A Lesson from my father.

When I was a child, I played chess with my dad and he smeared me all over the checkered board. I asked him one day, how he got to be so good and he told me something I will never forget.

I played with people who were better than me.

I played against them and I learned. I played against them until I started to beat them. Then I looked for a new opponent.

Most of us hate losing, and hate being the worst at something even more. So much so, that if we find ourselves surrounded by people who are more accomplished than us, more skilled, more knowledgeable, we do our best to duck quietly out of the room.

But being the big fish in the little pond means that we have no where to go.

As a writer, it is important to surround yourself with writers who are better than you. Read their books, learn their lessons, and strive toward their level. It is intimidating as hell, but it is also rewarding once you see you see the pay off in your own work.

 

Don’t try to write a perfect first draft

After I realized that what I first put on the page was not necessary my best writing (imagine my horror!) I concluded that I would save myself a lot of work and effort if I edited as I wrote.

And so it took me more than five years to write a first draft.

And it still sucked.

The end.

No, but in all seriousness, there is nothing wrong with skimming over your work and doing a little clean up here and there, adding something to clear up the part you are currently writing, adjusting the spelling of the name or including the character trait that revealed itself later. Especially if you are stuck in the scene you are writing.

Just don’t, don’t don’t think this will save you any work in the long run.

I am a person who takes great pride in working smarter and not harder and in many aspects of my life this has served me very well. As a designer I set up a template program that allowed me to drop the print designs into a layout that removed the element of human error while at the same time leaving the original art untouched for future work and cut set up time in half. (it’s okay if you didn’t understand that).

As a writer, however, I have yet to find the easy way around editing the entire manuscript, multiple times.

Ironically, avoiding edits until your first draft is done ends up being your time saver in the long run and there are several reasons for that.

  1. If you are riding on the writing train (writing non-stop) getting off to “fix things” even minor things, means you are getting off the train. Don’t get off the train! You may not be able to get back on!
  2. No matter how much you have plotted, outlined, and prepared, your story is going to take some unexpected twists. Characters will reveal something surprising, people will die, people will live, the ending could turn out very different than you expected. Wasting time on edits before you know how your story ends is wasteful.
  3. Most important. YOU ARE GOING TO HAVE TO EDIT THE HELL OUT OF THIS DRAFT ANYWAY! No matter how clean you have gotten your writing, no matter how much you have “fixed” you are in for the long haul with edits, IF YOU EVER FINISH THE BOOK.

I know! I know it’s hard to leave that glaring mistake right there in the open! I mean, it is so so so bad! But it is your first draft and no one is every going to see it but you.

There is a solution though, and one I recommend you take. Instead of editing while you write, keep a notebook or file with all the problems you see arising in your story. Plot holes, character changes, misinformation, ect. Make notes of the things you will need to fix WHEN you edit and then get back to writing.

I wrote a story where a girl referred to her prep school by a different name every time it was mentioned. At one point I found myself scrolling through the 237 pages I had already written trying to find every instance. (Geez,don’t I ever learn!?). I think i managed to fix one and waste an hour. Later, when I was reading the completed manuscript, being aware of this problem allowed me to mark and change every instance of this problem when it came up in the reading. Time saver for sure.

The most polished partial manuscript is completely useless.

The messiest finished manuscript has unlimited potential.

Is “said” really dead?

Once again, most of my creative energy is going into a new novel, so I will be reblogging older but still relevant posts. Keep writing, friends!

L.C.W. Allingham

When I went about getting really serious about improving my writing I ate up all the advice I could find. I pinned hundreds of articles and read all of them. I started to apply this to my work and I saw the quality of my writing increase for it.

But as it turns out, not all advice is good advice.

While cutting out passive voice and verbs cleaned up my work, relying on synonyms of “said” cluttered it up in a new way. There are many articles and lists on more action oriented ways to tag your dialogue, and I, being a writer who relies heavily on dialogue, used these replacements liberally.

Then one evening in my writing crit group, someone commented that “said” is nearly invisible to a reader, while “shouted” “cried” “snickered” “demanded” can start to disrupt an otherwise fluid set of dialogue.

Here is an example.

“I…

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Fostering a creative spirit

I was very lucky as a child. My mother was an art teacher and while she taught technique and medium, one of her greatest assets as a teacher was helping develop the confidence of young artists. Kids who were paralyzed to try, kids who’d been ridiculed by friends, parents, teachers, on purpose or accidentally. When she could bring these kids out of their fear, sometimes natural talents blossomed and sometimes they just worked hard and got better, but they all excelled, and not just in art.

If she had not been my mother, there are so many things I would have never done. I never would have formed a rock band and worked as a musician in my early twenties. I never would have competed in voice competitions in high school. I never would have sold my art at student shows.

I never would have let my writing out into the world. Never, ever.

I was lucky to have my mom, because the rest of the world seems to have no clue how to foster the creativity in children.

I see parents giggling about the little stories their kids wrote, in front of their kids. I see teachers tease students about art projects. And when you get to other kids, well they can be pretty merciless with their peers.

My son has been spending alot of time drawing recently. He brings me these insane creations, men with twenty legs and sharp teeth, cats making poops, a rock man who is (according to my son) two hundred feet high! They are all wonderful and that is what I tell him.

I know that today there is a conflict in opinion about children and whether we should “prepare them for the real world” or “foster their confidence”. Before you get your back up, I want to assure you that this has nothing to do with that.

This is about fostering creativity.

Do you remember being a child? Do you remember being proud of something you made and then having someone tear it down? Did it hurt you any less because you were a child? Are you grateful for that experience because it “taught you about the real world’?

There is a difference between teaching technique, teaching people to learn how to accept constructive criticism and teaching them that their creations are “dumb” “juvenile” “silly” and generally not worth the time it took to make it.

How many adults do you know that are terrified to write a story, draw a picture, sing a song, dancing in front of other people? I imagine you can come up with quite a few an I will bet you that their attempts to quell any creative urges comes from their childhood.

How awful is that?

Can you imagine laughing at the bar graph your co-worker presented in a budget meeting because it’s cute? Can you imagine writing a proposal and having the recipient roll their eyes at it and ignore it? Or read it out loud, giggling?

Why does anyone think it’s okay to do this to a child who has put their heart and soul into a story about vampire bats who live in the toilet or a picture of a two hundred foot rock man? Are these not the roots of the stories and movies and paintings and songs we crave?

Be the person to encourage creativity. Each project is the foundation for future greatness. Don’t deny the creator and don’t deny yourself.

When a story writes itself

L.C.W. Allingham

I have spent many nights glaring at a computer screen typing and deleting the same paragraph, willing my characters to move, trying to force a story to happen. Every writer has. When it happens, sometimes you might be lucky and some read-overs can compel your hands, or a google search can make the story lurch forward a few more paragraphs, but frequently the best thing to do it just move onto a different project for a bit. Or go watch a Buffy re-run (fun fact, Buffy re-runs can trigger brainstorming).

The absolute worst is when a story has been pouring out smoothly since conception, you have a solid ending in mind (or a great outline if you’re the organized type) and you come to a screeching halt. Then, sometimes the only way to get through it is to fight through, hacking out every single line until you can get it…

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