A Word Is A Word, And It Counts

alphabet close up communication conceptual

 

Yep, that’s what I tell myself. A word is a word, no matter if it’s one of one or one of thousands. And it counts the same, so if you’re tight on time and you just jot down that first word of a chapter, paragraph or conversation, it’s one more word than you’ve had before, and it counts, baby. It counts.

This little pick-me-up speech comes courtesy of a recent busy schedule, but busy in a good way. A little more contracted work meant more time devoted to that work, which happened to require a little more research this go around coupled with a client requested change on the morning of my deadline, but hey, all good, right?

Sure, except for making any real progress in my personal, creative, fun type of writing. And I missed it, big time. So that’s when I decided to just do microbursts of writing in short little drive-by type of sessions, running through the office, opening up my laptop and typing a sentence or three or five, then closing up and going back to regularly scheduled duties and responsibilities.

And it wasn’t bad. It began to feel more like a game or a contest, which obviously I would win no matter what because hey, it was a game with myself, and I made the rules up, which for the record is the best type of game to be in, amirite?

But it worked, in a sort of flash fiction way where all the passages are related and depend on each other. I’ve enjoyed being in previous writing exercises that had a number of writers involved, each creating a one hundred word passage in a story, then passing it on to the next writer to continue the story with their hundred-word passage, then passing it along to the next, and so forth. All passages must be related and continue the story from where the previous writer had left off. It’s a very cool and fun exercise and can be timed if you like, turning it into a writing version of improv.

The best thing is, not only does it count, it adds up. Those short little microbursts of writing can add up to significant words by the end of the day, elevating your WIP with dedicated ideas and thoughts that can be filled in and expanded on later, you know, when you do get the time to sit your butt in that chair and do what we all want to do-write more.

Happy Writing

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Ideas During Sleep, ​Blank Stares While Awake

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We always hear about the constant need for a pen and paper nearby for those golden, light bulb ideas of brilliance that only show themselves when we are least expecting them.

I always believed this to be the crazy notion until I was proved wrong. “Once again”, some might interject here.

Blissfully awoken by an overactive brain that decided to come up with a great headline for a boring article I was working on, I actually smiled in the darkness of my brilliance, knowing that my client was going to simply gush over my amazing word wizardry and probably throw a sack of money to me for making his company social media go viral.

And then I fell back asleep, followed by a traditional alarm clock revelry. I jumped up all excited to get to writing, pointed my fingers downward ready to play the keyboard like a piano player ripping through some ragtime music when I realized that every bit of that idea flew from my head to never return.

“Dammit” I proclaimed to all within hearing distance, which was maybe a bird and two dogs that decided to tuck their heads just in case I was talking about them. I sat, twisted face and scrunched brow, trying to remember the forgotten words: Any of ’em, at least one of ’em, maybe just the beginning letter, consonant or vowel, to jar my memory and get the ol’ generator humming.

My head sank, as did my expectations.

This wasn’t the only time this kind of thing happened. I consistently tell myself I’ll remember something only to consistently show myself how unreliable of  a source I can really be,

Yet I continue to resist joining those that carry the paper and pen with them at all times, those that are happily transferring their light bulb ideas and clever phrases to paper, complaining about their overabundance of ideas and how they just don’t have the time to get to ALL of them that are written in their file.

I’ve been saving a special word for people like you, I say. And as soon as I remember what it is, I’m calling you out on it. But it’ll have to wait because, you know, I didn’t write it down at the time, and…forgot.

Dammit!

 

Don’t Discount Those Non-Writing Achievements And Successes

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Word counts. Chapters. Scenes. We all have our way of measuring our progress, don’t we?

And then, when we miserably fail to reach our goal on a particular day… and we will… we label ourselves losers, failing yet again, and never wanting to chicken-peck that terrible old keyboard again.

Go ahead and feel sorry for yourself if you must, giving yourself one hundred percent of the blame for your day’s lack of goal attainment. But can you also, for one moment, give yourself credit for the other things that you DID get done, you know, those things that may have prevented you from attaining your word counts and writing goals?

Things that life or family or friends or work threw your way in the waning moments of your day that just couldn’t be pushed off? Emergencies that had to be dealt with? Helping others that are at the farther end of their rope than you are?

You get my drift?

Non-writing goals, man. Non-writing goals. Don’t discount them. In fact, you should celebrate them. Reaching a goal, no matter what part of your life they pertain to should be cause for celebration, but you never see a decorated cake for that, now do you?

No, you don’t, and it’s too bad because whenever you reach a goal, you make yourself a better person in one way or another. Achievements give us confidence, yet we tend to dwell on the negative, because, let’s face it, us writer folk can be a sorry bunch at times, so consumed with our personal writing success that we fail to recognize all the good that we’re doing otherwise. It’s a thing, I’m sure, and if anyone wants to get into the psychological aspects, have at it.

But we know that reaching goals makes us all the warm and fuzzy inside, which generally leads to a more pleasant disposition on the outside.

A more pleasant disposition will lead to better relationships, more satisfaction in your current situation, and less moping around thinking “Why me” and “What if”. It’s the whole power of positive thinking angle with a conscious choice to be happy.

Didn’t get your word count in today? So what.

A chapter short? Big Deal.

But DO tell me more about what you DID get done today. I bet it was awesome!

 

#HappyWriting

 

Regaining Writing Momentum After The Holi-daze

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So that big push in November for writing more, especially if you participated in NaNoWriMo, led to a giant “sigh” in December, flowing right into the holidays, after which we skated into the new year.

Before you knew it, you might not have written anything constructive for a couple of weeks.

Sound familiar?

I myself felt like I was treading water, and I can’t swim!

The creative writing part of me just kind of remained stuck in the mud, not moving backward, but certainly not moving forward either.

So how do I jumpstart myself out of this little funk? 

It happened to be a combination of things, the first of which was putting the behind back into the chair. If I wasn’t writing, I was reading. I read fiction by authors I enjoy and nonfiction works on the craft of writing. I read blogs and comments on writing techniques. I attended our local writing guild’s workshop.

And then I read my own work.

I read my wip, from the start to where I left off, which consequently left me hanging without any type of closure to the story, because well, there was no ending written for this story, now was there?

No, there wasn’t, and you know what? There is only one person that can write that ending, and that’s the one sitting in my chair. So there’s your motivation. You are the only one that can write your story, and write it well.

So get that behind in the chair, at home or at one of your favorite inspiring locations, plug into your favorite music to create with (just please tell me it’s not that creative mood channel on Spotify-please, please) and start writing. Anything. Anything at all. Just write. And you’ll get back into that groove that you had started before being interrupted by those pesky holi-daze.

Good writing!

 

Keep Your WIP Moving With Secrets And Motivation

 

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Keeping plot, action, and dialogue fresh can be a challenge. but Sol Stein can help you with that.

Who is Sol Stein, you ask?

He’s the writer of a great book on craft techniques and strategies, both fiction and nonfiction, and beyond. It’s titled, Stein On Writing. And why wouldn’t it be?

He suggests to spice up your drama, dialogue and plot, maybe give each participant a unique secret, kind of a whisper in their ear. Something that relates to the story, yet only is known by the person speaking. It may be a motive for a particular action, a desire for a specific result, a reason for having a lively conversation in the first place, etc. Provide something unique to each person that only they know to fuel their actions, motive and personal stance within your WIP. And no two characters get the same information at the same time. Intriguing for sure.

But it makes total sense, doesn’t it?

I mean, isn’t that what happens in real life? We take the bits and pieces of available information that specifically pertains to us and use that as our motivation in our conversations and dealings with people. Now, whether any of that information is accurate is a totally different story, but nonetheless, it affects us in everything we think and do.

From his book, Sol Stein says:

“That’s what happens in life. Each of us enters into a conversation with another person with a script that is different from the other person’s script. The frequent result is disagreement and conflict–disagreeable in life and invaluable in writing, for conflict is the ingredient that makes action dramatic. When we get involved with other people, the chances of a clash are present even with people we love because we do not have the same scripts in our heads. And the tension is even greater when we are involved with an antagonist.”

So there ya go, the secret to keeping your dialogue and plot action-oriented and full of drama.

Just like we want it to be.

 

#AmWriting

 

 

What’s Your Why, And How Does It Affect Your Writing

ask blackboard chalk board chalkboard

We hear the phrase a lot.

What’s your why? Why are you choosing to do what you do? Specifically, why are you writing?

So here’s your chance to explain yourself. What’s your why when it comes to your writing? I mean, you’ve got a reason for putting pen to paper, don’t you? Sure you do, or else you wouldn’t put yourself through the headaches, backaches, and mental struggles of finding that perfect word or phrase to get your point across.

Say, for example, that you write because that’s what you get paid to do. Perfectly legitimate reason, and a fine reason to put pen to paper, or finger to keyboard. I do it myself, and know that deadlines, contracts, and pending payment are fine motivators. Fine motivators, indeed.

Let’s say you write because you have a message or sales pitch that needs to get out. Again, a perfectly fine reason to write and get that message out to your targeted audience. This, seemingly, is one of the main reasons that articles and web content are splattered about all over social media, sometimes over, and over, and over, and, well, you get the picture.

“Because I have a story to tell, Jerry. That’s why I’m writing”. Excellent. Write that story and get it out there. Tell those that should know, and those that you think will have interest, and then sit back and be satisfied that you got your story out there as desired.

“I shall be rich and famous, revered by all for my literary prowess, leaving a legacy of the written word that shall carry over into the history books. I shall please everyone with my words, and everyone will buy my books”. Okay, here is where I must pause and turn away while laughing so hysterically that my eyes turn red, coffee shoots out of my nose, and I need an inhaler to regain my composure. Aack!

Come on now, you don’t really believe that one, do you? I mean, if that happens, kudos to you. Honestly, congratulations! But writing just usually doesn’t work that way. When you’re trying to please a certain group, person, or genre, the words will reflect that in an almost sleazy, sales pitchy way. Good for those used car salesman, but bad for a writer.  In fact, for creative story or novel writing, it’s tough to completely narrow down your genre before writing your story or novel, because you have to be continually aware of the parameters and various rules you need to remain in your predetermined genre classification.

I have a different idea.

You’ve got a pending story or idea for a story in you. And for one reason or another, (the why), it needs to come out. Whether it’s a story that you’ve been thinking about, pouring over, and painstakingly working on every-single-day, or it’s an article that you’ve been commissioned to write, just write it. No immediate rules, no confining parameters. Just write it as you see it, because you know what?

You can shape it, edit it, and transform it later, after the original draft is written without the predetermined rules. This will ensure that the article, short story, novella, or novel will be written in your voice, ultimately satisfying your why. It doesn’t matter who you think the audience will be, or what the genre was going to be. Those things will be revealed naturally as your story evolves.

Happy writing.

Fixing Boring Fictional Characters By Looking Into Their Real Lives

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There’s always a lot of discussion about characters in writing, as should be. I mean, without the characters, your story is just a long narrative on scenery and background. But hey, sometimes even with characters, your story is just a long narrative on scenery and background. And that sucks.

But maybe your characters are just boring or too predictable throughout your work. Do you, as the writer, really know who you’re writing about? Are they shallow because you haven’t developed them enough throughout the story, or shallow because they indeed, are just that type of person? Do you have any idea about their upbringing, their values that they hold true, or their innermost beliefs? Do you know their favorite expression, hobby, favorite music, or most hated food?

I’ve found an interesting way to find answers to questions like these and likely others that you haven’t even thought about through a fun and simple writing exercise.

Drop those characters into situations that they would never encounter in your story or novel. Put them in scenarios that they would likely never encounter in their real lives. Yeah, I said it. The real lives of your fictional characters. Go ahead and take a minute to think about that one. Because there’s a lot of character development to be had when diving into the real lives of your fictional characters.

Are the characters from your story rural based? Take a few minutes to magically drop them into a Hollywood red carpet event and write down their personal thoughts and their conversations with others at the event. How do they react? What do they whisper to each other? How would they respond to the extravagance, and sometimes arrogance, of Hollywood life? How do they react to the reactions of others to them? You can bet that there will be some basic beliefs and values that come out in those thoughts, conversations and inner reflections from that event. And they’ll help you determine their actions and the reasons for those actions throughout the scenes in your story.

Maybe your characters are top of the line, successful detectives, complete with all of the latest tech gadgets, information processing, and social media skills that help them solve or even prevent crimes. What if these detectives were all of a sudden swept up and relocated to a time period without all of the current technology or sophisticated cellphones? What if these detectives, armed with all of these savvy skills, were dumped into a scenario where people didn’t have or know of such devices? What would those conversations be like? Would the detectives be deemed crazy? Would they have the patience to deal with problems in the old-fashioned way, using old-time detective work and personal interaction? Their acquired and innate personality traits will ultimately determine their actions and reactions, which will be the same traits that are the basis for their actions in your current work in process, both in their work situations and in encounters with others, positive or negative.

These traits, recorded from the unexpected, uncomfortable situations that you put them into are the true traits and beliefs of your characters. Traits that were either acquired along the way or taught to them long before they became a character in your manuscript. You brought them into the reader’s world to share a story about a particular time or event in their life, so it’s your responsibility to show the reader the character’s true personality, which hopefully evokes love, hate, or at least a rooted interest, positive or negative, from your readers.

Which is infinitely better than a reader putting your book down before finishing because of boredom.

Writing Fiction With A Nonfiction Brain

 

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Just The Facts Ma’am

It’s a learning process, that’s for sure.

I was trained to see and report the facts, and only the facts. News reporting, community happenings, and numerous city council meetings meant digging for, uncovering, and reporting only the facts, in succinct, short, quick to the point sentences and fragments. It was mandatory to clearly share point after point after point while fitting the necessary information into a specific number of column inches. It would become the way I saw and remembered everything.

But now, in creating fiction, I felt like that dog that carelessly gets adopted and confined to an apartment bathroom, only to be finally let out into the world to be in awe of everyone and everything around me.

World building, descriptions, fictional details all available to me to complement my story? Descriptive and creative license available at my every turn? Turns available at every twist? More twists at those turns?

“Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa” as I go screaming around the house.

What I’m trying to say, as you can gather by now, is that it’s a different set of skills to learn how to write in a fiction setting vs a nonfiction setting. And therein lies the constant struggle in my writing psyche. For so many years, and even continuing to this day, much of my writing is based on facts, research, and numbers. The creative part is me just trying not to bore you to tears while providing all the necessary information for the article or study. But whilst brandishing that fiction pencil, all options are on the table. That can be daunting, and certainly demands a reset of my brain processing function.

How do you perform that mind reset?

Well, that’s a good question, and in all likelihood has as many unique answers as there are writers. For me, I have to be consistent in reminding myself to have fun with the words, since I have the luxury to make things happen as I want them to happen. It can be raining or not. It can be a cold day in winter, or a perfect beach day across the continent. Characters can be fashioned after anyone walking, running, strolling, skipping, or driving down the street. I can still write as if it’s a news story, but I have the creative license to go back and fill in the story with details, descriptions, and dialogue as I see or hear them. There are no fact checkers for these events, because I am my only source, leaving no one to refute my findings.

I know what you’re thinking, and it has to do with editors. That’s a damn fine point, but  more to do with the consistency and believability of the story, not my self witnessed, fictitious facts. As Stephen King says,  “The job of fiction is to find the truth inside the story’s web of lies”.

So whatever you need to do to flip that switch in your brain from fact based, nonfiction writing to fiction genre storytelling, do it on a consistent basis and pretty soon it’ll become as natural as sitting here cursing while watching those damn chipmunks dig up my yard everyday. The fiction writing mode of thinking will fire up more readily and allow a pretty cool working relationship with the rest of your mind.

And although I’m sure there is a statistic that would sound very official about this whole psychological matter, I’m forcing myself not to do the research and report back, because thankfully, I’m getting better about this whole switch flipping and brain resetting myself.

Damn chipmunks!

He Said, She Said: Dialogue Tags Are Killers

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So I finally worked up the nerve to have the first 3000 words of my WIP read out loud and critiqued at a writing conference.

Gasp!

Yeah, I know, but there I was, in the crowd, waiting for my page to be drawn and read out loud by an actual publishing person, and then judged by other prominent publishers, writers, and agents. And I’m talking about a couple of heavy hitters in the room, recognizable by face as well as name. When I heard my working title read, I tensed, trying to not look too guilty of being the creator of this passage, even though I may have noticeably readied myself a bit more for taking notes. I’ve hesitated to do this in the past, but after revising it a few times based on other classes and advice I had gotten from reading and researching, I felt pretty good about letting this one be judged. Hey, we need to get used to being judged in public settings anyway, right? Why not here, where the learning, and the help, is readily available?

The instructions from the reader to the panel were to listen and read along, and raise their hands when running across anything that would make them stop reading, things like poor flow, bad grammar or vocabulary choice, a boring scene, non believable actions or situations, etc. If during the read, the panel showed three raised hands, the reading was stopped and then discussed. If the reading was allowed to finish, the panelists all took turns critiquing the work, both for what they enjoyed and where the improvements could be made.

Gulp!

My words were read out loud, and I could feel myself silently reciting the chapter with the reader. One hand went up. My eyes caught the motion of a hand being raised. I hoped for an instant that they just had an itch on their head, but no such luck. I panicked a little and started scanning the panel and hoping that there would be no more. The judges remained looking down at their copies of the transcript, intently reading along. No hands seemed ready to bolt up, and as the read was completed, they all seemed intent to listen to more. A big sigh escaped my chest.

But…

Something wasn’t right. While having someone else read my words out loud, I noticed it. So did the judges, by the way, who were all in agreement. Dialogue tags. Too many dialogue tags. The story was good, and the setting built the level of suspense that I had hoped. But the story read choppy, because of all the “he said, she saids” I had inserted. They were killing my pacing while adding extra, unnecessary words to the chapter. I had two people conversing in the entire scene, so there was no need to keep telling the reader who said what. I can achieve that through voice and proper dialogue, which I was glad to discover and learn in a separately offered class within this same conference.

But if it wasn’t for hearing a professional in the writing industry read my words for a set of equally professional judges and experts, I may not have caught this fault until further down the path in my WIP, and that wouldn’t have been good news for writer or reader.

He said it, she said it, they all said it. And I listened.

Good writing!

 

Crayons, Pens, Butcher Paper or Tablets, A Writer Is A Writer, No Matter The Method

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There’s always talk about writing methods, and how to stay organized while telling your story. But I’ll tell you a little secret. I hate outlining. Hate it. Always did, and as far as I can tell, I always will. It just seems repetitive to me. I mean, if you know enough to thoroughly outline a story, why the heck wouldn’t you just write the darn story in the first place?

Does this drop me into the “pantser” category? I suppose, to some extent. But since I know where I want to go, or at least where I want to end up when writing a passage or story, am I a “plotter” also? How do I find out? Do I need to know? Will the discovery of a tag for what I do change me in any way? Would it change you, your habits, or the way you approach writing?

I doubt it. After all, our style of writing is our style of writing, no matter what it’s called. It’s all about the journey, and staying on the path unless the characters in your story tell you otherwise.

I know where I’m starting, and I know how and where I want this thing to end. But the path to get to that point may not be so clear that I can write down a logical series of steps needed to get there. But I know the events that will, and should, happen along the way, including confrontations and character traits and backgrounds, and who I can trust and who raises my suspicions. Is that outlining? Plotting? Just plain old brainstorming? I write down notes and jot down events and scenes, just not in a thorough, step-by-step format with color coded highlighters, stickers, and exclamation points.

I guess that’s why I enjoy writing with Scrivener, even with the tedious, and endless learning curve associated with it. It allows me to write in scenes or separate, divided mini-stories, sometimes, okay mostly out of order, and then put them together later like a giant puzzle that culminates with the end passage delivering the reader where I want and need them to be.

And even better, with a process like this, on those days that I wake up in a mood that mirrors or lends itself towards the specific traits and characteristics of one of my characters, I’m going to be much more in tune with writing about them on that particular day, no matter where their appearances or particular actions appear in the story.

But then, I’m sort of, kind of, outlining in my head aren’t I, since I seem to have some idea of where they are going to appear and with whom they will interact with in this story? Wouldn’t I have to at least know a little about the plot, then, to know the different scenes that are going to occur?

Do I need to sit down and make a quick sketch or diagram of my habits and tendencies, just to make sure I haven’t wrongly categorized myself?

Are you getting as confused as I am about all of this? Should we even care what category we fall in to?

How about we just write as we see fit and are accustomed to?

I say whatever gets you ending the day with words on the paper, screen, or tablet is the type of writer you are, and that’s just the right type for you. (I’m thinking there’s a Dr Seuss saying in there somewhere)

Besides, there really is no category for those of us that sit on the floor, surrounded by sheets of white butcher paper and 64 count boxes of crayons, humming the theme from The Three Stooges while spinning around, jotting down situations for our characters to work through.