I’m Alone.

I’m alone.

No, really. Writing is one of those things best done solitary, with no ramblings, people or animals trying to get your attention, no one to see you spill coffee on your shirt (I just did) then say “hey, you just spilled coffee on your shirt.”

I’m still on vacation in Arkansas, although I’m heading home day after tomorrow. While I’ve been here at the in-laws, I use my mother-in-law’s craft room as a place to write. It’s nice and quiet, a ceiling fan over head to keep me cool, a window that I can stare out into the stiff summer heat, watch insects buzz around the flowers. But I’m alone. Every day I sequester myself in this small room, keyboard on my lap, and I write. Yes, I’m on vacation, and I go do the vacation-like things such as swimming or boating, or whatever else is planned,  but I don’t think I’ll ever take one where I stop writing. I can’t. It’s become a compulsion that refuses to let go. And I don’t want it to.

These days, a writer can write anywhere, any place. All you need is a notepad, and a pencil. Oh, I mean a cell phone or tablet. You can peck words out riding on a train, or a bus, and if you were writing about a train, or a bus, you could make it more realistic. You could add in all the sounds, the rumbles, the voices chattering all around you, the sound of the guy in the back with headphones on blasting his rap too loud (I hate rap).  I don’t ride buses anymore, although I occasionally ride a train. Sometimes I let my wife drive on the long trips just so I can pound out a few paragraphs.

But the truth is, the bulk of my work is done in solitude. Either I confine myself to a room, or when I’m home, I work at the kitchen table with a laptop, or at a desk in our office. I get more work done when I’m alone. I’ve tried to write in the same room with my wife (love you honey!) but she’s more distracting then I want to admit. Sometimes she wants to talk, and I make it a point to give her my full attention, which means stopping in the middle of whatever juicy paragraph I’m writing, turning, and looking at her so she knows I’m listening and not just saying “yes dear,” “uh-huh,” “exactly,” or whatever one or two-word answer my subconscious throws out at her when she expects a response. On the other hand, she could take advantage of me easier that way. hmm. Maybe it’s a good thing I try to listen.

There’s a couple of good reasons that I try to find some place quiet to write. The first one, obviously, is distractions. There’s plenty of things to pull my time away from writing (this blog, for example) without any outside forces dragging me away. Internet, Facecrap, Tweeter, email, other people’s blogs. I’m sure there’s more, but you get the idea.

The second reason, is that I think better when I’m by myself. Even when I’m not distracted with things around me, I think better in the peace and quiet then I do in a car or somewhere else. I can hyper-focus on getting the work done. I feel like the words flow better when I’m alone. When I’m alone, I automatically feel less distracted, more calm, more focused.

What about you? Any other reasons to add, for writing alone? Or maybe you prefer to write in a busy subway station because there’s something about the background noise that lets you think better? Let me know in the comments.

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Covers, Covers, and more Covers…

Well, I started this post to talk about doing your own covers, but now I’m going to talk about that, and about a story I saw over on NPR . The article laments that “the days when an artist named Chip Kidd could make us reach for a book may be gone”. First, let me start out by saying that I was a book buyer and reader long before I ever was a writer. And I honestly can’t tell you the name of a single book cover artist. I don’t know anyone else that does either. It’s not like comic book art, where not only is the whole book art, but you might pick one up because Todd Mcfarlane drew it, or Marc Sylvestri, or Michael Turner. As far as I know, nobody goes out and browses books and says, “Chip Kidd did this book, I’m totally buying it”. Feel free to correct me if I’m off base on this.

I don’t buy books for their cover, like everyone else its a combination of cover, subject matter, and review. I might occasionally overlook cover completely, but only if it’s an author I know. Cover matters more if the reader doesn’t know who you are. That’s the first thing they see, and if the cover doesn’t grab them, they might not take a look. If the cover grabs me, then I’ll take a look and see what it’s about.  From there, its subject matter and reviews, or in the case of amazon, the “look inside” feature. If the writing sucks, I won’t buy it either.

That cover though, is the first hook. I think now, more than ever, books, and ebooks, require a good cover. If not, you are gonna miss out on a lot of people who might otherwise pass over it because of a crappy book cover.

On to other things.

I’m a big do-it-yourself er. In my world, money doesn’t grow on trees, and I refuse to pay someone for work I can do myself. Part of that is the satisfaction I get from completing a job, or task, or whatever it may be. It’s like writing “the end” when the novel gets done. (Even though with the novel, that just means your work is getting started)

In my world, covers are an expense I can’t afford. I know, if I want to be in a business like this I can’t afford to cut corners, can I? Well, my personal opinion is that you can, in some things. I don’t cut on editing, but being artistic means I get to stretch my creative wings now and again. Which for me, is a good thing. And before you ask, when I say cut corners, I just mean in dollars, not quality. Of course, if all depends on what you feel is within your realm of doing. If you don’t think you can churn out a good enough cover, feel free to pay someone  else with the skills to do it. Using Gimp or Photoshop or whatever your preferred program is isn’t hard, just might take a little time. I like to experiment, and I like my covers to be slightly artsy, but still convey a sense of the book. With that in mind, here’s a sketch of the cover for my current WIP.

Mind you, it’s not finished, but this is a little bit of what can be done without a photo of any kind. It pops, and hopefully, grabs your attention. What about you? Any thought on covers, how important they are? feel free to let me know in the comments.

Fodder for the Writer’s Cannon

I’ve been kind of quiet on here the last couple days. Usually that happens when I’m getting some writing done, which has been the case. My current work in progress is almost 30k now, although I haven’t updated my progress bar on the front page yet. One other thing I did was drown my phone in the lake. Yes, I took it for a swim. Needless to say, it’s not doing so well. Everything works but the screen, which is the important part. I’m hoping it just decides to work on its own but I doubt it. I tried all the usual, praying over it, voodoo, called upon the gods of Valhalla. I even did a Native American dance, and offered it up as a sacrifice. Which is probably why we’re getting all these storms lately. Oh, and I even put it in a container full of rice.

Since I’ve been completely phone-less, and since I usually write my blog posts on it, I’ve been kind of silent. Which I suppose isn’t completely bad, since I’m getting some writing done. On the other hand, I had a first chapter of the sequel to my book on it, which makes me kinda sad. Fortunately, I have most of it in my head.

As  I go through my day, I usually pick up on weird things I think I’ll use somewhere in a book. I went to a full service gas-station yesterday (Yes, apparently there still are some of those), and no, they don’t charge you more money for the gas. The attendant came out and pumped the gas, said something like “you fellers have a nice day” and ran back into the air conditioning. I don’t blame him. He sounded sort of like Gomer Pile.

Another thing I notice was how completely unobservant most people are when going about their day. This observation doesn’t necessarily come from any particular day, just a lot of them strung together. When I’m in my home state of North Carolina, I do whats called Open Carry. That means I strap a gun on my hip and go about my day, sort of like an old cowboy. Except I’m not old, and I don’t carry a ball and cap six-shooter. There’s actually a group of us that get together about once a month and go to a restaurant (one that doesn’t serve alcohol, NC laws don’t allow that). When you start open carrying for the first time, you think people are staring at you. You think all they see is that big hunk of metal on your waist, and wait for the little old lady next to you to start screaming “HE’S GOT A GUN!” and start beating you with her brick of a purse. You expect to be tackled by some numb nuts who thinks he’s playing hero trying to save walmart from a shootout.

Only, none of those things happen. Instead, you’re the one with the hyper sense of awareness, and you’re watching everyone around you. If there’s one thing that makes you more aware of your surroundings (which everyone should be, just as a general rule) its open carry. Suddenly, you see that little lady with her purse, and she’s so busy looking at the floor, or concentrating on her shopping list, or gossiping to her neighbor, that she doesn’t notice that big cannon you’re carrying around. The tackle you’re expecting from some wannabe hero doesn’t come, because he’s too busy doing whatever it is brought him there in the first place. It’s like the gun’s invisible. It doesn’t feel like it, but in the grand scheme of things it might as well be.

On the off occasion that someone notices, they look and they immediately think “cop” and dismiss it. Unless they know the laws, which a good 98% don’t. I’m surprised at how many cops don’t have a clue what the laws are. The other thing they might do, is approach you and ask, “is that legal?” No. I just like the way it feels. I just wear this to balance the weight of my phone. (dang phones are heavy!) Most people don’t realize that there are only six states (I might be including D.C. in that) that DON’T allow open carry. That means in 45 states, you can strap a gun on and go about your day. Of course, you should know the applicable laws, I’m not a lawyer, can’t give lawyerly advice blah blah, and I wouldn’t recommend doing it unless you know which end the bullet comes out of. There’s always things to take into consideration.

On research:  I’ve been doing a lot of snorkeling, boating, and canoeing. I don’t normally do these things, but since I”m spending time with my in-laws (aside from doing all the gun related stuff) I’m getting in a lot of these activities. I have a ton of hobbies: painting, drawing, playing piano/guitar/any stringed instrument I can get my hands on, I’ve tinkered with motorcycles (I’m no expert yet), gardening, actually did some minor woodworking (helped my father-in-law build a table top) and I’m planning to build a frame for our bed out of oak when I get home.  That’s aside from the usual people watching, for speech patterns, inflection, movement, and mannerisms. Anything and everything really is fodder for the writer’s cannon.

White Space, No Space, and Internal dialogue…

So I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the reading I’ve done lately. While it hasn’t been as much as usual, mostly due to the amount of writing I’m doing, I still occasionally get to read a book or two. I’ve tried to read self published authors, whether they are best sellers or not, and if I haven’t found any that catch my eye, I download a free one in the hopes that someone’s writing will entice me enough to read it all the way through. While I have run into a few that I have finished (Sweet Dreams by Aaron Patterson, Eerie by Blake and Jordan Crouch) I’ve run into a ton that I just can’t finish.

One thing I notice in the books that I cannot finish, are basic things. Not the beginnings, although sometimes thats it. Most of the time though, its the lack of white space.

So what’s white space?

Whitespace is the amount of space you see on the page. It’s also the amount of indentations from paragraphs. Now, I’m not one of those guys who has to have every sentence a paragraph, (which sometimes seems to be the norm) but I do like a fair amount of paragraphs. More paragraphs make the reading easier. You can bite off a page in little chunks, you don’t have to read through a whole wall of text to get to an end of a page. Lots of little endings endings make it easier for the eye to see and read. Don’t believe me? try it for yourself. Go find a couple of your favorite books and see how much white space is in it.  Eerie, for me. Or maybe something by Dean Koontz, if you want a big six example. Also, find one of your favorite books that has walls of paragraphs in it. You know, the kind of book that only has two paragraphs on the whole page. Robert Jordan, The Wheel Of Time series. That guy (may he rest in peace) wrote so many pages and pages that had only a single paragraph, maybe two, that it was hard not to skim.

Which brings me to my other point, Internal dialogue.

I love internal dialogue just as much as the next person. It’s good, because when you’re not holding a conversation, your character is still moving.  Thinking, beating himself up verbally, whatever. The bad thing is when your conversation goes something like this:

“It didn’t take long, but I finally beat her in a game of golf,” he said.

Allen thought about it for a moment, about all the times he’d tried to beat her at golf, but couldn’t. He wondered how long it would take him to do it. Could he do it in a matter of minutes? seconds? How long would a game with the Greatest Golfer In The Universe Last? And would he be able to do it without his secret weapon, The Lightest Most Best Ball In The World ™? Who knows, He thought to himself. I wonder though, if it would matter in the long run. I’d still get to laugh in her face. Maybe, he thought, I could not only use my Lightest Most Best Ball In The World ™ , but I could also use my Super Club of Stamina ™. Maybe, that would allow me to drive it all the way to the whole without ever hitting the ball more than once.

“Good for you,”  Allen said.

 

Shitty example, but you get my meaning. By the time you get through several paragraphs of the inner workings of who’s ever turn it is to talk, you’ve forgotten what the conversation was about in the first place.

I try not to have really long paragraphs in my work. At the very least I try to break it up. A few long, some short, but white space is important. If I pick up two books  that are the same price, the first lines hook me, great covers etc, the next thing I look at is how big are the paragraphs. If it looks like it’s gonna be a chore to read, it probably will be.

 

What’d You Jus’ Say Ta’ Me??

Dialogue.

Writing dialogue can be fun. It’s like listening in on someone’s conversation. Like gossip, really. Who doesn’t enjoy some good gossip? However, there’s a fine line between coloring a character’s speech so it sounds natural, and making it difficult to read because there’s way too much flavor. Like over-salting some good food, huh? Why would I talk like this? every sentence a question, huh? Doesn’t make any sense, know what ah mean? gets a bit annoyin’, right?

Okay, now imagine three characters, all presumably from the same town, all talking the same way. Now every other word ends with a question mark, or has letters chopped off the end.  A light sprinkling is okay. It conveys the sense of the people, in this case Italian, judging by their names.

This is from a used book I picked up. I’m not going to tell you the name, I don’t like bashing books, and this isn’t a review. It had a lot of good reviews from places like publishers weekly, etc. I’d like to imagine those people know what they’re talking about, but then, places like that actually liked 50 Shades of Crap. (And for the record, no, I didn’t read that book. I downloaded the sample so my wife and I could have a good laugh at the horrible dialogue and writing. You should try it. It was fun. Quick sample: “grinned with a goofy smile on my face”. Huh?)

My main point, is that eventually, the dialogue gets really ridiculously hard to read. when you’re whole town is apparently Italian, and everyone’s doing the overused Hey? huh? yeah? know what I mean? somethin’, abou’, tryin’, talkin’ ’bout,  etc. I could go on and on. there’s a fine line when you cross over from coloring speech so that it sounds a certain way, and complete OVERUSE. Bashing my head against the wall is not an option, but I really want it to be.

Where is that fine line? Only you can answer that. I personally find that reading out loud to myself helps me find places in my dialogue that might sound stilted, or not as natural.

Feel free to let me know what you think, and If you liked 50 Shades, I’m sorry. But not about what I said. 😀