A Cascade of Fear

A good friend of mine, Savannah George (www.dsavannah.com), posted a great piece on fear today.  She is a wonderful writer and a world class editor.  I suggest you click the link and read her post. It’s about getting rid of fear and the stifling effects it has on us.  The concept came to her after she had spent some time online with a friend who said he wasn’t afraid of anything.  From him, to her, to me.  Kind of a fire brigade with the topic of fear in the bucket. Hey!  It’s 5AM and metaphors have never been my strong point in writing.

Although I agree with Savannah’s concept and that fear can have devastating effects, I’m not sure I want to rid my life of fear.  In some ways I’ve turned fear into motivation.  Just after I read her post a fellow writer posted a comment in a writer’s forum about being afraid that her words were eloquent enough and her plot had already been written.  I remembered those same feelings from when I started writing my first book.

I sat there in front of my typewriter – the one at the top of this page – and stopped writing.  Fear had tied my hands.  Fear that I was not good enough to write a book. For a long time I just sat and stared at the mechanical beast, lost in self-ctitical thoughts. I wasn’t coming up with anything unique.  The plot I had was about a young adult and his father and friends.  It was just another YA novel. A clone of thousands of other novels already on the shelves.  Why go on?

Fear is like water. It finds its way in, no matter what. The fear that started to rise in my head was the fear of not living up to what I had said I could do. Wasn’t it better to write a shitty book than to have not written one at all? A fear of failure started me thinking.

I thought of the millions of songs and books that men and women have written. Isn’t that amazing. Relatively speaking we have no new words or notes, yet we keep throwing them together and coming up with something new. In retrospect, it was fear as motivator that made me put my fingers back on the keyboard and type.  Soon I became more afraid that I would let the ideas I had in my mind evaporate than I was of righting a bad book.  Three hundred thousand words later I had completed my first novel.

It is still unpublished.  It kind of sucks.  But it has a glowing premise and some great characters. If I hadn’t spent the months writing that first book, I wouldn’t have attempted SYN:FIN.  And SYN:FIN is a good book even if I say so myself.

What I’m getting at is that fear has two sides.  It can make you freeze at the presence of a threat or it can motivate you to run long and hard to find escape.  Fear was one of the reasons we started to run and kept running. From our response to fear, we developed one of the most powerful weapons in our arsenal – the ability to run long distance.  That ability is arguably the reason we are what we are today – all full of imagination and melody.

I’m OK with fear because I have a greater fear of standing still than I have of moving forward.  Hmm?  I wonder if that is the definition of ADD?

Thoughts?  Don’t be afraid to post your comments.  I don’t bite. Much.

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Parallels

I don’t know why, but I often find parallels between two or more unrelated concepts.  Some call it peculiar, but I call it a gift.  During an early morning cup of coffee, as I sat down with my Aurora fountain pen and a clean sheet of paper, it hit me that there are several parallels between writing and working out.  Since I am an avid runner and cyclist as well as an author (SYN:FIN) I was surprised it had taken me so long to see the relationship. Let’s take a look at the parallels.

Passion

To get good at either writing or a sport requires you have a burning desire in your gut.  The kind of desire that gets you out on the road or sitting with a writing device to ply your craft.  It isn’t a one time effort, either.  Writing and running are lifetime commitments to me.  I may finish running a race (jlgrunr.com) or complete writing a novel, but I know those are just milestones along the way.  There is more to come and, if you have passion, you relish the idea of what’s ahead.

Discipline

An emotional draw is only the calling card.  To be successful and grow requires discipline.  As a writer, if you sit and start throwing words out you may feel fulfilled, but are you creating something of value that is truly the best you can do?  As a runner or cyclist, if you go out on the road and cover the same track every time are you really gaining anything?

A long time ago I made an attempt to race bicycles.  It was a great learning experience, which led me to improving my riding, even though I never attained much in terms of racing accomplishments.  Early on, I went out with some experienced racers on a training ride and got dropped.  Twice.  Tucking my tail between my legs, I pedaled back to the bike shop on my red Pinarello racing machine and talked to the team manager.  After hearing that my training consisted of putting on miles by just riding progressively longer routes around town he told me “You aren’t going to get there by doing what your’re doing.” Those miles were like empty calories.

What he prescribed was a different approach.  One that actually had fewer miles with a more focused effort.  It made a world of difference.

A Mixed Regimen

For the last several years I have been working on novels.  My normal writing time in the morning is either writing or editing those works.  That has been a bit of a mistake. It has been through some discussions with other writers on Twitter and Facebook that made me realize the error of that approach.

In running, I learned that I need to do diverse efforts to really improve.  The past 7 months have been a little different for my running since I am converting to a minimalist style of running.  That has had me going back to square one in terms of form and mileage.  It also had me re-gearing my training program.  In order to get the most advantage out of low mileage, I did several runs during the week that focused on hills and hill repeats (yes, running up and down the same hill several times in a row).  Other times I slowed my pace and went for longer distance or just went out and had fun.

In writing, I am now taking that same approach.  I started to write some short stories, a craft that I have a growing respect for.  Those shorts are in genres that I don’t normally write in.  I penned some erotica or YA fantasy (I’m not combining the two!). I haven’t tried poetry or a screenplay, but they are goals.  Hell, practice writing book blurbs or new copy for advertisement.  It all applies

As a runner, I have found growth and strength come from changing the level of intensity and the terrain on which I run.  In finding that strength, I have confidence to push myself further and harder.  You know what?  Each time I go to a new limit I discover I have a lot more I can do.

The same with writing.  Just in the few weeks that I have started to vary my writing challenges, I am discovering that I can pen my main WIP with more focus and clarity.  So go after it.  Try something new and totally fail at it.  You’ll never get success until you blow up.  Jump into a Flash Fiction challenge and see how bad you can write in 15 minutes.  Accept a wordmongering challenge from someone, or even throw one out there.  I did that a few days ago for the first time and added over 400 words to a blog post I had been putting off.

Structure

I am not a creature of habit, but I am one of structure. Seldom do I do the same thing exactly the same way.  I have a flexible plan now for my writing, the same way I do for my running.  In transitioning my style of running I knew I had to establish some limits on a weekly and monthly basis.  To go too fast too soon would lead to injury and a much longer transition.  It takes a while to develop the muscles and form.

For writing, I gave myself some targets in terms of words and also made a commitment to try a different style sometime during the week.  I knew that by the end of the week I wanted to have achieved some goals, but exactly how and when I got them was more spontaneous.

Focus on Form

As I said, my early running transition focused on short runs following good form.  If you haven’t tried a new genre, then take it slow.  Don’t worry about word count, worry about quality.  Make sure that even if you write only one sentence, that it is a good sentence. A poet friend of mine (Eclipsing Winter) enters contests and writes in forms that she is unfamiliar with. Not everything works, but I have admiration for the way she exercises her poetic muscle.

I do suggest that you don’t delete, just start a new line and keep the mistakes for reference.  Once you start to get the form down, you can go longer, faster and with more ease.

My initial focus on minimalist running was becoming more “barefoot” aware.  I did a portion of the runs barefoot (it was November and December in New England, so it was a challenge!) because barefoot on the pavement gave the most immediate and effective feedback on form.  If you run wrong barefoot, you feel it immediately.  As the form became engrained, I ran longer distances and less time barefoot.

Outside Your Comfort

As part of the development, you need some stretch goals.  In running, I plan for a run or a race that is more than I’ve ever done or a faster time than I’ve ever done or a more challenging course.  There are many ways to vary the effort to make the stretch goal something that will make you reach further than you think you can.

In writing, your comfort zone might be more than just trying a new genre.  It might be having a different peer review.  Don’t give your work to friends and other supportive writers all the time.  Find someone who you respect but have had little interface with and ask them to review.  Develop that thick skin that will breed confidence in your prose or poetry.  Put yourself out there and welcome the feedback.  Post a sample to your blog and invite people to tear it apart, but be sure to ask them why they don’t like it or where it fell short.  You want constructive feedback.  Ignore the pissants.

Forward Motion

I want to encourage you to keep moving forward.  Another virtual friend of mine (Marissa) has been challenging herself for fitness and improving her self perception.  It has been an up and down roller coaster to witness, but the one thing I see her doing is moving forward.  Any step backward is followed by a couple of steps forward. She makes mistakes, but who doesn’t.

Just as in running, there will be setbacks.  Early in my transition I went out and ran a lot more than I should have.  For two weeks I had massive pain in my calves and it set my transition back about a month or so.  That said, I had capped any individual run at about 10 miles the last few months and was still nursing some achilles tendon sensitivity when I signed up for a Half Marathon.  I ran that last weekend and pushed past the limit I had set.  At home after the race with lots of leg pain I wondered if I was back in the same boat.  But, two days later I had no pain, did several runs, including a 9 miler yesterday, and have reached a new level of readiness in how I feel.

There are times when you have to say, “fuck it”, and go past the limit.  You need the base before you do, but when you have the base, don’t hold yourself back.

Rest

I closing, I want you to recognize that rest is as important as effort.  Yep, the key to development is to find the right space to rest.  In running, it is pretty common to have a rest day where you do much lighter workouts or a different type of exercise to let you leg muscles recover after a hard effort.

In writing, take some time away from the keyboard (or paper) and spend a day reading, but think like an editor.  What would you do differently?  How would you improve the plot or characters?  What has the author done well and why did it work?  You can also watch a movie and think like a screenplay editor, always keeping a critical eye on how to make the work better.  Believe me, it will improve your work.

So there you have it.  I have had the pleasure and good fortune of virtually hooking up with a lot of authors in a forum that I love.  Some are newbie and some very successful.  What I have found is that the ones who keep moving forward are the ones who challenge themselves in lots of different ways.  They build a discipline around that challenge and then work toward the goal.

Don’t stop writing, but don’t just write.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.  Please, post those comments.  It is all part of that feedback loop!

Cursive and Dinosaurs

I recently read that cursive writing is no longer a DOE requirement for grade schools.  Instead, they are going to focus on keyboard skills.  Cursive can still be taught, but it is an option to be exercised at the local level. Something seems wrong with this.

I’ve struggled with why I felt that way.  That led me to the five why’s.  I use that method a lot in my writing and in my work.  I ask “why?” multiple times.  By the time I get to about five iterations I have a pretty clear idea of the true cause for my unrest is.

So, here goes…

Why #1 – Why did the change seem bad to me? 

Was I in one of those “it was good enough for me, it ought to be good enough for them” kind of modes?  In reality, that isn’t my style.  It might be a function of the fact that I grew up in the sixties and don’t accept any credos as gospel. I’ve long been an advocate of progressive education and finding better ways of learning, even for my own brain.  My reaction wasn’t from being anti-progress.

Why #2 – Why would not learning cursive make a difference?

My penmanship is not all that great.  I do have my moments when I take my time and it looks decent, but it is nothing to write home about (couldn’t resist that one!).  That doesn’t matter.  What I do have is a way to put words on a piece of paper in a graceful manner that is unique to me.  About fifteen years ago I rediscovered the luxury of writing with a fountain pen and have been addicted ever since.  There is something about putting ink on paper that makes cursive as much art as it is communication.  It is expression.  How does a keyboard become expressive?  Even bad penmanship is a statement.  A reflection.  What do our children lose when they no longer have that form of expression?  A clever avatar isn’t the same.

Why #3 – Did learning cursive do something for me?

Okay, it’s not a “why” question, but you get the point.  Don’t be so freakin’ anal.

Anyway, I started answering that the discipline of practice was important, but that is wrong.  I do not remember the time I spent practicing my cursive writing.  There are memories of violin lessons and cotillion dance lessons.  I even remember the first time I counted over 100!  It felt like I had crossed a barrier and that there were no limits.  But I couldn’t quite remember the process of learning cursive.

I do remember feeling the achievement when I finally did pull it all together.  Writing cursive was the first adult skill I ever accomplished.  It was the one thing that I watched my parents and older siblings do that I envied.  When I learned to write cursive, I felt accomplished, equal, and armed with an actual skill.  I had pride in the achievement.  It wasn’t pretty, but it was all mine.

Why #4 –  Why would the schools want to stop?

Cursive writing is a discipline.  You have to sit still and practice.  A whole class has to have paper and pencils and time to just sit and repeat the same mechanical rhythm a few hundred times to become proficient.

Lord knows I have sympathy for teachers.  They get duped in our culture. Honest, well intention men and women go into the profession to educate and motivate children and what they get most of the time is administrative goop that makes it hard to just teach.  Yes, it is simplistic, but this is my blog, I get to be that way.  Teachers already have so many daily criteria to meet that is overhead something had to drop.  An intellect in some agency looked around and saw a whole generation of kids using smart phones and the idea that no one writes anymore struck a chord.  Drop cursive and teachers get back hours of time every week that they can use to complete their lesson plans and other overhead.  Plus, schools don’t have to supply practice paper.  Even better, parents have one less thing to worry about.

Yeah, I’m a bit cynical and maybe I’m exaggerating.  But I always look for the ulterior motives in any agency action.

Why #5 – Why is learning keyboard skills as a priority bad?

And there it is.  We have not only taken a right of passage and self expression away from our children, we have now burdened them with potential trauma.

Let me explain.

I learned to type my freshman year of high school in 1967.  My sister was a professional secretary and she recommended it to me.  It is a skill I have used forever.  Plus, the class was full of girls, so, what can I say?

In that class I learned keyboard skills (yes typing is the fundamental keyboard skill) from an instructor who taught it for a living.  He showed us the touch type method, correct posture, how to hold our hands, how to strike the keys.  It was far more intricate and time consuming than learning to write cursive.  I remember spending hours at home on my sisters old manual Smith-Corona typing the same exercises over and over.

Okay.  So, what about the trauma?  I have been typing on typewriters and keyboards since 1967 and have never had wrist trauma.  My sister has typed for a longer period of time and far more than I will do in my lifetime and she has no wrist issues.  Why?  Because there is a correct way to hold your hands and sit when you type.  Carpal tunnel syndrome seems to be rampant these days.  I would suggest it is because most people typing on keyboards don’t know how to hold their hands when they type. Right now my wrists are elevated, not resting on the laptop, and I am striking down at the keys.  It takes a little to get used to, but it is easy on the wrists.  Like any sport, it takes practice and you have to develop the muscles.   Wait, doesn’t that sound like penmanship?

Are teachers being trained in proper keyboard mechanics?  The right angle and technique to hold the hands?  The proper height for the keyboard? The proper posture for the back and position of the feet?  How often to take a break and refresh the muscles?  Probably, not.  I doubt there will be a regimen of touch typing practices to refine techique.  To be honest, I know quite a few people who have hacked two-finger typing into a skill, so touch typing as I learned may not be a necessity to become proficient.  If not, then what is the alternative?  Does each kid figure out their own way? Is it up to the teacher or the local educational institute?  Sounds like a recipe for failure.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am an IT guy and I am totally comfortable with new technology and my computer.  I live most of my work day in front of a screen crafting brilliant and insightful emails and presentations through the portal of my computer’s keyboard.

So many options, so little to say!

Even with all of the techno options available, I’m glad that I know cursive.  It is a default for my writing.  I never am at a loss in a power outage or if my Internet provide goes down.  My notebooks are not subject to viruses or crashes, although they can be decimated by coffee spills.  My penmanship provides a crude form of encryption, so it insures some degree of privacy.  No one thinks to steal a notebook these days.  I do make copies of the important stuff and file those.

When I look back, every book I have written starts with a pen on a page.  I’ve written more than I published and there are files of backstory meanderings that sprang from my mind to the page at the most inconvenient times and places all because I had pen in hand and something to write on.  In cursive.  Like a grown-up.  My cursive writing is a celebration of my thoughts, an artform of communication.

What do you think?  I’d love to here from you.

Being True to You

I hadn’t planned on a post, but a good soul passed on this weekend and it prompted me to write.  His name was Micah True.  Some knew him as Caballo Blanco, the White Horse, from Chris McDougall’s Born to Run.

Micah was found dead out on a trail in New Mexico.  He had gone out for a routine 12 mile run and never came back.  I guess if you have to go, it might as well be doing something you love.

It is probably not just coincidence that I posted a quote of his in my running journal on the day he died.  We are all attached in many ways and his passing was surely felt by many.

I won’t expound my feelings about running.  If you are interested, they are being explained in my journal, jlgrunr.com.  It can be summed up in my tag line “I run, therefore I am.”

What I want to share is something simple.  Micah found truth in running.  I don’t mean he lived a life without ever lying.  I don’t know any human being who doesn’t lie.  Truth doesn’t mean telling the truth.  The truth Micah searched for was something deeper.  It is the kind of truth you have to face when you are running fifty miles in rock lined canyons.  The kind of truth that reminds you that you can do a lot more than you have ever given yourself credit for.

Don’t get me wrong.  He was no profit.  As a man he had his frailties and weaknesses and faults.  In running he found answers.  I understand that because I have often found resolution to problems that have confronted me while out on a run.  Plot lines find their way around roadblocks after a few miles.  Running frees me to think.

Here is a quote from Caballo Blanco that has been pivotal in my transition to a more natural running style.  It is about taking it slow, letting it settle in and then letting it just disappear underneath you as it becomes natural.

Think Easy, Light, Smooth and Fast.  You start with easy, because if that’s all you get, that’s not so bad.  Then work on light.  Make it effortless, like you don’t give a shit how high the hill is or how far you’ve got to go.  When you’ve practiced that so long that you forget your practicing, you work on making it smooooooth.  You won’t have to worry about the last one—you get those three, and you’ll be fast.

There is nothing easy in learning to run naturally, but there is a grace in the form that feels right.  It has taken me about 200 miles and six months to finally get to smooth.  I don’t really care about fast.  I just want to run.

This quote applies to so much of what we do.  As a writer, the process of taking it slow and letting it become a natural form of expression rings so clear.  You can not force your writing technique.  Like any endeavor, you have to start slow, find your rhythm and build up through repetition and work.  Once you have your voice, you can write well.  But to get there you need to take that first step.  You need to commit.  You need to understand that there will be pain.  But it is all worth it in the end.

That is the truth that Micah True had found.  Like him and so many other runners, movement out on the roads and trails sets me free.  It provides me a sense of truth that informs the rest of my life, most of all, my writing.

He will be missed, but it would be a disservice to his memory to mourn him. Instead, we should celebrate him by recommitting ourselves to our own truths and, starting slowly, learning to master them.

I’ll leave you with a final quote that Micah put on his Facebook page a few days ago.

“If I were to be remembered for anything at all, I would want that to be that I am/was authentic. No Mas. Run Free!”

Micah True – Caballo Blanco

The Truth About Me

This has been an interesting year, as far as my reading list goes.  Since last summer I have read many books.  Three of those have changed my perspective on my life and what I am all about.  To read a book like that once every few years is something, but to have three of them hit you in the space of a few months is pretty amazing. It just proves that you are never too old or young to re-assess and make changes.

It started in the summer when I happened on a book entitled Brain Rules by John Medina. 

He is a developmental molecular biologist and has done great research about the brain; how it came to be and why it works the way it does.  He was able to distill this mass of work into twelve rules.  I won’t repeat them all because I think you ought to read the book.  The one that hit me the hardest was Rule #1 – Keep moving.

The rule stems from a simple question.  How did man’s brain get to be the way it is?  If you go back to the days when we ventured out from the trees onto the savannah the answer is pretty simple, although the evolution is not.   If you are walking upright you need to keep your eyes open and in constant motion to avoid being eaten or to find something to eat.  So many of the attributes of our brain tie back to staying in motion, learning to track prey and tell direction.

That links directly to the second life changing book I read, Born to Run by Christopher McDougall.

An athletic man, Chris failed at running due to constant injury.  Something many runners suffer these days.  What got him going was the theme from many doctors he visited that man was not made to run and that man’s feet were failures.  For Chris, that didn’t didn’t make sense.  Then he heard about a tribe of Indians who lived in the Copper Canyons of Mexico.  The Tarahumara were phenomenal runners and that started Chris on an investigation that lead him to discover a wealth of research and the revelation that we are runners by nature.

The premise of the book is a corollary to Medina’s Rule #1; man was born not just to move, but to run.  We are the perfect machines to run long distances at varying paces.  From a tendon in our neck that only running creatures have, to the pores of our skin which uniquely cool us as we exert ourselves, to the shape and mechanics of our fantastic feet.  Before we had weapons and tools we hunted by running down animals until they died of heat prostration.   All other running animals exhaust their heat through panting.  Keep them running and they will die.  Of course, it takes twenty-six miles or so to do it.  There are tribes and groups who still hunt that way.

What we messed up in the last few decades is how we run.  Modern running shoes go against almost all that is natural to us.  I’m not saying they are bad, they just aid us in running wrong.  Born To Run motivated me to re-learn running.  I was infused enough by what I read to start an online journal about my transformation (jlgrunr.com).  Running has been part of my life for over 40 years. It is something I enjoy and crave.  My addiction.  My drug of choice.  I have been lucky to avoid any serious injury.  Changing to a natural style of running has changed the sport for me. It’s all good.

Running is my meditation platform.  I am not a sit on the floor, cross your legs and chant meditator.  I need motion (do you get the theme?).   When I run and get into a rhythm my thoughts percolate, the problems find solutions and I create new ideas.  Some people call it a runner’s high.  I just call it running.  That’s why I smile a lot when I run.

That bridges me to the third book; Quiet by Susan Cain.

It is a book about the power of introverts.  Having spent so much time in corporations committed to group processes I was surprised and pleased to discover that most innovation happens when smart people work alone.  A notable example of an introvert who changed our lives is Steve Wozniak who invented the personal computer.  He and his good friend, Steve Jobs, took that creation and started a company called Apple Computers.  The Woz was struck by an idea he heard in an informal gathering of engineers discussing computer technology.  His years of solitary study of computers and computer architecture gelled in that meeting.  He spent the next three months patiently working alone, after hours, to design and build the first computer that had a processor, keyboard and a display screen integrated into one package.  That design became the Apple 1.

Reading the book I recognized so many characteristics of the introvert in my own personality.  It helped me understand why I struggle with speaking in front of large groups and my quiet mode in large meetings, even when I am the lead.  It is funny, though, because I am considered an excellent manager and a very sociable person.  I attribute that to my ability to listen and observe.  I’ve also developed some subtle mechanisms that allow me to put on a more extroverted personality.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love spending time with family and friends.  I just prefer them in small groups.  I am also totally comfortable spending time alone with my own thoughts.

It also explains why I enjoy writing so much.  Whether fiction or non-fiction, I am applying my observational learning to guide the words I use to craft my work.  Writing fiction is about building good characters and then putting them in interesting situations to see how they act.  Making a character three dimensional is all about observing what you have written and comparing it to reality.  Is it believable?  Are they acting like a real person would?  Do they have the same faults and talents that any normal person would?  I think I did a good job of that in SYN:FIN.

The introvert that I am needs alone time and I find that time out on the road while I am in motion under the power of my own two feet.  It makes so much sense now.  The exertion of running, which comes to me so naturally, is a vent for my own need for solitude.  People have asked if I get bored running for hours.  No way.  I breath with a hypnotic rhythm, feeling the motion and muscles.  My senses are at their height when I run and my mind is free to engage as it sees fit.

In my running journal my tag line is: “I run therefore, I am”.  When I wrote it I thought it just sounded cool.  Now I realize that it is the most fundamental truth about me.

Helping a Friend

 All of the proceeds for my January sales of SYN:FIN will be used to offset medical bills for a good friend.  Here are the details…

In the mid-nineties I took a C++ programming course.  The instructor worked for a manufacturer of airbags. He told us that he spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to disconnect the airbag in his car without much success.  Not because he was some malcontent, but because the data showed, in his opinion, that there was more danger from an airbag deployment than from most accidents.

Fast forward to about a month ago.  A good “virtual” friend of mine was the victim of a hit and run near a college campus.  Her airbag deployed.  She is petite in stature and she has been wrestling with burns on her wrists and head trauma ever since.  All from the airbag.

You may know of my friend.  I mentioned her in my first blog as an author.  Fuzz Box Girl (FBG) is her web name and she operates in anonymity as part of the brand she is creating.  That perceptive and creative approach was one of the reasons I mentioned her, along with Kim Komando, in my blog. Where Kim had developed and built a strong brand based on her love and passion for technology and teaching, FBG was just starting down that path in her own area of passion – guitars, guitar effects and music.  She understood her clientel and laced her technical displays with portraits that rest well with her predominantly young, male audience.

Since I wrote that blog in September she has created her own webspace and in a matter of weeks went from a few hundred to nearly 5000 fans.

She designed the site in about two days.  From a standard WordPress template.  We all know what that takes.  Just look at the content she manufactured in just a few short months along with the design insights to display that content in such a rich manner.  I was impressed.  Here’s the link in case you missed it before  Fuzz Box Girl.  You’ll know you are there when you see this:

Most of you reading this blog are fellow authors or writers working at publishing.  We all know just how freaking hard it is to build your personal brand and get heard as a unique voice above the din of all the other authors.  It takes time and patience and support from friends and family.  Most of us who are starting down this path have our day jobs and feed our writing passion in the off hours and weekends.

Now think of what it is like when you are one of the few female voices in an industry full of testosterone enriched men who are trying to make loud noise and show off their technical playing skills.  FBG is making her voice heard by keying on the demonstrations of equipment, not her technical chops (of which she has a load).

Unfortunately, FBG lost her job in the summer and does not have health care insurance.  She has been focusing on her brand and the momentum was going strong until this accident.  With burns on her wrists she can’t play the guitar, which means she can’t demo the effects that have given her her audience.  The head trauma has also impacted her speech for now (we hope it is temporary) and that keeps her from doing the voice overs and making her funny introductions to the demos.

We all miss her and want to help.  The easiest way for me to help is to take the royalties I get for SYN:FIN and let her use them to offset the medical costs.  The book is a techno-thriller that has gotten very good reviews.  You get a good read and I get to help a friend.  That makes my day.

But…If you don’t want to read or if you want the book and still want to do more, then visit the Fuzz Box Girl website.  If you like music at all, you’ll find something interesting to listen to and read.  More important, she has a Closet & Cupboard section where you can buy some FBG designed gear.  She gets some revenue from these sales.

So, I have a lot of women writers who follow me on twitter and I challenge them to  buy an FBG side-boobie T-shirt.  My male cohorts will enjoy the calendar.  Nothing x-rated, but definitely good viewing.

Whether you take the step or not, thanks for reading and letting me make my case.  I do know the people I’ve met in Twitterverse are courageous and big hearted and care for each other.  Feel free to reach out to FBG and/or follow her at @fuzzboxgirl.

Thanks!

Feedback is a Gift – Painful, But a Gift

The first draft of my novel, SYN:FIN, was typed on an Olympia SM9 from the 60’s.  One word after another with no delete key.  That is the great thing about writing on a typewriter.  There is no going back.

My Oly SM9

I keyed that first draft into my computer and did an edit for spelling and grammar and thought I had a killer novel.  Just before I pushed the button to publish, I decided to ask a good friend to read the first three chapters, about 30 pages.

She had great credentials.  Not only was she the CEO of a research consulting firm, she had published a book earlier in her life.  Competent and articulate, on the business side she had always been crisp and insightful in her analysis.  What better person to tell me how great my story was.

You know where this is going.

Here is an excerpt from the first paragraph of her email response.

Re: Syn Fin, here’s my take. You know me well, so I’m going to be blunt. Hope that’s okay.

The good news is that you’ve got an intriguing voice and a character that will become sympathetic once you edit out the noise.

The bad news is that you didn’t hold my attention.

She was calling my baby ugly!  And what the hell did she mean by “noise”? Fortunately, she explained herself.  You see, I had inserted a little twist into my first person writing.  I had given my character a device to record his thoughts, so that the book was his dictation, not his writing.  Every so often he would complain about something with the recorder or some other element and go off plot.  Here’s what she thought of my ingenuity:

The device of using the automatic writing software (and making occasional asides to the reader about not knowing how to write) is distancing and distracting. Lose it.

That was pretty specific.  I was thinking maybe she didn’t get my sense of humor.  But I read on and found out what she really thought.

The first couple of paragraphs manage to quickly build sympathy for your character–the reader identifies with him being hungover, getting dissed by his ex-girlfriend and sidekick, etc.

But it’s not enough for me to care about him for 30 pages. Since I forced myself to plow ahead, I know there’s more to this guy–but you need to pack it into the front end.

In particular, the fact that he’s a software genius is a) relevant and b) buried. You need to haul that puppy right out front, because it’s important.

You have very little time to create an emotional situation that causes me to care enough about the guy to turn the page. (By “very little time”–I mean more like 30 WORDS than 30 pages).

It wasn’t good to hear that she had to force herself to read the full 30 pages.  Even worse was hearing she had not uncovered the plot after she read it all.  My first reaction was that she just didn’t get it.  Then I remembered why I asked her to read it.  She knows her shit when it comes to writing and reading.

It took me a couple of days to be warm up to what she had said.  There was one comment I kept going back to.

Again, the point is that you should know exactly why each sentence is where it is, and what purpose it’s serving. If it’s not either conveying information, defining character, or moving the plot forward–get rid of it. And if it IS doing one of those—can you make it do two? Or, can you pack the same punch in fewer words?

She suggested I take a book I really liked and deconstruct the first few chapters. I did just that.  Damn, the whole setup was there.  Just like she had said.

I felt like a dismal failure.  This was my best effort and it sucked.  So, I took some more of her advise and stepped away from the book for a while.  Separation can be a good thing.

About 3 months later, I picked it up and took a red pen to it.  I learned quickly that there is a difference between writing and editing.  I listened to aggressive music while I trounced on my words and ripped, slashed and crushed everything.  What I discovered was a pretty good story under the coats of verbal varnish.  Each pass with the red pen brought that story into more crisp focus.

The pain of editing!

It took six, count them – six, edits to get it to the final state.  The seventh edit was purely for punctuation and grammar (forty-seven fixes that my six edits had missed).

The end result is that SYN:FIN has received seven 5-star reviews on Amazon. Even better is that my friend is still my friend.

Here’s what I learned:

  1. Write that first draft for fun and frolic.  Just get the thoughts out of you and on to paper.  Don’t worry about consistency or grammar.  Capture what is in your mind.
  2. Editing is a totally different mindset than writing.  It is surgical and clinical.  Edit as if you are a reader and you don’t give a flying F@&# about any of the words on the page.  Nothing is sacred.  If it doesn’t lead to the end game, get rid of it.  If you can say it in two words, not three, then cut one.  Don’t repeat what you’ve already told the reader.  They remember.
  3. If you are fortunate enough to know someone who will give you honest feedback, then listen carefully to what they say.  You will only get better as a result.

I am working on the next installment in the Chronicles of Jim Harrison.  It is going well and the plot is much trickier this time.  Exactly how it all works out is still in the air.  Each day at my typewriter is a surprise and I am anxious to see where my fingers will lead me.  I’m having a great time getting there.  More important, I won’t make the mistake of thinking that my first draft is a finished product.

This time I will do a lot more editing before I submit myself to feedback!