Four quick reads on writing

When I was on vacation earlier this month, I read some e-books on writing. Even though these gems were inexpensive and quick, they provided me with some valuable lessons to apply to my writing craft.

Here they are:

  • 2940045351874_p0_v2_s192x300Self-publishing a Book
    By Hank Quense
    Quense has a great series on self-publishing and this is the second one I’ve read. He’s great about explaining why he does it the way he does, but let’s the reader know everyone needs to self-publish the way that is best for himself. Good advice on what publisher to use. I will be coming back to this book as a reference.
  • 2K to 10K: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love
    2940152280371_p0_v1_s192x300By Rachel Aaron
    I loved Aaron’s Eli Monpress series and I can’t wait to read more of her stuff. She gives advice on how to increase the amount of writing that gets done during a writing session by applying her triangle of knowledge, time and enthusiasm. Now, if that sounds vague, she does get specific about what they mean in this book.
  • Writing from the Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers and Everyone In Between
    By James Scott Bell
    9780910355117_p0_v1_s192x300I love Kill Zone, a blog for which Bell contributes as part of a community of writers. This book provided a fascinating piece of advice about character development for novel writing: the “Mirror Moment.” Once again, it’s something I knew already, but didn’t know I knew. This quick read will change the way you plan your novel–and it’s easy to apply to a draft you’ve already started.
  • Scrivener Superpowers: How to Use Cutting-Edge Software to Energize Your Creative Writing Process
    By M.G. Herron
    2940157649920_p0_v1_s192x300I already read several books on Scrivener when I first learned to use it. The difference between those books (although they were wonderful and helpful) and this one is that Scrivener Superpowers gets into the nitty-gritty of not just learning to use it, but how to use is as a writer. His No-Nonsense Novel Template is also great.

So if you’re looking for some quick lessons for improving your fiction writing with maximum impact, you should check these books out. I highly recommend them.

Four quick reads on writing

How I Use My Bullet Journal

 

notebook-1174776My closest friends know my deepest secret: I use a bullet journal. I rave about it. I’m a little obsessed with it. I’ve been talking about it so much, I suspect they are planning a bullet journal intervention.

However, if they saw how a bullet journal could change their lives, they would turn the intervention on themselves and say, “Yeah, using a bullet journal organizes my life with minimal effort.”

I think everyone should use a bullet journal, but, of course, not everyone gets it or sees how great it is. It’s a special club. Anyone can join, but few understand why they should. If you are still reading this, it’s probably because you already use the bullet journal system for organizing your life and want to see how I do mine.

That’s what I’d be doing.

You see, I’m always looking for tips on bullet journaling. It’s organic. It’s customized. It’s what you want it to be. Everyone does it their own way.

So instead of going over what a bullet journal is (just click on the link in the first paragraph of this blog post to get the basics), I’m going to tell you what works best for me.

My Best Practices for My Bullet Journal:

  • Start the INDEX from the back and work forward. When your entries meet the INDEX page, then it’s time to get a new notebook. Most people leave some blank pages at the beginning of the journal. By starting on the last page, there’s no guessing how many pages to reserve.
  • Use ONLY ONE NOTEBOOK. This is a standard best practice, but I didn’t realize how important it was until I consolidated all my to-read booklists into one notebook. I had lists on my computer, in folders, on my phone, etc. Now they’re all in one place.
  • Use a HABIT TRACKER. Each month, make a chart that lists daily habits you want to incorporate into your life. By keeping track, you can see where you need to improve. The tracker also motivates you to keep up with habits. It’s like a game: see if you can check off every habit for today. Also, on my DAILY LOG, I list habit tracker and that covers all my daily habits so I don’t have to write them out everyday. Saves space in the notebook as well. See my HABIT TRACKER below.
  • On the first page, list your CONTACT INFORMATION. In case your bullet journal gets misplaced, someone can get it back to you.
  • Include a page of Bullet Journal GUIDELINES and TERMS. At the beginning of the notebook, I include a page of guidelines I will be using. On the next page, I list and define all the common terms used with bullet journaling, like collections or tasks. This can be a great refresher when you start a new notebook as well as an excellent reference.
  • Use THREADING to keep track of a collection. If I start a collection that takes up more than one page, I write the all the pages numbers the collection is on at the bottom of each page.
  • Use GATEWAY PAGES to index related collections and other listings. For example, I had several book lists (each a different collection) in different places of my journal. I used one page to list them all and the page numbers where they could be found. I called the gateway page Book Reading Plan.
  • Take notes for a class, etc., on separate paper then TRANSCRIBE them into your bullet journal. Not only will going back over your notes help you retain what you heard, but you can write them more neatly. I do this for webinars, videos, sermons, meetings or any situation in which I take notes.
  • Join the Bullet Journal community on Google+. This is a great way to see how other people use their bullet journal. You can incorporate their best practices into your notebook and get ideas on what kind of listings you find helpful in your everyday living.

So watch out. If you are thinking of starting a bullet journal, be careful: you might become obsessed. Remember, do it the way that works for you. Some people decorate their journal with all kinds of doodles and colors. That is great for them, but I prefer to keep my bullet journal Spartan.

Here are some links to get you started:

bjhta
HABIT TRACKER: As you can see, I don’t exercise enough. A chart like this can show where you need to improve. And how lazy I am.
How I Use My Bullet Journal

My reading plan for this year: read more “widely”

stack-of-books-1531138The biggest pet peeve I have with myself is how I don’t read widely enough. What I mean is, I don’t read across genres. I stick to the same kinds of books. At the end of each year, I look at the list of books I’ve read and I realize it’s two-thirds speculative fiction: science fiction, fantasy, horror and so on.

Now, if I could, I would read speculative fiction exclusively. It’s like eating nothing but dessert all the time. That’s not healthy. So, in an attempt to be more well-rounded, to be better educated, to read more widely, I used an Excel spreadsheet to get my 2016 reading plan started.

Here’s what I did:

Across the top of the spreadsheet, I listed different genres of books I want to touch upon throughout the year. Here is my list: General Literature/Best Sellers; textbooks; Science Fiction; Fantasy; Biography; Classics; Poetry; Drama; Graphic Novels; Short Story Anthology; Spiritual; History; Art; Writing Instruction; British Literature Middle Ages; British Literature Renaissance. These are the areas I want to read in this year; your list may be different.

Next, I take all the books I have on “TO READ” lists — and I have several different ones, both digital and hard copy — and consolidate them on the spreadsheet. Each book goes into one of the categories. A particular book might fit into more than one column, but you decide which genre you want to put it under.

Next, I select a book, read it, then go to the next column and pick a book in a different genre and read it, and so on, and so on. I read about 30-40 books a year, so this will ensure I go through the cycle about two times. The idea is to not read two books in the same column until you have read one from all the other columns.

As a result, by the end of the year, I am a more well-rounded reader.

Pros, Cons and Tips for this method:

  • Tip: I add books throughout the year as I hear about them.
  • Tip: Of course, I’m not going to be able to read every book on the list in one year. I can just use this as a running list so I also have suggestions for something to read.
  • Tip: I don’t necessarily read the book at the top of the column. I just pick a book in a column that strikes my fancy at that moment.
  • Tip: No need to be legalistic about using this spreadsheet. I will probably cheat and read an extra science fiction or fantasy novel here and there.
  • Pro: I end up reading a better balance of fiction and non-fiction books.
  • Pro: My mind is expanded by reading book I keep putting off to read.
  • Pro: By reading more widely, I become a better writer.
  • Con: If you like to just read for pleasure and not worry about reading across the genres, then this method would probably feel too constricting.
  • Con: You only get to read your favorite genres when they come around. But, as I mentioned earlier, I will probably cheat a little.

It’s simple. It’s effective.

Happy reading.

 

 

My reading plan for this year: read more “widely”

Fiction Writing Workshop: Action Scenes

kick-fighting-1528974

He extends his sword and then utters these words:

“My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die.”

The most memorable part of this fight scene are these words. But why?

To find the answer, I wanted to know more about writing effective fight and action scenes. My novel has several of these scenes, so I did some research to maximize their punch.

I found some great articles on the web and as I read them, I kept coming across some recurring themes.

  • Action scenes in books are different than action scenes in movies. A blow-by-blow fight between characters doesn’t come across as exciting on the page as it does on the screen. Describing every detail bores the reader.
  • Action scenes must further the plot. They should do this in both movies and books.
  • Action scenes must advance characterization. Why is the protagonist fighting? The fight, the action must relate to the character’s goals.
  • Action scenes should increase the suspense, the tension and up the odds. Writer John Rogers says, “… this is one of the reasons The Matrix still holds up, and the sequels are two of the most boring movies I have ever, ever, ever seen.” I have thought the same thing over and over since I saw those last two movies.
  • Action scenes should be unique and have interesting settings. One fight scene looks like another. An interesting setting can make it more memorable.

I also found some contradicting advice. Writer K.M. Weiland says:

“Make sure you use [dialogue] to your advantage by breaking up descriptions of action with story-advancing (and perhaps scintillatingly witty?) dialogue.”

While writer Alan Baxter says:

“There is no dialogue while fighting. It never goes like that. You don’t have time, although there may be a few sharp words but no conversation.

Remember Montoya’s famous piece of dialogue? It’s totally appropriate. It had been repeated throughout the story and when he finally finds his father’s actual killer, it’s thrilling. Also, he says it before the fight begins, so it serves as a war cry.

Both of the writers I just quoted suggest using short sentences and one or two word pieces of dialogue. Good advice for fight scenes.

Here are the excellent articles:

Writing exercises:

  • Comb through your story or novel and analyze each fight or action scene. Does it develop character? Does it advance the plot? Is dialogue used appropriately? Does it create suspense?
  • Find a favorite novel and go through it looking for action scenes. Do they work? Could you improve upon them?
  • Do more research and find more articles on writing action scenes. Do you see recurring advice? What other tips can you find for writing these scenes?

See other Fiction Writing Workshops from this blog.

Fiction Writing Workshop: Action Scenes

Support Self-Published Writers and Small Publishing Houses

printing-press-1181030.jpgAs I plan my reading list for 2016, I want to include several self-published writers and small, independent publishing companies. So far I plan to read the following:

Support Self-Published Writers and Small Publishing Houses

The Final Quarter

football-1437517I am down to the last 25% of the current draft of my novel which I’m now calling Ziggurat Reach. Whether that is a working title or a final title, I don’t know.

I know what is happening in the last part of my novel. I am building up to the story’s climax and all the characters have finally gathering to one place–the ziggurat, in case you’re wondering– and a lot of things are about to happen.

Here are some thoughts on what I’m trying to accomplish and how I’m feeling as I’m writing this week:

  • Each character has a goal he or she is in the process of fulfilling, and I’m figuring out ways the goals will be finalized in this last quarter.
  • K.M. Weiland has said she wrote more than one version of the climactic scene. I think I may do that.
  • Scrivener has been a godsend in motivating me to get moving on this novel.
  • In my next draft, I have a whole new subplot I’ll be writing. At this point, it’s outlined in Scrivener, but I’ll be composing first drafts for those scenes after I finish this draft.
  • Saving up to buy some ISBN numbers. Deciding whether to break the story down into four mini-novel episodes. The first one would be free. I would also offer the novel as a whole for a cheaper price than buying the three remaining mini-novel episodes.
  • Still deciding whether to use Smashwords or Amazon or both (at different times).

Well, tonight I’ll be toiling away on novel. Maybe I’ll go to my favorite coffee shop, Heine Brothers in Northfield area of my city, Louisville, Kentucky.

The Final Quarter

In Passing

41h0dp9njSL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Check out JR Wirth‘s new book In Passing. I designed the cover! Here’s some promo copy:

“Trying to bring closure to her haunted youth, Mary Elizabeth Stroll’s past and present converge during a haunting, day-long interview. In Passing is a dark, yet romantic, paranormal tale, which thrusts two adolescent, suicide victims into a haunting afterlife odyssey where they find love and meaning. The journey leads them to intervene in the lives of other distressed young people, all the while amorous feelings grow. The two are then reunited with their lifeless bodies to search for the truth and their lost love.”

In Passing