Monday, August 26, 2013

Here's a Quick Shot of Inspiration: No Syringe Necessary

In my last post I discussed some how-to-write books and my thoughts overall on that niche. I think the general consensus I felt from people commenting on Google+ and via email was that most people enjoy the inspiration and suggestions in such books, but it's best to not read too many—perhaps one to two per year. 

One thing I forgot to mention, in the department of inspiration, was one of my favorite speeches by Neil Gaiman. Technically, it's also a book (and an artistically pleasing one at that), but it was first a speech. And unlike the book, you can get the speech for free. 

So here it is. An encouraging sermon by one prolific purveyor of speculative fiction.

I've watched the speech several times, and it always makes me excited to go forth and create something new! That is, in my opinion, one of the most magical aspects of writing fiction—the fact that, by merely thinking, we can create people and worlds and stories that, up to the moment we thought of them, never existed. 

As for things I've been up to recently, my wife and I went to the Minnesota State Fair and got to see a bunch of animals and try some weird food. I had some bacon ice cream as well as mini-doughnut beer (the rim was dipped in cinnamon sugar). But I was wondering if people from around the country recognize what these are, pictured below? They are much loved in Minnesota and Wisconsin, but I've heard a rumor that a lot of American's don't know what cheese curds are. Thoughts?
(Deep fried cheese curds at the Minnesota State Fair)


Monday, August 19, 2013

Books on Writing Books

There was a length of time where I got sucked into reading books about writing books—you know, books with titles like, Write Your Novel, 10 Things Every Writer MUST Know, How To Write A Novel Blindfolded Only Using Your Left Pinky . . . those sort of things. 

It was a black hole, really. I felt like if I read just the right book, I'd find all the secrets to busting out a bestseller. 

The main thing I learned, however, was that reading books about writing was stopping me from writing. Simply reading good fiction and writing regularly did a lot more to help my stories and tales. 

Still, I came across a few books I really enjoyed, and I thought I'd share them.

(bird by bird, by Anne Lamott)

One of the main reasons I enjoyed this is because, even though I was searching for magical tips on making me a better writer, this book offered little advice to the actual nuts and bolts of writing. Instead it instilled a realistic mindset of writing (if you're writing for money or fame you're not going to enjoy writing) and at the same time was quite inspirational. 

Here are a few quotes:

"Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere."


"I don't think you have time to waste not writing because you are afraid you won't be good at it."

and finally

"You are lucky to be one of those people who wishes to build sandcastles with words, who is willing to create a place where your imagination can wander. We build this place with the sand of memories; these castles are our memories and inventiveness made tangible. So part of us believes that when the tide starts coming in, we won't really have lost anything, because actually only a symbol of it was there in the sand. Another part of us believes we'll figure out a way to divert the ocean. This is what separates artists from ordinary people: the belief, deep in our hearts, that if we build our castles well enough, somehow the ocean won't wash them away. I think this is a wonderful kind of person to be."

The first two quotes are meant to spur us to sit down and write, the last one helps us understand why we feel so fulfilled when we do so. 

(On Writing, by Stephen King)
The funny thing is, I'm not a big Stephen King fan. And yet I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The first third is a well written memoir about King becoming an author, which, by the end of it, has you dreaming with a smile on your face about getting a phone call from your agent letting you know the paperback rights for (Insert the name of your book here) have sold for four hundred thousand dollars. Especially if you are living paycheck to paycheck like King and his wife were.

The middle third of the book is actual writing advice, which I found mostly helpful. For one, King is big on setting a chunk of time aside every day to write—he explains your muse is much more likely to extol magic if it knows where and when to find you. 

Also, here is a quote from the book that I completely agree with:

"Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that."

The last third of the book is about the new perspective he gained on life and writing after a terrible accident, which was also inspirational. 

The one problem I had with the book was King's view on outlining/plotting—he doesn't believe in it. He believes you should start with a nugget of an idea for a story (he likened it to a fossil), and discover the rest of it by writing it out. Plotting, he believes, leads to a "less true" story, and should be avoided. I have no problem with seat-of-the-pants writing, and in a way did it for my novel, but I don't think it should be thought of as the one true way to write.

As for books that work like a writer's workshop, the one I've enjoyed the most is:

(Steering the Craft, by Ursula K. Le Guin)

I know this post is getting long, so I won't go into too much detail on this one. 

For the most part, I'm not a big fan of writing-exercise books (I feel like just reading a lot and writing a lot should take care of improving your writing ability), but if you ever sit down to write and can think of absolutely nothing to write about, it helps to have a little guidance. Plus this book helps you think about pacing, repetition, and the actual sound of your writing.

There are many other writing books, and I know I've just listed perhaps the two most popular above, but I don't want you getting sucked into the black hole of reading about writing. So I'll just leave you with this—the greatest secret of being a writer that is included in every how-to-write book: 

If you want to write you need to write. 

It seems obvious, but it's true. A lot of people (and I've been guilty of it) spend more time daydreaming about selling a book than actually writing the damn book. 

Finally, you should definitely avoid this book:


Sunday, August 4, 2013

Book Update—The Reverse Outline is Complete!

Well, the title says it all, really. If you've been reading my blog posts lately, you will know that for the past month or so I've been working on reverse outlining my book—which is where you make an outline of the finished draft in order to gain a stronger understanding of what needs to be fixed/rearranged/added/deleted in the novel. 

Anyway, I've just finished. So that's exciting. And by finished I mean I'm done with the reverse outline process, not editing the book. Now I need to look at the hundreds (literally) of notes I took while re-reading the manuscript and reword sentences, fix grammatical errors, combine a few chapters, and add some descriptors (I noticed I used a lot more descriptors in the second half of the book compared to the first, which I found interesting).

I'm guessing this will also take a while, but I feel like once I finish doing that I will be actually done with the book (I used to think writing the first draft would leave me with most of the grunt work finished, but that was really just the tip of the iceberg). After that I'll send it to a friend to read and then start trying to get an agent. 

One interesting thing I should note is how I re-read my book. I did a good chunk of the reverse outline while on vacation in Arizona, and so I didn't want to bring my big binder of loose paper that is my third (and most current) draft. Instead I saved my paper as a PDF and transferred it to my eReader (a Nook) and took notes in an Ironman 2 kids notebook that was really cheap. I feel like this actually helped compared to outlining the actual Word document because it prevented me from trying to re-write sections as I was reading, which, in the past, has prevented me from making very much progress. Whenever I noticed something I didn't like, I just left a quick note about what page it was on and what I didn't like, then moved on. 

Anyway, this is my first book and my first time using various editing methods, so I thought I'd just share some observations from the experience. 

Have a super awesome day!

And, in case you were looking for a picture of a dude and his cat playing a complex board game, here you go . . .

(Leo playing PowerGrid)