A FRESH LOOK AT OLD CRAP

I’ve failed.

Sorry, I’m a human with low constitution.

I can’t say no to a bag of Doritos. I still smoke a pack a day.

Sometimes, a story idea goes cold.  In my defense, I never said that my tips are a fool-proof system to guarantee publishing. BUT, before I spend the afternoon flogging myself I’d just like to say that I’M STILL WRITING.  Using my previously mentioned 3 month rule, I retired one project and started another. However, one of my starting projects is still moving along near the 100 page mark (which is a BIG deal for me).

This ‘new’ story is actually an idea I’ve played around with on and off for years. This is good because I figure there must be some importance to a story idea that comes floating back every six months or so.

 

THIS MEANS SOMETHING!

 

However, taking a new look at old material can be bad. Well, for one thing – it’s OLD material and there was a reason it was shelved in the first place. BUT, if we take a metaphysical look at the universe, as I tend to do, we are not the same person we were six months ago. WOAH – look out Alan Watts. I have changed. My skills have changed. My life experiences have changed.

BUT IT’S STILL OLD MATERIAL, right?

Well, here’s what I did when approaching this old tale from a new point of view. I kept some of the characters, setting, and timeline and decided to start filling in the gaping holes with some new philosophies I’ve picked up during my recent esoteric studies. Not quite the nuclear option, but pretty close.

A few days ago I was working on this idea – more like banging my head against the computer screen out of frustration. I was stuck in an old series of events. Without giving much away – I was literally writing through my character’s first day – 24 hours of important events that set up the rest of the story.

I was bored by lunchtime.

The prose was forced and it read like so. Here I was, yawning my way through the opening. Here’s a DUH tip: If YOU’RE bored with your story and YOU know all the awesome stuff that’s going to happen down the road- just how do you think your reader will feel when they’re bogged down with a Nicholson Baker-like description of what your character eats for breakfast? They won’t get very far. Your book will be shelved and you’ll be forever known as the writer, Mr. Boredom McBoringFace.

So, I did something new for me. I completely broke with the story line. I opened a brand new document and began telling a separate story involving another character in the main storyline. I was free! I didn’t have to fit it in to my main character’s opening day. Hell, it’s written like its own separate story.  For days, I had been itching to tell this narrative that happens further down the line and I went ahead and did it AND it felt pretty damn amazing!

I’m pretty much a pantser when it comes to writing my stuff. If I do outline it’s a rough one at best (mostly a family tree with some major plot points I want to tell). Yet, I usually still write the story out in linear fashion. Now, I believe that this is what’s been slowing down my writing output. I get stuck. I get frustrated. I pick up lonely plot bunnies at the local bar.

Currently, I have three word documents open that have three different characters all in separate narratives. They’re all in the same story, they’re just taking different paths to get there. Perhaps this new method in dealing with old material will play out successful. Then again, maybe it will fail miserably. At least then I’ll have a great number of pages towards something new.

So, if you’re stuck with an old story you think is important enough to keep working on – try flipping the order – play around with the perspective. It’s your universe, you can create it however you want. There’s no rule that says you can’t write a story from the ass-end up. You just have to write it.

Happy writing all!

PROFANE BRACKETS: A TIP FROM MY FAVORITE TEACHER

Picture of the Author as a Stupid Teenager

 

I need to tell you a little about my High School English teacher, Thomas Hammond. He was one of those teachers that comes along and truly influences your life even if you’re a stupid kid who doesn’t realize it at the time. He was an awesomely awkward man straight out of a Far Side comic panel. We’d spend most of AP Literature laughing at all the sexual innuendo hidden in centuries old poetry. He introduced me to John Irving. And, he’s influenced my writing to this day.

Mr. Hammond was a writer himself. Most of his writing centered around academic papers. He would talk about the single book he had published – a dry volume on coin collecting. He claimed that the book was so boring that he inserted a 20 dollar bill in the middle of it just to see if anybody would read it. To my knowledge, that book still sits in the University of Nebraska at Kearney Library with said money still tucked inside.

Unfortunately, like all of life’s great teachers, he died way too soon.

But, there was one piece of his wisdom that stuck with me.

He explained that whenever he got ‘stuck’ while writing a rather long paper, he’d type in a long line of bracketed profanity in ALL CAPS. That way he’d later remember where he had left off. Of course, you had to remember to go back and clean out the text before you published!

[Brackets]

I still use them today. They are true lifesavers whether you’re on a writing roll or ready to toss your laptop out the window.

My usage of brackets was simple at first. I’d read through a chunk of horrible text and leave the [THIS SUCKS- REWRITE IT LATER] note. Or, if I my writing had took over several different documents I’d jot down [ADD SUCH AND SUCH PART].

If I was writing a fancy historical tale I’d use {} just to keep it period.

It’s only been during the last year or so that my use of brackets has really helped my writing flow. How many times has your writing rhythm been jarred because you had to stop and think of a character name? How many hours of writing have gone of the rails because you got sidetracked with some nifty new idea that didn’t quite fit in to the current narrative and you didn’t have that scrap paper nearby to scribble it in?

Just use brackets!

Hell, sometimes I’ll be speeding along and forget a minute character’s name that I haven’t used in fifty pages. So, they temporarily become [BAD GUY 7] or [THAT DUDE YOU MENTIONED EARLIER]. I bracket it and I keep on writing.  Some of my popularly used brackets include, but are not limited to:

[EVIL SOUNDING BIO-TECH COMPANY]

[NEBRASKA SMALL TOWN NAME THAT YOU HAVEN’T USED YET]

[DON’T FORGET TO TIE IN METAPHYSICAL CONCEPT]

[THIS IS CRAP. FELL ASLEEP READING IT. REWRITE LATER]

You get the idea. Just be sure to go back and insert the proper text later. I usually do this when I’m in doing a read-over or have had some time to google awesome names. Brackets are an excellent tool to utilize when you’re blazing through the words and you don’t want to get hung up on one thought. They allow your inner-critic to speak up, if only for a second.

Give them a try the next time you’re writing.

You’re still writing, right?

SCATTERBRAIN: MY PLAN TO KEEP SHINY INSPIRATION AT BAY

 

It never fails.

You’re making good progress on your story, storming past your word count goals…

Then BOOM! SHINY NEW IDEA!

Ugh. I don’t know how many solid stories I’ve killed because of this type of self-sabotage.  I’ve got folders full of half-finished manuscripts and unused book covers. Even worse, who knows how many times I’ve boasted on the Facepages that a ‘brand new story from me will be available soon’, only to have it fizzle out a week later.

That’s the curse of being a creative. Our brains are wired differently. Combine that with a need to be constantly stimulated and you’re doomed to never finish a single book. I’ll watch a movie and think ‘man, I want to tell a story like that’. Or I’ll wind up sliding down another internet rabbit hole inspired to write a book that solves it all.

A movie. Another book. A song. A mood – all of these things can inspire us.

So, what can we do when our brain is so-easily sidetracked by IDEAS. Ideas are a good thing, right? I’d rather have a million ideas than no ideas, right?

Not so fast, Tyler Perry.

I’m the guy who takes over an hour just to decide what I want to watch on Netflix. And don’t even get me started about my experiences at an all-and-everything-you-can-eat buffet. There’s just SO MUCH to choose from. Maybe I get halfway through a plate of tacos and decide I want pizza. So, go get a piece of pizza -easy. But, then you have a perfectly good plate of tacos just sitting there. Maybe, after I get the pizza I’ll find out that the tacos were better. But the market says Pizza will sell better than tacos. Perhaps, after I get home, I’ll realize that the tacos would’ve been easier on my stomach. My whole night was wasted with Pizza!

Silly analogy, point made.

This time around, I’ve decided to take action against the bombardment of shiny happy sidetracks. Let’s hope it works.

Consider it meal prep.

This is what I’m doing currently.

I keep two or three projects open on my desktop at all times. Each of these projects is a different genre. You see, my biggest problem is jumping from one genre to the next. Maybe I’ll feel like writing something spoopy this morning, but at night I want to dabble in some literary fiction (yeah, right). So, I have these three projects going for whenever the mood hits me to write a certain style. BUT I DON’T DEVIATE FROM THOSE TWO OR THREE MAIN STORIES. Put it this way, I keep a slice of pizza, a taco, and a bacon cheeseburger sitting on my desk for whenever a certain craving hits. No fried chicken. No Chinese.

Sure, you’re thinking, but what if you get struck with the perfect idea while you’re writing on these few stories? That’s what the notebook I mentioned in a previous post is for. I’ll scribble it down, maybe even let it simmer for a night or two, but I always return to my main work.

THE THREE MONTH RULE.

This is a new one I’m working on. You can’t eat nothing but tacos for your entire life (well, I probably could). I’ll give each of these two or three projects my undivided attention for three months. Then, if nothing comes of them, I’ll get out one of those awesome ideas I scribbled down and work on it. Three months is more than enough time for a middle-aged asshole like myself to dedicate to a story. However, what I’m finding out so far – is that I’ll have made so much progress on these two or three main stories in that time, that I’ll want to finish them before moving on.

I’ll keep you posted if this plan works. Current status: Crime Thriller (75 pages), Absurd Adventure Thingie (50 pages) and Horror project (10 pages) – one month in.

 

How’s YOUR writing coming along? Let me know.

MY FAVORITE WRITING TOOL

An artsy photo of my trusted notebook.

 

I think it’s easy to get overwhelmed in today’s over-stimulated world. Maybe you wake up in the morning, brew a pot of coffee ( or single serve cup), check your email, maybe browse Facebook, take a poop, then sit down for some quality writing time. You fire up the laptop, tablet, (or in my case) the trusted old desktop. Perhaps you find your favorite streaming music service and start your WRITING playlist.

Dude, we’ve clicked like a hundred buttons before we even write a single word!

Now, this isn’t going to be one of those simplify-the-chi in your life posts -don’t worry.

I have embraced technology. While I am in awe of those people who write their first drafts in pen and paper, I NEED my word processor. I need to feel the keys. I can’t write a paragraph without my hands cramping to near-leprosy levels. HOWEVER, there is one writing tool I cannot live without and that is my faithful notebook.  Ironically, it was given to me by the wife as a Christmas present because I could easily upload the pages to Evernote (another e-tool worthy of its own post). BUT, I don’t use it for its technological ease. I use it because it easily fits into my work lunchbag.

The thing never leaves my side.

Why?

Because, as a writer, my head is always full of stupid ideas. I never know when inspiration is going to strike. How many times have you been out in public or at work and had NO way to capture that James-Patterson-sized idea? You can’t always count on the always-present clean cocktail napkin in which to scribble everything down. Phone batteries die. Besides, even if you have a phone to jot down that idea, you have to open an app, type it out, etc. By then the idea could be nothing more than a jumbled brain fart. You’re certainly not going to remember it by the time you get back to your writing station. You just won’t.

Oddly enough, it was reading that started my notebook carrying habit. I am always reading whether it’s fiction or the latest true crime volume. So, I began jotting down my thoughts in the notebook as I read. I write down things I liked, things that sucked, and ideas I wanted to further flesh out.  At my age, with all the illegal substances I’ve done, my memory is shot.

I highly recommend carrying around a notebook at all times. It doesn’t have to be anything big or fancy. Hell, when I worked retail I used one of those tiny spiral bound pocket pads for capturing my inspiration.  The funny thing is, once I started my daily practice of keeping notes – MY WRITING INCREASED IN BOTH QUALITY AND QUANTITY. I was no longer wasting time at my desk outlining and struggling to remember what direction I wanted to go. It was already there on paper! I could pick up right where I had left off.

Besides, losing a 99 cent notebook is a much smaller crisis than running a thousand dollar smartphone through the washer and dryer.

All those technological tools are great – Evernote, OneNote, Scrivener, Microsoft Word, Google Keep etc… But isn’t it nice to declutter every once and a while?

I remember the Y2K scare. I remember visiting a local coffee shop during Christmas of 1999 and seeing a hopeful message on their sign display: We’re Y2K ready. We have plenty of pencils.

How about you? What must-have tools keep you writing?

 

You’re still writing, right?

YOUR FIRST NOVEL IS SHIT!

 

Oh, not YOUR first novel.  Your first novel was a literary masterpiece. It was the polished golden manuscript of which all other first novels fell short.  As soon as you hit publish it soared to the top of the mighty Zon’s charts and you haven’t had to work a day since.

This post is for the rest of us.

Hell, let me get my tongue out of my cheek and rephrase that intro. MY first novel was pure crap. A month after I self published it sank to the depths of obscurity with hardly a thud.  Maybe you’re struggling with the ‘first novel’ jitters and you’re desperately looking for some tips on getting it out the door. You must be desperate – you found this blog post.

I’m no expert, but I AM pretty good friends with failure. So, I put together a neat little list of the things I wish I’d known before I published. Before you go creating a pen-name just to distance yourself from that first published turd, give these pointers a once-over.  (Yes, this list only applies to those of us crazy enough to self-publish. I’m sure the big publishing houses have an army of people to fix these potholes).

1.GET EDITED .

Dear God, I cannot stress this enough. I took the ‘dumbass-of-all-trades-master-of-none’ route with my first novel. I stupidly thought ‘hey, I’ve got an advanced college degree with years of literature knowledge. I’ll just edit my own manuscript’. NO. Just NO! You want to know what’s not awesome? Reading over your novel years down the road and finding so many grammatical errors it looks like Bobcat Goldthwait dictated your words through a Speak N Spell.

Pay to have someone PROFESSIONALLY edit your manuscript. Not your wife. Not your cousin Buddy that’s taking community college courses in short story writing. Not your friend Ted, who says he’ll do it for beer – actually PAY someone who knows what they’re doing to give it a looksee.  You can find actual real-life editors that are able to perform desired surgery for fair prices. They’re out there and they will help you out. Those squiggly blue lines in MS Word don’t cut it.

 

2. GET AN AWESOME COVER.

Lesson learned. Dumbass me thought I could skillfully slap together a nondescript cover using the latest in free graphic design programs. Sure, there are worse covers out there, but there are a million better ones – ones that are selling.

DON’T do a crappy cover. You don’t want to end up on one of those AWFUL BOOK COVER blog posts.  No artsy stock photo with your title plastered over it. No cutesy filtered snap of your dog. Again, there are plenty of artists out there who will make you a cover at a reasonable price. Take a look at what’s popular in your genre. If I see a generic ‘I made this with photoshop’ cover (like my first novel) I’ll probably skip reading the book.

ALWAYS MAKE SURE YOU PAY YOUR ARTIST! EXPOSURE IS ONLY ACCEPTABLE IF YOU’RE RUNNING AROUND YOUR FRONT LAWN NAKED!

 

3. AT LEAST HAVE AN IDEA OF HOW YOU WANT TO MARKET YOUR BOOK.

Let’s continue with the self-depreciating ammunition. I did little to no market research when I released my first novel. I was sort-of known in amateur horror writer circles. I had a small group of people ready to get their hands on my debut masterpiece. My beta-readers had faith in me. So I published. About twenty of my co-workers and family bought physical copies (that I had to pay for AND ship). Three weeks later, my numbers were non-existent. I had no long lasting plan for the future.  Now, if you aren’t writing to sell this isn’t so important. If you’re happy with publishing your family history for just your family then I’m happy for you.

In the months before you publish, do some research. See what your readers are reading. Follow some big-time authors in your genre. Observe what they’re doing. There are plenty of social media groups out there for book promotions, blog tours,  book reviewers etc…that will give your book a chance. Now, I’m not talking about all-out advertising tips because, well, I suck at marketing. Maybe somebody who’s good at it will share their expertise down the road.

YOUR MOTHER BUYING TWO COPIES OF YOUR DARLING PROSE DOES NOT A PROFIT MAKE. I should know, my mother DID buy two copies of my book.

 

4. WRITING A TRILOGY? AWESOME, BE READY.

So you’re writing the next WHEEL OF TIME series – hail you!  Just be sure you have MORE THAN ONE book ready to go before you pull the trigger. This is a tip you might not even have thought about. I wish I had.

I wanted my novel to be the first of a horrible trilogy. It was full of holes and the ending was, well OPEN ENDED. I had intended for most of those questions to be answered in following volumes. But, all I had nailed down was that first book. I mean, I had a general outline and plenty of awesome ideas to keep the story going. As I mentioned above, I published that first book and then BOOM – a whole lot of nothing happened. Life got in the way. That bitch of a muse wandered off into new territory. Those volumes were never finished.

Have faith in your writing. I do. If you want to tell the next Lord of the Rings – have your books written out FIRST. There is nothing worse for a reader than investing all that time into a proposed series that never goes anywhere.  It DOES happen.

 

Again, I’m no pro, and I’ll never claim to be one. These are just the major things I wish I would’ve thought through before I got bitten by the publishing bug. Learn from my mistakes.

Now, get back to writing. You’ve written today, right?

A ‘COME TO JESUS’ TALK FOR CREATIVES

There seems to be a collective ‘mid-life’ crisis among my fellow creatives. I’ve read about it on several blogs, seen it discussed on social media, and even discussed it in-depth with my friends.  Times are dark indeed. We’re struggling.

Balancing real life and our creative careers.  At what point do we just give up our dream and give in to our daily lives? The majority of my friends (at least the more ‘successful’ ones) screamed NEVER!

True, but do I want to die wishing I had stopped to smell the proverbial flowers? I have the wonderful wife, I rent a decent home, I have an easy job that pays the bills, I have the critters that I consider children. Yet, something keeps me up at night, typing away and unhappy.

And here I come off as a whiny bitch wishing for a break.

So, I’ve spent the last few days having a ‘come to Jesus’ talk with myself.

It’s been six years since I last published anything close to resembling a novel. SIX GODDAMN YEARS!  In that time, I’ve sat by and watched several of my author friends’ writing careers take off. I’ve filled my computer with hundreds of half-finished ‘ideas’. I’ve lived life.

It’s time to put up or shut up!

We can whine about it until those cows find their way home, but it won’t make an inch of difference unless we put in the work.  We can blog about it, vlog about it, we can post about it on all the social medias. We can spend our time drawing up concept book covers for books that don’t yet exist. We can binge countless hours of shows grasping for our inspiration…

or we can write.

Recently, I’ve found that if I set a daily writing schedule (usually 7 – 9 am.) and write for that period EVERY SINGLE DAY, magic happens.  Words make sentences, sentences make pages, pages make novels.  Most of it’s crap, but there is a good amount of saveable material here and there.

This is the way writers become successes. But what defines success? Hell, that’s another blog post in itself.  But the only way I can beat the ‘creator’s blues’ is one word at a time.

So, I’ve made my goal – holding my own nose to the grindstone. I will put every focused bit of energy I have in actually finishing a novel, marketing, and branding myself towards success by the end of 2018. If nothing happens by the end of 2018, I will hang up the pen for good and disappear.

Foolish? Probably.

I hope you’ll join me on this journey. I wish you the best in achieving your creative goals.

Now, get your ass back in that chair and write!

2018: BE DANGEROUS

“Let us not live in a culture of other people’s ideas. Let us create our own.”

-Me.

     I remember a college kid.

This kid buried his nose in philosophy books, theater history, and art films.  He wrote works based on the words of Sarte, Camus, and Brecht. He wrote a play in class and sent it off to his mentor. “I want to see this produced.” said the mentor. It never happened.  The kid studied the cutup method by Burroughs – the films of David Lynch. The kid  swore that there wasn’t a decent book written after the 1970’s.

He went to upstate New York in the summer of 2000. He spent most of his time there filling notebooks, drinking scotch, and printing off pages of his manifesto using the printer in the theater office. He decided then and there that he wanted to become a writer. He wanted to change the world.

Obviously, that kid was me.

Now almost twenty years later, that kid is all but dead. He’s been buried under years and years of safety.  Self doubt and fear have left him chained in the closet – silenced. Truth is, I never set out to do this. It just happened. I started listening to others that said ‘write what’s safe’. ‘Write what sells first. You can always do the ‘dangerous’ stuff later.”  Now, it’s twenty years later, and I’m sad to say we have a generation full of vampire novels, zombie apocalypses, paranormal romances, and wizarding adventures.  The technology of e-publishing was supposed to revolutionize the printing world. Instead, it pretty much gave us an over-saturation of all the crap that was already out there.

It’s time to bring dangerous back – to push the boundaries.

So let this be the year I start pushing boundaries – physically, emotionally, and creatively. I want to change things. I want to create things that matter. Yes, that sounds pretty idealistic – naive – but, look down at that vampire/love story/post-apocalyptic adventure/kids with cancer/ supernatural horror manuscript your working on and ask yourself ‘is this really going to change the world?’

I hope you’ll join me.

I don’t regret anything I’ve written. It’s just that I have a disease that says it will chop off at least 15 years of my life, and my poor lifestyle choices will probably take another five or so off of that. So that means I have a good twenty years or so and I don’t want to spend them putting out garbage that could possible sell.

So where am I at now?

Well, years ago (around the time of my diagnosis) I was plagued with nightmares. I turned those nightmares into THE (the only novel I’ve ever published).  After the passing of my father in November, the nightmares have returned. I have pages and pages of them written down and plotted out. Will they ever come to light? I can’t say.

I’ve spent the last five years or so working on a book about serial killers and the sex trade in a small Nebraska town.  It is a crime/ psychological thriller that replaces imaginative monsters for the real life horrors that haunt us. Will it see a Summer release? Probably not.

Right now the whole universe is on standby while I weed through old material and search for new. It is my creative world, and for the first time, I feel completely in charge of it.  All I know is that this year will be full of excitement, pain, joy, and nightmares.

I can’t wait.