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

Write and publish with love and fury.

Since I can’t rock a pencil skirt: My Writing Process

I don’t look good in a pencil skirt, even the neon pink one (dammit!) However, my friend, awesome author Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar (who does look sharp in a pencil skirt), asked me about my writing process. Since my fashion sense sucks, we stuck to talking about writing.

What are you working on, Chazz?

I’m putting the finishing touches to my apocalyptic series, This Plague of Days. It’s about a boy on the autistic spectrum facing the end of the world with his family. He’s our very unlikely champion. This is the third and last book in the series, but I’m putting all three seasons into one big ebook, too. At the moment, I’ve got five other books in the editorial pipeline at various stages of production.

How does your work differ from others of its genre?

I wrote it kind of like a television series. Three seasons (books) with five episodes per season. It’s not your typical shoot ’em up of a zombie story. There are three plagues and a large cast of characters so you see the crisis develop across continents. Lots of seeds and secrets were dropped along the way so the big payoffs and reveals all culminate in a story that builds and builds. It’s ambitious and really takes the reader on unexpected journeys. All the questions are answered in the end. This is my Star Wars.

Why do you write what you do?

I’m not attached to any one genre, but I do love suspense. My obsession is to take the reader on a roller coaster ride with lots of fun twists and turns, hanging off cliffs and chased by dragons and whatnot. You know…imagine the roller coaster at Hell’s amusement park. And just when you’re sure you’re safe, you aren’t.

How does your writing process work?

Typically, I write one chapter a day. That’s usually 1200 to 2500 words. I used to be more nocturnal, but now I find I’m more productive when I work earlier in the day. Since writing This Plague of Days as a serial, I’m really enjoying interacting with readers on Facebook as I write. I’ll finish a chapter and pick out a tidbit I like as a teaser or a taster and post it for some insta-reaction. That’s fun and buoys me through the parts of writing and publishing I enjoy less.

The writing process, for me, is to write myself lost. There I am in a corner. How will I find my way out? At the end of my crime novel, Higher Than Jesus, for instance, I figured a way for Jesus Diaz to kill an armed bad guy, credibly, while Diaz is bound to a chair eight feet away. That was quite a trick and one I’m proud of.

I don’t write by-the-numbers fiction. That bores me. Frequently, the only firm thing I know as I write is what the last line of the book will be. I write to discover what I think and for the joy of creativity and to surprise myself. If I can surprise myself, I’ll definitely surprise the reader.

This Plague of Days will launch in early June. Find out more about This Plague of Days at ThisPlagueOfDays.com. My author site is AllThatChazz.com.

~ Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar included me in her blog hop so a string of writers could share how they approach their writing process. She is a South Asian American who has lived in Qatar since 2005. Moving to the Arabian Desert was fortuitous in many ways since this is where she met her husband, had two sons, and became a writer.

To learn about her writing process and to check out her books, go to www.mohadoha. Follow her on Twitter @moha_doha. Click here for her Amazon author page.

You can also hear my interview with Mohana on the Cool People Podcast. She speaks of her experience in Qatar as a writer whose book has been banned. Why listen? Because she’s cool, of course.

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Writing Process: Ten Moments in the Writer’s Life

1. You become a writer.

It’s usually not something you really decide. It happens to you, like disease. It’s a life where you’re either writing or you’re distracted and feeling you should be writing, forever. Like homework, for adults, 24/7. And some of the teachers mark really hard.

2. You escape the life of mortals.

You become so involved in the story that time flies and you don’t care that you’re cursed to do homework for life. In fact, you feel fortunate you’ve found this for yourself. You dream of seeing your name in print. And the accolades! That will be sweet! Finally, self-worth fed to you by strangers!

3. You meet your first dream killer.

Someone scolds you for daring to use an adverb and shrieks that, “A sentence fragment is not a sentence!”, as if you didn’t know. Then they tell you not to bother with writing.

“Perhaps you’ll find animal husbandry more fulfilling,” they’ll say, because they’re full of terrible advice and, oddly, they sound very confident.

This is a critical juncture.

If the person has too much influence over you or you’re young enough, you might quit. If quitting is an option, that’s okay. Writing isn’t for everyone. 

4. You enter the Octagon.

You send out queries and manuscripts and you get rejection slips but you don’t care because it means you’re putting yourself out there and you’re in the game. You’re not talking about writing like it’s a dream in a far off retirement. You’re doing it now. Every moment of it feels important.

5. You get feedback on your writing that’s really useful.

You put away the first bunch of stories or your novella or even your first novel or two and you begin again. You improve.

6. You get your first success.

It might be a writing award or an article in a magazine. Maybe you get $25 or maybe you don’t, but the money’s not important to you. Your parents will ask how much you won or got paid. That dagger in your heart comes from a place of love. Probably.

7. You get your first hater.

I won third place in short story contest and $1000. Someone was offended that my story won and wrote a screed about how it sucked, I sucked and this was what was wrong with the world (and possibly this side of the galaxy.) He didn’t win so, naturally, now we’re all gonna die!

The thing about the Internet is, people will say things on their blog that, if said in person, would lead them on a trip to major reconstructive surgery and not a judge in the land would convict. As far as I know, that dude still hasn’t written anything besides his doctoral thesis in English literature. Poor guy is still unread and still brings joy to no one. If only he’d pursued animal husbandry, we’d all be happier (though that’s a terrible thing to do to innocent animals.)

8. Your finger hovers over the mouse.

You’re about to hit the “publish” button. It’s nerve-wracking. How many mistakes have you missed? How mean will the reviews be? How good might they be? You thought this would be one of the highs moments of your writing career. Instead, hitting publish is remarkably stressful. After you hit that button, birth that book and send it out into the cold air, you might even feel postpartum depression for days or weeks. I do, every time.

9. You get your first true fan.

For some reason, vague to both writer and reader, something you wrote connects viscerally. Someone loves what you wrote and you love them for it. They are invaluable. They are your chief five-star reviewer, defender, cheerleader and advocate. They’re so awesome, you’re pretty sure they don’t poop. Inexplicably, they think the same of you.

Through the simple mechanism of words on the page, you’ve bypassed his or her brain and you have their heart. Then you start to worry that, with your next book, you’ll screw it up and lose them. The thought of losing a die-hard fan? Hello, Insomnia.

10. You go deeper with your writing.

You tell yourself you’re sufficiently seasoned now so the haters should bother you less. Maybe they shouldn’t bother you, but they will. I got a belittling letter at Christmas that knocked me so far down I didn’t write anything for a month.

But then you get back to it and you remember what cartoonist Lynda Barry calls “that floaty feeling” you get as a creative.

Publication per se? That matters less. It’s the writing process itself that is the thing. Yes, you want readers and lots of them, but you write for yourself first. You discover what you think and feel by writing. The writing journey is the reward. You lose yourself in the prose and in a small way, there’s something immortal and divine about that dopamine drip, washing your neocortex as you write and dream and create.

It’s just so darn godlike to kill people…

Um…in fiction. Right. That’s what I meant.

~ I’m Robert Chazz Chute and I poop. I also create worlds. If you create worlds, too, you’d probably enjoy reading this.

If you like to read stories that make you question whether the author may or may not poop, try this.

Also, right now, for a more buck, you can get a box set from me and seven other writers who are so awesome, they definitely don’t poop. Get the Horror Within box set now. 

This is the most I’ve written the word “poop” in one blog post. Or 3,000 blog posts. Why was I denying you this joy for so long? Now I feel bad. Better go kill some people…

 

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Writing Process: How to screw it up

1. Talk about it too much without typing. Lose energy that could go on the page. Talking is so much easier than typing. In fact, maybe you should be in radio.

2. Don’t write notes as soon as great ideas, additions and twists occur to you. Better to stay in bed another few minutes than catch the lightning.

3. Don’t outline at all for fear it will screw up your spontaneity. You’re an artiste, man! Let the muse sing! Planning is for wussies and many successful writers.

4. Even if a new and brilliant scene occurs to you, don’t stray from your outline because letting OCD control you is much more important than writing a better book. Readers will understand. Well, not readers plural….

5. Take all opinions from your writing group and try to accommodate everyone. They must know your story better than you do, or you wouldn’t be asking everybody, right?

6. Write it quickly and keep going no matter what, even if it appears you’re headed for a dead end because your track coach told you to run through the pain (that spring you tore your knee up and were on crutches all summer.)

7. Write it slowly because the longer it takes, the better it will be, even if the process and the manuscript become so long and involved you can’t keep the core of the story straight in your head anymore. It’s okay, you’ll live forever so it doesn’t matter when, or if, you ever finish the book.

8. Don’t bother with taking any notes for a character guide or story bible. Who cares if your heroine’s eye colour changes eight times and her name changes four times in the space of two paragraphs? You can hate yourself forever, sure, but you were going to do that anyway, right?

9. Don’t read any books in your genre. You wouldn’t want to risk being influenced by anyone good or be aware of what clichés to avoid. That sounds like a task for nasty reviewers.

10. Don’t defend your writing time. Everyone’s more important than you and your dreams. If you don’t allow everyone to stomp all over you, how will you be the martyr who never published because…well, life is just too darn hard, isn’t it? But you could have been great! You’ll always have that.

BONUS:

Hate everything you write. There’s no time to improve it later in revisions so everything sucks and always will. Well…that’s a timesaver!

Love everything you write. History will realize your genius after death. It’s just the editors in this epoch who have you all wrong.

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“Writing a book by committee is a great idea in every way!” said everyone but the writer.

Imagine all the people from all the classes you’ve ever taken in one room. Each group has its own character, but today we’re going to focus on the outliers and oddball characters with whom you’ve gone to school. I’m not talking about those who stand out for their smarts and sweetness. I’m talking about the girl who, just before the last bell rang, reminded the teacher about extra homework for the class just before the long weekend. Remember the annoying guy who always had another question or inane comment to add long after a subject was beaten to death? And don’t forget the person who was really stupid, but for some reason thought he should speak a lot. Worse, he was smug about it.

Now put all those people you didn’t like in school and put them in charge of your work in progress.

That pressure behind your eardrums is your brain trying to escape.

This scenario isn’t entirely theoretical.

Recently, I listened to two different podcasts about two of the most successful television shows that exist. These were true fans…but:

1. On several points, they seemed determined to be confused about plot points even though the answers were readily available on screen, if only they’d looked.

2. Several weenies missed subtleties that weren’t really that subtle. It’s not the fault of the show’s writers if you aren’t paying attention. If you’re missing something, stop tweeting while you watch The Walking Dead

3. Someone objected to issues within the shows that are non-issues. e.g. Is Leonard’s mom on The Big Bang Theory really a licensed psychiatrist? If true, she’s terrible! Answer: it’s a comedy and you aren’t supposed to like that character and it’s a comedy and it’s a comedy and oh, for the love of Thor! Stop!

4. These dedicated amateurs had one or two good suggestions (I’m guessing by accident.) The rest of their requests for changes were objectively terrible, like dumping beloved characters that made the shows work, for instance.

There’s a reason we don’t write by committee.

It’s good that writing is a lonely job. You don’t get book ideas and plot points from other people. The elements develop organically, rising up from character and logic and by answering the question, “What’s next?” And then answering it again and again until you stop writing or die. The writing grows from the act of writing.

Input is helpful after you’ve done the work, sure, but don’t even ask a trusted friend what to do when you’re still in the second draft. He doesn’t know. How can he? You wouldn’t ask if you should turn left or right when all he knows is that you’re somewhere in New Mexico.

“Is this the right direction? Should the Mom die in the middle of the book?” A good friend will tell you to keep writing and hang up on you so you can get back to it. Finish something before you show it to anyone. You’re in command. Steer your ship solo. Lots of people will have their say later.

Everyone has an opinion on everything, even more so when they know less about the subject.

Once upon a time at a writing conference, an author asked me about the book I was writing. I gave him the broad strokes and he said, without hesitation, that my second act was “wrong”. If there’s a high school suicide in the first act, then the main character has to be torn up about it.

“Not if he hated the suicidal kid’s guts to begin with,” I replied. 

“Dude!” he said without a microbe of doubt, “High school kids don’t act that way. They shouldn’t act that way!”

“In my book they do.”

Summarily dismissed, I slunk away and have since dedicated my life to hating Stephen King with the fiery heat of a thousand suns. (No! I’m kidding! The offending author was not Stephen King. I love Steve! Him, I would have believed.)

Here’s the crux:

There are few rules in writing, but one I’m sure of is this, “If it plays, it plays.” You can make anything work in context. You can sell anything if the story sells it.

My luckless hit man is a funny guy in big trouble.

My luckless hit man is a funny guy in big trouble.

People doubted me, but I created a sympathetic hit man named Jesus (in second-person throughout, no less.) I create a lot of anti-heroes and no, I don’t care if readers love and agree with all my characters. Loving and agreeing with characters is overrated. Interesting is more important than loving.

Many of my stories don’t yield an easy happy ending but give unexpected, yet satisfying endings instead. I rarely do happily ever after, but you’ll often find transcendence there.

My main character in This Plague of Days is on the autistic spectrum and hardly ever speaks (and when he does, it’s often in Latin phrases.) When Doubting Tommy asks, “How the heck are you going to make that work?”, the answer is, “Watch me.”

My mission isn’t to write something easy that entertains. My mission is to write something different that entertains. Too much consultation, especially early on, would squelch my process. We don’t write by committee because committees are how most things don’t get done. Committees are where good ideas go to die. Committees are where you’ll find three reasonable, intelligent and helpful people compromising with one insane fascist to arrive at something closer to crazy than good.

Choose your beta readers, editors and allies carefully and don’t show them anything too early in your process. The book is only yours as long as you’re writing it. After that, it goes out to the world and it’s up to thousands of readers to decide if your vision pleases them. 

Make sure that, whatever you write, it pleases you.

~ The latest All That Chazz podcast is up at AllThatChazz.com. You’ll also find helpful affiliate links to my books there so you can buy them, which is quite a happy coincidence, isn’t it? Thanks. For a topic sort of related to this one, you can also get the latest update on Season 3 of This Plague of Days here.

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Top Ten: Make your writing count

braingasm cover1. One is the loneliest number. It’s you, the author, facing the blank page. There’s no one with whom to share responsibility to write and no one to share the blame for when you get it wrong. You are alone in here until you allow the ghosts to come forward and their voices to speak.

2. Two is you and your reader. You become invisible. The reader disappears. That leaves the story as the bridge, hanging in the air between two indefinite points and reaching through time. If the story is strong, the ethereal is made real and two indefinite points connect in mutual imagination. This is the only magic I know.

3. Three, as in “Rule of”. No one knows why the Rule of Three works. It just does. Lists of two feel insufficient and weak. A list of more than three feels pedantic, overblown, overly long, simply too much and see what I’m doing here? If you do, then you are paying attention, astute and onboard.

4. Four is the number of years you were in university, supposedly learning how to write. If you fell for that, well…I did, too. We would have spent all that money better had we hit the road, read a lot and just wrote. You may want one, but you don’t need an MFA. You need a little recklessness and exposure to the world and curiosity to lead you to what you need to know. I learned more about writing in my first two weeks as a newspaperman than I did in four years of a journalism degree. 

5. Five is age five, as in when you start to remember things you can use against your parents in your first novel. Wherever a remembered childhood begins is where you begin collecting fodder, drama and trauma (see? Rule of Three!) that you will cannibalize until the Alzheimer’s gets its hooks in deep.

6. Six times three is the Number of the Beast and it sounds like “sex” and it was my lucky number when I believed in lucky numbers. Six is the number of degrees of separation and Kevin Bacon. Six represents the tentative connections upon which all fiction is built. Less than six is too linear. Six means you’re making fragile neural connections between ideas to construct something new and fresh and interesting. Shore up that spider web against high winds and less imaginative minds with facts and a realistic context that supports the suspension of disbelief.

7. Seven is the number of things scientists say we can do at one time. Don’t do that. Do one thing at one time. Do not multi-task. When you are writing, write. Until you can make the world go away, there’s no chance of building that bridge over the fog to reach readers.

8. Eight is a good number of beta readers and proofers. Chances are you can’t find eight excellent pre-publication readers willing to comb your manuscript. However, try for half that and use the others for specific skill sets. My survival expert and cartographer, for instance, knows where Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha! is.

9. Nine is the number of relatives you were sure would buy your book. At the family Christmas party, they will be disappointingly vague, clueless and heartless about your literary endeavours. Or worse, they will have read it and will shrug off the experience in crushing silence. Or worse still, they’ll ask you to ship them a free copy.

10. Ten is the top ten list you pray you’ll get on even if you don’t believe in God. Ten is the number of good reviews you need to get on many promotional lists. Ten is how you remember the date you took to the prom. Ten is a number representing what’s best. Ten is the number of digits on the hand that pulls you up from anonymity with a tweet of endorsement, a clap on the back and a congratulatory handshake. Ten equals Hope.

Today, you are one.

Write often, boldly and well.

Your writing will count.

Your readers will be innumerable.

~ I’m Robert Chazz Chute. I have a large Irish family and a large Japanese family. I wish they liked me enough to buy my books. Fortunately, #5.

 

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Write your thriller in chapters: 10 tips for greater productivity

There’s no one way to write a novel. I do, however, have ten suggestions to make it go easier and faster:

1. Outline. Have some idea where you’re going and what the destination might be. It’ll save you time doubling back from dead ends. Believe me, I’ve written myself into cul-de-sacs and it’s a time suck no one can afford. (No, you’re not married to the outline and you don’t have to go OCD with the Roman numeral outline you learned in grade eight. I’m trying to increase your productivity and enhance your creativity, not shackle it.)

2. If you outline, you don’t have to write your story in sequence. With an outline, you already have the beats, the bases you have to touch as you tell your story. If you’re not feeling very inspired one day, no big deal. Focus on the high points of your outline on the days you don’t start off “in the mood.” Bonus benefit: you’ll get all your sex scenes written first.

3. Write each chapter as if it’s a short story. Your novel has a beginning, middle and end. So should your chapters. I often see substandard chapters which finish without the pulls of intrigue, a cliffhanger or a bang. Some writers reason that if they make the larger story interesting, they can afford to have a chapter or two that isn’t compelling. It does sound reasonable. It’s also wrong. Tension has one direction: up. There are way too many great books to read (and a million other things to do) so, for many readers, you bore them, you lose them. Sure, you’ve made this sale, but they won’t be burnt again.

4. For each chapter, identify a purpose. If a chapter has no dramatic purpose, drop it. Too often I see manuscripts where the characters are up and moving around, but to no purpose. (When editing, purposeless activity is called “business” as in “busy-ness.” There’s movement, but nothing’s really happening.  A chapter without purpose signals self-indulgence, a writer who got lost for awhile, not enough editing or an author who insisted on a tangent at the expense of the book.

The other common problem? Too much world-building and not enough character. A writer once described to me in excruciating detail about the far out environment of his book. It was a very ethereal place in space with no points of reference between human readers and the gaseous clouds that were his characters. I had to shut him up. He was driving me crazy with exhaustive, pretty detail. “But what’s the story? How is your reader going to relate to that?” Science fiction is about people first. Fantasy is about people first. Stories are all, at their core, about people and the choices they make. Sift your world-building detail in amongst action and character development. Otherwise, it will be unreadable, confusing or the reader won’t care.

Chapters with purpose are compelling and propelling toward an conclusion the reader wants to discover. (But they also want to be fooled, too. So make them say, “Ah, I bet I know what happens next.” Then find a way to surprise them. Read any of William Goldman’s novels to really get this deep into the marrow.)

5. What are the scenes in your chapter and are they in the right sequence? Are you revealing too much early in the story? Are you being too coy with the reader in later chapters? Does the pace pick up as you reach the climax and solve the novel’s core problem? Is it really a surprise (and logical) when you get to that climax?

6. Are you taking shortcuts in logic or logistics? Somewhere in your book there’s a less favorite scene or something that requires more research that, frankly, you don’t want to do. If your heroine is in Paris and your hero is in New York, they can’t meet in the middle of the Atlantic on a train (unless your novel is set in the future or a past that never was, of course.)

Are you missing a bridge to get you from one event to another? This is a logistics problem. Your FBI investigators are in Virginia at Quantico. The kidnapping is in the Pacific Northwest. Do you need a scene of conflict within the team on the private or military jet to get to the crime scene? You may make that transition in just a single sentence or it might be a chapter, but without some acknowledgement of the travel issue, it will be jarring for the reader to have them materialize in Seattle. Time and space and placement of people in relation to each other is something to trip over if you don’t make the effort to handle it logically.

7. Do your chapters fit together? Suppose you have an entire book that takes place, A to B, sequentially over the course of the hottest August in a century. But there’s that one winter scene you’re slipping in with a flashback. Does this puzzle piece fit in with the tone of your other chapters? If not, is there a reason for it? For instance, if your hero needs a look back at an early Christmas morning for the one time he was happy to give him a clue or change of direction, it fits better than an odd chapter that seems plugged in.

8. Is each chapter satisfying? This is a little different from #3, and a larger, more esoteric editorial question. You’ve written each chapter as a short story. That’s fine and can help you face the challenge of writing an entire novel-length manuscript. Now I’m asking, does each chapter feel full? Is it contributing something more to the larger story arc? When all these short stories are cobbled together, will each contribute to a greater whole than the sum of the parts? Is there a richness in description, character and action that will leave the reader satisfied with the effort overall? Is the core problem big enough to bother with a full-length book? Do you force the reader through several hundred pages only to kill off the protagonist (can be done, but often iffy) or worse, find out said protagonist is a lummox they hate? Too often, authors make their obstacles too small, the villains too stupid, the stakes microscopic and the core problem not nearly big enough. You don’t have to save the world on every outing. Maybe you’re just saving one person, but make us care.

9. Does each chapter’s length make sense? When I say “make sense” here, I mean, do you achieve in the chapter what you need to accomplish at an appropriate pace? Chapters don’t have to have a uniform length. Mary Higgins Clarke’s chapters get progressively  shorter as she goes so it feels like a race to the finish. I find I like short chapters as a reader (and as an editor) because I feel like I’m making progress as I go through, marking up the milestones. Short chapters often feel like a breezy  read. As a writer, however, I find my chapters are longer so they have time and space to wind to their conclusion. However, some writers go so short they aren’t providing enough beats within each chapter. I sometimes see underwritten, choppy chapters where action isn’t happening and characters aren’t developing. When that happens, you don’t have a chapter yet. In that case, you probably have the components for scenes within one chapter.

10. Set a schedule. If you use each suggestion here as a guideline, you also have an estimation for how long it will take you to write your novel based in real time.  Since you’re writing your novel as short stories, progressing at a fairly predictable pace, set an end date for the first draft. Make a schedule to get to that date and stick to it.

Follow these guidelines and you’ll make real progress toward your goals. 

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Filed under: Books, Editing, getting it done, publishing, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

The first 81 lessons to get your Buffy on

More lessons to help you survive Armageddon

"You will laugh your ass off!" ~ Maxwell Cynn, author of Cybergrrl

Available now!

Fast-paced terror, new threats, more twists.

An autistic boy versus our world in free fall

Suspense to melt your face and play with your brain.

Action like a Guy Ritchie film. Funny like Woody Allen when he was funny.

Jesus: Sexier and even more addicted to love.

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