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Posts Tagged ‘writers’

As a writer and an artist, I sometimes feel that I’m failure in that I’m not completely depressed and/or write depressing things. It’s a stupid thing to think about, but when many great artists and writers line up with that, it’s hard to believe that someone as generally happy and content as I am could ever be a good artist or writer, or even a great one.

At a writers Q&A panel that I participated in recently, I was surprised to hear devastating stories from the other three authors that I was with, and how those events shaped their creative lives. I sat off to the side thinking that I had never had to deal with anything like that, and I questioned if I was even a legitimate creative because of it. Should I have been damaged in some way in order to draw inspiration from and to give inspiration to others?

The answer is a resounding no. It’s always a momentary thing when I start walking that line of thought, but I always come back to the fact that it’s not a requirement to have to deal with an extreme tragedy in order to be creative. It’s a requirement to deal with life, the good and bad, to be able to draw on both when the creative product needs it.

It’s a similar debate that I have with myself when I’m writing and I feel that I’m not using enough conflict in the story. But I absolutely hate when I’m reading or watching something wherein terrible things frequently happen to a character or characters. Yes, I get that sometimes it’s a cliffhanger, and yes, I get that it’s supposed to keep readers/viewers engaged. But I do like to see good things happen to people more than just once amidst a sea of awful events. Experiencing too much negativity through a story as a reader or viewer just exhausts me emotionally, and it ends up costing me enjoyment of the creative product.

But this is all personal opinion. I know there are people out there that like to read the dark, depressing things, and there are people out there that want to read the fluffy, happy things. I like a good mixture. And that’s why there NEEDS to be creatives who have all experienced different things, good and bad, joyful and ugly. That way there’s a book or a TV show for each person who needs it.

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Work on Blood of the Father continues to move along, if a little slower than I would wish it, but that’s par for the course.  And for the most part, I’m pretty happy with how it’s turning out.  However, I still do have those momentary doubts that nip at me and distract me with their sharp, pointy teeth.

One of the doubts I keep having is that I’m using far too much exposition.  And, really, it’s less of a doubt and more knowledge; I know that I’m adding too much exposition.  And I keep telling myself that it’s still the first draft, that I’ll be going back and trimming the fat when all is said and done.  Still, though, thinking about all that word vomit makes me think that the real action doesn’t start until too late in the book.  And then, if I remove that exposition, the book will be too short.  Then I’ll have to add stuff.  Then… then… then…

Do you see the unending line of thought here?  This is what goes on in my head, and I’m sure it – or a version of it – happens to many writers.  The best thing I can do is to keep writing, even if it is exposition.  The story is in there, in that giant block of stone.  I just have to carve it out and put the fine details on it.

Although sometimes it seems to me that carving a statue from a stone would be far easier than writing.

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It’s always funny how the muse strikes me when I’m least expecting it. I’ve recently been schvitzing about Blood of the Father because I haven’t had time to work on it. When I don’t have time to work on a story, I tend to fall into the trap of telling myself negative things about it.

“You’re using too much exposition and not enough action.”

“Plot, man! Where’s the plot??”

“Seriously, why did you think this story was a good idea?”

I don’t know if this is something other writers can attest to, but I’m least worried about my writing when I’m actually writing. When I’m left to stew about it, that’s when the negativity monster rakes me with its deadly claws of self-doubt. Which is good when I’ve finished a story and I want to go back and edit it, but not when I’m 1/4 of the way into the story.

But sometimes I get lucky and my muse will step in front of the negativity monster, and she’ll slap him around a bit. She paid me a visit yesterday, and rather than wading in a pool of self-deprecation, I had flashes of inspiration. One led to another, that led to another, and so on. And then I found myself energized and excited to work on the story again. Which is good, because I have a writers retreat this weekend and I need to keep that ball rolling so I can take advantage of the writing time.

I wish I knew how to thank my muse, other than to continue writing that is. Do muses like gift cards?

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I really don’t like people telling me what to do. I’m sure I’ve mentioned that here and there before, so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Unfortunately, this sometimes extends to people kindly giving me advice, and sometimes that’s detrimental to me.  But not always.

I was thinking about this yesterday as I was blatantly not writing because of the heat. When it gets too hot hot outside, my energy and brain power gets sapped. And all I could think of was all those writers out there who say things to the effect of, “Just sit down and write, and don’t worry if it comes out bad, you can fix it later.” But the problem is that’s not how I’m wired; if I know I’m not going to do a decent job – not a perfect one or even a great one – then I can’t bring myself to do it at all. And you know what? Despite what all those rah-rah writers say, that’s okay.

We’re all wired differently. Some of us can bring a laptop and write in a coffee shop. Some of us need a quite office space. Some of us need a hot cup of coffee at arm’s length. Some of us need glass of scotch. Some of us can write thousands of words without stopping. Some of us can only do a few paragraphs at a time. But the defining thing between us all is the need to keep writing. How we do it isn’t an equation that can be solved by plugging in the same factors each time. We all have our own ways of doing things. Just because one writer is able to sit down and power through even though the temperature is 150 degrees outside, it doesn’t mean that I can do it.

Don’t let your writing routine be defined by another writer. Try things that are suggested, sure, but don’t feel that you need to conform your way of doing things to a specific person’s way, regardless of how successful he or she is. Remember – that success was due to a number of things, not just what software program they used to write their book.

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Being an independent creative is tough in a lot of ways. I think one of the toughest for me is when to stop being nice.

I know, that sounds weird, right? But it’s the truth. As an indie creator with a lot of friends who are also in the game, and as a nice guy, I try to help out where I can. This means I’ll try to buy something when I can (which is not as often as I’d like), spread the word on my social networks, share advice, etc. And if I don’t, I feel guilty about it, like I’ve let my friends down.

The thing that I have to remind myself of, however, is that it’s okay if I can’t help out. I juggle so many projects that I’m constantly pushing my own things, getting word out about my writing and art, and that leaves me with little time to do so for other people. Not to mention that I don’t want to bombard my followers with my own projects and someone else’s. And there is a bit of selfishness in that; I want people following me to see my stuff.  There’s nothing wrong with that because that’s why they’re following me in the first place. In short, I sometimes have to block out everything else and focus on myself.

That’s not a bad thing; that’s the nature of being an entrepreneur. And it’s not to say that there won’t be times that there are lulls in your work where you can promote someone else’s work, especially if you admire it. Paying it forward is a wonderful thing to do.

On the flip side of the coin, it’s important to remember that nobody is obligated to help you out, either. It doesn’t matter if it’s friends, family, readers, or strangers – nobody owes you anything, and you can’t hold that against them. If they do help you out, that’s fantastic and you should thank them up and down, and return the favor if and when you can. But if they don’t, keep in mind that they have their own projects and their own lives. Or maybe they just don’t have a connection to your work. Not everyone is required to like what you do, even if they’re related to you or go out drinking with you once a week.

In short, be good to people and help them out, but be good to yourself, too. We creatives often forget to do the latter.

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Recently I purchased and starting reading the novel I Am Legend by Richard Matheson, the 1954 novel that inspired The Last Man on Earth, The Omega Man, and the 2007 Will Smith vehicle I Am Legend. I have seen all three of those movies, and only am I now delving into the book. And I’m glad I am; it’s a great read, full of suspense and introspection into the life of a lonely man.

One the things I’ve realized in reading it is that despite the fact that the book was written in the 50s and depicts a post-apocalyptic world in the 70s, it seems pretty timeless. Sure, there are the occasional clues to the fact that it was written six decades ago, but for the most part you can read it and almost imagine that the events were taking place right now. Perhaps I’m mistaken, but my view is that it was a lack of details that leads to this timelessness.

Perhaps “lack of details” is a bad choice of phrase for this. I might be better of saying “the strategic use of ambiguity”. This is something I often employ in my writing, most specifically in my Mystery, Murder, and Magic series. In that world, I wanted to give the impression that the events were taking place somewhere between 30s and 40s and in a large city that goes unnamed. Why? Because I feel that by locking down specifics, you force the reader into a preconceived set of rules. By leaving things ambiguous, the reader can imagine that it’s New York City in the 1930s, or Chicago in the 1940s, or even their own city in a later decade (heck, it’s an alternate world, so it could be the 80s for all intents and purposes).

It’s certainly not a stylistic choice that is for everyone. Some people get very detailed in their writing, and sometimes that works out great for them. Other times, in my eyes, it becomes very distracting and sometimes tedious. The best example I can think of is Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove, which was a great story, but man, he got very wordy with the descriptions of the guns.

On the other hand, being too ambiguous and leaving out too much can be detrimental, too. You want to leave some things up to your reader, but you don’t want to leave them to do all the work. If that’s the case, you may as well just dungeon master a game of Dungeons & Dragons. You want to find that golden line of just enough detail and try not to step over it.

Whether or not this really is the case with I Am Legend, it was something that I noticed. And it was intentional, then I tip my hat to Matheson and I will definitely enjoy reading more of his writing, because he was obviously a masterful writer. If it was unintentional, well… at least I got a blog post out of it.

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For someone who grew up always having to do things his way and attempting to rebel against authority of any kind, I sure have rough time accepting that since I’m an indie author who gets to break the rules.

I touched upon this a bit back in October when I talked about the wordcount of the Bardsworth novel, but I still have yet to truly take it to heart. I worry about things like my chapter lengths being too short or too inconsistent in size. I worry about my story structure lacking a traditional plot arc since it focuses more on characters. I worry that there’s too much dialogue and not enough description. I worry, I worry, I worry. Sounds like an app from Apple – the iWorry.

Sorry, bad joke.

A large part of my problem is that I started writing long before the internet made self-publishing a viable option. Sure, self-publishing existed back then, but it was mostly so-called vanity publishers, and God forbid you ever even think about considering that as an option. So I studied up on how to make myself look good to the agents how to conform my stories so that an agent wouldn’t feel like it was too great of a risk to take me on. And you know what my worry was back then? “What if they make me change the way I write my stories?”

Irony, my name is Pete.

Sure, there are things that should be kept sacred and rules that I should abide by. But there are a lot of things that I need to be able to look at and say, “You know what? I’m doing all the work, I can do what I want. If the readers don’t like it, they don’t like it.” And the fact is that readers are gradually becoming more and more used to the way things are becoming, not the way things have been for decades.  So why not be a part of the new culture and leave the old one behind?

I’m the punk rock of the writing world, baby. Deal with my three-chord stories.

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