Avoiding Perfection

As I’m writing, I’m focusing on a few things: conflict, word count, and avoiding perfection. I’ve discussed the first two in previous posts and now can elaborate on avoiding perfection.

I sometimes had a hard time writing, not because of writer’s block, but because I wanted perfection from myself. It’s a tall order for someone who doesn’t have a published book let alone an agent. I put a great deal of pressure to write perfect – every time. Every sentence had to magical and each page resulted in literary genius. It’s just not possible. I continue to challenge myself to just write.

Now, I’m not completely sloppy and irresponsible. I do my best to maintain form, proper sentence structure, and verb tense. I guess what I do is not second guess myself. I don’t try to spend five minutes looking for a better word for “laugh” when “laugh” works just fine. I’m not trying to draw out tons of description in a room; at least not yet.

I’m sure when I edit my work for the first time I’ll find a bunch of punctuation and spelling issues that I can resolve. I’m willing to bet I’ll find a bunch of things that need to be fixed, but I’ll worry about them later. Right now, I’m writing. Getting my ideas down on Word so that a story can take form – that’s what I’m interested in. I’ll worry about achieving perfection once I have something to perfect.

By the way, that’s the logo of the 1972 Miami Dolphins who were a perfect 17-0 which is an amazing feat to be perfect for that long. I would’ve shown a picture of the 2007 New England Patriots but they were only perfect during the regular season and lost in the Super Bowl. Bottom line, it’s important to be perfect when it counts.

Advertisements

Word Count

With my new project under way, I’ve commented in previous posts about time. I don’t have much of it and I’m actually OK with that. So when I do have time to write, I try to make it count. I believe I do my best writing in the morning. I’m refreshed, my mind is a lot clearer, and there are no distractions. Actually, there is one distraction, the internet. I’m tempted to check the news, facebook, and email. I try to allow myself  a ten minute max, and I’m usually pretty disciplined. If I were more disciplined, I would sit down and start writing and not get so easily distracted. Baby steps, I guess.

I digress because this post is about my word count in the morning. Before I start writing, I think to myself that if I can at least get 250 words I’ve accomplished something. Interestingly enough I usually surpass that most mornings. I know it’s not a lot. 250 words is a basically a one page Word document. But there have been mornings where’s hit close to 600 words, and on the flip side I’ve hit close to 200 words. I take what I can get and feel good about that. The word count approach keeps me focused and provides a goal for that morning.

I didn’t try this technique on my last novel. I basically pushed myself through the novel and the pace was exhausting. Now, I’m dedicating sometime in the morning and then whatever time I get throughout the day is a bonus.

Anyone have any other good goal writing ideas? I like to hear them.

On to the next project…

A couple of weeks ago I started my next project. I made previous posts of things I’m trying differently this time. For starters, I’ve read two books on the craft to get my mind in the right direction. I’ve learned the free-form style of just writing is great for practice, but when I really want to create a story I need structure. Taking the time to frame out the plot, create characters, and do an outline so far has helped.

What’s also different this time is, well, time. I have less of it but I’m starting think that’s a good thing. I’m married, with a young son, and a mortgage. All take time and for good reason. My writing seems to fit in whenever it can. I seem to do my best writing in the morning before work. I usually get about thirty minutes (possibly more if I’m not checking emails or the news). I aim to get down about 250 words. Sometimes it’s more or less – usually depends what kind of flow I’m in. What I do know is that the time I do have I use it and make it work.  

As I’m writing, I realize I’m not getting caught up in the minutia of details. I can remember my first chapter of my last project. I painstakingly described the characters clothes, the room, the weather outside, etc. all of which detracted from creating a strong opening. I know my approach is different and time will tell if it’s better than my last effort.

My take on this novel already has a different vibe to it and I like it. I feel less pressure to get it done and really enjoy telling the story. I’m hoping it will someday transform into something tangible that I will get published. I can’t worry about that now as I’m only concerned about one thing when I’m at my laptop: writing.

Characters

All stories are character driven. That’s the first thing Donald Maass calls out in this chapter of Writing the Breakout Novel. It’s a no brainer but worth emphasizing.

When I wrote my first novel, I really tried to have my main character be the focal point which was part of the problem. The character wasn’t driving the novel but just had a big spot light on him. My character wasn’t engaging enough; meaning he was too ordinary. Folks are not reading novels for boring characters – they want complex characters that are larger than life. My approach was a try not a do. I missed the mark here; my character was interesting but not breakout interesting.

Another key point on characters Maass makes, goes back to the larger than life concept. These characters do whatever they want  and say whatever they want. We, as people living in reality, can not. Or we can but not get very far in life. Characters are supposed to be conflict driven at all times – if they’re not who’s going to read about them? The conflict the character is involved in is supposed to keep us  engaged and turning the pages.

And to keep the pages turning, Maass recommends that characters be deep and many-sided. Have supporting characters that create contrast in order to achieve balance but also to create more conflict. These factors can create rich, complex characters that should produce a great novel.

One other note on characters; I’m fan of the anti-hero. He’s not a bad or a good guy but does his own thing. While I like these types of characters, they can’t be indifferent all the time. They have to have redeeming qualities in order to gain sympathy from a reader. Maass discusses this in his book and I’m glad he did. It completely makes sense. The anti-hero can be viewed as a selfish jerk sometimes but during a novel or movie has a few moments that allow you to sympathize for him. It’s this way for a reason. If the character was a complete bastard all the time, the novel (or movie) really wouldn’t have to many redeeming qualities hence not that interesting or engaging. Something to keep in mind if you’re like me and attracted to unique character types.

So You Want to Write a Novel

Before I ever seriously pursued writing, I had some grandiose ideas of what writing would be like.  Reality came into play and all the sudden I realized it was tough to get published. Short story or a novel, getting published takes patience and persistence. That’s why I enjoyed this short film I found on Nathan Bransford’s blog. It illustrates why some people might fall in love with writing, and getting disappointed or frustrated results don’t match their dreams. I’m a little guilty of looking for the success before the hard work is done. I’m sure any writer tends fantasizes about the fruits of their labor, but at the same time writers need to be able to tune back into reality. Instant gratification plagues our society and spills into any endeavor out there. Writing (like anything) takes time; there are no overnight successes. Watch this video and you’ll get a sense of where I’m coming from.

A Great Blog to Follow

Check out Kristen Lamb’s blog: http://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/. She provides great information about writing and publishing; that’s just scratching the surface. I find her blog very insightful and suggest any writer (novice to experienced) to take a look. I’m now a subscriber and benefitting from her timely posts.

The Info-dump

I’ve officially laid to rest my first novel. It’s tough to do but the reality is that it’s a first try, and it’s filled with first time mistakes. One of which is the info-dump. I just read a book on writing science fiction, and the first chapter was devoted to how first time writers are too liberal with dumping information. The author provided a few examples, which got me to think about my own work.

I learned that backstory, world-building, etc. needs to be stretched out over the length of the novel. One just can’t simply dedicate a chapter to explain everything that happened to a character, backstory, or whatever. That’s what yours truly did. Moreover, every time I introduced a character, I provided a lengthy description of what they looked like, where they were they were from, how they got to where they were… Looking back it was just too much information to digest, and I get it now.

My last post was about the Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. McCarthy was discrete on information about the characters and the world they lived. What he did, which is what I strive for going forward, is to use things like dialogue and setting to release information. It’s a smarter, more economical way of informing the reader.

I’m disappointed I didn’t get my first novel published. I’ve already made up my mind to start another. What I learned from my first will only help the second time around.