Sunday, October 30, 2011

I’m Participating in NaNoWriMo and What it Means for You

NaNoWriMo, also known as National Novel Writing Month, is a creative writing project which challenges you to write 50,000 words of a new novel in November. 
Purists will note that 50,000 words is a relatively low number for a complete novel. True, but it’s longer than a novella and before you get all hoity-toity, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s, The Great Gatsby has 50,061 words and that’s good enough for me.
For others who recall with dread the agony it took to write a two page essay in school, 50,000 may seem like a lot of words. It is. Nearly 1,700 words per day. That’s one of the main reasons I’m embarking on it again this year. It creates a discipline for writing every day.

People who have read my blogs, newsletters and books over the last seven years tend to think of me as a motivational writer, since much of my work deals with leadership, goals and upbeat ways of tackling challenges. I’ve never considered myself a fiction writer. For some reason I fail to count the half dozen spec screenplays, the flash fiction, short stories, poetry and prose I’ve written over the years as part of my bona fides. For one month a year, NaNoWriMo changes that. 
Anecdotally I’d guess 75% of the people I know either consider themselves writers or regularly talk about wanting to write. Of that number maybe half write with any regularity. Call me old fashion, but I think a prerequisite for writers is that they write. By commiserating and celebrating with other active writers who struggle over managing goals, deadlines, and their inner critic I’m able to summon my strengths from both worlds.
The goal is not to have a completed novel in a month. The goal is to place 50,000 words on a page in 30 days. It’s not about judging if there’s a good enough story worth being told. Having something to edit and refine, ideas to massage and themes to evolve comes later, after it’s done. The point now, is to begin.
In November my social media streams may act as a mood ring. I’ll share the status of the goal and any troubles, tribulations and insights. If you’re involved with NaNoWriMo, consider me a helpful friend who shares in your endeavor. If you’re not a writer, or couldn’t give a crap, that’s fine, simply tune out. I do hope you’ll stick around and see what happens in this word driven laboratory, because as I pursue my goal, you may pick up some hints to accomplishing your own.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Singular Path to Success?

T_BLANK.001The only path to success that matters is the one you forge for yourself. You can read self-help books, attend personal development seminars, seek wisdom from old sages and new whiz kids alike. They all have their opinion and if you listen to enough of them you will likely be so utterly confused you'll begin to question your own motives.

For every guru who preaches patience, another advises massive action. For those who say keep high standards and be discerning over the projects you accept, another will tell you to accept everything and learn along the way. For those who say live a balanced life, another says focus only on your strengths.

I'm convinced everyone who has the freedom of choice has the ability to chart their own course. It may not be the route you want to take. You might be bored by the view or impatient with your progress. Those are issues with how you go about enjoying the journey, not about your chosen path. Some will follow well-traveled paths and some take another. As Robert Frost reminds us, that can make all the difference.

Sometimes we need a guide, but this pathfinder does no good if they don't know where you want to go. They ask thoughtful questions that will reveal what you want and what holds you back. If you’re open to seeing it, they can show you the way. The steps you take and the speed you make are completely up to you.

Where do you want to go?

Quick Plotting

A "Back of the Napkin" Illustration
Plotting a story can be daunting for a writer, particularly if they view themselves as an "artiste" and prefer to write by the seat of their pants to see what moves them.

A story well told is one well planned. There's no need to account for every last detail, your muse, inspiration or deadline will take care of those. You just need a general map to get your bearings. 

Who's your Hero and what's their Goal? 

Pretty cut and dry and if your hero and their goal is so compelling and interesting, that may be all you need.

It's probably not.

To add more flavoring, determine your hero's biggest Wants and Fears.

Make those wants and fears tangible by thinking about the Sacrifices and Rewards your hero is willing to make and likely to get. 

Now, let the story unfold and alternate your hero's wants and fears with sacrifices and rewards along the way toward their goal.

If you can plot a story you want to write, you can plot the life you want to lead. You're the Hero in your life. What's your goal? What are your wants and fears? What sacrifices are you willing to make to reach your goal? What rewards have you already enjoyed?

Go. Write. And live the life you've plotted.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Some days I write. Some days I edit.

Some days I write. Some days I edit.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Is Your Writing Better Than Sex?

The Great Writer must compete for Attention and Induce Action
Writing is very personal. It’s a seemingly magical method of capturing images and thoughts from your imagination and putting them on the page in a way that very few other disciplines can. Painters, musicians, sculptors, architects, maybe engineers and extemporaneous public speakers are perhaps the only vocations that demand the inspiration that comes from within go straight to the blank canvass before them. This means they may need to throw away more of their creations than others because they are unfit for public consumption. Everyone should study their craft to continually improve, but the writer has a unique challenge in that they must compete with the rest of the world for the readers attention.
A painting can hang unobtrusively on the wall or be visited in a gallery. Portable music has become the personal soundtrack of many people’s life. A building, regardless of the fluidity of it’s lines, does not move.
To be read, the writer needs to compel the reader to make the time for them. The reader always gets to choose when to pick up your book, or fire up the Kindle and read your work. As a writer, you have no control over whether you will be carried along with your reader, or left on the nightstand, relegated to the bathroom, or placed on the coffee table like an ego stroking trophy for guests to see and enjoy.
Your work has to compete for attention against screaming toddlers, the television, Facebook and countless other distractions.
As a writer your work should endeavor to be your reader’s travel companion and lover. It, (meaning your work, and since writing is personal, it, meaning you) should be called upon during long waits in line, aboard flights and ferries, trains and busses. You should be brought to bed at night where you are chosen over sex or sleep, for at least for a little while longer. If your writing isn’t at that level you will lose. If you achieve that tier of preference, you can be considered a very good writer. To be a great writer, you need to do more.
The great writer doesn’t settle for winning the competition over preference. The great writer induces the reader to think about and do things differently. Perhaps to be a better parent, or to be discerning over which television channel to watch, which websites to visit, which airline to fly, or which revolution to fight. The great writer must seduce and challenge the reader. The great writer, leads with their words. 

You don’t have to be a great writer, but you should try.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Creepy Writers

I recall many years ago, when I was in my late teens, watching some Friday night movie on television with my mother. The name and plot escape me, but I remember it involved a young woman finding the man of her dreams, only to learn he was a manipulative writer who used her as a character in his book.

I don’t remember my feelings at the time, though judging by the horror and disgust on the actresses' face I knew I was supposed to empathize with her. At that time I was barely beginning my discovery as a writer, let alone an adult, and I recall being a little torn. Obviously it was a horrific act to use another person solely for the purposes of researching a character, but don’t writer’s do a tame and more socially acceptable version of that all the time?

Every writer has a specialty they are particularly proud of. For some it is plot or character development, for others it’s believable dialogue or concise narration. To perfect this they observe and learn, constantly. Most writer’s are admitted people watchers, turning boring wait time in line into research for potential protagonists or antagonists. There have been more than a few parties I’ve endured in the name of research. I listened to the boasts of guests, watched the body language of couples, and surmised what interaction or conflict was going to occur next.

To the non-writer it’s creepy to learn that someone is probably watching your every move from across the coffee shop and making note of how you twirl your hair or tap your foot. They are brainstorming how to describe the ubiquitous white earbuds dangling from your head like leftover steamers from a birthday celebration in a fresh way.

That’s why some people don’t trust writers, because they are always plotting. Before Facebook and Twitter it used to be more threatening, but now people put themselves out there for examination much more freely.

Sometimes, when deep into a project the writer will immerse themselves into the world they’ve created. This can be great for the reader down the line, but maddening for roommates or spouses, particularly if the writer is working on a murder mystery or suspense thriller and wanting to capture the look of surprise or pain.

It’s equally dangerous when they are writing of love, or lust, or both. I recently wrote about the dangers of a writer falling in love with their character, this can be particularly problematic if the character is based on someone real. That someone could be a paramour from your past, or an innocent bystander trying to enjoy a latte. That’s the chance you take. The danger for the writer is that the character they have created is a perfected version of someone else and will never love them back.

As a writer myself, I don’t advocate making friends with someone with the intent of writing about them. I also know it’s nearly impossible to not put a little of everyone you meet into a little of everything you write. I’m convinced this is what makes some writers irresistible to the social set who are hoping to be written about. I’ve learned that truth is not only stranger than fiction, it’s frequently not as exciting.

If you have writer friends you should assume some trait of yours, however obscure, has the potential to be repurposed in a far different manner. My advice would be to relax, don’t go looking for it, or worse, asking for it, and if you see it in print, feel proud that you were able to contribute something of yourself to an author.

For fellow writers, you’re expected to make magic out of the mundane, to make illiterate dialogue read like poetry and to give voice to things that speak too softly. I believe it’s okay to use what you come across in life in your writing, but it's never okay to use people for the sole purpose of your writing.