Hanging in there for the good stuff

block

So now that National Novel Writing Month is well underway, I’ve started out like gangbusters. The idea is fresh and new and has jillions of possibilities. Anything can happen. But what happens when you hit a wall? Like, in week two?

You run out of ideas on your story, what next? Well, my personal hard and fast rule is, don’t bail! If you have another idea for a story, jot it in your idea file, but as much as possible, don’t abandon ship on your original. I find that working on a story is a lot like working on a puzzle, and just because I can’t find the missing piece doesn’t mean I give up and start a new one.

A lot of times if you can distract yourself, get a drink of water, get a snack, go exercise for 20 minutes. Or 30. Give your mind a chance to mull things over and see what comes next. You would be surprised at what breaks through, if you just stick with it.

Maybe you’ve been trying to write in a linear way, holding on to a juicy scene that’s coming later in the story. Write it today and get your word count. I have a nice little book from by Maisel & Maisel called What Would Your Character Do? It’s a great treasure trove of questions that you can ask about your character that can go into their back story. Who are your characters friends? How long have they known each other? Who are your character’s enemies? What caused that relationship? Does your character have a love interest? Just lost one?

There are a lot of ways to get 50 thousand words. Sometimes I get writing prompts and use them for the story, or the antagonist. Everyone loves a good enemy. I decided to take a break and write this post to let you know that everyday won’t be easy writing. Today is one of my harder days. I get up walk around, do laundry, go to the store and come back to the page. I write a little more, look at a question or two and try find out more about them. If I don’t get anywhere, I go for a walk or exercise. Getting your blood moving really helps your thinking.

Another thing I have tried is writing a letter to your character, or writing a letter to someone as your character. Well, I cleared my head and feel ready to get back to the page. If you are doing NaNo, please feel free to look me up!

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How To Get it Down

A co-worker stopped me in the aisle today.The Editor
“Hey you write books, so I bet you know the answer. How do you go from story teller to writing it down? When I sit down in front of paper, I just know it’s not going to be perfect when I write it, so I can’t even start.”

Her question wasn’t the first time I’d heard about the Internal Editor. “The Editor” starts giving people a hard time right out of the gate, at the very first thought of writing. The Editor is that voice that attempts to defeat you before you jot the first tittle. The one that says, You better get this perfect the first time or it will not be worth doing. (Really?) The one that says, You don’t belong in the league with the writers; who do you think you are? The voice can be so pervasive, so loud, that many people, like my friend at work, won’t even try.

My advice, Don’t fall for it! Your writing doesn’t have to be perfect. That’s what revisions are for. My favorite quote of all time–the one that lets me slide under the wire and join the league of writers–is from James Thurber: “Don’t get it right, just get it down.”

When you revise, you’ll tweak dialog, explain the story a little more clearly, paint in a few more details, extract what fails to move the story forward, polish and refine. It’s okay if you don’t get it right the first time. No one will know or have to know (or probably care to know) what it took to get your piece to the point where you were happy with your writing.

Whether it’s a book, article, a poem or a play, I encourage you to give yourself permission to write a crappy first draft. Let yourself off the hook. Perfection is not a requisite to start, but! you don’t have to show it to anyone until it’s exactly where you want it, either.

If you’re a story teller, like my friend, maybe you could gather your little audience (hers were children) and record the story while you tell it. Then it can easily be transcribed and (kids remarks edited out) adding in the critical details, or adding what may have been left out, or deleting what may have been repeated when you are alone.

So, what’s keeping you from putting your pen to paper?

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Duly Warned

nanowrimo-poster
Well, I’m warning you well in advance. National Novel Writing Month begins November 1st!

If you’re a writer, you probably have one or a dozen stories cooking on your big 14 burner stove. So what if 7 of them are on the back burners and another three stay simmering on super low? The point would be that our heads are always wondering how some set of circumstances will play out. Right?

Last year, I stuck my fingers in my ears on November 1st and willed myself not to participate. I didn’t have a story, didn’t want to get sucked up in the crazy NaNo vortex trying to figure out how I was going to come up with 50,000 words.

On day four of (and incidentally, my daughter’s birthday) while minding my own business, and doing my pay me dance at the 925, (okay, really, I was chopping tomatoes) and one of my coworkers says, “The planet would be a much better place if everyone over 50 was dead.”

What? How would that even be possible? And just like that, my mind started running down all the despicable ways that a wicked world government might possibly annihilate an entire 2.5 generations. My mind took off, like the dogs seeing the rabbit at the racetrack. I couldn’t write fast enough. I even developed a book cover I loved to further inspire me. I hit 50k a full 5 days ahead of the 30th.

Wonder how I made such good time? There is no prewriting, and I hold fast to that rule, but aside from that, I’m not a purist. When it comes to first drafts, anything goes, and all words count toward the 50k word count. If I want to spend 1000 words defining a character, I do. Sometimes it turns into a scene, or a conversation, which is even better. Dialog is fantastic for brainstorming. You never know what a character will say (Especially an angry character) and it often takes the story in a different direction. Sometimes I’ll have only vignettes, what a character is thinking. How do they dress? What’s in their pockets or purse? Who is their enemy? Who else is in the story? What are your character’s motives? What are their goals and dreams? How many characters do you have?

Once I start down a path, I don’t throw it over and start a new story. I stick with one story. Always.

A writer friend, who later became my husband, once told me, if you don’t have a linear story, write the parts you do know. Then later, you can find ways to string them together. (This has worked amazingly well for both of us.) On more than one occasion, I wrote a part later that needed to happen earlier. It’s wonderful how the mind works to build a story. Writing challenges ought to prick the brain. I love to challenge myself and 50 thousand words in 30 days is perfect.  NaNoWriMo is the perfect venue to write with reckless abandon. Just rack up words. You can sort it out later! One of my favorite quotes of all time is from James Thurber. “Don’t get it right, just get it down.” Words I live by. More words to live by: Butt in Chair, Fingers on Keys.

And if you are lucky enough to write a linear, polished story by the end of the month, you will find many opportunities to preserve your diamond in print! So, who’s with me? Just go look around, think about it. Preregister. It makes life easier. But if you take the plunge, look me up. JuliOcean. Let’s be writing buddies!  I’ll encourage you!

NaNoWriMo.org

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Why do you write?

office

A panoramic of my little office

Recently, I reconnected with a blogger friend of mine. We were talking about jobs and she asked if mine was fun or a bread and butter job. I knew what she meant. I call it the 925 even though it’s part time. Definitely b&b but it is also fun. It’s really even more than that, it’s a well of characters, a wealth of characters. New people always coming in, New names arriving daily. It keeps me moving and I don’t really have time to be bored there. In the lulls between various daily rushes, I think about my book(s).
The other day one of my coworkers came into my department and told me she thought I had a glamourous job.
“Here?” I asked. Certainly, bread and butter jobs have their advantages. But glamour is hardly among them.
“No, your writing job. I think it would be glamorous to be a writer.”
Okay, of all my writer friends, I wonder does a single one of you view your own writing life as glamorous?
“Really, you think so?” I ask.
“Why, don’t you?” she was walking away with a cup of water in one hand, looking over her shoulder. Maybe as opposed to data entry, or a call center, or collections or…?
“No, I guess I don’t. It’s a solitary job and I’m stuck in a closet most of the time tapping keys.” I figured she’d keep heading off to her department. She didn’t. She came back.
“Well, I guess it’ll all be worth it for the glitz and glam of the book signings, then, huh?”
“I’ll let you know.” I smiled. That’s still something in the future for me.
It caused me to ask myself why do I write? What are my reasons for writing? I’ve been one of those people who wrote all the time since I can remember. It never really occurred to me that I was a writer because of that. I would find it difficult to stop.
Maybe you’re new to the writing game. I encourage you to write down measurable goals and your dreams for writing. Do you want to be published? How do you want to be published? Only a publishing house? Self publish? After you get published, what then?
Maybe you like essays or article writing. Maybe you write amazing poetry. Maybe you write so you can record spoken word to share with friends and family. If you’re writing a book, do you think you have another book inside you? A series? Do you like telling stories?
How far do you want to go with your writing?
I will confess, that it would be a mind blowing trip to make the NYT best seller list. And, I would like (another) one of my stories to become a film. Actually, a full length feature movie. I was thrilled when my niece decided to turn my prize winning essay, Ghost of Christmas Past into a short film for her senior college project. (I had a different name then as you will see if you watch the flick. If you want to see it, check the link at the end of this post.)
But what are your dreams for your writing? I encourage you to write them down. Check your goals often, update them and create new ones. Whatever you do, never give up. Pursue the dream. You never know, you could end up with a glamorous writing life.

If you wondered about the short flick by Lindsey Leanne here it is. If it asks for a password, it is: whowillremember

This was her vision of a true story that happened to me many years ago. Maybe one day, I will republish it.

Who Will Remember?

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An adventure in research

I’m currently working on my next full length novel. Some people will tell you that  writing gets easier with each book. The  writing aspect does, I have a better command of the language, it’s easier to hit my writing goal (which at one time was a mere 300 words or a short page a day). I know if I get side barred that I will sit down at the page again the next day. I trust myself, if I’m tired take a nap and go back to the page. I keep track of my word counts every day on a calendar.

What isn’t always easier is staying on track when doing research.

For example, when I do research it’s easy to follow a trail and squander huge blocks of time. I can look up reference material for dead zones for cell phones in the mountains and find myself searching for a new phone.

I find it necessary to write a list of what I need to check or research go to it and then get offline! Do not pass Face Book in or out which means no playing Candy Crush saga… (sorry to my friends who need lives and extra moves.)

Research is a critical part of your book. It can be as simple as finding out the name of a high school in another city, or checking out the lay of the land by Google Earth. If you want your book to be credible, research is nearly impossible to avoid. After all, you want your story to ring true to the reader.

I once read a story in which the writer failed to do her homework. After the first three chapters, I was angry and frustrated. A short way into the book, my editor hat was on and I was looking for mistakes. Not a good reading experience. (I sent along the revisions to them and that is another story altogether.)

People spend good money on books, and it’s our job as writers to educate and/or entertain. It isn’t supposed to be about them finding mistakes that need corrected or being irked by flawed information.

The very word research conjures up all sorts of dry, dusty images, doesn’t it? Really, it’s more of a learning adventure. For my first novel, it was important that one of my characters learn to properly handle a gun. Research for that: I took a class that trained me in gun mechanics, how to load, properly handle and shoot, and the most important thing: knowing when to shoot. They also covered the legal ramifications should it become necessary to pull the trigger and hit or kill someone with bullets.

It added an amazing amount of credence to the story and added to my credibility as a writer. And, it turns out, I’m a pretty good shot. Not all research is time intensive; you may need to know the miles between cities, or how long it takes to travel from one point to another.

Your book may or may not hit the mainstream market, but if you write about a shootout and it lands in front of someone who knows, say, about guns, you want them nodding along in agreement with what you’ve put down on paper, not writing you a nasty letter about how you need to do your homework.

How can you make research an adventure?

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Paying attention to people around you

Whatever you’re working on, keep going.

 

I talk a lot about showing up to the page. It’s kind of like a train going from station to station. It runs a course, stays on track, gets to destinations. Of course, sometimes they get derailed and so do we.

But if you don’t show up, you probably aren’t going to write anything. My favorite  time to show up to the page was after my daughter left for school. Coffee freshly poured, breakfast over, dishes clean and a walk in before 9 a.m. I ran with that for a long time. I wrote a lot. But then,after a period of years, boredom had set in. I needed character studies. I took a job. Then another. And another. I met interesting people.

All of the jobs I took offered me something in the way of character and scene development that you just can’t get by visiting an office or store. I love to write vignettes. You can do this too. It’s a sketch of someone you see in real life.

Where will you be today? What interesting person might you run across today? In one place, there was a disturbed woman who would go through the parking lot taking pictures of license plates. If you looked at her, not confronted her, looked at her, she’d start screaming. I don’t know what her issues were, but at some point, she might come in handy…

If you work with the public, you have a treasure trove of people to pull characters from. What might you see on your way to work? Running an errand for a former boss, I pulled up to a stop light. In the bright, bubblegum pink car next to me was a bearded dude with tattoos, smoking a cigarette with a cap on who looked like a bouncer in the tough section of town. I don’t know if the car was his or not, but clearly, he was secure driving it. I wish I knew the real story. I don’t, so I can make one up.

Occasionally, I see a one man band. If you can, a conversation adds interest.

Keep your eyes open for facinating things like this that are “prompts from real life”. They’re great warm-up exercises and a kickstart if you’re circling writers block.

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Where do you find your characters?

Last week we talked about showing up to the page and those people you might see on your way to work, or during the course of a day. Another thing I liked doing was going to some place and eavesdrop conversations. Some people have an inflated view of how important their stories are and talk loudly as if wanting others to hear, another group really doesn’t intend to be overheard. I find the latter far more interesting.

When blue tooth was wildly popular and seemed to be everywhere, I frequently visited a particular coffee shop with comfy chairs and sat next to a woman fairly regularly who always seemed to be mid-conversation. She had a gorgeous head of fluffy dark hair and I was never one to stare. I sat in the next chair over from her, plugged in my headphones and started writing.

What she didn’t know was that I didn’t always turn on my music. I thought she was a counselor of some kind, because she seemed to be advising, repeating questions and statements back to a person on the other end of the line. She sounded thoughtful and kind. Rarely emotional, never loud. She often looked as though she concentrated on every word the caller spoke, in order to glean some insight. She would pause, nod her head slowly and say, hmmm. Mhmmm. She seemed so caring, a great listener, very stoic.

After months, I finally introduced myself hoping to learn more about her coffee house phone counseling sessions and even then, I didn’t notice. She never had a phone, or a Bluetooth.

You bet a wrote a vignette about her. It was a great exercise to capture the essence of her. Not so much what she said, because I don’t remember the words of her one-sided conversations; mainly her demeanor, and that–if you counted her drink cups–the table next to her looked as though she’d camped out there most of the day.

So, What people do you remember from your summer vacation or travels? Where are you hanging out? Where do you find your inspiration? What interesting characters have you discovered?

Message me, I’d love to hear about your observations.

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