From My Reading Pile: ARTING HARD LIKE AN ARTFUL MOTHERFUCKER by Chuck Wendig

And this is just the whites.

I just got back from vacation, and in addition to bringing home a pile of laundry the approximate size and shape of a medium-sized mountain*, I have also brought home a lot of stuff to do. Oddly, I usually find it easier to keep up on blog stuff while on vacation than while working through the crap that piled up while I was gone.

But one of the things that I have on my list today is to read and sort the research articles that accumulated during the away phase. In that pile was this, from Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds blog: ARTING HARD LIKE AN ARTFUL MOTHERFUCKER: 25 WAYS TO BE A BAD-ASS MAKER WHO MAKES BAD-ASS STUFF. All about how to live a creative life, but with lots more swearing and the possibility of making money at it. Go and read and learn something. I know I did.

Bare Knuckle Writer posts resume on Monday.

*Ie, big enough to brag about climbing, small enough that you probably won’t die on the trek.

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The Ghosts of Past Drafts: Rewriting A Manuscript

“BITCH GET BACK DOWN THERE.”: St. Michael exorcising demons with the help of of his pretty floral bonnet.

Rewriting is harder than people think. I mean, you have the story down, in one form or another. You have the characters. Now it’s just a matter of taking out the bits that don’t work and replacing them with ones that do. Easy-peasy, right?

Imagine I’m pressing the world’s largest error buzzer right now.

See, it would be easy if the pieces you don’t want were happy to go away. If they would die, quietly and peacefully somewhere out of the way, like a gerbil that crawled into the wall and was never seen again.

But they don’t. They want to live. So they claw and scramble and pester, trying to get back into the story.

This is a problem I call the Haunting. Old drafts can haunt your current one, trying to warp it back to a mirror of themselves, flaws and all. 

Most of the problem is pure authorial laziness. Cutting and pasting without really—and I mean really—examining whether that scene works? Then get your bell, book, and candle, lads, because you’re going to have to exorcise something out of it in the future. 

Rewriting is like fighting the old draft for control. 

I was trying to rewrite a scene. A pivotal one, one that had been in the story since its very conception, when it was but a story fetus. I was fine with how it started and ended in the original, but the bits in the middle didn’t work with the changes I’d made. This will be easy, I thought. After all, the end points are the same. It’s just a matter of joining them up in a new way. Simple.

But every time I tried to rewrite it, the old scene wanted to intrude. Dialogue that I liked tried to work itself in, despite the fact that none of those characters were present any more. A fight kept trying to go a certain way when it had to go differently. Even setting details kept creeping in. The ghosts of those old drafts were doing their damnedest to hang on. 

When I realized what the problem was, I closed all other windows, including the old drafts I was working from, opened a new document, set my computer to block all incoming notifications, and started rewriting that scene again. With nothing to refer back to, it went easier. Not easy, mind you. I still had to claw for every sentence. But at the end of that day, I had a scene that was no longer haunted. 

A note for those of you embarking on the journey that is the rewrite: watch out for ghosts. Because they’ll drag you back every chance they get. 

Attack of the Plot Robots: Working Backwards

Oh God, what does it want? TO SOLVE YOUR PROBLEMS IN AN IMPLAUSIBLE MANNER, FLESHBAGS.

So, as I mentioned Wednesday, I now have my outline. It’s very shiny, and will probably remain that way until I start writing and it gets kicked around a bit.

An important note, though, is that when I was finished my outline, I went through it again. And this time I went through it backwards.

If you’re setting up an ending, you need to make damn sure the threads of it are unwound throughout the story. Yes, even a twist ending. I’ve mentioned this before, but the ending of the story should be the inevitable outcome of the character’s actions as seen in retrospect. In other words, even if it looks like a twist at first glance, the reader should be able to look back and slap themselves in the forehead when they pick up on the clues that were scattered throughout.

One way to do this: work backwards. I knew my ending, and I knew what that ending meant. So, I had to make sure that it was set up properly: characters making certain references or acting in a particular manner; the room where it goes down has a particular type of flooring; the tradition that ends things is mentioned and seen in action much, much earlier. By doing this, the ending doesn’t come out of nowhere. It doesn’t feel forced, or like a deus ex machina.* It becomes about character choices and actions, not about hammering discrete events together into a Plot Robot.

For example, if your protagonist is going to take out the Big Bad with a previously unknown branch of magic, then don’t you think you should at least hint at the possibility of new magic before she whips out the Flaming Balls of Rh’leh, God of Social Diseases? And possibly show Protaggy McGeee experimenting with her magic before she has to try it on Big Bad? Maybe praying to Rh’leh a couple of times? Otherwise, no one’s going to buy Protaggy suddenly becoming one with Rh’leh at the moment when it is the most fucking convenient for her.

Coincidence is evidence of a badly-thought-out story. Excise it without mercy.

*No one likes a deus ex machina. I have to believe that even the gods don’t like that shit. They’re all like, “Fuck, what did you guys do this time? And now I have to save your sorry ass again? Fuck it. Pray all you want, you shit-disturbing assholes, I’m out. OUT.”

I might have missed a few points in theology class.

Why Outlining Won’t Murder Your Story

That smile? That’s because he has a map. And a fabulous moustache.

After several years away, I am returning to hardcore outlining.

I got away from it for a while. Mostly just to try something new. I hadn’t tried to seriously write something long without one since my first writing days, and while those stories turned out to be little more than half-intelligible brain droppings smeared across a page, that might have been due more to my inexperience than the method itself.

It wasn’t.

When I write without a meaningful outline, yes, I get ideas. But there’s no framework for them to hang on, and too often they’re like fireworks: burning bright and pretty to look at, but not much damn use. And there’s a lot of them, so it takes time to sort through the mess.

So I went back to outlining and, man, what a fucking difference.

I finished the final outline for my novel the other day. It’s not a scene-for-scene layout, but it’s pretty close. It’s got every meaningful moment and every decision made by every character that influences the ending laid out.

I hear a lot from the anti-outline brigade about how outlining kills the story. They feel that outlining too tightly, as I have done, kills any sense of creativity and spontaneity. Besides, if the outline is done, why bother writing it? You already know what happens.

First of all, it’s a disservice to your creative mind to assume it’s as fragile as an anaemic butterfly. Creativity is tough, and good ideas always survive. If you story dies at the first sneeze of questioning, maybe it wasn’t strong enough to carry a whole book on its own in the first place.

Secondly, outlining is not writing. It’s not even pretending to write. It’s preparation.

Or, to look at it another way: an outline is to writing what a recipe is to cooking. A recipe is a damn useful thing, especially when you’re making something complicated. Having a good one can keep you from making huge, time-wasting mistakes. But no one would ever suggest that you could satisfy your hunger by writing a recipe for blitzes.

Now, sometimes you just want to jump in without an outline and write for the hell of it. And I still do that. But now that’s part of the prep work, too. I stack all that shit with the outline as I write it, or use them as test-drives for characters or locations or ideas. But when I sit down to do the heavy writing, I’ll have my trusty outline by my side. And the writing will go much smoother and more quickly for it.

As always, your mileage may vary. But if you’ve never tried outlining for fear of crippling some creative organ, put that fear aside as the bullshit it is and give it a go. You might just find the new thing you love.

Delightfully Tacky, Yet Unrefined: How Your Good Taste Is Killing Your Creativity

And here’s where I’ll put the lasers.

How familiar does this sound: you start writing. You work hard, but your stuff just isn’t coming out the way you want. It doesn’t have that…special something that all the works you love, the ones that changed your life, have. Hell, it doesn’t even have that passable something of the works that you read to kill time. It’s bad. Real bad. Or, worse, boring.

You know what you like. You know what’s good. And the words have been there for fucking centuries. Not like someone came along and made a whole new vocabulary, unless you’re counting words like ‘twerk’ and ‘vajazzled’, and really, who does?

So you think: I should probably give up.

A lot of people do.

Welcome to Suckage Lane. This road becomes the final resting place for many a creative endeavour. You can see their bones scattered along the lane as you slog along. And, hey, a lot of those bones look awfully fucking familiar.

The problem, though, is not the road.

The problem is you.

Or, more accurately, your good taste.

Too much awareness of what is ‘good’ kills creativity. You know what’s good, so you think you should only be making that, whatever that is. Otherwise, what’s the point?

But “good” is something to strive for, not something you need to achieve right out of the gate or give up. Because before you can make something good, you have to be willing to fuck up. You have to be willing to do something epically bad. So fucking bad that it never sees the light of day. Otherwise, your perception of good will smother your infant creativity right in the crib.

You ever see kids doing something for the first time? They’re not concerned with good taste. More rockets, more glitter, more tentacles, more unicorns…kids will try anything to see if it works. That’s why they’re little fountains of creativity that we need to harvest for their sweet, sweet brain juice learn from.

Try some stuff. Story not working out? Be willing to try anything. Introduce a city-wide outbreak of Sudden Poop Explosion Disease. Make the main character a cyborg with a pet lemur. More stripper assassins. Something.

You might still fail. But at least you’ll go down swinging. And you never know: maybe that ridiculous, insane, utterly tasteless thing…was just what you needed to keep going.

And if it’s not, you still thought big. You went outside your comfort zone and tried some new shit. You braved Suckage Lane, and, instead of turning back, armoured yourself in the bones of your past projects.

Creativity is a weird little plant that grows its best in fucking bizarre soil. So if you’re dedicated to only making things that are ‘good’…you’ll end up only making things that are boring.

Writing By Comet-Light: The Lie Of The Right Time

The people in 1070 realize it’s finally time to write that strawpunk bubonic plague epic.

Here is a pervasive myth of our era: I’ll start when it’s the right time.

When I can concentrate. When I feel creative. When I can devote my undivided attention to it.

And “the right time” goes on to encompass a set of demands so far-reaching and esoteric that it could be Slayer’s tour rider. When it’s Sunday. When the moon’s full. When I have a bowl of M&Ms and two bottles of Cristal and 100 white goats for sacrifice.

But the fact of existence is that the perfect time never comes along. Ever. I’ve been on the look out for a perfect time for more than thirty fucking years and I haven’t seen one yet. Maybe they only come along at great intervals, like Halley’s Comet.

And, guaranteed, there’s someone out there waiting for the next appearance of that flaming sky ball to start writing something. See you in 2061, asshole. Rest assured we’re not waiting with bated breath for whatever masterpiece you think you’ll shit out by the light of a comet.

There will never be a right time to start anything. So you might as well get off your ass and do it now.

What’s the rush, you say. I have time. What’s the hurry?

The hurry is that the reaper is on you trail, motherfucker. And you don’t know how close it is.

A little melodramatic, but it’s true. There might not be time tomorrow. Okay, it might not be death that slows you down*, but there’s always something else. Social gatherings. Jobs. Families. The siren song of bad television. The inertia of trying to start something new. 

I fall prey to this as much as anyone. For years, I put off writing because there wasn’t time. I was busy: studying, moving, doing thesis work, learning to fight, learning to be in a relationship, learning what happens when you overwork and burn out. I couldn’t possibly add another thing to that pile.

And maybe I was right. But I know that I wouldn’t have burned out so hot and so fast if I’d made time—even a little; an hour a week, maybe—to work on something I loved as much as fiction writing.

If you wait around for the perfect time, you’ll grow old and die without doing anything. And I’m not even talking about climbing mountains or figuring out how to use monkey blood to power your robot army. This is writing. You start writing by opening up to a new page and putting words on it. Words that you know. As far as barriers to entry go, it’s only marginally higher than putting on your fucking socks. And you have to do that twice.

After getting started, of course, things change. You have to work at doing better. At doing it right. And that’s a whole other bucket of snakes. But realizing that you can start whenever you want is a pretty damn big snake on it’s own.

There is no right time. There is only the time that you make.

*Especially if the assassins fail again.

Sweat and Ink: Finding Your Passion In The Armpit Of Summer

Sun: IMMA BE HERE FOREVER.

This is it: the dog days of summer. If you’re anywhere near me, you know that it’s been hotter than the devil’s jockstrap and twice as sweaty.*

What’s the first thing to go in this weather? No, not your clothes. If you’re like me, you’ve been working in a bikini top and daisy dukes since the last week of June, anyway.

The first thing to go is enthusiasm. The muggier it gets, the harder it becomes to give the contents of a roach-infested Hyundai’s ashtray about whatever the hell your characters are doing. Or about anything other than the nearest source of air conditioning, but let’s focus on the writing.

This related to this post on writing in the summer, but if that’s Summer Writer 101, consider this Summer Writer 201. You’ve shown up to write, but your brain is too hot to get it done. To get through the oncoming stickiness with your word/scene/note count intact, we need to dredge your passion for the project out of whatever damp hole it crawled in to die. Here it is: Finding Your Passion, Hot Weather Edition!

1) Change your venue. To an igloo. You might think this is too silly to work, but that’s just the sweat talking. Moving from your stifling living room, where the Crotch-Scorching Firebrick** slow-roasts your junk, to a cooler location can give you the mental energy to write. Your local library might have air conditioning. Or there’s coffee shops. Or malls. Find somewhere to cool down your brain. And your junk.

2 a) Write the good part. There’s probably a part of your story that you’ve been looking forward to writing every since you conceived the idea. Now is the time to write it. Because, god damn it, if you can’t get excited about that right now, it might be time to hang up the pens.

2 b) Read the good part. Maybe you’ve already written the good part. I have. I couldn’t wait. So now is a really good time to go find that part and read it. Remember why you couldn’t wait.

3) Make some inspiration. No, not meth. You don’t want to cook in this weather.

Go make a playlist of music that sounds like your characters, or your settings. Find or make some art: maps, character sketches, artefacts. Put it somewhere you can look at it. Feel the inspiration.

Then make meth.

4) Spread the love. Enlist another person in your project. Find a second reader and send them pages or chapters as they’re finished. They might just get excited, which will make you more excited. And then you can get together and fan-person it up.

5) Strip down. Not like that. Put your shorts back on, slick.

Strip your story down to the most exciting idea. What makes your imagination’s loins quiver with the thought of writing it? What are you trying to say? What does it all mean? Remembering why you got into this might help you get out of it with your sanity intact.

Anyone else? How do you stay motivated to stick with projects when you’re sticking to the chair?

*By Canadian standards, obviously. Those of you from places like Florida and India, keep your weather far south of me and get back to turning into walking sweat glands.

**Also known as your laptop