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Posts tagged as “Write to the End”

The Waiting Game

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Sitting in the Stanford Bookstore Cafe, working on LIQUID FIRE while I wait on the last possible round of edits on DOORWAYS TO EXTRA TIME before we have to send it to the printer.

-the Centaur

I can’t afford to be embarrassed

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I'm a published urban fantasy author with two novels on the shelves, one of which, FROST MOON, won an award. I have two more novels in the can and I've just finished coediting an anthology with twenty stories based on an idea I proposed. I've read extensively on writing theory and even have written a few articles on the subject.

So what am I doing with a copy of WRITING FICTION FOR DUMMIES?

Doing whatever I can to get better at what I do, that's what.

Once a friend saw the huge stack of theory-of-fiction books in my Library, one of which is "Novel Writing for Complete Morons" or some title a lot like that, and he remarked "wow, it's probably been a long time since you had to look at that one." Well, that happened to be true, but not because I read the book, then wrote some novels, and then grew beyond it.

The truth is, I'd already written one novel - and chunks of six or seven others - when I got "Novel Writing for Complete Morons." Heck, I may have already written FROST MOON at that point. But I'm a book hound, and I look at everything. I came across the book, probably at a bargain bin. And I saw a chapter I can use. So I bought it.

I actually love reading overviews. I can dive deep into a technical book, but sometimes it's only stepping back and summarizing the text - either by reading a summary, or writing one yourself - that enables you to hang the details upon a coherent whole. Even when the overview isn't interesting, sometimes the book itself has details you simply can't find elsewhere.

In the case of WRITING FICTION FOR DUMMIES, I saw it in a bargain bin, flipped through it - and found a section in a chapter on editing scenes, a task I'd just been struggling with on my third Dakota Frost novel, LIQUID FIRE. So I bought it, and tonight read a few chunks, some of which are good for structuring scenes, others of which were helpful in overall novel structure.

Some of that information is review; other parts are completely new. It doesn't matter. It helped me move forward.

Creative expression is driven by ego, but it's stifled by snobbery. Don't get embarrassed by what you need to do to improve. If you were trying to climb out of a pit, would you hold your hand back from a rung that was candy colored and clearly intended for children? No. As long as the rung is solid, you grab it and pull yourself up.

Anything else is just hurting yourself in an effort to look good.

-the Centaur

Pictured: WRITING FICTION FOR DUMMIES, atop THE POETICS OF THE MIND'S EYE by Christopher Collins, a study of visual imagination in literature and cognitive science. See how hard it is to be honest with yourself and do what needs doing? Here I had to bring along a technical book I'm reading and use it to prop up the For Dummies book in an absurd attempt at credentialing.

No, I'm sorry, ladies and gentlemen: I may have happened to have picked up THE POETICS OF THE MIND'S EYE at about the same time as WRITING FICTION FOR DUMMIES, and I may have had it in my reading pile because I was evaluating whether to recommend it to a friend who works in the field of visual imagination, but the one has little to do with the other.

I, a published author, picked up WRITING FICTION FOR DUMMIES, and it had useful information for a problem I was trying to solve. Don't be embarrassed about things like that: do whatever you have to to help yourself get better. End of list.

Why Resist Breaking the Mold?

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Emily Dickinson, barely known as a poet in her lifetime, ranks impossibly large in our own. Yet when her complete works were first published, she was dismissed by the critics. Author Thomas Bailey Aldrich dispensed with her thus:

"It is plain that Miss Dickinson possessed an extremely unconventional and grotesque fancy. She was deeply tinged by the mysticism of Blake, and strongly influenced by the mannerism of Emerson ... But the incoherence and formlessness of her — versicles are fatal ... an eccentric, dreamy, half-educated recluse in an out-of-the-way New England village (or anywhere else) cannot with impunity set at defiance the laws of gravitation and grammar".

Yet now Aldrich is all but lost to literary history, while Dickinson looms larger and larger in our minds. Collector of folktales Andrew Lang said "if poetry is to exist at all, it really must have form and grammar, and must rhyme when it professes to rhyme. The wisdom of the ages and the nature of man insist on so much" … yet history has proved him so wrong, and equally forgotten him.

The truth is, an eccentric, dreamy, half-educated recluse in an out-of-the-way town anywhere can, with impunity, defy the laws of gravitation and launch her poetry to the stars, and no-one unwilling to make the trip has the power to stop her.

-the Centaur

Pictured: Emily Dickinson bending space and time with the power of her mind. Emily's portrait taken from the Todd-Bingham Picture Collection and Family Papers, against a backdrop of star streaks taken by John Fowler, both from Wikimedia Commons.

Write Your Own Damn Sentences

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Recently I've been reading a lot on sentence construction - in particular the "little books" Mark Doty's The Art of Description: Word into World, Stanley Fish's How to Write a Sentence (and How to Read One), and Bruce Ross-Larson's Stunning Sentences, not to mention essays scattered across half a dozen books. I've enjoyed all this writing on writing, and I think all of it has been useful to me, but, as usual, there's one bit of advice I find myself encountering, find myself willing to take, yet find myself reacting against:

Find examples of great sentences to emulate.

On the one hand, I agree with this: finding great examples of sentences, then deconstructing them, imitating them and attempting to progress past them is a great exercise for writers, one I intend to follow up on (in my copious free time). On the other, focusing on exemplars of great sentences in the past, like it or not, encourages a mindset of focusing on the greatness of writers of the past, idolizing them, and then following in their footsteps.

I'm extremely allergic to the "idolizing the greats" syndrome. There have been greats in history, no doubt: great writers and thinkers, leaders and followers, heroes and villains. And there are people you will encounter that will impact you like no other: prophets whose principles will change your life, philosophers whose thought will change your mind, and authors whose writing will strike you like a physical blow. But they won't affect everyone the same way, and they won't solve your problems for you.

There are no secrets. It's all up to you.

Having said that, let me undermine it by recommending the following book of secrets: First Thought, Best Thought by Alan Ginsberg, Anne Waldman, William S. Burroughs and Diane Di Prima - an audiobook by four authors of the Beat Generation, talking about their experimental methods of poetry. I recommend the Beats because, like the Beats, I feel the need to counteract "conservative, formalistic literary ideals," but unlike the Beats, I don't reject those ideals: I just want more tools in my toolbox.

The Beats don't recommend emulating the past; they recommend finding ways of producing text that violate the norms. Ginsberg used breaths and rhythms. Burroughs cut words and sentences up and pasted them together until he had a whole page of, potentially, gibberish, which he then would mine for gems - perhaps finding a paragraph or even just a sentence out of an entire page of cut-up. Each author had their own method of breaking out of the mold. And a mold breaker … is a tool you can use.

So don't just find sentences to emulate. Write your own damn sentences. Cut up words on a page until they're confetti and rearrange them until they make sense. Build a program that writes random sentences. Throw down Rory's Story Cubes. Try magnetic poetry. Learn rap. Take improv. Stay up all night until you're loopy with sleep deprivation. No matter what crazy ideas you have, write them all down, then winnow through them all and pick the best ones - the ones that hit you like a physical blow.

THEN go back to the tools for sentence analysis from all those little books, and use them to make more of your own.

Seriously, what do you have to lose? Try the exercise. If you don't like what you produce, you may learn that your inspiration lies in understanding the past and building on it to create something new. If you do like it … you may add something to the world which, while its parts may come from the past, is in its whole ... wholly new.

-the Centaur

Pictured: a truly bizarre photographic composition that occurred by chance, and which I could not have planned if I tried.

The Doorway Cracks Open

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At last! DOORWAYS TO EXTRA TIME is available for preorder on Amazon! The book's out August 13 … that makes it almost exactly two years from conception to publication. For your amusement, I thought I'd dredge up the original call for submissions that I sent to the Write to the End and Dragon Writers groups way back in September of 2011:

DOORWAYS TO EXTRA TIME

In our busy world of meetings and microwaves, car radios and cellphones, you always hear people wishing they could get an extra hour in the day.

But what if you could?

DOORWAYS TO EXTRA TIME is an anthology that explores ways to get extra time (be it an hour, a day, or a decade) and the impact it would have (whether upon a single life, a family or an entire world).

We’re looking for stories with a touch of the fantastic—whether mystical, magical, mechanical, or just plain mysterious—but they can be set in any time or any genre: contemporary or historical, science fiction or fantasy, horror or magic realism. We could even find a place for a nonfiction essay if it was truly exceptional.

In short, show us something showstopping, and we’ll make time for you.

Suggested Length: full stories from 3,000 to 7,000 words and flash fiction under 1,000 words. We will accept good stories up to 10,000 words but it’s a hard sell.

Due Date: January 31st, 2012

Editors: Anthony Francis and TBD

The theme's still the same, but due date January 31st, 2012? Really? HAHAHAHA no. As you all probably know, the estimable Trisha J. Wooldridge signed on as my coeditor and helped me make this a much stronger (and more diverse!) book. Thank you, Trisha, for helping make DOORWAYS possible!

So, please, everyone, preorder and enjoy!

-the Centaur