Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Friday, April 23, 2010
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
So what is practice in writing and how do you do it?
Every writer I know who is a long term professional has practice methods for almost every craft a writer needs to master. I’ll give you some general ones in a moment. But first, let me talk about how you practice.
1) A Writer is a Person Who Writes. So is just simply doing lots of writing good practice?
Sometimes yes, to a degree. If you are mailing the story or novel out to editors when you finish and getting feedback and applying the feedback to THE NEXT STORY. The key is getting feedback, listening to the feedback, and then writing the next story. See the workshop chapter here on how to use workshops for the feedback. You can’t fix a practice session, but you can learn from a practice session what works and what doesn’t work and apply that knowledge to your next story or novel.
If you just write the same story over and over, the same way, without actually trying to apply knowledge to the new story, then no, you can write for years and not improve. And sadly, I’ve seen that happen.
There is a common term for this called FOCUSED PRACTICE.
But first and foremost, you have to sit and do a lot of writing. No rewriting, writing original words. Not researching, writing original words.
2) Does everything you write in the early years need to be a focused practice session? Or can I just write?
Yes, again to a degree. Early on in your writing career, you are missing so many storytelling skills, just writing and not working to get better in an area doesn’t make much sense. As the words go by and the years pass, not every session is a practice session. But every session will always be a learning session.
3) Should I tell stories while practicing or just write paragraphs or scenes?
Oh, heavens, you are practicing being a storyteller, so every session is focused on telling a story. Nothing else matters. Everything you practice goes to telling a story, so every practice session should be on a story of some sort.
4) If I am only practicing, should I mail out my stories when they are finished?
OF COURSE!!! Duh, you have to get feedback on your practice, and an editor telling you a story works, or that they read it shows your practice is working. At first you will only get form rejections and no feedback, but develop a trusted first reader and use a workshop for feedback, but mail everything.
I used to write a story every week, then mail it to an editor on my way to turn it into my workshop. I wanted feedback on the story not to fix the story, but to learn how to do something better on the next story, and to see if something worked or didn’t work. Workshop sometimes told me that, but editors told me that even more. And I trusted the editors. After all, it was their job to keep me off the stage until I my craft and entertaining skills were ready to go on stage. I trusted they would do that as well.
5) How long do you need to practice and work on your craft and storytelling skills?
Your entire life. It never ends. The learning never stops in this art form, and the moment you think you are “good enough” you are dead.
This week I am teaching a character voice workshop to a group of professional writers who want to focus on that one craft area for an entire week. A large part of what I am setting up for them in this workshop is not only analytical skills practice, but actual focused character voice practice. Will they know how to create more character voice in their stories when they leave? I sure hope so. But then what they will have to do is go home and practice what they have learned this week. Focus practice, story after story, until what they learned here becomes automatic through their fingers.
And why am I spending time teaching this class? Because I’ve been writing a number of young adult novels lately and really want to practice my character voice skills and learn more, and trust me, teaching is a great way to focus craft issues.
I once had an interviewer ask me why I wrote so many media novels. My standard answer is, of course, that I loved the universes and the characters and the work. And that’s very true. Writing for DC and Marvel and Star Trek and Men in Black and X-Box was just a blast for an old kid like me. Period, end of discussion.
But for some reason I answered a different way with this interviewer. I answered, “Practice.”
You see, for every media book I wrote, I focused on one thing to practice for that book. For example, on three novels in a row, I worked on nothing but different forms of cliff hangers. The reviews on those three books for the first time in my career started adding in the phrase “hard to put down.”
Focused practice, then feedback then more focused practice, then more feedback.
That’s the loop you want to try to set up in every way possible.
For a moment, let me give you some basic hints about feedback and how to understand what a first reader or workshop reader is saying to you. These are very basic.
“Your story really took off on page six.”
Meaning: Your opening sucks, you walked or strolled or woke up to your story, and no editor on the planet will ever buy the story.
“I just couldn’t see your story.”
You forgot to ground your reader in a setting, real setting, and your characters were just talking heads yacking at each other in a white room.
“Your character seemed flat.”
You forgot to give any kind of character voice or character opinion or character description.
“Your ending doesn’t work.”
You screwed up your set-up in the opening of your story and didn’t prepare the reader for your ending. Or you wrote two pages past your ending and didn’t know it. Or you haven’t gotten to your ending yet.
And so on and so on. You get the idea. Get the feedback, figure out what it really means, which is often not what you are hearing.
He has more to say on the subject. You can read the full article here. Do you agree with his reasoning? I know for Dave and I, we have learned a lot from our 4 books. Our current WIP starts stronger and is flowing nicely. We are much more in tune with each other on this project which makes this WIP a pleasure to write.
How do you practice?
Saturday, April 17, 2010
Saturday, April 10, 2010
Thursday, April 8, 2010
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
The Literary Lesson
RECEIVED FROM AN ENGLISH PROFESSOR:
You know that book Men are from Mars, Women from Venus? Well, here's a prime example of that. This assignment was actually turned in by two of my English students: Rebecca (last name deleted) and Gary (last name deleted).
English 44A SMU Creative Writing Prof. Miller
In-class Assignment for Wednesday
Today we will experiment with a new form called the tandem story. The process is simple. Each person will pair off with the person sitting to his or her immediate right. One of you will then write the first paragraph of a short story. The partner will read the first paragraph and then add another paragraph to the story. The first person will then add a third paragraph, and so on back and forth.
Remember to re-read what has been written each time in order to keep the story coherent. The story is over when both agree a conclusion has been reached.
At first, Laurie couldn't decide which kind of tea she wanted. The chamomile, which used to be her favorite for lazy evenings at home, now reminded her too much of Carl, who once said, in happier times, that he liked chamomile. But she felt she must now, at all costs, keep her mind off Carl. His possessiveness was suffocating, and if she thought about him too much her Asthma started acting up again. So chamomile was out of the question.
Meanwhile, Advance Sergeant Carl Harris, leader of the attack squadron now in orbit over Skylon 4, had more important things to think about than the neuroses of an air-headed asthmatic bimbo named Laurie with whom he had spent one sweaty night over a year ago. "A.S. Harris to Geostation 17," he said into his trans-galactic communicator. "Polar orbit established. No sign of resistance so far..". But before he could sign off a bluish particle beam flashed out of nowhere and blasted a hole through his ship's cargo bay. The jolt from the direct hit sent him flying out of his seat and across the cockpit.
He bumped his head and died almost immediately, but not before he felt one last pang of regret for psychologically brutalizing the one woman who had ever had feelings for him. Soon afterwards, Earth stopped its pointless hostilities towards the peaceful farmers of Skylon 4. "Congress Passes Law Permanently Abolishing War and Space Travel." Laurie read in her newspaper one morning. The news simultaneously excited her and bored her. She stared out the window, dreaming of her youth--when the days had passed unhurriedly and carefree, with no newspapers to read, no television to distract her from her sense of innocent wonder at all the beautiful things around her. "Why must one lose one's innocence to become a woman?" she pondered wistfully.
Little did she know, but she has less than 10 seconds to live. Thousands of miles above the city, the Anu'udrian mothership launched the first of its lithium fusion missiles. The dim-witted wimpy peaceniks who pushed the Unilateral Aerospace Disarmament Treaty through Congress had left Earth a defenseless target for the hostile alien empires who were determined to destroy the human race. Within two hours after the passage of the treaty the Anu'udrian ships were on course for Earth, carrying enough firepower to pulverize the entire planet. With no one to stop them, they swiftly initiated their diabolical plan. The lithium fusion missile entered the atmosphere unimpeded. The President, in his top-secret mobile submarine headquarters on the ocean floor off the coast of Guam, felt the inconceivably massive explosion which vaporized Laurie and 85 million other Americans. The President slammed his fist on the conference table. "We can't allow this! I'm going to veto that treaty! Let's blow 'em out of the sky!"
This is absurd. I refuse to continue this mockery of literature. My writing partner is a violent, chauvinistic, semi-literate adolescent.
Yeah? Well, you're a self-centered tedious neurotic whose attempts at writing are the literary equivalent of Valium.
Monday, April 5, 2010
Friday, April 2, 2010
The word "laptop" is getting somewhat brushed aside for a truckload of new, confusing categories.
The Apple iPad falls into the slate (some people say tablet) category of portable personal computers, because, unlike a laptop, it doesn't have a hardware keyboard.
Another key difference: To type and to navigate through files and photos on the iPad, you touch its screen in the same way you operate an iPhone or iPod Touch. That's possible on some laptop models, but not many.
2. How is the iPad different from e-readers like the Kindle?
Reading digital books on "e-readers" like the Amazon Kindle is becoming increasingly popular. The iPad acts like an e-reader and like a personal computer, but there are some notable differences between the two.
For one, the iPad has a color display. The Kindle, by contrast, is only black-and-white. Some people think the iPad, partly for this reason, will be popular with students who read textbooks with colorful diagrams. Others say the Kindle's screen, which isn't backlit, will be easier on the eyes over long periods.
There's an aesthetic difference, too: The iPad will display books horizontally, with two pages showing, or vertically, zooming in on a single page of text. The Kindle only works in vertical mode.
Perhaps more importantly, the devices access books from different online bookstores. iPad users buy books from Apple's new digital bookstore, called the iBookstore, which supports an open e-book format called ePub. Kindle users must buy their books from Amazon.com.
3. How much does the iPad cost?
Prices range from $499 to $829. The more expensive versions have more storage space, which means you can put more music and videos on the device.
iPads that connect to the Internet with Wi-Fi only are less expensive than those that can connect through Wi-Fi and through AT&T's mobile Internet network.
4. Do you have to sign-up for an AT&T contract when you buy the iPad?
You don't have to buy an AT&T mobile Internet contract to purchase the iPad.
If you buy a Wi-Fi-only version of the iPad and have a Wi-Fi connection at home, or you want to use the iPad primarily at coffee shops or public places that have wireless Internet connections, then you probably won't have to deal with AT&T at all.
Pricier versions of the iPad are able to connect to AT&T's mobile 3G network, allowing them to browse the Web from many more locations.
Surprisingly, you don't need a contract with AT&T to use this service, either.
Users can pay by the month and cancel at any time without penalty, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said at the iPad unveiling. The unlimited data plan with AT&T costs $29.99 per month.
The Wi-Fi-enabled iPads go on sale on Saturday. The AT&T-enabled iPads will ship in late April, according to the online Apple store.
4. If there's no keyboard, how do you type on the iPad?
Instead of being a piece of plastic with physical keys, the iPad's keyboard is a graphic that pops up on the device's touch-sensitive screen -- an interface that will be familiar to iPhone and iPod Touch users.
iPad users type by touching pictures of keys on the screen. The iPad keyboard is about the same size as the one on your desk, but you can't feel the keys.
When he unveiled the device in January, Jobs said the iPad is "a dream to type on." But some bloggers, including this writer, have complained that the iPad's touch-screen keyboard is difficult to use.
5. Can you create documents, spreadsheets and presentations with the iPad?
Apple created a new suite of "apps" specifically for the iPad. These iWork programs, which cost $9.99 each, let users create documents, edit spreadsheets and create business presentations from the iPad.
It's unclear how easy these programs will be to use. Some reviewers say it's easy enough to compose business documents on the iPad. Others say serious users will need another computer to be productive.
The iPad has a Wi-Fi connection, which, in theory, could be used for printing documents wirelessly through your printer. There is some debate online about what apps will perform this function.
6. Can you view any Web site on the iPad?
A certain format of online video, called Flash, does not play on the Apple iPad.
While there are some workarounds for this, many Web sites are redesigning themselves, using a type of code called HTML5, so they will work on the iPad.
That code allows video display on the device, but you may notice some sites, including this one, will have holes because the iPad doesn't support Flash video.
7. Will the iPad replace my current computer? Or do you need both?
Some technology writers and critics say the iPad is an all-in-one machine. Others argue that it's more of a portable accessory, and that most computer users need a desktop or laptop computer in addition to an iPad.
What works for you really depends on what you use your computers for. If you spend a lot of time typing or creating things with your computer, it may be easier to use a laptop. If you just want to surf the Web, read books, play games, watch movies or send an occasional short e-mail, the iPad might work.
Apple and others sell keyboards that can be attached to the device in case you need to write a longer e-mail and don't want to fiddle with the touch-screen keyboard.
8. Is the iPad lighter and smaller than other laptops or e-readers?
The iPad will be about a half-inch thick and weigh about 1½ pounds.
Its screen is 9.7 inches across, when measured diagonally.
That's smaller and lighter than some laptops. A 10-inch netbook from Dell is similar in size but weighs about a pound more.
Amazon's Kindle DX is slimmer than the iPad, at only a third of an inch thick, and it weighs slightly less: 1.2 pounds, according to Amazon.
Its screen is the same size as the iPad's, but it doesn't display color.
9. Can you subscribe to newspapers and magazines on the iPad?
Some magazines and newspapers have said they hope the iPad will help save their struggling industries. A number of them have reformatted their publications for the iPad's screen and are offering new digital subscription plans.
The Wall Street Journal, for example, will charge $17.99 per month for an iPad subscription to its newspaper.
10. Are there iPad alternatives?
Apple is not the only computer maker offering a slate device. Some are on the market now and others will come out soon.
HP briefly showed off its slate computer before an audience at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. Dell has announced plans to make a personal computer in the slate category.