Writer with a Day Job

Here’s an interesting new book, “Writer with a Day Job”. I found it listed on the Writer’s Digest website and I thought that someone finally captured the reality of being an aspiring (or even published author). Through my trials as an aspiring writer, I’ve discovered that I’ll never be able to quit my job and write full-time. It’s a great fantasy to have but it’s not realistic.

The reality of being an aspiring writer is that I have a day job. I’m also a husband and a dad. Those are my priorities and not to mention taking care of a house (inside and outside). Whatever time is leftover, I try to write and that’s usually in the morning. I’ve had some success writing at night but lately it’s been tough. With a new job, my brain has pretty much cashed out on me by the end of the night.

That’s why I’m wondering if Aine Greaney’s book might provide some direction. I have a second child on the way in October and I’m a quarter of the way through my second novel. The challenge I made to myself was to have the first draft finished before then. I’ve stalled. Writing comes down to discipline, but if there are ways to work smarter not harder, I’m in.

I guess my other issue is that my creative energy get stalled from time to time. In addition to my writing challenge, I’m also on a weight loss challenge. Too many challenges? I hope not. I hoping that my improved waistline will fuel my writing, but maybe that’s where “Writer with a Day Job” can help. Here are a few takeaways based on what I’ve read so far:

  • Make the most of your writing time early in the morning or late at night.
  • Harness the power of your lunch hour for writing, editing, and revising.
  • Use your commute—driving or riding—to power your writing.
  • Plan the perfect writing getaway.
  • Set goals, revise your work, and share your writing with coworkers.

Any reviews on this book? Send them my way!

Thanks!

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

After reading The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, I decided to rent the movie. Turns out the movie is a huge hit, but not bigger than the book. The movie version was made in Sweden and I’m probably in the minority when I comment that it was just OK. The reviews on Netflix and Rotten Tomatoes are really positive so go figure.

I give the movie credit for trying to incorporate most of the book, but certain aspects of book are left out. If I didn’t read the book, I would’ve thought this movie didn’t make any sense. There are a number of plot gaps and underdeveloped characters. Moreover, a lot of back story gets lost. The Vanger family has a number of dark secrets but the movie only concentrates on Harriet. Despite all that, the movie clocks in at about 2-1/2 hours. If you haven’t seen the Swedish version yet, you might want to sit tight till December when the Hollywood version comes out.

What the movie does get right is the Lisbeth Salander character. She’s the best part of the book and definitely the highlight of the movie. The movie captured just what I thought the character looked like. There is some of her back story missing from the movie but enough that I didn’t feel cheated.

TGWTDT is second Swedish film I’ve seen over the course of a year. The other movie was Let The Right One In. I’ve commented on this movie and book in a previous post. As usual, I loved the book and the movie was just OK. Again, Swedish film making leaves a lot to be desired. By no means am I qualified to critique directors or actors, but these Swedish movies are…slow and dull. For some reason though they get great reviews. Why is that? What does the rest of the world see that I don’t? Maybe I’m just a product of Hollywood slick movie productions. Maybe my untrained brain can’t process Swedish art like others can. Or more likely my preference of the book outweighs any enjoyment I could have watching the movie.

Progress on my new novel has been slow. I haven’t written much over the last two weeks. It’s my fault – I let myself get too easily distracted. The Chicago Bulls are in the Eastern Conference playoffs, I’m focusing on my health, and other things I use as excuses but aren’t. I read on another writer’s blog that the difference between published authors and ones that are not is hard work. It’s obvious but it’s something I haven’t been doing.

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.

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.

Conflict

There is nothing more important in fiction than conflict. After reading the Writing the Breakout Novel and Writing Great Fiction: Plot and Structure, conflict is paramount. Whether you write genre fiction or literary, you have to conflict.

If it seems that, by reading this post, a light bulb (a compact fluorescent one) went off – it did. I look back at the first novel I wrote and immediately see where the conflict gaps are. According to the books above, there should be conflict on every page. Sounds hard but it’s not tough when you think about it. The main character of your story needs to endure something (save the world, marriage, self, etc) and that requires conflict. Without conflict, one is left reading about the ho-hum stuff of life. That doesn’t make for good fiction. I should know because a big chunk of my first novel has the main character getting out of bed, eating a sandwich, etc. It eventually leads to something but not always conflict.

Conflict supposedly drives the reader for more. It keeps them engage well past the first few pages and hopefully a hell of a lot more.

I’m done summarizing what I’ve learned from Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel. The book is worth the investment, and lately I’ve been trying to transfer it to my writing. So far so good. The feel of my second novel already seems different. I’m concentrating on conflict, throwing whatever I can at my main character. At the same time, I’m not trying to exhaust the reader but trying to make it difficult for a them to put down my novel. I should know how this all shakes out in a few months when I have a first draft.

The Mad Scientist

This character type is prevalent in a lot of science fiction. It’s a stock-pile character that is a misnomer because we often associate them with doing evil things. Creating a dangerous weapon, a poison, an army of the undead, etc. But they’re also notable for creating things like time travel. OK, that’s the only good thing I can come up – so maybe it’s correct that all mad scientists are evil. Good topic for discussion…

I have yet to use a mad scientist in any of my writings yet but this clichéd characters still offers up some opportunities. Good or bad, I like this character in science fiction to describe or introduce new technologies, weapons, medicine, etc. without going off the deep end and then have them exit – like a good supporting character.

Some of the more memorable mad scientists include: Doc Brown, Dr. Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll, Dr. Moreau, and Dr. Herbert West. If none of these names are familiar, then I suggest you look them up. They’re not the complete list, but I would think they would come up in conversation when discussing popular mad scientists – how often would that happen anyway? If it does, let me know!