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Posts Tagged ‘Writing’

If you’re planning to put your fiction “out there,” or you’ve already taken that leap – chances are you’ll be dealing with criticism. No work of fiction, even if it was ejaculated upon the author from On High, is universally accepted as perfection. Literature is subjective. People have their own likes/dislikes.

And, yes, your literary shit stinks just like everyone else’s.

What am I saying? It’s simple, really. Until you can accept that your work isn’t a flawless gem, I’m not sure you’ll have the tools you’ll need when strangers read and critique your “finished” product. But this has nothing to do with being thick-skinned. Even fragile flowers deserve to tell their stories if they dedicate themselves to the craft. But, when the jeers come, those delicate souls can indeed weather the storm without changing their personality. And it all comes down to accepting the truth: your work isn’t a timeless paragon of literary brilliance.

Instead, like us humans, each work of fiction is a unique lump of matter. Complete with flaws, quirks and uniqueness. The sooner you realize this, the better off you’ll be in the end. If you’re at peace with the truth, you’ll be prepared to absorb valid critique, recognize a mismatched reader and deflect worthless chatter. For the valid points, you can choose to make changes (if you have direct control over your work) or mark it down for a possible revision later on. Or, perhaps, you’ll just earmark the advice for future works. In the end, your fiction will improve and your reviewers may be telling you something you already know. Perhaps a certain scene or character never sat 100% with you. As more people read your work, your chances of running across constructive criticism rise (as does the number of internet asshats). For me, I embrace anything that helps the story. So, if a reviewer points out something negative that I happen to agree with, chances are I’ll change it. I know my shit ain’t perfect, and I’m willing to make sound revisions.

You should too.

Now, the reverse of this is also true – believe in your work! Just because some anonymous internet goon gives you a “1-star” doesn’t mean you suck as a writer. If you’re be better suited for handing out stickers at Walmart, then I hope you realize that before writing book number two. But if you truly think you deserve to be called a “Storyteller”, then don’t let bad reviews get you down. Easier said than done? I don’t think so. If you truly believe in your work, and that you deserve to share shelf space with other authors – this is an easy state of mind to keep going strong.

You thought it. You wrote it. You shared it. It won’t ever be perfect, but fuckin’ believe in it!

At the end of the day, we’re all a day older. (sorry) But, it’s also all comes down to the story. If you can take a step back and view negative comments as possible constructive criticism – you’ll become a better writer. And I don’t see how that’s ever a bad thing.

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Where has Matt been? Abducted? Dead in a ditch somewhere? Lost in time & space? Fighting Loki’s forces in NYC?

Hardly.

I’ve been soundly in the grip of a creative storm. Well, several storms. I wrote over 25k words in a disgustingly short time about 2 months ago – that was one storm. Then, riding up on that was yet another storm on a different project (not even gonna go there on the blog yet). So… yeah… I’m still here.

While thinking about the past several months, I keep getting stuck on this idea of “creative storms.” I know we’ve all heard some variation of these:

“Write what you know.”

“Build your brand.”

“Don’t quit your day job.”

To all of that, I say: “hogwash.” Why? Because I don’t buy recycled advice any longer. Lemme explain.

You see, I always thought of myself as a very analytical person. Artsy crap was for artsy people. I never thought of myself as “creative” (and I’m sure some people would tell me I’m *still* not creative… bah – feck you, Billy). Anyway. After feeling like I’d burst if I didn’t get an idea, paragraph, page, game concept or some other creative construct out of my brain and into a more tangible form — I’m starting to believe in this idea of a creative storm. I’ve heard many a writer say they write “because they have to,” and then they go on to spout about “building their brand.” And by that, I mean – write within their chosen genre/series/whatever until their hand falls off. Many writers believe it important to build their audience and fiction in that way.

And I guess that’s all fine and dandy for writers.

But what about those of us who genuinely feel seams bursting with the need to create? If we were to call ourselves “Writer,” then what do we do when some other creative endeavor eclipses all else? Follow it? Or, do we abandon it in favor of building our brands and writing what we know?

And those are the questions which are easy to answer for me: ride out the storm. Embrace it. Turn my head towards the falling rain and smile. How can you write what you know when you need to be writing something else? How can you build your brand when you spend large chunks of time on disparate projects?

You can’t. And, I believe, you shouldn’t. Not if you truly believe your first, best ability is raw creation. I say: CREATE! Don’t concern yourself with the notion of “doing it wrong.” There is no wrong/right when it comes to creativity. Publishing the product is another matter, and perhaps not all works of imagination are suited for the general public… but that’s neither here nor there. I’m talking about that foaming-at-the-mouth drive to “make shit.” When you are gripped in such a drive, I think it’s important to follow it for as long as the creative fuel fills your tank.

So, that’s what I’ve been up to. After writing nearly 30k words on the next novel in the “Eden” series, I got caught in the grip of a new creative storm. I’m back to writing now and splitting my time between the projects more evenly.

In closing (yeah, I just started this paragraph like a friggin speech… groan), I urge all creative-types to ignore the advice you likely hear upon every visit to a tweet link or blog post on the topic of selling your fiction. Forcing the words onto the paper because you have to finish that series, or write within some artificial confines or for any other reason besides the raw need to “make shit” is a great disservice to yourself and your potential readers. When a storm hits, follow it. Put blinders to the “conventional wisdom” and see where you fall. You might just be surprised at what you can accomplish.

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So, you think you want to begin work on that audiobook of yours? Your novel is “out there” and you want to expand your audience into the land of listeners. While you may know how to put pen to paper (or finger to key/screen), you may not necessarily know jack about voice acting, producing an audio work of art or anything else related. As I go through the process, I’ll share and hopefully we can all learn together!

So, I met (in person) the voice actress for Eden last night for the first time. We’d been in contact over email/phone for about a year leading up to this so we weren’t complete strangers. I swear, every time I talk with her I learn something new! The “audio world” is a big, bad place for little girls in red cloaks (like me). So, here’s some “getting started” tips for a fellow audiobook newbie:

  • Work with a trained voice actor/actress. Sure, Uncle Bob can read your book – he’s got a nice, dulcet voice. Right? Wrong. Many fiction audiobooks (like print books) live and die by the quality of the reader/pro reviews. And many of those reviews will judge the quality of the narration. Awful narration will kill a classic and fantastic narration can lift almost any work. There’s a ton more you have still to do beyond Uncle Bob’s recording, so start-off on the right foot for this massive undertaking: work with a pro.
  • Know what you want. There are as many ways to narrate a book as there are ohmygoditssogoodmyheadasplode fans of tween vampire stories. For fiction, I don’t feel a “flat” narration does you any justice. Why would you want your dramatic scenes read the same as the description of a fork? (hopefully you don’t do too much fork-description in your books) While a “flat” reading may be suitable for a non-fiction book, I prefer the expressive form. I want to feel as the characters do, and a great voice actor can get your audience to some special places alongside your words.  On that same point, you might not want a campy “radio show” reading either. Again, this is where a pro will know the difference between proper expression and eye-rolling lameness. A powerful, expressive reading is where I believe most fiction is at. Aim for that and your listener(s) will be engaged and swept into the performance of your professional actor.
  • Get some help. Use the resources on the Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX) to link-up with a “real” production studio. Talk to friends in the biz. Read some blogs. As a self-publishing man/woman, you’ll likely be the producer. This means you’ll need someone to master the audio (no, it doesn’t come in a single, perfect track from your voice actor). As the producer, you’ll also have to give direction to your voice actor. Listen to early samples and make sure the characters are developing the way you want them to. If there’s something wrong (like he’s taking a deep breath between each sentence), nip it in the bud! Basically, you need to manage this project like you would any other. Stay on top of things, stay communicative and stay involved! If you are expecting to hand someone your manuscript and receive a perfect mp3 6 months later — your expectations might need some adjusting.

So, here begins my journey down the path of audiobook self-publishing. I’m sure I’ll make some mistakes on the way, but you can bet yer panties my team will produce a quality work of art. As I stumble along, I’ll share my thoughts and experiences. Now that we can self-publish to Audible.com, the barriers are gone. It truly is an exciting time to be a writer!

Oh, and one more thing for 2012 or 2013: audiobook launch party in L.A. – go big or go home, kiddies!!  😉

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As I’ve babbled about here and here and likely many other places on the web: don’t plot.

As far as writing advice goes, I’d rank this at the top or near the top. You see, in the deepest recesses of my shriveled heart, I believe Storytelling comes from a place of pure creativity. Sprung from the desire to tell a tale, explore a human condition or delve into a “what if?” – a story needs no added ingredients to grow.

Let it grow from your heart and mind.

I believe (and I’m sure people will one day call me “crazy” for it) that a story loses itself once the “teller” begins to plan the course of events, character and change. Some amount of planning is necessary, of course, or you wouldn’t have a story. However, this “structure” should be as thin as possible – I suggest one sentence worth. Like:

The devil sells coveted items at an antique shop.

Or

Caveman gets captured by evolved race of lizards.

Or

Lowly bishop attempts to change the face of Christianity by conjuring an illusion of a long dead church enemy.

And that’s it!!!!

Don’t outline. Don’t plan characters, events and change. This is the essence of “plot” and I loathe its overuse. What the frak am I talking about? Let’s take my last example of the bishop and Christianity. Stop reading here if you ever plan to read/watch Angels & Demons, by Dan Brown.

–Spoilers!–

I shall admit right off the bat: I haven’t read the book. I have only watched the movie. While this may be loathsome, I’m not giving a book review here so keep yer skirt on. I feel I can adequately make my point about plot without subjecting myself to the same material in a different medium.

Gawd, you are a persnickety one.

Anyway, I liked the basic concept as I put forth in my one-sentence teaser. Sounds like fun, right? I think it would have been, if the work wasn’t an over plotted mess. Let’s dive in!  🙂

Our hero is a cryptologist called “Pardu”… Oh, you haven’t watched Mazes & Monsters yet? Go do that, I’ll wait here.

Okay, back to Angels & Demons. The movie starts with the death of the pope and the theft of some mini-black hole bomb. (which was just discovered, and contained, moments prior)

So, Pardu is called in by Obi Wan Kenobi to decipher some symbols – evil symbols from the ancient Illuminati. The signs seem to predict a string of murders of high-ranking Catholic dudes (cause god forbid a woman have any power).

Then, they find out (dun dun dun) that the Illuminati stole a bomb and plan to blow the Vatican to high heaven!

As my wife and I watched the movie, we kept dreading the end. We knew Obi Wan was the bad guy, but it just didn’t make sense. She even said : “If it’s him, I’m gonna be pissed.”

And she was right to be angered!

I’m going to break down the villain’s “grand plan” and let you be the judge. Obi Wan’s motive was to become pope so he could reform his faith. And his plan was to:

  • Steal a theoretical, unstable substance moments after its discovery to use as a bomb.
  • Murder his good friend, the pope (eventho he was basically the pope’s 2nd in command, with the pope’s ear and some measure of power to affect change from within)
  • Hire a professional killer to murder a half dozen fellow men of the cloth because they were too “soft”.
  • Call in Pardu (you might know him as Tom Hanks) to claim the fake symbology is Illuminati to spread fear amongst the Vatican.
  • Trust that Pardu will figure out the clues at the precise minute the crazy bomb (in which no one on the planet is an expert) is about to explode.
  • Hop into a nearby helicopter with the bomb (now at critical mass, as new/theoretical bombs always play by the rules) and fly into the air.
  • Helicopter explodes and Obi-Wan parachutes to safety – hailed as the savior of Vatican City.

I’ll give you a moment to take all of that in. Yes, it’s a metric ton.

By executing this multi-step plan, all while relying on a bomb technology not 1 day old, Obi Wan hoped to be spontaneously elected pope, eventho he wasn’t eligible.

This was his “plan A”, I guess.

And there we have Plot, brought to the nth degree by over-planning and too much darn thought. I can imagine the writer sitting as his desk, scheming about plot twists & turns that will keep his readers guessing. Problem is, that approach leads to a terrible story. Believability goes right out the window, as does a naturally flowing story. And you end with a mess (in my opinion).

My advice to those writers now taking advice from me (so sorry): Don’t frakkin plot! Start with your idea, jot a few notes, write, jot a few more notes, and then write some more. I typically wait until my “idea” has incubated in my brain to a point where it needs release. Then, the writing comes easy. And you know what else comes easy? The story. It will flow free of the constraints of an outline or some “graphed” line from plot point A to B to C and so on.

There is a difference between a writer and a storyteller. Go be a storyteller. 🙂

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A few weeks back, I posted my thoughts on what to do when your first novel draft is finished. I’m doing all of this as I go through the editing process for Babylon, so I figured it would be cool to share.

So you sent your second draft off to your “first reader,” your trusted pair of eyes. This blessed person has read the manuscript and came back with some suggestions. Chances are, they also caught some typos (though that wasn’t their main objective). You fix the typos and ponder the rest – do you agree with their suggestions? You may on some, and maybe not on others. There’s certainly no harm in granting a stay of execution for some of your prose until the next round of review. However, if your first reader points out any major holes or obvious problems, you best go fix them!

So, time for that third draft. Fix the typos and decide what you will re-write based on the first bit of feedback. This third draft is important! I typically print off 3-5 copies of this draft to distribute to my “A-Team.” These folk are not only willing to help you, they are the first opinions on your masterpiece. You’ve now had time to edit the whole thing at least 3 times. It’s put-up-or-shutup time for the manuscript. Keep in mind, this is still a “content” review. We don’t want anyone taking a fine-tooth comb to the grammar just yet. Generally, you’ll get a mixed-bag of comments and suggestions. If there is a common theme to the suggestions, try to look at those objectively and prepare to make some changes. Chances are, your readers picked-up on something critical you missed. Listen to them! More often than not, they are correct from their outside position. Of course, the opposite is also true – you may disagree and discard some suggestions. Let’s look at both situations!

With Eden, nobody liked a “side quest” I had the characters take on their way from Brasilia to Eden. Quite universally, I got: “why would they go off and do that, when they are focused on this?” My only answer was “because I liked writing it!” The story flowed much better without this added chapter and removing it was easier than I thought it would be. Oftentimes, your garbage can be removed with little to no pain. Funny how that works…

Conversely, I had one reader note that the beginning of Eden was too slow. I disregarded that remark because I knew it started in the thick of things better than most novels, and nobody else had the same complaint. With The Antaran Legacy, one reader didn’t think that religion would be a major factor in a futuristic society. Not being an avid sci-fi reader, I realized where she was coming from but respectfully disagreed. I kept religion a (minor) source of conflict in that novel as it is in many other futuristic yarns. It has its place.

So, that’s the process. Analyze each bit of advice and decide if it has merit for your work. Incorporate changes (or not) to arrive at revisions 4,5,6 and beyond. Widen your initial audience as you go to get more varied opinions (or reinforce existing ones). Then, at a certain point, you will (hopefully) be content enough to finalize the editing process. That entails a few more revisions on your own. Be sure to read the manuscript out loud at least once – you’ll be surprised at how many things you will edit after that exercise! Sprinkle-in those little recurring themes/messages/thoughts, and you’re off to the final step: send the darn thing to your editor!

NOW we’re editing for grammar/style. Be sure to hire a pro. Revise the manuscript once or twice after you get it back from your editor and you’re done! Some writers tweak for months/years after they get their manuscript back. I’m of a different mindset: ship it out! You’ve spent enough time with the story. Let it go! Set it free! And then move on to the next story. As a storyteller, that’s your job.

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I’ve read countless articles, posts and excerpts from books on what to do once your first draft is done. While there are some similar themes, I guess I’ll lob my hat into the arena now that I’ve completed 3 full first drafts in my young career.

So, you did it! The first draft on your novel manuscript is finished and you just leaned back in your chair from your computer/typewriter/notepad/stone tablet.

Congratulations!

Writing a novel takes passion and determination. Writing it well takes skill and experience. Combine all four and your first draft is well on its way to publication.

So… what now?

Quite universally, many writers agree on one point: take a break from that work. While I don’t believe there is any set timeframe for your return to that draft, I do believe you must give it at least a day. Wake up the next day and don’t look at it. Go to sleep and don’t think about it. If you will absolutely explode by going a day without writing, then I suggest blogging, working on another manuscript or banging out a new piece of flash fiction.

In my case, I completely detach myself from writing. I play some games, watch some TV or engage is similar mindless activity. A vacation for the brain & heart isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After that vacation, I start thinking about the first draft and I make little notes on my iPhone or scrap pieces of paper.

Things like:

– Spend more time in location X, conversation with Bob

– Maybe character X should live after all

– Be sure to check X on the next read through for consistency

– etc, etc

Then -and you’ll know when- return to the first draft when you have 4+ hours to work on it, uninterrupted. Have your notes handy and plow through the entire manuscript. Why the whole thing? Well, novels are rarely written in one sitting. And unless you have a perfect memory (my is full of radiation leaks – your mileage may vary), some things just won’t jive. Perhaps you duplicated a conversation between characters. Usually, there are many inconsistencies or things that make you say “what the fuck was I saying here?” It’s helpful to read the work as a whole and make those changes.

Some writers don’t even edit on this read-through (and they’ll give advice to that process). Well, I believe each writer is different and my only advice is try to read the whole thing in that sitting. If you can make edits as well, go for it. There’s no right or wrong answer there.

In any case, you’ll have your second draft done after that sitting (or the sitting thereafter) and you’re on to the next step!

What is that next step, you ask? Well, when I get there with Babylon, I’ll certainly share my thoughts on the subject!

[my notes on the 2nd draft and beyond: http://wp.me/pXrOJ-iC]

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Ready, set, WRITE!

I blogged at the beginning of the week about writing for 4 days straight, as my full-time job, and “seeing what we see.” To tell you the truth, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Writers’ Block? Distracted by games? Forced to barricade the windows to prepare for the zombie apocalypse?

When my wife read that blog post and she said something insightful – I’ll paraphrase. She said I shouldn’t try to estimate what I could do based upon what full-time writers produce. Since writing is their job, they were essentially running a marathon. They had the luxury of pacing themselves, because they knew they had time to finish – many more days at the typewriter to get stuff done.

And I am in a different position. Starting in less that 12 hours, I go back to the job that pays the bills. I’m not running a marathon when I write – there is no pace car. Instead, I’m running a sprint. I had 4 days to meet my goal and then writing time becomes uncertain and staggered.

A sprint. I liked her analogy. If you are like me, and writing isn’t your full-time job (but it’s your full-time passion), you may find yourself in a sprinting position from time to time. And you may ask yourself: Can I sprint? How many words is “too many,” as I hear some writers warn? What if block hits me?

Well, I tried my best to push fear of block or other distractions from my mind. I just sat at my laptop and wrote. And wrote. And then wrote some more. Knowing I was in a sprinting mode helped a ton and I was able to produce. Here’s the results:

Day1: ~9,500 words

Day2: ~7,000 words

Day3: ~6,000 words

Day4: ~10,000 words + a finished draft 1

To be honest, once I started with the end, it was like spotting that finish line. I always get a burst at the end, and I spent about 10 hours writing today. Tired but happy! Babylon is certainly on the way now! One more edit, then the wife gets it… she’ll filter out some garbage before the 2nd circle tears it to shreds. A few edits later, it’ll be with my editor and out the door! I was hoping to get it out before the holidays, as everyone likes to buy books on their new kindles in Jan/Feb. Not sure that’s possible, but we’ll see what we can do.

Plourde, OUT!

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