Monday, June 15, 2015

Plotter vs. Pantser

After several false starts on attempting to write anything over 5,000, I've decided to outline my next novel attempt.  While I enjoy short fiction, and it all fits into my long-term plan, I have several ideas that will definitely take more page space to get out there. 

I've read several takes on the plotter vs. pantser debate, and with Stephen King being one of my favorite story tellers, I assumed that I would just start typing and it would all fall in to place.

Unfortunately, I've realized that I am not Stephen King. It was a shock, yes, but I'm trying to move on.

Without years of experience, I often find myself lost in the middle, or sometimes even earlier. While I feel like I have some natural ability as a story teller, I just don't have the craft itself down as smoothly as those who have been doing this for years. 

To make my stories stronger, and to finish what I start more consistently, I think being a plotter is a necessary trait for me, at least for now.

While I admire the ability to sit down and write by the seat of your pants, I'm just not there yet in my journey, and might never be. 

Honestly, as a guy who wears shorts any chance I get, I've never been fond of pants anyway.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Finding Focus

One of my biggest roadblocks in writing has been a lack of focus. I once claimed it to be a lack of free time, but I just can't use that excuse anymore. Sure, I have two young children and plenty of other responsibilities to manage, but I've taken an honest assessment on how I use my time and it was eye-opening. 

I found that I have a good two or three hours a day that I waste, usually on the Internet, and it's almost always because I can't decide what I should be doing. This is the time I intended to be available for writing back when I quit my job, and for over a year now I have wasted the majority of it. 

Thankfully, I've identified the problem: lack of focus

As a new writer (though I did write plenty as a kid), I have over a decade of ideas piled up in my head, in various notebooks, and random sheets of paper. While this is a great problem to have, I struggle to choose which idea I should be working on. There are a few of them that "call" to me, so I try to focus on those, but even still I can't decide among them which to work on at any given time.

At the 2013 WorldCon in San Antonio, I was fortunate enough to meet Chuck Wendig who gave me the sage advice to "just pick one and do it." In talking about my struggles of focus with my wife, she said the same thing. So, here I am, choosing, or trying to, still.

Me with Chuck, the wise and bearded sage.

Lack of focus is a huge roadblock to being productive. 

Fear can easily be crippling as well, and one of my biggest fears is that I'll work on a novel for months, only to find it sucks and was a waste of time. 

I know I will have learned much from the process, so it won't really be a waste, but it's hard to shake the feeling. I may have made a break through, though. 

One of the ideas that has managed to keep fighting back to the front of my to-write list is a series of children's stories that, even if it never finds a publisher, I think my own children will enjoy. And there, I've found my motivation and focus, and shot down the fear of it being a waste. 

While this series is different from what I expected to be writing when I decided to give it an honest effort, it's definitely not out of character for me. I've always enjoyed being around kids and felt they have immense value in the world (especially my own, of course). Also, going through this process and having my daughter as such a willing reader will be a blast.

Along with the novel taking center stage as the big project, I'm getting back into the swing of writing short fiction. 

Originally, I had intended on writing short works and publishing in magazines as I got my feet under me as a writer. With the rejections coming in, however, and day-to-day life seeming to take away my writing time, I grew frustrated with the endeavor and moved on to, well, not doing much of anything at all.

So, the plan is two-fold. Focus on one big project and, when I just can't get the words to come for the children's tale, work on short fiction to keep the pipeline of submissions open. This should help me become a more disciplined writer if nothing else. Hopefully, it will lead to better writing, and finally getting published.

Monday, May 18, 2015

In Pursuit of Less

Leaving the relative stability and "known" of the business world to pursue the "unknown" of a writing career brought with it a chance to review my priorities, and while working on my writing skills, I've found that many of the "rules” for writing apply just as well to life itself. Most notably for me personally: simplicity. 

Simplicity in prose, simplicity in life.

I’m not looking to be an extreme minimalist, but there is a lot of great advice in the philosophy that I believe we could all use. I've spent too much time chasing the American Dream, but I now realize it doesn't always coincide with my dream. I don’t need all that stuff: big house, new car, corner office. It’s not for me.

Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.
-William Morris

For me, I strive to put the most effort into the things that matter most to me. I hope to leave the commercialized American Dream behind. Leaving the pursuit of stuff behind has given me the time and energy to devote to what matters. My family, faith, and friends have all moved to the top of the list where they should have been all along.

With this mindset, I try to own only things that add value or beauty to my life. It means I have fewer things, but it also means I have to devote less time to their upkeep, and that gives me more energy for my family and as an author. It also helps me set the example for my children that you should do something you enjoy for a living, not just work for money.

In life’s simplicity, I hope to find its meaning.

Monday, May 4, 2015

My Journey To Writing

When I was a kid, I loved to write, but I never considered making a career of it. At the time, the only writer I knew much about was Stephen King. He was (and is) a rock star of an author, and so I thought becoming a writer was akin to winning the lottery, the same odds I saw for becoming an actual rock star or a movie star. What I didn't know was that hard work and determination could trump talent, at least to some extent, and if I maintained those two things I could actually pull it off. Instead, I chose to pursue a "real" job.

I'm only now learning what a mistake that was.

Still, I wouldn't change it for the world. I scored a wonderful wife and kids out of the deal, and had some great experiences that have probably prepared me for finally taking a shot at a writing career. But man, it would have been nice to get right into this back in my twenties! Instead, I stopped writing for the better part of fifteen years, trying out other careers and getting caught up in a string of other hobbies that never held my interest for more than a few months.

I have been writing again as a hobby for a few years now, picking up on the childhood love as I floated aimlessly through the business world and was searching for a way to fill the creative void it left. I had earned a business degree while in the military, so after leaving that career behind, the corporate world seemed like the natural move when I needed a job, but it was never the right fit. I sat there all day, no matter how productive I was or wasn't, and never got any satisfaction from my work. As soon as I got the opportunity, I walked away from business and took on the role of stay-home dad to an infant and an eight-year-old. This job is admittedly a ton more work, but much more satisfying that anything else I've ever done.

But stay-at-home-dad isn't a life-long career. So I've always kept an eye to the future and what I'd be doing when both kids were in school and on past that. I wanted something fun, something creative, but I still had that idea that the odds would be forever stacked against me. I kept writing, and kept daydreaming about the future.

The more I wrote, and the more I followed inspiring authors like Hugh Howey, Chuck Wendig, and Michael J. Sullivan, the more I began to consider the possibilities. Maybe I could turn this into a career. I toyed with the idea for a while, attended a conference, and even started telling people I was a writer sometimes. For the most part, it felt good, felt natural, like this was the career I should have chosen from the start. There was always something nagging at me, though. For the most part, I wasn't actually writing anything. Sure, I had written some short stories. I even submitted them (and have the rejections to prove it).  But I knew that to be a professional, I had to crack down on my lack of productivity. But with such a busy family life, where could I find the time?

I didn't find the time.

I made it.

I looked at my average schedule and I saw all the time I was wasting. When I got a good handle on how I actually used my time, I found out there  was time to write already in there. Even more, I saw how much time I wasted after the kids went to bed (I was too tired by that time to write, so I usually spent those hours watching television). Instead of accepting that as the status quo, I started going to sleep earlier and getting up at 4:00, well before the rest of the family and buying myself two hours of uninterrupted writing time every morning. That was the real game changer.

Now, I get up and write, and because I feel good for doing it, I've found myself more productive and available to my family. For me, writing is part of taking care of myself, which makes it easier to take care of my family. Also, I don't feel like such an impostor when I call myself a writer because I'm doing the work.

Writers write, and I'm writing. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Where I Write

Where the magic happens, or rather, where the "long, hard work that hopefully ends up looking like magic" happens.

Stephen King says your writing space only needs one thing: "A door you are willing to shut."

My space doesn't actually have that, yet, but maybe someday. Maybe I'll even have one of these someday. For now, we just don't have the extra room in the house. I do, however, have a very supportive family and a very comfortable writing setup, so I can't complain.

We have a room in our house that I've staked a partial claim to as an office, though my daughter often spends more time on my computer there than I do. It's the picture you see above, where I have my computer set up on one side, and a nice, cleared area on the other for when I'm writing out first drafts by hand. The window looks out over the front yard which gives me a nice, peaceful view of the outdoors.

I have a handful of inspirational toys scattered about the desk: a 10th Doctor Sonic Screwdriver, a small Lego Millennium Falcon, a fun little wind up toy, and just outside of the shot is a plush Darth Vader holding a rose that my daughter gave me last Valentine's Day. There is also a bobble head of Michael Scott, a gift from my wife back when I worked as an office manager. I also have a stack of to-read books and stacks of notebooks and note cards.

It's a great setup that really suits my needs. I could use a more comfortable chair one of these days, but I generally don't sit there for long enough periods of time for it to matter. The reason for that is the proximity to my daughter's room, and if you've read my post on making the time to write, you might be able to guess the reason. When I'm writing at 4:00 am, the squeaks of the chair and click-clicking of the keyboard on editing days tend to wake her up.

So, here is a look at my alternate writing space:

The dining table, currently set up for a bit of editing (and tractor racing, apparently!)

Our dining table is the farthest point in the house from the bedrooms, so in the early hours I tend to work here. Setting up with notebook and pen is easy of course, and when I'm on the laptop, my Scrivener documents sync through the cloud, so it works out fine and I can get to anything I need to keep moving forward on the writing.

That's the key, really: moving forward, making progress.

Having a nice place to write is, well, nice, but sometimes you have to keep working no matter where you end up. Someday I may have a proper office space with a door to close to the world, but for now I sit where I can find room and just write.