Friday, June 23, 2017

The Words of a Waiting Writer

Last week, I attended a writer’s workshop in Olathe, Kansas, held by Daniel Schwabauer under the title “One Year Adventure Novel Summer Workshop”. As I write this, it’s Monday morning and I’m not sure what I’m doing with my life.

Except that maybe I do.

I’m waiting.

The Words

This is the first time I’ve written something for almost ten days, which is weird to think about when you consider what I was doing for the last week. Nonetheless, I’m here writing for the first time in quite a while, and it feels good. It feels good to write.
That’s something I haven’t felt in a while.
Sometimes, writing is hard.
 Very hard.
This is the third time I’ve gone to this workshop, and then third time that it’s changed me deeply as a person. At this workshop, it’s more than just networking and listening to lectures on the writing craft.
Sure, it is for those things, but it’s also for a lot more of that. Many of my best friends attend this workshop, friends who I only see a few times a year because they live in different states or different countries.
Each year, I’m changed by the conversations I have and the things I hear. The words of others change me, shape me, mold me. That’s a powerful thing. Words have the strongest affect here, when the people speaking them deal in them for a living. This workshop is full of people who understand the power of words and who attempt to use them to their full power.

The Waiting

For the last month or so, I’ve been waiting on a lot of things. Waiting on information from my college about next year (classes, financial aid, the rooming situation, etc.), waiting on potential employers to call me back about jobs, waiting on my writing to take off, waiting for productivity to slap me in the face.
I go to this writer’s workshop. I didn’t expect a writer’s workshop to encourage me in waiting for things that were not writing, but guess what Tuesday’s keynote speech was on?

You got me there, Mr. Speaker.
Going to this workshop reminded me of what I was waiting for, why I was waiting, and it gently slapped me in the face with the correct way of waiting. Waiting isn’t passive, it’s active. It’s not impatient and it’s not passive.

I dislike waiting. I’d prefer to just not wait, if that’s fine with everyone else in the universe. What if I didn’t have to wait?
Well, I do.
Thanks to this workshop, I’m remembering how.

The Writer

I always come back from this workshop with a sense of what I want to be as a writer. This year is no different from the last two. I learned a lot, and I took pages and pages of notes. The speakers reaffirmed things I already knew and they expounded on knowledge I thought was the furthest reaches on the subject.
In the last ten days, I’ve grown as a writer.

That’s a weird feeling. It’s weird to feel growth in such a short period of time.
But it is good.
And now… now I’m going to write.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Examining Styles – Purple Prose

For the next few blog posts, I’m going to be writing short posts about different styles and their strengths and witnesses.
They’re going to be short, because I don’t have a lot of time right now.
And they’re about style because style sells the novel. Sure, story is the most important thing in writing, but, but style pulls the reader in, or makes them put the book down.

Before Examination

Before I begin to examine today’s style, I’d like to note a few things: first off, it’s okay to ignore style sometimes. For instance, rough drafts are a great time to not give a crap about style. Rough drafts are about getting the story into words and out of your brain. Once it’s out, you can fiddle with it to your hearts content. No questions asked.
If you wait for the style to be perfect, you’re never going to get the story written.

In addition, it’s also okay to ignore style very late editing. When you’ve already gone through three or four drafts and you’re down to spelling errors and accidental name switches, style isn’t really important.

So when is style important?
Style is important in two places: conceptions and editing. In conception, style gives you the building blocks upon which you write your story. Knowing the basics of how you want to write your story gives you a baseline of how the prose comes out as your write. It allows you to unconsciously assume that style for your story.
In editing, style provides a key foundation for word choice, sentence structure, and prose flow. Depending on how your style works, some words and sentence styles may or may not be appropriate. Knowing what kind of style you want to write provides a structure around which you can build your prose.

Style One: Purple Prose

We’ve all heard of this one. For most of us, we heard it and then shudder.
No one likes purple prose.

Or do they?
Purple prose, in short, is prose that relies heavily on excessive description and hefty word choice. One of the most obvious examples that comes to my mind is The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Other examples such as A Tale of Two Cities, and other classics, could be considered purple prose at times.
You’ll notice that both of those book are famous books, and both are heralded as excellent (at least by many). And both have purple prose.

If we’re reluctant to think of purple prose as a good thing, why do we enjoy books that use it? And why should we, as writers, seriously consider using it as a style for our own books?

Purple Prose: The Cons

Before we get to the positives of purple prose, I want to discuss why we hate purple prose. Many people find The Scarlet Letter boring. My older sister and I have both read it, and she hated it. I thought it was kind of dry, but still well written.
Purple prose is boring to unengaged contemporary readers. Two hundred years ago, purple prose was all that people had to read, and so they enjoyed it. Most of the words used in purple prose are archaic, now. Modern readers prefer quick descriptions that paint a moving image, rather than in-depth descriptions that paint a portrait.
If done wrong, or done too heavy-handed, purple prose pulls the reader out of the story and causes them to disengage. That’s never a good thing.

Purple Prose is enjoyed by a select audience. I’m not saying that only a few people enjoy books with purple prose and that no one from any other demographic will like those books, but there is a niche market for purple prose styles. You’re going to pull in people who love to read for reading, but not really anyone else. Sure, others may still read your book, but it won’t be for the style. It will be for the plot or the characters, the prose will just be a nuisance to those readers.
But for the readers who love to read, your book will be a masterpiece the look back on fondly.

Purple Prose: The Pros

Why should you write using purple prose?
Purple prose allows the author to explore concepts deeply. Can you spend a chapter describing one character? With purple prose, I don’t see why not. Can you open your book with a description of a rose bush and describe it in such a way that literature experts spend decades trying to decide what the symbolism is? With purple prose, I don’t see why not.

Purple prose paints wonderful portraits. Some of my favorite descriptions come from heavy-handed books written in purple prose. With the freedom to describe whatever you want for however you want, you can paint scenes your readers will never forget.
Now, this isn’t to say you can just spend your whole book describing. Plot and characters and theme are still vital to a good book. However, purple prose allows you the freedom to describe things in ways other styles may not allow.

The Book and the Style

One must always consider the target audience and the genre when picking style.
For instance, purple prose is rarely found in books targeted at YA or younger. Almost always is it in adult fiction. In addition, most purple prose is found in historical fiction or contemporary fiction. Does this mean you can never write a fantasy for YA with purple prose? No, it does not. It does mean, however, that you have to be much, much more careful.
Those YA folks don’t take to kindly to an excessive number of words.

Purple prose can be a hard thing to master. Done right, however, it can paint pictures in the reader’s mind that they will not soon forget.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: there will be no blog post next week, since I will be at a writing conference the whole week and won’t have time to write a blog post (funny how that works). The week after, I’ll post about my experience, and then the week after that I’ll resume posting about styles.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Prose Blip – Churning Out Words

One common piece of advice to writers is this: write every day, even when you don’t feel like it. While there are good arguments for and against this advice, the actual advice itself is meaningless without application.

Today, I’d like to look at ways to actually write every day, and also ponder the times when we shouldn’t.

Setting Goals

Let us first assume that writing every single day is a good idea (because it can be). How then, are we certain that we do, in fact, write every day?
There are a select few of us who actually have that drive and ability to make themselves sit down and write every day.
Good for you, if you’re one of them.
For the rest of you humans, you need something a bit more… dramatic.

And by dramatic, I mean a goal.
One of the easiest ways to motivate yourself is to set a deadline. I’ve actually talked about this in the past (like almost two years ago, I think). Deadlines are not evil. This deadline can be a date in the future when you want to finish your current project, or it can be something simpler: a time of day you want to be done writing by, when you want to finish the next chapter, etc.

Goals, however, don’t have to be deadlines. Instead, they can be word count goals, time goals, or anything else. You can have a goal to edit one chapter per day, or to write for one hour, or to write one thousand words, or finish one scene per day, whatever it is.

However you motivate yourself, find out what your daily goal is. If you have to finish your book by a deadline, divide the number of chapters by the number of days left before that deadline.
That’s your daily goal.
Be it one quarter chapter or fifteen chapters, you simplify your writing goals down to a daily schedule.

Simple Motivators

Having a goal is one thing, forcing oneself to do it is another. There are many ways to motivate writing, and I’m only going to highlight them here.
One that I’ve seen many writers do is have a precise time each day they write. I know some writers who will write from 9AM-10AM or midnight-3AM. Whatever time works best for you, having a specific time dedicated to writing and nothing else ensure it will happen.

Another sort of motivator is the word sprint. You set a timer for however long (most people do five or ten minutes) and write as many words as you can. Racing a clock forces the brain to come up with as many words as fast as possible. If you have a daily word count goal, this is a good way to do it. Of course, many of these words may not be the right words, but if you save those fixes for the next draft, then you can allow yourself to write a messy draft and get the words onto the paper, which is often the goal in the first place.

Building off of the word sprint, word wars involve other people. It’s the same idea, but instead you’re racing against another writer. If you have friends who write, or if you’re on a writer’s forum, these are great ways to motivate your writing and encourage you to do it. Both of you write for a certain time, then compare word counts. It’s a great challenge, with little competition since both of you win in words written.

Of course, you may not need a motivator to meet your goal. Good for you, I stand with you. I’m usually good at meeting my daily goal without having to motivate myself.
But for those of you who do need that motivation (no shame in it), these are three great ways to meet your daily goal with speed and efficiency.

Burning Out

There is a danger, however, in forcing yourself to write every single day. If you write every day, you have the danger of burning out. If you never take a break from creativity, you can fry your creative centers and leave yourself feeling empty and worthless.
That’s never a good thing.

Remember, as you work toward your daily goals, that it really is okay to stop from time to time and just rest. Pause that particular work of art and take some time to focus on different art. Whether it’s a different project of your own, someone else’s art, or even just the life and adventures around you, time off from your goals is a good idea.

Creativity can run long spells before drying out. When it does dry out, it feels like all is lost. Just remember, however, that the creativity will return, and then your daily goals can prompt you to keep creating.