Chuck Wendig on how to finish a story

Chuck Wendig has created a list on his blog of helpful advice that might help you actually finish the story that you are writing.

While each of the entries is expanded upon — and should be read at his site — here is the highlights.

  1. Stop complaining about it.
  2. Accept your limitations.
  3. Set your time, and defend it.
  4. Find your space, and defend it.
  5. Repeat after me: this is important.
  6. Set a reasonable daily goal.
  7. Don’t beat yourself up.
  8. Kill your fear of failure.
  9. Kill your fear of success.
  10. Divest yourself of ideas of quality.
  11. Stop thinking about publishing more than you think about writing.
  12. Come to the page excited.
  13. If you’re not geeked about writing that day, write anyway.
  14. End the day’s writing in the middle.
  15. Skip the boring parts.
  16. Forget your darlings and kill your distractions.
  17. Stop worrying about what everyone else is doing.
  18. Have an outline.
  19. Change processes that aren’t working for you.
  20. Take the exit once in a while.
  21. Fuck the fucking market.
  22. Take controlled breaks.
  23. Reward yourself.
  24. Shut up.
  25. Go right now and write.

There are a lot of things that I struggle with while I am writing. There is also a lot of things that I have to overcome before I can put pen to paper. Lists like this help me to see that my problems can be overcome. Many of the things on the list might miss the mark for me, but seeing other people’s problems in such a way helps me feel more “normal” as a writer.

So what problems do you face when you write? Do any of these things stand out to you as particularly beneficial? Are any detrimental? I would love to hear your comments.

What’s so “proper” about grammar anyway?

It might seem strange for me to worry about being a grammar Nazi. As a writer, I spend much of my time working with words on paper. It is important to me that they flow as smooth as possible.

I realized, after I decided to write, that my grammar skills were lacking. It wasn’t that they weren’t pretty good, but they weren’t of the level that I expected. There were too many mistakes. Truth to tell, there are still way too many mistakes. The point is that my grammar was passable, and I wanted to be capable of writing something that wouldn’t stand out as amateurish.

Even to this day, when  I have trouble writing, one of the things that I like do to make myself happy is to study grammar. While I still haven’t achieved the level of expertise I would like on comma placement, semicolon use, who vs whom, and a slew of other grammar niceties, I still try to improve my grammar so it will more easily appeal to people who might read it.

But what is it that makes my grammar “correct”?

Melissa A. Fabello has an article at Everyday Feminism titled “Why Grammar Snobbery Has No Place in the Movement.” From the article:

Prescriptive grammar – which is what “grammar snobs” champion – says that there’s such a thing as one true, honest, pure form of a language and that only that version is correct or acceptable.

Descriptive grammar, on the other hand, argues that however a language is being used to communicate effectively is correct – because that is the basic purpose of language.

For me as a writer, this begs the question of who is my intended audience? And that is a fine question to ask yourself as a writer. But if I use my knowledge of language — no matter how incomplete it might be — to feel superior to someone else, I do us both a disservice. If that were to happen, I would have exchanged the intent of the message into a critique of the language.

I have been working diligently to put in the effort to understand someone’s argument and, if I disagree with it, give a clear reason for my disagreement instead of just complaining about their grammar.

I think this makes me a better person. What do you think? Is there any grammar that is so atrocious that you give up trying to understand the point? Does it seem possible to infer something about someone from the way they use grammar? Have you ever felt belittled or dismissed because you made a grammar mistake?

I am going to start writing all over again.

It looks like I am going to be starting on The Last Interred version 4. While I thought I could reach the end with version 3, I have just changed too much to finish that version. Actually, I could finish it, but the story wouldn’t be good enough. I already realized that there would be more rewriting that it would take to just start with version 4. That is what brings me to the realization that I should just start over.

There is a little bit of worry about starting the story over again. While it should be better, the act of starting over again just prolongs the time until I can type “The End” on the story. There is a danger of taking too long with a story — at least for me. The longer I take to complete a story, the more likely it is that I will give up on that story before I ever reach an ending. It is a danger that I must be aware of at all times.

Perhaps I should start working on a time limit. I didn’t want to push myself with a deadline since I am not a professional writer; still, it might do me good to look at writing like it was a graduate course with a time when the writing has to be turned in regardless of how good or bad it is.

I will have to give the deadline idea some thought before I impliment it. I need to make sure that it will actually help me instead of just giving me something else to worry about. For instance, if I did go with a deadline, I would have to make it long enough that I wouldn’t feel so much pressure that I would want to abandon the story all together. On othe other hand, I would have to make the deadline short enough that it actually had value. If it was too long, then it would provide no real motivation.

I would be interested in hearing how anyone else handles creative deadlines. Are they good or bad for you? Do you use them at all? Are they self imposed? Do they help your creative process or slow it down?

Story autopsy – writing style

In my previous post “Story autopsy – The problems” I mentioned that my fourth main problem was about writing style. Essentially, the problem seems to be that I like to outline; but when I get to writing, I often continue by the seat of my pants. That isn’t a problem for everyone. There are plenty of writers that use that particular style successfully. My problem is that mixing styles like that tends to get me lost over time.

When I am in the throes of writing, I might come up with and idea that I just love and seems to fit perfectly with the story. Of course I go with the idea, but hunting down and changing all the entries in the outline to keep it up to date are time consuming. Still, in an effort to keep everything organized, I will do it. But after I do that two or three times, I tend to lose track of what I have changed.

Now I know that it wouldn’t be a problem to lose track of the changes if I were to just reread the outline. After all, I have faithfully kept the outline up to date. The problem then is that the outline is so long that I don’t want to read it unless I need to.

After all, I can’t be so forgetful that I would forget the changes I have made to the story over time.

Oh, never mind. I actually can be that forgetful.

By the afternoon, I can forget what changes I made that morning.

Proposed solution:

The solution that presents itself is to change the way that I outline.

Perhaps, it should be thought of as doing away with traditional outlining all together. I hope to write more about this in the future; but for now, lets keep the scope on the first solution that I am trying.

I have created a file with three major headings: beginning, middle, and ending. Under each of those headings can be various subheadings. These should form the major points of my story. I am hoping to keep each major heading to only three subheadings. If I go over that number of headings, it won’t be a catastrophe, as long as the entire file is kept short enough to read in just a few minutes.

This solution has been easy to implement using LibreOffice. If you use the title and headings (Heading 1, Heading 2, …, etc.) that are provided with LibreOffice, you will be able to easily find the spot you are looking for by using the “Navigator” function (F5 key or by clicking on the Navigator icon).

Note that this isn’t just a way to organize my outline better. The idea is to replace my working outline with only the major points of the story in a format that can be easily reviewed as often as necessary. That might be several times a day the way my memory works. The idea is to use this short file as a way to keep the story on track so that it doesn’t become several separate, disjointed stories with no connection to one another because there have been too many revisions.

Why I won’t be doing NaNoWriMo

It’s that time of year again. Writers all over the world are sharpening their pencils, refilling their ink pens, and taping their fingers for the pounding they will be taking on the keyboard as they hammer out their novel in 30 days. I won’t be joining in the writing; I’ll just cheer from the sidelines.

NaNoWriMo seems to be exceedingly useful for a specific type of writer. I, however, am not one of those types of writers.

To the person that writes by the seat of their pants, the person that writes to discover what is going to happen next, NaNoWriMo can help overcome one of the most devastating obstacles: sitting at the computer, pounding on the keyboard, and ignoring the part of your mind that tells you that you’re doing it wrong. If one of the problems that is keeping you from writing is inner fear, and you don’t have to know where the story is going before you get there, then NaNoWriMo is fantastic.

I am not that writer.

I plan and plot, tweak and wiggle, poke and prod the story until it becomes the story that I want to tell. While I am in the plotting portion of creating a story, days or even weeks might pass with minimal words written. If I were to rely on word count during these times, it would appear as if I weren’t making any progress at all.

Some people would argue that I should do all this before I begin the November challenge of NaNoWriMo. But that doesn’t work for me either. I have written enough to know how writing works for me. I know what style frustrates me, and I know what style will ultimately make progress toward a finished work.

After the plotting, when I think that I am ready to tell the story, I begin writing it. I say begin because often I will come to a sudden halt without getting very far. I use the first writing attempts to find holes in the story. I will start to write and realize that I still don’t know enough about the world, the characters, the characters’ backgrounds, or some other critical aspect of the story. When that happens, I return to the drafting stage with an insight into were more work is needed. I keep repeating this process until the story is finally ready to push forward.

Once I reach this point, the biggest thing that remains is the typing. And I am a good typist if I do say so myself. If I could match this starting point with the beginning of NaNoWriMo, then I could participate in the challenge without simply failing and feeling terrible about my writing abilities. But I know that I am a good typist and I can generate thousands of words per day. Once I reach the typing stage, there isn’t really any challenge left. And since I would feel like I would be cheating if I were just to type during NaNoWriMo, I will confine myself to cheering for all the seat-of-the-pants writers that find the challenge valuable.