Writing Self-Help Series: 500 Ways to Write Harder

January. JANUARY. A month of new gym memberships and weather patterns in the South where it can be 60F on Wednesday and 20F on Thursday because we don’t understand how Winter works!

I am typically very fond of New Year’s Resolutions but I’m giving them a bit of a miss for 2015. Instead of making myself some semi-achievable goals I did the following:

1. Got a big ol’ calendar (like this one but cooler looking) that shows the whole year at once. It’s nice because it helps you see your time better when you can see the next month and realize “Oh, I don’t have March plus whatever infinite time lays beyond it, I’ve got three and a half weeks” when planning things out.

2. I’ve adopted Victoria Schwab’s calendar method for checking off daily achievements and keeping track of what I’ve done and when I’ve done it.

3. I cleaned out my closets which, uh, doesn’t really have a lot to do with writing? But it was fun and it felt good?

And most importantly, I’m reading and writing and at the moment I’m reading about writing. That is the worst possible segue I could manged to move into a review of 500 Ways to Write Harder by Chuck Wendig.

First things first:  if you’re not reading Chuck Wendig’s blog YOU REALLY SHOULD. IT’S THE BEST. Okay, yeah, I mean some other blogs have their insight into the craft of writing and offer wise advice that can be applied to life at large but do they swear in their posts? Do they invoke such imagery as the following thoughts on the new year:

The ideal state would be that we change when we need to, not when the calendar suggests it, but let’s also remember that the holidays and the transition from one year to another are vital times to reflect. We build up to the orgiastic rush to Christmas, and then are left with a startling, almost shocking void — all that’s left is cleaning up the wrapping paper and throwing the Christmas Hobo on the bonfire. Ha ha ha, I didn’t say Christmas Hobo, you said Christmas Hobo. I said tree. Christmas tree.

Well, I think he’s funny.

Anyways, on to 500 Ways to Write Harder. All of the advice and self-help books that I’ve read have a feel to them. Some make me feel like I’m sitting at a desk in a lecture hall, worksheets spread out before me. On Writing by Stephen King feels like a long walk down an Autumnal, leaf-littered nature trail while King quietly relates the stories of his life and the wisdom garnered throughout his career. Wendig’s Writer Harder is a night at the bar spent playing poor and heckling the karaoke singers and a friend turning to you and, with a sloshing gesture of their drink, saying “Let me tell you a thing.”

500 Ways to Write Harder is broken into collections of 25-ish points about subjects such as Bad Writer Behaviors, Things to do Before You Start Your Novel, 25 Steps to Edit the Unmerciful Suck Out of Your Story, 25 Ways to be a Happy Writer, and 25 Ways to Get Your Authorial Groove back among many others. This format works out because you can read it section by section intermittently or, if you want a refresher, go back to a specific area and re-read with ease.

Just as there is no single way to approach writing a story, Wendig offers occasionally opposing pieces of advice to let you find your own path. He also advocates that all writers need to care for their mental health which I super-appreciate because I loath the romanticized notion of artists being inherently broken.

[ASIDE:  If you feel that you are suffering from anxiety, depression, whatever, please seek help. Treatment will not steal your muse or wreck-up your creative nature. Athletes aren’t expected to “suffer for their craft” by running on broken ankles; artists don’t need to endure mental torment to do their artist thing.]

500 Ways to Write Harder is sharp and wickedly funny. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself laughing at Wendig’s advice as much as I was silently nodding along at all the sage wisdom he was dishing out. Here’s one of my favorite excerpts:

Seek consistency and clarity in point-of-view, lest you confound and bewilder, lest you seem like the king of amateur-hour karaoke. Hell, seek consistency and clarity in all of your writing. Also, in your take-out orders. because you think you ordered a “ham and cheese sandwich” but then you open the bag and suddenly your face is on fire from a thousand stingers and you’re like OMG THEY MUST’VE THOUGHT I SAID HAM AND BEES.

Like I said, sage wisdom.

The advice is advisory, the humor is humorous, and he make two Avatar: the Last Airbender references which makes Wendig one of my new best friends. Get the book, read the book, then get back to writing.

RECOMMENDED FOR SURE.

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You Should be Reading: “Sic Semper” by Kristopher Reisz

I consider myself incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by people who either support creative works, or are creative types themselves. I know singer/songwriters, cosplayers, artists of various mediums, and of course a couple of writer-types. We keep each other confident during our bouts of writer’s block and celebrate each others accomplishments. One of those writer-types is Kris Reisz, who has an awesome name and an awesome short story out at Crossed Genre right now.  Here’s a teaser:

Vladislav IX had been the first monarch ever assassinated by bullet, a fact his ghost was quite proud of. “No brutish stabbing and hacking for me!” he crowed. “Powder and lead, efficient and to the point.”

Backed against the wall of the royal crypt, Alexander nodded. “Sure… I can tell.” The historic shot had left Vladislav IX with very little face above his curled white mustachios. This made talking to him unsettling. Luckily, the ghost carried most of the conversation.

“My reign was very forward-looking that way. I was also the first Cynanian monarch to eat a plantain.”

“Oh? Did you like it?”

“Not particularly. Mushy.”

Alexander kept nodding. He tried to remember something about Vladislav IX’s reign he might add to the conversation, but the truth was, Cynan had lots of Kings Vladislav. After a while, they all blurred together into one endless mustachio.

Just then, the shade of Queen Ludmila the First drifted close. “Vlad, stop pestering him. Can’t you see he’s nervous?”

Vladislav IX harrumphed. “I’m simply giving him some historical context for what he’s about to do.”

“He doesn’t need any historical context.” Queen Ludmila smiled at Alexander. “Just do what comes naturally, dear. Assassination isn’t difficult.”

Alexander gulped. “Y-you know why I’m here?”

The ghosts filling the royal crypts laughed. “We’re nobles, boy! Can’t slip an assassin past us,” Boris the Younger said.

“Unless he’s hiding in the privy with a spear, eh, Boris?” asked Mad King Casimir. This made all the ghosts – except Boris – laugh even harder. Boris the Younger (also known to the annals as the Man-Eater King and Boris Lutheran-Bane) snipped back, “Well, at least I wasn’t poisoned like some woman!”

“No, you just died with a spear-point rammed up your–”

“Lords, please!” Queen Ludmila drifted between them, then turned back to Alexander. “The point is, you’re hiding in the royal crypt fiddling with a gun. I’d know what you were up to even if I hadn’t killed my husband’s first wife.”

Alexander stuffed the revolver in his pocket, but the queen was right. He was here to kill the king.

Read the rest of “Sic Semper” at Crossed Genres. While you’re there, feel free to donate or purchase a subscription to get more stories and support the site. It’s a really rad publication, with lots of opportunities for authors to submit stories. Even if you don’t have the pleasure of knowing Kris like I do, you will enjoy his works. So go read!

Daily Science Fiction and the Itsy-Bitsy Teenie-Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Word Count

Breaking news!  By breaking, I of course mean, “I read about this last week and am just getting around to telling other people about it!”

Daily Science Fiction has moved their maximum accepted word count from 10k down to a lean 1.5k.  The announcement came and went as a header for a story with little fanfare, an e-mail I deleted because I am an idiot and reflexively delete stories once I am done reading them.  There was no notice on their Face Book page, nor any mention of it on the main DSF website that I could find other than an edited submissions page that reflects the new word count limit. I do not think this is a negative move, as the owners and editors of DSF may do as they very damn well please with their submission guidelines and, as I recall from my deleted e-mail, are moving towards shorter stories in response to their audience’s desire for a more true “quick-fix fiction” story in their inbox each day. This shorter word count will also strip away the longer stories typically published on Fridays.

DSF is a voracious market that demands literally hundreds of stories a year to keep pace with its publishing schedule and I can not blame them for moving to smaller stories for shorted processing times in regards to slush pile navigation and the necessary editing process that touches stories of all lengths. It also helps cut back on the cost of paying authors, which even as an author who has and will continue to submit to DSF, I don’t see this as a bad thing. DSF will keep their 8 cents a word payment and I respect that a lot. If this was a cost-saving maneuver on their behalf then I would prefer that they take shorter stories and maintain their status as a Qualifying Short Fiction Venue for SFWA.

Daily Science Fiction is an awesome market, and I highly encourage anyone with a shorty-short story to throw their hat into the slush pile.  No, wait, throw your story into the slush pile. You would probably ruin a hat doing that.

 

 

BOOM. I’m back.

Two truths and a lie, and then a bunch of links:

1) Working on an early draft of a novel is boring.

2) There is a place in my town that sells “drinking chocolate” that is right across from our main library branch.

3) I returned all of my library books on time, as I always do.

 

First Draft in 30 Days is a how-to book that will, in theory, help you crank out a highly detailed outline that can be gently jostled into a first draft. I found it worth the trip to the library, and suggest you give it a read through if you have trouble organizing your plot.

Scared Yet remains a fantastic study of scary stories and if you haven’t discovered Kris Straub yet then you are just flat missing out.

She Walks In Shadow will hold open submissions for their Lovecraft inspired anthology. The submission pool is open to female-identifying authors only, and they will start taking submissions in November.  I want to submit to this real, real bad so we’ll see what sort of Lovecraft vibe I can shake out of my brain. What I don’t know about eldritch horrors I can make up for in a weirdly expansive collection of man made industrial incidents and I have all sorts of thoughts on how closely the two are related.

Diabolical Plots Reviews “The Witch’s Cat”

Diabolical Plots, in case you weren’t aware, is a cool website that does a lot of literary reviews. One of their more impressive feats is their devotion to reviewing each and every Daily Science Fiction story that gets published. You can also find The Grinder on their site, which is a story submission database and a great tool for researching available markets.

Here’s what they had to say about my story:

A tribute of a town’s savior shows up at the doorstep of a young lady’s home in The Witch’s Cat by Kalisa Ann Lessnau (debut 9/5 and reviewed by Frank D). The companion of a Witch takes to the protagonist when its master dies. The Witch did much for the town. The people she helped all whisper their thanks to the cat (named Sampson) as the protagonist walks tours the community. Sampson contributes to the bonfire while the town performs one last tribute to the Witch, surprising them all, but the magic of the witch has not stopped giving, after all.

“The Witch’s Cat” is a tale that had me guessing throughout. The Witch had left a lasting mark on the local people, she being an icon like many leaders throughout history. I really had no idea where this story was heading and its conclusion is one that I whole-heartedly approve of. Very nice work indeed.

RECOMMENDED

I appreciate the positive review, and am very proud to have earned a recommendation from them. Whee, thanks, Frank D.! I would have posted this review even if it were neutral or negative, because I see all reviews as a learning experience. Sometimes the lesson is “people are cray” (especially if you read some of the reviews on GoodReads and Amazon, yikes) but for a minor-league author like myself it is just good to know that someone out there is reading my work.

As an unrelated bonus, please enjoy this informative video in regards to the Oxford Comma:

Book Review: The Drowned Forest by Kristopher Reisz

[Editor’s Note: a version of this review is also on my GoodReads page. It is my hope to begin reviewing more books in this blog, as I review podcasts, in an attempt to bring attention to the things I think others should check out.]

The Drowned Forest

The Drowned Forest by Kristopher Reisz is a book that has stuck with me over the last few days. I highly enjoyed it and hope that many others will as well.

The story follows Jane, a teenage girl who is trying and failing to deal with the loss of her best friend, Holly. Jane is in the center of a very religious community and holds God in every aspect of her life. However, the faith that she so heavily relies on offers little comfort in light of the fact that Holly’s spirit remains trapped in the waters she drowned in.

I was following the story along willingly until I reached a scene that caused me to put the book down, ponder what the hell just happened, then immediately pick the book back up to see what would happen next. The story is quick-paced, spanning a week’s time, and as soon as the action kicks in it does not lag.

The characters are believable and feel real. The details of the world are engaging (damned if Reisz cannot convey the awful, sticky heat of an Alabama summer) and are woven into Jane’s thoughts. We are spared any spoon-fed explanations and are simply offered the world of The Drowned Forest as it is.

There folklore in this story is some of the best this side of the Mississippi. There are root workers, circles drawn to ward off spirits, and the power of mojo. Reisz brings a haunting, hungry force into Jane’s world through the history that surrounds the titular drowned forest and I am so sorry that people ditched on the incredible mythos he is laying down in this story.

The protagonist begins the story as a sheltered, heavily-religious teenager who is trapped in her grief over the loss of her friend Holly. The religious aspect of Jane’s life is intentionally suffocating. It reflects the way that, although perhaps Jane cannot yet see for herself, those around her see their own struggling or non-existent faith. But a protagonist is built to change, to alter their own perspective and see the world in a different way. Regardless of your own personal religious views (or lack thereof, that’s cool too), I hope that you give The Drowned Forest the chance it so richly deserves.

Bonus fact: As a role-playing nerd I can totally see this as a viable setting for a campaign.

Podcast Review: Writing Excuses

“This is Writing Excuses! Fifteen minutes long because you’re in a hurry and we’re not that smart!”

Out here in the vast wilderness of the Internets an intrepid browser could probably discover an infinite amount of professional advice on any given topic. Naturally, much of the advice is sarcastically quotation-marked “professional” at best, and you can only filter out so many of the crazies by analyzing whether or not it looks like they used Geocities-izer to make their site before you stumble across someone that has the pretense of actual knowledge.

So, gentle listener, how does one divine true and authentic information from the Intertrons in a safe and timely manner, without running the risk of clicking on a site that once seen, cannot be unseen?

First you read my reviews. And then you go listen to Writing Excuses.

Hosted by bonafide authors Brandon Sanderson and Dan Wells along with verifiable web-comic creator Howard Tayler, this podcasts is a veritable font of useful information for writers. A quick-fix of advice and opinion from the viewpoints of established authors who are willing to share their experience in podcast form. I believe the audience intended for this podcast is new or unpublished authors, but I think a writer of any level could gain some usefulness information out of Writing Excuses.

Relevant Links:
Main Site
…honestly, the main site is all you need. Each host has links to their own blogs, you can find the iTunes and RSS feeds right on the front page.

And why not, here’s the Wordle you get for the Writing Excuses website:

Wordle: http://www.writingexcuses.com/

Can’t say they’re not consistent when it comes to mentioning their sponsor.

Episode Length: Fifteen minutes on average. Occasionally longer, depending on how verbose the hosts are feeling about a particular topic.

Release Schedule: A new episode is released every Sunday.

Each episode focuses on one particular topic that relates to writing in some way. Example topics from previous episodes are:

The Anti-Mary Sue episode
Trimming
How to Write Without Twists
Plot-vs. Character-driven Fiction

Look at those topics! They’re positively brimming with…topicability.

Each host in turn will share their ideas and experiences, and do their best to show how their information can be utilized by the listener. Their approach is friendly and welcoming; this is the kind of podcast that, could it be worn, would be your favorite hoodie from college. Brandon, Dan and Howard work together to host the majority of the episodes, but there are frequent guest hosts who are in turn harnessed to give a fresh view.

The hosts will touch on both the creative and business ends of writing, which will be much appreciated by aspiring authors. It is not enough to know how to write a story, or even how to edit it and make it presentable to editors, but how, where, when to submit, how to approach editors and publishing houses, what to expect after you actually write something! It is refreshing to see a creative task explained and examined with reason.

Content Rating: Clean. They may occasionally drop a very tame swear word. Or mention monkey poo.

Unintentionally Good Part: Writing Excuses Episode 632. Trust me.

Unintentionally Bad Part: This podcast is niche-niche-nichy. Even for aspiring authors, the advice generally pertains to only the science fiction/fantasy genres, so this podcast will attract only a very specific audience.

Drinking Game: Have a brass monkey every time they use a monkey as a plot device in their writing prompt.

Writing Prompt: A secret organization has implanted a device into your head that records your every thought for a live-steaming podcast. Go!