Monthly Archives: October 2013

Keeping up with the Craft

There’s a difference between the ‘art’ of writing and the ‘craft’ of writing. Art is subjective, its beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder … but craft is objective. There is a right way and a wrong way to craft. Gerard de Marigny in Joanna Penn’s blog on September 5, 2011.

Today, I’m writing about the craft of writing. How does one learn the craft? As I see it, there are two distinct ways.

First, I understand before education was ubiquitous, writers learned the craft by studying those who were successful writers and writing frequently oneself. There weren’t how to books, or continuing education classes on writing fiction. It was more learning by doing – a type of immersion learning.

This type learning is still valid. Most sources I find recommend would be writers read well written fiction to learn how to write it. They also recommend that one writes with discipline, i.e. establish a routine for writing, one that gives you sufficient time to accomplish writing a piece.  Usually, these sites recommend writing in blocks of four hours or so.

The second, more recent way of learning the craft is to take courses and read how to books. If you live in a remote area, as I do. Sometimes it is difficult to find a course available. There are a number of online courses on creative writing. Also, one can read the how to books. Here are some I think are valuable:

Stephen King, On Writing

Alander Steele, ed., Gotham Writer’s Workshop: Writing Fiction The Practical Guide from New York’s Acclaimed Creative Writing School

Darrell Pitt, Secrets of Successful Writers

                Don McNair,  Editor-Proof Your Writing

                Renni Browne & Dave King, Self Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit yourself into Print

                Scott Nicholson, et al., Write Good or Die: Survival Tips for the 21st Century

These are the ones I’ve read recently. For me it is fun and interesting to continually read about writing and how one can do it better. I have even noticed that watching movies or television has changed for me. I can identify the beginning, middle and end of stories and know when a playwrite is using a character to fill in a backstory, for examples.

So, in summary, I support the tried and true ‘old’ method of learning to write and use Self-Directed Learning to further train myself in the craft of writing.


Nanowrimo is coming up next month. I’ll participate again this year.

Did I publish last year’s work? No. Has anyone seen last year’s work but me? No. Then why?

Nanowrimo takes too much time, too much effort and realizes so little. For me, it’s like practicing the martial arts forms. When I do them, I’m not fighting anyone. There is nothing to win. Someone watching me without knowing what’s going on might think I’m crazy.

I remember one time a little boy who saw me doing forms. He said, “Mommie, who is that guy fighting.”

Nanowrimo is like that for me. It gets me into the mojo of writing. I’m inspired by the challenge and the fact I can stay disciplined for so long.

This year I have planned my effort better. I have outlined the chapters I intend to write. I know. I will abandon the outline. It gives me a roadmap. I may take side trips, but I will go back to the map as I want. It’s the discipline of thinking through the novel before I write it.

I have pictures of each character. Along with that, I have character descriptions for each one.

For some scenes, I have pictures of the landscape, a ship, or the scene where the action will take place. I heard an accomplished western writer give a talk this year. He often goes to the real scene where action he is writing about took place. I liked his idea.

As a fiction writer, I can’t do that. So, second best, I find a scene that is a close match for the scene in my head. When I write about it, I look at the picture. Same thing with the pictures of the characters. I can describe a face or a scene better if I can see it, even in a photo. There are nuances in the photos I would never dream up without looking.

I don’t have to use public domain photos either. I am able to describe something I’m looking at, I’m not actually using the picture itself.

So, in ten days, I’m off to the races. I’ll report on how I’m doing throughout the month. I got da mojo.

Out of your Element: An Owl among Crows

We’ve all been somewhere we really didn’t want to go to. It may be an event where you knew few people and you really didn’t want to be there. Or, it may be as simple as waiting in line someplace. As a writer, there are several things you can do in those settings. One writer described these situations as being an owl among crows.

One of the things I like to do is to pick out individuals and think about how I would describe that person in a story. Descriptions of characters are essential to having a good story. Practice in describing people exercises our brains and helps us to come up with new ways to describe them. It’s helpful to pick out the characteristic you can use in your description much like a cartoon artist might in a drawing.

Another thing that I like to do is to listen to part of a conversation and use that as a prompt. I take that conversation fragment and make it into a story. It doesn’t have to be long and elaborate just as long as you create something interesting and entertaining yourself. I seldom use those short, short stories I make up in real writing. Again, you’re exercising your creative muscle.

Another thing that I do is to find what I think are interesting characters and engage them in conversation. Recently, I was at a social event where I met a gentleman who had political views the opposite of mine and engaged him in conversation. I didn’t want to talk about where we disagreed on political points. What I was interested in was how he would explain his political views to someone he wanted to convince. By doing that I was getting some insight into his thinking. Hopefully, when I have a character who thinks and acts like he does I’ll be able to draw the information.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, sometimes I do this when I’m on vacation. I will leave all my writing materials at home and simply watch people with the purpose in mind of describing them and their habits. At the same time, I will capture ideas for stories from things that I hear or things that are around me. In a weeks time I can come up with more story ideas that I can write about a year.

Now for Something Completely Different (With Apologies to Monty P.)

I’ve been writing mostly Fantasy and Science Fiction since 2008. Not long in geologic terms but long enough. An acquaintance suggested I write a children’s story. I demurred. That’s not what I do. I do Fantasy and Sci Fi.

Shortly after that, I began to think about what I might write if I wrote a children’s story. You’ve probably guessed the rest. Yes, I’m going to work on a children’s story about my dog. He’s named, Buddy.

The story will be one about Buddy’s adventures through my imagination. I will be his voice. All I have to go by is what I think he thinks. The little I know is that dogs are able to function on about a two-year-old level, so this should be somewhere in that range.

He is a rescue dog, so the first installment will be about his adventures in finding his adoptive family. Of course, I don’t know where he came from or how he got to the shelter. That’s all made up. But in reality, I think it is something like what I’ve written.

I’ll post the first several pages:

Hi. My name is Buddy, Buddy The Dog.

One day, about two years ago, I was living with a family that had three children. They were happy kids and I loved them. They were Ronnie, Rhonda, and Robert. Sometimes when I said their names, it kinda sounded like a growl. But it wasn’t because I loved them.

We lived in the country. The city was far away, but not so far that their parents couldn’t drive there. Sometimes they took me when they went to the city. I liked that. That’s because their dad would open a window and let me hang my head out. It’s a dog thing, you know.

One day we went to town and I was hanging my head out the window, enjoying the wind in my face. When we stopped, my family went into a building. I waited for them for a while, then I noticed the window was still open. I got up on my back feet and wiggled through the window.

I tried to go into the building where they had gone, but I couldn’t get in the door. I tried to be friendly and follow people. I smiled at them and walked by them, but they just closed the door. Finally, I sat down and waited. I waited and waited until I couldn’t wait anymore. That’s when my troubles began.

I began looking around the building where my family had gone. After I looked around it for a while, I smelled some wonderful food. It was coming from large containers. They were too big for me to get into for some lunch. So, I began looking around for something to eat.

After a while I looked up and everything looked strange. I didn’t know where I was or where my family was. I couldn’t see the building they went into anymore. I was lost.

I sat down and cried. I wished I was back home with Ronnie, Rhonda, and Robert, playing in their back yard. Then it got dark outside. My family always took me inside at night, but I couldn’t find anyone to take me in their house.

I found a box in an alley and made my bed there. The alley was filled with strange sounds. There were people talking all around in their houses. There were dogs that I didn’t know barking in the night. I barked with them for a while, but I think they were all barking at me. I stopped after a while and tried to sleep.

Then, before sunrise, in the morning, people began leaving their homes and driving down the alley where I was sleeping. One of them stopped and tried to get me into their car. I don’t know why I didn’t get in, but I ran. I ran as hard and as fast as I’ve ever ran before.

Later that day, a man in a truck came driving around the neighborhood where I was lost. When he saw me, he stopped and offered me a little bit of food. Boy was I happy. I finally found someone who wanted to feed me.

Before I knew it, he put the loop on his dog pole around my neck and dragged me to his truck. He put me in a cage and closed the door. The rest of the day he picked up more dogs.

If you like the story, let me know. Any suggestions or ideas would be appreciated also. The person who suggested I write a children’s story is an artist and asked that she have first dibs at illustrating it. When I’ve finished three books, I’ll run them by her.

Keep a Little Notebook with You for When You Have Ideas (or, You Can Take it With You)

Most sources from even a few years ago suggest that we writers carry around a little notebook for those ephemeral ideas that fleet into our heads while walking or sleeping. While that advice still has merit, the medium may be changing for writers.

Telephones have voice recorders now that allow you to dictate your thoughts on the run. Whenever I’m driving down the Interstate (after carefully checking the traffic), I may dictate a note to myself about an idea I’ve had. They seem to come at odd moments when I’m not thinking about anything. This is not about the creative use of odd moments, its about capturing creative ideas that come at odd moments.

Likewise, many tablets have the same functionality.

If I am stationary, I use the notes function on my tablet or phone. It still looks like a ruled yellow pad. I have an Apple phone, so I can also use Siri to record a note by saying, “Siri, take a note.” Siri asks me what my note is and I dictate it. Later I can say, “Siri, read my note(s) and it will read them back one at a time.

There is a new feature in this vein for PC users who have downloaded iCloud to their computers. You can take documents on the PC and click and drag them to iCloud software apps. When you click on them in the app, you can see the document. I find this useful when I’m putting together an outline for a story, though I don’t like writing a full story on a tablet as its keyboard is too small.

When I am sitting somewhere with nothing to do, instead of picking up a magazine, I open the document on my tablet and edit it. Once I get home, I email it back to myself and download it copying over the original to bring it up to date.

So, instead of the notebook with you at all times, including when you’re sleeping at night, use your phone and tablet.