Getting Back On It.

And again, I let a deadline slip in the dead of night. (Hence, the photo.)

I’ve come to the conclusion that I will have to redouble my efforts to increase my writing production. And for once, my obsession with reblogging writing advice and other odds and ends from the Internet ether might pay off.

I have to say, I’ve long been amazed by romance novelists and people like James Patterson, Joyce Carol Oats, The Stevie King, and others to pump out oodles and oodles of packs of words every few months or so. I consider myself at this point to be somewhere in the neighborhood of George R.R. Martin, late J.D. Salinger, or, moving to another medium, Terence Malick in productivity. As much as I’d like to thing that I’m producing quality work, I want to produce more of it. Right now my hope is that I become a Frank McCourt of fiction, maturing at a far later age than most other writers. But, I want to do it sooner.

I came across this article when I was link farming last Saturday. I’m not sure when I’m running it – likely sometime on #WritingAdviceWednesday aka #WAW. But it impressed me, fellow writers. The more I read the article, the more it started to make sense to me.

I don’t want to recap the article (you can follow the link if you want to), but I wanted here to discuss some of the major ideas this author presented and give my take on them. As you might suspect, I found the majority of the advice to be relevant and useful, and some of it different than I had ever heard previously.

Set a daily word count goal
– I debated this idea for some time. So many times I had set goals, only to default on them for one reason or another, although my overall writing production has only increased overall in recent years. The article suggests daily word counts of 1-3,000 words per day. My current average word count per day (not counting blogging or other nonfiction writing) is between 270 and 460 words per day during the past four weeks.

These are people that have produced dozens and dozens of books, so I had to take a step back and consider what they were saying. Even if I have work throughout the week, I have to think that I can get up to 1,000 per day, at least if I am not revising existing writing.

As I say to some of the kids that I teach, having a goal is wonderful, but you need a plan for how you are going to achieve that goal. Some of the other bits of advice seem to lead into this direction…

Time yourself and your breaks

…but maybe not this one. With a schedule that is as changeable and malleable as mine during the school year, I have to take my opportunities to write when I can. I think 30 minutes at a time makes sense, but the timer seems to be a bit much to me.

Don’t get stuck on specific words

This seems frankly brilliant to me. So many times I wanted to do the right turn of phrase, but get stuck on it. I just need to do #($*&%&#* sometimes, count it as a word and move on. (I should probably use real words so they show up on the word count. It reminded me of the story behind the writing of “Hey Jude.” (via Wikipedia):

When introducing the composition to Lennon, McCartney assured him that he would “fix” the line “the movement you need is on your shoulder”, reasoning that “it’s a stupid expression; it sounds like a parrot.” Lennon replied: “You won’t, you know. That’s the best line in the song.”[13] McCartney retained the phrase;[4] he later said of his subsequent live performances of the song: “that’s the line when I think of John, and sometimes I get a little emotionhttps://wordpress.com/post/liegoismedia.wordpress.com/705al during that moment.”[13]

Start on an odd-numbered page

Not sure how well this will work for me. I pay more attention to word count than anything else.

Train your other senses

Good advice. Candles and music work very well with me. Sludge metal and intriguing techno like Deep Forest are things I find stimulating in recent years.

Set boundaries with your family and friends

This would be valid if my wife and kids bothered me when trying to write. They don’t. I do enough distracting on my own.

If you’re stuck, write like crap for a few minutes

Everyone feels like a fraud

Start small, but write every day

Yes. Yes. Yes.

I’m going to be phasing in a new 1,000-word-per-day 500 words per day writing goal. I want to try some of the techniques I mentioned here first to see if they have an effect.

I’ll give you the lowdown when I know how it went down.

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Oops…

…a combination of Game of Thrones, teaching work, and writing got in the way of the big Sunday post. Maybe I need to start it sooner than Sunday… 🙂

OK, Monday it should be, then.

Writing Journal, 8/27/2017 (The Carnage? Nah, not really.)

Well, kids, I expected that my production would fall off as soon as I started teaching. Not to zero, but… not as much as when I had all the time in the world. And not as much as I think I need to be doing.

To the results:

2,943 words written.

Days writing: 5 out of 7 days writing fiction.

EDIT: 1,324 words revised (looked over the words for possible revision, adding/cutting/changing material).

That’s… actually better net words than last week? But, it’s nowhere near where I want to be, especially since I am working on a new manuscript and rough draft. Still, it’s something of a surprise when I finally totaled up the words. Many of those words might be garbage, but I kept the production up.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about what I might do regarding how to beef up the writing production. I’ll do a separate post on that today.

More later.

A Writing Biography, Volume I, Part 5: Ambivalence Toward YA Fiction by a YA

I’m now a teacher of young adults. As part of being a teacher, I try to get kids active with reading. I’ve even taken it upon myself to collect some books in my own room for their reading interest. As part of this effort, I’ve acquired more than a few books with the “YA” (Young Adult) stickers on their spines, and they now are part of my improvised library.

If I were building a library from scratch, however, it probably wouldn’t include many YA books. This was the case even when I was a YA myself.

In my memory, which can probably tell tall tales as well as anything, the label of YA fiction started sometime in earnest around the late 1960’s and continued on since then. That always made sense to me, because the youth market was so big in those days due to the baby boom generation of my parents.

I missed out on the megahit YA genre series that have come to dominate the market in the 21st century, like Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Divergent, and The 5th Wave, among others. (Personally, I enjoyed Potter, was so-so on the Hunger Games, never thought Divergent made sense, and The 5th Wave was over the top, but had promise.)

Back during my childhood, there were a lot of kids that looked like me in towns that looked like mine dealing with teenage dramas that even then seemed irrelevant. I wanted to jump right into the big adult novels, like 1984 and Stephen King’s work. (It’s going to take another blog post to discuss my ongoing obsession for King’s work, and maybe more than one post.) I had made the amazing discovery that fiction that touched on the adult themes that kept kids of my time out of R-rated movies was far more accessible in book format than in theaters or television. That’s not the only reason I read those books, but it was admittedly one of them.

Despite my wariness about YA titles, I couldn’t help but pay attention to some authors that I couldn’t help admiring after I’d had the chance to read them. Paul Zindel and Chris Crutcher were two of them – I dug their offbeat young characters and attempts to find their own identities in hostile environments that I couldn’t imagine growing up in.

It was when I read The Grounding of Group 6 by Julian F. Thompson that a YA novel really caught my attention. Kids forced to immediately grow up – in this case, because your parents want you dead? Kids having to run into the forest to avoid sharpshooting teachers? Kids falling in love while on the run? What wouldn’t a 13-year-old me not like about it?

There were some flaws about it, however – some of the adults seemed to be too silly to believe and the kids seemed to have things too together at times. But 13-year-old me saw a great story about kids having to grow up unexpectedly. That’s the type of story that never grows old (pun somewhat intended).

In the end, I came to realize that it didn’t matter whether a book was classified as YA or not, just like it didn’t matter whether it was called sci-fi, horror, romance, literary, or unclassifyable. If a book had a story and characters I related to and fired my imagination, labels didn’t matter.

I didn’t usually read YA, and I still don’t. But sometimes one of them does spark the imagination.

Writing Journal, 8/20/2017

Well, I started in-service work this week, and… the production dropped a little bit. Not a massive amount, for sure, but at least a little amount. I think if I had a better Saturday of writing (by which I mean that I should have actually written), the total would be better. I got distracted yesterday, but I think I can manage it easier now.

So, the totals.

No words reviewed, (this means that I looked over the words for possible revision, adding/cutting/changing material).

2,277 words written.

Days writing: 5 out of 7 days writing fiction.

So, that’s it for now. Back at it today.

A Writing Biography, Volume I, Part 4: Falling in and Out of Love With Technothrillers

Normally I always include some sort of image on these stories, even if it’s one of the those boring landscape images of eastern Iowa or those shots of my writing desk. 🙂

Oftentimes, if I’m talking about a particular author I like, I’ll usually take a photo of the book cover of an author I’ve read to illustrate a post. I tend to want to avoid copyright issues – although I think I’m covered by fair use rules. Today, however, I wasn’t able to do that. There’s a story behind that, and part of this section of the writing biography.

As a kid, I was obsessed over reading about the military and about military equipment. When my family and I had a chance to travel to Washington DC, the one place I had to visit was the National Air and Space Museum. It absolutely dovetailed with my existing interests in science fiction and space travel (the sci-fi obsession I’ve touched on before, although I’ll probably go into more detail in a later post). Anyway, all of these interests in cool vehicles that made things go boom, the technologies that made them possible and their sci-fi possibilities, and the strategies and tactics that involved their use, all converged in a big obsession tornado in my pre-adolescent mind.

It was right around this time that The Hunt for Red October hit the shelves. I don’t recall when I first read it, but it had to be sometime after it came out in paperback because I read it in the paperback format.

The minute I started to read it, it hooked me in. Why? Like I said, I was a military tech faddist back then, and Tom Clancy knew his stuff. Not just the amount of detail about the American military and its technology, but what he knew about how the Soviet Union and its military and navy worked. A few years later, I was amazed to learn that Clancy had never even served in the military, and the book was a result of something like five years of research while he worked at an insurance agency.

(This was a great inspiration for me to see that you could write intelligently about anything, regardless of your life experience, as long as you did your research. For years I had wanted to write a novel about soccer, but I believed that I didn’t have enough life experience or background knowledge to write about it and not sound stupid. A few years of reading about the history and business of soccer and intense soccer fandom, and I’ve finally gotten started on that project.)

The pace and the structure of the novel was also highly influential to me, as well. I’d often heard of unfilmable books and books that were not able to translate into a visual format. But when I read October, I read a book that could have been assembled on a Hollywood film storyboard. Clancy was telling a large story with a lot of moving parts, different characters, and different locations. The way he shifted perspectives and moved where the action was fascinated me, took me along for the ride. In years since, I’ve often talked with writing students about how deciding to move to a new paragraph or section works in the same way as a film director deciding to change a camera angle or location. Reading October and seeing how Clancy did this was the first time I really started to “see” how that worked. (I learned from Andrew Vachss about how you can keep chapters as short or as long as you wanted to, but that’s another tale.)

As with most obsessions, this one expanded. By my count, I’ve read at least a dozen of the novels that he has put out, and maybe a few of those that were put out by Zombie Tom Clancy, when other authors write books under Clancy’s name. (Entertainment Weekly had a good article on the practice here; I just wonder how these guys manage to get the gig. It sounds like easy money to be honest.) At some point, I had as many as four of his books in my personal collection, and some by a couple of other authors with similar styles, like Vince Flynn.

Now, however, my shelves are bare of Clancy, Flynn, or any of their like. (That’s why I needed the Internet to find my art today.) What happened? Essentially, I got tired of the guy’s politics. (I try to avoid politics on this page – I’d probably consider myself a socialist if I had to define myself – but since it fits in with how I feel about a writer, I think I needed to get into it.)

More and more as he wrote later in his career, all of this stupid conservative beliefs started bleeding out into his books. There was his blind faith in the military and military leaders, little acknowledgement that government needs to act transparently, an outdated view of women and reproductive issues, and a blind faith in market and libertarian solutions to problems. There were just a lot of ideas that were both wrong and gross to me. It started getting bad around Executive Orders and just kept getting worse from there.

All I wanted to do is read the action, but all I could see in those later books were stupid political ideas. For the first time, how I felt about the way the world should work clashed directly with authors I enjoyed. I’ve heard many say that they can separate the author from their personal views. I can’t however. There’s simply too many authors out there that I can read and that have reasonable political or personal views that I don’t believe I have to compromise myself in that way.

The truth is, how you feel about society and personal opinions does affect what you write. For example, the main characters in books by Clancy, Flynn, and others were alpha males for whom finding the right guy and guilty party was easy and the way to solve almost any geopolitical problem involved bullets and explosives. I never saw Jack Ryan or Mitch Rapp from Flynn’s series catch the wrong guy and kill or torture them, or see them accidentally kill a whole flock of civilians. But that does happen, because I see that happen every day. Since those authors were so fascinated by the military or military solutions, it eventually eroded their credibility to me as a reader. I’ve always said that ideology is how you wish the world would work if only humans weren’t the way that they were. If someone has an ideology that’s too stupid for me to buy into, I have no interest and taking a tour of that author’s head by reading a book.

EDIT: Since I wrote this, apparently they are adapting the Mitch Rapp character for a film, American Assassin, based on one of the Rapp novels from 2010. I’ve seen some preview clips and I have to admit I’m more than a little intrigued. The kid they have playing him, Dylan O’Brian, seems to be willing to show how damaged such a person like Rapp would have to be to be the person he is, rather than going the full 80’s action flick guy he seemed to be in the books. Now I might have to watch it on Netflix.

So, Tom Clancy became a teacher for me as both how to and how not to write books. He is nowhere near the last one of those I have run into as a reader. To paraphrase Stephen King, you can learn something from both the great writers and the terrible writers.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I’m starting to tag and headline these writing biography posts as either Volume I or Volume II. Volume I are biographical reading and writing posts about things I first encountered as a kid or young adult. Volume II will touch on stories taking place in my adulthood since then. Hope you enjoy both, because I believe I will start doing both Volume I and Volume II stories simultaneously as we go along. I’ve also retroactively re-titled those previous Bio posts to reflect those changes, but that won’t affect their URLs.

Writing Journal, 8/13/2017

The last full week of vacation before starting with in-service for my school. I think this week was certainly an improvement over the last one, but as I keep going back to (and I probably will use it for blog fodder later), trying to maintain a writing schedule during the school year will be my greatest challenge, one I did not stick to in years past.

Week of 8/6-12/2017:

No numbers taken on words reviewed, although I will likely do some of that this week (this means that I looked over the words for possible revision, adding/cutting/changing material).

3,202 words written.

Days writing: 5 out of 7 days writing fiction*.
* = Does not include blogging work

Again, I call it a general improvement over the past week. I’ve also decided to keep the weekly totals on my writing journal to help keep track of how the numbers look over a longer period of time.

A Scheduling Matter

Starting this Sunday, I will be going back onto school time. I’m always going to know it’s getting to be the start of the school year when the Premier League starts up.

As I keep mentioning here, getting the scheduling right for my writing will be critical. I think that if I discipline myself, I can easily set aside one hour for writing a night during the week. I also believe (although this is not as critical), that I set aside two or so hours per week to keep up with this blog and my writing social media (Liegois Media on Facebook and Twitter). I am positive that I can manage at least two posts on the weekends here on this page and maybe one midweek post.

There are particular reasons why I want to pursue this strategy. By running this writing blog, I am trying to keep myself honest about the amount of writing I do and that I want to do. I want to finally take my writing seriously enough to do it consistently and with the eventual intent to publish.

More and more, I find the internal motivation to write because I’m getting invigorated by how I feel when I actually create something. I also am learning something critical about getting something done – if I’m getting bored by something I write, I start writing something that isn’t boring, and try to avoid writing the boring parts. You’d be amazed at how much you get written by avoiding writing stuff that bores you.

I’d write some more now, but it’s the kickoff special for the Premier League.

More later.

A Writing Biography, Volume I, Part 3: Comic Book Days.

I wound up buying a comic book today when I was in the Quad Cities running some errands. (For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s a couple primers.) I realized today that this was the first comic book I’ve bought in about 20 years. It might even be 25, but it’s at least 20.

Before I get into why I purchased the particular comic book pictured, I have to tell you how comics were a major part of what I read when I was younger. In the choice between DC and Marvel, in the end I was a Marvel guy. I loved the tales of the X-Men in particular, this idea of people with superpowers representing outsiders and those feared by society. The comic book writers of the late 20th century got endless mileage out of that idea, almost like how the WWE got endless mileage for years from the conflict between labor (Stone Cold) and ownership (Vince McMahon). However, a biography piece on wrestling’s influence in my life is another bio entry for another time.

As I said, I was a Marvel guy in my heart (who may have even bought a Captain America comic once), but when I heard about The Dark Knight Returns I immediately had to go to the bookstore to thumb through it, then to the library to check it out. This was revolutionary stuff, and I became a disciple of Frank Miller’s writing. I immediately attempted to try and find more examples of comic book coolness, which included a couple of collections of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles run and some other books.

You have to realize that as this comic book revolution that had started in the 70’s and ramped up in earnest during the 1980’s and 90’s was something that was more of a rumor to me than an actual fact. I grew up in Iowa during the 1980’s and 90’s. Comic book stores were exotic places that I went to once a year on visits to Iowa City and Davenport. The Internet and smartphones didn’t exist. When I eventually went to college, I was literally the last college student in America not to have email, which would have been very helpful in keeping in contact with my future wife.

So with all of that, I had to do some digging, going to libraries to find the cool collections of comics or histories of comic books. Later, I’d find the more hip bookstores of Iowa City would have plenty of “graphic novels,” and I really started to dig the stories I found there. I discovered Watchmen there well after the fact, and dug the idea of a superhero reimagining – as well as a history re-imagining. I read Maus for the first time and realized how the medium could affect how you told a story.

Over time, my tastes in comics changed. I boxed up the comic books I’d collected in a plastic container 20 years ago and they’ve stayed there ever since. There’s dozens of them there, but the entire box was barely worth about $20 worth when I had them appraised a few years ago. (I sold the one comic that was worth $10 and kept the rest.) I got away from continuing series and liked graphic novels that told extended stories yet eventually came to a conclusion. I also started developing a taste for independent comic books, like Love and Rockets, The Crow, and others.

Superhero stories were not what I was buying, although 10 years or so ago I saw a collection of the Starman series by James Robinson and Tony Harris that blew my mind, how it showed the growth of a new superhero in a city that became just as vital as Gotham or New York had been in previous comics. And I’ve been impressed by the film adaptations of the MCU and DC’s efforts. (Trust me, they make far better adaptations of comics than they did years ago.)

I still have a collection of these and some other great books I’ve collected, including the last volume of Strangers In Paradise. One of the happiest times in recent years was my daughter’s discovery of those books in one of my bookcases. She proceeded to liberate them from my shelves and they were in her room for the better part of the year.

Even though I’m not sure I’ll probably ever write in the graphic novel format, I do appreciate how the medium attracts creative people trying to expand what can be done with the idea of graphic stories in general and superhero stories in particular. I had heard about Black Mask Studios being this new publisher that was experimenting with new ideas, not just trying to tell the same stories over again with the same characters. And when I heard that they were doing a comic, Black, that told the story of a world where only black people had superpowers, bringing new life to the old ideas hinted at in X-Men – well, that got my attention.

Why shouldn’t I support that type of creativity? So, I got out and bought Chapter Six (the last one) of Book One of Black. Not that I’m collecting comics or anything. For one, it was only $5.99. Second, they didn’t have a graphic novel collection of it. But, I’d be interested in one whenever it comes out.