What I’m Legitimately Bad At

Well, for starters, I’m legitimately bad at allowing myself to use technically questionable grammar like that which appears in the title above – even when it would be appropriate in context (e.g. in the conversational tone of a blog), and is accurate to the jargon of the time (e.g. the phrase “what I’m legitimately bad at”).

But then again, when I first sat down to write this post, I was originally going to go with “My Struggles” or “Where I Struggle” or some variation thereon for the title – and obviously, no.  Just no.  No to any combination of I/me/mine and the noun or verb “struggle” anywhere in any title to any piece.  Ever.  (If the reason isn’t immediately clear to you, you may want to look up the translation of “my struggle” in German.)

The incomparable Herbert Lom, best known for playing Chief Inspector Dreyfus opposite Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau.

And besides, forcing myself to employ a technique that would typically make me twitch worse than Chief Inspector Dreyfus from the Pink Panther movies is actually very appropriate for this particular discussion.

Consequently, I’m going to make myself leave it there and move on (more on that later)…

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Sometimes Less is More

Okay, I realize that this is one you’ve heard before.  And in fact, I’ve already provided a more macro example of how this maxim can apply to a manuscript by sharing an earlier version of the prologue to The Herald’s Dark Progress, and explaining why, and how, it needed to change.

Here, however, I want to discuss “less is more” in the context of page-to-page writing, which is a very different thing.

Man carving stone statue
Again, NOT generally how I go about my writing.  But it DOES seem to be how many others do it.  And it may well work for you.

As I told you in an earlier post on my writing process, for me the standard “plow forward and come back” or “ramble and revise” or “spew/cull” methodology that most writers seem to employ (for the record, I don’t think any of them actually call it the latter) is generally the exception, and not the rule.  In fact, for me, the concept of “less is more” usually means not that I’ve included a bunch of extraneous text that I will subsequently need to cut, but that I have tried to pack too many ideas/images into too little space, and I will subsequently need to separate them.  Ironically, the way I almost always fix this version of the “less is more” problem, is not to subtract from my manuscript, but to add to it.  Or, as I described it in my post on the subject, I tend to “comb out” the text rather than to “chip away” at it.

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My Process: Combing through the Tangles

Hi there!  Remember me?  In looking at the calendar, I see that it’s been several months since I last blogged about writing.  I trust none of you were worried that I’d given up on the practice completely…?  The truth of the matter is that I’ve been so busy working on new material (both revisions for The Herald’s Dark Progress as well as a completely new project) that I didn’t have much time to offer any new commentary along the way.  Nose to the grindstone and all that.  As a result, I’ve only used this space to offer a couple of moment-in-time political comments, which will soon be outdated (and which probably 40-50% of you found irritating anyway).  I hope you will forgive me, both for the lack of activity, and for the non-writing-related nature of the few posts that I did share during that period.  What can I say?  Such is the life of a writer (a topic, by the way, that I plan to cover in more detail in a subsequent post).

But now, after a stretch that lasted much longer than I initially anticipated, I have finally reached a natural break point (having just sent out a bunch of content to my wonderful beta readers for feedback), and am once again back to tackle a new subject:

The writing process itself.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (author of The Little Prince, among other titles) on the writing process:  “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” BOY does that sound a lot easier than the way that I do it…

Or, er, mine, anyway.

If you research how other writers go about their work, you’ll discover that many (most?) begin by typing out a rough draft in the truest sense of the phrase, plowing forward from beginning to end without being overly concerned about rough patches, rambling detours, or even entire sections left blank.  As the author Shannon Hale describes it, they begin by “simply shoveling sand into a box so that later [they] can build castles”.  (I have to admit, I’ve never read any of her work, but I LOVE that quote.)  Then, only once they’re done with the unfiltered first take, will they come back to the beginning to revise, gradually perfecting both plot and prose over and over again, in pass after pass, until in the end, they arrive at a finished product.  For those who follow this methodology, writing a novel can mean running through quite literally dozens of drafts before finally declaring the manuscript “done”.

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The Eminently Practical, Hardly Revolutionary, but Nonetheless Still Useful Guide to One Author’s Tools and Techniques for Effective Writing

And now back to your regularly-scheduled programming…

This is your basic nuts-and-bolts “tips and tricks” post – or at least what passes for such when I write one.  Nothing fancy, no deep insights, no self-amused sarcasm (okay, who am I kidding with that last one?); just the tools and techniques I recommend for effective writing.

The typical writer’s toolbox is as cluttered, messy, and well used as the one above.  (And for the record, it is never a good sign when you find yourself reaching for the pall peen hammer…)

“Tools and techniques?” I hear the non-authors in the audience asking, “what do you mean ‘tools and techniques’?  You just sit down at the keyboard and type!  What more is there to writing than that?”  Well, uh, in point of fact, quite a lot.  Certainly, the actual act of producing a manuscript is as simple as hunching over a keyboard and plunging your fingers down into the keys, one after the other, but there is significantly more that goes into producing (quality) prose than simply dropping words onto a page (hence, by the way, the mildly ironic title of this blog); crafting a good tale is hard work – or at least it always has been for me, and for the vast majority of other writers I’ve ever seen discuss the subject at any length.  (And if it happens to come effortlessly to you, then a) I am confused as to why you are still reading this post, and b) you have my warmest invitation to go take a long walk off a short pier.)  Fortunately for most of us, it’s a labor of love, one we undertake willingly – and those of us who spend enough time at it invariably discover a number of tactics and resources that make the process easier.  These are mine.

Continue reading “The Eminently Practical, Hardly Revolutionary, but Nonetheless Still Useful Guide to One Author’s Tools and Techniques for Effective Writing”

Every Writer’s Least Favorite Subject: Querying

And now for the post I wish I could have stumbled across on someone else’s blog some time early last fall:

Here, for your convenience, in one single, centralized location, I have gathered everything I learned over the three months (two in preparation, one in actual outreach) that I invested in seeking representation.  As I mentioned in my previous post, I can now happily say that I am one of the fortunate ones, having recently signed with a literary agent, and while luck no doubt played its role – so, I sincerely hope, did the quality of my work – none of it would have mattered if I hadn’t figured out whom to contact, and how to go about it. That is what this entry is about.  For those of you who are not writers yourselves, this may seem like something of a boring topic (unless of course you are the tinkering type who likes to understand how things work, in which case it may be of interest, and may even provide useful analogs to your own vocation/avocation), but for any aspiring authors in the audience… trust me, this piece may be a bit long, but it’s one you definitely want to read.

Before I discuss the hows of the process, however, let’s take a brief moment to talk about the whens.  At what point is it time to start looking for a literary agent?  The harsh truth of the matter is that if you’re a first-time novelist like myself, you shouldn’t even think about contacting agents until you have produced a finished manuscript.  And when I say that,

Where a novelist should be before commencing the querying process.  (By the way, I hope you don’t mind the repeated use of this graphic – just so you’re aware, given how long it took me to make the darn thing, I will be getting my money’s worth out of it…)

I mean a polished, beta-read, proofread, good-as-you-can-make-it, final draft of a book – no ifs, ands or buts.  To any of you who may be just starting out, this may sound like a bit of an undertaking.  And I hate to break it to you, but… it is.  If you don’t feel a true pull to begin working on a manuscript simply for its own sake, you should probably reconsider the idea.  Writing a novel is a long and arduous exercise even when you love the craft, and there is absolutely no guarantee you’ll receive any kind of reward at the end; as a consequence, if you don’t have a story inside bursting to come out, my advice is that you hold off on sitting down at the keyboard until you do.

Ah, but you are a fellow soul afflicted with that irresistible need, you say!

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