5 Tricks Every Writer Needs To Know

Over the course of almost a decade of writing I’ve come across a few tips that I felt like sharing with other writers. These are pretty simple and should help you on your collective creative journeys.

So let’s get started.

My 5 Tricks For Every Writer:

1. Write: This is the really annoying one. This is the one I trip up on most. I look up articles on writing and read blogs about writing or remember books I loved that made me want to write…but all the while I’m not writing anything.

One simple fact should rule every author’s brain: no one else is going to sit at your keyboard and write your story, so start typing.

2. Write: So you hate your manuscript, all your characters are stupid, and you don’t want to write anymore? So you’re sitting with your Word doc open and can’t think of any reason why you should continue with a story you’re not “into” anymore? Guess what the answer is?

Yup.

Write.

The beginning of a book is a wonderful rush of creativity and endorphins. It’s a romance that seems like it will never end. But then it does. And you still have to write. This is what I call “Writing after the high is gone,” and every author has to do it. Books get written over the course of years and there is no way that you’re going to sit down with all the pep in the world every day when it’s time to work. It just won’t happen like that. But if you don’t want to wind up with yet another first-80-pages-of-a-manuscript collecting dust somewhere you have to learn write even after the high is gone, even if you’re not feeling it, even if you think what you’re writing is useless crap. It sucks but it’s necessary. I’ve actually hit my word count while swearing through my teeth the entire time.

But maybe that sounds too harsh. That’s okay, there’s a more pleasant way of phrasing this: Your writing talent is a group of muscles, and you’ve been working those muscles for awhile now. Believe it or not, even at your lowest, most self-loathing moments, your muscles and all your training are still with you. You’ll be shocked how much crap you’ll write that, during rewrites, turns out to not need nearly as much fixing as you thought it would.

Have faith in the talents you’ve been training all this time and learn to write after the high is gone.

3. Write: I can remember back when I was a young lad, eighty billion years ago, when I lived and died by every sentence I wrote. Every story was the most important thing I would ever do in my existence and every review, even a brief nod from a friend while reading, was analyzed and agonized over to wring it of all possible information.

Boy that sucked.

And I’m happy to say it is not a mindset that stuck with me. Which is not to say that putting some pressure on yourself to achieve and listening to criticism is a bad thing, but back in the beginning it wasn’t constructive so much as super-crazy-stressful.

But, again, it passes. How? With more writing. After a few stories, after a bunch of reviews, after you’ve hit “The End” a number of times you gain some perspective. You get a firm foundation that you can feel comfortable with and are no longer swayed quite so hard by each review, you no longer stress every story to the point that it becomes counterproductive. You learn, even, that maybe some blasphemy at the alter of writing can be a good thing, that being silly or trying to write a totally different genre for kicks or even intentionally trying to write poorly can be educational, enjoyable, and, oddly enough, result in some fine work. “The Donkey of Vincento” is a story of mine that I have declared to be, “the stupidest thing I have ever written.” And yet it is also a favorite of some readers. I’ve never understood that.

This craft is a weird place to inhabit at the best of times, and that’s a good thing because it means you don’t always have to stress the rules, you don’t always have to shackle your self to perfection, you can have some fun with it.

Just keep writing, you’ll relax more.

4. Write: Okay. So maybe when you sit down and touch your fingers to the keys you get a jolt of psychic-electricity of shame and worthlessness that sends you reeling away from your work in progress to go do some cleaning. We’ve all been there. Something isn’t right in your story but you can’t figure out what and all attempts at moving forward are useless. It’s like walking face-first into a brick wall over and over again. Sure, the wall might give in a thousand or so years, but you’ll have been beaten to a pulp by then.

So what’s the answer?

Write.

Just, maybe, don’t try and write anything in your current work in progress. I actually had a chat a few days ago with @Albert_Berg about my favorite word-pressure-release valve, which is free writing. I take out my notebook of college ruled paper, take out my favorite pen, set the pen to the page and then write. And I don’t stop. Not for edits, not for thoughts, not for smudges, not for anything. I do this for an entire page which, in my handwriting, is a fair amount of writing. And I write all of this with the tacit agreement that what I’m writing will never be read by anyone. I force a page out with no pauses, and if I want more I write more.

It is shocking how much gets lined up in your head, how many breakthroughs you have, how many new avenues will open up by doing this exercise. And you’d be a little stunned at how many notebooks I have filled up with deranged, endless scribbles that I’ve never looked at once.

I can’t quite explain it, but the combination of complete anonymity and ZERO stops greases the wheels somehow.

And, once you’ve tried this trick for awhile, you can start to get creative with your free writing. I’ve done pages of just one character’s thoughts as well as nothing but pure setting description. I’ve also done nothing but insane rants about how much my back hurts.

It all helps.

5. Write: Write. Always.

That was the advice I always got growing up. I was in some movie somewhere, “A writer writes…always.”

I hate that stupid line. I hate that stupid line and I’m the guy writing this post about constantly writing.

You know what? Sometimes not writing is the right answer. Sometimes getting away and going for a walk is the right answer. You have to teach yourself discipline but along with that comes the fact that you have to teach yourself moderation as well. You are your own boss and it’s quite possible to wear yourself out.

So, some days, I don’t write.

Or, to be more exact, I don’t type.

But I’m always writing. And this is some of my favorite training because you can do it anywhere.

Read billboards and then think about how you’d rewrite them to better effect.

Look at something, anything, and ponder how you’d paint it with words.

Pause now and then and check your feelings and give some thought to how’d you describe them.

Taste new foods and come up with words for what’s happening on your tongue.

Describe smells.

Always remember that this is what the whole point is, capturing reality with the written word. It’s easy to lose track of what your core goal is when you have two deadlines and a day job screaming at you.

That’s why this fifth one is so important. Taking the world around you, the emotions in your heart, and the impulses in your head and crystallizing them into words is everything.

Some days it’s best to just head to a crowded restaurant and stare around and devour everything you see with your eyes.

Just, you know, try not to freak people out.

Too much.

Art Contest Entry From Jackson P.

Upon opening up the prize packages to include an iPad I was immediately inundated with a slew of new entries. I was happy about this, glad that the iPad was attracting more casual artists to the contest.

I wanted to share one of these works which I found particularly evocative.

This was submitted by Jackson P. It was created using the “Cupcakes” app on the iPhone.

I found this to be a stunning entry.

The multi-flavored jellybeans, of course, represent each character’s constant struggle with their own identity versus who the world needs them to be. The “T” sprinkle, hiding in the background (as if to suggest the inescapably innate qualities of the human id?) is a wonderful metaphor for the ever-present, yet clandestine role that my main characters play in the world around them.

The chocolate frosting, as if I have to explain, is Hector’s dark undermining of everything my heroes strive to create.

And then there’s the coup-de-grace of the cupcake under it all, hidden by toppings, indiscernible as a vanilla cupcake or banana, a firm reminder of the ultimately unknowable nature of the universe in which we exist.

Brilliant, Jackson.

Just brilliant.

iPad Added as Prize to the Fan Art Contest

Looking over the budget for the Fan Art Contest I realized that an iPad is well within range for a prize offering. So I added one to the prize list. A lot of people who enter maybe aren’t crazy big on the art stuff so this is a nice fun prize that anyone can enjoy and play Angry Birds on.

There’s only like three weeks left so get to reading Probability Angels and Persistent Illusions and then start sketching and drawing and photographing and whatever crazy voodoo it is that you do so well!

Mush! Mush! Mush!

New York BBQ Festival

This past weekend was the New York BBQ Festival. I went and stuffed my face. This is one of those things that my group always talks about going to but then never does. This year I’m happy to say we made it, though I do have to recommend arriving at around 11:00.

I go there five minutes before everyone else and managed to eat a fried blackberry pie while waiting. Then I wept openly on the sidewalk. God that pie was good.

Sadly I ate it too fast to photograph, but here are some other shots. Most of them are fuzzy due to smoke…which is awesome.

Here we have the world’s greatest traffic sign:

Here is a proud member of the BBQ family alongside his tools:

Here we have delicious, delicious sausage being grilled:

Here’s an old pro serving up some pulled pork sandwiches (these were the most delicious things I tasted all day by the way):

And the following are various signs on various smokers. Apparently BBQ enthusiasts also love word play:

Fantastic day, was home napping and full of meats by one.

And, again, I have to recommend showing up early. This was taken at maybe 12:30:

Not a seat to be found.

Man those sandwiches were good…

Writing Urban Fantasy or No I Don’t Write Porn

During the course of an average conversation with someone I’ve just met, the fact that I write books usually comes up. This is always followed by the question, “Oh? What do you write?”

I always respond, “Urban fantasy.”

Why do I respond in that way? Because that’s what I write. Urban fantasy. Here is the definition straight off of wikipedia:

Urban fantasy describes a work that is set primarily in a city and contains aspects of fantasy. These matters may involve…coexistence between humans and paranormal beings.

That’s Matthew and Epp for certain, and I’m so used to clicking off that box in the hundreds of forms I’ve filled out over the years, marketing and publishing these books, that I no longer think twice about it.

At least not until the words come out of my mouth during one of these conversations and something flickers through the other person’s eyes. Something fleeting, a little giggly, and absurdly skeptical of what I’ve just disclosed.

Then I remember. For the vast majority of people, the phrase “urban fantasy” means “porn.” Or at least “porn with ghosts.”

Don’t believe me? Let’s look at the covers of some of the best selling urban fantasies going today.

Urban Fantasy Cover

We can assume that this is set in a city…I guess. I mean there’s a treasure chest so surely there’s a town somewhere and, yes, there are demons and they apparently prefer blonds. So check and check, urban fantasy.

The little teaser paragraph on that one is truly amazing, managing to borrow those old Mastercard ads as well as get across that our main character pays a sufficient amount for her haircuts so that we know she’s not boring or poor or anything.

Moving on.

Urban Fantasy Cover 2

At first this one seems deceiving. There are woods in the background! This can’t be taking place in a city! However, were these two out camping they would probably need some sort of protection from the elements. Like clothes. Thus, we can infer that they are merely out sunbathing with their automatic weapons and that their apartments where they keep their clothing, and therefore a city, are nearby.

Plus…oh fuck it that one just makes fun of itself.

Urban Fantasy Cover 3

Now…this one is…there’s a city…is that dude wearing make up?

And is the chick a vampire too?  Those look like fangs.

So basically this is vampire sex? And even if we presume the chick was human, I don’t think I’d label her as scared by this encounter. Granted, dating back to the earliest legends, the notion of vampires has often been interpreted with sexual overtones.

But this is just sex. Sex with biting. Which some would say is the only kind of sex worth…you know what let’s just move on shall we?

Here we’ve got a little something for the ladies.

Urban Fantasy Cover 4

Now, I know what you’re thinking (god help me). You’re thinking, “There isn’t a single thing in this cover anywhere that’s fantastical or urban.”

Well as for the urban part, we can assume that the ship in the background, being a small vessel, is unable to travel very far from port, so there’s a city around here somewhere.

And the fantastical part? One word: merman.

Now check out this one.

What? Am I supposed to be talking?

I really like green eyes (note to self, add Green-Eyed Envy to Amazon wishlist).

At any rate, I’m not entirely sure how this happened to my genre or when it happened. Maybe porn with ghosts came first and then the genre urban fantasy was defined and *I’m* the newcomer here. Or maybe urban fantasy was defined as a genre and for some reason it happened to draw in a lot of porn writers…it does sort of sound dirty. Or maybe these books are all literary masterpieces that are just trying to be heard in a crowded market by putting some eye candy on their covers.

All I know is, right after the words, “I write urban fantasy,” come out of my mouth, I immedietly follow it up with, “that means it takes place in an urban landscape, like New York, but has fantastical elements in it.”

Or something.

Whatever I’m going to stare at that green-eyed one again.

 

Probability Angels T-Shirts Now Available

My Cafepress store is open again! That little square button on the right will take you there.

What’s available?

Well, have you ever wanted to wear my words across your chest?

If so…that’s sort of weird.

But have you ever wanted a t-shirt with my favorite Probability Angels quote concerning scotch on it?

Something like this with sleeves?

Long sleeve, short sleeve and fitted all available here.

Also there’s a new fridge magnet. Go nuts.

Hopefully there’ll be more of this stuff to come. I’m kicking around more ideas but if you have any, drop me a line.