C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

Write and publish with love and fury.

Top Ten: I wasn’t going to do #NaNoWriMo but…

I’ve published three books in the last month.

HJ COVER FINAL LADY IN RED

PLAYBOOK COVER FINAL

IVBT FINAL 2D cover

 

I’m revising an ambitious time travel novel that I want to get done in time for Christmas. I already write a couple thousand words a day minimum and edit plenty. Every month is Nano for me, so why National Novel Writing Month?

1. I’m always excited about the next project and I have a new book I was going to work on that is going to gain a lot of visibility. Slowing the process is putting off success for later.

2. I was going to write this new book anyway, but doing it in conjunction with NaNoWriMo will help me speed my timetable.

3. I’ve published fifteen books in three years, so the back catalogue is solid, but I want to reach out to new readers with the next project. When this new one hits, all my work will get more attention.

4. I need to take Ex Parte Press in a new direction. At first I thought the new idea wasn’t for me. Then I realized that, just as happened with This Plague of Days and Intense Violence, Bizarre ThemesI could do something unique with a familiar genre.
This Plague of Days S3 (2)

5. I have another huge book waiting to be edited. I’m proud of it and it’s going to be strong, but it’s also a stand alone book, more literary and packed with Shakespeare. It has to wait while I do something with wider appeal that is the basis for a series. (Don’t sniff. Literary is just another genre and I love it all.)

6. This new book is an urban paranormal fantasy with a realistic context. It’s still my style of creepy and scary (with jokes), but I want to finally write a story with a female protagonist. My books definitely aren’t for dudes only, but it’s time for a book from me that resonates even more with female readers.

7. As I write this post, all my Internet friends are challenging each other to do writing sprints and get in on the fun of NaNoWriMo. November is the one month of the year when a writer can feel part of a large community of fellow toilers. It doesn’t have to be such a lonesome pursuit.

8. Competition and fun fuels forward motion. I want to harness that power.

9. Spurred to write now instead of wait, I started this morning. My word count on the first draft of the new project is 3,812 words. I just reread it. They are good words. I’ll keep most of them.

10. Most of those people who claim to take years to write a book are counting procrastination time. NaNoWriMo blasts through that mental block and propels us forward so we write now right now. We free ourselves of the perils of the inner hypercritic and finally get the story out. We can perfect it later. Free your mind and commit to the risk of NaNoWriMo. It’s writing, just as it ever was, but this time it’s with friends cheering us on through the process. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Filed under: My fiction, NanNoWriMo, , , , , , , ,

What to do now that #NaNoWriMo is done

By the way, Crack the Indie Author Code 2nd Edition is out in paperback at $9.99. Smaller format, with jokes.

By the way, Crack the Indie Author Code 2nd Edition is out in paperback at $9.99. Smaller format, but still has lots of jokes.

Start another book. Brainstorm or sketch out another book outline or write a short story or just sit down and see where else you can go at the keyboard. Keep that feather pen scratching. Keep going. 

People will tell you to celebrate. Writers (because we aren’t “people”) will ask, “What else ya got?”

You could take a break, sure. But now that you’ve done NaNoWriMo, don’t you feel you’ve got a good habit going? Habits are hard to break into. To get into the daily writing habit takes practice, just like you’ve been doing all this month. Why stop now? To publish, you must write a lot, rewrite, revise and edit. Good habits are too easy to drop for you to waste all that behavioural inertia you have steaming in your skull engine.

Now isn’t the time to put your feet up.

If you still have some scenes from your NaNoWriMo project that you didn’t fill in right away, you can do those now. Now is the perfect time. The context is still fresh in your mind. Tackle any empty spaces you’ve left behind so when you come back to it, you won’t become perplexed and stymied later. Otherwise, leave your NaNoWriMo manuscript alone.

Why am I telling you to start a new project as quickly as you can?

Because someone might be tempted to dive right back in so they have a novel by Christmas. You know you need some time to cogitate while the manuscript rests for a bit. Otherwise, the Nano haters will run in circles with their hands over their ears screaming, “I told you so!” None of us wants those killjoys to be right.

Besides, if you go back too soon, you might be discouraged at how much work the book needs. Or worse, some might think their rush job is still brilliant. That’s lethal to ever having anyone tell you they’re a fan of your work.

And now for the tough stuff. I’m asking that you hold two contradictory ideas in your mind at one time and act accordingly.

1. Congratulations! You beat NaNo! Good on you! I bet there were days when the words came quickly and days where it felt like your brain was full of molasses. However, you faced down time management problems and got it done anyway. Sometimes it wasn’t easy, yet, you got past 50,000 words! You did it! This is a huge accomplishment!

and

2. Writing a little less than a couple of thousand words a day is no big deal.

Yes, some writers are more precious about their word count and make a great show of how slow they can produce. Mostly? I suspect they’re counting procrastination time as writing time. Screw that. I come from a journalistic background where deadlines are not livelines. We slam it in and knock it out and we’re good.

At least take that attitude with the first draft so you’ll have something to gut and edit. Blank screens have no atoms and pixels bouncing off each other to create new neural pathways and fresh angles to feed reader rapture. The first draft is usually simple, straight narrative. I always find the jokes, dialogue and theme in the second pass.

Professional writers write to deadlines all the time and they do so consistently.

You know that now, so it’s not about what “they”, the writers, do anymore. It’s what you do because you’re a writer. Keep going.

We’re creative. Writing’s what we do to wield god powers and get back at our brothers and sisters. We do it because it’s much cooler at the Christmas party to answer “What do you do?” with, “I write.” Say that and you’ve got a conversation. (Try explaining your wage ape existence in middle management to a hapless stranger and they’ll run for the punch bowl.)

We do it for play, for love and money and hope and for readers. It’s fantastic to find a scene to write that, even as you’re knocking it out, you say, “This! This will melt their faces and make them want to read me for the rest of their lives and tell all their friends! Ta-freakin’-da!

Mostly, writing is what we do because it is who we are.*

*If you didn’t carry out NanoWriMo’s challenge this November, what better testament to your mettle than to do it on your own? Now. You’ll feel more smug and self-righteous this time around. There are twelve months in a year. You don’t have to risk waiting another year for the next party bus to take you to your life’s to-do list.

See you in the trenches in the morning

with 3,000 more words. If it’s a bad day.

Yes, you may stop writing

when you’re out of blood.

Season One of This Plague of Days is the siege. Sutr-X was the pandemic. Sutr-Z's next and it's coming for you and the Queen's corgis.

Season One of This Plague of Days is the siege. Sutr-X was the pandemic. Sutr-Z’s next and it’s coming for you and the Queen’s corgis.

~ Robert Chazz Chute wrote a bunch of beastly books, including This Plague of Days. Season One’s in paperback. If you’re a writer looking for more inspiration, Robert also recommends Crack the Indie Author Code. But he would say that since he is me and we’re all about inspiring writers not to be weak. We’re all about the conquering and hefting the bale and writerly whatnot. And writing about ourselves in the third person apparently.

What? Still waffling? Still? After all that? Holy Jebus! Read this review of Crack the Indie Author Code then, for the love of Thor and for the love of the sweet consumer that is you and your writing career! And your family’s writing career. Don’t forget to get Mom one for Christmas, too.

Filed under: NanNoWriMo, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

#NaNoWriMo: Take a chance. Deliver.

I’ve finally begun reading Stephen King’s 11/22/63: A Novel.

Feeling a bit burnt out, I reached for an old reliable author to get me into relaxed creativity mode. The fire in the wood

Stephen King at the Harvard Book Store.

Stephen King at the Harvard Book Store. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

stove is burning bright and hot as a cold blizzard’s squalls pull at the house. Under my wool blanket, I’m cozy and this book feels comfortable, too. Different story, same old friend in King. I’m one of his Constant Readers. To my delight, King has an Easter egg for writers right off the top. 

His hero, a teacher grading essays, complains about his students “writing like little old ladies and little old men.” Heh. Yeah, I know exactly what he means: Grammar and spelling correct, but boring. Tried and true narrative, but too safe. I want surprises. The development of the story has to be logical, sure, but please, take a chance! Dare to take the reader by the hand and shove them on the roller coaster they didn’t plan to get on. Give them the adventure they didn’t know they wanted.

For instance, in Season One of This Plague of Days, I did a lot of plausible things with strange characters (and I put the implausible in a context that makes it believable.) In Season One, you see a kid on the autistic spectrum operating in our world (i.e. at the end of it.) That was cool, but to heat up the narrative and quicken the pace, I had to go deeper into the implausible and still attempt to make it as believable as it was fanciful. 

In Season Two, the story takes some new turns and we’re in Jaimie Spencer’s world more than he is in ours. Though many people loved Jaimie in Season One, I wasn’t interested in making Two a copy of One. If One is a siege and Two is basically The Road, I had to take the crazy train to places people hadn’t seen before in an apocalypse. The virus that came to kill humanity keeps evolving and that takes us down unfamiliar roads. The Plaguers and I are happy with it.

People love Same Thing Only Different. Too different is a gamble, but some gambles pay off.

Changing a character people love is uncomfortable at times, but certainly do it if the story demands it. (By the way, nobody loves Jaimie more than I do, but he ends up doing a lot of questionable things for a Christlike figure.) I demanded development and change, so I got dreams, a touch of magic and some big questions for the surviving humans caught in the teeth of the gears of existence. If Sartre could read my apocalypse over a lunch of cold milk, ham sandwiches and angst, I think it would spark an interesting discussion about the existential subtext of ambition versus chaos theory. You know…sliding in the thin spaces amongst the bloody zombie attacks, scary new species and terrorized, grieving humans.

Dare to be wrong and, surprise! You’re right.

Sometimes it’s just simple mechanics where writers wimp out and opt for their grammar book over Art with a capital A. In Higher Than Jesus, for instance, a character uses the non-word “father-in-laws”. The correct plural is “fathers-in-law,” of course. Trust your readers to figure out that you know when you’re wrong. Better to stick with what’s true rather than what’s correct. The speaker of “father-in-laws” is an old, homeless guy whose education isn’t terrific. Talking like a Harvard law professor does not fit, so wrong is right.

Most readers will go along and the very few who will think you’re an idiot were never going to like your work, anyway. Grammar fascists don’t read for the enjoyment of reading, so relax and focus on the readers who are with you for the right reason. That reason is Story (and to forget we’re all going to die, and maybe soon, in Death’s razor claws and unforgiving, crushing jaws.)

I like prose that is edgy. Lots of book lovers love it when we’re gutsy.

I like Chuck Palahniuk a lot, perhaps especially when he cruises the experimental. I like much of Norman Mailer’s work for its simplicity. However, I love Stephen King. The narrative is straight A to B. Snobby readers might call it “muscular” or “workmanlike.” That’s old code for not “literary” enough or too pulpy by half. But who do you want telling you a story? An arid auteur who tells it correctly or a writer who get it across right? The writing I’m talking about is visceral. It affects you. It makes you think but it doesn’t have to call attention to itself too much. Have something to say and mean it. Lofty’s fine if your feet stay on the ground. 

Don’t give me fancy writing tricks. Tell me the story, please.

You know all those New Yorker short stories with the super-opaque endings where it’s so very arty you can’t figure out what the hell the last paragraph is supposed to mean? Where they try to trick you into thinking vague ends equal powerful conclusions? You’ve surely read those stories so bathed in antiseptic that they have no honest feeling or real humor. The words are all in the right order but they can’t make you care. It’s hard to define, but when a book has no heart, you know it. 

I suggest you do the opposite of all that empty scribbling and I’ll try to do the same.

A good short story, or a solid book, should deliver a punch and satisfaction (or at least anticipation of the next book in the series) with its last line. It should not generate a confused look on the face of an intelligent reader. 

A great story can be read aloud in the flicker of a dying campfire. If the story’s solid, your rapt audience will worry about the characters in the book. They will be blissfully unaware of the starving bear watching from the woods behind them, sniffing the air, drooling, and measuring the distance to the fading circle of light.

~ I’m Robert Chazz Chute: author, podcaster, perpetually worried. If you want to learn more about This Plague of Days, go to ThisPlagueOfDays.com. Or just zip over to AllThatChazz.com and buy some books. That would be good. Also, Season One of This Plague of Days is in paperback and Christmas is coming. I’ll let you connect the dots from there. Thanks!

Filed under: NanNoWriMo, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

#Nanowrimo: You do not have Writer’s Block

This week I found inspiration for a new character. I got it from the Latin word “occubus”, meaning to rest (especially in the grave.) I love my Latin dictionaries and will miss them when I move on to projects beyond This Plague of Days. A blind stab, a finger pointing on a random page and wham! Something new to play with! A new chapter! That’s the joy of discovery in writing. The ideas don’t always flow so easily, but if you’re in a good place, the words always come.

Readers ask us where we get our ideas.

If you’ve made it out of the horrors of high school (or perhaps even more so if you didn’t), you’ve got enough material to start writing. That supply of disappointment, embarrassment and angst will last for your career.

Conflicts, fisticuffs and the world news are all fodder for the mind mill. Family, relationships, lack of relationships? Cannibalize! Books you read will feed books you’ll write. Whether you’re a monk on a mountain or a suburban wage slave, you are surrounded with input for your output.

An afternoon walk can spark an idea, especially if that walk takes you to the local courthouse. Arraignment hearings are best. One long court trial might yield a book. Bearing witness to the parade of arrests from last night will give you all the books you can write and make you wish you had the ability to type faster.

We are all dreamers, putting information together in new ways for new takes on ancient stories. If there is such a thing as writer’s block, it is not because of a lack of ideas to play with.

Writer’s block comes from a loss of enjoyment of play.

That sounds more like depression, doesn’t it? Or laziness that springs from too much sugar and wheat and not enough kale. If you think you’re suffering writer’s block, don’t complain about a muse deficiency. You can’t fight that, but you could fight an amusement deficiency.

A long time ago, I stopped writing for several years.

My “block” was really about rage. A co-worker annoyed me mightily. I went home and began to write a short story that was basically a tantrum on the page. I got about four lines into the revenge fantasy and realized, I don’t want to feel this way and I don’t want to write this. I didn’t write again until I fixed my life (or at least repaired my lifeboat.) I was unhappy with what I was doing and, instead of rage on the page, I resolved to change the underlying problem (i.e. working with twits.)

We often romanticize the miserable writer working in poverty as the creativity bubbles out of all that sadness. Mostly nonsense. You don’t get a book written when you’re so depressed you can’t face picking up a pencil. I mean that literally. I remember lying atop my unmade bed (a grubby futon on the floor, actually) and thinking, I can’t. I just can’t. The pencil stayed on the floor.

Depression sucks energy away and writing demands we put energy out. You can’t give what you don’t have.

Writer’s block is a vague, disempowering notion that, ironically, is a dangerous fiction. Instead, focus on concrete variables you can change: income, time management, who’s sleeping beside you, what goes down your throat, the exercise you do and what you allow into your mind.

Sure, inspiration is everywhere.

But maybe you need a doctor.

 

Filed under: NanNoWriMo, What about you?, writing tips, , , , , , , ,

#NaNoWriMo: Story stuck and stalled? Try this.

You’ll probably get stuck from time to time. Most everyone does, so don’t panic.

If you get stuck often, outline more to save writing time and stay on track. Keep in mind that outlines are merely guidelines. You’re just dating your outline casually. It’s not serious and you don’t have to marry it. With the shadow of commitment gone, you still have your free and fun, bright and shiny creative mojo working for you.

I’m a pantser, but I do have an idea where my stories are headed. We may take a winding trip to get to our destination, but we will get there, hoping we won’t get stuck and be forced to back up thirty pages or so before we can move forward again. I’ve had to do that. It sucks, sucks away forward momentum and saps confidence. So let’s crash through that mental block and get unstuck.

Solutions to get out of the ditch

Season One of This Plague of Days is the siege. Sutr-X was the pandemic. Sutr-Z's next and it's coming for you and the Queen's corgis, among others.

Season One of This Plague of Days is the siege. Sutr-X was the pandemic. Sutr-Z’s next and it’s coming for you and the Queen’s corgis, among others.

A random, alluring word, place, fact or event can give spinning wheels traction. For instance, the word “chiroptera” gave me a new direction when I wrote Season 2 of This Plague of Days. Sometimes I choose words, events or facts at random and noodle with them to see how they might fit into the narrative. Or I’ll draw from mythology, philosophy, politics or religion to discover new dimensions in the narrative.

Here’s the surprise: I always find a way to make those intriguing things fit naturally into my story.

I bet you can, too. Don’t load up on $10 words when a nickel word will do, of course…or at least don’t do it for its own sake or to show off. However, if something seemingly random can serve your story, use it (or dump it if it fails.) Readers like learning things as much as you do. They like characters with depth and to discover hidden significance behind meaning.

Get random

Autism, Latin, the Existential Abyss and references to Superman. That's pretty random, but it all fits.

Autism, Latin, the Existential Abyss and references to Superman. That’s pretty random, but it all fits.

This exercise in the writing process is about bouncing new electrical flashes through the writer’s brain, making new connections and getting synapses firing to see nonlinear possibilities. Frequently, you can find something new that influences the story simply by opening a dictionary and pointing. An atlas and a Wikipedia search might give you a random fact that sparks something. I found Gas City, for instance. The name alone captured my imagination and got me thinking about a new track to follow in Season 2. New characters and furious battles evolved from the way that slapped my brain.

If you’ve got an area of interest (baseball, plumbing, woodwork, salmon fishing, animal husbandry, whatever) work it in to give your characters depth. I’ve got a sensitive soldier with expertise in military history who shows up in the zombie apocalypse. I’ve also got an Irish cop from a tiny Irish resort. The place informs the character. These are the sort of factors that make the people on the page real. Jack (Jacqueline) Spencer majored in Elizabethan poetry. That makes her feel pretty useless when society collapses, but her development now has an arc. Up from zero, she gains experience on the road east to a hoped for haven from the apocalypse.

For me? It’s pathology that fascinates.

I studied anatomy first and was awed by our biological complexity. Then I studied Merck’s Manual and I’ve been a hypochondriac ever since. It’s startling how fragile we are, so pathology often finds its way into my books, one way or another. I know a lot about how the body breaks, so I’m sure you can guess how that might play into a crime novel.

I know a lot about migraines (and the many variations of headaches.) His inability to act shows up in one of my WIPs and becomes crucial to the protagonist’s predicament when the cops come calling, asking for an alibi. My protagonist in This Plague of Days is autistic which, naturally, gives him a unique point of view on the end of the world. Another character has Desmoid tumours. This is a rare condition, but it turns out to be very relevant to the story. Her disease saves her from a worse fate than Desmoid tumours (in a way I can’t divulge yet, of course. That’s Season 3 stuff.)

Take a fragment and build your next chapter around it. Make the fragment an element.

These general suggestions are random sparks. If an atlas or a dictionary or a quick Google search can make your story catch fire, and if you can make these new variables seamless, you’ll find their inclusion can get you unstuck.

Therefore:

a summer camp in Columbus, Ohio with too many mosquitoes

the ruins of a castle hidden under heavy snow

a rusted can opener, forgotten in the kitchen’s junk drawer

a tippy chair with one short leg

angina

Captain Cooke’s death

her mother’s wedding ring inscription

Try one of some of those for a start. How might they fit in your narrative? Keep going and don’t worry if you get stuck. The next step will come to you and, if not, go find that next step. Finish your story.

Tips and inspiration for the writer's journey to publication.

Tips and inspiration for the writer’s journey to publication.

~ Hi. I’m Robert Chazz Chute. I wrote a couple of books full of inspiration to get writers to get their books done. I also write about a kid on the autistic spectrum facing the end of the world, zombies who aren’t really zombies and vampires who aren’t really vampires. There are also jokes and Latin proverbs. It’s…oddly engaging and does not suck. See all the books here.

I also host the All That Chazz podcast and the Cool People Podcast. To learn more about This Plague of Days, go to ThisPlagueOfDays.com.

Filed under: NanNoWriMo, Writers, Writing exercise, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

NaNoWriMo isn’t bad. You are.

One neurotic fellow worried, in public, about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo.) 

Worry 1

“If it goes really well, I’d be embarrassed to admit the published book started with NaNoWriMo.”

Yes, this was actually a concern. That sounds silly to me, but putting aside the snobby subtext, let’s answer that. More than 100 published novels have emerged from NaNoWriMo beginnings and I’m sure the authors are grateful for the kick start NaNo supplied. If you need a kick in the pants, NaNoWriMo can help make a solitary pursuit feel more gentle with the support of an enthusiastic community. Whatever helps you get past the time management hump and into actually writing is peachy with me. Starting is hard.

I’m working on a novel that emerged from a short story in Murders Among Dead Trees. That happens a lot. Bigger Than Jesus and Higher Than Jesus were born from a short story in Self-help for Stoners.

Book ideas come from lots of places. We shouldn’t be embarrassed about process. Instead, embrace what works for you. Otherwise, you get lost chasing your tail. If you must be embarrassed about something, worry about how much autobiographical source material you’re using from that series of bad decisions you made in Vegas.

Or, how about this answer? Don’t be a poo.

Worry 2

“The problem with NaNoWriMo is people think they’ll have a novel at the end of it.”

No, they don’t. NaNoWriMo has warned about this syndrome from the beginning. Most people write to join in the fun and to share support they have no other month of the year. Most people know what these moralizing purists refuse to acknowledge: 

A. Non-writers, novices and aspiring writers are often (oh my Thor!) just as smart as any purist.

B. Writing is the opposite of rocket science. It’s an associative process of making neural connections in new ways that expresses a basic human capacity for creativity. There are good writers and unskilled writers, but ignorance does not equal stupidity. Take the Art seriously, sure, but writers should not take themselves so seriously. It’s supposed to be fun and engaging and many people can do it.

C. Critics of NaNo poop on the participants and say they’re wasting their time. Are all the hobbyist painters wasting their time, too? It’s their time to enjoy wasting. Stop being nasty to NaNoWriMo. You don’t sound noble and professional. You sound insecure about competition from upstarts who dare to pick up a pen, just like you must have done once. 

D. We all know this is just a quick, first draft that will later be expanded, rewritten, pummelled and edited. In most cases, it won’t be submitted or published anywhere, ever. It’s just a start, a challenge, an experiment. Its value is that you can’t edit and improve what isn’t on the page.

This straw man is trotted out for burning each November when oh-so-serious people who write in one way (i.e. like they’re constipated and too fascinated with their leavings) insist that everybody have the same process.*

Yes, some people refuse to acknowledge that their first draft is not great. I’m sure there are even a few people who fire off their first draft of 50,001 words to an agent. But so many people participate in NaNoWriMo, there are bound to be a few novices too sure of their greatness who refuse to follow instructions.

Let’s stop being mean, have a laugh and have a go if you want.

The first time I attempted NaNoWriMo, I didn’t make it to 50,000 words and I was left with a partial manuscript I didn’t like. The second time, I did complete the challenge. Now I don’t do NaNoWriMo because I write no matter what, at least 2,000 words a day. Nothing against NaNo. It’s simply that participating fully would add a stovepipe to my outhouse and the days are short.

Now, on to more troubling questions:

What’s with all the toilet analogies, Chazz?

*This post is based on actual objections to NaNoWriMo. Not all critics of NaNoWriMo deserve the thrashing I’m pointing at one particular critic. If it’s simply not for you, that’s peachy, too. In defence of NaNo, I wrote the inspired imagery with the word “constipated” in it the first time, without revising a word.

Filed under: NanNoWriMo, Writers, writing tips, , , , , ,

As NaNoWriMo comes to a close…take a break!

Congratulations to all who participated in NaNoWriMo and got it done!

You stayed up late and got up early to write your novel. You got hired a babysitter for a couple of hours of uninterrupted time. You took the phone off the hook and got writer’s cramp instead of whining about writer’s block. Good for you!

Next stop: EDITING.

But first, let that manuscript breathe. Please.

Give it some time before you go back to revisit. Take a break before you get down into the dirty business of sifting through the carnage for the good stuff. Give yourself some time. You’ve had a crazy month so tonight, celebrate. Relax. Catch up on the TV you recorded through November.

Or why not kick back and relax with a comedy podcast? Oh, look at that. I have one!  Self-help for Stoners is also on iTunes. If you like it, leave a review. (If you don’t like it, go do something you do like.)

Filed under: NanNoWriMo, , , , ,

One way to write more

 

 

Writing is an arty business that requires a lot of patience, persistence and waiting. Many people give up too soon because they aren’t getting a dopamine release. Like your Mom told you as you lay on the living room couch in front of the XBOX for the eighteenth hour, you’ll do better in business if you master the knack for delayed gratification. (Somehow. I don’t know how.) The problem is your body is programmed to hit the short-term happy button like a chicken pounding the pellet lever for a crazed psychologist’s cocaine experiment. Long-term thinkers have manuscripts to publish. Short-term thinkers will ditch work to hit a Transformers movie.

Other professions get a personal payoff faster. Watch any chiropractor at work and you can see the dopamine release hit them in the brain pan with each spinal crack. Some professions never get a happy brain chemical payoff (e.g. any retail food industry job. The hit comes from abusing customers and stealing fries straight from the fry-o-later.)

People who write  a lot do so for varied reasons: NaNoWriMo hopes, fear, desperation, spite, being otherwise unemployable, ambition, compulsion or perhaps, as George Orwell admitted, a rather pathetic need “to be thought clever.” (Bingo!) Underneath most of our brain tickles is dopamine, the drug of choice in the pharmacy that is your brain.

This may sound a little bit silly, but it’s working for me. Last night I was at my keyboard reworking the morning’s writing (the fountain pen’s comes first) and my nine-year-old son popped into the office and said, “What is that sound?”

A chimpanzee brain at the Science Museum London

Image via Wikipedia

“That, my tiny friend, is an ancient sound I’ve brought back through the magic of the interwebs.” (Google “Typewriter sounds” for your device and you’ll find another tool for your personal reward system.)

He gave me the quirky eyebrow, annoyed plus perplexed look. (Try that. It’s a tough combination.)

“That’s the sound of a typewriter, son.” When I hit the keys on my Mac’s keyboard, click, click, click-click, clickety click. Fun, yes? Well, it is for me. And I don’t think it’s just nostalgia for my first year of journalism school. I’m getting aural feedback on my typing so I find I’m typing a little faster and a little more accurately. And dopamine. That, plus the floaty feeling of slipping into a story and making the world go away.

Aaaaah! Give me another hit, Mr. Candyman! Clickety-clack, clickety-click, Barba trick…click…clickety…

How do you reward yourself for missions accomplished to keep the plates spinning and the fun coming faster?

Filed under: getting it done, NanNoWriMo, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , ,

#NaNoWriMo: Five Advantages of Fast Writing

Traditional wisdom is that it takes a lot of time and energy to write a book. That’s generally true. However, that counts the entire process. It takes a long time to revise, edit and hone aWriting_fast book until you feel you’re ready to let it go. That doesn’t mean you can’t write a first draft quickly. Some purists will protest that haste will decrease the quality of a writer’s work in favour of quantity. Sure. I have a different take on that objection. Assume your first draft is going to suck anyway. Since you’re best writing is rewriting, it’s best to have something to revise. For many writers, if they didn’t write the first draft in haste, they might not have anything to revise at all. You can’t edit a blank page.

So here’s my contrarian view on why  fast writing can be a very good thing:

1. You maintain your enthusiasm for the project because you get the first draft done quickly. Marathon writing takes endurance. A sprint can be advantageous, especially if you haven’t completed a manuscript in the past and you’re developing those muscles.

2. When you write in haste, you can see the whole project’s development at once. You’re less likely to drop threads when you get the first draft done in a short time. If you’ve read Under the Dome by Stephen King—a huge and heavy book of great length which, in general, I enjoyed—maybe you noticed that he seemed to have a supernatural element on the protagonist’s side that is never explained and soon forgotten. It took him three years or so to write it. That might be why something’s amiss.

3. Increased productivity primes your art pump. If you produce a lot, you tend to produce more the rest of the time, too. It’s the literary equivalent of, if you want the job done, give it to a busy person. Artists need to get into the habit of production and treat their work as a business and a craft (instead of something that can only produced when the planets align and you have a handy vial of unicorn blood to consecrate your art-making ceremony.)

4. Increased production equals more money in the long run. That’s not mercenary. That’s math. If you can produce four books (and sell them) in the time it takes someone else to write one, you’re ahead (unless the other guy is William Styron, but he’d be ahead in any case…and he’s dead.)

5. You may not sell everything you write. In fact, if you’ve got an agent, an editor and a publisher between you and the market, there’s an excellent chance someone will stand up at some point and say, this isn’t ready for your customers. (They may or may not be right about that. When Robert Munsch‘s publisher told him the world wasn’t ready for Love You Forever, he took that controversial children’s book elsewhere. And had a hit.)

My point is, if you spend ten years writing a book and it does not sell, you will be sad. If you have other books to sell, the one disappointment won’t sting so much. You know how every second Star Trek movie was great and the others suck?  It evens out when you have more out there.

If I sound like I’m blaming, shaming and pointing fingers, I apologize. I have been guilty of acting like a dilettante about my fiction. I’ve had to gather unicorn blood before I could summon the muse. That’s changed recently as I’ve reevaluated. I’m motivated now to go into heavy production and get to work on the revisions for my books and, as Seth Godin puts it, “Ship!” (Also, see the post below on Lessons Received from An Evening with Kevin Smith for the whys and wherefores. )

My book production won’t happen overnight. But it will happen faster than it was happening. Boo-ya!

Filed under: NanNoWriMo, writing tips, , , , , , , ,

#NaNoWriMo: The Back-up Plan (& The Hypnogogic Writing Tip)

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I really struggled with my plot for NaNoWriMo. I laid down beats for one-and one-half books before I scrapped it all. It wasn’t that the ideas were bad exactly. The ideas were not ambitious enough. The stories were strong up front but I couldn’t see my enthusiasm carrying me through to the end. 

When I say “scrapping it all,” it sounds rather careless and casual. It wasn’t. With only a few days before the start, I didn’t have a story I wanted to tell. That was surprising (to me, least) because the bigger the story, the more I want an outline. Compounding my worry (and shame) was that I had already advised others that they needed an outline to increase their chance of NaNoWriMo success. I have written a couple of half-books before. Poor abandoned halflings they were. They’d been born strong and healthy but they went bad,  failed to thrive and died on the table in my surgery. Agony crushes your heart. Reaching for something that isn’t there caves your skull. Non-writers would call it self-doubt (but nevermind non-writers. I don’t understand them any better than I grok non-readers. Bunch’a freaks.)

Halloween night as little goblins and comically-short Vader imposters came to the door for cavity and diabetes inducers, I looked over my outlines. How would I make them work? Could I rig the stories so I’d have the energy to ride all the way home? No, I decided. Problems can be fixed, but a lack of enthusiasm for one whole plot and the utter lack of the second half of a book? I might wake up with a solution to those conundrums some day, but I was sure I couldn’t force a solution over a 30-day writing stretch. Not without breaking something.

Then I decided, screw it. <insert sigh of self-loathing here>  I’ll wing it.

Or…waitadamnminute…what did I say about waking up with a solution? Of course!

I let the hypnogogic state come to my rescue. The hypnogogic state is that special twilight of consciousness between sleep and waking that is rich territory for buried treasures and epiphanies. I’ve used it to resolve many issues. As I fall asleep I ask the question. As I wake, the answer comes. I’ve plotted solutions, found resolution and clarity and come up with intuitive and counter-intuitive ideas for many questions in my life and work. It didn’t fail me this time, either.

Yesterday morning I woke thinking about a short story I’d written recently. It’s an alternative future as many of my stories are. It occurred to me that I had left the end of that sad story on a somewhat comic and hopeful note for change.

The epiphany was, “That hopeful ending worked as a short story. If you trash the hero’s hopes for that resolution, it’s the end of an early chapter.” A-HA!

Few plot developments fail if the author is determined to torture the protagonist. I had created a rich world in that short story. Now that early preparation could be useful for the NaNoWriMo project. I’d use that world and link it up with the half-story I had plotted. The two stories are unrelated, but they could share that world of secret police, relentless surveillance and a theocracy run amok. 

I woke up smiling with a good beginning and a hero who was now a Cheech and Chong/Fugitive meets Mr. Spock in search of a Terminator (played by Summer Glau, not the governator.)  The first story was about the discovery and governmental repression of a miracle drug. The second was about robots reaching such complexity they are indistinguishable from humans. Now those stories will be in the same timeline. 

I’ve found my enthusiasm for the story. It will carry me to the end now.

Filed under: NanNoWriMo, publishing, writing tips, , , ,

Winner of Writer's Digest's 2014 Honorable Mention in Self-published Ebook Awards in Genre

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