Learn about your writing by talking with people

At a recent happy hour for a departing colleague and friend (aka Trusted Reader #3), the subject of my writing came up several times. I’m at the point where I enjoy this more than I once did. Part of it is comfort, part is the practice of refining my synopsis, and part is knowing more about the story and what I’m doing as a writer.

I’ve written about the difficulties I’ve had here and here.

As stressful or scary as this might feel, it’s an important part of the writing process. Even if you never want a person to read your writing (which I consider a shame – share with us!), it will help you as a writer.

I’ve talked about the importance of developing this skill in the context of pitching your story. But there’s another benefit, and that’s to the story itself.

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Word Casualties #10 – For the love of all that’s holy

Sometimes….you might just plop gibberish upon the page.

When I’m in the zone, I type around 100 words per minute. That’s not elite status, but I’m definitely moving. My brain, however, is processing the story much faster. Passages aren’t necessarily being fed to the page in order, and oftentimes, sentences aren’t landing with the words in their intended sequence. It’s a bit of a wires-crossed thing that requires some adaptation, patience, and editing.

An unfortunate, though sometimes hilarious consequence, is some serious gibberish. Although it breaks my rhythm, I usually delete these things immediately because they’re too horrid to live on the page another moment. However, since I started this series of Casualties posts, I’ve decided to save some of the better ones as examples of just how wrong an experienced writer can go.

As always, I’ve created some definitions, and the correct words (if I’ve deciphered them) follow that.

CASUALTIES

Hiuefully – a well-saturated color

Initiatititive – making the first move on a sexy date

Tjamls – beasts of burden that tjaverse the djesert

Habyart – a question posed to the entrants of rural art shows: “Habyart?” “Yessaidoo!”

Consticuous – something stuck to the wall and definitely out of place

Priviledge – born with the right to stand upon the precipice

Viluminous – an evil glow

Predigestion – what happens to chewed food slathered in saliva

Predamentary – the basics for stalking prey

Harbordence – a thick fog hanging heavy upon the docks

Trhaventily – seriously, I got nothing here. A flower? A kind of fancy silk lace?

CORRECT SPELLINGS

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Writing Update: August 7, 2021

I started working on Samor’s new story in December 2019. It’s been a journey of considerable challenges and delights. Some things have gone very well. Others, hmm, not so much.

Part of my writing process is reflection. I regularly look back at what I’ve accomplished. I think it’s a critical step because writing a book is a difficult journey filled with self-doubt. When your energy is low or your mental defenses are down, abandoning a draft can feel like the only viable option. But take heart! Energy always returns. Defenses are rebuilt! Reminding yourself of your good work will replenish your creative tank.

Here’s a list of ten accomplishments and discoveries of the last twenty months.

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Difficult Story Choices #2

I knew it was coming.

I didn’t want to admit it. I figured if I kept these parts in the book, eventually I’d find a way to make the passages work.

But the writer knows. You know when it’s not going to work long before you concede the reality.

And then about a week ago, I wrote this note which sealed their fate: “Repurposing these words to the Elf would move the Dragon to Samor Book 2; at which point all the other Dragon stuff could be moved out. I’ve been struggling with their purpose for a while.”

Even then, it took a few more days before I started yanking stuff from the manuscript. I once again followed the advice of Stephen King, who was borrowing from Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch:

Murder your darlings
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Hey writer: What’s more important?

I wrote this just over a year ago, when many of us were still underestimating the impact of the pandemic upon our worlds. “Oh, my sweet summer child,” to borrow George R. R. Martin’s commentary on naiveite. I found the post waiting in my drafts folder, one of a number of writing projects that got shelved due to other priorities. I share it now because it touches on an important matter for writers. Please don’t mind the dust.

A friend (Trusted Reader #12), sent me this message:

So, I have a “what’s important about writing question” for you when you have a moment.

YES! There are two surefire ways to get my attention: 1) talk about Star Wars (my wife does this) and 2) ask a question about writing.

As you can imagine, I dropped what I was doing and emphatically replied. My brain raced. Was this philosophical? Perhaps this was related to me having a writing degree in the business world. Oooh, could it pertain to the importance of reading?

What’s more important, story or character?

Uh oh.

It’s a great question, and I’m glad he asked. I had an answer, of course, but part of me wondered if I was walking into something.

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Writing Exercise: Morning Routine

I have a new routine to start my work day. It’s a chance to center my mind, while doing a little mental stretching to prepare it. Sometimes, the exercise relates to the office job; others, my personal writing. On Monday, it was the latter.

It a last bit of preface, I’ll segue to a common question writers get: “Where do you get your ideas?” Usually, I haven’t a clue, but I know exactly where this piece originated. I looked at the window and the word “a’sliver” came to mind as a creative synonym for “ajar”. Mundane origin? Perhaps. Occasionally, the magic in writing is simply a curtained alcove in Emerald City with an old man hiding there*.

*Even then, when you look carefully, you might see the trailing remnants of real magic as they flee from prying eyes

Anyway, I challenged myself to work it into a little something, and as I sat in my office listening to the sounds of morning and watching the world through a window, the following flowed out. Less stream-of-consciousness writing….and more of a leak. (how’s that for a sales pitch?)

Window sits a’sliver just enough
For filtered birdcalls to enter the room
But perhaps not the heat

A whispered wind whistles in
Squeezing through a narrowed crack
It cannot force wider open

Sun chases behind them
Sending shadowed wings to dance upon my wall
Wafted air disturbing doldrum days

Trees glow in verdant hues
Awash with shadow and light
Dancing brightly fro and to

Asphalt rhythms drone in time
Rubbered wheels, frictioned warm
Click-kicking out stones

The staccato bark of greeting dogs
Heedless of rhyme or melody
A mixed meter only they measure

Stylistically, it’s a bit of a mess.

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Editing Exercise – Help that stumbling sentence

My various lives (personal, work, writing) have been busy for the last couple months, so blogging took a back seat for a bit. However, while doing some writing over lunch, I was struck by an idea that led to this post.

Many writers will tell you not to stop for proofreading or editing while you’re writing. I generally agree. It interrupts the momentum, and in many cases, drives that wonderful idea right out of your head. Anyways, a little separation from the act of writing and the act of editing is a good thing, especially when you’re looking to be more objective.

But sometimes, a clumsy sentence keeps stumbling through your brain until you put it out of its misery fix it. Today, I wrote such an example.

Samor smirked, but he was unable to extricate himself as the jostling of people propelled them forward at greater speed to the dining hall.

If that sentence were a person, it would be trying to keep its balance while blundering down a hill. Let’s take a closer look. “Forward” is redundant since in the greater context of the passage it’s clear they were going to the dining hall.

Samor smirked, but he was unable to extricate himself as the jostling of people propelled them at greater speed to the dining hall.

“Propel” indicates a force to the motion, so “at greater speed” is unnecessary.

Samor smirked, but he was unable to extricate himself as the jostling of people propelled them to the dining hall.

“Of” is unnecessary in this context. It reads the same without it, though changing “people” to “crowd” is more evocative.

Samor smirked, but he was unable to extricate himself as the jostling crowd propelled them to the dining hall.

Much smoother. I only eliminated 5 words, but I believe my sentence-person is now surefooted in their descent of the hill. Are there other ways to tighten up that sentence? Of course! Spending a few more minutes, I could probably rework it completely. There’s also a case to be made for the addition of words to add flourish or pizzazz! Either way, that’s what the editing process is for: get the idea out now; refine it later.

For now, I’m happy with the change and I’ll let it simmer. You can do the same. With a few simple cuts, a tortured sentence is no longer a tongue-tangled torment for your Readers. Good luck with your writing!

Mike


Enjoy what you just read? Leave a comment or like the post and we’ll ensure that you see more like this!

© Michael Wallevand, June 2021

Project Three Begins

Waitaminute, buster. Didn’t you just tell us you were starting Project Two a year ago? Didn’t your first book take four years to write?! Is this one of those flighty writer things, where you get distracted by a new project?

There’s more to it than that, which I’ll get to in a moment. Project Two has continued to move over the course of the last year, though 2020 was rather disruptive to my writing schedule and I haven’t made the progress I wanted. I’m still discovering the characters and I’m not as invested in them as I need to be, especially when compared to Tildy and co., with whom I spent four years. Admittedly, we’re still in early draft territory and there’s lots to uncover.

Here’s why I’m not worried that this will become an abandoned project that I’ll find in a dusty hard drive ten years from now. The Lost Royals series is a tale of two siblings. Project One is the completed Tildy Silverleaf and the Starfall Omen. Project Two follows her brother Samor on a similar but separate path a continent away. Project Three returns to Tildy.

That’s a lot of words to say, “Mike is writing two separate books series concurrently with a conjoined ending. It’s probably a stupidly ambitious endeavor fraught with complexity and peril.” Way to sell it, buddy!

Anyway….the intent is to allow Readers to choose how they want to experience the series. They could only read Tildy’s storyline, read Samor’s, or to go back and forth between them. As such, I don’t need to know everything that happens in Project Two before beginning number Three.

Back to the original question about this shift in focus being a ‘flighty writer thing’, yeah, there’s a bit of that. A lot of us are distracted by shiny new projects, which results in piles of unfinished manuscripts. I have a few of those myself.

It means I’m hedging my bets a little. You see, despite being a fledgling author, I do understand that stupidly ambitious endeavors projects that break norms, such as alternating books from character to character, are rare and harder to sell to agents, publishers, and readers (e.g. if JK Rowling had decided to write a book about Harry, then Hermione, and back to Harry). Novelty in a novel can be good…to a point. It’s quite possible my series won’t find life in the order I’ve envisioned. So three years ago, I started the outline for Tildy’s second book, and I’ve been adding bits as I worked on the other projects.

Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run
There’s still time to change the road you’re on.

STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN – LED ZEPPELIN

Today, rather than struggling through my few precious writing hours, I decided to tap into Tildy’s energy to see where it might take me. I’m pleased to share the first-draft opening to Tildy Silverleaf and the Dungeon of the Dreadwyrm.

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Year Five

December 10, 2020 marks the five-year anniversary of this writing project, so I thought I’d take a few minutes to recount a year in a writer’s life. There’s probably a joke to make about celebrating the “wood” anniversary for a book, but I don’t have much in the creative tank tonight.

For many of us, 2020 friggin’ sucked. We’re living through trauma, and so many things made us sad, stressed, or depressed. I write because I want to bring joy to other people, and it was damn hard to summon that joy to the page this year. My emotions ran the gamut, from grief to anger to fear to outrage.

  • We lost some key figures from my childhood (David Prowse, Eddie Van Halen, Alex Trebek, Sean Connery) and my adulthood (RBG, Chadwick Boseman, Ian Holm)
  • Pandemic….well, everything, including anti-maskers who I just don’t understand
  • I started working from home (for what will end up being more than a year)
  • Watched my city, Minneapolis, descend into chaos after the murder of George Floyd
  • We had my wife’s teaching role and my younger son’s special education turned upside down by the pandemic
  • We watched two people younger than us succumb to cancer
  • My wife was in a car accident that sent her to the ER and totaled our older son’s car
  • And for crying out loud, so many Presidential shenanigans

Some of these inspired writing (Whatcha writing during isolation?, Privilege in a time of chaos and injustice, Squeezing in writing time), which is good because I really struggled to work on my novels in the first half of the year. I can’t recall whether I’ve had this much trouble writing before.

But any day I can write one word is a good day, and there were plenty of days that exceeded that. I did make some good progress. During the research for this post, I discovered that I accomplished more than I suspected. Here’s a few highlights:

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Writing Is Weird

It’s a Friday afternoon, and I’ve had the day off from work. Ahem, a day off from the office job. It’s allowed me to put in some writing work. I knocked out just over 2,000 words today, interspersed with some family responsibilities. As satisfying as the day has been, that’s not my purpose for this post.

I’ll just say it aloud: Writing is weird. It really is. You sit, you think, you write out thoughts. Some day, not today, they make sense. Hopefully, to others besides yourself.

I planned to write something of a scene today, and as I consider the labyrinthine journey I took as I worked, I’m surprised – and pleased – with the results. For those of you interested in the writing process, I whipped up a quick post to shed some light on my own methods and madness. Be advised, Dear Reader, this will be a strange walk through one writer’s mind and his storytelling process. Consider yourself well-warned.

* * * * *

In my second novel, my protagonist has been raised without any knowledge of his past life. Like his sister Tildy in the first book, the world thinks Samor dead. But as the children of a Queen and King, their worlds are filled with paintings, books, people, and other references that provide insight into their family and their early lives. The children do not realize this, but assuming I do a proper job, the Reader will.

As I was getting ready for the day, I started debating what I might write about. My mind followed Samor’s book journey and decided I would have him discover the painting of his parents. Tildy does a similar thing in her book, and neither of them recognize the experience for what it is: the first time either of them have beheld their parents – or the infant images of themselves.

Parallel scenes like this are one of the reasons I wanted to tell their stories in separate books. It also allows a fair amount of compare and contrast, which is a handy way to derive inspiration: Oh, Tildy handled the experience this way? How would her brother handle it differently? And what are their shared reactions?

OK, so I’ve set a goal, a destination, for my scene. How do I get there? (For spoiler-y reasons that I won’t explain here, the portraits have been hidden. The why isn’t important to the scene.) I now needed a beginning and a middle.

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