How I got into writing

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?

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5 Reasons you should plan your story

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!
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Stories matter

November is National Novel Writing Month and one of my favorite slogans from the event is “Stories Matter”.

Stories

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?

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Spining pet fur

I did a little cleaning today and it reminded me of a story about turning dog fur into mittens.

As the stay at home parent I consider cleaning to be my responsibility. The thing is, I don’t like it. I don’t mind doing laundry, washing dishes or organizing things, but sweeping, dusting and vacuuming just don’t motivate me. Today, there were seedlings growing in the dust/topsoil (kidding!) and tumble weeds of dog fur blowing through the kitchen so I didn’t have much choice.

After several dust pans full of dog fur I was wondering if there was something I could do with it other than throw it in the trash. In the spring I throw it outside and the birds take it and use it in their nests (at least that’s what I tell myself).  In the fall it just gets mixed in with the leaves and then I mow it up and have to pull it out of the bagger when it gets wound around things.

Finally I remembered hearing about people who spin their pet fur into yarn and then knit scarves, sweaters and mittens out of it. I guess it makes sense, but this is not for me. I know they wash it and everything and I’m sure that if I brushed the dog every day and collected the fur in a bag it would feel more like wool, but still no.

For a moment I considered doing it with the cat fur (we have 3 cats) but that’s still a no. I kind of like the idea of a character in a cozy mystery who makes and wears clothes made out of pet fur. They would be smart, pragmatic, resourceful but just a little off. Perfect for solving some wacky small town crimes.

What about you, would you wear a sweater made from your pets fur?

 

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Epic fails and overthinking

Consecutive days blogging ~ 1 of 365
Handstand Push-up’s – Nothing!
Dinner with friends – 0 of 12
Words of Fiction written – 1104


Blogging everyday for a year was an epic fail in the first week because I was overthinking it.

This past weekend my daughter filled in for one of the teams in her basketball club. They faced some talented and athletic teams and wound up going 0-4 for the weekend. As we drove home Lily was upset that she didn’t play as well as she could have and wondered why she struggled in the games when she has been performing well at practice.

I try and be a supportive realist when it comes to my kids sports. I ALWAYS tell them what they did well and how proud I am about their commitment and effort. If they ask (Lily always asks) what they could do better I’m honest with them. In this case she was overthinking the game and trying too hard. She was pushing so hard to do everything perfect that she lost sight of having fun and just getting the job done.

As we discussed this on the 90 minute drive home I realized that was the exact problem I was having with blogging. I’m overthinking it way too much.

A blog is just a weblog, an online record of activity. It doesn’t have to be witty or brilliant or award winning, just regularly updated. So I asked myself, why am I trying to blog at all?

The simple answer is so that readers can get to know me and see what is influencing my thinking and my writing, and to show aspiring authors what I’m doing every day. I love the format of Dean Wesley Smith ‘s blog but I also love the idea of sharing some of the cool stuff I find while doing research. I’m not going to worry about “10 Killer headlines to grow your readership” or “5 Things every blogger must do right now” I’m just going to record stuff that’s going on.

So I’m going to retrench and start over. My first try was an epic fail, but I was working too hard.

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Bite-sized stories

365 Days Blogging – 6 of 365
Handstand Push-up’s – Nothing!
Dinner with friends – 0 of 12
Words of Fiction written – 0


Have you discovered Bite-sized stories? Short, but complete stories you can start and finish while you wait just about anywhere.

With kids in grades 6, 7 and 8 I often feel like I am not a stay at home dad as much as an in the car dad. I do a lot of chauffeuring and that means I also do a lot of waiting. If you have kids you know the kind of waiting I’m talking about, it can range anywhere from them standing outside indignantly and jumping in the car before I’m even at a full stop to having to text them 3 times over fifteen minutes that I’m out front waiting for them. As a result I have found myself reading on my phone, a lot.

When you’re waiting and reading on your phone it can be tough. If you are involved in a great story and the kids come out you want to finish the chapter before you start driving. The other parents waiting behind you are in the same boat as you and would prefer that you finish reading somewhere else. You drive off feeling interrupted and incomplete.

The solution? Bite-sized Stories: A Multi-Genre Flash Fiction Anthology.  This anthology offers 33 stories from a variety of authors across several genres. When you have a stolen moment, it allows you to read something quick and potentially discover a new favorite author. Best of all, it’s FREE. Click on the cover and download your copy today.

 

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