Tag Archives: #NaNoWriMo2016

#amwriting: the truth about #NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo-General-FlyerEvery author knows that writing is about so much more than merely laying words down on a page.   Most people with a minimal education can do that, and can even whack out a creditable paragraph or two. However, sustaining the momentum and carrying that vision through an entire story is quite another thing.

Over the years, I’ve seen disparaging articles where people have expressed their scorn and disdain of authors who participate in Nation Novel Writing Month, mocking the notion of a “competition.”

But these naysayers are overlooking one important point: to write a novel one must begin a novel and then complete it.

If it takes a special month of writing and a group frenzy to get some people fired up about an idea they’ve had rolling around in their heads, who am I to complain?  I am a reader as much as I am an author, and I say the more, the merrier!

Take a look at some of the most well-known “NaNo Novels” of all time:

  1. Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen. On the best-seller lists for over a year, turned into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson, started as a NaNo novel.
  2. The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern. What eventually became The Night Circus began life in 2004, seven years before it was finally published, started as a NaNo novel.
  3. Wool, by Hugh Howey. Howey’s dystopian sci-fi novel is one of those credited with putting self-publishing on the map, started as a NaNo novel.

I’m not bothered by the “poo-poo on the contest” noise. Whatever gets a writer fired up and writing is fine by me, and we are all the better for the experience.

The real thing that causes angst among the elite is the notion that anyone with an idea can sit down and write the bare bones of a book in 30 days. Being an author is not being in a private club anymore, and it secretly bothers some of the stodgier “real” authors that a person of any background, religion, or ethnicity can dare to write meaningful or entertaining work, even people with minimal education.

Fear and Loathing, we call that. It’s irrational, but then no one ever accused authors of being rational! There will always be a need for more authors and more books, as once a book has been read, the dedicated reader wants a new book. It is the law of supply and demand, and publishing is a business.

The fact is, most people who begin a novel in November do not reach their goal of 50,000 words and never finish those novels. They do not have the discipline to sit down every day and dedicate a portion of their time to this project.

A great number of Nano Authors discover that doing NaNoWriMo is just like doing karaoke. They love to read, and they want to write the next Gone with the Wind, but their work reads like a tone-deaf drunk sounds when singing Wind Beneath my Wings.  They are not talented writers. But so what? The cream always rises to the top, my grandma used to say.

Because of NaNoWriMo, many truly talented people are now embarking on learning a craft, committing their time and resources to educating themselves about how to write a novel that others will want to read. Several years down the road, who knows what wonderful works of fiction will have emerged from this year’s madness?

NANO CrestI only know that I am always looking for a good book, and so I will be first in line, hoping to be blown away by a fresh, new work of art. This is why I volunteer as a Municipal Liaison for NaNoWriMo. Every year we have new, young writers, with fresh, amazing ideas. But we also have many new older people who are writing their first novel, embarking on a dream they always had but never thought they could do.

Most who begin their novel this year will never write again. But every year a few writers  in each age group continue on after the month of madness is over. When I talk to them and hear how fired up and passionate they are, I am proud to have been a part of their writing life. They see the goal, and and are filled with the desire to finish what they started.

They have embarked on the quest to learn how to write well.

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#amwriting: #nanowrimo momentum

2016-placeholder-book-cover-smallWe’re on Day 2 of NaNo 2016. I’ve written two short stories totaling 11,605 words, 80% of them misspelled, but I won’t worry about that until January. I admit I was hoping to have written four, but I’m still on track to make 50 short stories and flash fictions by the end of November.

Some people are already behind, but all is not lost.  Get caught up now and go forward by adding a few extra words every day.

Habitual behavior, or ‘daily routine’ goes unnoticed because we don’t engage in self-analysis when undertaking routine tasks. Thus, writing daily is easier once it becomes a behavioral habit.

Consider smoking.

Smoking is a behavioral habit as much as it is a physical addiction. Smokers trying to quit always tell me they don’t know what to do with their hands. When they first started smoking they trained themselves to do “the cigarette ritual,” shaking the cigarette out of the pack, lighting it, holding it, and exhaling the smoke with their own style each time they went outside.  They did this ritual every time they lit up their cigarette, and now their hands have “nothing to do.”

If breaking certain habits is difficult, creating new, more positive habits is also tough. Behavioral patterns we repeat become imprinted in our neuro-pathways, so repetition of positive behaviors is necessary to make the behavior automatic. Wikipedia, the Fount of all Knowledge, says this:

“As the habit is forming, it can be analysed in three parts: the cue, the behavior, and the reward. The cue is the thing that causes the habit to come about, the trigger of the habitual behavior. This could be anything that one’s mind associates with that habit and one will automatically let a habit come to the surface. The behavior is the actual habit that one exhibits, and the reward, a positive feeling, therefore continues the “habit loop”.[13] A habit may initially be triggered by a goal, but over time that goal becomes less necessary and the habit becomes more automatic.”

In his November 3rd, 2013 blog post for Creative Writing Guild, Rob Blair says:

“Studies on habit formation have found that extra willpower is almost never sufficient for getting a new habit to stick. What does seem to work is an intervention that looks like this:

  • Write out the details of what you want the new habit to be. (In your case, it’s going to be writing 1,667 words per day.)

  • Plan the details of how and where you will be engaging in the new habit. Be as concrete as you can be.

  • Plan a “trigger” for when you will start doing the new habit. How will you know it’s time to start writing? This can be a specific time, but I’ve found it’s better to choose a point in your normal daily routine where you can insert the new habit. (e.g., “After pouring coffee but before changing out of my PJs.)

  • Write a list of the pitfalls, detailing what’s most likely to go wrong. What’s prevented you from writing in the past? Did you get busy? Did you sleep in? Did you “feel uncreative”? Be honest with yourself, and get your normal traps and tribulations on the page.

  • Write a response plan for each pitfall. This can be something complex, but research has found that even simple response plans (e.g., “I’ll remind myself this is writing time and I can sleep in come December”) are astoundingly effective. (end quoted material.)

I like what Rob has to say about doing a small intervention to short-circuit self-defeating habits, but remember such effort only works if you are honestly committed to the project. He also offers a great deal of other useful advice in that article, so I highly recommend you read his post in its entirety.

But what I really believe is that you will succeed in developing the habit when you write something you are really fired up about. When you are passionate about a story, the words will flow. Find that moment in your daily routine when you can insert a new habit, put pen to paper and begin writing!

The best thing about stream-of-consciousness writing is you don’t take the time to over-think things. You write it as you think it, and the word count grows as if by magic.

I’m using this time to write short stories, but just as if I were writing a nano-novel, I will be done writing at the end of November. I will take a break from this project until January and then, over the course of the next year I will be pulling these rough drafts out of the 2016 NaNoWriMo file and polishing them up.  That is when I will worry about what is wrong with these little stories, and implement plot adjustments. Right now, I am just writing it as I think it, warts and all.


Reference Sources:

6 Steps for Nailing the First Week of NaNoWriMo, published November 3, 2013, on http://www.creativewritingguild.com · by Rob Blair

Wikipedia contributors, “Habit,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Habit&oldid=747213739 (accessed November 1, 2016).

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#amwriting: #NaNoWriMo Jump Start

NANO CrestIf you are doing NaNoWriMo this year, you’re quite busy right now and don’t have time to read a long post. So, here are a few quick tips and resources to help get your novel off the ground:

Tips:

  • Never delete, do not self-edit as you go. Don’t waste time re-reading your work. You can do all that in December when you go back to look at what you have written.
  • Make a list of all the names and words you invent as you go and update it each time you create anew one, so the spellings don’t evolve as the story does.
  • Write 1670 words every day – 3 more than is required (to account for differences in how your word processing program and NaNoWriMo’s official word counter validates wordcount – you don’t want to come up short at the end! This has happened and is quite frustrating.

If you are writing a story set in our real world and your characters will be traveling, walking a particular city, or visiting landmarks, bookmark google maps for that area and refer back to it regularly to make sure you are writing it correctly.

If you are writing about a fantasy world and your characters will be traveling, quickly sketch a rough map and refer back to it to make sure the Town names and places remain the same. Update it as new places are added. This is all you need:

sample-of-rough-sketched-map

If you are writing fantasy involving magic or supernatural skills, briefly draw up a list of rules for who can do what with each skill. Remember:

  • Magic with no rules is both impossible and creates a story with no tension. No one wants to read a story where the characters have nothing to struggle against.
  • Each character should have limits to their abilities. Because they are not individually all-powerful, they will need to interact and work with each other and with the protagonist. They will have to do this whether they like each other or not if they want to win the final battle or achieve their goal. That will provide openings for some great interactions.
  • This gives you ample opportunity to introduce tension into the story. Remember, each time you make parameters and frameworks for your magic you make opportunities for conflict within your fantasy world, and conflict is what drives the plot.

Resources to Bookmark:

Three websites a beginner should go to if they want instant answers in plain English:

Most importantly – enjoy writing that novel. This is time spent creating an amazing story only you can tell, so above all, enjoy this experience.

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#NaNoWriMo2016: The Ghosts of NaNoWriMos Past

NaNoWriMo-General-FlyerYou’ve had this idea rolling around your head for a while now for a book you’d like to read, and you keep wishing your favorite author would write it. In my experience, you’re going to have to write it yourself, or it will never happen. This is because your favorite author can only write so fast, or, as in the case of several of my most respected authors, they might be dead. Dead authors rarely publish new books, unless they are ghost writers. (heh heh.) From what I can see, most authors don’t live beyond 100 years of age, so there you go–if you want that book, you’re going to have to write it yourself.

My first NaNoWriMo novel, written in 2010, began with the idea of writing a book Fritz Lieber might write if he were still alive (and if he had consumed several hallucinogenic mushrooms). You see, I had just finished re-reading my collection of Fritz Lieber tales, and I had Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser on the brain. These two characters are scoundrels, living in a decadent world where a lack of scruples a requirement for survival.

What I actually produced had no resemblance to Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, and was nothing like anything Fritz would have written, but within the uneven plot and frequently overblown dialogue it had the bones of a good story.

My addiction to NaNoWriMo began innocently, as all good addictions do: A young writer in the Philippines whom I had met through a gaming website mentioned he was going to do this writing challenge. It was a worldwide thing where hundreds of thousands of people actually began writing a novel on November 1 with the intention of having it finished by November 30.  The catch was, you couldn’t start until 12:01 am on November 1st,  it had to be at least 50,000 words long, but it could longer than that if you needed it to be. And, you had to have it validated by 11:59 PM on November 30th to win the coveted winners goodies.

My friend challenged me to enter, and not sure I would really be able to do this crazy thing, I did. He said all I had to do was write 1,667 words a day, which I felt I could do. I figured the worst that could happen was that I would fail to get the word count. In the past, fear of failure had never stopped me from making my life more complicated, so of course I went out to the national website and signed up. I chose the handle dragon_fangirl.

At 6:30 a.m. on November 1, 2010, I looked at my laptop and had no idea what to do. Then it came to me: Just write the first line:

There was a cabin in the woods.

Well, that wasn’t exactly literary brilliance, but it wasn’t too terrible, and it gave my idea little more form. I just began telling the story as it fell out of my mind. To my surprise, I discovered my word count averaged 2,500 to 3,000 words a day. By day fifteen I knew I would have no trouble getting the 50,000, and by November 21 I had attained the winning number of words.

At the 68,000 word point, I had completed my rollicking tale of snark and medieval derring-do. Of course, it was completely unpublishable, but I didn’t know that until later.

What I did know, was that I had written a complete novel, and told a story that I would have wanted to read. Three years later I realized all it needed was rewriting, editing, revising, rewriting, and putting in a drawer, never to be seen again.

However, out of the wreckage of that book came the story of Huw the Bard. You never know what characters you will need later, so killing them when you get stuck for a plot point is not really wise.

One rule they tell you at NaNoWriMo is never delete, and don’t self-edit as you go along. This is all strictly stream-of-consciousness, write it the way you think it. That was hard for me, but I did get into the swing of things eventually.

When I was out lurking on the various threads on the national website, I discovered a contingent of writers who were not trying to write a book that could be published. For them, this was a game they wanted to win at any cost, and their goal was to see how high their word count could get.

One suggestion from them for increasing your word count was to use no contractions.

Let’s be clear: I do NOT recommend this. If you ever want to publish your manuscript, you will have a lot of work ahead of you to make it readable if you do that.

My rules for NaNoWriMo:

  1. Write at least 1,670 words every day (three more than is required) This takes me about 2 hours – I’m not fast at this.
  2. Write every day, no matter if you have an idea worth writing about or not. Do it even if you have to get up at 4:00 am to find the time and don’t let anything derail you. If you are stuck, write about how your day went and how you are feeling about things that are happening in your life, or write that grocery list. Just write, and think about where you want to take your real story. Write about what you would like to see happen in that story.
  3. Check in on the national threads and your regional thread to keep in contact with other writers.
  4. Attend a write-in if your region is having any, or join a virtual write-in at NaNoWriMo on Facebook. This will keep you enthused about your project.
  5. Delete nothing. Passages you want to delete later can be highlighted, and the font turned to red or blue, so you can easily separate them out later.
  6. Remember, not every story is a novel. If your story comes to an end, draw a line at the bottom of the page and start a new story, in the same manuscript. You can always separate the stories later, and that way you won’t lose your word count.
  7. Validate your word count every day.

These are the novels I have written during the month of November since 2010:

  • 2010 Billy’s Revenge (published 2011 as the Last Good Knight, has since been unpublished and will remain that way)
  • 2011 The Bard’s Tale, which was published in 2013 as Huw The Bard.
  • 2012 Neveyah 3, which was published in July 2016 as The Wayward Son.
  • 2013 Valley of Shadows, which was published May of 2016 as Valley of Sorrows.
  • 2014 The Seventh Space, still under construction, may not be a novel after all.
  • 2015 November Tales – 42 short stories, totaling 107,000 words. Included in this mess were ten truly awful poems, along with chapters 7 thru 11 of Bleakbourne on Heath, an ongoing serial, published 2015-2016. That serial is now past the mid-point and will end in the spring of 2017.
  • 2016 November Tales 2016 – 30 Days of Madness and Pot Pies – nothing written yet, but I will hit the keyboard at 12:01 a.m. on November 1st, and begin churning out as many short stories, flash-fictions, drabbles, poems, and chapters of Bleakbourne as my feeble fingers are able to do.

crest-bda7b7a6e1b57bb9fb8ce9772b8faafbIf you should choose to enter this highly addictive, adrenaline rush of a contest, go to www.nanowrimo.org and sign up! Pick your name, get your author profile started, and look up dragon_fangirl (that’s me). Add me as your writing buddy and I will be part of your writing posse, cheering you on when you need a morale boost.

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#amwriting: November is National Novel Writing Month #NaNoWriMo2016

nanowrimo-2016-kick-it-in-gear-desktop

Dragon_Fangirl’s home-made nanowrimo-2016 “kick-it-in-gear “desktop

Every year starting on November 1st several million people sit down and attempt to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, most while holding down jobs and raising kids.

Four years running, 2010 – 2014, I used the month of November to lay down the rough draft of an intended novel. I made an outline in October and drew maps and such so that on November 1st I could hit the ground running. Most of the time, once I have that foundation down, I can write off the cuff, and that is how three of my books came into existence.

However, last year I already had two novels in the final stages and one simmering on the back burner.  What I lacked was short stories. I had the brilliant idea to write a short story collection, because I knew I had to build my backlog of submittable work. As a result, and despite having a viral plague during the entire month of November, I wrote 42 short stories for a total of 105,000 words.

That’s not counting the blog posts I also wrote. NaNoWroMo 2015 was a prolific year despite the plague!

For many participants, the challenge of sitting down and using the “seat of your pants” style of creative writing is what draws them to sign up.

On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.

In 2011, the year I wrote Huw the Bard, I spewed the basic rough draft in the most unlinear way possible.  I had the plot outline and followed it, sort of.  With that as my guide, no matter how off track I found poor Huw (pronounced Hew), I still managed to get him to the end I had originally envisioned.

The next year, my novel didn’t go quite as smoothly, and I had a few hiccups.

But that novel was really only a writing exercise for me, just to see if I could write in that particular genre and I fell out of love with it. Since it didn’t have a grip on my heart, and by November 15th I had written 50,000 words of a story I hated, I began a different story.

I kept the work I had already done, as that book was as done as it was ever going to get. But I’m not silly – I had no intention of wasting that word count, so at the bottom of the last page, I began a new novel, which eventually became The Wayward Son, and was just published last month. At the end of that November, I had written 115,000 words total and had 2 completely different novels to show for my efforts.

2016-placeholder-book-cover

2016-placeholder-book-cover

This year my book has the working title of November Tales 2016: 30 days of Madness and Pot Pies by Dragon_Fangirl: The literary ranting of an author on the edge.

Once again I am embarking on a binge of writing short stories and essays.

Many authors are unwilling to commit to NaNoWriMo because it takes discipline to write 1667 words a day.

Also, they fear having to recoup any perceived losses should they find themselves in the middle of NaNoWriMo when they suddenly realize they’ve gone terribly astray. Or they fear writers’ block.

It happens. Not to me usually, because I know the secret: If you can’t write on the subject you intended, write about what you are experiencing and what interests you at that moment. Yes, it’s not that fabulous fantasy novel you began but are stuck on, and no epic dragons will be in it. (Unless you are Stephen Swartz. His real life has epic dragons. And bunnies.)

The key here is you will be writing, and that is what is important.

Rule 1 of NaNoWriMo: write.

Rule 2: Write 1667 words every day.

Rule 3: Every time you rewrite the scene with a slightly different outcome, it counts toward your word count. Don’t delete – just change the font color to red in that section, and begin rewriting the scene the way it SHOULD have been written in the first place, using the usual black font.

In December, cut the offending scene out of the ms, paste it into a separate document and save it in a ‘Background File’ in the same folder as the main manuscript. By doing that, you don’t lose prose you may need later.

During National Novel Writing Month, every word in my manuscript over and above 50,000 counts toward my region’s total word count. So if that means I have a lo-o-o-o-ong, multicolored manuscript for a few weeks, so be it.

For me, if I don’t begin to make those changes when I first realize they need to be done, I might forget until Dave Cantrell, my first reader and structural genius, points it out. (I daily thank God for Dave, and am grateful the internet connects to California.) (♥)

As one of the Municipal Liaisons for the Olympia Washington Region, I am required to attend most of the write-ins, which happen at different coffee shops or libraries. I handle the daylight hours, as I don’t drive after dark. It does eat into my day, which is why my husband thinks of it as National Pot-Pie Month. But I do get a lot of stream-of-consciousness writing done at these events and I have made life-long friends among the writing community of Olympia and the surrounding area.

If you want to sign up for this year’s month of madness and mayhem, get on the internet and go to:

www.nanowrimo.org

Sign up, pick a NaNo name – mine is Dragon_Fangirl, and you are in business. Look me up and make me one of your writing buddies. Spend the rest of October organizing what you think you will need to begin you story on November first. Then, on the first day of November you begin writing. If you apply yourself, and write (AT the minimum) 1667 words every day, on the 30th of November you should have a novel…or something.

nanowrimo-yodaIn reality, if you set aside one or two hours a day, and pound out the words as fast as you can during that time, you will get your word count. Never delete, and do not self-edit as you go along. Just spew words, misspelled and awkward as they may be. They all count, misspelled or not, and it is the discipline of writing that we are working on here, not the nuts and bolts of good manuscript.

Revising and correcting gross mistakes will come in the second draft, when you have time to look at it with a critical eye. What you are doing now is getting the ideas down.

Never discard your work no matter how much your first reader says it stinks. Even if what you wrote is the worst drivel she ever read, some of it will be worth saving and reusing later.

Spending a month immersed in stream-of-consciousness writing is not a waste of time. You will definitely have something to show for your efforts, and you will have developed the most import skill a writer must have: self-discipline.

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#amwriting: Interview with Scott Driscoll

As part of my lead up to #NaNoWriMo2016 and November’s month of literary madness, I am continuing my series of guest interviews. Today, we are speaking with the always intriguing Scott Driscoll.

Scott is an award-winning writing instructor at UW Continuing and Professional Education, is a well-known journalist and editor, and is the author of Better You Go Home, a literary novel which takes the reader to Prague shortly after the Velvet Revolution. (My review can be read here.)

I have attended several seminars offered by Scott through PNWA, and have always come away feeling inspired.

CJJ: What books influenced you most as young reader?

SD: Like most children, I liked any story that fueled my imagination, such as Aesop’s Fables, Grimm Fairy Tales, and the like. Somewhere in middle school I discovered a preference for realism and actually read, and was fascinated by, Moby Dick. I distinctly remember going to class and sniffing the palms of my hands, convinced I’d somehow got ambergris, which never really washes off, on my hands. Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men also impressed me greatly at that age. I found American social realism (aka naturalism), such as anything by Drieser, dreary beyond belief.

CJJ: How did these books influence your early writing?

SD: The dreary books I was forced to read in adolescence and as a young teen led me to conclude that you had to be pedantic and stuffy to be a writer and that turned me off to writing fiction altogether. The exceptions would be Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer and E. A. Poe stories. Those were exciting. What I didn’t realize until later is that I was looking for a voice that spoke to me. I really didn’t hear that voice until I encountered French existential novelists like Camus and Jean Genet (especially in The Thief’s Journal, a fictionalized memoir). Compared with potted stories like de Maupassant’s, these took me into what felt like a word wilderness, where you could easily get off trail and run into danger and I loved that feeling. I also discovered and loved Dostoevsky and Kafka. There was a darkness and urgency and psychological depth in that writing that I could not find in American authors, until, in college, I discovered the novels of Norman Mailer and Edward Abbey and now I had a voice that was raw and stories that were more about the psychological life of the characters and less about managing a plot. Not that I had anything against plot. It was the raw power of the words I needed to fall in love with first.

CJJ: You have said elsewhere that “Writing for me is about applying form to the mysteries we suffer.” Can you expand a little on this idea?

SD: I borrowed that phrase from Wright Morris. On my blog site I wrote about the first time, as an adult, I tried to write fiction. I was 21 years old, taking a break from college, living in Darwin, Australia and working warehouse and restaurant jobs to save money so I could travel on. With time on my hands, and a depressing lack of anything better to do, I essentially locked myself in my boarding house room, sat under the paddle fan, and spent several hours writing nothing. What I lacked, I realized, was not the ability to write, but knowledge of form. Without an understanding of story structure, I would churn out a stream of words that was nothing more than a verbal outpouring of my inner angst, the kind of sophomoric, I realized that day, drivel that excites only high school English teachers, who are grateful for any grammatical verbal pyrotechnics. Without an understanding of form, I could not begin to solve the mysteries I knew were locked up inside me.

CJJ: You have also said “Any story that involves a quest – and that is most stories – starts with a disturbing event known to writers and film-makers as the “inciting incident.” What is the most important thing for an author to consider when creating this event?

SD: It took me a long time to accept that any story with any kind of plot must start with a disturbance. But once you accept that, what does it really mean? A disturbance, as in, someone gets mugged, a bank gets robbed, aliens land, a shark throws a vacation resort town into chaos? If it’s just event for event’s sake, anything is possible and nothing is particularly meaningful. Rather, an inciting incident must disturb a balance that pertains in the hero’s world, and must do so by working against a deeply held value, so that the hero, we can be sure, will not shrug it off as simply bad news but rather will be forced to react in a way that will further endanger the balance in that familiar world.

Better You Go Home Scott DriscollCJJ: When did you first have the idea to write “Better You Go Home,” and how long did it take to complete it?

SD: In 1994, three and a half years after the Velvet Revolution, I went to the Czech Republic to track down family that my Czech relatives in Iowa had stopped communicating with. I found the village, the farmhouse, met some people, but had been too cheap to hire a translator and didn’t get beyond discovering that there was some unspeakable mystery, some “inciting incident,” that had created a rift in the family. In 1999, armed with better information sent to me by a cousin who’d followed my lead to that village, and armed this time with a translator, my father and I went back to this village and heard stories, and reviewed records, and I learned enough that I felt I could write a novel with this family mystery at its heart. At the time I had quit writing fiction (needing to make money) and started instead writing for magazines, and between that and teaching and being divorced and raising a child, I really didn’t have time to write a novel (but stayed up late virtually every night reading everything I could get my hands on related to the topic). A couple years later, needing to get back to fiction, I started in pretending I was writing chapters, but really just produced fluff based on my research. From the time I began writing chapters that could stick, and publication, ten years went by.  I had told my wife—we married just before the time I got serious with this novel—I’d have it done in two years. Our son likes to remind me that he was ten when it was published. I remind him that I was busy. But, really, honestly, it took so long because my early understanding of the story lacked the form that would allow me to finally tell the story. Much of my groping in the early years could have been circumvented had I discovered that form early in the process.

CJJ: Once a new work is in progress, what are the main hurdles you have to overcome in laying down the first draft?

SD: That depends. If it’s a short story, I will usually allow myself to have a crude idea based on a situation that sets forth from a known inciting incident with a disturbed character but without a known outcome, just set forth and go, knowing the real story will emerge in the re-writes anyway. With a novel, it’s worth doing more planning.  Once you have your premise, the first hurdle you have to overcome is finding a basic story structure that will naturally lead to a surprising but inevitable outcome. Then you work on your characters, that is, you start with characters in mind, but now you have to imagine how the events required by the story structure you have imagined will be causally connected to the characters’ needs and wants and fears and expressed and hidden desires. Without causal connections you just have meaningless events. Once causal connections are asserted, you encounter another hurdle. The characters begin to morph according the logical requirements of the causal connections you have asserted. Without a strong sense of the story structure, things can quickly morph into an ugly, hydra-headed monster, ie, chapters screaming to be thrown away.

CJJ: What are you working on now?

SD:  Two things. First, a collection of connected stories that show a young couple starting off careers and family and that show how that trajectory unfolds over the years. For my raw material, I am using stories published years ago, but that I felt never broke through to their bigger potential. Will I achieve that now? Let’s just say, I know a whole lot more about writing now than I did then. I only hope that I can recapture the immediacy that can easily get lost behind a command of technique. My second project, still in the planning stages, is a sci-fi time travel novel. This will be my first attempt at a popular fiction genre. I was put up to it by an editor friend. My wife was intrigued by the idea of me writing a novel that had the potential to make some money. Having handed over an 18,000 word treatise, that covers my idea for the story nearly chapter by chapter, I am now excited to get to work.

CJJ: What books can you recommend for new writers who are just beginning to learn the craft?

SD: The best book on craft, generally, is Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway, now in its ninth edition. That said, Story by Robert McKee, though written for screenplay writers, contains the best craft talks, with illustrations from films, on plot and character and scene that I have ever come across. I would definitely start with those two, then add Scene & Structure by Jack Bickham, as an enhancement to what McKee has to say. Then, they should all get their hands on What If, the third edition, edited by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter. (Do not let Amazon trick you into buying the inadequate first edition.) This book is full of mini-lessons and exercises for writers who know about craft but need practice.

CJJ: Where can people find your classes and seminars this fall?

SD: In fall 2016, starting the first week of October, I am teaching one section of Literary Fiction I, the introductory course, and one section of Advanced Fiction Writing, a course intended for writers of both literary and popular fiction who’ve had experience with taking writing classes or who have extensive writing experience. Both classes are offered through the University of Washington in the Professional and Continuing Education department. If interested, folks should go to www.keeplearning.uw.edu and look for these courses, or, if they have questions, seek more details at www.pce.uw.edu. They can also email me at sdriscol@uw.edu. I also teach a summer workshop class and that is posted on my blog site. http://www.scottdriscollblogs.wordpress.com.

  • In the meantime, I am a guest editor reviewing manuscripts at the fall 2016 Write On The Sound conference and will be at the Edmonds, WA site on Saturday Oct 1 and Sunday Oct 2. On Nov. 10, I will be a guest workshop leader at the November meeting of the Skagit Valley Writer’s League, held in Mt. Vernon, WA. Those interested can peruse their web site for more information. In May, 2017, I will be a workshop leader, lecturer etc. at the Write On The River conference held in Wenatchee, WA

 

Scott, thank you so much, for being a part of this little series on the craft of writing. As always, you are a joy to talk to!


scott-driscoll1 Scott Driscoll can be found 

 

 

 

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