Resolutions

2016.

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There’s extreme pressure in the United States to change or alter ones self at the start of the new year into improving and “bettering” for the greater good of those around.

Why?

What if the current iteration of YOU is the best little snowflake available? Should there be a way to improve ones current station?

Obvious answer: Of course.

Regardless of age, I believe we never stop learning. Even a master mechanic who grew up rebuilding Holley mechanical carburetors with the help of pipe-cleaners and ether can build their skill by understanding the computerized nuances of the newer tuned-port injection systems on modern engines. Writers who typed every word out on an IBM Selectric Typewriter onto standard paper would benefit in a huge way to learn the basic data entry models of Microsoft Word/Open Office and a basic keyboard.

New Years Resolutions, however, come with a different stigma.

I feel anything I commit myself to do, without a grounded stipulation (such as a doctors appointment or monetary commitment in some form,) I’m more likely to not do because I already said I was going to do it.

Not sure why, but it just works that way.

Case in point: I want to keep an updated blog on daily activities here at work, home, school, etc – and this is maybe the third published article? So yeah, I’m my own worst enemy. If a doctor told me to eat candy and drink alcohol every day for my health, I’d rarely touch the stuff.

My resolutions are these:

  • Write every day.
  • Learn something new every day and write about it.
  • Help others.
  • Don’t be a dick.
  • Be more positive.
  • Stop hating myself.
  • Enjoy life.
  • Try to not take life seriously since no one gets out alive.

And that’s it. It’s the same stuff I did last year. And the year before. It’s really not much different than anyone else’s list. Other than the obligatory “lose x pounds and fit into a bikini” which is something NO ONE wants me to do…other than a handful of you freaks.

Fine, I’ll go bikini shopping, but I won’t like it.

-Chris

Inspiration

ar136360521914337Inspiration does not come to those who wait. A few random folks may find themselves inspired while bored, but this does not mean they sat under the tallest tree in a field and meditated until the idea arose. The shade of this magnificent conifer, blocking all ultraviolet radiation from seeping deep into a soul does not require additional metaphysical language to achieve new ideas.

It is in actuality, quite the opposite.

To prove this hypothesis I set out to have a scientific controlled experiment under the standardized rules of one control, and one variable. The control was fiction writing. The variable was only writing when inspired.

The problem, I quickly realized, was how to begin writing if I wasn’t inspired to start? So I found something to trigger inspiration: music.

April of 2015, I awoke and set out to only write parts of my first-draft novel (also commonly called “my WIP,”) when this illustrious inspiration struck.

Instead of my ritualistic morning of normality in my OCD-addled brain, I broke tradition, and did not do what my brain assured me, would cause this magical rock of space-lint to fail rotating.

The first week – nothing. Not a word. No inspiration came while I waited on the porch, paced the hallways at work and listened to the echoes of the business world ricochet around the padded cubicles of corporate torture, and not even while I drove did inspiration honk it’s proverbial horn at my rusting minivan. Inspiration failed to respond to any meetings I attempted to schedule.

The second week I tried to change things slightly. I bought the album “Idlewild” from They Might Be Giants and listened to some new music from one of my favorite – and most inspiring – bands.

However, inspiration came to me in a different light. Instead of appearing in dreams as an angel who sounds like Lily Tomlin as a telephone operator mixed with Kenny from South Park, TMBG’s new album inspired me to create something I haven’t made since the early 2000’s: music.

I began writing small lyrical passages and note riffs down in Evernote, just to get them out of my brain. But something odd happened: the more I wrote, the more inspiration arrived.

Imagine that.

The third week made me change things a little. Instead of waiting for inspiration – I chased it like TMZ chase Kanye West. I forced myself to write, with music playing along side of things, and guess what happened?

If you guessed that inspiration followed the hard work idea, you get a cookie. Don’t worry, it’s gluten-free, sugar-free, salt free, chocolate free, fat-free, and . . . yeah, it’s a dry cracker.

Inspiration and dreams of making something out of one’s life, especially to those of us, to you and I, the creative people who see the world in multiple colors and notes and songs with graphics and high-definition hues – we do not need to wait for inspiration.

Inspiration comes from us.

We’re the ones who inspire ourselves to do more. To build more. To see more life in art and music and poetry.

We see the little video clips of ISIS smashing these ancient sculptures in foreign lands, and even though we may have never seen those works of art before, our hearts break knowing that art – that historical element of beauty and passion chipped into solid sandstone boulders by bloody hands and primitive tools – are lost forever.

We do not wait for inspiration. We chase it. Expand it into universes larger than the imagination could realize, and transcribe those stories, the songs and words, into meaningful dialog that tears at the soul of those who view it.

We are inspiration.

Nano 4 – Catching up.

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New High Score!

I did this one on purpose.

Catching up with things requires us to take a little step and re-evaluate things or make an adjustment to how things are situated to figure out why and how the best way to move forward occurs.

Everyone misses a day.

Everyone has real-life come to a head and explode.

People get sick, accidents happen, and something called a “plot-twist” in real-life usually sneaks in and throws a belt at the most inopportune time.

Missing a day or two isn’t going to destroy your book. It isn’t time to throw in the towel.

Not yet.

Here’s some solid time management tricks to help get you (and me) back on track:

Take the 45/15 rule and put it into play: for every 45 minutes of solid writing, take 15 minutes and go outside for a walk, eat a Snickers bar, or even switch laundry over. At the next hour marker, start writing again for 45 minutes. Rinse and repeat.

Write your scenes out-of-order. Is the ending the part that’s really throwing you for a loop? Write a “placeholder” ending – one that’s sitting there to bookend the end of your story, but you know you will go back and change. You can do this with any scene you feel may be troublesome later. And if you use Scrivener, simply move the index card to the proper chapter folder when you have a better idea where each scene fits.

Remember that this isn’t professional writing. No one is going to pay you anything when this is done. Hell, even 50,000 isn’t even a full-sized novel. It’s more like the Halloween candy of novels. It’s a start. A place to branch from. Nora Robert’s once said: “You can’t edit a blank page.” and she’s absolutely correct. 50,000 words is a brilliant start of the first draft, but you’ll need to keep going afterwards on a re-write, then an edit, then another re-write – so this is just the start.

Keep writing. We’ve only just begun.mp3

-Chris

Nano 3 – Inspiration for Depression and Self-doubt

oJHChksGreetings fellow word burglars, It is day three, and if you haven’t started your masterpiece of a manuscript yet, don’t fret, there is still plenty of time left to face-roll your keyboard and make magic happen.

My quick little update is I read the first two scenes and edited them to make them more alive. I know – I know…that’s breaking a cardinal rule of nano, but because I wasn’t feeling the characters (giggity) and couldn’t get my head into the world I designed, I had to do something against the grain.

So, I broke the rules.

And with the first two scenes in a much better place, I wrote two more scenes right afterwards, closing out the first chapter of the book and changing the entire outline.

In other words: Sometimes you have to do something drastic, or different, or even start over, when the thing you’re trying to do feels right. You’ll know it when it hits the right chord and the band hits the groove. And right now all the players are in the right position for the second chapter. I couldn’t begin to tell you what’s going to happen next, because they haven’t told me. It’ll come out when I start writing.

That’s the nice thing about pantsing a story like this, or nano in general: Some stories require a tight and detailed outline for the pieces to fall into place, and others don’t fit together no matter how hard you try. This story is of the latter. I’m just the conduit while the characters tell me what to do as I watch them play in the sandbox in my head.

And the way this is going – I wouldn’t have it any other way.

In other news, my good friend Moses posted this excerpt the other day and it helped me put more of a perspective on things. Maybe it will help you as well:

“When we start out most of us measure success in much the same way: it’s the dream of being able to write full time, and by that we mean earning enough to do nothing but write. It’s that imagined future that haunts us, but it’s also the one pulling us forward. We’re all stuck in a skewed value system that is most content keeping us in our place, wherever that place may be. So, who or what is your enemy? Here’s a hint from an old hand at this: it only seems to be inside you. Truth is, it’s out there. But, unlike many people, you have both the talent and the ability to face it down, day by day, word by word. Writing and the need to keep doing it may seem like a curse at times, but it’s the opposite. It’s your weapon, and your armor. It’s the white-hot core inside you that no heel can ever crush. We all need to argue against reality, to rail against it, in fact. For all the shit out there, all the fucked up idiocy of a culture and civilization bent on self-destruction, your only answer — your only riposte — is to face that blank screen or blank page, and to conjure up yet one more gesture of humanity. Really, what else can you do? One last thing, not as a warning but as a promise: the doubt never ends, no matter how successful you come to be. Writing, like all art, is (for me) an ongoing reconciliation with failure. And writing is keeping the negotiation alive: there’s no crawling out of, only crawling through, and guess what? It’s fine. It’s livable, when nothing else — for you and for me — is. So take a breath, make a fist, and set out to beat your demons to a pulp. Oh, and if you want more of this, check out lifeasahuman.com, and my essays on writing (Steven Erikson, archived). Cheers, and be well.”

Day 3 should have your manuscript sitting around 5,000 words, but if you’re not close to that number, it’s still nothing to worry about. Try hitting closer to 2000+ a day for the next few days and hopefully the nano site will be fixed by then (it’s been broken since the 1st with all the people trying to update at once.)

-Chris

P.S. I was trying to plan a Google Hangout or Twitch stream to get everyone together for a few sprints if anyone’s interested. Leave a comment or message on here or Twitter/Facebook/G+ if you’re interested.

Nano 2 – Better, but still not up to snuff.

Oh crap. This is harder than it looks.

Oh crap. This is harder than it looks.

Where did that stupid phrase come from, anyway? “Up to snuff.” Isn’t snuff ground up tobacco one snorts? Anything is better than snuff.

Anyway, Day 2 has gone a bit better, even with the air let out of my sails. I kept going on the subsequent scene and focused on homework (which I need to finish) and killed a handful of people to cause drama in the story. I also listened to one of the latest Writing Excuses podcasts where they said something along the lines of “Most mystery or thriller stories start by having a dead body on stage within the first chapter.” Well, I have four bodies in the first two scenes.

The sad part is that this wasn’t supposed to be violent. Eh, I’ll fix it in post if all else fails. Not too worried.

So how are you guys doing? Any improvement?

Today’s idea is “Never give up, never surrender.” Basically, just keep writing.

Like I said, I’m not super thrilled with this so far, it’s not grabbing me or begging me to write it, or even having the characters talk to me at all. They’re surprisingly quiet.

So I’m going to keep putting words in their mouthes until they begin talking or doing something and see if that helps the motivation start spewing forward.

Let me know how things go with you!

-Chris

Nano 1 – Things didn’t go as planned…/sigh

You believe this?

You believe this?

The first day of nano is almost to a close, and I am in a serious disagreement with how the first scene of my story began.

It’s the first scene, and I’m just not feeling it.

I know what I should do, which is keep writing through it and see what else comes up, and fix it later, but because of the weak start, I just don’t care now.

I’m more interested in leveling characters in year-old games than I am doing anything else.

Maybe it’s because I started this story with an outline more detailed than normal and actually stuck to the outline, which felt more like re-writing or expanding the story than being creative and designing new ideas on the fly. I’m not sure, but the story feel I wanted and what came out so far is not even close.

But, I’m not going to re-write it. I’m going to keep going.

It’s strange that no matter how detailed and outlined something is designed, it still doesn’t feel right.

Oh well. Time to shake off the crunchies and keep moving forward, right?

-Chris

Nano Eve Excuses – Some Precious Points to Ponder

Learn this.Hello fellow ink slingers, word spankers, and prose peddlers, it’s less than 12 hours away from the start of the 2014 NaNoWriMo season. And if you’re like most people – even seasoned writers – you’re probably a bit nervous, apprehensive, and even feeling like this is pointless.

It’s not.

Trust me when I say that there are many reasons you should not write during November. Everyone can make excuses why NOT to do something, especially something difficult and challenging.

Some people say “Well, I don’t think I have the time.” 
The problem being you have to make time for things you want to accomplish. Instead of watching specific shows on the DVR, wait a few weeks and use the previous TV time to write. Instead of going out for lunch, bring a sack lunch and write. The easiest thing to do is look at those specific times during the day where you have 20 or 30 minutes uninterrupted and set that time aside. If you don’t have that much time, ask those around you for a break. Every word counts, and every day adds up. Keep going.

Another excuse I hear is “My idea isn’t that good.”

So it’s finished? You’ve already written the first draft? Great! Let’s read it! Oh – you haven’t yet. All you have is a thought. Here’s a little piece of advice someone told me while I was questioning making a song or not: “It doesn’t matter if people like it not once it’s finished, but right now you’re telling people they don’t like it before they’ve had a chance to even judge. That’s giving too many people way too much control over your creativity.” Even if the idea is the absolute worst possible thing in the entire world, there is a market for it. Write it. Create it. Make the world’s BEST worst idea you can. Own it like you’ve polished that smelly turd for years.

One that plagues me: “But you’re not a writer!”

Look at the definition of a writer. Google the word and use your favorite definition. The most common definition is “a person who has written a particular text.” If you take this definition at the literal meaning, the moment you finish the first draft, you are now a writer. Until then, you might be the second definition: “a person who writes stories, books, or articles, as a job or regular occupation.” Which to me means if you have ever received compensation for writing something, you are a writer. Personally, I prefer the Old English definition: “A person who is able to portray their thoughts and feelings into prose well.”

The problem with this entire conversation about “you’re not a writer!” is it’s nothing more than an argument. One side already has their mind made up, and the other side questions or believes the first side for some strange reason. Sometimes, those we care about the most can say things that hurt – and they don’t even know. My suggestion: Prove them wrong by not only ignoring their statement, but writing your heart out, and live your dream as whatever definition you choose.

This last point is one that actually pisses me off when I hear people talk about it, so if I get heated, forgive me:

“I’m waiting for my inspiration.”

Sigh.

You don’t wait for inspiration. You create it. YOU are the creative inspiration in others. YOU are the one building the worlds and characters walking through the dreams of those reading your text. YOU are the one where people say “Oh, I love this writer! I can’t wait for the new book to come out!” In all that stuff before this, where did I once say “inspiration” or “muse” or “magical imaginary friend who inspires you at random times of day to throw up participial phrases?”

Right. Inspiration doesn’t appear. You attack it. Inspiration isn’t the type of thing you wait to come around and then start your artistic project – you start creating and perfect the project later. In the immortal words of Mitch Hedberg: “I’m tired of following my dreams, I’m just going to ask where they’re heading and catch up with them later.” That’s the attitude to take with inspiration. Make your own inspiration by working on your project, not by waiting.

The thing is, everyone deals with these problems. You’re not the only one and will never be alone. Writing is a very solitary task as it is, but we don’t have to take every aspect of it and internalize it. Join Facebook or Google+ writing groups, follow your favorite writers on Twitter, and interact with those who you enjoy. You’ll quickly see that not only do you share many of the same traits as the people you idolize – but many others do as well. Those are the ones you’ll find are like-minded enough to belong to your tribe.

And with writing, friends mean the world.

-Chris

Musical Inspiration – Using Tonal Ingenuity For Maximum Creativity

Yummy Music

See the Music

Today is Devil’s Night here in Detroit, or as some of the locals have rebrand it: Angel’s Night, due to the selfless volunteers sacrificing their freedom and evening to patrol darkened streets to prevent nefarious people from setting buildings ablaze and other criminal activities throughout the decimated urban setting.

Fun fact: “The Crow,” both the original comic book and the movie starring Brandon Lee was based in Detroit and focused the main plot-line around stopping the criminals torching the city on Devil’s Night, or “light it up, light it up.

Since it’s October 30th, this means it is also two days away from the start of Nano, depending on when you choose to begin writing the first of many drafts. Saturday is day one of Nano, and since it’s the weekend, I’d like to extend an invitation to anyone on Facebook or Twitter to ask any questions of me and I’ll do my best to write an extended response to help in any way I can for those taking the plunge in the nano marathon.

For today’s topic, I wanted to bring something to the attention of the class that I only recently found out about myself, since I knew this term existed, but didn’t know it had a scientific code.

I’d like to share a bit about my past first, though:

As a young boy, I was raised by my sister and mother primarily, since my dad worked afternoons. My sister read mostly horror books such as Stephen King and the occasional Dragonrider’s novel, while my mom read anything she could get her hands on with subscriptions to Reader’s Digest and multiple magazines arriving every other day. I could read at a very young age, and in Kindergarten, my teacher would have me read the 4th and 5th grade books to the rest of the class while they took nap-time, since the teacher also happened to be friends with my mom. However, before kindergarten, mom picked up a large moving box full of Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books at a garage sale. These were the paperback-style pocket books which smelled of faint cigar smoke and yellowed mold from someone’s basement. Within this box, also contained a small collection of old 45 records. (To those young enough to raise an eyebrow at the “45 record” comment, a recorded single from a musician would release a smaller version of a large record or LP on a smaller disk, or 45. The “45” referred to the speed at which the platter spun on the turntable: 45 rotations per minute.) Throughout the summer months, I voraciously read each Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys paperback while listening to repeated playing of random 1960’s singles, such as “Dirty Water” by The Standells, and “Riders of the Storm” by The Doors.

I’ve always been a fan of music and figured it had something to do with my mom being talented (not the last name) with singing and instruments, and some of my brothers and sisters playing instruments. So when I began making my music in middle school, it surprised no one. I already drew comic books, painted portraits and did artistic things with various mediums, so teachers and my family thought music was naturally next.

Reading and writing was a bit different, since I always saw it as a stepping stone to a larger goal. Writing was necessary for comic books and music, but it was integrated as part of a larger picture – if that makes sense. I had to write, even from a young age – to do what I wanted to do with other things. In order to make an album with friends, which we did in 7th grade on a small 4 track recorder and a karaoke machine, writing was a singular piece to a larger puzzle. If I think back, the first piece of real creative writing I ever wrote that made anyone pay attention to the story was in kindergarten with a small book called “How the Cheetah Got Its Spots” about how each cheetah secretly held large races like NASCAR at night-time and when they won, the spots grew where the sponsors logos were during the races. I was 5.

Anyway, while listening to the Roundtable Podcast episode with Delilah Dawson, she began talking about a phenomenon she sees when she hears music. This is “Synesthesia.” It’s a series of different effects for everyone affected, however the basic idea is when one sense comes into the brain, it crosses paths with another and triggers multiple senses. For me, when I hear music, I see and feel different colors and moods. I can listen to Tori Amos’ rendition of “Reign In Blood” and see sky blue swathes of slow ink dripping into a pool of honeydew that feels bottomless and claustrophobic. I really couldn’t explain WHY, but that’s what it feels like. In all honesty, I thought everyone had this and it was one of those strange things no one talked about. However, listening to various kinds of music while writing or doing something creative triggers different feelings and effects creatively throughout the entire process and makes things smoother in the end.

So this long-ass post might mean nothing to you – or it might mean everything. Take it with a grain of salt.

It’s worth a shot, though, especially if it’s something you feel may help. Put on various music and begin writing – see what results you see. There is a good chance you’ll surprise yourself and improve your skill at the same time.

-Chris

P.S. Yes, similar to Delilah, I make playlists for each scene I’m writing, depending on the world, time frame, characters, and how they are acting or supposed to act in that scene. For an example: Kasabian’s Empire album I’m using for this year’s nano album because of the electronic sounds, the grunge/metal riffs, and catchy lyrics, along with some more of the blues arpeggios mixed in to the album. The nano story revolves around an android who think’s she’s human.

The Power of Free-writing

freewriting2In my Advanced Creative Writing II college course this summer, one of the strangest things happened: I learned something.

Weird, right? I KNOW! Me too!

But I actually had a great time, learned gobs of information, and put a huge fistful of tricks and habits into my writing toolbox. One of those tips is a great way to not only clear your mind and relax your creativity, but also prime your writing fingers for some serious prose pounding. Ooh – That sounded dirtier than it is.

Free-writing can happen at any time, but what I found works best for me is to take 10-15 minutes before I plan on writing for a longer session. This takes all the fuzzy nonsense out of my brain and puts it into a place for later. And best of all – it works wonders like one wouldn’t believe.

The way I use it for my writing is to set a timer: 10 or 15 minutes (I just use my iPhone’s built-in timer) and open a new Pages sheet, and go nuts. The key, or benefit really, is to not go back and correct anything, or even read what you’re writing down. The more information that crawls through the imagination between your ears is thrown onto the screen – usually misspelled and without any form of proper punctuation. The purpose is to literally drop everything that pops into your brain onto the screen (or paper if you want to write longhand,) and to get it out of your head. After the timer goes off, put a date on top and save the document – but ignore it for now.

What I’ve found is usually 50% of these free-writing sessions have some good ideas in there. The rest of it is nonsense not fit for the trash bin. Of course, you could always send it to your favorite political news station. But half of it is crap that wouldn’t keep the attention of a goldfish entertained.

The main point I’ve found is this: After doing the free-writing for 10-15 minutes BEFORE writing each day, I not only have a clearer mind and brighter focus for the topic and purposeful writing at hand, but I also have great ideas saved for future usage. It’s something I’ve done every day since the class, and I’ve been thankful for the trick to increase my own creative concentration threefold.

Hopefully this helps your writing out as well!

-Chris

Scenes, The Puzzle Pieces to the Bigger Picture

BOSSWith Nano being only a few days away, I’ve had a few people on twitter ask me to clarify how I write scenes.

To clarify, everyone writes different. Some people start with a bottle of wine and caress the keyboard until the right words feel like they belong in the prose, while others plot and outline for days or weeks before a single sentence appears. Whatever way you choose is up to you. There is no wrong way to write. Choose a style and dosage that works for your system. You know your own creativity best. I’m only here to give you more options and ideas for trying new and exciting paths to opening up the floodgates – nothing more.

Scenes are one of these types of things writers like to over-complicate for a variety of reasons. Instead of getting into a pissing argument, I’ll just say there is no wrong way to write a scene. One of my best friends thinks of scenes more like small episodes of a television show leading to a bigger journey. He’s not wrong, in the slightest. But not everyone visualizes their projects the same way.

I tend to think of scenes more along the lines of quests in an RPG. Think of World of Warcraft, and each quest has its own little story along with the task assigned. That’s how I fit them all together in my head.

Essentially, it boils down to this: scenes are small tasks or small stories that all fit together to help build the main protagonist or antagonist to their larger goal. If the scene does not benefit the story in this way, look into cutting it from the manuscript during a subsequent edit.

Looking further into a dissection of an actual scene, one can see that each scene is very much like a quest in a video game. There are two primary types of scenes: a disaster, where the POV character fails to reach the goal, and the reaction, where the POV character makes a decision to keep going based on what happened during that scene.

We can cut these down even further:

Disaster scenes look like the normal typical scene for all purposes. The POV has a goal to achieve throughout the scene, they come across some conflict, and they fail. The point is that the POV needs to fail. No one wants to see characters who always win – that’s not exciting. If everyone always wins and everyone always succeeds, there’s not much point to the story, is there? Going back to my RPG Warcraft quest scene scenario, my main character accepts the quest, sets out to achieve the goal of the quest, becomes embroiled in some conflict that prevents them from achieving the quest, and then grows because of this event. Or, if they do actually achieve the quest, they realize it was a trap and now they have to get out of the turbulence from the evil person who planted the trap.

Reaction scenes are a entirely different from disaster scenes. Reaction is usually the emotional following to the disaster. Think of it as the “touchy-feely-purgatory where everyone talks about what just happened.” The “Oh my Gods, what did we just do?”-type mentality. These are the scenes where you show the heartbreak and distress the journey takes on the characters and how they mentally begin breaking down. This is where the poetic license begins to flourish in creative writing. Reaction scenes start with the characters themselves reacting – usually about what just happened, as I’ve mentioned. Then they follow with the “Well, what do we do NOW?” type attitude of “There’s no where we can go! Every path we can take has blood-thirsty venomous hydras throwing explosive teddy bears filled with flying spiders!” Until the group finds one deadly and dangerous path that no one in their right-mind would ever take. But since this group is on their last wish and out of options, the decision (this is the key here – the only decision left is a very bad one,) leads to another quest or disaster.

And that’s how the chain of scenes write themselves.

For many people, writing scenes gives them a chance to create the pacing required for the reader to breathe and almost control how the story flows. For me, this helps me organize everything as it puts the puzzle together, and hopefully level up my character.

-Chris