Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Lost Blog Post

This was a post I was supposed to put up at the Writer's Den in late November, explaining my futile and strange writing process while attempting National Novel Writing Month.  At the time it sounded rather whiny and excuse-laden (typical David!) but upon re-reading it I find that it's quite interesting: it illustrates the inner workings of a writer In Media Res; in the midst of the chaos we call 'Writing'.   So enjoy my first blog post of 2011, a little thing called ... Bare Bones Writing.

Three weeks ago I was cajoled into taking part in National Novel Writing Month, not because I was shamed into it, but because I saw how much fun everyone was having in the grand attempt to get a book written in 30 days.

Did I say fun? Ha!

Sure, the word count starts off at a manageable clip: 1666 words a day. But when you miss a day, that total climbs by 58 words, then 118, and so on. There’s really no time to mess around. When you start missing two or three days, well, it gets ugly, but the prospect of a marathon session of 10,000 words always seems to soothe the blasted soul and scuppers the guilt for a while.

Until you miss another day, and another. And, who wants to slug out 10,000 words under such pressure?

This is what happens when you start to ponder the incoherent mess being dictated on the pages of your novel. You get afraid to look at the jumbled words and tortured prose! Lord, it hurts your head! And quite frankly you just can’t get past the fact that it’ll all get fixed in the editing, so you start avoiding the stinky old thing (okay, I’m really talking about me, here).

I’ve been experimenting with a kind of hurly-burly, helter skelter, willy-nilly type of writing which involves putting thoughts down as fast as my hunt and peck style typing allows, and ignoring any and all major editing/rewrite urges. And it gets worse; in lieu of fast-dwindling plotlines and story arcs, I’ve been introducing seemingly endless and ridiculous plot twists of the daytime soap opera variety (any port in a storm), I figure that any superfluous plotlines can be edited out later and any extraneous characters can meet a hasty demise by falling off a cliff in a sudden flash of contrivance. There’s also lots of conversations between characters, mostly because I can write them quickly (yes, I cheat in this manner).

Due to this harried method of writing, there are a plethora of notes to myself between paragraphs, like “extend scene at later date” or “Kill this character, he’s annoying!” - mostly because I’m just getting the bare bones of the story down, exhuming that skeleton, and putting off the major restructuring until later (even though it kills me).

Half the time I’m only describing scenarios in half-baked and stunted prose in a kind of Hemingway/Dr. Seuss prose meld:

Danny walked into the room, plopped onto the couch, and pulled out a cigarette.

Further description only takes time and time is of the essence!

This is what I call bare bones writing.

Of course, when I do this I tend to undercut the real reason for doing NaNo in the first place: to get 50K done in 30 days. You’d figure that being more verbose only helps the narrative and fills pages faster, but that’s secondary; once I get the damn story down I figure I can expand scenes and get the numbers up. But boy is it ever hard not editing while the whole mess lies on the page! The urge to go back and sort out the disaster is almost palpable.

But still I keep writing, leaving a trail of badly composed (or decomposed) phrases and half realized scenes.

The chase for 50,000 words can get crazy, the mad scramble, fingers tripping over each other; words aren’t flowing like endless rain into a paper cup! There’s no time, ideas and scenes are drying up, characters start to drift, reasons for certain characters existing become dubious! Emergency! My story is going down the tubes!

But I take a deep breath and say to myself, 'I’ll sort the disaster out later.'

I suppose “Bare Bones Writing” can be summed up like this: get the damn skeleton of the story down before you forget it, and having a good ending and writing towards it helps. So does a few gallons of coffee.

Curiously, I’ve avoided a stagnant story by hopping from one scene to another, back and forth in the time-line of the book, kind of like that Pulp Fiction movie.  I figure this happens because a scene stops working and it's easier and more conducive to my lazy nature to just switch to something else, another scene or setting.  Of course, that other scene you abandoned is still there, waiting like an old container of food you forgot to throw out last month. So there are bugs in this particular system; it is what it is (A phrase that is quickly gaining vogue, and fast becoming an annoyance).

Anyway, how has National Writing Month affected me? Well, I have a lot more respect for the work that goes into a long form story. While it’s all well and good to pile through a manuscript at light speed to get it done in 30 days I must admit that I suffer the age old problem of not having enough of a story to stretch out to 50,000 words. Also, my own deficiency – typing at 25 words a minute, tends to slow the process down.

But here’s what I’ve learned by attempting NaNo; writing at a 2000 word a day pace requires a strong story, a strong story arc, and strong characters. It also requires a free-form attitude; a story has to go somewhere, and if a scenario pops into my head I have to go with it, because there’s no time to hedge, and because I can always edit it all later.

Also, I’ve learned that the prospect of having a book written in 30 days is quite a thrill, an instant gratification if you will. It’s become a kind of obsession; I wanna see the damn thing written, and I wanna have people read it, and I can find no better reason for writing a book and being a writer.

Huzzah, and happy scribbling …

(David, presently): As of this this posting, I have actually managed to get my 50,000 words down.  I have a book written, albeit it's quite a mess.  Editing! 

Thanks for dropping by the Den, and keep scribbling. Happy New Year, and let's make 2011 the best writing year ever ...

Friday, December 31, 2010

Year End Address || David Hunter

Drop the last year into the silent limbo of the past.  Let it go, for it was imperfect, and thank God that it can go.  ~ Brooks Atkinson

At the end of my first decade on this planet, when 1979 turned over to 1980, I remember being frightened by the number. It represented the unknown, and for a little kid the unknown was awfully scary. When the 80’s ended I was more concerned at how strange the number 1990 looked. And in 1999 …

Well, you get the picture.

I’m nostalgic by nature; I used to get sentimental watching final episodes of old TV shows (The best was M*A*S*H, but the saddest was The Wonder Years …) and watching a new year turn over always gave me that weird feeling, that sensation of being hurled into unknown territory, after all, the New Year is unscripted, an unknown quality. What lies beyond December 31st, 2010? Who knows.

It’s all in the mind of course; there’s no cataclysmic changes set to occur on January 1st, 2011, but the very date suggests change, catharsis, new meanings, new resolves, new feelings, new directions; and when the winds of change take hold people tend to go with the flow. In other words, people will change things, not a date on a calendar. But oh what those changes bring!

Because it’s not just a new year, but a new decade, and if you look back, you’ll find that the turn of a decade brings about great changes (See 1950: Rock ‘n Roll, 1960: Hippies, long hair, Psychedelia, 1970: Disco, Earth-tones and Heavy Metal, 1980: New Wave, MTV, Rap …etc, etc ... and with that in mind, I guess there's nothing we can do but ride the wave of this coming decade, and see where it takes us.

“No one ever regarded the First of January with indifference. It is that from which all date their time, and count upon what is left. It is the nativity of our common Adam.” ~ Charles Lamb

So here’s to the people we left behind, the old ideas, the old ideologies, the old words, the old fads, crazes and trends, the old clothes, the old music, the old movies, the old TV shows, the old books, the old tragedies, calamities and disasters ... but not the old friends: those we keep, along with our hope for a better world.

It’s a new decade; let’s make something new of it, okay?

Happy New Year, from David Hunter and the Writer’s Den.

Le Buzz on David Hunter

I’ve been growing rather static on the blog front, so I decided to try and improve the Writer’s Den with a few changes. Mostly, the changes consist of writing more content (and more writing is always a good thing …) and adding more features. One of those features is a new Dashboard called Wiki-Den, intended as a hub for all my activity: links to stories, articles, Writing Resources and other things. It’s a ‘Wiki’ because it’s short and quick information for the time-challenged peruser. And lord knows we’re all a little time-challenged …

I want to thank all of the Den’s readers, you made this blog possible; I know it’s been wildly inconsistent and there have been long stretches between posts, but I hope to rectify that in the New Year (Hope!) and I wish you all the best. Be blessed, and take care. May we meet again soon.

Time to go: It’s almost 2011, and there’s a party waiting.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

 "... Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia ..."


I posted 'Vonnegut's Eight Rules of Writing' a while ago, but I recently stumbled across another article he wrote on writing called 'How to Write with Style', so I decided to pair the two for your reading pleasure.   Check out the Video of Kurt Vonnegut reciting his 'eight rules',  posted below. 

Happy New Year, and thanks for stopping by!

Vonnegut's Eight Rules of Writing Fiction

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

4. Every sentence must do one of two things -- reveal character or advance the action.

5. Start as close to the end as possible.

6. Be a sadist. Now matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them -- in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages. -- Kurt Vonnegut

Vonnegut's Eight Rules of Writing Fiction, from Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons 1999), p. 9-10:

How to Write With Style
Kurt Vonnegut

Newspaper reporters and technical writers are trained to reveal almost nothing about themselves in their writings. This makes them freaks in the world of writers, since almost all of the other ink-stained wretches in that world reveal a lot about themselves to readers. We call these revelations, accidental and intentional, elements of style.

These revelations tell us as readers what sort of person it is with whom we are spending time. Does the writer sound ignorant or informed, stupid or bright, crooked or honest, humorless or playful --- ? And on and on.

Why should you examine your writing style with the idea of improving it? Do so as a mark of respect for your readers, whatever you're writing. If you scribble your thoughts any which way, your readers will surely feel that you care nothing about them. They will mark you down as an egomaniac or a chowderhead --- or, worse, they will stop reading you.

The most damning revelation you can make about yourself is that you do not know what is interesting and what is not. Don't you yourself like or dislike writers mainly for what they choose to show you or make you think about? Did you ever admire an emptyheaded writer for his or her mastery of the language? No.

So your own winning style must begin with ideas in your head.

1. Find a subject you care about
Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, and not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style.

I am not urging you to write a novel, by the way --- although I would not be sorry if you wrote one, provided you genuinely cared about something. A petition to the mayor about a pothole in front of your house or a love letter to the girl next door will do.

2. Do not ramble, though
I won't ramble on about that.

3. Keep it simple
As for your use of language: Remember that two great masters of language, William Shakespeare and James Joyce, wrote sentences which were almost childlike when their subjects were most profound. "To be or not to be?" asks Shakespeare's Hamlet. The longest word is three letters long. Joyce, when he was frisky, could put together a sentence as intricate and as glittering as a necklace for Cleopatra, but my favorite sentence in his short story "Eveline" is this one: "She was tired." At that point in the story, no other words could break the heart of a reader as those three words do.

Simplicity of language is not only reputable, but perhaps even sacred. The Bible opens with a sentence well within the writing skills of a lively fourteen-year-old: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth."

4. Have guts to cut
It may be that you, too, are capable of making necklaces for Cleopatra, so to speak. But your eloquence should be the servant of the ideas in your head. Your rule might be this: If a sentence, no matter how excellent, does not illuminate your subject in some new and useful way, scratch it out.

5. Sound like yourself
The writing style which is most natural for you is bound to echo the speech you heard when a child. English was Conrad's third language, and much that seems piquant in his use of English was no doubt colored by his first language, which was Polish. And lucky indeed is the writer who has grown up in Ireland, for the English spoken there is so amusing and musical. I myself grew up in Indianapolis, where common speech sounds like a band saw cutting galvanized tin, and employs a vocabulary as unornamental as a monkey wrench.
In some of the more remote hollows of Appalachia, children still grow up hearing songs and locutions of Elizabethan times. Yes, and many Americans grow up hearing a language other than English, or an English dialect a majority of Americans cannot understand.

All these varieties of speech are beautiful, just as the varieties of butterflies are beautiful. No matter what your first language, you should treasure it all your life. If it happens to not be standard English, and if it shows itself when your write standard English, the result is usually delightful, like a very pretty girl with one eye that is green and one that is blue.

I myself find that I trust my own writing most, and others seem to trust it most, too, when I sound most like a person from Indianapolis, which is what I am. What alternatives do I have? The one most vehemently recommended by teachers has no doubt been pressed on you, as well: to write like cultivated Englishmen of a century or more ago.

6. Say what you mean
I used to be exasperated by such teachers, but am no more. I understand now that all those antique essays and stories with which I was to compare my own work were not magnificent for their datedness or foreignness, but for saying precisely what their authors meant them to say. My teachers wished me to write accurately, always selecting the most effective words, and relating the words to one another unambiguously, rigidly, like parts of a machine. The teachers did not want to turn me into an Englishman after all. They hoped that I would become understandable --- and therefore understood. And there went my dream of doing with words what Pablo Picasso did with paint or what any number of jazz idols did with music. If I broke all the rules of punctuation, had words mean whatever I wanted them to mean, and strung them together higgledy-piggledy, I would simply not be understood. So you, too, had better avoid Picasso-style or jazz-style writing, if you have something worth saying and wish to be understood.

Readers want our pages to look very much like pages they have seen before. Why? This is because they themselves have a tough job to do, and they need all the help they can get from us.

7. Pity the readers
They have to identify thousands of little marks on paper, and make sense of them immediately. They have to read, an art so difficult that most people don't really master it even after having studied it all through grade school and high school --- twelve long years.

So this discussion must finally acknowledge that our stylistic options as writers are neither numerous nor glamorous, since our readers are bound to be such imperfect artists. Our audience requires us to be sympathetic and patient readers, ever willing to simplify and clarify --- whereas we would rather soar high above the crowd, singing like nightingales.

That is the bad news. The good news is that we Americans are governed under a unique Constitution, which allows us to write whatever we please without fear of punishment. So the most meaningful aspect of our styles, which is what we choose to write about, is utterly unlimited.

8. For really detailed advice
For a discussion of literary style in a narrower sense, in a more technical sense, I recommend to your attention The Elements of Style, by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White. E.B. White is, of course, one of the most admirable literary stylists this country has so far produced.

You should realize, too, that no one would care how well or badly Mr. White expressed himself, if he did not have perfectly enchanting things to say.

In Sum:

1. Find a subject you care about
2. Do not ramble, though
3. Keep it simple
4. Have guts to cut
5. Sound like yourself
6. Say what you mean
7. Pity the readers

from: How to Use the Power of the Printed Word, Doubleday

Monday, December 27, 2010

"...It's possible to have a writing career, but you must first ask yourself if, in fact, you are a writer ..."

Yes, I know, It’s been too long between posts, but life has a way of wedging itself between me and my writing, like a fat guy (Horizontally Challenged) blocking my view at the movie theater because he had to go get some Goobers and is trying to get back to his seat.

First of all, I flamed out on that NaNo thing (National Novel Writing Month) and I felt like such a failure (There’s no shame in it, it happens) but I was nearing exhaustion from work, and time had become my enemy (is Time not always the enemy?)

And then there was Christmas. Ugh. Family, friends, constant drop-ins, get-togethers; it was like one giant unending cocktail party. I marvel at ANYone who can write during the chaos of the holidays.

The festive season tends to shake writers out of their natural state (brooding anti-socialism) and into a kind of gregarious drunken happy-state, which is not conducive to a writer’s constitution - at least not mine.  Also, trying to find an hour of peace to get something down onto paper can be a struggle; during the holidays people tend to stick around till the wee hours of the night, drunkenly talking your ear off.

Finally, After all the folks have gone home or have crashed for the night, around 3 AM, say,  I'd get all excited to write. I'd quietly sit behind the computer and open a Word Doc, the booze still coursing through my brain, and we sit there, the Doc and I, with only that cursor flashing between us, and …

Nothing. Sleep just overwhelms me. This is the usual occurrence.

Slowly I come out of this happy-ass state, usually takes a few days, because every time I look at my blog it gets stinkier and stinkier and I start hoping that the last post from a month ago changes magically on its own (alas, it won’t) …

Happy New Year! Start Writing, sucker!

A new year is upon us, and as usual writers make confirmations anew; resolutions are made, promises sworn, ideas hatched, and we can forget all about our perceived failures (Read: Self-Loathing) because the slate is clean, and we can plan that book (or plan to finish it) because there’s a whole shiny new year ahead, and anything is possible.

It always helps to define what a writer is, and what writing is, to aid us in our lonely struggle, to get some sorta perspective on things, because all that info on writing we've been absorbing must have clogged up our fragile brains over the long year. I mean, haven’t you heard millions of words pertaining to writing in the past 12 months? Time to etch-a-sketch it. I perused the web and came up with some definitions of writing and writers; call it a "Drastic Renewal of Purpose", if you will.

Keep it Simple Stupid

Definition of a writer? Isn’t it “One who writes?” … yeah, it is, but as usual I need to go deeper, because I like to confuse the issue. I like to throw some Metaphysical Mojo into the conversation just for good measure. Sure, a writer can be defined as 'One who Writes' but, does that include shopping lists?

One who writes, or has written; a scribe; a clerk.

One who is engaged in literary composition as a profession; an author; as, a writer of novels.

Okay, not bad, better than 'One who Writes', ya know?

Writing is the representation of language in a textual medium through the use of a set of signs or symbols (known as a writing system).

Well Duh!

Here's a more involved definition:

I heard one person suggest that defining a writer is as simple as asking, "What makes an electrician an electrician?" In this line of thinking, an electrician is someone who installs electrical devices and wiring. A writer then is someone who writes.

If this definition is true then you are not a writer if...

1) You have a major in journalism, but do not use your skills.

2) You only wait to write if there is a reason to write. In effect you will only write if a publisher asks for an article.

3) You dream of writing someday, just not today.

I don't know if this if an absolutely perfect definition of a writer, but the truth that 'writers write' is sometimes lost on individuals who have the skills to write, but rarely do.

Around the world there are individuals today who will sit down and map out a story, they will craft a sentence, they will dangle a few participles and some may finish a story they've been working on for months.

These tenacious individuals sit down each day to write. They may not be published yet, but they have already accepted the mantle of 'writer' simply because they have given themselves to the art of writing.

"Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it's the only way you can do anything really good." - William Faulkner

It's possible to have a writing career, but you must first ask yourself if, in fact, you are a writer.

I don't want to belabor the point, but if you have the skills to write and refuse to use them you may not be a writer. This point is made by looking at a person who has gone to electrical engineering school yet refuses to actually work with electricity.

I am well aware that the notion of defining a writer is broad and often vague. It is also a point that can be argued ad infinitum, but the purpose of this article is to encourage those who are dedicating themselves to the craft of writing. Each day you are learning more about yourself and how you define the world around you. With each pen stroke you are creating new worlds or explaining old ones. With each stoke of the key you are answering questions or creating new ones to consider.

If you simply must write today, as you did yesterday, last week and last year - you are a writer.

"If you write one story, it may be bad; if you write a hundred, you have the odds in your favor." - Edgar Rice Burroughs


Okay then, have we sufficiently clouded the issue? Here's a more humorous take on the whole thing, by none-other than Matt Groening:

Your Guide to Artistic Types || Matt Groening


Dominant Personality Type: Self-Absorption.

Secondary Personality Traits: Pomposity, Irritability, Whining.

Distinguishing Features: Nervous Twitching, Bad Posture.

Haunting Question: "Am I Just A Hack?"

How to Annoy Them: Ask "But How do you make a living?"

(Yes, all of the above describes me.)

Writing can also be defined as a magical thing, a communication thing, an expression thing, or anything you want it to be.  Let us not say that a writer is merely 'one who writes' ...

The act of writing seems akin to transmutation of elements. Sherman Alexie, in his book The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, advises “Imagine a story that puts wood in the fireplace.” In this case, the writer is like a magician, conjuring a story that creates a way to provide a home with the most elemental of home necessities: the fire in the hearth. - Suite101

 Or how about Stephen King? He thinks it's Magic ...

Stephen King believes that writing is telepathy. “All the arts depend upon telepathy to some degree, but I believe that writing offers the purest distillation” (p. 95, On Writing).

He acknowledges that writing is a learned skill, but continues by asking, “…do we not agree that sometimes the most basic skills can create things far beyond our expectations? We are talking about tools and carpentry, about words and style…but as we move along, you’d do well to remember that we are also talking about magic” (p. 131).


Jim Carroll, Writing as Alchemy

Some writers evoke the imagery of writing being akin to alchemy. Speaking of Jim Carroll’s writing, Cassie Carter titled her master’s thesis “Shit into Gold: Jim Carroll’s The Basketball Diaries and Forced Entries.” Carter discusses how writers, specifically Jim Carroll, can reinvent themselves through writing. The Medieval allusions throughout Carroll’s writing support this image of the writer as an alchemist.

To Nathaniel Hawthorne, writing is Gold:

“At some future day, it may be, I shall remember a few scattered fragments and broken paragraphs, and write them down, and find the letters turn to gold upon the page.”

 So what is Writing? What is a Writer? I couldn't tell you, but it might be Alchemy, it might be Gold, it might be Magic, and yes, it could be simply what it is: A writer writes, and writing is writing.  But If I accepted that answer than what the hell am I writing this post for?  (Because I'm a writer, and I have now come full-circle somehow ...)

Thanks for sticking around.  Let's have a productive year and fill the world with words, okay? 

Your Friend, David Hunter (Happy New Year!)
Psst: Sorry about some of the links, have to fix em: It's late here, and I'm a bit groggy =)

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