Sunday, November 23, 2014

Every Word Counts

"..So avoid using the word 'very' because it's lazy. A man is not very tired, he is exhausted. Don't use very sad, use morose. Language was invented for one reason, boys - to woo women - and, in that endeavor, laziness will not do. It also won't do in your essays." These words spoken by Robin Williams in the movie Dead Poet Society are an eye opener.

Don't be lazy. Every word written and every word omitted counts.

Blue Car
"It has been a wonderful first date.

  • While we spoke outside her door, a blue car passed"
  • While we spoke outside her door, a blue Mercedes with out of state plate passed"
  • While we spoke outside her door, a blue Ferrari passed"
  • While we spoke outside her door, a navy Ford passed. The kid in the backseat had this glance of astonishment in its eyes only kids can have when they see something new - and myself in that particular moment."

Do you see the difference in these sentences? In the first two examples the focus is on the car. It must pertain to the development of the plot. Maybe a blue car passed two days earlier when the protagonist witnessed a robbery. If it doesn't move the plot forward, leave it out. Imagine you have been on a first date - do you care about a car that passes while you still stand in the front of her door? Not really, right?

Except... the sentence tells us something about the protagonist. Have you ever seen a blue Ferrari? I haven't, and personally I couldn't care less, but there are men that would get all excited about it. It tells us something about his personality. If it is not what you wanted to tell the reader about the protagonist, leave it out.

Now, the last sentence tells us something about the guy too. I bet you too have these moments in your memory where you can tell each and every detail; how the sunlight was, the smell of snow in the air before it falls of the smell of rain after it has stopped. You know the number of the house on the other side of the street and the color of the car that passed in that moment. It is burned into your soul and most of the time it has something to do with a girl (or a guy).

If a word or sentence is not important for the plot, the story or the protagonist, LEAVE IT OUT.

Beware of Fashion
We are all children of our generation, but the older we get, the more we realize that many things that are IN right now aren't tomorrow. I grew up in the eighties with the A-Team, Knight Rider and music tapes. If your plot on a hero that saves a tape using a pencil you might need to explain it to millennium readers. Nowadays it's all about Facebook, Twitter & co, but who remembers IRC? Explaining past technology might be obvious, but even when using nowadays favorite technology - be aware, it can be forgotten tomorrow.

Try to stay away of using things that are fashion driven - you might end up with disconnected future readers.

The Perfect Word
In my blue-car-example I used the word speak, which seems to be a neutral word in that context. Now try to replace this word with 

  • discuss
  • argue
  • chatted
  • flirt
  • debate
  • teasing each other

See how it gives the story another direction.

You want to have another example? Look at the following sentence: 

  • "When I saw her the first time, she was reading a book."

  • "When I saw her the first time, she sat in the park on green bench beneath an oak tree reading a book."

Choosing the right word is crucial in order to paint the right picture into the reader's mind.

Increase vs Reduce
"Every word counts" goes in both directions - it can increase the number of words or reduce it. Word count decreases when you try to bring an emotion across and you can nail it with one word instead of describing it. On the other side of the spectrum you increase the word count in order draw a picture. If the car in the first example is just a car, the picture remains one-dimensional. In order to gain depth you need to say what kind of car and you might want to add some more description if it suits the purpose.

Eventually every word counts in order to nail it.

Happy writing,
Your writer in a foreign land

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Different Faces of Discipline

It's NaNoWriMo and NaNoWriMo means discipline. If you don't sit down every day and write, you will end up with a huge pile of words to be written in the last days of the month. You might also be tempted to give yourself a free day. Don't do it unless you are one day ahead. It will haunt you for the rest of the month.

But NaNoWriMo is only one month. What about discipline during the rest of the year. Don't get me wrong; I don't talk about discipline in "real" live, like paying bills, cleaning the house etc. This is about discipline in writing and there are various aspects of it. I have to know it, because I am very much driven by creativity. Discipline is something I had to learn the hard way, therefore I see myself competent enough to be able to 'lecture' about the topic.

Discipline is outing itself in various aspects of writing and it is different for every writer.

Daily Writing
Everybody has his or her own daily routine, but however it is, writing should be a part of it. It doesn't matter if it is as little as 250 or more than 2,000 words. It takes a discipline to write consistently every day, especially when the day is already packed. I dare to say there is more discipline required when you have day job than as a professional writer. You need to make it a habit, otherwise it might be too tempting to say, "Tomorrow I will write double the amount of words, I promise." Currently, I do my writing on the commute, next to a 12 to 14 working hour day.

I already wrote about my writing habits in a earlier blog post, however, you need to find your own way. You might be a early morning writer or feel more comfortable doing it late at night. It is is all up to you, but you need discipline to sit down every day and write.

The Right Word vs Shutting the Inner Editor Away
You encounter another angle of discipline during writing - two actually, depending which side you are coming from. How long do you look for the right word until you move on with your writing; one minute, ten minutes or half an hour? I am very quick in writing down a short note about what I wanted to say and move on with my writing. Others might be tempted to spend a lot more time at this point. If you are like me, you are probably fine. Except that your future self might curse you for that. If you are the later one of the two you should train yourself to let go for the moment.  This doesn't mean you can spend some time to search for a suitable word, but you should stop at some point and keep on writing.

Here's my favorite. While you were on the bright side above during writing, when you didn't insist on finding the perfect word, you will suffer during editing. Here it is all about the right word, the right scene, the right character. It might be because of where I'm coming from, but in my opinion, discipline in editing is the most crucial one.

Imagine, you've done hours and hours of rewriting and editing. You almost spent more time for editing as for writing and at that point your discipline has to kick-in to go to the end of the road and have a perfect book. Even more when you are an indie and can't rely on an editor/publisher.

Marketing and Sales
There is a reason why marketing is a profession on its own. It means constant work and a high level of creativity to reach the customer - especially when you don't have a budget, only your work and time.
As well as you have to write every day, you have to market you and your books every day - planning as well as executing. 

Know You Yourself
Everybody needs discipline, but everybody needs discipline for something different. Discipline comes into play when you don't like doing something or when you have to set different priorities.

As an introvert, you need discipline to go out and market your book. When you are super creative, you might need discipline while editing. When writing aside a day job you need discipline to write every day. 

Last week I had a 70 hour workweek and was forced to decide between writing every day or finish this blog. I decided to write every day my 250 words, that is why this blog comes out with one week delay. And there's another angle to discipline. Discipline does not mean to kill yourself - it doesn't mean to do everything. Discipline means to overcome our weaknesses. Outside all discipline, you can only accomplish as much as is feasible in a day. It doesn't get longer than 24 hours. Knowing when to stop is also a kind of discipline.

Happy writing
Your writer in a foreign land