Writing is a river

We’re paddling downstream, to our right are boulders, sand bars and thickets full of snags. To our left, a mud bank that stretches on for miles. Sometimes the water is deep and dark, others times shallow. Sometimes it’s clear like glass or muddy and polluted. There are rapids and smooth stretches; occasionally a waterfall rumbles in the distance.

As writers we must traverse this river ever trying to maintain a steady, center-stream course.

Setting is the thickets, woods and reaching branches. Too much description of the place or environment—that is, info dumping—and our readers will get snared, get trapped by the empty details.

Characterization is the sand bars, slips of river sand that will capture our boat and bog our readers down. Too much depiction of a character’s appearance, demeanor, or behavior—telling us about them, not showing—will disturb us and invite our readers to leave our foundered boat.

Events are the boulders, the cliffs and caves, that must come in cycles. Pacing of happenings is crucial: too much and you wear out your reader, too frequent and you fail to give proper due to the build-up and crescendos that events engender.

Along the left bank, the muddy slick that offers few rocks, little sand and only a bush or two, our readers will become bored, leave us, skipping forward in search of an entertaining feature in the landscape.

As writers we must navigate between these banks.

The plot is the river features, the rapids, and quite runs, the boulders, sand bars and submerged snags. The story is the bends and turns, the camping spots, the portages, the beginning and the end.

And the water? The water is dialog. It carries us along the story. It runs fast and slow, dirty and clear. It gives us cause to learn about the characters, care about them as they encounter the obstacles along their route. And remember them when our journey is complete.

Too much setting, characterization or cascading events will capsize our reader. Too little will induce sleep and abandonment. Too little water will ground us in the gravel. Too much and we’ll drown.

Writing is a river, steer well young captains.

 

Writer’s Log: 1844 Level three

The problem with learning to write is there’s no set program. No prospectus. No itinerary. Every writer has to create and follow their own learning schedule. “Just keep writing,” they say. No, I’m afraid that doesn’t work. Not really. You could beat the crap out of a golf ball or flail the brush with your fly line and never get any better at golfing or fishing. However, in both of those perfectly individualistic tasks, teachers, guides and videos are available to lead you through the micro-steps to better your skills. Writing? Nope. You’re on your own. (Yeah, there are tons of writer’s books, Great Writing, etc. But none of them actually propose a 1, 2, 3 step kind of thing.)

And therein lies the gap that you must fill — all by your lonesome.

“It reads alright to me.” Yeah, that’s the problem isn’t it. Refining your own tastes and critical opinions on what is good or not. Unfortunately, when you write it, it taints your bias. It came from your creative flow and therefore seems valid. But, lo-and-behold, it’s not. It may, in fact, suck.

What to do?

Of cousre, practice is on the table. But, practice what? Write what? Where are my Start Here and then do these next 100 things…? Such a thing does not exist. So you have to dream up your own steps.

Here’s a exercise I dreamed up last night that I’m going to bash my head against a time or three to see if it helps. And I think this general technique may help: Pick a venue, pick a specific writing mode or element or technical writing aspects and focus solely on those aspects you’ve selected.

Imagine two rocks. In a dry stream bed. They enter into a conversation. About the weather. The drought. How do you approach this? See, that’s the thing, learning to creep up on a fictional situation, a narrative opportunity and attack it with just-the-right technique — this is my Level Three.

Do you overtly describe the environment? No.
Do you explain the situation in any way? No.
Do you set the stage, lay a foundation, prepare the reader? NO!

You just dive in, let the rocks talk, let them allude to their predicament. Slip in a sentence or two about the bigger picture. But never bring attention to you the AUTHOR. Leave him/her out of the picture. Don’t step on your character’s toes by taking away from their emotion. Do, or don’t, break a dialog pattern into pieces — based on the impact you want to have on the reader. Drop the dialog tags when possible. Get into the details, early, but precise and not wandering.

All of that above is (essentially) from Phil Houston. Leveling up is not a passive activity. You MUST pick your next training topic and focus, focus, focus.

~~~

I’m going to focus on dialog adopting some of the burden of the environment. One character is going to be bitter, the other sanguine. But through the conversation, we’ll learn of the context and have the two switch places regarding the change coming. I’m consciously intending these aspects of this scene. It’s a training exercise. I’ve picked the intent and now will strive to implement it.

~~~

Red fumed at the sky. “I hate blue. Hate it.” Red sat wedged in the sand between a pair of grey granite dullards.

“I’ve got filaments of turquoise rivered through my core. Is that the blue you despise?” Azul posed the question fully aware of the bait he cast.

It hadn’t rained for a year. The stream bed had been blown full of sand from the arroyo that contained it. Red and Azul chipped away at each other in the heat and relentless beat of the sun.

“No, no. It’s that blue. That cobalt umbrella above that gives nothing, takes everything.”

Azul let Red’s answer linger, precarious like steps on saltpan mud. “Sunsets here make me think of what-if storms. I imagine the streaks of white slicing the night, the rumble and patter coming after.”

“Your foolish dreams are as dry as the grit against my ass.”

“Medicine is bitter. I embrace your medicine and twist it to suit me.” Azul sat a scant ant-crawl away, atop a slate spread which was part of the bedrock of the stream.

Red chafed at Azul’s romantic spin at everything he grouched. “That’s right, pray to your spirits. Their medicine won’t bring relief.”

“Hmm. Well, I’ve saved a special curse for you, when the time comes.” Azul would have lifted a defiant chin had he had one.

“A curse? Why would you curse me? I’m stuck. Welded into place like a concrete fossil. While you sit, your sides open to touch the breeze, as you may.”

“Some deserve curses. That’s just the way of it.”

“But, I’ve done nothing to deserve a curse. What have I done?”

“It’s not what you’ve done. It’s what you could have, but didn’t.”

Red sputtered. “For aeons we’ve lain here. Together. And you’ve never once mentioned…”

“You’re the reason we’re still here.” Azul had sensed Red’s vulnerability and drove home his advantage.

“Me?”

“Did you not hide that time, years ago, when the Wanderer stooped to build his atonement? Collecting elements that would hasten the Change?”

“I… How could I have known?”

“Typical. Your ignorance is your excuse. As always. Why I’ve let you bully me all these years…”

“I’m… I’m sorry. I never…”

“Of course you are.” Azul pressed his point. “But if you ever cared for me, for our tandem trip down this ancient course, you’ll do me one favor.”

“Yes, Blue, anything.”

“Next time, let the Wanderer find you.”

 

Writer’s Log: 1732 Neil Gaiman

EXCERPT FROM “The View from the Cheap Seats”:

“I was, as I said, twenty-five years old, and I had an idea for a book and I knew it was a real one.

I tried writing it, and realized that it was a better idea than I was a writer. So I kept writing, but I wrote other things, learning my craft. I wrote for twenty years until I thought that I could write The Graveyard Book–or at least, that I was getting no better.

I wrote it as best I could. That’s the only way I know how to write something. It doesn’t mean it’s going to be any good. It just means you try. And, most of all, I wrote the story that I wanted to read.

~~~

And then, whether the work was good or bad, whether it did what you hoped or it failed, as a writer you shrug, and you go on to the next thing, whatever the next thing is. That’s what we do.

~~~

We who make stores know that we tell lies for a living. But they are good lies that say true things, and we owe it to our readers to build them as best we can. Because somewhere out there is someone who needs that story. Someone who will grow up with a different landscape, who without that story will be a different person. And who with that story may have hope, or wisdom, or kindness, or comfort.

And that is why we write.”

~~~

The above was from Neil’s acceptance speech for the 2009 Newbery Medal.

  • I had an idea for a book and I knew it was a real one.
    There you go. You sometimes just KNOW that an idea is a good one.
  • It was a better idea that I was a writer.
    Wisdom told him that he shouldn’t write this story ‘just yet’. Wow. How many of us would just blunder into it and write it anyway?
  • I wrote it as best I could.
    Is that not all everyone of us can hope for? To write as best we can — at-the-time?
  • I wrote a story that I wanted to read.
    Please yourself as a writer. Do that, and what you produce /may/ become something that will please others.
  • You go on to the next thing.
    Write. Edit. Perfect (to the best of your ability) — and move one. That is the single biggest lesson here. Just. Keep. Writing.
  • Someone there needs your story.
    The world is huge. And if you have a TRUE story to tell, unique, well conceived, and well executed — then there WILL be an audience for it. Maybe not in your lifetime. But someday. Would you deny them, that one person, in the near/far future who benefits and is changed by your story? No!Write your Story!

I self published a novel

I just self-published a novel through https://www.draft2digital.com/. (ebook only.)

The process, which in and of itself was a piece of cake, took me a half-dozen tries to get the format right (downloaded from GDocs as a .docx) to make the title and copyright and all that work out correctly. D2D then gave me a 6×9 (or any other size) PDF that I took over to https://www.thebookpatch.com/ (A POD service.)

There I fetched the cover template and built my own cover in Photoshop. With the JPG and PDF in hand, I uploaded both, proofed both and voila’, I was done. I ordered 5 copies at $8.50 apiece, and I had them delivered within about 10 days.

Bing, bang, boom – done. I never thought this was gonna be easy.

But it was.

BATS_BooksArray

What I learned:
  1. So, yeah, it IS easy. Mostly. The writing and editing were by far the hardest part.
  2. Your Microsoft Word version of your manuscript is the key to a good looking eBook and PDF for print version. Perfecting this takes time and effort and, well, you just have to beat it with a big stick until it complies with your wishes.
  3. Draft2Digital will create a POD (print on demand) version of your book — all ready-made for you to take over to a POD site like TheBookPatch.
  4. Now, D2D’s PDF is not “perfect.” It’s good, mind you, but you can’t control the leading, or font size. So, you get what you get. However, you can republish (within minutes) again and again and, until they DO provide better control of the POD PDFs, well, you’re stuck.
  5. TheBookPatch didn’t quite represent the page count accurately. What I thought was X pages turned out be be X-60 pages which changes the dynamics of the book spine width. This is important because your homemade image MUST fit your book’s final dimensions. (I’ve subsequently fixed this…) Note: I was able to upload new text and new cover images — without a hick-up. Easy-peasy.
  6. The cover image was ME, ME, ME.
    1. I drew and colored the crappy sailboat and sailor (20×30 drafting paper).
    2. I took it out back and put boards and some odd cable around it and took a picture with my phone (ayup, an old android phone).
    3. Then I drew a frickin’ map — took a picture of that and Photoshopped the hell out of that puppy.
    4. I also took a selfie with the same phone and used that as my “I’m special — look at me” image on the back.
    5. Here’s the final cover… Nice huh?!

BATSBookCoverSmall

 

Will I do this again? You betcha!

Should you? You bet you! Write something, anything. Get it edited (as best you can) and publish that gorgeous work of narrative art!

Draft2Digital’s link:
https://www.books2read.com/u/3L9ABD

The BookPatch link:
http://thebp.site/144960

Here’s some miscellaneous videos that I found to help, in general. (Nothing to do with the above process…)

Self publishing tips ‘n tricks:

Ray Bradbury on Madmen:

Writer’s Log: 1570

Writing keeps me alive.

The experiment continues. A couple of months ago, death and its long ivory fingers reached unerringly for my throat. Writing, the act of writing, held them off. The effort of putting words to paper continues to do so today.

The stories that I wish to tell implore me — do not forsake us — and so, I stay the knife, the noose, the clack of pistol hammer slamming home against the breach.

But the pleading grows faint. The day-to-day grind draws its pint of life’s blood, its quart of soul from me every setting of the sun. The light turns orange and the lift I feel from the sunset’s cheery color lessens.

But the stories are relentless. They will not be, so far, denied. I rather resent them at times.

To abandon all that is this mundane daily slog and leap out, writing, would be everything I could have ever wished for. I’ve considered this act throughout this long, strange ride that is my life.

Yet here I am, an established, and dependable provider, dedicated to the mechanical production of money through the venue of software code; the ugliest, the most ineffectual end product the world has ever seen. Turn off the power and what do you have? Emptiness. That is my contribution. Despicable. These are the words that run through my mind right now — I FUCKING HATE COMPUTERS. But that sentiment is less than useful. We are here. Trapped in our digital snow globes. And the fact remains, I’m far more culpable that you. I helped create this dystopia we languish within.

But writing… It’s the only soaring vista that spreads out and returns, piercing my heart. Write. Write well and maybe all of this will not have been for naught.