Tag Archives: Writing

Doing NaNoWriMo this year!

29 Oct

I’m participating in the National Novel Writing Month challenge this year, which will be held in the month of November 2011. The goal is to write 50,000 words, resulting into a first draft of a novel.

I have no plan, no environment, no plot, no characters, only a vague idea. As I write this blog post, I have about two days left to come up with something of an idea.

I don’t expect the result to be any good; I expect it to suck, big time. But that’s ok, because it’s about writing 50,000 words in a month, not about redrafting and making it ready for publication. That would take at least six months, I guess (I never written a book, so I don’t know). I think that almost nothing of what I write in this first draft will survive the editing process. I don’t even expect the final result to be in the same genre!

Since it’s about volume, bulk, I don’t care about these things. I’m excited, because my novel can become whatever it wants to be, not what I will it to be. Usually, when I write a blog post about a subject I care about deeply, it turns out crap, because I want it to be perfect. I should avoid such subjects like the plague. I suppose this applies to novel writing as well.

I will be using Scrivener as my writing tool. Especially the project targets window seems important to get me through the challenge. It’s 1667 words per day, every day, after all. I’ll be setting my initial target at 2000 words per day, so I’ll have some leeway at the end.

Anyway, I’ve created a novel entry, with the provisional title “Evil Lurks Upstairs”, in the provisional genre mystery, thriller and suspense. My NaNoWriMo page can be found here.

All this means that I won’t be posting much on this blog during the next month. Not that I’ve been posting much anyway. I was preoccupied with preparing myself for a marathon road race in December 2011.

Ooh, the challenges we set for ourselves. They seem so unattainable, so unrealistic: A first draft of a novel in a month and getting into to shape to finish a marathon race.

Ah well, such is life. We try hard, hoping something will ultimately stick.

Thanks for reading!

Using childhood memories to combat writer’s block

23 Sep

The podcast Grammar Girl had a good episode 292 about overcoming writer’s block, written by Roy Peter Clark, who teaches at the Poynter Institute. Especially "Lower your standards, raise them later," seems to apply to me. I get bogged down by how awesome my story is going to be. It paralysis the creative output, paraphrased from Mignon Fogarty narrating in the podcast.

First of all let me apologize for not posting for so long. I was preoccupied with personal fitness, which had gone down to an all-time low. Getting back into shape (which I’m still busy with) took all my attention, but now I’ve dialed down the intensity a bit, I have energy (and time) to resume writing.

Now about lowering your standards at the beginning. This very post you’re reading started with a few sentences written with a ballpoint pen on a piece of paper. Then I didn’t use a fancy text editor, but just what came with the OS (TextEdit on Mac OS X).

To help me with the formatting a bit, I used Marked by Brett Terpstra. It accepts markdown, as suggested by John Gruber of Daring Fireball. It also accepts an "improved" version of markdown, called multimarkdown, as developed and maintained by Fletcher Penney. Both methods use plain text files without special formatting (like RTF). The text and the formatting of the text are both readable, in characters you type on a keyboard, not by selecting text and applying style to it, as you would do in a word processor. Special tools exist to translate these plain text files into publishable formats, like HTML. You only need to write one source file to have multiple publication formats.

But never mind that, though. Use whatever tools work best for you. The point I wanted to make is that I used the simplest of tools, as lo-fi as possible, to lower my expectations and simply write instead of worrying about how it looks.

As useful simple and unpretentious tools may be for the writer, he or she still has to walk the walk. The basics of writing haven’t really changed in the last few hundred years. You need to come up with an idea that makes you want to work hard at something that (hopefully) will grab the reader’s attention.

Now as a writer you can only entice a reader to keep on reading. So how about that? How do you even begin to work on that part of the writing process? How do you get people to read what you write, especially if those people don’t know you personally?

Well, as an experiment, I went over some of my fondest childhood memories related to reading books. My reasoning was that if I can capture this feeling of fondness, use it for writing, surely some of it will be picked up by the reader. Maybe he or she will think: "Wow, this is good stuff! I need to read more of this!" If that’s the case: yay!

As a kid, I really enjoyed reading C.S. Lewis’ Narnia, "The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe" (in Dutch translation), which my mother lent from the local library when I had the flu and high fever (41 C, 106 F). I could only read a few pages at a time before I feel asleep from exhaustion, tears to my eyes. I’m not sure if those tears were from exhaustion (fever) or excitement (story). I guess a bit of both. It made the pain in my bones feel somewhat bearable and gave me something positive to think about when I was awake.

Sometimes your imagination can be sparked by something else than a book. I have fond memories of watching tropical fish in a fish tank. The sight made me imagine another world from my own, completely alien, but real. Real to me at least, at that moment. I can’t remember the specifics, though, because I didn’t write them down.

I think it is this mindset of a young child wondering about the world you should be after, not indulging into some kind of nostalgia. There’s nothing wrong with the latter, other than it isn’t very productive for writing. You want the feeling, the mindset, not the accompanying train of thoughts of how things were better when you were young.

You want a sense of wondering, of seeing something for the first time, and wanting to explore it with a sense of discovery. In this mindset you could write the stars in the Heavens, if you wanted, and convey your deepest, most inner feelings to your readers (as you should).

Most likely, though, your very first draft will not accomplish the latter. You need to craft your story first before you can do that. However, if you don’t capture the description of your initial feelings, when things are still fresh in your mind and haven’t been tested and prodded by the story-writing process, you can never blossom as a storyteller. You need to be always on the ready. There’s no such thing as a part-time creative. It’s a full-time commitment, because new ideas can come to you at any moment and you need to capture them, then and there.

With the above in mind, I think one should use this child-like mindset for a first draft only, to get the rough emotions on paper, in words (and in the case of comics, in words and pictures). It’s the longing for something awesome, for something new and exciting, that you want to put in the reader’s mind. I didn’t do that with my childhood fish tank experience, but, as an adult and aspiring writer now, I should apply discipline to my craft if I want to be more than just another hack who only does first drafts.

You may now think I’m harping on it too much, like a religious zealot and you may be right. I can get carried away a bit by new insights. I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir here for you more experienced writers. Experienced as a writer, a fiction writer, I am not. So this hopefully explains why I’m stating the obvious, to some of you at least.

I suppose in the second, third, etc. draft you start to use your skill as a writer, reorganizing events. You want to take the reader by the hand and gently lead them through your world, using a plot, a sequence of events, to tell them what this world is about. You, the writer, are not in that picture, not for them and not even for yourself. It should be all about the experience, the experience you had and want to share to others.

After all, isn’t that what fictional storytelling is all about, sharing sublime experiences?

Keep writing!

Scrap that web comic?

2 Sep

It has been a long time since I posted something to read on this blog. At least, it feels like it. Since I started the web comic and, probably most of all, a personal goal to get into shape for a marathon by the end of this year, all my energy seems to go into that.

What bugs me the most about my web comic is that I’m so self-conscious. With that I mean I don’t just create something, but think heavily about what people are going to think about it. That may sound sensible, but it’s not. It’s keeping my creative ideas hostage.

This is exactly what I was afraid of. People told me: “If you want to do a web comic, just create one, don’t think too much about it.” Bad advice. For me at least. Now I’m stuck with that web comic.

I’m reading Orson Scott Card’s excellent book, titled “How To Write Science Fiction & Fantasy.” It’s not so much a recipe book, but more a book about how to approach the creative process of writing novels, with a focus on speculative fiction. He has some great advice on ripening ideas:

The first thing you should learn […] is that no two stories are developed in exactly the same way. However, in my experience one thing is constant: Good stories don’t come from trying to write a story the moment I think of the first idea. All but a handful of my stories have come from combining two completely unrelated ideas that have been following their own tracks through my imagination. And all the stories I was still proud of six months after writing them have come from ideas that ripened for many months—usually years—between the time I first thought of them and the time they were ready to put into a story.

“Great,” you say, “I pick up this book, hoping to learn how to write speculative fiction, and now this guy’s telling me that I have to wait months or years before writing stories about any new ideas I think of.”

That’s what I’m telling you: You’ll probably have to wait months or years before writing good versions of story ideas you come up with now. But you probably already have hundreds of story ideas that have been ripening inside you for many years. For some writers, one of the best ways to help an idea ripen is to try writing a draft of it, seeing what comes up when you actually try to make it into a story. As long as you recognize that the draft you write immediately after thinking of the ideas will almost certainly have to be thrown away and rewritten from the beginning, you’ll be fine.

That’s just dandy! I wished someone told me that earlier. Since I’ve only started this thinking about stories this year, and reading other people’s stories has been limited by no access to them other than buying online, I have little reading experience as well.

So what should I do, start all over or muddle through? I’m tempted to put it on indefinite hiatus until I’ve found a good way to express my ideas.

Writing assignment # 2

29 May

Here is my second writing assignment, for this week (May 30 – June 3, 2011). It was not hard to come up with. If I would have a problem, I could always refer to Writing Excuses, an excellent podcast for creative writers, which is only 15 minutes long, because we have no more time, and they aren’t that smart (in their own words). I could also scour the web for a writing assignment someone else wrote, although this takes a lot of time (as scouring usually does).

Written Pages 2011 05 29 23 23 51

I wonder if you have good resources for writing assignments. If you do, please writing about it in the comments.

P.S. I you don’t know what “Takei lovers are”, watch this video by George Takei, of Star Trek fame, with the title: George Takei vs. Tennessee’s “Don’t Say Gay” Bill. I thinks it’s both funny and very serious.

Weekly writing assignment

29 May

The idea was to have a writing assignment, so I could write every day, well, work on storytelling every day. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, but I did write several days of past week.

Here’s the assignment, handwritten on my iPad.


I wrote three versions. Version 1 I had already put on my blog, so I’ll put versions 2 and 3 in this post.

Version 2

Hank was fed up with always being the underdog. He knew Jim was stronger and Peter smarter, but still he wanted to win this round. When Jim did his snatching trick and was ready to pass the ball, Hank simply stayed very close to Peter. So he got the ball. But how was he supposed to reach the top of the hill? He passed the ball back to Jim.

“What’s up,” asked Peter. “I don’t like this game,” answered Hank, “I always play second fiddle.” Hank sat down and Peter joined him. Jim walked toward them and said: “This is no fun.” “No it isn’t. What do we do now,” asked Peter. “Let’s tell a story,” Hank said in excitement.

A dragon slayer was called in to save a princess, held captive by a ferocious dragon. When he met with the king, he saw a wizard already present. They would both try to save the princess, and whoever succeeded, got to marry her.

The dragon slayer attacked head on. He rushed towards the dragon, but couldn’t defeat it. “Keep the dragon busy and I will put a sleeping spell on it,” shouted the wizard from outside the dragon’s lair. “If he falls asleep he’ll block the passage and we’ll never get the princess out,” shouted the slayer back. “Well, then grab the princess, fight the dragon for as long as you can while I do my chanting,” shouted the wizard over the sound of the roaring dragon, which was clearly ready to strike the final blow and kill his opponent. “Alright,” the slayer shouted. He grabbed the girl and pushed her outside the cave.

“So long, suckers,” shouted Hank, while he held the princess-ball firmly in his hands.

He stood on top of the hill.

Version 3

A storm was brewing. “Shouldn’t we be going home,” Hank asked. “We’ll do fine,” said Peter, trying to reassure his friend. “Yeah, let’s play,” shouted Jim. They threw the ball in the air and… it didn’t return. It seemed like it had vanished.

“Where is the ball,” asked Jim, looking at Peter. “How would I know,” said Peter, “I’m as baffled as you are.” Hank shivered and said: “I don’t like this. Let’s go home.” “Not until I have my ball back,” said Peter. “What he said,” said Jim, “and I want to win this time. We stay!”

They heard a loud sharp noise, getting louder and sharper. They jumped away from where they stood. Suddenly there was a crash and mud sprayed on their faces. Something had fallen out of the sky and it surely wasn’t their ball.

There was a golden egg, with its pointed side clearly visible. When they slowly walked towards it, it started to crack. “What the…,” said Jim, but before he could end his sentence, the egg had cracked open and out crawled a pink animal. It looked like a …

“Dragon,” shouted Hank in excitement, “a baby dragon.” The dragon turned red in its face, then purple and started to make choking noises. “I go watched this on top of the hill, safe from that, that monster!”

While Jim walked away, Peter said to Hank: “I think it has to burp. You hold it and I pat it on it back.” So they did. The baby dragon burped, but not just a burp, but a small flame, like a cigarette lighter. It spread its wings and flew to Jim. As Jim was trying to catch it, it had turned into a ball.

Jim stood on top of the hill.

Now you can ask yourself why put this rough writing on your blog? Well, I do have a problem with keeping to a schedule. I should have gone to the dentist more than a year ago, but for some reason I keep finding excuses not to go. So I need something to trick my mind (for the dentist, put it on my calendar to make an appointment, with an alert 30 minutes before).

We keep finding excuses, so we need a way to hack around our mind’s limitations (the lizard brain hates changes and prefers a status quo). There are other reasons why it’s hard for me personally, but I won’t get into that, because it’s personal.

Once I’ve written the next assignment on my little iPad, I’ll create a new blog post. This will be later today, or early tomorrow, depending on how creative I feel. Point is that I have Monday through Friday to do something with storytelling, and for now use the weekends to somewhat recover.

I curious, what ways have you found around procrastination, other than what I’m doing (blogging about it)? Feel free to tell me about it in the comments, so we can learn more about strategies to keep going, despite lack of motivation.

King of the Hill 1

23 May

After yesterday’s assignment to write (on) a story every day, I wrote this little flash fiction. It isn’t high literature, but I think it is somewhat entertaining. There’s a hero, a sidekick and a villain. So to speak, of course, because Jim, Hank and Peter are best friends.

Here it is. Afterwards I tell some more about the process.

The three boys stared at the top of a small hill. “Let’s play King of the Hill here,” said Jim. “Are you sure it’s safe,” stammered Hank. “We’ll do fine. Nothing to fear,” said Peter trying to calm Hank down. “You sissy,” Jim said, “Let’s just see who reaches the top first!” Peter suggested they use the ball he took with him. “How are we going to use your ball,” Hank asked. “Simple,” answered Peter, “if you have the ball you stay put and pass the ball to someone else.” “Whatever,” said Jim impatiently, “Let’s play ball!” “But how do we start,” asked Hank. “Good question,” said Peter, “I suppose we throw it in the air and let fate decide.”

And so they did. Jim leaped high up in the air and snatched the ball. “Not fair,” cried Hank. “Don’t be such a crybaby. Start walking,” Jim shouted. Hank ran straight to the top, but Peter was smarter and stayed at the bottom. And indeed, Jim passed the ball to him. While Hank came running down in disappointment, he almost dropped the ball after it was thrown in his direction.

“Clever, clever,” said Jim, “you’re trying to confuse us.” Peter just ignored him. While Hank wasn’t sure what to do next, he heard the others shout in excitement: “Give it to me, give it to me!” Since Peter had been so nice to him, Hank threw the ball to Peter, who immediately passed it to Jim. “Finally,” Jim shouted in relief, “Don’t think I’ll give to you, silly doofus!” Jim launched the ball behind him, where Peter received it with a big smile.

He stood on top of the hill.

I based this story largely on conversations I can’t help but overhearing between playing children near the flat where I live. Kids are loud when they play together.

I decided to do the setup through conversation, since I had just listened to an episode of the “Writing Excuses” podcast, Writing Excuses 5.38: Dialog with John Scalzi and to Mur Lafferty’s excellent podcast “I Should Be Writing,” episode 202 – Being Smart/Howard Andrew Jones Interview. John Scalzi offered some solid insight on how to approach dialogue and Andrew offered some good writing tips, which he had learned through bitter experience. One of those tips was that before you write a scene, decide what each character is supposed to do (to accomplish) before you start writing. This way you know where to go, even if you get bogged down by storytelling tangents. And boy, if you’re creative, you go on quite some tangents.

Enough about that. I had some problems too.

The problem to tackle first was how to keep it entertaining. I decided to approach it as a sporting match, a game, which makes sense, since king of the hill is a game to begin with. There had to be cunning, but also logic and clarity, and it shouldn’t be too involved, because I wanted to use only a short time to do the writing.

I decided to use psychology as the strategy for the game. Jim wants to win by force and doesn’t think highly of Hank. Peter takes advantage of that and the situation, to get on Jim’s nerves. Effectively, Peter makes use of mistakes made by the other two.

The second problem to deal with was a language barrier. I imagine myself speaking English pretty well, but in reality I have little incentive to improve my English, not surrounded by English speakers and having to use English daily. Sometimes I only know a word in my native language (Dutch). Google Translate for iPhone and iPod Touch to the rescue. The iPhone app (2x on the iPad) even offers alternatives to the translation given. It also has a speech interface, which doesn’t always work.

It meant I had to work around my limitations by keeping the language more simple than a native speaker or even English-as-a-second-language (ESL) speaker probably would do. The reason I do my writing in English is because it’s the language of the Internet. I guess I should use what little vocabulary I have to the best of my ability. I’m sure I’ll get better at it over the years.

The text was written and edited in iA Writer on the iPad, which uses Dropbox syncing to store text documents. Since my iMac has Dropbox as well, I could easily drop the text into this blog post.

Thanks for reading and until next time. If you have any tips, tricks or other advice, feel free to add it as a comment. You can also tell me how awesome you think I am. Nothing wrong with stroking my ego and give it a boost. Hahaha!

Writing assignments

22 May


Here is a writing assignment I gave myself. It’s written in the iPad app Note Taker HD, by Software Garden Inc., the software company of Dan Bricklin. It is a deep application, which hides its complexity until you need it and has lots of help to make it easy to get to understand the functionality. I think it’s excellent for brain dumping, because you have as few constraints as possible. It requires that you have a somewhat legible handwriting, though. It doesn’t do handwriting recognition (which doesn’t really work all too well anyway).

About the writing assignment. Just like you should draw every day, as a cartoonist, you should write stories every day, or write on a story every day. I’m going to try and replicate the daily sketches in writing, by writing short stories of around 300 words. I’m not sure if I can write a flash fiction story every day, but I guess I can work on it every day, so I have a finished story by the end of the week.

I don’t think I’ll be doing the actual writing in Note Taker HD. For that I have a much better app, called iA Writer, by Information Architects, Inc. It has some good functionality for writing.