Respect…

With all the shutdowns and kerfuffle around the Covid-19 situation, I’ve been watching the publishing and media news with interest. Some of what we’re seeing has been on the way for a while. Some things were a bit of surprise (I didn’t expect Disney execs to cut their own pay until there were no other options…). One huge through line in it all is a lack of respect.

Media companies…  writers… directors, they don’t seem to respect much except their own ideas and agendas. They don’t respect their audiences. They don’t respect their characters or the cannon of their worlds. They don’t even seem to respect other writers, directors, and companies.

Respect for audience.

No, you don’t have to cater to every whim of the audience. Sometimes they’re not sure what they want. Often, they want you to tell the story instead of asking what they want. But…  it’s a lousy idea to deliberately piss them off. Lately this has been happening a lot.

“Hey! People don’t seem to like our female Doctor in the Doctor Who series. Guess what, we just retconned the series so the original Doctor was female!”

“You know what? Batman’s Chinese now. Yeah, and instead of a butler, he’s got a gay uncle.”

“I’m naming my new characters Snowflake and Safe Space. You know, to empower people and junk!!!!”

By all the Gods, I wish I was kidding…

That last one (Snowflake and Safe Space) is my favorite. By the responses I’ve seen, the author pissed off the usual audience and offend the people he’s trying to ‘empower’.

The writing represented by these examples does no good for your audience or your relations with them. Spend more time figuring out who your audience are and how to grow that audience without alienating them.

Respect for characters and lore.

Sadly, I wasn’t kidding… Hartnel is supposedly no longer the first Doctor and Batman’s Chinese now (he’s also apparently back in high school). This problem has been going on for a while…

Your readers and viewers love the backstory and mythology that come along with characters. That stuff takes thought, effort, and commitment. You and your reader/viewer will have to put in some time before characters and story mythology are really known and developed. That’s part of why the piolet episode of a series seems so awkward when you go back and watch it after season six or seven.

When you go changing things up for a character, there needs to be real consideration for the character, the character’s world, and what would ‘really’ happen.

Just deciding “Ok, Thor’s a chick now!” or “I’m bringing back Palpatine and I don’t have to justify it,” Is jarring to the audience (please don’t throw them out of the story with ‘what the @#$%#$#!!! was that?’ moments).

Please don’t throw your reader/viewer out of the story by being stupid about how you use your characters. I’m not saying they can’t do something out of character (sometimes that’s good!) but there should be a reason for it that makes sense within the world and your character’s story.

Also, please don’t pirate a character’s name and storyline just because you’re too lazy to do the work for your new character.

I could get behind a rich Chinese kid in high school as a character; just don’t call him Batman and trash a lifetime’s worth of known history and lore.

Want to pass the baton to a new generation of Jedi? I’m good with that. I’m also good with a female Jedi main character.  But do you really have to trash Luke in the process? I don’t think so.

These kinds of changes aren’t improving the character, they’re just the mark of a lazy writer who doesn’t want to pay his/her dues in creating a new character. In story terms they’re about the same as the guy who plays Call of Duty once then goes around telling everyone he won the Congressional Medal of Honor when he was fighting the Tsarist Nazis in Vietnam back in ’96.

Summing up.

When you lose respect for your audience and characters, you make your stories unreadable/watchable. The golden rule applies to characters and audiences: do unto them as you would have them do unto you. Yes, this can mean more work. Yes, it means you have to earn the audiences respect and build the story and popularity of your characters. But it’s a lot better than making useless garbage and pissing off the people you want to resonate with.

That’s it for this one, dear reader. Think about your audience and work with your characters. I’ll be doing the same. I’ll see you next post!

Controlling the uncontrollable

“One of my characters and I have spent years trying to tell thunderstorms when and where to thunderstorm,” with that thought I realized a big piece of why it irritates me when people try to dictate (or even interfere with) when and where I write. I’ve spent years trying to control this, channel it, and now someone wants to come in and change it?

Words come at weird and inconvenient times. If you haven’t experienced this phenomenon, you haven’t been seriously engaged in writing for very long. I have found those “Aha!” moments popping up in the shower, while driving, during meals, and at “annoying o’clock” in the morning. And I’m not the only one. One of the best, most important, and most powerful things you can do for yourself as a writer is to make sure you have a way of remembering those thoughts and words, and recording them promptly.

If you don’t record them, you lose them; that’s just the way it works.

Another of the best, most important, and most powerful things you can do for yourself as a writer is to train yourself (and those you live and work with) to a writing schedule. It won’t protect you from those random thoughts while soaping up or trying to sleep, but having a regular writing schedule and a good place to write, that suit what your working on, makes writing much easier.

When you train yourself to a schedule, you are providing a regular time to get writing done.

When you “just wait for the mood to strike me” you never really seem to get around to writing. You definitely never get around to editing (which is usually less fun in the first place).

When you find or create a writing space for yourself, and use that place for writing, you create environmental stimuli that help your mind understand “I’m supposed to be writing now”. You might even bring in or create stimuli that help you find ideas and solutions to writer’s block and other problems, or help you get your emotions in the right place to do writing work (even editing!).

It’s about creating opportunities for the words to come. It’s about making a place for you to communicate your passions, to tell your story.

And sometimes we have to defend that time and space.

Now, I’m not giving anyone permission to go spastic on a spouse, child, or neighbor. But there comes a time where you need to calmly stand your ground and explain to someone that you are working. You are getting productive and useful things done, and those things need to happen.

You also may have to be a little flexible. If the house is burning down and your wife is having a baby, please call the fire department and take care of your wife. The universe understands and the words will come back (if they were really meant to be). Other times you may need to do things like use the bathroom or rebalance the load in your washing machine (or deal with some other nerve jangling non-sentient stimuli).

The point is to create a time and space where you usually can get some decent writing done. There will be times you don’t get much done, but if you succeed more often than not, you’re winning.

This is the same logic as my decision to average at least a thousand words a day. Ok, Monday this week I got zero words. Tuesday, I got around 1,750. Wednesday, I topped 2000! As long as you’re averaging at or above your goal, you’re doing ok. And looking at the average helps fight the idea that “Ok, that was word number 1,000. Time to turn my brain off!”

Ideas come at weird times. You need to be ready for them. You can help them come more regularly by creating a scheduled time and a familiar place in which to write.

And sometimes you will have to teach those around you that this is your writing time and space, and they need to respect that.

Well, dear reader, I suspect we should both get back to writing now. So good luck. And I’ll see you next post.

Finding the end and going back to the beginning.

Well, the first 1 ½ pass is finished for last November’s NaNoWriMo project. And, as always, I’ve learned a lot!

Starting with the1 ½ pass method has had a distinct benefit. By reading and noting on the whole thing before I started making edits I could make better decisions than I have on the first pass for early books (I really wish I’d known about the 1 ½ pass technique back when the first edition of Johnson Farm came out…).

This first editing pass has led to major changes. As things stand now, the end of the book in the first draft is actually the end for the second book. I realized I was rushing events in my “third act” far too much. It didn’t work because I wasn’t letting it develop. The natural ending for the first book was actually about 100 pages earlier.

I still love the events of those 100 pages, and by putting them into a second book I can give them the space and development they really deserve. I can also develop my former “1st” and “2nd” acts (the real story of the first book) to perfection, because I’m not sweating the upper word limit my intended publisher has set for a mid-grade book.

I know. I know. Even I’ve said we should cut when editing. And, in the first pass, I did some serious cutting. Besides moving “Act 3” and a few necessary bits of “Act 2” to the second book, I burned a whole unnecessary chapter, which allowed me to divide another chapter which was really two concatenated together. Which satisfied my intent for the unnecessary chapter better and more naturally.

Elsewhere I’ve cut a whole page (or two… or three…) where a tighter and better reading version of the text needed to grow.

Cutting is important, and I recommend cutting the dead wood out of any story. But you have to build out the parts that need expanding too. Make sure you have all the right pieces in place before you worry about finishing and polishing them.

As of now, my first “1 ½ pass” pass is done. And, believe me, I’m celebrating my success. I’ve improved my story. Now (actually… Monday), it’s back to the beginning for the second 1 ½ pass. This time the changes should be smaller. The parts cut will be smaller. Anything added will be smaller. It’s time to move from the rough work to a refining step.

Now that I really know where the ending is, and where the next book goes, I can make sure the beginning points to the right place, that my promises will be kept, and that the dreaded middle of the story will support the journey.

And then, once this pass is done, I can move to doing some polishing work (I hope). And then… It goes to the publisher (who will trigger another round of refining and polishing before the book goes to print and I can get on to developing book two).

Each book has its own quirks, challenges and rules. The rules for this book aren’t the rules from the last book. And they aren’t entirely the rules for the next book either. Our stories develop, and we grow and learn as writers. That means every project should have new challenges. And at every ending, it’s back to the beginning.

Good luck in your own writing dear reader. And I’ll see you next post.

Reading bad books…

I’m a lucky guy, my wife supports me in my writing endeavors. Recently she brought me a couple examples of recently on the market novels for the audience I’m writing for at the moment. Neither one was one that I would have picked up myself. And both taught me something.

One book, the one I’m reading is good. There are things that I wouldn’t do. But, then again, the world I’m building isn’t the same either. If I was working in this author’s world, I would make some of the same choices. I like what the writer’s doing and I’m learning a few things.

The other book, which I read first, taught me a lot about what I shouldn’t do. I’m not mentioning authors or titles here because I don’t want to hurt anyone’s “feelers”, but let’s face it: the book really wasn’t all that good.

Some mistakes were simple. Some of them were complex. Some of them were in world, some of them were in story/audience interaction. There were a lot of things wrong and a lot of things I learned slogging my way through the book. For example:

  • If you’re going to use the word soon in the blurb on the back… Make sure soon isn’t page 260 of a 280-page book. Even if you intend to have sequels, 90+ percent of the way through the book isn’t soon…
  • If your story is based on what happened in your Dungeons and Dragons campaign that one time, I can tell that (and so can other readers).
  • Timing on ending a chapter really matters for other chapters when your writing from multiple perspectives. If you want your reader to agonize with a character about the fate of a sibling, it’s a bad idea to tell the reader the sibling is safe before your character hears about what’s going on…

The book also highlighted some mistakes that I kind of knew about but was glad for a reminder of:

  • If you have more than two characters, and half (or more) of your characters have similar names (same first letter, same except for the first letter, etc…) you will confuse your reader. (in fact, if you have exactly two characters with similar names you can have problems). There are exceptions, but messing with similar names is playing with fire!
  • You need to think about the history and technology of your world. If you’re working in a medieval Europe type setting, your bad guys shouldn’t be running around with shotguns… (again there are exceptions but this book wasn’t one of them…). If you are in a world with no electricity or computers, why would anyone’s chief servant be a ‘comptroller’?
  • Avoid generalizations about a group or gender. Sorry, not all males are stupid. Not all females are powerless. Not all villains are rich. And you don’t have to orphan your hero or heroine to make him/her a hero or heroine.

The book wasn’t one I would read for entertainment (if I was reading just for entertainment any of the items on that second list would have given me serious reason put down the book and not pick it up again). But I did learn a lot from reading it.

There’s another book I’ve read, in which the writer was trying to pick up someone else’s world and tell stories there. No, it wasn’t fanfic, fan written fiction would have been better. This author did not understand the world he was writing in. I learned something from that one too: know the world you’re working in at least as well as the average fan before you try to publish anything!

Bad (as in poorly written) books happen. I don’t advocate writing one. But when you find them, read them! Learn from other author’s mistakes (even mine (if I had a problem with that, I wouldn’t be doing this blog…)). If you can recognize and solve problems in someone else’s work, then you are that much closer to being able to recognize and fix those mistakes in your own work (and even Steven King has had problems in his writing).

When you’re a writer, and even if you’re not, reading is at least as much about learning as it is about entertainment. As writers, reading the bad (poorly written) books can help us improve our books.

Well, I should get back to reading, and so should (No. Wait… Your reading this, so you are reading…)… Good luck in your reading and writing dear reader, and I’ll see  you next post.

A modelers tool for writing projects

As a kid I made plastic models. At first, before I knew better, I threw away the leftover bits and pieces. That was before I learned to keep a parts box…

One of the best lessons of my years making plastic tanks, jets, and other models was that serious modelers keep a parts box, a place where they store those leftover bits and pieces. Why? Because sometimes the extra bits are useful in making other models. If you have extra parts, you can customize kits and experiment with techniques cheaply and safely. Having and using a parts box gives you options and helps you develop your skills.

The lesson of my parts box paid off for me as a college student.  When you’re doing psychology research, you need to run statistics, and big stats packages like SPSS and SAS frequently require you to do a little coding to do the big heavy-duty analyses. Some of my fellow students dreaded those big analyses. Not me… I saved my code and re-used it. For a lot of the big analyses the code is fairly similar. So, I could copy a previous use of the same test, modify it, and have the new test ready much faster than if I had tried to code it from scratch.

Over on the fiction side of the house, the concept of the parts box is still helping me.

When we edit, we sometimes struggle with those bits of writing that we love, but know we need to cut. It can be hard because you don’t want to lose those little gems, even though they don’t fit the current story.

Well, with a parts box (in this case a folder on your hard drive/cloud/flash drive) you can save those bits. And, after you’ve saved them you can use them!

Are you looking for inspiration? Need a writing prompt? Climb around in your parts box of fiction pieces you already love (or at least find interesting). Odds are that there will be something in there that works for you.

Are you stuck on a scene? Maybe the solution is already in your parts box. It’s just like back in the old days with plastic models; if I’m stuck I can ask myself “Do I have one of these already?”, and then go look.

The concept dear reader, is to create a place to store those bits that are too good to throw away, but aren’t necessarily useful right now. If you’re in this business long term (and most of us who really write are) they will be helpful eventually, and they’re easy to store (and if you can figure out a good naming and organizing scheme, they can be fairly easy to find!).

I practice what I preach dear reader (or at least I try to…), and a writer’s parts box is helpful. In my first “one and a half pass” through the novel I’m working on I’ve found over a dozen ideas that I should really explore in short stories of their own. Putting them in the “box” means I don’t forget them and I can use them to both expand my world and fill those times where I’m really having trouble finding something to write (it happens…).

It’s not an absolute “have to”, but it’s an idea I encourage you to try. And, I think I’ll go crawl through mine to see if I can find a little help for this next chapter.

If you have questions or experiences with a writer’s “parts box” I’d love to discuss them with you. And… I’ll see you next post.

Blowing out and reading up…

When I’m not writing I’m occasionally known to do metal work. Among my favorite moments is the moment where I safely (yes, I hear some of my old teachers yelling) plunge a hot lost wax mold into water. It’s one of the most exciting, rewarding and sometimes gut-wrenching moments. It’s the moment you get to see your design realized in metal… Unless something went wrong. And then, you’re working at a lump of metal that was supposed to be your project but didn’t work out.

Once your metal comes out of the mold, even if your piece comes out well, you still have a lot of cleanup work to do. The sprue has to be cut. The scar from the cutting has to be filed down. The whole thing needs to be sanded. Pits may have to be filled.  And after all of that you still have polishing, and stone setting and inlay tasks that may be waiting.

There’s a point in the writing process that’s almost the same, and as I write this, I’m in the middle of it… If you’ve finished a first draft there comes a moment when you have to go back to the start and edit that first draft. Instead of discovering a successful casting we hope to find a good manuscript, but we still have a lot of cleanup to do.

The processes are similar.  True as writers we rarely attack the project with saws, files, scrapers and sand paper. We rarely worry about literal pitting and porosity. But we still have cleanup and fixing to do.

It’s just that we cut words instead of oxidation and roughness. We polish words rather than surfaces.

We still face parts that didn’t quite fill in the way we wanted. bits that don’t look as good as we thought they did when we started, and parts that will take more work than we thought they would.

It’s an exciting part of the process and, just like with metalwork, it’s a good idea to look over (read) the whole thing before jumping in and working on stuff. Some bits will need to be moved. Some parts will need to be reworked. If you’re like me, you may have a section that needs a different point of view (or was just plain in the wrong place).

Reading through and looking over can be depressing and hard… There’s so much to do! But by completing a read through we can make an actual plan that saves time, effort, and heartache in the long run. I’ve written about the “1 ½” pass editing technique before , and this represents the first ½ pass of the technique. it might seem like you’re not getting a lot done. But, by getting a look at the whole thing before you fiddle with parts you can cut out one or more whole editing passes because you have a better idea of what you need to do and why.

Those of us who “won” NANOWRIMO, and anyone else with a first draft manuscript in front of us have a lot of work to do, and a first read through will make the whole process a lot easier.

That’s it for this one dear reader. I’m on my way to finishing my read-through, and I suspect some of you probably need to get back to writing too (you know who you are…). So, I’ll see you next post.

Scrivener… after NANO thoughts (part two)

Last week {link} I started my after NANOWRIMO review of my experience with Scrivener. This week we’ll pick things up where we left off and start with the things I really appreciated about Scrivener during the first draft process.

Chapter titles and finding stuff (organizational help)

Last week I mentioned that the way Scrivener handles documents and folders can cause some headaches in dealing with titles and finding things. But there’s positive power in Scrivener’s.

Because of the way Scriver handles document, folders, and chapters, it becomes easier to go back and insert that piece you know really belongs between chapter 2 and chapter 3 but you didn’t come up with until you were working on chapter 9.

Because of the way Scrivener works, it is easy to move parts and pieces around. I find I’m much more willing to move things to where they should be because there is less effort involved. If I decide that Chapter 14 should really be chapter 3, I drag and drop. I don’t have to worry about changing all the chapter numbers because that will happen later during a compile (and without me having to lift a finger or click a mouse!). It is also easy to combine or split up parts of a chapter (even when you’re importing that chapter from some other program…).

One of the data views in Scrivener is note cards on a corkboard. And, it is just as easy to move your stuff around in the program as it is on a real corkboard (actually easier because it’s a drag and drop versus shifting all the cards).

Compiling and formatting (with stuff you’ve written)

As I mentioned, chapter numbers happen during the compile process (and happen mostly automatically!). There’s more to it than that. When you compile, you can compile to a standard manuscript format, just compile to print, or several other options (including an E-book format).

If you put in the time you can even create custom formats to compile to.

You need to learn what the different formats do, and maybe even tweak them for your purposes. But once you put in the effort to learn, formatting becomes fairly effortless. You don’t even have to worry about ordering those chapter numbers.

And, you can simply and easily create several versions in different formats; if you’re self-publishing you can create the print book and E-book versions at the same time. (Gee… I remember when I used to pay someone to make the E-book…)

Statistical information

Besides being a writer, I’ve got a degree in psychology and have a deep love of statistical information. Scrivener provides a variety of statistical information about your work, including things MS Word and other packages don’t…

Scriv example

As you can see you get a typical word count and character count for the whole project (the parts marked for compilation at least…). But you also get page counts both in standard manuscript and novel formats. You also get these statistics for the specific text document you’re working on within the project at the same time. That means all you have to do is open a document and get statistics on it, along with information for the project as a whole. No more “highlight the whole section you want a count on” headaches…

Seriously, the statistics options make it easier on writers who want to make their chapters relatively consistent, and give you a better feel for exactly how big your novel would be as a standard paper back. The information makes it easier to figure out where you are in some real-world aspects of your book.

Keeping it all together

I mentioned that things within a Scrivener project can be marked for compilation or not. This is powerful because you can tailor things for different packages and audiences. If I was using Scrivener for a business plan, I could do tailored sections and keep them all together in one unit while only printing the ones I want for the particular audience I’m providing the plan for. The money folks get more on the financials. The marketing guys get more details on how to sell what we’re making or writing. And I don’t have to have multiple versions of the business plan lying around and wonder which one is which.

Within a Scrivener project you can also add notes and research information, including PDF documents… That means those of us working on a well-researched book or a doctoral dissertation can include the research information we use and cite within the project. No more trying to remember which article by that one scientist is the one I quoted! There are also options to interface with research packages like Qiqqa.

Summing up the positives

Scrivener allows you real freedom in writing a draft. You can move things around and don’t have to be as focused on final formatting while you’re doing a first draft. You don’t have to stress about chapter numbers while you’re trying to focus on getting the order right. I found myself more willing write directly into my Scrivener project than I have been with MS Word manuscripts because I knew how easy it was to move things if I wanted to and I could just focus on getting the words right without having to fool with formatting questions in the first draft.

I can also fiddle with different formats without too much effort (which is more of an editing thing, but helpful in figuring out what the $%@#$@@!!! I’m doing…)

I can also include my research, notes, and reference materials in the same package as my actual text. In practice that means fewer documents and “stuff” to worry about keeping track of, which is helpful since I like to let things settle a bit between first draft and serious editing.

There is a lot of power to be found in Scrivener, and that’s just based on a first draft.

Summing up (the big one…)

If you make the jump to Scrivener, you will have some learning to do.  A lot of things look different in Scrivener as compared to MS Word and similar programs. You will have to break or change some habits and develop some new ones. But Scrivener has been created for writers working on books, screen plays and other big projects. It has powerful tools that can be helpful and worth the effort to learn about.

Those are my thoughts about Scrivener now that I’ve used it for a first draft. We’ll probably come back to Scrivener and Scrivener issues in March or April (after I’ve had some experience editing in Scrivener)

In the meantime, do you have any thoughts on Scrivener? Any questions? If so, leave a comment. And either way… I’ll see you next post!

Scrivener… after NANO thoughts (part one)

Last time I talked about Scrivener  I said I would get back to it after NANOWRIMO. So, that’s where we’re going today dear reader. Actually, we’ll be talking about Scrivener this week and next week, there’s enough to say just based on my first draft experience.

This still won’t be an entire, comprehensive review of Scrivener (I spent the last month writing a first draft not just learning a software package…), but I definitely learned some things during NANOWRIMO that have shown me a thing or two and will affect my writing process from here on out.

First… A general statement: If you make the jump to Scrivener from other programs like MS Word there will definitely some habits that need reshaping. The nature of the software is such that it works differently. But, if you’re going to work on writing a book, it’s worth the effort to make the change. Once you’ve learned to use Scrivener, some parts of the writing process become much easier. And… some specialized tricks and features available if you have both Scrivener and MS Word.

Next… The things I wasn’t fond of (but can live with…):

Formatting (While Writing):

The standard format that Scrivener works in is RTF and the screen view you see while you’re writing is basic and doesn’t reflect the layout that will exist on the printed page. This is something that takes getting used to., at this point in the game (working on the first draft and early edits) layout doesn’t matter as much for a book or story. There is enough editing and other moving around that needs to happen that you’re not seeing a finished product yet anyway.  Scrivener’s way of dealing with formatting has big payoffs later, but if you’re used to functioning in MS Word, or are a very visual person, this can be off putting.

Printing (a piece at a time):

Over the years, I’ve developed a habit of printing out the day’s written work and adding it to a physical copy of the book. Well, that gets more complicated with Scrivener. In Scrivener you need to compile before you print, so there’s another step. If you compile to print, there’s no dialog box to choose which pages to print.

Don’t get me wrong, you can tell it to print only certain sections of the writing but you have to make those selections before you compile to print. And, as a result, you don’t get the same pagination you would when printing a section of a Word document.

There are workarounds, for instance you could compile to a pdf and then print part of the pdf. But if you want to print the latest part of a work in progress on a regular basis, you might end up with a bunch of PDFs that have to be deleted or stored…

But, in the “print today’s work” method pagination can get off anyway if you insert a section between parts you’ve already written. So, you’re not giving up a lot. And, like I said, things will change between first draft and ready to publish, so the “print your daily work” method has pagination problems anyway.

Chapter titles and finding stuff

Within a scrivener project you have folders and text documents. For a fiction manuscript, when you compile the document the folder names become chapter names and the documents within the folders become chapter content. This can cause headaches when you have sub folders you forget about. You should also remember you need not type chapter titles into the documents within the folders.

Once you see how it works, it seems to work well. But, I still have to figure out headings and subheadings within a chapter (not so much for my mid-grade novel, but I’ll want them for other projects…)

Summing up the negatives

The issues I’ve mentioned are more about getting used to a different program and work flow. There are ways around them and ways to cope with them. Though it takes effort I think working in Scrivener is worth the investment.

Next week, we’ll look at what I really liked about Scrivener while working on the first draft process. If you’ve got any thoughts so far, leave a comment.  And, come back next week for part two!

NANO’s here…

Well, dear reader… NANOWRIMO starts next Friday.

As usual, I’m putting aside other projects to push my way through a new manuscript. So… I’ll be giving the blogs a rest until December. I’ve got the manager stuff handled. I’ve made sure the other characters and stories on my plate are safely locked away until I finish. (Umm… Zeek, check that door again… Geez… Let’s rounded ‘em up, again… This time make sure they don’t have lock picks ok…)

This year I’m working on a mid-grade/YA story (Planning for mid-grade but could skew a little older) about Ruby, the younger sister of a character in my 2017 project. Hopefully, this one will be a little simpler to do and get into print faster (Not really the sister’s fault she and her fiancé ran into people who got a little Downton Abbey into my fantasy story…).

Since I’m running with some younger characters and heading for a younger audience, this time I’m aiming for 50-60 thousand words. Which is a step down from the 75-85 thousand word manuscripts of the last two years. But, I’m also hoping less unexpected themes and subplots pop out at me…

I’m confident in getting the NANO win (it’ll be the 5th running win…). And I’m hoping to learn a few things.

I’m also inviting you to join us in the fun and madness of NANOWRIMO (if you haven’t signed up already (in which case see you in the trenches)).

And, either way, I’ll see you next post (in December…).

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.