So, I finally finished the extended notes/storyboard for the first act of my latest project last night. I’d like to point out at this time that these are extended notes/storyboards for a “short story”. When I first started this, I was shooting for 5,000 words, but now it looks like I might have to add another zero this time around.
Oh well, I’ll just chalk it up to experience. That’s all you can do, right? One of these days, I should remember what my pappy used to tell me: “Measure twice, and cut once.”
Actually, I call him dad.
Nobody in my family is called ‘Pappy’.
…that I know of.
Earlier this year, I made a super-secret promise to myself. I promised that my intentions would be correct before I started another project. Which means, before the words “Chapter 1” appear on paper, there are a few things that need to be taken care of first.
Like, make smaller goals.
Before You Fly, Get Used To The Controls
I was bound and determined to not let a new word processing software frustrate me to the point of abandoning all my other projects altogether. I had to remember that even though goals and deadlines are important, the only ones that exist are the ones I make for myself. Instead of making the goal a completed manuscript, I made a shorter term goal of getting comfortable with the software I’m using. It made things so much easier.
I gave myself two weeks. With the same amount of focus and determination I would devote to a video game, if I at least still didn’t get the hang of it by that time, it would be time to move onto a Plan C.
Learn To Love Your Mistakes
I’ve found that the best way to ensure that your project never gets off the ground, is to never start it because you’re convinced that you don’t know what you’re doing, or that you’ll do badly, and your efforts be rejected, scolded and mocked, and you’ll be cast out of society and forced to live in a cave somewhere.
I’ve also learned that the best way to get over that feeling, is to barrel through your project and not look back. Make all the grammatical errors you want. Indulge in run-on sentences. Meander. Digress. Ramble. Change the Subject. Make shit up. Do all the things that you were told not to do, and then do them anyway. Laugh maniacally as you’re doing it too. It works for me.
Get to the end of a sentence. Get to the end of the page. Get to the end of a thought. Set that as a goal. When you’re done filling your page with nonsense, make a new goal to clean it up.
Erase The Term, “Award Winning” From Your Vocabulary
…at least for the time being.
Get any ideas of knocking it out of the park on your first try out of your head right now. Being a new writer, an unpublished author, one out of literally millions, the chances of you being noticed, let alone published at all are astounding. Just like everyone else. But, if you have made your mind up to make your first project a bestseller, then fine. Let’s say that it makes it.
Did you think that far ahead?
I bet you didn’t.
So, instead of shooting for the New York Times Bestseller List on your first go around, how about aiming a little lower. Like, getting published in the first place. Let’s go with that, and then worry about which summer home you’d want to park your Lambo in later.
Anyway, I followed these ground rules I set for myself, and it resulted in a more robust structure. More to the point, it resulted in a structure. The First Act is good. It could be better, and it’ll probably be improved upon as I go. But for right now, I’ll settle for good. Because, my main goal isn’t just to get this published, it’s mostly to see if I can do it. The story itself is nothing more than a Hero’s Journey, strictly meat and potatoes storytelling. I know I’m covering no new ground, but I just want to see if I can actually do it. Like climbing the mountain just because it’s there.
So, at the end of this act, I have discovered that there are a few more characters than I thought, which is normal. But, I may have stumbled upon something else in developing these characters. In my story, there are these aboriginal type creatures that need to distinguish themselves from the other characters. Their ways are ancient, and so is their language.
I never considered that I might have to invent a new language.
So back down the rabbit hole I go. I’ve been wrestling with how I should go about doing this all morning. Should I just craft a few phrases together and call it good, or should I actually take the time and develop a lexicon like Tolkien did?
Tolkien and I have the same birthday…
…just thought I’d share that.
But, that’s just it, isn’t it? When faced with a one-off and a deadline of ‘Somewhere In the Near Future’, do you clumsily stitch together some gibberish like when Princess Leia pulled a fast one on Jabba and hope the audience doesn’t notice, or do you start from scratch and make something as rich and as real as Klingon? According to an interview for WIRED magazine, David J. Peterson, inventor of the Dothraki language among others, suggests we might have come a long way since Return of the Jedi.
“You’re making the sounds to make up the dialogue. It’s gotta have some thought that went into how the thing works.” [but] “that doesn’t mean the fan community can’t step up and fill in the blanks,”
Not that I’m suggesting that calling all Word Nerds to collaborate with me [ahem]. The details of the language are still in my head and a little fuzzy at the moment. I’m sort of leaning towards a derivation of a Mesoamerican dialect…
…Yeah, I know. Some people golf for fun. This is what I do.
But, I’m excited. I’d like to see where this goes. It could turn into something big, it could be forgotten about. Either way, still excited.
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 was 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, after all.
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 the 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 are 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 tend 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 of 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 on 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.
Here is my brief review of +Chuck Wendig‘s The Kick Ass Writer: 1001 Ways to Write Great Fiction, Get Published, & Earn Your Audience.
It’s brief, because it’s written in such a way where it doesn’t need to be read from cover to cover. In between the covers there is something for everyone….that sounded way too sexy. What I meant to say was you could probably devour a chapter and be energized enough to make that post or write ten more pages of your manuscript.
I also kept it brief because I’m also in a hurry to dive into Neil Gaiman’s American Gods before it gets turned into a mini-series. Not that I have premium cable…but there’s always Netflix.
Okay, I’m keeping this book marked as “Currently-Reading” because I never officially finished it. However, this is a book that was never meant to be read to the final page. This book is the very essence of a book that “you can pick up and put down” and honestly not skip a beat.
For the record, I am a fan of Chuck Wendig. His writing is as fearless as his approach, and I love his ability to rally and wrangle novice writers and twitchy wallflowers to get out there and keep writing. I myself have participated in one of his many writing exercises he has published in his blog. He is an awesome force of nature; even if you don’t know what you’re doing when you pick up that pen, within minutes of encouragement from him, you will create something brilliant. He never takes writer’s block as an excuse, and he will not allow it in his students. He comes across as a bit of a high school football coach, but when it comes to matters of trying to get motivated to put words to paper, I would chose him any day of the week and twice on Sunday.
I can talk him up to the rafters, but it will do nothing to make me finish this book. Here’s the thing: I don’t have to. If advice were currency, then every page is just as rich as the last. Take the book, throw it up in the air, allow it to fall open to a random page, and you will be just as inspired by his advice on that page as you would on any other.
I have added this book to my arsenal of writing tools, and I highly recommend you do as well. If you’re a budding writer/novelist/blogger, I highly recommend checking out his blog. Read it cover to cover, flip open to a random page, or just beat yourself over the head with it (not recommended) let this book inspire you to get your writing out of the land of suck, an into the land of kick-ass awesomeness.