Wednesday Night Ramblings – 2/15/17

TheProfessor

An aspiring writer asked me to share my process for outlining. First, let me say that there’s no one right way to outline. If you find a process that works for you, follow it as long as it feeds your creativity. The process I’ll describe is mine and works for me, but it might not be the best fit for you. So please keep in mind that anything that doesn’t help should be discarded. Only hold onto the pieces that allow your writing to flow. Also, this is my process for outlining a novel, and there are different processes for other types of writing.

My first step is to figure out the beginning and the ending of the book. I need to have a rough idea of those two before I can do anything else. Typically, I’ll sketch out a few notes about each, but for the most part, the details are just in my head. One thing to keep in mind here, however, is that the ending I envision beforehand may not be the final form. In fact, there are almost always changes and alterations as the story comes into focus, but I have a general idea of where the story will stop.

From there, I sketch out each chapter individually, noting the primary scenes. I jot notes to myself on the characters involved and the basic components. These are usually in keyword form that will trigger my memory later. What I try to develop is a skeleton of the entire book so that I have a clear vision of the overall story arc before I begin writing. Much like the ending, the scenes that are developed during the outline may change through the course of the writing, especially as the characters surprise me in the flow of the action.

When I begin writing, I refer back to the outline regularly to make sure I’m staying on track with the overall story, but I also make changes to it as the story evolves. Quite often, I’ll realize that a scene belongs in a different chapter to make time line up, or I’ll scrap one altogether because it’s just not needed. Also, I may realize that a new scene is needed because some details are missing. However, by the time the book is complete, the outline and the book remain relatively consistent with each other.

So that’s my basic process. It ends up being fairly middle of the road between a rigid plotter and a seat of the pants writer, and for me, this allows me the best of both worlds. I have a good idea where I’m going and how I’m getting there, but I also have the latitude to allow the story to grow organically. Hope that this has been useful for you if you’re an aspiring writer, and for the rest of you, I hope this has been an entertaining insight into the mind of a writer.

Monday Night Ramblings – 2/13/17

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For this week’s Motivational Monday post, we have this quote from C.S. Lewis, “You can make anything by writing.” While this quote is geared towards writers, I would like to apply it to everyone. Each of us is the architect of our future, and each of us has the power to design tomorrow as we see fit. I know I am guilty too often of limiting myself because of fears or insecurities, and I try regularly to overcome these self-imposed limitations by focusing on the goals I have set for myself and trusting that I deserve to achieve them. One of the most important steps of building a better future is to believe that you are worthy of success, prosperity, and happiness.

For many of us, that is our biggest obstacle to creating the future we desire, but if we want to rise above our current circumstances, we first have to believe that we deserve that future. From there, we can then begin building the steps to make that future ours. For those of us who are writers, those steps include not only writing the works we have in our heads but also marketing and promoting those books. If your goal is to lose weight or improve your health, those steps will include improving your diet and exercise routines. If your goal is to learn more job skills or expand your education, your first steps will be to change how you spend your free time to include studying and learning.

No matter what our goals might be, we can build the future to get there if we are willing to develop a feasible plan to get there and then stick to that plan until we reach our objectives. Creating a new life is a process, and like any other process, it requires perseverance and persistence whenever we hit the rough patches. However, we really can create any future for ourselves, just as a writer can make whatever our imaginations can conjure.

Thursday Afternoon Ramblings – 2/9/17

TheProfessor

Someone asked me recently what’s the one historical event I would like to witness. For me, the moment I would most like to experience is the birth of the printing press. In my mind, this is the most significant event in human history. Prior to this point, information was centralized in the hands of an elite minority, and populations were controlled through this lack of access to knowledge. The printing press, however, changed the balance. Suddenly, as the mode of production for written works became more efficient and less expensive, a broader spectrum of people were able to participate in the exchange of ideas. This phenomenon gave birth to the Reformation and Renaissance, which in turn gave birth to the democratic revolutions of the 18th century.

The control and dissemination of information are the most powerful forces in the world. Opinions are shaped, trends are controlled, and markets are manipulated through the flow of information. With enough propaganda and misinformation, millions of people can be convinced of any number of falsehoods. Political careers rise and fall in this manner, and with the internet, the spread of false information can take on staggering proportions. Today, we see once again the centralization of information in the hands of an elite minority (just look at how few corporations control every media outlet in the world). However, much like before in human history, diversity of voices can be the panacea for tyranny.

As a side note, there are actually two moments I would like to witness in terms of the birth of the printing press. One, of course, is the Guggenheim Press in 1439, one of the most widely known and celebrated inventions in mankind’s history. However, two hundred years before that, faced with invasion by the Mongols, Korean religious scholars invented their own printing press in order to preserve sacred texts that the Mongols had been destroying. I would love to witness both events and have an opportunity to observe the similarities and differences between the processes of each invention.

Friday Morning Ramblings – 2/3/17

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Another fan has asked me what are the biggest obstacles to writing that I deal with on a regular basis. If you struggle with writing regularly, hope you find this post helpful:

5) The Day Job – If you’re like the vast majority of writers, you have to work at an outside job to pay your bills.If you’re like most Americans, you need two. I’m no exception, and the grind of juggling outside employment and making time to write can take its toll. Back when I still worked in education, I usually had to do the majority of my writing during the summer months. Now, I work at two different jobs, one outside the house and one from home, and some days I struggle to find the energy to write. However, I also know that in order to accomplish my goals, some sacrifices have to be made. More often than not, when I feel too tired to write, I force myself to sit down and write at least a couple of pages. Any progress is positive. You don’t have to write thousands of words every single day in order to complete a manuscript; you just need to make steady progress on a consistent basis.

4) Time Bandits – The distractions of TV and video games can eat up a lot of time if you allow them. Some days, when my energy levels are low, I find myself longing for the simplicity of vegging out in front of the tube or a game. I love movies, so there are times when this temptation can be great. But again, I have a writing schedule, and I intend to stick to it. I have to make a conscious decision to turn off the time bandits and focus on the work I have to accomplish.

3) Fear/Anxiety – “Fear is the mind killer” as Frank Herbert warned. Whether it be fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of success, or fear of fear, many of us have to face these fears on a regular basis. If you have ever dealt with regular anxiety, you already know how debilitating it can be. For creative people, anxiety can obliterate ambition because the fears can overwhelm our creative drive. For me, anxiety is a relatively new development, so I’m still learning how to deal with it in my daily life. However, in terms of writing, my answer may seem rather trite, but I tend to ignore it and press on. As a writer, I simply cannot allow fear to clog my creative process. No matter how bad the anxiety may flare up, I force myself to sit down and hit my page goal. The way I convince myself to overcome the fears is by reminding myself that no matter what, if there are words on the page, I can polish them later.

2) Brain Fog – For those of you who don’t know, I suffer from a neurological disorder (most likely MS, though I don’t have a confirmed diagnosis). One of the worst symptoms is the brain fog it causes. Unlike the previous entries, this one simply can’t be pushed through. When the brain fog is bad, my thoughts become too disconnected to concentrate on composition. It might take two hours to write a hundred words, and there’s simply no way to write effective fiction like that. My only course of action is to wait until the brain fog passes and write while I can.

1) Depression – The worst obstacle I face, not just in writing but also in life, is depression. Ever since my head injury when I was 16, I’ve struggled with depressive episodes. Most of the time, they are mild and I can get through them with a little effort and some sunshine. However, sometimes, I slip into deeper episodes that can be completely debilitating. These times are the biggest obstacles to writing because, as anyone who has experienced real depression can attest, it robs the individual of all motivation and drive. The only way I can get through these episodes is with medication, and I urge anyone who struggles with it not to suffer needlessly. Depression is a serious illness, but it can be controlled with medicine.

So those are my five biggest obstacles to writing. Despite dealing with them, I’ve managed to write the longest book of my career in about six months, and if I can do it, anyone can. You just have to make a conscious decision to fight through whatever difficulties life puts in your way.

Monday Afternoon Ramblings – 1/30/17

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The world is awash in negativity right now. Our newsfeeds are clogged with political diatribes from both sides, and with all the turmoil surrounding the American political circus, the future feels bleak for many people. However, one fact I’ve learned is that regardless of your political beliefs, regardless of what direction you think the country is moving, regardless of whether you support the current administration or are protesting in the streets, if you want your voice to be heard, you will have to persevere and keep working hard at your efforts.

The future belongs to those with stronger will, not necessarily those with righteousness or ability on their side. Your resolve to stick to your principles and work towards your goals are what will be the difference between long-term success and failure. I know this from firsthand, hard-won experience. Life has knocked me down more times than I can count, and each time, I’ve picked myself up and worked a little harder (and smarter) at my endeavors. If you keep your efforts the same, your results will never improve. You absolutely must strive to work harder every day.

No matter what temporary darkness shrouds us, I still believe our brightest days are in the future. I still believe that at its core, humanity is honest, sincere, and peace loving. I still believe that one day we will achieve a society that rewards hard work, embraces diversity, blends competition and cooperation, and provides a safety net so that productive citizens can survive life’s catastrophes. Those of us who dream of that society will have to strengthen our resolve and work that much harder to overcome the turmoils of today.

Sunday Evening Ramblings – 1/29/17

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Here is another update on book five. I’m about halfway through chapter 14, and so far, I’m pretty pleased with it. I’m hoping to have this chapter finished in the next week or so, and then all that’s left is the epilogue. So far, this manuscript is the longest of the series. I haven’t done a total word count yet, but my guess is somewhere in the neighborhood of 100k. There will probably be a little trimming in the middle, but this book will be the most substantial of the five. The first couple of chapters have already been sent to the editor, so that process is underway as well. Also, the artist and I have begun the process of putting together the cover. Exciting days are ahead for fans of the series, so stay tuned.

Tuesday Night Ramblings – 1/25/17

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I was asked by a fan to put together a list of the top 5 things that inspire my writing, so here goes:

5) Movies/TV Shows – At heart I’m a sucker for a good story, so movies and shows that offer a solid plot and compelling characters inspire me to work harder at my craft. My favorite TV series of all time is probably Breaking Bad. I love the way Hank and Walt evolve through the course of the story arc. House was another show that inspired me. The witty dialogue and parallel plots of each episode, along with the seasonal and full series story arcs, are clinics on how to write a serial. I love far too many movies to narrow it down to one or two, but I will say here (and might retell the story soon of how) that The Two Towers actually inspired me to begin work on The Brotherhood of Dwarves series. Most recently, Rogue One stirred me deeply. It was everything I had been wanting in a Star Wars movie since A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back.

4) Books – I could do a dozen lists on the books that have inspired me, but for the sake of space, I’ll limit it to the one book that has inspired me more than any other in the last couple of years. Once and Eagle by Anton Myrer is quite simply one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read. It follows the career of Sam Damon, a career American soldier who serves in both of the world wars and then during the early days of Vietnam. The writing in this book is superb–colorful descriptions, provocative metaphors and similes, exquisite use of POV, and memorable dialogue. His depictions of battle (drawn from his own experience as a Marine in WW II) are hands down the best I’ve ever read, invoking all of the senses to immerse the reader into hellish landscapes that show the horrors of war. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

3) Nature – Anyone who knows me knows that I love the outdoors. If I had unlimited income, my life would be spent finding outdoor activities to be involved in. I love little more than the feel of my hands in the earth and sweat on my brow. Working outdoors, whether it be cutting wood for my stove or tending a garden or clearing brush, recharges my creative batteries and allows my mind to forget the day-to-day distractions that hinder my focus on composition.

2) Music – I love music in most of its forms. I have a playlist that I listen to while I write that varies from Traditional Country to Jazz to Techno to Rock. These songs inspire my creative process and create a buffer between myself and the outside world. In terms of individual artists, I am most drawn to the works of Chris Whitley, Jeff Buckley, Waylon Jennings, and recently Otis Gibbs. I can’t place enough value on the role music plays in not only inspiring my creativity but also in soothing the wrinkles of my soul.

1) My Children – I’ve written before about the role my oldest son played in inspiring me to write again. In fact, my children are the primary reason why The Brotherhood of Dwarves series exists at all. I have written it to share with them a piece of me and to give them a story of heroism, camaraderie, sacrifice, and redemption. Each book in the series is inscribed to them at the beginning, and those inscriptions are my attempt to tell them the roles they have played in my life. In terms of writing, my children make me want to tell better stories and remain true to power of language without reverting to tawdry tricks or fashionable gimmicks. My primary goal as a writer is to write books that one day my sons will point to and with pride in their eyes say, “My father wrote this.”

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