Sunday, December 4, 2011

The End of November

November is over, and another National Novel Writing Month is in the rearview mirror.

If you participated, I hope you won, by whatever standards you're using to determine that. If your novel isn't finished, don't let the end of November mean the end of your progress. Everyone's schedule gets more crowded this time of year, but use the time you have to finish what you started in November.

I'll share my own story of NaNo amidst a crowded November. On November 11th, I married the love of my life in a fabulous ceremony in Baltimore. We spent the weeks leading up to the wedding planning, preparing, purchasing, and pulling our hair out (these are The Four P's of wedding planning, in case you didn't know). Admittedly, she did more than I did because she had a clear vision for the ceremony. Even so, my free time got seriously curbed in October and November. I used NaNo to try and finish my current work in progress (the fourth in my series of mystery novels) with a goal of 30,000 words. My secondary goal was not to get the hairy eyeball from my then-fiancee too often.

The hairy eyeball goal ended up as a mixed bag, but I hit the other one, finishing November at just over 30K words. Some more work early this month allowed me to finish the novel. Now I'll set it aside for a few weeks, work on some edits, then go back and slash it apart.

I'm not writing this to brag about what I was able to accomplish in November (OK, maybe a little), but to show you that you CAN hit your writing goals even when the rest of your life is crowded. Just make them realistic and work every day. Writing is the important thing. A number is nice, but a realistic goal is better.

NaNoWriMo is over. Your writing and editing shouldn't be. Mine isn't.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

As NaNoWriMo Dawns...

Novemvber is National Novel Writing Month. Their website will tell you as much, and I suspect most readers of this blog already know what's in store for them next month. You may already be hip-deep in research, plotting, outlining, or even a holy-crap-what-am-I-going-to-write bender.

This will be my seventh year of doing NaNo. I've "won" the past three years, with word counts around 52k, 68k, and 51k. Winning three years in a row isn't an impressive streak in the grand scheme of things, but it's one I'd like to keep intact. There's just one thing that might keep me from it.

I'm getting married.

And going on a honeymoon.

I guess that was two things.

While I love writing, I love my soon-to-be wife even more. I'm still going to write when I can--which will probably include a lot of lunch breaks at work--but I don't know if 50k is in the cards for me this month. I'm going to try my best, and maybe risk a glare from the wife here and there, but my winning streak may stop at three.

And you know what? I'm OK with that.

We all want to win NaNo. We all want to submit a verified word count over 50k, turn our bars purple, and get a "Winner" label. But the real point of NaNo is to spur creativity, to drive you forward in your quest to complete a serious creative endeavor. It's supposed to teach people that they CAN write a book by just plugging away every day for a month (or more). The spirit of NaNo is in the creativity, the community with your fellow writers who are sparking the creative fires just like you are. I'm still going to be a part of that. I just might not hit 50,000 words by the end of the month.

If you're doing NaNo, good luck. I hope you hit your goals, whatever they may be. And at the end of the writing and editing processes (you ARE going to edit the book you write, aren't you?), I hope you have a novel you're proud of. Regardless of what Charlie Sheen might have said, that is winning.

Happy writing.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Come on, Irene!

No, that's not bad karaoke -- it's the hurricane (or tropical storm) set to batter my region this weekend.

We're ready. We have water, non-perishable food, flashlights, candles, gas in the cars, cash, charged phones, etc. In case the power goes out and stays out, we're covered.

A weekend like this is a good time to catch up on writing or editing projects. Going out is unwise. The TV might not stay on. I have a composition book and a few pens if the power goes out and I have to write by candlelight. If you're on the east cost, be prepared for Irene, and be prepared to do some work on your writing, too. It's not like you'll have much else to do if the roads flood. While the winds are swirling outside, keep your creative winds swirling inside. Sometimes, a story idea can hit you like a 100-mph wind and rock you like a... well, a hurricane. OK, that's the last of my weather (and Scorpions) references.

Stay safe, stay dry, and happy writing!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Crack That WIP

Back in July, I shelved one work in progress to start another. I had a character and idea I really wanted to get out of my head and onto the electronic page. I wrote seven chapters with this new character and discovered more about him than I knew at the beginning.

Then I decided to shelve that WIP, too.

Am I just a WIP gypsy, the literary (and male) equivalent of Stevie Nicks? Despite my writing transience the last couple months, I'm generally not. This time, I'm back to C.T. Ferguson, my detective protagonist, and it's good to be swimming in familiar waters again. All of the characters are as fresh as they were the last time I visited them (even though they're aging a few months between books). While it was a good experience to get someone new onto the page, I have to say I like going back to C.T. It's like taking a walk around the neighborhood where you grew up.

I plan to go back to the other WIP (well, both of them) at some point. Ultimately, we have to enjoy what we write, and I enjoy writing about the adventures and misadventures of C.T. more than the other two characters.

If you have a work in progress that's dragging a little, that isn't as much fun as you thought, or that's hit a serious creative snag, what do you do? Plowing ahead is always an option, and for some writers, it may be the best option. For me, at least, I'd rather put it aside and go back to something (and someone) I know better, and something I know I'll enjoy from beginning to end.

Happy writing.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

WIP It Good

Moving is a long and often arduous affair. You never know how much crap you've accumulated over the years until you have to pack it all in boxes, or donate it, or just throw it away. Then there's the unpacking, organizing, and furniture building process at the new place. It's not neverending, but it does suck up an awful lot of time.

Ultimately, it's worth it in the end. It just takes a while to get there.

New house, new work in progress. I shelved the one I had been working on. It wasn't boring or anything, but it didn't really hold my interest in writing. The last time I wrote a book with this character, I put it on the shelf for a while, came back to it, and finished it. My hope is that I'll do the same thing again. I just needed to work on something else. There was a character (and his story) in my head, pounding away to get out and onto the page.

So far, I like the new WIP. It's early, and the chapters are short, so I think it'll have a nice, quick pace. Right now, I have a character and a few ideas, and that's enough to get started. I think I know where I want the book to go, but we'll see if the character pulls me in a different direction. That's the thing about characters: they tell their stories, not the ones we want to impose on them.

It's still early in this newest journey, but now that I'm (mostly) unpacked and have more free time, I'm looking forward to seeing where it takes me.

Happy writing.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Dealing with Distractions

Writers write. Everyone else just talks about it.

I first read that maxim years ago, and I think it's true. In fact, I used to have a sign bearing that very saying above my desk several houses and offices ago. Back then, I think I needed the constant reminder. Today, I don't. I know that writers write and that everyone else just talks about it.

What do we do when the dreaded Real Life interferes, though?

I'm moving in a couple weeks. My free time has been mostly consumed with packing, looking at furniture for the new place buying said furniture, packing, trying to find a renter, squeezing in time to write, and packing. Writing hasn't been too high on the priority list. I can't find many spare moments at work to knock out a scene or two; we're just too busy there. Distractions, if you will, now dominate my free time.

When I can, though, I still find time to write.

I make it a point to attend my writing group's regular Tuesday write-in (where I am right now, in fact). Yes, I could probably spend that time packing or doing something productive for the move. Instead, I come to the cafe, grind out a few scenes, then do packing and other "fun" things when I get home. During the week, I'll write a scene or three when I can. Sometimes, it's right before bed. Sometimes, it's waiting for dinner to cook. If I'm lucky, I can do something while eating lunch at work.

We all have distractions. But writers write. If we fancy ourselves writers, we need to deal with the distractions and find as much time to write as we can. Get up 15 minutes earlier and knock out a scene. Work on your current chapter while you're eating lunch, or while you're watching the nightly news. The key is to keep working and make sure the ideas churning around in your head make it into your work in progress.

Everyone else just talks about it. Don't just talk about. To borrow a pretty successful catchphrase, just do it.

If I can find the time and steal the minutes, so can you.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Writing Space

I've seen posts on others' blogs about writing spaces.

Do you have your own writing space set aside? A desk, a table, a chair with a laptop and a cold drink?

I have a desk where I do some of my writing (including this post), but not all of it. The desk has my computer with a nice 23" widescreen monitor, an ergonomic keyboard, mouse, printer, cable modem, router, and an ever-present bottle of water. But I can write pretty much anywhere. My writing group meets every Tuesday in a Barnes and Noble cafe. I write on their tables. I write with my laptop in bed. If a burst of inspiration strikes me at work, I'll write on the PC there, or jot something down longhand.

The good thing about writing is that you don't need a dedicated place to do it. It's nice to have a sanctum sanctorum where you can shut out distractions and get down to business, but it's not necessary. Laptops are cheap, and netbooks are cheaper. It's a wireless world; we can do our research online virtually anywhere. We can write in cafes, on planes, on trains, in bed, etc.

The key is to write. Where you do it is just secondary.

Have a happy and safe Memorial Day, and remember to thank a soldier.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

April Anthology - The Cruelest Month

My writing group put together a short story anthology. We had a goal of releasing it in April (almost got there!) and chose a theme of "the cruelest month," based on the line from Eliot's "The Waste Land." There are five short stories in all, including my mystery story "Clerical Error." It features the PI protagonist I hope to get published in novel form.

Each of us who decided to self-publish this anthology chose a different charity to receive the proceeds. My charity is the Wounded Warrior Project, which you can read more about on their website.

Here's a link to buy the anthology (from any of us who have it listed, not just me), as well as some more details about it. Pick up a copy (it's only $2.99) for some light reading and benefit a deserving charity at the same time!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

This Dream I Had

Dreams are funny things. Sometimes, they make perfect sense and give you clarity you wouldn't have attained during the waking hours. Sometimes, they can be your subconscious warning you about something, that the path you're on could use some attention.

Sometimes, they're just plain weird.

Some people keep a dream journal. I'm not one of those. I remember some of my dreams, forget most of them, and scratch my head at the really strange ones. I think it would be a good creative exercise to write about the strange and interesting dreams like they're a scene (or scenes) unfolding in a story.

Info about this dream: Rutherford B. Hayes is the President of the US. The historical veracity ends there, I'm sure. I'm there, along with several of President Hayes' advisers. I presume the setting is the White House.

The dream itself:

We were sitting around a table in what looks like a kitchen. A white counter is attached to a wall behind our table. President Hayes sat at the table, along with a few of his advisers. I was talking to everyone when someone came in carrying a package. He said the package was for the President and looked excited. I got suspicious.

The package looked large enough to hold two phone books stacked atop one another. The man who carried the package -- I didn't know who he was -- used a kitchen knife to cut the tape holding it shut. One of the flaps opened a little, just wide enough for me to see the darkness within the box. In the light of the kitchen, I swore I saw something move inside the box. I told everyone not to open the box because I saw something moving inside. They all laughed.

President Hayes scoffed at the idea that something in the box could have moved. He stood up, walked over to the counter, and opened the box. One look at the contents of the box caused him to drop it in surprise. The box landed on its side with the flaps open. A rattlesnake slithered out. All the advisers scurried away. I started moving toward the counter, but the rattlesnake struck.It uncoiled faster than I could follow and bit President Hayes on the forearm. He shouted and recoiled from the bite. I swatted the snake off the counter with a stick.

The area of the bite started to swell right away. The White House doctor came in carrying his camouflage-green medical bag. He took out a bottle of rattlesnake venom and left. I looked at the bottle and focused on the word "ion." I then said we couldn't give the antivenom to President Hayes because he had an ion deficiency, and a warning label on the antivenom said it couldn't be given to people with ion deficiencies. Everyone looked mortified. I saw a roomful of long faces. President Hayes clutched his forearm and winced.

Then the dream ended.

I don't know why I dreamed any of that, of course. It's not like Rutherford B. Hayes occupies a lot of my waking thoughts. I distinctly remember seeing "ion" and "ion deficiency," not "iron" in either case. This gives my dream a random sci-fi element to go along with its dubious take on history.

I'll come back and revisit strange dreams like this when I remember them. I think doing this can be a good creative exercise. If you're looking at your work in progress and wondering where to go with it next, take a break for a little while and do something like this. Maybe it'll be just what you need to get you back on track.

Keep dreaming, and keep writing.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Moving Forward in Reverse

My writing group is doing a short story anthology for April. Our theme is "the cruelest month," which is worlds better than anything else associated with the month of April. Thank you, T.S. Eliot.

I decided to write a short story, using my favorite detective protagonist, C.T. Ferguson. When I first devised the character, I wrote 12-15 short stories, finding the voice, establishing secondary characters, etc. Then, for National Novel Writing Month 2009, I decided I would try to stretch Mr. Ferguson out to a novel-length work. It was easier than I thought, and I've since written two others.

But I hadn't done a short story with this character since 2009. It felt like being home, but not the home I remembered. I had to rein in my desire for longer scenes, chapters, slower exposition, and all the trappings of a novel. I wanted to come in under 5000 words. Hell, I had written some 15 short stories with this character. It should heave been easy.

In the end, it was easy-ish. I wonder if other writers have this problem. Once you've written a book or three with a certain protagonist, is it harder to go back and feature him or her in a short story? Novels give us a lot more room and time to explore things, break out fancy subplots, develop characters, and flex our writer muscles. Short stories have to be more compact. We don't have time for all the things novels allow us to do.

The result was a story that I like, featuring a character whom I know much better than I did when I started down this road. I think I'll continue to write books featuring C.T., but scaling back to a short story here and there is a good challenge. And what's life--especially life as a writer--without a few challenges?

Have fun putting pen to paper.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Back Up the Truck

Do you back up your data? How often?

Thankfully, I've never lost anything of consequence, and I'll knock on wood that I continue to have that good luck. But part of that is preparation. We can talk a lot about the craft of writing, the business, getting published, and all that, but what happens when your hard drive takes a dump?

I know someone who just had a hard drive go bad. He said he didn't have any backups because he's never had one turn out so bad he couldn't fix it. Unfortunately, he couldn't fix this one, and now he's missing a ton of files.

Backup options are plentiful. External hard drives are cheap. Flash drives are even cheaper. Writable CDs and DVDs are cheaper still. There are also online backup options available. Dropbox gives you two gigs for free (and you can get more if you accept someone's invite or invite others who sign up. Today, Amazon announced five free gigs as part of their Cloud Drive project. Online storage is out there. (I would do my due diligence with respect to security and confidentiality first, of course.) There is a backup utility built into most flavors of Windows, and many security suite products will include a backup utility, also. There's really no excuse for not finding some way to back up your important data.

I have an external hard drive, multiple flash drives, a spindle of CDs and DVDs, and online storage. At the risk of sounding overconfident and tempting the fates, I think I'm covered. Are you covered? You might want to be sure you are. Don't lose that work in progress. It would be a shame for all of us if a great novel were lost to the vagaries of power surges.

Happy writing.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Fumblerules of Grammar

Years ago, New York Times columnist William Safire compiled "The Fumblerules of Grammar." I got reminded of one of them today. If you've never seen them, they are hilarious and tremendous. If you've seen them before, enjoy another chuckle.

1. Avoid run-on sentences they are hard to read.
2. Don't use no double negatives.
3. Use the semicolon properly, always use it where it is appropriate; and never where it isn't.
4. Reserve the apostrophe for it's proper use and omit it when its not needed.
5. Do not put statements in the negative form.
6. Verbs has to agree with their subjects.
7. No sentence fragments.
8. Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.
9. Avoid commas, that are not necessary.
10. If you reread your work, you will find on rereading that a great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.
11. A writer must not shift your point of view.
12. Eschew dialect, irregardless.
13. And don't start a sentence with a conjunction.
14. Don't overuse exclamation marks!!!
15. Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences, as of 10 or more words, to their antecedents.
16. Hyphenate between sy-llables and avoid un-necessary hyphens.
17. Write all adverbial forms correct.
18. Don't use contractions in formal writing.
19. Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.
20. It is incumbent on us to avoid archaisms.
21. If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
22. Steer clear of incorrect forms of verbs that have snuck in the language.
23. Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixed metaphors.
24. Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
25. Never, ever use repetitive redundancies.
26. Everyone should be careful to use a singular pronoun with singular nouns in their writing.
27. If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times, resist hyperbole.
28. Also, avoid awkward or affected alliteration.
29. Don't string too many prepositional phrases together unless you are walking through the valley of the shadow of death.
30. Always pick on the correct idiom.
31. "Avoid overuse of 'quotation "marks.""'
32. The adverb always follows the verb.
33. Last but not least, avoid cliches like the plague; seek viable alternatives.

The Fumblerules are supposed to be a joke and make you laugh. But here's the rub: they contain a lot of great advice. As writers, most of these are things we should try our damnedest to avoid doing. While you might chuckle at, say, Fumblerule #28, maybe you'll recall it when you see a long string of alliteration in your own writing.

Other Fumblerules, maybe attributable to Safire, exist. My favorite of those is "eschew obfuscation." I saw that on a bumper sticker once. Never have I wanted a bumper sticker more than I wanted that one.

Safire's Fumblerules of Grammar are concise and excellent to look at every now and again to make sure you're not falling into bad habits.

I'll close with this joke I heard about Safire: William Safire walks into Burger King and orders two Whoppers Junior.

Happy writing.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Writing Groups

How many writers out there belong to writing or critique groups?

I'm in one that spawned from our NaNoWriMo write-ins. Basically, we just decided to keep showing up and writing. Now, though, instead of just blitzing thru a first draft to meet a word count goal, we talk about projects, the business of writing, offer critiques, and even share works with each other. We're also discussing an anthology for next month that we would self-publish, both for the practice and for any additional exposure that it gets us. In fact, we're meeting tonight, and I plan to get at least 2000 words done in a new first draft.

Even though I talk to people at our write-ins, I get a lot done. Being around other creative people helps. I don't buy into any rubbish about the spark of creativity flying around the room or whatever, but I think seeing everyone else grinding away on their projects encourages me to do the same. And I get to have an awesome chai drink at the same time.

So, share your thoughts on writing groups and your experiences with them. I think (as long as you find the right group, of course, and don't end up with a bunch of schmucks) they can be very beneficial to aspiring and established writers alike.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Hello, world!

Welcome to my blog. I hope I'll update it at least semi-regularly.

My name is Tom. I'm a writer. I don't earn a living from writing, but I don't think that's necessary to call oneself a writer. Writers write. They hone their craft. They associate with other writers and creative people. They throw up their hands, curse, and delete whole blocks of text. They edit, revise, and make honest efforts to share their writing with an audience. I do all of those things (some days, I do the cursing and deleting parts more than the others), so I say I'm a writer. If you do all of those things, you can call yourself a writer too. Just tell the doubters you have my permission. That and $4.00 will get you a latte at your favorite coffee shop.

This blog will be a place where I talk about my writing projects, the writing process, publication and publishing, post reviews, and maybe ramble a little bit about pop culture. After all, we're all pop culture junkies to some extent, aren't we?

I plan to enjoy this ride. I hope you'll enjoy it, too.