More Motivation: Reveal by Doing

My desk calendar is on a roll this month with writing affirmations. You’ll recall its words of wisdom on perfection two weeks ago. It’s at it again today, this time with an adage I’ve found to be true of forming stories:


I think about my stories a lot. I think about them so much that I sometimes forget to write them. Other times, I choose to think instead of write because I don’t have all the answers ready to write down. I’ll procrastinate, write other things, anything to avoid the grave sin of writing something that isn’t 100% ready before placing finger to keyboard.

Still, I make myself write every day, even when I groan and sigh because pages of bracket notes await me. Can you guess how many times I’ve done this and written clunky sentences and stuff to fill in later? Every time.

Can you also guess how many times the story has answered my questions for me because I wrote it down — and answered it with clarity I never thought I’d have when the words were just in my thoughts?

Once again, every time.

Write it down, even if it’s not where you think it should be. It isn’t where it should be, but that’s because it’s in your head, and not on paper where it belongs. Put it there.

Talk it Out: Thoughts on Dialogue

I’ve been writing since I was little. A lot of my drive to write came from encouragement from my teachers. One thing I heard from grade to grade, and class to class, was the following observation: “You write a lot of dialogue.”

While never framed as a critique outright, I took it as an observation of something I should scale back. There are books, and there are scripts. I prefer to write books (or short stories). While I adore a good screenplay, it’s ultimately a writing medium that I don’t feel is my forte – beyond my knack for a good back-and-forth.

Unlearning my interpretation of my teachers’ observations has been one of the trickier parts of getting back into writing over the past two years. As I write first drafts — always a tough experience — I find myself stopping when I fill a page with a back-and-forth between characters. “It’s a book, not a script,” I tell myself. Then I keep writing – and keep writing dialogue. Cursed habits!

Or maybe they’re not so cursed. Over the past two years, I’ve heard more and more from people who encourage my dialogue habit. The most common refrain is one I’ve discovered firsthand: it’s one of the best ways to show and not tell. This seems odd, since characters speaking a truth is somewhat like telling. But in my own writing, I find that telling sounds more natural when it’s shared in conversation, as opposed to spelled out in narration.

This was my most common revision in Please Give, a trickier story to navigate the “show not tell” fields because it’s written in first person. My first drafts often had the narrator, Beth, possess amazing psychic powers about what the other characters were thinking. If she wasn’t psychic, then she was a lengthy narrator, going on and on about people’s histories and what was what. Sometimes that worked in narration (well, TBD — I’m waiting to hear back from my editor), but most of the time, it was long-winded, clunky, and unnatural. All those adjectives were erased when I converted explanatory narration into dialogue. Why should Beth speak for these people? She – and I, and the reader – can talk to them.

Further, having the characters talk revealed more things to me while writing than I thought possible when trying to speak for them as a narrator. This is true of both my first-person and third-person stories. Conversation can reveal many layers of depth, in ways that narration sometimes can’t.

My editor gave me some sound advice that I’d like to close with. When reading one of my stories, she found it didn’t flow as well as the others. It was also a story with less dialogue than I usually include. She said she realized while reading it that my characters need someone to talk to. I’ve often repeated that to myself when I get stuck on a dialogue-heavy story, because when I move past my doubts and make my characters to speak, I find that she’s right.

I would encourage any of you struggling with dialogue to consider if your characters need the same. Write a bunch of one-liners. Get them to talk to each other. Get them to talk to you. Even if you go back and take out superfluous lines, or add some narration to make it less script-like, or even feel odd writing so many lines, it may end up being the practice that helps your story come further to life.

Let’s Get Social

It’s a busy week at my day job, and most of my writing over the past week has been pieces that will eventually become a story. That’s always the goal, but I prefer writing more about them on the blog when they’ve settled into a proper groove. Right now they’re in the Sporadic Paragraph Stage, hanging out in random Word docs or the notebook I keep in my purse.

I may not be writing enough to post story updates on the blog today, but I am writing in a few other places. I wanted to take some time to invite you to join me there.

My Twitter page (also linked to in this site’s banner) is quite active. While I do talk about writing, it’s also a space where I talk hockey (Go Caps), television+movies (expect short versions of this post when I’m watching something), beer (drinking and writing about it), politics (no rants but plenty of thoughts), and work grievances. Work grievances are especially fun and loaded with GIFs – and some of my thoughts on boring meetings provided the blueprint for passages in the book. If any or all of these sound up your alley, or even if you just want to connect on Twitter, give me a follow – I’d love to hear from you.

I also blog semi-regularly for Stouts and Stilettos, a women’s beer blog. Most of my posts are beer reviews, conference/event reviews, and beercation guides (beercations are totally a thing). You can find my articles here, but I encourage you to visit the whole blog – there are some excellent pieces there from many talented women.

Those are my main non-writing blog residencies. Related to the blog, I wanted to remind you all that The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales has a page on Facebook. If you’re interested in getting more updates down the road – especially as it gets closer to publication – then please like and follow the collection’s page.

See you all across the Internet!

Friday Motivation: Done is Better than Perfect

The following was the entry on my desk calendar the other day. It came at a great time, as I was hesitating to continue some projects because I didn’t think they were perfect or ready enough to continue or finish. In a quick post to get the weekend started, I wanted to share it with all of you. I hope you spend your weekend – or any day, really – completing your pieces! Writing something is always better than nothing. 

Done is better than perfect
Have a good weekend, everyone. 

When She Was Sloppy

All pieces start with a first draft, and with rare exception, all first drafts are bad. Aspiring writers — myself included — often forget that all great pieces came from bad first drafts, because we only get to see these pieces after they’ve gone through revisions, professional edits, and other polishes to make them less sloppy. I always appreciate it when my favorite authors share their early drafts to prove this point (though I say early, and not first, because I’m convinced that most first drafts will never see the light of day if their authors have anything to say about it).

I’ve discovered that the forgotten first draft experience can happen with my own writing. Over the past few months, I’ve engaged the most with second and third (and ninth and tenth) drafts of my pieces. The earliest drafts of Please Give ceased around New Year’s, with the first pages written getting heavily revised or completely rewritten; and any following pages being buoyed by those revisions. The new pages weren’t perfect by any means, but they were better than first drafts because I was more familiar with the story and where it was going.

Between chapters of Please Give, I worked on revising the short stories set to appear in The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales — reading them, getting feedback from readers, incorporating edits from Evelyn, and reading through them again. The first drafts of these stories were even more buried than the first words of Please Give, going back to the spring and summer of 2016.

Despite writing every day in 2017, new writing — brand new stories, with no drafts whatsoever to guide them and no revisions to shape them — didn’t happen at all until May, when the full draft of Please Give was done. At last, I had the time and mental space to start the new projects that were simply ideas. I cracked my knuckles, opened a brand new Word document, and let the words flow from my fingers.

Words that, as they I typed them, landed rather sloppily on the page.

I found myself looking curiously at these drafts. Why are these sentences so clunky? Why can’t I come up with a good transition from this scene to the next? Why did I use three adverbs in one sentence? Why am I using so many parentheses, and writing asides and exclamations instead of narration?

It’s because I’m writing a first draft — and even after writing several pieces to satisfactory completion, I still felt daunted by that, stuck on the fact that the ideal sentence wasn’t what was currently on paper. No matter how much I write, and no matter how pleased I am with the final versions of my stories, I still have to contend with sloppy first drafts. There’s simply no avoiding them.

They also shouldn’t be avoided. First drafts are where all stories begin, after all. And even with some clunky stumbles on the way, practice does make better. I find myself able to write more in one sitting, and making less of the mistakes (both style and technical) that I made almost by default not one year ago. A first draft is a first draft, though; and even with all the practice in the world, first drafts will always be rough.

Still, I appreciate reminders of when I was sloppy, and I’d rather get those reminders through writing sloppy first drafts than simply remembering them (or rereading them, though that can be fun when looking for a reminder of how far a piece has come). Remembering them means I’m not writing them. And like many writers say, writing a bad first draft — which everyone does — is better than writing nothing at all.

Watching Stories

In On Writing, Stephen King recommends that aspiring writers avoid television lest they slog their creative brains with drivel. One moment I remember clearly from John Irving’s The World According to Garp was Garp walking by a living room and sighing as he saw the blue glow of television shining through people’s windows because, he presumed, it meant that people weren’t reading. These passages were written long ago, and I would be curious to see what these authors, as well as (many) others who are averse to television, think of the state of TV now.

(I do follow Stephen King on Twitter, and he seems to be less averse to the glowing blue box than before)

The way television has grown as a storytelling medium has fascinated me. I was never averse to TV, but I never considered it a superior storytelling medium. I preferred film – especially as I grew older, and became more familiar with independent and arthouse films which told excellent stories in ways I never thought possible. I shifted almost entirely to film by the time I was in college. Television just didn’t do it for me.

Then television became more cinematic. Premium cable channels started making more of their own shows, which could push the limits that the FCC and advertisers alike placed on broadcast networks. Services like Netflix pushed those limits even further, taking series that wouldn’t see the light of day on established networks and were given chances through a medium that not only wanted to show these stories, but could afford to. I’ve loved seeing the increased diversity and story themes across shows on HBO and Netflix, to the point where broadcast networks announcing pilots with more of the same (cough CBS cough) makes me wonder how far you have to bury your head in the sand before you become one with the dirt.

Reading is classified as the best way for a writer to learn their craft. I agree, but I think the current state of television is a close second. The way a series can flow now, with strong connections from one episode to the next (thanks to us being able to watch repeats, and on repeat whenever we like), and without commercial interruptions, gives them not just a cinematic feel, but the feel of a book unfolding through cinema cells (or digital pixels, with the current state of film). The writing and content is also fantastic. Yes, there are still plenty of shows that are trash, just like there are plenty of books that are trash. But it seems in the past several years that there are many more shows which defy the limits of either the medium itself (such as Game of Thrones) or the ideas of the people in charge of that medium.

I think of Master of None. My husband and I just finished the second season. That show is so good that it makes me seriously question producing more content. Why try when this exists? (I still want to produce content) It’s a show that I believe never would’ve seen the light of day if it weren’t for Netflix. It tells stories that corporate boardrooms insist we don’t want to see, and does so in ways that are almost painful in how creative they are. I especially love how cinematic it is – the homages to Italian cinema this season were an especially nice touch – and also the way the dialogue flows. The series unfolds like a book, with one-off chapters and an arching theme coexisting nicely in a tale of one man’s life among many, and the many lives that make up the stories of our world. Stories that need to be told, and need to be told well. I’m glad that television has become a medium where that story can be told well.

I could write extensively about many television shows, those shows’ respective merits, and how they inspire me as a writer. I probably will, down the road (coming soon: an ode to Mystery Science Theater 3000). Television – at least now – inspires me to not only write, but to write better. It shows me many possibilities on how a story can be told, and how it can be written. Never get comfortable. Never get stagnant. Challenge yourself, and not just to write a story, but to consider how that story can be told.

Music to Write Stories To

Like many of us, I play music when I write. I play music when I do a lot of things, and you can always count on various rock and pop songs to ring from my desk while I work (sorry, cubicle mates). If I’m not listening to music, I’m usually singing to myself. Songs help me move through the day, and many times, they help me move through a story.

I always enjoy reading what kinds of music different authors play when they write – especially when they share my preference for loud rock or metal. I think rock music is perfect for writing. It gets the adrenaline up, gives you confidence, and has lyrics that are garbled enough to blend into the background as white noise. Typing and head-banging are two motions I often do at once.

I listened to a lot of women-led rock and punk music while writing Please Give. Beth is a fan of that style, so listening to that helped me get in her head while writing in her voice; but I also listened to it because it’s driving and makes me feel motivated (I also like that style myself, though if I share music tastes with anyone in the book, it’s her love interest, who prefers heavy metal).

Other music I listened to while writing the book ranged from ’70s AM Gold to ’10s adult alternative, with a few styles in between. I usually listened to the same songs, though, as it helped the music blend into the background as I wrote. It also created a musical space that I would associate with working on, or even just thinking about, the book. This was especially helpful when I wasn’t able to write, like when I was at work. I could listen to the songs I played while writing, and keep the story fresh in my mind for when I could return to it.

The songs above are but a few of the ones I listened to while writing the book. I still listen to these songs a lot, even though I’m no longer writing it (I am making revisions, but still, not as heavy of a focus as before). I also tend to gravitate towards these styles as I write other pieces, as I associate their sound with writing. Music is a wonderful writing companion, and like stories, I’m glad I can carry it with me through my computer, my phone, or even in my own head.