Time is running out on this savage year. But the new year holds
promise for writers. Here’s a way you can gain some new energy, if you hurry. Sign up for the “Top Ten Mistakes Fiction Writers Make” workshop in Yachats, Oregon.The deadline is just a few days away
    Details at http://www.writerswelcome.com/.
     I hope to see you there, and I hope your 2009 wordcount goes through the roof, and that generous six-figure advance lands in your mailbox this year.
     In case it doesn’t, remember to drink responsibly. Don’t spill on your clothes.
     And WRITE AT ABSOLUTE TOP SPEED.
     Happy New Year,
     John

     Snow and freezing stuff in much of our viewing area today. How does all that stuff effect your writing? Time off from your day job, snowed in? Great. More writing time. Too hot to venture out of the AC? Great. Might as well write. What do you do when the environment suddenly works against you?
     Art historians sometimes talk about the “universe of circumstance,” where everything in an artist’s life effects his or her work. True for writers too. The question is, how much of that universe can you control–shape to your writing needs?
     A lot of writers dream of getting away to a mountain retreat, or a cabana on the beach. “Then I could do some damn writing,” they say. Of course, that’s an unreachable goal at the moment and, as newscasters say, something you won’t reach “anytime soon.” (I hate that cliche with every fiber of my being.)
      So, what’s the use of writing? Plus, the Lakers game is on.
     I am not fond of the idea that one will write one of these days when all the stars are in alignment. Professional writers write whether they want to or not. And a lot of times they don’t.
     Remember, there is no Zen on the mountain that you don’t bring yourself. I don’t know if old Lao-tzu said that (see his daily quotes at the bottom of the page) but I know he believed it.
     I’m following “The One Minute Writer” blog were every day you’ll find a one-word writing prompt. If that gets you going, do it.
     The best and strongest writing prompts, though, come from right inside your heart. Look down there and see what moves you. And even if you don’t want to, hit those keys. Curb your whining. As they say in the NFL, “Play hurt.”
      And above all, to escape the pull of your own gravity, you must (now would be a good time) WRITE AT ABSOLUTE TOP SPEED.
     John

At the top of the page, off to your left you see, not ‘six mounted cowboys’ (see last post re: “El Paso”) but a quote from Gertrude Stein. I’ve attributed this wonderful saying to her for years, but I can never find an actual citation. If you are a word nerd or serious research person who can uncover the source of this quote, a great reward is in store for you.
John

     “Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Four shots ripped through my groin, and so began the most extiting adventure of my career.”
     Punchy opening, no?  It may suck swamp gas, style wise, but it catches your interest. It’s an inciting incident, what Chris Vogler calls in his wonderful book, The Writer’s Journey, the ‘call to action.’
    My little message today, however, is not about hooking the reader’s interest early–we all know that’s essential–but going goose-looney about it. The bang, bang stuff is definitely goose-loony.
    A lot of writers get so wound up about kicking the story out of the gate they come up with a dynamite opener that has little or nothing to do with the story. That’s cheating. Disgruntled readers would be justified in  hunting you with dogs.
    If you hang a banner reading, “Live Nude Guys” in front of your shoe store, you will get some traffic, but it won’t take long for the customers to realize they’ve been cheated. (I realize that “Live Nude Shoes” isn’t a great banner, and might attract a somewhat odder customer base, but you take my drift.) Don’t cheat.
     Your opening must do more than draw instant attention. It must pass the Chicken Delight Test. And what would that be, our younger readers ask? There once was an ad that read, “Others make promises, Chicken Delight delivers.”
    Start your book with an inciting incident. How do we know it’s the inciting incident? The test: After it happens, nothing will ever be the same again. All the rest of the story will grow out of, and be related to, this incident.
    The best inciting incident I ever heard occurs in the first line of the classic country song, “El Paso.” (Original recording by Marty Robbins, later covered by The Grateful Dead and others–look it up.)
     The line: “Out in the West Texas town of El Paso, I fell in love with a Mexican girl.”
    The whole story grows from this. All the elements are included. The protagonist is introduced, the setting and the conflict revealed, the ending foreshadowed. The whole rest of the tragic story of a young cowboy hopelessly in love, riding to his doom, comes from this event.
     So before you set up that slam-bang opening, make sure you can deliver on its promise. Consider our Texas cowboy who ended up seeing the “white puff of smoke from the rifle,” and feeling the bullet go deep in his chest. We knew it was going to happen all along.
    Thus, we begin and end our post with small arms fire. For the action/thriller fan, that is satisfactory.
    Now, go craft a hot opening that delivers on its promise. To accomplish that you will probably have to WRITE AT ABSOLUTE TOP SPEED.
   John

   
  

     A thought for poets today, as we contemplate poetry as a life force:
    “The formal resolutions of a poem begin in the crib, when the infant croons sweet noises, not trying to speak but taking pleasure in the tongue and lips.”
     How’s that for a sensual message?  It comes from Donald Hall’s book, Remembering Poets.
     As you write today, poetry or prose, read your stuff out loud and take pleasure in the tongue and lips. You also might want to suck up a blueberry muffin dripping with butter, and take the same pleasure. They are closely related.
     Now, write and taste at ABSOLUTE TOP SPEED.
     John

Thoughts upon reading Shelly’s blog today (one of the several I’m following): Shelly really knows a lot of stuff. Check him out.
Have you done your marketing today?
Are you going to do it tomorrow?
Maybe later in the week?
Take the time to perfect your process so you can send things as quickly and as painlessly as possible
Go do it. Then come back and WRITE AT ABSOLUTE TOP SPEED.
John

      Why do people say the things they say? Do they mean what they say? What do they not say? Do they say funny things, or do they say things funny? So much tied up in dialog.
Chilly morning–a time when writers need help. So, today, dialog.
     Dialog will be part of the famous “Top Ten Mistakes Fiction Writers Make: And How to Fix Them” workshop in January. (Details at http://www.writerswelcome.com/) If you’re within driving distance the Oregon coast, please consider attending.
      The workshop is based on the premise that writers all tend to make the same kind of mistakes. The top ten are gathered in this writing workshop. I’ve talked about some of them here. Now . . .

       “Let’s talk about dialog,” he said.

       If you’re a working writer, I assume you have a pretty good grasp of the mechanics; commas and quotes, attributions, all that jazz. I assume you know to use ‘said’ most of the time, and avoid stuff like: “I am so please to meet you,” he ejaculated.

        Read through some of your dialog and look for ‘social cushioning’ because, as you may know, if you don’t mind me saying so, this kind of thing just slows down the dialog. So, well, you know, let’s just like, you know, get rid of that stuff, as long as it’s ok with you, because, ok, so you can kind of see what, as I said, this kind of thing is . . . WHAP.
     That’s the sound of me going upside my own head.
      Yeah, right you are. So how’s your day going? Isn’t it nice that we–” WHAP
     We’ve all known people who talk like that, but we don’t want them populating our books. That’s driveling and makes you eligible to be the Honorary Governor of Alaska.     
     Good Rule: cut social pleasantries unless they show character or somehow advance the plot, which they seldom do.
      Ask yourself the questions that lead off this post: Why is she saying this? What does he really mean? Dialog is the place people reveal themselves, both by what they say and what they don’t say.
      Best Rule: Dump “housekeeping” lines. Lines where we compare our schedules, or talk about what we had for breakfast, or which engine is best for our car, or what all the dog did today or where we went on our walk. . .
      Unless: it advances the story or develops character.
      Now get those characters talking. WRITE AT ABSOLUTE TOP SPEED
      John

Raise your hand if you think marketing sucks.
All across this great land I can hear the gentle ‘whoosh’ of air flowing over rapidly rising digits.
Now, the question we ask our characters: What are you going to do about it? (Clue. If your character isn’t going to do anything about his or her problems, best give them a merciful tap on the back of the skull with your ‘delete’ button.)
So what the hell are we going to do about marketing?
1. Accept the fact that writers are a special breed with no interest in selling shoes, time shares or sewing machines. Rejoice for a moment in that specialness. We’re freekin’ creative artists.
2. Moment’s over. Selling your book is a part of the writer’s life. Let’s do it good, let’s do it quick, then let’s get back to writing.
3. Primary reason for rejection: unsaleable manuscript. Writers love to blame everything else. Agents are grasping, sub-literate droolers, the market is tanking, all the big publishers are conspiring against the little guy, Joe the damn Plumber is writing a book. Might as well go to Kinkos. All of the above may be true, but it’s not your business. Your business is to write the best book you can (with the help of Writers Welcome, por supuesto). Put your energy, your heart and soul there.
4. Many manuscipts get rejected simply because they’re sent to the wrong place. I advise against tossing handfuls of query letters into the night sky over New York and praying they’ll land on the right desk. Research. Target.
5. If you can’t tell your story in a tight, well-crafted two pages, agents take that as de facto evidence you don’t know what the hell your book is about. Synopsis, query letter. Tons of websites telling you how to construct same. Google them now.
6. The self-diagnostic side of marketing. If you have a lot of trouble writing these documents it may mean there are things wrong with your story, your plot or your characters. Look carefully at where you get stuck in your synopsis. Too much stuff happening for two pages? Trouble figuring who the main characters really are, what they really want? Put your literary house in order.
7. Let’s assume you have a good query and a good synopsis. You’ve found several agents who handle your kind of stuff. You send them your stuff (exactly what they ask for, please). What now? Hit those damn keys. Get busy on your next project. If you get rejected by several agents, say a dozen or so, take another look at your manuscript. You will be perhaps a year older, and much wiser in the ways of the written word. Revise and repeat the above process.
It won’t be easy–if it were easy, everyone would do it.
And how do we begin the process? Correcto, we WRITE AT ABSOLUTE TOP SPEED.
John