The Journal, Saturday, 2/25

Hey Folks,

In my WIP, things are bogged down. When that happens, I’ve either written past the ending (I didn’t in this case) or I took a wrong turn. Either that or there’s just something I’m not seeing.

So today I’m going to backtrack in the actual novel (vs. the reverse outline) to try to find where I took an oblique.

From there I’ll read over what I wrote just before that, then take off with whatever comes.

Topic: Balancing Two (or More) Passions

Hmm. I wonder how to balance two passions?

I love telling stories because it’s entertaining to me. That’s what so enjoyable about writing off into the dark.

But I also love my new guitar. And back in the day, I loved performing, playing and singing.

I’d never played a Peavey guitar until yesterday. In fact, I’d never seen one in person, to my knowledge. And this thing plays like a dream.

Put it this way: It plays so well, the action is so good, that I’m looking into lessons online. I’m copying scales and charts and pictures. I’m learning new things I was never even interested in before.

I was a pretty good rhythm guitarist for several years, but I played by ear.

But this guitar is so much fun that I want to learn a ton more about it and what I can do with it.

So just like writing.

I mentioned a day or two ago that you can often mine nuggets about writing from sites that are not about writing.

As one example, here’s a quick quote from the guitar site:

[T]he most important thing is that you enjoy what you’re doing and not necessarily whether you get any good. The truth is, if you do enjoy learning the guitar [or learning writing] you will definitely get better because you enjoy it and therefore learning doesn’t seem like a chore.

And another quote:

[T]ry to enjoy the difficulties that learning brings as much as the fruit it produces. There are fruits in the difficulties!

See what I mean? If you’re interested, the site is here: http://www.all-free-guitar-lessons.com/.

Of course, if you’re interested in playing the guitar and you’re anything less than an accomplished lead guitarist, you can also learn a great deal from this site about playing the guitar. (grin)

As a side note, no matter what you’re practicing, I think it’s also important to practice in private. You know, unless you’re a complete moron like I am.

I spill my guts on this Journal about learning to write, but yeah, I’ll be practicing guitar in private. (grin)

Hemingway once wrote something like, “It’s nobody’s business that you had to learn to write. Let them think you were born with it.”

Oh, but the question was about balancing passions. I think I’ll study the guitar charts, read, etc. early in the morning.

I’ll write later in the day, after I’m fully awake.

And I’ll practice on the guitar during the day also, when I Want To. Just like I currently practice my writing when I Want To. (grin)

For now, that’ll have to suffice for my version of balance. If you have any ideas or are yourself struggling with balancing two or more passions, please feel free to comment.

* * *

Today, and Writing

Rolled out at 3:40. Instead of spinning my wheels on Facebook etc., I spent time reading and studying the site I referenced above and then writing the stuff above this.

Around 7:30, my wife and I headed to the store. By 9:30 I was in the Hovel. I identified the wrong turn (in Chapter 22 of 31) and began cycling through that chapter.

Well, as it turns out, it wasn’t a wrong turn. The chapter just wasn’t filled out right. It was a perfect place for action, the characters had shown and told me what happened, and somehow I just failed to write it down.

So I took care of that, then moved forward through the next few chapters.

Counting this as a nonwriting day. Not enough new words to make a difference.

Back tomorrow.

Of Interest

A cat picture at Dean’s. That’s it. http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/a-friday-night-cat-picture/

Well, if you want to see some great visual humor (Charlie Chaplin in a boxing match), check out https://www.facebook.com/Niwomb1Official/videos/405341699665463/.

Fiction Words: XXXX
Nonfiction Words: 700 (Journal)
So total words for the day: 700

Writing of Will Perkins (novel, working title)

Day 1…… 4219 words. Total words to date…… 4219
Day 2…… 4003 words. Total words to date…… 8222
Day 3…… 3383 words. Total words to date…… 11605
Day 4…… 3124 words. Total words to date…… 14729
Day 5…… 3373 words. Total words to date…… 18102
Day 6…… 2294 words. Total words to date…… 20396
Day 7…… 3102 words. Total words to date…… 23498
Day 8…… 2578 words. Total words to date…… 26076
Day 9…… 2111 words. Total words to date…… 28187
Day 10… 2561 words. Total words to date…… 30748
Day 11… 4073 words. Total words to date…… 34821
Day 12… 1721 words. Total words to date…… 35648
Day 13… 3289 words. Total words to date…… 38937
Day 14… 2311 words. Total words to date…… 41248
Day 15… 2262 words. Total words to date…… 43510
Day 16… 2046 words. Total words to date…… 45556
Day 17… 4189 words. Total words to date…… 49745
Day 18… 4758 words. Total words to date…… 54503
Day 19… 2648 words. Total words to date…… 57178
Day 20… 2231 words. Total words to date…… 59409
Day 21… 2010 words. Total words to date…… 61419
Day 22… 4147 words. Total words to date…… 65566
Day 23… 2010 words. Total words to date…… 67576
Day 24… 1976 words. Total words to date…… 69552
Day 25… 2728 words. Total words to date…… 72280
Day 26… XXXX words. Total words to date…… XXXXX

Total fiction words for the month……… 55045
Total fiction words for the year………… 147655
Total nonfiction words for the month… 15140
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 34830

Total words for the year (fiction and nonfiction)…… 182485

Getting Ideas (and other stuff)

This content was previously posted on June 26, 2016 in the Daily Journal. I posted it here because of the valuable topic included below. Soon I might begin posting the Daily Journal here every day.

Hey Folks,

Probably today will be another non-writing day for me. Despite the fact that when I take a day away from writing fiction I feel itchy and annoyed.

I gave my word to a couple of folks who quickly took advantage of my offer to copyedit for them, so I’ll do that. But otherwise I think I’m going to shove my copyediting service into the ditch alongside the cover design and eformatting services.

Life Events take up too much of my writing time already. Reckon I’m gonna have to cut the cord on providing services.

Getting Ideas

Turns out this is a long topic. I hope it helps.

Yesterday I talked about story starters. To start a story, come up with a character, give him a problem (doesn’t have to be “the” problem of the story and often isn’t) and drop him into a setting. Period.

But a character with a problem in a setting sounds suspiciously like an idea. So how do we come up with the idea in the first place?

Often the idea for the story will spring directly from the character/problem/setting combo. In fact, yesterday one writer sent me an email. In part, it read

Last fall or late summer you gave 3 or 4 character names, 3 or 4 settings, and maybe 3 or 4 problems for us to put together for an opening. … [T]hat exercise gave me the opening for the second book in my contemporary series. (Thanks MAC)

But even more often, ideas simply come at random. Then we assign a character/problem/setting and write the opening.

Example — Right now on my desk, my cherry wood humidor is on my left. An orange Bic lighter is lying diagonally on top. (That’s a story idea.)

Okay, let’s assign a character. Who are you (the character)? Why are you there? And what are you doing? And how does the setting look, sound, smell? Are you

the owner?
a detective?
a male friend of the family?
a female friend of the family?
a masked burglar?
a business associate?

Remember too, the setting can be anywhere that will hold a cherry wood humidor and a Bic lighter: a small home office, the library in a mansion, an office in a place of business, the front seat of a ’58 Nash, etc. Let your imagination run. We don’t know what’s inside the humidor either, do we?

This idea immediately lends itself to mystery, thriller, psychological suspense, romance, and other genres.

If this notion appeals to you, why not just write an opening? See what happens.

There are several ideas on my desktop, in view as I write this:

an open roll of breath mints with one end opened and folded over
a man pecking away at a laptop computer in the wee hours of the morning
three medicine bottles, set snugly beneath a 22″ monitor
a cell phone lying on the corner of the desk. An indicator light is flashing.
a pedometer lying in front of a medicine bottle
a deck of Rider Back playing cards
and so on

Where you’re sitting as you read this, look about you. What do you see that evokes a particular feeling or memory or notion? It can be anything at all. Make a list. Exercise your idea muscle. Then write an opening about one of them.

So how do we come up with ideas? The more apt question would be how do we NOT come up with ideas.

But many writers believe an “idea” is actually the whole story. How boring would that be? If I knew the story in advance, why bother to write it? That wouldn’t entertain me at all. (grin)

Remember, the story idea is not the whole story.
The story idea is just the catalyst that gets you to the keyboard.

Dean Wesley Smith taught me that. Also, he has covered his own process several times in his blog. He has an extensive collection of pulp magazines from the old days.

One of his favorite ways of coming up with story ideas is to “crash” the first half of one old story title into the second half of another old story title. When it appeals to him, he writes an opening.

In addition to just looking around, I tend to get ideas from photographs or from some minor event or from overhearing a snippet of conversation.

Ideas from Photographs

I collect cover photographs from stock photo agencies. I have around a thousand. I intend to use them all.

Every now and then when I want to write a story, I skim through those photos (my favorite agencies are Bigstock and Canstock). If a photo appeals to me, it gives me a title (usually) and a story idea (character, problem, setting) and I’m off and writing.

Plus I already have the photo that I probably will use for the cover when I’m finished. I say “probably” because the story often takes an unexpected turn or two. If the turn is big enough, I have to find a different photo for the cover.

You can also find story ideas in photos that you can’t use for covers. The photos can be from any source at all. If it spurs a memory or a thought or a character, you’re off an running. But again, don’t use any photo for a cover unless you have the license to do so.

Ideas from Events

While I was walking along a dirt road one day, a woman passed me in a minivan.

As she passed me at about forty miles per hour, her left hand was on top of the steering wheel at about the 11 o’clock position. She had twisted her head around to look over her right shoulder and was reaching back and pointing with her right hand. Her mouth was wide open as if she was yelling.

There were three children in the back seat. None were in restraints of any kind. Then a cloud of dust enveloped me and all I could still see was her brake lights as she braked just in time to make the upcoming sharp curve and avoid plunging herself and her children some three hundred feet down a steep, rocky hillside to the wide arroyo below.

How many ideas can you get from that one event?

Ideas from Conversation

Sometimes a snippet of conversation comes while I’m walking the aisles or standing in line at the checkout counter of a store.

But more often a character will pop into my head, usually with an attitude and a line of dialogue. This is most often the result of something I see or hear on TV or from someone I’m talking with.

The dialogue in my head almost always introduces the problem and the setting I need for the opening of the story. And of course, the character is the one presenting the dialogue in the first place. This happens a lot with my Brooklyn characters. (This happened today, actually, and started a new short story.)

So when you ask some presenter at a writers’ conference, “Where do you get ideas?” and they say “Everywhere,” that’s exactly what they mean.

Now, possibly I didn’t cover everything you would have liked for me to cover on this topic. If you have any questions, please ask.

Of Interest

An interview between George R. R. Martin and Stephen King. Very good, but about an hour long. You can find it here. I discovered it on Dean’s site in the comments from yesterday’s blog.

Great interview. I took voluminous notes on a Notepad document. Great stuff. I strongly recommend you set aside an hour to listen. In line with today’s topic (above), this interview is Chock Full of story ideas. It is an unintentional writing seminar. I strongly recommend you take notes as you listen.

The Day

Rolled out right at 4. Email and coffee to wake up.

5 a.m., moved outside and wrote the topic above. Then I went to check Dean’s site and found the link for the interview (see “Of Interest”. I listened to the interview, taking notes.

7:45, to the edit.

11:45, finished the edit and got it sent off. Turns out my mobile hotspot on my phone works too out in my Adobe Hovel (thanks to my wife for calling Verizon and having them reset my phone). That’s a great relief. Of course I won’t have it on most of the time. But it’s nice to have when my phone flashes to tell me something important needs my attention online.

Going to take a break now. And I’ve decided when I come back I’m going to write for awhile. (grin)

1 p.m. after a much longer break than I expected, to the writing.

Well, I got some writing done, but not a lot. The edit left me more tired than I thought. Still, I got a good start on another short story. Something completely different. (grin)

Back tomorrow.

Today’s Writing

Fiction Words: 1077
Nonfiction Words: 1400 (Journal)

So total words for the day: 2477

Writing of “Being Eddie Potrano” (short story)

Day 1…… 1077 words. Total words to date…… 1077 words
Day 2…… XXXX words. Total words to date…… XXXXX words

Writing of “The Day the World Shuddered and Went Dark” (probably a novel)

Day 1…… 1272 words. Total words to date…… 1272 words
Day 2…… XXXX words. Total words to date…… XXXXX words

Total fiction words for the month……… 58205
Total fiction words for the year………… 316606

Total nonfiction words for the month… 14930
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 131380

Total words for the year (fiction and nonfiction)…… 447986

 

Length of Various Fiction Forms

Hey Folks,

Recently I’ve been asked more than once the length of the various forms of fiction. Yawwwn. Stretch. Sigh. Okay, this is one of those “wrapped around the wheel” things that’s great for personal use if you don’t obsess over it. The answer is, it depends on whom you ask.

For example, although some major magazines (Asimov’s springs to mind) publish both novelettes and novellas, most definitions online consider those two terms interchangeable. But you asked me, so here’s my take in a handy-dandy put-it-on-your-metal-filing-cabinet-under-a-magnet list.

Pssst! Seriously, if you still have a filing cabinet, especially one of the old metal ones, there’s a new thing out: computers. Check into it. ‘Course, you can’t stick stuff to it with a magnet (don’t try; you’ll screw up your screen) but still. I’m just sayin’.

Note that every form on this list denotes a complete story, meaning by definition it has a setting, character(s), conflict(s) and resolution:

  • 6 to 99 words — Flash Fiction (“For sale, baby shoes. Never worn.”)
  • 100 to 1,999 — Short Short Story (Short Short)
  • 2,000 to 6,999 — Short Story
  • 7,000 to 9,999 — Long Short Story (or Novelette)
  • 10,000 to 19,999 — Novella
  • 20,000 to 39,999 — Short Novel
  • 40,000 to 69,999 — Novel
  • 70,000 + — Long Novel

Just in case you have it in mind to ask something like,

“Wull, what about the vignette there, moron? You left out the vignette. Whaddayou, stoopid or somethin’?”

“No, I ain’t stoopid. Maybe you’re stoopid an’ yer projectin’ all your stoopid on me. J’ever thinka that?”

Sorry, got carried away there. Actually, my omission of the vignette from the list was intentional. Also called a “slice of life,” the vignette typically is fiction told from a single POV, but it has no predetermined word range. It is defined by its lack of a resolution (and in some cases, its lack of a conflict that needs to be resolved). So there.

Again, these are just my definitions for my own use, submitted for your amusement. If I were publishing a magazine, probably these are the lengths I would use to determine which label to slap on which accepted submission. But I’m not.

Trust me, I’ll never go back into THAT particular brand of insanity. I have plenty to do just publishing my own stuff plus the works of Eric Stringer, Nick Porter, and Gervasio Arrancado.

Anyway, if your definitions are different, that’s fine. No need to correspond for the sake of argument. I really don’t care. 🙂 These are not things any writer should worry about before writing or during the process or even after the writing process for that matter. Just Write.

Harvey

Let’s Go Streaking

Hi Folks,

First, Happy New Year! I hope it’s perfect for you. If you’re a writer, there’s no better time than right now to go streaking. (grin)

No wait… I mean, you know, there’s no better time to begin a new streak.

Nah, I’m not talking about taking off all your clothes and racing around in public. Seriously, nobody wants to see that. I’m talking about eating an elephant.

Remember the old (very wise) joke? Q: How do you eat an elephant? A: One bite at a time.

When you set a goal and that goal is huge (say you want to write a novel in the next six months), it can seem overwhelming, like eating an elephant. So you have to break it down into manageable bites. That would be smaller goals.

First, I recommend figuring out how many publishable words of fiction you write per hour. (Most pro writers seem to write around 700 to 1000 words per hours.)

Now, how many words do you think your novel will be? Let’s say 60,000.

How many weekdays are there in six months? (To make it easy, let’s give each month 4 weeks. So that would be 24 weeks in six months, and 120 weekdays. Okay, now divide your elephant into bite-size pieces. If your novel will be 60,000 words, you’ll want to write at least 500 words per day. That’s it. Weekends off, and you’re working at your “job” (can you really call sitting at a computer making stuff up work?) only about a half-hour per day. Hmmm…. okay, so maybe you could write TWO novels in that six months. 🙂 But I digress. This is supposed to be about streaks.

Okay, you know now what you have to do if you want to write that 60,000 word novel in six months. So now you make those bites a goal. And it’s not only a goal, but a goal that re-sets itself:

Goal: I will write at least 2500 words of fiction per week. There you go. Now you have a goal that resets every week. See how many weeks you an go without breaking your streak, writing 2500 words per day of new, publisable fiction. Want to break it down further?

Goal: I will write at least 500 words of fiction per day, five days per week. Bam! Just like that, you have a goal that resets every time you get out of bed. In other words, you have the potential for a streak! See how many weekdays you can go without breaking your streak.

I’m telling you, Streaks Have Power. Once you start a streak, the longer it lasts, the harder it is to break.

But if you do miss a day, then what? Do you have to make it up by writing an extra 500 words the next day? No. I mean, that would keep you on track for the larger weekly goal, but no, you don’t have to. Because the goal re-sets every day. If you miss a day, you can just skip it and start over on the next day.

Likewise for the next level up: If one week you write only 2350 words instead of 2500, do you have to make up the missing words the following week? Well, I’m anal, so I would, but no, you don’t have to. You gave it your best shot, so forget it. This goal, too, resets at the beginning of each week.

The point is, follow Heinlein’s Rules and Just Write. Keep moving your fiction forward. Write the scene, write the next sentence and keep moving your fiction forward.

It’s all up to you. If you’re a writer, you have to write.

‘Til next time, happy writing.

Harvey

Upcoming Writing Intensive

Hey Folks,

If you’re in southern Arizona and you’re serious about being a writer, here’s a chance to start your new year off right.

I’m offering a one-day intensive on How to Write the Character-Driven Story. This information will be valid for any length of fiction from a short story to a novel.

Subtopics will include

  • Getting the Idea
  • Selecting a Main (POV) Character
  • Selecting a Genre
  • The Seven-Point Plot Outline
  • The Five-Senses Exercise
  • Writing Setting
  • Writing Scene
  • Plotting
  • Beginning, Middle and End
  • and more….

This is a WRITING intensive. I recommend you bring your laptops. If you prefer, bring a (paper) tablet and pen. When you pre-register, I’ll send you a pre-seminar assignment. It won’t be difficult, but it will save us some time during the seminar.

The seminar will take place in Benson on Saturday, January 24, from 9 a.m. until 4 or 5 p.m. The cost is $80, payable in advance via PayPal or on the day of the event. Cash is preferred, but a check will do. When you sign up, I’ll send directions to the venue.

It’s a small venue. There are maybe 14 seats. If you want to attend, you must pre-register to reserve your spot by emailing me at harveystanbrough@gmail.com.

If the intensive sells out, I’ll teach it again. If it doesn’t, I won’t.

Hope to see you then,

Harvey

 

My First Novel and Killing Writing Myths

Hi Folks,

First, a salute to my brothers and sisters in the United States Marine Corps—Happy 239th birthday—and a respectful toast to our brothers and sisters in the other US armed forces as well as friends in the ROK Marines and the Corps of Royal Marines.

May your days be vibrant,
your evenings calm,
your heart safe and warm at home.

Okay, on to business.

As I write this, I just finished my first novel. It’s a short novel of just over 40,000 words. I won’t talk about how long it took but those who took my Writing Into the Dark intensive or online Audio Lecture already know.

Most notably, with the accomplishment of this personal goal, a few more writing myths died quick, painless deaths. That will be the main focus of this post so it’s all about You, the writers out there.

But first, if you’ll allow me, did I celebrate? Oh yes. I told the members of my writers’ group. (These are actual writers, mind you. Folks who put new words on the page pretty much every day.) Then I emailed Dean Wesley Smith, my unintentional mentor. Then I sent the manuscript to my first reader. Then I yelled Woohoo! Then I wrote this blog post to share the good news with You. 🙂 I learned SO much during this project. If it never sells a copy, it will still be more than worthwhile just as a learning experience.

So what writing myths died? Well,

  • I did NOT suffer withdrawal symptoms, which I’ve heard some writers actually call “post partum depression” (seriously?) from having finished a novel (ODG, it’s over! What now?);
  • I did NOT feel completely exhausted, arm-across-the-forehead, being-carried-from-the-stage spent (James Brown) like I need to take a day or a week or a month off now that I’ve finished (I felt only elation, actually, along with a touch of annoyance that my protagonist solved his problem without me and probably about 20,000 words before I expected him to);
  • I did NOT feel like I “owe myself” anything in particular beyond the celebratory stomps laid out above; and best (and biggest) of all,
  • I have absolutely NO desire to go back and re-read it, even for pleasure, much less for editing or rewriting or any of that. I’m following Heinlein’s Rules, baby. 🙂 If you want to learn Heinlein’s Rules, you can take my Writing Into the Dark Audio Lecture or you can even Google it. But if you Google it, chances are whoever put up the rules will add their “interpretation” (a bunch of pure crap) to them. Pare away all that and you’ll be fine. Just for grins, I’ve added them below (updated for today’s wonderful self-publishing revival). Yes, revival. You DO know that what we call “traditional publishing” has been around for only the last 70 years of human history, right? As my buddy Denise says, Truedat.

Finally, I woke up this morning thinking Yikes! What if that was just the ending of Part I? Well, it IS true that I had hoped to accompany the protagonist to Mexico, but

  1. I’ve already spouted off to everyone I know that I’m finished and
  2. I can party with him in Mexico just as easily in a second novel as I can by accompanying him across the border in the current story.
  3. Plus, if I write a sequel, I’ll have TWO novels out there instead of just one. Remember awhile back I said the best way to market your work is to write more stuff and put it out there?

So that’s what I’m doing next: writing another story, another novel, another whatever. Just Writing. After all, I’m a writer, and Writers Write. Right? Right! (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) 🙂

Here are Heinlein’s Rules. If you want to know what they mean, read them again or take my Audio Lecture.

  1. You must write.
  2. You must finish what you write.
  3. You must not rewrite.
  4. You must put it on the market so someone can buy it (or in today’s world, publish it).
  5. You must keep it on the market until someone buys it (or in today’s world, leave it up).

If you’re still chasing traditional publishers, numbers 4 and 5 above (he wrote this in 1947) mean after you’ve written something, if you want to be a professional writer you have to actually submit it to someone who can buy it (publisher). If it’s rejected, you put it in a new envelope and send it out to the next publisher on your list.

Heinlein himself wrote that these rules are deceptively simple and ridiculously difficult to follow. He wrote that’s why there are so few professional writers and so few aspirants. Which are you?

‘Til next time, happy writing!

Harvey

It’s Columbus Day

Hi Folks,

Well, here it is. Today is the day we celebrate Columbus Day, although it’s actually one day later than the actual date on which Christopher Columbus was falsely credited with “discovering” America. Of course, in order to give some of us an extra day off per year, we have to conveniently ignore (or at the most honest, set aside) the one big, overriding question: How can anyone “discover” a land in which other people are already living, indeed in a thriving civilization? It would be like me driving several hours northwest and “discovering” Las Vegas. (Actually, as it turned out, it would be almost exactly like that.)

I can just see Chris and his crew struggling ashore in those funny, vertically striped balloon pants and frilly shirts and waistcoats through waist-deep waves. Then, once the camera crew was safely ensconced at just the right distance and angle from the “discoverer” and the sun was in just the right position, Chris himself planted a flag on only the fourth try, having been thwarted by inconveniently placed hard-shell clams twice and a conch shell the third time, and proclaimed something formal sounding like, “I hereby claim this new land for Queen Isabella of Spain, who truly is a massively groovy chick and a major sugar-mama.”

At that point, a small contingent of natives, who had been watching these curious goings on for the past few hours, managed to curtail their laugher long enough to step out of the brush, wave and say, “Um, helloooo. We were here first. However, welcome to our humble land. Um, you didn’t bring any diseases or anything like that with you, did you?” But that’s a story for another day.

Doesn’t really matter to me, but as a working writer with manuscripts in the mail, I’d really like someone to explain why I have to forfeit mail delivery one day a year just because some late-15th century Portuguese shyster was able to sweet talk Queen Isabella into outfitting him for such a trip. In the first place, how does suspending mail delivery somehow slap a celebratory aura over the nation?

(Groan… I know, I know… mail delivery is suspended so the employees of the US Postal Service get to celebrate as well. After all, the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria carried the first transatlantic mail from Europe to what would eventually become the United States—well, a group of islands somewhere south of the United States—a fact that, by comparison, makes today’s mail delivery seem fast, sort of. So I’m just sayin’, US Postal Service employees have more reason to celebrate than the rest of us do, maybe. But back to the basic problem and what caused it.)

Maybe ol’ Chris talked ‘Bella into outfitting him for the trip, but then again, maybe not. Maybe men and women being what they are regardless of their station in life, and human nature being what it is (with heavy emphasis on “nature”), maybe he talked her out of considerably more than ships, stores and crew. Maybe he sidled up next to her ear, all warm-breathed and stuff, and mumbled something like, “Have you ever considered whisper whisper whisper whisper?” to which she responded by blushing, wrist-flicking her fan open and muttering, “Well, certainly not ’til now, you silver-tongued devil you!” and off they went.

Then, the following morning, having been thoroughly and irrevocably disappointed, she quickly responded in the affirmative to his much more formal, public request, provided him with the aforementioned ships, stores and crew, and bade him a hasty farewell to get him the heck out of the kingdom before the gossip rags of the day interviewed one of the chamber wenches and reported the late-night goings on.

Then again, I could be wrong.

Anyway, as long as I have to wait until tomorrow to see whether I’ll get another check in the mail or my new glasses or whatever, I suppose you might as well enjoy the day.

Happy Columbus Day

El Harvey de Mucho

Notes on Being a Professional Writer

Hi Folks,

Yeah that's me. The guy with the beard.
Yeah that’s me. The guy with the beard.

When I was first learning to play the guitar at the age of 14, I was frustrated. Even after I learned to chord cleanly, nothing ever sounded quite the way it had when I’d heard it on the radio or when my uncle or others had played it. I checked and double-checked my chording, the progressions and timing between chords, and even how I was holding the guitar. Nothing seemed to make a difference. When I played for others, if anything it actually sounded worse than when I played alone.

I finally I asked my uncle (the guy I’m looking at in the pic), “When will I be able to play like you do?”

He just grinned and pointed at my guitar. “When you stop thinking of that thing as just another toy.”

He was right. When I began to respect my guitar and the discipline, I learned quickly. Like any other craft, it took respect, diligence and practice. Talent doesn’t hurt anything either, as evidenced by the existence of folks like Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Duane Allman, Jimmy Page, Chet Atkins, John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, Eric Clapton and many more. But there are a lot of great guitarists who make money at their craft but have never gotten famous.

Writing is no different. Although some writers are profound enough or prolific enough to achieve fame, many make a living with their craft without ever becoming household names. But “craft” is the key word. Writing is a craft, and to master it, the writer must study and practice, always striving for perfection. The fact is, great writers never stop learning.

The others, those who will never become great writers, fall into two general categories. The first group consists of those who believe the ability to use two long lines and a short one to create a capital letter A renders them able to write. Their motto is The reader will know what I mean, which in my experience as an editor equates to I can’t be bothered to do the actual work. The second group consists of those whose work has been published (self-published or otherwise) and they’ve taken that as a signal that they can learn nothing more. Ten minutes browsing in a bookstore or reading excerpts online will tell you that simply isn’t so.

If you want to be a successful fictionist—by which I mean a writer of short stories, novellas, novels, memoir and creative nonfiction—you need a driving desire to Get It Right. That’s what separates professional writers from those who just “kind’a sort’a think it might be neat to knock out” a few short stories or a novel.

For a professional writer, the first draft is for himself; everything else is for the reader.

Believe me, I understand the frustrations of trying to get a sentence or paragraph or passage Just Right, but the difficulty inherent in creating something brand new is the joy that enables the writer to keep breathing. There’s a great deal more to it than simply putting in the time. As Hemingway wrote, “Writing is something that you can never do as well as it can be done.” Most days he wrote only 400 to 600 words, but those words comprised a finished, polished passage. Some writers “just write” then go back and polish later in a second or third draft. But regardless of the individual writer’s ritual or technique, I’ve never known a successful professional writer who would risk anything short of making his or her writing as perfect as possible.

But won’t a really strong story carry weak writing? Generally, no. Consider, even though your overall story might well be wonderful, if any part of it confuses a reader or makes the reader wonder about inconsistencies or stops the reader cold, that story is not ready for publication. The writer should polish endlessly to get those glitches out, not because he can actually achieve perfection but because he should be embarrassed to present such work to the public. In the publishing world more than anywhere else, you truly do get only one chance to make a first impression. “Good enough” simply isn’t.

The point is, it isn’t the reader’s job to decipher your writing. The first time or two that most readers encounter confusing passages or egregious errors, they will simply toss the work aside and vow never to buy anything else by that author. So even though the writing might well improve later, fewer readers will take a chance on it. And why would they buy that author’s work again? The fictionist’s job is to entertain the reader. The reader’s job is to be entertained.

By the way, if you’re interested in becoming a professional writer, I’m offering a free introductory seminar on February 15 entitled “Taking Your Writing to the Next Level.” I’ll conduct the seminar in south Tucson. If you want to earn a regular income from your writing, if you strive for perfection in your craft and want your work to outshine all the other submissions in the publisher’s in box, these seminars are must-have. For information, email me at h_stanbrough@yahoo.com.

‘Til next time, happy writing!

Harvey

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