The Journal, Wednesday, 9/9: Retraining

One more fairly major change to this blog. I’ve changed it so the full post appears in your email. You’ll still have the option of reading the whole thing in your browser where it looks a lot better. And of course I’ll continue to hope you will refer this to others, but you can also just read the whole thing in your email now.

This won’t help those who don’t bother to even open the email, but for those of you who do, maybe this will make things a little easier.

Rolled out a little before 2 again this morning. Checked email and other stuff while waking up. Unfortunately, I was distracted so failed to write during the first two hours of the day.

Sometimes email or Facebook or an article in one of the newsletters I get distracts me too much. I might need to go straight to writing, then go to emails and all of that after two or three writing sessions (so around 5 or 6 a.m.) Maybe I’ll try that for a day or two. I mention this only in case you might also have this problem occasionally.

So today I allowed myself to be distracted, then wrote this blog post and now it’s almost time for my walk.

Becoming a professional writer takes some retraining, and some of it is ongoing. Like you, I’m learning as I go. Much more on all this in the Topic below.

I’ll go out to walk about 6. Then back here to write.

Good walk. Left my camera in the pickup and just walked. Planned on 6 miles, but at mile 3 I decided to go for 8. Then about halfway to that I realized I was being stupid and cut it off. Ended up with 7.4 miles at just over 18 minutes per mile. Not bad for an old guy. Turns out I could have made 8. I’ll put that in the bank for another time.

Topic of the Post: Retraining

Well, all of that was a good lead-in to the topic of retraining.

If you want to become a professional writer, or if you want to become a more prolific professional writer, chances are you need to change a few habits. That’s the retraining I’m talking about.

This is something nobody else can do for you. It’s a lonely, internal endeavor.

Others can give you motivation, tools and suggestions that you can use in your retraining, but that’s as far as they can walk with you along this very private path.

What keyed my own retraining way back in early 2014 was reading Dean Wesley Smith’s very short book, How to Write a Novel in Ten Days. He ghosted a complete 70,000 word novel, under contract, in ten days. He blogged about the experience as he did it, then published those blog posts as a book.

When I first started retraining myself to be a writer, I adjusted my personal day to replace a few hours that to me were wasted. I replace those with hours during which I could work. That’s why I go to bed at 7 or so.
The time from 7 to 11 p.m. holds little value to me. I would do nothing but sit on the couch and stare at the TV, slowly numbing my mind. So I sleep during those hours.

From 2 to 6 a.m., it’s quiet and I can work, so I substitute those hours for the ones I cut.

Those hours, that schedule, is pretty much all I have left of my original retraining. But what I do during that time has slipped severely. So here I am, having to retrain myself again. In case they’ll help you in your own endeavors, here are the main points of my own retraining:

  • I’ll keep the hours I have now, but I’ll use the early hours (2 to 6 a.m.) for writing.
  • In all writings, I will strive to give my subconscious free reign and Write Off Into the Dark.
  • I will adhere to Heinlein’s Rules.
  • I’ll get off the break-every-hour schedule. Dean does this so I thought I’d try it. It doesn’t work for me. As often as not, forcing myself to take a break after an hour or so kills the story I’m working on. I’ll continue to take breaks when I’m tired, even if only to get up and move around a bit, but I won’t limit those to a particular time frame or word count.
  • I’ll spend no more than a half-hour on wake-up time. During that time I’ll consider my progress and make necessary adjustments in my current challenge. Might also use the time to revisit goals, etc.
  • As part of my retraining, tomorrow morning (and on the mornings that follow) I will write for at least two hours before my walk (fiction only).
  • I’ll continue to walk on most days. Gotta do it, and I like it anyway.

And I’ll continue to post this blog as a journal for myself and in the hopes my mistakes will help someone else.

My Current Challenge and Goal

Before October 1, I will write at least 30 new short stories, one for each day in September.
To satisfy the challenge, these have to be actual short stories, meaning they have to be over 2,000 words. If I write anything shorter than that, it will count on my numbers but not toward the challenge.
Stay tuned.

Today’s Writing
Still stuck in a slow start on the challenge. Every story is different. In this one, I’m working to add a lot of depth through the characters’ physical senses, so I’m doing a lot of cycling back. It’s similar in a way to rewriting, except you do it as you go and it’s all done in creative voice (from the subconscious). In other words I’m not making any conscious decisions regarding word choice or sentence structure or anything like that.

I finished this one, but at times it was rough going. Not smooth and not as much fun as it should have been. The fun was more in the dialogue exchange among the characters and in weaving the setting into that through the senses of the characters.

I won’t do a second one today, that’s for sure. As I said, I allowed myself to be distracted, and that slowed me down a lot.

Tomorrow morning I’ll get up with a new story idea and go for it.

Fiction Words: 1762

Writing of “Finding Harold Harshbarger” (short story)
Day 1…… 0721 words. Total words to date….. 0721 words
Day 2…… 1762 words. Total words to date….. 2483 words (done)

One thing about these stories — I just have to write them. I don’t have to rush to slap a cover on them and publish them. All of that’s going to come later, although I will pick one each week to be the story for that week. At the end of the month if I’m successful in my challenge I should have 40 publications: 30 individual stories, six 5-story collections, three 10-story collections, and maybe one book titled The Stories of September.

Total challenge stories for the month……… 1 (Goal is 30)
Total challenge words for the month……… 2483
Total fiction words for the month…………… 4073 (1590 on Wes)
Total fiction words for the year……………… 469114

The Journal, Tuesday, 9/8: Challenges

Rolled out a little before 2 this morning. I think I’m almost caught up on my rest. Still, not much in the mood to write, although I’d better GET in the mood as the clock is ticking for the next short story. (grin)

Again I didn’t do much this morning but catch up on more of my preferred reading. Later I also opened all the pics (over 400) from the Gila trip. I separated out the ones my partner wanted to see and put them in a special folder to share. (As soon as they’re synced in my Dropbox, Dan, I’ll send you a link.)

Went for a walk, though it was more to take more pics than anything else. Still, turned over just less than four miles. Also managed to take 168 pics. All that in about 2 hours.

Did a little more yard work after I got back from the walk.

Topic of the Post: Challenges

I was reading Dean’s blog post a little while ago. He set a mega-challenge for himself. To meet the challenge, he has to write three novels in September, two in October, three in November and two in December. That’s ten novels in four months. He’s thinking around 40,000 to 60,000 words each.

He’s getting a slow start on the first month. He needed to write a novel every 10 days during September, and today, on the 8th, he’s written only about 15,000 words. But he isn’t worried.

For one thing, writing “only” two novels during October and December gives him a little catch-up room if he needs it. For another — and this is the biggie — if he “fails” in his challenge and writes “only” 7 novels or 8 or 9 instead of the 10 novels he plans to write, won’t that just be terrible? (grin)

The real value in a challenge is teaching the writer that Failing To Success is a good thing.

I said something similar a few posts back. Even if I stopped writing right now and didn’t write anymore fiction for the rest of the year, I would still end the year with over 466,000 words of publishable fiction. And all but 11,410 words of that is actual PUBLISHED fiction. This year.

So even if I just stopped right now, I would have “failed” to success.

But that wouldn’t be any fun, now would it? (grin)

A New Challenge

Back in July, Dean set himself another challenge. He challenged himself to write 31 short stories in 31 days. He then published them individually as short stories, but he also will publish them in a collection titled The Stories of July (or something like that).

Now seven days of September are already history, but I really need to jumpstart my writing. I need to get my writing blood pumping again. So I’m setting a new goal, publicly. As Andy Griffith would say, “Right chere, right now.” (grin)

Before October 1, I will write at least 30 new short stories, one for each day in September. Not really that big a deal. It just means that I’ll have to write two stories on seven of the remaining twenty-three days. (grin)

Now, just so everything’s above board, to satisfy the challenge, these have to be actual short stories, not flash fiction (6 to 99 words) or short-shorts (100 to 2,000 words). So they all have to run over 2,000 words. I don’t dictate to my characters how long stories have to be, so I might write some of those shorter ones too, but if I do they don’t count toward the challenge.

Stay tuned. This should be a blast.

Today’s Writing

Okay, first a note about the Wes Crowley saga. I’ve set the most recent novel aside for the time being. From what I can tell, it doesn’t feel like being written right now, so that’s that. I still feel as if there are at least two more novels in the story, but we’ll just have to wait and see.

I think this is the right thing to do. Book 9 was rough from the beginning, and it isn’t supposed to be like that. On that one thus far, I wrote only 11410 words in 8 days. That’s an average (aritmetic mean) of only 1426 words per day. On a novel full of characters that I love. That isn’t me.

So it’s off to the races on the challenge. I hope maybe some of you will join me.

Well, a slow start on the “race.” (grin) Only 721 words on a brand new story. Absolutely no worries. I expect to finish this one in an hour or two in the morning, then write a second one. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even knock out a third one tomorrow.

Fiction Words: 0721

Writing of “Untitled about Mavis Harshbarger” (short story)

Day 1…… 0721 words. Total words to date….. 0721 words
Day 2…… XXXX words. Total words to date….. XXXX words

Total challenge stories for the month……… 0 (Goal is 30)
Total challenge words for the month……… 0721
Total fiction words for the month………… 2311 (1590 on Wes)
Total fiction words for the year………… 467352

 

The Journal, Monday, 9/7: Reading

As you can see from the title of this post, beginning today I’m offering a slightly different format. I’m including at least a hint at the Topic of the Post in the title. When I don’t include a topic for that day, I’ll try to slip something in there to give you an idea of what the post is about.

I’m also going to be removing older posts from the website. They take up unnecessary space, and there’s no need for that. I’ll leave some of them up in case anyone wants to scroll back. Maybe a week’s worth or something. But if you enjoy a particular topic or something like that, be sure to save it for yourself.

Rolled out around 3:30 this morning. The trip to the Lower Gila Box was very good, but more exhausting than I realized. We both (Michael = Dan, and I) got a lot of good pics. I thought a few of mine would slide up into the excellent category, but when I opened them on my computer last night, they just weren’t all that. I’ll post a few of them on Facebook later. Probably. Maybe.

Haven’t done much this morning but catch up on reading online news and newsletters, emails, etc. Later today I hope to read more in a book of Bradbury interviews. More about that in the topic below. I’m also going to mow the yard in a while, and I plan to put together a few daylong seminars. So no fiction writing today.

No walk today either. Maybe even for the next couple of days. My buddy and I walked only perhaps 3 miles per day on Friday and Saturday, and another mile or so on Sunday before we left to come home. But a great deal of that walking was on some pretty steep slopes. And it seemed we were always climbing, never descending. Weird how that works. (grin)

Okay, so rather than boring you with minute by minute details, I’ll just say generally today will be some nonfiction writing, some reading, some exploring a new sales venue I found (I’ll report on it later if it works out), some work out in the yard, and a lot of sitting under a fan trying not to move so I won’t burst into flames.

Talk with you again mañana.

Topic of the Post: Reading

Of some significance, while we were camping in New Mexico, I caught up on a bit of reading. Specifically I read parts of a book called Conversations with Ray Bradbury. Edited by Steven L. Aggelis, this is a compilation of Interviews with Bradbury, whom I consider to be the best short story writer—and maybe the best storyteller—of all time.

I strongly recommend this book.

The title is not yet available as an ebook (darn it), but I got a mint-condition paperback copy for 99 cents plus $3.99 (or thereabouts) shipping. If you’re interested, just look for the title at Amazon or Barnes & Noble, then pick which copy you want. I think you won’t be disappointed.

In many ways, the writing advice imbedded in Bradbury’s responses validates my own beliefs about good writing practices, including writing into the dark, reading your work aloud and many others.

But I have also learned a few things (in less than a few hours’ reading time) that might have taken me years to learn if I hadn’t picked up this book.

Bradbury’s process is slightly expanded over my own and over what I teach. He does write strictly from his subconscious (writing into the dark). But instead of sending his work off to a first reader, he then reads over his own work, reading aloud, looking carefully to trim anything that is unnecessary to the work.

He isn’t looking to rewrite anything. He isn’t looking at sentence structures. He’s looking only to trim the fat.
The, I believe, he submits the work or publishes it. (I say “I believe” because in one interview, when pressed, he told the interviewer he makes at least seven passes at his work, cutting more each time. I seriously doubt that is true. I suspect it’s something he feeds writers who need to feel that their own “rewriting” process is valid.)

The point is, remain open to learning. The more open-minded you remain, the more information you can take in, assess, and choose to retain or discard. And the more your skills as a storyteller and writer will improve.

Today’s Writing

As I mentioned above, no fiction writing again today. Just kind’a getting used to being back. Also I put together three daylong seminars I’m planning to offer to the good folks in the greater Phoenix area and also over in Tucson. We’ll see whether anyone’s interested.
Here they are just in case you’re interested:

Writing Off Into the Dark (daylong writing intensive) — Major subtopics include Heinlein’s Rules, Productivity, Writing Myths, The Difference Between Short and Long Fiction, How to Practice Writing, The Difference Between Rewriting and Revising (Cycling Back), and a lot more.

Writing the Character Driven Story (good for any length story, daylong writing intensive) — Major subtopics include Where to Get Story Ideas, How to Write from Inspiration, The Importance of Setting and How to Write It, How to Write an Opening, How to Select a Genre, The Five Senses Exercise, and two more in-class and take-home exercises.

Smart Self-Publishing (daylong seminar on the publishing side of writing) — Major subtopics include Why Self-Publishing Instead of “Traditional” Publishing, The Difference Between Self-Publishing and Subsidy Publishing, Copyright Explained (It Costs Nothing), ISBN and LCCN Explained (Don’t Buy Your Own), Set Yourself Up as an Indie Publisher, Epublishing and Print Publishing, Getting Paid as a Self-Publisher, Your Book Available Worldwide in a Matter of Days, Price Your Ebooks and Print Books Competitively, The Importance of the Book Cover, Where to Find Cover Art, and a handout listing specific URLs and recommendations for formatting, print layout and cover design.

So there y’go. If you’d like to have any of these seminars in your area, email me at HarveyStanbrough@gmail.com or leave a comment below.
Fiction Words: XXXX

Writing of Book 9 of the Wes Crowley saga
Day 1…… 3213 words. Total words to date….. 3213 words
Day 2…… 1046 words. Total words to date….. 4259 words
Day 3…… 1858 words. Total words to date….. 6117 words
Day 4…… 1023 words. Total words to date….. 7140 words
Day 5…… 1587 words. Total words to date….. 8327 words
Day 6…… X943 words. Total words to date….. 9270 words
Day 7…… 1084 words. Total words to date….. 10354 words
Day 8…… 1056 words. Total words to date….. 11410 words
Day 9…… XXXX words. Total words to date….. XXXXX words

I’m gonna leave up the number for ol’ Wes while my subconscious continues to turn the story over. If it doesn’t perk up and get with it pretty soon though, I’ll send Wes out behind the barn to think about what he’s done while I’m writing some other stuff.

Total fiction words for the month…………… 1590
Total fiction words for the year……………… 466631

The Journal, Sunday, 9/6

No doubt on our way back from playing around in Gila National Wilderness or someplace just as wild. No entry today about the day. Just some musing and some silliness, as you will see below.

Few things are more enjoyable than writing a brand new story.

As I’ve been telling anyone who will listen, just give a character a problem, drop him into a setting, put your fingers on the keyboard and go for it. It’s an absolute blast.

I’ve already pre-posted Thursday, Friday and Saturday’s posts, and now this one. IF I’ve written anything during the weekend and IF I’m back early enough on Sunday, I’ll update this before it goes “live” at about 5 p.m.

Over the next day or two (meaning Monday or Tuesday) or however long it takes, I’ll update you on the trip. I like to share things like that, especially as they affect (or might affect) my/your writing. So I hope you’ll look forward to that.

For now, though, just in case I’m not back early enough on Sunday, or just in case whatever else keeps me from posting, I’m going to write one more Topic and add it below. ‘Cause from what I’ve heard it’s always wise to be prepared.

Topic of the Day: Using the Persona

Everyone who’s familiar with my work already knows I have used personas to great advantage as alter-egos. They were/are writer friends of mine who write things I am/was unable to write.

I stopped using two of them when Eric Stringer (it is strongly suspected) killed Nick Porter. Nick wrote mostly mainstream, serious stuff. It was relatively easy for me to take over that writing myself.

Some time after Nick was killed, Eric simply didn’t show up for work one day. It is rumored that he moved to a far-far-faraway land where he occasionally writes short stories under the pen name Harvey Stanbrough. Quite the jokester, our Eric. Anyway, Eric, at one time, was my borderline psychotic persona. Since he left, I have decided to “let my little light shine” in that regard. Stay tuned.

Okay, but here I’m going to talk about using the persona as a recurring character. I think that that would be valuable.

For one thing, writing your passion (note, I didn’t say writing ABOUT your passion) would be a lot easier if you did so through a persona.

The best known example of a writer using a persona to (ahem) distance himself from responsibility for his writing was Samuel Clemens. In his books, Clemens made social commentary that would rankle politicians and pundits alike. To distance himself somewhat, he allowed Mark Twain to write those books.

And in one case, in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, arguably his strongest advocacy for social reform, he handed off the job to Mr. Twain, who in turn handed off the task to an innocent named Huckleberry Finn.

Now say I get a strong sentiment in my head. Just as an example, let’s use the (very) thinly veiled rhetoric in the paragraph I almost wrote (but didn’t) just before I started this Topic of the Day.

I can’t write stuff like that. Seriously. I might offend someone. Whatever.

But my characters can do or say anything they like. After all, they’re doing the talking. I’m just writing it all down. It’s like Don’t kill the messenger, right?

Wow, and I could have characters for all kinds of different genres.

I could have a hard-nosed detective, say somebody like Steven Zimmer, who goes around solving crimes. Plus he obviously is All Man enough to even take on cases that are not sanctioned by the local police department so you just KNOW he’s gonna break a few rules. And that’s always fun, right?

I could let Cranston Longdink III sink his family’s “old wealth” into a porn empire specifically for an untapped market roughly halfway around the world. The ensuing stories would be about the procurement of goats and what happens to the goats after they’re procured. (Of course, no underage goats would be used in the stories.) This might well spin off into documentaries concerning goat trafficking, national and international treaties on goat trafficking, and the link between goat trafficking and “medicinal” poppy production in certain parts of the world. Coincidence? I don’t think so. Film at 11.

I could have Rip Sternaman barge into hostage situations all over the world, muscles bulging, and call the bad guys names that are SO fitting for bad guys before he breaks every bone in their arms and then ties them together (by the arms) for transport to wherever he’s gonna take them.

I could have Dexter Murfee Nettleson, he with the radiant smile, walk happily into The Morning Store each morning to begin the day with a cup of sunshine sweetened with butterfly spit and stirred with the pinky finger of an eighty-three year old virgin.

You get the idea.

Of course, these are books that EVERYBODY would buy but that nobody would talk about or admit to buying. Well, except possibly the ones starring ol’ Dexter.

Anyway, regardless of what you think personally about these particular examples, you’re writers, so give the topic some thought. Value? No value? Seriously, I think if you write your passion through your characters, you can let ‘er rip.

And if we’re all very lucky, maybe I’ll get back on Sunday early enough to replace this with something else. (grin) But if not, just look at all the trash you will never have to write because I just wrote it.

Today’s Writing

Fiction Words: XXXX

Writing of Book 9 of the Wes Crowley saga
Day 1…… 3213 words. Total words to date….. 3213 words
Day 2…… 1046 words. Total words to date….. 4259 words
Day 3…… 1858 words. Total words to date….. 6117 words
Day 4…… 1023 words. Total words to date….. 7140 words
Day 5…… 1587 words. Total words to date….. 8327 words
Day 6…… X943 words. Total words to date….. 9270 words
Day 7…… 1084 words. Total words to date….. 10354 words
Day 8…… 1056 words. Total words to date….. 11410 words
Day 9…… XXXX words. Total words to date….. XXXXX words

I’m gonna leave up the numbers for ol’ Wes while my subconscious continues to turn the story over. If it doesn’t perk up and get with it pretty soon though, I’ll send Wes out behind the barn to think about what he’s done while I’m writing some other stuff.

Total fiction words for the month…………… 1590
Total fiction words for the year……………… 466631

The Journal, Wednesday, 9/2

The Day
Rolled out a little before 3.

Still have a bug but it’s not a major deal. Just very slight headaches that come and go accompanied by (also very slight) chills/fever and nausea. Just blah, y’know?

I did get out for a walk. I decided to do hills, into and out of a wash off Sybil Road. I hoped to shove whatever this is on through my system, but that doesn’t work like it did when I was thirty. (grin) I went only about 2 miles, and I felt worse after it was over. So I guess I won’t be trying that again.

Looked at pics from the walk this morning, posted a few to Facebook. They’re not bad if you like that kind of stuff. You can see them here.  The first one looks kind’a like Granny’s wig.

By the way, I strongly recommend you check out DeanWesleySmith.com today. Great stuff on his challenge for the rest of this year.

Oh, a quick announcement. I probably won’t post anything on this for Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I hope to be in the Lower Gila Box Wilderness north of Lordsburg seeing some amazing stuff.

Topic of the Morning: Writing and Selling Short Fiction

Could I do a seminar on this? Yes. I could do a daylong seminar on this. It would depend on interest. If you’re interested, let me know by email please at harveystanbrough@gmail.com.

Recently, some folks who are signed up for my free story of the week have asked why I’m not selling my short stories instead of putting them on the website free. A professional writer friend of mine asked the same question in a slightly different context a few weeks ago.

Think about that for a moment. Why in the world would I limit the audience for my short stories to around 70 subscribers? The answer is, I Don’t.

Yes, if you subcribe (see the Story of the Week link in the header on the website), you will receive a brand new short story free in your email once a week. It costs you nothing and you can read it as many times as you want for the next week or so.

But I ALSO publish each story, usually the same day I write it. I publish it to Amazon, the Smashwords store, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Inktera, Kobo, Oyster, Scribd and Tolino. Through those markets, my stories, collections and novels are available in over 100 nations worldwide within a few days of publication.

To give you an idea of the process, I wrote the next short story of the week yesterday. It’s called “Paper Hearts.” As soon as I finished it, I did the format, created a cover, and published it to my Free Short Story of the Week blog. It will go live on my website on the morning of Monday, September 7. It will go out in email to subscribers on the afternoon of the same day.

So I published it to my website yesterday and set a future release date. But I also published it for sale to Draft2Digital, a distributor who sends it to Apple, Barnes & Noble, Inktera, Kobo, Oyster, Scribd and Tolino. Then I published it to Smashwords, but only for sale in their online store. (You can buy titles at Smashwords.com in any ebook format.) Then I published it to Amazon.

If you want to see it, I recommend you subscribe to my Free Short Story of the Week and wait until Monday to read it. Or just come back to my website on Monday and click the Free Short Story of the Week tab.

But if you’re really in a rush and you have more money than patience, you’re more than welcome to visit your favorite ebook store anytime and buy it. It only costs $2.99. That includes tax, even if you live in Europe and have that horrible VAT thing going on.

Not ony do I sell each individual short story that I write, I also do this:

When I’ve written five short stories, I combine them in a short collection and sell it for $4.99. So my readers can buy my stories one at a time for $2.99 (five stories would cost just under $15) or they can get five stories in a short collection for $4.99.

So when I’ve written TEN short stories, guess what? Instead of buying one or both of the 5-story collections for $4.99 each, my readers can opt to buy one 10-story collection for $5.99 to $7.99. Can you say Good Deal?

From a writer and indie publisher standpoint, each story gives me multiple streams of revenue, too. When I’ve written ten short stories, I get thirteen publications: ten individual stories, two 5-story collections, and one 10-story collection.

That gives me three separate streams of revenue for each short story. Thirty streams of revenue for ten stories. Times the number of venues in which my stories are for sale.

And each of those is for sale at every venue listed above PLUS at those venues’ subsidiaries. Most of the “big” vendors have a few to several subsidiaries to whom they further distribute the books. Cool, eh?

Finally, I also publish each 5-story and 10-story collection as a paperback. Do I get a lot of sales in paperback? No.

But when the reader finds my collection or novel online and sees the paperback price (usually around $15.99) right alongside the ebook price (usually around $5.99) it makes the ebook price look really good. See? Which of course it is.

Today’s Writing

Yeah right. I messed around a bit but not enough to mention. I’m kind’a taking the day off today. Might be a few days like that until I get over this stuff. Sure will be glad to get back up to speed.

Now, that being said, I’m not overly worried about it. I mean, yes, I would MUCH rather be writing fiction because it’s SO much stinkin’ fun when it flows like it should. But the words will still be there when I come out of this crap. So there’s that.

In the meantime, all of you can write your little fingers to the bone. (grin)

Fiction Words: XXXX

Writing of Book 9 of the Wes Crowley saga
Day 1…… 3213 words. Total words to date….. 3213 words
Day 2…… 1046 words. Total words to date….. 4259 words
Day 3…… 1858 words. Total words to date….. 6117 words
Day 4…… 1023 words. Total words to date….. 7140 words
Day 5…… 1587 words. Total words to date….. 8327 words
Day 6…… X943 words. Total words to date….. 9270 words
Day 7…… 1084 words. Total words to date….. 10354 words
Day 8…… 1056 words. Total words to date….. 11410 words
Day 9…… XXXX words. Total words to date….. XXXXX words

I’m gonna leave up the number for ol’ Wes while my subconscious continues to turn the story over. If it doesn’t perk up and get with it pretty soon though, I’ll send Wes out behind the barn to think about what he’s done while I’m writing some other stuff.

Total fiction words for the month…………… 1590
Total fiction words for the year……………… 466631

The Journal, Tuesday, 9/1 (Yay!)

The Day
Rolled out a little after 2. It’s September 1, a shiny brand-new month. New possibilities, newly re-set goals.

Thank goodness.

Coffee and email to wake up. No walk today. Had a violent storm come through here yesterday. That and this little bug that’s taken hold of me recently will keep me from walking today. I’ll walk tomorrow for sure. A good long one.

Well, back to writing today. It is September 1. No real significance there except that this month I will rededicate myself to writing. I will also see my 755th full moon sometime this month, and the first thing has about as much significance to anything important as the second.

As I alluded to in yesterday’s post (I think) things move so fast in my life. I mean even second to second. Or maybe it’s just that I’m noticing the seconds more. I’ve been too distracted recently, with the violent weather and whatever it pitches into the air and a minor nagging illness and all that. I can imagine my drill instructor (Sgt. McGrew, my favorite) saying, “Well, get UNdistracted, y’moron.” And he’s right.

So I’m beginning to focus on writing again because it’s important to me

I felt bad for awhile last night as I considered that my monthly total was only 22641 for this month. That’s very low for me. I’m usually up in the 60,000 to 80,000 per month range.

Then I got to thinking about it. If I wrote 22641 every month for a year, that would be 271,692 published words of fiction in a year. One of my writing heroes and a very prolific SF writer named Jack Williamson once lamented that try as he might, he never wrote much more than 100,000 words in a year.

So I’ll take it.

And as I keep saying, today is September 1.

Topic of the Morning: No topic today. I’m pooped.

Today’s Writing
Fiction Words: 1590

Writing of “Paper Hearts” (began as “A Hiding Place for Weary Men” — short story of the week)
Day 1…… 1056 words. Total words to date….. 1056 words
Day 2…… 1590 words. Total words to date….. 2646 words done

Writing of Book 9 of the Wes Crowley saga
Day 1…… 3213 words. Total words to date….. 3213 words
Day 2…… 1046 words. Total words to date….. 4259 words
Day 3…… 1858 words. Total words to date….. 6117 words
Day 4…… 1023 words. Total words to date….. 7140 words
Day 5…… 1587 words. Total words to date….. 8327 words
Day 6…… X943 words. Total words to date….. 9270 words
Day 7…… 1084 words. Total words to date….. 10354 words
Day 8…… 1056 words. Total words to date….. 11410 words
Day 9…… XXXX words. Total words to date….. XXXXX words

Total fiction words for the month…………… 1590
Total fiction words for the year……………… 466631

Narrative, Dialogue and the Fantasy of Balance

Note: This post first appeared in my blog in 2012. I’ve updated it with new information.

Hi Folks,

Seems like every other week or so someone reports to me that a writing instructor or contest judge or other self-appointed expert has advised that the writer should use less dialogue and more narrative in a given story. Recently, a respondent recalled the exact wording the professor of ludicrosity used:

“If you change a lot of this dialogue to narrative, the story will be a lot more interesting. All fiction should be about forty percent dialogue and sixty percent narrative.”

What? ALL fiction SHOULD BE about forty percent dialogue and sixty percent narrative?

Okay, really, honestly, seriously, there is a lot wrong with that statement.

First, nobody who has any knowledge of how to write fiction can possibly say with the slightest bit of sincerity that any rule applies to “ALL” fiction. If they try it, stop listening.

Second, the story will not be more interesting if you change dialogue to narrative. Actually, the reverse is true because you’re getting rid of a direction character-reader connection (dialogue) in favor of a middle man narrator (and then this happened). Ugh.

Third, if you believe “All Fiction Should Be” forty percent dialogue and sixty percent narrative, what’s to stop you from believing the next so-called expert who tells you the ratio of dialogue to narrative should be thirty/seventy or twenty/eighty or ten/ninety or any of those in reverse?

Oh, and fourth, as my Psych 101 instructor said roughly a b’jillion years ago, “Don’t ‘should’ on yourself, and definitely don’t ‘should’ on anyone else.”

Seriously, it’s a nasty habit. Don’t do it.

I also noticed two interesting facts about people who spew numbers and talk about achieving a “balance” between dialogue and narrative:

  1. They don’t actually write fiction themselves, and
  2. They never provide a concrete reason. Never.

Now you probably already know what I think about so-called experts who can’t provide the rationale for their advice. Briefly, if you can’t explain ad nauseam what you’re teaching, shut up. Seriously.

If your standard line is “Well, I can’t explain it but I know it when I see it” or “I can’t explain it but this is right, trust me,” ummm NO. You need to either teach something different or maybe get a job in which all you have to remember is to ask whether the customer wants fries with his order.

Okay, so here’s MY rationale for saying the guy was wrong to spout such inane advice:

Dialogue provides the reader with a direct, intimate line to the characters, the people who are actually living the story. Because it directly engages the reader, even bad dialogue is automatically more interesting than any narrative. Not that you should “give yourself permission” (or whatever they’re saying now) to write bad dialogue.

Narrative on the other hand is intrusive. Even necessary narrative, which is to say narrative that is written to describe the scene. In every case, the narrator comes from outside the storyline to tap the reader on the shoulder and talk for a moment. If the moment is too long or unnecessary, the interruption will cause the reader to stop reading and find something less annoying to do. In effect, your narrator will have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

Some narrative is necessary, but remember this guideline: The narrator’s only task is to describe the scene.

The good narrator is a tame narrator. He isn’t allowed to offer his opinion, comment on the state of the world, describe a character’s emotional state of being or use (except very sparingly) verbs that indicate physical or emotional senses: saw, could see; heard, could hear; smelled, could smell; tasted, could taste; felt, could feel; or knew.

Instead, the good narrator will simply describe the scene and let the reader see, hear, smell, taste and feel right along with the character as the scene unfolds. Here are a couple of examples:

Good: A few minutes later she heard the front doorknob turn and the door squeal open.

Better: A few minutes later the front doorknob turned and the door squealed open.

Good: As she entered the house, she could smell the acrid odor of sizzling electrical circuits.

Better: As she entered the house, the acrid odor of sizzling electrical circuits stung her nose.

Incidentally, this is also what writing instructors mean when they say “Show, don’t tell.” That snappy little saw actually means “Don’t let your narrator tell the reader what’s going on; instead have him just describe the scene so the reader can see for himself what’s going on.” The former is easier to remember, but the latter makes more concrete sense.

Now, I’m the first to admit that not all stories lend themselves to dialogue. Some stories need more narrative than dialogue. Some even need to be written only in narrative. (The “tamed narrator” bit still applies though.)

But any time anyone tells you a story must (or should) be xx% dialogue and xx% narrative, follow these simple guidelines:

  1. Immediately, if silently, decide against taking any advice from that person, ever; then
  2. (if you want to have a little fun) Ask him to explain his rationale.
  3. Cross your arms, don a knowing look, and wait.

If your lifelong dream has been to see a guy’s head explode, I hope you will enjoy the show.

‘Til next time, happy writing.
Harvey

Note: If you find something of value in these posts or on this website, consider dropping a tip into Harvey’s Tip Jar on your way out. If you’ve already contributed, Thanks! If you can’t make a monetary donation, please at least consider forwarding this post to a friend or several. Again, thank you.

The Journal, Monday, 8/31 (Yay!)

The end of a month. A horrible month. Whew. Glad to see this one end.

The Day
Rolled out a little before 3. I was up late (for me) last night working with web browsers. I’ll tell you the rest in the Topic below.

A personal note — I’ve received a few emails recently from some of you expressing concern for what’s going on. Really, nothing. Just life. (grin) But I’m doing a mostly daily journal here, and I’m trying to be as transparent as I can in revealing my own life as a professional writer. That’s mostly to let you see what’s possible, but also that normal (or abnormal) everyday life continues to happen.

To that end, I want to let you see the rough days as well as the smooth ones, the days when I struggle to put together a sentence as well as the days when everything’s flowing and I hit 1200 words in an hour.
So I do appreciate the concern, but really, everything’s fine. If you know me, you know I slip into grouch mode pretty easily, and when I’m in grouch mode, my two year old inner child isn’t far behind. (grin)

Administrative note — I could have finished the short story I started yesterday in time to start a streak. I could have finished it this morning and created a cover and posted it before 9 a.m. when MailChimp sends out the story of the week to all the subscribers. (I had the story of the week covered with an older one that I reworked a bit but I still set the deadline for my challenge week at 9 a.m. on Monday morning.)

One of the reasons I didn’t bother was because I’ve been sending this daily journal post. It includes my daily numbers and it goes out at 5 p.m. every day. I couldn’t finish the story before that deadline.

So I need to work out my deadlines so they coincide. I’ll do that before I start my story-a-week challenge again. Since my workday begins at 2 or so in the morning and ends at 5 in the early evening, probably I’ll shift the story-a-week deadline to 6 p.m. on Monday instead of 9 a.m. on Monday.

We’ll see. Anyway, it’s now 6:30 a.m. I have a new browser I’m happy with thus far (see the Topic below) and am ready to start the rest of my day. No fiction writing today. The month is over. Today I’ll take care of some more administrative stuff, like adding a couple blog posts over on the other blog to get a little bit ahead.

Now it’s almost noon. I’ve added four articles to the other blog post so I’m caught up through October 1.

Topic of the Morning: Internet Browsers

I’ve used Firefox for years. The problem is, I’m a complete two year old when it comes to putting up with things that annoy me and that probably have a solution. The keyword here is probably.

I will spend hours, even days, searching for a solution to an annoyance when I know the solution “probably” exists.

The problem with Firefox was this: When I tried to view a video or even open a website that has photos or videos on it (for example, news feeds or weather radar) in Firefox, my computer would slow to a crawl. It also sounded like a fighter jet warming up on the runway.

You know the sound. When the pilot is increasing the engine speed while keeping his foot firmly planted on the brake until the engines are spinning fast enough to punch him into the sky. Well, something like that. You know.

Anyway, Firefox invoked Adobe Flash, which ran as a separate process and ate up tons of memory, thereby taxing the processor and slowing the computer to roughly the speed of an abacus in the hands of an untrained chimp.

As all humans do in all human endeavors in which Conflict is trump, I finally sought change only when the aggravation of putting up with my current browser finally outweighed the inconvenience of finding a new one, moving all my bookmarks, reinserting all my saved passwords, and all that stuff.

And of course, the need to switch browsers brought up another problem. Which browser?

Now fixing this problem should be as easy as looking at browser comparisons or reading reviews. But it isn’t. Not unless you look at several comparisons from various sources and look for common notes among them.

Ditto for reviews. You have to compare several reviews and study them to discern the kernels of unbiased truth hidden in the bought-and-paid-for-and-therefore-biased text.

And finally, you have to download the new browser, transfer all your stuff (or at least find out how difficult it is to transfer all your stuff) and then use it and wait to see what happens.

Relatively speaking, I got lucky.

Yesterday (?) or the day before, I compared notes (per my griping above) and settled on Opera. I downloaded it, transferred everything (to Opera’s credit, the transfer was easy) and began using it.

I liked the user interface and enjoyed the ease with which I was able to get around in the browser. Everything was fine for a few hours.

Then it crashed.

The browser was still there, and open. My windows (email, harveystanbrough.com and a couple others) were still on the screen. But in each window, the content — ALL of the content — was replaced with black.

I closed Opera and restarted it, and everything was fine. My tabs all came back. No problem. Probably just a glitch, so no worries.

Then it crashed. Same thing, a half-hour later. Okay, so not just a glitch. Sigh. Well minor-league-curseword-that-begins-with-D.

So I started reading again, comparing notes.

Just in case you’re doing this search yourself, here are the two best comparison sites I found:

http://www.topattack.com/list/best-internet-browsers-review/4 and

http://internet-browser-review.toptenreviews.com/.

I found a few programs that seemed like good candidates to become my next browser. I downloaded and installed Internet Explorer 11 and was immediately IMMEDIATELY sorry. It’s far too bossy for my tastes, and it isn’t NEARLY as fast as the two comparison sites above claim it is. Plus it uses a ton of memory, again, as opposed to what a lot of reviews and the two comparison sites above say.

I quickly grew tired of the “big” browsers. I had tried IE twice and hated it both times. Firefox was out, and Google Chrome seemed overly flippant in their lack of desire to allow the end user (me) to set things up for my own convenience. And Opera… well, I liked Opera a lot except that it apparently is a crash machine.

So I read in-depth reviews about three other browsers: Pale Moon (based on the Firefox engine but sleeker and faster), Torch (based on the Chromium engine, like Google Chrome, it allows for a LOT more personalization and is not as high-handed) and Sea Monkey (based on the Firefox engine but just as fast as Firefox while allegedly using a LOT less memory).

I finally installed Pale Moon, but the first time I visited a news site that had a few pictures on it and links to videos (not even videos, just LINKS to videos), it acted like Firefox. Someone turned the ignition key in an F-16 cockpit and the computer slowed to a crawl. Now I have to admit the crawl was considerably faster than the Firefox crawl, but a crawl is a crawl.

Thing is, I can’t abide a crawling browser. Let me explain.

In my world, I don’t really notice 1/60th of a minute as it ticks past, but I can get a lot done in, say, 15 seconds. So in my world, a minute has four 15-second segments that I’m intuitively aware of. In my world, an hour has 240 of those. It doesn’t just have 60 minutes, but 240 quarter-minutes. That’s a lot of quarter-minutes. And during that time, I can accomplish a lot IF my browser isn’t crawling along, sapping my strength and my patience.

So the search continued.

This morning, fresh out of bed, I grabbed a cuppa coffee, turned on Pale Moon, opened a new tab and began comparing browsers.

I swear, I thought I heard my computer say in a soft, almost menacing voice, “What are you doing, Harvey?” (see 2001: A Space Odyssey)

And yes, I responded. Aloud. I said, “Nothing. Nothing, ProBook 6460b. Everything’s fine.”

Then I downloaded the installation files for Sea Monkey (http://www.seamonkey-project.org/) and Torch (http://www.torchbrowser.com/).

Torch downloaded first, so I installed it first. TADA! It’s working great.

If it continues to work well, that will be the end of my search. If it doesn’t, well, I still have the installation files for Sea Monkey set aside, so we’ll see.

If you have any questions about any of this, please ask in the comments section below.

Also, be aware I’m also gonna make this one of my upcoming posts over on the bigger blog. So if you’re signed up over there too, you’ll see this again before too long. Probably late September.

TOMORROW  BEGINS  A  NEW  MONTH!  GO  FORTH  AND  WRITE!

Today’s Writing

Well, I just don’t have any writing in me today. Well, fiction writing anyway. I probably hit around 3,000 words today of nonfiction and silliness. In fact, there are almost 1700 words in this post alone.

Okay, but I just noticed I didn’t add my total from yesterday (1056) to the daily total. I added it to the monthly and annual, but not to the daily, so I’m correcting that today.

Fiction Words: XXXX

Writing of Book 9 of the Wes Crowley saga
Day 1…… 3213 words. Total words to date….. 3213 words
Day 2…… 1046 words. Total words to date….. 4259 words
Day 3…… 1858 words. Total words to date….. 6117 words
Day 4…… 1023 words. Total words to date….. 7140 words
Day 5…… 1587 words. Total words to date….. 8327 words
Day 6…… X943 words. Total words to date….. 9270 words
Day 7…… 1084 words. Total words to date….. 10354 words
Day 8…… 1056 words. Total words to date….. 11410 words
Day 9…… XXXX words. Total words to date….. XXXXX words

Total fiction words for the month…………… 22641
Total fiction words for the year……………… 465041

The Journal, Sunday, 8/30

The Day
Rolled out right at 2 this morning. Good to feel back on schedule.

Spent more time this morning on email than usual but for a good reason. I woke to Dr. Mardy Groethe’s weekly newsletter in my inbox. Dr. Mardy is a verbivore. He is the author of I Never Metaphor I Didn’t Like, Oxymoronica, and several other books in the same general vein.

Each week his newsletter contains an interesting “puzzler” regarding a famous literary figure. Dr. Mardy provides a brief history and several quotes about the person, and at the end of the newsletter he reveals the person’s name.

After the puzzler hints and before the revelation, he provides “This Week’s Theme.” Then he offers up a bit of introductory prose and then a collection (usually a dozen) of his own favorite quotes on the topic.

And that’s what I like best about his newsletter. The listing of quotes he provides is a never-ending source of story titles and story ideas. And if you title and/or write a story based on part of a quote, the quote becomes a ready-made epigraph if you want one. (grin)

I will write the story of the week today, and I will write it based on a title derived from a quotation taken from this week’s newsletter.

And to slightly adjust my personal challenge, each new short story I write for the foreseeable future will be based on a quote from Dr. Mardy’s newsletter. That should be a blast. (grin)

You can find Dr. Mardy’s website at http://www.drmardy.com. To sign up for his newsletter, send a blank email to drmardy-on@mail-list.com. Again, I highly recommend it.

No topic tonight other than the above.

Good walk today. Only about 3.5 miles but new ground through a new wash. And not too sandy so no slogging, or not much. Cool.

Started the story of the week. Then my new Internet browser (Opera) crashed on me three times in an hour. So I’m looking again. Spent the last couple hours doing that, so back to writing for a bit now. I want to see how this story ends. (grin)

As it turns out, I’m not gonna find out how it ends today. Like I said the other day, the good thing about a recurring goal is that it resets if you miss it.

Today’s Writing

Well, I won’t finish the new short story I started today. No biggie. I’ll just start my new streak next week, or the next. I’ll get back on track.

I DID get a good opening written, and it’s a great title that I borrowed from a quote by Herodotus (5th c. B.C.). So I’ll run with that later.

But for now I’m not gonna worry about it. Talk with you all tomorrow.

Fiction Words: 1056

Writing of “A Hiding Place for Weary Men” (short story, but not of the week)
Day 1…… 1056 words. Total words to date….. 1056 words

Writing of Book 9 of the Wes Crowley saga
Day 1…… 3213 words. Total words to date….. 3213 words
Day 2…… 1046 words. Total words to date….. 4259 words
Day 3…… 1858 words. Total words to date….. 6117 words
Day 4…… 1023 words. Total words to date….. 7140 words
Day 5…… 1587 words. Total words to date….. 8327 words
Day 6…… X943 words. Total words to date….. 9270 words
Day 7…… 1084 words. Total words to date….. 10354 words
Day 8…… XXXX words. Total words to date….. XXXXX words

Total fiction words for the month…………… 22641
Total fiction words for the year……………… 465041

The Journal, Saturday, 8/29

The Day
Rolled out a little late at quarter to 3.

Wow. I hope all of you who are reading this are having a lot better month with your writing than I am so far. With the month mostly gone, it isn’t likely to improve much either.

No walk today. Not a lot else either, except I switched my internet browser from Firefox over to Opera. I’m more than happy with it. For one thing, whenever Adobe Flash would kick in to run any video (weather, etc.) it ate tons of memory. My computer sounded like a military fighter jet warming up to take off, and it slowed to a crawl. It was so bad that sometimes I used the Alt/Ctrl Delete trick to bring up the Task Manager and shut down the Adobe Flash process.

Now it doesn’t do that because Flash works differently with Opera. Cool.

I’ve been slipping badly on meeting my daily goal of 3,000 words per day. Probably I will adjust that one beginning in September.

But I still have a good weekly goal of one new short story per week. This coming Monday, I’m posting a story I reworked, but that doesn’t excuse me from the goal of writing a new one this week (before Monday). So probably I’ll do that today. Or tomorrow. (grin)

One good thing about writing short stories is that they’re usually finished in one day. Another good thing is that they can lead to a novella or novel. They’re also great fun because I can give a character a problem and drop him or her into a setting and I’m off and running. Then I just write the opening (300 to 500 words). If the opening works, I keep writing. If it doesn’t, I chuck it and start over or start something new.

But it’s pure writing into the dark, just like writing a one-off stand-alone novel. I don’t have to worry about timelines or about various characters cropping up from the past and so on.

Anyway, I don’t want to allow myself to fail on this short story per week challenge. I want to hold out for as long as I can. The last time I did this, I had a streak that ran for 66 straight weeks (I think that’s the right number) and included 70 short stories. I want to try to beat that this time.

But the thing about writing goals is this: If you fail to hit a goal, so what. Nobody dies, the electric company doesn’t turn off the power, and the goal resets. In other words, you have absolutely nothing to lose and the world to gain.

Topic of the Night: Rehashing Stuff

I was going to write about “The Value of Streaks,” but when I was looking back for info, I realize I talked about setting goals just back in July, from around the 6th or 7th up through about the 10th. In fact, I wrote about setting goals, recurring goals, and the power of streaks. If you’re interested, click The Journal tab on the website and scroll back.

And my apologies for repeating myself on this stuff so often. I didn’t realize. When I don’t have something to talk about, I’ll avoid doing a Topic.

Okay, so I’m off this now and working on my own stuff the rest of the day.

Well, as it turns out, that was two hours ago. I remembered I needed to at least rinse off my pickup (tossed cold coffee out the window and it streaked the door), and I ended up washing both the car and the pickup.

Everybody needs a hobby. I guess mine is being stupid in the heat when I could be inside, writing in the (relative) cool. (grin)

So after I cool down a bit and get a shower, I’ll write for awhile.

Today’s Writing

Got a little done on Wes’ story. And it was fun because it completely surprised me. And I’m still feeling lazy, so I guess I’ll write the short story tomorrow.

Fiction Words: 1084

Writing of Book 9 of the Wes Crowley saga
Day 1…… 3213 words. Total words to date….. 3213 words
Day 2…… 1046 words. Total words to date….. 4259 words
Day 3…… 1858 words. Total words to date….. 6117 words
Day 4…… 1023 words. Total words to date….. 7140 words
Day 5…… 1587 words. Total words to date….. 8327 words
Day 6…… X943 words. Total words to date….. 9270 words
Day 7…… 1084 words. Total words to date….. 10354 words

Total fiction words for the month…………… 21585
Total fiction words for the year……………… 463985