Category Archives: TIL

What to Expect During Your First Year of Writing Fiction

Welcome, friends, to a post about writing when you are new to the craft. First, let’s do a little housekeeping. You may have questions. I think I have guessed a couple of them. Let’s see if I’m right.

Isn’t it presumptuous of you to be giving writing advice when you aren’t published (indie or traditional)?

Yes and no. I’m not going to be telling you about “my sure fire way to get published”, “the top 10 things you MUST do as a writer”, or even “all the mistakes I made during my first year writing”. Believe me, do I ever have plenty of content for the last one.

But no. This is an experience report. An opinion piece on all the things I believe a new writer will probably notice as well. At least if they are half as dim-witted and brain-addled as I am.

Wait. Haven’t you been writing way more than a year?

Yes. Sort of. I’ll explain eventually, give me time. I REQUIRE TIME.

On to the experiences!

Your first year as a writer

The first year as a writer is one of the most frustrating things a person can experience.

You’re thrust from the world where people don’t see your thoughts, feelings, and ideas on display for full scrutiny. Now those same thoughts, feelings, and ideas are available in a format where anyone and everyone can analyze them at their leisure.

It’s like if you moved your funny bone from its semi-protected spot on your elbow all the way down onto your fingertips. Now every time you angry-text someone, you get a nerve zinger shooting up your arm.

Delightful.

It’s ok. Sometimes people are kind– oh wait. Sometimes Roy is right too:

You’ll spend hours revising and proofreading

You will spend hours checking the words you wrote. You’ll look for spelling errors, grammar gaffes, poor phrasing, long sentences, short sentences, too many sentences that all are the same length, use of all five senses, nice rhythm and flow, consistent persona and tense, and the list goes on and on.

Everyone goes through this. We all have to learn it. Good news: the longer we spend looking at these mistakes and fixing them, the less likely they are to get into our zero-draft work in the first place.

You’ll receive conflicting advice

You’ll get advice from other writers, much of it conflicting.

You’ll be drawn in different directions by people with more experience than you. Who’s opinion should you take on board? Who’s right and who’s wrong?

As a wiser person than me once said: there are very few absolutes in the world. What works for one writer may not work for another and vice versa.

Reserve judgment on the “facts” you see and hear. When a writer tells you that she thinks writing in 15-minute sprints is better than waiting for bigger blocks of time, ask her why she thinks that. If you’re lucky, you’ll get concrete reasons for the opinion, and you will have learned something. Collect ideas from more than one writer. Find out if there’s a consensus. Read the original material and do your own research. Take no-one’s opinion as gospel, but put effort into formulating your own.

Try some of the different ideas, but not all of them. You’ll be forever experimenting otherwise. Just be sure you quit the things that are not working.

You won’t know what to learn

Should you learn more about tactical sentence structure? Do you need to figure out how to make your characters life-like? Does creating a plot structure terrify you? How early should you start building a following and how do you do that? How do you world-build and how much world building is too much? Where do you find reliable resources on writing?  And if you have to learn all this, what order should you learn it in?

It’s a hard enough to learn just exactly what the list of things you should learn are. Worse, you also have to prioritize the list.

I’ve gone down some rabbit holes in my time. My best experience thus far has been when I’m writing new words every day, and I try to get answers to the things that come up as I’m writing.

Also, having a good writing group at your back is an immense help here. If you aren’t part of a writing group… be part of a writing group.

Your ego is in your words

You’ll feel that a failing in your words is a failing in you as a writer. If someone finds mistakes in your writing, you’ll feel it’s an attack on you.

Learning to write well: you need to get some less desirable words out on paper/screen before you’ll start writing better ones. There isn’t a way around it. Just accept that you’ll be writing poorly at times.

Writers with more experience stay a little more detatched. They’ve already written tons of words even they consider terrible. Try to welcome criticism. Look at it as an opportunity to learn and improve.

Man, sometimes I want so badly to get defensive about words just because I happened to be the one that wrote them. The good news is, as the old coding saying goes, your words are not your child. You can throw them out if they get unruly. No one will even bat an eyelash.

You’ll feel like you have to know everything

The good news is: you don’t.

You’ll probably quit a lot

Maybe you won’t. I did. This is the answer to the question above. I just now feel like I’ve really had a year’s worth of writing effort. I will say this (and break my rule about giving advice in this article in the process):

Don’t quit.

Quitting is how you lose. In fact, it’s the only way you lose. Keep writing. Write every day or nearly every day.

It will pay off.

———–

Thanks to Najaf Ali for setting up a great template in his article about the first year writing code. In more than a few ways, coding and writing are alike. I shamelessly thieved Najaf’s format for this post.

 

 

 

I’ll keep this short.

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K. M. Alexander posted a quote that struck a chord. For over a month now, my entire writing existence has centered around the idea he recently espoused here.

It works. I sit at the computer, and I say, “For the next 15 minutes there is nothing but writing.” Then I set a timer, and I go. Sometimes I get 350 words of total crap. Other times I can barely force 190 words, and none of them seem great. Other times, I feel like it’s all coming together. I feel like I’m writing something I would enjoy reading.

The other times are starting to outnumber the rest. It’s a good feeling.

Now back to work.

As A Writer, Never Ask For Help

Don’t run your ideas and concepts by others;
They might be stolen.

Don’t ask for help when you get stuck;
They might not understand the problem.

Don’t let others see your early drafts;
They might see weakness.

Don’t ask your friends and family for the time to write;
They might be angry with you.

Don’t do anything that could help you meet your goals;
They might be out of reach anyway.

——-

Ever have these thoughts going through your brain?

Don’t.

 

dontfoolyourself

 

It’s Not What You Do…

It’s what you don’t.

The inestimable Michael Ripplinger once pointed me to this video (that granted is aimed at a tech audience) at one of the many times when I was feeling overwhelmed in the past year. It was the right thing for me to hear both then and now.

The gist is this: when you have a purpose, stick to the things that will further that purpose. For example, if you want to be a writer, write. Don’t spend all day every day reading other’s fiction, trying to find the best tools, getting the perfect location setup, and reading *gasp* blogs.

Spend the majority of your available time actually NOT doing those things.

Spend it writing.

Here is the original video by Scott Hanselman: It’s Not What You Read

 

Now allow me to charm you with a “don’t” GIF of Andre the Giant.

andre

Use Your Opportunities Wisely

Hi.

It’s been awhile.

No, I’m not quoting a song intentionally. It just came out that way.

I’ve been inordinately busy of late. I won’t make excuses. Just know that if I could have taken the time and energy to keep my Tuesday/Friday cadence going, I would have. Now, let’s get back on track with a short post.

Spending a few days in San Francisco on business is a boon I needed badly. Free time is at a premium due to hours of talks in hotel conference rooms, however, just feeling the hum of the city and seeing, hearing, AND smelling the masses of humanity here is exciting. Yes, I live in Salt Lake, but it isn’t the same.

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I’m in love with the concept of a walkable city where one doesn’t need to own a car. There aren’t many like it in the U.S., but San Fran is eminently walkable. I took the BART from the airport to downtown and walked everywhere. It is not only energizing, but it’s also enlightening. I’ve learned I’m out of shape, for one. I remembered that people come in a lot more varieties than generally show up in Utah. Also, I discovered that a lot of people here smoke weed walking down the street on their way home from work in the financial district. Blew my mind. The world is an ever-changing place.

On my walking trips, I spotted a dozen neat little shops, but the one that caught my eye was a hat shop filled with fabulous hand-crafted hats. As is my standing tradition, I bought one.

daHat

It is lonely and somewhat depressing to be away from family. Though sitting in a utilitarian hotel room and writing at night, with only the hum of the city to keep you company, does provide plenty of time.

All of these variations on life are experiences to capture for writing inspiration.

As a writer, I cannot afford to be frivolous. I must never leave my most peculiar days to the dismal gray of long-term memory.

And so I write.

See you Friday.

Can I Have A Writing Mulligan?

rolledGolfCart

I’m not a big golfer –the last time I golfed, I rolled a cart– but the word mulligan has found its way into my vocabulary.

Recently, the idea of a writing mulligan came to me. As I’ve been working on Rue From Ruin, I’m increasingly conscious of how much more work I need to do on my upcoming novel, The Galaxy and All Her Charms. I started TGaAHC almost a year ago (November 1, 2014) and over time I finished approximately 15,000 words. This was disheartening because I had already sped my way through half of the planned plot, and my intention was for the finished book to be between 90-110k words.

I had such grand plans and they seemed to be in ruins.

I felt like a putz.

Boooooo me.

Eventually, I began posting here. My goal was to refocus. At first, I just wanted to write something I could actually finish. I had taken a long hiatus from blogging on my family and tech-geek blogs, and it was good to get back in the saddle of writing –and finishing– regularly.

Next came a lucky break. I had a writing prompt that resulted in the first part of RFR. This was a real turning point. I wanted to share it on the blog, but I also didn’t want it to have to stand alone. There was more story to tell. So, I went back to my plot exercises and came out with something I thought would be decent. Here we are, two months and four parts into the serial. Everything is going to plan, although perhaps a bit slower than I initially hoped. I’m using deadlines and great beta-readers to produce something I enjoy. I’ve heard from at least three of you who like it as well!

Some members of my writing group started talking about working on new novels at the same time, providing chapters and critiquing one each month. I agreed to participate and started sending out completed chapters of TGaAHC even though I knew they were flawed. The group’s feedback, combined with reading and critiquing their work, has me thinking: maybe conventional wisdom is wrong for me.

Maybe I shouldn’t just “write to done” my first draft of Galaxy. Maybe after I finish Rue, I’ll start Galaxy from the beginning again.

I’m not saying I’m going to throw everything away. The bones are good. I’m just going to flesh it out better. Give the characters added depth. Add more internal thought. Write better descriptions of locations and objects. Include new scenes and more buildup. Do all the things a longer work needs and deserves.

I think I’m going to take a writing mulligan.

Side note: I have what I hope will be an entertaining piece of fiction lined up for Halloween (or the day before). It may or may not be RFR-related… but it probably won’t be anything like this:

halloweenTakedown

Backstory And Worldbuilding Are Writing Too

legoWorld

Worldbuilding is essential to speculative fiction and other genres as well. If we cannot create a plausible, yet fantastical world for our story to live in, we risk losing the attention of our audience. However, there is a strong tendency out there to focus more on building up the fictional world than to write a compelling story. We look at the masters of fiction we admire and say, “I want to write something like that.”

I’m no different. Since I was a teen, I’ve admired the worldbuilding of Frank Herbert for his Dune series. What I (and probably other fledgling writers) have to remember is Herbert had been writing published fiction for almost TWO DECADES before he wrote the first Dune novel.

Developing character backstories are also essential while writing fiction. We research and write the elements of a character’s backstory for important reasons. It helps us learn what motivates people. It informs realistic choices in the character’s story. It lends additional writing experience. To a point, it even helps us get closer to finishing our stories.

But never, not even once, assume that this information is vital to the story.

The most important things to remember about back story are that (a) everyone has a history and (b) most of it isn’t very interesting.

― Stephen King

The goal of writing fiction is to provide words that will hopefully enlighten and entertain our readers. If we can attain those two things, we’ve done our job as writers.

What we have to do to tell a compelling story, at least in the beginning, is narrow our scope and vision. Work in worlds that we understand more intuitively. Write characters who’s motivations we can easily comprehend. By all means, create amazing, incredible worlds and histories for characters. Just don’t do that at the expense of finishing things.

“Whatever it takes to finish things, finish. You will learn more from a glorious failure than you ever will from something you never finished.”

― Neil Gaiman

All those arguments aside, try writing backstory and worldbuilding as exercises in storytelling. Tell the story of a character’s past. Tell a story of an event that helped forge the world into what is is today. I’ve done some of this, and would never share the results with anyone. Still, I think it has aided in my quest to become a better writer.

Thanks for reading, all! There probably won’t be an installment of Rue From Ruin this week. Allergies have really bogged me down recently. I promise to have it to you as soon as possible.

Please enjoy this GIF as compensation:

warRecord