How Your Personal Hygiene Can Help You Finish Writing Your Book

So you’re a writer. Or you try to be, anyway. With kids and doctor appointments and work and school and your spouse’s psychological mommy-issues, you’re lucky if you can manage to write one paragraph in any given day.

But suppose one day the heavens opened up, the school’s not calling you to pick your kids up, it’s slow at work, and it’s just you and your pen and your paper.

NOW you can write!

But the clock is ticking. Tick-tock, tick-tock.

Your pen touches the paper and… You’re stuck! You’re so ecstatic by the calm in the storm that you don’t know what to write.

The last time you visited your book-to-be, you had your protagonist dangling off the edge of a cliff by his teeth. His wife was in one hand, his X-Box console in the other. Whom does he sacrifice? Whom will he save! What’s going to happen!!!

Ding! “Time’s up,” says Alex Trebek in the form of your boss checking in on you or a customer demanding your attention (or your spouse texting you with another problem about how his parents didn’t support him enough when he wanted to be an American All-Star).

Those glorious minutes you had all to yourself vanish like a mist as though they were never there, and your paper is still an empty canvas.

Take my advice. Think ahead. Prepare for those brief moments. One of my favorite times of the day is when I get to shower. That’s when I disappear mentally into my book. I analyze what I’ve already written, I dissect my characters, but most of all, I plan ahead.

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He’s hanging there by his teeth, I think. He’s got his wife and his X-Box. His wife nags him, but his X-Box brings him unlimited, albeit meaningless joy. But his wife gives him kids. Does he even like his kids? But his X-Box makes him late to work, which he hates. … Hmmm… nagging wife, meaningless video games, kids that annoy him (and quite frankly isn’t even sure are his), a terrible job… THAT’S IT! He opens his mouth and screams!! Now they’re all dead! 

Then I refine and refine that scene and by the time I get those glorious undisturbed moments back five new-moons later, I don’t have to worry about that time being wasted because I already know what the next scene is going to be about and how to resolve it.

It’s kind of like, I hate that I can’t take my phone into the shower with me and watch Netflix, but at least I can play my own movie in my mind while I wash up.

So there it is. Take advantage of yourself in the shower, and you’ll be surprised what goodies you’ll pop out!

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Writers: Sing, Don’t Tap

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Do you ever sit at your desk at work and click your tongue to a song that’s stuck in your head? Or tap your pen or finger to a little ditty that won’t dance away?

Like this:

tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap-tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap. Tap tap-tap tap tap tap tap-tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap. TAP-TAP-TAP-TAP, TAP-TAP-TAP-TAP. Tap tap tap tap-tap-tap-tap tap-tap-tap. 

You know what that song is, right?

Just look at it. Follow the same notes I’m singing in my head.

Well, guess what. You can’t. Because there are no words. There are no notes. But just because I know the song doesn’t mean your stupid. It just means I’m stupid for not providing the words and the notes.

As writers, we are charged with the responsibility to paint a much broader picture for our readers than just dialogue or just narrative. In order for our readers to grasp our full meaning of what we’re trying to convey, we must present the time, the setting, the people, and the mood.

To leave one of these out is like expecting someone to guess what song your’re clicking your tongue to.

So think about that as you write. Is what you’ve written only discernible to you, or could an outsider  see and get exactly what your conveying?

In other words, sing, don’t tap.

(By the way, the song tapped out above is “500 Miles” by the Proclaimers. I blame How I Met Your Mother for getting it stuck in my head.)

Writers Have Been Believing This Lie for Decades…

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Editing. It’s often seen as the summit of the mountain after a long, tumultuous climb, complete with hand-cramps and carpal tunnel.

I have a different picture in my head. Writing, as hard as it is, is more like the packing and driving toward the first day of your climb. Writing is gathering all of your equipment, literally dotting your I’s and crossing your T’s, all the busy work. None of it’s in order, and half the time you don’t even know what the hell you’re writing. You’re just…writing.

But then you reach the last page, your last paragraph, your last word. You think you’re done. The world tells you, “You did it!” You get all sorts of accolades, you’re blinded by the paparazzi, and angels blow on trumpets as the opposite sex throws themselves at you.

But that’s a bunch of bull. I finished my YA novel back in February and I’ve been working on it nonstop ever since. Heck, I’m still editing a book I finished back in 2012.

Don’t. Be. Fooled. Editing is the first step up the towering mountain.

Both of my books look very different from their first drafts. Eighty-percent of both manuscripts look vastly different from their first-draft counterparts.

Andrew Stanton, of Pixar fame, describes editing as molding a lump of clay. Unless you’re Charles Dickens, your first draft is absolute crap and it’s a long way from being where it needs to be.

It may be what you envisioned, but oftentimes what you envision and what the world wants are two very different things. If you want to be a successful writer, you must come to terms with the ice-cold fact that at some point, it must not be your book. 

It’s fine to allow your first draft to tickle your fancies and be all you wanted, but if you want to bring your vision from bad (if we’re being honest here) to great, you must be willing to let go of it and please the masses.

That. Is what editing is all about.

That’s why I hand my manuscript to trusted people and reviewers. I need to know if I’m still heading toward the summit or if I’m free-falling in a hypo-thermal state of oblivion.

Editing, my friends, is a beast. Editing is only the beginning. But keep at it, because that’s the only way you’ll surprise yourself with what you have in you. There may be an unexpected plot twist ahead.

Naivety = Awesomeness (How do you pronounce “Naivety” anyway?)

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The great Steve Martin, in his book, Born Standing Up, defines naivete: “That fabulous quality that keeps you from knowing just how unsuited you are for what you are about to do.”

With that logic, every person who’s ever done anything great is undeniably, unequivocally naive.

If we were all aware of how hard something was going to be before we embarked in projects or work, I believe very little would get done.

Think about it. Doctors are like, “Eight-thousand years of college?” No sweat. But what they don’t account for before enrolling for their first $2 million class is the tedious lectures, the endless research, the nerve-jarring tests. Not to mention no money, no food, no sleep. College has its perks, but we forget how much dehydrated noodles can make us gag after the thirtieth consecutive cup.

“Let’s make a movie!” Easy. But first you’ve got to scrounge up the money for filming equipment, put out ads for crew members and actors to work for cheap (or for nothing at all), not to mention the hundreds of takes, waiting for the traffic to die, the weather to clear, the dog to stop barking. . . And the grueling editing hasn’t even begun.

Writing a book? Easy. Just tappity-tappity on the keyboard and off to New York you go! (I’d hate to be the one to break it to that naive amateur that you’re lucky if you sell six copies even after less than fourteen rewrites – of course when I broke that news to myself after years of writing, I wanted to kill myself.

My wife says, “You don’t know when to quit, do you?” I take that as a compliment. No, I don’t know how to quit because I’m too naive to believe I can fail. Even though I probably will. But who knows.

Steve Martin failed as a comedian for eight years before he achieved even a modicum of success. And then he had to refine everything he ever knew.

But it’s a gamble. And the odds are in no one’s favor. For every gazillion stand-up hopefuls, there’s only one Steve Martin. For every gazillion-billion-trillion writer (because, let’s face it, who’s not?), there’s only one J.K. Rowling.

How’s that for a drop of inspiration? No? Not good?

Try this: Nativity makes the world go round. So help me keep spinning it.

Ever Thought About Quitting This Way?

Pardon my absence lately.

I’ve been super sick for almost a week and until today, just the thought of opening my laptop made me even more nauseous. So I’ve been doing lots of Olympic-watching, sleeping, The Walking Dead, sleeping, a Lethal Weapon marathon, sleeping, and I just started Breaking Bad (I’m one episode in and it’s kind of weird, but I’m intrigued). 

My wife deserves the gold medal for taking care of me and the also-sick kids. Or whatever is better than gold (green and wrinkly maybe?).

Anyway, I’ve been thinking.

Writers often feel like they’re alone in the struggle to conceive and develop a good story. But being at home for practically the last 144 consecutive hours, I’ve stared a lot at our personal library. And I was thinking that behind each book is an author who probably felt they were alone in the struggle.

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Each one probably wanted to give up, to call it quits, to throw their hands in the air and yell, “What’s the point?”

Hell, just a quick glance through your Netflix library, and you can come to the same conclusion. Behind each movie or TV show there’s a writer or staff of writers facing the same struggle.

That’s a lot of movies. A lot of books. A lot of plays. A lot of writers.

So maybe quitting isn’t as common and “normal” as we think. Maybe quitting is actually the weird thing to do. Perhaps quitting actually makes us losers in a world of winners.

A Little About “The Underneath”

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Endever Studios just released the third installment of the serial novel, “The Underneath.”

Take a moment to meet the characters who suddenly find themselves in an increasingly changing world.

All over the globe there is a disturbing siren that blasts through the air. It lasts for half an hour and ends with an earth-jolting shake, felt by everyone, everywhere. Suddenly the sun does not shine in places where the skies are clear, rain doesn’t fall from impregnated rain clouds. The wind ceases to blow, the temperature drops drastically.

Kyle Logan is newly divorced and trying to adjust to the single life. He loses his suit and tie, moves out of town, and buys a ranch house. A new start. But it’s difficult to start over when his ex-wife Stacey drops by for a visit. Some ghosts are hard to run from.

Dr. Edwin Remy: A young, accomplished professor who recently lost his tenure due to his escalating schizophrenic condition. In his hallucinations, he sees Ollie, his former research partner, who taunts him about his knowledge, his (possible) past history with this otherworldly encounter, and makes Edwin question everything he knows, including himself.

Cameron Agee acts as a surrogate father to his sixteen-year-old sister leaving him no time to party or live the normal life of a high school senior. When all hell breaks lose, he is unable to find her in the school mob as the students make a rush for their homes.

Desi Moreno: A teenage, Hispanic boy – neighbor to Edwin Remy – who helps takes care of his mother and sister. He is a talented painter, often skipping school to sell his pieces to support his family. Once the encounter occurs, he starts receiving visions (often harmful to himself) while he paints that foresee upcoming events. These visions, in turn, threaten to expose the person he has been hiding within himself for years.
“The Underneath” is a serial novel of suspense and mystery of epic proportions. Enjoy the third installment here!

Addressing My Own Stubbornness

Great conversation and comments on yesterday’s post! Thank you for all who contributed. I’ve read through most of your reasons for being stubborn by not walking away from the written word and indulging fully in the technology age, and I’ve got to say, many of you are much deeper and intellectually-minded than I am.

I thought through my own reasons for not being willing to put down my books, and here’s what I came up with:

  1. I am a control freak. My poor family has to deal with this on a regular basis. I know I’m not trying hard enough to break the habit, but I’m trying to try hard enough. Anyway, when I’m reading a book I get to control the pace of the story. Rent a movie and you’re slapped with the 142 min. run time. No more, no less, unless of course you skip the credits (GASP!). If I want a scene to unfold slowly, then I can choose to take my time processing the information before me. If a scene is boring, I can read fast. If a scene is suspenseful . . . (A huge shout-out to Sarah Angleton from The Practical Historian for nailing this one)
  2. THE SUSPENSE! I am absolutely obsessed with being in suspense. It’s like a weird non-sexual dominatrix thing I’ve got going on. Everyone loves a good cliffhanger, and that’s the exact reason I love books more than movies and TV shows:

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In movies, the suspense is revealed according to the director’s timing. You can’t hold out a little longer if he/she decides to reveal the outcome of a suspenseful situation.

TV shows are just too painful. They leave you with a cliffhanger and then you’re stuck scratching an irritating itch for a whole week or even several months. (This is why I love discovering shows really late because then I can Netflix them. Then the problem becomes not knowing when to stop. I’ve got to reach the next cliffhanger, I’ve got to know what happens, I’ve got to reach the next cliffhanger, what happens, cliffhanger, answers! It’s an endless cycle.)

So those are my two reasons why I refuse to let go of my books. I’m a suspense junkie. Speaking of suspense, you should check out the serial novel, “The Underneath” that my publishing company’s authors are writing.

Thanks for contributing to the conversation and may your weekend be filled with words, intimacy with your characters, and suspense!