God is smiling

Let me say first off that I am not a religious nut. I do not run about spreading my arms to the sky crying, “Praise God!” I do not belong to any religious organisation; in fact I claim no religion.

That being said, I do believe in God.

On the other side of the coin, I see mankind as the most destructive, evil species ever to walk this earth. This lovely earth.

Today we are having a storm. Gusts of heavy rain and blasts of high wind. Somewhere a tree will go down and break a power line, and if I don’t save this document every few words, I may lose it.

This is the weekend, and it seems to me that the power cuts occur most often on weekends. On the radio news I hear that power crews are ready to leap into action. North from here there are already power outages…

But that’s not what I’m thinking about.

I see God sitting in his cloud-throne smiling. He is not smiling at us, He is smiling because perhaps He has found a way to beat us. WE CANNOT CONTROL THE WEATHER.

I’m surprised He hasn’t thought about this sooner.

Look what we have done to this planet. We have sabotaged God’s green earth. We have wiped out half of the world’s wildlife since 1970. We have polluted the oceans and the air and the land, and now we are striving mightily to pollute the very bedrock by ‘hydro-fracturing’ in the pursuit of underground pockets of natural gas and oil.

God’s answer is to raise the earth’s temperature. We call it the greenhouse effect, and we know that it is caused by man’s pollution of the air, and we just keep on doing it. And God is smiling, because as the world’s temperature rises the weather becomes more violent, and WE CANNOT CONTROL THE WEATHER.

That’s what’s on my mind this morning during this lovely rainstorm which may become a snowstorm by evening and create havoc on the highways and kill a few more innocent people. Innocent, because ~ who is guilty?

I live 30 miles from town, I need my car, which spews out emissions which add to the greenhouse effect. Give me a car that runs on solar energy.

Today the United Nations announced that the world is facing extreme climate changes unless we reduce emissions to ZERO before 2100. That means an end to using fossil fuels within the next generation.

Will we listen? Will we do it?

Which will happen first? We stop using fossil fuels, or we create irreversible climate change.

God must be smiling. Perhaps He has found a way to bring mankind under control.

More likely we will just continue on our merry, self-destructive way.

Writer’s Block

About writer’s block –

Yes, it does exist.

We have a right brain and a left brain. I’m sure you already knew that . But if not—

The right side is your ‘first draft’ side. This is the creative side of the brain that goes crazy when you wake up at 3 a.m., and keeps you awake with ideas churning through your head. This is the brain that starts you writing like mad with a brilliant new idea. This is the brain that lets you write a first draft as if there were no tomorrow.

The left brain is your editor’s side. That’s the side that tells you that nothing you write is good enough. That’s the side that makes you switch the word order in a sentence to make it flow better. When you finish that first draft, this is the side that takes the first draft and tidies it up, edits out all those useless adverbs and inserts more precise verbs instead. Finds the missing commas and gets rid of the extra ones. Left brain is our internal critic.

Unfortunately the left brain is usually dominant. We are conditioned throughout our lives to exercise the businesslike left brain and suppress the gleeful right brain.

That’s why when we meet one of those crazy artists,  we look at them as … well … crazy. They live in their right brain.

Now, here’s the thing about writer’s block.

Writer’s block is the left brain overpowering the right brain.

You can’t force the right brain to work. You have to relax, let it come. Listen to your favourite music, take the dog for a walk, soak for an hour in a hot tub. In those relaxed moments (and at 3 a.m.) the words will flow unimpeded. But the moment you try to CONTROL the process, the left brain takes over. Bam. You’re stuck.

One way to work past writer’s block is just to sit down to write the next section. Don’t try to compose, just doodle with words. Write any words. Just write write write with the forward story in the back of your head. Don’t try to plan, just aim generally for the scene. Once the words begin to flow, you will be able to write that you want.  One good way to get it flowing is to have two characters have an argument. Perhaps you will discard the whole argument, but it can get you moving forward.

Writing a scene in real time, rather than pushing the narrative of the story, is also a good way to get it going. By inserting a bit of emotion, conflict, tension.

Note that these are the very same elements that draw a reader along.

Once you recognise the different functions of the two sides of the same brain, you will be better able to work with it.

Editing Your Work

Over the many years that I’ve been writing fiction, the most important lesson I’ve learned is to self-edit my work. Thoroughly edit, word-by-word, period-by-period, mercilessly edit.

Whenever I check through Amazon to find something interesting, I always ‘Look Inside’. For no matter how compelling the back-cover blurb, no matter the five-star reviews from friends and family, it’s how the book reads that is most important to me.

So I look inside. And here’s my problem. MOST self-published books are – to me – unreadable. Poor formatting, typos, careless spelling mistakes, poor grammar, style of an 8th grade student, stiff dialogue, overblown adverbs and adjectives, too much back-story, endless exposition, no forward motion …

Any one of these faults will stop me cold.

Any of these faults can be repaired.

Those books need an editor. And the first editor is YOU.

Here’s the thing about editing. If you write a novel, but disdain the editing step because (a) it’s too much bother, (b) it’s not important, (c) it’s too expensive to hire an editor, (d) the story itself will carry the day, or (e) the publisher’s editor will fix everything…

Then all your work on this precious manuscript has gone for nothing.

If you hope to find a publisher, no point in telling yourself that the story will carry the day. If it is badly edited, the acquisitions editor will not read past the first few pages. Nor will he tell you why you’ve been rejected: you’ll get a form letter, “Thanks, but this is not for us.”

If you self-publish in that raw form, you will have a hard time to find and hold a reader. AND – worse – readers might avoid your name in future.

There are a lot of good stories out there not being read because of bad editing.

Before it leaves home your manuscript should be perfect.

“Perfect?” you say. “Nothing can ever be perfect!”

No. But oh, we can try.

Here is my daily routine. I write all morning until I run dry. Then I carry on with the rest of my day. The next morning I start by editing the text that I wrote yesterday. Word by word, period by period. This is where I delete useless adverbs and adjectives, check each word for its exact meaning, replace vague words with specifics – for example, a ‘car’ becomes a ‘Chevy’ or a ‘limousine’ – IF it improves my intention in that place. I try the sentence with and without each comma, play with the word order, make sure that certain elements of the sentence belong together, or read better in a different order. Word by word, sentence by sentence I catch the typos and misspellings. I even check for double spaces and correct them to single spaces. There are no double spaces in today’s manuscript.

By the time I have rigorously edited yesterday’s work, I am back in the atmosphere and action of the story, and without pause I begin to write forward.

And so it goes until the first draft is complete.

The next step is to revise; but that’s another story.

The last step before sending your baby out to the world is – guess what! A FULL LINE EDIT, word by word, period by period, from page 1 to the end.

In answer to a journalists’ question, Einstein once said (to paraphrase), “Genius is 10 % inspiration, 90 % perspiration.”

We are writers. Maybe geniuses but probably not. Writing is our job.

Good writing is 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration.

 

 

 

string of pearls

For Gene, who asked about writing good fiction

Plot.

A plot should have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

That is, it should move forward, mostly. It should go somewhere.

Scene.

A scene is a tiny part of a plot, like a pearl on a necklace, held together by the plot (the string).

A scene should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. This means that it should start, and go somewhere, and finish naturally.

Do you detect a pattern here? This is the pattern, the shape, of all good fiction.

Good elements of every scene.

1. Conflict. Could be violent, gentle, subtle; could be mental or physical – but there should be conflict in some form. Talking about the weather has no conflict, unless the success of the next battle depends on the weather.

2. Setting. Where, who. In a restaurant, in bed, six people, two people, who they are. These are the anchors of any scene. Slide them in gracefully, not in a clump.

3. Direction. Every scene should go forward. Not back-and-forth.

4. A point. Every scene must have a point related to the story. Going off line loses the point, and loses forward momentum.

5. A reason. Every scene should add to the story, not repeat old stuff in new words.

6. Clarity. Although we write for ourselves, we must realise that the reader cannot read our minds, only our words.

And if you are writing only for yourself, none of the above matters a damn.

 

Wow

Wow. In my present search for a publisher I have been so upset by the cryptic rudeness of publishers and agents alike, as if they view the writer as some inferior form of lower life. Form-letters of rejection are, to me, welcome. At least they let me know. Most do not even favour the writer with a response. Some do not even deign to answer a simple email question. Never mind how busy they are, it only takes a moment to hit the return button.

And yet, in communicating with several writers in several parts of this continent, I begin to see that perhaps we bring it on ourselves.

One writer has been working at an outline (novel not even started) for weeks, giving all sorts of ‘reasons’ for not finishing. As I see it, the primary reason for her excuses is that she likes to talk about writing, but probably never will write.

Another says that her time commuting to work (two trains and a bus each way) makes it impossible for her to find time to write. Hmmm. How about during the commute?

Another finds that family concerns force her to put it off and put it off. Family concerns. Meaning grandkids. Birthday parties, trips to the zoo, day care. Again… Not really a writer.

I say it again, a writer is one who cannot NOT write.

It is no wonder that agents and publishers can’t be bothered with writers. It is too much trouble to find the real writers in all this forest of wannabes

That pesky padding

According to my internet friend, Roger Carrier, when he finishes a manuscript, the first edit he performs is to track down pesky little words that we as writers never notice, but which only add empty padding. As Roger tells me,

“A search of your novel can be horrifying. The author of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” used “coffee” almost a hundred times! Did critics notice? Yes!”

Roger says, “Search for caps, lowercase, and general forms (“like” rather than “liked”) to pick up all forms):
Like (a great offender)
Suppose
I guess
Yeah
Yes
No
Well
Now
Almost
Sure
Surely
Don’t worry
When
Just
Good
Later
Afterward
However
Okay
Nevertheless
Thanks
Laugh
Smile
Merely
Only (a great offender!)
Besides
Whether (do not use in place of “if”)
Obvious (If it’s obvious, why say it?)
Simply
Easily
Quickly
(Note “ly” words: Adverbs are often lazy substitutes for strong verbs)
Now here are a few that I, Lyn, use indescriminately and must check for in that first line-edit:
Just.
Merely
Only.
Almost – (unless it pins the meaning of the sentence)
Really.
Actually.
Personally.
Know that ‘loan’ is the noun and ‘lend’ is the verb.
Know that ‘whether’ does not mean ‘if’, it always implies whether or not…
And finally, because publishers and agents no longer want double spaces after a period, I type in a double space in the ‘find’ box, and a single space in the ‘replace’ box, just in case I forgot somewhere, I hit the ‘replace all’, and let ‘er whirl.
And dear Roger ~
I may also use ‘coffee’ too often. My protagonist, The English General, drinks a lot of coffee.

Sex in Fiction

Okay, I’m a romantic. I firmly believe that sexual awakening goes together with a spiritual awakening, in life as in fiction. If you remember your first time, do you recall how for days afterward you wandered around in a smiling daze wondering if people noticed the difference in you? The glow? There is something hugely spiritual about a genuinely intense, intimate, loving sexual exchange ~ and in fiction it must be put to good use.

To Like, or Not to Like

That rotten little word “LIKE”.

1    Like in ~ Tell it like it is.
2    Or  ~ The minute we met I felt like we were meant for each other.
3    Or ~ It happened just like I said it would.
4    Or ~ You look like you’ve lost your best friend.
NO, NO, NO, NO, and NO.
If this is the way you’ve been using this little word, look it up in your Chicago Manual of Style. Or your Strunk & White.

Let’s go back.
1     As in ~ Tell it the way it is. (I know, I know, let’s not be too stuffy here)
2     The minute we met I felt as if we were meant for each other.
3     It happened just as I said it would.
4     You look as if you’ve lost your best friend.

BUT.
1.   I felt like a princess. (How did I feel?)
2.   He ran like a duck.(How did he run?)
3.   She looks like my mother. (How did she look?)
So, like it or not, if you’ve been misusing ‘like’, put your cursor into the ‘find’ box, search out every instance in your manuscript where you have misused this little word ~ and fix it. Unless, of course, you’ve deliberately used it in a colloquial sense, e.g. “Tell it like it is”.

Journaling

I am not into journaling. You read everywhere that if a writer keeps a journal of daily life it will become invaluable for his fiction at a later time.
This doesn’t work for me. I can’t keep a diary for more than a week at a time. I simply cannot record real conversations I hear that day. Conversation is not dialogue. Conversation is dull, repetitive, and you can never catch the flavour on paper. When I write fiction, all this stuff comes out of my memories at random, here there and everywhere. A journal compartmentalizes memories, limits you to what is written, and makes you flip pages when you should be writing. I can sit and stare out the window instead.
But I do keep two writing journals. Both of them are faux-leather-bound books of lined blank paper. Also important is a really nice-writing pen that you keep attached to the book so it’s there when you need it. And I think it’s important that the journal itself is of decent quality so that you will respect it, use it gladly, lovingly, and don’t lose it.
1.      My “To-Do” journal. This beloved book sits on my bedside table. You know how it goes. In the middle of the night your churning mind is keeping you wide awake with the next scene of your novel, and it’s SO good you just know you will remember it in the morning. Surprise. With that journal of empty pages at your bedside, you turn on the light, write it down, turn off the light, and peacefully fall asleep at last, knowing that the idea is safely recorded. In the morning, there it is. What a way to start a writing day.
I do all my reading at night in bed, so this journal also collects my notes from research pertinent to the writing at hand, and in the morning, there it is.
2.      My “Done” journal. This late-comer (I only thought of it a month ago) sits beside my computer. At the end of a writing day I fill in where I am in the manuscript, what I plan for tomorrow, how many words I wrote today, how many total words are in the ms., and how tough or easy it was. It keeps track of my progress. Then I can look back and say, “Hey! Look where I broke out of that writer’s block!” I can also use it to boast honestly to my friends.