Monday, April 30, 2012

Do I constantly re-write old stories or write new ones?

It's the question that most baffles new writers: do I re-write old stories or write new ones?

This is a question that has even eluded me a time or two.  I have, at present time, five completed novels and about twenty-plus short stories.  For the past few years--aside from my wedding planning ebook, which I launched on April 4th, 2012--I haven't written very much in the way of new stories.  In the later part of 2011, I did write two short stories.  But novel-wise, I have nothing new . . . except for about twenty-five beginnings to novels.

Is there a time when you should just abandon your "old" stuff and write "new"?  I think this could be answered as yes and no.  First, I think if you have a few others read it--and I don't mean your relatives or people who don't even like to read, let alone in the genre you're currently writing in--and they are very critical of it, it might be best to abandon it . . . for now.  Second, if you have a new story that's just itching to get written, go ahead and write it.

A lot of this depends on you.  Each writer is different.  If you've been editing a novel for the past ten years or so, it might be best to try your hand at a new story.  There's nothing that says you can't go back to it.  I have a few stories that are going to sit on the backburner for at least five years or more.  Will I go back to them though?  Yes.  But not now.

Friday, April 27, 2012

When writing, the devil is in the details

What's wrong with this sentence?

"Mitchell grabbed the Glock .45-caliber, cocked backed the hammer, and aimed."

Do you see it?

How can you cock back the hammer on a Glock?  Glocks don't have hammers--at least, ones that you can see.

I read a similar passage by a very well-known thriller writer and nearly threw the book in the garbage.  I couldn't believe what I was reading.

When writing, the smallest details can be picked up by someone if they're familiar with it.  I'm no expert in firearms, but I know enough to see the difference.

Sometimes, as they say, the devil is in the details.  Put just enough details in the descriptions to make it interesting, yet don't worry about over-describing something to the point where it's a research paper on that particular thing.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

What topics would you like to see covered?

I've been writing and writing for so long now, and I want to take this day to ask what topics you'd like to see covered?

The basics of writing?

Topics in specific genres, like fantasy, thrillers, or horror?

More on the business of writing?

Please comment below what you'd like to see in upcoming blogs or e-mail me your ideas at  Happy writing!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Writing Prompt Wednesday - Episode #20

In a continuation of last week's writing prompt, let's take the same scenario except in reverse: you open your e-mail browser, only to find an e-mail directed towards your spouse from an old "friend."

Happy writing.

What I did wrong with the use of flashbacks in my first novel.

Keeping on task with our talk about flashbacks, let me be the first to admit that in my first novel--the deer hunting horror story I wrote back in college--I used a lot of flashbacks.  And I mean a lot.  In the first three chapters!

The bulk of the book was relatively flashback-free, but I used up my store of flashbacks in the first three chapters, with three alone in the first chapter.

A huge no-no!

Okay, I know this now, but I didn't then.

In the editing process, I've eliminated most of them from these chapters and have sprinkled a few to later chapters.  When I plan on going through this book again--when, I have no idea, but it's fair to say that it'll be years before that book will ever see publication--I'll chop it up even more and strike . . . well, all of them.  Looking at it now, all of the flashbacks I used were amateurish and completely useless to the telling of the story.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

To use a flashback . . . or not. That is the question.

Much debate has been used on the use of flashbacks.

Flashbacks, for the most part, are seen as amateurish, the mark of a beginning writer trying to be clever in his/her storytelling.

But can it be of use?

The short answer is yes.  Flashbacks, in one form or another, is seen in most books.  Even the mere mention of something in the past could be considered a flashback of sorts--okay, many will think of a flashback as the world around you growing wobbly, swirling, twirling, transforming from the now to the world of then.  Mostly, it's used to establish a past of something.  Could we really read about Harry Potter, knowing he's an orphan, and not wonder what happened to his parents?  Rowling is a genius, though, for not delving too much into Harry's past.  She establishes that they're dead, it was tragic, and moves on.

If a flashback is really needed to tell about one's past, try this method: tell the story at the beginning, chronologically, and then we'll see it for ourselves.  If that doesn't work, insert slices of it throughout your book to pull the reader along.

Monday, April 23, 2012

What is a flashback?

A flashback is a literary device used to plant a past scene into the present scene.

This can, essentially, be done in two main ways:

First, you can use a scene break and bring the reader to the past scene in question.

Second, if it's part of the dialogue, the speaker can tell about the past event.

I'm sure there are other ways I haven't thought of, or offshoots of these two, but for now let's limit the flashbacks to these.  We'll explore the use (or non-use) of flashbacks in the next few blogs.  In the meantime, please comment on whether or not you feel flashbacks are useful.  Also, what is your favorite flashback in a novel?

Friday, April 20, 2012

What if "writing what you know" doesn't get you anywhere

Let's face it, writing what you know is only short-sighting your writing career.

Sure, John Grisham was a lawyer, so it seems natural that most of his novels are in the legal thriller arena.  But not all of them.

Stephen King was, at one time, an English teacher.  Many of his characters are also.  But not all.

Anne Rice spends many of her weekends hanging around vampires and swapping stories--okay, that one's a little far-fetched, but you get what I mean.

I'm almost positive John Sanford--who is a pseudonym, besides--never worked as a hard-charging police investigator.

What about J. R. R. Tolkien, J. K. Rowling, Robert Jordan, and Brandon Sanderson?  Their fiction is largely in the fantasy world.  Can't use any of their "write what you know" there.

I think it should be rephrased to be "Write what you want to know" or even better yet is "Write what you love."  There's nothing with writing what you love to read.  In fact, it's strongly encouraged.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

What not to do with your first draft

Long ago, I used to say that when writing your first draft, "vomit" everything you can onto the page--meaning, write anything and everything concerning the story, no matter how bizarre.  You can always, in the end, take it out.

Although it may seem logical at the time, you may not want to write whatever comes to mind.  Be constantly asking if this or that fits in the story.  If it does, keep it in.  If it doesn't, strike it.

What else not to do?

Resist the temptation of going back and revising/editing.  I made this mistake in my first novel--a deer hunting horror story that is a pure homage to Stephen King--when I re-wrote my first chapter so many times, there ended up with three flashbacks and was over fifty pages in length.  Yes, I said 50 freaking pages!  In the end, I actually moved that chapter to chapter two, struck all of the flashbacks, and cut the length down to fifteen crisp pages.  Is it perfect?  Far from it.  I haven't re-read that book in probably 4-5 years, and I have a laundry list of changes I need to make to it--and that's even before re-reading it!

If you hit a roadblock and don't know what to write--I've been there, got the T-shirt--just write whatever comes to mind.  You'd be surprised with what you may come up with.  In my thriller Beholder's Eye I hit such a roadblock around the middle of the book.  I just kept writing and writing, then all of a sudden the main character witnessed a terrible car accident, which seemed unrelated to the story.

Or was it?

Another remedy to the old writer's block is to sleep on it.  Roll the problem over and over in your mind as you fall asleep.  This has happened a few times, then in a flash of inspiration the solution comes to me.  Have a notebook handy near where you sleep.  You never know when inspiration will strike.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Writing Prompt Wednesday - Episode #19

You open your e-mail browser, only to find an e-mail from someone you haven't heard from in years.

Who is it?

Happy writing.

How do I write a first draft?

Keep in mind, all writers are different.  Each one has their quirks and habits, even when it comes to writing a first draft.

Let's take the first draft of a novel.

After I get an idea, and after I've decided that this is the next novel I'm going to write, how I continue depends largely on whether or not I have the first few sentences or not.  If I do, what flows next usually just comes to me.  If not, then I imagine where the story starts and just start writing.

Bottom line: I put words onto the page.  Later on, once the first draft is complete, I may go back and change it, but when I'm writing the first draft, I don't go back and change anything, even if I want to.  I resist all temptation--I may write down what it is I want to change, just in case it does make sense--and plow on until the end.

Most writers typically write a certain number of words a day.  I probably could nowadays, since I use Microsoft Word, but when I first started getting serious about writing back in college, I wrote my first two novels on a Brother word processor.  The best I could do then is write a certain number of pages.  To me, a page goal is more attainable to me instead of a word goal.

But, I stress, this is the way I write.  You write however you see fit.

I also don't outline ahead of time.  To me, outlining is a waste of time--sorry, if you're a huge proponent of outlining.  I have to admit, the first novel I ever completed was largely outlined, but it was very limited in scope. I used a balloon method of brainstorming, which looked a lot like this:

I usually used this method to keep everything straight.  Then again, I learned much on my first novel--what to  do and what not to do--that I've never really used this method since.

How do you write your first drafts?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

More writing excuses

As a continuation of yesterday's blog, this was inspired by a podcast from Writing Excuses posted a few weeks ago.

What are your excuses?

Mine, whenever it comes up, seems to be geared around time.  Not nearly enough, even though everyone has the same amount.  Some people accomplish great things with the same amount of time of others who do little more than get up, go to work, come home, watch hours of mindless TV, and go to bed.

I've had to work extremely hard to keep myself on track with my writing.  Keeping up with this blog has helped immensely, especially when I made it a commitment to write a post every weekday (M-F).  And when I say I'm going to do something, I typically don't like to go back on my word.

Unless I really, really have to.

I thought I'd have to put the writing on hold, temporarily, when I had computer problems.  Even though they're not completely fixed (and I still have yet to get a new laptop/computer), I found a way around it, for now, and have continued to write.

I've also made a commitment to get up around 5:30 every morning (M-F) and write until 7:00.  I tried getting up at 6:00 and for some reason I found it difficult.  So why isn't 5:30 even harder?

Look at what's holding you back and brainstorm how you're going to fix it.  With my early-to-rise mentality, I've also had to go to bed earlier.  I made a commitment to my children that they have to be getting ready for bed by a certain time, and after they're tucked away I sit down and write.

What's holding you back?

What's your excuses?

Then, please share how you're overcome those obstacles.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Writing excuses

A few weeks ago, Writing Excuses had an extremely hilarious podcast concerning writers and their excuses for not writing.

Although they may have taken it to the extreme, one has to stop, look back, and look at the things that have stood in your way of not writing.

"I'll just watch one more TV show."

"I'll just read this book, because I need to read a lot if I'm going to be a writer."

"I'll just outline or world-build this story a bit more, because I don't feel it's just right."

"When the kids are out of school, then I'll start writing."

"I don't think this is just the right story for me."

And on and on . . .

Stop the excuses.  Sit down and write.  Do it today.  Not tomorrow.  Today.

No, I told you to sit down.  Don't get up and get a drink of water.  Write.  Write a page, then you can get a drink.

If at this point you keep coming up with excuses, then writing (or whatever it is you think you want to do) isn't your passion.

Friday, April 13, 2012

"You had to be there."

These words you'll probably never hear a good writer say: "I can't describe it.  You had to be there."

Writers (if they're any good) should know how to take the situation where the average Joe can't describe and paint a picture that makes one feel like you're right there and understand it.

And if you are a writer and find yourself wanting to say that, slow down.  Slow way down.  Look at the scene you want to describe.  Use all of the senses, if you have to, but even using one or two of the rarer senses used in writing (I'm thinking of smell, myself) can improve your writing greatly.

I challenge you to take a difficult situation to understand and start writing the events leading up to it.  You'd be amazed at how much more clarity you'll get.

All writers should strive to improve your craft.

You improve by writing every single day, rain or shine, in sickness and in health, until we part ways from this world.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Can gaming help with story ideas?

Gaming can help with story ideas.

I stress the word can.

Don't rely solely on the game and how it progressed.  Make the story your own.  If you wish to use a setting similar to a game you experienced, then by all means use it as long as it doesn't have any copywrite or trademark hinged onto it.

Those of you who play role-playing games may suddenly experience a spark of inspiration when playing a game, and want to use it as a future novel.  This may work out, but be careful that each character acts like the character that they are.

Or you can do what I do and use the gaming as pure inspiration to write a compelling story.  I don't game very often, but even when I read a good fantasy (or horror or thriller) novel, it too can inspire me in more ways than a good game.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Writing Prompt Wednesday - Episode #18

Write a paragraph using this classic opening line: "It was a dark and stormy night . . ."

Happy writing.

What a difference a year makes

"You have Acute Myeloid Leukemia."

Oddly enough, this news that my wife received about her health didn't come to her as a shock.  She expected it.

"Okay," she said, "that's what I thought.  Now what do we do?"

The doctor, exactly one year ago today, was probably in more of a shock that Melissa knew that she had AML and was prepared to deal with it.  A few weeks prior to this, she had been doctoring back and forth, eliminating the most common ailments and narrowing the list down.

During this time, she had a stack of medical book two feet high at home, and used them to study her various blood tests.  She told me once, "I think I have leukemia."

Always trying to remain positive, I told her that it must be something else, but she wouldn't hear of it.  The only question for her was whether it was acute or chronic myeloid leukemia.

And she said, "If it's the acute, we'll need to go to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester."

In the end, that's exactly what we did.

I spent many weekends, probably almost two dozen trips in all, going to Rochester with our three kids to visit Melissa.  Although she hit many roadblocks along the way, she plowed through them.  It'll still be a long process, but we're prepared for anything.

Can't believe how one can grow in a year.

How much one can learn.

And appreciate the little things more and more . . .

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Is gaming a waste of time?

Is gaming a waste of time?

Gaming can be anything from Facebook games and online games (i.e. World Of Warcraft) and video games in general.  Gaming can also be role-playing games, like Dungeons and Dragons.

How much of it rules your life?

If you look back on your day, and see that gaming (or any other activity) takes up a large chunk of time, then you may have to cut back.

Or, if you set a daily goal (one that you have to work hard to achieve) and use gaming as a reward for a day's hard work, that can work too.

So, to answer the ultimate question of whether or not gaming is a waste of time is relevant to you and your situation.  If gaming eats up 3-4 hours a night and you still haven't finished the first chapter of your book, it may be good to cease gaming until you've started down to road to achieving your dreams.

Monday, April 9, 2012

"Dad, what's a Democrat?"

Recently, the 2009 movie the Blind Side was on TV and my kids were watching it.  I happened to be writing in the other room when each of them came up to me and asked, "Dad, what's a Democrat?"

Seems like such an odd question from both my thirteen and eight-year old, when I discovered the origin of their question came from the movie:

My purpose here is not to be political or even give favor to one side or the other, because that's not the purpose of this or any of my blogs.  I have strong opinions, and some of those involves politics, but those I will keep to myself.

My purpose is the power of asking questions.  One should never assume you know the answer.  Research the question.  You might be surprised to find most really don't know how to answer it.  Kids, while growing up, are prone to asking question after question until they're satisfied they have a grasp on the concept.  My son, for example, has a growing interest in cars--and asks lots and lots of questions about them.  Many of them I don't know so I show him where to find the answer.  Funny thing is, it only leads him to asking more questions.

Grown-ups don't ask as many questions as they should.  I'm just as much to blame as anyone, but it's something I'm working on.

As far as the question my children asked at the beginning of this blog post, even after I reviewed Wikipedia on both Democrat or Republican, oddly enough I found myself even asking the same question.

Friday, April 6, 2012

When am I ever going to use that?

Many spend much of their school career learning topics they have no interest in.  In college, although we steered towards topics we did have an interest in, we still had to take a slug of general classes we all had to take that once again sparked no interest.

Or did they?

Many times over the years since college and high school, I’m confronted by something that makes me dig back into the deepest recesses of my brain to find that one small nugget I learned in ____________ (name the class/instructor).  Funny thing is I may even remember where I was sitting in the class when I learned it.

Learning should be something we don’t stop doing when we graduate from said institution.  Learning should be a part of your everyday life.  I’ve read several books, or listened to several podcasts, where I find myself sharing information with someone else when I can present a possible solution to their problem.  I’ve done that several times in this blog.  Recently, I’ve looked back about six months ago and have been amazed at what I’ve learned in that short time frame—and in the past two months I’ve learned much about self-publishing, but am in no way do I consider myself an expert.  I have a long ways, and publish a lot more books, until I’ve hit that level.  And the funny thing is, I’ve read a fair bit about self-publishing (on over the past few years that many of those nuggets came to the surface at the right time when I needed it.

So even though you may wonder when you’ll ever use the knowledge learned in algebra or physics in high school, you may be surprised at even deducing how to solve a problem, you’ll find yourself down that rabbit hole into your past and find yourself saying, “You know something, Mr. Taylor was right.”

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Another side of making decisions

As a continuation of yesterday's post, I have to add that most people take too long on the easy decisions and not enough time on the ones that should matter.

When should I write that book?

When should I start exercising?

When should I ask her (or him) out on a date?

When should I start this business?

Most of the time, people who will go through life unsuccessfully will never answer these questions--or questions like it.  They'll procrastinate answering them.

Successful people look at these questions and pull the trigger quickly.  Is it going to be perfect?  No.  What if you get turned down?  Try again.

I've learned a lot about e-publishing these last two months.  There's a lot more work that goes into putting together an ebook than I had ever imagined.  But I'm glad I did.  I'm satisfied I pulled the trigger and did it.  Last night, I uploaded my new ebook onto the Amazon Kindle site and they said it could take around 12-24 hours to be seen on the site.

And when it does, I'll share the news with you.

Am I an expert in self-publishing now?  Hell no!  But I know a lot more now than I did two months ago.  And I have a lot more to learn.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Writing Prompt Wednesday - Episode #17

Remember the first time you met someone you truly loved.  Write it out, using dialogue, descriptions, and narrative.

Write it three ways: first person with each person, then third person-limited.

Happy writing.

Need to make a decision?

Decisions come in all flavors and sizes.

Decisions also can have either a large or small impact on your life, depending on what it is.

Small decisions, over time, can have a negative impact (i.e. eating that one chocolate chip cookie every night before you go to bed may lead to obesity).

The same can be said about positive decisions too, like reading one nonfiction book a month.  Over time, you will not only increase your knowledge, it'll make you more valuable and eventually more successful.

Now I don't mean this to say that you need to look at yourself in the mirror every day like Stuart Smalley (Al Franken's character on Saturday Night Live) and tell yourself that you're wonderful either.

Recently, I made a decision to resign from my part-time job.  It was a huge decision--one that took several months to actually make--for not only had I been employed there for 12 and a half years, I enjoyed the work.  However, with caring for my wife, kids getting older, and my writing taking up more of my life (and with writing being something I truly love to do), I had to turn down so many shifts that I was offered to work that it didn't make sense for me to stay on any longer.  It's sad to leave, for I made many friends there, but I'll still see them around.  It's not like I'm leaving this mortal land.

The biggest decision that my wife and I made last year, regarding her leukemia treatments, was whether to go with a bone marrow transplant or not.  The doctor gave us all of the options, but for that one, the decision was easy: we go with the bone marrow transplant, despite the immediate risks, for the long-term risks are less.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

How do you handle problems?

I'll be the first to admit that there are times I don't handle problems very well.  I may fly-off-the-handle and cuss, but then there are times when I remain calm.

I'm working on increasing the times I'm the latter vs. the former.

Last year was a testament to how I was able to handle problems.  It all started in January with our catastrophic financial events.  We worked through them but not without a lot of blood, sweat, and tears--we worked our butts off!  Then, in April, when my wife was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and spent the bulk of the remaining year in Rochester, MN, at the Mayo Clinic, I have to admit: being a single father (temporarily) really stunk.  2012 so far is turning out to be on the right track, but it still has it's valleys between the hills.  We still have financial problems (debt, in other words) but have a plan to eliminate them for good.  It's still a long road, and are sure some of the mega-banks are going to try mess with it, but with the tools my wife and I have learned through Dave Ramsey we're going to survive.

Then, when my laptop took a dump last week, I came close to flying off the handle again . . . but remained calm and came up with a plan to alleviate the problem, even temporarily.  And what really stunk is that I have an ebook coming out (for details, go to my Mr. Shoestring blog and click on the "ebook" tab) very, very soon and I'm hoping this doesn't delay it.

How do you handle problems?

Monday, April 2, 2012

When things go bad

Last week was not a very good week.  It had nothing to do with my wife's health or even the health of my children.  I knew much of my life had to do with being connected through this blog or any of the other social media outlets.

My laptop went down.


It all started Monday night when the screen started flickering.  I didn't think anything of it at the time, but when I started working on it Tuesday, the screen flickered so bad at times that I thought the laptop was going to blow up--not literally, but you get my meaning.  The flickering screen would go on for four or five minutes and then stop.  Well, like anybody nowadays when a challenge sets itself up, I consult Dr. Google.

With the dual partnership with YouTube (yes, I know they're on in the same company), I discovered a myriad of diagnosis: ranging from a loose connector to a fried motherboard.  I consulted with a guy I work with, and even with a relative, who came to the same conclusion: try hooking an external monitor to it.

Great!  I have two!  Unfortunately, one didn't work and the other wasn't working either . . . however, as of yesterday, I did hook one of them up and it miraculously works.  I'm still searching for a new laptop, but will need to save for it.

Luckily, how I write this blog is simple: on weekends or the week before I write out the five blogs for the next week.  In this case, it worked out because my blogs were scheduled and released without a hitch, and all without the world knowing the problems.

But now I'm writing this on Sunday night and if I happen to skip a day (I'm hoping this shouldn't happen) you know it's because the laptop is acting up again and I haven't frequented the computer store to get a new one.