Thursday, June 28, 2012

You Can't Edit Enough

Lately, I have been selecting posts from my blog to post on fb. I try to chose ones that have themes that can be applied to things other than writing or to life in general.
     Like most writers, I edit everything I write. I sometimes have to force myself to use common abbreviations when texting or posting things on fb, but whenever I can I spell everything out correctly, use proper punctuation and grammar. Unless I'm tired or in a hurry, I meticulously re-read and edit even my short, personal emails.
     So when I read each blog post as I am considering which ones to choose for fb, I am always surprised to have to edit them - again. I find punctuation, spelling and grammar errors, typos and awkward sentences.
    We never stop learning how to write better , but our editing skills must improve continuously as well.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

When Bad Is Good

My last post was about writers growing and improving their skills. It is sometimes hard for people to see improvement in their own work.
    Most writers look back on their early work and are appalled at how bad it is. As writers, we find it hard to believe that when we produced the writing that we look back on as awful, we thought it was really good at the time we wrote it.
   We always view it in terms of how bad it was then. I don't recall ever hearing a fellow writer say, "When I read my writing/stories from years ago, I'm amazed at how much better my writing is now." - which is how we should look at it.
    Writers also need to recognize that the writing they look back on and see as "awful" and remember thinking it was really good, probably was really good, if they were writing to the best of their ability at that time. Even if our early work was not our best writing, it was still good in the sense that it helped us practice and learn to a point where we appreciate that we are better writers now than we used to be.

Friday, June 22, 2012


   I mentioned in my last post that I am currently reading Eragon, by Christoper Paolini. It has been out for a long time and he has written a few more books in the series. I remember people talking about what a great book it is.
    It's a good book. It's holding my interest. The story is not unusual and the writing isn't exceptional. There's nothing really phenomenal about it, except for why people talked so much about it:  it was written by a nineteen-year-old.
    That fact is more incredible to a writer than to the average reader. Even great writers could not write so well at that age, no matter what age they started writing. It takes most of us decades of writing consistently and learning how to improve before we can produce the kind of writing in Eragon.
     What is really making me want to finish this book is so I can read the next one. Because the next book is sure to be better, and the next one better than that. And I love to see how writers grow and improve with experience.
    I remember being very aware of this in Jim Butcher's Dresden series. I don't think the first Harry Dresden book was Butcher's first novel, but it was truly great. Even so, I noticed a marked improvement in the writing - all aspects of it - in the next few books. And they just keep getting better.
     Another example is Charlaine Harris, best known for her Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampire Novels. They are consistently great. But she published two mystery series before starting Sookie; the Shakespeare Series and the Aurora Teagarden books. I've read all of them and, even from the perspective of one of her biggest fans, the Shakespeare books are mediocre. The Aurora Teagarden books are good, but not anything special. But again, I loved seeing the author's growth as a writer over the years.
     It's important to keep in mind that no matter where we are in our profession and what our skill level is, we can continue to grow and get better if we keep learning and practicing.  This is true for writing or anything else.  Sometimes it's hard to see our own improvement, so being able to recognize it others can keep us inspired.



Tuesday, June 19, 2012

More Good Books

On the recommendation of a friend, I have just finished reading Joe Hill's "Horns". The story was good and extremely well written, but not my kind of thing. I did really enjoy Hill's "20th Century Ghosts", an eclectic group of short stories.
     I have also just finished The Hunger Games, which I loved and I can't wait to read the rest of the series. This is a book I put off reading - like many that I ignored the hype about, because I figure if the masses love it, I probably won't. Which is ridiculous, since I ended up liking (among other titles I can't call to mind at the moment) Harry Potter and The Percy Jackson Series - both also written for YA, but loved by readers of every age. If you haven't read The Hunger Games, give it a try.
    I am in the middle of reading Stephen King's latest tome, 11/22/63 (also on the recommendation of a friend) and it is really good. I have just started reading Eragon, another YA phenomenon that went mainstream that I never got around to reading when everyone was raving about it.
    Not long ago I read the latest in the Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampire Series by Charlaine Harris, which was as consistently enjoyable as all the previous books in the series. I can think of a few other authors could take lessons from Harris on how to do that.
    I received an email the other day telling me that the new Janet Evanovich title in the "Wicked" something series is about to be released. I read the first one and it is a fun if frivolous story and I am looking forward to the next one.
    Like many bibliophiles, I sometimes get anxious when there are many new (and old) books that I want to read, but that is preferable to (those very rare times of) not having any new reading to look forward to.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Just Start

I recently came across a  Gene Rebeck review of a book called "Just Start", by Leonard A. Schlesinger,  Charles F. Keifer and Paul B. Brown. It is a business book that I doubt says anything of great interest to writers.
     However, the review said the general premise of the book is that a person can't get a business idea off the ground if they try to think out everything ahead of time. And I think that is an idea that could be very useful to anyone starting or planning a large writing project.
     With a short story, you may be able to work out all the details before you begin writing. With a novel you can only plan so much. Experienced novel writers know that however much you plan your book in advance, that plan will start to change almost immediately.
     In regard to starting a business, this book tells the reader you have to be flexible and adjust as you go along. This is also very true of writing a book. Many beginning writers have trouble getting started because they don't think they are "ready". You have to "Just Start" or it's possible you never will.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

And You Will Outline!

Our writers' group watched another section of a video of William Bernhardt's seminar on novel writing. Several times during his amusing and informative talk he mentioned outlining, always followed by the statement, "and you will outline." According to Bernhardt, all novelists outline, even those that claim they don't. He offered the opinion that some writers think that admitting to using an outline suggests a lack of creativity or spontaneity in their writing.
     I think it's true that all novelists outline in some form or fashion.  I don't see how anyone can write a fiction book without some kind of organizational method for keeping track of "what happens when" in the story. Many writers may not think of their system of notes as an outline, but it serves the same purpose.
    The word "outline" suggests having the plot of a book all planned out before the writing begins. Many writers do have a good enough idea about their book that they can create an outline first. But nearly all writers that do so will - and know they will -  make changes to the outline as the book progresses and deviates from the original.
     Authors who claim not to use an outline, or call their outline process something else, are more likely to be the ones that don't outline before they write; writers like myself, who don't know enough about where the story is going to lay it all out before hand.
    I call what I do a timeline. And I don't bother with it until I have a clear idea of what the main story events are, but not the best order. That's when I put each scene on an index card and move them around in different patterns to find the one that works best. Then I write out the order of scenes, so I can keep track of "what happens when" and adjust as necessary.
    So, yes, if you are writing a novel, you will outline. Even if you say you don't, you do - in your own way, however such a thing fits in you personal writing process.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Few Last Bits Of "Gratitude"

A few more (some of my favorites) writerly quotes from Todd Aaron Jensen's "On Gratitude":

"The impulse to tell stories is part of our species. There's a storytelling instinct in everyone." - Joyce Carol Oates

"I'm very grateful for all the long-term support of my readers, the pleasure they take in my books, and the generous way they express that to me. They are the unseen force in my life - people I've not met, for the most part, but who drive me and inspire me and move me deeply to always to better work." - Danielle Steele

"The nice thing abut fiction is it develops our ability to empathize. Literature makes us more human." - John Updike

"To stare at horizontal lines of phonetic symbols and Arabic numbers and to be able to put a show on in your head, it requires the reader to perform. If you can do it you can go whaling in the South Pacific with Herman Melville or you can watch Madame Bovary make a mess of her life in Paris. With pictures and movies, all you have to do is sit there and look at them and it happens to you. I am grateful to people who still concern themselves with the work of being readers." - Kurt Vonnegut

And a completely random quote:

"I'm very grateful Hawaii exists. I thank Hawaii every time I'm there. I really wish Hawaii would let me live there. I am a whining, screaming kid every time I have to leave." - Maya Rudolph

Monday, June 4, 2012

More "On Gratitude"

More quotes -informational, practical, motivational - mostly from writers, in Todd Aaron Jensen's book:

"I do a totally organic kind of writing, so the characters take the story to places I never anticipated. They have a certain kind of free will, and I get amazed all the time by where these stories go and how these characters respond to certain situations. I'm very grateful for this." - Dean Koontz

"I don't have any feelings about literature. First of all, I don't write in any literary style. I don't have the words. Or inclination." - Elmore Leonard

"I've come to this conclusion: it's better to work. And even if it is only crap, then honestly, you're just honing your craft. I think it's better to go out there and work. Work on your craft. Just do it." - Malcolm McDowell

"I love to read. Reading, especially good books, makes me excited and kind of restless, and I feel like I want to write, too." - Joyce Carol Oates

"I write something all the time. Inspiration comes from everything." - Dolly Parton

"One of the reasons I am a slow reader is that I hear every word out loud. I hook in best with fiction in which there is a musical quality, because I am hearing it." - Ann Rice

"I don't get paid without readers. So I appreciate that enduring fan base. It does keep me going. And for someone to take the time to say they like me. That's a blessing." - John Updike

"I tell everyone to practice some art, no matter how badly or how well. It doesn't matter. It's the experience of becoming - of creating - that truly matters." - Kurt Vonnegut

"The work ethic is simple. I told myself a long time ago - if you don't put your behind in that chair, you'll have to put it in someone else's chair. That settled that." - Danielle Steele