Monday, August 31, 2009

Getting to know you

Today's writing session provided an interesting twist for me.

No, I didn't introduce a race of zombies into my town, or turn all of the characters into aliens, or reveal that the whole story was happening in a snow globe.

This isn't something new to writers, and I'm sure it happens all of the time. But for the first time, I had a revelation about a character that wasn't the main character. Suddenly, this guy went from static to dynamic in, oh, about 500 words.

I was just typing along and it hit me: This guy's a waaaay bigger deal than I thought. He was just sneaking up on me. Once again, I got to hit one of those milestones that I'm sure most writers have all of the time. That doesn't mean they don't feel good.

I'm getting t0 points where stuff is happening to a lot of different characters, and it's cool to watch them turn into different things. Some of this growth and development will change how they talk or act (or both) in the earlier stuff I wrote, but that's what second drafts are for.

Discovering more about your characters has helped me discover more about my writing, and proved to me - at least for one day - that something's actually going on with these guys.

Another good blog

I just found another good blog (it's getting cozy in My Blog Cabin at the right) that is loaded with some good tips.

They're a bunch of authors called the Deadline Dames, and their blog is Today's post is particularly good. It's five tips for writers just starting out, so check it out.

You can also follow them on Twitter at


Writing a novel isn't rocket science (get idea, write idea, edit idea, pray for agent on good day). However, there is a lot of multi-tasking that goes into the whole shebang.

I'm discovering more and more of my time is going into the whole networking thing. Twitter this, Facebook that, self-promote this, "Look at me!" that. All of that is necessary, yes, especially in this day and age of the interwebs and everybody being able to talk to anybody.

But don't forget why you're doing all of that stuff. And don't forget where you have to go. All the friends in the universe won't help you get published if you don't have the thing they want - the dang book!

There are a number of things to do in this decathlon of trying to become a published author. But never forget the book. The writing is the most important thing. All that other stuff takes time, and it can be a little intimidating when it isn't going as fast as maybe you would like. But never take your eyes off the writing.

Any writing has goals. I've set deadlines for myself to get stuff done, but sometimes you go off course. If the detour was faster, it wouldn't be called a detour.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

It's the good stuff

Don't you love writing a part of your nove you know is one of the super-duper main parts of the story? But don't yout hate it, too?

I tackled that today in my 1,000 words. It's a confrontation between two of the main characters about the main theme in the book. The tough part? I didn't want to screw it up.

I know it's the first draft. I know when all is said and done that I'm probably going to change it a million times, and it's not even going to look anything close to what I pecked out today. But still, it was a little nerve-wracking, and that was different.

I've been writing all of my life. I've written for daily newspapers for the last 17 years, and there are very few instances where I fell uncomfortable when it comes to writing (at least that I've run into so far). But today was a toughie. This wasn't typing a story from some football game, it was an important part to the most engaging and all-encompassing writing project I've ever done for myself. Yeah, no pressure.

What I've got to realize is that the first time anything comes out isn't going to be the absolute final cut. I need to get the skeleton out, and then start to work the muscle on it when I go through subsequent drafts.

The best part about this? I'm actually starting to get the to the meant and potatoes of this project, and that's always a good thing.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Don't stop...Believin'

The novel-writing process can be a confounding one.

Do you ever experience the strange feeling of hammering out a dozen sentences, and then just stopping? As if your thoughts ran off a cliff? Do sentences seem to come like you're dragging them through a trough of oatmeal? Do you finish a chapter and stop and wonder 'Now what am I going to do?

If you answered yes to any or all of the above questions, then I'm with ya. And it stinks. Some of the toughest parts are keeping the momentum going. I have written more than 4,000 words in the last few days, and I'm still shaky about all of them.

The problem is that I can't be paranoid about where I'm going when I plod through the first draft. For me, just getting a cohesive story down first and foremost is an important part of the process. Straightening it out? I can take care of that when I'm banging my head against the wall during the editing process.

For now, I'm enjoying watching my idea start to take shape. I know which direction I want it to go, but sometimes the machete dulls a little bit as I'm hacking through the jungle to that destination.

I'm still confident in what I've got, and I still think what I've got is pretty darn good. Of course, it's my first novel, so it will probably get shot down faster than a guy in a leisure suit at a Victoria's Secret convention. But that doesn't mean I'm going to quit, I'll worry about getting rejected when I actually get rejected.

Right now, the focus is on the book. You gotta believe that it's good, and going to be good when you get through the tough spots, or no one else will.

Because you never know. Maybe when that guy changes clothes, and tweaks his delivery, he'll score one of those dream dates.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Always in the mood

If today has proven anything to me, it's that any time is a good time to write.

I've heard a lot of people say that they have to be in the right mood or the correct frame of mind to be able to sit down and work on their novels. To me, that's just horsepucky.

There have been times where I have sat down and really felt like writing, and I knock out a bunch of words and feel that sense of accomplishment. There are times where I have sat down and said "man, I don't feel like doing this right now," but I knocked out a bunch of words, and still felt a sense of accomplishment.

I've said this before, but I've promised myself that I'm going to write at least 1,000 words per day by hook or by crook, and I won't accept anything less. It keeps me involved in what I'm working on, and it keeps the story and characters and everything else fresh and bubbly in my head.

Today, I was going on about 4 hours of sleep when I went and helped a couple of good friends move into their new house for the bulk of the day. I got home and ate. One of the last thing I wanted to do was start dealing with the problems of the folks in my novel. I wanted to lie down and go to sleep.

But I knew I couldn't do that. I've got a book to write, dag nabbit! An hour later, I had nearly 1,300 words, and have a good idea of where I'm going to start off tomorrow. Done, and done.

I know, I know. It's different strokes for different folks. No two writers go about getting their stuff from brain to flash drive in the same fashion. But my advice would make Phil Knight proud: Just Do It.

Whatever works for particular writers is going to work. But what happens when you're not in the right mood for a few days? And your characters get stale? Or worse, they get bored and take off from your consciousness?

This is something that I want to be doing. It's just me, but I'm not going to wait for the mood to strike. Whether it's there or not, and you write stuff you wind up taking out later, that's all part of the process. And it's all helpful.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Don't forget your friends! (The friends you haven't made yet)

Ask just about anybody that's writing, and they'll tell you about all kinds of distractions. Life gets in the way of everybody's writing, and it takes dedication to stick to hammering out all those little words into one big, fun book.

But there is more to becoming published these days than just penning a gem. Getting published is becoming as much about networking and creating your own brand as it is about whipping up pretty prose.

The stupid internet might be the biggest distraction to my writing. I love Twitter. I love Facebook. I play fantasy football (Hey, I'm a sports reporter in a middle market. It's practically in my job description). That stuff sucks hours out of my day just like anybody else that's trapped in a cubicle.

The trick is to use it to move things forward not to just pass the time. I didn't know about this until one of my buddies told me that writing a good book wasn't enough anymore. So I started poking around the web to find out why. There's a whole treasure trove of stuff out there just for us - budding authors. And the support system is pretty fantastic in the fact that everyone seems friendly and helpful.

My twitter account has pretty much become a main contacting ground for people in the biz (or trying to break into the biz). Every day, I read posts and chat with literary agents, fellow authors that are both published and non-published. Some of them probably (hopefully) read this very blog. How on earth could that hurt me in the process of trying to get published? It can't.

Not only has all of that helped my writing immensely, but it's also given me a foothold on where I have to go once my product is finished. I'm not close to that yet, but at least I'm starting to understand how the process works when that time comes around.

I'm thinking about my novel all the time, anyway. If part of my free time is going to be spent on the internet, I may as well be learning about how to make it better -- and make some friends in the process.

But just like writing the dang book, it's a long process that takes patience. Sticking to making the novel is important. Sticking to making the friends to help the novel get to your adoring public is also just as important.

Dangers of writing late

I just wrapped up my 1,000 words, and it's creeping on 2 a.m. in my neck o' the woods.

Yes, it's late. I know. The snoring dog and test pattern on the TV will attest to that. I should be relieved I stuck to my plan and got in my daily dose of words, right? Well, not so fast, my friends.

That last session was a really good one. I finished another chapter, so there was the sense of double accomplishment. Those 1,326 words felt so good, in fact, that I immediately read through the the chapter again and did a quick lil' editing session, too. And I'm pumped about it.

And there's the ol' Catch-22. I'm relieved to be done so I can go to bed. But hitting the sack right now would be an exercise in futility. I'd just lie awake because of what I was just able to accomplish. I'm still a little jazzed up.

In case you haven't read, I'm a reporter by trade right now. These kinds of accomplishments are akin to hammering out a good, complete story under the gun and getting it in just under deadline. There is an adrenaline rush that makes you turn into a box of Mexican jumping beans.

But that's part of the draw of being a reporter, at least for this fella. Part of the reason I want to write a novel is for that same type of rush, so bring it on, no matter the hour. It does wonders for my confidence, even if it cuts into my sheep counting.

It may be 2 a.m., but I'm still enjoying what I just accomplished. Yeah, I'll be tired tomorrow, but I don't have to be at work until around noon (silver lining, right?).

Maybe I'll end up taking a nap, which could lead to knocking my sleep schedule out of whack again, which could lead to me being up at 2 a.m. again tomorrow doing more cartwheels about writing.

Isn't this fun?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Wanted: More hours in a day

I'm a reporter. A sports reporter. I love reporting. I love sports. But come on, here. I just started a novel!

With the school year starting, that means my schedule is going to get a little wackier than the laid back summer schedule of only working 50 hours per week.

The problem with that is that there are only 24 hours in a day. If some one could find a way to bump that up to around 26, that would be ideal. Just take my suggestion into consideration.

The problem lies in this: I have dedicated myself to typing 1,000 words per day on the novel (at the very least), and I don't want to turn myself into a liar. I also don't want something as silly as my job getting in the way of my book.

Colleen Lindsay wrote a great post on her blog, The Swivet (see links on the right) about life getting in the way of her duties as a literary agent. That means I'm going to have to do some planning.

It may not sound like a big deal, but sticking to your guns when working on something like this might be the most important aspect. Even more so than character development and dialogue and plot and everything else. None of that other stuff happens if you're not writing everyday.

Making time will go from scheduling ahead, or just cramming in my 1,000 words whenever possible. I would like to do it all in one sitting, but I'm not going to get picky if I'm in a pinch.

I have no problem shirking sleep at night. I'm used to doing that anyway, because I love naps. Besides, the people around me are used to me being cranky during the week anyway.

Monday, August 24, 2009


I know I'm not the first person to go through this, but man, writing dialogue can really suck sometimes, and that's what my day was filled with today.

Does what these characters say in my head make sense when I type it out? All I know is that the dog has to be sick of hearing these conversations when I blurt them out to him.

Making dialogue realistic isn't the hardest part for me, it's making it dynamic. I know how people talk, and I know what I want them to get across in a particular moment in time in my writing. However, no two people really talk the same.

Sure, we all speak English (or at least the characters in my novel speak English). But the way we talk isn't all the same - even if your novel is set in a small town. There are similarities in local vernacular, but how do I keep the voices from sounding like the same person is talking back and forth?

I don't want my dialogue to read like it's me saying both parts to my dog. Who the hell wants to read that? Certainly not my dog.

If there is anything I've edited more than anything else, it has been my dialogue. I can say whatever I want in my prose, but if it's important enough for somebody in my book to speak it out loud, I better make sure that what is being said is believeable and true to that character. If I want it to just be me saying it, I'll just throw it in my writing.

Besides, I get to say enough in my book already. Maybe I should give the characters a turn to speak their mind. Sheesh.

Check out that girl...

I'm not close to sending anything off to a publisher just yet, but there is more than enough helpful information for aspiring young authors out there.

And most of it comes from agent Rachelle Gardner. Here is a link to her blog. And it's a fantastic blog, at that.

I'm tossing it up there today because her post from this morning is especially grand for budding novelists like yours truly. You can also follow Gardner on twitter @RachelleGardner.

If you're a writer of any kind, you would do yourself a couple of huge favors by adding both of those links to your favorites. Read her stuff, then read it again.

Not batting 1.000

I had been on a hot streak lately, but yesterday was a drag. It was a struggle just plowing through my 1,000 words, and when I read through some of the stuff today, I didn't like maybe 998 of them.

That's fine with me because I still learned something. I'm still wandering through the woods in this process, and now I need to find an alternate route out of the forest. That's all.

I was going to write this morning, but canned the session and decided to do edited instead. I've also come up with some new ideas, and I'll try to tackle some of those as I move along tonight. I plan on getting my writing done tonight, and I'm hoping for a long session that generates at least 1,500 words.

Every day isn't going to be a real whammer where you hammer out a whole chapter in 15 minutes. But I know it's still there, and I still have confidence that my idea is strong.

I just need a little extra time in the batting cage today, that's all.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


I was emailing back and forth with a buddy of mine this weekend, and heard something (well, there were a few interesting things, as usual) that kind of surprised me.

One of the smartest people I know, and they said they had a tough time writing lately because they felt like they didn't have anything to saw.

Bollocks. We all have something to say.

We all have something to say. That just goes to show that everybody goes through the feeling of writer's block, and everybody has a bit of insecurity about their writing.

I get discouraged sometimes, too. If there is one bit of advice that I've learned to get through those times, here it is: This is YOUR novel. You're writing if for yourself first. Don't think of it as telling anybody a story just yet. You're telling you first, everybody else is just lucky to read it when you're done.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Make that a tripleheader

When you're on a roll, you're on a roll.

Last night's late night rockathon led to this morning's solid session. I felt so darn good after work that I skipped my nap (pause so those who know me can gasp) to get some more work done. The result? Another cool grand on the total and I wrapped up a chapter.

Lesson learned from the last two days: Don't stop just because you hit your quota of words. If there is more gas left in the tank to get to the next filling station, might as well push it.

Once again, this goes back to confidence. I'm finding out where my limits are, and where I work the best. To me, that's just as important as any killer sentence I typed today (and I did have a couple, thank ya, thank ya).

Am I always going to be able to rank out 2,200 words per day like I did today? Nope. Not right now anyway, and I don't care. That's why I'm enjoying these days whenever I get the chance to pull one off.


In the interest of getting into my aforementioned routine, I got up this morning and tried to crank out my 1,000 words while I was still rubbing the sleep out of my eyes.

Writing, then sleeping, then waking up and immediately writing some more can be a daunting task because one of two things will happen. Either you were on a roll and that roll continues from the night before, or you weren't on a roll, and your hitting slump trudges on through another day.

I was really happy with what I was able to come up with last night, so getting back at the keyboard was easy this morning. Funny how that works, huh?

When the good ideas are rolling, don't stop sitting at the keyboard until you've squeezed every last drop out of the damn thing. That's what's been working for me.

Besides, when you've squeezed that good idea sponge dry, that just leaves more room for more good stuff to get in there.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Stick to your guns!

I am a working stiff. I admit it. Worst part? I write 1,000s of words per day for my bill-paying gig as a reporter.

That leaves room for some burnout when it comes to the writing department. For me, that's no excuse to shirk the dream. I burn hours staring at the glowing cube of this laptop screen each day for work. Don't I at least owe it myself to spend an hour or two (at least) staring at this screen doing something I like?

That doesn't mean it isn't tough some days.

I'm trying to crank out my 1,000 words per day on the novel shortly after I get up, so I can get the creative juices used to flowing at the same time each day. Get in a routine, and then the muse will know when to show up for work each day, they say. (Who 'they' are remains to be seen, as I've never met 'them.') Sounds like good advice, so I may as well give it a whirl, right?

Still, there are days (like this one) where I don't get that writing in right away in the morning. That's why there might be coffee going at midnight at the Collins residence. I'm GOING to get those words in tonight.

Sure, I'm a little tired, but I'm also amped to be working on something I love. Can't lose sight of that.

Double-edged sword

Is it bad when you're working your real job, dealing with real people, and all you can think about is people that don't exist?

The book is on the brain lots these days (hence the starting of a blog and all that jazz), and all I seem to think about is these damn characters in my book. Especially the guys that are losers.

Some people say that the best thing about writing fiction is that there are no rules. That it's all in your head and you can go where ever you want. Well that's a sticky wicket, all right. I feel like anybody can write fictional characters. Writing fictional characters that make sense and play nice (or not so nice) with others is the trick. Like any trick, though, figuring out how its done can be as frustrating as it can be fun.

Sure, I can write them however I want and put them where ever I want. Yippee for me. I'm finding that the characters aren't the actual people. Real character writing comes when they bump into each other.

Does this make sense?

One of the things I'm most terrified of right now is that my stuff isn't going to fit together the way I want it to.

When I first started writing this book, I just hammered out ideas when they came to me and figured I'd worry about where they fit later. I'm not quite to the point where I'm going to have to sit down at the kitchen table and slap together a jigsaw puzzle, but I can see that closing in.

Where is the perfect spot for these once fantastic ideas? How do I make sure that this reads like one stream instead of a bunch of ponds all connected together?

The most important thing to me is the story, so making sure that's connected is priority numero uno right now. The stuff I've written that is just floating around is going to get more important now that I'm getting deeper into this, because I have to make sure I slap it in the right spot.

I guess no one said this was going to be easy. Sigh.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Confidence is cool

I was able to hammer out about 2,300 words today, which is a great day by my standards.

These are the days that are the best when going through this process. I love writing, and I love how it feels to whip together a great sentence that speaks to you instead of just reads well. But when things really seem to take shape over a work session is the most rewarding thing.

When a kid turns a big blob of PlayDoh into (what he or she thinks is) a car or something, that's the best part. It might not look like much to everybody else, but they know what it is.

I don't know how many of those words are going to be hanging around when the ax comes down between first and second drafts, but I'm not worrying about that now.

Throughout this process, I've found out that confidence has a lot to do with it. There are going to be days where I feel like I was walking uphill through knee-deep oatmeal. Those days suck. But days where you are able to get a lot of something done are the days you have to remember.

Confidence is everything, I'm starting to believe. When you feel good about what you're doing, you're just going to write better. At least that's how it works with me anyway. It's not like I'm going to quit after the bad days, but these good days are the ones that have me where I can't wait to get back to it later.

And anything that keeps me stuck to the work is more than welcome.

Characters with character

The toughest thing, for me, in the early stages of this novel is making sure that my characters aren't cardboard cutouts. I know that making them dynamic is a process that goes throughout the whole book, but some characters have to be static, and some have to be dynamic.

What I'm struggling with today is 'Would this guy actually say that?' or 'How on earth would this guy say that?' I don't want all of my characters to sound like they're using the same voice, so this has been a difficult juggling act for me at times. I know who I want to go where and say what while they're going there, but how subtle does that character's voice change as he gets moving in the right direction?

Sure, this is the tough part, but it's also the fun part, too. Just like anybody, I want to see my characters grow throughout a book - especially one that's coming out of my head.

The most helpful thing I've found in this situation is to not force the character's voice into bulky, awkward dialogue. Instead, I listen to what the characters are telling me in my head. ('NO! I wouldn't say that!' or 'Yeah, that's the ticket.')

This was just a little break from the progress, so I'd best get back to work.

Days off are not days off

Ah, the day off from work. It's everyone's favorite day of the week. I love it because it actually allows me to get some real work done.

I have found that if I work on the novel every day (that's every single day. no days off from the book), more gets done in it. I shoot for 1,000 words per day at the very least. On days off, I get a little more zealous, and try to get between 2,000-3,000 words on those days.

I figure I owe myself the overblown number, since my days off are often the only days I have in the house with zero distractions. Well, zero distractions after the dog and the occasional buzz from the washer and dryer.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Every journey begins...

Here is my first step.
I have long been a lover of writing and of fiction, but I'm trying to take my own fiction writing to the next level, and I figured this would be as good an outlet as any to get a few things off my chest when entering the world of creating a novel.

I have worked for newspapers for the last 17 years, but this new direction has me feeling like a bear cub sticking his head out of the cave for the first time.

My book has already been started, but it's in the very early stages. The rest of the trip will be updated on here as often as I come up with ideas, run into hurdles and - of course - go through the process of writing.

My hopes for this blog are to provide a glimpse into my progress (and my process) in my tiny little cube of the writing universe. Maybe I'll help some other writers. Maybe some other writers will help me. I hope there's a lot of both.