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Or, How to set up a routine and Framework without Sucking all the Joy out of Life....

We've been theorizing these past weeks, and we'll do it again. But for now, it's time to put substance into the post. First, we need put one of those big X's here (figuratively) that signifies where you are. And, although no where as cute as this pup, I'm here too...

You have an idea for a book. Likely, it rambles through your mind twisting and turning until you're sick of thinking about it. So pretend we're in a college level writing class with me as the droning professor (not quite literally) and I'll tell you how to shackle that beast!

First: YOU are the Master of your Writing.

Think about it. You have something others don't. You can visualize a scene, a person, or even an entire world that doesn't really exist. Unless you are writing a biography. More on that later... The tough part now is breaking your vision into a template and setting manageable goals to move the story toward conclusion. In essence, you are taking a wild horse and taming it. But not too much. Wild horses are intriguing and majestic, the domestic kind that gives kiddies and overweight tourists weekend rides aren't. Pretty, but not terribly interesting.

Step One: Define your Story.

Very few people geek out over academic papers as I did. Even so, I had to learn form and function to charm the professors. Brainstorming certainly has its place, but the real beauty of your creative process comes from giving it structure. As I tell my students, get passionate about a subject, define it, structure it, write it, defend it, summarize it. Writing a novel is much the same. Some people can do it in their minds (like algebra equations, but we won't talk about those people here...) others need a nice, clean tablet (or two) to work through their ideas.

This process came into full flower when I wrote Sagittarian Blue. I sat with my eldest daughter Sarah sketching out the details, to show her my method. (I hope you all have a rock of inspiration like Sarah in your life!) I usually didn't get so detailed, but did there for purposes of illustration. Wow. I found that by getting detailed, writing out the story from beginning to end, it made the process so simple that starting was a breeze once I got past the dreaded first paragraph. (more later).

I determined a starting point and an initial ending point. This will change as you free flow your first draft, and certainly in the much more extensive revisions. That's OK, you and the story are going to be lifelong friends if things work out, so just as in life, the relationship has to mature. For now, sketch it out from front to back. At this point, you should start to fall in love with the process, and be ready to devote all your free time (and then some) to it.

Step Two: Build the Staircase to the Floor You're Getting off on.

Now that you have your journey defined, add intermediate steps to get there. Steps have another name, chapters. Now some free range writers will argue that chapters are an antitquated concept that stifle the creative process. Good for them. For me, it helps to break the story into...well...bite sized chunks. I like to write mostly self-contained chapters, almost like a series of short stories in linear form. This way, if some lazy reader (like me) comes along and isn't really sold on the book concept and jumps into a middle chapter, they'll have a pretty good idea what that time-frame of the story is about.

The other benefit is that you can set your word count as a guide line (I like to grind out about 3,000 to 5,000 words per chapter) which I can do in a day. Sometimes less, sometimes a bit more depending on how many times the dogs have to go out. Oh, and if you shoot for 15 or so chapters, you'll come in at around 60k words, which is a good length for a light read. Someday I'm going to do a saga, probably about the time my readers demand one...

So, sketch out those chapters within the framework you've established. Essentially, you've just constructed a rubric and template. But remember, the droning professor is you, so make changes as you go. Admit it, you're starting to get excited! You should be, of all the people who've ever lived, YOU are the only one that is in charge of this unique creation!

Create a List of Potential Characters, and have them Audition...

Now that you have this great and exciting work of art in the construction phase, make sure the right people are acting out the parts. I like kids. Little varmints...they do get into your heart. I was actually one myself at one time. Relatives would tell you I never grew out of that. Going back to Sagittarian Blue, I had a huge list of kids that I wanted to be part of my fun story. But the last thing I wanted to do was diminish the journey. So I agonized, and pared the list.

I worried that I still had too many, and I'd love to do a continuation and further develop the characters I've come to know and appreciate. In fact, I'd like to splinter the cast (I think in movie terms) and have them go out on their own adventures.

So far, no one who has read the book has said it had too many. I'm sure someone will, and that's OK. I created a product I'm proud of, and that's the point. Well, so is selling books, but you get the idea...

Now that you are Vested in the Project...

You'll write with passion, because you own the process. None of this writer's block junk, you KNOW the journey. Don't misunderstand, you'll rewrite....and rewrite...and... But you are set to crank out that first draft. Wow, it has me ready to jump back in! (focusing on the blog and marketing presently, which is also fun) Oh, and save those initial notes, you'll refer back to them often. It will amaze you how far you've come!

So, how do I pass myself off as a Writing Coach?

Because I am one, on the collegiate level. I took brilliant but terrified students and by showing them the process we've just shared, turned them into voracious and great writers. People will disagree, but I think this is a great method for constructing a novel. That's the really neat part though, in creative writing, everyone is correct. The ultimate jury consists of readers. Remember what your goal is, which is up to you. Mine is create and inspirational world in my books, and share it.

I can't begin to describe the joy that gives me.

Time for a new Phase to Begin...Call to Action!

I invite any and all of you to share your journey on my website in the discussion. I really can't help it, I love teaching. I love writing. Mostly, I love people and their stories. Let's see if we can march forward together and discover even more!

Next Week: Develop those Characters and put them to Work!

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Similar to sticking your foot in quicksand, writing will suck you in.

That's the good part.

My wife Beth is very hard-working and practical. She believes that if there is a job to do, you dive in head first to the exclusion of all else. There is no point in sugar-coating, a job well-done is it's own reward. So, when I wrote my first two articles, she was at least somewhat disappointed in my tone. She thought I was cheating potential writers by making cheesy jokes about what is a very hard process. She was right.

And it was on purpose.

You have to appreciate the simple genius of Gary Larson. He looked at bizarre and everyday things from every conceivable angle, and came up with unique (hilarious) takes. The idea of someone with an attitude so positive that he could whistle while he worked in hell is breathtakingly funny. We'll skip the devils' equally hysterical analytical reaction for now. Though it is worth noting that if any of us can achieve this many layers of meaning in such a simple rendering in our writing, we'll be on to something.

Writing isn't exactly hell, though you're going to wonder what you did to deserve taking on such a harsh master. The writing process is going to be grueling, thankless, and it will devour your time. It's a bit like when I took on the doctoral journey. I committed to the time, the strain, the loneliness of a process that was so long it seemed it would never end.

But it did end one day. Your writing will not. Well, not while you're still able to prop yourself up in front of a computer anyway.

So that is why I incurred the wrath (a bit of hyperbole there) of my wife. If you're going commit to becoming a writer, you might as well have a few yocks on the way in. You're going to need to hang onto the memory that you were brave enough to sneer at the monster before you, and laugh while walking into the deep, dark forest...never to return.

So is it a frontal lobotomy, or...

That's up to you. But if you do it right, you'll find ways and reasons to sneak off and write. A few minutes on your only day off will become hours. Your family will forsake you (or at least come to accept you). There will always be just that one more chapter, that one more revision. An edit will pop into your head in the middle of the night, and you'll rush to write it down. Because if you don't it will disappear into the darkness. And you'll know you screwed up.

You'll observe others enjoying life, putzing around and having a fun, relaxing life. But that isn't for you. Once the bug bites and the creative virus enters the bloodstream, it is there to stay. You will not receive accolades from relatives and friends who will now start to more or less ignore you. No one will want to read you latest scene, no one will want to hear about your inspiration for the book's protagonist, or maybe especially the antagonist. But it will be OK. One day, you'll become stoic enough to just be the writer in the family who doesn't refer to his work. It will be there. And you'll be happy knowing that someday, someone will discover your writing and they will want to know. And by then, you won't gush anymore. And that may...just may cause people to give you another thought. You and your journey.

You'll be the smiling guy pushing a wheelbarrow in hell.

You've heard it before. Writing is hard work. Chisel that in granite.

So own it. Your journey, perhaps even your destination is different than every one else's. And that's alright. Think of it like this. Years ago, I knew a girl told the story of a neighbor growing up that loved baseball. He watched it all the time, with friends, family, during parties, it was his life. When she thought of the neighbor, she thought of baseball.

But when he passed away, even though his family and friends had warm memories, he left behind nothing of himself. And that's OK. There are billions of us. Not everyone can.

But you will. And if your writing never takes off in your lifetime, a distinct possibility, with today's self-publishing paradigm, you'll leave behind stories from your life, experience, and most importantly...heart. Someday, a distant descendant or maybe someone from a different culture on the other side of the world will pick up one of your books, and get what you meant. The story will resonate, and maybe best of all, inspire them.

Next Wednesday: the Nuts and Bolts.

We'll start into how to turn a vague idea into a framework, the framework to an outline, and so on. It's a step that throws many would-be authors, but it can also be the hook that ends with you finishing your book.

Be here friends, and we'll start together.

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Everyone has a story to tell. Even if its a whiny one.

This past week was a rough one for me. I know. The world is on fire with war and strife, and I have the nerve to complain about dental issues and viruses. Well, if you are going to write about anything fictional, you are essentially...whining and bitching. To the point that even your dog hates you...

People in novels don't behave like everyday folks. Yes, the scenarios are the same, perhaps enhanced, but essentially the same. For example, in my book, The Time Fixers, the lead protagonist finds out his wife is a double dealing trollop who stole the love of his life. Most people would hit the local saloon, curse their bad luck, and get on with life. A son who found out about his father's strife would say 'bad show old man' and buy the second round. (Actually, no one talks like this outside 30's potboilers but you get the idea.)

It is extremely unlikely that even if you could devise a way to return to the past, you wouldn't. It reeks of danger and even the most self-centered skunk would shy away from potentially destroying the timeline.

But you are writing a novel.

The reason you do that is to explore ideas through the familiar, with unfamiliar or even extraordinary to uncover hidden truths. Or speculation, or out and out fantasy. Think of it. A science fiction book would read like a stereo manual (dating myself) if it weren't for people and their silly actions. In essence, all genres are human stories. Unless they're about a wolf or a seagull (extra points if you get that one). Even then the characters are anthropomorphic or we'd be reading about tracking down smaller animals, killing, and eating them. Despite the cute tricks your dog has to get you to do his will...

So, what's your point?

On the one hand, this is great news! You can build a world and construct characters that aren't bound by any rules, save readers displaying their dissatisfaction. (Not buying your book). In this light, there is never an excuse for your writing to be boring or repititious. From your point of view. Literary agents and publishers these days aren't looking for creative. They want a safe, easy kill by an author who has an enormous social media footprint, or is likely a celebrity of some sort. Don't sacrifice your great story to try and get past the gatekeepers. Marketable, yes. No stories about a self-sacrificing doily maker in the Prussian War. But be REMARKABLE! Remember, the new paradigm is self-publishing, the best friend a reader ever had.

Keep at it.

Alright, now you see the opportunities. You can write about anything (mostly) and there are few rules. Here is my advice. Work. Hard. When others are watching the ball game, write. When the gang is having its third patio cocktail party of the week, write. When you wife wants to keep dinner reservations on your anniversary...yeah, better go, unless you want a first hand look at divorce. Come on now. If you you're smart enough to write, nearly everyone is, you can figure out times to devote. In following posts, I'll get into the specifics, but you won't go anyway fast if you don't know these points.

Know this, nobody cares that you're writing. Nobody wants to proof your writing. No one thinks you have what it takes to be a writer. Except you. Go with that.

Start writing!

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