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What are you Writing?

AmateisGal

I'll Lock Up
Messages
6,069
Location
Nebraska
There's always a period of noodling with it after the major rewrites ... I don't seem to be doing much but it seems to be getting much better. I've never figured out if my little changes are really improving things that much or if I'm just getting used to it. I worry that my judgement of the process is not reliable and it's either my ego telling me it's better or maybe I'm just getting the form so set in my head that I start seeing it as "the way it's supposed to be." I can still be critical at that point but I never like to think I'm fooling myself. Of course sometimes little changes matter a lot.

Many writers I know have a person they trust to read it and to bounce stuff off of. I used to have someone like that but don't any longer. I have to say ... it can be VERY helpful!

I have a critique partner and it's been incredibly helpful. As a reader and a writer, she catches things that I wouldn't even think about because I'm too close to the story.
 
Messages
16,051
Location
New York City
There's always a period of noodling with it after the major rewrites ... I don't seem to be doing much but it seems to be getting much better. I've never figured out if my little changes are really improving things that much or if I'm just getting used to it. I worry that my judgement of the process is not reliable and it's either my ego telling me it's better or maybe I'm just getting the form so set in my head that I start seeing it as "the way it's supposed to be." I can still be critical at that point but I never like to think I'm fooling myself. Of course sometimes little changes matter a lot.

Many writers I know have a person they trust to read it and to bounce stuff off of. I used to have someone like that but don't any longer. I have to say ... it can be VERY helpful!

My girlfriend is my informal editor and it is incredible how helpful, smart, talented she is. A strong editor can reel you in when you start to loose focus or structure, can improve a sentence, a word or the entire piece. My work is not as good the times she hasn't able to edit it.
 

MikeKardec

One Too Many
Messages
1,148
Location
Los Angeles
Good advice is hard to get! I've found a sort of short cut, however. Just get people who have read your work to tell you the story. Don't prompt or argue with them about it. Just shut up and listen ... and it can be hard! Tell them they can't mention if they liked some part or not, you don't want their judgement, you just want to know their version of what you wrote.

It can get pretty weird. They can sometimes seem to be telling you a story you barely recognize. But there's the thing, that was their experience. You really can't argue with it. You'll need to get a couple more people to get a cross section of reaction, and there will be differences. Then averaging out the versions you heard, rewrite to make the points you want to make. There are some significant up sides: 1) you can steal anything you heard that you liked, the person who told you is sure you wrote it that way. 2) this process is pretty good at giving you instant distance ... the sense of perspective you get is equal to walking away from it for weeks. 3) you don't get stuck in the other person's ego where they are trying to tell you what they think you should do with it or if they are trying to soft pedal the fact that they didn't like it . Their "opinion" as to it's value is ruled out, you are just getting their opinion about what is there.

IF, however, someone insists on giving you their opinion about the parts that are good or bad it is always worthwhile to remember that people tend to offer "fixes" for things before they really understand what is actually wrong. This is some sort of Darwinist survival mechanism and much of the time the fixes aren't bad ... but for something as complex as the way an author sees the inside of a story those sort of fixes can be too superficial. The best thing to do is try to ignore the other person's "fix" and concentrate on the fact that in that particular area they thought something was amiss. Chances are they are right! It might be better, however, to ignore their fix and come up with your own once you really try to see everything you HONESTLY think might need reconsideration at that spot in the story.

I cannot tell you how many times I have been given a fix by a book editor or TV executive only to realize that, Damn It, as badly as they put it, they are right ... there is something wrong, undone, less than perfect. Sometimes I had to get over myself to come to that realization. Sometimes it was months later. Nonetheless, it's been pretty common. The bad part is that for the TV executives, obedience is everything. If they tell you a fix, you make it or you're fired ... even if you realize they had uncovered something that was better repaired by doing something else. In the book world your ability to make your own choices and mistakes is much more open, I've known few editors to insist on anything but length.
 

AmateisGal

I'll Lock Up
Messages
6,069
Location
Nebraska
Good advice is hard to get! I've found a sort of short cut, however. Just get people who have read your work to tell you the story. Don't prompt or argue with them about it. Just shut up and listen ... and it can be hard! Tell them they can't mention if they liked some part or not, you don't want their judgement, you just want to know their version of what you wrote.

It can get pretty weird. They can sometimes seem to be telling you a story you barely recognize. But there's the thing, that was their experience. You really can't argue with it. You'll need to get a couple more people to get a cross section of reaction, and there will be differences. Then averaging out the versions you heard, rewrite to make the points you want to make. There are some significant up sides: 1) you can steal anything you heard that you liked, the person who told you is sure you wrote it that way. 2) this process is pretty good at giving you instant distance ... the sense of perspective you get is equal to walking away from it for weeks. 3) you don't get stuck in the other person's ego where they are trying to tell you what they think you should do with it or if they are trying to soft pedal the fact that they didn't like it . Their "opinion" as to it's value is ruled out, you are just getting their opinion about what is there.

IF, however, someone insists on giving you their opinion about the parts that are good or bad it is always worthwhile to remember that people tend to offer "fixes" for things before they really understand what is actually wrong. This is some sort of Darwinist survival mechanism and much of the time the fixes aren't bad ... but for something as complex as the way an author sees the inside of a story those sort of fixes can be too superficial. The best thing to do is try to ignore the other person's "fix" and concentrate on the fact that in that particular area they thought something was amiss. Chances are they are right! It might be better, however, to ignore their fix and come up with your own once you really try to see everything you HONESTLY think might need reconsideration at that spot in the story.

I cannot tell you how many times I have been given a fix by a book editor or TV executive only to realize that, Damn It, as badly as they put it, they are right ... there is something wrong, undone, less than perfect. Sometimes I had to get over myself to come to that realization. Sometimes it was months later. Nonetheless, it's been pretty common. The bad part is that for the TV executives, obedience is everything. If they tell you a fix, you make it or you're fired ... even if you realize they had uncovered something that was better repaired by doing something else. In the book world your ability to make your own choices and mistakes is much more open, I've known few editors to insist on anything but length.

Oh, I know what you mean. They usually are right, but admitting it to yourself is the hardest part. :D

As far as what I'm writing...just finished with a press release. I really hate writing those things.
 

MikeKardec

One Too Many
Messages
1,148
Location
Los Angeles
More thoughts:

Telling a writer where a problem seems to be, is valid. Telling them what the problem is (providing you have carefully considered it) can be useful. Telling them how to fix it is often like a director giving an actor a line reading in hopes of improving a performance ... you are asking the actor to mimic you, without knowing what they are doing. It can work, especially between people who really understand each other, but the performance is always better if the actor knows what the character is trying to accomplish with that line. That goal doesn't even have to be logical (in fact it often isn't) but if you give them something to DO or accomplish as opposed to something to COPY, you'll get a better result.

I grew up around writers (and thousands of books). A good deal of my schooling was writing. All of that was great background, but what really taught me to write was learning to act. As a college student I wasn't a very good writer, though I really didn't know it. In the process of assuming I was better than I was, I decided that since I wanted to write films I should learn what my "customers" wanted. My customers in this case being actors. I studied acting a bit, never got very good (I actually think it's bad for a writer to become so good an actor that they can make any line work ... you are trying to write an actor-proof line not become a line-proof actor!) but I learned enough to have a HUGE effect on my writing. You can't get the lines right until you get the intention right (that what is the character trying to do thing), you can't get the intentions right until you have figured out how to write the right scene (often requiring a certain amount of trial and error) and of course the scene won't work unless it's in a good story which challenges the characters to do interesting things. All very subjective, and as Melissa sort of says, this is what worked for ME, I may have problems with each story but these basics tend to be true every time.

The perfect test was when I started producing radio plays and I'd go to an audition. If 40 out of 60 actors got the scene enough to do a good cold reading with no help from anyone, then I knew I was doing my job right. If 40 out of 60 mucked it up, that wasn't the actors fault ... it was mine. The opportunity to learn like that in a professional yet low stakes environment is nearly gone from the world. Since the 1980s it seems everything is viciously Darwinist and only geniuses can survive. Scary.

Possibly the direct published e-book can be a less "winner take all" environment where writers can learn as well as make their own way without publishers looming over the whole business.
 

AmateisGal

I'll Lock Up
Messages
6,069
Location
Nebraska
Time to really dig in my heels and get to work on the novel. I've been doing a lot of research (reading memoirs from Marines who served in the Pacific, military stuff, etc.) and haven't done any real writing in about a week. That needs to change today.
 

LizzieMaine

Bartender
Messages
31,521
Location
Where The Tourists Meet The Sea
The perfect test was when I started producing radio plays and I'd go to an audition. If 40 out of 60 actors got the scene enough to do a good cold reading with no help from anyone, then I knew I was doing my job right. If 40 out of 60 mucked it up, that wasn't the actors fault ... it was mine. The opportunity to learn like that in a professional yet low stakes environment is nearly gone from the world. Since the 1980s it seems everything is viciously Darwinist and only geniuses can survive. Scary.

Radio in the Era was the best writing school there was -- it was very easy to get a job working on an anonymous script assembly line such as that run by the Hummerts. You weren't expected to turn out works of glittering genius in a job like that, but what you did learn was the basic mechanics of constructing a scene, making dialogue flow naturally, building characterization, and fitting it all into ten minutes of script five days a week. Plus you couldn't fall back on the crutches of elaborate sound effects or an evocative musical score -- you were expected to do it all on the cheap, so every word counted. There's no college anywhere that offers a better writing course than that.

What people always forget is that before you can be a *good* writer, you have to work up from being a *bad* writer.
 

MikeKardec

One Too Many
Messages
1,148
Location
Los Angeles
As with radio, I believe one reason for the explosion of successful writers, book stores, publishers and readers from around 1960 on had a lot to do with very average writers having easy and relatively direct access to pulp magazine editors. The pulps and to a lesser extent the hundreds of "literary" journals put out by colleges and societies of various sorts were a training ground that allowed young writers to mature while still being offered both financial rewards and encouragement. Early in the paperback original history ('50s, '60s) this was true to a lesser extent, with semi professionals or lower level writers perfecting their craft, but it wasn't so open to new comers. For around 30 to 40 years after that the writing world suffered as the book business contracted telling itself there were fewer and fewer readers and that (around 1990) since they were such serious readers they could be sold more and more expensive books.

Direct published e-books have returned the publishing industry to the era of the pulps or paperback originals. Direct published books are often free, 99 cents to $1.99 in a bid to attract readers (prices go up later or on future stories) and the market is booming again. Traditional publishers struggle to compete because they have agreements with bookstores not to undersell the paper books by very much. There were never fewer readers, they were just price sensitive and the major publishers missed it. There were political and snobbery aspects to this also; "readers" shifted slightly more conservative and, being a great bastion of enlightenment, the publishing industry sort of missed it ... then they figured it out but couldn't get over themselves enough to really chase that audience. It's not the least bit necessary to specifically service the "right wing" but they did edge toward what they considered "literary" and "progressive" as opposed to what was fun to read.

Direct or self published e-books and all the programs that mainstream publishers are starting to get in on the low cost (ie. no paper book) action will hopefully change the reading landscape for the better in years to come. The gatekeepers of literature are on the defensive and a great mob of would-be writers is typing away. Darwinism will rule that mob but a new breed of author is rising to the top even as I write this. Exciting times to be in the book biz and a total time machine back to the days when the paperback market was starting to undercut the hardcover books with their speed of publishing, prices and more direct access to the consumer. Hardcovers were only available in the very few bookstores that existed and through book clubs, while paperback were in news stands, supermarkets, train stations, literally everywhere.

It's a replay of 1950 out there but there are few left who understand that first transition.
 

AmateisGal

I'll Lock Up
Messages
6,069
Location
Nebraska
As with radio, I believe one reason for the explosion of successful writers, book stores, publishers and readers from around 1960 on had a lot to do with very average writers having easy and relatively direct access to pulp magazine editors. The pulps and to a lesser extent the hundreds of "literary" journals put out by colleges and societies of various sorts were a training ground that allowed young writers to mature while still being offered both financial rewards and encouragement. Early in the paperback original history ('50s, '60s) this was true to a lesser extent, with semi professionals or lower level writers perfecting their craft, but it wasn't so open to new comers. For around 30 to 40 years after that the writing world suffered as the book business contracted telling itself there were fewer and fewer readers and that (around 1990) since they were such serious readers they could be sold more and more expensive books.

Direct published e-books have returned the publishing industry to the era of the pulps or paperback originals. Direct published books are often free, 99 cents to $1.99 in a bid to attract readers (prices go up later or on future stories) and the market is booming again. Traditional publishers struggle to compete because they have agreements with bookstores not to undersell the paper books by very much. There were never fewer readers, they were just price sensitive and the major publishers missed it. There were political and snobbery aspects to this also; "readers" shifted slightly more conservative and, being a great bastion of enlightenment, the publishing industry sort of missed it ... then they figured it out but couldn't get over themselves enough to really chase that audience. It's not the least bit necessary to specifically service the "right wing" but they did edge toward what they considered "literary" and "progressive" as opposed to what was fun to read.

Direct or self published e-books and all the programs that mainstream publishers are starting to get in on the low cost (ie. no paper book) action will hopefully change the reading landscape for the better in years to come. The gatekeepers of literature are on the defensive and a great mob of would-be writers is typing away. Darwinism will rule that mob but a new breed of author is rising to the top even as I write this. Exciting times to be in the book biz and a total time machine back to the days when the paperback market was starting to undercut the hardcover books with their speed of publishing, prices and more direct access to the consumer. Hardcovers were only available in the very few bookstores that existed and through book clubs, while paperback were in news stands, supermarkets, train stations, literally everywhere.

It's a replay of 1950 out there but there are few left who understand that first transition.

I never thought of it this way before, but you're absolutely right! I always loved the idea of all those stories available in the pulp magazines, but we have that right now - only in digital form. Perfect analogy. :)
 

MikeKardec

One Too Many
Messages
1,148
Location
Los Angeles
Originally e-pubed but now successful paper book authors have already started leaking across the digital/paper divide. Kindle stud Hugh Howey (his "wool" series is/was the most reviewed book (maybe even product) on Amazon) is now publishing in paper. A couple of friends of mine have been successful at more modest levels and I'm sure there are plenty others but I haven't bothered to do any research, and of course .... 50 Shades of Gray and it's sequels.

Some of the reason major publishers started considering doing their own direct e-books was to lower the bar in order to discover new authors. It was only since then that they discovered (or admitted) that the lower price point that a digital-only book could achieve was having a positive effect on the marketplace. Paper books; manufacturing, managing inventory, transportation, returns and remaindering (selling the returns), are expensive and absorb a lot of effort ... but it's amazing how much less effort it all takes today than it took in the 1990s and it took less at that time than it did in the 1960s. In the old days the middle men had middle men.
 

AmateisGal

I'll Lock Up
Messages
6,069
Location
Nebraska
I love how it has opened up the opportunity to publish for so many people. Even if it's just a memoir that you want for your family, you can publish it and buy only a few copies. I just had a children's book idea hit me last night (I scribbled the idea on my notebook in the dark because, as often happens, I thought of it while trying to fall asleep) and I think it would be great fun to try the self-publishing route with it.

Of course, the downside to the ability for everyone to publish is that, well, everyone can publish. There is some really awful dreck out there, and sometimes, what makes it worse is that the person who wrote and published it thinks it's the best.thing.ever. I ran across a lot of that when I worked for a major self-publisher. To be fair, though, traditional publishing put out a lot of dreck, too, and that's after it went through copyeditors, editors, etc.
 

Bushman

I'll Lock Up
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4,078
Location
Joliet
Did a free write for my final in writing and rhetoric. Ended up typing up 4 pages on what I believed writing has become in the 21st Century, while almost everybody else did a page or two.
 

AmateisGal

I'll Lock Up
Messages
6,069
Location
Nebraska
Did a free write for my final in writing and rhetoric. Ended up typing up 4 pages on what I believed writing has become in the 21st Century, while almost everybody else did a page or two.

Freewriting is one of the best things to do, period. It frees us up in a way that focusing on a specific topic does not. My freshman English teacher taught me this technique and it has become a great way for me to work through plot issues or character conundrums, and is great therapy, too!
 

AmateisGal

I'll Lock Up
Messages
6,069
Location
Nebraska
Been slowly chipping away at this darn writer's block on my novel. With the holidays and everything else going on, I lost touch with my characters and my story. I think it's the lack of routine (been on vacation for 10 days).
 

2jakes

I'll Lock Up
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9,680
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Alamo Heights ☀️ Texas
Been slowly chipping away at this darn writer's block on my novel. With the holidays and everything else going on, I lost touch with my characters and my story. I think it's the lack of routine (been on vacation for 10 days).


I’m curious.
Do you take notes of events, ideas or collect clippings or whatever that you feel
might be pertinent to your work and keep them in a drawer or whatever until you
have enough material ?
Then the task begins when you start to create your ideas & how or where in what
direction you want it to go?
I’m not a writer & perhaps this doesn’t make sense.
I do landscape oil painting, but not on a regular basis & somedays it comes easy
while other times, I simply walk away until I feel I can do it.
Thanks.
 

belfastboy

I'll Lock Up
Messages
8,849
Location
vancouver, canada
I am in the final phase of writing the first draft of my first novel. Question to the experienced writers in The Lounge; can you recommend any books that you have found helpful as a writer? Books on structure, story character etc that you can recommend would be helpful. I have read just two and found both valuable...Stephen King's book On Writing and Larry Brooks Story Engineering. Any others?
 

Harp

I'll Lock Up
Messages
8,508
Location
Chicago, IL US
I have read just two and found both valuable...Stephen King's book On Writing....

King's book was a real find for me as I do not favor him. On Writing is a splendid guide to the daily grind of it all.
I read some advice somewhere from James Jones and Nelson Algren, habits are inculcated over time and experience.
Congratulations on your first book.
 

AmateisGal

I'll Lock Up
Messages
6,069
Location
Nebraska
I am in the final phase of writing the first draft of my first novel. Question to the experienced writers in The Lounge; can you recommend any books that you have found helpful as a writer? Books on structure, story character etc that you can recommend would be helpful. I have read just two and found both valuable...Stephen King's book On Writing and Larry Brooks Story Engineering. Any others?

Congratulations on completing your first draft! That is a huge accomplishment! May I ask what your novel is about?

One of the best writing books, for me, was Debra Dixon's GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict. Simple, elegant, and terrific.

I also loved a Writer's Digest book called Description by Monica Wood (part of the Elements of Fiction Writing Series). It really opened my eyes to how we can use description in every single aspect of the story. I highly recommend it.

I go back and forth on the whole plotting thing - i.e. plot out every step and then write the novel, or uncover the novel as you go - and I've found this book helpful for that: Story Trumps Structure: How to Write Unforgettable Fiction by Breaking the Rules by Steven James.

Many writers recommend Anne Lamont's Bird by Bird, but I could never get into it and in fact, I think I gave my copy away.

And perhaps my all-time favorite book on writing fits perfectly with the Lounge: Brenda Ueland's If You Want to Write, published in 1938. An absolute gem of a book.
 

AmateisGal

I'll Lock Up
Messages
6,069
Location
Nebraska
I’m curious.
Do you take notes of events, ideas or collect clippings or whatever that you feel
might be pertinent to your work and keep them in a drawer or whatever until you
have enough material ?
Then the task begins when you start to create your ideas & how or where in what
direction you want it to go?
I’m not a writer & perhaps this doesn’t make sense.
I do landscape oil painting, but not on a regular basis & somedays it comes easy
while other times, I simply walk away until I feel I can do it.
Thanks.

I work differently than that, and my method is pretty unorthodox. I tend to think of a character or a situation that is intriguing to me and then build a story around it. For example, for my last novel, I wanted to examine the legacy of the anti-German sentiment of World War I in America within the context of World War II. How did these German immigrants, who were targeted for being Germans during WW1, respond when WW2 rolled around? Believe it or not, it wasn't an easy question to answer. Many Germans purged themselves of their culture, became "Americanized", following WW1. They changed their last names, no longer taught the German language in school, and were determined to be thought of as patriotic Americans and most definitely not German. So to make it interesting, I wanted to see how a small Nebraska town (fictional, of course) would react when a political refugee from Germany showed up, a stark reminder of their language and their culture. Would they embrace him? Fear him? I just begin to ask myself questions and keep going until I have a complete story. I often uncover a lot of things by actually writing the story - and that, for me, is one of the best parts of writing, the discovery process.
 

MikeKardec

One Too Many
Messages
1,148
Location
Los Angeles
I am in the final phase of writing the first draft of my first novel. Question to the experienced writers in The Lounge; can you recommend any books that you have found helpful as a writer? Books on structure, story character etc that you can recommend would be helpful. I have read just two and found both valuable...Stephen King's book On Writing and Larry Brooks Story Engineering. Any others?

Worrying too much about structure can be deadly. William Goldman probably addressed the subject best, he said something like, "Find A structure." And that's about all I've read from him on that subject. Good advice. Don't let structure get into your head until you are sophisticated enough that allowing yourself to get that technical doesn't put out of the whole experience.

I look at it like this: There's a writer and a reader. The two have a contract. The reader will set aside his or her everyday life and read what the writer has to say ... but the writer has to make it worth their while. The exchange is about trading attention for entertainment or knowledge or both. Ultimately, structure is what the writer gives to the reader in order to convince them that what is coming IS going to be worth their while. That's the purpose. The fundamental. The strategy.

Believe it or not, unless you have been divorced from western culture your whole life, you probably already understand the tactics, the method of achieving a result good enough to get a first draft down. It's hard to apply much of what many of the books have to say until you do that.

Books on writing, especially books on screen writing (where doing it right is like doing great Haiku), go wild on structure. If you are a practiced writer who is in control of your medium it's all useful and can be used artfully. If you are not the advanced stuff will just slow you down and gum up your head with junk. It's worth knowing that people talk a lot about "three act structure" but there is NO RULE WHATSOEVER that you need to structure in three acts. It's just that you don't have a pattern until you hit the number three, so it's sort of the minimum: Introduction, development, resolution. "Development" can usually be about as many "acts" as you want ... until it gets dull or the least bit repetitious ... then you need fewer.

For beginning writers (for screen or literature) I like to recommend Linda Seger's "Making a Good Script Great." It gives just enough on each of the many subjects it covers to inform you and get you thinking, but not so much that it causes creative paralysis. It is also about REWRITING. As above, messing around with too much instruction before you have a draft down on paper in some form is a waste of time. The material in any writing "how to" book is just confusing until you have some work of your own to directly apply it to.

There is a lot of good books out there once you get going, each is got some quality ideas and some nonsense. I could go on about them all day but it's better if you spend your time writing.

P.S. I made myself type out several chapters out of a number of books I admired just to see how the writers were doing what they were doing on a word by word basis. I made myself type hunt and peck style to REALLY make it a technical experience. It really made me note how much or how little dialog they were writing, how long the paragraphs were, how deep into description they went and what their pace of information was like. It's a worthwhile exercise.
 

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