Posts Tagged With: Writers Resources

Writers write. Every day.

250 words a day

You’ll hear this over and over again as you struggle to find time, inspiration, motivation, and energy to write.  Writing is a practice, just like piano, or golf, or yoga.  The more you do it, the better you get, and, with writing in particular, I think the goal for most people is to write every day.  Most people don’t have the time.  I don’t have that excuse.

So what is my excuse, on the days I don’t write?  Inspiration, most of the time, or lack thereof.  I’ve mentioned several times (most recently in yesterday’s Sum Sunday) that I have various works in progress that need to be finished and edited, yet I can’t seem to figure out how.  Maybe it’s truly a “writer’s block” type issue.  Maybe I’m just too lazy to sit down and figure it out.  Maybe I’m just not meant to really be a writer.  I don’t know.  What I do know is that most of the time, those days that I don’t write, it’s because I’m so stymied by the creative process, so unutterably unable to come up with a complete sentence, that it’s easier (and more fun) to clean the toilet and mop the floor.  Yes – I said those things were more fun than writing.

Sure, motivation has also been an issue for me.  To combat that, I tried using The Magic Spreadsheet.  I had heard about it on one of the podcasts I listen to, “I Should Be Writing.”  It’s a tool that tracks your writing progress (based on how many words you wrote in a day) and awards an increasing number of points based on how many days in a row you’ve written.  There are people who love the spreadsheet, it’s helped them write more often, even helped them finish books.  I’m not sure, though, if it’s for me.

Let me be clear:  I think that if you have an idea and you want to sit down and pound out 100,000 words and have a finished product, The Magic Spreadsheet is a great tool.  Seeing your word count go up every day, seeing the points you gain, simply by writing a measly 250 words a day – that’s very motivational.

Where I feel the Spreadsheet fails, at least for me, is in the brainstorming and editing process.  Sure, if I’m writing a story out, I can bang out 250 words (or more) a day.  But what about the days when you’re doing research?  Brainstorming?  World-building?  Going through things in your head and trying to determine how to proceed?  And what about after it’s written, when you’re removing more words than you’re putting in, when you change 50 words in one scene, 20 words in another, and 5 in another?  Tracking words become cumbersome.  Editing, at least for me, is not something I can sit down and do a half an hour of.  It’s full immersion, it’s notes and highlighters and hair pulling and cursing and “Shit it’s been five hours and I’m still nowhere with this piece of crap book!”  So I might do a couple of days of editing, then take a couple of days off.  Boom – my chain on the Magic Spreadsheet is broken.

I think time off can be beneficial.  Yes, writing every day is important.  And sometimes, taking some time off is just as important.  The problem, of course, is that most people “take a day off” and suddenly it’s been a month or more since they’ve written.  That’s me, in the past, certainly.

Oddly enough, as I was thinking about this post and what I would write, I realized the most recent “I Should Be Writing” podcast deals with the Spreadsheet, eight months after it’s inception.  As Mur states in the podcast, why not try it.  What’s the harm?  It’s simply a tool, you’re on your honor, and if it gets you to write, then great!  And I totally agree with all of that.  She also touches on the fact that when you’re between projects, it gets really hard to focus and come up with something to write.

I’ve always been about trying different things until it works for me.  In my past jobs, I’ve created several processes that ended up being adopted by other people.  I take something, tweak it, tweak it again, tweak it again, until it works for me.  The Magic Spreadsheet is one of those things that I intend to build on.  I know I should keep better track of my writing than I have in the past, keep track of word count to make me feel better about the whole thing, mark down what else is going on in the writing process for the days I’m not writing.  I know I should be writing (almost) every day.  I don’t know – they’re working on a website for the Magic Spreadsheet (it’s currently a shared worksheet in Google Docs), and I’m interested to see the functionality there, so I might still use it.  We’ll see.

In the meantime, I’ll keep writing.  Because that’s what’s important.

What I wrote this week:

  • (On Thursday, I decided to keep better track of what I’m writing.  What story am I working on, how many words did I write, am I plotting, thinking about things in my head, editing, etc.  So, this week is a little scattered, but next week I’m going to try to log my writing every day.  This is mostly for my benefit, but I hope that putting it into the public domain, I’ll be more likely to ensure I actually get some writing done.)
  • On Tuesday, I wrote out (longhand, 568 words) a new story opening idea for Again (working title).  My main problem with this story is that my main character is way to laid back, easy going, and patient.  She’s worked through all her flaws (and yes, she has indeed worked through them all – that’s part of her characterization).  She needs a flaw, and I’m at a loss as to what it should be, other than “too patient.”  I also need something to glue the two main characters together, other than simply “magnetic attraction” and fate.  Otherwise, why don’t they either simply get together or go their separate ways?  So I changed him to a professor and had her take a class…except, for purposes of the story, she can only audit a class, so again, it’s not like she needs to keep going to class.  (This is one of those stories making me bang my head against a wall.)
  • Wednesday:  I typed up what I wrote Tuesday, but was still against a brick wall with that story.  Several weeks ago (I think while Stephen’s parents were here) I had this idea that I wrote down on a scrap piece of paper.  Well, Wednesday, I picked it up, and the story started talking to me.  I did a rough synopsis, then wrote down a few random thoughts throughout the night (Stephen laughed as I frantically searched for my notebook while trying not to lose the thoughts in my head).  The story is set in the near-ish future, not quite dystopian, but probably a tad bit.  Can’t say too much about it now, other than the working title:  Memory Thieves.
  • Thursday:  I did quite a bit of brainstorming on Memory Thieves, coming up with the three main characters, doing some plotting, writing some rough scene ideas, doing a little bit of world-building in my head.  I’m loving the story right now, it’s really playing out in my head.  Happy writer today.  🙂
  • Friday:  Ah, the joys of young writing, like the joys of young love.  That carefree, easy, idealized love for the story that seems to be perfect.  Yep, I’m in the throws of it.  I sat down and wrote about 1300 words today.  The words were just there.  Such a lovely feeling.
  • Saturday:  Just did some brainstorming, and Pinning on Pinterest, trying to see what my characters might look like.
  • Sunday:  Lots of world building today – what the world is like 200 years from now, technology, how people live, etc.  It’s kind of fun, making up a whole world – and no one will be able to tell me I’m wrong about something.  😉
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Categories: On Writing, The Writing Process, Writer Sara Johnson | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

The Joys of Writing – Setting the scene

Show, don’t tell.  Writers and students are told this over and over again starting in third grade.  It’s one of the hardest things we do – creating a scene and putting the reader into it, rather than just relating the scene to them.

I spent the afternoon working on some descriptive scene exercises.  The street was lined with oak trees became: “Spanish moss draped across the canopy of branches, creating a pergola of oak over the street.”  The cornfield was dead became: “Dry, sun-burnt husks wilted on the cornstalks in the late summer heat.”  Linda broke the plate became: “Linda stared down at the white porcelain shards that now created a mosaic within the kitchen sink.”

Then I turned to my current WIP, to take an example of Telling and reworking it to Show.

And I couldn’t find an example.

And that bothers me more than it should.  Because I know there are instances where I’ve done it.  I’m just completely blind to it within my own work.

The WIP is going…well.  But not.  Well, in that I’m Getting There.  Not in that I’m not going to make the deadline I promised myself (and my husband) several months ago.  And that makes me feel a bit like a failure.  Which, of course, affects my writing.  Which further affects the deadline.  Vicious cycle, and all that.

Just keep on keeping on, right?  I’m trying not to get distracted with other writing tasks.  Right now I need to fully finish the story.  Not go back and change my character’s eye color in all the scenes (which will happen).  Not go back and add in descriptive details of the setting (which will happen).  Not go back and check for adverbs (which will happen).  It all needs to be done, but I’ll get halfway through and just have to do it all over again.  Assuming, of course, I actually ever finish the damn story.

I’m really bad about that.  I have polished beginnings for half a dozen books…and none of them are finished.  It’s the endings I need to work on.  The endings I need to actually write.

I’ve always heard that when it comes to editing, books tend to decrease in word count. I don’t have that problem.  I add.  Well, I subtract, too, but I add in a lot of description.  Eyes, hair, make and model of car.  In my first draft, I don’t consider that stuff to be super important (unless specifically tying into the plot).

Hmm…does that mean my first draft isn’t my first draft, but instead is more of a detailed outline?

Wait…does that make me a (gasp!) plotter?!

*sigh*  Back to writing…

So, how about some great advice on Showing, not Telling?  Here are 5 articles that might help you out:

Is there a source you’ve found online to help with writing scene description?  Please share!

Categories: On Writing, Writer Sara Johnson | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Writing Exercise, or Copyright Infringement?

Writing Prompt: Think of a critical scene in a book you love. Write a different ending to the scene, then continue the story with the new ending in mind.

Congratulations, you’ve just written FanFiction.

Time Magazine had a piece in a recent issue about FanFiction – what it is, who does it, who likes it, and who doesn’t. It was a well written piece, and it really got me thinking.

I’ve never thought much of FanFic – and by that I mean I don’t think about it often. I’ve known about it for years, of course, and have read some, but sometimes finding something of quality is difficult. I don’t even have time to find new good blogs, let alone good FanFiction, so it’s simply not something I’m into. I don’t think I’ve actually written any FanFic, although I have thought out scenes in my head: What if Angel meets another vampire with a soul and falls in love with her – would she be his salvation? What if she’s an original vampire, and is immune to sunlight? The scenes I have written in my head are a mishmash of Angel/Blade/In the Forests of the Night mythology. So, yeah, FanFic.

Because isn’t that what we, as writers, do? We imagine What If. That is our mantra. We ask What If when it comes to the stories and characters we write, so it seems only natural we would ask it of the stories we read and watch.

What if Gale had been chosen for the games instead of Peeta?

What if Tom Buchanan died – would Daisy and Gatsby have gotten together?

What happened after Johnny drove away from Baby? Did they ever meet again?

What happened when Inigo Montoya took over as the Dred Pirate Roberts?

We think What If, we write that story down, and we want to share it with others who also wonder What If. It’s natural.

But is it legal?

FanFic writers do not make money on their stories when they post to websites like fanfiction.net, but is it still copyright infringement? Authors Ann Rice and Orson Scott Card think so, and are quite upset when fans pen What If. But others, Stephanie Meyer and J.K. Rowling, are all for it, figuring it’s a great promotional tool. Is one group right and one group wrong?

It’s said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and I think that if I were published and someone did fanfic on my work, I would be excited – I mean, after all, something I wrote inspired someone else enough to write! That’s amazing! But, wait, you’re having two of my most loved characters do what?! No, no, no, that’s not good at all. So yes, I understand perfectly where Rice and Card are coming from, in that respect, because you can’t say fanfic is fine, unless you do this with it. It doesn’t work that way.

Good FanFic truly is amazing – the ability some people have to truly know the characters the same way the original author does – or, at least, the layers the original author wants you to see. Maybe Stephanie Meyer did her own fanfic, wondering What If Bella had chosen Jacob instead of Edward, or What If Charlie dies in a werewolf attack? A thorough writer would certainly entertain the possibility, to see where the story goes.

Honestly, good (note the use of the word good here) fanfic seems like a lot of work to me. You have to really know these characters that were created in someone else’s head. That takes research, study, and more imagination than I think I have. (Not sure what that says about my skills as a writer…)

So, what do you think of fanfic? Good? Bad? Would you want someone creating fanfic based on your work?

Be sure to check out the Time article – some good quotes:

“…fan fiction was not just an homage to the glory of the original but also a reaction to it. It was about finding the boundaries that the original couldn’t or wouldn’t break, and breaking them.”

“…I love the show, but what if it went further? What happens if I press this big, shiny, red button that says “Do not press”?”

“It was a way to bring to light hidden subtexts that the show couldn’t address.”

“Fictional worlds, while they appear solid, are riddled with blank spots and unexposed surfaces.”

“It’s human nature to press at the boundaries of stories, to scrabble at the edges, to want to know what’s going on just out of range of the camera.”

“A writer’s characters are his or her children, but even children have to grow up eventually and do things their parents wouldn’t approve of.”


Categories: On Writing, Writer Sara Johnson | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“existence” – a one word writing practice

“I’m ready for my existence to come to an end.  I’ve lived enough lives, enough lifetimes, to fill a book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales.  My tales are more gruesome.

“When this all began, when I first realized what was happening, I thought it might last another century, two at the most.  It’s been twenty.  Over 2000 years of falling victim to the same fate, over and over again.”  She laughed, shook her head.  “I’m exhausted.”  She looked up at him.  “And you are, too.  You just don’t know it.”

“I’m tired of this life.  That’s enough for me.  My tales aren’t pretty, either.”

“Yes, but yours are beyond your control.”  She looked away, gazed across the treetops.  “In fact, your tales are my fault.  Everything bad that has ever happened to you, happened because of me.”

“You aren’t responsible for everything.  Becca, LJ, they weren’t your fault.”

She looked back at him, her eyebrow raised.  “Weren’t they?  How do you know?  What if they died because of me?  Would you be able to forgive that?  Would you be able to forgive me?”

He was unable to hold her gaze, and she had her answer.

**oneword gives you a word, and sixty seconds to write whatever pops into your head.  Obviously, I didn’t write all this in sixty seconds, but I like to expand what I start with, and this happened to work with my current WIP.  

Categories: My writings, Writer Sara Johnson | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

I don’t need that word…or that one…or that one…

Is it really writing, if you’re taking something that’s already written and crossing words out?  Well, there’s still an element of creativity to it, and it gets you outside of your brain, so…yes!

I got this writing prompt idea from Storytelling Nomad, a “blackout” writing exercise in which you take a piece of writing (your own, someone else’s) and you cross out words to create a new piece.

Pretty fingerprints color the small, thick kid.  Being weird as an adult would be a problem.  No one dreams of a worse mission – an experiment to see if a drug cures dangerous interest Yes, it seems lame to appreciate things, but a career stuck not trying might end with a battle against human foibles such as reading and angering birds.  The world has become crazy, the response to go to war, dragging friends into adventure.  Curiosity isn’t the answer anymore, but we need to take chances exploring fantastic worlds most of us can’t even imagine.

Still not sure if it’s incredibly profound or incredibly incoherent…

Categories: My writings, On Writing, Writer Sara Johnson | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

How to write a book, Typewriter keyboards, Short stories, and Philosophy – Weekend Roundup June 5

If you write, and you haven’t heard of Scrivener, go look it up.  Right now.

I found out about Scrivener during NaNoWriMo last year.  It’s a Mac program, but they have been working on a release for Windows, and it’s been in beta for over 7 months now.  I’m anxiously awaiting the full release, which will hopefully be in July.  I admit, I haven’t fully explored Scrivener and all it can do, but I can say, even with my limited use of it, it has changed my writing life.  You can break up your book into moveable pieces, make notes, do outlines.  You can easily find a scene you want to look at, without having to scroll through pages and pages (and pages) as you would in Word.  I can’t wait to explore it more.

Someone on BoingBoing posted a link to a list of tips from writers, and wrote that the most valuable thing she took away from the list is Scrivener.  Yep, it’s that awesome.

What I took away from the list:

Writing on the Wall

Image by Indiana Public Media via Flickr

  • I would love a huge wall to write on.  Whiteboard, chalkboard, or maybe just a wall I paint over every so often.  A big place to write down ideas, storyboard, timeline events, etc.
  • I need to write every day.  I’ve known this for…ever, of course, but I really need to do it.  Even if it’s only five minutes, I must write every day.
  • I need to get my characters in trouble.  I know this, but I love them, so I don’t want to hurt them.  But pain is a key component of survival.  I need to remember that.
  • I need to find a way to deal with distractions.  I read that Jonathan Franzen has an old laptop stripped of all distractions, including the internet, and has pretty much nothing but that laptop, a desk, and a chair in a room.  I don’t know that I can do that, but it’s probably exactly what I need.
  • I really need to get into a writing group.
  • Maybe I’ll look into a residency program next summer…hmmmm.

I love sticky, noisy keyboard keys.  I know, I’m a weirdo, I don’t care.  I’ve wanted an old-fashioned typewriter for years, but I realize it’s not practical – you know, since it’s not in an editable format.  I wondered if there was a typewriter-like keyboard somewhere out there in the world, and discovered you can make your own!  It’s well beyond my technical expertise, but maybe I can get one of my technologically inclined friends to give it a go.  Or, maybe I can buy one online...for $800…

Yeah, I’ll add that to my Christmas list…

One Story Blog made a list of the best short stories.  I’m embarrassed to say I think I’ve only read one of those on the short list, and only a couple more from the long list.  But it got me thinking about some of my favorite short stories:

How’s this for random fun?  “Wikipedia trivia: if you take any article, click on the first link in the article text not in parentheses or italics, and then repeat, you will eventually end up at ‘Philosophy.’”  No, really, try it!

Categories: On Writing, Random, Writer Sara Johnson | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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