Today the Dirty Birds are cawing about the second set of 25 tips Chuck Wendig’s The Kickass Writer: 25 Questions To Ask As You Write.
Zoe: I love/hate the questions in this chapter. They can be frustrating to work through when you’re writing—the answers seem so lame, so fleeting, so tenuous. It always feels like “What does Dan want? Dan wants a glass of water. What is the conflict? Dan wants a glass of water, but when he turns the faucet on, brown sludge comes out. What’s the purpose of this scene? The purpose of this scene is to thwart Dan’s quest to quench his thirst. What has to happen? Brown sludge has to come out of the faucet. How does the setting affect my story? It’s set in a kitchen with bad plumbing. It affects my story because the bad plumbing leads to the sludge that thwarts Dan’s quest to quench his thirst. What do I want the reader to feel? Thirsty. Am I enjoying this? I will once we get to the brown sludge part, I hope. Am I taunted by an endless parade of distractions? Actually, I’m kind of distracted by the thought of getting a nice, cool drink right now. Where are my pants? On my legs. Jesus, where else would my pants be?”
Ana: In your closet, because you’re a writer and, as such, should not be wearing pants.
Kate: That was my thought. I was puzzled for a minute.
Zoe: I WEAR PANTS. I don’t care what the write of you so-called “writers” do.
Kate: I liked Tip #4. “Am I Ready?” I do months of ‘in-head’ planning before I start a story.
Ana: I’m one of those impatient people who can’t wait that long to jump in.
Zoe: My follow-up question to “Am I ready?” is “Am I wearing pants?” I fall somewhere in between…I might plan for a while, I might start writing the opening right off…and if I start writing right off, then stop for a while to plan and pick it up again later.
Ana: I’m now trying to plan wip #2 while I’m writing #1 so I don’t jump in too early out of boredom.
Kate: I often create a file and write little snitches of a story, so I don’t forget it, but generally all the planning is going on in the back of my mind while I’m pounding away at all the lumps and odd bits of the one I’m working on.
Haha, Chuck has such turns of phrase: “Did they dose up a four-year-old on Nyquil and let him write this plot?” I’ll admit to combing through WIPs to identify Nyquil moments. I’ll be making changes to the manuscript right up to and including proofreading. (Which might explain why the proofs are starting to come as PDFs now…)
Ana: Tip number 17 kind of makes me feel bad for not always having a total potential word count in mind. On the other hand, word count is a bit less important in digital publishing than it used to be.
Kate: Wordcount is an arbitrary limit, a fence around your creativity. STOP STEALING MY CREATIVITY, MAN!
Zoe: I do more praying that I don’t end up with 100,000 words again than I do setting an actual goal. Lots of praying and offerings given at altars.
Kate: See, in fantasy and scifi, 90-100K is normal. It’s when you have to dovetail that with romance expectations that things get a little muddy.
Zoe: I should switch genres.
Kate: I’m surprised horror isn’t like that too. After all, you have a not-quite-normal setting as well.
Ana: I somehow managed to write a fantasy-romance that’s just scratching 70k. But I did it by being crap at world-building.
Zoe: Stephen King aside, horror novels tend to be more middling-length. Which I’m good with! I’d like to write short(er) zippy things. A lot of horror takes place in “the real world,” so world-building isn’t often a big part of it. That’s where the scare comes from: it’s a world you recognize and are comfortable in.
Kate: Yeah, Ana, you might want to revisit your world-building. Not too much scarier than a fantasy reader faced with a thin world. (Think Gremlins after midnight.)
Ana: Surprisingly I haven’t been burned at the stake thus far. Hope my luck will hold out.
I think Chuck wrote #14 for me: Taunted by an Endless Parade of Distractions.
Ana: Sorry, can you repeat that? I was over on Facebook for a moment.
Kate: Haha. He’s right, though. I think the distractibility thing is just another way of not dealing with your fear of hitting the tough points in a WIP. And you can only get through those tough parts by turning off the distractions and making yourself write. It’s often not as bad as you think. What was that quote from Joe Abercrombie’s book? “Once you’ve got a task to do, it’s better to do it than live with the fear of it.”
Ana: Yeah, it usually is. Still fear is often such an irrational thing that it can be hard to turn it off.
Kate: On a related note, he asks that you identify things in your real life that are interfering with your work. When you do realize something is getting in the way of your writing, you have to look at ways to either get rid of it, or work around it. I know I’m going through that stage right now, with house repairs and getting ready for winter, but the things I’m doing now, or will be doing in the next month, will leave me with more time to write during the winter. I suppose I could have hired someone to put in the window, or sort out the septic problems, but these are also experiences that may or may not make it into a book at some point. So I think there’s a balance to be struck between getting rid of all distractions and obstacles so you can write, and living your life so you have things to write about.
Ana: I love that as a writer, every bad experience you go through can be made a little more positive with the thought of ‘hey, maybe I can use this in a book someday.’
Kate: And every person who you see being rude or mean can be sucked out a porthole during a massive decompression incident near Neptune.
Ana: Therapeutic writing.
Kate: Yes. Though those scenes never make it into an actual WIP, because that would be mean. If I ever do suck someone out into space, it will be a totally made up person. (Now that I think about it, I do have a number of ships to destroy in an asteroid belt…)
Ana: I’m not going to promise that every person I’ll ever kill in my books will be completely made up. (Although, if you ask me, all resemblances to real people are completely accidental)
Kate: #16 was written for me too. “Where are my pants?” My answer? “Pants?”
Ana: They’ve probably been stolen by Zoe by now.
Kate: She’s the only one who seems to wear them.
#20 and #21–the Holy Grail of anyone who works on computers. “Have I saved recently? And is this all backed up somewhere?” I still remember that sinking feeling when I prepped the file for Knight to be subbed, and discovered that two of the chapters had completely corrupted at some point. ASCII print, it looked like, sprinkled in amongst about 40% normal characters. I had to recreate those chapters almost completely, because I didn’t have a backup from before the corruption. (I’d been saving over the backups in the interests of disk space. After this, I bought an external hard drive.)
Ana: You’re scaring me. I’ve never had a text file go corrupt. (I have also never worried about disk space with text files). I back up to drop box and an external hard drive. But I have become so used to Scrivener’s auto save that I have to remind myself to hit Save when working in Word.
Zoe: I think I command-S every five seconds in my sleep at this point. And my backup system is multi-level and stored on three devices and the cloud automatically. (We have a lot of power outages here, and power surges. So I don’t play around.)
Kate: I back up my LSB library after every session and store it on my hard drive and the cloud. The program itself runs from a USB drive.
Zoe: “What will I write tomorrow” may be the most useful tip in the book. If you leave your work knowing what you plan to do tomorrow, it’s so much easier to get started again. I do make a little note for myself at the end of today’s words.
Ana: I should probably start doing that.
Kate: I usually have a note–just one sentence–or a few keywords to remind myself where I planned to go. Because the hardest part about a writing session is getting into the mindset. If you’ve already got a few stepping stones in place, it’s much easier to keep walking.
Zoe: Yes, I just do a sentence or two too, and my note serves two purposes, because I use it as a story goal in lieu of word count goals.I still keep somewhat of an eye on wordcount, but overall I try to achieve a story goal each day; it keeps me from writing filler just to get “words” in. (It also means I don’t have the same dreaded transition looming day after day because I don’t piddle around trying to avoid it.)
Ana: I like that. I noticed during NaNo that it’s not good for me (or my writing) to focus on word count too much.
Zoe: That’s where I started the idea! I was spinning my wheels in the story just to get to those 1,667 words every day, instead of writing the story.
Ana: I actually recently saw a TED talk on youtube about ‘the puzzle of motivation’ that explained the mechanics behind this to me. Even though it wasn’t about writing, I could see the connection. (If I remember correctly it explained how being too focused on getting a reward for your work stifles the creativity that goes into completing that work. Something like that. It’s much better explained in the video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rrkrvAUbU9Y)
Kate: Creativity never does well when it’s hemmed in by rules and restrictions. Getting stuck on the numbers totally shoots down the whole point of NaNo, which is to get you writing.
Zoe: I’m just glad I’m not the only one who watches TED Talks. (I’m kind of addicted to the ones about outer space.)
Ana: I love TED Talks.
Kate: Me, too.
Zoe: They’re the perfect length! They always leave you wanting more, never bored.
Kate: Chuck ends the chapter with a good point–stop asking yourself so many questions! Yes, there are important questions, but they shouldn’t get in the way of writing. Let them sit at the back of your mind, come back to them at points while you’re writing, but don’t let them become the be-all and end-all of your story.