Storytelling 101: Keeping it 100

After the impromptu story yesterday, I felt the jolt of November starting up. It used to get me looking to the fields on the way into work, clutching at the key pocket in my jeans to see if the spare round for my rifle was stashed there or not. These days its more about coffee, talking stories with NaNos (or WriMos… everyone has a different name for it) and storytelling.

keep-it-100_percent-tee-design1If I am going to “keep it 100” (see The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore), since my Aladdin died, I have been off in my writing. I made it to 50k last year, but I don’t feel it was anything I could use. As for this year, I have had a slow start to finishing up a middle grade story I’ve been throwing stones at since late spring. This November I want to not only hit the 50k but produce 50k of workable story. Something I can sell, produce, or at least print.

The going belief is that if you can exist without telling stories you’re not a writer. So does that mean I’m not a writer? I don’t think so. My storytelling outlet has been gaming this year. Role Playing is like storytelling without all the writing and editing. Well, some of the writing. Players get away with little to no writing.

To explain, allow me to tell a story. Several years ago (like seven or eight), some guys were talking in my building. Right outside my office. “Dude, I’m bringing D&D back!” (Said sarcastically, of course.) I stick my head out to ask if it went somewhere. They kind of chuckled at me and commented on how I was probably that guy at work that still played D&D.

“I haven’t played D&D for years,” I said. Of course when I was telling that to my gaming group that Sunday they looked at me rather confused. Understandable as we were setting up the D&D game for the week. Even more so  when I informed them I didn’t lie at work.

“I don’t play D&D. I’m the DM. I run it… you guys get to play.”

Being the DM is like leading a group storytelling exercise. I throw things out there, the characters react to them, and we all tell a story together. It was one of the things that lead me to wanting to become a writer in high school. Granted there were more impactful motivations that fit the traditional model, but gaming was part of it.

This past week the show Critical Role (on the Geek & Sundry Twitch channel) lost one of its actors. Not entirely sure why he had to leave the show, but he did. It made me think of all the changes my groups have gone through over the years. The gaming group from the above story only had two players in it that are still in my game. Of course one of them is my son, so that is nearly a given. Though the other player has his 13 year old daughter playing with us now.

For those young writers in training and the older ones alike. My strongest piece of advice is to Keep in 100. Own your weird and flaunt it proudly. Most of the genre writers I know have some serious eccentricities to them. And frankly I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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NaNoWriMo is Done, Now What?

December is here. People are baking cookies, going shopping for gifts, and recovering from the month that was NaNoWriMo. Or are you recovering? Every person reacts differently at this point. For my part, this is where we see a lot of stigma that hits near people who compete in NaNoWriMo. As such, this is where I am going to jot down notes, resources and ideas to share at our wrap party at the end of the week.

You finished your novel, now what do you do?

Do not hit “submit.” I mean it. When you finished your first finger paint in school did you submit it to an art gallery? Nope, your mom put it on the fridge. Too bad most fridges won’t support the heft of a 50,000 word manuscript. But there is hope…

Revision. True, this step will require a thick skin. A common theme I have heard at the craft panels at writing conferences is, “Your story is your child, your beautiful little baby… find someone to tell you your baby is ugly and how to make it better.” Killing your darlings (another mantra from the conferences) will come later, likely in that part of editing, revising and seeking critiques of your work. If you submit, or self publish something without editing it, you’re shooting your story in the foot. With a 50 cal sniper rifle.

Find a critique group, or even just a partner. If you plan on self publishing, find an editor you can trust and afford. I hate to be the one to break it to you if you had other plans, but you will have to pay for an editor. A cover artist too. That’s part of the reason many people won’t consider self publishing. They like the publisher taking care of all that.

In the effort of revising, I have snagged a set of “writing rules” from a post written by Delilah S Dawson. I have reposted it here as I’m not 100% on board will all of them, or at least I have comments on them. You can see the whole nine yards over at Delilah’s original blog post on them.

Delilah’s 11 Rules of Writing

The caveat I’ve heard included here is “this is what worked for me,” which implies “results may vary.” Just because this worked for her, or that I agree with it, means this will work for you. But she is a published author and one whose writing I enjoy. So I’m siding on the side of caution.

#1 Kill dialog tags whenever possible.

She states that “said” is the only acceptable one. I still haven’t completely eliminated “asked” from my writing. Though I have made a conscious effort to eliminate “replied” as a tag. That said (see what I did there), try to remove as many of these as possible. In addition to tightening up your dialog it will help you to see if you are describing the scene effectively or not. If a beta reader or critique partner gets confused about who is talking, the scene needs work.

NO = “I’m going to do it,” he said.
YES = Ferdinand crossed his huge arms and nodded. “I’ll do it.”

#2 Kill adverbs and replace them with beautiful writing.

I support this one. Mostly. I don’t think adverbs need to be eliminated from your text with extreme prejudice. At the same time, I don’t think you should sprinkled them out over your text from the Adverb Shaker on your desk. Like with most things in life. Good in moderation.

NO = The old man stood painfully and carefully walked to the kitchen.
YES = Helga groaned, her bones cracking like popcorn as she navigated the cramped hallway.

#3 Kill all instances of these words: feel, see, smell, hear.

Did you always wonder what people meant by “Show, Don’t Tell?” Now you know. Make sure you’re giving it to us from their point of view. First person can muddy this up a bit, but that’s what a good editor is for. (See above about hiring an editor.)

NO = Leo could see the tiger mauling his pet parrot, and he could hear the rending flesh splatter against the wall.
YES = The tiger’s teeth ripped into Mr. Cheeky, the scent of copper pennies and raw chicken sending Leo into a gagging fit.

#4 Don’t end a chapter on a note of complete comfort.

The idea is that any sense of mini-closure is going to give the reader a place to stop reading. You want to keep them reading. While I agree the first few chapters shouldn’t do this (at least 3-5), I’m not sure I buy into it as much further in. As a reader I have gone past these endings and continued reading. But I am odd…

NO = She fell asleep in Lord Wolfington’s arms, sated and happy.
YES = She fell asleep in Lord Wolfington’s arms, sated and happy except for the strangest feeling that she’d forgotten something terribly important. In the morning, her maid had disappeared.

#5 Become a master at communicating important details with just a few words.

100% yes… While never a real fan of poetry (or having any real skill at it), I have taken to listening to some of the better slam poets that are uploading their performances to YouTube. Neil Hilborn especially. A good spoken word poem, displays an efficiency of words. Definitely something to strive towards. It will also help in writing good, tight, short fiction. (Something I am currently working on.)

NO = The burgundy and black damask wallpaper was ripped and torn, showing scarred wood beneath it that matched the destroyed furniture and pockmarked floors, all of which had once given the appearance of wealth and abundance.
YES = She hated waiting, especially in a sitting room that so obviously displayed Lord Wolfington’s inner darkness, thanks to claw-torn wallpaper and a well-gnawed chaise.

#6 Try not to use the same word twice in a two page spread.

Within reason. Some words are just used a lot. As she stated in the original posting “the” and “a” don’t count. Also, if you’re working at coming up with a word to describe it too hard, then either rewrite the sentence or just leave it. Do you really think your readers will all know what a troika is?

NO = The carnival called to her, from the sound of carnies shilling their wares to the merry song of the calliope to the alluring scent of carnival goodies.
YES = The carnival called to her, from the barker’s harsh cawing to the merry song of the carousel to the alluring scent of funnel cake and popcorn.

#7 Your ego will try to insert itself into the manuscript, especially in the form of exceptionally clever similes and metaphors. Kill them.

As Delilah originally stated this is the source of “Killing Your Darlings.” You read them and you’re proud of these quips. Each time you read through it though, you try and decide if it fits. I agree a lot of this can be distracting. Also, if it doesn’t fit the character, don’t include it. At the same time, some of the truly good snark that I really enjoy as a reader likely falls into the author’s “Darlings” category.

In short, this falls to your (and your editor’s) best judgement. After all, you’re creating the voice of the character. Know when you’re detracting from it and when you’re enhancing it.

NO = The mermaid looked a lot like Goldie Hawn, and not just because of the fish lips and her tendency to be thrown overboard by men wearing eye patches.

#8 To up the tension, add a ticking clock.

Yes, it’s a formula. But it is there for a reason. Not all formulas are bad. Even the cliche ones, like the marriage deadline for Lord Wolfington to inherit his fortune that Delilah suggested in her original blog.

NO = “Your happiness is important to me, Linnea. I shall support you even should you become a spinster and haunt my attic forever.”
YES = “By God, I am finished with your mucking about in the laboratory, Linnea. You will find a husband by Michaelmas, or I shall put you up for auction!”

#9 Torture your character in ways big and small.

I’ll admit it. I’m an asshole to my characters. This year I had thought the story had turned into a paranormal romance. I had forgotten the end scene… the climax… the part that kicked the can of happily ever after down the road and past the book for my main character. For now.

NO = Lulu was doing fine in school, she loved her job at the GAP, and her grandmother had the body of a forty-year old.
YES = Lulu’s chemistry grade had taken a plunge, thanks to a misunderstanding with moles, which meant she spent most of her shift at the GAP studying in a dressing room and praying Chase didn’t catch her and fire her. She needed that money to help pay for Grammy’s meds, which only seemed to cost more as time went by.

#10 Make a spreadsheet to plot out the story and make sure its interesting.

Replace the first three words with whatever works for you. I hear that Scrivener has awesome tools built in for this. I use Storyist, which doesn’t have the corkboard, but does have excellent tools for denoting your character descriptions to help keep them straight. Spreadsheet, Scrivener corkboard or actual corkboard. Whatever works for you.

As can be seen in the original post, she refers to a blog post by Chuck Wendig for further discussion on the subject.

#11 Think about sentence length.

I agree. Definitely when it comes to the first sentence of the book. That should hit you right about in the jumblies and keep you reading for fear of the follow-up punch.

I would take it a step further to include paragraph and chapter length. Though it did make me stop to consider it when I first read it, I recently finished a book with a single sentence chapter. Once I reread the end of the previous and the beginning of the following chapter, it totally made sense. Though in reality, that is rather extreme.

Personal Examples

As many of the people in my NaNoWriMo region know, I chose my plot from a selection of three potential projects based on the fact that an editor I know posted she was specifically looking for the type of story that was a near elevator pitch for one of them. So that means there is an editor out there looking for the type of story I wrote. She knows me. I’ve given her a cupcake before. She won’t see this manuscript until late January at the earliest. It is rough, rough, rough…

I’m also jumping back in during January with another challenge. One started through a Roundtable podcast group of writers motivating other writers. Call it a sickness, but how many of you saw the Billy Crystal/Danny DeVito movie Throw Mama From The Train? Quoting Billy Crystal’s character from his class on writing, “Writers write. Always.” Did you end November with an empty spot where your word count was? Did you find yourself wanting to go out to the bar or cafe to write and ask people if they were doing NaNo too?

If you know now how you can work in enough time to put even 500-1000 words a day to paper and have the drive to put down more stories, then you have a taste of what it means to be a writer. Most of them have day jobs. So, they are in the same boat you are in during November.

A couple years ago I started in on writing every day. Sure, I skip from time to time. But when I do, I notice it. If I’m slacking at home in the morning instead of showing up when the owner unlocks the door to the coffee shop, I know I am willingly wasting time. Even if I am showing up to work on edits instead of writing.

If you want to join in too, I will be posting information to the Madison Area NaNoWriMo Facebook page. You can also consider joining the RoTaNoWriMo group. They are pretty open, and work well for keeping me motivated.

Gearing Up To NaNoWriMo

FootlooseOkay November, let’s dance. And that was my Kevin Bacon pop culture reference for the post. You can’t see it, but trust me… I’m doing a little dance in my chair. Which makes this a two-fer as I am also giving a nod to one of Craig Ferguson’s new things. You know, something old, something new… both are borrowed.

Right, stay on target.

November is coming up fast. In my world that means a number of things. First and foremost is the NaNoWriMo is looming. No offense to TeslaCon and Deer Season (one of which I am gearing up for as well), or to the newly started GameHole Con. Really, I won’t be ignoring you this month. But honestly, NaNoWriMo is my focus. It has been for a several years. And as such, I am starting my first prep post for the big day.

Of course once I am on the front line and taking fire, these will start to drop in frequency. But for now, I am working on preparing. Partially because I am at TeslaCon from Halloween Night until that Sunday. With at least one or two visits to GameHole Con for the OddCon Suite Party. And I will still be getting in my 2k a day.

Coming up next week, we are looking at doing a pair of NaNoWriMo Prep Parties. Kind of a meet and greet for people and a way for writers to get their minds in the right place. Maybe do some plotting. At least come up with a character or two. I’ll post once we confirm place and time here, but you can find them in the Madison regional forum on the NaNoWriMo site. Which you should be on if you are participating.

For now, I give you this rough outline of what you should consider for your prep. With less time on hand, my plan is to plot the novel roughly. Flying by the seat of my pants works best when I have time to screw things up and stumble. There will be no stumble time in 2013. Last summer I started concentrating on key scenes. The ones I knew I had to have. Got stuck? Go on to the next scene… you can stitch them together later in edits. Especially if you only have 50k of first draft done.

Last month I found this off a blog or post that I forgot where it came from. This is far more general than my list of scenes method, but more linear. I intend to set up this framework and tape the SOB up on my bookcase until the month is over. Maybe a copy on my iPad. And in my folder. You get the idea. Steal it from me if this will help you, as I have stolen it as well.

Identify Your Scenes

  1. The Inciting Incident. This scene dramatizes the call to action, the event that propels your protagonist into the story.
  2. End of Act I. A second high-conflict scene usually occurs at the end of Act 1, or about a quarter of the way through the story. This is the “we’re not in Kansas anymore” moment where your protagonist realizes the totality of the challenge she faces and discovers that there is no going back.
  3. Midpoint. A third high-conflict scene falls somewhere near the middle of the story. This is the point where things look bleakest for your protagonist. It may appear that there is no way out, that the antagonist is just too powerful, that it is probably wisest to run rather than stand and fight.
  4. End of Act II. A fourth high-conflict point usually occurs at the end of Act II, about three quarters of the way through the story. Your protagonist has decided to fight (really, how could she do anything else), and this is a major test. The stakes are high (but not yet the highest), and propel the story on to its inevitable conclusion.
  5. Climax. The last high-conflict scene is comes near the end of the book. This is the battle of all battles, the decisive moment that determines whether your protagonist gets what she wants badly, or not.

If you are in the Madison area, I’ll see you out and about doing public authorin’ throughout the month. I’ll be the scruffy looking old guy with the Neil Gaiman’s Gazebo sign.

Story Inspiration: The Playlists

Every author has a different process. The guideline that has stood the test of several writing conferences seems to follow the formula of – this is the one and only true way to do things… unless something else works for you, then do that. For me, music isn’t only a needed feature, but it is significantly related to the piece I am working on. Each and every project has it’s own playlist. While some have to avoid anything with lyrics, I embrace it.

I say this for several reasons. Well a couple of reasons. At least two. Halfway decent ones.

One of my favorite bands as of late has been Wayland. If you are following my feeds in Facebook or on Twitter you have likely seen several posts about going to their shows or cool things coming up from them. Around a year ago or so, I was unaware of them. My initiation into the Wayland Warriors revolves a lot around not only the music, but the band itself. They mimic many aspects of my favorite writers, or celebrities in general.

So let’s take it by the numbers…

1. Their Attitude

During the course of the year, I have checked out many of the videos the band has posted. In a couple of the interviews they related how much satisfaction they get when fans write them/tell them about how a song affected them or inspired them. While bringing in the money is always a possibility, and really should be a goal, this attitude is the target of an artist. A real artist.

2. Their Interaction

Before and after a set, the group is always around the bar or the merch booth. They talk with fans, engage them and seem to really listen to them. These are the people that will be financially supporting them and will potentially pass along the fever to join the Wayland forces like a zombie-infected bite, so it makes sense. This is a lot of what I think draws people to new media, and they are enacting a similar model.

3. Their Music

Describing the music is difficult. It boils down to the song they are playing. For my part, I see them as a rock band in the truest sense of the word. It can be hard and heavy; or it can be melodious and harmonized; or it can be something powerful that moves you from the gut – it all depends on the song. Several of the songs have lead me to the next point.

4. Their Inspiration

Remember my point on fans being inspired by something they played? After finishing up with Under the Hood, I was looking into a second book with those characters. One not for charity, but for regular publication. With the bad guy involved there would be a lot of empathetic and telepathic battles going on. When looking for songs to fill out the playlist that would live on the iPod/iPad for writing, I came up with a couple to represent the bad guy in question (Blood by In This Moment and I Miss the Misery by Halestorm), but for the hero I was looking for something. A song that would become Dukes’ anthem of sorts. And in going through the music I had on hand I came up with Welcome to My Head.

Welcome to My Head was one of their big singles off their EP. I bought it at the first concert I saw them in. It’s a thing with me, support local artists/writers morphed into a support touring bands rule. Especially ones that frequent your local area or are local to your area. It didn’t register at the time, but the lyrics to the song fell right into place with the idea I had for the climactic showdown between my Honkytonk Hunter and the Monster(s) he was to be facing.

Though I have linked it before, I’ll include the video below for those who haven’t yet heard the song…

5. Their Personalities

While all of this is good, the personalities of the people in question meshing well with mine will lock that association into place. It will draw me into going out to their shows. It will keep me listening. New songs coming out will likely find their way into my next projects if their themes mesh with whatever I am writing. Hell, it kept me out at Brat Fest, sitting in the rain to listen to their set. (It was a light rain, but still…)

Next blog post, I will go over some of the other artists that are sitting on my writing playlists. As well as picking apart what it is about these songs specifically that marries them to the stories I am working on.

Until then I have to run. I am making a bunch of my Iron Druid cupcakes (renamed to their original Irish Car Bomb theme) to bring to the concert tomorrow night. Yes, there is booze in them. No, they aren’t vegan. Yes, they use real sugar, real butter, and reach Dutch process cocoa powder. Photos will follow if I remember.

In Which Zombie Joe Contemplates Summer Camp

Really the point is in which I wonder to myself when summer camp became such a chore. I knew taking on the new roles would tax my time. At the same time, I am loving what I am doing and really getting in some solid reading time. The real slap in the face came in two spots, both of which hurt in their own way. And so I quote The 40 Year Old Virgin;

“That sign had two sides, and the both hurt… equally.”

The first came in the form of an email letting me know that Camp NaNoWriMo was gearing up. Granted it started earlier this year than last, but I have final edits and a cover to produce before I can get ecopies to people. The fates seem to be conspiring against me, but this afforded me the opportunity to kick my ass into gear. So I am going rogue and doing a final edit of Under the Hood this time around. It also didn’t hurt that the cover of Ben Dukes latest album has him looking damn near exactly as I had pictured the main character in Under the Hood.

Past that, I was talking to my son about plans for the future. In leading the conversation the direction of balance of responsibilities, it dawned on me. While I was getting some solid reading and reviewing in, I was causing an imbalance in my writing. A major one. It was like the tarp was lifted off the huge hole that was left in my day – I needed to get back to writing every day. Even if it was just a little bit.

So here we are. The cover has been lifted and placed back over my plans to build a gazebo like Neil Gaiman. Mornings are starting earlier again, giving more time for work in the morning before going to… well… work. I have also been getting into the mood for old fashioned NaNo-style write-ins for the afternoons. Even if it’s just me sitting in a coffee shop pouring over edits, critiques for my writing group, or reviews/blurbs for the various sites I am posting to. Provided I get them in early enough.

My next step is to clean up my library. Not because it is my gazebo, but because I need a place in the condo I can be comfortable enough to write in so that I have some time at home with my family. Even on the nights my wife isn’t home, I’m sure the dog would love the company. And the excuse to beg for food while I eat dinner.

Anyone else doing Camp NaNoWriMo? What are y’all working on?

What I’m Reading, or The Reason I Have Been Silent Lately

According to the stats section of WordPress, not many of you have been checking out the 52 Weeks page. Towards the bottom of the page will explain somewhat why I have been vacant lately. Though it is a bit more involved than that. I have several new projects that add onto that particular one.

52 Weeks started out as a way for me to justify a book a week for a year. I aimed for 50 novels, giving myself a two week vacation. Realistically though, vacation would be a time when I would catch up on reading – unless we planned something that keep me moving too much to sit and read. You get the idea though.

In checking out the 52 Weeks page you’ll see that I am averaging just under two novels a week. Partially that is due to an overflowing TBR Mountain (seriously, I had to add shelves into Casa de Zombie), but also due to a couple of reading and reviewing projects. If you pop over to Beyond Her Book with Barbara Vey you’ll see my name pop up in the blurbs from her readers from time to time. The irony there is that my helping her with the reading she doesn’t have time for is having a similar affect on me, which lead to the project that affords me the motivation to read the books I from my usual pool of authors (for the most part).

wlpI have started all stealth-like as a blogger on Wicked Lil Pixie reviewing books. These are a different pool of books and are full reviews as opposed to blurbs. I think part of my stealth entry into it is that the page listing on the site for the reviewers is entitled “The Ladies.” I am holding firm to not taking a photo in drag to post to the page with my bio. No matter what my wife says. And even if she tricks me into it, I am not shaving off my beard!

Additionally I am working programming for Odyssey Con this year with Paul. I’ll even be on some panels this time. Not to mention we have a couple of my pool of go-to authors as guests this year. Kevin Hearne, author of the Iron Druid Chronicles, and Alex Bledsoe, author of the Eddie Lacrosse series, Memphis Vampires, the Tufa books and more.

And finally there is the work for Festa Italia this year. I am organizing the Food Vendors this time around. That sounds a lot more time consuming than it is. With my father being the chair, I know this one will run smoothly. Not to mention my timeline and duties are solidly laid out.

Any Madison area folks (even Milwaukee area ones) should take a look at the pair of events listed above. Both should be pretty exciting events. And who can resist Italian food, music and games?

Looking at all of that, you might wonder when I have time for writing. So do I. Seriously last week was filled with 15 hour days. Without writing. This week is a little easier, but I am still looking at 1-2 days like that every week through June. I am shuffling things around as much as I can so that I can have Under the Hood up and available before Romantic Times as well as have a pair of polished manuscripts ready to go as soon as I hit Kansas City.

Eat. Sleep. Day Job. Review. Write.

That is pretty much what my life looks like until the end of the summer. Just about in time for NaNoWriMo. Though I may do a rewrite for Camp NaNoWriMo next month. Not sure.

Insanity, thy name be Zombie Joe. 😉

A Letter to My First Time NaNo Self

Y’all have seen the letters to my 16 year old self, right? Looking back over the craziness of the last several years of NaNoWriMo, there are things I had wish I’d known back then. Things I now know, and could have used earlier. Some of those items might be useful to the NaNos just starting this year. The “fresh fish” to the program. The new participant just starting out with the insanity. More to the point, many of these facts are ones that I have been trying to impart upon my son who is joining in full for the first time this year.

To My Past Self on the eve of your entry into NaNoWriMo…

You likely know this already, but the novel you are about to work on will become the first Trunk Novel™. It won’t be your last. But you’re a smart guy, the signs are there. It is something much more deep than your first novel. It’s the first step on the journey you’ve been waiting for most of your life. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Stick to the basics. Keep it simple.

NaNoWriMo at its core will be an exercise in time management. It will teach you how to juggle your job and writing at the same time. The reality sits in line with what you are suspecting – many published authors can’t afford to do it full time. You’ll remember that strength and that odd genetic makeup that leaves you with multiple sleep disorders but the benefit of not needing eight hours of sleep a night. The farmer roots you’ve come from will expose themselves and you will become a morning person even when it isn’t deer hunting season. Use this time.

One of the best things this challenge will teach you, one of those facts we really need to learn is, it’s okay to stumble. It’s okay to even fall. By the end of this month you’ll be doing an eleven hour marathon drive. It will not be a fun one. It will teach you that sometimes we need to set aside our work until we are back into the right mindset. Allow yourself to say goodbye – you’ll understand in a few weeks.

There is no winning and losing in NaNoWriMo, just like there’s no crying in baseball. At the end of the month, even if you have 50,000 words sitting in a Word document what have you won? You’ll have a nice certificate to print out and hang on the wall and bragging rights. You’ll also have a story that may or may not be salvageable. In this instance, you won’t. Trust me. Everyone has a trunk novel. Everyone. Even Shakespeare wrote a “buddy guardsman” play that never saw the light of day. I hear he wrote the lead for Larry King.

Writers Block is a myth. Trust me on this one. If you are sitting with “writers block” then you are not in the frame of mind you need to be in. Step away. A forced story will read as forced. The last thing you want is your main character to sound like Liam Neeson’s daughter in Taken 3 – Terrorist Novelists. If you have to, give up a day or writing to come back the next day with your resolve redoubled.

You’ll know when you hit the groove. Believe it or not, you will get to the point where you’ll crank out that daily goal of 1700 words in an hour. You’ll top out at hitting it around the 45 minute mark. They won’t all be like that, but even Michael Jordan missed a free throw once in a while.

“If you stop moving, you die.” You heard this recently. It made you finally give up your cane. It relates to writing too. When November ends, it isn’t over. You’ll likely not start a daily writing routine for a couple years, but the sooner the better. You need to keep writing. Improve your craft. Your weakness is passive voice and tense. Learn to work around that. Learn to identify when you are screwing something up. Also learn to highlight your strengths. Other than knowledge of fighting styles and weapons, I don’t know what that is, but we’ll figure it out together.

Learn to be flexible. Figuratively. Sorry to say the spinal thing has killed literal flexibility for you. Some of those ideas you may think you love, you’re really just in love with the idea of them. It will be hard for you to believe, but your main character these days bounces from a socialite celebrity possessed by a wendigo (and you will learn way too much about current fashion) and a country western singer who hunts monsters in his off time (think one part Winchesters and one part Desperado – don’t worry, you’ll figure out who the Winchesters are). Trust me in that these are the characters that are speaking to you the loudest. Learn to listen to them.

Pay attention at the writing conferences. GenCon and the Writers Symposium, the trip you’ll take to Romantic Times (trust me on this one), even some of the local cons. Your fellow writers and – more specifically – the published ones, will be a wealth of information and advice. Some of them will become friends and mentors. Not all of them have walked the path that will work for you. You can figure out which of them is your way. Keep in mind that our way is the slow and steady race, not the sprint.

We have always been of the mind to roll with the punches. As long as it has less than a V8 engine in it, we can roll with the punch. Putting your piece out there for someone to critique is less painful than getting hit by a dump truck. And there is much less surgery involved. At the same time, it takes some getting used to. When critique groups pick apart your story and show you ways to improve it, this is because it will improve it. Don’t take it personal. You’ll learn this very quickly, and Anton Strout wasn’t really trying to make you cry at that symposium. Either that or he wasn’t trying very hard.

I’ll end this with some of the quotes on writing we’ll pick up between the time you are reading this and when I write it. All of them are helpful and one will give you a huge spike in hits on your blog. (By the way, start a blog again.)

Writing a novel is like making love to a gorilla. You’re not done until the gorilla’s done. – Craig Ferguson

You can’t edit a blank page. – multiple sources

It’s okay to suck, we all suck. – Anton Strout

That’s why they call it a first draft. It alludes to a second draft… and a third draft… – multiple sources

If the story is going slow, someone has to die or have sex. Possibly both. – source lost in my pre-NaNo haze

Good luck!

Future Zombie Joe