Tag Archives: Writing Exercises

Shameless Plug

Yes, this one is a shameless plug, but it’s not for me. It’s for my daughter, ’cause I think she deserves it. I spend a lot of time on this blog talking about me, and lately I’ve really centered on my novel—maybe novels, it’s getting so long (164,00+ and counting)—and what I’m encountering as I write it. I have to say it’s still something of a singular experience for me. To pump out that many words in roughly five months still kind of amazes me. I keep wanting to pinch myself and see if it’s real.

But one reader has told me that it was good to read my post that included seven things about me you didn’t know because it branched out into something besides writing. I don’t know that this post will qualify as being outside of writing, but we’ll see. Guess it depends on what you consider to be “outside” of writing. You be the judge.

I don’t know if any of you have followed any of the links I have on my main page or not, but one of them leads to my daughter’s blog, and I’d like to get you to go over there because she’s a good writer. I’ve had her writing move me in ways I never expected, and that says a lot to me. I’ll be fair and warn you that she doesn’t write the same kind of stuff I do. She explains it better than I do, so I won’t go into all the details, but don’t head over there expecting crime or speculative fiction of any kind.

However, when you get over there, you’ll be treated to samples of her writing that I hope you find interesting. She posts stuff like the prompts her writing groups does. They do five-minute writing exercises during group meetings and also send a list of words home with all the members to include in a story for the next meeting. Entirely different method than we use in my group, but interesting nonetheless. I’m fortunate enough to be in a group that has at least three published writers.

Jesi has a nice, informal writing voice that’s more like she’s talking to you than writing. It’s hard to do that (I’ve changed my own writing voice radically since dipping into crime. Maybe I’ll talk more about that on another post) in this game. Like a friend of mine said recently, writers have to be more formal in our writing than people are in everyday life because we have to tell the reader all relevant details. It’s not a formality of voice, but of method. If we don’t tell you about Colonel Mustard killing Mr. Body in the Dining Room with the Lead Pipe at the end of the book, you’ll never know. And if we don’t give you the clues ahead of time to see that’s true, you’ll feel cheated.

Having said that, for me, Jesi’s voice—not her method, but her voice—bridges the gap between telling a story and writing a story. That’s not a bad thing. Her style isn’t stuffy by any means. We’re not talking Henry Wadsworth Longfellow here, or Herman Melville. We’re talking Jesi Marie, who grew up in Santa Monica, is part of what I think of as the Digital Generation, and has a wry way of looking at the world. She’s serious about her writing, loves doing it and has since kindergarten. Heck, I had to be in my teens before I realized I wanted to be a writer, and she’s doing it before she can even write. Coolness.

She’s smart, too. I rely on her input to my own writing. Not in crime novels per se, but in plot ideas. We had a writer’s conference here this past weekend, and Dusty Richards, Western novelist, pointed out that, no matter what kind of fiction we write, the basic methods are the same. Our characters just wear different costumes. So even though Jesi doesn’t write crime, and doesn’t even like science fiction, I can still bounce ideas off her and get good feedback. She’s good at giving me an alternate point of view.

Let me give you an example. I’m developing an idea for a novel I’m tentatively calling Spree (let’s hear it for simple, unimaginative titles). It’s about a couple of guys who are going across the country, starting in LA, robbing grocery and convenience stores. The idea is that one of them, who is originally from New Jersey, has gotten a call from a family member telling him that his brother has a tumor. It’s operable, but for reasons I haven’t decided on yet, they can’t pay for it. So this guy gets the idea of robbing these places, laundering the money and using it to pay for the operation. My question to Jesi was: should I tell the reader why they’re doing this right up front? Or should I hint there’s a reason and only reveal it at the end? Or, not reveal it till the end? These were the three possibilities I’d come up with.

Jesi said, “Why not tell the reader the reason up front, but when they get to the East Coast they find out that one of them has lied to the other. All he really wanted was the money, and he lied to his buddy to get him to help steal it. He really wants to go to the Bahamas.”

Devious, isn’t she? Maybe she should write crime fiction.

I will say that the idea has been refined a little farther than that by now, but since I’m still in the planning stages, I’m not giving any more of it away. Not to you, anyway, heh-heh. But you can see why I turned to her for feedback. I ain’t makin’ these claims up just ’cause I’m her dad. Writing is far too important to both of us for me to be dishonest in any way about it. I give her only the praise I feel she deserves. It’s just too darn mean to give hopes where they shouldn’t be.

What’s made me even more proud of her is that, recently, she began a program to obtain a bachelor’s degree. She’s majoring in professional writing and minoring in creative writing. Go Jesi. Is that serious, or what? I’m not even sure how to go on from here, to tell you the truth. It’s so awesome that she’s doing this that I’m not sure how to talk about it. Or write about it. Some author I am, huh?

I cheer her on every day. It’s an online degree, and I’ve had some experience with that (I had a disagreement with the school I was attending that made it impossible for me to continue with them). It takes a lot of self-discipline to make yourself sit down and do the work when you don’t have to look an instructor or your fellow students in the face, and it’s all too easy to find an excuse not to. I had to give myself several pep talks when I was going. It got old. So I want her to know I’m proud of her, and I understand what it’s like and I’m behind her 110% (that’s just the measurable part).

So head on over there, check out her writing. And keep in mind that a lot of what she posts there is pretty much first draft stuff. It’s at jesimarie.blogspot.com. I can’t promise you’ll like her subject material anymore than I can promise you’ll like anybody else’s, but I think you’ll see that she’s an excellent writer, no matter the genre.

And that’s my shameless plug. We now return you to regularly scheduled programming.




Just A Little Update

For those of you who still check on this blog, I’m still doing okay. Well, in some ways, better than okay. The writing has been going great. I didn’t do well with the handwriting part. In two weeks I only wrote twice (I think I said that in my last post). But, I looked at my spreadsheet and, overall this month, in 12 days of writing (that includes last night), if I remember the numbers correctly I’ve written over 30,000 words, all on my crime novel Pipeline. In fact, a couple nights ago I wrote 4,000 in one sitting. And it was a night when I didn’t think I’d be able to get very far. I’m not saying any of this to try to seem superior. Not at all. As a rule, I’ve always been a lazy writer, but this experience has taught me that if I just sit down and do it, the process pushes itself in some ways. Ideas spark more ideas and you just keep going.

Having said that, I’ve also found that I can’t write every day. My brain needs recharging. But I don’t see a problem with that. I’ve written more this month than in any other month every, I think, and I’m happy with that.

One strange side effect seems to be that I can’t come up with good topics for this blog. I guess I’m concentrating on my story so much that any other creativity is sidelined, or something like that. Or maybe it means that, when I had an Internet connection at home, I spent too much time worrying about what I was gonna post here and not enough worrying about what was gonna go into one of my stories. Anybody else have any thoughts on that?

So, anyway, that’s where I’m at right now. I’ve established something of a routine, where I edit other stories in the morning and write late at night. For some reason, the creative bug doesn’t bite until at eight pm at the earliest. And then I have a hard time getting up from my computer.

Hope things are going great for everybody out there. Those of you who follow this and did NaNo, how did you do?



Brain Lock

Yes, I’ve been gone for a while. But, as the title of this post suggests, I’ve had a (sorta) reason: brain lock.

Brain lock is a disease a lot of writers suffer through occasionally. It’s disconcerting, to say the least, though I think I knows what’s caused mine: I’ve been concentrating on getting my synopsis done so much that it’s crowded everything else out. My brain is only capable of holding so much at once. Well, that kind of thing happens.

As I believe I’ve posted previously, my long synopsis came out at around nine pages. That’s at least a page too long, and I have yet to get up the courage to go back in and edit it. Instead, I took a few days off from that mess and then dove into another one: the two-page synopsis.

Forget waterboarding.

Every try to reduce 100,000 words down to two pages? It’s not easy. It’s like I had to take practically everything I did in that novel and throw it out, screen it down to the ugly bare bones. None of the nuance, none of the “show don’t tell” stuff, nothing that makes it more than a dry, boring basic telling of the story.

Oh, wait. I guess that’s what a synopsis is.

Well, I still don’t like it. And now I understand from experience why other authors don’t either. This is the ugly side of the writing business. Or, maybe to be more precise, it’s the business side of writing, and it ain’t pretty. Or fun. It’s one thing to plunge into a new novel and wonder if you can finish writing it and, if you do finish it, if it’ll be worth the effort. At least there’s an element of excitement there, the sense of skirting the edge of failure to keep yo churning out the words and see if your idea will pan out. This is the creative side, where you build the beast.

And then you come to the point where you want to submit the beast and you find you have to all but kill it. Apparently, editor and agents are afraid of wild, unpublished novels and want you to tame the darn thing down before you expose them to it. So you have to take all the spirit out of it and let them read it as a sound bite. Isn’t modern technology wonderful (see my post about how modern tech is changing the way we write)?

Doing it gave me brain lock.

It happens to the best of us. Case in point: in his book On Writing, Stephen King relates how he got brain lock of a sort while writing The Stand. He’d written himself into a corner, and it took several weeks (I don’t remember how many, exactly) to find his way out of it. He says he thought about just chucking the whole thing, except that he was like 500+ pages in and he couldn’t see getting rid of it when he had that much into it. He says the solution came as an epiphany of sorts one day while out walking when he realized that, literally, he needed an explosion to get the story going again. His characters were settled into place, busy re-inventing the world that had so recently been changed, and bringing back a lot of the attendant problems to boot. So, he had one of the characters plant a bomb in a closet, one of the main characters dies, and the world is shaken up once more. No more comfort zone.

I figure if it can happen to him, I don’t need to feel so bad, seeing as how I’m not quite the writer he is.

So that’s where I’ve been: in brain lock. Haven’t been able to write a word. Had several going through my mind, though. Won’t publish them here. I hope I can break this thing, though, cause I want to write, not just wish I was. Of course, now I have to do a query letter, so who knows what that’ll do to my poor brain.

Wish me luck.



PS I’ve reposted my story “Crosstown Traffic” after it’s been through the wringer at my writing group and had a friend read it as well. See if you can spot the differences.