This week has been pretty hectic, so today I just uploaded a vlog to tell you what I've been up to, what I hope to be up to, and a thanks for all of those that have been there for me as this opportunity to write has emerged. [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0wVJnuyG6sE]
This isn't a normal blog entry, but I had to put this out there: my novel, PUP, is the NOOK Daily Find at www.barnesandnoble.com today! You can get an e-book version of the novel for just $1.99 today. If you need something to make you laugh, cry, or shake your head in amazement, it is a great purchase. Pass it on!
I have had some people tell me before that they like spring cleaning. I never allow myself to turn my back on those individuals. They scare me. However, there is some spring cleaning that you, as a writer, might want to consider that could actually benefit you in ways that you never considered. Check it out![youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQeMuv2aM_Q]
A while back, I found some soaking wet socks in my son's bathroom. A few days later, I found six soaking wet socks hidden in his bedroom. I asked him what was going on. "I had a dream once about a monster attacking people. I've been showering in my socks so that I can throw them at him to chase him off." Of course, my response to this was, "Son, you are ruining your socks because of an imaginary situation that is never going to happen." At least, that was what I said out loud. In my mind, I was thinking How can I possibly incorporate this into my next book?
On any given day, my cat goes also-freaking-lutely insane. For no apparent reason, she will run sprints all throughout the house. She seems to be attacking bugs that no one else can see. She howls late at night at nothing. She figures out precisely where you intend to sit and decides that is the very place that she intends to nap. I suppose that it shouldn't surprise me that my son loves the cat almost to the point of obsession.
The thing about both of these individuals, my son and the cat, is that they live a lot of their lives in their own imaginations. It's something that can make each day very difficult for those around them as people that don't live in their worlds try to figure out what is going on. However, for my son and the cat, it is a perfectly equitable arrangement, and why shouldn't it be? They might live in their own worlds, but everyone there knows them. The imagination is where they find peace, joy, excitement, and whatever else they are seeking at the moment. Who should deny that?
The truth is that I tend to benefit from it as well. Of course I work to make certain that my son can interact and function in the world. That is my job as his father. However, he as well as the cat, remind me how to make use of my own imagination. They help remind me how to find some of the more simple joys in life that cannot be discovered on a television screen or computer monitor. As a teacher, he reminds me of the youth that I interact with daily, even if that youth left me (chronologically) a while ago. As a writer, he brings me to a place in my imagination that helps me to create the universes needed for a good story to be told.
If you are a writer, or someone that just needs a smile, consider things from the point of view of a child, or even look at the world as a cat. If neither are an option, then think of the last time that you wanted to say, "What the crap was that?" You would be amazed at the direction that this can lead you in.
I remember trying to start my first novel when I was younger. It was unbelievably overwhelming. Coming up with a story idea was easy. Trying to come up with all of the characters, setting up the universe in which the story takes place, giving background, and all of the other details just seemed like more than I could handle at the time. If this seems to be your situation, I have an idea for something that can get you started on your road to developing your skills as a writer. That's this week's vlog topic. [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d1Twi0SsDVU]
Persistence can be an absolute necessity for all steps of writing. Where does it come in and why is it important? That is my message in this week's vlog.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ixJqPMY_X9k]
A character from one of my favorite shows once said, "We've done the impossible, and that makes us mighty!" Some of the most enjoyable stories and movies that we ever experience deal with a character that is overcoming major challenges. There is something uplifting about cheering on the underdog. Maybe it gives us a feeling of accomplishment to see that someone else can achieve what seems impossible. Of course, cheering on the underdog and being the underdog are two very different things. Do you get that feeling of accomplishment when you are the one having to face the challenges, or do you get a feeling of dread at what might happen if you can't overcome the odds? Most of my writing centers around fish-out-of-water, underutilized and disrespected characters. The usually don't recognize their own potential until they reach some new height, be it on purpose or on accident. Either way, the achieve what would have seemed impossible just a chapter before. I actually smile as I write, revise, or re-read some of those characters accomplishments. It can provide a sense of divine justice. The person most deserving receives the rewards. How can you not love that?
Of course, reality is a lot different from fiction. Many of us face challenges every day. Maybe it is a child whose behavior is slow to change. Maybe it is a job that is trying your patience. Maybe it is the difficulty of getting your finances in order. Maybe it is something as simple as the weather not cooperating with what you have planned. These are usually the challenges that don't make it into books, movies, or television shows. For all of the obsession that people have with reality television, it rarely deals with true reality. When was the last time that there was a show that followed one of its characters for two hours while they tried to figure out why their checkbook won't balance? How about an episode that centers on trying to figure out how you are going to get supper cooked, your child tucked in, your take-home work finished, and still have time to watch the show that you have been waiting all week for? Even Seinfeld, the show that famously claimed to be about nothing, never focused on the every day challenges that most people face. Why not?
My theory as to why we don't see shows, movies, or books that deal with these everyday challenges is because we all already have to. These challenges can stretch us to our limits. We don't want to see them again because we will either be reminded of how difficult it had been to take care of, or we will see a different approach that we had not considered and be angry because it is too late to change it. This is one of the reasons that I don't watch reality television. I watch television to get away from reality. I'm sure that most people would agree that they read or watch television and movies to try and forget about the challenges that they feel may have cursed their days.
Of course, in the end, are these daily challenges really curses or blessings in disguise? Well, I would venture to say that they are both. The challenges stretch us to our limits physically, mentally, and emotionally. It's easy to see that as a curse. However, they also keep us moving forward in our lives, accomplishing the tasks necessary to be the people that we need to be for those that depend on us. That makes them a blessing in disguise. Of course, that disguise is so well done, that we hardly ever see it. That is why we seek out the underdog stories. They motivate us to keep pushing forward in the hopes that we, too, will do the impossible. So, you keep pushing your way through that daily grind (as will I), and I'll try to help provide that underdog motivation to keep us going. I figure that combining those two things will go a long way towards making us mighty!
I had the pleasure of getting to be there when my best friends became parents recently. I have watched over the last few days as the things that they think are important have changed. It is a great lesson in life as well as a great lesson for writing. Watch my vlog to see why.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D8xoJv5wVBY]
I hope that everyone is doing well despite the weather. Also, if anyone is interested in follow-up stories to the one I posted last week, I can post them a little bit later. The other day I was reading a story about how often pictures get photoshopped. It occurred to me that we often do the same thing with our writing. I promise, it will make sense when you watch the vlog.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FNQWnF6MJzg]
I'm back with a vlog today. Today I was thinking about the most basic concept that is present in every day of our lives- the passage of time. The question is, do we remember that constant companion of time in our writing? [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hLOXyaaxf1o]
I've gone through editorial notes before. I've gone through my writing and corrected grammar or bits and pieces of things so that they sounded better. What I have not had to do before is go back and really rewrite something that I've already completed. I have to tell you that it's kicking my butt![youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hZyakYUT7xs]
This week I was thinking about...well, a lot more serious subjects than maybe I should during the holiday season. Regardless, I realized that there is a growing segment of the population that is often not included in writing as well as television and movies. We are doing that segment and ourselves a disservice by not including characters that truly represent them.. Of course I haven't really included these characters either (at least not on purpose), so I am going back in my work-in-progress and changing that. You may want to consider that as well.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lMkSqT0eL9o]
I was working with some students in the creative writing class I sometimes teach, and I asked them to write a family story. Some of the most enjoyable stories that I tell are about family members and family events, and I wanted to have the students try the same thing. I have only gotten to hear a couple of the stories, but I noticed something in the ones that I did hear that got me to thinking about many of the things that I have read and why some of those things haven't grabbed me the way that other stories have: some writers have forgotten one of the basic lessons about a story. I'm sure that many of you have drudged your way through English class because you had to. Even writers have to push themselves through it sometimes. Don't take offense, English teachers. It is true of every class. I teach history and I had to drag myself through several history classes. However, there is a lesson from the class that we shouldn't forget, and that was the basic outline of a story. There should be an introduction, there should be conflict, there should be a climax, and then the resolution and conclusion of the story. This sounds pretty obvious, but you would be surprised at how often this doesn't happen.
There are all sorts of reasons why writers might not use this formula. Perhaps they are trying a new approach and see the novelty as a form of artistic expression. Maybe they are writing non-fiction and don't think that there should be a climax to it. Perhaps they didn't really look at the story after they wrote it, but instead recorded as almost a free flow of thought. Whatever the reason, I see this happen, and most of the time it doesn't work. Artistic expression only works if others can understand what you are doing and why. Don't get me wrong. I still like to see people experiment, but if I can't figure out their goal at the end, I may not give their next work a try. Unless you are writing a reference book, a non-fiction story still needs to captivate its audience, and having a climax helps to do that. Free flow of thought can work, but most of the time an audience wants to have that buildup of anticipation that leads to the climax. Otherwise, it's like listening to that relative that loves to pull you aside to tell you things at the holiday gathering but never seems to get to the point.
Long story short, go back to the basics. Look at your writing and see if, in some way, it follows the traditional model. You have to have that anticipation, and you have to have that climax. It's like the shiny object that grabs everyone's attention and says "Look at me! Shiny object! I'm a shiny object!" We know how well those work in real life. Why shouldn't they work in our writing?
There seems to be something important missing from a lot of books these days. It is the same thing that writers claim is destroying the book industry, and yet they make extensive use of it themselves. Its technology. This week I ask why aren't you putting tech in your story?[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jW2w9gNFk8U]
If you are an aspiring writer, there comes a point where you have to put up your "pen" (or your keyboard in most cases) and finally send the work that you poured your heart and soul into so that you can find an agent or a publisher. Once you do, what can you expect? I might not have the most experience in this area, but I figure I can offer a little bit of a preview for what you can do when you receive your reply.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z3wcvijAXks]
How soon is too soon? The tragedies that took place not only in Paris on November 13, but in multiple locations around the world in previous days have shocked the world and brought horror into the lives of many innocent families. My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of all of these attacks. I hope that no one will feel that it is too soon for me to write this blog. It is my hope that it will help to prevent authors from making the mistake of offending or, even worse, hurting anyone that might have been impacted by these events. Several television programs have been delayed following the terrorist attacks in Paris. I remember many movies being delayed, rewritten, or canceled following the 9/11 attacks. As an author, I have often scoured my writing to make certain that the story doesn't have the potential of upsetting the families of victims of various tragedies. However, as anyone that has watched television or movies lately can attest to, 9/11 is no longer a taboo topic to mention as long as it is done tastefully. I'm sure that writers are also looking at their stories or story ideas and wondering if they are breaching sensitive areas that perhaps they should hold off on approaching. Of course, if you delay, how long is appropriate? Like many questions, I don't believe that there is a good, solid answer. The fact that some people even ask the question is a huge step forward in humane consideration of others feelings. However, there are a few things that I consider useful indicators of when it might be okay for you to write stories that might have some resemblance to a recent tragedy. Watch the news. While the news may not always have its finger on the pulse of the public, it usually can figure out what most people are concerned about. Some things are obvious. For example, if there are still official memorial services taking place, it is way too early to even think about referring to a tragedy. If you still hear "water cooler" conversations about the event, it is too early to make references about it. Look at social media for some trends. You would be surprised how much you can find out about what is on people's minds based on stories that they link to. The final benchmark to look at is if you have to ask about the event still being sensitive at all, then it probably still is. Writers are supposed to offer a glimpse at reality for their readers. Many writers do an amazing and insightful job of that. However, our job is never to reopen fresh wounds. When in doubt, ere on the side of decency. It might take a little excitement out of your story, but you can look at yourself in the mirror and sleep with a clear conscience. Your readers will thank you for it.
This week I asked my wife if she would talk a little bit about what it is like to be the wife of an amateur writer. We don't often consider what difficulties might be faced by a spouse when the writer is researching or writing or editing or brainstorming, etc. So here is her perspective on things. [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G9Pbpr-OJIo]
I've been pretty busy so my blogging, vlogging, and everything other than work and parenting has had to take a back seat for the past few weeks. However, I had the chance to throw together a vlog today and I'm talking about a skill that writers need to develop in order to be a successful writer. That skill is salesmanship. Are any of you good salespeople? How do you do it? I haven't figured out that talent yet, but I know the necessity of it. Any tips?[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Nc5EGmTh-c]
I have had one unbelievable week. On top of meetings or appointments after work every day this week, neither my wife nor myself have been feeling great. However, most disruptive of all has been the fact that my dog has been ill. It has caused lots of problems, but lots of concern as well. It got me to thinking about a character that is oftentimes not included in stories, and it really should be. The most forgotten character can be the one that makes your main characters have more depth. That is the topic for this week's vlog.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WR12YuzEN54]