Day and Night

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As the name of this blog might indicate, I do my writing generally in the margins of life. Between the cracks of the day, in the morning before things get going and the evening, after dinner and with a glass of wine to stir the creative pot.

I’d like to do my writing more consistently at a given time, but it’s difficult to achieve that kind of consistency with the current life situation – I travel a lot for work, frequently arriving and departing at weird times, making a sleep schedule nigh impossible.

So, doing a lot of writing on both sides of the day, here’s what I can say:

Early Morning (6 AM): 

I’m talking the immediate edge of dawn here. Maybe a quick breakfast, a pot of coffee, and your keyboard while the sun pokes itself above the horizon. I tend to be hazier at this time, which makes me more creative. It’s easier to start new ideas, to break through a particular scene and into something interesting when the day is fresh and nothing’s beating down your door.

If I could consistently work at this time, I’d be infinitely more productive. The best, definitely, provided you get enough sleep. I’ve tried it a couple times after later nights and the mothballs in my head kept me from getting much done.

Later Morning (after 8 AM):

Outside of the occasional blog post, I can’t do a lot during this time on weekdays because of, you know, the job. But on weekends and those vacation days, I’m pretty productive if I can squeeze out some minutes at the keyboard. Without a day job, I think this would be the perfect time to get thousands of words on paper – you’re at the peak of the caffeine rush and there’s plenty of mental energy going.

It’s also a more dependable time than early morning, because late night adventures won’t impact it quite so much. It’s also the most impossible time to squeeze into for traditional jobs. Sigh.

Early Afternoon (After 12 PM):

My worst time, by far. Really, this constitutes any time in the immediate aftermath of lunch. Your body’s blood sugar is in flux from the food you just ate. The morning caffeine is diluted. You’ve done enough that you’re not at peak creative energy anymore.

Usually, on off days and weekends, I’m done writing by this time. If I’m not, it’s hard to get much done. One strategy that I’ll try if I can fit it into the schedule is to leave my desk, the house, wherever and find a different spot. Sometimes the change in scenery triggers a burst of enthusiasm that lets me get some words down. Otherwise, this is prime time for fiddling with lighter tasks, like email, managing the blog, or perusing message boards to see what’s up in the writing world. Or, you know, actual work.

Evening (After 5 PM):

This one’s a mixed bag. If I’m at home, I have to be disciplined to get the writing done at this time. I’m talking get back, do a workout, plot dinner, eat and pull out a beer or something. Put on music and squat myself on the couch or elsewhere and type out the words.

That might sound nice, but the evening timeslot is full of minefields. There’s innumerable distractions – whether that’s parents, friends, and other social obligations that can dash your writing plans with a single request to go out somewhere, your significant other who actually wants to spend time with you, to pets that want a bit of attention after a day roaming the house by themselves.

There’s also simple fatigue. If you’ve been busy during the day, it’s hard to pick yourself up again and make the mental effort.

That’s why I’m most successful here when I put myself in a place that facilitates writing. When I’m traveling, I’ll squirrel away at a restaurant, generally the bar area, and type. The ambient conversation seems to help, and the scenery is better than a blank hotel room. At home, again, that after-dinner drink or music keys in the mind so I can focus.

But keeping that focus is hard – lose it around this time and it’s too tempting to put away the laptop and do something ‘fun’. Every day I look at writing at this time, it’s a roll of the dice. Not a great long-term plan.

Late Night (After 9 PM):

Nope, can’t do it. I’m almost never successful by this time with any serious writing. Partly cause I’m tired, partly cause I’m already thinking about the next day. It’s hard to focus.

Now, I think this would be a viable time if I didn’t have to get up in the morning quite so early. If the mounting minor stresses of the next day weren’t quite so insistent. The quiet and reflective zen of later night could be ideal. Maybe when the work calms down, I’ll give this one a try.

So what’s the point of all this? Breaking down the schedule? I think it’s a good exercise. One you’ll probably do naturally to some extent if you try to write every day, just because life forces will push you out of your rhythm every now and again. Finding that sweet spot that most productive will make you happier, less stressed, and enable you to structure your day around all of your commitments in a way that makes it satisfying to work through.

If you’re getting started with writing (or, honestly, just about any hobby), I’d try it at different times during the day to find what fits your muse. Maybe you’re a night owl. Maybe an early riser like me. But you’ll be far more productive when you find that perfect time, so go looking.

Go Your Own Way

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There are times when I’m writing where I throw up the hands. It’s hopeless.

I can’t control my characters. They’re doing their own things. Setting up and breaking down scenes while I just try and keep up with the words on the page. Hang on for the ride as personalities take over and conflict produces one scene after another.

I’m learning to let go, to embrace this whenever it happens as a sign that my story is going in the right direction. That it’s coming to life. Sure, in editing I might have to corral it somewhat, but odds are I’m going to find a new direction in the dirt my characters dig up on themselves when riffing away.

There’s a temptation to reel them back in. To cut the dialogue short and steer them back towards a predefined plot. Thing is, I tend to find my writing is better when I don’t do that. When I’m working from a situation that the characters start to own, to takeover. Eventually it ends and I might be left to a bunch of people I thought I knew, and that now I really know.

It’s a magical moment that only really happens with writing, that point of bringing something to life out of nowhere (note: I’m not a father, so maybe that counts too). And when it happens to you, let your characters run with it. They might take you somewhere you never knew existed.


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There’s a dream that flits about my subconscious and occasionally, during moments of daytime hallucination, it rises to the surface with warm, pleasant feelings. It’s that one of waking up in the morning, penning some words, taking a moment to smell some fresh coffee before plowing through another project.

Maybe a stop around the lunch hour for a workout, some house stuff, a sandwich and such. Then back to some social media, the ol’ blog, a run-through of the literary properties to see what needs some sprucing up or which ones are ripe for a sale.

Sounds pretty fantastic. And also, from where I am now, fantastical. There’s a danger that I’ve found in getting too caught up in the imagined. It plays a trick on your brain to spend too much time in a future you haven’t earned yet. Makes it feel like you’ve already done the work, already made it there. Makes you feel happy. For a moment, anyway, until reality reasserts itself with an email ping or a phone call wondering why you aren’t at a meeting.

I’m trying to daydream less now. It requires active effort, to force those lovely visions to get down and dirty with the actual struggles I’m facing today. To put in hard form a list of what has to be done now, in the next 24 hours, to move my career forward.

Right now, that list is as so:

  1. Complete this list.
  2. Hit my word count – depending on the day’s required activities, that’s somewhere between 2,000-5,000.
  3. Contact an editor about my novel/novella that I have done so far.
  4. Do some web designing for this blog to suit a ‘prettier’ format.

We’ll see tomorrow whether I’m able to hit those deadlines. I’ll put the odds at 50/50.

Riding the lightning

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Much as it sounds vulgar to those aspiring to true artistry where miracles drip from the pen without the slightest prodding or anything that could be so low as ‘work’, the word count is the guiding light keeping me moving forward.

By which I mean that having a target to aim for helps keep me productive, on track, aiming towards something. It helps push me through those days where the words don’t come as easily, when I’d rather do anything that is easier.

Watching TV, reading a book, even writing posts on this blog are all easier than doing the writing for a novel or a story. The plotting here isn’t as complex, the dialogue is, well, mostly non-existent.

And when you’re not writing the story, you’re not facing the imperfections of your talents.

But there is that word count, staring me in the face, telling me that if I don’t get those few thousand words down, then I’ll never get any better, never move towards what I really want, and I’ll still be here in fifty years typing words onto this blog about how I’m trying to get started.

The Consequences of Caring

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Every once in a while I sit down in front of the computer and pull open a story and feel… nothing. No inspiration, no real urge to continue on with what’s happening in the current moment. This happened last night, when a pair of characters were entering a section that could be described as ‘character-building conversation’.

Part of me wanted to have the scene. To have the characters talk about themselves and banter back and forth. Share their love of beansprouts and ginger ale. The kind of conversation you might have with a buddy at a bar.

But man, when I looked at the page and thought about that conversation, I just could not do it. Could not think of a way to make it interesting. I sat there for more than ten minutes trying to structure a scene around it, and slowly felt that creeping dread that the night’s writing was going to be lost to this dumb talk-fest that I thought was necessary for some reason.

The frustration turned out to be a catalyst. I realized that I didn’t really care about the conversation these two would have, and if I didn’t care, my readers probably wouldn’t either. So I threw it out. Devoted a line to it and then skipped to the next day, and a more interesting encounter. The writing came quickly then, and I was able to pound out a thousand words in under twenty minutes because I was having fun with the scene.

So, next time you think you care about something in the story and the writing isn’t coming easily, consider whether you’re really interested in it. Whether the scene itself is necessary. Because if you don’t really care enough to write it, your readers won’t care to read it.

The Man in the High Castle

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No, not the Amazon show. The book. The Phillip K. Dick sci fi piece that serves as a dystopic introduction to the alt-history genre. In this one, the Nazi’s won. Japan did too, and now the world is split into halves.

The fun part about reading books on the Kindle is that you can see the sections that other people thought were worthy of highlighting. Meaning that as you’re perusing Mr. Frink’s journey into jewelry-crafting and Juliana’s Denver shopping spree, you’ll occasionally come across little lines telling you that other people found this meaningful. Or, at least, worth quoting.

It’s like getting an older textbook at the start of the year, and finding you caught the one last held by Scribble McGee, captain of the wandering pencil who found every other word worth a graphite epitaph.

While the highlighted passages themselves seemed fine from a quality perspective, they did have one thing in common. The same thing that permeated all of Dick’s characters in the book. A philosophical sense that the place that they inhabited wasn’t right.

In other novels, that theme might be used to propel change. Spur the heroes onto a quest to defeat some evil and right the world. Here, though, the feeling is a tantalizing thing that, even when some come close to escaping that world, they give it up. Go back to the dismal place they know, but perhaps more at peace with it.

I could strain the message and say that I take it as a push to keep on going. That the current world of working hard and writing little isn’t the world as its supposed to be. The difference, hopefully, is that when, if, I reach a point where change is possible that I don’t back down. Because I’m not sure I could find any peace that way


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So, Amazon has this nifty new thing out if you’re interested in screenplays at all. If you read my last post, and let’s be real, I wouldn’t be upset if you hadn’t, you’d know that I think fiddling with a screenplay is a great way to learn dialogue and to-the-point writing. No room for fluff in Courier font.

Anyway, this tool seems to be one more way to bring faster formatting to the masses. Not that it was particularly expensive before – $40 programs like Scrivener and such give you at least some weapons in the auto-formatting war even if you don’t want to spring for the pricier prince of programs, Final Draft. The latter, though, is pretty good and (like right now) is frequently on sale, so if you want it you can wait for a good price.

Still, if you want to play in Amazon’s party, you’ll have to acquiesce to some not-so-nifty requests. If you want to submit your work to Amazon’s studio directly from the app, anyway. And that’s, like, the main selling point here. While I haven’t used Storywriter personally, reviews indicate that it’s a fine tool that doesn’t improve on any of the things I mentioned above.

Except, of course, that submission opportunity. Now, who knows how long it’ll take for Amazon to be overwhelmed with submissions and turn into the same studio swamp we writers recognize everywhere in Hollywood. But, for now, it’s a free and clear window to throw up every Alf re-imagining you’ve been penning in secret and hope Amazon sees the hidden genius you tell all your friends about after another lite beer bender.

The watch point in all this is that Amazon reserves the right to essentially spin off your idea and claim it was someone else’s submission provided there aren’t verbatim copied sections from your script. In other words, it’s on you to prove your Muchkin Murder Mysteries anthology series was only your idea and not Aaron Sorkin’s. The idea here being that you should read through the terms of the agreement before you submit, and don’t get upset if something familiar wanders onto Prime video without nary an email getting sent your way.

As for me, I might try it with some fun little ideas I’ve had floating around. It’s like taking a chance with minimal real consequences. As you can import other documents into Storywriter, you don’t have to write them entirely in Amazon’s app, making a crossover from your existing program an easy move.

So, why not. My sitcom based on a soiree of 18th-century salty sea-captains stuck in modern-day Portland, Oregon won’t write itself.

The New Thing

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A new story is a shiny thing. So much possibility all swirling around in your head. Sometimes, if it’s a real good idea, you can almost take the entire thing and picture it in front of you. A completed manuscript, full of twists and turns and all kinds of juicy characters.

It’s dangerous, addictive stuff. The idea that an idea can be more than just an idea with a bit of effort. When you’re picturing that great new tale, whatever it is you’ve been working on seems a little dull. The sparkle is gone. Why keep working on it when there’s this wonderful thing you just thought of?

There’s a value to finishing projects you’ve started that isn’t immediately apparent when you’re in the trenches. Even if it’s a story that won’t sell. Or you’re halfway through and realize that it’s not the best thing ever. Finishing a project teaches you things that you don’t get from throwing it out the door. Plus, then you have something else to wave at people who wonder about your qualifications.

In short, when you have a great idea, drop it down on paper. Flesh it out and file it away as something to play with next. You have all the time in the world to write, but if you never finish what you start, it’s going to be a habit that keeps you from getting where you want to go.

The West Wing

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Why am I titling a post after a late-90s political drama?

Because The West Wing‘s writing is just so damned good. The whip-snap of sentences thrown back and forth by the characters has a cadence to it that’s addictive. The allusions to literary, theatrical, film, and history that pepper every episode make it seem as though everyone in The West Wing‘s universe has a masters in every humanities discipline. It’s unrealistic, and incredible.

There’s a battle when writing dialogue that I struggle with, that probably most authors struggle with. And that is how real to make the words coming from the character’s mouths. Listen to a person talk in the real world and it’s full of idioms, stutters, likes and uhs to the point where actually putting that on the page would be inviting the reader to throw their hands up in despair and chuck the book into the nearest fire.

By the same token, dropping high-dollar words and references ala The West Wing is risky. In a TV show, where the action keeps moving whether the viewer understands what’s been said or not, there’s a bit more pliability with the Ph.D caliber quotes. With a book, where a reader has time and may feel compelled to look up any given mention, there has to be a careful balance between verbal fencing and, you know, sounding like a professor trying to impress a board of peers.

I try to aim for the middle. Truth to the character – meaning that I’m not going to have my Southern Gentleman start dropping ghetto slang. Truth to their background – meaning the teenager who’s grown up among native Pygmies isn’t going to start quoting Aristotle. Truth to the story – meaning I’m not going to write down all the breaks, pauses, and broken sentences a real conversation tends to consist of (unless it’s adding something to the scene).

Something to try if you’re not confident in the dialogue skills – and let’s be real, just about everyone, myself definitely included, can use practice in this area – swing through a screenplay. It’ll force you to power scenes and character through dialogue, and you’ll start to take more notice of the words you choose and how they reflect on the character speaking them.

Can I have a minute?

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One of the things about working with novels is that they are, in fact, novels. Not quick little blurbs – like this blog post – but big, smashing things that demand time and attention for weeks and weeks. Each one is a relationship – ups and downs, needy attachments and frustrated procrastination from doing what’s necessary.

Which is why I’ve enjoyed sprinkling in the smaller pieces. Again, like this blog post. But also short stories, even light journalism pieces here and there. It doesn’t even matter if they gain any traction (though that wouldn’t hurt). The main value is that I’m writing, and exploring different ways to structure sentences, paragraphs, and narratives outside of the stately confines of the full-length novel.

I try to do these little bursts between meetings or in the dead spaces of the work day, time I would otherwise use to browse news sites or read up on pointless filler. At first I thought I’d miss the constant rush of information, but turns out that it’s more fun sometimes putting together a paragraph than reading one.