Generating Story Ideas: Brainstorming Poll

picture of bowler hat guy
"Bowler Hat Guy" from Meet the Robinsons

What is a good profession for a modern-day villain?

Answer via comments on this blog, mentions on Twitter, or Facebook and I’ll keep the comments here updated with your responses. Please no repeats, post something that hasn’t been said!

Just post something – It doesn’t matter how “good” the idea is, the purpose of the brainstorm is to get ideas of all kinds.

We’ll be taking these ideas and applying them in a later blog. Looking forward to the list!

The Hemingway Defense – The Role of Substance Abuse in Writing

In his work The Wound and the Bow, Edmund Wilson discusses the relationship between art and madness. He has said, “genius and disease, like strength and mutation, may be inextricably bound up together”. The lives of many great American novelists seem to support this theory; in the lives of Faulkner, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway we find evidence of writer’s block, poverty, and some kind of chemical dependency.

Is it true that great artists are all off their rockers, and the stimulants are needed to focus, or calm that madness into artistic genius? Is this common alcoholism found in famous writers a result of their messed-up childhoods, or a reaction to early success? Is it writer’s block, the simple need to loosen up, or some necessary ritual in order to clear the channels of communication with the muse?

“The idea that creative endeavor and mind-altering substances are entwined is one of the great pop-intellectual myths of our time,” wrote modern novelist and bestseller Stephen King in his memoir, On Writing. King spent a long while both as an addict and clean, and has continued to sell books throughout his career. In his memoir, he wrote about his experience with addiction.

“I spent the first twelve years or so of my married life assuring myself that I ‘just liked to drink.’ I also employed the world-famous Hemingway Defense… [which] goes something like this: as a writer, I am a very sensitive fellow, but I am also a man, and real men don’t give in to their sensitivities. Only sissy-men do that. Therefore I drink. How else can I face the existential horror of it all and continue to work? Besides, come on, I can handle it. A real man always can.” – Stephen King

King presents the Hemingway Defense as a way to refer to this madness that many people assume is innate in great artists. Even many of the artists themselves seem to believe this is true. Writing about his experience about a decade later, King seems to have a pretty good handle on both his addiction and what affect it had on his attitude. He admits to writing The Shining, Misery, and the Tommyknockers as a result of what the drugs and alcoholism were doing to his life. “[T]here’s one novel, Cujo, which I hardly remember writing at all. I don’t say that with pride or shame, only with a vague sense of sorrow and loss. I like that book. I wish I could remember enjoying the good parts as I put them down on the page.”

King went through an intervention staged by his family and friends. Speaking about his wife, King wrote: “She said that she and the kids loved me, and for that reason none of them wanted to witness my suicide”. He asked for two weeks to consider it, a move that he later compares to a man standing on a burning building and given a means of escape via helicopter; asking for time to consider it. He claims that Annie Wilkes, the psychotic nurse from Misery, helped him make his decision in the end. “Annie was coke, Annie was booze, and I decided I was tired of being Annie’s pet writer…I decided…that I would trade writing for staying married and watching the kids grow up. If it came to that.”

It didn’t come to that. King has remained clean since, and continues to write and publish novels. Somehow, King pushed his way past the Hemingway Defense after casting off his problems with substance abuse. How do we know this? He was able to write. Perhaps the question then turns from “could he write?” to “how well could he write?” Can we measure the success of his novels during the addiction, as opposed to afterward?

In Tony Magistrale’s book Stephen King: America’s Storyteller, he discusses the success of King’s novels published between two different gaps of time. The first consists of novels published between The Shining in 1977 and Misery in 1988, which coincides with the height of his addiction. The second period includes novels published while he was sober between The Tommyknockers in 1988 and Wizard and Glass in 1997. Ten novels were published in the first period, and eleven in the second. The statistics state that during the first period – the addiction period, each published novel stayed on the New York Times list for an average of 11.6 weeks greater than during the second, sober period of time. This suggests that King’s career took a noticeable turn for the worse when he sobered up.

Can we conclude from this that King was wrong, and that there is some truth to the Hemmingway Defense? Magistrale suggests that there may be other reasons for this change; such as King’s desire to try new things as a writer. The second period is filled with publications like The Green Mile, which attempt to shrug off the atypical Horror genre. Any attempt of an author to publish under a different genre label from where they were established is a marketing and shelving issue that divides energy. Most authors in this kind of situation publish under a pen name in order to avoid issues from cross-shelving books. As an example, if an author publishes under both the Horror and Science Fiction genres under the same name – and if furthermore, the author sells about 100,000 books per year in Horror and 50,000 a year in Science Fiction – the bookstore may make the error of only stocking Horror books to match the Science Fiction sales figures. Multi-genre publishing also divides audiences: “The Times statistics may reflect the disappointment of a large segment of the King readership that expected from him a consistency in genre and style of fiction.”

It is notable that in the nineties, several of King’s publications were adapted for the cinematic world. Misery, The Shawshank Redemption, Dolores Claiborne, Apt Pupil, The Green Mile, and The Shining all saw adaptations for the screen. “Not only were these films incredible successes financially; they also brought King the kind of critical recognition that his own fiction seldom garners.” The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, and Misery all were nominated for, and won Academy Awards and Golden Globes. We begin to see that Stephen King’s creative efforts payed off as his stories began to reach wider audiences, as opposed to only the Horror readers.

Stephen King doesn’t make excuses for his time as an addict. Although the Hemingway Defense is employed by all types of artists, King characterizes that tendency as part of the behavior of an addict. “Any claims that drugs and alcohol are necessary to dull a finer sensibility are just the usual self-serving bullshit. I’ve heard alcoholic snowplow drivers make the same claim… for an addict, the right to the drink or drug of choice must be preserved at all costs”.

What of the sales statistics? They suggest that even King found more success as an author during his addict days than since. His new novel Full Dark, No Stars was released this month, November of 2010, and is already finding success in bookstores and on websites such as Amazon and Audible. The question of sales figures becomes superimposed by the author’s legacy, which so far he has been able to extend another two decades; possibly as a direct result of cleaning up. In any case, it is clear what Stephen King thinks of the Hemingway Defense. “Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.”

So did King find it difficult to continue writing as he sobered up? He admits that he did:

“At the start of the road back I just tried to believe the people who said that things would get better if I gave them time to do so. And I never stopped writing. Some of the stuff that came out was tentative and flat, but at least it was there… Little by little I found the beat again, and after that I found the joy again. I came back to my family with gratitude, and back to my work with relief…” – Stephen King

The way King puts it; he was very close to pulling a Hemingway at the time of his intervention. If that had happened, it would have placed The Tommyknockers as his last published novel. The book is about aliens who could take root in someone’s mind, and start “tommyknocking around.” If this had been the case, then perhaps his “last” novel would have been seen as a great literary statement about the affects of drugs in his life, made ever more potent by his suicide. Instead, we have King with us today. He has enjoyed a good marriage, a rich life, and has continued to write and publish. The memoir On Writing inspires writers everywhere, and works like The Green Mile have earned him respect from the literary crowd that he never could have won through Horror novels alone. Stephen King has proven that genius, skill, talent and hard work can and do exist independently from the disease of addiction.

November Approaches…

A lot has happened to me since Writing for Charity. Somewhere in that time, I got a job, went through midterms, moved, lost my mind, pulled my head out of my butt (no, not literally… that’s disgusting, what’s the matter with you?), exercised, laughed, ate brownies, and did a hell of a lot of homework. Somewhere in all that mess, I didn’t realize that the end of October was approaching. For most people, this means Halloween.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m dressing up, going to a spook alley with Sara, and finding all the excuses I can to utilize the costume that Sara and I have worked so much on. (Okay, it was Sara who worked… I just conceptualized and fretted. For anyone curious, google “Gintoki” and you should find some pictures of who I’ll be.)

But something bigger happens at the end of October; the beginning of November, or to some people, “NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month”.

The basic goal of NaNoWriMo is to write and finish a 50,000 word novel in the course of the month. This goal can, of course, be adapted to your own personal needs. (For example, 50,000 words toward your 200,000 word epic novel, or five poems a week, etc.) The event is supported by a large online community that posts blogs with encouragement from NaNoWriMo representatives as well as acclaimed authors.

Let me continue by saying what NaNoWriMo isn’t. It isn’t a month where you are expected to write a good book. That’s about it. The pressure of writing a good book may kill a participant’s ability to, well, participate. Consider these points;

1. Most published novels are heavily trimmed. Brandon Sanderson often admits that he cuts the first three or so chapters of every novel he writes – and yes, he writes his novels in chronological order. First of all, that doesn’t mean that you have to. All writers are different and different things work for them. The goal here, no matter what “type” of writer you are, is to prove to yourself what you are capable of. That means a lot of what you write may go straight to the crapper in a later revision, or at least need heavy edits.

2. Most authors revise many times. From what we can tell, and I speak alongside many successful writers when I say this, we cannot discover some strange X factor that resides in the genes or brains or mutations of successful authors that enables to write everything perfectly the first time.

3. Writing is like playing piano. It isn’t a one-shot deal. You write, and like playing a song, you learned to use certain notes. Maybe those same notes can be used better, or more smoothly, but you did it, and you gained some experience. Then you play another song, or practice your scales, until you are quicker and more efficient. That is the spirit of NaNoWriMo. Let’s get some practice in.

4. You can’t tell if it’s crap yet. You may reach a point in your writing where you’re telling yourself, “This is crap, this is crap, this is crap”, and you may be right. Especially when you hit that point where those three words are covering the entire page. Yeah, that’ll up your word count, and it’ll probably get cut later… but put it in there if that’s all you can manage right now. Hell, you’re writing. The thing IS, sometimes you come back to it later and realize… “hey, this isn’t as bad as I thought it was, it just needs a small tweak”. You cannot know right away, because you’re looking at it too closely. Paint on some more of the canvas. Let it dry. Let your scent fade from it a bit. Maybe in March you can have a NaNoEdMo and have a looksie on how to make things better.

The obvious truth is that I’m writing this blog as self-encouragement. I’m hyping myself up for the event. The night of the 31st, I intend to stay up after midnight with a VAT of Cherry Coke and get a solid 1800 words in before I go to sleep, in order to get things started off “right”.

If, despite all the crazy-talk, you are interested in the idea of NaNoWriMo, check out the website. Look over the Pep Talks. Google your favorite authors with the term “Pep Talks” or “writing encouragement” or “writer advice” and see what you find. Dare to make this crazy goal. Get yourself pumped. Drink some caffeine and bounce off the walls for a while. Then let me know you’re doing it to so we can share moral support. =)

What I learned at NaNoWriMo

I know. I’ve already written one blog about Writer’s Block and another about how to use a Simple Outline, but now NaNoWriMo is officially done and over.

The official status of my manuscript is 37,796 words. In the “official” standards of NaNoWriMo, I didn’t “Win”. You win by finishing 50,000 words in one month. However, I moved twice in this time, and honestly I think I did a damn good job. I practiced writing daily – some days I pounded up to 5,000 words out in one day, other times I was lucky to write more than two sentences. But the daily goal was 1,700, and for the most part – I met that. I built up a whole new experience, having hurdled the largest chunk of writing on one project that I’ve done so far (The largest before now was a 10,000 word short-story for a World of Warcraft Submission).

The best part is, I don’t have to stop. My goal is to finish the novel this December. I’m at the halfway point of the story, which means my complete manuscript will probably be upwards of about 80,000 words. That’s about the size of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, for reference. I’m the “Eternal Revision” type of writer. Brandon Sanderson, who also teaches Creative Writing classes at BYU, said it seems that there is two types of writers that don’t publish anything; the one-drafter and the eternal rewrite. The one-drafter writes straight through to the finish, looks at the book and says, “This sucks” and continues on to another one. I’m the other one – the one who writes chapters 1-3 over and over again, getting them perfect.

That’s why NaNoWriMo. I finally got to chapter 11. Chapter 11! I know I’ll end up revising later, but I needed to focus on that rough draft. No editing until the ending is written.

Here’s what I’ve learned about my own writing process, this November;

  1. Leave the house. JK Rowling often talked about how she writes at a coffee shop, even after becoming wildly successful. I can now see why – Home is a place for me to kick up my feet and relax, and watch Mythbusters, and read books, but not work (unless cooking or cleaning). While I have succeeded at writing some of my 1,700 word per day at home, for the most part I couldn’t focus. I went to a coffee shop, bookstore, library, or study hall instead.
  2. Put my phone away. Sometimes I want to talk about something else and avoid writing, and sometimes I want to discuss parts of the story I’m struggling on with friendly confidants. Either way, though a good break is good once in awhile, I needed to consciously put the thing away – otherwise I could sit with the Bluetooth in my ear, whittling the hours away and accomplishing nothing.
  3. Shut the internet browser. Thesaurus.com, the Research Doctors -Dr Wikipedia and Dr Google, and Pandora Radio are all good resources for a writer. However, I often begin doing research and end up on Facebook, or checking my email, or even looking at Lolcats or something equally pointless. Now I’ve got an ipod with a Pandora app, a dictionary/thesaurus app, and Wikipedia and google apps. No more internet browser up while writing.
  4. Tell the internal editor to take the day off. When writing a rough draft, I don’t have time to be critical of my names, or almost anything else. Discovery writing brings out some of the more interesting bits, in my opinion, and I can’t get to that point with my editor self watching over my shoulder. Sometimes I find that Editor Sam and Dumb Sam are the only ones that showed up to work today, and I don’t have Business Sam driving Artist Sam to get things done. In that situation, Editor Sam needs to go home – there’s nothing for him to do. And Dumb Sam, he just continues with the next step, doing what he can in case Artist Sam decides to show up late.
  5. Read myself into my writing. Read what I’d written the day before, making small corrections in spelling and grammar, and filling in names where I wrote *thebartender*. By the time I get to where I left off, I’m often set to keep going. This only works if you’re making “small” corrections – major plotpoints, things that may get cut later, characters and points that need to come in earlier – those can wait for revision.
  6. Skip to another scene when I get stuck, and connect them later. As a good example, with one of my recent short-stories I knew I wanted the ending to involve a character using his music to “heal” his comatose wife. I knew I wanted the scene to be very emotional, but I didn’t know what to write leading up to that point. Instead of trying, I skipped forward and wrote the ending. Then, I went backward and wrote what led up to this scene, making sure to try my best to make my characters familiar to the reader, in order to make that ending powerful. I don’t know if I did it well, but I do know that I finished that short-story even though I had been very stuck at one point. And that’s the important part right now.
  7. Learn to “Ask” my characters things, instead of trying to fabricate storyline from thin air. Whether the characters are complete or incomplete, if they have even the tiniest amount of voice in my head, I’ve learned it’s so much easier to come up with answers when I consult them. What would you do here? Are you likely to be rash, or thoughtful? Does this kind of thing make sense in your world? I guess it’s weird to admit here, on public internet, that I’ve just learned that I write better stories as a total schitzo, but I’m probably not too different from other writers in this. I got the idea, in the first place, from the excellent Ursula K Leguin – and if you haven’t read one of her stories yet, go find “A Wizard of Earthsea” and read it. It’s short, so no worries about getting overwhelmed, but it is, in a word, awesome.
  8. I’ll end up cutting the first chapters anyway. That’s the funny bit about being an eternal re-write; you end up deciding later, the best way to begin the book. As my book continues, and plotlines develop, and I learn to focus in the story on the most important parts… Chapters 1-3 are going to have to be cut. From what I know of other authors, this is normal, but it sure makes me glad that I’m learning to move on from being the “Eternal Re-Write”. Before November I’d never gotten past Chapter 3. Now that I have, they’ll have to be cut – and Chapters 4 and 5 are going to have to be majorly tweaked. But that’s ok, the further I write, the more I’m learning about the structure of a novel-length piece. By the time I’m finished, I’m sure I’ll have learned even more!

This is what I can think of right now. I still need to experience having written the ending, and afterward, the next editing draft of the same book. After this, I may even let some of you read some of it; probably not though. It’ll still be pretty bad at that point, I’m sure. =)

Story Skeleton; A Simple Seven-Step Outline

Every writer is different. But for those of us who need a simple outline, for the sake of making sure nothing is missing in our story, I’ve adopted a Seven-Step Outline from Dan Wells’ Blog.

  1. Hook
  2. Plot Step 1
  3. Pinch
  4. Midpoint
  5. Plot Step 2
  6. Pinch
  7. Resolution

I’ll give you an example of how to use this outline by plotting out a story you probably know; The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I’ll do it in the order I find most useful when plotting out a story myself.

In the beginning, or Step 1 – Hook, we begin with four children that are in an awkward position in life. The country is a dangerous place due to war, and they are sent away to a safer location at the Professor’s Mansion. They are scared in a new place, with frighteningly strict adults around, anxious about their parents. At this point we have a good beginning – characters in conflict. Knowing we want to write a fantastic story involving a magical new world, we can formulate a basic ending. In Step 7, Resolution, we want the four children to develop into strong Kings and Queens of Narnia, having defeated the evil Queen and liberated Narnia from her clutches and curses, banishing the endless Winter she had brought.

This is a solid enough beginning and ending, but how do we connect them? Midpoint, Step 4, connects the Hook with the Resolution. In order for the Ending to be important in any way, Step 4 involves meeting with Aslan at the Stone Table, with all the other talking creatures and other magical races of Narnia, to prepare for a last stand against evil. Now we can address steps 2 and 5 – the Plot points. These points connect the Hook to the Midpoint, and the Midpoint to the Resolution. For Plot Point 1 we’ll have the children discovering the magical world contained in the Professor’s antique wardrobe. Now the Pinch; A pinch doesn’t stand for conflict, but rather the point at which conflicts come to a head. In the case of Step 3 – Pinch, we have Edmond betraying his own family to the White Witch. After the midpoint, Plot point 2 involves the White Witch arriving at the Stone Table to make demands of Aslan. Edmund is a traitor, and by the Deep Magic, he belongs to her. Aslan makes a private agreement with her, and we move on to Step 6 – Pinch, where Aslan delivers himself up to be slain in Edmund’s place. This puts our four children in a hard spot – everyone is looking to them for leadership! Aslan had declared them the rightful rulers of Narnia. Now they have to fight this battle on their own, as best they can.

So now we have;

Hook – The Pevensie Children are adjusting to a new life at the Professor’s Mansion. They were sent away because of danger during the war, and they are now separated from their parents, who may be in danger even now. The house is large and foreboding, and the Professor and his housekeeper seem kind of scary, or simply strict.

Plot Step 1 – Lucy discovers a world inside the Wardrobe. Her family believes she is playing pretend in order to deal with these hard times. Edmund discovers the world in the wardrobe, and meets a beautiful, frightening woman. After eating her sweets, he agrees to bring his other siblings to her.

Pinch – The four siblings climb into the wardrobe to find Lucy’s friend has been captured by the Queen’s agents.

Midpoint – After rescuing Edmund, the talking animals all meet Aslan at the Stone Table. Narnia is under great threat from the White Witch, who calls herself Queen of Narnia. There will be no avoiding war. Aslan claims that the four children are the rightful Kings and Queens of Narnia.

Plot Step 2 – The Queen demands Edmund’s life by the rules of the Deep Magic. Having committed treachery, Edmund belongs to her. Aslan meets with her in private, coming to a private agreement.

Pinch – Aslan is Killed

Resolution – The children lead the sentient races of Narnia against the forces of the White Witch. Aslan returns with the Pevensie girls and slays the White Witch. The neverending Winter is banished, and Narnia is Liberated; our children have saved the day.

This is the basic skeleton of the story. Of course, we can include some subplots to make it a bit more interesting. As quick examples, we’ll cover two; Santa Claus gives magical gifts to three of the children, and Edmund’s struggle for redemption. Each has it’s own beginning, pinch, and resolution; Edmund commits from betrayal, repents, and ends up saving his older brother by placing himself in danger. In the case of Santa’s gifts, Lucy has been given a precious gift that, at first, isn’t as impressive as Peter’s sword or Susan’s bow – a vial of liquid that contains powerful healing traits. In the end, she saves Edmund from a mortal wound, and goes on to save many of the fallen wounded creatures on the battlefield, a drop at a time. We choose to make these subplots culminate along with the Resolution of the main plot, lending strength to it. Both subplots lead to the four children forgiving and trusting each other even more, making them a tighter-knit family unit.

That’s the Seven-Point Outline, although it could be more if you wanted. A large epic fantasy, for instance, might contain several plot points and pinches before and after the Midpoint. But hopefully this gave you a good idea of where to start, in crafting your story. I am still part discovery writer, but the use of this outline is perfectly flexible for me, and still gives me the strong skeleton I need to build my story around. I hope you find it useful!

Pandemic; Writer’s Block

Participating in NaNoWriMo, so far, has been a day-by-day learning experience, with a huge curve. One of the largest learning curves was learning to deal with this horrible disease we aspiring writers call “Writer’s Block”. I’ve discovered four strains of the disease, which each effected me in turn in my attempt to write my first novel.

At a book signing last year, Brandon Sanderson did me a great service by assuring me that I could make a living at this, if I had a passion for it. He also wrote in my book “BICHOK – Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard”. It’s the only way books get written – quoting Dave Farland, “No one’s going to knock on your door and ask you to write a book”. These anecdotes helped me get started, but when I got down and dirty and actually was writing, I began to become intimately familiar with Writer’s Block. After all, no one knows the strength of the river like the salmon who travelled uphill through the torrent. And no one knows writer’s block like a writer that finished something.

In order to stay up-to-date on my word count, I had to find a cure to each strain. Though I hope my own experiences may be useful to others, I give them with a caveat; I don’t believe in “following the muse”. I used to, until I realized that if I only wrote when the muse was with me I’d write exactly one book in my entire life. If that. After reading the experiences of other authors I began to realize that almost none of them only wrote when they felt inspired. The rest of the time, they put the work in, knowing that it would have to be revised later. And after ten revisions, most claim they can’t tell the difference between the parts they fabricated painfully, with blood and sweat, and the parts that came flowing instinctively.

Type 1 – “I don’t want to write right now.”

This type is the most familiar to us writers. It’s naturally inherent to beginnings, to tackling a project you’ve been meaning to get to forever. It’s approaching a mountain you mean to climb, and staring at it dumbfoundedly. Or, it comes on a day where you feel particularly tired, worn from life’s troubles, or distracted.

Cure; There are really only two options. Make the decision that you’re not going to write right now, because other things need to get done. Yes, this is a valid choice – and making that choice proactively is always better than just “putting it off”. The other decision is; realize that if you ever want to get paid for this, you have to get in the habit of treating this like a job. You need a rough draft to revise. You need a revised draft so you can trim and perfect it. You need a polished draft to send to editors. And you need all of this as experience so you can grow and become a better writer!

 

Type 2 – “I don’t know what to write next.”

This type comes when you’ve already dedicated yourself to the task. You’ve put on your music, shut down your internet browser and other distracting programs, and your hands are poised at the keyboard; but something hangs you up. If you’re really determined, you squeeze out a couple sentences, then commence a staring contest with your screen. The screen wins (seeing as it can’t blink for lack of eyelids) and you go get a snack.

Cure; Stuck on a name, technical detail, or history reference? *Putsomethingtherefornow* and come back to it later. You kind of have to tell your internal editor to jump off a cliff there. Asterix (*) are perfect for a Ctrl-F search for later. If you are stuck because you genuinely don’t know what to do in the next scene, jump forward and write the next scene – the one you’re looking forward to. After that’s done, it is much easier to see what must happen in order to bridge the gap.

 

Type 3 – “Something’s wrong with the story!”

This strain is almost a split from Type 2, and in the early stages, rears it’s head the same way. However, on closer inspection (and with grim determination to finish a rough draft) you realize… you’re trying to make a character do something against their nature, or you’ve deviated from the plot, or something else is wrong with the story.

Cure; Do a quick seven-point outline. Identify the important story points and themes. Are you dwelling on a point that is less significant? Are you taking the story on pointless “Tom Bombadil” journeys? Does the outline itself need to be tweaked or adapted to changes you’ve made while writing? How WOULD your character react to this or that? Stand back and take a look at the big picture, and you may realize something needs tweaking. Then get back on track.

 

Type 4 – “This sucks and I’m a horrible writer.”

This strain is rare, because it means you’ve been writing. In order to bring this point home, I’m going to post a pep talk written by Neil Gaiman; He explains it better than I can.

By now you’re probably ready to give up. You’re past that first fine furious rapture when every character and idea is new and entertaining. You’re not yet at the momentous downhill slide to the end, when words and images tumble out of your head sometimes faster than you can get them down on paper. You’re in the middle, a little past the half-way point. The glamour has faded, the magic has gone, your back hurts from all the typing, your family, friends and random email acquaintances have gone from being encouraging or at least accepting to now complaining that they never see you any more—and that even when they do you’re preoccupied and no fun. You don’t know why you started your novel, you no longer remember why you imagined that anyone would want to read it, and you’re pretty sure that even if you finish it it won’t have been worth the time or energy and every time you stop long enough to compare it to the thing that you had in your head when you began—a glittering, brilliant, wonderful novel, in which every word spits fire and burns, a book as good or better than the best book you ever read—it falls so painfully short that you’re pretty sure that it would be a mercy simply to delete the whole thing.

Welcome to the club.

That’s how novels get written.

You write. That’s the hard bit that nobody sees. You write on the good days and you write on the lousy days. Like a shark, you have to keep moving forward or you die. Writing may or may not be your salvation; it might or might not be your destiny. But that does not matter. What matters right now are the words, one after another. Find the next word. Write it down. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

A dry-stone wall is a lovely thing when you see it bordering a field in the middle of nowhere but becomes more impressive when you realize that it was built without mortar, that the builder needed to choose each interlocking stone and fit it in. Writing is like building a wall. It’s a continual search for the word that will fit in the text, in your mind, on the page. Plot and character and metaphor and style, all these become secondary to the words. The wall-builder erects her wall one rock at a time until she reaches the far end of the field. If she doesn’t build it it won’t be there. So she looks down at her pile of rocks, picks the one that looks like it will best suit her purpose, and puts it in.

The search for the word gets no easier but nobody else is going to write your novel for you.

The last novel I wrote (it was ANANSI BOYS, in case you were wondering) when I got three-quarters of the way through I called my agent. I told her how stupid I felt writing something no-one would ever want to read, how thin the characters were, how pointless the plot. I strongly suggested that I was ready to abandon this book and write something else instead, or perhaps I could abandon the book and take up a new life as a landscape gardener, bank-robber, short-order cook or marine biologist. And instead of sympathizing or agreeing with me, or blasting me forward with a wave of enthusiasm—or even arguing with me—she simply said, suspiciously cheerfully, “Oh, you’re at that part of the book, are you?”

I was shocked. “You mean I’ve done this before?”

“You don’t remember?”

“Not really.”

“Oh yes,” she said. “You do this every time you write a novel. But so do all my other clients.”

I didn’t even get to feel unique in my despair.

So I put down the phone and drove down to the coffee house in which I was writing the book, filled my pen and carried on writing.

One word after another.

That’s the only way that novels get written and, short of elves coming in the night and turning your jumbled notes into Chapter Nine, it’s the only way to do it.

So keep on keeping on. Write another word and then another.

Pretty soon you’ll be on the downward slide, and it’s not impossible that soon you’ll be at the end. Good luck… Neil Gaiman

Writing… Again!

Yeah. So I’m writing this blog as an answer to my own ramblings just two blogs ago. Let me give you a moment to wrap your head around that and catch up… ok here we are. Welcome! I don’t know how many of you read this, but I’m keeping you posted anyway because… that’s what I do. Just be grateful. When the Myspace Explosion happened, I considered it my duty and privilege to write at least three blogs a week.

This has been an incredibly involved month for me. I can almost read your thoughts already, you’re thinking; “What do I care what YOUR month was like? Let me tell you about MY month buster, and we’ll compare notes!”

OK maybe that’s not what you’re thinking. (But if it is, feel free to either write your own note and tag me, or write a response to this note and we’ll compare. =D )

In any case. Details aside, since brevity is just… not my thing, SCHOOL! Yeah, school. After a long overhaul of thought, BYU Idaho has become my school of choice. It wasn’t until this last week however that I decided January was the best time to start. The basis of my decision is that… I’m not accomplishing anything else right now. Except working.

It excited me to lay out a budget based on part-time wages at my current job and find that yes, I could survive full-time school. It would be tight, but almost no tighter than I already am right now working full-time and getting some debts out of the way.

But seriously. The most exciting part of school, for me, is going to be the writing. I’ll be FORCED to write! And believe it or not, after this experience of the majority of my year having spent in idolness during or after being incredibly sick… I’m willing to latch on to a bit of forced organization. These past three months have been filled with work, pressure, tiredness, and being too busy to get everything done and feeling overwhelmed – and it has been a MILLION times more joyful to me than the helplessness experienced whilst I was sick in bed.

So writing. Shall I major in it, or choose something else? I haven’t decided yet. I have decided that I will become a full-time writer in the future, but I’m SO interested in a large variety of things, and my interests only seem to widen and branch out as I get older, instead of the other way around. So I’m thinking University Studies. If I am approved, this would allow me to cluster in a variety of skills and subjects which would enhance my life, my education, my discipline, and as a result, my writing. A Cluster in Entrepreneurial Business, another in Speech and Communications, another in Social Work, heck – even one in Chinese! (Still not sure on that one but, knowing my grandfather was fully Chinese, there’s a huge temptation there.)

I still haven’t decided yet but I HAVE decided what classes I KNOW I will take. I also have decided that I will use this school experience as a spring board for the discipline it will take to be a full-time writer (and as a result, small business owner).

I’ve begun to write now on prompts again. This week’s prompt has been only my second stab at writing fiction since my large fantasy series project went under this last January. The World of Warcraft submission, which some of you may have read, was awful. Full of holes, large mistakes, and one-dimensional plot lines and characters.

HOWEVER –

I am really happy with it. It’s a finished work! It’s a spring-board to start from; seeing my mistakes so boldly printed on paper allows me to know what to work on first. I’m going to try and be as open as I can with my writing prompts, submitting the final editions on my blogs to everyone’s critical eye. I have a lot of improving to do, because of one decision that has totally filled me with excitement and drive to begin writing again, and that is (and I’ll end with it);

I am resolved to write as many bad stories as it takes to become a good author.

P.S. Expect the first bad story within the week.

P.S.S. And now… your month!