That’s right, fonts! If you’re serious about writing, odds are you know better than to distract yourself by messing around with fonts — though you may do it anyway from time to time (guilty!). However, there is one occasion when messing with your font is a good idea: proofreading. According to author Keith Donohue (who, by the way, wrote his entire first novel on the subway on the way to and from work), changing your font before reading over your manuscript can help you catch things that you wouldn’t otherwise see. It makes errors that didn’t look out of place before jump out. This is especially useful when your manuscript has gotten long enough that printing it out is a major drain.
Some people have stories that begin “this one time at band camp.” I have stories that begin “this one time at Shakespeare camp.” So, this one time at Shakespeare camp, we learned about “levels.” Levels are, well, levels. Levels of intensity in voice and movement, the level/height where you place your body. In a word, levels are things you can vary. I find that this is key in writing as well as in stage acting. If you’ve got only one level of intensity and/or tension in a scene, for example, that’s a problem. Variation, especially emotional variation, is important. In fact, you’ll want to vary your level of variation. Emotional roller coasters are not always appropriate.
Writing Excuses is an SFF writing podcast, and a pretty amazing one at that. My personal favorite episode is the first one with Mary Robinette Kowal (who is now a regular member of the cast), in which she applies the principles of puppetry to writing. The other regular cast members are Brandon Sanderson (Mistborn series), Howard Taylor (Schlock Mercenary), and Dan Wells (Partials). Several of their podcasts are applicable to non-genre fiction.
When I started seriously researching my current project, I shifted from reading all fiction, all the time, to reading nothing but non-fiction. I’ve realized recently just how much this has been hurting me as a writer. I’ve lost a lot of the rhythm of the kind of prose I’m trying to write.
Aside from the fact that I had a lot to learn about history and the way people have lived over time, I stopped reading fiction because it was getting harder and harder to find books that were up to my rising standards. Up until early high school, I was satisfied with Star Wars novels, of which there seems to be an endless supply. Unfortunately, as I’ve become more critical as a reader over the years, I’ve found myself enjoying even the best of them less and less (and it doesn’t help that their quality started declining after Vision of the Future.). I’ve become more aware of glaring flaws in a great deal of SF and fantasy in general, too.
I’d turn to traditional literature, but I find most of it boring as hell. I like Oedipus Rex and Antigone, at least in the translation by Dudley Fitts and Robert Fitzgerald. I like Shakespeare in performance. Middlemarch was tolerable, though I didn’t finish it. I just didn’t get any emotional resonance out of Beowulf, and The Awakening was interesting from an academic point of view but boring in terms of story. These day, I find myself going back to two series: Dan Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos and George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. Unfortunately, Dan Simmons has turned into a nut-job Islamophobe since writing the Cantos, and George RR Martin is not a book-a-year kind of guy. Thus, I find myself at a loss.
Critique.org is the hub for several online critique groups modeled on the long running “Critters” online SF and fantasy workshop. Despite my own inability to stick with it for more than a month or so, I wholeheartedly recommend it, especially to people with longer attention spans than me (ie, everyone short of goldfish). You have to maintain a certain ratio of critiques given to weeks of membership, but it’s really not that onerous for people who don’t forget about their responsibilities every time a new idea wanders by. As far as I know, the SFF workshop is still the most active, but there are now workshops for everything from romance to literary fiction. At least in the SFF workshop, you come across some real gems to read, too. Nebula and Hugo award winner Ken Liu has put several stories through the workshop.
I’m trying to decide if Pinterest is a boon or a distraction for me as a writer. On the one hand, I love being able to make inspiration boards online. On the other hand, I have a tendency to get far too distracted by pretty pictures that fit into my cultural categories (I’m writing secondary world fantasy) and character ideas. On a third hand (because in SF and fantasy we can have as many hands as the story allows), I’ve actually found it useful for brainstorming. I have a better idea of where one of my characters is going because of the pictures on my Misc. board, which contains inspiring content I think I can find a place for at some point. In the end, the I don’t think Pinterest is either a good or bad thing for me in and of itself. As is often the case, what matters is knowing when I’m avoiding writing for one reason or another, and when I’m allowing myself some mental space.
The Poetry Archive is a collection of English language poetry read by the poets. I’ve found that listening to a poem or two before I write improves the quality of my prose dramatically. Poems are also organized by theme.
Looking back over the poetry I wrote in high school, I’m not sure whether to be sad or not. On the one hand, I only like two of the poems I wrote, both from ninth grade. On the other hand, considering how young I was, they’re pretty good. Here’s my favorite of the two, written in answer to the question of who was to blame for the deaths of Romeo and Juliet:
After it’s done
After the deaths
A pattern in the chaos
A reason for it all
How far back will you go
Before you see
If anyone is at fault
The hand that guides the knife
Is not the hand that strikes
So, I wrote down everything I know about what I’m trying to write, and it comes to about seven pages of increasingly vague, surprisingly helpful, outline. I’ve tried to outline the whole shebang before, but I’ve always gotten distracted by formatting, phrasing, etc. This time I just let myself write, not even stopping to fix it when I noticed I’d shifted tenses. It took me a couple days, which worries me. Hopefully I’ll build endurance. That’s one of the purposes of this blog; to help me write something everyday, even when I can’t wrap my head around fiction. Habit building, ya’ see?
(If anyone is reading this, please let me know if I used that semicolon back there correctly)
Writing Resource of the Day
Rock Your Plot by Cathey Yardley, $2.99 for Kindle: I’ve bought a couple of ebooks on outlining recently, and having finished this pamphlet-sized one, I can say it’s worth the money. It’s more distillation rather than innovation, but I found it a lot clearer than many of the writing books I’ve read, and definitely more succinct.