I recently read a great short story with a great premise and a great character and when I was done, I just wasn’t satisfied at all.
Because, while the conflict was there, and it was pretty rough, things kinda just worked out for the character. She never had to take a hard stance. She never really suffered. And so her victory was kinda boring.
It’s a weird thing, as a reader you like a character, you want them to succeed, you even might get mad at the author if they torture them too much. But you’ll probably like the story alot more if they do. Just look at the popularity of George RR Martin’s books.
It’s even weirder for the writer though, because you don’t just like your character. You love them. They are your baby, a reflection of yourself, and this completely alien unique entity all at once and…
After repeatedly telling him to stop grabbing my butt, I finally warned him. “If you do that again, I am going to punch you in the face.”
He thought it was cute. He thought it was funny. Some silly girl threatening to hit him for something as innocent as a little butt grabbing. We flirted from time to time after all, or at least he flirted and I tolerated it.
I was polite. I was friendly. We had mutual friends and I didn’t want to be labeled a bitch. I didn’t want to be left out because I had the audacity of basing my careful rejections on the fact that I just wasn’t interested. Fortunately I had a relationship I could blame our lack of hooking up on.
But the butt grabbing, that was too much. And after the first time, when I said it wasn’t funny, I didn’t like, it, cut it out, he kept it up. Over and over and over. All night I would be standing up from my chair, butt grab. Talking to a friend, butt grab. Pushing through the crowd. Butt grab.
So I told him. And he immediately grabbed my butt again.
And I punched him in the face.
Shattering my carefully maintained social standing. I was a bitch. I was a tease. I was words that I will not type here.
It shouldn’t have had to come to that. I should have done things differently from the beginning. I was young and still unsure how to navigate the world as a woman. There was a line you were supposed to walk if you wanted to hang out. Friendly but not too friendly. Pretty but not too pretty. Cool, but not too cool. Too much of any of these things set up certain expectations. Too little and you were a bitch.
And always I was the guard of these secret behaviors, unable to call them out in public because the blame rested with me. Even resorting to physical violence to defend myself was preferable to revealing these nasty little ways that the men around us, the men we thought were friends, were degrading, violating, and for many many women, assaulting.
Women have been trained to protect the men who have attacked us.
I’m a good bit older now and I am seeing all these stories come to light, finally! I am seeing women reject the fucking line. Refuse to keep the secrets of their violators any long.
Please keep it coming. Please shout it loud.
Because IT IS NOT OKAY.
It’s not okay if they’re a democrat.
It’s not okay if they’re republican.
It’s not okay if they are older or younger than you.
It’s not okay if it’s just a little feel. It’s not okay if its a violent attack.
It’s not okay, no matter who they are, who you are, where you live and what you were doing.
We all own our own bodies. No one else has any right to them.
I have been pushing for two weeks. Struggling the last couple days. Tonight I am calling it. My momentum on this work in progress has crapped out and although I am so damned close to done, I think I need to take a break.
I don’t want to write this anymore. Not right now.
For every paragraph I write, my mind is drudging up plot holes that need filling.
I still don’t have a perfect ending. And it’s the end.
I don’t even like what I’m writing now.
Now I will tell everyone who will listen the most important part of writing is to finish what you write. You can’t truly fix anything that hasn’t been completed to begin with. But when doubt starts to take over and nothing is coming easily, I have found that my best method is to just take a step back.
Wait for it to call again. Think on it. Work on something that excites you.
So if you’ve read my last post, you know that I strongly recommend outlining, especially if you want to keep a steady momentum and keep a short deadline. But the truth is, I don’t always take my own advice. I would like to, because when I have outlined my first draft comes easier and is much cleaner.
But stories don’t always work the way you want them to and this is the case with my current project.
A first chapter I wrote way back before I even had children sprang to life last winter, lurching out of the obscure recesses of my hard drive and demanding attention. I wasn’t quite sure where it wanted to go, but the feeling of it began to become clear to me and the characters started speaking.
One late night when I had to go to bed but was reluctant to leave it, I put together a working outline of where I wanted it to go when I picked it up the next night. And the next night, it went in a completely different direction.
I wrote a looser outline of how the story would end, leaving plenty of room for unexpected twists.
When I consulted it next time I hit a lull, I was completely off course.
This story wanted to remain a mystery to me. Writing it was like navigating a heavy fog. I could only see what was going to happen when it was right in front of me.
Some ideas stuck. Some twists I came up with at the beginning remain, waiting for their big reveals. The characters who popped out at the beginning have claimed the personalities that they presented with. But the story, insists on being written by the seat of my pants.
To be honest it’s kind of a mess. But it’s also pretty exciting. I’m still not sure who the villain is. I’m still not sure how the anti-hero will prevail. Or if he will at all.
Seat of the pants writing is not the easiest way to write and when this manuscript is finally done I am in for a whole lot of serious editing, which is not my favorite thing to do. Writers who are dedicated to pre-plotting and outlining may abandon stories that insist on veering so wildly off course.
In my earliest novels, seat of the pants writing was the only way I worked. And those novels are unlikely to ever see the light of day again, but some surprising and exciting ideas and plots came out of them, and this will be the case for my newest work as well. Only this time, I think (or hope) I have learned enough to be able to clean this up into something awesome.
There is no wrong way to write a book, except not to do it at all. A story will tell you how it wants to be written, whether it’s with disciplined pre-plotting or complete chaos. If you let it call the shots in the first draft, it will take the pressure off of you and will actually make the experience of writing it pretty fun.
Tell me what you think. Are you a pantser or a plotter? Have you have had an unruly story that just insisted on going it’s own way?
I’ve tried to participate a few times and never quite made it. But you can learn from my failures.
If you’ve decided to participate in this year’s NaNoWriMo, first off, Congrats! It’s an awesome opportunity to stretch your limits and see what you can do. And you can do this, but the way is fraught with danger! Danger I say!
No, seriously, not danger, but it’s very easy to get off track and fall short of your goal. I know because I have done it myself. In fact I still have an awesome start to my NaNoWriMo manuscript from 2008 sitting on my hard drive, collecting digital dust.
But, I’ve also managed to churn out a few first drafts in a month’s time. Just not the month of November. If I wasn’t already 75% through a manuscript already, I would be participating in this year’s challenge.
So, get your work space ready. Decide that you can do this, and check out these tips to stay on track.
Seriously. Outline this story. You have already been told this so you might have done it in October, but if you haven’t do it now. It doens’t have to be exact. It does not need to be complicated, but having a framework to go off of, and a clear idea where the story is going will keep it moving. Whenever you start to feel the momentum slowing down, refer to your outline and move onto the next plot point.
2. Take advantage of the resources available to you.
One of the most helpful things I have come across in completing my work is having a writing community of real writers to bounce ideas off of, commiserate with, and tap for research. There are hundreds, probably thousands, of NaNoWriMo writing forums. Find one you like and use it! Often, just talking about your novel (with people who’s eyes don’t glaze over when you say “my novel…”) is enough to get the wheels turning again.
3. Turn off Social Media
We all know social media is the dark lord of time wasting. And your time is valuable right now. Don’t let the dark lord suck it away, even in your awesome NaNoWriMo forum, or you will be one of those people who is talking about the book they are writing instead of finishing the book they are writing.
4. Don’t edit it. Don’t even review it. For now.
No spell checks, no clean ups, NO REVISING. Just move forward for now. If you stop to read over everything you’ve written, you will be tempted to start fixing things. If you try to clean it up as you go along, you will never get done. Clean up later. Create now. Forward and not backwards. Even if you changed the MC’s name in chapter twenty.
5. Write every day. Every. Day.
Even weekends. Even Thanksgiving. It doesn’t have to be 5000 words, but try to write a paragraph if you have a busy day. Time off kills momentum and you need to keep momentum to finish this. Every day. I mean it. And yes, I mean you.
6. Have a life.
You can write a chapter a day and still grab a drink with your BFF, go on a date, re-watch all of Stranger Things. You should. Because writing is awesome, but you need to live to have stuff to write about and writing burn out is a real thing that will destroy your motivation if you let it. When your eyes start to cross or you are more stressed about what your MC is getting herself into than your latest work drama, take a breather. Just, you know, write first.
7. Take a Walk or just a brooding ten minutes
I need to write a post about my brooding breaks. They may be one of the most important parts of my process. I usually take one when I’ve completed a scene or a chapter and they allow me to collect my throughts, work through my transitions and start to piece together the next scene or decide it’s time to go to bed. It is imperative you get away from your computer to take a break. Go outside, take a walk, or just go sit in a different chair if need be, but no distractions, no phone, no TV. Just think, or brood. You will return to your manuscript fresh and ready to go on.
Yeah, I know you thought it didn’t apply to you, but now you’re stuck in your story half way through and have no idea where it is going or how to get to the end from here. So take a walk and work out a rough idea how to get to where you want to go and then write it down. There is no hard fast rule that says you have to outline before you start, but whenever you find yourself stuck, an outline WILL tide you over until the seat of your pants starts flying again.
9. Accept the Suckage
First drafts are bad. It’s okay. I know you don’t want it to suck but the strong difference between those who can write a novel in one month and those who cannot is that the ones who do it accept that at the end of November they will have a completed first draft. It might resemble a flaming dumpster fire but it’s a flaming dumpster fire that can be edited into a diamond. If you try to make it perfect while you are writing it, at the end of the month you will have a beautiful twenty pages.
10. Love what you do
This is your story. This is your voice. It is important whether it’s a space opera about fighting vampire robots or a generational drama about American immigrants. Write what you love and love what you do. That authenticity will carry you and your work further than any other method you use to complete your first draft.
Today Only, for Halloween you can get a free copy of Lucas Mangum’s collection of dark fiction Engines of Ruin on Amazon! Do it! Do it now!
Based on some of the lessons I’ve been learning recently, and sharing here, I really wanted to pick the brain of dark fiction author Lucas Mangum. Lucas has been kicking ass and making a name for himself as a unique voice in horror and dark fiction and has some great insights on writing, creating, and scaring the hell out of people this Halloween.
Hello Lucas. I know you are actually reading this on your computer, well after I’ve written this, but I’m going keep this conversational… like a weirdo
So, to start out, Please tell me a little about your work, your style, and your genre.
I write mostly horror, but have also been known to dabble in crime and the downright bizarre. I tend to write mostly about human darkness, as it’s something that I’m very fascinated with. I’ve been told my style is lyrical, but even if the things I’m describing are vulgar. That’s pretty neat, I think, because that gives the reader a juxtaposition.
Why do you think you are compelled to write horror? I have a theory that writing horror is an attempt at controlling your fears. Any validity with you?
-The concept of controlling or, in some cases, even exorcising my fears by writing horror is certainly part of it, but another huge part of it is just a pure love for the genre. I grew up on horror movies. I think they’re a lot of fun, and a desire to create something that is just as fun, while also talking about the darker side of life is probably my primary reason to write horror. We all have this in us. By the time this interview is posted, we would have just celebrated Halloween, a holiday where even your most straightlaced relative is compelled to dress their children up as devils and ghosts. It’s fun to play on the dark side. I just tend to enjoy it all year long, whereas the rest of the world indulges in it for one month.
What are some of the works that have inspired you?
-While I seriously doubt we would be friends, the collected works of H.P. Lovecraft are a huge touchstone for me. Conceptually and stylistically, his work speaks to me like no one else’s. If we’re going to continue talking about short stories, I’ve also got to give major shout outs to Bradbury’s The October Country, Joe Hill’s 20th Century Ghosts, Wrath James White’s Book of A Thousand Sins and the collected works of Richard Matheson. For longer works, It, Interview with the Vampire, Clive Barker’s Imajica, Poppy Z. Brite’s Drawing Blood, Sara Gran’s Come Closer, Brian Keene’s Dark Hollow and the Preacher comics really stuck with me. Film was my first love though, and I think Night of the Living Dead, Carnival of Souls, Phantasm, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the work of John Carpenter, and Cemetery Man are all huge touchstones for me. Marilyn Manson taught me to be fearless as an artist, to always say what I want to say with confidence and not worry about whether or not a subject is too taboo to explore. I try to continue to be inspired too. Recent books that have really spoke to me are Black Gum, Cartoons in the Suicide Forest, Mr. Splitfoot, Ekland, Shallow Graves, and Ecstatic Inferno
And your favorite authors?
-Other than the authors of the above-mentioned works, I’ve got to give huge props to Jonathan Maberry, Carlton Mellick III, the poet Stephanie Wytovich, and Gabino Iglesias.
So you are a pretty prolific author. How many pieces did you publish this past year?
-From April of 2016 until now, I have published Flesh and Fire, which was part of a flip book with Dark of Night by Jonathan Maberry; Mania,a novella; A Killing Back Home, a ten-thousand word murder mystery; and Engines of Ruin, a collection.
Can you tell me a little bit about how you came to this point, where you can produce so much clean work?
-Oh, wow, so, I actually don’t consider myself that prolific. I think prolific and I think, Maberry, Mellick, Keene, Bradbury and Matheson, but I suppose it’s all relative. A lot of factors go into being prolific. Really, it just takes practice. Don’t be afraid to suck. It’s all part of the learning process. I’ve written ten books, five of which I won’t publish, and that’s not counting all the other books I decided to abandon. Also, you’ve got to make the time to write. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you just sit down and do it. Does this mean you’ll be three years behind on shows to binge on Netflix? Yes. Does it mean you’ll miss out on social occasions and those podcasts everyone keeps talking about? You betcha. But if you really want to do this thing, you’ve got to make sacrifices. I’m not saying live like a hermit. I mean, I’ve at least seen Stranger Things and G.L.O.W., and I do have people over from time to time, but the point is to make time to write. It’ll get done when you let it get done.
Just for fun, tell me a little bit about the first novel you completed.
-The first novel I completed really wanted to be Stephen King’s It. It featured an evil shapeshifting court jester, instead of an evil shapeshifting clown. I was fourteen at the time.
What are some of the lessons you’ve learned since then?
-Ha, well, you can actually learn a lot by imitating, so I recommend doing it. Not publishing it, mind you, but doing it in your free time. Seriously. If I’m having trouble starting, I’ll retype a bunch of my favorite first lines. If I’m having trouble finding a rhythm, I’ll re-type a favorite chapter from something.
What would you say are the biggest factors in improving your work?
-Either hire an editor or find someone you trust who’s willing to do it for free. Make sure they have the mind of an
editor though. If they’re also a writer, you don’t want them giving you notes saying how they would do it. It’s still your book and they need to be objective. Other than that, I think it goes back to not being afraid to suck. It’s part of the process. Unavoidable, really. I just wrote a really shitty chapter on my work in progress that I plan to go back to and fix in the re-writer. It happens. Get it down and move on.
What has been your favorite project to date? Why?
-My favorite project to date has to be my forthcoming book, Gods of the Dark Web. It hits all the notes I wanted it to hit. I even have a hard time choosing a single passage from it when doing a reading, because there are so many passages I’m proud of.
And last of all, what is in the works for you?
-Aside from Gods, I’m also shopping a small-town horror novel called We Are the Accused, and I’m working on my first collaboration with bizarro author Michael Sean Leseuer. It’s called When We Don’t Sleep, and I think it will be very scary. It deals with sleep paralysis and demonic visions and creatures from the other side. Exciting stuff.
Maybe you have this problem too. It’s a trend in my process that I’m just beginning to come to terms with. The rest of my manuscript will be generally logical, clean and coherent, but the climax is a giant, raging mess.
It’s all over the place. It doesn’t follow a rational path. Motivations, descriptions, tone and setting are sloppy at best and there is often some long info dumps revelations that DRAG it down. So over all, my climax is just awful.
Usually by the time I get to the climax, I’m in full blown writing mode, so I have two choices. Power through, let it come out as it is, or beat it into submission.
Now I have to admit I’ve frequently tried to beat it into submission. After all the climax is pretty much the most important part of the novel, the part I have been writing toward the whole time. But pounding away at it has a tendency to sap my motivation. To be completely honest, I love writing, and when I don’t love it, well, I don’t really want to do it any more.
And the truth is, even when I do get through it in this fashion, it’s still pretty bad.
So my newest method is to let it suck. Let is be the heaping pile of hot trash that it wants to be for now. I’m going to have to go in there with a bulldozer during edits anyway, what ever gets me to the end of the story is the method I should take. I will have a clearer idea on what it needs to be concise and effective after the story is done, the theme has emerged and I’ve had time to identify specific problems.
First drafts aren’t supposed to be good. They’re supposed to be finished. Even something as important as the climax isn’t going to be any good to you if you can’t finish the book.
Finish the book. Let it be trash. Trash can always be cleaned up.
You will scrape and toil, pecking out a few horrific words and deleting them for days, weeks, months, years. You will stare at blank pages in utter horror as the words in your mind shrivel, unwritten, into dust. Then one day you still start to write and it will flow.
When this happens, my best advice for you is don’t stop.
Your words are a boulder that is rolling down a hill. Let it roll! Let it crash over cars. When it hits a plateau let the force it built up rolling, keep it moving forward,until it hits another hill.
Do not stop the rolling boulder! It was was hard to get moving in the first place.
Skip the Game of Thrones finale, if you have the writing momentum. It’s on Demand. Your words are not. Let them roll out or they will stop.
Skip the early bedtime that you wanted to get. You can hazard through a tired morning if it means you spilled two thousand words onto a page.
Even skip the night out, unless you have amazing tickets, already hired the babysitter, or your meeting a friend who’s only in town for the night. Then, do the night out, but get home and get writing as soon as it’s over.
Skip everything you can skip. Work. Dinner. Bathroom. Life. Just don’t stop!
Okay, well, you may have to stop, sometimes. It’s very hard to pull off mad artist these days.
But put off all the things you can, at least for a couple weeks, if you can keep the momentum going that long. Because it is a gift, and it does not last, especially if you don’t get on that big rolling rock and ride it as far as you can.
Other people will have great advice for you on how to finish a first draft. It all can work, but for me, from me, this is the only fool proof advice I have.
Don’t stop. Keep writing, until the well dries up or you finish the draft.
You might have gone to grad school for creative writing. Or maybe you’ve just joined your first crit group. You might have written twenty eight novels or still be pecking away at your first short story. Regardless of where you are, there are some things that you need to know. I am going to tell you these things. In fact, many people may tell you these things, but it’s likely you’re going to have to learn them through experience before they really sink in.
So if you’re just starting out, this is just a heads up.
Everything about writing takes time. The writing part, that’s the short part. Editing, submitting, waiting for response, publishing, everything takes time. Lots and lots of time.
Everything about writing takes patience. See above.
Your first works won’t be that good. You can fix them or you can move on.
Sooner or later, you’re going to need to redraft. You may think by editing as you go you are saving yourself time or effort. You are not. Just get the first draft done so that you can get to that second, third and fourth draft.
You are a writer for a reason. Even if you’re struggling to find your voice, it’s there and with time and practice it will emerge.
Not everyone’s suggestions are valid to you. It’s your story. When people try to start rearranging it, they’re trying to turn it into their story.
Most of them time “They just don’t get it” is not a good excuse. You may use it alot when you start to get critiques on your work. The thing is, if the people reviewing your work just don’t get it, neither will your readers.
Only JK Rowling is JK Rowling. We’d all like to have that first manuscript we punched out during a hard time in our lives become an international sensation, but the truth is even JK Rowling’s idea took seven hard years from conception to publication.
Your ego will be crushed. Again and again. Just say goodbye to it. It’s not serving you anyway.
You can do this. Yes. It takes a lot of work and even more perseverance. No one can do it for you, and for a long time, there won’t even be anyone to do it with you, but if you have been gifted with the burning desire to write stories, to share your mind with the world, then there is a reason for that, and if you keep moving it will come together for you.
What are some lessons you have learned about being a writer? Please share!