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Using a location pictureI did something this morning to help me write. I use a Google Sites wiki to both write my novel, as well as store ideas and notes about characters, locations, concepts, etc. And there is an option in Google Sites to make a page two columns. If the page is a chapter page, I use this format and put the narrative in the left column, and an outline and notes in the right. Now, to help me get in the mood of the scene, I’ve been putting images in the top of the right column. So far I’ve just been putting location pictures that most closely match the location I envision in my head. But I can see putting pictures of people and objects as well. And with tools like Google Images or stock photo sites, finding what you need is a breeze.

The simple answer is that it’s totally up to you. Because in the long run you’ll revise both so much it won’t matter what you did first.

I have created characters with no back story, threw them in a scene, watched how they reacted, then created a back story for them. Then during a rewrite of that scene, they acted a little differently because of their back story. And they way they acted gave me some ideas for adding depth and texture to their back story. And so on.

And the exact same thing happened when I created a back story for a character before throwing them into a scene.

Waiting for an idea

Waiting for an idea

Writer’s block is not an occasional obstacle. It’s ever-present. Like a lid on a boiling pot. It’s gravity. It’s entropy. It’s a struggle for everybody. (Except maybe bad writers who think everything they write is awesome right out of the gate.) If we writers didn’t have the desire to create, to leave something behind, to be read and appreciated, we wouldn’t do it. Not even if they put a gun to our head.

Writers HATE writing.

(It’s just that we’re so bad at everything else.)

I’ve used used many tools, online and off, to write my works. This includes word processors, notebooks, wikis, and screenwriting software.

The project I’m working on now is a massive work that’s based on a huge, complicated world. I determined long ago that a wiki would help me develop all the details about this world. And I tried a few, including PBWiki.

But then I gave Zoho Wiki a try. And it’s been a huge help. It has more flexibility and features than I’ve seen in any other free, hosted wiki. Especially….

  • Expanding, tree-based LEFT navigation (or right if you prefer)
  • A sitemap that can be revised by dragging pages around
  • Optional auto links

And since it has such robust word-processing built in, it is most likely I will write my novel in the wiki as well.

This morning, I caught one of those HP laptop commercial where someone of some import waves their hands around and images appear. Most of the images I saw seemed to follow some kind of fantasy theme. And at the end, they showed the personality’s name and a kind of title: Paul Coelho, Alchemist of Words. It all intrigued me and I looked him up on the internet.

In a short time, I got a sense of his works. Much mysticism and fable. So I downloaded samples of some of his novels to my phone. And, since the book “The Alchemist” seemed to be one of his more notable ones, I bought the whole version.

Some of what I read contained encouragement to follow one’s dreams. It also acknowledged a spiritual realm and an ultimate purpose to one’s life.

Since I have pretty much been a materialist the past few years, these characteristics usually throw up a red flag for me. But, I gave his work a benefit of a doubt. Maybe his stuff could be read completely metaphorically. Or maybe I’ll just enjoy them on an entertaining level.

It was also interesting that he pirates his books. Like Cory Doctorow, the desire to share his works is stronger than his desire to make money on them. That got me thinking that I feel the same way. And, in my head, I started to make a list of what I most wish to accomplish with my stories, in order of priority. And here’s what I came up with:

  1. Write one story, and some people read it an enjoy it.
  2. Write one story, and have a lot of people read it and enjoy it.
  3. Write one story, and make some money with it.
  4. Write one story, and make a lot of money with it.
  5. Write lots of stories that a lot of people read and enjoy.
  6. Write lots of stories and make some money with them.
  7. Write lots of stories and make a living writing.
  8. Write one story that people remember forever.

And just as I’m compiling this list in my head, my wife brings an envelope in from the mail. It’s an essay that my father has written. Briefly skimming it, it seems to be his trying to come to terms with time, change, mortality, and the afterlife. The same stuff I think about all the time. And there’s a note on the essay saying that he’s trying to get it published.

Then, I get to work and watch a couple movies. The first is of a schizophrenic and reclusive writer and artist called “In The Realms of the Unreal.” And I decide to continue the troubled genius theme with “My Architect,” about the architect Louis Kahn.

What do I make of all of this? Obviously, an impetus to take my writing more seriously, both in my stories and this blog. But it also has made me think about how I can reconcile the belief that there is nothing beyond what we can sense with our physical senses with the desire to discover something beyond our senses. I am both a rationalist and a romantic that loves stories about swords and sorcery. I’m an agnostic who still feels drawn to the esoteric worlds of Hinduism and Catholicism. I believe that our consciousness ceases to be when enough of our brain cells expire, but I want so much to continue on thinking and experiencing forever.

Can I channel any of this into my stories. Some aspects I already have in some of my stories. I deal with fate in “An Appointment With Destiny.” I deal with the all-too-rapid passage of time in “The Mower.” And maybe I will find the way to finish them. but I also hope I can find a way to express this central existential dilemma.

Writing is going well. And since it has been going so well, I didn’t want to take time to post to my blog. (Now, if I was published, I’d be independently rich, and all the time in the world to post. Right). But, I figured it was time to get some of my thoughts down in a post.

Connecting With Writers

There are a few reasons why writing has been going very well. The first of which I touched on in my previous post. That is, I’ve been networking with other writers. Even if it’s just reading their blogs, doing so has taught me some things, inspired me, helped me take this pursuit of mine a lot more seriously, and made me feel less isolated. It’s also encouraging to learn that published authors are not a separate and superior species. They have struggled, and continue to struggle, to make a living at what they love to do.

Genre and Plot

Why else have things been going well? The genesis for the story I’m working on popped into my head sometime in the mid-nineties. And since then, I have worked on it, on and off. Usually I stepped away from it because for one reason or another, I was drawn to work on one of my other stories. Also, each time I worked on it, I kept trying different plot setups, different genres, and different mediums. I have tried to write this story as a novel, comic book, tv series, and movie. I have placed it in the real world, an alternate world, and in different time frames. I have treated it as science fiction, fantasy, urban adventure, myth, magical realism, gangster fiction, and fairy tale. And I have tried it as young adult fiction.

Anyway, my most current plot setup and setting has been working pretty well. Maybe it has to do with how long the idea has been gestating, or due to getting a little better at plotting and writing.

For many years, I tried writing this story (and many others) as a screenplay. But, within the past few years, I’ve decided to write most of my stories as some form of written fiction, mostly as novels. This has helped a lot. A writing teacher of mine once told me that watching a lot of movies does not make it easy to learn how to write a screenplay. Only reading a lot of screenplays does. Now, I have read a lot of screenplays, but I’ve read a hell of a lot more books. And when I was writing screenplays, there was always the tendency to write it like a novel. For example, I would write long dialogues and exposition scenes, which work okay in novels, but not in screenplays.

When I switched to novels, it helped a lot. I wasn’t as pressured into describing scenes in as few words as possible. I could write a bit more, especially about my complex backstory/culture. Wordbuilding is tough enough, but even tougher when you have to fit it into 120 pages of only dialogue and action description. I also love being able to do stuff like write what the character is thinking. But most of all, I’m writing something I have a lot of familiarity with, since I’ve read thousands of these somethings.

I’ve also been told that selling a novel is easier than selling a screenplay. Which brings me to my next point.

Changing Intentions

I have wanted to write ever since I read Lord of the Rings in 9th grade. And I tried my hand at worldbuilding and a few beginnings to novels. Then, later in college, I did switch majors from engineering to English, in order be a writer. However, my college fiction was absolutely atrocious: very contrived, preachy, and boring. Everybody in my writing class was writing about deep subjects, like depression, drug abuse, and the struggles of living a homosexual lifestyle in a homophobic world. I was writing light little morality tales that tried to teach stuff like, “Don’t try and be what your family wants you to be. Be yourself!” So, I switched to literature and abandoned the dream.

But many years later, when I was around 30, I spied a book in Barnes & Noble titled “How to Write a Screenplay in 21 Days.” I bought it, read it, and the dream was rekindled. I spent the next 5 years or so, reading a ton of screenwriting books, and starting a bunch of screenplays. I was single then, lived in the city, and spent all my free time in coffeeshops, with a laptop, writing like mad.

My goal was simply…to win an oscar. I thought about it every day. I even put it as my startup text on my phone. And I also planned on my movies’ saving the world. I also only wanted to write stuff that could be considered art. If it was to be a movie, it had to be like Citizen Kane. If it was going to be a novel, it had to be “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Part of me did want to write what I loved, Fantasy or SciFi. But, at that time, I thought that was not very worthwhile and a little below me.

Needless to say, all that struggle kind of went nowhere. And any time I thought about quitting, I would feel this nagging guilt that I was abandoning my calling. And when the world goes to pot, it was going to be my fault.

But I still wrote once in a while. And over the years, I changed. My worldview changed. I no longer believed in things like a higher purpose. I learned to appreciate just having a roof over my head and food on my plate. I no longer have the desire to win an oscar, get rich, or save the world. I just want to tell a story, get it published somewhere, and maybe get a little spending money for it. And, I started to want to write fantasy or sci-fi more than anything else. And because of all of this, my writing got better, more interesting and inspired, and I enjoyed it more.

Well, this has gotten a lot longer than I expected. I’m going to continue with this tomorrow.

James Maxey wrote a book called Bitterwood, which I I saw advertised in the Solaris Fantasy Anthology. Here’s his blog.

And I found about Lisa Shearin’s blog through James’, and she also had some great advice.

And, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the blog Writer Unboxed, which contains posts by and about many authors or genre fiction.

And here’s a handy RSS-feed of such articles, that will be updated as I find more.

Been stressing this weekend about my stories. Was focusing on my myth/fantasy. But it’s too big. Switching back to my time travel story. However, yesterday I did try the schedule-a-time-and-length-for-writing thing. Worked pretty good.

The trouble is I’ve been trying this for many years now. It does seem like I’ll never write anything, or at least never get it published. And I’m okay with just dropping it and just enjoying life. But even when I’ve tried doing that for a little while, either the new story ideas or ways to make existing ones just start popping into my head. Maybe it’s just going to be something I’ll always have. The desire and impetus to write, but will never finish. Like a monkey on my back, huh?

Is it a matter of scale? Since I have such a short attention span, should I focus on short stories, or even shorter? Should I just write treatments to get the stories out of my head? Or just write a blog of some sort, maybe snippets of stuff?

Anyway, going to work on the time travel one a bit. And stress about how busy this day (and week) is going to be.

Who I am

I live in Whitehall, PA (outside of Pittsburgh), with my wife Monique, stepdaughter Manon, our Sheltie puppy “The Dude,” and four cats: Piggy, White Devil, Bee Bee, and Tigger.