The Under Ground Writing Project

Making writers right since 2008.

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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.

When you just want to puke.

Posted by John Ridge on November 20, 2012 at 1:05 PM Comments comments (0)

For those of you who don't me, I once trained in Olympic Weightlifting and CrossFit, Google the terms if they are unfamiliar to you.

My first year of training in Olympic Weightlifting took place at the Olympic Training Center, where the personal records of the people headed for the Beijing Olympics were posted on the walls. As I learned the movements, and lifted weight these people lifted in middle school, I would think to myself, "Okay, that's what I have to lift in order to go to the Olympics. Okay, guess I better keep working."

When I trained in CrossFit, I put my body through some of the most taxing, near tortuous physical exertion I've ever had the privilege of experiencing. I say near tortuous, because no one was forcing me to do it, except myself. Many, many times I brought myself to the point of incredible muscular pain, an exhaustive expenditure of glycogen, and near intolerable buildup of lactic acid. Especially at the beginning I often stood at the threshold of vomiting, while still hoisting heavy things over my head. As of this writing, I am having a difficult time remembering if I ever came in first place during a WOD. Usually I was either dead or second to dead last.

Both enterprises, in hindsight, were quite impossible. Between everyone else's lifelong time spent training, genetic potential, and blatant disregard for personal safety, I was completely out of my element. I was able to compete at the National Collegiate Level in Olympic Weightlifting, but I wasn't very competitive in my weight class. When it came time to see who could compete in the CrossFit games, I was in the bottom third for my region.

Why did I keep at it? Because there was someone in the room who was doing it faster, more easily, and without looking like they were about to puke. It bothered me enough that I couldn't do it as well as the other guys. While in the thick of it, it didn't matter as much that I couldn't perform at their level. What mattered was I was bumping against the ceiling of my own potential, and it felt damn good to make a breakthrough from time to time.

Over the weekend I sat in a write-in full of writers I hardly ever met before. I was (and still am) writing out my rewrite by hand, spending time to think about the next sentence, rather than blaze through and "just type" (like Jenny just talked about). I was surrounded by the sound of keyboard tapping, and stories of the amazing feats of imagination that are created when the mind is allowed to flow unrestricted. So many moments of, "Oh my god, I can't believe I just wrote that, but it makes SENSE!" The Bradburian Million was getting closer for a lot of these people, and it was exciting to watch.

One aspect of NaNo culture that I was previously unaware of is The Word War, also called The Word Sprint, The War, and really any other label for something competitive. You take everyone in the room, agree on a period of time, and then in a frenzy everyone tears through their prose, the goal being to write the most amount of words in the time allowed. I immediately recognized this as a CrossFit AMRAP (this is a test to see how thoroughly you Googled). My first Word War was completely comfortable for me. I've worked out in the same room as Olympians. Some of the people I worked out with in CrossFit were active duty members of the Special Forces. Writing with a pen when everyone else is typing? Bring it.

During more than one Word War, my hand cramped. You know what? It hurts a lot less than an entire body that's gassed from doing Grace. Sitting down for that long can make my back a little sore, which is nothing compared to seven rounds of deadlifting 125 kilos for seven reps, then doing ring dips for seven reps. Sometimes my brain started to fatigue, which is easier to deal with than keeping track of how many burpees I have left when I'm already overheated and my knees are shaking. Sometimes my brain wanted to puke. You'd be amazed how long you can maintain an exertion without actually puking.

Out of maybe eight Word Wars I've participated in so far in this NaNoWriMo year, only once did I out-write a typist. I usually ended up writing close to half or more than half the words that the winner wrote. More than once, the typists agreed the situation would be different if I were typing.

There are people who "thought about writing a book" and people who have written, or are writing books. I challenge you to see how close you can bring yourself to puking. At the very least you will no longer be one of the ones merely thinking about it. I don't think I've come close bumping against the ceiling of my potential with regards to writing. Have you bumped yours yet?

Now, quit reading this and go write something until you think you're gonna puke.



That's Not Writing....

Posted by Jenny Maloney on November 19, 2012 at 12:15 PM Comments comments (1)

Truman Capote famously said of Jack Kerouac:


"That's not writing, that's typing."


Kerouac wrote the first draft of On the Road in one long continuous scroll. He punched it out in three weeks.


That's basically what all us NaNo-ers are doing.


Since I have a lot more typing to do, I'll just say this:


On the Road is a classic. Took only three weeks to write it. So, sometimes, quick writing - or typing - is good for you and for the reading public.


So get to it. I'll see ya on the other side!!

Actually Finishing Novels

Posted by Ali on November 14, 2012 at 6:30 PM Comments comments (1)

In honor of NaNoWriMo, I'm passing along an article I found. It's not about how to write a novel, but rather about how to finish it. The finishing part is essential, and I say this as someone who has written the same novel twice, only to get stalled out about 3/4 of the way through.


The name of the article is Strategies to Make Sure You Actually Finish That Novel, and it's got a list of twelve things you can try to power through to the end.


My favorite tips that I plan to use to help with the twice-written, never-finished project are:

1. Write the ending first. (Or, in my case, jump from where I am now to the end and skip all the in between bits until later.)

2. Write a terrible ending. (So, I get to jump to the end and just slap something down to help clarify where I think I'm going and where I really ought to be going.)


There are ten other exercises you can try out, and I'm sure there's bound to be at least one on the list that clicks for you. At the end of the article, author Charlie Jane Anders wraps up with great works of wisdom for first drafts, and especially NaNo:


"And most of all, don't forget to have fun with this! The first draft is just you playing a wacky game with yourself. It's the fifth or tenth draft that actually has to be all grown-up and dressed to go over to strangers' houses."

Frank Lloyd Wright and his work of genius

Posted by John Ridge on November 6, 2012 at 2:05 PM Comments comments (2)

In college, I once heard an old story about Frank Lloyd Wright about a time when a friend came to visit his office studio. This was at a point in his career when people were speaking his name more often, and the buildings he designed were becoming the stuff of legend. At the time of the visit, there was a massive drawing on his desk that he had just finished rendering for presentation. His friend marveled at the ideas and concepts that were presented in the physical form of the building, as well as the craftsmanship of the drawing.

After a minute or two, his friend said, "My goodness, you are a genius to be able to create something like this from just paper, pencil lead, and imagination."

Wright looked at his friend, and opened the wide drawer underneath the desk drawing board. In the drawer sat a stack of tracing paper easily the thickness of a novella. He pulled the stack of paper out, and spread the them apart. Each one depicted a different version of the same building. The ones closer to the top were looked more and more like the one on the desk. With each iteration, there was a purging of weaknesses, and a refinement of strengths.

"I don't know about genius," Wright said. "But I sure went through a lot of paper."

That's part of the reason why I'm doing NaNoWriMo with pen on paper this year, rather than fingers on a keyboard. There's a certain sense of accomplishment in being able to see a rising stack of papers which creates a certain snowball effect of motivational momentum. Slowing it down also gives me chance to work out things and construct the sentences with a little more craft. Plus, I'm writing on the backside of the pages of critiqued First Drafts. A sort of "The Second Draft shall be born upon the carcass of the First Draft," thing. Waste not, want not, and all that.

I once read an article in Grossly Generalized Things That Might Be Made Up But They Sound True Magazine that said a lot of creative projects that go on to become iconic or memorable go through a lot of refinement and perfecting before they are released to an audience. It is quite rare for something special to materialize on the first try requiring little work done to it. Think about that one tattoo you got on that place you don't want people to see because that one night in Vegas was the night you were working on your spontaneity (I read that in GGTTMBMUBTSTM as well). Not as many people remember Count Duckula as fondly as you, do they?

Anyway, this is really just a post to remind you that NaNoWriMo is still going on, if you're not doing it this year, I encourage you to do it next year. Once it's done, I also encourage you go through a lot of paper before you submit it to anybody who doesn't know you. Or even people who do know you. Let them all think you're a natural genius and not someone with huge stacks of paper hidden away.

Now, quit reading this and go write something.

It's on, like Donkey Kong, until the break of dawn, so let's sing a song, and play some...Pong?

Posted by John Ridge on November 1, 2012 at 10:35 AM Comments comments (1)

Well kids, I've been sorta-doing NaNoWriMo for nearly three or four years. This year I'm doing it for keeps. I signed up on the website and everything. I'm throwing down the gauntlet. I'm putting my name in the hat. I'm thinking up of metaphors and cliches like a madman.

This will be good for me. In the months following the critique of my first draft, I've fallen into a "World Builder's Disease" pathology. Don't get me wrong, there were decisions made and information gathered that can only serve to enhance the quality of the book, but as they say, at some point you have to get back on the horse.

I'm coming from a more confident place than I was when I set out to write the first draft. The knowledge that I've done it before only makes it easier. PLUS, as I've said before on other social media, I know roughly how close I am to the mythic Bradburian Million words. I am a shark near blood in the water.

50,000 words in the month of November? Bring it.

P.S. If you are registered with NaNoWriMo, my handle is @johnmridge, if you want to be my writing buddy. I'll try to cheer you on in between the application of band-aids from paper cuts.

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