Bullet Wisdom

I am an Active Duty Officer in the US Army. I am a Husband, father, writer, hunter, gamer, and SOLDIER. This blog is a forum for my many hobbies as well as my random musings.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Lessons Learned

Last week, writer Julie Klumb, tagged me in her Lessons Learned post. Today, I was going to attempt a humorous spot at summarizing this week's failed attempts at writing, but since she was gracious enough to mention me, I'm going to answer the mail. So, this year I learned:

1. Writing is hard. Anyone can write. The physical act of putting pen to paper or keyboard to screen is easy. For the latter, at least for most, although I have some friends that might be more efficient with cave drawings, but that's another discussion. Point here, is that there's a myriad of factors that go into telling a successful story, not the least of which is coming up with words compelling enough to keep the reader turning the pages for the next twelve hours of their life. As with any profession, there are rules, gimmicks, tricks, tactics, and techniques. The writer has to know which is the right tool to use and when.

2. Life happens. At this point in my journey, I feel like I'm on the right direction. The goals I laid out for the year and ticking off nicely, and the rewrite of my manuscript is slowly progressing. That said, it's not progressing fast enough. My wife got a job, the kids go to school, and my job takes up about 20 more hours a week than I originally planned. The Army puts food on the table, the kids need help with homework, and I have to put more effort into taking care of the house. After all that's done, the writing gets squeezed out. For now I have to be happy with a couple hours of quality writing time a week. For now it's just the way things are.

3. Writing is a learning profession. I mentioned tools earlier. For years I was taught that passive voice was bad, evil, burn, burn. Now, I've learned that the right placement of passive voice in the right situation make the difference between 'I took the one less travelled by' and 'I chose the less travelled road.' Point is, you have to research the craft. It's that simple. Great writers are experts on grammar. I want to be a great writer, ergo I have a lot to learn.

4. Find and befriend other writers. This goes back to number three. And don't be above or below anyone. Help other writers when they ask, and don't be afraid to ask for help yourself. Usually, you don't know what you don't know until someone points it out.

5. Keep a sense of humor. Rejections hurt, critiques can be painful. You won't make the progress you wanted. You'll have doubt. It's a profession where success is often not attained for years. At some point you'll have to reevaluate to determine if it's worth continuing. Because of that you have to laugh. One way or the other, the ride is going to eventually end. You have to keep your spirits up.

That's it. I tried to stay general as much as possible. In the great Army tradition of Blue-Falconing' our buddies, I'm going to reach out and tag fellow OWG member Danielle LaPaglia.

You're it. No pressure.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Conversations 'Tween My Creations

Is it technically talking to yourself if you're imagining your novel's characters having a conversation, about you? I don't know. The other day I'm mowing my lawn and fighting my Toro Personal Pace mower up the steep grade of my 1/2 acre corner lot, my characters start talking about me.

Oh, before I move any further, for you far east and west coast urbanites whose yard is typically comprised of a concrete pad and hot tub, an acre is a unit of area used in the US to denote 43,560 square feet of land. So my property is about half that. It's a lot of damned grass and takes up a good chunk of my weekend writing time. Thought I'd throw that in.

So, while I'm pushing around the mower, listening to Weird Al's White n' Nerdy (it's an anthem people), my character's start having this conversation. It goes something like this:

Protag: "Dude, I get my ass kicked in the third chapter of the rewrite. That wasn't in my YA Hero contract. What up with that?"

Antag: "At least you keep your teeth, between this version and the last, I lose both up front, and I didn't sign on for dentures."

Romantic Interest: "Before I was hot, smart, and driven, now I'm stuck up and bitchy, and I may even be an antogonist in disquise."

Aspiring Author: "That's because it builds suspense. Simply hooking up the two of you from the start was too easy. Now you're competing with for his affections with two others. You need to work for it."

Romantic Interest: "What--"

Gay BFF (interrupts): "What about me? I got written out? WTF!"

Aspiring Author: "That's because you were never in it to begin with. Too many of you popping up in all sorts of stories. Congratulations, you're officially cliche. Now, if it means getting published, we'll talk."

Gay BFF: "H8er!" (exits)

Aspiring Author: "WTF?"

Protag: "Seriously boss, we need to talk about the budding teen relationship thing. You made me a complete innocent and ignorant kid for over half the book. I suck with girls. Did you suck with girls?"

Aspiring Author: "Absolutely. When I was a senior I was below the Mendoza line. Way below."

Protag: "What's the Mendoza line?"

Aspiring Author: "Obscure baseball reference from the early nineties."

Antag: "I hate baseball."

Aspiring Author: "That's because you're British."

Romantic Interest: "What did you mean I'm competing with two others?"

Protag: "Threesome? Sweet. How do I do that?"

Aspiring Author: Points to Protag. "First, you're too young for the particulars. Second, I'm working that out. It's complicated." Points to Romantic Interest. "Don't worry, you're predestined, and you're HAWT. It's just less obviouos this time around. All three girls get an at-bat."

Antag: "Another baseball reference."

Aspiring Author: "Hey! British! Wanna lose another tooth?"

Antag: "You're only going to bump me off me anyway."

Protag: "He's right." To aspiring author. "How do I get to kill him? Is this another 'bad-guy-trips-on-a-root-and-impales-himself-on-tent-stake'? Cuz that's kind of ghey."

Aspiring Author: "It is, so you get to beat him down old-school. It kind of taints you."

Protag: "Sweet! Wait, tainted?"

Aspiring Author: "Chicks dig tainted. Read every YA out there."

Romantic Interest: "It's true, we do."

Protag: "Sweet!"

And so it goes. As you can tell, I enjoy writing dialogue, and I prefer it funny and sharp. One thing I learned on my first round of queries (almost a year ago), was that I was trying to be too grammatically correct and my dialogue and narrative ended up stiff. So I changed. We'll see how it goes this time around. At the pace I'm going I should have a completed rewrite around February. WTF?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

WriteOnCon Day 1

My first Con! Granted, it's an online writer's convention, but what the heck? I have plenty of time. My day job only takes up my time between the hours of 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wrong. At this point, travelling to a writer's convention is a pipe dream. So, the awesome folks at WriteOnCon developed what may be a first: A distant learning writer's convention.

My friend, writer Julie Klumb, showed me the link a few weeks ago. I signed up and happily waited. Gradually, I forgot all about it until she shot out a reminder. Good thing I registered early.

Yesterday was the first day. Forums opened for submissions for query's, WIPs, and finished products. All day long, the forum hosted events and discussion drawing in some awesome talent to share their industry wisdom. What did I learn?

1. Nothing new. Huh? What? Let me elaborate.

2. All the information you need is out there to be a successful writer, but you have to listen to the advice and be able to apply it. That's two very different, and difficult, things.

3. You need a professional-grade query letter. It should be simple: Present the story, introduce yourself. Be bold, be brief, then be gone. Don't overstay your welcome. The query letter is about your story. Save the extraneous life story stuff and how great you are for an actual phone conversation. If you get one. Jump over to Twitter and take a look at agent comments at #queryfail. Did it make you laugh? I did. What's funnier is I've made a good chunk of those mistakes.

4. Be professional. For some folks, this is hard. This is an industry practically invented the 'don't-call-us-we'll-call-you' tactic. Last night, literary agent Mark McVeigh gave a fabulous presentation, and at one point lamented about the poor behavior of some aspiring writers. I thought the best point he made was about following simple instructions.

Mark receives around sixty queries a day. Attachments take about a minute each to open and process. If each query and included excerpt was attached via word document, that's an additional hour a day just spent opening documents. Multiply that over a month and you have a lot of lost productivity. Follow instructions listed on the site, it's the professional thing to do.

5. Mark also said, 'know the agent you're querying.' I'm paraphrasing badly, sorry. His recommendation, if the agent your querying recently sold a book in a genre similar to yours, say so. I found that quite bold. Makes sense, but still. I think it goes back to the 'know the agent' statement. If you do your homework, you'll know when you can get away with a bold move, and when you can't.

6. Online presence, do or don't. The panel didn't really seem to care one way or another. I think this goes back to the most important mission of an aspiring writer: First, learn to write. If you're spending hours and hours weekly on your blog, you're probably taking away hours you could be doing research and writing for your story.

7. Critiques. Standards vary wildly and you need to pick and choose what to use, and what to discard. I'm used to the monthly line-by-line trashing I get over at Kelley Armstrong's Online Writing Group (OWG) Forums. For WriteOnCon, I'm noticing a paragraph or two of, 'I really liked this.' To someones credit, they flat out told me to scrap my first paragraph. I think they're right. If you want to write successfully, find a writing group that will routinely tear your stuff apart. You'll be better for it.

To me this is all common sense, and the kind of info pushed by publishing professional in every blog, interview, social media, and convention (all one of them) I've come across. If I had to pick something to impress upon everyone?

Write something great.

Huge thanks to the folks at WriteOnCon for putting on a fabulous platform for those of us who might never have to opportunity to travel to a Con.