I hope that you are able to enjoy a day of abundance and gratitude.
Archives for November 2016
I got into writing by accident, but once I did I realized I’ve always been a storyteller.
It was about this time 4 years ago that I sat down and started writing my first book, Annihilation. I didn’t want to become a writer, I did it to figure out the self publishing process. My goal was to make the first timer mistakes on my own project so that I could do it right for a better writer.
One of the things I found intimidating when I was first getting involved was other peoples stories. There are so many people out there who have been writing all their lives and can’t imagine what they would do if they didn’t write. These people love books and post about grammar and plot structure. I don’t think it was anyones intention to intimidate me, but as a math major who generally hated english class I didn’t think I was supposed to be writing. Other writers stories wound up reinforcing that belief.
As a kid I was always out playing. You name it, if it involved getting sweaty, dirty or injured I was going to try it. Sitting around and writing a story was not something that even occurred to me. Seriously if you have given 12 year-old me a notebook and told me to put whatever I want in it I would have used it as a base for kickball.
But I lied, a lot. They weren’t malicious lies and they were not just stories to get out of trouble. I would go off on bike rides by myself and see things that no one else could prove or disprove. Near car accidents, planes that almost crashed and rare animals darting across the road. I’m sure my stories went in one ear and out the other, but I made them up and told them anyway.
With six kids in my family, vacations were always within driving distance, and my parents like to drive so that was a pretty wide range. I didn’t like reading and I couldn’t sleep in the car (this was before cell phones and hand held electronics) so I would sit for hours, staring out the window, immersed in my own world. Most of those worlds are now gone because I never even imagined that it was okay for me to share them.
So fast forward to 2012 and my wife approaching me with a confession. She had been writing. It started with fanfic and morphed into novels. She wanted to take a weekend for herself and go to the local RWA conference. She had been reading up on pitching agents and submitting manuscripts to publishers and hoped this conference could help her with those things.
When she came home from the conference we were both introduced to self-publishing. It sounded like a viable approach but it felt like there were a lot of moving parts and plenty of opportunity for big mistakes. Since she had a full time job and I was a stay at home dad to three kids in school I dove into the research.
It didn’t take long to make a decision. There was no doubt in my mind that being an indie author was the way to go. But her story idea was so good and her writing so professional that I worried I would steer her wrong and ruin what she had written.
I had a story in my head, I used it at night to stop thinking about my to-do list, and decided I would write it down and publish it. No problem if it was terrible, because I would learn about each of the steps needed to get a book from a word document to a Kindle screen. It took me a couple of months to write but when I was done I swapped stories with a critique partner, found an editor, hired a cover designer and taught myself about layout and formatting.
Going in my assumption was that I would like the process stuff and we would be a great team where she created and I published. But I LOVED getting the story out of my head and into a document. Getting lost in the world I created and caring so much about my characters was something I had never experienced as an adult and it just felt right. Writing turned out to be my delivery mechanism, but it was telling the story that mattered to me.
Four years later I have 8 novels and 4 novellas published. I have work in two anthologies and am in the middle of running my third sixth grade creative writing challenge. My hope is that each of my stories is well edited and professional, but for me the story is more important than the mechanics.
Writing wasn’t something I grew up doing or something I considered a part of who I am. I got into writing as an experiment, but I keep writing because there are stories to tell.
How did you get into writing?
When people ask me how it is that one actually goes about writing a novel I like to tell them there is no “right way” but in general it makes sense to have a plan. It certainly isn’t a requirement, see my “right way” comment above, but in many cases the difference between starting a novel and finishing a novel is the existence of a plan.
The good news is that there is no “right way” to plan either. Your plan could be a handful of notes scribbled on a napkin, a spreadsheet with a detailed list of scenes or a Pinterest board full of pictures.
What happens with many of us is that the story idea is so exciting, so compelling that we can’t possibly slow down and work on a plan, the words need to come out, like now. But the truth is that you aren’t going to write tens of thousands of words in one sitting, regardless of how many feel like they are going to spill out right now. To write a 100,000 word novel at 1,000 words a day you’re going to be at this for 100 days or more.
The theme, character flaw or killer scene that are so crystal clear right now might be a little fuzzy on day 10 or day 45 or even day 2. So here are 5 good reasons you should come up with a plan for your story.
- Know where you’re headed – A good story takes the reader on a journey. Would you set out on a trip without knowing where you’re going? When I work with kids on writing stories one of the things I ask them is what the main character was like at the beginning of the story and how they were different at the end. I tell them to write that down, because all the stuff that happens in between is the journey and we want to see why they changed.
- Have a logical flow – If you’re actually sitting down to tell a story you probably have a bunch of ideas floating around your head. Sometimes when you’re writing, those ideas just start to spill out. If you don’t have a plan for your story a good idea might show up in a bad spot.
- Guide posts – I had a kid tell me the other day that they had a plan for their story but they were deep in the woods, pretty far off the path. It turned out to be a great metaphor, because they wound up realizing that they could see the path and knew they were heading in the right direction it just wasn’t the way they thought they were going to go. It’s okay to go off and explore in the woods and find an interesting rock. A plan will let you go off on a great adventure without loosing track of the destination.
- Reduce throw away work – You’re going to have throw away work, that’s just a harsh truth many of us don’t think about before we start telling our story. If you realize you’re off on a cool tangent, pause to take a peak at your plan. It will remind you to think about this story and the journey the character is taking. Either you can put the breaks on this tangent or make sure you understand how hit works into the story you set out to tell.
- Maintain sanity – At some point before you’re done with your story you’ll get stuck (not a guarantee, but I promise it will happen). You’ll ask yourself what the hell you’re doing and why you ever thought you could do this. Everything you’ve done to this point was crap and finishing the story is pointless because you’re going to have to start over from scratch anyway. Take a beat and read your plan. You’re not a moron, you know what you’re doing and you even made a plan to get it done. In fact you’re a genius, get back to writing, stick with your plan!
November is National Novel Writing Month and one of my favorite slogans from the event is “Stories Matter”.
What I love most is that there is no qualifier. There is no mention of genre, authorship, quality, distribution etc. It’s the story that matters.
Today is the middle of the month and if you’re doing NaNo you should have about 25,000 words written. If you’ve struggled to get this far (or even if you’ve struggled to be behind) and you’re wondering if all the work is worth it, it is.
Stories matter because that’s how we learn. We can’t have every experience ourselves, so stories help us recognize and start to understand what others have experienced. We can’t meet everyone on Earth. Stories let us inform, inspire, anger and influence people we may never know.
Even if your story never leaves your hard drive or the cloud it matters. It matters because you wanted to write a story that was important to you, and you did it. You’ve learned something about yourself, you can do anything you want. In November it was writing a novel, in December it might be losing weight or learning to play piano. Who knows what January holds, but that story certainly mattered.
If you’d rather read someone else’s take on why stories matter check out Why Do Stories Matter by Nate King on the American Writers Museum blog. For more of my thoughts on the topic, keep going.
Stories matter because they spur conversation. How many times have you been involved in a conversation that started with “Hey, did you see that story about…”? Or “Oh my gosh, I heard this story about… and thought of you.” They help us process information and relate it to our own lives.
Stories matter because they make us take a beat and think. When we stop and think about things for even a brief second, we grow. That means that even bad stories matter. Understanding why you thought it was bad requires you to relate it to your web of knowledge and experience.
As a story consumer I love stories that make me see someone else’s perspective. It doesn’t mean I suddenly agree with that perspective or support it but it gives me a chance to understand some of the why behind an action.
As a writer/story teller I get the chance to think about characters and how they can be possible. What type of background could cause my bad guy to be so evil? Is that even plausible in our world? This thinking about what influences other people hasn’t stopped me from being surprised but it does help me to listen and start down the path of understanding.
We are surrounded by stories. Some are true, some are fictitious and others blur the line. We need them all. The writers need them, readers need them, we all need them. Don’t stop writing, share your story.
Why do stories matter to you?