Tag Archives: on writing

The Hallelujah! Booth

So… How am I increasing my productivity? Well, there are several techniques I’m using, but here’s a really simple one to implement…

The Hallelujah! Booth

I get this idea from Joseph Campbell (author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, and the source of most commercial fiction/movies plot structure as we know it. His idea is that you  a “Sacred Space” and a “Sacred Time” will nurture your creativity.

This is the space you have that is dedicated to you and your creativity. You go here to create and to do. In my experience, this is perhaps the easiest way to start making time for your writing habit, and teaches your brain that there is a time of day to be creative. That said, you don’t HAVE to have one. Jay Lake, one of the most productive writers I ever met, wrote anywhere anytime.

But I do have one.

So what’s my sacred space/time? It’s a specific booth at Chick Fil A that I show up to before work. I put in a solid hour of writing, and sometimes, if i get there early, a little more. The weakness of this is that 1) Weekends as a whole are difficult, since I don’t go to work those days, and 2) Sundays are really hard, since Chick-Fil-A is closed. But I’m learning to work around that. Slowly.

Whether yours is midnight in your closet or mid-day in your car in the parking lot of an Office Max, defining a sacred space and time will get your habit rolling.

Writing lots of words!

So, I mentioned recently that I’ve been researching productivity and how to speed up my writing. Well, it’s been going pretty well. Actually, I’m lying.

I’m bouncing with joy at the results!

–Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics–

Here are my results. As always, statistics should be taken with a grain of salt:

  • 51,780 Total Words for the entire month of January, 2016
  • Writing
    • 26,747 new words
      • all before Jan 16, when rough draft was complete
    •  2578.2 average WPH (words per hour)
  • Editing
    •  22,276 words edited
    •  869.7 average WPH

The remaining words fall into a misclellaneous bucket of brainstorming, plot noodling, etc.

–How Many I Keep–

I keep getting this weird question, over and over: “But how many do you keep?”

This is a weird question, that seems to assume that more productivity is worse productivity. I’ve actually seen a reverse trend. I’m getting out lots of words, and while they might not be perfect, I have, out of 17 scenes written with the process, only tossed half of one in the garbage.

…And that was a really complicated fight scene.

…And what I threw away gave me a much firmer grip on what needed to happen and what order.

So no real words lost. Instead, mostly, I end up expanding the words.

–Some Cold Water–

This is nothing compared to some authors, who get 10k words per day on a consistent, repeatable basis. I can only dream of getting there.

I’m currently at about 3-4k per day for new words, and 700-1.9k for edits.

That said, I’m doing pretty well, a lot better than any time I’ve had before. It’s massively more productive than the 0 words a day I had been getting, that’s for sure!

And, fingers (and toeses and noses) crossed that I’ll get better! Especially on my editing speed!

New Writing Exercise: TV Episode Breakdown

This is a fairly common exercise, but if you haven’t run into it before, here you go:

1) Pick a TV Show you like, or at least that you are interested in learning about
2) Play an episode in a medium where you can pause it
3) take notes on the high level what-happens and the emotions that occur; if there are commercial breaks, mark these, as they are often act breaks.
4) When the show is done, go back through your notes and see if you can identify patterns, structure, and what was good about the episode

Be warned, this can be very enlightening. Too much so.

I did this to an episode of Bleach once, and now all the combat-escalation based Anime are easy to predict.

Looking without looking, seeing without seeing

When you look at a field, what do you see? Do you see “green” or “grass” or even just “field”? If so, you’re not really looking.

I am looking at one now, and I see at least five to ten different shades of green, at least 3 different shades of tan and brown, and everything bit of grass, living or dead, at a different length. Even grasses of the same species look unique. They clump together, run in strips or curves, and the leave huge open spaces. Fate and randomness has textured like the rind of an orange.

This field was once a building, a vast warehouse, and the foundation of it is still there underneath, and there are tiny bits of rubble just beyond sight. The bulldozers scraped the whole surface clean once, long ago, and so the field always looks like it has been plowed for crops where their teeth dragged and then overgrown even though it has never been plowed before.

But what really amazes me are the bushes. You don’t even see them when you look at this place at first — you look and you see “field” and that’s all, and all the bushes disappear from your eyes because you see a category, a shape, an abstract object instead of the thing itself. It is cruel and heartless dominance of the abstract over the real.

Really, it’s like Plato and Aristotle had it all backward, that the abstract, perfect world of “forms” is not a thing beyond or behind reality, but an instinctive creation of the mind, a simplification that the brain resorts to in order to be able to process all of the data and sort it and organize it in a useful way. The “shadows on the wall of a cave” are not the physical world at all, but the cognitive system of grouping, classification, and ordering that our mind uses to construct meaning.

Reality is always complex, textured, nuanced, with layers of history right there, visible under the surface, between the bushes and the blades of grass, but the mind cannot handle all of this information at once. It is too much. It is not useful, not relevant to survival or thriving, and it is discarded. And that is the way it should be. Usually. But sometimes you need to turn that filter off, and you need to see what is actually HERE.

Because sometimes the “perfect form” is not enough.

Because sometimes you need the truth, with all its various shades.

Because… sometimes… the world is beautiful.

Deliberate Practice Writing Drill: Practicing Compressed Description

Deliberate Practice is the path to mastery: breaking down an art, sport, or craft into individual skills and training each of those skills independently.

Continuing on my Deliberate Practice Drills for Fiction Writing series, I present a drill designed to help focus descriptive powers.

Set a five minute timer (or if you’re really fast, two minutes). Look around, pick and object, describe it:

  1. Capture the look of it as fast as you can
  2. If you have to, instead of describing the whole object, focus on one detail
  3. Stories are emotional journeys; every object in fiction should have some emotional impact on the reader, so try to realize some emotional truth, shade the description with an emotive tone, or even personify the object.
  4. Keep it short, one sentence to one paragraph, and definitely no more than three paragraphs even for the most complex scene.
  5. Repeat this at least 3-5 times in one session.

Tips

  • This is not about writing a story. You do not need characters, setting, pr any sort of plot… Unless you WANT them 😉 Be true to the paragraph. Don’t hold yourself back.
  • If you get done in time, feel free to go back and tweak it a little. Play with the words. But move on when the timer goes off.
  • It doesn’t have to be good. This is about practice, about learning. About developing skill. My example below I am torn about: Is it good? I don’t know. It is as good as I can get it within the confines of the time limit, but that is all.

Example

He sits at his desk and stares hopelessly at the mousepad. The mousepad is him. Worn, faded, bulging in the middle. He remembers it once bore a Picasso sketch of a bull charging, but every trace of it is gone, worn away by time and stress like the man’s hair.

Advanced Tip

Instead of just doing objects, try doing the whole room or a person.

More to come!

Deliberate Practice Writing Drill: Shading Emotion in Sentences

I said before that I had several Deliberate Practice Drills to share. Well, actually, I’m always coming up with more, so could theoretically post these forever. Here’s one I used the other day, trying to increase control and precision in the emotional content of my sentences:

1) Write a very short, very rudimentary Core Sentence, like, “He was happy,” or even, “She ran.” Subject-Verb or Subject-Verb-Object is best.
2) Write at least ten variations of this Core Sentence. Each variation must contain the Subject, Verb, and (if there is one) Object of the Core Sentence. Remember, the goal of this exercise is EMOTIONAL content.

Tips:
A) Focus on conveying emotion, especially changes in emotion and subtle shifts in tone. Remember, a story is an emotional journey.
B) Try to keep adjectives and -ly adverb use low. I don’t believe in purging them all, rather I suggest you treat them as your most precious jewels. Save them. Be spare with them. Overusing them just makes your writing gaudy, just as a necklace of huge diamonds, sapphires, and pearls jammed together without though would be gaudy. Rather, string them onto the line of the sentence — really, onto the line of the paragraph — only when they really make it shine.

Example exercise:

Core Sentence: “He was happy.”

  • He thought he was happy.
  • Then, one day, there came a moment where he thought he was happy.
  • For a moment, he thought he was happy.
  • Before the influenza took her, he thought he was happy.
  • Even while she was dead, she wondered if he was happy.
  • She wondered if he was really happy.
  • Was he happy? She wondered.
  • Sure, he was happy.
  • She was happy about being dead, and he was happy for her.
  • She seemed happy, and he told himself he was happy about it.
  • He was happy until night came.
  • He was happy until night came because with the night came the darkness, and with the darkness came the loneliness, and with the loneliness came the rusted, serrated edge of his soul scraping at his heart.
  • Etc.

The goal of this exercise is to drive yourself further and further toward precision, either by subtly changing the emotional tone and meaning of the sentence (ex – “He thought he was happy.”, which contains doubt, regret, perhaps a hint of willful self-delusion), or by expanding on the core sentence (the last example above).

And this is just a simple, passive sentence.

A final tip:
Don’t hold back on these sentences. Turn off your inner editor. What I mean by that is don’t be shy about trying something new, whether subtle, bold, or bombastic. Learning is about failing, and this is where you fail, safely. I’m not sure if the last example above, about the night, is good or absolutely horrible, and I’ll be honest — it doesn’t matter. I wrote it, I pushed myself in a new direction, and that will eventually make me a stronger writer. Also, my sentences are repetitive, some of them tiny or negligibly different from the ones before. That’s natural, especially at the beginning, when you are warming up, but even that is useful — sometimes a subtle, almost invisible shift in tone is exactly what you need.

More to come!