Status Update

It has been a while since I posted. I apologise for that. I’ve done a great deal of writing since my last post and made a good deal of progress on that particular project, but I have since decided to set it aside for the time being. I feel like I learned a lot from the time I spent on it, and I may indeed come back to it at some point but, for now at least, I need some distance from it. It’s a very light-hearted story and right now I feel like I need to write something darker.

I did waste some time on a failed story concept in the interim before I settled on my new idea. I’m also trying a new creative paradigm for the first time. Part of my effort to be better prepared to combat issues that have derailed other projects.

I honestly do feel as if I’ve learned a lot and made a lot of progress as a writer over this past year, but, at least for now, I have no finished projects to show for it. It’s frustrating but I’m not going to quit. I’m just going to keep throwing myself at it until I manage to see something through to completion. It’s bound to happen one of these days.

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Marching Ahead

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Quite a bit of time has passed since my last post. Pretty much par for the course with any other blog I’ve ever attempted to run, though not for a lack of things to talk about. A lot has been going on since that last post way back in March. I’ve continued to plug away at my story, and for a while, things were going very well. My outline was coming along and the ideas were flowing, but I eventually hit a wall. I realized that even though I had crafted these characters, I didn’t really know them like I should, little details that make them real that you cannot simply plan in advance. I knew what I needed to do, I needed to write. The problem was that I had been so committed to the idea of fully outlining the story before writing the first draft that making such a concession felt like a failure. My progress stagnated.

I was unbelievably frustrated at this point. I turned to the advice I had received in numerous writing manuals, take a week or two off and see if the creative juices start flowing again. So for a few weeks I did a little more reading than usual, watched a little more TV than usual, and in general, just tried to not think about my story. The break helped a bit, when I returned my creative juices were flowing again and I was able to plot out several more scenes. But just as quickly as I had seemed to turn the corner I had a relapse. Again I felt that my lack of knowledge of my characters, of not having seen them operate outside of of my mind, had handcuffed me. I was not going to take a break again so soon, I felt that would be the first step towards shelving this particular story that I have been working on since October. So I finally put my ego aside and decided to write a draft of the first act. This paid immediate dividends as seeing my characters in action led to me discovering new things about them. Still something wasn’t quite right.

My outline was rather heavy handed. Jammed too full of notes and minor details to make for easy consumption while trying to write a draft. So I took a week to go back and reformat a much more compact and concise outline that I am now updating in tandem with the original. Every step of this process has been a learning experience, going forward I will be doing this for all of my works. Still, even though things were going better, I wasn’t quite happy with where I was. I felt like I needed to be making more progress each day with my writing and that somehow this first draft had become an exhausting thing to work on. I tried to use my analytical mind and determined that I had become too picky about how my first draft was. Every book I’ve ever read on writing always encourages just plunging through the first draft, even some of the comments I’ve received from people on this blog have encouraged such a thing. But just hearing that advice wasn’t enough. Even though I’ve known for a long time that’s what I should do, I could never bring myself to actually follow through and do it. I hadn’t read a writing manual for some time so I decided to peruse Amazon for a manual focused exclusively on draft writing. The manual I found, reiterated the basic information that everyone had already been telling me, but also gave me a few specific tidbits of information that, in retrospect, seem so obvious. Research had become a major drain on my time and energy during writing, now I simply place notes in the draft to remind myself to research the information I need later, and if I’m having trouble getting exactly what I want in terms of phrasing I simply leave another note detailing what I’m looking for, and to work on it when I get to revision. Really obvious stuff to be honest. But its helped tremendously. One other thing the book does touch on is examining your writing progress through the use of data analysis. Just for fun I’ve been tracking mine. Hopefully in another month or so I’ll have compiled enough data to start culling conclusions from.

Anyway, the point is, things are going very well now. It has been a long time coming,but I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, and no, it’s not a train.

Ethics .vs Sales Wizardry

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I recently purchased the book Writing Fight Scenes by Rayne Hall. As you may have surmised from the title, Writing Fight Scenes, is a craft book dedicated to helping the reader compose higher quality fight scenes in their own work, whether they be gritty, realistic melees or grand Hollywood type battles. What drew me to the book was the information it offered about various types of weapons. What I gleaned from those sections made the title a worthy purchase, yet I am not blogging about the book because of the quality of its content. I am blogging about this particular title because the author did something that I feel is both extremely underhanded and brilliant all the same.

I, like many consumers, take review scores on Amazon and other services such as Goodreads into consideration when making a purchase. This is particularly true when it comes to a reference book such as this. Let’s be honest, who in their right mind is going to purchase a reference book with a 2 out of 5 rating? Nobody. Being an aspiring author myself I have read numerous books about how to improve one’s craft, and this was, without question, the weakest of the bunch, yet it had received stronger reviews than numerous titles I felt superior. That’s hardly worth crying about right? It’s just a simple difference of opinion with other readers– right? Turns out there may be more to it than that.

In a section under the heading “Dear Reader,” the author attempts to make a bargain with the reader. For the sake of not coloring the proposal with the bias of my interpretation it is presented below in unaltered form:

“I hope you’ve enjoyed this book and gained many practical ideas for your writing. If you found it helpful, I’ll be thrilled if you post a review on Amazon, Barnes&Noble, GoodReads, or wherever you purchased it or are a member.

If you email me the URL to your review, I’ll send you a review copy of one of my other Writer’s Craft books: Writing Scary Scenes, Writing about Magic, The Word-Loss Diet, Writing about Villains, Writing About Magic, Writing Dark Stories.”

The first paragraph I have no problem with. Asking for people who enjoyed your book to give it a good score is harmless and, in this age of electronic reading devices, something that will likely happen anyway, but when the author offered something in exchange for a review, in this case a free book, I believe an ethical boundary was crossed. The ethical boundary being that she is essentially corrupting the review process. While Rayne Hall did not specify that a good review was required to get the free book, I think it goes without saying that readers will feel inclined to give the book a higher mark if only to avoid the awkward situation of sending her a link to their negative review while asking for a freebie. I think only the most audacious individuals, or insensitive trolls, would do such a thing.

The marketer inside of me says this is a brilliant maneuver. Manipulating your review scores in a way that helps your product is obviously a good financial decision for the author. No doubt the higher average rating this program has, in all probability, led to has helped to sell a few extra copies of her book. Especially to people who place heavy consideration on review scores on sites such as Amazon or Goodreads. What makes this move so brilliant is that even in a situation where the author is called out for this practice, such as this very blog post, if by some one-in-a-million chance this blog post goes viral, the ensuing controversy would only create more sales. It’s a calculated move designed to sell more books. At the same time the corruption of the review process is, as a reader, disheartening. I’ve come to expect such treachery in other mediums, but not from book reviews. This incident proved to be a sobering reminder that even something conceptually as innocent as reader reviews cannot be trusted completely.

If you enjoyed this post make sure to give my blog a 5-star rating at all the top blog rating sites! If you send me a link to your review I’ll forward you an exclusive article!

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I kid, I kid. I kid because I love.

Still alive

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I, rather predictably given my history, have neglected this blog. I envision a future one day where I actually make a habit of posting consistently, but for now this blog’s function is  little more than that of being a fun distraction. One day this blog will be host to meaningful content; meaningful content, however, takes time and love to manufacture. I just wanted to serve notice that it is coming someday.

 

     Consider yourself warned.   

Routines

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I, for the better part of the last week, have been unable to progress further in drafting a story I have been working on for the past two months. At this point I would normally just put the project on the shelf and try to work on another of the numerous projects I have piled up, but I do not want to shelve this project just yet. I am further along the creative pathway with this story than any of my others; I feel I have learned a great deal from the time I have spent working on it and think I would be doing myself a disservice if I shelved it too quickly. I need to change something, so I have decided to shake up my morning routines.

     The problem is that my routines have become stale; this is stifling my creativity. The past few months I would take 20 minutes each day to write a journal entry; following this I would, for one hour, copy by hand rules presented in a grammar manual. Seeing rapid improvement in my work I did this faithfully every day until the returns began to diminish; I then cut back to copying the grammar manual every other day. Following this alteration to the routine I felt reinvigorated. I continued with the new routine until this latest struggle forced me to reconsider the value of it.

      Today I started a new routine. As before I spend the first twenty minutes of my day working on a journal entry; the consistent writing practice is invaluable to a novice such as myself. Afterward I spend an hour reading about the mechanics of writing a story. I am hoping that studying the nuts and bolts of a story will spark my creativity. I will offer a progress report sometime in the near future.

Thoughts on my own experiences

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Not being a psychoanalyst, I claim no deep understanding of the human mind. I do, however, possess a very thorough understanding of my own thought process. I do, at times, reflect on my actions in both the distant and recent past. Even now I find myself lacking; my life is fraught with denial of reality, a lack of honesty with myself, and rationalization of these behaviors. Can I alter these behaviors? Yes – if I wanted to do so, but I feel removing these barriers between myself and my true feelings would strip me of what keeps me happy; therefore I will continue to deny reality.

I have read numerous stories about how people are molded by events that happen early in their lives; often these events deal with a traumatic experience. We want to believe that through facing adversity we grow stronger, but especially when we are children, we do not always respond to adversity in this ideal manner.

My major trauma as a child was inflicted by a grade school teacher. Now a man grown, looking back, it seems so petty; however, from the perspective of a naive young boy, the event was devastating.

I was in the third grade at the time of the event; time has obscured some of the finer details from my memory. The most relevant moments remain vivid. That day, I recall struggling mightily with whatever lesson was being taught. Eventually a worksheet was distributed. With the class quietly laboring over the worksheet I took the opportunity to ask the teacher for help. The only part I recall from the exchange anymore are the last words she uttered, “You’re worthless.”

I had neither anticipated nor witnessed such a harsh response by a teacher. I had simply done what I was supposed to do. Stunned and confused I made my way back to my desk and sat quietly until school ended. Later that evening I cried to my mother about what had happened. She contacted the principal and the issue was resolved, but the damage had been done; in the end it was nearly two decades before I moved past it.

Looking back, I am quite sure the teacher did not mean to destroy my self worth; however, she had managed to do that. I would have a plethora of quality teachers afterward, yet, from this point onward, I was hesitant to ask questions. An incident with my father the following year compounded the problem; I felt I could no longer turn to my parents for help. I was a mediocre student, and I feel this was the tipping point for me both academically and socially.

I was never a particularly sociable person, but after the incident with the teacher I became far more reclusive and distrusting; that is not not to say that being distrusting is a poor trait. Just that I wish I had developed it at a later age.

Somehow I endured my way through school. I was eager to get a fresh start in the workforce; truthfully, because I was excited by the prospect of disposable income than anything else. Shortly thereafter I found myself working retail. I initially struggled. Having become so anti-social it was hard for me to express myself to strangers. Thanks to my co-workers, I eventually managed to break out of that shell. Eventually I worked my way into a middle management position. Things went south shortly after that and I was fired. That was devastating. My problems were compounded by the fact I now had a mortgage to deal with.

More than 6 years have passed since that time. I found a better job, paid off my mortgage, and discovered new friends. One day, the reality of my situation struck me; I, for the first time since my youth, was both happy and content with my situation.

What happened during the last several years to mend me? More than anything, I think having a mortgage helped. It gave me a goal of meaningful value to strive for. Suddenly my mind had a laser focus; all of the things that had impacted me seemed petty in comparison. The mortgage allowed me to break free from the seemingly endless cycle of unhappiness I had been stuck in, and upon paying it off, gave me a sense of accomplishment I had never before felt.

Nearly two years have passed since I made the final mortgage payment. There was a brief period where I felt as if I was stumbling aimlessly with no goal. I felt my attitude backsliding. I did not want to revert to the way I had been. During a moment of introspection I came to an important realization; I came to understand that having a goal to strive for is the thing that keeps me most happy. I set myself a new goal. I am not sure I can actually achieve it, but simply having a goal to strive for is enough to keep me happy. My goal is to become a published author. Is it a realistic goal? Probably not, but simply striving to achieve it is enough to keep me happy. Am I denying reality by having such an unrealistic goal? Probably, but as long as it keeps me happy I am glad to continue doing so.

I have come to realize that one is best served to not dwell on things for too long. Be it success, failure, or something bittersweet. Reflect on the past and learn from it; do not let oneself be consumed by it.

Keeping a Journal

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I have a few spare minutes before I depart for work. I might as well elaborate on the topic of journal writing; much like story writing, it is something I have only recently had success with; though unlike story writing, it is something I had been trying to do for the longest time. Over the years I have made probably upwards of 10 attempts to run an online journal, and have failed spectacularly every single time.

The first few attempts I made at keeping a journal were initially successful. I would provide a new entry every few days; this would last for a couple of months and then I would stop doing it. It was too much work. A journal should not feel like work. I did not realize this at the time. My successive attempts at writing a journal failed much more quickly. It just seemed like such a hassle.

I had completely given up on the idea of keeping a journal when I stumbled upon the Gamefaqs Creative Writing forum. They had a topic about how to avoid writer’s block; being an aspiring writer I, of course, found this intriguing. The topic suggested that frequent writing practice helps to prevent writer’s block. The advice offered by the topic creator was rather simple; in fact, I can’t boil it down to two steps.

Step one: Set a timer for twenty minutes.

Step two: Type every thought that crosses your mind; even if it makes no sense.

Seems simple right? Well at first I struggled with the concept of putting every thought I had to print. It seemed awkward, but I fought through my inhibition nonetheless. Within a few days my thought process became more coherent and I noticed a sharp upswing in the quality of what I was writing.

Originally I was following these steps not with the intent of writing a journal, but of simply getting in twenty minutes of writing practice everyday, but the process works a little different for everybody. I usually make my entry immediately after getting out of bed. This, I believe, swings my output in a more journalistic direction.

I have successfully run a private journal for over a month and half now. I make entries daily. I suggest trying the method I have described in this post if you are interested in running a journal of your own.

My Battle with Grammar and the Creative Process

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Three months ago I decided, for the first time in my adult life, to approach writing seriously; it has been a struggle, but one I’ve enjoyed. I never could have foreseen the metamorphosis my creative process would undergo in such a short period of time.

I was inspired to start writing by an old computer game. I was struggling with the  game when I had a sudden flash of inspiration for a story. There was nothing out of the ordinary about this. I have had brief moments of inspiration in the past; never in the past had I acted upon them. This time would prove different. Instead of fading away, as all others had, this idea kept coming back to me. I could do nothing to escape it. It consumed me.

Looking back, on a subconscious level, I think I know the real reason my other ideas died. My lifelong struggle with grammar has made me scared to express myself in text. The strength of this particular idea excited me enough to push aside my reservations.

One night I finally said, “I have to do this.” I dropped everything and typed out the first few pages of my story. It had been well over a decade since I felt such joy as I did that night. For me, the act of creating is calming. It’s a way to combat my stress problem. As an adult my main form of stress release to this point has been to watch a movie, play a videogame, read a book, or do some exercise; these activities I took part in for the purpose of stress relief caused me more stress. Why? Because I worried that my hobbies were nothing more than “time killers” with no tangible benefits (other than the exercise). Writing, to me, feels more important than these other hobbies. I doubt I will ever write a story that makes me a dime, yet the potential for it to happen allows me to more easily justify (to myself) the time I spend doing it.

I had started the writing process and was having a tremendous amount of fun. This lasted until I first read my work; I knew the story was a grammatical disaster. I am a product of the American school system. At no point in my schooling did I have ever have more than a rudimentary understanding of grammar. I managed to pass English as a C student by doing exceedingly well in vocabulary and spelling tests; grammar tests generally went so poorly that if I managed a passing grade I considered it a victory.

At this point, my desperation mounting, I made a terrible decision. I started writing only the simplest of sentences; the goal, of course, being to minimize my potential for mistakes. Obviously this made my writing terribly monotonous. I realized I was going to have to seriously commit to improving my grammar if I was going to pen a quality work.

I took to the internet to find help. I found a creative writing message board on another forum I frequent and began lurking there. The board was barely active, but grammar questions came up frequently. Eventually I stumbled upon the Purdue OWL website. For months it served as my number one resource. Recently I purchased a grammar manual; it is now the main source of my studies. I have also made a point of copying, by hand, The Elements of Style; I do this for one hour every other day. I feel that my grammar has improved tremendously, but I still have a long way to go. I kindly request any grammarians reading this to inform me of the errors present in this post.

When I first started writing my story I used only my word processor. In the months since I have switched to pen and paper. I find that setting at my computer there are too many potential distractions for me to properly focus on my writing. I also prefer striking a line through text I do not want to use instead of deleting it out of existence. Sometimes I can properly recast a sentence by just rearranging a few words; I would struggle to do this in a word processor after deleting the text.

I started having more and more ideas come to me. Several of these ideas were incompatible with my original story, so I copied them down into a notepad file for later use. Eventually the desire to use these ideas proved too much to resist. So I started taking on more and more stories. I am now working on four projects at the same time. I work on one story and ignore the other three. When I hit a wall I switch to one of the other stories and work on it. I do not have the process perfected just yet, but I’m getting closer. Most of these stories have been written using the seat of the pants method; this works when if it’s the only story you are writing. But after a long layoff it makes it hard to get back into writing that story. I have decided, going forward, that I will make detailed design documents for all stories before I switch away from them; this will allow me to more easily resume work when I cycle through to them again.

Under my current organizational system I have 3 notebooks I rotate through. One which is entirely dedicated to the story I feel most important, one for copying “The Elements of Style”, and one for practicing descriptions and story drafts.

My creative process has changed a great deal in the months since I first got the writing bug; I feel like an entirely different person than I was then. No mistaking, as a writer, I am still a suckling babe held firmly at his mother’s breast, yet for the first time in my life, I feel as if there is a chance I can do well. I am willing to do the hard work; I just hope I have enough time to reach my goals.