Blog

February 2018

As much as I love what I do… I occasionally find myself at that place where a project is behind, two more just got dumped into the time line, and naturally everything is an A1 priority. This usually happens when my wife is just adjusting to teaching a new class,  my doctor just proscribed antibiotics (without me even asking for them), and other family members are sending me emails containing exciting terms like “through and through puncture”….

So, I’m going to go see if I can find a couple of bigger cans (do they make a 110 gallon drum?) and try recanning a couple of these cans of worms (or at least get the projects under control). Hopefully I will be back with some good posts and good things to share in March. See you then dear reader!

Out of your comfort zone!

As writers we have favorite subjects to write on, and styles we prefer. It’s a good thing. We have (or should be developing) areas we know well and are good at. We have a general focus. But. Sometimes we are asked or compelled to step out of our comfort zone.

Sometimes this is a good thing.

Sometimes it isn’t.

It all depends on the situation and how we look at things…

The good

Sometimes we step out of our comfort zone because we have to. And in these cases we can find things we like and things that are very helpful to us. Sometimes we actually learn something.

Back in 2016 I published my first book Chainmail Bottle Carriers. In writing that book I found a few things I thought were better shown in a video than in the written style I was using. But… I had never written a video before much less made one.

I wanted to do it, but I didn’t have the experience or expertise in the area. Well, as much as I hate to admit it I see new subscribers on my You Tube channel more frequently than I see sales of that particular book here in 2018…

In practice I think I’ve reached more people because of the videos. But I had to get out of my comfort Zone to do it.

The bad

Recently Thomas S. Monson the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day saints died and an obituary was printed in the New York Times…

I happen to disagree with a number of points in that obituary. But I support the author in writing from the author’s own genuine stance and perspective.

There are a number of people who have pressured the Times to retract the obituary and even to force the author to ‘write a better one’. The thing is, if you try to put someone out of their comfort zone in this way (or if you allow yourself to be put out of your comfort zone in this way) you are creating a number of problems.

  1. If the original piece of writing was genuine you are forcing someone to be dishonest about what they think, feel, and believe. No matter how passionate you might be, you can’t claim to be honest and force someone to “agree” with you dishonestly while maintaining any sort of integrity in yourself.
  2. You run the risk of having things blow back on you (or if you’re the writer you run the risk of having the situation happen to you again).

 

They say what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, and this is precisely why I don’t’ agree with those who want the Times to retract their obituary and write a ‘better one’. Quite simply I support the author’s right to state a genuine opinion because I don’t want someone coming back at me and trying to force me to change my stance and opinion. If you force someone to dishonestly change their opinion you open the door for someone else to do it to you.

 

The take home

Sometimes it is good to get out of your comfort zone and try new things, but you need to be careful about doing it. If you are ding new things and writing new things with good purpose good things can come from it. If you are saying and writing new things because you are forced to do so, that’s dishonest and not good for you or the person making you do it.

That’s it for this one dear reader. Check out the video I just posted, and see you next week.

Characters and space

Nope, we’re not actually going sci fi this week dear reader (maybe soon, but not this week). Actually, what I’m writing about has to do with your characters and the length of your story…

Between November’s NANOWRIMO adventure and now (where I’m engaging in editing and finishing Jamie’s Sacrifice) I’ve been thinking about the differences between long and short fiction. I’ve been thinking about how the length of story really does impact the things that you can, and should, do.

One area that really gets impacted is your characters. In longer fiction you have a lot more space to describe and develop characters. You have the opportunity to add more details (which might or might not be a good thing…). In shorter fiction you kind of need to get on with things and tell the story. You don’t have time to detail every detail of the heroine’s bedroom (unless that is the story…).

Need to know

Whether you’re doing a long or short story there is information about your character that the reader needs to know, and that’s the information to worry most about; both providing it and when to provide it.

In a long story you can take time to provide more information. And you can hide those key details that lead your reader to gasp “I should have seen that” among the other information you give them.  But you do need to play fair: give them the information and don’t just pump out filler.

In shorter fiction you may have to leave out those cool but extraneous details you’ve worked up. If you’re only doing a ten page story you don’t have the extra room to waste on the hero’s stamp collection, unless it’s actually relevant.

But what if I really want to give that detail (or, how do I control the information fire hose?)

Well… If you are going to do short stories and really want to use that bit of information which doesn’t quite fit into this story, why not write another story where the detail matters?

If you think about it the chapters of a long story are a sequence of short stories, just a sequence with one big plot running through it all. It is just as fair to do multiple short stories with a character that the reader can get to know over time. It worked for Conan the Barbarian and it can work for you.

While we’re at it, even in long fiction you might want to take some time in revealing information. Let your reader get to know the character through action and story not just “reading the character’s baseball card” somewhere on page three. In real life and real friendships our knowledge of our friends develops over time. You can do that in your fiction too.

Your secondary characters (and tertiary characters, and quaternary characters, and that guy over on the corner…)

Here’s another other big difference dear reader, in long fiction you have time to introduce more characters. But, you still need to think about how much information you’re giving. We really don’t need to know the life story of the ‘counter guy’ at the local fast food joint if he’s only going to be showing up in that one scene. Remember, your readers can only keep up with so many characters at one time. And having too much or too little information can impact your reader’s ability to keep track of who is who.

If you’re doing a short story stick to a couple of characters and write them well. In longer fiction you can add more, but remember it’s a story not a telephone directory! In any case you need to think about the descriptions and information you’re giving about your characters. We want to know who they are but we don’t need to be overwhelmed with extraneous drama.

That’s it for this one dear reader. I’d tell you what we’re doing next week, but my characters haven’t told me yet…

Piecing it together…

One of the projects that is almost out the door is an instruction set I’m working on for how to make a chainmail belt.

DSCN2124

I have also been talking to people who are working (or want to work) on putting out some sewing and knitting patterns. I can promise you that as much thought and work needs to go into a pattern or instruction set as is needed for any other project (you know… If you want your instructions to be understandable instead of rage inducing…)

But there are differences between writing a pattern or instruction set and some of the other writing we talk about here…

Doing and writing

One of the things I’ve really noticed in the process or writing instructions is that it is a good idea to actually make or do whatever yours supposed to be writing about while you’re writing the instructions. This can be slow and awkward. You keep having to set one thing down to do the other. However, this is often one of the best ways to avoid forgetting those little details that crop up while you’re working. Doing and writing in a parallel mode helps you think more about what you’re actually doing, so that you can write your instructions correctly.

There are times you need to write things up later, but this really can lead to memory problems and missing details. If you absolutely can’t write while doing, you might think about video or audio recording, or some other form of in vivo documentation to help you.

A picture is worth a thousand words

“A picture is worth a thousand words,” photographers tell me this all the time. As one with a few hundred thousand words under his belt I can say that this is one of the situations that they’re actually right about. Pictures, graphs and charts can show information more clearly and concisely than a verbal description; but only if you’ve put some thought into your pictures, graphs and charts! If you want to see the full spectrum of good and bad visual information head over to You Tube and watch some ‘instructional’ videos after you finish reading this post…

Often it won’t be enough to “snap a few pics” that you can insert into your instructions.  You need to think about what you’re showing, and from what angle, and with what kind of lighting and contrast. You might even want to get into some picture editing software and add some labels and text…

page12

Your pictures really do need to be as thought out as the rest of your instructions. And even then you’re not done!

Play testing!

It is virtually always a good idea to have someone else read what you write before you call it done (trust me, some of us have learned the hard way…). When you’re writing instructions or a pattern, it might not be enough to just have someone read over what you wrote. For patterns and instructions you might just want someone to actually try to do what you’re writing about.

In this case you can’t do it all yourself! You already know how to do what you’re writing about and you may well miss errors and confusing points that will be obvious to someone else trying to follow your instructions.

I know someone out there want’s to skip this step, but… Nope, you need to let someone else try to follow your instructions and then give you feedback. (note: fear of feedback shouldn’t be an excuse that stops you. If you’re seriously afraid of what people will say, then either you or your instructions aren’t ready yet…)

Instructions are a teaching tool. They are worthy of genuine thought and effort (and, based on how many knitting patterns my wife buys, they are sometimes fairly profitable…). In fact if you want to do them right you should give them as much attention (or more) than you would give any other writing project.

You also have to understand how your instruction projects are unique.

That’s it for this one dear reader. Next week…

Back to the long and the short of it!

Christmas post 2017

The Sunday after this post goes live is Christmas Eve, and of course the day following that is Christmas day. Not everyone who reads this is necessarily Christian and I am in no way demanding Non-Christians observe a Christian celebration, in truth I think that a lot of “Christians” forget what Christmas is really about…

Beneath it all, once you strip away the hype, and ornamentation, and fancy wrapping paper, Christmas is about someone (call him God incarnate, just a man, or just a really good idea…) who gave all to help those around him. Christmas is about someone who gave all to create a better world and make us better. That is the point, and that is something that needs more attention than it receives these days.

So, to everyone out there Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, male, female, any of the above, gay, straight, somewhere in between,  black, white, brown, or any other color in the crayon  box… The day is yours to do with what you will. But while you’re at it, why not try morning with those who morn, lifting the down trodden, and otherwise making the world around you a better place. That’s what the day is really about, and despite other differences we may have I stand with you in these things.

Merry Christmas to all ad see you next week!

The importance of time

One of the things that drives my wife crazy about my writing is time. Not that I spend time doing it (she gets that part…”). Sometimes it’s not even really about how much time I spend writing. Instead she gets frustrated with how regimented and monitored that time can be. I can honestly tell you how many pages I can typically write in an hour. I know how many pages I can transcribe in an hour. I can estimate how many hours it will take me to write a given thing and when it will be most efficient for me to put those hours in. I’ve spent a few years doing this and I’ve figured this stuff out. And sometimes my idea of what I need to do just doesn’t work for my wife…

The thing is, my wife has things that she wants to do too (and other people and things in the lives of us writers usually have the same kind of needs). And sometimes the amount of time, and the actual moment in time when things need to happen, conflicts with what we as writers want and need to do. And this really does lead to problems.

While there are those that will try to pass off a ‘system’ for writing as ‘the right system’ for everyone; I for one don’t really buy into any of it. In my estimation you have to learn the best way and time for you to write by your own experience and adjust for your own situation. A professional writer with no kids and a full time mom with three kids don’t have the same situation (and they may have wildly different writing styles, subject matter, and/or genres as well…). And don’t even get me started about my friend the funeral director (who is basically on call 24/7).

I won’t try to give you ‘the’ system dear reader; however, I will pass on a couple of things I have learned.

You have to actually put time into it…

Not a whole lot to say on this one. You have to actually devote time to writing if you want to write. If you don’t there will always be something in the way. You have to choose to write and make time to do so.

You have to learn about you…

You need to know a lot to figure out what kind of time you need to write, and how to use that time. Some of that knowledge can be found in books, blogs (like mine…), and other sources. But, some of that knowledge can only come from you, and you can only obtain it by experimentation. You can only obtain that kind of knowledge by actually trying different writing times and keeping track of how you spend your writing time. It really is a ‘learn for yourself’ situation, and in some ways it has to be. No two writers are alike, and neither are their situations.

You have to be reasonable with others in your life…

As much as we may want to climb into our hole in the ground, office, booth at our favorite restaurant, or whatever, and just write the world away; husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, children, etc. all do need some of our attention and time. None of us live in a vacuum and there are people to see, bills to pay, and things to do. Even (especially…) if we don’t want to, we need to be aware that we will spend time outside of our writing.

Some of that time can be handled and dealt with through planning (get out your calendar and plan a time to pay that light bill…).

Some of that time happens unexpectedly, and you really do need to put down your writing and deal with something else (if my wife is crying I might just want to find out why… If my desk is on fire who cares if I’m almost done with chapter four?).

Some of that time… Well sometimes you have to make a decision. Do you really want to go to that concert, play that golf game, or go see those in-laws? (It could happen…) If you do, then you have to figure out how to make that happen and still have time to write. Or you choose not to do one or the other, and suffer the consequences…

You have to communicate (and sometimes teach)…

I know this one isn’t always fun, but for the 100% of us in real life; sooner or later you need to talk to someone about writing and the time you need to write (note: I don’t mean “explain to” but actually have a conversation with). Often the person you’re needing to talk to is someone important in your life. These conversations can be challenging, some people have little experience in the writing world. Sometimes the people you’re talking with work differently than you do. Sometimes the people you’re talking to really haven’t thought about what you’re trying to do. In any case you need to communicate with them to help them understand, and to understand their side at least a little bit as well.

Communicating about writing isn’t always easy, but doing it is easier than not doing it. Communicating effectively can save a lot of ‘hurt feelers’ in the long run.

Time is an important part of writing dear reader. You need to learn about it: how to use it and how to communicate about it. If you don’t, then you’re headed for problems (if you do anything at all…)

That’s it for this one dear reader. Next week…

Chaos… Panic… Scented pine cones??? It must be the holidays!

NANOWRIMO both surviving and thriving

Well dear reader we’re back… And I have to say NANOWRIMO turned out pretty well. This year’s all out push to write a novel in a month resulted in a 75,000+ word manuscript and a clear direction for where to go next (both with new writing on what has confirmed itself to be a trilogy and in terms of what to do next for this specific story).

Naturally in addition to turning in 75,000 words (17000 more than my last NANOWRIMO high score…) I learned a few things on the way.

One: an all-out writing push can be hard…

Even if you’ve planned, exercised your mind and writing muscles and/or have the ‘mojo’ to do 50,000+ words in a month it can take time and effort. That means even if you can handle the writing part like a boss you still have to cope with the effects on other ‘jobs’, relationships, household chores, regular meals, and so on. And that can add up to a lot of stress.

Solution: be attentive to the needs of your family and make a plan. Even if you’re a ‘pantser’ and don’t plan your story, take a little time to plan out how to keep your spouse talking to you and the refrigerator stocked.

Two: no matter what you do there’s always ‘that guy’ who doesn’t get it.

I did the math…. 75,000 words over 295 pages is an entire school year’s worth of term papers or more in a single month, and I did it… But there will always be that one person who just doesn’t understand the achievement, or what went into doing it.

Solution: finish your book and publish it anyway! Some people will come around when they see the final product and some won’t. The won’ts often have their own issues that cloud their understanding and it may not be worth the battle to bring them around. You may not be able to bring them around at all, but if you push through and succeed there is a chance that they will come around on their own.

Don’t be a jerk about it, but don’t let them stop you. The ‘I don’t get it’ crowd will always be there and there’s not a lot we can do to change that.

Three: the system may take a little while to cool down…

Even if you didn’t succeed in your NANOWRIMO quest, if you put in a good effort you have probably learned something and gained new skills and abilities. You will also need a little while to shift back into ‘normal’ mode (that’s why this post is coming out on December 8th and not December 1st…). And, it might be a good idea to put a little time and distance between your initial writing and the assessing and editing process… You need the space and perspective.

Solution: no solution needed! Go clean out the ‘fridge, walk the dog, buy those Christmas presents you’ve been putting off, or whatever it is you need to do. And then come back and keep writing. Give yourself a little space and see what has changed and how you improved (for instance my transcribing from notes speed is up by about 50%!).

As I said going into NANOWRIMO the whole experience is a good thing if you use it correctly. Whether you succeeded or not, if you want to be a writer (or if you are a writer) the thing to do now is to recover from the experience and learn what you can from what you’ve done and produced. It will help you in the long run.

That’s it for this one dear reader… Next time, back to our regular schedule (for about a week and then the holidays happen…)

My NANO Kit

As I mentioned last week I will be doing NANOWRIMO next month…

For those who don’t know yet NANOWRIMO is a yearly event in which writers try to write an entire 50,000+ word novel in a single month. I’ve done it twice. I can tell you it isn’t easy. You have to be committed and put in the work. You also need to know a little about your habits as a writer (and you may learn more in the process). Today I’m going to talk briefly about my “NANOWRIMO kit” and the process I use.

The bulk of the kit is actually in the front picture for this post. I’m one of those oddballs that likes to write by hand before I put the story one the computer, so I depend heavily on pens and seventy page college ruled notebooks (some of the ones this year are predecorated by a friend and will be used for the female pov in the story). Doing things this way has advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side my writing speed (by hand) and my thinking speed are closer together for long stuff like this, so on a flow basis the notebook works better for me. The notebooks also make it easier to strike through and go on if I take a wrong turn.

On the other hand it’s harder to do word count on a physical copy, and the final count is computer verified. So, ultimately it has to be transcribed onto the computer to ‘win’.

Here’s the thing though. This ‘weakness’ in my style is a strength in disguise. Usually when you pick up for a new day’s writing it’s a good idea to review what you were working on last time (or at least the pages leading up to what you will be writing). When I start a day’s writing my first step is to transcribe what I wrote the previous day. This gets the information into the computer, allows me to review, and serves as my first editing pass. It takes time, but it puts me in a stronger place to write the next section (and gives me that all important word count…).

It’s my way of doing things and doesn’t work for everybody. Part of the fun is learning what works for you (and, by the way, that may change from story to story).

One thing that does change story to story is where I write. I virtually never do the actual writing at my desk. Editing yes. Writing not so much. Instead I tend to go out to write. For some projects it may be the public library; for other’s it’s my traditional writing hangouts. Last year I wrote about half of the book in a mall food court and rewarded myself with CCG cards.

This year I have two pov characters and things might get even more complicated.

The final piece of the kit (other than time) is also not in the picture. That would be the vast amounts of my favorite soda I’ll be drinking (another reason I don’t write on my computer…). Like so much else the choice is up to you. But I do recommend finding a lovely beverage to support you through the process. It helps.

Because I am going to be going all out on the book I will be quiet in the blogosphere next month (I’ll be writing, just not here…). I look forward to talking about the experience after NANO and I hope to hear from a few of you as well.

That’s it for this one dear reader. See you in December.

Until then: Um…

Yes, can I have several packs of pens, a case of notebooks and all the (product name withheld) delivered to…

NANOWRIMO as a Tool

A few weeks ago I wrote about NANOWRIMO and why I wasn’t doing it this year. Well, things change.

Jamie’s Sacrifice is progressing well, but in ways I hadn’t expected. I crossed 34,000 words this week and expect to hit 50,000 before part one is finished. I sort of realized that the story needed more space and time than my initial estimate. Then I realized that if I get where I need to be at the end of the first part (here to for called ‘act one’), things in the second part are different enough that I could really look at it as a sequel story. And then the former third act shifts enough to call it a third book…

The next question was could I really do 50,000+ words in each of the parts. And the answer is: I think so! It’s really a two part question: 1) does each part warrant 50,000 words and 2) can I do it without padding. Again I think so! I’m kind of into growth and change, and there is lots of growth and change in the lives of teenagers, particularly ones in a place like where I’m leaving Jamie and company after part one. I think I might legitimately need 50,000+ words to handle the second part and I can do it without padding. And if I have 100,000+ words in the first two parts I might just need another 50,000 to tie up the loose ends and end things satisfactorily…

When combined these factors are telling me that Jamies Sacrifice could weigh in over 150,000 words. And then you add my real desire to get the story finished, so that I can get it edited and given to the world. I found myself at a moment where I might have to eat my words a bit and change my opinion. Maybe I do need to do NANO this year…

A final piece arrived earlier this month in the death of my friend Tanya, and her son’s desire to try his hand at NANOWRIMO. It’s something he wants to do, but doesn’t want to do alone, and I’m in a position to help.

For the most part I stand by what I’ve said about NANOWRIMO last time I see it as a tool, and as a way to help you finish a manuscript. What’s changed is the situation I have with my story.

I’ve learned how to write the story from Jamie’s perspective. I’ve also found that the story is bigger than I thought. I’ve found that I might have underestimated enough that this project may become a trilogy, even though I had no intention to do that. And, I’ve found that I need parts two and three in rough form at least before I can finish editing part 1. Together these discoveries add up to me having to say yes, I am doing NANOWIRMO this year. I want to finish the story and I need the first draft done now.

As I said previously, this is what NANOWRIMO is for, getting that first completed draft and sharing the writing experience. Sometimes you’re sure that’s not what you need. Sometimes it isn’t… Right up until the moment it is. In all probability I wouldn’t do NANO this year, except I find myself in a place to do so at the time it is happening.

So, I stand by my advice even while I change my mind dear reader. NANOWRIMO is a tool. Know what it is. Use it wisely. And, it might just be helpful to you.

That’s it for this one dear reader. See you next post. Until then have success in your projects and don’t be afraid to go out and do!

Definition and Continuity

Note: this blog is about writing and publishing. Today’s topic easily applies to words and subjects that can be considered ‘hot buttons’ on the political stage I am not taking any political position here; therefore, any political, moral or ethical offence you find in this post is something you brought with you and not my doing.

My wife is currently serving on the assessment committee at our local university. She and the committee have put considerable effort into defining the words goal and objective for the purpose of assessment at our university. Early last week the committee finally reached agreement and were ready to go forward with applying their definitions; which they would have if someone had not opened the university handbook and discovered that the handbook committee finally agreed on the opposite set of definitions…

This problem is considerably wider than one university in the Pacific North West. Words like gender, ethnicity, moral, and (possibly worst of all) “fairness” seem to change meaning on a daily basis. Even our fiction is not safe. Movie, TV and print series seem to shift on their meanings of what a given power or ability is or can do. Even character backgrounds get changed to fit what a writer wants a given character to do and say.

I’m not just calling this a problem, it is one. Having different meanings for words and different understandings of concepts is a frequent source of misunderstandings, disagreements, and good old fashioned arguments. It is true that people occasionally have different understandings of things. It is true that occasionally you need to change a definition or use a different understanding because the situation has changed. However, neither of those truths forgives sloppiness in meaning or malicious attempts to shift meaning or unfairly profit from a misunderstanding.

Start with definition

We as readers and writers need to understand the words and concepts we use. It is alright and even appropriate that our understanding develops over time. But, we do need to put in the effort to understand the words and concepts we use.

On some of my nonfiction projects my understanding of a term’s meaning shifts significantly in the process of researching and writing. If this happens before the project is published part of the editing process is that I need to go back through the piece and make sure my meaning is consistent, or at least document how and why my understanding changed. If my understanding has changed since a piece was released and I write something new on the same subject I might need to explain why I changed my view and/or definition.

In either case after a writer has found his or her definition or meaning it is usually a good idea to communicate that definition to the reader. In non-fiction it could be as simple as writing the following…Definition: (N) the meaning of a word or concept. In a fiction situation you might build a whole story around a character learning what something means, or you might just want to have good old Captain Exposition drop a one liner about it.

I know that it can be fun to be mysterious about things. And there are ways to go about that (a subject for a later post (or maybe the comments…)). But, if you’re trying to be mysterious and come off as not knowing what you’re talking about, or if you come off as just being slipshod in you thinking, that doesn’t achieve the affect you want. It also makes you look incompetent. Possibly worse, if you don’t have or use a solid definition your reader may feel manipulated. That twist ending that comes out of the blue, the one that your reader can’t go back and find any clues for… Yeah… Um… People don’t like those. People don’t like to feel manipulated. Even if they came to your writing to be manipulated, people are offended by obvious manipulation. Using good definitions is one way of avoiding that.

Continuity

Continuity is the second part of the struggle for meaning. Continuity means that you are using the same meaning or set of facts consistently. It’s not fair to have a character go through all of your first book talking about growing up in Paris France and traveling on her French passport, and then turn around in the second book and say no, she grew up in Paris Idaho because in this book things work better for her to be a citizen of the USA. And, even if you manage to get away with that one, you will annoy somebody when in the third book she turns out to be a he and tells the reader that he has lived his entire life at Paris Island South Carolina (btw you then also have to explain why the person lived his/her/it’s entire life on a Marine Corps base… Just don’t do it!)

If you have a character that likes to tell stories about being from other places that could be ok. But, if you’re just changing the characters background to fit what you as a writer want her to do at the moment, that is a problem.

The ‘retcon’ or retroactive continuity does exist in writing, but to most of the people I’ve talked to it isn’t a good thing. Retcons tend to read as “I’ve written myself into a corner”; “I think the last guy wrote this wrong”; or “to heck with the fan boys this is want to have happen”.

Just like your definitions, sometimes your continuity does need to change. If you’re relaunching a character or series why not do a little updating and refurbishing? But be honest about it. If you are theoretically working in the same world/universe/timeline you’ve just created a lot of other problems for yourself. There are things that you will need to explain and fans that you will annoy. You might want to stop and think about whether it is really a good idea to retcon, or maybe tell your new story with a new character.

Yes, it does take a lot of work to keep your definitions, characters and story lines straight. Yes it can be hard work to create and introduce new characters. At the same time, how easy is it to retcon the retcon of the retcon that you retconned before that other retcon and still keep everything believable for the person that liked your story in episode one?

That’s it or this one dear reader, see you next week.