End of the Month/Camp NaNoWriMo Report

Well, July 2014 has now come and gone. How did it go for writing?

Well, I dedicated myself to participating in Camp NaNoWriMo and writing 50,000 words of fiction in July.

What was my total for July? 19,872. (Average 595 a day.)

Verdict: Crash and burn!

So what happened? I’m a writer who has done 60,000 words in a month before (2000+/day) and it’s not like I haven’t finished a novel. (I’ve finished two, so far.) I should have been able to pull this one off handily, right?

Well, I made a few mistakes, so let’s go over them.

  1. I stopped a novel I was already working on to start a new one for Camp NaNoWriMo. Officially, you should be doing a new project for NaNoWriMo (although many of my fellow campers just finished old projects) and so I decided that I’d put my current book #3 on hold to try and whip off Book #4 over July before going back to it. Big mistake! My passion and mental energy was already in Book #3, so shifting gears to Book #4 took a lot of time and all it did was take time and energy away from Book #3.
  2. I tried writing in a completely new genre with Book #4 that I have never written in before and don’t normally read in. I tried to write a fair-play modern mystery novel thinking I’d seen my fair share of episodes of Murder She Wrote, and read more than my fair share of Historical Mysteries. (I love historically set mysteries.) You would think my experience reading Historical Mysteries would translate to writing a modern one, but it didn’t at all. You see, Historicals use the mystery as a device to explore a historical setting and culture like Ancient Japan or Tang Dynasty China, which give them a very different flow and style. Modern Mysteries, on the other hand, are all about the mystery and characters, and often about the troubled dramatic lives of the central character, which is something I’m not used to writing about. (I’m more of a plot/idea/adventure type writer.) So, I went in to a speed-writing competition already hobbled by not knowing my new genre, and not realizing that I didn’t know my new genre well enough. End result was a mess!
  3. Speaking of plot- despite all my talk about preparation and plotting techniques in June, I ended up deciding to just Pants my NaNoWriMo novel. I actually did plot out the mystery side of the story, so I knew what happened and whodunnit, but I didn’t plot anything out about the main character’s journey or the dramatic twists that would happen in the story. I also didn’t think deeply about the characters, as I thought I’d create and explore them as I went. While this was a reasonable approach in theory, in reality it meant that 8000 words in I hit a wall so hard I gave my bruises bruises. The tone was off, things weren’t going anywhere I wanted to go, and every day I spent trying to fix it meant I was falling behind on my word count. Going in without a fairly solid plan of some kind for the overall story was a disaster, and I paid the price for it.

So, the end result of all this was that at 8000 words in, I hit a creative wall and got so frustrated fixing it (and falling behind in word count) I eventually just gave up on the whole thing and quit. Instead, I went back to Novel #3, and found that I was still in love with and it that it flowed much better than Novel #4 ever did. It’s not a modern mystery (it’s a Young Adult Fantasy Novel), but it is something that I feel natural and comfortable writing because it suits me and my style. (As a result, I’ve added almost 12,000 words to it in the last two weeks.)

And I think that’s the key really. If you’re going to do a NaNoWriMo competition:

  1. Write a book you’re passionate about at that time.
  2. Write a story that feels natural for you and your style as a writer.
  3. Plot and plan as much as you can.
  4. Know your characters and their place the in the story beforehand.
  5. Don’t try writing in a genre unless you know it (very) well.

One last thing I discovered about myself is that I’m more of a “little piece at a time” writer, where I write best when I’m slowly working at something a little bit each day. Speed-writing just doesn’t suit me for some reason, at least not at the moment, and I find large writing targets more of a distraction than a benefit. As a result, I don’t think I’ll try NaNoWriMo again, but will instead keep writing in my own way at my own pace. That said, it was totally worth a try, and I would strongly recommend any writer or want-to-be writer give it a go. You’ll learn a lot about yourself and your writing whether you succeed or fail- I know I did!

Structuring Your Story

Today I came across the blog Storyfix, and author Larry Brook’s 10-part Story Structure Series. In it, Brooks lays out his take on the 4-act structure, and presents it in a straightforward and easily useable way for writers of screenplays and novels to make use of when planning their work. Here’s a sample:

Introducing the Four Parts of Story

Some writers like things in nice little boxes.  Others, not so much.  Either way, you can look at your story like a box, of sorts.  You toss in all kinds of stuff – pretty sentences, plot, sub-plot, characters, themes, stakes, cool scenes – then stir it up and hope that somehow, by the grace of God, it all ends up in some orderly fashion that your reader will enjoy.

That’s one way to write a novel or screenplay.  At the very least, you’ll have to pour the box out and start over again, time after time, before any of what’s inside begins to make sense to anyone but you.  You can get there doing it this way… but there’s abetter way.

If fact, if this is how you go about telling your story, you’ll be reorganizing your box, time after time, until you do finally stumble upon the structure you are about to learn here. Or, more likely, you’ll abandon the project altogether, because nobody will buy it until you do.

Tough to hear, but it’s true.

Now think of that box as a vessel holding four smaller boxes.  Which means, things just got clearer, if not easier.  Imagine that each box is different, designed to hold scenes that are categorized and used differently than the other boxes.

In other words, each box has a mission and a purpose unique unto itself.  And yet, no single box contains the whole story.  Only all four, viewed sequentially, do that job.  Each scene you write is in context to whichever box it goes into.

Imagine that these boxes are to be experienced in sequence.  There’s the first box, the next box, the one after that, and then a final box.  Everything in the first box is there to make the other boxes understandable, to make them meaningful.

Everything in the second box is there to make the first box useful by placing what we’ve come to root for in jeopardy.  The first box may not make sense until the second box is opened, and when it is, the reader is in there with your hero.

Everything in the third box takes what the second box presents and ratchets it up to a higher level with a dramatic new context.  By now we are in full rooting mode for the hero of the story.

Everything in the fourth and final box pays off all that the first three boxes have presented in the way of stakes, emotional tension and satisfaction.

The things that go into any given box go only into that box.  Each has its own mission and context, its own flavor of stuff.  Or, more to the point, scenes.

When you lay out the four boxes in order, they make perfect sense.  They flow seamlessly from one to the next, building the stakes and experiences of the previous box before handing it off to the one that follows.

If you take something out of one box and put it into another, the whole thing can go sideways.  Only by observing the criteria and context of each box with your scenes will the entirety of the collective boxes make sense.

When you add something to the mix – when you’re wondering what to write next – you need to put it into the right box or the whole thing will detonate.

Because the box tells you what it needs.  And it will accept nothing else.

And that, folks, is the theory and opportunity of four-part story structure in a nutshell.

It took me about 90 minutes to read the entire series of articles (which are like a condensed 10-chapter textbook on story structure), and I found that even for someone as familiar with story structure as myself it was still an interesting read. Brooks presents his ideas in a clear approachable fashion, and the way he frames and explains his way of structuring a story is insightful.

One thing I got from the article is the realization that I’m what Brooks calls a “Blueprinter”, which is another take on the whole Plotter/Panster dichotomy. A Blueprinter outlines the key elements of the story structure, but not the details, and then just writes the parts in between those key points. So far, that seems to be the best way to write for me, since I like an element of improvisation, but at the same time I need to know where I’m going so I can direct my writing towards that goal. I’m still trying different styles of planning stories, but this resonated as it’s already something I’m doing.

The one critique of this series I have is that I found the articles tent to get less specific and more vague as they go along. The initial articles are pretty solid, but the later ones (like the one on Pinch Points) get extremely unclear as to what exactly he wants the reader to do with this idea. (Short version- Pinch Points are where the audience (but not necessarily the hero) gets to see what the antagonists are really up to and how screwed the protagonist really is, so that we can build tension.)  He also pretty much ignores the whole issue of climax and how the Second Plot Point is a lead-in to that climax. I can forgive some of this because how a story ends can really vary a lot depending on who writes it, and it’s hard to set down hard and fast guidelines, but I have seen other writing instructors (like Blake Snyder) do it better.

Speaking of Snyder, Brooks has his own version of the Beat Sheet to go along with his story structure, which you might find useful to take a look at after you’ve read the articles. (Since it’s a condensed version of that advice.)

In any case, this series is definitely worth reading, especially if you’re someone who has trouble with structure or are trying to figure out the best way for you to plan your work. The way he presents the parts of a story as working together is pretty solid, and I will be taking some of what he says to heart when thinking about and planning my own stories. Overall, I found this series to be an elaboration on Lester Dent’s Formula in many ways, and I think that’s a good thing, since he takes what Dent offers and reframes it in a way that works for stories as a whole, not just pulp adventure works.

Rob

June 2014 Writing Report

A month ago I wrote a post entitled How Much Should You Write a Day, where I talked about a minimalist approach to writing where you aim for a small daily writing goal instead of a larger one to keep word count from becoming a barrier to writing. Saying you want to write 2000/words a day is nice, but it can easily become an obstacle if you start to think it isn’t worth writing unless you have time to achieve that number. So, instead I opted for the smaller 250/words a day as my goal for June.

How did I do?

Well, my total word count for June ended up being 21,478 words of fiction. (Almost all of it on a Young Adult fantasy novel I started at the beginning of June.)

My average word count a day was 704/words a day, with only Seven days have a word count of zero out of the month. (This was mostly due to my dog Penny being spayed and needing constant care for a few days.)

Overall, it turned out to be one of my most productive writing months in almost two years, and the “it’s just 250 words” strategy ended up working perfectly because not only did I feel I could always pull off 250 words, but I never once wrote less than that. Once I was 250 words in, I was always warmed up and wanted to write more, and it tended to be life that made me stop rather than not wanting to write more. The 250/day word count was not only do-able, it was inspiring.

Of course, I should comment that there were a few more factors involved. During June I learned to finally just let myself go, and dump the words on the page whether they were perfect or not. Also, I had an outline to work from, so I never really had to worry about where the story was going so much as what I wanted to do with a particular scene. If I wasn’t sure about a scene, I wrote down something that roughly worked and will go back to fix/replace it during editing and revision. This improved my productivity during the first draft stage immensely, and let me really just tell myself the story.

I also became a Spreadsheet user, after years of resisting tracking my productivity I gave in, and it actually helped a lot more than I expected it to. Seeing those numbers line up for my daily word-counts was a real motivator, and wanting to go as long as I could without a dreaded 0 appearing on the spreadsheet was also a big factor. I took every 0 personally, and it made me really want to write harder to make up for them.

Now, since I’m a masochist, in July I have an even bigger challenge! I’ve signed up to write another book (a mystery) for Camp Nanowrimo, and that will require approximately 1667/words a day for July to complete. Not only that, I still plan to continue my 250/day on my YA novel to keep it from going stale in my head.

Can I pull this off? Well, check back in a month to find out!

By the way, if I don’t post to the blog as much during July, you’ll have to forgive me. I’ll be buried in Camp Nano writing. Gomen!

Rob

Classic 12-Chapter Murder Mystery Formula

(Note: This has been floating around the internet for years, and I don’t know who first wrote it (if anyone does, let me know!) but it’s worth archiving and Camp Nanowrimo starts next week, so here it is.)

The classic mystery is popular fiction which follows a specific formula. Clever writers may try to change the formula, but the most clever will cling to it for a very good reason. They work within the bounds of the formula because it works!

The following outline serves the modern mystery novel, as defined by editors and publishers. A typical story will contain 60,000 to 65,000 words (205 manuscript pages) and will be divided into 12 chapters, each approximately 17 pages in length.

The Classic 12-Chapter Mystery Formula

Act I

Introduction of the crime (mystery) and the sleuth

Chapter 1

A. Disclose the crime and mystery to be solved. The crime must capture the imagination. It should have been committed in an extraordinary way and either the victim the perpetuator, or both, should be unusual. Give the reader enough information about the victim to make them truly care that the perpetrator is found out and that justice is served.

B. Early in the story, clues should be revealed which suggest both physical and psychological aspects of the initial crime. Those clues should point to suspects and motive which will cary the sleuth to the end of Act I. Some clues should point the sleuth in the right direction, others may not be obvious or be recognized as actual clues unto later in the story.

C. Introduce the sleuth who will solve the crime early, and have him or her do or say something very clever or unexpected which will establish that person as unique. Create this character with care. His or her personality should be interesting enough to sustain the interest of the reader to the very last page. (or through an entire series of books). It is not necessary to disclose all aspects of the sleuth’s personality at the onset. Let the description unfold gradually to sustain interest. Do reveal enough background to let the reader understand the world in which the protagonist functions. (Small town sheriff, Scotland Yard detective, Pinkerton agent in the old West, country squire, investigative reporter in New York City, etc.)

D. Ground the reader in the time and place where the crime occurs. It is often useful to include some sort of symbol, an object or a person, in the opening scene which serves as a metaphor for what occurs in the story. The reappearance of this symbol at the conclusion of the story will create a certain organic unity.

E. Begin with a dramatic event. Some writers offer a prologue, describing the execution of the crime in detail, as it occurs, possible from the point of view of the victim or perpetrators. The same information could also be revealed by a character, through dialogue. Sufficient details should be furnished to allow the reader to experience the event as though he or she were actually there. Another good opening would be to put the sleuth in a dire situation and allow detail of the crime to unfold in due course.

Chapter 2

A. Set the sleuth on the path toward solving he mystery. Offer plausible suspects, all of whom appear to have had motive, means and opportunity to to commit the crime. Select the most likely suspects, and have the sleuth question them. One of these suspects will turn out to be the actual perpetrator.

B. At the approximate mid-point of Act 1, something should occur which makes it clear to the reader that the crime is more complicated than originally thought. Hints may be given to allow the reader to actually see possibilities not yet known to the sleuth.

Chapter 3

A. The sub-plot should be introduced. The plot will continue to maintain the progress of the story, but the sub-plot will carry the theme, which is a universal concept to which the reader can identify. Sub-plots tend to originate either in a crisis in the sleuth’s private life, or in the necessity of the sleuth to face a dilemma involving a matter of character, such as courage or honesty.

B. The ultimate resolution of the sub-plot with demonstrate change or growth on the part of the protagonist, and will climatic on a personal or professional level. That climax may coincide with, or occur as prelude to the climax of the main plot. The sub-plot may be a vehicle for a romantic interest or a confrontation with personal demons of the sleuth. The author can manipulate the pace of the novel by moving back and forth between the plot and sub-plot.

Act II

Direct the investigation toward a conclusion which later proves to be erroneous.

Chapter 4

A. Reveal facts about suspects, through interrogations and the discovery of clues.

B. Flight, or disappearance of one or more suspect.

C. Develop a sense of urgency. Raise the stakes or make it evident that if the mystery is not solved soon, there will be terrible consequences.

Chapter 5

A. The investigation should broaden to put suspicion on other characters.

B. Information gathered through interviews or the discovery of physical evidence, should point toward the solution, although the relevance may not yet be apparent.

Chapter 6

A. The sleuth’s background is revealed as the sub-plot is developed. Tell the reader what drives the protagonist, what haunts or is missing in his or her life.

B. Make it clear that the sleuth has a personal stake in the outcome, either because of threat to his or her life, or the possibility of revelation of matters deeply disturbing to the protagonist on an emotional level.

Act III

Change of focus and scope of the investigation. This is the pivotal point in the story where it become evident that the sleuth was on the wrong track. Something unexpected occurs, such as the appearance of a second body, the death of a major suspect, or discovery of evidence which clears the most likely suspect. The story must take a new direction.

Chapter 7

A. Reveal hidden motives. Formerly secret relationships come to light, such as business arrangements, romantic involvement’s, scores to be settled or previously veiled kinships.

B. Develop and expose meanings of matters hinted at in Act I., to slowly clarify the significance of earlier clues.

Chapter 8

A. The sleuth reveals the results of the investigation. The reader, as well as the protagonist and other characters, are given an opportunity to review what is known and assess the possibilities.

B. The solution of the crime appears to be impossible. Attempts to solve the crime have stymied the sleuth. Misinterpretation of clues or mistaken conclusions have lead him or her in the wrong direction, and logic must be applied to force a new way of grasping an understanding of the uncertainties.

Chapter 9

A. Have the sleuth review the case to determine where he or she went wrong.

B. Reveal the chain of events which provoked the crime.

C. The crucial evidence is something overlooked in Act I, which appeared to have been of little consequence at the time it was first disclosed. That evidence takes on new meaning with information disclosed in Act III.

D. The sleuth (and perhaps the reader, if a keep observer) becomes aware of the error which remains undisclosed to the other characters.

Act IV

Solution

Chapter 10

A. The sleuth weighs the evidence and information gleaned from the other characters.

B. Based on what only he or she now knows, the sleuth must seek positive proof to back up the yet undisclosed conclusion.

Chapter 11

A. Resolution of the sub-plot

B. The protagonist, having been tested by his or her private ordeal, is strengthened for the final action leading to the actual solution of the mystery.

Chapter 12

A. The Climax – a dramatic confrontation between the sleuth and the perpetrator in which the sleuth prevails. The more “impossible” the odds have been, the more rewarding the climax will be.

B. Resolution – Revelation of clues and the deductive process which lead to the solution. Establish that the case has been solved and justice has been served to the satisfaction of all involved (except, the villain).

Helping Writers Become Authors

There are a few writers out there for whom the act of structuring and planning a novel is as much joy and fun as the writing of the story itself- K.M. Weiland is one of those writers. She has turned her love of structure and the writer’s craft into not only a blog, but also a video series on YouTube, a podcast and several books, all of them deeply focused on how to make writers produce better work by discussing the many components of a story in great detail. It’s actually quite impressive how she turned her former Wordplay podcast into an actual writer self-help industry unto itself called Helping Writers Become Authors.

I’ve been listening to her Podcast, and I have been quite impressed by the level of thought she puts into each episode (and there are 247 episodes to date!), which have even made me rethink some of my own perspectives on writing. Ms. Weiland has a real passion for the writer’s craft, and seems to be working hard to not only find the best ways to write, but share them with the world. The only criticism I have is that sometimes the podcasts can get a little too abstract, or have a few too many examples for my taste (which can slow the show down), but those are both the result of her depth of study in whatever she’s researching and sharing with her audience.

In any case, if you’re looking for a very focused and practical writing podcast or blog, this might be one worth checking out. She has a lot of useful resources on the blog as well, and even a tutorial for getting the most out of yWriter, the free writing software and structure templates for use with Scrivener.

Pulp Adventure Generator

I stumbled across this the other day, and it’s just too cool not to share!

Grab your 10-sided dice, because someone has turned Lester Dent’s classic Pulp Adventure Writing Formula into a full-on Pulp Adventure Generator for use with any role-playing game or in your own writing.

Pulp Adventure Generator Sample Page

The above is a sample of the 9-page document, which is for sale here for $1.99, but you can find a free preview of the whole thing here. Grab your fedora’s and get to kicking some Nazi butt!

Rob

 

How to Write a Murderously Good Mystery

On her excellent writer’s blog, writer Karen Woodward has written and put together a fantastic collection of articles on writing mysteries that anyone wanting to move into the genre should definitely check out. She covers setting, victims, making sufficiently intriguing murders, and even delves into the techniques used by Agatha Christie in order to explore how to write the perfect mystery story. Check it out! And while you’re there, read some of her other excellent articles on writing as well, Karen really knows her stuff!

Rob

Plotting Thread

As I discussed in Prepping Your Novel, there are a vast number of different ways you can go about plotting a story. Currently in the Writer’s Cafe on Kboards (the un-official Kindle discussion forum) there’s a discussion going where different writers are sharing their approaches to plotting their novels. And you know what? Almost every one of them is using a different method, and one that works for them.

These run from:

Writer Nicolas Andrew’s very traditional approach:

My outlines are rarely finished, usually because I get tired of summarizing and just start writing. I usually know what the end is going to be, anyway. It’s the middle that gives me trouble. I’ve always used the method of outlining I was taught in middle school, which looks like:

A. Setting
  1. Time
  2. Place

B. Characters
  1. Main Character
  2. Main Character

C. Plot

And so on. For plot, the subheadings used to be a mere list of events. Later on, to cut down on subheadings I would divide it into the five points of dramatic structure (exposition/introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution/denouement). But since I’m not likely to forget these points or their functions after twenty years, these days I simply divide the story into Act I, II, and III. 

I don’t decide what event goes into what chapter at this point. That comes out of the actual writing. I use my instincts on where a chapter break should occur, whether it’s on a cliffhanger, or important information being revealed, or a decision being made. Most times it’s a subconscious thing for me.

To writer Lady Runa’s Half and Half Approach:

I guess you could call me half-plotter, half-pantser. When I begin writing a book I plot the hell out of it but it’s never enough. This is how I do it:

1. Idea: the initial setup and a few main characters. Then I follow Larry Brooks’ structure system (the MC’s journey):

2. I take a sheet of paper and divide it into four parts: Orphan, Wanderer, Warrior, Martyr. This is my hero’s arc.

3. Then I brainstorm the story (it may take a few days or weeks) trying to come up with as many relevant and memorable scenes as I can. Normally they fall within the first two parts. I make sure that every part has its own arc and climax. I also plot out the midpoint (Big Fireworks, Great Revelations) and the third plot point (The Bad Guys Win!)

4. I come up with all the characters using Dwight Swain’s character sheet (it’s AWESOME). As he suggests, I make sure that my cast is as varied and contrasting as possible. I come up with all their arcs making sure they’re relevant to the story. I never bother with petty stuff like “what school they went to and what music they like”. This is what I love about Dwight Swain’s sheet: it only includes what’s really relevant.

5. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about novel writing it’s you can’t overdo on drama. You can, but it’s extremely difficult. So I try to make sure every scene is dramatic and memorable. Using Holly Lisle’s term, I try to make every scene a “candybar scene” – something I itch to write. No fluff.

6.  Now I plan the living daylights out of the first two parts: scene by scene. I plan every scene very closely, spelling out the setting, the characters involved, the conflict and the chars’ secret agendas. I also plan as many scenes of Part Three as I can – and a few of Part Four.

7. I plant my backside firmly in a chair and write Parts One and Two based on my scene sheets. Normally, as I do so, all sorts of little alterations start to pile up. New better ideas force me to change certain things, which is why I never plan rigidly after the Midpoint. Normally, by the time I reach Midpoint, I have a whole lot of new better ideas and characters that force me to change a lot of the story.

8. So after Midpoint, I sit down and plot out the rest of the book. I’ll change certain things and add more dramatic and memorable scenes based on those alterations. One rule I never break comes from Larry Brook: I never introduce a new major character after Part Three.

So I guess, I’m a half-pantser because as I write the first two parts from my spreadsheet, I end up with new ideas that ultimately improve the book. I’ve got a few traditionally published novels now and work on the next one so it seems to be working – for me at least. I do recommend this “flexible planner” style to those who feel they can’t just sit down and write a book (I can’t!) but who disagree with the “rigidity” of planning.

 

To writer AnnChristy’s unique “Ellipticaller” Approach:

To an observer, I’m a pantser. Total and complete Pantser.

But that’s not quite true.

Instead, I’m an ellipticaller (Is that a word? If not, it should be.)

I get an idea and then I elliptical a great deal, building the story as I do, rearranging it, tearing bits out and putting bits in, building characters and all of that. I logged 22 hours on the elliptical creating the story for Strikers over a short period of time. 

Then it took me the time to write it. But I don’t use notecards or whatever. I build it entirely in my head. Small details like exactly what everyone looks like and their preferences (handedness, a nervous tick, whatever) I do put in a separate scrivener page.

Whole process: 3 months for about 400 pages. 

If I try to use a more written outline method, I would never get done because I’ll constantly reference it and confuse myself. The only way it works for me is to absolutely memorize it and know it like you know your favorite TV show.

 

So, if you’re on a quest to find what kind of plotter you are, give the thread a look! There’s lots of great perspectives there and you might just find something that works for you!

Rob

Tom Cruise on The Nerdist Podcast

After having seen the amazing film Edge of Tomorrow on the weekend (go see it, now!) I noticed the Nerdist podcast had an interview up with Tom Cruise and so I decided to give it a listen. I’d heard Tom was an incredibly nice and gracious guy in person, and this podcast totally confirmed that. It’s a great and very personal chat between him and The Nerdist crew, which mostly focusses on his experiences in the movie industry and his thoughts about film-making in general. Given that he’s been in the business 34 years, he has quite a bit to say, so it’s worth a listen for that alone.

But, what this Podcast really made me realize about Tom is that he really isn’t that smart. In fact, I would say in terms of intelligence, Tom is a completely average guy, and if anything might even be a little dense. He’s a guy with a pretty face, a bit of charisma, and average brains who lucked out and got into the industry with his raw talent, and you know what? He knows it.

But, Tom has three things going for him that made him the star he is today- 1) he’s got an incredible memory, 2) because he doesn’t understand easily he’s extremely curious, and 3) he’s an astoundingly hard worker. He asks questions constantly, he remembers everything people tell him, and he puts that knowledge to work for him- and this is how he’s become the man he is today. He’s the perfect example of what one can achieve with hard work and a good attitude, and I have to say I admire that quite a bit. I may not be a fan of his religious choices, but this interview really made me respect him as a person and as an artist.

He also said something that stuck with me, a bit of advice Paul Newman gave him while filming The Colour of Money- “Just ignore all the white noise and do what you do”. Don’t worry about what other people think or say, just be true to yourself as an artist and be the best you can be. The world (and internet) is filled with people advocating causes and screaming about a million things, but we as artists need to just focus on making art which is true to us and our experiences. If we try to do what everyone around us wants, we’ll just go crazy or get nothing done.

Sage advice for an artist of any age or time.

Rob

Why Your First Draft Should Suck (and That’s a Good Thing!)

Superhero

I’m a couple chapters in to my newest work-in-progress, and it kinda sucks.

But that’s okay, in fact, that’s great!

Let me explain.

Of the many pieces of advice often handed out to new writers, two are in my head at the moment. The first is “It’s okay to suck.”, and the second is “The first draft is the writer telling themselves the story”. These two combine nicely to explain my feelings about the story I’m working on, and how I feel differently about it than the first draft for any story I’ve written in the past.

Let’s break those two statements down, and then talk about how they work in harmony.

It’s okay to suck,” which I first heard said by Mur Lafferty, is advice to writers who find themselves paralyzed by the quality of their writing. Now, she doesn’t mean it’s okay to publish a work that sucks, that would be a huge mistake. No, what she means is that when you’re writing your first draft of your story, some parts of it might be really bad, but that’s okay. You shouldn’t let your desire to produce a perfect work of art keep you from writing, because rough drafts are exactly that- rough. They have parts that don’t work and will later be replaced and thrown out. So, if the part you’re working on now sucks, that’s okay, because that’s just a placeholder for something really cool you’ll come up with later on during editing and revisions.

This leads us to “The first draft is the writer telling themselves the story,” which I’ve heard credited to Terry Pratchett (and others). This piece of advice is a little trickier to understand, but in essence he’s saying that the first draft isn’t the story that the world will see, but a draft only for the writer themselves. It’s a version of the story that exists only for you to understand and explore your story and characters, and is not meant to entertain anyone but you.

So, what do we get if we combine these two?

We get freedom.

The first draft is a playground in which you can suck as hard and fast as you want to, and not be afraid because nobody else on Earth is going to see it. You can (and will) change anything and everything later, so who cares what parts are placeholders and what parts will get erased? This is you, the writer, mucking around and seeing what kind of story you can put together for your own fun and pleasure. Some bits will rock, other bits will be less-than-awesome, but it doesn’t matter, because it’s all for you, and you alone.

Stephen King, in On Writing, suggests that you never let anyone see your first draft of a story, no matter how tempting it might be. I think he’s right! Because if you at any moment feel that another person will see this draft, you will start to edit and censor yourself as you’re writing, which completely defeats the purpose of this rough first draft. Get it out onto the screen (or paper, Luddite!) and then worry about making it presentable to the world during revisions. Right now, it’s a mud castle like you made when you were a kid, and you get to play in it and shape it how you want- so don’t hold back.

If you do, you’ll find writers block and procrastination wait to tie you up and hold your creativity for ransom- don’t let them!

So, it’s okay that the stuff I’m working on now sucks.

It’s laying the groundwork for the writing that comes later.

And that, will be glorious!

Rob

 

Picture Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/cogdog/2303174468/