Sunday Writing Motivation

A bout of writer’s block dragging you down? Don’t let it!

Nothing helps me beat the ol’ Block, like photography (except maybe hiking…but that’s for another post!); specifically landscape photography, but every now and again, I like to mix things up!

So, drop and give me 250!

In this image:

Can you smell the rain drying into the pavement? Distant gasoline vapors, tar, wet bricks and asphalt? In this brief flash of setting sun, and swirling clouds– can you feel the humidity on your skin? Taste the dissipating storm, like ether on your tongue? Is there any wind? Is it summer, or spring? Does a light, damp breeze rifle through these empty buildings?

What do you feel?

Is that man on the water-tower, friend, or foe? Does he wave to you, jeer at you, or ignore you altogether? Can you hear the blare of car horns, planes overhead, tires screeching, men and women shouting, dogs barking, trucks honking…or is it quiet? Nothing but crickets chirping, sparrows singing, and people whispering as they pass?

Get to it!

Has this article been helpful? If so, let the author know, in the comments below!

Image Copyright: Dequindre Cut

On Editing (Part Two)

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In my last post (On Editing, Part One), I talked about priming your work for editing, and walked through some of the aches and pains associated with this monumental task. Well, are you ready to have some fun?

If you’ve visited my website before, you’ll have noticed a ‘Read’ tab in my header menu, and if you’ve clicked on it, you know it contains an unedited excerpt from my novel, The Sons Of Mil. Why was it unedited? Two reasons, 1. I’d just rewritten this first chapter in the past two weeks, and 2. I thought it would be more fun to show you how I edit, rather than just talk about it in a blog post. Been savin’ this much needed edit, just for you. Two birds, one stone…or something. Everyone makes mistakes, even editors. We have to do this stuff too.

All editing posts tend to discuss more than they show, don’t they? Since the whole point is to SHOW, rather than TELL in your own writing– here is my actual process, in all its ugly, red glory. 

My original first chapter was pretty good, all things considered, but it didn’t grab the reader. Too much exposition, not enough action, yada, yada. It needed a rewrite, and once we’re done here…I will probably rewrite it again. The point I’m trying to make here, is no one is above an edit, myself especially. That aside, I happen to learn better in practice rather than theory. I hope this little exercise, can help you with your own project. 

So, you ready to watch me take my licks? Alright, let’s slash this sucker! Huzzah!

*Orignal text in grey

*Edits in red.  I’m not going to bore (pun intended) you with a repeat of things we’ve already discussed in Part One. Instead, let’s dig right in, shall we? ‘Ben was bored’, is a very weak opening line. Why? It’s fairly passive. Recall, the goal is to make the text vibrant, and immediate. Since this paragraph is written in a Third-Person Limited, POV (meaning Ben here, is an ‘observational protagonist’); it’s important to keep the reader engaged with him, while maintaining narrative flow. 

Ben was boredHe despised sitting idle for so long. Nevermind the weather (Leading with the word ‘weather’, not so sharp) climate, which grew increasingly bitter as the sun sank into the west. A dim orange glow lingered over rolling hills; the sole remnant of a bright but brief autumn day. As Twilight crept into the valley, Long long shadows stretched between the trees, like inky fingers reaching out to caress one another. In the east, swift grey clouds raced through an amethyst sky, awash with rivers of brilliant white stars (Bordering on ‘purple writing’, to be fair- but I am not the editor who will tell someone to forgo all prose- more on this later). Beautiful as the scene was, comfortable it was not. Ben shrugged his cloak tight, dismayed by its insufficient weight. Winter was near. He could smell it; taste it on the air. When he arrived at this location hours before, he thought himself overdressed. (Redundant) Now, he He longed for a thicker cowl and an extra pair of gloves, though they would provide little protection from the searching cold. Whilst the sun dove over the far horizon, his mood plunged with it. (Barf) He did not love the cold, nor did he enjoy being obliged to endure enduring it outdoors alone. Well perhaps not entirely alone. Bored as he was, he was far from alone. The evening air forest teemed with the rustlings of nocturnal creatures, digging out of their burrows to hunt and cavort. Owls hooted from their hollows- foxes and voles gave chase in the underbrush. He wished they would all stuff their gobs. It was loud enough already, with his grumbling gut and chattering teeth. (Beware beginning sentences with ‘well’, and ‘it was’) A cacophony of tittering rodents and squawking birds, plucked at his nerves. His growling gut and chattering teeth, contributed all the noise he required. 

Ben would prefer to be watching (Redundant, Passive) watch the seasons change from a nice cozy window, hands wrapped firmly around a piping hot tankard of spiced cider. Spending the night high in a tree, in the middle of a damp forest, was not what he wanted to be doing (Passive) was far less enjoyable. If he were home, he would be well into his third dram, and working his way through a healthy dollop of Colm’s venison stew. He hadn’t expected to be kept waiting, for so many hours, in such dreadful weather. Samn, was the first Dor month of the year; the harbinger of six months of darkness. In Innisfail, the year was divided into two halves; light and dark.(You don’t need to cram all of your exposition/backstory in your beginning chapters. Let the reader glean this information within your narrative) Ben (Established) He missed the Ban months, already. Without the sun to warm the valley, the wind whistling over the Little Boyne, cut deep. Scowling, he blew into his palms. This was absurd. If the temperature dropped much further any lower, he would have to start working on (Passive) nothing would keep him from the flask hidden inside his vest, and that would be a problem. He was meant to guard the Greenmaker’s reentry into Eire (Weak, Redundant) If he got whiffing drunk just to keep warm, what then? Nothing good, he knew for sure. Ben was an accomplished archer, but drink and tedium, made for poor aim. Nevertheless, when his ballocks shrank into his torso if this dragged on much further, he could make no promises. He’d been perched here for nearly six hours already. His arse was fast asleep, and he hadn’t felt his toes for eons. Sobriety and sedation, was a lethal combination. (Redundant Repetition) Perhaps a nip or two, wouldn’t hurt anything? It would take far more than that, to do real damage, wouldn’t it? He took one, then another, and by the fourth or fifth– decided a bad shot was better than none.

They should have been back by now. It was unlike Robin to dally. Ben’s ill-humor alternated between irritation, weariness and increasing concern. Any Greenmaker worth his salt, knew better than to linger over the border. Robin Gramble certainly knew this, as The Quarter’s Headman. Hadn’t he droned on about the importance of haste, just this morning? Indeed, every morning, on every raid they’d ever dared? Well, Ben would be delighted to know what was keeping them. The wilds of Aes Sidhe were not a pleasant place for mortal men to roam- regardless of circumstance. Ben couldn’t recall ever having waited so long for a return before. This delay could only mean something was amiss (Not every word needs to be worth 5 bucks) wrong. Ben pocketed his flask, wiping his eyes with icy fingertips. Scanning the border for the thousandth time, he sighed. A heady, aberrant mist crowded the river on the opposite shore, impervious to any breeze. It was a challenge Ben (Mid Paragraph is fine, but if the POV character hasn’t changed, you don’t need to repeat it constantly) struggled to peer further than past the first line of smoking trees, curling toward the embankment. Ben had He’d been at it all day. His, and his skull throbbed from the effort. The mists of Aes Sidhe, marked the border between the realm of men, and the land of the Immortals Sidhe to the north. Even from his elevated vantage, visibility was next to null. It was meant to be so This was by design, of course. The Sidhe did not invite prying eyes into their domain. Mortals were especially discouraged, for a plethora of reasons; some political, other most preferential. Most Eireans found this exclusion discourteous at best, or downright elitist at worst (Bad Exposition) In truth, the border was veiled to warn mortals of the potential perils lurking within this obfuscating cloud. There was much more waiting on the other side of the river, than riches or game. Dark things. Horrible things. The Greenmakers were likely the single group of men in the whole of Eire, who grasped the significance of that warning to fully grasp the risk. They knew not to linger overlong, in the realm of the Sidhe. Many men who trespassed, never returned.

Brooding over a the panoply of potential perils, which might have delayed his comrades, he finally caught a smudge of silver and white he caught motion in the distance. Winking in and out of the fading light, a figure dashed alongside the riverbank, holding something gleaming and metallic in his hand. Ben inched forward on his bough, hugging the heavy branch with between his thighs while he unslung his bow. Whoever it may be, he was no Greenmaker. Ben’s crew They did not sport such flashy gear, nor were any of them half so tall. That was a Dannan cuirass. A hunter, from Bri Leith, no doubt. He cursed. Struggling to nock with trembling frozen fingers, he searched for any sign he could glean that his friends were on their way, and in one piece. He saw nothing at first, just save mist, the hint of dark trees, and great pools of swirling gloom. Then, he heard a shout; a scream, and the undeniable ring of steel on steel. Shimmying further out on his limb, Ben spotted several black shapes running through the cumbersome fog– dragging men and dead animals between them. They were pursued. by a handful of large men, in dazzling white armor. Robin’s booming baritone was unmistakable. “Get over, lads! Go, go!”

The Dannans blew their horns. The chase was on. Someone must have done something stupid. That was the only explanation that could (Leading Narrative) Ben couldn’t figure any other explanation, which would warrant such a swift martial response. Robin was always a stalwart professional on a raid. He demanded nothing less than the same, from his men. Whatever had happened, surely it wasn’t his call. (Leading Narrative) Ben snatched a glimpse of his friend He saw Robin emerge from the fog, a hundred or so yards to his left. He ran pretty fast, for a fellow of middling age. Gerrod and Paul, splashed through the mud behind him, hauling a six-point stag with a snow-white pelt over their grubby shoulders. They were covered slathered head to toe in the beast’s blood.

Ah…he thought…sheer madness.

A pervasive calefaction wormed its way up Ben’s neck, at the sight. Sheer madness! What utter idiocy prompted them to take this creature? Sylvan Stags were sacred to the Sidhe– more, they were thought to be vessels of the god Herne, himself. The Sylvan Stag was the sigil of the High King’s own Clan. Those whom chased them, wore that device on each of their breastplates. (Leading Narrative, Exposition) A sylvan stag? No bloody wonder they had a score of Dannan guards chasing them down on their trail. Robin knew better! What possessed him to allow such an obvious, careless mistake on his watch? Growing angrier by the second, Angry now, Ben drew his longbow crosswise. No damned good was going to come of this, he was absolutely certain. Seamus’ vivid red head emerged from the curtain of mist after them; two sable fox tails swinging from his wide belt. In his slip-shod haste, he slipped in the loose detritus littering the forest floor. An ivory-fletched arrow, narrowly missed his ear by a breath. Another zipped past his thigh, and he stumbled again. “For feck’s sake!” He cried. “Robin! Keep goin’! They’re crawlin’ up me arse!”

Seamus scrambled to his knees in the duff. A Dannan hunter leapt from the woods on his right; twin larks poised to slice through his middle. Seamus He raised a hand to ward off the incoming attack, but he needn’t have bothered. The Sidhe scout was thrown backward by from the impact of Ben’s arrow, his scout’s blond head cracking off the cracked into the trunk of a nearby birch. Ben’s plain brown fletching, arrow protruded from a painful but non-fatal area, in the crook of his shoulder. Seamus wasted no time skittering away on all fours. He slid down the embankment on his belly, and into the frigid river like a seal. He was safely halfway across, by the time Robin, Gerrod and Paul, plodded into the current– fifty-yards further west. Ben fumed, watching them drag their heavy prize through the water by its rack. Robin shoved them off, then stood sentry in the shallows; his crossbow poised to defend their position. “Nat! Marty! Get yer arses in gear!”

Another hunter emerged from the canopy on Robin’s right, his larks raised high. Robin sent a quarrel through his gut, dropping him on the spot.; gore trickled out of his lovely white cuirass. Robin reloaded. The next Sidhe attacker came swung in from his left, and Robin he shot through him in him through the throat. Ben heard a distinct click. He Robin (For POV) was out of ammunition. “Ben, Siora damn ye! Tell me yer Ye’d better be out there!”

Ben whistled back, mimicking the marsh swallow he would recognize immediately. He watched Robin draw drew his daggers, “Marty!” Robin he roared, with new urgency as three more Sidhe hunters darted into his line of sight. “Nat! Where are ye?!”

Dropping to a lower limb, Ben nocked and fired, twice more. Two Dannans went down. The first, took an arrow to the thigh; the second though the ribs. Neither shot was fatal. Ben made sure. He would not kill a Dannan warrior, unless he had no choice. A third hunter tore out of the trees, throwing himself at Robin with a snarl. They tumbled into the river with a splash. Ben didn’t have a clear shot. Robin would have to sort himself. Lastly, Ben saw a familiar black head materialized from in the east. It was Marty, dragging Nat’s sagging slim body by the shoulder. Nat had an ivory shaft through the center of his chest Ben was alarmed to note, A thick stream of blood poured down his dirty brown jerkin. “Ben!” Marty squealed, also bleeding from a slash down his calf, “they’re comin’!”

Four more Dannan hunters tracked them to the riverbank. Two were mounted on graceful dappled palfreys. Ben was too far away to shoot in rapid succession. They would never get across. “Robin!” He bayed, slinging his bow over his shoulder to descend; giving away his position. An arrow sailed into the trunk where his head had been. He hopped down a half-dozen limbs, before his boots bored into the mud below his oak. “They’re not going to make it!”

Ben dodged a second missile, returning and returned fire. He heard his arrow strike something solid, but was already rolling away from another volley by the time he was ready to fire shoot again. The Sidhe were expert marksmen. The; the finest, period. If he made one wrong move, he would pay for it with his life. Rob left his attacker assailant’s body face-down in the Little Boyne– the Dannan’s long pale hair, churning churned in a swiftly reddening current. Rob clutched at a new wound in his side, only one dagger left, “Where are they?”

An arrow ripped through one of Ben’s sleeves, very near his ribcage. “Damn it! I’m a little busy here! On your right!”

Robin waded downriver toward his two injured men. Marty saw him first, cringing as an arrow opened a gash in his cheek. He careened into the water on his knees, trying to keep Nat’s head out. Robin screamed a warning too late, as a razor-thin lark slammed into his back, shoving bits of his heart through the front of his tunic. The Dannan who wielded the blade, withdrew it again slowly; a wary green eye on Robin. Marty sagged face-first into the river on a gurgle. There was nothing to be done for him now. Nat, on the other hand, drifted just shy of Robin’s reaching fingers. Waist deep now, he snatched at the unconscious man’s cowl, desperate to drag him over. If they could make it across, they might be safe. The Sidhe never crossed into Eire, unless expressly ordered to do so. Besides, they wouldn’t have to if they killed every poacher before they could make it to the far bank.(Leading Narrative) There was a good chance the Sidhe would abandon the chase, if the Greenmakers made it to the far bank. Still, this was a rather large, ‘if’.

“Ben!” Robin cried, wary of the bows being drawn to prevent drawing against his retreat. Ben toed the waterline, careful not to immerse his boots. He dropped to a knee in the damp sand. Gerrod and Paul ambled up the bank beside him, heaving the stag’s carcass out of the water, with no small amount of back-breaking effort. The beast must have weighed at least four-hundred pounds. Robin had hold of Nat’s hair, steadying him while he sidestroked for shore. Ben drew twice, sending yet more Sidhe hunters to the ground. He had a third arrow nocked and waiting for a decent shot, when the Dannan Captain dismounted; his superior ash and yew longbow, trained on Ben. He was a bit taller than the others, and marked out by the six gold chains dangling from his left ear. He wore an immaculate grey cloak, made of soft, waterproof sealskin, trimmed in white ermine. His long pale flaxen hair unbound, save for two small braids at either temple. The leaping sylvan stag on stamped into his radiant white cuirass, was crowned by three shining gold stars.

Ben hesitated, dropping his elbow a fraction.

Fionn?

The Sidhe Captain mirrored Ben’s motion him, his mint-green eyes narrowing in mutual recognition. Ben felt every inch of the disbelieving derision he watched blooming on Fionn’s face; the surprise, the judgment and the silent condemnation. Ben could not look away.

“Ben! What in the hells are ye doin’? Shoot him!” Plead Rob, fighting toward the shallows on the Eirean side of the river. The host of Dannan Sidhe lined the far bank, their numbers replenished, arrows drawn. Ben knew why they didn’t shoot. It was the same reason he could not Ben knew they wouldn’t shoot. Neither could he. Fionn’s handsome upper lip curled back in disgust. Ben swallowed sourly, feeling every ounce of shame that single look conveyed. , and Ben swallowed. He sighed, releasing his bowstring. Ashamed, he released his bowstring altogether. 

“Ben!” Robin was nearly over, Gerrod waded in to help him out. Nat trailed in the river, his skin grey as Fionn’s cloak. Ben was glued to the spot, haunted by the knowledge in on Fionn’s dour face. The ghosts of a former life, tracked clammy fingers up and down Ben’s spine.

Ben! What’re doin’?” Robin followed Ben’s gaze, to the knot of Dannans gathered at the river’s edge. The look between Ben and the Captain, was not lost on him, “damn ye, Maeden! Shoot him!”

Fionn shook himself at the sound of Rob’s voice. Nostrils flaring, he raised his bow. Belatedly, Ben threw out a hand, “No! Don’t!”

A thick ashen shaft hammered dove through Nat’s prone body, straight through the heart. Robin shrieked in fury, but was rendered powerless in impotent fury, as several more launched into the sky. He was obliged to duck underwater to avoid the succeeding volley. By the time he came up for air, Nat was already turning over in the current, a dozen ivory-fletched shafts sprouting from his torso. Robin screamed abuse at the Sidhe, at Ben, at the sky above. Nat washed downstream on his belly, bowed under the weight of so many arrows. Gerrod managed to haul Robin out of the river, despite the older man’s girth, and flailing limbs.

Unperturbed, Fionn leaned against his bow, staring over at Ben with a grim smile. He waved; a flippant mirthless gesture, full of contempt. Wordless as the wind, the Sidhe turned as one– melting melted into the trees mist, heedless of the dead men they left behind. Ben didn’t call out to Fionn. How could he? His hands shook. He slung his bow back over his shoulder and tucked them into his pockets, so where they wouldn’t be seen. Robin’s fist crashed into his left cheekbone. Ben staggered a bit, but he wasn’t done. He threw three more punches, before Bens feet slipped from under him. Paul and Seamus caught at Robin’s his arms, to halt preventing a fourth attack. The veins in his Robin’s scarred forehead bulged. Gerrod tried to help Ben up, but he pushed him away. Robin He spat at Ben, red-faced. “What in the hells do ye think yer doin’, Ben? Why didn’t ye do somethin’? Ye let them make Nat into a bleedin’ pincushion. (Slaps Forehead) He’s dead now, cuz o’ye!” He strained against the arms holding him in place.

Ben slowly got to his feet, “Whose clever plan was it to shoot the Stag, Robin? Which of you was stupid enough to kill one of the High King’s deer?”

Robin fought so hard to free himself from Paul’s grip, his face purpled. Spittle bubbled over his bleeding chin. “I’ll kill ye, for this. I’ll do it, I swear to Siora. How dare ye attempt to scold anyone, ye fecking bastard. Nat and Marty are dead!”

“Nat was gone long before Marty dragged him into the river.”

“It’s true, boss,” offered Gerron, in Ben’s defense, “I saw him take the wound. One o’them cut him down right in front o’me and Marty. Rest him. It was Marty, shot the stag. I tried to tell him, Ben. I did.”

Paul shrugged. That was his way. Insolent and block-headed. “The hide’s worth at least a thousand fainne. Rack, near five-thousand, I’d say. The fox-hide on Seamus’ belt, maybe two hunnerd’, three? Who cares about a dead deer?”

Ben scowled, (Unnecessary Attribution) “You don’t kill the High King’s deer, you arrogant simpleton. They’re charmed beasts. You’re lucky every Sidhe for twenty miles didn’t answer the call!” Ben growled, shoving him back, hard. He couldn’t help himself. Someone had to answer for this mess. Why shouldn’t it be Paul, who didn’t have the sense the Gods gave a goat?

Paul raised his hands in mock surrender, “Tryin’ to see the good here, Ben. That’s all.”

“The good? Are you mad?” Ben sneered. (Unnecessary Attribution)

“That’s why ye let Nat die?” Seethed Robin, “Ccuz Marty shot a feckin deer? We’re bloody Greenmakers, ain’t we? Feckin’ no account poachers. It’s what we damned well do, isn’t it? Tell me yer not arguin’ for the Sidhe’s side, Ben. Tell me yer ballocks don’t swing that low.”

Ben was livid now, no helping it. He glowered at Robin. “I didn’t let anyone die. Nat’s death is not on my conscious, and you know it as well as I do. Three of you are alive at this very moment, because of me. Maybe if you’d taken the time to teach these children how to behave over that border, both Nat and Marty would be too. If that Dannan Captain wanted to, he would have had the provocation to break treaty and cross. If I killed him, every one of us would be toasting each other in Tech Duinn right now. You’re not angry with me. You’re angry with yourself.”

Robin towed Seamus and Paul at least three feet, in his urgency to get at Ben. Ben dropped his bow and undid his swordbelt, letting them thump into the sand at his feet. “Let him go!” He hissed, raising his fists.

Robin barreled into him with a guttural grunt. He attempted to tackle Ben, but he was twice his size and outweighed him by at least fifty pounds. Ben let him take one or two swipes, before he hooked an arm under Robin’s shoulder joint, spinning him around. It took one blow from Ben’s right hand, for Robin’s arse to slap One blow, and Robin’s arse into hit the ground on with a solid thump. Dazed, Robin gaped at up Ben with unfocused malice. Ben leaned in, ready to strike again if he had to. “You deserved that.”

“Aye,” Robin gasped, spitting spat a mouthful of blood, “we’re done, Ben Maeden. Yer no Greenmaker. Greenmaker’s don’t choose the Sidhe over one o’their own. Don’t think I didn’t see ye.”

“Fine,” Ben snarled, “you’re too old to learn common sense anyway.” He retrieved his Retrieving his weapons, he shoved Paul again for good measure, and spun on his heel. He refused to look at the stag, where it lay broken on the riverbank; its perfect white coat speckled red and black from the wound in its ribs.

Sacrilege of the first order.

He spared Robin a last withering glare. “I quit.”

Gerrod ran jogged to catch up with him. Ben shrugged him off. “Wait, Ben. He don’t mean it! Neither do ye. We’re sorry ‘bout the stag, alright? Marty got desperate. Ye weren’t over there. Ye don’t know what it was like.”

Robin threw out a spiteful laugh, “He ain’t ever over there, is he? Stays on this side o’the river, like a bleedin’ coward, he does. Tell us, ye faerie bastard…how many kills have ye made, to keep our folk fed and clothed, hm? How many times have ye given over the last coins in your precious purse, to help one o’ours? None. That’s how many. Yer a selfish sack of shite, ye are.”

Ben ignored him. It wasn’t easy. Robin Gramble had been his friend for almost fifteen years. He didn’t even turn around to dignify his comment.

Gerrod’s anxious apologetic expression bordered on despair, “We’ll meet up at Barb’s later, yeah? C’mon, Ben. Ye can’t leave it like this. We’ll sort it all out.”

Ben paused, for Gerrod’s sake, if no one else’s. “Later then. To collect what I’m owed, then I’m gone.”

“Ye’ll meet us there? Ye won’t leave until he calms down?”

Ben let out a protracted breath. His oldest friend had gone to stand by the water’s edge, hiding a face full of tears. Nat was his Robin’s kin, his sister’s son. Ben could understand his irrational rage, even if it was unfairly directed. “Yeah, Gerry. I’ll be there. I’ll go and look for the bodies first. They can’t have gone too far. You get this lot back home.”

“Thank ye, Ben.”

Ben faced east. “Don’t thank me. Robin might not be right…but neither is he wrong.” He didn’t give Gerrod a chance to process his statement. Ben pulled his hood low over his eyes. He strolled into the Greensward, fading into the trees like the Sidhe, only minutes before.

There you have it! Not so terrible, now was it? Cutting a few lines, and rearranging weak sentences, can make all the difference in the world. The text is more immediate, less confusing, and flows much more smoothly. I happen to be a serial offender, when it comes to Unnecessary Attribution, Excessive Exposition, and Unclear POV. It’s a simple fix! No need to stress. Once you develop a working habit, editing can be a snap…even when you have 38 chapters to wrestle (internal screaming). In the next post, in my ‘On Editing’ series (Part Three), we’ll talk about grammatical flow, and Copyediting. Remember, don’t be discouraged. You ARE a good writer, and you can be an equally good editor. It just takes practice. Believe in yourself.

Do you have a foolproof editing process? Take umbrage with my work here today? Have questions about the choices I’ve made, or need advice? Feel free to message me anytime! I’d love to hear from you.

 

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Image Copyright: Winter Boughs

 

 

Sunday Writing Motivation…

Don’t let that cursor beat you! I find nothing helps to defeat the evil ole writer’sblock quite like nature. Get outdoors; take a walk, strap on all of your snow-gear and go sledding, drive out of town and watch the sun set somewhere beautiful. Unwinding in the great outdoors is my go-to motivation.

So, in this image…is it warm or cold, wet or dry, what does the air taste like, can you feel the wind on your face or at your back, do the waves sluice gently over pebbles, or rock lightly against the girder? Can you smell the ice, or the sun baking into the sand? How would you describe this blue?- turquoise or cerulean? Teal, or aquamarine? Is it brilliant and multifaceted like a gem, or polished like stone? Can you hear gulls calling, or just the crush of your boots in the sand?

Now go! Write what you feel!

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Image copyright: Turquoise2017

Sunday Writing Motivation…

Drop, and give me 200…

If you’re like me, you suffer from frequent bouts of the dreaded Writer’s Block. If I can get in two full flowing days of writing each week, I’m crushing it! Most days, I stare at the cursor blinking on my screen, wishing there was a magic potion that could unlock all of the words stuffed inside my noggin (whiskey and wine doesn’t count).

Alas, there is no such elixir. Writer’s Block, like all other annoying impediments to creativity, can’t be willed away. It takes its own time. Sometimes you’re simply distracted. Sometimes you’re anxious about a deadline, or you have non-related work piling up on your counter. Whatever the case may be, in my experience, a change of scenery is the only thing that helps me slay the fearsome Block.

When I can’t escape to the outdoors to press the reset button, I read, I walk…I lurk Landscape Photography communities for that flash of inspiration. I know, I know…I cheat a bit here, because I am a landscape photographer and am naturally predisposed to find inspiration in nature, BUT I contend that it can work for you too, if you let it.

Start with this photograph. Is the sun bright or occluded? Does the air smell of pine, salt, autumn leaves, wet mossy stone, or wild grass? Is it warm or cold? Do you hear birds or insects chirping in the distance, or does the roar of rushing water drown everything else out?

Write it down.

Feel better yet?

Google, 500px, Facebook, Twitter and of course Instagram all have vibrant landscape photography communities. They are my oasis, in times of need. Find an image that moves something inside of you, and write what you feel! Hope this helps!

Have your own foolproof cure for the Loathsome Block? Tell me about it!

Image copyright: Laughing Whitefish Falls

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Outlining, A How-To

 

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Hello everyone! In a previous post, we discussed the overall process required to start and finish a plausible draft. There are many ways to get from point A to B, but it always helps to explore your options a bit. I’ve been writing for almost a quarter century now, and I’m still learning! I lurk the interwebs for inspiration, like anyone else. Sometimes, I’ll stare at my computer screen for hours on end, writing and deleting sentences like some manic coder. The point is, writing is never easy! Even best-selling authors struggle with their concepts and narrative from time-to-time. Don’t believe me? Check out your favorite author’s twitter feed. They suffer from the same doubts, nerves and fears we all do. Does my story flow? Are my ideas original? Does my prose make any sense? How can I make my characters likable? Where should my story go from here? This is what I lovingly (hatefully) dub the ‘story pit’. We’ve all been there, and we all know how hard it can be to climb back out.

If that paragraph stressed you out at all, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about. No worries. Grab a notepad, a pen, a cup of coffee and pull up a chair. We’re gonna get through this together.

How do I personally combat the ‘story pit’? Outlining. It’s a necessary evil for me. The first thing I’m going to pitch to you, is the importance of list-making. Lists are life. They help you form cohesive, cogent plots from random ideas. More on this in a bit.

In ‘The Process’, I sketched out a few brief examples of where to get started, and how to organize your ideas so they might be translated into text. Essentially, every story starts somewhere. For some writers, it’s their main character they imagine first. Others, it’s the world they wish to create. Some even begin from the ending, and work their way backward through the plot to flesh out their scenarios. However your imagination works, the way you transcribe those ideas can be the difference between the ‘novel I want to write’ and the ‘novel I’m editing’. To get there, you must have a functional outline. Yes, it’s true that there are a lot of writers out there who can organize a stellar plot from the get-go. Bravo to them. For the sake of this article, we’ll pretend those mutants don’t exist.

1. Lists Are Life– If you thought I was joking here, you were wrong. Write EVERYTHING down! Keep a notepad in your pocket, your purse, your briefcase, beside your desk, on your calendar, next to your coffee maker, in the bathroom…well, maybe you don’t have to take it that far, but you feel me. If you’re not keeping track of your ideas, no one will. Keep that in mind. You have that random 3 a.m. spark of inspiration? A possible ending? The perfect antagonist? Love-interest? If you don’t record those thoughts, you will forget them (we’ve already agreed to ignore the inhuman writers with steel-trap memories, RIGHT? They don’t really exist…trallalalalala). For the sake of my argument here, the first list you should be making, is your core story. Your Theme (Main Idea). What do you want to say and how do you want to say it (Plot)?  Where is it being said (Setting)? Now make that list…make it! Make another one for the characters you imagine will be making these points for you. All those random thoughts you have had during the day, move them to your lists and leave them there. Add to them as more occur. If you can keep this up for a month, I guarantee you, you’ll have quite a lot of ideas to get started with. Lists work!

*If you work better on your computer and aren’t all old-school like me, here’s a website I’ve used before. Most Macs and PC’s come standard with ‘Notes’ and ‘Stickies software, but if you’d rather try a different format, click here: Download Stickies

2. Make Your Web– Now that you have all these notes, and your house looks like an obsessed detective’s office- what do you do with them? Remember when you were in seventh-grade English class, and your teacher drew a bunch of bubbles filled with random gibberish on the chalkboard? In the middle of that mess of bubbles and squiggly lines, ‘THEME’ was dead center. Well, your English teacher was on to something there. The Story Web doesn’t just work for studying, or discussing ‘The Scarlet Letter’; it can help your fiction too. As I mentioned in ‘The Process’, go to Michael’s or Target, and buy 3 extra-large, white poster-boards (or buy your own dry-erase board- whatever works for you); a pack of mechanical pencils/markers, and wall-safe tape. Now, gather all your notes; the stickies, the journal entries, the chicken-scratch napkins you lugged home from that cafe or bar. I think you can see where I’m going with this?

Handy Free Story Map PDF- Click to Download

Your Theme (Main Idea- what you want to say) goes dead-center in your first bubble, on your first poster-board. Draw lines above and below it, then two more bubbles/boxes. One should say ‘Plot/Setting’, and the other ‘Subplot/Conflict’. Draw another line…then another bubble, writing  Characters; ‘Protagonist’ on one side, ‘Antagonist’ on the other. See what I mean? Now your notes are coming together, aren’t they? Your story is taking shape…a weird shape, but a shape nonetheless. On your second  poster-board, draw a bubble labeled Setting– here is where you will add the backstory bubbles you need to flesh out the ideas discussed in your theme. When you’re done with both, hang them on the wall next to your workspace. You’ve just established Theme, Plot, Setting, Conflict, Characters and their agendas. In the second, Timeline and Context. Now go have a cup of coffee and admire your handiwork. You, my friend, have a story.

3. Know Your Ending– Here is where I’m going to get a bit controversial. I covered this in ‘The Process’, but I can’t stress it enough. Now that you know what you want to say, the world in which you want to say it, the characters who are going to say it for you, the conflicts and antagonists that will try to hamper those characters from achieving their goals, and the backstory you need to flesh out those characters and their world; YOU SHOULD KNOW EXACTLY WHERE YOU WANT TO END THAT STORY BEFORE YOU WRITE IT.  There are lots of authors who won’t agree with this, because they’re into zeitgeist, free-writing, poetry and chaos. Well, bully for them. They’re not wrong, per say, but I contend that most of them will not publish anytime in the near future. If they have, their work does not appeal to the majority of traditional-leaning readers (know your audience folks). While many of them offer great advice in lieu of flow, style and creative inspiration…what they do not offer, generally (I SAID generally!) … are cogent plot-lines. Now, before the pitchforks and torches come out, I’d like to say that I happen to enjoy the writing style myself. Sometimes it is very liberating. Stream of Consciousness can be an excellent cure for writer’s block. You’ll never hear me say it isn’t worthy. However, it’s not going to help you write a complicated plot…and it’s not going to help your story make sense to the average reader.

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STORY STRUCTURE is probably the second-most important item you’ll need to master, after organizing your plot. Every story has a Beginning, A Middle and an End. Even your chapters, should be organized this way. Why? Because it makes sense. Because it gives your story depth, credibility and flow. It keeps your readers engaged. Simply put, it is crucial to creating a constructive plot. There are many ways to go about this, but I’m here to offer mine, so here goes…

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You have your notes. You have your Story Web. You know what you want to say. You know your characters, from your protagonist to your supporting cast. You have explored the world you’ve created, and given it and your characters a backstory. Now what? The ENDING, is what. Remember that third piece of poster-board I mentioned? Well, here’s what it’s for. Make three bubbles/boxes. In the first, write Beginning. In the second, write Middle and the third, write End. Fill the THIRD box in first.

I do things this way, because it’s easy to wander around your plot without a purpose, unless you know where you intend to take it. Your ending is the climax of your story. It’s where your world, your characters and their conflicts are all going to come to a head. It’s what your beginning and middle are leading to. Hence, you should really know where that journey is going to end, before you pack up and leave. You’ll spend more time trying to figure out where to get started, if you don’t have an end-goal already in mind. Once you know where you want to go, it’s much easier to plan the journey.

4. Chapter Log– Now your outline should be just about ready to go! You have all of your notes and supplementary materials written down. Your characters are starting to look like real people. Your world is cohesive and easy to understand. Your conflicts are well thought out and urgent. And most importantly, you know where you want to take your characters…and HOW you want them to travel. On that last bit of poster-board, where you’ve written down your Beginning, Middle and End. Draw lines descending from each. Consider each of your chapters, their own short stories. They too, should possess the basic story structure, which leads you to the next scene in your story.

Normally, I like to sketch out a brief idea of how many chapters I’d like to have in each section of my BME, so I have a better idea how long it’s going to take my characters to get drawn into each event. You don’t have to do things this way, but it helps. Like my free-writing brethren- I tend to ramble, if I haven’t set up some fool-proof checks. Prose is fantastic, when it has a direct purpose in your plot, but never mistake a beautiful description for plot- I’ll get into ‘purple’ writing in another post.

To put the Chapter Log to the test, write another brief Story Web; label it Chapter One. Where does the chapter begin? What happens to the character that draws them to a shocking, mysterious or intriguing conclusion? How does that relate to your ending? Repeat the process for Chapter Two, Three, and so on. Sometimes, it can help to divide your book into Parts, so you can visualize your own BME. If you’ve taken my advice and have pre-ordained the amount of chapters you’re going to include, by the end of this exercise, the story should be pretty much finished! All you need to do after this, is fill in the blanks. Get creative. Now is the time to invite your readers to see, hear, taste, touch and feel this world the way you want them to. SHOW them your world!

 

Outlining is a crucial part of the creative writing process. You don’t have to do things my way, but you will have to get organized one way or the other, if you intend to finish a book this century. I have personally tried to escape these time-consuming, admittedly tedious steps in about a hundred different ways. In my experience, NOTHING works as well. Without this process, my writing is a scatter-brained, unreadable mess. Or worse- I’ll just keep starting stories over and over again, and never finish them. If I don’t nail down every point in my story’s structure, I will wander aimlessly through various unrelated plots, give birth to random, unimportant characters that lead the plot nowhere, and change my mind a hundred times in every scene. If the story you have burning in your gut needs to be told; Make sure you DO IT JUSTICE.

I hope this article has helped you in some way, even if you don’t follow my advice to the letter! Please feel free to comment or message me to discuss your own process, ask questions or just to say hi! I’d love to hear from you!

Happy Writing, fellow writers!

-L.M. Riviere

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*Image Copyright: Alder Falls by L.M. Riviere.

 

 

 

The Process…

 

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Writing is not easy. 

Remember that old adage, ‘if it was easy, everyone would do it’? Well, I take issue with that statement. It…just…ain’t…true. Working to complete a manuscript is one of the most challenging, time-consuming, nerve-wracking and socially isolating experiences, a person can willingly put themselves through. I contend, if it was easy, a lot of folks still wouldn’t do it. Most people I know, don’t have that kind of time…most people I know, have lives.

Into my book, ‘The Sons of Mil’, I’ve poured hundreds of hours. I can go days without speaking to another human being and sometimes, even longer than that. My neighbors will periodically knock on the door, just to make sure I’m not dead. Writing this book, has been an incredibly rewarding experience but it has also been lonely, stressful and restrictive. I’m an outdoorsy gal. I’m a landscape photographer, an avid hiker, runner and watersports enthusiast. To complete this manuscript, I’ve had to push everything else I enjoy to the side…and so might you, if you’re aiming to publish in the near future.

If you’re a writer getting serious about your own work, you know how it is. You wear the same clothes for an indeterminable amount of days. You wash your hair less and less. You have to forgo movies, books, your favorite shows and social outings with friends. You become a sad parody of the fun-loving extrovert you used to be. A hermit in old band tee-shirts, flannel and sweat-pants. The sun, seems a vague, hypothetical entity…

If you can relate, I dub thee ‘an artist’. Writing is not a dash n’grab affair. It’s a process. A long, lonesome trek you take in your pajamas. As with any journey, you invariably want it to end someday, don’t you? You want to go outside and experience the world again…Netflix is calling…you have a whole shelf full of books you’ve been dying to read…you want to be a person again, by god! Well, relax. My fuzzy slippers and I have suffered through the wrong way through this stuff, to bring you a better one. How do you shave some time and pints of Haagen Daas out of your creative experience? I’ll tell you how; nail down your process.

1. GET ORGANIZED– I can’t tell you how many years I wasted writing incomplete chapters. I’d start one, write what I thought was a clever scene, then dump it for four months. Into my ‘to do’ pile of junk, it would go. Note: DON’T DO THIS.

Always…I repeat, ALWAYS; nail down your story first! Set up your general scenario, character lists, chapters logs (more on this below), themes and a get general idea of word count and length before you get to writing the story. Why do all of this first? Let me put it in photographic terms…know what you want to include in your frame before you shoot. Free-flow and zeitgeist writing can be a blast. They can also be rewarding and beneficial to an author. However, only .4% of the successful writers you’ve ever heard of manage to write whole books and serials this way. The rest of us, need a road map.

How do you get going? Well, start with the theme. What do you want to say? Where does it take place? Who lives there? Who are your characters? What do they love, hate or want to do? Are they good guys or bad guys? What challenges do they face? How can they grow in this world you’ve created?

How many chapters you think it will take to work through your characters’ issues? How long do you think it will take for your protagonist to get from point A. to point B. in your story?

How do I figure all of this out? Old school. Grab a large white poster board. On one side, write your central theme and the characters and places you plan to explore. Use bubbles, graphs, whatever works for you. On the other side, starting with Chapter One; mark down your theme, your protagonist/antagonist; where they are, what they’re doing and what they want at the moment, in this world you’re creating. Include any pertinent details, like a timeline and any challenges that arise for those characters, within that chapter. Once you manage all of this, congratulate yourself. You now have a basic outline to work with!

When you figure out where you want to go from the first chapter, repeat the process with the second, the third…you get the idea! Now an added trick I’ve taught myself to keep from rambling on in my text; I set a word count limit for each chapter. That way, when I’m free-writing; I can differentiate between pertinent and impertinent details. Also, try to drill story structure into your outline. Every story has a ‘Beginning, A Middle and an End‘. This is fiction law, no matter what the Tarantinos of the world have to say about it. Nail these tips down, and see how fast your story comes together. Try it. What do you have to lose?

 

2. MANAGE YOUR TIME WISELY– I am the ABSOLUTE WORST at managing my time wisely, so believe me when I say this statement is not coming from a place of judgment. Rather the opposite…it’s coming from a fountain bubbling with sympathy. I get it. We’re all busy little bees. We have jobs to get to. Groceries that need buying. Laundry that needs washing. Kids that need raising. Spouses that need attention.

The world is a frenetic place and it’s not about to stop twirling, just because you have a story burning in your gut that needs to be told. I get it. Every author the world over, gets it. Still, in order to make your dreams come true- you have to figure out a way to make your work a priority. This is an imperative. No matter how many hours I’ve spent crying in the shower in frustration; I’ve as yet been unable to master writing stories in my sleep.

I don’t have a bulletproof blanket solution for everyone here, because I am as guilty as the next procrastinator. However, I have come up with a few Writing Hacks to make it all a little less horrible.

  1. Write On A Schedule, in which you can be alone and get some work done. Literally. I set my alarm for 8am, every morning and drag my butt out of bed to the coffeemaker. The house is quiet. Other humans and animals are still asleep. The phone does not ring. Basically, no distractions. Whatever time of day suits you best, is up to you…but STICK TO IT. I would like to tell you that all authors are inspired every time they sit down at the computer… but that would be a big fat lie. I had to teach myself to write, even when I didn’t feel ‘ready’ to. After a while, your brain will rewire itself to accommodate you. I promise. I look at it this way, all habits need time to establish, and writing is no different.
  2. Set A Time Limit. Only have an hour before work? Write for 30. You get the idea.
  3. Stephen King That Sh*t. The master himself makes it an IMPERATIVE to write at least 1k words a day. Writers Write. If you’ve only got 500 words in you a day…so be it. The important thing is to add those up at the end of every week and marvel at the progress you’ve made. You won’t get anywhere by TALKING about writing. Trust me, I’ve tried.
  4. Baby Steps. Don’t stress out if you get behind. We’re all human here. Things happen. The important thing is to never stop trying. Had a bad day? Start fresh tomorrow. Don’t let one rotten string of events, prevent you from sticking to your routine.

 

3. EDIT LATER, FOR CRIPES’ SAKE! This is the most important advice I can offer any new writer. DO NOT EDIT UNTIL YOU ARE DONE WITH THE FIRST DRAFT. I am also an editor and I can’t tell you how many chapters I’ve had to chuck into the bin, because I couldn’t get past a wonky sentence or paragraph. Let it go for now! Get your story down and rounded out, BEFORE you start picking it apart. If you’ve already established your story map, your characters and your themes…you have a general idea how long the story will be, what twists you want to include, the arcs you want to explore…AND YOU HAVE AN ENDING, CLEARLY IN MIND. Once you get there, by golly, you have a draft ready for editing. Not before. Not in the middle. AFTER.

4. READ, READ, READ. Once you have a draft, read the whole thing BEFORE you edit…then read it again. Take notes. Read it a third time. Take notes. Go and read something else. In fact read as many books as you can digest in a short period of time. Take notes. THEN READ YOUR STORY AGAIN.

After you’ve practically memorized every chapter….you’re ready to edit the bejesus out of this sucker, aren’t you? You have a clearly defined plot. Established characters. Rounded themes. General word count and length. THIS is when you should sit down and edit. When you’re really, truly, not foolin’ READY to.

Editing, like writing, is its own process. If you start too soon, you can lose a grip on the point you were trying to make. If you start in the middle, you’ll find yourself prematurely trying to course-correct. Editing is a polish to be applied ONLY when your story is complete; when it’s vivid and fleshed out. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by editing before you’re finished.

I spent FAR more time editing than I do writing; and FAR LESS time editing than I do reading and taking notes. Why? Because in fiction, the way you say a thing, tends to be far less important than what you are actually saying. Develop your story first. Tell it in the best possible way you can. Love your characters. Make your dialogue sing. Give your story a unique, functional voice…THEN sit down and pick it to pieces. Remember, no one will want to read your story, if you don’t enjoy reading it first.

 

Are you writing a novel? A short-story? A graphic novel? Tell me about your process! I want to hear from you. Discuss your thoughts on the creative process in the comments or sign up for my newsletter below!

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