#IWSG March 2017 – My Teaching Begins

Welcome folks with the Insecure Writers Support Group and all my visitors.

This promises to be a busy month, as I’m off vacation and back to work as a teacher. I’ll be teaching ESL to university freshman as I continue hammering out my novel, Far Flung!

I love the question for this month,

Have you ever pulled out a really old story and reworked it? Did it work out?

Uh, that’s what I’m doing, basically. I tried Far Flung as serial fiction, but my results were not so great. I made the mistake of rushing out the chapters instead of prescheduling – I was too eager to get it out after so many years of being an aspiring author.

What I’m working on now is based heavily on the chapters I released freely earlier. What I released is still available, but might not be for much longer. I will soon replace it with preview chapters for the novel I’m working on. It will be so different, I’m confident people will want this book when it is finished. Characters are deeper, there’s a lot more danger and action, and the story is just better. I expect to have a major announcement regarding my progress later this year.

It’s wonderful to work on this, and in the meantime I’ve been able to do things like help compile another book for the Busan Writer’s Group, and I’ve prescheduled some cool new content for Write, or Else!

Starting next week, some new writing exercises will go up on this blog. These exercises are based off the fiction writing curriculum I made for my advanced ESL students, and should help new writers get started. The first post goes up on Tuesday, March 7 – I hope you stop by when it goes up.

How about you – did you ever dig up an old story and revisit it?

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Write What You Know? – #IWSG Post Prompt

This is my January post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.

Late by my clock, but hey, it’s still Wednesday is some parts of the world!

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The prompt for this month is What writing rule do you wish you’d never heard?

Write what you know.

Oh yeah, I’m gunning for the big one – which is odd, because I teach this rule in my writing classes for ESL students.

It is a deceptive rule, because it makes you think you should write only from personal experience. Now, do you suppose J.K. Rowling ever actually went to a wizarding school? Did P.L. Travers really have a magical nanny? You think George R.R. Martin ever found himself at a wedding that went horribly, violently wrong?

Probably not. But those writers knew people and knew history. They filled in gaps in their knowledge by researching and talking to people. They blended in their own experiences along with facts and experiences learned from others.

If writers only wrote what they knew, every book would be about a struggling writer, trying to make words flow across the page while wondering how the heck they’ll pay for their next meal. Every character would be just like the author (only far more handsome or beautiful, of course). Conflicts would involve overcoming writer’s block, the quest to find an outlet for an outdated laptop, or the constant paradox of needing to talk to people but being hopelessly introverted. (I love stereotypes, don’t you?)

I humbly propose a revision to the old rule:

Start with what you know.

This is the way I wish it had been taught to me. It’s a far more accurate for the stories I think are my best – I started with an event or situation I knew and worked from there. Characters were based on people I met, though I’ll admit that my main protagonist is often very close to being me. But I never stumbled across a family secret so horrible as that in Painted Blue Eyes, nor did I ever experience a car wreck so bad as the one that kicks off The Door I Chose. I had similar experiences, and I talked to family members and friends who had such experiences. And I picked up from books, TV shows, movies, plays, musicals, and so many other sources. I imagine that successful, best-selling authors will tell you the same thing – they experienced events somewhat similar, or learned of events that they fictionalized. They met people very similar to the ones in their books, or borrowed traits from characters in other media.

Can we all start teaching the rule this way instead?


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Writing Past Apathy, Part 2

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Just a quick post today to reaffirm that I am addressing this apathy problem of mine.

Heh, I see the irony in that – one could say I don’t care enough to make a full post…

Here are some of the avenues my questioning mind has taken over the last week:

Are Writers More Likely to Get Burned Out?

You see, I think some writers may be especially prone to anxiety, apathy, or depression because of some basic contradictions that plague our work.

I have to write about other people facing problems and living their lives, but I’m shy and awkward around real people.

I have to get exercise and eat healthy food, both of which are imposing tasks to someone who needs to sit down and write, dammit.

I have to travel, explore new places and see new things to fuel my fiction, but I have a family and a tight budget.

I wonder if some writers give up on their dreams because these contradictions just seem too much.

How Much Does Diet Affect Writing?

This has come into my mind as an important question. I’m pretty sure a writer must be profoundly affected by diet and exercise – there’s a lot of research out there that shows how diet affects cognition. I love junk food (is this a thing with authors?), and the research says fast food and junk food are every bit as bad for the brain as they are for the body. In my case, I’m pretty sure now that junk food makes me more irritable and withdrawn (even on top of my usual introversion), so I’m thinking that my current frustration and burnout has a lot to do with the “fuel” I provide myself with for long writing sessions.

How Does One Keep Writing in a Bad Relationship?

I won’t blame my lack of writing recently on my bad relationship – that makes it sound like I’m not at fault. I’ve fallen into a trap – one I think is the most common trap of all. I like to blame things on my ‘bad relationship’ when there has been so much I’ve done or neglected to do that made this relationship bad. I also won’t blame myself as the sole reason for everything being bad. The growing distance between my wife and I came from things we both did and didn’t do.

While my wife and I work through this, I still need ways to write. There’s a good post here about how to keep blogging when things go to shit, and it looks like a good place to start. I also find myself writing about the problems I have with my wife in a private notebook, and I have to say, just taking constant measure of the problems seems to help a lot.

 

My next post will be the monthly Insecure Writer’s Support Group post for Wednesday, September 7. I think I’ll choose one of the three avenues I’m thinking about here and expand on it. Maybe the IWSG folks will have some thoughts to add, too.

#IWSG – Delaying one project for another

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I really wanted to get work done on Far Flung in May! That was the plan!

But then a juicy opportunity to write something for a project called Bound came along. I’ve been in talks with two of the people behind Bound, and I’ve been working on a potential story that could use the mobile fiction platform they are developing. The story I’ve been planning out is entirely different from Far Flung, but something that’s been in my head for far longer.

I learned something interesting about myself as a writer – I handle the news that somebody is interested in my writing and wants more almost as poorly as I handle rejection!

After I learned that Bound was interested, I went through weird stages of nervous anticipation, and I had great difficulty reading books or listening to audiobooks. Obsession with planning a good outline and producing something good took over, it was hard to think about anything else. Far Flung got placed firmly on the back burner – I barely even tried to work on it while this exciting new possibility filled my head.

For the Insecure Writer’s Support Group: How well do you handle multiple writing projects? Do you find that one story-in-progress simply takes up too much mental real estate?

As for me, I find out in another week or two what will happen. The idea I was obsessed with for May has been submitted for consideration, and I just have to wait and see what they say. Maybe I can get back to Far Flung for a bit. Maybe I’ll read a book or two. One thing’s for sure – it’ll be a tough wait.

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#IWSG #AtoZChallenge – A follow-up to my 2nd A-to-Z Challenge

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It was an interesting and fun month!

I did an A-to-Z challenge back in 2014 with a fantasy theme. At the time I had a fantasy novel on my mind, but I lacked the drive I needed to really get it finished. I ended up with a blog full of scary fantasy creatures, but no writing to show how I was using them.

This year, I’m happy to say, things were very different. I have Far Flung in the works, a serial science fiction story that I am releasing on my other blog, piece by piece. Less than a week before the A-to-Z challenge was about to start, I realized something. I was too late for the theme reveal, but I could still do it. I could tie in A-to-Z with my serial fiction, and get A-to-Z to help me with research!

I decided to do the A-to-Z Challenge with a sci-fi theme. Will I use all those sci-fi ideas in Far Flung? Probably not. But I’ll use a lot of them. It certainly doesn’t hurt to know that much more about this genre I claim I can write in!

One downside, I suppose, was that I was late posting the latest chapter for Far Flung. I haven’t been super strict about its release schedule (something I need to change about myself) but I still want to get two parts out every month. Now I think I need a break from Far Flung – I’ve been writing it as I go so far, with most of the planning in my head. Not a great way to work, I know, but it’s kept me writing at least. However, I desperately need a buffer of three or four chapters of Far Flung before I post the next one.

That is my key lesson from A-to-Z – the importance of researching and pre-scheduling posts! So I’m taking a month away from posting Far Flung, but that won’t mean I’m not working on it!

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I love what I’ve seen from other A-to-Z folks.

There were a lot of great thoughts on writing over at CR Ward’s Writing Journal, Liz Brownlee wrote poetry every day over at her blog, and Ally Bean made me hungry with humorous posts about food. Of course there were many, many more participants, so be sure to stop by some of their blogs.

Thanks to everyone in both IWSG and the A-to-Z Challenge. You are wonderful communities to share with!

 

 

#IWSG December 2015 – Writing in Sickness and in Health

One of the hardest things about writing is doing it e.v.e.r.y. d.a.y., no matter what.

I’m a father, a full-time teacher, a part-time tutor, a weekend teacher, a member of a good writing group, AND a writer. I’m sorry to say that yes, several days can go by when I do not write fiction. Now, I do make an effort to at least read various stories, especially those on Jukepop, where I’m trying to make a splash.

I like to think that writing reviews and blog posts “counts” as writing, and that reading is every bit as important as writing. As long as I do something that furthers my dream of being a full-time author, every single day. Even today, when I’m coughing like crazy, falling asleep in my chair, and faced with a huge stack of emails from the Creative Writing ESL class I teach at my full-time job.

I’ve been taking my time on my current serial, but this has also meant that the social side – the reviewing, following up, and promotion that I have to do to keep it alive – has fallen behind. I’m sick, darn it! Yeah, well – that old excuse just don’t cut it in the writing world, eh?

For the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, I’d like to ask:

Do you “count” your blogging in with your writing, or do you feel you have to write some bit of fiction, every day, no matter what? How do you handle sick days – would you say it’s better to slug it out, or give yourself a bit of a rest?

Well, happy writing folks. I gotta take my medicine…

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Busan Writing Group, June 17 – Pitches, please!

This week we looked at pitches for stories – the 250-word summary of a story that a writer has to compose to get the attention of agents and publishers.

The Busan Writing Group first took a look at pitches written by one of our members. The stories looked awesome – some of them were ones we’ve run through our critique process before. The main difficulty with the pitches was the complexity – there was a lot going on, and it was difficult to boil down the most important info into 250 words.

We then looked over the most popular choices for Pitchapalooza 2015, over at the Book Doctors. Popular votes from readers favored the weird and offbeat. The key to gaining votes seemed to be setting up a weird or creepy situation right at the start, or to present an everyday situation and then have a quick twist that makes it weird.

Last, we looked over the winners of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards. These winning pitches were simple and to the point, clearly outlying what to expect in the story. When weirdness entered into these pitches, it was clearly integrated – we found we could easily understand how the unusual factors really affect the characters. This was key to any appreciation of the pitches – for fantasy or sci-fi elements to mean anything and sell the story, we have to know what those elements mean to the characters who have to deal with them.

My general takeaway from all this:

It’s damn hard to simplify a story and get the most important details across in a meaningful way. However, that is the exact skill needed for a great pitch – the skill of delivering major plot points, along with how they affect relatable characters, in a quick, simple way.

Easy to see why it’s so damn hard, huh?

 

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