March 2007


Well, as far as writing goes. I wrote almost 56k on Tachyon People this month. It’s close to being finished in first draft. The story went a direction I never thought it would, out of necessity. I had written much too short an outline when I made the outline a year ago. Live and learn. It’s a much better story (IMHO) than it would have been in the original outline.

So far, I’m still pretty much on track with my original schedule. I’m reconsidering doing the Story-a-Day in May. I have so many projects going now that I’m not sure writing 30 new stories is a good idea. We’ll see. It’s a great idea as far as getting more writing done, but my problem isn’t writing, it’s editing. I’m a decent non-fiction editor, but not so great at fiction editing.

So now I’m going into April with a major editing job to do on Clan Twelve.  Got lousy reactions on the crits last year, mostly revolving around poor writing and low tension, which shouldn’t be. Time to put all the things I’ve learned over the last year into action. Wish me luck.

On the little girl in jail.

My apologies for presenting this to you previously without all the information.

Fatigue. Bad news. An ending. Stress. Feelings of futility.

Depression.

All writers get some down days. Today’s mine. I guess it’s what you do with the down days that makes the difference.

If it lasts too long, get some help. I want to keep my readers around.

Nothing about writing. Everything about fairness. I’m pissed.

A fourteen year old girl got a one to seven year prison term last year for shoving a hall monitor (a 58 year old teacher’s aide) at her school in Texas. The girl doesn’t deny she shoved the woman but states the woman wouldn’t let her go to the school nurse to get her medications and shoved her first when she tried to pass.

She had no prior contact with the police, and a girl the same age was sentenced to probation by the same judge three months earlier for burning down a house.

This girl’s mother had complained about her child being treated unfairly earlier and feels that this is retaliation for her complaints. The girl had been written up in the weeks prior for such serious offenses such as wearing her dress too short and filling a paint jar too full in art class after her mother complained.

Chicago Tribune story

The Judge’s side of the story

More information and how you can help

This is serious. A child is sitting in jail for pushing someone. She didn’t kill someone or do drugs or anything worth being in jail for. This could be you or your friend or your child. Please pass this information along to everyone you know.

I hate doing this but if you let this go you’re basically saying this is okay to do to a kid. It’s not. This is wrong.

(edited to add: Take a look at Boycott Texas. This is what I plan to do, since I don’t live in Texas.)

We have a friend visiting from overseas, so it’s been a bit busy lately. Things should settle down by the end of the week. Still been writing, though, whenever I can.

Got a few questions in my email–

“I like your story ideas in the series. Aren’t you afraid of someone stealing them?”

First off, the story about the wildlife guys and the story about the woman that runs away from home don’t interest me enough to write them. Go for it. I have so many ideas for stories it makes my head spin to think of them all. Besides, even with a twist going, ten people with the same twist will write ten different stories. The stories come from inside you, remember?

Bonus lesson: Let’s say someone makes that story we talked about the last week, the one about the orphan boy who goes to save the world, meets up with an old mentor (let’s kill the old guy off), and has to face his enemy at the end. Like I said, it’s an idea everyone uses. But it’s been written in lots of nice fresh ways, so it’s okay.

If we set this in a fair green land and set an orphan on a quest to destroy a magic item, and he has a bunch of companions, one of whom used to have the item and wants it back, and this orphan ends up struggling and suffering a lot but finally gets rid of the thing, people are going to call that derivative. This means it’s really a take-off of the beginning, middle and ending scenes of Lord of the Rings and anyone can tell who’s read it.

If you make the story different but make the fair green land full of tall, thin, noble, wise, nature-loving elves, that might be considered a cliche’ (I don’t know how to do the accent), because tall, thin, noble, wise, nature-loving elves are overdone . This is one reason to read a lot of the kind of story you want to write, to see what’s been done before.

Now if you call the Elves Elrond and Legolas, and the bad guy Sauron, or have it be a magic ring you’re casting into Mount Doom after two small guys with furry feet named Sam and Frodo struggle up the side of a volcano, you might have lawyers after you. That could be considered plagiarism, or copyright infringement, otherwise known as copying someone else’s writing then lying and saying it’s yours.

You see why honesty is important in writing? If you’re going to write, you have to make sure it’s really your story.

“Can you read my story?”

No. I have enough work to do already in the critique groups I belong to. Get in your own group. Thanks for thinking my opinion means anything, though.

“I’m scared to post my writing here.”

Okay. My daily readership is (on a good day) in the double digits. So what happens when you get paid for it? Posted in front of a whole lot of people. You might want to rethink the whole writing-for-profit thing, if posting here gives you such fits.

“Someone might steal my story.”

See above. But even if they did, so what? You’re a noob writer. If they’re so low as to steal a noob writer’s unedited story, they obviously have no talent to write their own. And besides, you’re writing just about every day and have more than one story. Right?

We’re talking career here. You’re not going to get rich from one story. Even the Queen of Fiction Income didn’t get famous until her third book in the Harry Potter series.

Life is too short to stress over these things. Go write something.

This is the last post in a series. The series started here.

Hello again! Did you write today?

Writers write, and there’s a reason you should always be writing. There’s a saying that you need to write a million words to really get good at writing. Some people say that for them it took more. That’s about three or four years of solid writing almost every day. But it’s okay, because you like writing.

Just as you wouldn’t expect to become a doctor or a college professor or an airline pilot or a stockbroker or any other professional after a week, don’t expect to be at a professional level of writing overnight. You’re still a toddler, not a marathon runner.

Now some might say, “Well, I don’t think I need to write that much. I wrote my first story, and I’m already good at this writing stuff. I’m going to send my story to a publisher right now.”

Okay.

Here’s a test. Take your best story (you have more than one, right?) and do two things with it. First, put a copy of it aside and don’t look at it for the next three months. Put a sticky note up with the date so you won’t forget. No peeking.

In the meantime, do two things. Start writing another story. While you’re doing that, get five people to read your first story. Do not pick people who’ll just tell you it’s awesome (definitely not your mom or your girlfriend). They have to be people who will tell you the cold hard truth. Ask them, “How can I make this better?” and “Is this something you would pay to read?” Then listen to what they say.

If all five tell you it’s perfect and when you go back after the three months to read it for yourself, you still think it’s wonderful, send it away. You have nothing to lose by waiting and checking with others first.

Chances are, though, that just because you wrote a story doesn’t mean it’s something someone else is going to pay to read. It needs to be cleaned up first. This process is called editing.

Now, I’m still in the noob stages when it comes to editing, so I’m not going to go into great detail when it comes to that. Maybe someday I’ll be here writing about editing for the complete noob. But I’ve written over 500,000 words since I started this two years ago, so I think I can talk intelligently about writing.

The idea of editing is that you go through the story and make it better. The ability to edit separates the professional writer from the amateur.

There are some things everyone says to do:

  • Put the story aside for at least three months. This helps you to forget what you think about the story so you can see it as it is. In the meantime, write another story. (Are we seeing a pattern here?)
  • Decide what you want the story to be about. Why did you write the story in the first place? Make a note somewhere of your thoughts and keep it nearby.
  • Read through the story. Where is it boring? Mark that sentence or paragraph.
  • Where does it stray from what you’ve decided the story is about? Mark those areas.
  • Does each scene have a beginning, middle and ending? Mark the ones that don’t.
  • Do the beginning scenes portend the middle and ending in some way? Do the ending scenes wrap up the story, or are there loose ends at “The End”? Mark those areas.
  • Is everything spelled right? If not, either fix the spelling right then or mark the misspelled words to do later.

Then comes the fun part. You go back and fix the things you marked.

Then you have your buddies read it again (and you do something nice for them, like take them out to dinner or read their stuff!). Reading someone else’s work with an eye for what needs fixing is called critiquing. You can find writers’ groups in your city or online to help with this. All will ask you to critique their work also. This is something that helps you to see what works and what doesn’t.

Your critique partners will have more ideas, and there’s lots of books that can help you write better (some of which are in my Books On Writing page), but if you do the basic things I mentioned above first, you won’t embarrass yourself by giving someone a boring, typo-ridden story with a bunch of loose ends dangling.

Now you know the basics of writing stories up to novel length, a bit about editing and publishing, and you’ve heard of a critique group. You’ve written at least one story. You’re not a complete noob at writing anymore. Congratulations!

If you have any questions or comments about what I’ve written here, please post them.

Questions and a bonus lesson

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