Posts Tagged ‘Rules’

I’ve had an idea for years—at least since 2008—but I have never really acted on it. Until now.

A couple of weeks ago Cate and I worked the Cayce Festival of the Arts right down the road from where I grew up and at the high school I graduated from. We had my books and her bookmarks out. I did a reading of one of my short stories, which went better than expected. It was a long day, but a good one. We did okay, as far as sells were concerned. We enjoyed ourselves and we met some cool people.

One thing Cate noticed that I didn’t (probably because she is much better about these things than I am) is how many children came to our table with their parents wanting books. She noted that at least a dozen little kids came to our table looking for children’s books. Unfortunately, they walked away empty handed.

“Are you ever going to write that children’s book you talked about a few years ago?” she asked me.

“I don’t know,” I responded. “I’ve played around with the idea, but I’ve never really tried to write it.”

“You should.”

“Why is that?”

She went on to explain how many kids walked away, disappointed I didn’t have any children’s books (especially seeing how we had a stuffed teddy bear in bunny pajamas on the table).

Later that evening we talked about it again. A couple of days passed and we talked about it again.

It’s not like I don’t already have a concept for the book. I do. I think it is a good idea. I also think it will be fun to write. With that in mind, I am attempting to write a children’s book. It is a daunting task, but one I look forward to.

Let me be honest here: writing a children’s book is completely out of my element. It’s nothing like writing a short story or novel. It is completely different and new to me. It will be a learning experience, and hopefully, something I can apply to my writing as a whole, going forward.

I’m excited about this, and I hope you are, too.

Over the next few weeks I will post updates here. Part of the reason for that is to hold myself accountable. By putting this out there, it makes me stay true to my word and do it. Hopefully, if you are not excited about this right now, you will be by the end of the process.

Consider this the first update.

April 8th: Cate and I worked the Cayce Festival of the Arts and she suggested writing a children’s book.

April 9th: Scoured the computer for a file I wrote back in 2008. It took me half an hour to find it, but there it was under Misadventures of Scarecrow Girl and Pumpkin Boy. I Opened the file and read the contents—all 1489 words.

This is where I put my head in my hands and said, “What the heck was I thinking when I wrote that drivel?” It wasn’t that it was bad, but it wouldn’t do for a children’s book.

April 11th: Cate and I went to the library and checked out a few children’s books of various lengths and subjects.

April 13th: I sat down with pad and pencil and the stack of children’s books and read. I made notes in my handy dandy notebook (come on, please tell me someone got the reference), paying close attention to how much text was on the pages and how many pages were in each book. Just for the record, there was a lot more text than I expected and the average pages in each book was 28 (most of the books ran from 26-32 pages in length).

April 14th, 15th & 16th: Online research about children’s books and how to write them. There is a lot of content on the interwebs. Most of them said very similar things in what is needed in a children’s books. Notes were made. Thoughts were had. Ideas were forthcoming.

April 17th & 18th: Here is where I did a lot of reading on the actual rules of writing children’s books. As any of you who follow this page knows, I often break the rules of writing. Many writers think I suck because of that. The readers, however, like the way I write, so I break the rules when it is warranted. The thing about children’s books, though, is you can’t really break a lot of the rules. They are a tough crowd and their attention spans are not quite as long as an adult’s (for the most part). The structure, amount of pages and words and the types of words used are very important to holding that attention span.

Several pages in the notepad were filled, some of them highlighted—these are what I took as some of the most important points to remember.  I will refer back to this over and over as I go forward.

April 18th: Started outlining what I hope will be a good story. Brainstorming, complete with the thunder, lightning and rain in the brain.

April 19th: Finished the outline at lunch and read it over. There is a dilemma and a moral and it is not preachy. I like it. I think you will, as well.

April 19th: Getting more excited about this.

There is one other thing I haven’t told you. My kids, The Girl and The Boy, want to illustrate the book. This excites me as much as writing the actual story. It remains to be seen if they will actually do it, but the opportunity is there for them.

So, that is what I have for now. The beginnings of a children’s book. I hope it turns out the way I want it to. If it does, there may be more of these in the future. i don’t know yet.

What I do know is I am excited. I think I have said that a few times here in this post. I hope you all are as excited.

Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J.

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nighthawks-atthemission-king-styleSometimes you meet someone who has a different viewpoint than most folks. The viewpoint can sometimes be bad and sometimes be good. It can also be refreshing. One of those viewpoints I find refreshing belongs to Forbes West, a writer, producer and a podcaster. 

When I sat down to do this interview with Forbes, I honestly didn’t know what to expect, but I quickly learned this is someone I like, someone who shares similar viewpoints as I do about writing. Y’all sit back and have a coffee, soda or brew and let me introduce you to Forbes West.

AJB: Okay, for starters, let’s talk about you. Who is Forbes West, the person?

FW: I’m nobody. I’m a tramp, a bum, a hobo. I’m a boxcar and a jug of wine, and a straight razor if you get too close to me. Or a person who is fond of using Charles Manson quotes to respond to texts.

AJB: Fan of Charles Manson?

FW: Am I a fan of Manson? Nope, but he’s the King Emperor of bat shit crazy things to say. Too bad his musical career never took off because he decided to kill a celebrity or otherwise he’d be the most quotable man on the planet.

AJB: He still could be one of the most quotable men on the planet. He definitely has some unique views.

FW: Unique is a good term. Covers a lot of ground.

I’m just a guy who lives and works in California, who’s been lucky to still be married and I get to live part time here in the USA and Japan. My wife is Japanese, we own a home in Shizouka prefecture, and I write novels and produce films.

AJB: You said you live part time in Japan and USA. I’m sure there are a LOT of differences between the two countries. What, from your experience, are the biggest differences between the two?

FW: Biggest differences is freedom vs community. That’s not to say one is better than the other. They aren’t. There’s pros and cons to both. But in California, which my wife loves, she can do whatever she wishes to be. She can strive for the stars. She can be creative and fun and hang out with people with massively different backgrounds with little to no judgment. You can be whoever you can be. In Japan, there’s a sense of being in a real community, where people ask you how your day has been, where bicycles can be left on the sidewalk without a chain, where your neighbors look out for you and people who know you can’t speak the language take a moment to speak yours. Safety, stability, cleanliness, and order. You can walk down any street and know people are looking out for you and actually care.

AJB: Wow, that sounds the way things used to be here where I live when I was a kid. That is, honestly, the way the world should be. Look out for one another.

Just out of curiosity, which do you prefer?

FW: I honestly don’t prefer either one. I love California and Japan. I think California has the ability to do so many random things. And again, everyone has different backgrounds, different views, and seem to be living in peace. I love the multiculturalism there and seeing people from radically different backgrounds.

AJB: I love that mindset, Forbes.

FW: My wife prefers it as well. Japan has many wonderful things, to be honest. Food, culture, and the most kind people I have ever met. But, its one thing to visit and go around Japan. To live there, it can be very oppressive at times. The companies control everything, and its not unheard of to know people working 80 hours a week, with only 40 hours paid, and to have the most verbally and emotionally abusive bosses overhead. The social pressure is enormous.

AJB: Wow. That’s crazy.

FW: So in a lot of ways, it is like the 1960s of the USA. Sure, there are real communities (which is a terrible thing we’ve lost) but the everyday B.S. can be overwhelming. It’s like California and Japan are opposite ends of the spectrum.

AJB: How did you come to be able to travel back and forth between the two countries?

FW: Well, we’ve been lucky and fortunate that my wife works as a Professor for a college, so she doesn’t have the year long schedule, and my schedule is also flexible. We own a home in Japan so there’s no additional costs besides airplane tickets. So in the winter and in the summer we travel back.

AJB: Man, I think that would be a blast,  and something to look forward to during the year.

Let’s switch gears for a second and talk business.

FW: Sure thing.

AJB: You are a producer of films and a writer and a podcaster. Which of those came first and which one do you find to be the most difficult?

FW: Films. Podcasting is just pure fun but films are incredibly difficult. Even producing and putting together a short film was the most difficult thing I have ever done. It’s a true battle—and on many fronts—accounting, getting people together, finding locations, money, story, etc. etc.

AJB: I would think the films would be the most difficult as well. You said Podcasting is just pure fun. What makes it fun? Is this something that you can say, ‘hey I’m going to do this and we’re going to have a blast?

FW: Pretty much. I’ve met some great people (Jon Frater, Michael Bunker, Rob McClellan, Nick Cole, Christopher Boore, and Todd Barselow) and just getting together with them and shooting the shit has been epic. Authors, editors and publishers getting together, especially with the intellect involved, and everyone has a great sense of humor—its’ been a blast. Interviewing with them, talking about issues, etc, all been great.
Oh and Jason Anspach. He’s a jerk but he knows it, he’s mentioned last on purpose. He knows why.

AJB: Sounds like doing a podcast allows you to be free and easy going and pretty much talk about whatever it is you want to discuss.

FW: Exactly. And thank God we live in a day and age where you can do this and just launch it all in a day

AJB: I’ve always wanted to do a podcast, and from what you have said, I think that desire may amp up a little.

Of the three, producing, podcasts, and writing, which came first?

FW: Writing. Just writing. I taught myself over the years while I was getting my Masters degree in political science. I started trying to write bad screenplays, awful novels, and started to turn it around. Writing to me, has always been like preparing for a marathon. There’s a ton of creative people out there, but you have to learn how to really just keep the energy up to finish what you started.

AJB: That is a very good point. Writing is very much like a marathon, and so many people give up because they get stuck instead of trying to see a way to fix where they became stuck.

You said you taught yourself over the years. Can you explain what you mean by that?

FW: Well, I read a lot of how to write a screenplay books, I read old screenplays (like the original Robocop and others, there’s a few sites out there that have copies and pdfs for you), and I just sort of tried every night to write up something.

I love stories, I love telling stories, and I just wanted to make something up that I would see on tv or on the big screen

After a while, I drifted into writing novels. Due to the freedom of the format—screenplays are somewhat limited in certain senses.

AJB: In what ways are screenplays different than novel writing?

FW: Screenplays have to focus on the visual image- you can’t just “show the thoughts” of a character, it has to play out in realtime in a way an audience can understand. You can’t have true introspection with a character with a screenplay, you don’t have that sense of jumping into someone’s skin. That’s the biggest difference for me

AJB: I can see that. I can definitely see that.

Your first novel is Nighthawks at the Mission?

FW: First one, yes. It was self-published, published with one publisher, and just recently re-published a few days ago with three new short stories.

AJB: So you originally self published Nighthawks at the Mission and then it was picked up by a publisher and re-published?

FW: That’s correct

Originally self published in 2013

AJB: Great. Congratulations on getting picked up.

Since you originally self-published Nighthawks at the Mission, can you tell me what the difference is between self publishing a book and having a publisher publish a book?

FW: Marketing. Really, just the ability to market the product. A person can easily have a great idea, get it well edited, have a kick ass cover. But the ability to market the book itself without real support from those who just know how to market, that’s the rub. Amazon has an amazing system to get your stuff out there, but Amazon doesn’t publicize a single thing. So if you don’t have a full time person working with you to really get your stuff out there, it’s not gonna happen. You could be that person, but the set of skills needed to do so is usually not found with the person who can write. It can happen, but its extremely rare.

AJB: Man, isn’t that the truth?

Okay, I want to shift gears  again. Outside of writing, producing and podcasting do you take yourself more seriously or less seriously than when you are creating?

FW: More seriously. Writing is my life, but it’s a lot of fantasy happening. I feel like when I’m writing or doing what I do, I think its pure fun in the end. The exasperation I get or the stress is the stress of trying to win a ball game or beat a video game. It’s not the same as dealing with office politics b.s. The stress is a much better stress to deal with.

AJB: Agreed. I guess that would make doing the podcasts even more fun—there’s no pressure in it.

You have to be creative to be in these fields. How do you view creativity and the act of creating a movie, a book or a podcast?

FW: I think creativity is something where you basically go with your subconscious. Whatever pops into your head. Whatever odd idea you may have. Whatever just bubbles up. I think most of the time people are actively limiting their creativity—that people worry too much about being embarrassed, or they want to do what is currently popular, and they want to find something that should be “profitable” instead of just letting their imagination run wild. You have to really try to make yourself go into a dream like state to make true creativity happen. You have to shed your ego a bit.

AJB: Well, dang! That is exactly how I feel about creativity.

So, with that in mind, with letting yourself get to that creative place, do you tend to follow the rules or just say ‘screw it’ and do your own thing?

FW: I don’t try to follow the rules. I think that, especially as a writer trying to break out, doing so will just make my work fall to the wayside. We live in a post-modern age; everything under the sun has been done and been read and/or viewed. You have to really try and stretch to do something different. And I think I did that with Nighthawks at the Mission.

AJB: Tell me about Nighthawks at the Mission.

forbes-west-cover-artFW: Nighthawks is my answer to the young adult field. It’s set in a world just like our own, but with one wrinkle—there’s a portal to another planet that opens twice a year in the South Pacific, and that planet has a resource that allows anyone to have paranormal/magical abilities. A young woman, sick of her life in SoCal, decided to become one of the many settlers there after her boyfriend screwed her over. She’s not a hero, she’s not the best person, but she does her best when dealing with the stresses of life on another world and living this post-modern colonial life with an alien species and a growing terrorist threat.  My character, Sarah Orange, reacts to these things realistically and many times badly. The book strips the bark off the usual YA tropes and turns them on their head, and we see a real person in a very fantastical setting prove herself

AJB: That sounds like a great storyline.

FW: Thank you!

AJB: With you stripping the bark off the usual YA tropes, do you feel you accomplished something unique with the book?

FW: I believe so. YA books always have the same protagonist. The story may be different, but the protagonist always is the same. Always trying to be the hero, always tough, always generous, always right, etc. etc. Mine isn’t. She’s a fuckup. She’s greedy. She’s angry. She’s selfish. She numbs her pain with drugs and alcohol. She’s foolish. She accidentally does the right thing. She’s very human. That’s the big difference between her and the others from Twilight, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, etc.  It seems like a real person.

AJB:Twilight…meh…

That is the trick, isn’t it? When the rubber meets the road, the whole thought is to have a believable character and a believable storyline. If you can capture that you have a great chance of capturing the audiences’ attention.

Okay, Forbes, I’ve kept you for a while, and I greatly appreciate your time, but I do have one or two more questions. The first of these is based on something I hear from a lot of authors. Many of them tell me their spouses or significant others do not really care what they do or they don’t support them in their desires to write, tell stories and get published. How does your wife feel about all of your creative endeavors?

FW: She loves it. She’s been the biggest cheerleader. She was the one who got me into it. We were dating at the time and I told her that I sort of liked writing, but really I wanted to do politics (hence my degree). She told me flat out that she wanted to hear more about what I write and that I had a voice and from that point on was always getting me books on writing, and sort of pushing me towards writing. She just flat out said “Writing’s a helluva lot cooler than politics.” I ignored her for a while about that, but in the end, I think she was damn right.

JB: I like your wife. She is definitely right! My wife is the same way, always pushing me to keep doing the one thing I love to do: tell stories.

Okay, where can we find Nighthawk at the Mission?

FW: http://forbeswestbooks.com/nighthawks-at-the-mission/

JB: Well, that was easy.

Normally, folks will ask, what advice do you have for others out there. I want to go in the opposite direction. What would you tell other authors, film makers, or really any artists, NOT to do?

FW: Not to do the same thing everyone else is doing and not to do the most popular thing. Don’t just rehash old material. Take a moment and think it out. Have you seen this idea more than 5 times in different formats? Are you just doing this because the same stuff is out there in the world? Then don’t bother. Your crew, your actors, your readers, and yourself will be bored. And you’re gonna work really hard on something that doesn’t mean a damn thing in the end.

JB: Preach it, Forbes.

Before we go our separate ways for now, is there anything else you would like to add in that we have not discussed?

FW: I don’t think so at the moment.

AJB: Thank you, Forbes. You are one cool dude.

FW: Thanks man! Thanks for having me.

You can check out Forbes at his website here: HERE

 

Because…

Posted: August 18, 2016 by ajbrown in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

Because…

I have something to say. This could be long, so if you’re not up to reading for a few minutes, I’m going to encourage you to go ahead and click the X in the upper right hand corner. I hate saying that, but I’m just going to be honest and some folks don’t care much for it. So, either click the X or read on. The choice is yours.

Because…

Honesty matters.

I’m not the best writer in the world. I’m better than some, worse than others. I know this and I am fine with it. Why? Because I know where I’ve been and how far I have come. I don’t want someone to tell me they think my work is great if they don’t believe the words coming out of his or her mouth.

We all want to hear we are marvelous, that we did a good job at something. We, in general, want folks to like us, and by extension, what we do. We don’t want to be criticized, and too many of us don’t know how to take that criticism when it comes (and it will come). We’re a society used to getting trophies for participation.

We don’t handle failure all that well. But failure isn’t always a bad thing. It teaches us what we did wrong and maybe what we shouldn’t do again. It hurts, but it also makes us tougher and wiser than before we failed.

For the record, you only fail when you quit trying.

When someone criticizes us we feel as if we have failed. This is not true. Criticism comes in two forms: constructive and destructive. Let’s address the destructive first. Destructive criticism is when someone tells you something that is insulting and not helpful to you. It is the type of criticism that is meant to hurt you instead of build you up. It is the type of criticism that is not enlightening at all. It is what we hear the most. It’s not what is said the most, but what we hear.

Constructive criticism is meant to help or provide direction. Though it is often negative, if listened to, it can lead to improvement in an area of weakness.

Destructive criticism implies failure. Constructive criticism can give you the tools toward success.

Are you with me so far? Good. Because I think I am about to take this in a different direction.

There is also such things as constructive praise and destructive praise.

Constructive praise is honest. It’s the cheerleader of praises. You just scored a touchdown. Ra ra ra. You did a great job. It generally focuses on the obvious good points. Constructive praise is good praise because it is based on the facts. It can also pump you up and inspire you to try harder at something, even if you are good at it.

Then there is destructive praise. Destructive praise is when someone says something that is not true, but they don’t have the heart to tell you the actual truth. It’s the type of praise that doesn’t inspire you to try harder to improve. It is the comfort food of praises. It is ice cream and beer, folks. You may have heard some destructive praise before and not realized it. It looks kind of like this: ‘Hey, you’re a phenomenal writer,’ or ‘That was the most amazing story I have ever heard.’

But…but…that’s not destructive. How is that destructive? Those are compliments. Not if they aren’t true. You have to understand that. It is destructive when the compliments are not true.

Destructive praise’s purpose is to stroke the ego. And other than that ego stroking, there is no value in it. It is not meant to help you. It’s also a lie. It is. Remember, it is when someone says something that isn’t true that is meant to not hurt someone else’s feelings.

I have never been one for destructive praise. I don’t particularly like it when I receive it and I don’t give it out. I have been told every once in a while it is a good idea to tell someone a lie to keep from hurting their feelings. I disagree. I would rather tell you the truth now and get it over with, than for you to find out a month from now that I lied to you. Because what is worse than finding out someone lied to you, even if they thought they were protecting your feelings? How can someone believe you if you tell them a lie? If you’ll tell one, then you’ll tell another, right?

Because…

Once upon a time there was this villager, and he wanted to find the land of Publish. It was a daunting task. He had no clue where to begin and he made a lot of bad decisions along the way. He wasn’t that great of a writer, but some of the villagers had read his (horrible) stories and had told him, ‘Dude, you’re pretty awesome.’

Lies. They were all lies. Well intended, but lies. So, this dude—and yeah, we will call him Dude from here out—started believing he was awesome. His head was somewhat swollen from the heaping amounts of praise that had been lavished on him. To the great land of Publish he traveled. He sought out all the kingdoms that published the written word, you know all the ones ending in ‘zine.’ At each stop along the way to Publish, all the kings and queens of the kingdoms of ‘zine’ laughed at him, swearing he must be in jest. They kicked him out of their kingdoms and told them to go home, son, you can’t possibly be good enough to be aloud in our kingdoms.

‘But I’m Dude, the Great.’

To this they laughed heartier at him.

So, Dude, the Great made his way back to his village, discouraged and not understanding why the kings and queens wanted nothing to do with him. Still, the villagers told him, ‘Dude, you ARE great.’

Lies. All lies.

So he set off again, in his quest to find the land of Publish. Finally, the queen of the kingdom known as House-of-Pain Ezine said, ‘Welcome, Dude, we will allow your words here.’

Finally, Dude, the Great had made it to Publish.

The villagers…they had to be right. But were they? Of course not. Of all the stories Dude, the Great had written, only one of them made it to Publish. But one had made it. That was a start.

Then Dude, the Great learned a valuable lesson. You see, he approached one of the villagers and said, “Hey, can you read this? It made it to Publish!”

“Sure,” the villager said.

Days passed and finally Dude, the Great contacted the villager with a, “Did you read it?”

“I did.”

“What did you think?”

“It was great?”

“Really?”

“Yes. I loved it.”

Loved it? This made Dude, the Great happy. “Well, what did you love about it?”

“All of it.”

“All of it?”

“Yes. All of it.”

“What stood out about it?”

“Everything.”

Hmmm…Dude, the Great had an inkling that maybe the villager wasn’t necessarily telling the truth.

“What was the story about?” he asked.

The villager couldn’t tell him.

He asked again.

“I can’t remember, but it was great.”

“Did you read it?” he finally asked.

“Yeah, I read it. It was great.”

Dude, the Great walked away, his head down. The villager had lied to him, and he was saddened by this. Why? Because it became clear to him that the other villagers had heaped praise upon him, but they didn’t believe what they had said. He went home and sat in his room, the lantern on low, staring at his pen and paper.

All that time people said he was great, that he wrote terrific stories, and none of it was true.

Because…

Destructive criticism gives writers a false sense of how good they are told they are as opposed to how good they actually are. Constructive criticism allows them to become as good as they want to be, assuming they actually take the criticism for what it is.

Because…

Writers are real people.

We are. I know some of you who do not write say, ‘It’s easy to write a book. Just plant your butt in the seat and start typing.’

If only it were that easy.

Writers have families. Most of us have jobs to support those families, and we often write when an opportunity to do so presents itself. On many days, that opportunity is not there. So, what do we do? Many of us who really want to make it in this business will either stay up late or get up early in the morning to get some writing done. If you are like me, you do both.

Writers have feelings. We hurt. We get pissed. We love and dislike, and in some cases, hate–just like the average human being. We eat, we breathe, we poop. Well, we do. Most of us like sex. We are as real as you are. If you touch us, you will feel the imperfections in our skin. If you cut us, we bleed red, just like you. We’re real.

We put ourselves out there for you to love, hate or be indifferent to. We always hope you will like the words we put out and will tell someone else about this great book that ‘you have just got to read.’ It is a dream of ours, you know. Martin Luther King had a dream. We do, too, except all stories aren’t created equally. Some are slapped together, while the details in others are agonized over, sometimes to the point of being painful.

That’s just the way it is.

We want folks to be honest with us. Or maybe we don’t. Maybe we would just rather look through those rose colored glasses and never know we need to improve. Maybe the truth hurts and we just can’t handle it.

Oh, I’ll just quit since people don’t like my stories.’ Then you’ve failed yourself.

Do you see how this works? Do you see how we, as writers, can be counterproductive, because so much of what we say and mean are two different things. Sounds like the average person.

Writers are real people. We work hard at telling stories. Most of us work hard at finding homes for those stories. Some of us work hard at marketing them and networking with other authors. A few of us actually get somewhere. Yup, just like the average person.

Because…

Passion is important.

Readers can tell when you actually believe in what you write and believe in yourself. Readers can tell when you get into a story, elbows deep, and try to make it come alive. It’s alive! It’s alive!

Because…

I’m disappointed.

It’s hard to disappoint me, but lately, this seems to have happened more than usual. And it has happened because of being helpful. It has happened because I don’t believe in destructive criticism or destructive praise, but rather just the opposite. And it happened because so few people are willing to listen these days. So few people have open minds about concepts and philosophies and how things are done, and no I am not talking politics here. I’m talking writing.

Because…

I think differently than you.

Most writers are all about the rules, the rules, you must follow the rules. Meh. I followed the rules, and I hated it. I even got a t-shirt. I believe rules not only are meant to be broken, but should be broken.

I don’t believe in plots, but life situations. I don’t believe you have to have perfect grammar–it’s boring. I believe not all passive voice is bad.

I believe in characters and scenes and the feels. I believe you can be the best writer in the world, but tell horrid stories that will never sell. I believe you need to do more than just write words, but you need to connect with the readers, hook them and pull them in and hold them so close they don’t want you to let go.

I believe all action, all the time, sucks.

I believe we should look at writing as the art form it truly is and maybe color outside the lines a bit.

Because…

There are too many writers competing against one another and being mean to each other and flat out cheating and stealing from each other. There are far too many good old boy clubs where you get in because you are friends, even if your stuff sucks.

There are too many writers who would rather bash another writer because he or she does things differently than them.

Because…

The reading population has dwindled over the years. It’s not just that there is an abundance of other things to keep people occupied. There is also an abundance of really bad books out there, and readers have gotten tired of purchasing stuff that sucks. We’re losing them every single day.

And it is our own fault.

Because…

Honesty matters.

Yeah, full circle and all that jazz.

If we, as writers, were honest with ourselves and the readers, we know when we are actually trying to tell a great story or trying to make a dollar or four. We know when we are doing something wrong. We know when we are hiding something that could help others. We know when our words suck, and when we just throw them together.

But wait. Sometimes our friends know we suck. They opt for destructive praise instead of constructive criticism. A bloated ego based on false statements doesn’t help someone get better when they need to.

Because…

Too many people don’t care.

Because…

It’s your life. Own it.

This is where the rubber meets the road. It’s your life. Not someone else’s. Don’t blame someone for your shortcomings and failures. Don’t blame someone else for you not succeeding. If you can take credit for the things you do right, you can take credit for the things you do wrong.

Own. Your. Life.

You only get one shot at this game, why not be the best you can be?

Own your writing. Make it yours and then show the world what you’ve created. Be proud of what you accomplished.

Because…

I told you I had something to say and it might be long.

So, until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

Thoughts on Writing Advice

Posted: June 26, 2012 by ajbrown in Writing
Tags: , ,

It’s blog time. Well, not really. It’s more like ‘keep your nose on the short story collection’ time. However, tonight I stop for a while to bring you a short message from the Herbster.

As anyone who has read Type AJ Negative knows, I have often lamented about writing and some of the issues that come with it. Over the last year or so, I’ve seen a few more of the publishing ways and a lot of the… ahem… hoops you have to jump through just to get noticed. Even then, there is the great chance all your work ends up with no rewards.

That’s the thing about writing: It’s all risks and rewards, but the rewards don’t always equal the risks. Sometimes no matter how hard you try to go the traditional route, no one wants to take you seriously or give you the shot you want. Oh, but wait, if you don’t go traditional, then you’re going the self publishing route and that doesn’t mean anything.

Ummm… what?

You know. If you self publish your own book, then that doesn’t show you’ve worked hard on it and it doesn’t mean anyone is going to purchase it. It just means you went the route of vanity publishing. You took the easy way.

Ummm… as I said before: what?

Come on, you don’t really think anyone pays any attention to writers who put out their own work, do you?

Yes, actually, I do think folks pay attention to many self pubbed writers.

Dream on, Kiddo. You’re just wasting your time.

I’ve heard these arguments before. Heck, I’ve argued these arguments before. Let’s be realistic. In today’s digital world, publishing through Amazon’s Kindle or with Nook or Smashwords or wherever, it is easier to put your work out there. And maybe that’s part of the problem with the industry as a whole. There is a lot of bad stuff out there. A lot of authors don’t bother to edit their books or format them even half correct so they don’t read all wonky.

But—and yes there is a but—there are just as many good self pubbed books out there as bad ones. Believe me, if you can find the bad ones, you can find the good ones as well. That’s what that preview portion on the Amazon pages are for. If you like what you read, you keep reading by purchasing the book. If you don’t like it, then you can stop and move onto the next book.

I’ve stated before that I’ve stopped submitting to markets because I am tired of the business end of writing. My series, Dredging Up Memories, will go on—I think it has its own little following. That pleases me. If the comments mean anything at all, it tells me that my writing style works and that folks like it.

That brings me to the real topic of this blog:

10 Pieces of the Worst Writing Advice

I read this blog tonight, written by Stant Litore. You can read the entire blog by clicking on the link above, but there are a couple I want to touch on and then I want to add one more to his list.

“Show, don’t tell. Never tell.”

How often do you get good advice and bad advice within the same advice? Not often? In this case, you do. Showing is, in my opinion one of the most important parts of writing. Don’t tell us the person is sick, show us. You know what I’m talking about. We hear it all the time in the writing world. I would venture to say that about ninety percent of the time this is good advice. Then there is the other ten percent. It’s that ten percent where telling is an absolute necessity. Telling can move the plot along just as good as showing can, but it needs to be in the right spots. You can’t just throw it in where ever you want. In truth, sometimes we writers tend to show too much and bog down the stories in the muck of too many descriptions. How many times have you read a book and said, ‘come on, get to the point already?’ That’s where telling becomes your best friend.

Quite a few of my friends are going to bark at me about that, but I believe this with all of my writer’s heart.

“Write what you know.”

Really? Think about that for just a second. Do you really believe Stephen King knew everything about each book he has written? No. I think he came up with an idea and did quite a bit of research to make those ideas believable. Did he learn along the way? I’m going to take a guess here and say, yeah, he did.

I’ve never had a drop of whiskey or smoked a cigarette. I’ve never smoked pot. I’ve never been addicted to painkillers. Interestingly enough, I’ve written about three of those and my character, Hank Walker, eventually goes through a stint of drug dependence in a later installment of the aforementioned series. I’ve never been abused and I’ve never been homeless, but I’ve written many stories on both subjects. I know people who have experienced some or all of these things. But I don’t know any of these things.

There’s never been a zombie apocalypse, but many folks have written about it.

“If this is going to sell…
Don’t write THAT… No one will publish it.
Don’t self-publish.”

Yes, these get the combo treatment, and no I don’t want an apple pie with that, and please don’t super size my beverage. All three of these things have something in common: Folks think they know if something will sell, but in truth, they have no clue. No one knows.

I believe the number one reason books become successful isn’t because of a great marketing campaign, and often not because a book is really good either. The biggest reason books (or anything for that matter) does well is word of mouth. If someone likes it, they tell someone else. If ten someones tell ten other someones, the next thing you know, you have a hit on your hands. It also works in the opposite manner—let someone think what you’ve written sucks.

If you look at that list, it’s pretty much a bunch of things not to do. Writing should not be a list of ‘don’ts.’ It should be just the opposite, a list of ‘do’s.’

Do write for the enjoyment.
Do self publish, if that is the route you wish to go.
Do take that risk and write that story.
Do be willing to fail the first time (or maybe even the hundredth time).
Do learn what works for you and the readers.
Do write for yourself.

There are a few don’ts, but those are really common sense:

Don’t EVER give up (I have to admit, I’ve come close to doing this a few times).
Don’t let anyone say you are not good enough.
Don’t let anyone say your work is not publishable. How would they know?

Now to add my one little piece of advice that I consider to be bad part of the time (not always, but for me, I can’t follow it):

It’s all about action. Action. Action. Action.

If there is no action in a story it is usually quite boring. But when you go all action all the time, you lose character development, scenery development and that ability to get into the thoughts of the characters.

I can’t do it.

I like to call the style I write in ‘conversational,’ meaning I write my stories as if I am in a conversation with the readers. Sometimes, I venture off subject a little, but always manage to bring the story back around in the end. For me, that is the only way to write. I can’t do that with all action stories. My style seems to work for me. It’s easy to read—or so I’ve been told by total strangers.

This kind of takes me all the way back to the write what you know rule. I know how to talk. I know how to tell stories, stressing the parts that need emphasizing, giving some of the little things about the scenery of the events taking place in my story. I can make them funny and I often do when I’m in a room full of folks telling or listening to stories.

I write the stories the way I would tell them if someone were right in front of me. Sometimes I am completely animated when I tell them, why not when I write them?

To quote Popeye, “I yam what I yam.”

The best advice I can give when it comes to writing is, why not give it a go? You have nothing to lose and you gain nothing by not trying. If you fail, at least you tried.

Risk. Reward.

I must go now. I’m tired and I have gone long-winded as usual. Like I said, I write the way I talk.

Until we meet again, my friends, be safe and keep reading.

My friend, John Miller (known to his friends as JAM) is quite the thinker. I don’t call him a philosopher—I don’t believe he is one. But he thinks and he experiments and he’s always got a ‘Yippee’ on his lips.

[Side Note: A Yippee is JAM’s version of both good things and bad things—he doesn’t normally let things get him down so when something good happens it’s Yippee. If something not so good happens it’s Yippee. It’s one of the things that people find endearing about him–his constant, upbeat attitude. I don’t Yippee. End Side Note]

He owns this publication titled Liquid Imagination. It was one of his dreams to create a web-zine that blurs reality and fantasy and blends images and words like… well, liquid imagination. To go with that web-zine, he also has a private office on a web forum where folks talk about writing and other things. Oh, and yippees abound.

Sometimes JAM (no, not jelly) will start a discussion with a long, deeply thought out post and we chat amongst ourselves while he is all verklempt…

[Side note: If you don’t get that joke, I’m sorry. End Side Note]

Recently JAM posted one of these thought provoking topics.

If you know me at all, then you will know that I choose to do things just a little differently. I’ve never let the market dictate how I write. If I get published, great. If not, then I will be happy with what I write because I chose to not change in order to get published. For me, there is no compromise in how I write–it is part of me and it’s hard to sell changing for success.

I’ve been preaching to anyone who will listen that in order to become a good writer you have to be true to yourself and let the stories breathe, let them “be.”

JAM’s recent title was called: Damn it, Jim! I’m a Write-a-Holic, not a Perfectionist!

I found his post interesting, simply because a lot of the questions he posed are questions I have answered when it comes to how I write. The following is that post (used with permission, with a couple of names changed or omitted, since they weren’t really part of the discussion, though they did come up in it) with my replies in bold, including a couple of comments that weren’t in my original response. I will denote those with an * symbol.

***

There are two kinds of writers. There is the writer who can create three rough drafts for short stories per week, if they can find the time. * That would be me. This type of writer can do this easily.

Then there is another type of writer. This is the writer who painstakingly labors over what he pens, worrying about word placement, style, plot and depth of characterization. *Nope, not me.

(Note: There is a 3rd writer, too, a combination of both types of writers described above. They’ll claim that. I’m betting that they belong to one type over another, and are simply experimenting or simply trying to find their niche’, but that is for another essay.)

What you’re about to read is intended for the first kind of writer. If the second type of writer practices what you’re about to read, they risk falling into writer’s block. This is because the 2nd type of writer ALREADY intrinsically practices what I’m about to describe.

Now I’m the 1st type of writer. I can easily write 3 rough drafts per week. If I have the gumption, it’s easy for me. While I differ from other writers who fall into this category, this is how and why I can do this:

1) I am very creative. I can come up with story ideas that are (to me) fairly interesting, and I do this easily. There is no need for me to scribble down notes during the day, because when I sit before my laptop, ideas literally pour out of my head. Sometimes those ideas are so creative and simply too big to become a short story, and thus those ideas cannot be captured by a story of that length. Thus there is TOO much stuff in the story.

I’m not saying that writers who fall under the 2nd category aren’t creative; all I’m saying is that writers who fall under the 1st category (we need a name, so let’s call them write-a-holics) are almost always bursting at the seams with story ideas.

2) I type very fast. This gives me the ability to virtually type out my thoughts as I’m thinking them, which allows for the purest form of inspiration to materialize on paper. There is no painstaking contemplation of plot or characterization or depth or intrigue that the 2nd writer (let’s call this writer the perfectionist) constantly utilizes while writing.

3) I have very low self-esteem regarding my writing. I’m always picking fault with it. Because of this, I intrinsically realize that whatever I’m writing, it’s not going to be the best. Just about everything I write I consider a “rough draft.” This is one of the best reasons I can write so many stories per week. In the back of my mind, they simply do not matter.

The perfectionist doesn’t think that way. The perfectionist painstakingly crafts every word to set perfectly in his magnum opus. He slowly forms the plot, sometimes etching out the middle or ending of the story, much like a sculpture forming various bits and pieces from blocks of marble. Just as the sculpture may start at the face or the feet—wherever inspiration hits him—the perfectionist analytically approaches the story in segments, perfecting each.

I said all that to say this…

Why do we write-a-holics create rough drafts? Regardless of what the ‘perfectionist’ do, their stories are still rough drafts. Asks any of them. Why can’t we produce the next-big-thing? We can. We just have to believe we can. Why should we strive to write like what the markets want, anyway? We shouldn’t strive to write what the markets want. This is what everyone else does and (many of them) they suck. I loathed cookie-cutter writing. Just be yourself and you’ll be fine. Just to get a publishing credit? Are the markets the Holy Word on All Things Pertaining to Writing? Nope. Will those publications be around fifty years from now? Probably not. Why would we sacrifice our stories for the editorial cunning of someone at a publication that will be defunct in ten years? That is all subjective and about priorities. It’s like sending your work to a non paying site for exposure. Sure, it’s a great jumping off point, but if that is the only place you are sending your work, then all you are getting out of the deal is an ego stroke. If you want a little more attention, then you would have to submit to the higher dollar places. Or publish a novel. If you don’t want any popularity, you can do whatever you want to do. However, you should still write what you want to, how you want to.

Why shouldn’t we write-a-holics approach writing like golf? In golf, it’s not about your opponent. Not really. It’s about your best score on the golf course. It’s about maintaining and (hopefully) exceeding your best performance on the field. It’s not about your opponents. Some are better than you, some are worse. None of that matters; what truly matters is that you maintain your performance somewhere around your average. If you’re under par by 3 strokes, you naturally attempt to maintain that average, and to hell with the other players, even those who maintain an average of golfing 6 under par every single game. If you’re talking about writing, you shouldn’t worry about what others are doing anyway. Everyone develops in their own way, in their own time. Some find their niche sooner than others, while some take a lot longer. One of the biggest issues writers have is that they see what others are doing and wonder why they are not doing the same thing. I also think peer pressures tend to get involved as well. I don’t know how many times people have asked me when I’m going to have a novel published… when I want to, folks, that’s when.

Why can’t we write-a-holics excel? we can and often do Why can’t the next story we write be the best story we’ve ever written, the best story we’ll ever write? I don’t want the next story I write to be the best thing I ever write. I want each story to be better than the last. If The Woodshed is the greatest thing I ever write then I may as well stop writing now. Not that I can’t be proud of that if it is so, but I want to strive to make every story I write better than the best piece I’ve ever written. Why can’t we believe that? It’s a mental thing. And, in many cases, it also takes someone believing in us in order for us to believe that we can do great things. Why don’t we forget the cookie-cutter writing-templates? I did. This is the one thing that drives me nuts–I don’t wish to write like everyone else. If I do then I’m just your average clone of your average writer. I’m me, I write like me. Why do we HAVE to start right at the action? I don’t. Why can’t we go beyond plot, beyond mere characterization? We can, it’s just too many people are too scared that their work will not get published if they do that. Screw what others think–they don’t know if your work will get published or not.

Why can’t we write-a-holics attempt to create a mood or theme? Dude, that is what I’ve been preaching. For years I’ve been saying that mood is like a character in the story. The right mood can make a story. On the flipside of that coin is the wrong mood can kill it. What about penning a story with the theme being creepiness? Above and beyond a good plot and strong characters, why can’t we go for producing a visceral reaction with the reader? I’ve been saying that for a while now–if you don’t illicit some feeling… something from your readers, then you’ve failed. If not creepiness, then why not attempt to manufacture true fear within the reader? Not based on gimmicks such as monsters or gore or taboo subjects, but based on solid and pure writing.

Why can’t the next thing we write be perfect? It often is, in the writer’s eyes. Why does it have to be considered a rough draft? Why does it have to be “shelved” for years until we decide to do something with it? I disagree with letting stories languish in exile. I write them, give it a week, then reread them and edit so they can be subbed out. Sometimes the edits take longer, but if you write something an you want to be able to submit it, sitting on it for a year is wasted time. Why can’t we break free from our “average” and go beyond what the guidelines of publications say? Remember what I said earlier? People are scared; afraid someone won’t like it or publish it. Bottom line with a lot of folks who don’t take chances. Why can’t we break free from that “average” story locked in our mind—that “average” story that we almost always write—and create that perfect story that goes beyond our average writing game? We can. We just have to do it and not be afraid.

Why can’t we experiment like XXXX XXXXXX did in the recent, marvelous story he just posted in this office? Why can’t we try new things? Remember that fear thing. Well, add something else to the equation. A lot of folks feel like experimenting is a waste of the time they could be using to write something that sells. Why write this experimental piece that may languish on my hard drive forever when I could write something that ‘may’ sell on down the road? It’s an ignorant mindset and it often keeps folks from trying something new. Why must our fiction be held accountable by the guidelines of our own imagination? Just recently I read the collection, A Gentle Hell, by Autumn Christian. No limits whatsoever to her imagination. Did you read XXXXX’s piece a couple weeks ago? How about XXXXX’s in the Duel? The one that had people talking for and against violence in writing? The only person that can limit your creativity is you. Why MUST we write a certain way? Why MUST we obey all the freaking rules? Why MUST we maintain a specific plot sequence from A to B? All three of those are essentially the same question and they all get the same answer. We don’t have to. It goes back to wanting folks to publish our work. It’s a compromise and one I don’t care much for. Conform and get published or don’t conform and maybe, someday, when someone wants a change, get published. And even then, only if you’re lucky.

By now you probably understand why I said earlier in this post that these suggestions are NOT for perfectionists. Perfectionists automatically do this from the get-go. In fact, perfectionists often fall into writer’s block because they feel so strongly that the next thing they write simply MUST be the best thing they’ve ever written PERIOD… that when they read what they’ve written, they metaphorically vomit with derision, hating everything they’ve produced. If a perfectionist practices what I’ve just written above, it will already seal the perfection they insist on EVERY TIME THEY WRITE. I’m not a perfectionist, but a lot of times I vomit when I read stuff I wrote last year or the year before that or the year before that…

This isn’t intended for the perfectionist. This topic is for the write-a-holics out there, those write-a-holics who can easily pen 2-3 stories per week, those authors who can hit 2,000-,5000 per day (if they have time), and feel natural and great doing so.

I think there comes a time in the write-a-holic’s life that he must stop, take a step back, and ask himself, What the heck am I doing? He must examine his writing (golfing) average, and contemplate his writing game.

Maybe the write-a-holic should take a few suggestions from the perfectionist out there. Maybe he should begin with the middle of the story like perfectionists often do. Maybe the write-a-holic should attempt to mix Hawthorn and another respected writer’s style—let’s say John Grisham because the two combined writers’ styles would be very interesting—combining both writing styles with his own personal writer’s voice.

Instead of having the mindset that the next story we write is just a rough draft, is just an idea, just a story… just another piece of crap from another piece of a writer who will stuff the crappy story in a file to be forgotten about…

Instead of having that mindset, what if we write-a-holics could take a cue from the perfectionists out there? What if we—instead of gushing forth with words until we transform into dry husks of delighted and satiated emptiness—began the next work with the idea that it WILL be perfect? Emptiness? I’m not so sure I would use that word here. Simply put if the writer is delighted and satiated I’m not so certain they would be empty. What if the NEXT story we write, what if we intend it to MEAN something, to CONTAIN some meaning of worthwhile purpose? What if there is a moral to the next story we write OTHER THAN MUNDANE ENTERTAINMENT? Oh, you mean like television shows and movies… If your characters have any importance to you–the writer–then the story will mean something.

What if we write-a-holic writers could write just one story—the very next one we write—with the intention that it is to be perfect? What if we could be a perfectionist, if just for one story, if just for one day? I’ve tried that. It depressed the hell out of me and set me back half a year in writing. Honestly, I believe if you are happy writing the way you do, then why worry about being a perfectionist or changing for someone else?

For my next story, I will make it perfect to the best of my ability. I won’t just write a rough draft. I won’t just spill my guts on paper. I won’t let my thoughts bleed crimson, I won’t just gush forth with creative ideas and inspiration. Why not? If you don’t just let it out, YOU will not be happy with your work. Besides, just writing and letting a story flow seems to work for you (and me, for that matter).

No, for my next story, it’s going to be my magnum opus. I’m going to approach it slower. Each word will be carefully chosen, like well-placed dynamite hidden through the edifices of the reader’s expectations. And I will push the plunger down, I will light the fuse that sets off a charge that will cause the reader’s expectations to crumble, causing the reader to become engrossed in more than just mundane plot and strong characters.

Yes, my dear reader (probably only one or two) will become engrossed in my story, because it ISN’T a rough draft, because it ISN’T just another cookie-cutter template chosen because it’s safe.So, then you mean after all these years of saying exactly that, someone is finally going to listen to me?

Hell, no! My next story is going to be DANGEROUS! It’s going to produce a theme within the reader. Perhaps it will be a feeling of creepiness, or a twinge of fear mixed with loss.

After this next “perfect” story, I will go back to my old ways. I will succumb to natural inclination, penning imperfect rough draft after mediocre story, until I am hitting 2-3 stories per week (again). I would never say your work has ever been mediocre. No, those cookie cutter writers are mediocre, at best. Not you, though. You have your own voice and style. So, why mess it up?

But until then… I am leaving the camps of write-a-holics, going AWOL in order to broach the ideas of the Perfectionists.

If only for one story…

***

Here’s the thing: my friend, John, has a great writer’s voice. Going all perfectionists and changing what he does may not be a bad thing. Then again, it may not be a good thing, either.

Let me say a couple of things.

People are flawed. There is no such thing as a perfect person. There was once and they crucified him.

There is no such thing as the perfect story. If there were such a creature, then everyone in the entire reading world would want to read it. It would be the reference point to which all other stories are compared. Professors would use ONLY that story to show where all others are flawed.

Albert, that is a great sentence, but look how you could make it better. Take this sentence from The Perfect Story, written by Ima B. Perfect.

Gee whiz, Mr. Professor Dude, that is a great sentence.

As writers, we absolutely can not be concerned with what others are doing, how others are writing and where others are getting published. We can’t put that type of pressure on ourselves. What we must do, however, is find out who we are, as authors. Find our voice, our niche. We can’t really become the writers we want to be until we do that, until we, for a lack of a better term, find ourselves.

I don’t mean we should take that spiritual journey to the rainforest or hole up in a cabin along somewhere out in the middle of nowhere and just… be. What I mean is we have to write, write, write until we figure out what type of writing we are good at–or could be good at–then develop that.

Admittedly, I experiment a lot with my fiction. I like to try new styles of writing. I like to create a different experience, not only for the readers, but for myself as well. If I enjoy what I am doing, then I think the readers will too and I do enjoy a good experiment. If I struggle at it, well, there is a good chance the reader will struggle to get through it.

I’ll say this for JAM, he has a good voice. He does what I call Free Style Writing, where he just opens his mind and types what appears within it. His stories flow like… liquid imagination. I hope trying to write the perfect manuscript does him some good and not just the opposite. I hope when he gets done he will find that happy medium that he can enjoy.

Most of all, I hope he goes back to doing what he does best: Free Style Writing. I like his ‘fluid’ stories, I like the way he creates tension and sadness.

One other author who commented on JAM’s post said something that I think applies to us all: You may be in danger of over-thinking rather than letting your ideas flow onto the page.

I think, more than anything in writing is that we tend to over analyze things, to complicate things. Too may rules. Too many plot holes. Too many generic characters…

I have a rule when it comes to writing of any type:

No Rules, Just Write…

Until we meet again, my friends…