Soundtracks for writing?

Environment is important for writing. There are a lot of plusses and minuses to writing in different locations. There are also a lot of elements in those environments that can be hard to control. But, there’s one environmental element we can control, and even bring with us as we travel. It’s also been claimed to have the power to transport us to other places. It’s as simple as listening.

Music can tell stories. Music can trigger memories. Music can tap into raw emotions. Music is a tool that shouldn’t be overlooked in the preparation and process of writing.

There are also complications and problems. But many of those can be controlled by choices you make.

(Some of) the problems with music

Some of us like to write in public. And, it’s problematic to listen to our ‘writing music’ in public places. We don’t want to be offensive, but we also want our music. Can you (safely) wear headphone or ear buds where you’re writing? What about finding somewhere that has ambient sound/music that works for you?

A bigger problem, whether you’re in public or private, comes in the form of sensitivity to lyrics. I don’t mean the “I’m gonna shoot a cop then rape your grandma” lyrics (though there are problems with that kind of lyrics…). The problem we’re talking about is that for some of us, and in some processes, lyrics in music can be distracting.

This one is easier to cope with when you can choose the music you’re listening to (so… in your writing spot at home or using those ear phones/buds…). Choose music with lyrics that work for you, or just instrumental music.

It’s true that sometimes the lyrics you’re listening to get in the way. Sometimes that happens. For me it happens more in new writing. I like lyrics during the editing process. The answer (as usual dear reader) is to experiment a little, learn what works for you, and use it.

And music can work for you dear reader.

Music, emotion, and taking you there

Music (the sound portion) operates on a different level of thinking/feeling than the spoken word. It can convey emotion to us in ways the written or spoken word can’t. This effect can be amplified when you add the right lyrics. Because of this ability, music can be helpful for getting into the right headspace for a scene in a story, or for building up our courage for writing that difficult or scary part of your non-fiction (both my wife and I have finished graduate degrees we know about difficult and scary parts in writing fiction and non-fiction…).

Music can also be linked to a time and place. That’s both good and powerful.

It wouldn’t be too hard for me to get to some of the physical locations we call the old west (a lot of them are within a day’s drive). But, getting back to the time of the old west is harder. Music can help with that. I can find modern (recorded) performances of old western music to help put my mind in the frame of that time and place.

I can also pull out my Japanese, Pilipino, and Thai music to get me over to Asia.

Or, I can throw on some Bach or Telemann (You know… Just in case I need to get back to Leipzig in the 1840s and my TARDIS is in the shop…).

We have the technology to feed ourselves a steady stream of music that helps us be in the mental space to write and even to feel a link to times, places, and experiences near and far. We can use that music to inspire us and make writing easier. (It even helps some of us concentrate better!)

For me, developing a ‘soundtrack’ for a writing project is as useful, or more useful, than ‘teacher approved’ techniques like outlining. Thinking about and planning my soundtrack gets me thinking about what the themes of the story are, what the feeling of the story is. In its own weird way, planning my soundtrack is outlining the story on an emotional level… It can also count as part of my research if I’m doing a period piece.

What are your thoughts about soundtracks for writing dear reader?

Leave a comment if you like. And, I’ll see you next post.

Scrivener… Almost first thoughts

Early this year I rehabbed a laptop. I wanted a word processing program on it and didn’t want to pay for another MS Office license. So, I bought Scrivener, and then used my other laptop and desktop instead of the one I just fixed. Then, I learned a few things about Scrivener, and I kept using Word because I had too much to do to learn a new program.

But, in the last month I’ve wanted to work differently. Some organization features I’d heard about with Scrivener weighed on my mind. So, two weeks ago I pulled out the manual. And, I have to say I’m impressed.

What scrivener isn’t

There are some things it’s obvious Scrivener is not.

It’s not another Word/Open Office/Word Perfect style word processer. You can write in it, but it’s not a straight forward create a document word processor. And, that’s good. It’s a larger, more flexible, system that can interact with Word and several other products. It helps the writer organize and create, not just type.

Scrivener isn’t a linear tool. You could use it linearly, but it’s more of a pain than going linear with a standard word processor. If you’re just going to use Scrivener linearly you miss a lot of its power (and might as well go back to your wax tablet and stylus).

Scrivener isn’t something you can ‘just use’. You need to think about your project and how to use the program. Again, that’s ok! Actually, that fits with the principal we have around here that you should think about what you’re writing!

What Scrivener is (so far…)

I’ll be coming back to this. I can tell that already; this is just the start of the journey. Reading the manual and thinking about the way I write, I can see Scrivener has a lot of possibilities.

  • I can include all my notes and inspiration stuff in the project without having to include it in the draft.
  • I can do script stuff, book stuff, and HTML in the same program without having to worry about formatting issues.
  • I can compile (format) and print/export parts of the project in a variety of ways without having to mess with the main projects formatting (I can do E-book, print, and web formats with a few mouse clicks without having to screw up my main document).
  • I can easily create pieces, move them around and know what they are without having to read or navigate the whole thing.

Those last two really intrigue me for both blog posts and books. I can put a whole series of posts into one project and have them all in one concentrated, easy to find, spot when I’m adding to the series. I can add and quote parts with a couple of clicks. If I (and my readers) like a subject enough, I’ve got everything concentrated into one place and can move seamlessly from the blog series to writing the book.

I think scrivener will help me on new editions and rewrites of previous stuff. I can import the word files (and other types, especially RTF files) and then break them up and organize them better and a lot more easily than I could in old school word processors.

So far, having climbed through the manual and doing some initial experiments, I think there is a lot of power in Scrivener. I definitely think it’s a tool for serious writers to consider.

I’ll come back to this one after NANO (I’ll know more by then).

In the meantime, dear reader, do you have any thoughts, rants, or questions about Scrivener?

Leave a comment if you do. And, I’ll see you next post.

The words will come

Shortly before I wrote this:

  • I hadn’t had a decent writing session all week
  • My schedule had been thrown off all week (first week of school, doctors’ appointments, my wife needed my help…)
  • My blood sugar was about 50 points high
  • I had a headache
  • The music in the restaurant didn’t work for me
  • There were kids screaming
  • The wierdo across the way was straight up glaring at me…

 

In other words… not a lot of writing was getting done. I mean not a word of writing, not until I took charge of myself.

I did what I could. I drank some (diet) soda. I took some deep breaths. I prayed. I got my mind together.

And then, the words flowed.

  • My schedule was still off
  • My blood sugar was still too high
  • I still had a headache (but the caffeine and stress reduction helped)

But, a different song came on. The kids found their way back to the play area. And, the wierdo found someone else to be mad at when I refused to take the bait.

The words flowed. Within minutes I wrote more than I had all week. And, I had ideas for what to write next.

Writing and writing…

There’s writing and then there’s writing…

  • There’s writing you do because you have to
  • There’s writing you do because you should
  • There’s writing you do because you want to
  • There’s writing you do because you can’t stop yourself (when you find this one, you’re a real writer and on your way to being a serious author…)
  • There’s writing that’s two or more of the above combined.

The secret to getting any writing done is to put yourself in the mental space to write. You need to put yourself into a good physical space too. You need to have your supplies. You need to do your research. But, being in the mental space to write, getting past your fears, concerns and hang-ups and into a mental place where the words will flow is something you have to learn if you want to write.

Putting yourself in the mental space to write is a management thing. It’s a self-mastery thing. You need to develop skills to deal with outside people and things, and the determination and self-control to put you into the place to write.

Sometimes we all need to break out the (hopefully metaphorical) battering ram and break down the barriers that are keeping the words from flowing. The problem may be one big thing or lots of little things working in concert. Your problems might not be my problems (or maybe they are!). But, one way or another we have to deal with them if we want to write.

That’s what this series is about dear reader. It’s a conversation (I’d love to hear from you!) about making the words flow. It’s about putting body and mind in a place to write.

There are lots of things we can talk about and not nearly enough time to cover them all in one post. So, let’s start with something simple.

Priming the pump

One of the more annoying kinds of writer’s block is fear of the blank page. This one occasionally hits even those of us with lots of words under our belts. And, it’s one you can cope with.

If you’re writing long hand (like I do) pick up your pen (pencil, crayon, whatever…) and move your hand to the top right corner of the page and write the number ONE (1) in the corner (and circle it if you want…).

If you’re writing electronically type a 1 on the first line, then hit return (or just turn on page numbers…)

Good news, your page isn’t blank anymore!

There’s still more to do. It’s time to put words on the page.

If you’re having trouble writing about what you think you’re supposed to be writing about, give yourself permission to ‘stream of consciousness’ write.

Write what’s on your mind. If you trust the process, your writing will probably “find center” and (after editing) you’ll have a written something that you can use.

Even if your something isn’t a sellable piece, you have proven to yourself that you can create a stream of words from your mind to the page. You may have written something that will help you learn and understand. You may even have created something that other people will want to read, after you clean it up a bit.

Sometimes you really need to write on a specific topic. In those cases ‘stream of consciousness’ may not be the right technique. Here we need to delve into our self-mastery toolbox and move the stream. But that, dear reader, is another post.

We all have hard days. We all have times where it feels like the words aren’t coming. But, if we do our part, they will.

That’s it for this one dear reader. Good luck with your words, and… I’ll see you next post!

Worth a thousand words…

Well dear reader, we’re doing it… Forever Mountain Publishing (my crazy little company) is running its own Instagram!

As one might guess it’s about story, making things, and the beauty we find around us.

Here’s what we put up this week…

KIMG0224

Go to Instagram if you want to see the caption that goes with it…

What’d we put up since start? Go see.

Telling stories by picture is new for me, but I like it. And, enjoyable things that do good are worth the effort (at least I think so).

I’ll also be adding more pictures here. Some might cross over with the Instagram or my other blog  but not all of them.

They say a picture’s worth a thousand words. So, since I have at least a thousand stories to tell, I’d better get taking pics.

Thanks for reading, and…

I’ll see you next post.

Bounce back!

As writers we’re often working on one or more big projects: a first draft of a book, editing a manuscript into a book, launching a book, working on another first draft for a book… One thing we don’t seem to talk about is what to do in the time between those big projects.

Myself, I usually want to roll straight into the next one, finish what I’m working on and roll into the next big thing. Occasionally I even try to do that, even though I know it’s a mistake.

We writers have lots of reasons for the stuff we work on, and we put a lot of resources (physical, mental, time, and financial) into those big projects. We might want to plow straight into that next big thing, but there are reasons to give it a little time and space.

The ‘managery stuff’ in-between

Chances are there are some little things that need to be handled between projects. It’s a good idea to take some time to make sure the bills are paid; put away the notes, pieces, and what-evers from that last project (you’ll need some space for the next one); shovel out those coffee cups/soda cans/water bottles that seem to accumulate (and then go get new ones!); pick up the other physical supplies you need; communicate with people (you know… your agent, your spouse (maybe even your kids), that contractor who still hasn’t fixed that leak…).

There are lots of little things that need to be done. If you take time between projects to make sure they’re taken care of it helps cut down on nasty surprises while you’re working on the next one.

Resupply missions…

I already mentioned getting more soda/coffee/whatever and more office supplies, but you have other resources and reserves that need to be restocked.

Catch up on some sleep.

Read a book. (And not one you’re using for research…)

Maybe you should get a little exercise and sunlight…

We have physical (as in body) and mental resources that need to be recharge from time to time. As much as we might not want to admit it; some exercise, a couple of nights sleep, a little non-work social interaction, and/or some other physical and mental activities away from the writing desk will help us get ready for that next big push.

You don’t want to be away for too long (your skills can atrophy with non-use) but running from big project to big project without rest can be just as damaging (and worse, you could be underperforming and be too exhausted to realize it…).

Give yourself a little time to recover. To borrow from (and edit for language) the advice of an old Staff Sargent, “Grab a drink, have some fun, get in trouble somewhere else for a while!”

Plan and prepare

Chances are you learned something in that last big project. Take a little time to record and understand what you learned. And while you’re at it, put together some plans and figure out what you need for that next big push.

Are there people you need to talk to?

Is there research you need to do (that you know about)?

Does the new project differ from the last one in ways that change your approach to the project (again, any you know about…)?

Take some time at the end of the last project to make sure things are in place before you start the next one. You know more about the process and about yourself than you did when you started the last one. Use that information to help you in the gear-up process for the next one

Whatever you do, don’t give up!

Whatever you do, come back for the next one dear reader. Don’t give up. Don’t surrender. Take your time between projects to analyze what you’ve learned, recharge your resources, get things in place for the next push, and maybe even spend a little time with your loved ones (remember them?); then, come back and get started on that next big project.

If you’re a writer, you’re doing this at least in part out of love. You won’t be happy if you don’t.

That’s it for this one dear reader. If you’re still climbing that mountain good luck in the climb. If you’ve finished the climb grab a little rest. And, I’ll see you next post!

First drafts, and the mountains to follow…

Well dear reader, Unintended Consequences has been submitted. It’s in the hands of editors other than me…

In the beginning, writing a whole book, a whole 50-60 thousand word or more novel or even a shorter “how to” book, feels daunting. But, once you get the first draft done you realize (at least if you’re creating a readable book you realize) there’s an even bigger mountain beyond. It’s called editing.

Then, somewhere up the side of Mount Edit, we realize there are two more mountains to cross, submission and marketing.

Mount Submission is one of those that doesn’t seem scary until you get up close and realize that first timers don’t know the paths yet. So, first timers do a lot more free-climbing than hiking. And then, you find out you have to climb down the mountain and climb back up Mount Edit from the other side, because you left your gear up on the summit.

And, while you’re climbing Mt Edit for the second time, you also need to be climbing Mt Marketing (while the guy’s on top of Mt Submission lecture you on the reality that you should have started up Mt Marketing much sooner).

If Mt Submission surprises first timers, Mt Marketing should terrify them. It’s not insurmountable, but Mt Marketing requires your whole writer skill set plus another, the marketing skill set. And, the guys on Mt Submission, the ones ‘everybody’ thinks will tackle Mt Marketing for you, usually aren’t as much help as you wanted them to be.

The mountain is climbable, but (Gasp!) you’re going to have to do, or pay for, a lot of the work yourself (and if you didn’t know that before you got to Mt Submission, you’re already behind the eight-ball).

Yes dear reader, at the very beginning, that first draft looks like a high and scary mountain. But, it’s just the foothill.

But, the good news is: with a little work, study, and maybe a little help, you can do it.

The next question is: if it’s so much work, why do we do it?

There are lots of answers to that and we’ve talked about some of them before {link} I think there are at least as many reasons as there are writers. Among them: we get to tell a new story. We get to be the first audience for a new story, shape it to perfection, and then share it with the world. We might just make some money for our efforts (if we’re good, smart, and lucky). Mostly (I think) those of us who succeed do it because we love it; because we feel a compulsion to do it; because we can’t imagine ourselves doing anything else.

The good news is, if you’re willing to do the work, you can do it.

Unintended Consequences is at the publisher right now. My team is getting ready for that second climb up Mt Edit, and the climb up Mt Marketing is happening. It can be done. I know because I’m doing it.

And you can do it too.

Well dear reader, if you’re a writer, keep writing (and editing) and, I’ll see you next post.

Don’t give up…

Yep, it’s been a couple weeks. But, I’m still alive.

Sometimes you want to work, but life has other plans. Sometimes you just can’t put off that scary step any longer (at least not if you want to finish the project). Sometimes you find someone or something isn’t what you thought, and you have to change plans.

Yes, sometimes it’s an uphill fight.

Sometimes it’s an uphill fight featuring 100 mph winds, precision guided ball lightning, and terrestrial laser sharks.

But, if the project is worthy, don’t give up.

All success comes at a cost. At a minimum, you could have done something else instead. In the middle range, that ‘easy’ success results from learning and practice. And then, there are the successes that come only with great personal cost.

Writing and other creative activities are definitely not at the easy end of the spectrum dear reader.

So, why do we do it? Well, here are a few of my answers, feel free to add your own…

  1. Because we love it.
  2. Because acts of creation rank among the most God-like things a human can do.
  3. Because anything else that’s worth doing will also be a struggle. So, we might as well work on the one in front of us.

You might have to put things on hold.

You might have to hire a little help.

You might have to learn a little more.

But, don’t give up dear reader. If it’s worth doing, don’t give up.

Next week (I think) we’ll be talking about office supplies and gearing up for NANOWRIMO…

Don’t give up dear reader. And, I’ll see you next post…

It’s the result that matters

Recently I overheard a debate between a group of firearms enthusiasts. As a group they were ranging from vehement to butt hurt about their preferred theory of aiming over iron sights, and that there is more than one opinion on the issue. For me, the whole thing was resolved by one statement, “It isn’t the technique that matters, it’s the result.”

That statement is true.

It’s true about a lot of things. It doesn’t matter if you look down the sights with one eye open or two if you’re not hitting the target. In the same way it doesn’t matter if you’re first draft is typed, handwritten, or spoken into a recorder. The important part is you produce a story or article that fulfills your objectives in writing.

There are lots of techniques out there, and lots of people that will take your money and time while promising to teach you ‘the’ secret.

But, the only techniques that matter are the ones that help you get your words on the page and the ones that reach your audience.

All the other techniques, all that other stuff out there, is just stuff. It’s not practically relevant for what you’re seeking to accomplish.

The thing is… You have to find out what works for you and your audience. And, that means you have to do the work. Try different things until you figure out what works. No matter who you are, there will be some research and learning involved in becoming a proficient writer. There will be something you have to figure out in telling your story and reaching your audience.

There is no point in getting hung up on what ‘they’ tell you is the right way. There is also no point in sticking with something that isn’t working. If what you’re doing works keep doing it, and tune up the parts that aren’t working so well.

If what you’re doing isn’t working, find another solution. It doesn’t matter if your old teacher said what you’re doing is the right way. If it doesn’t work it doesn’t work, and you need to find something that does.

If what you’re doing is working, who cares about what ‘they’ say (unless they are your main audience…). History is littered with books, movies, and songs that critics said were garbage, but their audiences loved them!

What matters is what works for you. Anything else is a bunch of guys arguing about having one or two eyes open while shooting instead of proving they can shoot a target.

That’s it for this one dear reader. Find what works and do it, and I’ll see you next post!

A Writer’s Instinct…

I was working on another post for today dear reader. I stopped in the middle… Why did I do that? To be honest, I could see I wasn’t creating the quality of post I wanted to. I couldn’t do it in the time I had.

The way the week has gone I haven’t been able to put in the amount of work the post really needs (at the moment I’m wondering if I don’t want to do a shorter post and also offer a  class…). I could see and feel that the post would not be as good as it should have been, and that, even if I had everything ready, to do it properly the post would be much longer than the 750-1000 words I had in mind.

There are times I see and feel things like this when I write. There are times working on a manuscript I think “this isn’t right…” or “I have no idea where I’m going with this”. Sometimes I’m reading over a manuscript I think “Boy, I really ‘yada yada’ed on that part!”

I’ve learned over time I need to pay attention to those feelings.

A whole brain activity…

Writing is a whole brain activity. As a fiction writer I’m drawing on my imagination, I’m pulling stuff out of memory and my subconscious (and according to my friends I’m pulling things out of a few bodily orifices).

Even in non-fiction, it’s more than the brain’s ‘language centers’ and ‘motor control’ that are involved. Your memory is going. Your internal editor is running. If you’re an active writer, you will work on all circuits (and if you’re a serious writer, you may find a part of your mind writing even when you’re supposed to be doing something else).

Because writing is more than just flailing at a keyboard, really getting into your writing can be both rewarding and exhausting. For myself, those days where I’m pulling 3,000+ new words, editing what I did the previous day, and trying to pay attention to an overall story can be downright exhausting. But those are really good days, in the back of my mind I’m living my story. Even when I’m doing non-fiction, on those days I’m “right in there” with things I’m interested in and care about.

Because we can, and do, become focused and “right in there” with the things we’re working on, our conscious mind can really develop tunnel vision. Sometimes when this happens other parts of our mind seem to know something needs to be said differently, that something is missing, or any number of things. It’s sort of like back at grad-school, those of us with offices in the basement navigated around each other even when our minds weren’t on where we were going. When we’re writing, those parts of our minds occasionally get our attention. And we need to pay attention to them.

It’s not something that happens right away…

We didn’t start out with a writer’s instincts. Where do they come from? Reading, writing and reading about writing.

Writer’s instincts are something we learn as we are learning our craft. You pick up some when you’re reading; you see what other writers have done. You apply what you’ve learned while you’re writing; your own work is your practical laboratory. If you’re doing it right, your reading about writing helps you refine your understanding and strengthen your weaknesses. And then it all repeats…

Your instincts about what you’re writing develop just like your vocabulary and your ability to write (both in phraseology and in number of words…). Instincts are simultaneously something that seem to be ‘just there’ and something that results from ‘getting your hands dirty’ with the work.

It can take a while for them to show up, but those instinctive warnings and feelings can really help you in your writing. It’s worth taking the time to develop them. Developing them sometimes means ‘crashing into the walls’ and making mistakes, but that’s part of the learning process. You will not become a writer of any level of merit without it. You will have to learn to take criticism, but that’s part of the process.

Fear of criticism is both something that prevents us from showing our stuff, and thus prevents us from developing, and a useful instinct to develop. I will not let my fear of criticism stop me from saying what I want to say, but I like to know when I will be criticized, and for what, so I can decide if it’s worth it.

Writer’s instincts are something internal to us. Just like our brains, our instincts are unique and develop as we do. I can’t tell you all about your instincts (and you might not entirely ‘get it’ if I try to totally explain mine…). But I can tell you this dear reader, as writers we all have them, and develop them. We also need to learn to pay attention and use them. Sometimes it’s our instincts that help us do the good and creative writing when no one and nothing else can.

That’s it for this one dear reader. Learn to recognize your writer’s instincts. Take them out to dinner and have an honest discussion about why that part of your story feels ‘weird’, ‘not right’, or ‘unfinished’; find out why you’re uncomfortable writing that post. And then figure out how to fix it! And… I’ll see you next

Plantser…

There are two standard ways to write a novel: the “Planner” method and the “Pantser” method.

Planners have (or claim to have) everything planned out. They figure out everything first, outline every detail, and then write the book. This method will work because it creates a pile of text with sufficient words and all the parts of a story. But, there is no Ah-hah moment. It‘s all laid out. Where’s the joy?

These books are often plot driven. Too often I see characters bent to fit a preconceived idea even though the author might feel the character would do something else.

Pantsers “just write”. Real Pantsers don’t have a plan… Writing this way is possible, but you at least need an idea!
Steven King is a Pantser done right. He starts with an idea or interesting concept, finds a starting group of characters, and then allows them to behave realistically.

This method can work. But, you need to have a good concept, and a handle on your characters (a handle… not a complete plan (please skip the second grade report card!)). You can succeed if you have the right skills and mindset.

But, people think the Pantser method is easy, “you jump in and write”. What they miss is that people like Steven King have had a lot of practice and an idea or concept in mind. Without those your story has a good chance of acting like a cow that finds a hole in the fence.

Being a Pantser takes work, it’s just different work. But, I like the freedom for surprises (that’s part of the fun).

Unless you‘re willing to put in the work; all I can say is “MOOO!”

When writing, I try to hold the middle ground. I have a situation and some big challenges planned. I have a handle on my characters and key events thought out (“fixed points in time” for you Doctor Who fans…). But, I don’t plan everything.

In one spot I may say, “Here my characters move out of their comfort zone into their adventure.” In another I may ask, “If my characters do this, how does the government react?”

I have a plan; however, I also allow things to move and grow as I learn about my characters and story.

This is the “Plantser” method. You plan (you know won’t happen), but you also leave yourself some freedom for the spontaneity and surprises that can make those great moments of literature.

Starting on the first, I’m once again doing NANOWRIMO dear reader. You might not hear much from me until December. My plan is here. And, I’m looking forward to having my questions answered!

I invite you to join us in the fun and madness of trying to write a 50,000+ word book in a month dear reader.

The choice is yours. And, I’ll see you next post!