Over, as a matter of fact. One thousand and two was the last count I had. I have written over a thousand words towards my current project today.
Granted, yes all of them were going towards notes in a storyboard. But, there were words involved in the overall process. Over a thousand of them.
Now, before you either laugh at my amateurish milestone, or pet me on the head for doing such a good job, consider that up until a few days ago, 1,000 words was still pretty much a lofty goal. Considering that today might have been a fluke because I mistakenly thought yesterday was today, and got most of my chores done yesterday. So it might have been a direct result of more time to devote to writing today. I’m trying not to congratulate myself too much because I’m not sure if this will happen again.
Also, it’s notes. Not dialog, not intricate sub-plots or meandering back stories, not narratives depicting the scenery or how someone was dressed. It’s notes. Something that isn’t even going towards my final word count goal. I just wrote a thousand words that essentially don’t matter. Like Bernie Sanders trying to run as a Democrat.
Just so we’re clear, a thousand words isn’t unheard of. It can be done if, like I said, the deck was cleared, the kids are preoccupied, and things didn’t have to get cleaned right away. Shit, on a good day, 1500 isn’t unheard of. It’s expected.
Still though, typing a thousand words for a project might have knocked the wind out of me last week. Today, it feels like Miller Time. Tomorrow, next week, next month, whenever I get back to the draft, it’ll feel like a day in the mines.
But, at least it’ll be much easier since I started taking notes and using Scrivener. So… a day at the mines, with quick access to a Starbucks kind of thing.
I wrote out my note cards last week. This week, I write notes that go into further detail in the chapter and take care of some rudimentary blocking. Today, I almost fell victim to not following along with what I jotted down last week. The notes that I wrote today were not lining up with the synopsis on the card. More to the point, the action was going faster than anticipated. To fix it, I went back through the notes, and made a small change in the plot that made everything line up, and everything was hunky-dorey. No big deal, but if I were writing this as a draft with no notes, I think stopping the forward momentum to go back and change something that happened 5 pages ago, would have derailed everything. Like usual.
Another project gone to rot in the boneyard.
But not today. Today, I’m a thousand words richer. I’m a thousand words closer. Technically, they don’t count…on paper. But it counts for me. Last month, I was hovering around 800. Today, it’s a thousand. Next month, I’m shooting for double. It feels like I’m in training.
Okay, remember in my last post where I was gushing about the benefits of Scrivener?
In that post, remember where I remarked that I should ‘always remember the value of playing’?
Right. Well, no sooner when I started back on my current project, then something happened that I caused, and if I were the person I was… like… I dunno… five years ago? That’s about right. Something happened where, if I were the same person I was five years ago, I probably would have handled it in the same patient and thoughtful way that Kylo Ren would when someone took the last Pepsi.
I didn’t like the way my binder was set up. The area where I was going to write my draft was fine. It was the brand new, undiscovered territory I carved out for myself by way of storyboarding.
I have this notion. I am determined that I will be a Planner and leave my chequered Pantser past behind me. I. Will. Be. Organized.
So, it started with a basic outline. Just like the other projects I have going. I start with an outline, try my best to keep it brief, plan it out in a linear fashion, finish it, and then completely disregard its existence for the rest of the project. It’s the equivalent of deciding to get a treadmill because you want to lose weight, and then turning it to a clothes hanger a month later. I make an effort to at least put up the illusion of trying to be better. But, inasmuch as I’d like to think otherwise, outlines are just frickin’ boring!
Then I thought of Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, and how they went about planning Shaun of the Dead. It was one of the extras on the DVD. It was a bit where they were flanking this giant flipboard, and glossing over their scribbly shorthand of the plot of the movie. Now, whether it was done with tongue planted firmly in cheek, whether they were spoofing themselves or not, it didn’t matter. The flipboard was an effective idea. At least for me. There’s something about using a space big enough to throw everything into and see what worked and what didn’t. So with that in mind, I thought storyboarding would be a much better approach.
Remember when I said my organizational skills were weak to begin with?
I had a vague idea on how to storyboard in Scrivener. I knew it involved folders…and rearranging…and…stuff…Anyway, my first attempt at it was practically unusable. It was a grade school paper maché representation of what I think a storyboard is. I had I good amount of notes and thoughts written down, but I didn’t arrange it the way I wanted to begin with, and so I set forth to copy, paste and rearrange.
Long story short, I accidently deleted two days worth of notes.
“No no…that’s fine… you needed that Pepsi more than I did…” ZZZORP! ZZAP! SLASH!
It would be a situation where, if I were not used to setbacks the way I am now, I would set my computer on fire. The only thing that was keeping me in check was as I was making these notes, new ideas kept jumping in and placing themselves in the story. So, it was a lot of:
“Okay. This happened, this happened, then this happened. Oh but wait, what if this happened. So, I’d have to go back and do this…”
Since the process was ever evolving, and the confusing way I set up the storyboard might had turned out to be double-knotted shoelaces on a child’s pair of Keds, it was probably for the best if just nuked the whole thing and started over. The ideas and the plot were still in my head, and I haven’t made it too far yet, it would only be a matter of minutes to reconstruct. Which I did.
Now, I’ve got the hang of it.
Before this, the version that got erased, I already made things difficult for myself. I blame being organized for it.
In order for me to harness, to wrangle, to make sense, to make more efficient the process of writing, the appeal of starting with a bare bones structure started to make more sense. I went with a basic 3 Act Structure; meat and potatoes, nothing fancy.
Out of the dozens of ways I could format it, I went with the ever reliable Tree chart.
I took the lead from NaNoWriMo veteran, Katytastic, and arranged her method in a way that makes the most sense to me.
Even before I began, I was setting myself up to fail. I was using a 3 Act Structure for a 4 Act story. On top of that, I have somehow convinced myself that this will be a short story. Add to this the frustration of trying to get something to work the way you want it to, but you’re explaining yourself the wrong way, it was going to take more time to rearrange than to just start over again. Which I did. Because remember: It’s not a problem, it’s an opportunity.
So, let’s go over what we’ve learned. Keep in mind, I still attest that there is no wrong way to use Scrivener. For the sake of my own sanity, and just to see if I can do it, I’m sticking with the 3 Act structure for now.
What Didn’t Work?
Set Up, Conflict, Resolution. Beginning, Middle, End. Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner. I regarded everything in the green boxes as chapters, and everything in the red circles as scenes. Chapters were my notecards, scenes were… well, more notecards, but they weren’t connected or nested into anything else. My goal is to write my scene on a split screen with the notes taking up the other half. The way I originally set it up, wasn’t really friendly to the way I was doing it.
Most authors who use Scrivener prefer to utilize the corkboard view for the simple reason of labelling the cards to reflect different stages of completion until it’s finished. That’s what I wanted to do. Instead, I crammed the three corresponding points (red circles) into a document and shoved it under one card. I had no idea how to rework it, until I accidentally deleted it.
What Did Work?
Every so often, when things get a little too confusing and difficult, I find that a good ol’ Tabula Rasa is the best solution.
Starting over, I learned how to put subfolders into main folders.Then it was easier to make the cards I needed. A brief synopsis for every chapter, finer details on corresponding sheets to be used in conjunction with the draft, and then once completed, change the card from “To Do” to “First Draft” to “Second Draft” and so on.
“Butbutbut…what about the 4th Act?” I hear you say. Denouement, is my answer.
This was supposed to be a quick post,so I didn’t bother taking detailed screen shots this time. For a better explanation of what this whole post is about, here’s a video directly from the creator of Scrivener.
So in conclusion, what could have been a total disaster turned out to be my Eureka Moment. I’m sure more obstacles will come across my path soon enough, and I’ll do my best to report them as they do. As well as, of course, publish more snippets.
I bought Scrivener as a birthday present to myself earlier this year. The reviews I read before clicking the “Purchase” button were filled with cautionary wailings of, “Ooohhh…it’s overwhelming…Ooohh… steep learning curve. So complicate. Much computer.”
I figured, “How bad could it be? If I can find my way around Photoshop and Blender, this was going to be a cakewalk.”
Turns out, it was. Sorta.
Here’s the thing, and this is a personal observation of course, whenever I get a bloody nose from smashing my face against the writer’s block, I point my frazzled creativity need-thingy toward something else. Don’t feel like writing? Make a t-shirt. Don’t want to deal with Photoshop? Write a blog post. Keeping all creative outlets open and related in some way to each other, I find that it keeps the juices flowing, my ADD from jumping the pasture fence, it dulls the pain of unemployment, and keeps me busy in those moments when the kids are napping. I realize everyone is different, and some people are used to doing their own thing.
Before I go any further, I’d like to point out that this post is a reaction to a blog I read a few days ago. It was written by someone who tried Scrivener themselves and was almost on board with it. But, found herself very much attached to the Old School ways of mountains of paper on a desk, journals bursting with character sketches, and walls filled with sticky notes.
It sort of reminds me of every school year from 9th Grade, all the way to Senior Year of college. I would start out every year with a fresh batch of back-to-school gear, saying to myself, “This is the year I am going to get and stay organized.” Flash forward to about Mid-March, and you’d find me passed out amidst various puddles of class notes, crumpled in various stages of frustration, gripping a tankard of coffee that has gone cold hours ago, whispering something to the effect of, “Well, maybe next year.” My version of being organized appeared on the surface as anything but. It was frantic, messy and chaotic, but it worked for me. As someone who is infinitely wiser than I will ever be once said, “Hey, you do you.”
Now, I don’t want to give the impression that I’m completely down on this way of doing things. In all honesty, I was a part of the Old School way (back before the days of the internet). Speaking as someone who still remembers the Old School, I can appreciate the dedication to the craft to the extent that someone would go out of their way to cram their working space with as much information as necessary. Or in the case of some, more than necessary… you know who you are.
I too have these romantic visions of myself writing the next Great American Masterpiece; ink permanently imbedded in my fingertips, bloodshot eyes strained from inadequate light, drowning in an ocean of first drafts, second drafts and abandoned plot points. Someday when I grow up, I almost hope I will be.
And even though I find these visions extremely endearing, the truth of the matter is that I’m a slob. All good intentions will melt away the moment I try to keep a wall full of sticky notes; children, animals, humidity, frickin’ Sasquatch will inevitably knock them down, and make them not-so-sticky. Romantic visions suddenly dashed by the thoughts of neon colored sticky notes blowing in the breeze like some psychedelic cherry blossoms.
[Picks up a pen and finds a notebook] Note to self: Find an excuse to use ‘psychedelic cherry blossoms’ in a story…
I love notebooks. All kinds. Moleskines, composition books, cheap spiral-bounds that are practically given away at the end of summer. I’m even downright snobby about the type of pen I use (uni-ball Signo Micro 207. Black.). I make sure to have one close at hand at all time to capture the random thoughts and ideas that come drifting through. But the truth is, the notebooks are barely cracked and the pens have yet to sing because all the good stuff tends to wash out when competing with the day-to-day of Stay At Home Daddy stuff. I have a stack of unused spiral-bounds just in case I feel the need to get a wrist cramp scribbling in my doctorly chicken scratch with my righteously boss pen!
My organizational skills are weak to begin with. Forcing myself to write everything down on sticky notes does nothing to strengthen them, which is I suppose goes against the point of the exercise. I got a copy of Scrivener for my birthday because I happen to like sticky notes. I just don’t like the idea of losing them.
I’ve been tinkering with it for a few months now, and admittedly, I will drift towards Google Docs just because it’s there. It’s useful in case I get an idea I want to play with, and I need to get it down before I actually commit to it. And that seems to be an important factor for me. I have an idea for a story. If I’m just kicking the tires, then I’ll fill a page in Google Docs and call it good. If I move to Scrivener, then that usually means I’m committed, and will be added to the growing stack of works in progress.
As of this post, I have three projects working at the same time. After a day or so of taking Scrivener out for a test drive a couple of months ago, I can honestly say that it’s the best $40 I ever spent. It is indispensable.
It is also kind of a pain in the ass.
What I Like About Scrivener.
It Keeps Me Honest. It used to be with every project I would start, it would more than likely involve several different tools from several different sources to make the process easier. The problem is, that this method isn’t really helpful. I’m essentially substituting actual random pieces of paper for digital ones.
I used Google Docs. I still do. But in terms of using it to craft a story, it can only be utilized for so much. I still have to jump from tab to tab if I want to reference notes or another chapter. And even though it’s super convenient to save all my information in an online space, jumping back and forth will result in fatigue. Fatigue leads to checking my social spaces, which leads yet another day of me staring at a computer screen filled with kitteh videos with a half eaten burrito hanging out of my mouth wondering where the hell the day went.
Scrivener accommodates my every need when writing my next project. My outlines,
my storyboards, my drafts, character sketches, everything I would need is all in one space. No longer going back and forth between tabs. I can format on the fly, convert to PDF, track my word counts, set word goals. It has a quick reference tab where I can check word definitions in a pinch. I can split the screen and reference my outlines on one side of the screen, and build my story on the other.
Google Docs and Microsoft Word are both good for what they are. Both have some pretty good features, but neither of them have the ability to split your workspace so that you’re able to see your notes, nor do they have a space to keep random notes to remember in later drafts. (Example: Your character finds a specific item, or drives a specific car, or said something that is key to the plot and you want to reference later, there’s a space on the lower right hand part of the workspace where you could keep track of that.)
It’s like this, Word and Docs are good for writing documents. Scrivener is excellent for writing projects.
Oh, and the Project Target tool is awesome.
Set your goal for your project and your session. The closer you get to your goal, the more the level changes from red to green. Watching the color change the longer I type is a very sublime motivational tool.
What I Don’t Like About Scrivener.
If I learned anything about finding myself alone with no responsibilities, plenty of time on my hands, and a bottle of Patrón in my immediate area, it’s that knowing what my limitations are might be in my best interest.
Also, having the number for poison control on speed dial would be good idea too.
But I digress…
It’s nice knowing where your limits are. It’s comforting, right? Our lives, all of our lives are dictated by limitations. How much to eat, how fast to drive, how much money to spend. Knowing how far you can go before you start swimming in the deep end. Knowing how far something can bend before it breaks. I think it’s a byproduct of living in a competitive society. We desire to know how much a certain celebrity is worth. Athletes study hours of films from other teams to exploit weaknesses. Chefs who have garnered a repertoire of dishes know what part of a recipe needs to be started first in order for a dish to be finished all at once. When I started playing around with Photoshop and Illustrator, I started to think in terms of layers, which sort of altered my way of seeing the world a bit. Measurements. Metrics. Limitations. Instructions. We live our lives according to these. It’s comforting.
Then, one day this tool gets invented, and one of its major selling points is that there is no wrong way to use it. Suddenly, life has no meaning.
Maybe it’s because I’ve disciplined myself to the point of masochism. Maybe it’s because I’ve logged in hours and hours of Photoshop tutorials on YouTube. Without rules or instructions in place, I become a little agoraphobic. I have become dependent on people telling me how to do things. I spend more time seeking advice than I do putting things into motion.
Secretly though, I like this feature. This “Sandbox” approach to preparing your workspace. It’s like decorating and rearranging your new office cubicle, or unpacking for a weekend stay in a hotel room. I have to keep in mind that the more I depend on advice from others, the more power I give to them instead of assessing a situation and bending things to my will. Which is what I’m not used to. It just so happens that it’s exactly what Scrivener was designed for. You can craft your workspace and use their tools however you see fit. There is no wrong way to use it.
So basically, the problem isn’t with the program, the problem is with me. I need to remember the value of playing.
I guess if I had to nitpick, I wish there were a version of their mind-mapping application, Scapple integrated inside of it. Other than that, I really can’t find anything much to complain about it. It is extremely versatile, it’s easy on the eyes, and as far as the learning curve to use it is concerned, it isn’t that steep. It’s not like you’re forced to learn a whole new language in order to use it. Amiryte, Mac users? </snark>
Take it from an Old Schooler, if you’re tired of losing your notes, if you’ve had enough of trying to decipher your shorthand that you scribbled down on a candy wrapper while you were half asleep. If you’ve gotten over forgetting your fantastic idea about one of your characters after you killed him off, and a pen was nowhere near you, then do yourself a favor. Splurge. $40 is what, a month of lattes? Scrivener is pretty much the Gold Standard when it comes to finishing your manuscript.
This year, I am making a concerted effort never to publish a first draft of anything. It’s not the best habit to get into, especially when I plan on sending things off to be printed. This work in progress, is a work in progress. If anything, it was a practice in seeing if I could write around a thousand words a day. Which this is. Which will probably be the last time I do that. A thousand words every couple of days…much better to manage.
This was a rough idea. In the beginning, I couldn’t see where I was going with it, and was prepared to go about it at a completely different angle. It took me the longest time to figure out where it was going, until it hit and everything fell into place.
Very Brief Synopsis: It’s an adventure story, filled with sacrifice, political intrigue, love, fighting, monsters, and the main characters are mice. Criticism is always welcome, and as always I’d like to hear your thoughts on it.
My plan is to tinker with the chapters throughout the week this summer and publish on Fridays. Many other stories are in the works, so expect a bunch of stuff.
Thanks for reading…
Foxglove stirred slowly in the morning sun’s rays that were streaming through the slats on the side of the house. It’s been ages, he thought. There were times when he and his kin thought the Spring Rains would never stop. The foraging patrols would return with their hauls of nuts and seeds and tales of how their old warren has almost completely vanished. The new colony is young and thriving. There are very few who still possess the memory of their old home. There are very few who speak of the old days and of the perilous journey. Names of the fallen are still uttered in hushed reverence when the moon is high. Foxglove remembers those days well. The scars and the throbbing pain in his bones remind him almost every morning.
The sun is high in the sky today. The blue skies have returned, and the grass is tall and dry. From his straw bed, he can hear the colony returning to their holes. The Elders shuffle and discuss the news of the day, while parents call their rambunctious, laughing pups inside to rest. Bedding is tended to, food is traded, and everything grows quiet. Everything is as it should be. Despite his nocturnal instincts, he rouses himself from his bed and breathes deep the country air that filters its way inside. Soon, the humans will wake and start their day in a mighty clamor.
This morning is a good morning. He wonders for a moment how many of his children will witness a sunrise. He wonders how well he has taught them, and bristles at the thought of one or all of them standing at the ready to defend their colony, or their young. One by one, thoughts, dreams, concerns and questions left unanswered float through his aging mind, and one by one, they disappear like so many of his brethren. Slowly, the nagging of guilt and fear gives way to feelings of joy and contentment, for today is a good day. Today is a good day to move on. He steadies himself on one leg, tidies up his bed, takes one last inspection, and limps quietly from his hole.
He shuffles along the avenue of wooden beams and horsehair plaster. He remembers when he first found this space, and the joy felt when his kin could finally settle in peace. As he passes through, the hum of the colony as soft as power lines. Mothers telling tales to their pups. Fathers diligently preparing their homes for their expanding families. The coo of a lovers’ embrace. The weeping of an elder thinking of their departed other half. All around him is life. Every so often, he likes to be reminded of it.
“Out for another stroll, eh?” Foxglove recognized the voice, even if he couldn’t see the mouse it was coming from.
“Ah, Primrose,” he said. “I didn’t expect to be out so early.”
Prim smiled her warm smile as she straightened his whiskers. “You never expect it, dear. It’s always new to you.” Foxglove grinned as he tried to find another thing to focus on instead of her gaze. In his life, he has faced dangers that would make an average mouse soil themselves in fear. He has grappled with beasts who wouldn’t think twice about ripping him to shreds. He has lived a life of bravery. Yet, he could never find the courage to look into Prim’s eyes. She could always see right through him. “It’s always good to stretch your legs. To get out of your hole for a while.” Some days are better than others to get him to talk.
“Oh yes,” he said, small talk not being a skill he possessed. “I like coming out here when the sun comes up. It… it reminds me… of…” his thoughts evaporate.
“It reminds you of…home?” she whispered. This was not the first time that Prim has heard this. She never tires of it.
“Yes. Home,” his thoughts snap back. “I loved the old warren. When I was young, the grass was so green, and there wasn’t a sniff of a dog anywhere. Did I ever tell you the time I faced a pack of rats, and took all of them on myself?”
“Oh, yes dear,” she chuckled. “I was there, remember?”
“There I was,” there is a sparkle that returns to his eyes when he talks about his past. “Outnumbered, desperate and hungry. They were there to take what we found, and I wasn’t going to let that happen. Not on that day.”
“You were so brave,” she took his paw and held it gently.
Foxglove sighed. The moment, relived many times before had gone again. It wasn’t courage that finally made him catch her gaze, it was resolution. “Ah Prim, I am so tired. I can feel the warmth of the world again, but the days seem so short.” He clutched her paw and leaned in closer. “You’ve always been there for me, Prim. This old mouse might be forgetful of the last time he ate, but he sure remembers you.”
“Fox, let’s not talk about this right now,” Prim’s voice beginning to shake.
“No my dear, I need to talk about this now,” strength returning to his voice. “Were it not for your care, your sympathy, your love, I probably wouldn’t have made it as far as I have. Most of the colony seems to think that I had everything to do with their salvation, when the reality of it is, none of it would have been possible without you.” Prim is holding on by a thread. She can feel him slipping away, and is powerless to do anything about it. “I never did thank you, love. I and every other mouse here owes you. Never forget that.” And with that, he turned and shuffled his way towards the hole in the baseboard. It leads to the land of the humans. They’re awake now, and should be able to see him. The pain has taken him. He drags himself out into the light. He has found his freedom.
My son turned two recently. This means he’s reached that magical age where he gets into everything he’s not supposed to, and screams “no” a lot. Except that, he doesn’t say “no” a lot. Frankly, he doesn’t say anything resembling a full sentence. My son is two, and he’s going to be a late talker. Now, whether this is because of blockage in his ear canal, or he doesn’t feel the need to express his wants and needs beyond a window-shattering screech remains to be seen. Mommy and Daddy have been put on a list for speech development therapy, and hopefully something will come of it.
Still though, he’s happy. Despite his lack of vocabulary, he’s healthy and happy and loves to play and get into trouble as every two year old should. And just to be clear, no, he isn’t on the spectrum. He responds, he interacts, he smiles and laughs, and most importantly, he tries to speak. He wants to speak. A lot and at length. He wants to pontificate and sing and argue. But, as of right now, the best he can do is sound something like an octopus that desperately wants to join the world of man, so he disguises himself Clark Kent-style to go about his business on dry land.
Boss: “Johnson, have you finished those quarterly reports yet?”
Octopus: “Glorba BLORGA blorga glorba blorgablorg!”
Boss: “Ah, very good. You know Johnson, I like you. You’ve got the right attitude to make it in this business. Wilcox, how come you can’t be more like Johnson?”
Wilcox: “Because he’s a cephalopod, sir.”
Boss: “Have you always been this racist, Wilcox?”
He likes to talk. He wants to. And when he starts chugging along on his little sibilance choo-choo, I am convinced that he thinks he’s making perfect sense. I am convinced that he’s got The Gettysburg Address, The St. Crispin’s Day Speech, and ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas completely memorized, and he’ll roll it off his tongue at the drop of a hat. The thing is, no one can understand him, although not for lack of trying. His family all just smile and nod and do their best to understand. And he’ll still get frustrated at us because we still don’t get it.
I cannot help but sympathize. Sometimes, I feel the same way when I write. Especially when I blog.
So, You Want Your Voice Back?
For the past couple of days, I’ve allowed, as an old friend used to say, The Black Dog to
come to my doorstep.
The beginning of my blogging days were cultivated in the dark, dark days of the now defunct Yahoo 360°. For those of you too young to remember, Yahoo 360° was a social profiling site along the lines of MySpace and was the perfect place for the more socially averse who weren’t quite ready to jump on board the Facebook bandwagon. Those were the days where I was still cutting my writing teeth and finding my voice. Although, as I think back to then and reflect on what I do now, not a lot has changed. And I’m not quite sure I found my voice yet.
Among the new friends I accumulated at that time was a fledgling author. At the time, she was doing the song and dance of getting herself published. Her blog kept her friends and followers in the loop as to how and when the publishing was coming along. That is, when she wasn’t regaling us with tales about her kids, or refurbishing a house she and her husband just bought, or random pieces of erotica that she wrote. Her writing would have us in stitches, but every once in a while, Doubt would come calling, along with her kooky cousins, Anger and Depression. She would apologize for her candor, and blame it on the Black Dog that showed his teeth when she tried to step outside of her house.
It’s over ten years later. The people I knew on that site are now scattered to the wind, and I wish them well. It’s over ten years later, and it hasn’t been until recently where I’ve actually considered getting published myself. I haven’t thought much about that time until now. I would have been satisfied leaving it in the past, but presently there is a familiar beast who has found himself just outside my own door with a sign around its neck reading, “Isky sends her regards.”
I get lost. More times than I’d like to admit. It’s so hard not to in this brave new world of self-published authors and readily available information. I want views and notoriety just as much as anyone else who starts down this road. I want to write as a career, and I’m willing to work for it. But sometimes I get impatient, and the void I scream into doesn’t respond back. Then I start to question my motives and practices, and maybe I should return to the “real world” because my blog hasn’t sold enough widgets and the placement of my SEO has gone all screwy or whatever. I get nervous, and the Black Dog gets hungry.
When I get lost, the first thing I gravitate towards are the hectares of blog posts that are so eager to dispense advice on how to boost your blog traffic. Their oh-so clinical and categorical language always leave me more confused, frustrated, and about as satisfied as forcing myself to eat a freezer-burned Lean Cuisine when I really want a pizza. Then come those days where I just want to detach altogether, put a ball-peen hammer through my computer screen and spend the rest of the month binge watching Gilmore Girls. When I get scared, I lose my voice. When I lose my voice, I get lost. When I get lost, The Black Dog will find me.
But I’m not alone in this. I take the smallest grain of relief in the knowledge that there are others out there like me who are worried that they haven’t found their voice yet, or fear that they may have lost it all together. However, in acknowledging this, I have discovered something that’s been in my pocket for a long time. In worrying about not finding your voice, or not finding your words, you allow doubt to take over. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration, afterall.
Full disclosure, I didn’t go to school for writing or blogging or business. What I have learned, I learned on my own through my own research and just sitting in front of a monitor every day while my fingers tap out a few thousand words, and, most importantly, allowing myself to make mistakes. I’m not an expert, but here’s my advice for whenever The Black Dog starts growling.
1. Ignore Just About Everyone.
“Okay, Google.” blingityblink
[Seconds pass as the lifeboat sinks a little deeper.] blink “Here are some websites to tell you what to do in case of drowning.”
“Not very helpful, Googleblubblublblub…” blink “Sorry. I didn’t quite catch that.”
Research should be second nature to you, right? Blog post, genre fiction, non-fiction, book report, burrito recipe, doesn’t matter. We used to spend hours raiding the shelves of our local library, now everything you need can be held in a few tabs worth of Google searches. You put the time and effort into researching everything before submitting anything which is the way it should be. However, I think the byproduct of living in the age of Google is that we have become too dependent on it. We rely on it for everything we need to know. Unfortunately, Google can only tell you so much. Case in point, in terms of advice, Google is really good at telling you who said what and when, it’s not so good at telling you whose to follow.
“Okay, Google.” blingityblink
“Tell me I’m pretty.”
[Seconds pass as the mascara runs further down your face.] blink “…errrrrrmmmm… Can we just be friends?”
There comes a time when you can only absorb so much advice before you realize that you haven’t put any of it into action. Are you honestly looking for advice because you’re stuck, or are you looking for someone to validate the exact same thing you’ve been thinking about for the past week? Have you painted your manuscript into a corner, or are you licking your wounds from a really bad review and in need a virtual drinking buddy? Taking advice is fine, just remember that most of it shouldn’t be taken as gospel. If you want to write, get writing.
2. But, Be Careful With the Advice You Seek.
The biggest pet peeve I have with blogging/writing advice is the presumption that it should be done with full intention of getting views/clicks and generating an income. Every post on the subject is a “Top 10 ways to blahblahblah,” or “The Most Obvious Thing That Your Blog is Missing,” or any other form of flashy, deep-fried clickbait that gets you to read the same regurgitated information that’s been shared a thousand times before. It gets to the point with me that I figure the most guaranteed way to get more clicks, is to title my blog post “How To Get More Clicks” and give away a FREE BOOK on the subject that’s worth $100’s of DOLLARS and FILLED WITH VALUABLE INFORMATION that someone else wrote, but you can NEVER FIND EVERYWHERE ELSE if you don’t know how the internet works and BE SURE TO GET ON MY MAILING LIST because YOU’LL GET HERPES IF YOU DON’T!!1! FUCK YOU, SHUT UP AND CONSUME!!
Nothing against you guys doing what late night infomercials have been doing for years before the internet was born, but I’m looking for writing advice, not the P.T. Barnum Playbook with a foreword by Zig Ziglar.
Anyway, getting back on subject…
According to many pro-bloggers, blogging is solely designed to facilitate sales. That’s it. Not the exchange of ideas, and certainly not to be used for any artistic or abstract expression.To paraphrase from Halt And Catch Fire, “Writing isn’t the thing…it’s the thing that gets the thing…” Nope, it’s all about the almighty dollar, y’all. And while there’s nothing inherently wrong with that (I mean, c’mon. It’s the way I’ve chosen to pay my bills coughcoughCheckOutTheDonationButtoncough), it has very little to do with what I’m seeking help for.
What gets me so bummed whenever I think I lost my voice and I go out to find it, is that I’m not careful with whose advice I follow. After taking into consideration the wisdom that some gurus dispense, I tend to think that what I’m presently doing is wrong. Simply because I’m writing fiction and entertaining readers, rather than to just knuckle down and write some drab, emotionless fluff piece for the corporate interests of others while utilizing the tried and true Carrot-On-A-Stick Method. My intentions with this blog is to entertain because I want to, inform when I can, and yes, sell things that I’ve made (coughRandomMerchPagecough…sorry, allergy season). That’s the way that works for me. What works for you might be completely different, and that’s okay. Just don’t do one thing that’s disguised as another in order to make a buck.
Writing is fine. Self-Publishing is fine. Making a buck is fine. However, there is a difference between the three. And meaning and intention tends to get blurred in the ye olde Google search.
This is something I obviously struggle with on a regular basis. I hate to break it to ya, but nobody is going to tell you what’s going to work for you as a writer. Seeking wisdom from our heroes is always good for perspective, but if you really want sage advice on how to find your voice, keep reading.
3. Realize That We All Start Somewhere.
So, you lost your voice. The manuscript you’re working on has stopped making sense by the second act , your characters have all walked away from you while flipping you off and giving you the side-eye, and the fear of “not being good as your heroes” that you’ve shoved to the back of your nervous, flop-sweaty little mind, is now front and center wearing a Boater, a candy striped blazer and twirling a cane in his fingers singing, “HELLO MY BABY, HELLO MY HONEY, HELLO MY RAGTIME GAAAAALL…” Before you pack it in, consider this…
This fear is a good thing.
This fear means that you are on the right path.
Because, let’s face it. If you didn’t want to be a writer, you’d be doing something else by now like repairing lobster traps, or learning how to be a spreadsheet whiz-kid, or whatever you kids are into nowadays… with your Facebooks and your smartphones [shakes fist].
I’m presuming that since you are not any of these people, or have no intention on becoming one, that you have a story inside you that no one else can tell.
Great authors, like great football players, actors, surgeons and sandwiches, aren’t born. They’re made. Anyone can deliver a plot. Plot is nothing. Plot is the barest of minimums. But, you’re looking for something with a little more meat on its bones, right? You’re a storyteller, Harry. If you want to deliver your plot on something other than an a styrofoam plate, you need nuance and foresight and planning and grace and other words that aren’t coming to mind at the moment. All of which takes a lot of trial and error. All of which takes…
That is all. Practice. It doesn’t get any simpler or any more obvious than that. There is no magic pill, no secret that only a few know about, that is free with purchase if you order within the next 20 minutes. Nope. That’s really all there is to it. Practice.
If you want to write, write.
“But, I still lost my voice.”
Oh, that’s not true. You’d be amazed what could happen once you get going.
“I don’t sound like J.K. Rowling.”
A word about that.
Many writers will tell you, and I’m in full agreement with them, that there is something to modeling yourself after your heroes when you are first starting out. It helps with the process of writing the story as well as finding your own voice. Yes, we all want to be the next Rowling. Just like I want to be the next Robbins, Thompson, Gaiman etc. So, I study my idols. I dive into their works and study how they do it and with a little luck, I’ll come out on the other side with just the right colors in which to paint my own landscape.
We all want to be the next Rowling…
Have you ever considered being the first You?
There is a story inside you that no one else can give a voice to, but you. Your craft is to build worlds from nothing more than imagination. We’d all like to see it, but the only way we can see it, the only way that you can stop sounding like an octopus in a polyester polo shirt, the only way to bring The Black Dog to heel is to just keep writing.