question of himself.

He wants you to ask him about other subjects he may be interested in, or may already be working on.

He wants to be asked what he learned from writing the book.

He wants to be asked what you regard as the best part of his book & believe it or not, the worst.

Lastly, the writer wants to know what his book made you think and feel. Were you happy to be done with it, to be relieved of the obligation of reading it, or did its ending leave you wanting more? Did reading it make you think differently about the writer? Did it change the way you thought about what he might accomplish in the future, based on what you might see as the promise or lack of promise brought forth by the book you just read?

The writer is asking himself each of these questions as he lays his head on his pillow every night.

Is the writer is an honest soul, looking to achieve beyond his prior achievements?

Though obvious to me, I should say that every word I write here assumes the writer in question is an honest soul. I assume the writer was trying to achieve something bigger and more importantly than bigger or longer, a work beyond anything he may have written before.

Thinking of a novel as leap of faith.

A novel represents a leap of faith for a writer and I believe a writer simply wants to be asked what made him want to take the leap.

 

How to (and how NOT to) discuss a friend’s new novel.

Do apps like iA Writer and Ulysses really help you write?

I promised myself six months respite between finishing my first novel and starting on my second. The idea was to take some time to research and test drive various writing apps.

Having a mechanism that facilitated the organization of my writing was of primary importance.

Having a writing environment that facilitated the writing process was a plus.

I mean, who doesn’t hate Microsoft Word?

On the other hand, who doesn’t use Microsoft Word?

When it comes to writing, it’s easy to come to see Word as the devil you know which is nearly always preferable to the devil you don’t. Word is not anathema to the creative process. If it was, no one would get anything done with it and there are plenty of writers who do the majority of their work within its environment.

I’m one of them.

But, Word is distracting. Word is inscrutable. Word is ugly.

I narrowed down the initial candidates to iA Writer and Ulysses.

I’m prone to breaking promises I make to myself so rather than a six month respite I’m already working on my next novel. The fun part is that I’m alternating its among Word, iA Writer and Ulysses. You’re right…fun’s not the right word.

I compose for a while and then I cut and paste the copy into Word as a back-up. I also email the copy and dump another copy into A Google Doc but now I’m giving you a bit too much insight into how much I hate the idea of losing my work.

So far, I’m not sure if iA Writer or Ulysses will be of much help to me, anyway. I do like the stripped down nature of the interface but, at least so far, I’m not seeing it as transformational of either my writing process or of my ability to maintain organization of elements of plot, characters, scenes and timeframe.

Initial nit picks about Ulysses include the use of jargon like sheets rather than text or copy. I mean, I know about a sheet of paper and about rain falling in sheets but why use the word to describe something that a sheet isn’t? But, I’m not giving up on it yet.

iA Writer takes the stripped down feel a step further. This can lead to wondering about what, exactly, the app is supposed to be doing for the writer?

I’m going to give both apps more time and copy before I decide which of them (if either) to use.

Today, I am unconvinced about iA Writer and Ulysses but I’m still open to using something other than Word. If any of you use either of them (or any other writing app) I would love to hear your views and experiences.

Do apps like iA Writer and Ulysses really help you write?

My novel is done, done, done.

My novel is done. No, you can’t go buy it yet.

I’m preparing it for submission to a handful of publishers and it turns out they don’t fancy looking at books that are already in the throes of a self-publishing campaign.

I’m quite certain that’s where my book will end up and that’s OK by me. I’m glad I wrote it. It took a lot longer than I had hoped but I learned so much about the kind of long-form writing thought that a novel requires that I now regard the span of time as something of a necessity. That’s another way of saying I’m a slow learner.

I had written a great deal over a very long period of time before I decided to write a novel. Now that I’ve done it, I want to do another and to do a better job of it. I can look back on my book and can see it clearly for its good and bad. Something about writing it broke away a kind of resistance that had set in to that kind of writing ambition. Suddenly, writing a book seemed like something I could do and do with meaningful results.

I think often of Steve Earle’s dark years in Amsterdam when he was addicted to heroin. When he had finally clawed his way back into the light, he had a creative boom of sorts, making records and writing books and plays with a speed and intensity he never showed before. He attributed the burst of work to his release from smack.

Even though I wrote for both pay and fun I avoided the idea of writing a book until I hit my 50s. Rather than being addicted to heroin I had instead succumbed to the belief that I didn’t have anything to offer; that I wasn’t that kind of writer. It turns out that I am…

So, I’m grateful that I simply had the idea to write my book. Obviously and as always, it is the idea that made everything possible.

Now I have another idea and it’s led me start writing my second next novel.

Here’s hoping it moves along faster than the first one.

 

My novel is done, done, done.

Choosing to Live the Dream

I have a friend who likes to ask me what I would have liked to have done with my life. The unspoken assumption is pretty obvious; there’s no way I could be happy the way things turned out.

But the fact is I am with the way my life turned out.

My friend likes to wonder if I would have enjoyed being a full-time writer. I don’t believe I would have. I can’t imagine enjoying the grinding existence of the working writers I know. Life is more than writing for me. In fact, it’s hard for me to understand how many writers manage to squeeze in enough living to justify the amount of time and energy they devote to writing. Writing, for me anyway, is my response to some aspect of the life I’m living. Put another way, you can have a full life without writing but I don’t believe you can write anything worthwhile without living a full life.

There are other fundamental limiters to my writing and those are the honest and undeniable limits of my talent and inspiration. My inspirations simmer, they seldom boil. Also, I have many other pulls in my life and some of them also involve a kind of creativity and a smattering of inspiration. I love to golf and to hike and to take photographs. More than anything I enjoy being around the people whom I like and love. Writing much more than I already do would vacuum up precious time that could be spent actually doing other things and enjoying other people.

Today I bought new tires for my beloved Mini Cooper instead of buying a new car. I would like to be able to buy a house but the housing market rises faster than I can earn more money. I’ve been working to develop a business association with a high-end manufacturer in Sweden for the last five years. Would it have been easier to do if I had more cash on hand? Most certainly. Still, as has been better said by a million other writers before me the only thing I would truly like more of is time. In the end, it seems to me that we have a choice; we can either embrace life’s limitations or thrash against them.

By accepting those limitations, we allow ourselves to get started on some of the things we say matter to us. But, if we spend too much time thrashing about we’re likely to find our energy sapped before we even have a chance to bring our better selves to bear on projects that could be worthwhile.

Now that’s what I call wasted energy.

And so, I am truly living the dream. My health is good. My loved ones are many and nearby and the world is full of things that fascinate me. From time to times those fascinations inspire me to write. Living the dream is a choice I’m happy I made.

Choosing to Live the Dream