Writing and Other Afflictions

"If it was easy, everyone would do it." –Jimmy Dugan, "A League of Their Own"

Category Archives: writing tool

"On Writing"

In our fiction workshop, one of our readings this week is a chapter from Stephen King’s “On Writing.” When I first read that book, a long time ago, I was impressed by how clear and helpful it was. The more I meet other writers, the more I find that people share that opinion. It doesn’t matter whether they’re genre writers, or graduate students, or biographers. Everyone seems to appreciate it.

I think it’s pretty cool that someone whose books are so often derided as simply popular bestsellers could write a book that so many people find helpful in their writing career. Many people who wouldn’t look twice at one of his novels nonetheless hold up “On Writing” as a great aid to their writing.

In this section, King talks about assembling the basic tools of writing. One of the things he stresses in talking about vocabulary is that you shouldn’t force it. In other words, don’t try to pretty it up by searching for a fancier word. Chances are the one you first thought of is the best one for the job. He says, let your vocabulary stretch on its own, as you read. The more naturally your words flow, the more natural they’ll read to the reader. (This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t edit, but that’s another story…)

How To Keep Your Resolution

If you’re reading this blog, chances are that one of your resolutions for the new year is “write more.”

If you’re a human being living in the year 2008, chances are you’re already behind on your resolution.

So here’s a few tips to help you keep your resolution:

* Be more specific. Don’t just say “write more.” Say, “Finish ‘A Time To Remember To Kill'” or “Write the novel about my father-figure hero in the fantasy universe.”

* Break your resolution into mini-goals. Mini-goals are much easier to keep than big year-long resolutions. It’s easy to say, “I’m going to write a novel this year,” and then put it off ’til March, June, November, and then you’re reduced to, “I resolve to resolve to write a novel next year.” Break down your novel into defining your story, building your world, creating your characters, sketching your plot, outlining the novel, writing the first draft, editing the first draft, sending the edited MS out for critique, incorporating feedback and revision. If you set a small timeframe for each of those, then by April or May you should be well into a first draft, and the goal will be much more attainable. (This is the lesson learned from NaNoWriMo.)

* Track your progress. If you tend to let things slide, keep a spreadsheet or check off writing time on your calendar. Write down every day the number of hours spent writing. Then, when you get a whole week of zeroes, you notice it immediately and can tell yourself to buckle down, instead of having the vague feeling that it’s been a while since you touched your outline and maybe you should get to it next week when the kids are back in school and that report at work is done…

* Use technology. Google Docs allows you to store your documents online to access from anywhere. Yahoo and Google and many others have online calendars: send yourself e-mail reminders to do writing.

* Enlist someone’s help. Whether a supportive spouse or a writing buddy, have someone you can check in with to help keep you on track with your goal. Another person can not only help remind you to keep going, they become invested in your goal to a certain extent, so that when you meet it, you make them proud as well as making yourself proud.

If you have any other ideas, toss ’em into the comments, and let’s get writing!

Writing Resource and Update

While looking for the correct way to say “safe-deposit box” (it’s not “safety deposit box”), I found this amazingly useful page. Sadly, it does not yet address one error I keep seeing these days: “eek out” (the correct phrase is “eke out,” meaning to barely succeed). But it’s a good resource nonetheless.

What am I working on? A screenplay for my screenwriting group (at the “scene list” stage right now, which is kind of like a novel’s outline; unlike when I write a novel, I’m more inclined to do this outline before diving into the screenplay, simply because screenplays are so much more minimalist… this is probably another whole post). A YA novel that I really like the idea of. My science fiction book in which an anthropologist finds herself embroiled in a culture war on an alien planet (I am writing new installments monthly for our writing group). And the release of a magazine I edited and contributed to, New Fables, which will be on sale online at the end of July. I’d like to get it into some bookstores. Any thoughts from anyone on how to do that? I think it does have a lit-journal feel, but I also know that little corner of bookstores is crowded and dusty, and I’m not sure how to shove my little book into it.

That’s all. Just another lazy summer…

Happy Endings, and a New Tool

No, not me, though I feel like a tool for leaving my notebook on a southbound CalTrain Friday night. Happily, I got a call Monday morning from CalTrain’s Lost and Found telling me that the notebook had been turned in. The cash was missing, of course, but all the credit cards were there (useless now I’ve canceled them and ordered new ones) as well as my new driver’s license (yes!) and, of course, all my precious scribblings (whew). So all’s well that ends well, I guess, even if there were a few tense moments when the clerk at the Lost and Found at the San Jose station looked at me with puzzlement and said, “Did they call you?” I thought, wouldn’t that be perfect, to get me to drive all the way down to the station only to have the Lost and Found have lost my notebook again. But no, it turned out it was in a locked cabinet somewhere, and she found it and handed it over to me. And because the station is right next to the Poor House Bistro, I treated myself to a Cajun lunch (half a baked ham po’boy and a cup of gumbo) in semi-celebration. After all, if I were writing this as a story, that’s how I’d end it: with a lesson learned (symbolized by the cash lost) and a delicious Cajun meal.

So, the tool. I’ve been thinking for a couple years that it’d be nice to have all my references for a world together in one document without it being a huge Word doc I’d have to scroll through to find anything. Enter WikidPad, which is exactly what it sounds like: a Wiki for your local machine. It’s exactly what I needed for my novel. I can have listings of the cities on the planet, the people in the story, even the outlines of what happens in each part. All of them have their own page and are interlinked and indexed for easy access. It’s easy to edit, easy to cut and paste into, and the only real problem with it is that it’s so easy to use that you could happily spend hours just building out all the details of your world and never manage to write the actual story.

There are a number of local Wiki tools for Windows or Mac. This is the one I heard of first. I’ve installed and used it and it works great. If you search Google for “local wiki” and either “Windows” or “OSX,” you’ll find many alternatives, I’m sure.

Oh, and lastly, I promise, pictures of the book signing are up on my Flickr account. Enjoy!