All-Purpose Writing Thread!

What’s the cure for writer’s block? Write. What’s the best way to start on a new project? Write. What’s the key to being a good writer? Write.

The biggest hurdle I have in my writing is just doing it, and I’ve found I do a lot better when I have other writers to talk to – not necessarily for help with story or pacing, but just about writing in general. It gets me excited to write and then it’s 2 AM and I’ve written 10,000 words in a day and it’s awesome.

To kick us off, I’m in the first-pass editing phase of Popular Anarchy, a novel I finished a year ago and really procrastinated on fixing. I’m almost done with the first pass and then it’s on to rewriting. I’ve already decided to toss out most of a character’s subplot and rework it to be, as I put it in Chapter 2, “less boring as shit.” That’s the kind of thing I want to avoid.

So! Everyone! What are you writing?

After letting it sit for a good while to gain some objectivity, I loaded up my NaNoWriMo 2009 novel The Ferry onto my Kobo and read through it in its entirety as preparation for the second draft, which is just underway now.

I was amazed at how many typos leaped out at me.

I don’t have an official plan of action for the second draft other than a deadline no later than November, I’m just working through the story and fixing it as I go. I’ve made copious notes (both in Word and in my fevered brain) on what to change/fix/throw overboard and am following/ignoring these notes as I see fit.

I launched my writing exercise site earlier this year but it never really got going and I accept full responsibility for that – I have been in a serious funk for much of the year and my motivation was not merely lacking, it had boarded an interstellar spacecraft for parts unknown. I’m relaunching the site later this month and invite anyone interested in doing quick, light exercises to take part when the time comes.

I’m also working on a bunch of short story revisions for self-publication, inspired by Mind Elemental’s thread and try to post something to my blog at least once a day, just to keep the ol’ writing wheels greased.

I’m not doing anything as daunting or serious as writing a novel or short story. What I am doing is returning to the mid-nineties on the internet and have begun the process to set up my own hobby web page, my hobby being eating.

I always figured if I was rich enough to retire to my city mansion I’d need a few projects to keep my brain knocking over. One of those was creating, maintaining and writing a site dedicated to the snack food industry. I’m currently at the “have everything to do and don’t know how to do any of it” stage. So I’ve been reading up on creating webpages, HTML, CSS and PHP. All the while I’m keeping notes and writing up short reviews every time I have a different bag of crisps (chips to you lot.) This came about when during my group’s RPG session, two of us would end up debating for hours the relative merits of the munchies we had during the session. The hardest part so far has been rating the different products. I can write about why I like them, but I generally seem to end up liking everything I eat. I need to get my critic’s eye in. But yes, it has been fun putting down in writing my thoughts on different snacks, bet they popcorn, potato chips, corn/maize snacks, nuts, processed potato snacks, bombay mixes, prawn crackers, etc…

This is also the first time I’ve ever written for myself, which is strange. Although the end goal is to get this stuff out on a website, there’s no real purpose beyond creating a piece of prose that’s readable and entertaining. I’m not writing a fictional piece like when I was in high-school. I’m not writing an essay that will be used to judge what degree I get. And I’m not writing to discuss or argue with people online. So it’s a very personal thing I’m writing. And part of that is that I’m putting a lot more thought into what I type and how I write it, than I have with other things where there has been pressure to get it out.

I have no doubt once more people post what they’ve been getting up to, my efforts will look incredibly silly. But I’m having fun with it.

Finishing first draft of my vampire screenplay (because nobody’s ever written one of those before). Paging through last year’s Nano thingy, trying to decide if I am going to do another one this November. Procrastinating re: updating my blog in a timely fashion.

for (int i=0; i>-1; i++) {
char monkeyWithTypewriter = (char)(random.nextInt('Z'-'A'+1)+'A');

Let it run for a while.

Most of my writing is taken up by SEO copywriting for various freelance client, followed by occasional posts on my blog and Talk Android when I have the brain power.

I write little scenes that are pretty good IMHO but my one pass at a novel stalled at the stereotypical 80 pages, and sucked besides. I’m decent when I have a clear idea but I suck at filler. Plus I pretty much hate everything I do so I’m a terribly harsh critic, which keeps me from recognizing the good within the bad.


I’m working on the outline of my first novel, tentatively called “Gringo”. I’m hoping to get the bulk of it written during NaNo this year. The idea for the book marks the first time in my life where I can say, “It came to me in a dream!”

Why did it suck?

I’m decent when I have a clear idea but I suck at filler.

I think ‘filler’ is a loaded term. I see a lot of writers that enjoy the details – writing about the cabinet, the wind, the smell of the sea, the golden locks, etc. But they hate or simply can’t create a coherent overarching theme/plot or any interesting characters. I think a lot of people are like this, they like to write snippets but can’t put together a whole. This is often true filler – guys like Stephen King that just like the sound of their own prose.

On the flip side are guys with an idea for a story or a character – they have the idea, but hate actually fleshing out the bits because it feels like busy work. If the details are the ‘filler’ that’s a different issue.

If you’re like the second, one trick is to write everything in iterative outline form. You get the main concepts:
[li]Hero discovers destiny
[/li][li]Hero fights destiny
[/li][li]Hero has a montage
[/li][li]Hero fights mini boss
[/li][li]Hero fight boss
[/li][li]Hero returns home bitter and jaded

Then you take a piece and expand it:
[li]Hero fights destiny
[li]He prefers farming
[/li] [li]He likes safety of the home
[/li] [li]He is not invested in the battle
[/li] [li]He is insecure that he’s the Chosen One

Then choose another bullet item and expand on it again and again. At some point you’ve down the equivalent of top down software development.

If you start with each section having a ‘production ready’ paragraph that is a placeholder, in theory you can take a five part essay (or whatever) and expand it into a full length novel over time. And you can truncate/edit out entire sections easily.

Plus I pretty much hate everything I do so I’m a terribly harsh critic, which keeps me from recognizing the good within the bad.

On the Internet, no one is their harshest critic.

Ha ha. Hey, they’re the undead. Vampires never die. I am amazed at the unflagging popularity of vampire books. They are here to stay.

I have an idea, and I have a protagonist (me, roughly) but as you say damned if I can string it together. I’ve always been a hack writer worshipping at the feet of King and his ilk, those folks able to churn out passable prose and a few good ideas seemingly at will. I tried writing a bit more stylishly but it seems so damned hard to sustain through an entire novel. Here’s my opening for a book:


Bullitt, Nelson, Marion. Now I know where I am, sort of. I’m “over” in the sense that Marion County was the first wet county, so on a Friday in high school we always asked “You going over?” Trying to find someone willing to travel with our money and bring back liquor, beer, whatever they could manage. When you have one source it doesn’t need a proper name, you give it one, so Marion County was known as “going over.”

Grow up in a dry county, a poor county, with the nearest city over an hour away suddenly a 35-minute trip two counties over becomes a serious undertaking. That’s with no job and 48 hours of leisure every weekend. Hell, you’re sixteen. Never mind that once you really grow up, grow out, get the hell out and pick a city that same 35 minutes becomes your goal, your best possible commute time during rush hour to a job that something is telling you is necessary but you still aren’t sure that particular something is right.

So Marion County. If you’ve been away long enough you get hit again by the beauty in the middle of the state where small hills break the horizon and everything grows, grows, grows like it’s trying to hold off winter for just one more month. That ring around the world, north and south, where the seasons swing most violently to either extreme means that all life shoves forward at any opportunity; there’s no telling when the rug might get yanked out from under. Bourbon whiskey owes its life to the outliers, the pushing out in the summer and the sucking in of winter giving it the oakey character of the barrel, unique in the world and lost on the filthy rabble in Tennessee, where football matters for some reason. I remember in Costa Rica shocking the cab drivers with my stories of weather, how we went above a hundred in the summer and below zero in the winter. I’m a firm believer that steady weather lets you live longer, and by God my half-assed research has borne this theory out with various near-equatorial countries constantly winning the longest-lived category but damned if I’d trade them. Ninety years of stasis is no reward at all. I’ll gladly ride eighty years of action.

But Kentucky, my God, longevity has been long discarded if it was ever on the table at all. On the West coast it would be anger, but here resignation is a better description. It’s never been great, sometimes it has been good, but damned if we’re going to worry about how it could be. We just get fat and smoke and drink and bitch about having to drive two minutes to go to the IGA until we can’t stand to get out at all. That’s when the booze really kicks in, when you figure out that the back yard (and often the forest beyond) is just as interesting as your friends and a lot less argumentative. Might as well stoke up the inherited thumbprint glass with an acceptable bourbon, (can’t go too cheap or you’re a drunk, or too expensive and be labeled a snob) something like Old Forester and Coke and wait for the hummingbirds to light on the feeder while you hold so still. They will, it just takes a summer or two to train them to it.

I could have taken the easier route across the interstate and then down the state highway, saving twenty minutes and a lot of stopping and starting but I didn’t get back here very often and wanted to see green. I was heading to the horizontal center of the state but vertically at the bottom, down by Tennessee. Just quiet poor land where we don’t even get to be infamous like coal country and the nastier bits of Appalachia. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I would roll up the driveway, half a mile from the road before I could see the old house. It had been a while since I visited and as the years passed I got better at coming up with busy-sounding excuses why my visits would become less frequent. It was hard for me to lie, I had been raised (reared, my mother would often correct) with the nearest neighbor nearly a mile away and was a quiet person as a result.

That neighbor was a crazy man, sad to say, and rode a delicate line between ugly crazy and harmless. He liked to put random letters on his car, the sticky reflective letters used on mailboxes, spelling out things in his own private language. I only saw him a few times growing up when we needed bait; he kept a good stock of minnows swimming in his dining room. The nasty bit was that he would go into town in his lettered car, five to ten black dogs in the back and take Polaroids of local shopgirls, then cut out their heads and tape them onto Playboy centerfolds. As far as I know he never did a thing overtly wrong in his life, and we liked him well enough to trade a small eight-inch chainsaw for a pistol once, but he was one to keep an eye on.

But now Mr. Spears was long dead. I vaguely recall him dying when I was around twenty, and his house had undergone many changes in the years since. My father was especially glad that there were no longer twenty or thirty black dogs (mutts all, and the number varied but was always on the wrong side of shocking) harrassing the cattle that we kept to pay for the land.

I tapped the brake pedal to stop the cruise control in anticipation of the enormous Grand Marquis ahead doing something dangerous. In the country old people drove big Fords, big Chevys, or if they were a bit fancy big Buicks. I naturally slip into a slower rhythm on these roads, anything else will drive a person crazy in a second.

I like this quite a bit but I’m not sure how to bend it to dialogue and simple exposition when necessary.

What’s the idea? A protagonist is sort of a blank character, the question is really how much depth the character has and if you want to show an arc.

I’ve always been a hack writer worshipping at the feet of King and his ilk, those folks able to churn out passable prose and a few good ideas seemingly at will.

King has very good prose IMO, but I would argue his ideas are actually pretty boring. He takes a generic concept – possessed object (Christine), trapped by a monster (Cujo), haunted house (Shining), end of times (The Stand), vampires (Salem’s Lot), etc. and just writes a compelling enough story with compelling characters that you get sucked along for the ride even though nothing conceptually is that innovative.

Execution matters.

I tried writing a bit more stylishly but it seems so damned hard to sustain through an entire novel.

Choosing a style tends to be about inertia. You can go flowery, terse, dialog driven, whatever, and if you stick with it for a while it will tend to sustain. Many writers have a ‘natural voice’ and then a ‘writing voice’, and often find they have a hard time sustaining one vs. the other. If you have a stylistically good ‘natural voice’, and many QT3 posters do, then I would argue you should roll with it. Failing that, having an adopted ‘writing voice’ can work, but it requires a lot of effort until it becomes natural. If you don’t think-in-pulp or think-in-sardonic or whatever then “writing-pulp-style” or “writing-sardonically” can be a lot of effort.

I run into this in non-fiction. When writing about programming I’ll find that if I’m insecure about my audience, I’ll write things very dry, in an effort to sound professional. But when writing an email or a quick post to some friends about programming I can be a lot more natural and loose with lots of obscure nerd-references, and most people much, much prefer that style even though it has to ‘flow’ for me to do it. I can’t force it (or, more precisely, it sounds forced when it is).

Okay, so addressing your snippet, overall I really like it. The two major issues I have with it are:

  1. Where’s it going? It’s a lot of descriptive text without telling me, the reader, why I care. There needs to be a story or a character happening at some point, some hook to get me caring in between the descriptions.

  2. I like the style of the description, but at times it gets confusing – the sentences ramble a bit, which may be intentional, but enough so and it’s distracting as I have to backtrack and go “What did he just say?” Conversational tone is great until, but in writing there’s a balance between conversational and unstructured.

Great points BTG. I guess my main conflict is that my natural voice tends to be noir/pulp when writing dialogue and description but more introspective and verbose when discussing the metaplot or ideas.

Haha, I just went and downloaded the book I tried to write a few years ago. Sooo bad. I can’t even post a snippet in fear of embarassment. I do need to mount my old hard drive to my new PC and retrieve a decent shootout though . . .


Hell, it wasn’t really going anywhere, that was my thought for a first page of the novel, maybe I’m trying to do some sort of Umberto Eco thing where the first chapter is a complete mindfuck. The idea was to establish a general feel for the setting and then bring the protagonist in a bit at a time through actions and dialogue rather than exposition. There’s nothing I hate more than “Dirk paused a moment to appreciate Jane’s lustrous red hair, narrow waist, and full bosoms heaving under her turquoise . . . etc.” The idea in my mind was to bring up the idea of someone driving home to the folks after a long time away and their memory wandering on the road. As he left the road and arrived there would be a gradual progression from the narrative “dreamy” prose to a more concrete action/description/dialogue.

Rereading after your comments I notice that you’re absolutely right, I should put in some transitional bits about the drive and the boredom to make it more grounded in normal experience.

Edit: Just to be entirely honest, I wrote that passage with the single thought “Can I write something fancy?” Stupid word for it but I can’t think of a better one. I love writers who can pull off that effortless complexity of sentence and structure without obfuscating the story underneath. My earlier writing was all story and no style, so that was my stab at style.


All laudable, and the kernel of good prose is absolutely there, but you really need to combine it with story or character elements that surprise or entrance the reader. There’s always room for prose-for-prose’s sake and many famous and successful authors have shit stories and just really compelling settings or descriptions, but for most readers you want to anchor them down with a question or observation. For example, taking your thing and just adding in some random one liners adds questions and interest:

“Which would explain the dead body in the trunk and the puddle of blood under the gas pedal, things my 16-year old self probably hadn’t considered needing to explain decades later. Sometimes you get what you wish for, good or bad.”

Stick that in there somewhere randomly, and you have a story. Or:

“I never considered the hills beyond being hills, but after the dead started coming I saw them all as places I’d make my last stand.”

You get the gist =)

Edit: Just to be entirely honest, I wrote that passage with the single thought “Can I write something fancy?”

Answer: yes =)

I’ve always wondered why I write like a ‘fob’. My parents are immigrants from Vietnam but I was born here here in North America (BC, Canada) and grew up with English as my first language, but I know other people who were not born here that just write better then I do. I know if I spent this space writing something I might get better but…yes.

Huge kudos to all of you cause I appreciate good writing and know how hard it is!

Ha, well said/observed and something I love in my own reading. Time to fill the trunk with explosives and yet no animosity!*


*much like my basement.

I suspect that like most things, the more you observe the better you do on your own. It’s hard to be a great writer if you also don’t read much, etc. Do you read a lot of varied stuff?

Two things.

  1. You shouldn’t open with such a lengthy tell scene. Having a show scene with flashbacks would be better imho.
  2. The structure of the sentences actually made me think it was poetry for a moment. That might be my malfunction but there you have it.