Help in a Writer’s Hard Times

get by with a little help from my friendsHard Times

The last several months of work on novel #2 have been pretty miserable. I felt like I was dragging every word out of my brain by its heels, kicking and screaming. When they finally landed on the page, my only thoughts were self-bolstering phrases like:

This is terrible.

Can this get any more boring?

The story isn’t going anywhere.

Craziness

I went a little crazy. I spent a bunch of time on outlining schemes and re-writing. I wrote three new openings for the book. Still, I wasn’t happy with it. I even flirted with starting a new book altogether.

The Cavalry Arrives

At last it came time for me to submit my stack of pages to my critique group. As it turned out, their evaluation was radically different from my own:

“The writing is compelling and beautiful.”

“Another great episode.”

“What a powerful story.”

“…mastery of revision, and fluent writing style.”

I was floored, in a good way, like when you finally work up the courage to ask that out-of-your-league person out and they say “yes.” The positive feedback was a huge shot in the arm. Now I am writing with a positive outlook on the work and all the joy I had when I started it.

Objective Views

It’s wonderful how an objective view (or views) of your writing can change it for the better. Often such views are editorial and corrective, pointing out weaknesses you need to fix, and that’s always good. But sometimes, the objective view can just be encouragement. I don’t find writing lonely, but I do find it solitary, and I’m grateful for capable people I can reach out to for help on a regular basis.

Your Thoughts?

If you have some ingenious way of getting objective feedback on your writing, I’d love to know about it, and so would the other three people who read this blog. Please leave a comment. Thanks!

CarsonCraigSignatureCroppedTransparent

P.S.: I wrote a novel ( get it here ) called Trouble Spots. Now I just need somebody to read it. Here’s the skinny:
Grieving over his dead parents, newly homeless, and bereft of his beloved younger brother, Colin Davis, aspiring writer and compulsive smartass, is certain life can’t get any worse, and it probably can’t. But then there’s the afterlife… When an injury sends Colin’s body into a coma, his soul awakens in the claw foot tub intended for the Limbo-bound, but a demon dressed like a Bible salesman tricks him into entering Hell instead. Colin’s one avenue of escape: Thin Spots, unreliable portals between realities that are as likely to land him in the lobby of a Ramada Inn as in the caldera of an active volcano. His quest to obtain the one means of controlling Spots, the Golden Bough, puts him on a collision course with Satan, who wants the Bough to launch a war against an unwary Heaven. To get the Bough and save the universe (and, incidentally, his brother), Colin, with the help of Hell’s queen, her handmaid, and a scholarly angel, embarks on a quest across the ocean of Limbo to beg Heaven’s unwilling angels for help. When the angels refuse his plea, Colin decides victory is a do-it-yourself deal, where the terms are a deep breath and a dive into the hottest flames Hell has to offer.

Get it here. 

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.

Comments?

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

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Re-writing Your Fiction: Starting from Scratch

Box of fruit representing Rewriting fresh fiction when you need to do soWrite Fresh When You Must

Today’s lesson: Don’t become too enamored of your work. Be ready to trash it and start fresh.

My Re-Writing Retreat

Recently, I treated myself to an overnight writing getaway at a local hotel. I took a half-day off, checked in early, and settled down at my trusty laptop to make the most of my uninterrupted hours of re-writing novel #1. (Am I the most boring guy in the world? Quite possibly.)

My first aim was to fix a couple of chapters featuring my bad guys, who are a bunch of demons.

The first of these chapters was a strange one that had Satan holding a high-level meeting with his three top generals and giving an address to an auditorium of lesser demons at the same time. Plainly, the two—important meeting and speech–don’t go together. The two elements needed to be separate events.

The second chapter is about the audience’s reaction to the speech. The crowd isn’t at all enthusiastic about Satan’s message until a minor demon, my hero’s main opponent, jumps on the bandwagon and gets everybody all whipped up. This chapter worked pretty well on its own.

Aha! I thought. I’ll just remove the speechifying parts from the first chapter and graft them onto the second one.

Simple, right? Well, no.

Re-Writing: Easier than Patching

It didn’t take long for me to see that for my plan to work, I was going to have to change the point of view of the second chapter from Satan’s to the minor demon’s. That would require me to have a different beginning to the second chapter. And then I found that taking the speech-y parts out of the first chapter required me to write or rewrite big chunks to plug the holes the excisions left behind.

I was going crazy because I didn’t want to lose any of the writing I was already so fond of.

At some point, I pushed back from the desk and threw myself onto the bed for a good stare at the ceiling. I was just about to switch from writing mode to napping mode when the awful truth bloomed in my brain.

I was going to have to throw out the two chapters and start all over again with this part of the story.

So I did. I started a fresh document, thought through a rough outline (I am an outliner – your method may be different) and wrote the thing from scratch. The result? One chapter instead of two and a more streamlined, more interesting (I hope) section of novel. To finish up, I stripped the two faulty chapters from the manuscript and replaced them with the one I had just completed.

Writing Lessons Learned

During this process, I learned a few things:

Make versions! Whenever you make a major change to your manuscript, save the old version first with a version number or a date. You never know when you’ll need to go back and mine the original for material.

Keep an experimental mindset. Your scratch rewrite is an experiment. Maybe it will be great, maybe it will utterly fail. I find this makes me less nervous about excising a chunk of previous writing and replacing it. I’m not committing to the big change until I’m good and ready.

Rewrite from scratch in a separate document. I just think this makes life easier. With a nice, blank document, your mind is free from the subtle distraction of what comes before and after your rewritten section. You can patch up any rough transitions or what have you in the next draft.

Don’t hesitate to start fresh. Waiting around to do a fresh rewrite is just a waste of time. I tossed away a good hour, at least, trying to tape and spackle those two existing chapters. When you get that awkward feeling, go ahead and start writing something fresh to replace the stuff that’s not working.

What do you do when a portion of your novel is crying out for major revision? Let me and the rest of the world know in a comment.

Thanks for reading See you next time!

The Part-Time Fiction Writer’s Juggling Act – Part 4

Writing fiction part-time can be like taking a slow boat to China, or to anywhere.Take the Slow Boat to China – or Wherever Your Book is Set

As a part-time novelist, there’s one thing I dream of all the time: finishing. I am really looking forward to that golden moment when the last edit is in, the cover art is approved, the copy is formatted and my little book is launched. Oh, but there’s a long time to go, because the fiction writer who juggles many other things can only make progress so quickly. Sometimes I feel frustrated, like a racehorse champing at the bit in the starting gate (or, maybe, in my case, the old farm nag eager to get back to the barn and that tasty bag of oats).
I’m pretty sure many of my fellow fiction writers feel the same way. We must find ways to cope.

Make incremental progress

How do you eat an elephant? Same as anything else: one bite at a time.

Don’t expect to, or even try, to knock out huge swaths of your opus at one time. Write a little here, a little there. One kind writer told me she writes whenever a little sliver of time presents itself; for example, when she’s stuck at a train stop or a long light, she writes a few lines.
You can try the squeeze-it-in approach, or you can just set aside small amounts of time each day or week to enjoy the craft. I’ve another literary buddy with a busy job and a very demanding home life, who spends his lunch hour writing and he’s cranking out a good 60 pages every two weeks – not bad.
I suggest you keep a spreadsheet or other record of how many words or pages you create in each working session, with a cumulative total based on that. It’s very encouraging to watch your progress mount up. Sooner later, you’ll be done!

Have patience

I’m staring at the heading just above this line and thinking, “Okay… how?” Writing fiction part-time is often an unsettling experience. You want to go, go, to, but you just can’t. Having patience is the ability to calmly endure that feeling.
After reflecting on the matter a bit, I have to conclude the best way to boost your patience is to remember that you are in this situation by choice. You have decided to include many other things in your life. Nobody made you do it. Besides, you probably made those choices because they are advantageous for you and yours. So remind yourself of this, take a deep breath, and endure.

Enjoy yourself

You are performing the part-time fiction writer’s juggling act. Congratulations and welcome to the club. I hope you enjoy the juggling, because that’s the most important thing of all. Sure, you’re on the slow boat to China (or wherever), but the beauty of a slow boat is that you get to savor the ride.
There are all kinds of reasons to write – a deep-seated psychological need, a philosophical axe to grind, the hope of fortune and fame – and those are all fine, but if you ask me, the main reason for the part-time writer to keep going is enjoyment of the writing process itself. You sit down at the keyboard or notebook when you can, not knowing if anyone besides you will ever see the results, and you do it because it’s just fun.

Writing fiction is hard. If you don’t enjoy it? Why bother?

Speaking of enjoyment, if you liked this post, check out the related ones:
The Part-Time Fiction Writer’s Juggling Act – Part 1
The Part-Time Fiction Writer’s Juggling Act – Part 2
The Part-Time Fiction Writer’s Juggling Act – Part 3

The Part-Time Fiction Writer’s Juggling Act – Part 3

For part time fiction writers, a hand written message about temporary sacrifice for later reward.Making Sacrifices for Your Fiction

I suppose there are some people out there who have plenty of time to do everything they want to do. My theory is that either these people don’t have much ambition, or they are some kind of mutant space aliens. As for me and the other part-time fiction writers I know, working the old storytelling magic requires sacrifice.

Sacrifice Other Things – Really

A couple of weeks ago, in , I suggested writers should do a self-assessment to see how important fiction is in relation to everything else in their lives. Here I want to emphasize that once you’ve set your priorities, you need to stick to them; that is, if your first priority doesn’t leave time for your second, you’ve got to let that second one go, at least for the time being.

A bit of navel-gazing and theoretical priority setting is great, but, all too often, when the rubber hits the road, the temptation to renege on your word to yourself is powerful. It’s a little like dieting; your goal weight has priority over gooey sweets, but when somebody puts an ice cream sundae down in front of you, it seems almost impossible to resist.

It’s probably a good idea to carry a list of your priorities in your wallet or purse. When you find yourself in a temptation situation, pull it out and give it a hard look. That alone may be enough may be enough to pull you away from the brink. You could try walking away and counting to ten, or walking around the block. Whatever you do, find some technique to help you pull away from that temptation and refocus on your priorities.

You’re going to fail at this from time to time. (If you never fail, I don’t want to hear about it, okay? Let me rest secure in my imperfection.) When you do, don’t waste time feeling guilt about it. Guilt just makes you feel worse and saps energy you could be using for your writing. Just do your best and move on!

Sacrifice Your Ego

If you are serious about being a fiction writer, you have to put your ego on the chopping block. Accept the truth that your writing and storytelling are not as good as you think they are. Get over the notion that you can catch all your grammar, style and story blunders yourself, because you can’t. Get yourself into a good critique group and listen to what they have to say. If the majority says your plot twist doesn’t make sense, don’t explain it to them; go figure out how to make it logical.

If you can’t find a critique group, find some critically people who are willing to read yourself and give you unvarnished feedback. Then, when you think you’re all done with your novel, get yourself some professional editing, both the proofreading kind and the book-doctor kind. Again, don’t defend – listen and fix.

All things considered, none of that’s so bad is it? I mean, it’s not like you have to sacrifice a goat or anything.

if you liked this post, please check out the related ones:
The Part-Time Fiction Writer’s Juggling Act – Part 1
The Part-Time Fiction Writer’s Juggling Act – Part 2

Carson Craig, Nascent Novelist, is now Dream it Up, Write it Down

Return to Bloggerland - The Return InnThe Nascent Novelist Returns to Bloggerland

Hello again to my following friends and to the Internet! I’m restarting this fiction writing blog. Well, not restarting, exactly; I’m going to start adding new content again.

To celebrate, the site has a brand-new Internet address: http://dreamupwritedown.com. The old URL, https://carsoncraig.wordpress.com , will still resolve to this page, though, so don’t worry your pretty little head if you have the site already bookmarked — that goes for both of you.

Rebranding for my Fellow Fiction Writers

Back in the olden days, this blog was eponymous. After some thought, I’ve decided I’d rather shift the emphasis around here from me to you. I am going to try posting stuff that will be helpful for part-time fiction writers, especially part-time novelists.

Subtlety

The change in emphasis might be subtle, since I’ll still write about my own experiences, but I hope over time that the revised focus will become more apparent and that you’ll find information and inspiration here to drive your fiction forward.

Cheers,

Carson