Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Power of Ritual

It's Saturday.  Writing day.  :)

I always plan to write through the week, and I do. I jot down notes and scribbles of dialogue and character attributes.

But nothing like Saturday.

Saturdays are times of pure literary abandon for me.  I get to wake up a 9am (a full 4 hour later than normal!), brew strong coffee, and hole up in my office with my dogs for twelve hours and two more pots of coffee and a litter o' cola until I emerge, a strange mixture of sleepy and fulfilled.

I listen to the same song over and over, until I can no longer really hear it.  It serves as a mental tool.  occupying that percentage of my mind that would to pull my thoughts from my task at hand and nag me about dishes or laundry or work.

I accidentally put my writing song on in the car on the drive to work the other day, and immediately my mind was transported to my novel in progress and my characters situations and I had a wonderful revelation about a scene that I had been working on.  In that moment I fully realized the power of ritual for a writer.  When my mind heard that song, I flashed like Chuck and the Intersect!  I could hardly wait for today to really delve in and put that idea to work in my novel!

Every time I begin a project, I compile a playlist, but this novel is different.  It is paced different, and the story is a very powerful one for me.  So as a result, I was only able to find a single song that I felt really went with it at this stage.  (Hence the same song over and over.)  So I stumbled onto this super power quite accidentally. 

At any rate, I was always afraid to develop rituals as a writer.  I read in a book once, I think it was This Year You Write Your Novel by Walter Mosley (a very interesting read), who said he was leery of rituals... afraid they would cause a writer's block if they stopped manufacturing a special pen or he had to change computers or something.  That made a lot of sense to me at the time.

But who am I kidding?

I have LOADS of writing rituals. 

  1. I have to have my laptop.
  2. I have to be in my office, and it has to be tidy.
  3. I have to have my song for that piece.
  4. I have to have Diet Mountain Dew, Coffee, and/or Mike and Ike's the red ones, (or Hot Tamales).
  5. I have to be alone.
  6. I have to be warm. (in the winter my feet are always cold.)
  7. I have to be excited about my characters.
All of these are generally common place among writers, nearly all of us like these things. (Even coffee and Hot Tamales from what I read on the Internet :)

Now I can brainstorm in the car, sure.  I do it all the time.  I get a lot of great ideas in my FIFTEEN HOURS a week of commuting. *do I sound bitter? sorry.*  But I cannot straight up compose... ya know?

So, I hear by am dismissing my irrational resistance to ritual!  I embrace this annoying song and all the little things that make my writing Saturday the best and most productive day it can be! :D

... and one more thing... I hereby declare Saturday, My Awesome 10k Writing Day! 

( for more on the 10k writing day check out Rachel Aaron's amazing blog! *she's a genius*
 Like if the guys from Big Bang Theory wrote a book about how to write a book! BAZINGA!)

Saturday, January 21, 2012


I have spent a fair amount of time in my life trying to figure out what it is about all my favorite stories that was so captivating to me.  I think popular stories hold different things for different people, but for me personally, it always comes down to chemistry among the characters.

This is not a new observation by any means.  Its been batted around aplenty, but I think about it a lot.

In Writing Excuses 6.18, Lou Anders referred to something called the "relationship, or dynamic character" in a story.  I really like this concept, because its not just the love interest that can amplify the character in the story here, but any person that can be important in the life of our character. 

When we are by ourselves, we are a certain way. (I myself am quiet and usually at my computer.) But when we are around our love interests we are usually at our best... that is to say, we put our best foot forward.

Now think about how you are around your crazy college friend Bob. 


Different story altogether now.

That's not to say the love interests can't be the dynamic relationship character... by no means, just look at anything Stephanie Meyer.  It works great.  But, your MC probably acts a different way around different people just like everyone else... this is something that can broaden the sense of your story if you open up to it. 

And about that dynamic relationship character:

Sometimes it can even be a character that our MC doesn't even like very much.  *fun* 

I like to use characters to bring out some of the latent qualities of my MC.  How often are we really put in a position to look like failures and we willingly take the hit?  Most people would never know, but if your MC takes the hit for another person, you as the reader will see it, and it will change how you see the MC.  Depending on why, it will make you mad, or proud.   

Now imaging my MC takes the hit for a character he doesn't even like... a real tool. 

It's not just what my MC does for a character that shows his inner qualities, but who he does it for that makes the story come into sharper focus.   We may even get to see a side of that tool-character that they have never showed anyone before... our MC's high road may have opened up the Tool's emotional range in a way we never thought possible, creating a leading role for them on our stage that we and defiantly the reader, never expected.... and that's chemistry.

The combinations of this scenario seem endless from that POV.   :) 

Just one more tool in the "show, don't tell" toolbox.

(for a fantastic read on the writers toolbox, pick up a copy of Stephen King's On Writing!)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The best laid plans...

I am a planner. 

I love to organize, strategize, and document.  I believe that in part, is what has drawn me to the writing life.  Some of this is from upbringing, and some from years of training in my career.  (To my people, documentation is like breathing.)  But I do have to admit, even as a kid, I would compile loads of data onto floppy discs... just to document.  I would never use the data, but I just had to compile. 

"You never know when you will need it." I would explain to my mother, when asked why I needed so many discs.  She shrugged and never brought  it up again. 

As an adult, I have traded discs for file folders and usb flash drives.  Shoe boxes, for bankers boxes.  And the data I compile now comes mostly from my own imagination, rather than library stacks and Yahoo searches (though I still love my Yahoo!).
I have found, especially in the last year, that I don't really need the outside references as much at the composition stage (the stage in which I spend most of my meager free time these days)  There is so much story lurking and swirling around in my minds eye, the challenge for me isn't what to write, or how to write it, or how certain things are done in reality to translate to the page, but rather... when in the world am I going to write it? 

I have been doing the work.  It is getting easier.  It turns out, all those people who say write one word at a time... well hey... they were on to something. 

I don't have as much time to write as I used to, but more is getting done because I sit and just write every chance I get.  Even if you only add a paragraph at lunch everyday... that adds up fast.

My point is this:  to all those planners out there who think you have to organize, strategize, and document countless binders and folders and flash drives of data before you get to the good stuff that is your first draft.  Don't bother.  Instead, just write the story one word, sentence, paragraph at a time.  you will have plenty of data to compile and organize later... I promise. :) 

Grounding the reader using "The Pyramid of Abstraction"

In my geekery on writing education, I have stumbled upon a concept introduced in both of these sources by Brandon Sanderson (whom I have ...