What Happened To Half The Battle?

ImageWell, it never fails. That moment in life when you are on the edge of completing a long arduous project, and the thing goes completely south on you? Yeah, you know that it’s happened to you before; hell, I’d imagine that it’s happened to the best of us. The trick though is persistence.

For me it’s about finishing a really long manuscript,only to find that the damn thing got a glitch when converting it to HTML for the ebook formatting; and now I have to re-read through the last half of the book paragraph by paragraph to catch all the places where the opening dialogue quotes are missing.

Talk about a serious pain in the ass!

This unfortunately is just life. Sure, it’d be gravy if every time we worked ourselves to the bone, we managed to get to the end goal without hiccup or disaster; or what the universe knows as Murphy’s Law! That rule that warns us: “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”

Is it a huge bother that I have to go back over the last 250,000 words of my novel line by line, or paragraph by paragraph? Sure it is. But there is a small consolation to it. I now get to find some of those pesky little annoyances that I probably should have paid better attention to during the editing processes. Nothing like a new, fresh set of eyes.

It’s About the Getting There

There is nothing like having a great New Year and starting it off with a great and fabulous cup of coffee! I should know, this is what I am doing right now. I’m also sitting here wondering what I’m going to do about making New Year Resolutions, and somewhere in the back of my mind, I am already thinking of ways that I can get out of them.

I’ve never really liked New Year Resolutions; they always seem to become one of those self-imposed orders and mandates that we struggle either to achieve or to hide somewhere, and in the end, we usually don’t get anything close to our goals accomplished. I for one get moody and gripey about having to perform and juggle in accordance with my resolutions, and I find that the ones I usually set, even the small easily obtainable ones are things that I shouldn’t resolve to do at the start of the year, but to do throughout the whole damn thing.

Never the less, it is a time of reflection, and perception, and I need to be able to perceive the things that need done in the days to come. So to that end, I will tentatively set down some goals rather than resolutions, and just shoot for those. Seems easier than making these ridiculous restrictions, and changes on myself that I know I’ll forget about as soon as I go to sleep tonight—just after I’ve posted about it on Facebook, and Tweeted it from the rooftops; making myself a grade A idiot.

My goals, are quite simple. I want to finish more writing. I know there are writers out there that can write circles around me, and I also know that there are some that can get some writing done in the time it takes for a snake to crawl the length of the garden. But I want to be able to get more done in a day, and be able to provide some real quality entertainment to my readers. I know all you guys and girls deserve it, and I want to deliver.

I also want to make more money.

Oh, come on, it’s not like that. I’m no millionaire looking to strike up more oil from the back yard; I just want to be able to provide for my family, and still be able to do the thing I love doing more that anything.

If there was one thing I would change about myself… not that there are that many I can and haven’t already learned to live with—I’d change my diet. I should eat a little better, but that isn’t really a resolution. It’s a strongly worded suggestion to myself, lest I become agitated and give myself a good ass kicking in a dark alley somewhere.

To all you readers, and fans that are stepping into the new year, may you be blessed, and may you achieve the goals that you set for your future, not only in this year, but the years to come.

The Discipline of Writing

I was reading over some messages from some followers on the internet, and one question struck me pretty deeply.

“A writer can gain knowledge, style and clarity, but how does one gain discipline in the craft?”

I read this late last night, and decided that it would be best to ponder my response. After all, we are all struggling with our own place in the writing world; we each have our own reasons for writing, and wanting to write, and to take it beyond that, and attempt to refine our skills through self-discipline was something I had never been asked. I can’t say that I am overly dedicated to the craft as I probably should be… so I didn’t want to just throw out any old answer.

Having given it some thought, my response was pretty simple. I said, “Two things: recognizing that writing is not a hobby, or a weekend warrior’s game; and having a strong sense of desperation.”

I may have said the first part to get some attention; but the second part is absolutely true. For a lot of writers, the craft of writing is something that they dabble at, or attempt at doing. However, somewhere in there between writing down a whimsical story in afternoons, or in the few precious hours we have after work is not the same as truly sitting down and pushing ourselves to write a novel, or composition from start to finish. I’m not making light of those that do write only when they have the time, but when it goes from being a hobby to a job, then it needs to be approached as such, and understood as such.

Writing for me is an act of desperation. From the first word, to the very last word. I am hammering out a path in my future that I willfully want to happen. I won’t eat, or have money for my family, to say nothing of bills if I don’t push it to happen. No one else is going to write this book for me; no one will stand over my shoulder and lead me through the hard parts, and coach me to do better. The burden of responsibility rests solely on my own shoulders.

At some point, it stops being a hobby, and becames the career. For many of us, that alone is the nudge that we need to be self-disciplined. That is the straight and narrow, and that is the defining point.

Cultivating Ideas

Sometimes when I am grouply conversing, I inevitably encounter a person that asks the question, “How do you come up with those stories?”

To be honest, I often feel as though it’s a loaded question. It’s certainly not one that I can answer with just one word; and I’ve come to realize that many people are only looking for a simple explanation of it, or they really aren’t interested, and are only passably making small talk.

One of the reasons though, that I feel the question is a loaded one, is because I can only speak for myself, and when I do, it often comes across as bragging. How does one convey the spark of creativity that we as authors have within us?

I have always been an advocate and proponent of writing; I firmly believe that anyone is capable of it, and with practice and time, can become great at it. I understand that many may feel as though they can’t write, and that they lack the one thing I am always being accused of having too much of: creative imagination. But you see, creativity and imagination are only a small part of it.

For me it always comes down to two more important aspects: ideas and observation. We need to be able to recognize the idea of a good story when one comes to us. Inspiration is a good tool, but like all tools can dull and lose its edge over time. As a writer, I am always on the lookout for a new idea; a new what if, so to speak. And the beautiful thing about ideas, is that they can come from anything, anyone, or anywhere. To offer an example, I was talking to a friend on my porch once, and we were going on about the proliferation of some specific genre that I felt was sucking the industry dry, and then he says to me, “You just have to come up with some new spin on that kind of story.”

Well, that’s easier said than done. I off-handedly remarked that, “Well, to something like that, I’d have to reinvent the freaking wheel, and do something absolutely stupid. Like making a Vampire story with robots.”

Now when I said those words, I had what I like to call, a “Writer’s Moment”, one of those small time- stoppers that causes me to stand still and mentally go back through the stenographer’s last sheet of paper, and make sure what was said was actually said. Sure enough it was a wild and crazy “what if” moment that had me suddenly fascinated and intrigued. Could a story be written about Vampires and Robots? Whose to say. But I know that I’ve learned to recognize those types of moments that come along and bring with them the fertile soil that is rich with all the minerals for planting a story. Continue reading

Clancy

I remember the first time I ever tried reading a Tom Clancy novel. I was twenty, and I was buying up as many books as I could get my hands on. One of his novels, Executive Orders was there; it seemed like a pretty hefty read, and I picked it up, unsure exactly what to expect. I knew the name Tom Clancy, as a child of the movies I was a fan of the successful film adaptation of The Hunt For Red October. What I was not expecting was a book so rich, so detailed and multi-faceted that it would take me years to comprehend the meat of it.

Sadly, I never became a huge fan of Tom Clancy’s writing. Not that it was bad… it was simply too good. He was a man that wrote technically, provocatively, ahead of his time. Where his characters could bombard through the story with ease, I was left with a clipboard of names, dates, scenarios and military information that educated me while it entertained. I felt like my head was about to explode at times from all the swelling it was doing after reading a few chapters.

This is a true testament to his abilities. Tom Clancy was a writer that married espionage and military together in the way that a science writer would merge technology and chaos. The works of Tom Clancy are more than the sum of video game spin-offs, board games and TV spots. No… his works are tomes of literature that chronicle the human condition, the drive, and force of civil service, and epics of mechanical and conventional ingenuity.

Today is a sad day for us all. His book is now closed, his story is over; the world has released another of its masters back into the greatness of eternity. God bless you Tom Clancy; you gave us so much. May the grace of God be on your loved ones, your family, friends, and those whose lives have been touched and uplifted by your endeavors.

Nothing is as real as a dream. The world can change around you, but your dream will not. Responsibilities need not erase it. Duties need not obscure it. Because the dream is within you, no one can take it away.

~ Tom Clancy

The Semicolon and Me

Like any good reader I have my joys and saddenings at some things that I read. One of the things that gives me much joy, is the often use of the “semicolon.” It isn’t the dastardly deviant of literature that some people would have you believe, and it isn’t a progeny of the twisted minds of classicist writings where hard pauses required a new comma.

No, in fact the semicolon is the most underused punctuation in the English language, save for the colon. To which I say, bad writers are quite familiar with, as their manuscripts must pass through their colon with relative ease.

Most new writers are so terrified of the semicolon that they create long-winded and verbose complex sentences, instead of simply tying them together, abandoning some conjunctions, and placing a well spotted semicolon. Not only does it tighten up the rhetoric, the narrative, but sometimes it gives the eyes a nice miniscule reprieve from the endless assembly line of nouns and verbs and adjectives.

I find it very refreshing when a writer challenges themselves to include a semicolon in their work. It means that they are not only rubbing against the grain of the near established trend of modern literature, but they are wanting to break free from the bondage and grammatical chains of the punctuationalists.

Do More Reading

For the past few weeks, I’ve been polishing up on some of my reading. Not a bad idea, really. I mean, I do write crime fiction, suspense fiction, and on occasion scary stuff. So why let the old wheels get rusty?

I was once talking to a fellow about being a writer, and that writers needed to be well read; something we both agree on. This is a common fundamental with almost all writers the world over, and not just writers do this; carpenters, painters, engineers and architects spend huge amounts of time studying their craft. They see what others have done, they see how others have done it, and they gain insight, inspiration and confidence. Guitarists listen to songs and music that feature strong guitar parts, learning under the masters, while strumming out a three chord progression in their basement to keep from waking the house, and listening to Clapton, Hendrix, and Page.

Writers should be the most starving people in the world for books to read. I mean it. We should be so ravenous for literature that we’ll read the fucking phone book out of necessity, but when it comes right down to it, we don’t put in as much effort into the other half of our craft as we try to do with the scribble part of it.

One of the books currently on my reading list is called, What’s A Ghoul To Do? It is written by Victoria Laurie, and it’s the first in a series of Ghost Hunter Mysteries. Since most of my novels involve murder or death in some way, then I gravitate toward the crime novel genre; books by James Patterson, Mo Hayder and Stuart MacBride, just to name a few. This book, What’s A Ghoul To Do? is a good example of a staple novel. By staple, I mean, a novel that is intended to provide entertainment to the masses. You aren’t going to find overly elaborate and exhaustive narrative, no compelling dialogue and character interchange. You will find a few of my pet beefs grammatically, but as a writer, this is where we are to spend our time.

Video games have become such a back burner thing that I probably spend less than four hours a week on my console, and that’s probably way too generous an amount.

Now this next part will probably step on a few toes, but then I’m more or less repeating the resounding echo of many great writers and authors over the past several decades. No matter what you learn in school or college, there is no better framework for a good writer than to be a great reader.

“But, Mr Devere, does that include fan-fiction? There’s this really great writer that’s written this two hundred thousand word fic about Will Robinson and Luna!”

Sorry. That’s not really what I mean. Granted there are some immaculate fan-fiction stories out there, and they are upper-tier English literature, for the most part I’d have to shake my head and tell you, “No. Don’t do that.” Reading a lot of fan-fiction as a substitution for a book is a big gamble, and can end up like two apprentices teaching each other. Unless you know for sure that the person you are reading is very good at the craft, you are only going to be as good as the people that instruct you. And, each book that you read is one more small layer of instruction. If you want to gorge on fan-fiction and I can’t talk you out of it; then go for the writers that remind you of those kids that were top in your class at school. Those smart kids that everyone would go to at the end of the period and beg to help with homework. Don’t go for the popularity, that’ll get you no where.

“What about the classics?”

Go for it. I must’ve read two hundred books that predate 1900s era literature before I ever started writing. Not because I was trying to go for some record breaking feat, but because I lived in a rural area with no cable TV, and I learned that a book was a more lengthy and rewarding form of entertainment. So if the classics are what you are into. Then hot-damn jump up high, and slap someone’s momma, you are on the right track. Famous author Dean Koontz mainly sticks to reading classics for reasons that involve character creation. He’s commented that modern characters are and I paraphrase like method actors. The writers are trying too hard sometimes, and it comes off as having no realized depth. “No Freudean villains.”

There is nothing wrong with reading a cheap book. Take for example the Ghost Hunter Mystery. It smacks of romance, endless amounts of wit; comes complete with almost every cliche, including a token homosexual for the hot chick, and introduces some silly escapist scenarios. Is this sort of book beneath me? Certainly not. If you are under the belief that only masterpieces should be worth your perusing, then you will be waiting a long time for the next one to be judged such. Also, it doesn’t hurt to take your editor glasses off, and take your scrutiny and put it in the bottom drawer. When you read a book, be a reader; absorb this shit. Don’t let typos fuck with your head, because that’s not the writer; I know… it’s the copy editors. Grrr! Learn to relax, chillax, and enjoy your craft.