About Writers, inspiration, publishing, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op, writing technique

Insights

Secrets of Bestselling Authors

INSPIRATION & IDEAS
“Good writing is remembering detail. Most people want to forget. Don’t forget things that were painful or embarrassing or silly. Turn them into a story that tells the truth.”
– Paula Danziger

GETTING STARTED
“Two questions form the foundation of all novels: ‘What if?’ and ‘What next?’ (A third question, ‘What now?’, is one the author asks himself every 10 minutes or so; but it’s more a cry than a question.) Every novel begins with the speculative question, What if ‘X’ happened? That’s how you start.”
– Tom Clancy

STYLE & CRAFT
“What a writer has to do is write what hasn’t been written before or beat dead men at what they have done.”
– Ernest Hemingway

PURPOSE
“The only obligation any artist can have is to himself. His work means nothing, otherwise. It has no meaning.”
– Truman Capote

CHARACTERS
“The writer must always leave room for the characters to grow and change. If you move your characters from plot point to plot point, like painting by the numbers, they often remain stick figures. They will never take on a life of their own. The most exciting thing is when you find a character doing something surprising or unplanned. Like a character saying to me: ‘Hey, Richard, you may think I work for you, but I don’t. I’m my own person.’”
– Richard North Patterson

PLOT & STRUCTURE
“The problem for me is finding my own plots. They take a long time. … I like to have it happen, just like in our own lives. We don’t always know where they’re going, and if we make formal decisions on a given night, if we sit down and put a list of things we’re going to do on a piece of paper, they almost never work out right.”
– Norman Mailer

RITUALS & METHODS
“The conclusion to be drawn is that I am happiest writing in small rooms. They make me feel comfortable and secure. And it took me years to figure out that I need to write in a corner. Like a small animal burrowing into its hole, I shift furniture around, and back myself into a cozy corner, with my back to the wall … and then I can write.”
– Danielle Steel

REVISION & EDITING
“I do not rewrite unless I am absolutely sure that I can express the material better if I do rewrite it.”
– William Faulkner

PUBLISHING
“Publishers want to take chances on books that will draw a clamor and some legitimate publicity. They want to publish controversial books. That their reasons are mercenary and yours may be lofty should not deter you.”
– Harlan Ellison

READERS
“In truth, I never consider the audience for whom I’m writing. I just write what I want to write.”
– J.K. Rowling

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About Writers, blogging, inspiration, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op, writing technique

Advice from the Front Lines

Current Writers on Writing Today

But first, an editorial comment:
“I’ve been an editor for a very long time—let’s say several lifetimes in dog years—and I’ll let you in on a secret. Although your workshop colleagues will (ideally) read your entire manuscript carefully, generously, and kindly, an editor will begin making a decision in about a minute.
What the editor is really looking for is presence on the page—a feeling that you, the author, are in control; that you have a deep respect for language and a well-made sentence, no matter how plain or ornate; that something is at stake; and that in addition to whatever plot you are hatching, you can create friction in the simple act of rubbing two sentences up against each other.
– Dawn Raffel

“Great writers play to their strengths. If you’re hilarious, let yourself be funny. If you have an ear for dialogue, keep your characters talking. If you have a sixth sense for plotting and suspense, write a mystery.”
– Arlaina Tibensky

“By writing about your experiences, you transform your memories into tangible monuments. You validate what happened to you from your own perspective, with your own creativity.”
– Alissa Torres

How to Write a Sex Scene: “‘But what if I’m not filthy enough?’ you think. What if Bruce Springsteen is busy? Most sex scenes are read and forgotten. Readers go on with their lives. You’re competing with the entire internet. You’re competing with sex itself.”
– Rebecca Schiff

“Very often, the most effective humor in writing doesn’t come from a clever concept, or a turn of phrase, or a one-liner, or a bit of killer dialogue. Instead, it comes from the manipulation of carefully built structures, from the ways in which you introduce well known patterns, then undermine those patterns with revealing character action.”
– Mike Scalise

“The best bit of that advice, and one I would take to heart as a novelist, is the idea of keeping your readers off kilter whenever possible. If they know what’s coming, there’s a good chance they’ll put down your book and move on to something else.”
– Duane Swierczynski

To me, the most memorable insight into the motivation for writing may be Vladimir Nabakov’s,
“I shall not exist, if you do not imagine me.”

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About Writers, inspiration, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op, writing technique

Writers on Writing

write drunkThere is no proof, of course, that Hemingway ever said that. It was probably his bartender. But many writers we know have offered useful advice. Here’s seven:

Ray Bradbury
“If you stuff yourself full of poems, essays, plays, stories, novels, films, comic strips, magazines, music, you automatically explode every morning like Old Faithful. I have never had a dry spell in my life, mainly because I feed myself well, to the point of bursting. I wake early and hear my morning voices leaping around in my head like jumping beans. I get out of bed quickly, to trap them before they escape.”

Stephen King
“For me, writing is like walking through a desert and all at once, poking up through the hardpan, I see the top of a chimney. I know there’s a house under there.”

Arthur C. Clarke
“When I start on a book, I have been thinking about it and making occasional notes for some time—20 years in the case of Imperial Earth, and 10 years in the case of the novel I’m presently working on. So I have lots of theme, locale, subjects and technical ideas. It’s amazing how the subconscious self works on these things. I don’t worry about long periods of not doing anything. I know my subconscious is busy.”

James Michener
“Being goal-oriented instead of self-oriented is crucial. I know so many people who want to be writers. But let me tell you, they really don’t want to be writers. They want to have been writers. They wish they had a book in print. They don’t want to go through the work of getting the damn book out. There is a huge difference.”

Tom Clancy
“Two questions form the foundation of all novels: ‘What if?’ and ‘What next?’ (A third question, ‘What now?’, is one the author asks himself every 10 minutes or so; but it’s more a cry than a question.) Every novel begins with the speculative question, What if ‘X’ happened? That’s how you start.”

Richard North Patterson
“The most exciting thing is when you find a character doing something surprising or unplanned. Like a character saying to me: ‘Hey, Richard, you may think I work for you, but I don’t. I’m my own person.’”

Tom Robbins
“I’m very concerned with the rhythm of language. ‘The sun came up’ is an inadequate sentence. Even though it conveys all the necessary information, rhythmically it’s lacking. The sun came up. But, if you say, as Laurie Anderson said, ‘The sun came up like a big bald head,’ not only have you, perhaps, entertained the fancy of the reader, but you have made a more complete sentence. The sound of a sentence.”

Me?
Write to be a writer if that’s the one identity that makes sense of everything else you are.

What about you? If other writers want your advice. What do you say?

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Stories, Writers Co-op Anthology, writing technique

Anthology April

Curtis Bausse Book a Break Short Story Competition

A big thank you to all who submitted stories for the first Rabbit Hole anthology – 56 submissions in all, a very healthy number for our first outing. Now the hard part begins – the selection process. We aim to get this done over the next 2 to 3 weeks, and all authors will be notified one way or the other before the end of the month. After that, it’s editing, revision, proofreading, formatting… a process on which I’d rather not put a concluding date right now.

But it’s already begun, and for me not once but twice: for The Rabbit Hole and for The Second Taste. That’s the title of this year’s Book a Break anthology (which will also be its last year). The title comes from Anaïs Nin: We write to taste life twice: in the moment and in retrospection. And in the anthology, as befits the theme of nourishment, there will be many flavours. With more still to come – there’s room for another half dozen stories, so if you have anything you’d like to submit, send it along before the end of this month to curtis.bausse(at)outlook.com. Maximum length: (more or less) 2000 words.

So April for me will be anthology month. All this has got me thinking about what makes a good short story. It’s far easier to say what doesn’t work than what does, which I’m not even going to attempt here. Instead I’ll let Atthys Gage give an idea – this is from the announcement of the first Book a Break competition, which he judged:

Let’s admit one thing. You may need to ignore everyone’s favorite writing tip: “show, don’t tell”— or at least, take it with a grain of salt. Telling is okay, just tell it well. Sometimes it’s necessary. You need a quick set up to get the reader involved quickly, because in a very few pages, you’re going to pull a fast one, yank our expectations out from under our feet, drop us abruptly on our backsides. Consider The Open Window by Saki, or The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, or The Nine Billion Names of God by Arthur C. Clarke.

Or maybe your story doesn’t feature a last minute reversal. Maybe it’s all one slow-burn, building to a frantic boil. Think Young Goodman Brown by Hawthorne, or A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor. These stories play with our expectations, but you can see the ending coming. By the time it comes, you know it was inevitable all along.

Then there’s this from Heidi Pitlor: A successful short story does not expose its mechanics. Hell, it most likely does not have mechanics, rather a set of characters, a voice, an arc, momentum and a raison d’être so indivisible that to examine one of these aspects might seem pointless without the context of the others.

There’s only one thing I can say for sure – a good short story makes you want to come back for a second taste.

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About Writers, blogging, inspiration, Research, Stories, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op, writing technique

Steep and Roll

songwriting 2This is a concept that I am gradually beginning to understand how to use. A friend once critiqued my first novel with:

“There’s so much great stuff in there it needs to slow its roll and steep a little, meaning take longer to explain things and have a nice build up.”
– Chris Gabriel, song writer

Chris explained it as a technique that professional song writers use. It made me wonder how many other song writing techniques could apply to story writing. So, I researched song writing advice and found dozens of tips. Here’s the top 6.

1. Practice. Like any other creative process such as playing guitar or programming synth sounds, lyric-writing is a skill that can be learnt and improved upon.

2. Don’t be disheartened if your lyrics aren’t perfect on the first draft. Many professional writers will rewrite a song’s lyrics dozens of times before they make it onto record.

3. Persevere. More often than not, songs aren’t born, they’re created and sculpted. Don’t expect a song to arrive fully formed; they sometimes take time and you’ll need to work at it.

4. If you can’t quite figure out how to say what you want within a particular line, jot down the gist of it and move on to another part of the song – you can come back to it later. That way, you won’t spend hours wrestling with one small line that might turn out to be insignificant in the wider context of the song.

5. Try to have a clear idea of what the song is about. You should be able to sum up the essence of the song in one sentence.

6. Analyze other songs. Try to pick out the differences in lyrics between your favorite songs and your own and apply any lyrical techniques you learn to your own work.

I think we story writers can learn a lot from song writers. Oh and, if anyone has insight into “Steep and Roll,” please post it in the comments?

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About Writers, blogging, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op, writing technique

Writing to Raise Consciousness—Meaning and Intent

“Writing to Raise Consciousness”–it’s my tagline, my author branding. Since I write both fiction and nonfiction, it might seem challenging to wrap both types of writing into the same package. Eyebrows raise, faces morph into puzzled expressions, and people ask the obvious: “What do you mean? What do you mean when you make a statement saying you want to write in ways that raise consciousness? Please explain…”

Ask ten people to define “consciousness” and you will likely get ten different answers. Even among scholars who study consciousness from scientific, philosophical, and metaphysical perspectives, there is little agreement about what consciousness actually is. Without agreed upon definitional characteristics, how do I attempt to raise or elevate something we are not clear about and may not even be able to measure or quantify at all? It isn’t like raising the temperature of something through a process of heating. It isn’t like inciting a riot with inflammatory rhetoric. Physics and sociology have ways of measuring those processes.

Is this a blind men problem—trying to describe an elephant, each with only a fragmented understanding? Is this some sort of dark matter/dark energy construct—useful in trying to understand something we really do not understand? Am I deluding myself in thinking I can write ‘stuff’ that is going to actually raise consciousness? To complicate matters further, while playing my own Devil’s Advocate, if one believes consciousness is infinite and beyond constructs of space and time, then you cannot raise, elevate, expand, or increase it in any way. X + infinity still = infinity. In some ways, it is a thorny thicket.

Despite these challenges, I do not back down from my intent to raise consciousness through my writing, nor do I move from my belief that I can actually do so. The method to achieve this works at different levels or dimensions. It also hopefully works on both individual and collective consciousness.

The first level is rather simple and straightforward. There is widespread agreement that a relationship exists between consciousness and awareness. Precisely what that relationship is can be difficult to say, but for purposes of this argument, let us simply posit that awareness and consciousness are related. If I write something about a particular social ill such as violence, or racism, or children sex-slaves, and my writing (fiction or nonfiction) calls attention to this social ill, makes people more aware of the problem, I have raised consciousness at this level.

There is a long history of literature calling attention to social injustice. To name a few examples:

  • The horror of war—Johnny Got Your Gun
  • Racial prejudice—To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Exploitation of immigrants—The Jungle

There is another type of ‘calling attention to an issue’ that goes beyond social ills. Authors often write about potential problems that might occur in order to raise awareness, to get readers to think about a particular issue. What if artificial intelligence got out of control as in Terminator? What would an Orwellian 1984 future of government control and propaganda be like? These topics are often explored in speculative fiction. Robert Heinlein, one of my favorite science fiction authors, often addresses social themes in his writing. In many ways, his writing helps to raise consciousness at this first level. My science fiction novel, Sentient, calls attention to certain social themes. Isolation/separation and how this contributes to competition over cooperation, how we treat people with mental illness, and acculturation to violence are just a few of the issues I touch upon. In my nonfiction book, Pathways to Health, I am asking readers to think about health in a different way, to recognize the distortions and limitations that characterize our beliefs about our own health and how we can achieve better health.

What underlies this first-level approach to raising consciousness is to call attention, to get the reader to notice or to think about something in an introspective way. The process is one of raising awareness so as to effect change. The change may be in a belief, an action or behavior of some sort. This touches upon the second-level, i.e. evolution. I’ll loosely go with a broad definition of evolution as the gradual development of something. The key piece here is “development”–something that occurs as change over time. In this sense, writing to raise consciousness represents an effort to support and promote the evolution of consciousness both on an individual and collective level.

This type of development follows a sequence, much the same as a child first learns to crawl, then walk, then run. This represents increasing motor skill and developmental maturity. On a psychological level, the ego develops along a sequence of self-centered ‘me’ to expanding awareness of others–family, nation, the world, the universe. This is a natural progression of awareness and an evolution of consciousness. This change is accompanied by new ways of thinking, believing, and behaving.

A similar developmental sequence occurs as part of spiritual growth and maturation. Some teachings explain this spiritual evolution as following a path toward enlightenment. I am particularly fond of Integral Theory and how it characterizes the different stages of growth and development along a psycho-spiritual evolution (outward) and involution (inward) path. I am also fond of David Hawkins’ Map of Human Consciousness that delineates characteristic thoughts, beliefs, and actions accompanying each developmental stage of the evolution of consciousness. When I write, sometimes I intend to raise consciousness by getting readers to think differently, to challenge beliefs, to expand and grow in their consciousness. In some ways this represents personal growth and transformation toward a higher level of consciousness. I have often had this experience myself when reading the wisdom of a variety of spiritual teachers. Some of the chapters in my book, Health Wise—Integral Lessons in Transformation, are specifically targeted towards raising consciousness at this second level.

I’ll touch upon the third level more briefly. I also write with the intention of raising consciousness in a much more indigenous way. My explanation thus far has focused on raising awareness and consciousness at the individual level and more broadly at the collective level of society. I also believe that there is a planetary aspect to consciousness that also follows a developmental or evolutionary sequence. The term, “Noosphere” was first coined by Teilhard de Chardin. Basically, you can think of this as not only our specie’s, but the entire planet’s collective consciousness. Such consciousness exists as part of an entire cosmic consciousness. Our planet’s noosphere is evolving towards an expanded capacity as part of the natural evolution of planetary consciousness. This theory/belief is expounded upon in some detail by José Argüelles in his book, Manifesto for the Noosphere.

Many have written about the great shift in consciousness occurring during these times. Rather than writing about this shift or about the noosphere, I am writing with the specific desire of facilitating the shift to occur, to making my small contribution toward the evolution of our planetary consciousness. My individual consciousness, my thoughts and behaviors, and specifically my writing are all generally intended towards promoting the expansion of the noosphere. In my book, Sentient, when I am writing about telepathy and collective consciousness, these are processes associated with the noosphere. Yet, whether or not anyone reads anything that I have written, anything that I do, write, or even think potentially influences the collective planetary consciousness at this third level.

Complicated…straightforward…perfectly muddy? I don’t expect the typical reader to really understand what I mean by, “Writing to Raise Consciousness”. In some ways, it doesn’t matter if a reader understands my intent, my goal. What matters to me is whether or not something I have written has the intended outcome. Does it work? Am I successful in achieving my goal? I don’t know for sure, but if you are at least thinking about these things, feeling a bit introspective, wondering about your own consciousness or the greater collective consciousness, then perhaps I have had some small success. I think of this effort applied in three different dimensions at which I can potentially raise consciousness. In some small way, I hope what I have written has been instrumental in raising your consciousness…

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About Writers, book promotion, inspiration, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op, writing technique

A Chance Encounter With Author Eric Michael Craig

Note: Eric Michael Craig is a successful sci-fi author and publisher. The following is about the man, as a writer.

+++“That’s the science fiction author, Eric Michael Craig,” wait-bot Sally answered me.
+++I’d asked because at 4:AM, he and I were the only two people left in the bar. Outside, the wind howled but that was why they called this planet The Howling. “Think he’d talk to me?”
+++Sally giggled, “He doesn’t mind talking. I mean, about his work.” That suited me. I had a deadline approaching and an author’s interview would keep my publisher happy for… minutes. So, I walked over to his table and unceremoniously plopped into a seat. “Why?” I asked him.
+++In the tavern lighting, Eric has a Hemingway look about him, solid, bald with a standard circle beard, a bit scruffy. He wore a workman’s shirt with the top buttons open and a braided leather necklace.
+++“Why do you write science fiction?”

+++“My Father. He wanted to be a sci fI novelist since well before I was born. In fact he completed two manuscripts but never managed to get either one accepted. He submitted the first one when I was maybe 5 years old and got a form letter rejection because he hadn’t followed the guidelines for submission. After that he kept writing but never again tried to get anything published. He wrote because he was a fan of the genre (back in the heyday of people like Heinlein and Clarke and Asimov).”
+++We both genuflected.
+++“When I was old enough to read the very first books he handed to me were Rocketship Galileo and Between Planets. I was maybe 5 years old when I started into those novels, and from then on nothing else I ever read held my interest like Sci Fi. Dad gently encouraged me to write, but his own rejection made him a bit more cautious in how he pushed me. Then when I was in 7th grade, an English teacher I had, wholeheartedly started shoving me in that direction. Together the two of them tried to keep me writing, but I was a typical teenager and I had the attention span of a flea … so of course I went off in another direction with my life.
+++I started flirting with the idea of writing seriously only after my father passed away and my mom gave me copies of the manuscripts that he’d written. I was about to retire at that point in time (I was 41), but it wasn’t until my mom was diagnosed with cancer and she and I were talking about losing our dreams (and how it had affected my dad when he gave up wanting to be a writer) that I decided to commit myself to it. For him and for me too. My mom lived long enough to read the first draft of the story that became my first two novels.
+++You could say, if you forgive how this sounds like an epic fantasy theme, that this was a destiny I inherited from my father and denied for most of my life, only to discover after the trials I faced that it was indeed my inevitable path.
But I usually tell people, it was me just being too damn dumb to know better.”

+++I smiled. Sally was right. “Marshall McLuhan once commentated that artists and outlaws are on the outside looking in. He also said they see things as they are while the rest of us are looking at the world through a rear-view mirror.
What effects do you hope your books will have on your readers?”

+++“Sleeplessness?
+++Actually I hope my story will leave the reader thinking (and if that thinking keeps them up at night, that isn’t entirely a bad thing). I want my writing to engage their mind, not just entertain them. I think it is far easier to simply tell a story than to inspire a reader to keep thinking about what they read. If I can leave them wondering, “what if it really happened?” … then I have reached my goal.”

+++“What kind of world do you like to create for your characters?”

+++“I guess I am different in how I write because I tend to think of my world and my characters as an integrated single thing. The world is not so far extrapolated from the one we live in, so I tend to leave the world building to the current headlines, and then I just broaden the perspective to paint a complete perspective of the action. I can’t say I liked building this world because I really didn’t build one… Instead I focused some light into the more hidden corners of the world we already know.
+++Stormhaven Rising and Prometheus and the Dragon are very complex stories with multiple character sets interwoven in very broad ranging story lines. I have over 150 characters in the two novels and it takes all of them to tell the story.
+++I didn’t treat the characters as individuals, although they are fully rounded in and of themselves. But it is probably easier to think of them as character groups that work and act together, and in some ways represent segments of a culture that has its own personality (and purpose).
+++I guess I kinda took the question sideways, but world building is not something I have done in my most recent books. You might say it is more of a process of analysis, than creation of a world.”

+++“You like to work deeper themes into your novels. What themes, and why?”

+++“Darker themes? Hmm I don’t know if I would call them darker themes. Sure the idea of facing the potential end of the world is dark in and of itself, and it is bound to bring out the worst in humanity, but it also brings out the best. I think that what I write is based on a fairly accurate extrapolation of the world we live in. If it feels dark, then unfortunately that might be a reflection on the current human condition.”

+++“‘Deeper,’ not darker. But I like your answer.”

+++“Oh you’re right, how Freudian of me. Of course deep down in the ocean it’s pretty dark (even if it is teeming with life). Real depth sometimes can only be found if you’re challenging the dark.
+++I know that as I wrote the first two novels of ‘Atlas and the Winds,’ I tried to keep a balance between both the heavier elements and the lighter and more uplifting side of the story. With only a few exceptions I think I balanced the tragedy with the triumph.
+++In my mind, balancing triumph with tragedy is something that has to happen in life. When that balance is lost in one direction, hope dies a hard and bitter death. When it is tipped in the other direction, the victories become easy and meaningless.
+++In some ways I believe suffering is essential to finding value in those moments when you come out on top. That’s not to say I like to suffer, but when I do finally triumph, it makes the victory infinitely more meaningful.
+++As to the whole concept of balancing highs and lows in my outlook on life, I can say … maybe. Although ultimately it is the darkness that allows us to appreciate the light (however dim it is).
+++However, in writing if you only focus on one side, the story never spins well. If my books only told about how everything pounded the characters mercilessly and relentlessly (or how the characters were all indestructible), then I don’t think there would be much point in reading them. The closer you can keep to the point where the plot could go either way, the more intensely the reader is drawn in and compelled to invest emotionally in the arc of the characters.”

+++Good stuff, I thought as dawn lit the windows. I thanked Eric and left, feeling that I had just met a man worth knowing.

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