All-Purpose Writing Thread!


#21

Take a look at this guy's stuff. Breece D'J Pancake is the master of Appalachian fiction.


#22

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.

You're using a lot of parenthetical statements you really don't need. Commas too. Ask yourself if you're inserting them because they contain useful information, or if you're doing it because you're chatty.

Now I know where I am, sort of.

Be cautious when jumping into vernacular expressions like this one. Great for drawing attention to a particular thought, not so great if overused.

Bullitt, Nelson, Marion.

Detail one, guess this place matters. Wait no, it's just an intro for a subsection. Costa Rica? Where are we? Kentucky? Were we in Kentucky before? I'm lost.

You're throwing out lots of places, times, ideas and not joining them into a coherent chain that the reader can follow. Why are whiskey and pedoneighbor coming up now? You've got some interesting anecdotes in there, and some not so interesting anecdotes about commutes. Spread them out, or remove them entirely if they don't advance your narrative or aesthetic objectives.

pigeon-toed child with a receding chin and a you-leave-me-alone-or-I'll-bite-you complex.

I just felt like inserting this line from Flannery O'Conner. Simple words, descriptive as all get out, massively entertaining.


#23

Good advice all, now someone else post something so I can get off the spit!

H.


#24

Best writing advice I ever got came from George Scithers:
1-Have something to say.
2-Say it.
3-Say it to someone.

In other words, stop telling everyone you have a great idea for a book. Sit down and actually write it, and then get it out there so people can read it.

Second-best writing advice I ever got came from William F. Nolan:
"This," he said, cupping his hands, "is your ass. You put it in a chair. You type. Eventually words come out."

In other words, make a habit of actually sitting down to write. I find that the ritualistic aspects of dedicated writing time help relax me and make me more productive.

Third-best writing advice I ever got came from Mort Castle:
"Your first million words are going to be shit. Get them out of your system so you can get to the good stuff."

In other words, you're not going to be farting out golden unicorn-shaped rainbows the first time your fingers hit the keys. In that, it's like any other endeavor - the way you get better is by getting hands on, making mistakes, and learning from them so your next attempt is better.


#25

Third-best writing advice I ever got came from Mort Castle:
"Your first million words are going to be shit. Get them out of your system so you can get to the good stuff."

I've heard that quote in various forms apply to all practice, especially art ("Your first 1000 drawings will all suck, just get them out of you now so you can get to the good ones").


#26

While I don't think think Aeon is wrong, I do think that the criticisms are relatively minor and can be easily put under the heading "will improve over time" and "flavor". The issue with flavor is that it can get in the way of what you want to say. Parentheticals are somewhat jarring, especially if overused, and tend to impart an "old timer telling us a story" kind of feel.

The big issue is the lack of coherent theme/plot, as has been pointed out.

Keep at it Houngan =)

Unrelated, but this thread reminded me of it...

On another message board I used to visit a long time ago there was a guy that kept posting his snippets in earnest and they were really amateurish and pretty bad, and instead of taking the advice in stride and trying to improve, he kept defending his prose as acceptable, misunderstood, etc. "You, the reader, don't get it" was his general attitude. Ugh.


#27

Of course they're minor. If it sucked horribly and made me want to kill myself I'd be too busy bleeding on the floor to nitpick.


#28

The real value in workshopping stuff, which is sort of what is going on here, is that it can help the writer learn to self-edit. Seeing the work through other eyes can be revealing, and the writer can apply that experience to a new work that hasn't been shown to anyone else.

The danger in workshopping is that the work never gets finished. It can be paralyzing. Something can always be made better. Something will always confuse one reader in a workshop. Some readers will want to rewrite the story for the writer.

At some point writers are better off letting it go and moving on to the next work. That's the best way to learn.

So my thought is don't rewrite too much. Give it a good copy-edit pass and then move on to the next story. Chances are any rewriting won't be better than what was already there. Look at a story, cut here and there, rework some sentences and paragraphs, but don't engage in wholesale rewriting.

One last thought: Readers like dialog and like seeing things happen. They are usually not too thrilled with interior monologue. Or, as Elmore Leonard said, leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.


#29

Yeah, what Mark said. There's peril on both sides of the path -- being too open to criticism such that you second guess yourself too much, or being so closed to it that you never improve. Incorporating feedback in a constructive way is practically a skill in and of itself.

And the skill writers really want to develop is writing, not editing.

Or, as Elmore Leonard said, leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.

Like, say, poetry or songs in any fantasy story.


#30

I've outlined about two-thirds of the book so far, and my motto has become "don't panic". Because it feels staccato and incomplete right now doesn't mean it always will. But you know how it is, when your outline looks like this:

I. It begins! Somehow.
A. Minor detail
II. Something else happens that doesn't have much to do with the first thing

It's really hard to see how it's ever going to be a real story that flows and makes sense. The hardest part of writing for me is the paralysis: I feel like I have to know everything that's going to happen before I can write any of it. But, as I try to tell myself repeatedly as I hammer this out, I don't. It doesn't matter right now that I don't know how it ends, or much of anything that happens in the third act, or that nothing in the beginning foreshadows anything later on. I can always change it. At any point up until publication, I can change it.

So don't panic.


#31

There are different schools of thought on this, but personally I'm an 'outline everything ahead of time' guy because if the tale is complex enough you will write yourself into a corner at some point, and no number of edits will sort it through. If you just go seat of your pants it often shows up with inconsistencies in the story's timeline or character motivations. If you don't know what's supposed to happen then you're going to lack of foreshadowing, etc.

That said, there have been some authors that have written stories by starting at the beginning and finishing at the end with only a vague idea of how it all ties together, but I think it takes a rare mind to make that work.

THAT said, when first writing I think people should just write instead of overthinking everything. Prose-driven authors like to just write details and can end up shooting themselves in the literary foot; story-driven authors want to map out everything first and can end up paralyzing themselves in the process.


#32

Oh, I'm an outliner, absolutely. But I get paralyzed even at the outline stage. It's my perfectionism getting in the way.

When I wrote short stories (read: fanfiction), I would usually just wing it. Write a few pages based on a vague idea, and most of those turned out great. The screenplay had a very, very general outline before I wrote it. The novel? I can already tell I want almost every scene thought up ahead of time.


#33

Stephen King made this point, and I heartily agree, that you absolutely have to get it down on paper and then you absolutely have to leave it in the drawer for six months. You have to be able to forget what you were thinking because your personal context adds so much to the story. So don't be a perfectionist on the first draft, get it out there! You'll be much more effective at editing after you've forgotten why you thought a particular scene or sentence was cool at the time.

H.


#34

Weird thing is I've always been an avid reader. Maybe not the most diverse reader but compared to people I know who are better writers, I still read more in general. I agree with you though, just this is a mute point for me =D


#35

The fun part of writing seat of the pants for me was editing and finding unplanned foreshadowing and repetition. I subscribed to King's idea that a story idea is buried like a dinosaur fossil; the whole thing was there and the writer used different types of tools to uncover.

I haven't written anything other than a crappy novella, though. The last couple of writing threads on QT3 have renewed my drive.


#36

Agreed. Just write the damn thing through. If you start to edit it mid-stream, you will rapidly spiral into minutiae and never finish the manuscript.


#37

Speaking of reading about writer's writing, I figured I'd list my favorite books on writing I've read:

Along the years I read a lot of the various Writer's Markets and a lot of other books -- sometimes they were just forewords before an anthology by an author I liked, etc. and so I've been influenced by thoughts and snippets a bit at a time.

  • With the caveat that I think a lot of potential writers waste time studying the art instead of practicing the art, because reading about writing is a good procrastination strategy. But I did love the above books.

#38

This really tickles me because I agree with it but if you don't really write or understand the market it seems sillly. I'm not suggesting anything negative about BTG, just pointing out my own previous delusions. Stephen King? Orson Scott Card? Those Hacks!?! Let's face it they know how to write a goddamned book that people like and that's the real skill for which we're striving. King has a near-monopoly on the high ground of "Oh yeah? Write your own goddamned book that ten million people want to read." Yet he's never pretended to be some literary giant casting aspersions on his inferiors, he regularly lauds others as his superior in the art, if not in finance.

H.


#39

Houngan: I don't think I understood your post?


#40

Along with the self-publish thread, this is another great thread!

I'm going to point out that blogging has done a world of good for me to find a strong voice, especially for nonfiction essays, which for me, are mostly humorous stuff about parenting or family.

I'm also a big advocate of writing groups. My secret to writing groups is this: you become a better writer by offering critiques of others' writing, even if you don't get as much feedback as you give. The thing you want is to develop an eye for what's good in a story (and how to make it better) and what's bad (and how to improve those parts). You can only do that by reading a lot of work and trying to articulate your thoughts in as nonjudgmental, non threatening way as possible. Developing this talent was a huge breakthrough for me. Because of it, I have a much better ability to look at my own first drafts and find ways to stay invested and excited long enough to get them through revision.