Sunday, July 31, 2011


I love doing NaNoWriMo. I've got three wins under my belt so far and I intend to participate again this year. It's taught me how to focus on my writing while I'm sitting at the computer and how to work through writer's block.

It's also given me a terribly bad habit: over-writing. As I work away at streamlining the third draft of a story that will see publication before too long I am painfully aware that even though I do not use a lot of adverbs, I spend a lot of time describing actions that are unnecessary and take the reader out of the story. At the same time, I do not describe enough of the setting, though, allowing the reader to dive into the story.

There's no blame to be assigned to NaNo, none at all. This is part of the learning curve I have to get past. It's happening because there are some very good people behind me taking the time to teach me. Every writer has a weakness, this one is mine. I suspect that it's a weakness that a lot of writers share, but I wonder how many realize it? I'm one to offer advice when I'm asked and in this case I advise you, if you're a writer, to ask your readers if there could be more economy of words in your work. Can you make it snappier, read faster and still tell the story?

Sure you can. For my own part, I will do my best to work away at trimming as I write. Will you?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A piece of something

This is an anecdote that one character is telling another in a novel in progress. It's kind of off the top of my head, but I like the feeling of it. It'll change in the final version but I wanted to share it here and now.


It was a warm summer evening after a long hot day and I had never felt so alone. Everyone I loved felt at once oppressively close and terribly, terribly distant. The liquor in my bloodstream blurred my vision and the oncoming headlights became a flight of bright angels diving at breakneck speed. I held my breath and brushed away tears with the heel of my hand, then let the air escape my lungs as I dangled my foot over the curb. For a moment I thought of pulling back, of what she would say when she came back to discover my decision. “Fuck it,” I said. The sole of my foot touched the still-warm tarmac and I took another step and then another. The blaring horns drowned out the rushing blood in my ears and all the thoughts of despair that had consumed me for months were blown away like cobwebs in a tornado.
“I love you,” I said, but no one heard me.
I waited for the impact but it never came. I turned to my right and saw the angry red taillights going away from me. The drivers had seen me too late to stop but they hadn’t hit me; they’d passed right through me. I moved from one lane to the other and every car passed through me. Nothing had any effect. I shouted at them as they swerved, trying to avoid me. The light at the beginning of the block changed and another dozen cars roared up to and through me. Nothing happened. I screamed a the sky, shook my fist at the stars.
“She loves you.”
I whipped around, looking for the woman who said that. She was standing in the grass covered median, a slim redhead with long hair wearing a flower-print summer dress. She smiled at me. “Get out of the street.”
“I don’t want to go back,” I said.
“You don’t have a choice,” the redhead said. “You’re more important than you think. You have things to do. Now come here.”
I walked across to the median and stood next to her. She was beautiful: green eyes, full lips, creamy white skin like china and curves exactly where they should be. “Who are you?”
“No one you’ll ever meet again,” she said and put her hand on my cheek. She leaned in and kissed me full on the lips. “But I’ll always be with you.”
“What —-?”
She shushed me with another kiss. I watched her pull away and felt warm inside, becalmed and at ease, sober. The redhead never said another word to me but I will always remember her smile. The light changed again and the four lanes on either side of me filled with cars charging in both directions. When I turned around again, the redhead was gone and I was alone in the median. 
There was a break in traffic and I jogged back to my side of the street. I walked up to my house and didn’t look back at the median.

Copyright 2011 by Jason Arnett. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Level Up

Just got some notes back on a story that I've been working hard on for quite a while now. Looking at all the red and the suggested changes it would be easy to be frustrated or discouraged.

My story supervisor.
I am and I'm not at the same time.

I'm frustrated on one hand because I thought I'd turned in a really good draft that I was very proud of. I've put a lot of thought and work into getting this story to this point. I've stretched myself to get better and each draft has been exponentially better (to me) than the last. On that same hand, I really want to be done with this story. I've put all I have into it and I don't know what else, if anything, I can do to make it better. (Actually I do, I just wanted to sound dramatic there.)

Fortunately the notes came back with excellent suggestions for improvements to the story. Things I hadn't really thought of and some really wonderful encouragement that I'm on the right track. I had to be reminded of the market I'm writing for, too. Every time I've gotten notes I've seen what's being pointed out and this time there were things that were new and not a lot of repeats of notes I've gotten before. That made me feel good.

Each time I get this feedback, I know how valuable it is. Someone else (several someone elses, in reality) has taken the time to read my work and give me critical, honest thoughts on how to make it better. Each time I get closer to becoming a better writer. That's great for all the stories I'm writing. Each draft is a learning experience and even though I'm a little frustrated (really, just a little!) that I'm not done yet, the story isn't as good as it should be. As it will be. It isn't great yet and it needs to be.

Now I have to put my nose to the grindstone and get this draft back out as soon as I can. With it being well over 100 degrees outside, you may not hear the sound of fingers flying over keys this week. I'll update you when I'm done with these changes.

In the comments, tell me the most drafts you've ever gone through on a story before it was 'done'.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The hardest thing I'm having to learn is how to write the boring details that describe the world of the story I'm writing. I have more fun writing dialogue, and I think I'm pretty good at that. At least I've been told so on a couple of occasions.

The way I approach the first draft of a story is to get as much of the story as I can as fast as I can. (Speed is another issue.) I write just enough (I think) to set the scene and then I focus on the actions of the characters and the interactions between them. The second draft is go back and look at the interactions and actions and see if they ring true. I don't really pay attention to the scene. The biggest criticism of my work thus far is that I don't do enough of the work to get the reader IN to the scene. That's what my third drafts have been for lately. Still, it's what I have to work on.

There are tons of books and websites and blogs that will help me decide what details need to be in a scene. I can see the scene in my head when I'm writing it, but getting it clear for the reader is the tough bit. I'm learning more from reading a wide variety of writers than I am from those 'helpful' books.

What I want to avoid is bogging down in details. I want my stories to be lean and fast, absorbing reads. I want visitors to my worlds to be drawn in. I guess that means I need to think more visually and really get those details down.

Who are your favorite writers for scene-setting? Let me know in the comments. Also, who are your favorite writers of dialogue?

Sunday, July 17, 2011


We're all moved in and while not necessarily unpacked, things are settling down.

I've turned in the third draft of the current story and I'm waiting on notes, so I've been writing another story that struck me about six weeks ago. I've got the novel that I started last November that I really want to get back to, as well. Let's not even mention all the short story ideas I have in the notebook I carry with me almost everywhere I go.

I need to learn to multitask.

Part of why there's such a buildup and why this assignment has taken so long (I wrote the first draft in November during NaNoWriMo) was the long stretch of writer's block earlier in the spring. My output is significantly down this year I think partly because I haven't had firm deadlines, even those that were self-imposed.

Downloaded from here
So I need to build a calendar and give myself deadlines.

I'm writing this post to remind myself of Antony Johnston's excellent article Getting Things Written. This may be the best article on how to do what I want to do, though on the surface it doesn't apply to me because I don't write comics or videogames like Johnston. I think I've linked to this article before, but for those of you who haven't read it, go on and do so. You'll find something in there that'll help you.

You should also go on and read the source material, Getting Things Done, too. You can usually find the paperback at your neighborhood bookstore. Maybe even at your local library. Do yourself a favor and get out of the house to go find it. Don't just automatically order online, but if you have to do that you can.

So as far as multitasking and self-imposed deadlines, I've got work to do. In the comments, feel free to share your own tips for getting things written.