Down the Writing Rabbit Hole

rabbitholegraphThe Rabbit Hole

Because I’m kind of a geek, I like to keep a line chart of the number of words I’ve written in my novel to date. Usually, this is an encouraging exercise, because I can see the number of words mounting up, day after day, week after week, passing the magical 50,000 mark that separates novel from novella, and heading on to the 80,000 words that, in my mind, signals a robustly realized book.

Sometimes, though, the graph ends up looking like the image above (or next to, depending on your display) this line. Note the steady climb upwards (wild cheers!) followed by the precipitous drop (miserable groans and sad emojis rabbitholesademoji). The drop represents a trip down the writing rabbit hole.

rabbitholeholeWhy The Drop

I was writing along my merry way, following the adventures of a major, though non-leading character, when a terrific idea for his backstory smacked me upside the head. He’s an assassin, and the backstory was going to be about the first time he killed a man. It was all there in my head: he’s just a kid, he gets imprisoned by some bad guys, escapes, and makes the kill to avoid recapture. There was a little circus troupe and a mysterious, crumbling wall in the middle of the forest. Gripping stuff! A no-miss detour off the main story line!

Until I started writing it. The dratted thing just got longer and longer, rambling along with no end in sight. So I started over. Same result. Ramble, amble, bumble. Undaunted, I went at it again, determined to keep it short while retaining the excitement. The result of that venture was something akin to an overused dishrag.

Eventually, after about two weeks and five or six thousand words, I just excised the whole thing. That’s where the drop comes in. All those words, all that time, zapped.

Feh. rabbitholesademoji

Not a Complete Loss

I was pretty well disappointed and annoyed about that loss of time and words, but, as you can see, the graph took an uptick right away. Having freed myself of the backstory and gotten back to the present condition of this character, I found the story taking off again, better than before. Even though the backstory adventure was incomplete, it had given me a better grasp of the character’s background and motivations, which made his current situation easier to write about.

So What?

  1. I didn’t get rid of that backstory altogether. I cut it out and pasted into another document, to be saved for later. It might be useful for reference, or for another entirely different novel, or for a later section of this one.
  2. I got to know the character much better. Now, when he has to turn right or left, I’ll have an improved intuition about which he will choose.

Go ahead and curse those rabbit holes, but not for too long. You never know when you might come out the other end and find a pot of gold. I know, that’s rainbows, but you get the idea. Right? Sure you do. See you next time.


Wishie says to leave a comment or he will keep staring at you with his mildly creepy fixed expression.



Boxing for Writers: No Fisticuffs Required

time_box_for_090916If you’re a part-time fiction writer like me, with lots of other demands on your time, you’ll probably go through periods where your opportunities to write are constricted. I’m in such a time right now and was getting pretty frustrated about it when I read an infographic that reminded me of a useful technique from my day-job world: time-boxing.

Time-boxing is just a way of saying you have so much time for activity X in a given day, so you’re going to set aside that much time for it, no more, no less. The time box might not be as big as you’d like it to be, but at least finishing the box’s work allows you to feel you accomplished something concrete and met your stated goal. It’s much less of a drag than saying “I wish I had two hours!” over and over. You might as well wish Donald Trump was a monkey. On another planet. Without a breathable atmosphere. But I digress…

Right now, circumstances have whittled my writing time down a lot. To deal with that, I’ve created a 20-minute time box each morning. I start on time and at the end of 20 minutes, I stop, even if I’m in the middle of typing a word. I can feel good about it, and writing happens; the story moves forward.

Time boxes are not the only sort you can create. Many writers have word-boxes; they write until they have a certain number of words and then stop. Others have page-boxes; they stop when they’ve reached a particular number of pages. You could have an M&M-box if you wanted to; write until you’ve finished a bag of M&Ms. Of course, you might get a lot of time and word count variances with that one, depending on how hungry you are.

Time management is crucial for the part-time fiction writer and time-boxing, or other-types-of-boxing, is a handy way to pull that off. I’m looking forward to the day when I can expand my box to an hour again. From there, who knows? An hour and fifteen minutes?

A guy can dream.


wishie-cropped-for-090916Wishie begs the indulgence of a comment from you. Perhaps about how you manage your writing time? If he gets enough comments, he might put on pants.



One Bite at a Time

Duck taking single stepAllow me to begin this post with a few timeless proverbs:

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” (Laozi, philosopher)

“When eating an elephant take one bite at a time.” (Creighton Abrams, general)

“The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying small stones.” (Chinese proverb)

“How do you write a novel? One word at a time.” (Me, but somebody else probably said it first.)

I recently started a job that takes up a lot of my time, usually a normal workday plus two to four hours. It’s a good job in most respects, and glad to have it, but it does eat into my leisure time.

Time I might ordinarily spend writing.

Too often, people stop writing or don’t write at all because they believe they have to devote large chunks at a time to the pursuit. I know this, because I was one of those people for a long time. Then, somehow, I discovered the magic of small steps.

When I started my novel, I had to manage my time, so I set aside one hour a day, Monday through Friday. It took a while, but now my first novel is finished and I’m shopping it to agents. I have also started my second.

That second novel is going to be written under even greater time constraints than the first one was. I’ve had to cut down to one page a day, about 300 words, which takes me about 30 minutes to write. If I keep up at this pace, I can have a good 300 pages done in a year, maybe more (maybe less, but I hope not).

I had a brief Twitter conversation with a lady a while back who told me she made time for writing by always having the project with her and writing in tiny spaces of open time, like when she was stopped at a traffic light. Wow. Talk about small steps.

Don’t hang around waiting for those big chunks of time. They might never do so. Write a page a day, 10 minutes a day, a sentence a day. Get your novel written one word at a time.




Nascent Novelists: Don’t Let Fear of Failure Stop You


tunnelThe Tunnel

The time just before starting your novel is like standing at the mouth of a dark, strange railway tunnel, preparing to enter. You don’t know where the other end comes out; you may think you know, but you can’t really be certain until you’ve walked the whole way through. You don’t know exactly what awaits you inside. There might be bats, or rats, or giant spiders. A speeding train might appear out of nowhere, hurtling toward you, glaring with its one bright eye. It might even race up behind you and smash you flat before you even have a chance to turn around.

Putrid Failure

Scariest of all, failure might be waiting for you in that tunnel, by which I mean failure to finish the novel. Fear of failure can be so large and awful its putrid stench can reach out of the tunnel and wrap itself around you before you even set foot inside. It can make you freeze to the spot, where you’ll stay for a long time, maybe the rest of your life, wishing you could go in, but not quite finding the will to take a step. It can make you turn around and walk away, thinking anything that smells that bad can’t possibly be worth getting close to, much less grappling with. It can make all those voices in your head that say you’re not good enough and that this writing business is a waste of time drown out every creative impulse you ever had.

A mighty slayer of dreams, fear of failure is. (Is that a Yoda quote?)


So what’s a writer to do? Or an almost-nascent novelist, standing on the hairy cusp of doing and not doing?

I suppose there are many different answers to this question, but here’s mine:

I said, “Okay, I’m going to fail. Fine.” Once I accepted the worst, failure lost a lot of its power. It didn’t smell as bad or look as big.

I took a step into the tunnel and started walking, one slow step at a time.

And I failed. I came up with stinky plot lines. I created characters that wouldn’t work. Settings both preposterous and unappealing bloomed from my keyboard. But each time I failed, I patched up the disaster or razed it and rebuilt, and then moved on to the next failure.

After several years of doing this, I came out the other end of the tunnel, into the sunshine, with a finished novel. Failure and I had made an odd friendship over all that time, and as I walked away from the tunnel it stood at the entrance with a long face, waving.

“Don’t be so bummed out,” I said, “I’ll see you right down there,” and I pointed. Not far down the track stood another tunnel.

I ran for it.


My Pal, the Subconscious (and my Smart Spouse)

041016subconsciousNot Writing… Consciously

For the last week, I’ve been camping on a barrier island in the Florida Keys, running around with a group of Boy Scouts, including my son. We explored, we fished, we snorkeled, and we ate – a lot. I discovered the joys of sleeping in a hammock, after years of tossing and turning on the ground. It was a joyful time spent with the young person I love the most.

I did not think about writing my novel once…

…not consciously, at any rate. But when the sand started to come out of my ears at the end, I discovered the novel was still there. I hadn’t been thinking about it, but somewhere in my brain, the story was churning away, telling itself to my subconscious.

When we left on the trip, my second novel (working title, “The Farthest Hour”) was giving me some small measure of fits. I had to get my heroine out of a compound surrounded by a formidable wall – thick, tall, and topped with a myriad of pointy bits. I was getting her over said wall, and there was plenty of action, but on the whole the result was, well, kind of meh.

The Subconscious to the Rescue041016mindtriangle

My clever wife had suggested that I send the character under the wall instead of over. It was a good idea, but somehow, I couldn’t wrap my imagination around it and I had to leave that loose end dangling when I left for the wilderness. Then, with the island trip over, my subconscious knocked on the door of my waking mind and presented me a silver platter with a vision of the idea. Not only could I take my heroine under the wall, I could use the scene to build up two or three characters whose roles in the story have to this point been uncertain. In addition, I had an image of what “under the wall” would look like and what it would take to get there – think miserable prisoners and metric tons of stinky muck.

Certainly, going underneath the wall has been done numerous times before, which opens me to charges of being trite, but if it’s good enough for George R. R. Martin (in one of her early conquests, the forces of Daenerys Targaryen go under the city walls via the sewers to attack) and J. R. R. Tolkien (they went under the mountain, remember?), surely it’s good enough for me, And surely I can make it my own.

What’s In It for You?

So, what’s the point for my fellow fiction writers, especially those of us who ply the craft part-time? I’d say there are bound to be times in your life when writing is just not going to fit, no way, no how. But that doesn’t mean your creative process has to stop altogether. Let your subconscious chew on things for a while, and hopefully when you return to creating fiction you’ll have some choice ideas on your plate. (It also helps to have a clever and beautiful wife.)

Tweaking the Subconscious

Here are a half-dozen ideas to keep your brain-pixies percolating:

  • Don’t worry about not writing; the time will come (with some attention on your part, but attention is not worry).
  • Keep an ideas list.
  • Knock out a 5-minute mind map of ideas once in a while.
  • Keep a swipe document with you when you watch TV and jot down good ideas you want to use.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • In bed, before you drop off, think about your novel; it might prime the pump of your subconscious.

I wish you the best. See you next time!


A Novel-Writing Easter

keyboard fingersKind of About Writing

Well, great God almighty, noveleers, it’s been a hell of a first quarter here at the house of Carson Craig.

There may not be a load of stuff about writing in this post, but there’s going to be a little, and I think it’s important.

The Day JobdayJob

At my day job, content-spinner for a big corporation, my whole work group started the new year all excited about a wealth of new post-fodder we were about to come into possession of, and new people coming in to swell the digital might of our chattering band. All this was thanks to some reshuffling of corporate principals and powers.

Then, on the first Friday of the year, we were all informed that instead of enhancing our efforts, said reshuffling had resulted in our entire group becoming redundant, meaning: no job for you! We were given two options: 1) Stay 30 days, get a severance package, and say goodbye. 2) Enter the 60-Day Dance of Death; that is, take 60 days to find another job inside the company and, if that doesn’t happen, get severance package and say goodbye.

What with a teenaged son to feed and a self-employed spouse to insure, I took the Dance. I was fortunate. On day 57 I landed a job. Deep breaths were taken. Brows were mopped. Scotch was drunk.

The 60-Day Dance sucked. But, upon reflection, there was more to it than suckage.

easterEaster Day

Now I am sitting here writing this post and it is Easter Day. Whether you’re a Christian or not, it’s fairly likely you’re aware this is a day when we (I’m an Episcopalian—“Catholic lite” should give you a rough idea) celebrate Jesus’s return to life after being stone dead for three days—or more like, two and a half days, maybe, since he is crucified on Friday, buried on Saturday, and then busting out of his tomb on Sunday.

Whether or not you believe this literally happened, the story itself is about amazing and wonderful things coming out of complete and total garbage. Jesus dies a horrible death, but comes back to life and soon inspires his followers to start a new religious movement.

My experience is nothing compared to that, but I did find that flowers quickly grew in the muck of the 60-Day Dance.

Co-workers from my entire, long tenure at this company came out of the woodwork to help and touched me with their concern and generosity.

My wife and son impressed me anew with their love and patience with me, a person who is often not so easy to live with.

People prayed and meditated for me. They asked me how it was going and supported me. My neighborhood community. My Boy Scout community. My church community. My workout community. My writing community.

I got a cool new day job. It’s kind of technical and kind of customer-facing (big company customers), which is very cool.

And now, here’s the writing part. I discovered that I really could write fiction under conditions of adversity. On the days—and there were many—when I felt absolutely drained of imagination and ability, I was still able to sit at the keyboard and knock out paragraphs, the majority of them somewhat serviceable. I think that means I probably have the intestinal fortitude to stick with the art.

So, yay. A writer’s life for me, at least part-time (for now).

Maybe you’ll have a writing Easter one day. I hope you come out of it okay, and I hope it makes you a stronger writer.

See you next time.

  • Carson


Tools for Novel Writing: Not a Journal

list-post1Not a Journal

Keeping a journal? Feh. This blog is about as close as I get. I know there are lots of writers who are into setting down their observations, thoughts, feelings and grocery lists in journals, and that’s okay, whatever scuffs your linoleum, but to me a journal is something for which you write all the entries the night before you’re supposed to hand them in to the professor.

But there are some things I like to keep track of. Actually, a lot of things, since my personality combines an attention deficit with a love of organization. If I don’t stay organized, my head tends to explode from the pressure of a thousand different priorities, each one angling for the number one spot in my mental parade.

So it is with writing. It’s important, I think, to save your writing notions in a list somewhere; otherwise, they’re going to get lost. You may wind up saving a lot of stuff that’s fit only for the compost heap, but you’re likely to save a few gems here and there, and those make the whole thing worth it. You may also find instances where two or more lame ideas, when combined, make something great.

I have two writing-related lists I add to from time to time. One is “Novel Ideas” and the other is “Swipe List.”

novelIdeasNovel Ideas

The first is obvious enough. Whenever an idea pops into my head for a whole novel, or part of a novel, I open up the list and stick it in there. Here

The first is obvious enough. Whenever an idea pops into my head for a whole novel, or part of a novel, I open up the list and stick it in there. Here are a couple:

Character forced to leave family, town, everything, due to attack. Parents make her/him flee. Lives for revenge, to get inheritance back.

The Extreme Medium (character is a fortune teller, brands herself as this)

The first one is pretty ordinary, trite, even, but it’s there because it might be useful one day. The second one popped into my head one day, I’m not sure why, but I love a silly pun, so I saved it. So, hmm… maybe Betty’s town is attacked when she’s a little girl and she has to flee; all her inheritance is ripped away. As an adult, she becomes The Extreme Medium and uses her otherworldly pals to get justice for herself and her fellow victims from the oppressors who attacked her town so long ago. Or maybe not.

ASDLABS_Just_Steal_It-300x200The Swipe List

The Swipe List is one I’ve just come up with recently. I try to have it handy on an electro-gadget somewhere while I’m watching TV. I’ll also pull it out when I’m

The Swipe List is one I’ve just come up with recently. I try to have it handy on an electro-gadget somewhere while I’m watching TV. I’ll also pull it out when I’m reading, if I come across a theft-worthy idea. Lots of are ideas that have been used umpteen times, but you can always reswizzle an old concept to make it your own, and I find it beneficial to have a go-to list of proven ideas to draw from. Here are a couple of items:

A decoy to draw the good guys away from the real thing (or to draw the bad guys away from the good)

Coming upon a room or home that was abandoned in a rush, years before, and seeing the stuff there unmoved, dusty, with something significant there, perhaps

The Swipe List is also helpful because it makes me play closer attention to how shows and movies are put together, and attention to structure is always a good exercise for a writer.

I recommend keeping these lists, or whatever lists work for you, in some kind of Internet-based environment that you can access from any connected device. I use Google Docs and Dropbox, myself, but there’s Evernote, Box, OneDrive, and a host of others. Although much of the stuff you save will be trash, a few things will be treasures, and when you look through the lists, you’ll be able to tell them by the sparkle.

Please be so kind as to share a comment on your own listing practices, or even your journaling practices.

Until next time, keep dreaming stuff up and writing it down.