Tag Archives: writing

How I Wrote My Latest Story

Alrighty.  This is going to be a self-indulged post.  I sent out the short piece of fiction I’ve been writing to my regular “reading” group yesterday.  This particular 7,500 story was a difficult birth.  It was written within a couple months of getting back on the writing train six months ago, so I wouldn’t call the idea “mature.”  No matter.  I told myself that I’d disregard whatever excuse I’d come up with every day, and write at least 500 words until it was finished.  I’m proud to say that I wrote every day during a depressed period when my dad was first undergoing some medical attention, and on most days forced myself to spit out 500 words.  I’m not proud to say that, because I forced myself to write every day, the content of the first draft absolutely sucked.  I made the mistake of reading it to my family when I finished.  My daughter fell asleep (literally) and both Cheryl and my son, Nick, thought it was incredibly boring and pointless.  Catherine, my writing partner, thought it was a total mess.  She made severe comments on the work and over the last few months I’ve been putting humpty-dumpty together. 

So….I hesitantly sent it out (finally) and was shocked that as the reviews trickled in, they were far better than expected.  One reader said it may be my best work yet.  Another said I’m a “great” writer.  I’m ecstatic today to think that this baby, which was so difficult to birth, might actually be good.  If it is, here is what I did to make to good:

1) I still write every day (for clients and myself).  My results have become more steady as my brain gets used to the fact that “off days” aren’t allowed.  I also think that because of my daily dedication, my “off days” are less “off” than in the past.

2) I’ve followed (as I mentioned before) Janet Evanovich’s advice and started watching a ton of movies.  This has given me a much better sense of storyline, plot, and timing.  My fiction was far too subtle because I was worried about constantly beating people over the head with my meaning.  I was subtle over the top.  Nothing happened in my stories.  I’ve realized through these films that I, like everyone, am attracted to stories where things happen (not rocket science, huh?), and I’ve learned to begin trusting my instinct when it comes to overkill.

3) I’ve become a reader.  Sure, I’ve read in the past (actually I’ve read tons), but it was all financial planning, business, and biography based.  I read with a purpose.  Now, I still read with a purpose, but a much more enjoyable one.  I read fiction to become a better writer.  I promise myself I’ll read a chapter daily.  To date I’ve read three books of fiction and two “how to” manuals since the beginning of 2010. 

4) I’ve begun a diary when I read books/watch movies to detail what I like/don’t like about each.  I also list if I think I have it in me to write a similar story.  Amazingly, some of the art I’ve decided I “don’t have in me” has influenced my work the most.  I’m realizing that my brain begins working when I think to myself that something might be over my head.  One book, Then We Came To The End, was hugely instrumental, and I found much of that voice appearing in this work.  I don’t want that “voice creep” to continue forever, but for now, while I’m working on finding my own, I’m very comfortable experimenting with other’s art styles to see how it fits.

Anyway….I’m not sure I’m the perfect person to give advice yet, but so far this strategy seems to be working.

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What Makes A Great Writing Partner?

I’ll admit to the world:  I love my writing partner, Catherine.

Weekly we’ll meet at Catherine’s house for an hour and a half, drink Diet Dr. Pepper (cures everything) and talk writing. There’s a spot on her porch we use.  It’s a large table in the corner with bird feeders outside the window, and just few enough birds flying around to not distract our focus. She’s working on a couple of fantastic projects. I love the way she thinks and writes. Besides her career teaching, she’d spent years at a newspaper and in our meetings cuts words like a seamstress with thread. I’ve quickly learned to cut empty adjectives, phrases that add nothing to the storyline, and entire irrelevant paragraphs.  It’s been valuable.  What do I like?  It might surprise you:

1) She thinks differently than I do.  Too many writers I talk to want a group with people “like them.”  Knowing a wide audience will read my work, I want a strong opinion that counters mine. I’m looking for insights I can’t add.

2) She’s committed to writing. Catherine clearly puts care into her work and brings valuable writing to the table. I learn as much reading her writing as I do from her criticism of mine.

3) She’s a giver. She’s always insisting we look at my work first. I’ve had to beat her to the punch a few times, demanding we start with her story, because I get the feeling each week that she’d be willing to forget her own work and focus on mine. That helps me remember to be a giver also, creating a nice environment.

4) She’s honest. After a few meetings, once we were clearly comfortable around each other, she cut her time trying to be “nice” to me and focused on areas to improve. That doesn’t mean she beats me up all meeting.  She’ll point out improvements and areas she likes, but she doesn’t need to spend time convincing me I’m a decent author.

I know I’m forgetting fifteen things I enjoy about working with Catherine, but if you can find those four, you’ll be on the right track.  A friend was looking for a writing group and I stupidly assumed that they’re all similar to mine. Sadly, his suffered from many problems that I won’t get into here. As he relayed his horrific experience, I realized how lucky I am. 

Thanks, Catherine!

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Kick-Ass

I’ve been  following Janet Evanovich’s advice in How I Write, taking a year (as she did) to read books and watch as many films as possible.  Her goal in this exercise is to get a sense of story, pacing, character, plot, what works and doesn’t, and to hear enough voices to be able to focus a new writer on those themes they find most interesting.  She took the whole year off.  That’s not possible for me, so I’m writing much of each day, then watching at least three movies weekly and reading at least one chapter per day of a book.  Why am I telling you this?  I just saw Kick-Ass this week, and it, well, kicked ass.

I won’t rehash the story, and will agree with critics who write that to some degree, this is a film whose audience isn’t old enough to watch it (Kick-Ass is rated “R”.  But if, like me, you’re looking for some tight writing, a gripping story, characters whose motivation is refreshing and original, Kick-Ass is for you. Be ready for more red stuff than the Red Cross blood drive and swearing worse than you’d hear at the nation’s largest truck stops. If that doesn’t scare you, it’s a fun ride.

Leaving the film I told Cheryl, “this is a story I can write.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not being egotistical.  It’s just my kind of work. I’m attracted to the fact that it features a normal guy involved in stressful events far over his head. For the most part, he’s interested only in transcending his banal life and standing for something. He learns that the world he thinks he wants is far scarier and involved than he’d first thought. Isn’t this the same shock most kids get after high school? Wonderful themes and the film that’s given me a new jolt of energy to go make the next words I type count.

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Filed under Film Reviews