‘Tis the Season

Hey folks,

I’ll leave you with a Christmas trifecta as we head into the New Year. On New Year’s Day, we’ll return with some “New Year’s Writing Revolutions,” since resolutions don’t cut it. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The world might end. Christmas might be cancelled this year. But if not:

Writing Good Christmas Cards — If you haven’t done this yet, here’s how to do it like a boss. 

Writing a Traditional Christmas Letter — You haven’t done this yet, (cue George Zimmer voice) I guarantee it. There’s nothing more delightful than sending a “traditional” humbraggy letter letting everyone know just how awesome you have it. Take advantage, because it’s the most (and only) wonderful time of the year you’ll be able to do it.

Gifts for Writers — You can rack your brains all you want OR you can do this the easy way and just buy what the writers in your life really want. 

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

-H2

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Writing Without Cheerleaders

“When I write, I like it when other people give me encouragement.”

“I love the social media age. I can write and have people cheer me on at the same time lol!”

“I feel compelled to keep writing, because the writing community helps me when I do.”

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

What’s the best word of encouragement you can give to writers struggling to write? I try to root for those in my writing community just as they have done for me, and I’m looking for ways to give back?

—Jamie Kushner, Ames, Iowa.

If you’re going to write, be a writer first, and a cheerleader last. There’s no proper place for a writing-cheerleader, or an “enthusiastic” participant.

“But I like cheering people on and motivating others so much!” GREAT! Then STOP pretending to be a writer. Stop saying you’re a writer. You are a cheerleader. Put down the pen, pick up the pom-poms, get in line.

“What’s wrong with encouraging others to write while writing?” If you have to ask, then you’re likely doing more of the former, and less of the latter. Your duty is to your craft, your art, your story. Your duty is not to your “writing community,” or else you’re putting writing in the wrong place.

“You’re just a jerk. I, for one, like the encouragement a writing community provides.” Point taken about that “jerk” thing. Thank you kindly. I, too, like most of the human race, need encouragement from time to time. But for that, I go to counseling. They’re often better at this “encouragement” deal.

“But what about struggling writers?” Let them struggle. That’s part of the process. Since when did we institute writer’s welfare? The war’s between the writer and the writing. Leave it be.

“But I NEED the encouragement from other writers! That’s what makes me happy about writing! Don’t you get it?” Oh, I get it. If writing doesn’t make you happy about writing, then there’s nothing more that needs to be said. Who needs deeper writing from the soul anyway?

“But I NEED to cheer on other writers! That’s just what I DO!” Good. You’re a cheerleader. I’m a writer. This is where we go our separate ways, yes?

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).

One Year of Writing All Wrong!

One whole year of Writing All Wrong! I’d make a celebratory cake for you all, but my baking skills range from the inept to the maladroit.

Instead, I’ll highlight some of the year’s most popular, hated, and engaging posts. Thank you very much for visiting, and I look forward to more of you picking up something here and putting it to use.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

Without further ado: This Year’s (Completely Arbitrary) Top Ten of Writing All Wrong 

Forsaking Flash Fiction 

Because it’s by far the most hated, argued, loathed, and despised post in all of Writing All Wrong. It’s been accused of “missing the point” and being “clearly flawed.” I’m fine with opinions on opinions. But if you’re a flash fiction connoisseur, this is a must-read. It’s the only post on the interweb that argues against flash fiction, daring to go where no others are brave enough to tread.

You Don’t Need to Make Your Characters “Relatable”

Because all of the hits on this post come from people who are trying to make characters relatable, and nothing more. If you’re not questioning “why” things should or shouldn’t be done in writing, then you’re doing it wrong.

8 Things to Keep Out of Your Opening Sentence

Because you cannot afford to stumble right out of the gate. A bad enough opening sentence will close the door on your book before there’s a chance to crease its spine.

Block Writer’s Block

Because writer’s block is nothing more than a pothole that you dig yourself. It’s a disease suffered only by the “aspiring, wannabe” writer.

Ten Ways to Move from “Wannabe” Writer to “Writer”

Because you’re a fake if you continue to trumpet yourself as something you aren’t – a writer. NASA Weapons Engineer, NBA 3-Point Specialist, Pope: those are things you “aspire” to be. Not with writing. Off the duff and to the desk with you!

Writing Contest? Duh, WINNING!

Because writing contests are less about writing and more about attention. That is fact. But since they’re part of the ecosystem, it’s best you know how to play the game.

Like-for-Like

Because I had fun on this post, and I think the simile is an underused tool in fiction.

Incongruous Juxtaposition – Genre Combination and the Art of Mayhem

Because it’s funny, and you need to laugh.

Writing Group Therapy

Because . . . writing groups – ugh. They’re beyond redemption.

10 Questions Writers Must Ask Themselves

Because you need to be asking more questions of yourself. Calibrate that craft, and interrogate your instincts.

Here’s to another year of Writing All Wrong. Cheers.

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).

10 Questions Writers Must Ask Themselves

Theirs not to reason why. Theirs but to do and die.

Yes, you will die if you don’t ask “why.” Or something.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

I had a question I was going to ask you about writing, but I forgot! You tell me, what should I ask?

—Mark Cedeno, Tucson, Ariz.

I’m feeling quick and dirty. Let’s dive in. Here’s what you should be asking yourself as a writer:

1. Why am I doing this?

Money? Fame? Class project? A dare? Depressed? Bored? Trying to come off as intelligent? I’m not going to give the answer. If you don’t have one, then stop now. Try dancing. Then you’ll have an answer to why you took up dancing: “Because I didn’t know why I was writing.” Work your way from that.

2. Who am I trying to impress?

In our social media age, we are driven on a quest for relevance, whether conscious or subconscious. You could say that you have a potential audience. You may not. Unless you are an artist with a soul purer than Jesus, then you crave an inkling of recognition. Maybe it’s just ‘you’ you’re trying to impress. Find whoever it is. Stop schmoozing up. Write.

3. Can I explain this in three sentences?

If you cannot summarize the story, start over until you can. You’re only writing yourself into a painful circle. Unless you just need writing practice, then fine.

4. Who would want to read this?

Draw up a profile of your reader. If it’s someone who’s easily led, likes mass-market paperback, reads to say “they read,” then CONGRATS! That’s almost everyone! SF/fantasy fans who like everything you do and have already friended you on the internet? Even better! They won’t care about promoting your work, because you’re everyone’s friend! Win win win.

5. How will this contribute to the way readers view life?

Ooooh, breaking out the philosophical. Bring something worth bringing to the table. We already have salt, napkins, plates. If you’re bringing ‘potato salad,’ the trashbin is that way. If you bring ‘tuna casserole,’ then you need plant your face in it until it suffocates you to death. If you bring a combo of ‘polenta,’ ‘arugula,’ ‘aioli,’ ‘quinoa,’ and ‘edamame,’ then you’re just trying to be “trendy” without substance. (Yes, yes you are.) Contribute something worthwhile.

6. Am I friends with a bunch of other writers?

If the answer is ‘Yes,’ then write away. Your work won’t matter. You have your reward. If ‘No,’ then write away. Friends won’t matter. Your writing will speak for itself. You will have those who appreciate art, even if they’re not your besties.

7. What have I had for influence lately?

If this list can either 1) be found at a local liquor dealer, or 2) get you arrested, then I’m not liable, ok? Know what it is that feeds your soul, for out of it comes your art. Unless you’re a sexy, soulless teenage vampire.

8. What would happen to me if I stopped?

This should be something really bad. If not, then go ahead and stop. Ballet is waiting.

9. What kind of recognition am I hoping for?

Set this bar wherever you want. Local book-signing at a thrift store. #1,095,367 in Books on Amazon. Seeing your book on a bookstore shelf—because you brought a copy with you, placed it there, and Tweeted it anyway. Wherever. That’s all you. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

10. Is there something else I should be doing?

Hey, fair question. If your pregnant husband or wife has been dogging your lazy end about overdue bills, mustard stains on tank-tops, not bothering to clean the dishes from last week, the kid strung from your cheap light fixture by a pair of cheap, sodden underdrawers, then maybe the “undead urban fiction” can wait. Or if you have some ungodly talent in another field, play that field instead. Michael Jordan didn’t choose writing because he wasn’t a skilled craftsman, you know. He had greater-than-greatness in the basketball arena. Who knows? Your sandwich making at the Sub Shack® might serve you better.

What kinds of questions would you think to ask yourself?

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).

Putting Off Procrastination

Procrastination. It’s like the alcoholism of the weak-minded writer; the bane of upstarts. It’s nature’s way of weeding out the pretenders.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

I wanted to write and see what advice you might have about procrastination. I’ve got one page written, and I can’t bring myself to write any more. As an aspiring writer, I know I can’t just let it sit there. What’s your advice on putting off procrastination?

—Jered Gillen, Dallas, Tx.

Shakespeare kicks Milton in the nether regions every time someone mentions the phrase “aspiring writer” in anything but a negative sense. Stop that. You, that is. Not Shakespeare. He does what he wants.

Procrastination can be helpful; it keeps you doing a whole bunch of stuff that doesn’t matter. These may not be the most “writerly” solutions, but you need something to start building the better habit of productivity. We can work on your crap writing some other time.

Tips on putting off writing procrastination:

1: Writing Fast

Padlock the fridge, freezer, and pantries. Mail the key to an editor. Only when you have fifty or so pages of a decent submission, have them mail the key back to you. Better hope he/she likes your stuff, or else you’ll be eating out until you get that writing in shape.

2: Face the Failure

Buy paper. Buy a printer. Print copies of the pittance of words you’ve mustered. Hang them everywhere. When your family complains about “all these blank pieces of paper,” I can only hope a little dagger was twisted within your heart.

3: Chart your Creative Consumption

When it comes to creative endeavors, you create, or you consume. All those hours on the TV, the Blu-Ray binging, the Tweeting, the blogrolling: you’re making yourself fat and useless. How many hours do you spend taking and taking and taking? And no, you don’t have to “give back,” just “do something!” Make a chart, let it show you how obese you’ve gotten in the creative consumption cesspool.

4: Refocus the Mismanagement

If you’re a procrastinator with something, you are not a procrastinator with everything. Complain about not picking up writing all you want, but you are picking up things that you could leave to the jaws of procrastinations. You’re always in the gym, I’m sure, trying to show off your awesome bod. You run x amount of miles so you can #humblebrag about it on Facebook. You’ll always make time to watch trite sitcoms, scripted reality TV, or other mindgum garbage. Give those things a rest for one. Put ‘em off.

5: Bite Sizing

Write a sentence a day. Yeah, that does make sense. Whether you have to keep your work in progress next to the loo, the shower, somewhere you park each day, it’ll remind you to get something done daily. And that’s a start.

Baby steps here, folks. Doing it “later” is “never doing it at all.” Or else you’d have done it already.

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).

Chapter Chatter: Creating Choice Chapters

Chapter 1: Necessity

On writing chapters, one must account for breaks in a story’s progression.

Chapter 2: Practicality

Chapters ought to flow in tune with the ebb and flow of the narrative.

Chapter 3: Introduction, as Usual

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

Chapter 4: Question

Does my book need chapters?

—Bob Brown, Cleveland, Ohio.

Chapter 5: Reply

Good to hear from you, Mr. Brown of Cleveland. I wish your team the very best next year. I can only hope “the very best” isn’t 2 wins of 16.

As for your question: Uh, maybe? Some do, some don’t. Depends on what you’re writing, who you’re writing to, what sub-genre (sludge-crimefighter-noir) you’re peddling. Take the Bible — in English, chapters. In Greek, no chapters, no chaser.

Chapter 6: Chapter Chatter

(Ok, stop that)

Every element of writing should be purpose driven, including the chapters. You include them with a purpose, or you omit them for a purpose. There’s no in-between, no cream filling for this Oreo. I’ll list the pros and cons.

Pro-Chapters: “A Chapter Away Keeps the Doctor Away. (Because doctors hate fiction, or something)”

1. Marks logical breaks in action, shift in focus, switching of scene. A no brainer. You didn’t write the story in one sitting, and it’s likely not good enough to be read in one sitting. Break it down.

2. Handy for narratives from multiple viewpoints. See: House, Bleak. If you want less of a challenge for your reader, switch views as you switch chapters.

3. Covers gaps of time in a single bound. Know how much time you can reasonably fit in between chapters? Up to 1,086 years tops. Not too shabby.

4. Suspense…

5. Masks the lack of consistency with vignettes, asides, spare parts cobbled to make a tale. Case in point: if you took the chapters out of Moby Dick, you’d be left with a great, weird, hypermodern book instead of a great weird book.

6. Deliberate obfuscation. Considering the previous note, adding more chapters than are necessary makes for an intentionally disorienting ride. And sometimes you want that reader to vomit from disorientation than to perish in the bile of boredom and its constituents.

Anti-Chapters: “No Shirt. No Shoes. No Chapters. No Problem. (Except you’re a homeless writer)”

1. Speed. Ever take a road trip without stopping for anything? Stops are for slops. Get there faster. Chapters do stutter the experience. If you want the whoosh in your writing, drive that straight shot. No potty breaking.

2. Temporal distortion. Life punctuates with day, night, sunset, sunrise, apocalypse, recrudescence. Cutting out the backbone of chapters gives you freedom to move in and out between time and space. There are no hands on this clock, but time moves. Somewhere.

3. Temporal limitation. If you’re telling a long story in a short amount of time, then chapters aren’t going to be your thing. Move along. They’re not the droids you’re looking for.

4. Shorter stories — they don’t need chapters. If this is a NaNoWriMo work, then chapters are surplus to requirements. They didn’t add to the word count, you know.

5. Challenge where there is no challenge. If you write in plain style, not a frill on the wardrobe, then your tale doesn’t need chapters. It’ll thud along happily without them.

6. Deliberate obfuscation. (Yes, this again.) Where there are no breaks where there should be chapter breaks, there lies confusion. And in some cases, that’s just the ticket.

What guidelines or rules do you have for writing chapters?

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com), followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong), and chaptered to the point of chapping.

NaNoWriMo 501 — Salvage the Story

November 21st. NaNoWriMo ends in 9 days. And since you’re either unemployed, or your job gives you two weeks off for Thanksgiving (like everyone else), you’re well poised to race downhill to an easy finish. That’s if you’re competent, able to finish things you start (unlike anyone else).

On that note, for your edification: here are the top five reasons people don’t hit the 50,000 mark:

  1. Children
  2. Employment
  3. Smallpox
  4. Accidental death or dismemberment
  5. Running out of writing gas / Creative engine failure.

That last reason is an absolute sham.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

I’m stuck. I have thousands of words to go, but I’m literally, definitively, assuredly stuck. I feel like I ran the novel in a ditch and I can’t get it towed. Is it too late for me to salvage it?

—Breeann Foxton, Beaverton, Ore. 

(Note: NaNoWriMo is short for Narcissistic Nonsense Writing Motivation or something like that. Simple premise: write a “novel” of fifty-thousand words within the month of November. The prize? Fifty-thousand dollars. In the competition’s 196-year history, only three have claimed the prize.)

It’s never too late. Only too soon. I could spin up a whole blog post on the bad practices and habits that fashion failures such as you. I mean, yours. I’m not going to assume that you’re not writing because your kids got in the way or your month-long sabbatical was cut short. No, I’ll try to suggest the things that get the gas back in the tank, get the motor started once again.

1. Write the ending.

Unless you’re recovering from a lobotomy (and somehow writing a novel?), you probably had the ending in mind when you started this thing. Go ahead and write it. You won’t like it. You’ll work backward to fix it. (Editor’s note: This is, in a sense, how I finished my first novel. I went back afterward and put in a peach of a chapter to tie things together.)

2. Rewrite the beginning. 

Daring or draining? Both. You only get so much out of a marathon when you rocket to a start with a sprint. Nice work, hotshot, beating the pack for the first thirty minutes, then careening off to the sidelines, yakking your guts on a hapless water holder. You’re a more mature writer: go back, start the way you meant to. Build different. Let that seep into the vacant crevasses of the work.

3. Materialize that idea you’ve been holding back.

I don’t always bet the farm and the barnyard pals, but when I do, I’d bet that you brewed a semi-decent idea within the stew that became your novel. There’s always some gem of a notion held back, something you want to weave into the fabric. Break out the loom and do it. Save the story.

4. Compare what you think you wrote with what you wrote.

A step of risk, to be sure, as you won’t be towing or pushing the ditched car. You’ll be inspecting it, thigh-deep in mud, wrapping your head around the problem, then the solution. And your novel? Memory taints everything for better or for worse. Go back and read. Don’t skim. That’s when you let memory do more work than it should. Read. There are always lumps in the dough that you don’t see at eye’s first glance. Get the hands in there, press it out. What slosh you penned in fervent madness may stand to use some finer fleshing out in lucid focus.

5. Loan a camel.

There’s a Bedouin parable of a man who bequeathed 23 camels to his three sons, willing that the eldest receive half of the camels, then to the second son, a third, and to the youngest, an eighth. Being mathematically inclined, they worked out the proper solution, but the youngest objected to having the camels vivisected.

Along comes a merchant who hears of their dilemma. He loans them a camel, saying it’ll help sort out the matter. With 24 camels, they divvy it up without needing to divvy up a camel. One half (12), one third (8), and one eighth (3). One camel left over to pay back the merchant. Easy. Those crafty Bedouins, I tell you. You know they founded Bed, Bath, and Beyond, right?

Stories stall when you don’t have enough camels in the caravan to tote a complete narrative. Loan that twenty-fourth camel. Whether it’s a dark side to a character, a burgeoning romance, or some furtive plot point in the subcurrents of the narrative — find something missing that wasn’t missing in the first place. It may be a keeper, you never know. If it isn’t, send that camel back and loan another one.

What do you use to get the narrative out of the ditch and save your story?

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com), followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong), and probed for more NaNoWriMo nectar during the month.