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Intellectual Lineage: Rocking Out vs. Writing Books

Posted by Oliver on June 24, 2015 at 12:20 PM Comments comments (2)

I spent the last few days reading the lists Rolling Stone magazine compiled enumerating their take on the hundreds best--the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time, the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Aside from making me feel cultured (I had heard of almost every artist and I had heard most of the five hundred greatest songs), anyway, aside from that, this stuff from Rolling Stone felt kind of annoyingly bland. It felt bland for the particular reason that it didn't illuminate any great mysteries into the heritage of my favorite bands. All I got from reading this stuff from Rolling Stone was that rock-and-rollers have a respect for their history and, when they're good at what they do, they recognize the direct line they can trace in their craft from themselves backwards, almost without variation, to Robert Johnson, and through him to Irish immigrants in the Appalachians. Any attempt to trace rock and roll further back than that takes it into the slipstreams of ultimate history and Music of the Spheres type navel gazing. The great thing about American rock and roll is it is possible to put boundaries on its history and study it as a semi-nuclear phenomenon. In that way it's a really neat sort of petri dish of history. In a semi-enclosed system, your aspiring historian can look at rock-and-roll as a study of the way culture develops. Wars, strife, victories, losses, ethnic diversity, technology, monuments, myths--it's all there.


Writing hasn't got that kind of history. I mean to say, writing has got history. It's got among the grandest histories in the world, if you think about it. Before humanity even made an attempt to figure out actual cause-and-effect explanations for things, we made up highly improbable and fantastical stories to explain things. Reading into the oldest history of mythology is interesting because it's a little like reading into the history of rock-and-roll legends: you can see trends. For instance, the head honcho in the Mesopotamian pantheon was the god of storms. I've always had this hypothesis--and it's slowly becoming a theory--that the first myth got invented because some little kid was scared during a storm and his grandmum, feeling a maternal drive to comfort the kid, invented a story about the man in the sky driving the storms. If this is the case then it's also the seed of all religion, all literature, and, really, all civilization. It's a pretty thought.


Mythology is the first and greatest example of stories getting bigger and more important than storytellers, and that has been a trend in writing ever since. Writers don't have the same defined, nuclear history as rock-and-rollers. When a rock-and-roller sits down and looks into the history of his craft, he finds his roots--he finds a rich and intricate history filled with people, many of them still alive, who he can go and personally study. The rock-and-roller finds paved roads, often covered in graffiti and marked with confusing signs sure, but he finds a recognizable heritage that he can step into, if he's clever enough.


As a writer, I feel differently than that. When I study my intellectual history, I usually feel like I'm staring into an infinite depth with no way in and, should I be so unwise as to take some steps into its myriad floods, no survivable way out. When I look at the lineage I'm attempting to inherit I feel like I'm looking at a cave of light populated by everything produced by everyone before me ever. You can get lost in there.

Pop Culture and Ghost Stories

Posted by Oliver on January 11, 2014 at 1:00 AM Comments comments (0)

If my writer friends and acquaintances reflect the opinions of the average writer at all then the average writer wants to write significant works. Significant, of course, has different levels: there are the writers who want to be the next Great Author like Hemingway or Kerouac and write "important" work that'll be taught in college some day. Some people want to be the next Chandler or Lovecraft and leave a memorable and milieu-inspiring impact on the world. Some want to be the next Gaiman or Moore (Alan or Christopher) and make money and have fans while maintaining a certain level of artistic integrity. No one wants to be Higgins, and almost no one wants to be Meyers. If asked why not them, the answer is often, "I'd love making their money, but I wouldn't want to compromise myself like that." While the instinct is commendable, there is a possibility that the context of the statement has not been fully understood.

I shall now invent a protowriter who shall represent all writers in abstract. I shall call him Mr. Slightly, for the name pleases me.

I have asked Mr. Slightly why he wishes to avoid association with teen vampire novels and harlequin romances. The reason he has given me today is this one:

"They're not literature, dude. That stuff's jus' pop culture shit."

Is that so, Mr. Slightly?

"Yeah, man. Too true."

What would you prefer writing instead?

"Important shit, like they used to write. They never used to write pop culture shit."

That is illuminating, Mr. Slightly. Mr. Slightly gave more reasons. He seems to think that pop culture is an unforgivably profit-driven. He also claims to think that the productions of pop culture are shallow reflections of the lowest common denominator that are designed to have a limited temporal appeal; he thinks that expressions of pop culture are inherently so topically specific that their relevence will swiftly die. These opinions have truth in them, but they're unfair to apply across the whole gradient of pop culture products.

I think that it's become unfair to pick on Jane Austen and Shakespeare on the subject of being sell-out commercial successes that did nothing but write inside a specific formula and deliver precisely what their audience wanted. It's true, though; these things can be looked up. I want to pull other ghosts forward to represent pop culture in history.

I'll pick on Charles Dickens.

Charles Dickens and his contemporaries never thought he would be significant. Dickens never sought to be significant. Dickens lived in a period of time when writers thought all significant things had been written. Faced with that paradigm, Dickens decided to do what he knew how to do well: spin a good yarn for a few bucks and bring some thoughtful entertainment to Britain. He did a great job too. As time has revealed, Dickens turned out to have a great faculty for clever and compelling depiction of character. He had an expert command over language, and he elected to utilize that by being as keen a mirror to the world as he could be. Without once pretending to need a grand heritage, Dickens carved himself a happy place in his lifetime by wielding his interest in the socioeconomic circumstances that happened to surround him and his skill with words. It could be argued that Dickens raised his craft higher than mere frivolity, but I'm quite confident that Dickens would have laughed off any suggestion that he would be taught in college in a couple hundred years.

I believe the lesson I would learn from Dickens is this: history chooses its heroes; we rarely choose the heroes of the future, no matter how emphatic we are about our heroes of the present. When they look back on us, we cannot know what college professors will look at with their pompous eye. All we can do is recognize our talents and the circumstances of our lives and do, as Dickens, the best we can with those things. "Pop" culture we tend to view as "low" culture, which is sometimes true, but in general "pop" (popular) culture simply reflects the times. It would behoove an intelligent artist to make an effort to understand his circumstances.

A Most Lethargic Urgency

Posted by Oliver on January 3, 2014 at 10:00 AM Comments comments (1)

Contradictions litter the writing life like lethal animals seem to litter all of Australia: they seem funny till you get close and realize that, if you don't understand them, they could kill you, but once you do understand them you can synthesize their venom into a powerful superpower inducing agent. We write for the masses, but we must do our writing alone. We have to understand our heritage while appeasing the gods of the now and hereafter. We must understand how our craft is art, and at the same time we have to apply technique and finesse to it. When we're doing the writing right, we're thinking and doing at least four or five contradictory things all at the same time.

One contradictory behavior I've been lately pondering has to do with maintaining energy levels while waiting. I've always thought about this non-verbally, but then the following happened, so now I'm writing about it. The following:

Me (on facebook/twitter): Dear people: I just submitted that werewolf story some of you have read to the contest I mentioned. Thanks for your feedback, pretties.

Jamie (the next day in person): Hey, I saw that thing you posted about sending that story to a contest. How'd it go? Did you win?

Me (after a thoughtful pause): Oh...I don't know yet. Thanks for asking. I should hear back from them in, like, four months. I'll tell you what they say.

Jamie: Cool. Well good luck.

The thought I had during that thoughtful pause was this: I take it for granted that I'll be waiting on this contest for several months, but Jamie--not a writer--took it for granted that I'd probably hear back reasonably quickly. It is, therefore, not the usual thing, except for writers, to wait a third of a year to hear back on one contest.

For writers, it really is common to wait that long for EVERYTHING. Writers make a regular practice of beginning something wonderful with all the childish glee due to it, but then resign themselves to (hopefully) cheerful naval-gazing and thumb twiddling for disproportionately long periods of time.

Would it not be charming if, for those periods of time, waiting could be our main engagement? We live in an era of hedonism. Filling idle hours runs the economy of the USA. I am, even now, halfway attentive to Pandora (a band called Enter the Haggis) and to a free online roleplaying game. If I didn't feel like concentrating then I'd probably be watching an episode of the X-Files at the same time. We all know, however, that doing nothing constructive while we wait is near to sacrilege.

I used to work in a cafe, and one of my uncool managers there had a saying: Maintain a simulated sense of urgency at all times. I always thought it was a dumb saying. In spite of disliking the saying and its source in the way most people dislike lukewarm steamed cabbage, I find myself repeating it to myself a remarkable amount of times. It turns out to be precisely the kind of advice the lazy creator in me needs so he can continue working. Years ago I started attempting to simulate a feeling of hurry; whenever I had downtime I got in the habit of reminding myself that my novel needed some attention, or I needed to look up that one grammar rule to make sure I was doing it right, or I needed to organize that stack of feedback so I could look over it soon. I started to do this without thinking about it too much, and now it's gotten to the point that I do it as a subconscious act.

As it would happen, one more thing has recently happened that's given this cycle of thought a fitting geometry. A more experienced and wise friend of mine commented on a different but still contest related facebook/twitter above:

Jan: The rule is... submit it, forget it. If you hear back and it's positive (accepted)... Great. If not, you won't have fretted about it, prior.

In saying that, Jan reminded me that I'd been doing it subconsciously too (partly by practice, partly by being a culivated airhead). It has proved of advantage.

As we all know, if only sometimes say, the process of writing has a significant emotional component. It requires as much exertion as any other discipline, more exertion than many other things. It is possible to become physically exhausted from writing, in general we have observed that writing primarily requires emotional energy. We all build and regain our emotional strength from a variety of places, of course. It would seem that all people receive energy from a sense of success.

To submit a finished work for judgment is a kind of success; we get a rush from that. To receive news of its solution is a kind of success, and we also receive a rush from that. In the interim the necessary challenge is to maintain emotional energy. In between, though, is a long spell of anticipation. If you find anticipation itself energizing all the better. I do, I know, but only when moderated by real life. My observation of real-life people makes it look as if anticipation tends to be too exciting to be a constant state. People lose focus while anticipating.

Our goal as writers is: share the stories. That implies the two step process of a) writing them and b) getting them out there. In turn, that implies a cycle of long droughts of self motivation punctuated by bursts of momentous excitement which hopefully aids in keeping energy over the next set of long droughts. It would seem that the successful author has mastered balancing this contradictory cycle.

Personality -- Do You Like Your Own Personality Better?

Posted by Jenny Maloney on February 25, 2013 at 1:55 PM Comments comments (2)

A couple weeks ago, I talked about introversion and extroversion in writers' personality types. Since then, I've been curious:


Do we gravitate towards stories/writers with personalities that match our own? Or maybe even the opposite: the stories/writers are so similar that we can't stand having our own flaws so blatantly on display?


I have no way to figure this out, because I lack the ambition to launch any kind of sociological research. So I thought I'd explore my own reactions to writers who have been labeled with my personality type. (ENFP)


According to Celebrity Types, the following writers are ENFPs. My reaction to their work included:


1. Hunter S. Thompson: I actually haven't read anything by Hunter S Thompson.


2. Mark Twain: I really enjoyed The Adventures of Tom Sawyer -- even moreso than The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Huck Finn definitely is the more 'literature' of the two, but I really like the interplay between Tom and Huck in both books more than anything else.


Twain himself is freaking hilarious. I appreciate his literary criticism the most -- I worship his essay on the sins of James Fenimore Cooper...because I'm in 100% agreement with Twain.


3. Oscar Wilde: LOVE. This guy is the man. "True friends stab you in the front."


4. Aldous Huxley: I have not successfully navigated Brave New World yet. Somehow I always get distracted.


5. Umberto Eco: Again, I haven't read him all the way through. But, I really liked the movie version of Name of the Rose.


6. Salman Rushdie: Haven't read him. Love his Twitter feed.


7. Anne Frank: This girl is fantastic. She's so honest, it's refreshing. And catty. Awesome teenager, tragic circumstances. Her story is incredibly inspiring to me -- and, not only do we share a personality, we also share a birthday. It's strange how connected I feel to Anne Frank. It's really hard for me to not to say "If only..." when it comes to her.


8. Kurt Vonnegut: Brilliant. Though I do have a hard time getting through some of his stuff. I think I don't quite make the 'leaps' I need to.


9. Joseph Campbell: Yes! Just...Yes!


10. Anais Nin: Haven't read her.


11. Louisa May Alcott: I really, really, really don't like Little Women. I find it overly sentimental and somewhat irritating. However, I just watched a documentary on Alcott and it gave her real life story...and while there are a lot of parallels between her life and the March family, it turns out she thought of Little Women in much the same way I do.


Quite frankly, as I was watching the story of her life, I felt like I was watching myself and my attitudes...just a hundred or so years earlier. Seriously, the actors in the documentary read from her diaries and I swear to God, I've had the exact same thoughts. It was weird and disorienting.


12. Stephenie Meyer: Okay, being honest? I actually really like Twilight. I see the criticism of it, and I understand it. But I still really liked it. What can you do?


13. Bill Bryson: Well, if I were going to write non-fiction, I'd love to do what he does.


Conclusion? It seems that I do like writers with my personality type. Hmmm. It also seems that I have a few authors to add to my reading list.


The 30%

Posted by Jenny Maloney on January 14, 2013 at 8:40 AM Comments comments (2)

There seems to be a general consensus among professionals that quanitity leads to quality. So, the more you write, the more you pay attention as you're writing, the better you'll get as a writer. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book The Outliers talks about 10,000 hours of attentive practice. There's the oft-quoted Bradburian 1,000,000 words of crap before you get to anything good.

But something that we don't always ask ourselves is: Am I one of the writers who is producing enough words, writing enough stories, exploring enough with my work, and generally doing the work that I need to in order to write well?

During NaNoWriMo last November, the blog Rescue Time ran a small study of 100 writers during the course of the competition. They came up with some interesting findings. They discovered what websites the most productive writers used. They broke down the 5 Habits of Highly Motivated Novelists.

But one thing overall caught my attention. To help me explain what caught my wandering eye, I've decided to use some illustrations. Let me first introduce you to the Monster Writers Inc.:

Monster Writer's Inc. is a writers group that consists of ten aspiring Monster Novelists.

Below, the pens represent the amount of work that Monster Writers Inc. produces:

As you can see, the group produces work on a consistant basis. However, according to the Rescue Time observations, 30% of the 100 writers they tallied produced over 70% of the work. If we apply that to the Monster Writer's Inc. group you notice:

For all the work produced, three - a measly three - produced the vast majority of the work. Now, this doesn't mean they necessarily produced the best work...but when you're playing odds like that, do you really want to bet against them? I wouldn't.

What does this mean for us? Well, for me, it means three things:

1. The publishing competition is not as fierce as you think. Most 'writers' are talking about writing, reading blog entries about writing (Hi!), half-finishing things, or not producing (read: practicing) at a rate that will make them strong enough to publish. While all 10 little monsters may submit their work, only three (or fewer) are in any position to have people read their work.

2. I may not be working hard enough. Am I producing enough? I know that, personally, I haven't been finishing strong. Now I have something to focus on: finishing.

3. Writers need to be encouraged. Motivation is kind of hard to come by in some cases. We work full time jobs. We have kids. We're tired. Sometimes it's well worth turning to the writer in your life (and the other writers in your life, if you're a writer) and saying "Hey, buddy, you're doing a good job. Keep going."


Hey, buddy. You're doing a good job. Keep going.


Posted by Ali on September 13, 2012 at 5:25 PM Comments comments (1)

On Monday, Jenny talked about bullying. She said some really good things and I knew right away that I wanted to build off of her post. I want to talk about group dynamics.


Since our group’s last meeting, I’ve been thinking hard about patterns. Most of us have been in the gang for years. When you’ve been reading someone’s work for five years or more, you start thinking in terms of “Susie’s writing is X” and “Rodrigo’s writing is Y.” That means it’s really hard to critique a story on its own, without remembering all of the other stories, all of the other critiques over the years.


This is bad.


If you’re the one giving the critique, it’s bad because you’re losing focus. You’re seeing what you expect to see from Rodrigo, which may or may not always be what’s there on the page. It means you may be missing stuff. It can also mean that many of your critiques for that person are really similar, even when the stories may not be. Broken record much? Also, this is a personal sin of mine. More on that later.


If you’re the one getting the critique, it’s bad because you want to work on this story and make it perfect. You don’t want to hear residual critique from that piece you submitted way back when. This story is the one you want to talk about now. Getting that patterned critique might even make you feel a bit… chewed up.


As a writer, I’m fortunate. I’ve pretty much got rhinoceros hide when it comes to feedback and I’ve yet to be bothered by any critique I’ve received from the gang. Also, kudos to the gang because a big part of this is a great reflection on the quality of feedback I consistently receive from them.


As someone critiquing, rhinoceros hide is not the best thing to have. I have been known to be a bit, well, since I’m the one writing this, I’m going to say blunt. There are some who, I believe, might use more colorful language. But, you see, at the end of the day, I’m genuinely trying to offer helpful feedback so the writer can improve their piece and make it awesome. I come from a good place, I swear, but sometimes a tap is better than a sledgehammer.


Also, I’ve been having a difficult time separating pattern from individual piece. So, this month, I changed the way I construct my critiques. It’s a simple, yet effective, structure. In the past, I’ve just written out comments. I write down what strikes me, as it strikes me, then do a summary at the end.


Well, no more! This month, on the back of each piece, I made a big t. On one line, I wrote “Stuff that pulled me in” and beneath it wrote specifics that grabbed me. Cool details, neat world-building, interesting characterization, whatever. On the other line, I wrote “Stuff that didn’t” and beneath it went the things that pulled me out of the story.


Bam! Simple, focused, balanced, and just about that specific piece. I think it provides better feedback to the writer than what I’ve done in the past, and I know it made me think harder about my critique and be a better reviewer. I’m hoping the others in the crew like my new approach as much as I do.

The Improbability of Infinite Progress

Posted by Oliver on August 24, 2012 at 9:30 PM Comments comments (1)

There's a famous thought-puzzle with many forms, the most famous of which is the chicken and the egg problem. (Which came first? Probably the dude. There. Puzzle solved.) My favorite version of it involves sourdough bread, and it goes like this: To be made correctly, every new batch of sourdough bread needs a chunk of the dough from the last batch. Which begs the question, how could the first batch of sourdough bread predate everything? See. A puzzle.


There's a philosophical answer to this puzzle. Philosophy is dumb and needs a schmancy name for everything, and the name for this concept is "the impossibility of infinite regress." Logically speaking, no series of events can stretch infinitely into the past. There must have been a first baker/brilliant marketer who invented bread-gone-sour, because we can logically argue that sourdough bread didn't just bake itself. An baker baked, and sourdough bread resulted. The argument of a natural, spontaneous explosion of sourdough bread is always an option, but it's still an argument that, at some point, sourdough bread wasn't, then it began...


This would appear to be evidence that human minds are hardwired to include structure in comprehending the world. We want to see that things have a comfortable termination, whether it is where those things start, or that they end. Cap'n Hair wrote a good summary of the psychology and necessity of sensible endings in fiction a couple days ago, (discover it here). Go read it. It'll give this one context. From here on I'm going to look at a few endings that I view as successful, concentrating on how they signalled the end had come.


Seven Samurai is a film by Hiro Kurasawa about seven samurai--shocking! It starts (you can't think about endings without thinking about beginnings, so that's what's with all the fucking talk of beginnings when this is about endings--shush!).... Thank you. It starts with a little village having problems with invaders. They require defenders, and can pay the defenders nothing, and samurai tend to be expensive anti-invader systems. Hoping to essentially plead to the charity of samurai, the villagers go to the local...hub of samurai activities is what it appears to be in the movie. Long story short, they discover one samurai who wants to help. He's called Kambei. What Kambei wants from the rest of his life strongly impacts how the movie is shaped from there on out.


Kambei is a weathered samurai, who wants nothing more than to be done with fighting. He doesn't want to help the village because he doesn't want to be in any more battles. Eventually he agrees to help, because he's a good dude--honorable and such--and understands their plight. He is then able to do what the villagers couldn't do by themselves: lend legitimacy to their pleas for help. Kambei begins recruiting other samurai, and soon has two more dudes: Kasushiro, a teenaged rich boy who wants to be a samurai and has ultimately good intentions; and Shichiroji, another weathered campaigner who's an old friend of Kambei's.


Not too far into the movie, Shichiroji and Kambei have a conversation in which they muse that this battle could be the last one, both of them smiling about it, almost happy at the idea that they could soon die in battle and end the fighting. The conversation was significant. Explanation below.


Kambei continues recruiting samurai till he has seven guys, including himself. After Shichiroji, the remaining four samurai are all men in their prime, experienced and ready for a fight and not yet tired of it. These guys, the last four samurai, all have many years' possible service to honor and the movements in the world, and they're wise enough to know what they should do. So the adventure begins.


Over the course of the movie, three particularly relevent things gradually progress. The first is the Kambei, our weathered campaigner, tries to keep the teenage rich boy Kasushiro out of harm's way. Kambei is wiser and more experienced than the headstrong rich boy. Kambei knows best. And Kambei clearly wishes to keep the rich boy away from the long, tiring life of a samurai.


The second relevent thing that happens--important to the movie, though secretly much less important to the point I'm making--is that the seven samurai save the village.


The third relevent occurance is this: Four samurai die. The four who die are all the samurai in their prime who I have not here named. The rich boy, Kasushiro, survives, as do the two old campaigners on their ways out. Kambei, Shichiroji, and Kasushiro survive this story.


The movie ends a little bit after the battle for the village is saved. Why, might one ask, would a movie about saving a village not end precisely when the village is saved? The answer to that, my dearies, is that Seven Samurai is not about a village being saved. Seven Samurai is about seven samurai. The movie ends with a great shot. The three surviving samurai looking up at the graves of the samurai who died. Go find a screen shot of it. It's a good shot.


The samurai standing on the left is Kambei, in the middle is his old campaigning buddy. The hot rod kid is the other. The four swords in the top of the hill are the graves of the other samurai.


Good stories end frequently with enduring images. In Cap'n Hair's example, there's a complex image of heartbreak. The King Arthur legend ends with an image of the dying king sailing across the mysic lake to Avalon. Frankenstein ends with an image of the monster wandering into the wide world. Strong images encapsulating...something. I'm still unsure what.


Seven Samurai, a story about an old soldier who just wants to be done with all the dying, ends with an image of that old soldier looking at the graves of younger men, an old friend at his elbow, and the a kid--new generation eager for the fight--receiving his first taste of reality. Kambei survives. He also gets to watch a young samurai grow. So that's not all bad.

Tying my concept together is somewhat tricky. Some dude once advised not to confuse activity for story, or something to that affect. What one might take away from this treatise, as far as advice goes, is a suggestion for a process. Begin by examining the story you're writing. It is no doubt filled with all kinds of motion and excitment. If you are thoughtful, then it also has at its core somebody who is trying to do something--to gain something, accomplish something--something personal. Everything must have an end--there's philosophy supports it, the improbability of infinite progress--and every enduring story ends when your character either gets or doesn't get his strongest personal desire. Usually, the most elegant stories end when he doesn't get what he wants, but he gets something better.


And then the whole world exploded!

Condensing and Consolidating

Posted by John Ridge on August 17, 2012 at 11:20 AM Comments comments (1)

It happens to all of us.

You're sitting in a place with no access to your writing materials, and the most brilliant thought ever arrives into your stream of consciousness. Without thinking, you either write it on your hand, a Post-It note, a drugstore receipt, or anything that will hold ink long enough for you to get it home. This treasured piece gets thrown in a pile along with the other scraps of detritus tattooed with your other brilliant thoughts. This pile sits next to the little notebook you bought specifically for writing down brilliant thoughts, but you forgot about in your haste to get to work.

You say, "I'll get to you in a minute," and then you sit at the computer, to sort out the mess you've made of your WikidPad file. The links you created aren't jumping to the file you want it to, the tree isn't looking right, or it's cluttered and inefficient, and that's a problem. No matter how many times you re-read the instructions, it just doesn't look the same as Wikipedia. Forget about adding pictures.

After twenty minutes of this, you cross-reference the Wikidpad file with the Word and Excel files you created before you ever heard of WikidPad. You realize that there are now three brilliant-but-contradictory stories regarding something that happened in your protagonist's childhood. They're all so brilliant you just can't bear to kill any of them, and you spend the next ten minutes seriously considering the possibility of breaking your protagonist apart into a set triplets instead of just one person.

Once all that is settled, and you've checked your usual websites for baby names, you now have your Triplet-Protagonists all named and their particular pieces of the original arc divided equally among them. That's when you look at the note you wrote earlier in the day, and realized that the brilliant idea can't work unless the antagonist's perspective is articulated far more completely. Your brilliant mind realizes that this scenario includes a potential use for one of the previous stories given to one of the newly made triplets. Specifically the one named "Grover," which is the one name you weren't sold on in the first place, but his brothers are already named "Grant" and "Greg," therefore it would look really weird if you named him "Wally."

So you brilliantly kill off "Grover" in the first hour of his imaginary life. This makes you feel a little strange, and something nags at you, so you look at the stack of critiques from the previous draft and the one most common criticism was that "you tried too hard to be brilliant all the time, and you overuse the word 'brilliant'." You trust everyone, especially when they all come to the same conclusion by themselves. They are also a bunch of bri...geniuses.

Your cursory thesaurus check doesn't give you the anticipated synonyms for "brilliant," which makes your eyes tired, so you rub them profusely like the tortured artist you are. Then you look around at the stack of handwritten notes, partially filled-out notebooks, stacks of critiqued drafts, mentally inventory the files on your desktop that are older than the ones on your laptop, remember that some things are written in that cool sticky notes thing in Windows 7, remind yourself about the two apps on your phone that contain notes which you only use when you remember they exist, and run through the stuff in your brain you wanted to do, but have yet to put down into words, and then, only then, you finally admit to yourself:

"Maybe I should condense some of this stuff. At some point there's writing to be done."

It happens to all of us. But it happens to me no longer. Today, everything's on hardcopy, three-hole punched, and tucked inside a three-ring binder. Makes me feel effulgent, or even astute.

Now, quit reading this and go write something.

Ten is the Magic Number

Posted by Ali on August 15, 2012 at 8:45 AM Comments comments (2)

For some reason, I have a propensity for ten page chapters.  I work on a rough draft and as I type, I write out the arc of the chapter, bring it to a close, and notice the page count.  I am remarkably consistent.  10 pages, 9 pages, 11 pages, 10...


I have been working on revising a novel to submit to the gang, in full, at the end of the month.  So far, my revision has included about three new, from-scratch chapters as I rearrange events and completely change how certain events get conveyed.  Guess how long my new chapters have been?


Today, I ended up working on a chapter away from my home computer.  Since I didn't have my file with me, I finished the chapter on a new file.  I didn't remember how many pages I had already, so I wanted to take advantage of this opportunity to break my pattern.  In the new file, I changed the spacing from double to single in an effort to help me write a longer chapter by skewing the visual cue of how much text fit on a page.  Then, I focused on writing a chapter that was as fleshed out and developed as possible.  I finished the chapter all in single spaced font and felt very pleased with myself because I felt I had stretched my length.


I got home and copied/pasted the new file into the master file.  I adjusted the spacing to make everything consistent.  Then I looked at page count.  Yep, you guessed it, 10.  Weird.


What patterns have  you noticed about your writing?  What comes out consistently and subconsciously?  Have you ever been able to break your pattern?

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