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Writing advice: Triangles both efficient and enthusiastic

Since I got such a great response to my post "Don't write what you don't love to write," I thought I'd share with you the notes I took while reading Rachel Aaron's book.

The basic thrust behind 2K to 10K is that we can all significantly boost our daily writing output if we eliminate or significantly mitigate the parts of the writing process that make us want to beat our goddamn heads against our desks. (My words, not hers.)

Sounds suspiciously credible, right? Aaron uses the metaphor of a triangle:

Side one: Knowledge.

  • Before your writing session, spend at least five minutes writing out the broad strokes of your scene or chapter on a pad of paper. No description, no transitions, no dialogue—you're just working out the hard choices. Who does what and when? And then what?

Side two: Time. 

  • Make note of when you start writing, when you stop, how many words you wrote in that time, where you were writing, etc. Eventually, you may learn from this data (I refuse to use "data" in the plural sense) that your prime writing time is not, say, in the morning as you thought, but rather late in the evening. You may learn that you get a lot more done writing in your laundry room with underwear on your head than at a coffee shop. (The book did not say this. Here I am just being silly, and not at all speaking from personal experience.)

Side three: Enthusiasm.

  • Before writing the scene or chapter, play it out in your mind and try to get excited about it. Look for little hooks, parts that interest you most, and focus on those.
  • If the scene is not working for you, either revise or trash it and find one that does.

I charge you, intrepid writer, to try one or more of these out this weekend and let me know how to goes. Perhaps you might even attempt a story about God's favorite who falls and does not know it?

And if you found any of this useful, Rachel Aaron's book, 2K to 10K: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love, will cost you one whole dollar on the Amazon Kindle store right now. Well worth it, even if you don't have a Kindle. That shit also works on your computer. Didn't know that, didja?

...Okay, fine, you already knew that.

Have a great weekend, and see you either Sunday or Monday!


Chuck Wendig's NaNoWriMo prep school

National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo to those in the Kno) is still three weeks away but suddenly everyone's talking about it. I'm getting almost-daily emails from the NaNoWriPeeps themselves, and Chuck Wendig would like you to know that you're going to want to spend these three weeks getting buff in the brain:


If you are not yet putting words down daily, you need to flex them penmonkey muscles, so that, come November, you can pop open your word processor and say, “TWO TICKETS TO THE PEN SHOW,” which will earn you weird looks because:

a) you’re saying this to the cat and b) are pen shows even a real thing?


You need to work out. You need to exercise.

You must practice writing every day.

And build on the quantity of words you put down.

Start with 100.

And add a 100 more words every day until you’re approaching 2000 per day.

Doesn’t matter what you write, though I’d advise you keep it in the “fiction” category — fiction writing is a discipline all its own, I find.

Build that muscle. Gain momentum.

Read the rest here!

Good advice, no? You certainly could start with my weekly prompts for inspiration, including (but not limited to) Week 31.

As for me, I think I will take another Don Quixote tilt at the NaNoWindMill, but (as per my revelation/resolution) I'll be writing (or attempting to write) a novel-length piece of either nonfiction or drama. Drama! 

How about you? I know this is soon, and kinda awkward, but, uh, well... will you be my NaNoWriFriend this year?


Week Thirty One: Story about God's favorite who falls...

Don't panic: the quotation marks above stand for "Story about." The scribbed idea before it also started with "Story about..." and so I was trying to save myself the agony of having to write it twice, which I have now done anyway, lo all these long years later.

So the complete prompt reads:

Story about God's favorite who falls, but doesn't know it.

I think originally I wanted to do some kind of epic/badass tale of a fallen archangel who's gone rogue and is still inflicting Old Testament wrath (now that I type all that out, it sounds suspiciously like the Kevin Smith movie Dogma), but this gives me an idea for a short play that could be both funny and meaningful. Pointed, even. 

Who else wants to attempt this one?


Week Thirty: Interconnected'd!

I went nonfiction with this one. Deep, maybe even awkwardly nonfiction.

Read it here!

As per my revelation about writing fiction, and my subsequent resolution to focus on nonfiction and playwrighting (read all about it here), this definitely came easier to me than any prose fiction piece I might have attempted.

This is not to say, however, that it came easily. I decided I wanted to explore my real-life feelings behind a fictionial monologue I'd written for 31 Plays in 31 Days (this one right here). Then there was a solid perhaps half-hour period of deep brooding before I arrived at the first paragraph, which I then scrapped in favor starting with what is now the first line of the piece. But I found the process to be more rewarding, even if putting personal stuff out there is scarier.

So. Was anyone else inspired to get vi(g)netty this week?


Don't write what you don't love to write

So... I think I've realized something. I mentioned before about how I'm trying to write the first book of an eventual fantasy epic series? Well, I've been doing that, and have plodded my way almost to the end of chapter 1. Only 2,503 words in something like two weeks. Very slow going, but I want to be a Real Writer and so I have perservered. 

A few nights ago, however, I was at the library after work. I had every intention of gaining some ground on this book I have told myself I'm going to write. Instead, for two and a half hours, I did every possible thing except writing: I stared at my note pad forlornly, I got up and browsed the stacks, I tried to get three stars on two different levels of Angry Birds Star Wars, I stared at my notepad morosely, I started to fall asleep, and finally I pulled out the Kindle and began re-reading Rachel Aaron's 2K to 10K: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love. This book is great and I highly recommend it to anyone who's interested giving their writing process an oil change. 

But this passage in particular struck me:

One of the hardest things I've had to learn as a writer is that while virtually any story can be a good book if done correctly, not every story should. It's possible to have an amazing idea and still lack the interest necessary to polish it to publication level shine. I can not tell you the number of books I've plotted, written 30K words in, and then abandoned because I simply could not stand to look at them another second. Every single one of these ideas looked great on paper, and maybe in another author's hands they could have been golden, but in the end I just didn't care enough to push through.


Even if you're not selling your stories yet, your writing time is precious, often gained at the expense of other worthwhile activities. Don't waste it on a book you don't love.

Get the book here. It's only $0.99 on Amazon right now and you can read it on your computer if you don't have an e-reader. It's short but revelatory. Just how I like 'em.

Anyway, while reading the passage above something began to dawn on me: I don't know that I have ever enjoyed writing fiction!

Like everyone else, I came to writing as a reader first. Lord of the Rings and the Dragonlance Chronicles probably saved my life in middle school. Later, it was Shadowrun and the Belgariad series... the point is, I loved fantasy and science ficiton. I wanted to become a writer to write exactly these kind of books, and then in college genre fiction was kind of beaten out of me, and now, almost ten years later, I've finally returned to what brought me here in the first place.

Except... I don't wanna. Through this blog, I've discovered that I really enjoy (and am possibly even talented at) nonfiction. I've also rediscovered playwrighting and have had some success with that. But I can't think of a single instance where I really enjoyed the process of writing prose fiction. I've turned procrastination into a master art form these post-college years, and I'm beginning to wonder now if a large part of that was my resistance to writing something it wasn't in my heart to write.

I do recognize that things worth doing are sometimes difficult, and that, when starting out, you have to allow yourself to suck for awhile and just do the work anyway, but I understand now that this isn't an aversion to hard work or a self-defeating fear of what might happen when I really tryit's a lack of interest. Maybe it's okay for me to read these books I enjoyed so much, but to be a writer who writes something else entirely?

So I'm putting the book down, and I'm focusing instead on my nonfiction and playwrighting, which comes much more easily to me and brings me such joy. 

How about you? Had any trajectory-altering revelations lately?


Week Thirty: Interconnected vi(g)nettes...

So my Mead Five-Star notebook didn't come with spellcheck, alright?

I was actually surprised to find this one in my Freshman year notes, because I attempted something very similar to this for my "thesis" at grad school. It was basically Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, where each chapter is from the perspective of one character, and in the next chapter perspective is handed off to someone who we briefly met in the previous chapter. 

In true Me style, however, I could never bring myself to actually read Winesburg, Ohio. In much the same way that I wrote a play loosely based on Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur and only actually read a few chapters of the multivolume book.

Never was big on homework, man; I just like the ideas.

So this week, we write a piece where each scene or vignette is "touched" in some way by the scene or vignette that came before it. They may share characters, ideas, an object, a place...

I know it's already Thursday but that's no excuse. Hop to it! Do you already have an idea of what you would do with this? 


Week Twenty Nine: Brevity-ed

I started with the Mark Twain quote about writing a shorter letter and then discovered that everyone thinks it's Mark Twain but it isn't and then... well, things sort of took a different direction.

Here it be!

You have my full permission to print it out and use it in your very own line of ill-advised greeting cards. I wouldn't recommend it, but you do have my permission.

Any of you get anything out of this week's strange but brief prompt?


World building: How not to go insane

Science fiction and Fantasy author Tad Williams has some great advice about world building:

Another thing that always works is what I think of as the Keyhole Effect, although you could just as well use the old idea of one of those Easter eggs with a little diorama in it. In other words, the reader has to get glimpses of deep background to your world. You don’t have to show the entire world and all its history — show or describe too much and it gets boring — but when they do get a chance to look past the main story, they should see something of lands beyond — select glimpses of greater depth, greater history, greater vistas beyond the main story. And the good part is, you don’t have to invent every detail, just enough to have it seem real.

That’s because in ordinary life people (other than me — I’m notoriously bad about lecturing on things that interest me) seldom say, “And now we’re going down Famous Old Road, where a lot of important things happened, such as blah and blah and blah…” But if you name that thoroughfare Famous Battle Road, or Famous Citizen Road without going into much detail, you actually get more world-building mileage out of it. Because that’s how things work in the real world, and that’s something readers understand even when they don’t actually realize it consciously. Very seldom do people say, “It’s down in the Battery District, which is where they used to keep the cannons hundreds of years ago.” They just say, “It’s down in the Battery.”

Read the rest here!

If I can just keep this in mind, I might be able to write this book without going insane or (more likely) abandoning it several chapters in. 

But I still go crazy when a character I've written reaches for coin to pay for something and then I realize I haven't figured out currency, or the system of government (would someone's face or sigil be stamped on the coins?), etc. etc.

Carlo Gébler, one of the writers I studied with in grad school, used to advise just making a note for later and powering on. Then, when the first draft was finished, he would say "Right, I know that I need to research this, that, and the other," and that would be a much more fruitful use of research time for him. Instead of anticipating what he would need to know, the research (or world building) came after, when he already knew what he needed to know.

You know...?

So that, and the "keyhole effect" approach, is what I'm trying to do. How do you guys approach world building?


Week Twenty Nine: Brevity(?)

I have no idea. Had I heard the word for the first time and wondered what it meant? Maybe I suspected that brevity is the soul of wit but also had my doubts? 

Anyway: Write a story about brevity! Or write a story that is itself an exercise in brevity! Or you could even write a piece that questions the very nature of brevity. 

The world is (briefly) your oyster. 


Week Twenty Eight: Subjectively objectified!

I was going to repurpose something from the work in progress but nothing really fit and so I wrote this instead

Was anyone else able to make something of this week's prompt?

Week Twenty Nine goes up tomorrow, tomorrow.