Blank Pages are Scary …

Oh, look!  I have a short story collection on Amazon.com?  →   →   →    →

Bought it, yet?  Thanks!  You are too cool for school.

Okay.  Now, on to this blog’s writing advice …

Did you know going to the doctor can cause your blood pressure to go up?  We call it “white coat syndrome”, and the ol’ saw-bones will re-take your BP near the end of an appointment after the latex comes off.  Likewise with writers and blank pages.  If you can get something — anything — down on paper, then your anxiety (and your blood pressure) will drop like a rock.

But staring at a blank page does not need to be daunting.  Just like the doctor’s appointment, apprehension will ease as your character discovers what she really fears.  After all, your characters have emotions, right?  And what evokes an emotional response quickly in people?  Two things.  Humor and horror.

While I could choose to yuck it up on my blog this New Year’s morning, I’ll shy away from guffaws and chortles until the morning after the night before wanes ;-)

Now, ask yourself: What is your character afraid of?

I’d been wondering that myself, and in order to answer the question, I decided that 335 heads were better than one.

So, I polled my Facebook friends to get some feedback on all-things-scary.  If I haven’t told you before, I have the greatest Facebook friends on Earth.  They are intelligent, witty, thoughtful, supportive and sarcastic.  All traits I admire.

I asked what scared them.  Some replies were expected, some creative, some down-right demented —

  • Spiders
  • Snakes
  • Clowns
  • Demons
  • Speckled butter beans
  • Hair in the shower drain (ewww, thanks, Susan)
  • Michelle Bachmann
  • Democrats
  • Hair in the shower drain
  • Clown hair in the shower drain (thanks, Paul)
  • Ex-girlfriends or ex-boyfriends
  • Evangelicals
  • Owls
  • Convicts
  • Cherubs

So, instead of getting frustrated about that blanknessivity [sic] on your screen, get your creepy on.  Have your character walk into a haunted house.  Make it a good old-fashioned haunted house with crooked tombstones, weeds, dead trees, dark clouds, and big rabid bats.

Your character pushes the front door open.  It creaks.  Now then: What does she see?  What does she hear?  How does the house smell?  How does it taste?  You do know that fear has a taste, don’t you?  So, how does she feel?  Is she trembling?  Is her hand at her throat?  Is she taking baby steps?  Is she murmuring to herself, telling herself that everything will be okay when she knows that everything won’t be okay?   And why does she feel that way?  Because something is not as it should be, and that is coupled with a goose-flesh sensation that there is a something unknown (or unknowable?) in that house with her ( … thank you, Jamie, for this latter thought).

I wrote about her encounter in 375 words.  But I’m not going to tell you what she saw, what she heard, or whether she even survived.  That’s for another entry, or possibly for a new short story.

Now you can do this, too.  Crank out some words about how your character feels entering that house of horrors on the hill.  And, voilà, your blank page is no longer blank, but you might wish it were.  But it’s still better than Doc strapping on that glove, isn’t it?

As always, peace from Keith

© Copyright 2012, Alan Keith Parker.  All rights reserved.  Clip art © by Dixie Allan, 
http://webclipart.about.com

Novels without Endings, Amen …

A friend of mine recently lamented that novels these days either do not have an ending, or the ending is depressing or disappointing in some way.

This was my response:  The editors at the big publishing houses read 50+ manuscripts a day, and almost all of those novels have some kind of unique ending or twist ending; and the editors simply get tired of them. And since they are tired of them, they assume the reading public is tired of good endings, as well.

Ironically, it’s the other way around.

The well-known “O. Henry” ending or the ol’ “Asimov Twist” are two examples of these types of conclusions.  People love a good ending.

Hell, that’s why we read fiction. If we wanted crappy endings, we could just sit back and watch real life unfold.

Thanksgiving and peace, from Keith

© 2011 Alan Keith Parker

Finding Space to Write, Part 1

It’s been a while since I posted.  Do you know why?

I kept worrying that I wouldn’t get the blog entry “just right”.  How silly is that?

And then I had a minor epiphany: I said to myself,  “Keith, you putz, just write the bloody thing.   You’re not trying to win a Pulitzer!”

So, without further ado, here are my thoughts on finding space to write in your home.

All you need to do is creatively isolate yourself.

Now, sure, it’d be nice to have a library with cherrywood bookcases and an iMac powerful enough to crank out the human genome project.  And it’d be pretty darn cool to have brandy, a smoking jacket and an Irish wolfhound.  But if you had all that, you wouldn’t write any more than you do already.  All you need is a little nook for yourself.

A spare bedroom is ideal, but so is a small study, an attic cranny, or even a converted mud room.  Another idea is an isolated corner of a relatively-unused area, like a formal living room.

Since you have already set aside the time to write, the space is easy to find by comparison.

It needs to be a place big enough to hold:
* one human (that’s you)
* your chair
* your table
* your computer
* an assortment of handy books
* a waste basket

You need a comfortable chair, btw.
Discomfort is the second biggest roadblock to writing.
(The Internet is the biggest.)
You need a legal pad and pencil.
And you need a computer.
And do not — under any circumstances — hook up that computer to your home network. When you’re using that computer, you’re going to be using a simple word processor and nothing more. If you want to look up a word’s meaning, get a paperback dictionary.
And while you’re at it, get an atlas too.
And a cookbook.
And a book on famous art.
And a good travel guide
And a book on basic science & math.
And accounting.
And business ethics.
And philosophy.
Plus get yourself some copies of the classics, everything from Dr. Seuss to Shakespeare, Tolstoy to Twain, the Odyssey to The Bible

You can get that entire collection for about $25 at a used bookstore.
Throw them on a makeshift bookcase or stack them in the corner.

Make sure they’re accessible, but not in the way.   Writers need to know a whole lot of minutiae.  There’s no better way to learn useless facts than to have them handy.

The other thing you need for your writing space, if possible, is a door.
It needs to be able to shut.
And if you have kids, it needs a lock.

Regarding the table or desk, the computer needs to sit on this.
Use a laptop if you wish, but for God’s sake do not put it on your lap!
Laptops get too hot too quickly.
Put the computer on the desk and sit there like you’re at the office.

You don’t have to be stuffy.
But you do need structure.
Writing is an oddly pleasant combination of discipline and decadence.
You don’t have to be neat.  You don’t have to be clean.  You don’t have to even be sober.

But the most important thing is to be yourself.
No one is watching you except for the guys in the black helicopters, so don’t worry about appearances.
Write in shorts and flip flops, or in your PJs.
Hell, write naked for all I care, just don’t show me any pictures.

You also need a lamp or two.
If your space has fluorescent lights, turn them off.
Generally, overhead lighting is bad.

You also need some Post-It notes, a couple of pencils, a pen, and maybe a bullet to chew on.
Keep a sweater or blanket in there if you get cold easily.

The other thing you need — which is unrelated to space — is a word processor.

If you’re using Windows, all you need is WordPad.
You do NOT need Microsoft Word.
WordPad, which has come loaded on every Windows PC for the past 20 years, is more than enough.
If you use a Mac, download a free word processor called “Bean”.
It’s basically just like WordPad.

These are simple word processors that don’t do much more than spell check.
And that’s good.
You know why?
Because its not a computer’s job to check your grammar.
It’s your job.
You are the writer.
You are in your space, and you have found your time.

Now, write!

Unless next time: Peace from Keith

Copyright © 2011 Alan Keith Parker — If you steal my work, then you will hear from a lawyer.

Space to Write, Part 0

Every writer needs space to write.

 Since I could devote an entire series of blogs, websites, and HGTV episodes to figuring out the  right writing space for your house, apartment, dorm, boat, trailer, hut, cave or prison cell, it’ll  be easier to tell you what you cannot have in that space.

There are two things that every writer does not need:

1. The Internet

2. A Thesaurus.

The Internet is one of the greatest achievements of mankind.  The digital age that exploded on the scene in the 1990s is comparable to the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s, and is as important as the wheel and sliced bread (in that order).  And it is exactly because of this awesome quantity of information that you have to pull out of The Matrix when you write.  It is the single most distracting entity alive.

Rule Number One, a.k.a, “The Inviolate Rule of Writing” —

1) Ye shall not, under pain of dangling participles, ever write in the same space with an Internet connection.

That means when you go into your room, attic, coat closet, etc, you cannot have a wired or wireless computer; or a tablet computer; or a cell phone; or a bluetooth headset (those are just butt-ugly, anyway); or a microchip implanted in an isolated cortex (and I don’t mean the explorer).
But let’s be clear.  It’s fine to use a computer’s word processor; it’s not fine to use its wi-fi connection.
While you are writing …

  • You do not need to check your email
  • You do not need to check the weather
  • You do not need to shop on Amazon
  • You do not need to know the latest on Jen and Brad
  • You do not need to know whether the Packers won last night
  • You do not need to check Facebook.

Rule Number Two, aka, “Stephen King’s Decree” —

2) Ye shall not, under pain of antidisestablishmentarianism, use a thesaurus.  Ever.  A word picked from a thesaurus is the wrong one.  Period.

So, we should be at a point now where you have carved out time to write, figured out a way to divorce yourself from the World Wide Web, and donated your thesaurus to the local library.

Next time I will talk about the various kinds of spaces where you can write.
Despite what I said at the beginning, there are a lot of things that houses, caves, trailers, luxury yachts and cell blocks have in common.

In the meantime, here is your next assignment: Get a pad of paper and a pen, sit down during your 30 min time slot, and write down everything that comes to mind.  It doesn’t matter what it is.  If it pops in your head, write it down.  Don’t edit, don’t second guess yourself and don’t try to create anything marketable.  Just write in a stream of consciousness.  Do this every day between now and when we talk about getting your writing space set up.

Until next time, peace from Keith.

 

Finding Time to Write, Part II, from a Dot-Net Novelist

After talking with some friends I’ve decided to devote another blog entry to this issue of finding time to write.  We’ll tackle your writing space next time.  My friend Jennifer generated a schedule of her day, studied it, and realized she doesn’t have 30 minutes to spare.  And this has been the case for several others.

Let me make a quick aside:  I’m going to be targeting my own demographic in this blog: Working parents with kids in school.

  1. If you’re a single guy who can’t find time to write, then you probably don’t want to be a writer;
  2. If you’re a retiree who just has to master that sand-wedge, then you probably don’t want to be a writer, either.

But even if you want to do this, the 79 things on your to-do list, your stubbed toe, your lost car keys, and your toothache may be creating a situation where you just want to sleep:

So, after you map out every hour of your day and  realize that there isn’t any wiggle room,  you’re left  with two choices:

1)    Give up (in which case you can quit reading now)

2)    Prioritize.

Look at your list.

Give this some thought.

Tick-tock, tick-tock.

It helps if you picture Hannibal Lector saying it: “Tick tock, Clarice.”

Decided yet?

Hum the tune from “Jeopardy”.

How about now?

Yes?

Good.

Now make a list of everything you do.  This should be easy-peasy.  Just use the ol’ hour-by-hour schedule and cherry-pick the actual activities.  It’ll look something like this, except in your own handwriting:

  • Wake up
  • Go for a jog/bike ride
  • Cook breakfast
  • Eat breakfast
  • Drive to the office
  • Do your daily tasks at the office (w/ lunch)
  • Drive “home”
  • Sit in the carpool line
  • Help somebody (sick friend?  buddy with a flat tire?)
  • Go to the grocery store
  • Kids’ homework (incredibly time-consuming these days)
  • Socialize*
  • Cook dinner Eat dinner
  • Kids’ homework (reprise)
  • Ball practice, dance practice, book club,  Bible study, etc
  • Mediate arguments, fist-fights and bar-room brawls
  • Pay bills
  • Watch a good show with the family (unless the in-laws are over: In that case you just found your time).

*Do not give up time socializing, whether it’s lunch with friends, talking to parents in the carpool line, or an ol’ fashioned happy hour.   Socializing is real damn important.  To be a successful writer you have to have something to write about.   Now why – you might ask – would you need to rub elbows if you plan to write about preserving sea oats on the coast?   It’s because you have feelings about sea oats.  And not everybody feels the same way you do about them.  You need to get out, talk to people, find out their opinions, and listen.  Listen hard, especially if their opinion is different from your own.

Okay.  You have your list.  Now put it in order of importance, using simple numbering: 1, 2, 3 …, with 1 being the most important item.  Don’t stress too much over this.  You basically know.  If two items are “tied”, just pick one.

The next step is to pick out an activity to drop.

Any one of the low priority items will do.

Let’s say you cook dinner for the kids each night.  You might be able to shift gears on this one.  Ask your spouse to cook, or put some frozen lasagna in the microwave.  Whatever you decide, try it for 10 days.  This will enable your experiment to span across a weekend.

And now the fun part:

Make an appointment with yourself.  Put your 30 minutes on your calendar, complete with a reminder card like they give you at the doctor.  Tell your spouse and kids and parents and inmates and aunts and uncles that you have an appointment.  You’ll be amazed the impact that the word has.  People will shift their schedules to allow you to shift yours.

Now the first time slot may not work out.  And if it doesn’t, don’t worry.  Go to the next thing on your low-priority list and try that for 10 days.  Eventually something will pan out.  It did for me, and I’m an idiot.

In the meantime, you’re probably gathering wool and/or ideas for your book, story, article, etc.  As these ideas spring up you need to remember them.  I recommend keeping a notebook.  A lot of men and women carry gym bags these days; that’s a good place for pen and paper.  Likewise, women carry purses and men carry laptop cases; those are perfect places for a journal.

Here are a few other ideas to chew on while you do this:

  • Record your thoughts on a tape recorder or a smart phone.  Most cell phones have voice recording apps.  This is something you can do in the car.
  • You might see a bumper-sticker like my sister-in-law did:
      • “Ass, Grass or Cash: Nobody Rides for Free!”
      • Every writer has got to write that one down.
  • Call your home answering machine and leave messages for yourself.
  • Send emails to yourself.
  • Write letters to yourself (and Santa).

The bottom-line is this: Don’t rely on your brain for memory.  I never do.

Until next time, remember that you can see the fruits of my own writing labor if you choose to buy a copy of Fire Always Burns Uphill for the Nook or the Kindle.  Remember, Amazon.com has just unleashed their new Fire tablet.  Until next time, folks, peace …

 ∞ Kindle Version (from Amazon.com)

 ∞ Nook Version (from Barnes & Noble)

.

© 2011, Alan Keith Parker, All Rights Reserved.  If you steal my work you’ll hear from a lawyer!

Finding Time to Write, from a Dot-Net Novelist

1800 seconds.

One thousand eight hundred seconds.

That’s 30 minutes to you and me.

And that’s the amount of time you need in order to write every day.  When my friend Jennifer asked how she could find this kind of time  she challenged me in a way that I didn’t expect.  Given that she has four young kids, it’s a fair question.  Anyone with kids is is living on the edge of the abyss of nuts-ville.  But if you want to write the great American novel or the next 6-figure tabloid piece, then you have to establish a time slot.

Is 30 minutes really so hard?  Yeah, it actually is.  Just look at Dali’s masterpiece and you can tell.

 It’s harder for the soccer mom than it is for the 20-something single guy, but unless you’re wealthy or  jobless, your day is going to be full, full, full.

Think about it: You have to haul your butt out of bed, chug some scalding coffee, drop off disgruntled  kids at school, and listen to a disgruntled boss at work.  And that’s the easy part of the day.  After  that, the “pick-up” phase begins.

You have to pick up the kids, pick up the dry cleaning, pick up the groceries.  If you’re a single guy, you have to pick up the chick at the bar.  It’s all the same.  Only different.

(Full Disclosure: I am not a single guy.  Neither is Jennifer.)

Then there’s dinner, dishes, homework, TV, Internet, that glorious glass of wine, and bedtime.

But somewhere during your day is a 30 min slot that will enable you to put writing on your calendar.

It might be after dinner as you watch the sun set over your pollen-covered desk.  Or it may be the 30 minutes you’re sitting in a carpool line.  You know better than I do.

In order to find your 30 minute writing time, you have to write down your daily schedule — soup-to-nuts — in one-hour increments.

It might look like this:

  • 6:00 – 7:00 Wake up, make breakfast, make school lunches
  • 7:00 – 8:00 Fight with spouse, take kids to school
  • 8:00 – 9:00 Dress for work, check email, brush & floss

Somewhere inside one of these hours is thirty minutes.  Trust me: I’m a physicist.

The point is to make a schedule and then look at your life in third-person, as if you’re viewing yourself through a window.  Don’t get overly emotional.  Your spouse just spent the mortgage on a shiny new flat-screen TV?  Such is life.  You’re out of toothpaste?  Such is life.

When you’ve done that, and firmly established that you are a character in your own life, you need to sit down and explain to your family that you’ve taken on a new project, a writing project.  In order to do this, you are setting aside 30 minutes every day.

You must also tell them that you require their help.

People, by nature, want to help.

  • If you’re explaining this to your spouse, explain that this has the potential to be financially rewarding.
  • If you’re explaining this to your kids, spin it in terms of children’s books.
  • If you’re explaining this to your parents, they will make you feel guilty about something.
  • It you’re explaining this to a Russian peasant, they will not understand English.

Once you have that 30 minute time slot set aside, then you must use this time to write.  You cannot do anything else during this time.  Pretend it’s 11:00 PM on April 15th and you’ve got to sign and date those 1040 forms.  It is that important.

What’s really cool is what’ll happen in two or three weeks.  Let’s say your time slot is from 6:30-7:00 each night.  Maybe dinner has run long and all the pipes just burst.  Little things can derail your calendar.  But you will soon discover that your family will remind you to go write.  And the reminder will bring a smile to your face because it’s what you want to do.

Next Time: I will address your “space” for writing.  Whether it’s a home library adorned with leather-bound classics on basswood & walnut bookcases with laminated moldings, or just a moldy coat closet, we can come up with the right room for you.

If you do this, you’ll eventually have something to sell, like I do:

Fire Always Burns Uphill (Kindle)

Fire Always Burns Uphill (Nook)

Now, go make a schedule.  Find your 30 minutes.  It’s out there somewhere between the 3rd and 5th dimension.  Rod Serling could tell you, but he’s dead.  Such is life.

Peace.

© 2011, Alan Keith Parker, Huntsville, AL.  All Rights Reserved.  If you steal my work you’ll hear from a lawyer.  Salvador Dali jpeg file inserted under fair use laws.

A Very Flattering Review from Pastor Amelia!

Wow.  I am incredibly flattered by Pastor Amelia Sims’ review of Fire Always Burns Uphill!  She is honest and encouraging in the review posted in her “Faith in Books” blog (which I highly recommending bookmarking):

 http://faithinbooks.blogspot.com/2011/09/fire-always-burns-uphill.html

Links to the e-book sellers are here.

Fire Always Burns Uphill (Amazon Kindle Edition)

Fire Always Burns Uphill (B&N Nook Edition)

Again, thank you so much.  That means the world to me!