The Writing Rookie Season 2, #2: Choose to Write! (When a Choice Is Placed Before You…)

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Every minute of every day, each of us has to choose what he or she will do next.

Okay, maybe not every minute of every day. Practically speaking, most of the time we’re in the middle of tasks we’ve already started, and so not really actively thinking about our options. I suppose that technically, even at those times we’re choosing to continue what we’re doing by not choosing to do something else, but that’s not what I’m talking about. What I’m talking about is the times when we pause at least briefly between two or more options. So maybe every 15 minutes, or every half-hour if we’re particularly focused or stuck in a meeting or something. Then again, who knows what we’re actually doing mentally while we’re in those meetings? (For the purposes of this paragraph, I’m choosing to ignore all those hours we spend sleeping, in comas, being experimented upon by aliens, etc., on the grounds that they’re not relevant to my point. Not relevant, I tell you! Bad reader! No milk bones for you.)

Ahem.

Anyway, it occurs to me that one very simple definition of a writer is someone who — among all the myriads of other things he or she could be doing — chooses to write often enough to actually produce something. The rest, as Einstein might say, is details. (And don’t you just want to whap Einstein upside the head when he says that? And people like me when they quote him?)

Continue reading “The Writing Rookie Season 2, #2: Choose to Write! (When a Choice Is Placed Before You…)”

2011 Writing Goals

It’s 2011, and time for all good Mormons to be writing their goals. Because, you know, a goal that’s not written is only a wish. Or something like that.

Actually, I have to admit that I’ve always hated the push toward concrete, outcome-based goals in Mormon culture, considering it something of an unpleasant borrowing from the power-of-positive-thinking, success-oriented culture of corporate America. Far more sane, in my view, to set process-oriented resolutions: I will focus on this, I will remember that. Come to think of it, this may be part of why I have such a hard time giving firm time- and cost-based goals to the people I work with…

Be that as it may, I have set some writing goals for 2011. So here’s the deal: I’ll share mine, and then you can share yours. And then at the end of the year we can pretend we’ve forgotten everything we wrote here look back on all we’ve accomplished over the past year. Deal?

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Read more; write less

Yesterday I told you all (and myself) to write less and read more. Today I’m saying the opposite. In some ways, I’m still talking to myself, but I’m also talking to all LDS writers out there, regardless of genre or market. You need to read more — and as a result you may need to write a little less. Why? Oh, there lots of reasons. The standards ones include:

  • Reading helps build your vocabulary and your understanding and storehouse of syntax and metaphor and all those other good sentence-level things that make you a better writer.
  • Reading helps you generate new ideas and keeps you from falling in to your standard formulas
  • Reading help you learn from other writers and keep up with developments in the field (for a great example of why this is important see question 13 of this excellent interview with Brandon Sanderson over at Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist)
  • Reading, especially nonfiction, provides a good base of research that makes your fiction richer and more realistic

But if you’ll allow me to get a bit metaphysical and pompous here, while I think all those points are excellent, I think that, in a less easily identifiable way, reading simply makes you a deeper, more interesting writer. Writing should be a conversation. It should be a grappling with the best in your genre/literary vein/peer group. And if it isn’t, well, then your work is going to be shallow. It’s going to show, and it’s going to lead to a less satisfying experience for (most of) your readers. And that’s true no matter whether you are writing literary fiction or genre fiction, short form or long form.

Yes, your time is limited. Yes, you can’t read everything. But if you aren’t reading key works in your field and if you aren’t also reading wider than your field, then you aren’t putting in the work of a writer. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that if you write literary fiction and don’t read some genre works and vice versa, then you are doing you and your readers a disservice. Continue reading “Read more; write less”

Write more; read less

For all my prodigious output as a blogger, reviewer, commenter, etc., the amount of fiction I produce is rather pathetic. Some of that is sheer laziness. Some of it is flailing around trying to figure out what I’m good at and what I enjoy. Some of that is the simple (most likely critic-inspired) fact that I’m a better reviser than drafter. But some of that is the way my life is organized and how I work as a writer — I really need an uninterrupted half hour (or even better full hour) in order to crank out a major chunk of text (for me that equals 250 words or more). That just doesn’t happen very often.

Lately, I’ve been writing more. Still at a snail’s pace — 300-500 words once or twice  a week. But that’s huge for me. So what happened? Continue reading “Write more; read less”

A problem with endings

What do the following Mormon market novels have in common: Angel of the Danube, Brother Brigham, Hunting Gideon, Kindred Spirits, On Second Thought and Salvador*?

  1. I have read all of them and like all of them.
  2. They each have something wrong with their endings — generally minor things, but they each have a moment (or moments) that made me go “wait a minute.” That jerked me out of the reading flow.

This is not to say they are “bad” novels or that they totally fall apart in the end or that I know how they should be fixed.

And I want to point out that ending a novel perfectly is one of the most difficult feats in literature. Short story endings are easy (relatively speaking). Novel endings have a lot to do and they have to finish up while tying up at least some of the narrative threads. They have to maintain intensity but also allow a little bit of catharsis and slackening of tension. A bit of resolution is nice. If you end too abruptly, the reader often feels cheated. On the other hand, if you tie up all of the loose ends, the ending is often too pat. It’s a hard thing to do and even some novels that are considered part of the canon don’t end all that gracefully. For example, I found the endings of Bellow’s Henderson the Rain King and The Adventures of Augie March to be weak. Heck, Kafka couldn’t even end any of his novels. So I don’t raise this because I want to bag on the authors of the novels listed above. All worth reading if their author and subject matter appeal to you.

However, as a believer in craftmanship in fiction, I also think that with the novels above (many of which are first or second efforts) much of the blame lies with the immaturity of the writers.  And with that in mind, I’ve asked Stephen Carter to post about how to write better endings over at The Red Brick Store. So head on over there and find out how to fix your endings. Meanwhile, let’s talk here about what novels have endings that work for you and novels that fall down a bit in the end.

* There are probably other Mormon market novels that fit in this same category, but these are the ones that I was able to pull out of my head without going through my entire library.

Updated at 11:30 a.m. to reflect that Stephen’s post was up.

On The Financial Motive

There is something deceptive about success stories. You hear a story of someone else’s success, and it is sometimes hard not to assume that you can do the same.

Author success stories are no exception. For Mormons, Stephanie Meyer is the most recent example. She is just like so many LDS authors — a suburban housewife with kids who writes in her spare time. I’m sure she has a Church calling, worries about how well her kids are doing in school and probably finds inspiration in the people she knows. In fact, her life is just like that of half the women in my ward.

The problem is Meyer’s success — or that of Orson Scott Card, Dean Hughes, Rachel Nunes or whoever — is really very difficult to replicate.

Continue reading “On The Financial Motive”