Momentum and Nonsense

I don’t know the exact probability, but I’m way more likely to write something today if I wrote something yesterday.

Maybe it’s because the words come more easily. Maybe it’s because the plot and characters are fresher in my mind and I can more clearly imagine what that day’s writing will consist of and feel like. (Maybe those are both the same thing.)

Whatever the reason, whether I write or not on any given day usually comes down to momentum.

(Side note: The same is true of a lot of things. I exercise if I’ve been exercising, eat healthy if I’ve been eating healthy, etc.)

Billard

The solution seems simple, easy: If I’m more likely to write tomorrow if I write today, I should write today, every day.

If only.

But what about the days you just can’t write, for whatever reason? The days you’re tired, stressed, swamped with work, away from home? The days you barely manage to brush your teeth much less write a new chapter for your novel?

How do you keep your writing momentum going, even on hard days?

Well, I don’t have a solution to present to you. Not exactly. But I do have an idea. I call it, “Nonsense is better than no sense.” (It needs work.)

Basically, I’m going to do my best to write something creative every day.

It doesn’t have to be much. It doesn’t have to be long. It doesn’t have to advance character or plot. It doesn’t even have to make sense.

In fact, it can be (here’s where the name comes from) nonsense that you don’t save or cut later.

It can be a plot departure in which the main character time travels to the Middle Ages and teaches everyone how to make really great work boots.

work boots

Will the nonsense method help? Will it keep your momentum going on days when you ordinarily would’ve skipped writing altogether? Will taking pressure off making sense motivate you to write at least something?

I’m not sure yet, but I think so.

After all, like they say in yoga, get on your goddamn mat.

Posted in Writing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Luxuriate, Eliminate: How to Write Better Description

Confession: When I write prose, I struggle with description.

I tend to rush. I want to make my characters evolve. I want to reach the next plot point. I want to revel in a twist.

But successful writers don’t rush their stories.

Why?

Because they know that readers can only appreciate surprising character evolution, pyrotechnic plot points, and shocking twists if they’ve been brought along on the journey–the whole journey.

Onward!
Onward!

When you’re writing prose, the only way to bring readers along is to show them.

How to Write Better Description

The technique that helps me write better description is a simple, two-step process:

  1. Luxuriate
  2. Eliminate

Step One: Luxuriate

When you write, worry less about getting from Point A to Point B. Instead, pretend the current point you’ve reached is an Icelandic geothermal nature bath, and you just climbed in. Don’t rush to get out. Try to make that moment last as long as you can. Luxuriate. Explore.

myvatn-nature-baths-jardbodin

Don’t critique your writing as you write. Just write. Describe the world and everyone in it however you want, using whatever comes to mind. Let your sentences grow. Let your paragraphs multiply.

I find it freeing and relaxing, getting to take a break from the tyranny of character and plot.

Did you? I hope so.

Because now it’s time for a whole new tyranny. The tyranny of the harvest.

Step Two: Eliminate

I start each new writing session by reviewing what I wrote during my last session. It helps me refresh my memory, and it’s a great opportunity to eliminate.

By Paul (Sheep shearing) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Check out all that awful, purple prose you wrote last time, when you were “luxuriating.” Embarrassed? Don’t be. It’s OK. Just start trimming.

Goodbye, cliché. Farewell, redundancy. Begone, inconsistency.

“Now wait a second. Here’s something nice.”

That’s what you’re looking for–the something nice that surprises you. The description that makes the character evolution, plot point, twist you’re building feel real. Keep that one and others like it.

Then move on, back to step one.

Conclusion

Unless you describe it, no one will experience it.

And that includes your favorite moment. The one that made you write this story in the first place. The one that keeps you coming back to the keyboard every day.

Don’t you want to share that moment? And I mean really share it, so your readers get to enjoy it the way you enjoy it in your own head?

Remember: the reason you love watching your characters evolve and experiencing your shocking plot points and twists–the reason you’re writing this story–is because you’re watching them. You’ve made yourself see them. You’ve described them to yourself.

Now it’s your job to share that vision.

Posted in Writing | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

And That’s Why You Always Leave a Note

Papa Hemingway said you should always stop writing before you run out of ideas. That way you’ll have an easier time when you pick it up again the next day:

I had learned already never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.

The Fear

If you’ve ever tried to write something that took more than one day to hammer out, you know Papa’s right. The worst thing you can do is stop writing when you get to the end of a chapter, scene, issue, stanza.

Hemingway: knew his wells

One of the great challenges of writing is maintaining your own faith in your ability to write. Each new day, you face your fear (one of the worst) that you won’t be able do it this time. What if today’s one of those awful days I sit down and nothing happens?

That’s the beauty of stopping each session before you “empty the well.” You leave yourself with material to start the next day. Often that’s all the momentum you need.

Always Leave a Note

Lately, I’ve been leaving myself a little note at the bottom of whatever story I’m working on before I quit for the day.

note

Image courtesy of Master Isolated Images / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’ll jot down a line or two that reminds of the very next thing I wanted to write about. I keep it simple. What would I have written next if I weren’t adhering to Papa’s advice to leave one in the chamber?

For example, maybe I write, “Bill can’t take it anymore. He punches Frank in the face.”

Or, “The shrimp spots the cocktail sauce and hatches an elaborate escape plan.”

It doesn’t have to be much. But it’ll make a huge difference.

You just built yourself a launching pad for tomorrow.

Posted in Writing | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Why Always Dorothea? Or How to Choose an Interesting Point of View

Chapter 29 of George Eliot’s Middlemarch starts in the same way as many of the novel’s earlier chapters: with Dorothea. She’s the first character you meet and the character you read the most about, at least until this point. Chapter 29 begins, “One morning, some weeks after her arrival at Lowick, Dorothea. . . .”

Reading along, you think, Another Dorothea chapter. What’s going wrong with her marriage to Casaubon now?

And your mind wanders. It doesn’t feel any need to tax itself. Dorothea’s story (again, at least until this point) is familiar–even before the novel begins, she’s familiar. She’s a known, predictable quantity. You can imagine what she thinks and how she thinks, and you can understand her chapters with half your brain while the other half thinks about what it wants for dinner.

But then the author (or narrator) intervenes.

dorothea_brooke

“But why always Dorothea?” the narrator interjects, interrupting the narrative. “Was her point of view the only possible one with regard to this marriage?” The narrator proceeds to “protest” the literary trope of favoring the point of view of “young skins that look blooming in spite of trouble.”

For this chapter, the author/narrator subverts this trope and writes instead from the point of view of Mr. Casaubon, who, the narrator argues, “has an intense consciousness within him” and is “spiritually hungered like the rest of us.”

edward_casaubon

This moment is a bucket of 19th century ice water to the face. It’s a hard, Victorian slap.

Immediately, I’m more attentive. I’m reading more hungrily, with purpose. George Eliot has my attention.

That’s the effect a fresh, unusual, and unpredictable point of view can have on a story.

It’s easy to get lazy about point of view–to fall back on what others have done. But if you want to grab people’s attention, you need to try something new.

Mr. Casaubon’s point of view was something new.

Posted in Writing | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

What Business Can Teach You About Writing

A lot of people think that business is the opposite of the arts.

I disagree.

In fact, sometimes I find it helpful to think about my writing like a miniature, one-man business.

Every business has limited resources and strives to use them to maximize productivity and profit. Likewise, every writer has limited time, energy, and money to dedicate to writing but wants to write as well as possible given those constraints.

So let’s take a look at one thing writers can learn from thinking about themselves as businesses.

Writer, Inc.

Businesses are typically organized into departments, each of which serves a function critical to the success of the whole.

Without a marketing department, for example, most businesses would fail. Accordingly, most writers will fail if they don’t engage in marketing activities, like monitoring competitors, observing trends in the field, and analyzing their brand strengths.

organization chart

 Image courtesy of posterize / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Let’s go through these departments one by one, and see how they can apply to your own writing:

Admin

Your inner CEO.

This department manages all the others and is responsible for the overall success of your writing.

How is your writing going? Which areas are working well? Which need improvement? What’s your three-year strategy and plan?

Finance & Accounting

Your inner CFO.

Although it’s less expensive than many other artistic pursuits, writing does have a financial side. Writing takes time, and time is money.

Can you afford to write? How do you pay for your leisure time? Are your story inventory levels high or low? What’s your turnover ratio?

Human Resources

Your inner CHRO.

Writers are people, too. You need to take care of the human being behind the writing. Know when to push yourself and when to relent. Understand your strengths and weaknesses.

Do you need professional development (e.g., to take a social media class)? Are there any intra-departmental disputes that need resolution? What kind of hours are you clocking?

Information Technology and Research & Development

Your inner CTO.

We’ve come a long way from quill and ink. There’s a range of tools available to make writing easier, more fun, and more effective.

Is your technology inhibiting or encouraging you? Would Scrivener help? (If so, consult your inner CFO.) Are there free programs you haven’t explored yet, like Workflowy?

Marketing & Sales

Your inner CMO.

Unless you’re writing purely for your own enjoyment, you have to monitor competitors and trends in writing, publishing, and the economy; research customers; and create new products (e.g. short stories, poems, novels, etc.), all with a mind to what will sell. Then you have to sell it.

Is this story publishable? How will I pitch it? Has it already been written? How much demand is there for this genre? Should I develop a web presence for my author brand?

Operations & Manufacturing

Your inner COO.

Because you actually have to write, too, or this is all just a philosophical exercise.

How much time did you spend writing this week? Do you have a strong supply chain that generates raw ideas and turns them into polished final drafts?

Executive Summary

In order to be successful, writers need each of their “departments” to be functioning well, from operations and finance to marketing and research & development.

Chances are, some of these areas come easily to you, others not so much. That’s fine! These are your strengths and weaknesses as a writer.

Rely on your strengths to lift up your writing. But don’t neglect your weaknesses, because they can draft your writing down. Work on them, too. Sometimes, just being aware of your weaknesses is enough to help you take a big step forward.

By improving in those areas that don’t come naturally to you, you’ll make yourself a stronger, more complete writer.

Writer, Inc.’s bottom line will thank you for it.

graph increasing

 Image courtesy of Nutdanai / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Posted in Audience Building, Writing | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment