The Everyday Author

For authors who can't quit their day jobs...yet

Author: Michael LeFevre

You Can’t See The Forest For The Trees

Dark spooky forest at night in shades of blue
STORY CRAFTING

Picture yourself in the middle of a primeval forest of tall, thickly growing trees with a canopy that excludes most light and any sign of the daily path of the sun. The ground is relatively uncluttered with underbrush, but the few trails that are there, wind around the many tree trunks and crisscross each other, offering no clear way out. Everywhere that you look, trees sprout from the earth as thick as the hair on a dog’s back. Try as you might, you cannot find your way to open country.

As a writer, you can easily get yourself stranded in the middle of a primeval novel with multiple storylines, characters, conflicts with no clear path to open country. There are five essential elements to a story: Character, Setting, Plot, Conflict-Tension-Drama, and Resolution. I have found that although they are all important, they may not all play equally into your story. In some way, you should include enough of each to make your story interesting, inspiring, and enticing. It should be just long enough to keep you engaged but not so long as to make it a chore to finish.

You are blocked, unable to see where you are going and not seeing the path to your goal you sit on the ground amid the trees. You try to craft a plan to get out of this mess. Ideas flicker through your brain, you test everyone one to determine the right way to move. Then you leap to your feet, you have seen the right way to go. You look up—the path is clear. You must find your way to the top of the trees in able to clear the view. You climb a likely tree, you struggle your way up through the foliage, grunting with the effort, scratching your arms on the thick branches. Suddenly you burst through the canopy into the bright sunshine and look across acres and acres of trees. On the horizon you see the verge of the forest, beyond it is a rolling meadow. The goal.The beauty of Farmland

A good tale follows a pattern of “chasing a man up a tree, then finding a way to get him down”. In other words, you begin a story, you create tension, then resolve it somehow. It doesn’t have to be in that order, but the elements should be in there. Your reader should be able to follow along, even if the flow of the story isn’t logically crafted. If your story follows the beginning, middle, end template the reader can follow the story but may become bored because it is too simple and predictable. Conversely, if the story elements are too chaotic you will lose readers because it is too complicated.
So where is the balance? Your story should be just long enough to keep you engaged but not so long as to make it a chore to finish. Haiku poetry can tell an amazing story in just three lines of text. An Icelandic Saga may roll on for days. Each form is appropriate in its own time and place.

 Over the wintry
Forest, winds howl in rage
With no leaves to blow.      Natsume Soseki.

So, as a writer, what is next? The characters, setting, plot, conflict and resolution, all the elements of a story, are the tree trunks of your story/forest. I wish that I could tell you that the climb out of that primeval novel is as simple as finding the right tree with enough branches to lead you to the light. That you will find the view of the whole forest before you, that you might see beyond the forest and not just the blocking view of tree trunks. You could look at my hard drive and see the stories lined up for their time in the sun and know that it isn’t as simple as all that.

How do you craft that story so that you as the writer and me as the reader are not lost amid the dark, thick trees with no hope of seeing of seeing the complete forest? You as the writer must not blind yourself with the minutiae of setting and multiple plot lines, characters, and conflicts. Stephen King, well known for his many horror stories, has written a memoir/how-to book On Writing that includes 7 great tips/insights into the process. You can see a synopsis of these tips at the Positivity Blog.

Remember, it isn’t easy to see the forest when all you focus on are the trees. Forests are much more complex than a field full of trees. A forest is a multi-layered ecosystem of flora and fauna that rely on each other to thrive. Your stories should model that ecosystem. You can craft that kind of story; your readers will be able to see it from a bird’s eye view that encompasses the whole picture not just the limited view of the trees.

DSCN0042_2_3Michael, “Mike” to his friends, is a writer, striving to be an Author. He has been a spinner of tales since elementary school and garnered a slew of rejections from even that early age. Mike graduated from a small high school on the edge of Utah’s West Desert with more than a passing knowledge of how to read and write. Mike has an undergraduate degree from the University of Hard Knocks also sports a collection of writing and literature classes from traditional institutions. From the Dictionary to Louis L’Amour, religion and philosophy, political science, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Mike boasts an extensive and diverse reading repertoire. The journey has been and continues to be enlightening to say the least. Author of Ghost of the Black Bull found at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Mike has been married for 40 years and is the parent to one daughter and “poppa” to three grandsons. You can see more of his writing here at Everyday Author.com and at http://skullvalleytales.wordpress.com/

IF YOU CAN READ THIS…

Have you finished the first draft of your Great American Novel and then given it to your spouse, mother, brother, best pal to look over? Anxiously you wait for their opinion and they hand it back to you, all the while shaking their head. You wonder why, and then they dish–“You misspelled supercalifragilisticespialodocious!”

“Sheesh!” you whine, “But I used spellcheck!”

You must have more than one edit of your story before it goes to the publisher. It is possible to self-edit, but believe me, it is a Herculean Task. At the recent IndieReCon, one contributor spoke about ways to clean-up your work before handing it off to another set of eyes (you can read the article here). I’m of the opinion that, if you opt for the self-edit only plan, don’t.

And the reason why? Self-editing is tough to do because your eye is trained to see things that your brain tells it to look for.

What do I mean by that? Well, have you seen those funny little exercises that make the rounds of email chain letters or Facebook memes that show a word cloud that is intentionally made up of mixed letters, numbers and symbols that challenge you to read and show how smart you are?
Hotmess
Then you may know what I am talking about. Your brain is hardwired to make order and find patterns that make sense. You know what the letters are, you have learned the correct pattern of letters that make up each word, and so you can read these chaotic sentences. (Does this mean that spelling is optional?)

Your work is just like that; a word cloud made up of letters in some order with misspellings, homonyms, bad punctuation, poor grammar, and just about every mistake you can think of. If it isn’t, you must have struggled for aeons to produce a perfect first draft, and still there will be misspellings, incorrect or missing punctuation, run-on sentences, incomplete sentences, etc. And the more times you read it over, the easier it is to gloss over mistakes.

Spellcheck is a good helper, but it can lead you down the primrose path too.

[They’re] is nothing like a correctly spelled incorrect word to spoil your perfect draft.

One of the first times that I ran headlong into this phenomenon was for a school paper. I composed it in longhand, read it over, corrected the obvious mistakes and prepared to type it out on my portable manual typewriter. My typing skills had lots of room for improvement. My aunt just happened to come for a visit that day and she offered to type it for me. She started to type and began to point out all of the mistakes that I had missed in my first edit. So, I went through it again, correcting spelling, usage, grammar, and sentence length, etc. I handed it back to her, and she began to type it out but soon ran into the next round of errors. Long story short–it was midnight before we had a usable paper for me to hand in.

I have learned that the chances of me writing a perfect first draft are next to zero. If I don’t have the opportunity for editing help, then I write and revise, correct, then let it sit for a day or two, and then go back over it. I repeat that until I am satisfied with the quality of the final draft. If I don’t have time to let it marinate, then the process is shortened, but I still go over it multiple times. Preferably, I hand it to my wife to look over and she can be brutal with the red pencil.

So, you might ask, what can you do to publish a clean piece of writing?

If you have written anything for a grade, for submission to a third party then you know how important it is that your work is as perfect as you can make it. How often has a well written essay or research paper been downgraded because of misspellings, poor formatting, horrible grammar or nonexistent punctuation? You have seen this before. If your query letter doesn’t measure up, how do you expect an agent or publisher to take you seriously?

I suggested above, maybe the first step in the refining process should be to finish it and then let it sit for as long as time will permit before re-reading and revising. Time has a way of allowing a fresh look at the piece.

The more that you read it through, the more likely it is that you will gloss over mistakes.

Read it aloud. For some reason unknown to me, the act of reading my sentences aloud gives me a fresh perspective. My ears can hear what my eyes can’t see.

Have your wife, mother, BFF, or stranger on the street read it with some means of marking the problems that they see. It is better that this read-through be by someone you trust to be honest. (If you expect honesty, be prepared for the truth!) At this point the last thing that you would want is platitudes and false bonhomme.

Fix the errors and then read aloud again. Your ears will inform your eyes. Make sure that you read each word, don’t rush the narration. You could even record parts of it, or maybe the whole thing, with the aim of listening to the cadence and pace of your sentences.

Time is the cruel master in many of the projects that we take on so if your deadline looms, then by all means hire a pro. It will be worth the money to save the time needed to make critical corrections. Even if you have read, re-read, corrected, revised over and over again there will be mistakes that we miss. Don’t beat yourself up.

I may be preaching to the choir, but every self-published book and even ones published by major publishing houses that I have bought and read has had spelling errors, homonym errors, punctuation faux-pas, and poor sentence structure. I’m serious, everyone. Obviously, those published by the established authors and publishers have fewer embedded problems, but I have spent major dollars for books from my favorite authors had errors that jumped off of the page and distracted from my experience.

If it can happen to them, it can and will happen to us.

Remember…IF YOU CAN READ THIS…make sure you are not letting your brain trick your eyes.

DSCN0042_2_3Michael D. LeFevre is the author of the newly published novella, “Ghost of the Black Bull”. He lives on the verge of the Great Basin, overlooking the historic Lincoln Highway, Pony Express Trail, and Hastings Cut-Off of Donner Party notoriety–literally in the midst of history. “There are so many anecdotes that lend themselves to dramatization, that I am at a loss of where to go next in beginning my next story.” He works at being retired, reading and writing. He is enjoying his hobbies as well.

Author Origins: Anthony Ryan

author-anthony-ryanAnthony Ryan is the New York Times best selling author of the Raven’s Shadow epic fantasy novels as well as the Slab City Blues science fiction series. He was born in Scotland in 1970 but spent much of his adult life living and working in London. After a long career in the British Civil Service he took up writing full time after the success of his first novel Blood Song, Book One of the Raven’s Shadow trilogy. He has a degree in history, and his interests include art, science and the unending quest for the perfect pint of real ale. for news and general writing about stuff he likes, check out Anthony’s blog at: anthonystuff.wordpress.com

Introduction: Tell us who you are, how and why you decided to be an author and where you’re at right now in your career.

I’m Anthony Ryan and I write mostly fantasy with some occasional forays into science fiction. I can’t really recall a time when I didn’t want to be an author, it’s been my principal ambition ever since I fell in love with reading at an early age. I got my break when I self-published Blood Song, the first novel in the Raven’s Shadow epic fantasy trilogy, which led to a three book deal with Ace. Tower Lord, the second book in the series, was published last July and the third, Queen of Fire, comes out in the US and UK in July 2015.

What was the hardest thing about balancing writing with a day job? What’s still the hardest thing to balance with everyday life?

Simply put: time. You never have enough of it. I wrote Blood Song over a period of six and a half years, but after signing with Ace I had less than a year to write Tower Lord. I must admit I struggled for the first couple of months until I took a hard look at my daily schedule and made some changes. I realized most of my ‘lost time’ came from my daily commute into London, so I bought an IPad and started writing on the train in the mornings and evenings. It’s a source of continual surprise to me that I actually managed to turn the book in on time. These days the hardest part is starting a new project after a period of downtime between books, it takes a while to get back into the daily rhythm of it all.

Tell us about schedule and habits from the early times (or what you’re doing now if it hasn’t changed).

I try to aim for 2000 words a day, but don’t always get there. I tend to write in sessions of thirty to forty five minutes throughout the day as I find I’m incapable of sitting still for hours on end. The main change to my writing habits is that I’m much more detailed in the way I track my progress, my word-count spreadsheet has grown over the years into a multi-columned monster.

If you don’t mind, would you tell us how your sales first started out? How many books did you have out before you started seeing traction?

I think I’m somewhat unusual in self-publishing because the success I had was based on one book rather than a series. for the first six months I published Blood Song only on Smashwords during which time I sold all of five copies. It was only after publishing on KDP in January 2012 that things started to happen. I sold twenty books in the first month and sales doubled each month until May when I sold over 2000 copies, by which time Ace had gotten in touch. Paradoxically, the bulk of my self-published sales took place after I’d signed the contract with Ace because they allowed me to keep selling Blood Song before their own version came out. All in all I sold 45,000 copies as a self-publisher and the series as a whole has sold over 200,000 copies since being traditionally published.

At what point in time did you make the decision to support yourself/your family as an author? What was that decision like and how did you feel afterward?

Logically, the decision was pretty straightforward when I took a look at my income and realized my tax bill would be greater than the take home pay from my day job. That being said, it was still a big decision to make. I’d worked in the UK Civil Service for over twenty years and here I was deciding to quit after less than a year as a published author, so I won’t pretend it didn’t involve some frayed nerves. Luckily, it all worked out and I have no regrets…yet.

What is one thing about your author career that not many people know of? Alternatively, what are some of your other hobbies/interests outside of writing?

I’ve published a series of SF-Noir novellas called Slab City Blues which doesn’t sell in anything like the numbers the Raven’s Shadow series does, so I always wonder how many people actually know the books are available. Outside of writing I spend a lot of time reading and am a committed Netflix and Amazon Prime binge-watcher. I’m also not averse to the occasional beer festival.

What’s the best piece of advice you have for authors who can’t support themselves with their writing yet? What should they be focusing on?

Keep writing and concentrate on finishing. When you look at the advice available to self-publishers the bulk of it relates to marketing when the most important thing should be producing work that’s actually worth marketing. No amount of hours spent promoting on social media will turn [a] bad book into a good one.

Is there anything we haven’t asked that you’d like to touch on?

I have a Raven’s Shadow novella, the Lord Collector, in the recently released Blackguards Anthology from Ragnarok Publications, if people want to check that out. I also recently finished the first volume in an entirely new fantasy series and hope to announce some important news about it soon.

A Feast for the Eyes

A Feast for the Eyes satisfies the parts of you that neither food nor drink can reach. Just as aroma enhances taste, visual stimulation heightens pleasure and illuminates the hidden. This is true whether from viewing the mundane things of life, or the vision of nature’s beauty, the vastness of the universe, or the universe of the microscopic.

The eyes have been described as the “windows of the soul” and I believe that. In modern terms, this is true both on the download and the upload. One can see the horror, sorrow, and inhumanity of war in Picasso’s “Guernica” yet, at the next moment, be able to beam love to your dearest through those same eyes.

A good story is like that. It can take you from the Heavens to the depths of Hell, in a word. A wordsmith can help you know a fictional character in a sentence; or imagine yourself in a paragraph. He could convince you to find peace at home, or drive you to wander the world on a page. You could lose or find God in his written work. It will depend on the feast of words that he has prepared for you and also how hungry you are for the fare.

“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.”  Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Great chefs create a visual feast as well as the culinary, because they know that you “eat with the eyes, as well as the mouth”. Authors prepare a visual feast that stimulates the imagination into creating the sights, sounds and smells of their world. They agonize over words, the correctness, meaning, spelling and their placement in the sentence. They read, re-read and revise their work over and over again, until it looks and reads to their particular satisfaction. Then they serve it up to you, the reader, for your pleasure and delight.

As an author, can you relate to this? Do you know the frustration of writing and re-writing until you find that exact word combination that illustrates your thoughts? Do your inner voices go silent some days and leave you hanging out there to rely on your own skill and craft? I ask these questions because I know that likely they are ones you have asked yourself. You can write and write until your fingers cramp and still not find the correct recipe of words that come together. How many pages have you crumpled, how many times have you filled the trash file on your computer and emptied the hundreds, sometimes thousands, of words into the ether?

This is true whether from viewing the mundane things of life, or the vision of nature’s beauty, the vastness of the universe, or the universe of the microscopic.

The world in a drop of water

Are you that perfectionist that scrubs every line, every paragraph four or five times before you hand your work over to the editor? I find myself doing that as I write this. After two weeks of false starts, mixed metaphors, and deleted paragraphs I have come to this point because in the beginning, I had a vision of an article that would inspire and inform our readers of the effort it takes to write something worth reading. I wanted to provoke our authors into evaluating their writing life. Michael D. LeFevre is the author of the newly published novella, “Ghost of the Black Bull”. He lives on the verge of the Great Basin, overlooking the historic Lincoln Highway, Pony Express Trail, and Hastings Cut-Off of Donner Party notoriety–literally in the midst of history. “There are so many anecdotes that lend themselves to dramatization, that I am at a loss of where to go next in beginning my next story.” He works at being retired, reading and writing. He is enjoying his hobbies as well.

Creating a feast means work—hard, long, sweaty, sometimes dirty work. Whether it be of food, paint, or words; the creator must pay his dues in order to lay out the feast for others to enjoy. Writing a book is more than typing words into a file. There are many other considerations such as, font type and size, editing, cover design, and if you are printing paper copies you will have to decide on book size, paper color and quality, back page copy. This list is not all-inclusive. For ebook and hard copy publication, you must consider distribution plans, publicity, reviews and marketing plans, pricing, etc. The feast comprises the whole package—preparation, production, and presentation, as well.

Authors can take heart that someone will like what they serve up. Not everyone will love your hard won story. Not everyone will reject it either. The trick, if there is one, is to work at pleasing more readers with every book that you publish. Because you are going to publish more than one—aren’t you? Most established authors will tell you that the best marketing plan is to publish your next book, and the book after that. And so on.

Develop your own voice, readers that like what they hear (read) will flock to you. There is a reason that Richard Paul Evans is so successful. He found his voice and writing rhythm early and he stuck with it. Fans liked it so much that they wait months and years between some books. His recent series “The Walk” was just one example of this. Four books spaced one year apart, and each one short enough that he could have written one long novel and published it all at once. He decided to break it up and space it out. Sometimes a feast is better for the waiting.

“Tell me what you read, and I will show you what you can become”  Michael D. LeFevre

Whatever your taste, author or reader, pursue that which satisfies you. Readers, find those authors who care about how they prepare the stories that they serve up to you. Authors, put your all into your work, construct a story/book that will fill the spirit and delight the mind. A veritable Feast for the Eyes.

Michael D. LeFevre is the author of the newly published novella, “Ghost of the Black Bull”. He lives on the verge of the Great Basin, overlooking the historic Lincoln Highway, Pony Express Trail, and Hastings Cut-Off of Donner Party notoriety–literally in the midst of history. “There are so many anecdotes that lend themselves to dramatization, that I am at a loss of where to go next in beginning my next story.” He works at being retired, reading and writing. He is enjoying his hobbies as well.

A New Book is like Christmas Morning

A new book is like Christmas morning. It is a package of adventure and knowledge, wrapped in interesting paper, tied up with a bow, contents waiting to be discovered. Every time that I begin to read a story of my own choosing it is with the expectation that I will discover hidden gems and rare experiences to be found only in this tale.

It is exciting to be led morsel to morsel by a clever author. Not so obviHandcrafted and ecological Christmas packageous that you solve the mystery or find the end of the story before it is time to—but in an ordered, sensible way. It can be thrilling to immerse yourself in a story that bounces around and excites the mind with multiple possibilities, so much so, that you search for the point of the story until the ending. How skilled are authors who can write like this?

Most authors write with the desire to engage their audience. They also want to be engaged in what they are writing. We know that writing is work. Work shouldn’t be tedious, especially in the creative professions. I have written in previous posts that while reading a good book, I am in the midst of the action. It plays out in my mind’s eye as in a movie. Surprise, surprise—while writing my favorite stories the same thing occurs. I am engaged in the writing, so much so, that I write well beyond my time and word goals for the day, and only stop when my body cries out for food or rest.

As an author, I strive to write like that everyday. Authors know though, that things happen to stifle that state of writing. Maybe you have a 9 to 5 job, the phone beckons, children and pets intrude, or your spouse ‘suggests’ that a day off is necessary. Rysa Walker, author of The Chronos Files Series-Timebound, Times Edge, and unnamed third book, says, “I have to “unplug” except for my writing software and music, and go into the “writing cave.”  She goes on to say that she has her children ”almost” trained to leave her alone when she is in her “writing cave” but “the dog not so much”. Other authors have shared that they rise extra early in the morning to get the peace they need to meet their writing goals. Still others stay up late after the kids are asleep, or grab a paragraph or two during their lunch period—whatever it takes.

The craft of writing is like any other craft or skill that you may have. Native talent can take you only so far. Very few (very, very few) piano players can sit down for the first time and play a concerto, in fact, likely they won’t be able to play ‘Chopsticks’. Those gifted few who can play any tune without lessons or sheet music still are limited to the talent that they were born with. Without lessons and practice they won’t be able to surpass that. Us normal people who are desirous of having that great success, must work our butt’s off in school and with practice—lots and lots of practice.

“I have to “unplug” except for my writing software and music, and go into the “writing cave.”  She goes on to say that she has her children ”almost” trained to leave her alone when she is in her “writing cave” but “the dog not so much”. Rysa Walker

Developing stories that I described above takes much thought and writing. Nobody wants to read a story where the ending is revealed too early or tales where there is no solution to the mystery or resolution to the conflict. They are frustrating and depressing. Even if the ending is dark and sad, it is an ending. As a reader, you may be angry towards the author or characters, but at least there is finality. During my elementary school years, I wrote stories for assignments based on stories that I had read or television programs that I had watched. I usually threw in a twist on the original, such as, “Dandy the Tough Little Ghost” rather than “Casper the Friendly Ghost”. Of course ‘Dandy” was mis-behaved and used bad language. But, there definitely was a beginning, middle, and end to the story. Later, I wrote a short story based upon the John D. MacDonald “Travis McGee” series. Both efforts gained me poor marks. My critics (teachers) didn’t like that I used vernacular and grammar in the same style as my speech, a method that still populates my stories.

The point I am trying to get to is, you have find the ‘sweet spot’ that works for you both in time and in style. Don’t let your writing become tedious. Insert adventure into your life—somehow you have to find inspiration for your creative urge. Make your writing life as exciting as the stories you are writing. How do I do that, you ask? There are multiple avenues to try. Recently, I attended two days of the Heber Valley Western Music & Cowboy Poetry Gathering enjoying musicians and poets alike. I came home energized and inspired to work on my next story. Activities need not cost a lot of money, or any money for that matter. If you look around, often, libraries sponsor free readings by authors or poets, many have art exhibits. Bookstores (there are not as many as in the past) also have author and poetry events for free, where you can hear another author’s work and usually speak with them as well. There are book clubs where you can discuss stories and ideas, writer’s groups, conventions, etc. Maybe all it will take to keep your head in the ‘write’ place will be a walk in the park, or a trip to your favorite fishing hole.

At the beginning of this post I wrote, A New Book is like Christmas Morning. Let us agree, that type of story is engaging, waiting for our discovery as a reader. Those exciting stories are written by engaged authors. No matter if you write with a tightly outlined work or have characters who wouldn’t know an outline if they strangled on it; engage yourself in your work.

 

DSCN0042_2_3Michael D. LeFevre is the author of the newly published novella, “Ghost of the Black Bull”. He lives on the verge of the Great Basin, overlooking the historic Lincoln Highway, Pony Express Trail, and Hastings Cut-Off of Donner Party notoriety–literally in the midst of history. “There are so many anecdotes that lend themselves to dramatization, that I am at a loss of where to go next in beginning my next story.” He works at being retired, reading and writing. He is enjoying his hobbies as well.

What You Should Write About

SO WHAT SHOULD YOU WRITE ABOUT?

 The standard advice and answer to this question is to “Write what you know.” Easy right? You do know that there are only 7 basic plots in literature…right? And there are 36 dramatic situations to fill out those plots. Every story is composed of one or more of these situations to tell a tale.

You have been observing human interaction and byplay from the first glimmer of your consciousness. You likely have whole scenes of dramatic dialog and action stored in that creative brain of yours. Ever been in a blizzard, a hurricane, or tornado? How about a car accident or been thrown from a horse? Every bit of experience that you have had in your life can serve as grist for your writing mill.

I people watch. There is a story in every trip to the mall. Sit in a quiet corner and let your eyes roam the flow of shoppers passing you by. A friend and I watched pretty woman and her boyfriend in a restaurant. They were holding hands across the table and whispering softly face to face when, out of the blue, her right hand jerked loose from his and she slapped him soundly across the face.

“CRAACK! The woman stands quickly and leans over the shocked man who is clutching his face—bright red welts are already forming. “Married! You’re married?! You bastard!” the woman shrieks as she turns, gathers up her purse and runs out of the restaurant. The stricken man jumps to his feet and starts after her, “Wait! Wait up! Let me explain…my wife doesn’t…I’m almost divorced…wait.” His lame explanations drop off to silence as he realizes that she is gone.”  (Excerpt from Tailgunner on a Barstool© Michael D. LeFevre)

I used this scene in a story as a tension break in an intense scene between the main characters. It allowed them to have a breather from the discussion they were having. Situations like this play out every day, in every place. They are fair game to a writer like you.

What else should you write about? How about personal events? Have you ever had a broken heart? Broken one? What I am trying to say here: if you write about the things you know, you likely know more than you think you do.

How do you write about the things you don’t know? Well, that is where the fun parts of a writing life begin. You have to learn about them. Research is the mainstay of a successful book. If you are writing a story of medieval warfare, shouldn’t you learn how knights fought on the battlefield? How they used sword, lance, shield, axe, or lance? How heavy is chain mail armor? Can you run in full plate armor? How do you mount a horse in armor? There are so many skills you should have at least a passing knowledge of when you write stories that are out of your life experience. Tom Clancy had to learn about submarines, undersea warfare, Soviet military practices, foreign policy, spy-craft, etc. when writing “The Hunt for Red October”.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAA good practice exercise for any type of writing is to describe your surroundings. If you are constructing a world for your latest YA Fantasy novel or a modern ghost story starring Ichabod Crane, you will have to construct a world for your story to exist in. Practice by describing what’s around you, progress onto the fantasy. Tell your reader how the grass grows, the trees leaf, and which way the wind blows in the evening. Descriptions like these will make your story richer and more real for your audience.

Describe your characters in your research notes, include a picture of someone that looks like the person you have in mind. You can find pictures of actors, models, or friends and relatives who will flesh out these characters in your mind allowing you to write them as realistic individuals who act and speak in a believable way.

You should be writing practice dialogue. Nothing is more distracting than formulaic or stilted dialogue. You should be able to hear the characters voice as you read the dialogue aloud. Remember their voice; Sir Galahad won’t be rapping and cowboys won’t be swearing in mixed company. They just don’t, unless they are modern wannabe’s who have never learned the Cowboy Code.

Above all, you should be writing everyday. Why you write, how you write, and what you write are for you to determine. I can tell you how easy it is to write about people in the mall, or learn to write medieval fight scenes, but it really is up to you. Do you really want to be an Everyday Author? Is it your dream to be a full-time writer, quit your day-job, create the Great American Novel?

Then, write, my friend–write all of the time. Write what you know; write what you don’t know. Write from your heart. But, by all means, write.

Why I have to write

I tell stories. Out loud, to my inner self, to my wife, to my child, to anyone who will listen. When you ask me a question, expecting a yes or no answer, you get the long version in reply. Words just spill out, I once told my daughter when she complained about having to write so much in college, that if she couldn’t just sit down and write 1000 words on any given subject—well, we’d just have to consider her paternity.

Now I realize that not everyone is blessed/cursed with this ability. And, I know that getting the story in your head to flow out of your fingers onto a blank white page is not as easy as I make it sound. I believe that everyone can and should write. They should record the stories that are in them, regardless of the spelling and grammar challenges that they think they would encounter. What stories, you ask. Everyone has a story, everyone has multiple stories within them; they just have to share them with others.

You don’t believe that you have stories in you? I try to regularly watch “The Story Trek” on BYU-TV which is based on the premise that everyone has a story and it is the mission of the show to ‘trek’ about, drawing those stories out of anyone who can be convinced to share them. Time and again the host of the show, a former network journalist/personality, proves that, indeed, everyone has a story to tell.

You weren’t expecting to talk about you, were you? Are you thinking I suckered you with the lead-in? Nah, don’t worry. But in order to explain me, I first have to tell you what I believe about storytelling — before I can tell you why I have to write.

The first step in my journey to become a writer was learning how to make letters. Yep, I’m talking penmanship, printing block letters, learning to link them together in smooth, readable cursive script and all of that stuff. Later, I learned to make stylized letters when I was taught beginning drafting. I sucked at them all; there was nothing beautiful about my handwriting in any way. It did give me a tool that still serves me well; the stories within me are able to drain through my fingers onto that blank white page that lies before everyone sitting down to write.

I was bamboozled into taking a ‘type’ class, back in the era of manual typewriters. I was told it would add skills that would A. help in job searches in that foggy, nebulous time after high school or B. make college life easier if you took that path instead. Yeah, sure. Even with the advent of electric machines, my speed never got to the point where it would tip the scales in my favor in any job competition. But it gave me the skills to quickly write the ideas in my head and see the result on the page as if they were published. Bonanza! Eureka! The entire class period during my senior year in high-school (Thanks Mrs. E, I haven’t told anyone until now) was spent staring out the window, typewriting bad beat poetry and snippets of  bombastic manifestos about the power and purity of youth and the unfairness and corruption of ‘THE MAN.’ (If this doesn’t make any sense to you, Google the late ‘60’s and the youth resentment against ‘THE MAN’)

The second part of having to write is learning to read. Literally, from the Dick and Jane Readers and Scholastic Newsletters (fuzzily printed on newsprint) to an effort at “War & Peace”, reading was/is training for being able to write. I recently read that Hunter S. Thompson (Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas and many other great stories/essays) retyped “The Great Gatsby” and “A Farewell to Arms” in order to learn about writing styles and to experience what novel writing is about. Reading has done this for me. I will share my old cliché to explain. I read voraciously, upwards of 8-10 novels per month. This doesn’t count the magazines, newspapers, websites, scriptures, proofreading, editing, etc. that I do. If there isn’t anything else in the house to read, my Amazon budget is expired, or the library doesn’t entice, I will read the dictionary or the encyclopedia.

When I read, unless it is very poorly written, the story comes alive in my mind. Characters are fleshed out, dialogue is virtually heard, there in my mind, and scenes play out as if in reality. I am transported into the world of the story.

Why do I have to write? I might as well ask why I have to breath. Expelling CO2 from your lungs is fundamental to life. Expelling the words from my mind is fundamental to making my life sane.

Whether telling a story or watching words  dribble. down. a. page. in poesy, I am expelling word-steam from my mind that is overheating and expanding to the point it must come out.

I wrote above about the reality of the story as I read a novel. When I write, those same realities play out. Characters and plot drive themselves. A friend, who is a published author, told me that she writes because it is the only world that she can control. I write because I have no control. If I decide that a character must go West, the final words on the page show that indeed that character went South because he had to see a man about a dog. Does that make any sense to you? It startled the hell out of me when it first happened.

In the end, and after talking around a lot of other things, I write because I must. I was created to write, I write to honor that creation. I hope you enjoy reading my writing, it is why it was created.

See, it wasn’t that hard, just over a 1000 words in little over an hour. You can do it too. You should do it too.

Michael, “Mike” to his friends, is a writer, striving to be an author. He has been a teller of tales since elementary school and garnered a slew of rejections from even that early age (you can read samples of his stories at www.skullvalleytales.blogspot.com). Since retiring from the 9 to 5 grind in 2005, he has, in addition to writing more, taken up a lot of hobbies like gardening and hiking that he neither had the time nor space to work at before.

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