Friday, June 12, 2015

#WriteWeird pt. 1- Writing the Words

#WriteWeird is a brainchild of Toby Price, Rusul Alrubail, and myself supported and egged on by others. It came about because I wrote two books and that means people think I know how to write books. I try to be friendly, which means people feel comfortable asking me for help writing. I like that. I'm a teacher, helping people is pretty much what I do. That and shouting at children. And I love writing, so helping people write is a bigger bonus. And as an even bigger bonus, I have smart, funny friends who have a lot to say, so helping them write means I'm helping myself because I get to get a bigger chunk of their words in my eyeholes. 

What I'm saying is this whole thing is a selfish endeavor. 

The plan for #WriteWeird is this- I'm going to write two blogs covering a lot of what I know and I've learned about writing a book, getting it published, and helping people find it. There will be one (at least) formal twitter chat about writing and getting published under the hashtag #WriteWeird. Date and time are to be determined. After that the #WriteWeird hashtag will exist for us as a writer's circle. A place to post links to pieces, get feedback, and ask for help, advice, encouragement, and money.

Part One- Writing the Words

I want to note that all of this advice is built on things that work for me. It's what I've found after two published books, two unfinished books, and too many blog posts/articles to count. Your mileage may vary.

The fun part of writing is writing. Being alone in my head letting the words out. Finding phrases, sentences, and thoughts I didn't know I thought until I saw them in front of me. Making myself laugh, which I do way more often than I should admit. Because I write for the same reason Ivan Drago fights. For me! You're not going to get rich writing your book. Don't aim for that. You never can tell what people will buy. A woman who write Twilight fanfic is a multi-millionaire, book sales don't make any sense. Don't try to capture the zeitgeist. Write the words in your heart and in your head. Write for you. That I have a small audience at the moment is a wonderful thing, but I did this when no one was listening and I'll be doing it long after everyone has stopped clicking my links. I have to write.

And that's my first piece of advice. You have to have to write. It's too hard otherwise. Yes, writing is fun. But it's hard. It takes forever and sometimes it seems like it'll never end. Sometimes the words don't come and the words that have come are dripping with Stupid and no one will ever want to read this and what's wrong with you you ego-case, thinking people want to hear what you have to say and look you don't even have anything to say.

This is hard. So you have to love doing it. Because you're not always going to want to. You're going to have to. Writing is a need. I think most art is a need. Yes, art. I think of this as an art. I can't paint or sing but I can write and to me that's just as cool. I think in words, but those words create pictures and music in my head. Writing is an art and art isn't easy. So if you want to write a book you have to need to write a book. The Need is what will get you through the doubt.

You have to write every day. I'm a father of two with a full-time job, so I know exactly how ridiculous that sounds. It's not about finding time. It's about making it. You're going to sacrifice sleep or gaming time or TV time or reading time or a work out or all of the above because you need to try to create something every day. The only way to make progress is to keep putting one foot in front of the other. The some of best advice about getting through the Writer's Block I've ever heard came from Tom Lennon on the Nerdist podcast (you should listen to the whole thing because they are hilarious, and I just spent ten minutes scrolling through it trying to find the quote to give you a timestamp and I can't find it) who said, and I'm paraquoting, "If you don't feel like writing, just don't. Don't write. This is not for you."And he's mostly right. You carve out a block of time that is your Writing Time and then you write within it. If you can't think of anything you need to fake it. We ain't got time to be blocked. Write crap and let it be crap. Crap is good. It's a first draft, it's supposed to be full of crap. Crap gives you something to cull through to find the diamond.

Let me mix my metaphor here, and I stole this from someone but I don't remember who- A book is a statue. The first draft is the block of marble you carve the book out of. If you don't first do the mining to get the marble you'll never be able to carve the story out. No one will ever seen the block of marble. It's not fair to look at the block of marble that was the David before it was the David and say, "This is awful! It barely looks like anything!" Your first draft is the words you use to create something. But you have to work and sweat to find those words.

Sometimes you'll need a break. For me it's exercise. Getting up and out of the house, moving around. Or riding my motorcycle. Phrases, ideas hit me all the time when I am least able to do anything about them. Often the inside of my helmet is full of me repeating a phrase out loud until I find a place to stop and write it in the Color Note app on my phone. These breaks don't happen during my writing time, though. These are done because I know writing time is coming and I can feel that help will be needed.

Those are what I key in on, by the way. Rarely do fully formed paragraphs come into my head. I get a sentence, or a piece of a sentence, or a funny or clever phrase, and everything gets built on that. That's my process. And it's worked for my for long enough that now I trust it. You have to trust your process, but you have to write enough to know what your process is. Write every day. I write until I'm out of words for the day. Some people write for a set time period. Some people write to fulfill a self-imposed word count.

I organized both books by chapter first. You'll notice that neither He's the Weird Teacher nor THE Teaching Text (You're Welcome) have long chapters. They average around two thousand words. Some are a little longer, not many are shorter. I've found that's about as long as it takes me to fully express the thought. I didn't know that when I started He's the Weird Teacher. All I had to start what a chapter list. "This is what I want to cover." A bunch of bullet points. This is my road map, but it's a living guide. It changed constantly, all the way through the final draft. I'd have ideas and add them. I'd be writing and realize that this idea folds nicely into that idea so they get put together now, but this idea doesn't have the legs to sustain itself so I need to find a way to put it somewhere else, flesh it out, or chuck it. And the book grew.

A "normal" novel is 50,000 words long, at least. Traditional publishers won't call it a "novel" unless it's that long, and they won't look at it if it's over 150,000 unless your name starts with S and ends with tephen King. it's expensive to print a big book like that. Ebooks will probably change this, but we'll get to that in the publishing post. Word count is something I didn't know when I started. I was sweating page count, but page count doesn't matter. Once it's formatted for print the page count goes out the window. Stop watching the page count and start caring about word count.

This next piece of advice is all me. An author I love named Warren Ellis does it differently. Maybe his way works better for you.

I don't go back and edit until I'm done. I try not to edit while I'm writing, past dumb things like spelling and punctuation and simple clarity. Editing takes time. I'm getting the first draft done. Editing makes you second guess, and we don't have time for that nonsense. So I write and write and write and write. I get done or what I feel is done. With both books I got all the way to what I thought was the end before I started making editing passes. Warren Ellis, who is a professional writer of wonderful comic books and novels, says he spends the first part of his writing day looking over what he wrote yesterday and "taking out the stupid." Maybe that works better for you. I prefer to find the stupid after it's had a chance to sit for a while. Unless something pops into my brain and I need to fix it right now right away.

Once I'm done with the first draft I take at least three passes. I'll get into editing more in the publishing blog, but as an independently published author I have to pay for an editor. Editors are expensive. I don't have the coin. So I check it and, because the writer always misses things in his/her own writing, I give it to some well-meaning, helpful friends I trust to also edit it.

This is where we form the book. A lot of writers say that the editing is where the writing actually happens. You fix the stupid, you cycle through the wonderful roller coaster of  "This is awesome, this is terrible, no one will read this, I suck, this might be ok," every day. You hold on to that because you trust that when you're done it will turn out good. You are hard on yourself first. Do not be precious with your writing. This is the hardest part for me. Cutting. Dropping things. I'm really bad at it. I'm sure my books have fluff that a "real" editor would cut out. Some writing advice says, "Cut until you cannot cut another word." I can't do that. But that's not really my style either. My voice isn't as clean as all that.

Have friends suggest cuts. Don't take them personally. Let others tell you where they are confused, where something doesn't work, and what jokes don't land. Funny thing about trying to write funny- sometime things are only funny to you because there's all kinds of stuff in your head giving it background. Other people don't get it. You choose how much you care about that. I'm split on it. There's references is both my books that literally three other people on Earth will laugh at. I'm ok with that because they don't screw up the flow. I'm not highlighting them. To you it's just a slightly odd turn of phrase. To three friends from high school it's a brilliant callback ten years old.

Trust your process. Write every day. Don't be afraid of the crap. You need to write rubbish so you can find your book. Aim for word count, not pages.

Trust your voice.

Trust your process.

Write for you.

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