World Building on the Go

World-building is one of my favourite parts in writing, and one of my favourite pastimes in general. Since I know that I have such a penchant for it that I could spend hours on it, fleshing out every little detail about the world I’m working on, I don’t allow myself that time.

Yes, there are some basic things you need to know about the world your story is taking place in. No, those details do not include creating several languages, a fully fledged mythology, and a comprehensive law system.

Before I started I had a very general idea about the world that my novel takes place in, and I wrote none of it down. As I began writing, I got a better idea of what I need in my world and what major conflicts need to shape it for the theme of my novel to work. Then I sat down and wrote a few key things: a pertinent facts about its history, the names of a few key places, and a general map of where the main things were.

A lot is still blank at this point, and that’s because I chose to keep it that way. As the story evolves, so will the world around it. This way I don’t “burn” useful hours on superfluous trivia, and I am not forced to change  my story because of a geographical or cultural detail that I had committed to months before, when I had yet no idea where the story might take me.

I plan on “world-building on the go”, leaving plenty of blanks as I start, and building my fictional world gradually as I write. I have a feeling that it will be a more organic, more compelling world that will be less troublesome for me to write stories for. What’s more, building a world this way helps make sure that I don’t break off my story on an irrelevant tangent just for the purpose of showcasing a background detail that I want to show off but the reader doesn’t really care for.

Everybody knows that author. Do your readers a favour and don’t be that author.

Writing Resource Thursday

This week has been pretty rough at work, so I missed two (!) writing days and one blogging day. Hopefully I’ll be able to make up for at least one day during this weekend.

While I play catchup with my word count, here are some intereting things to peruse:

Seth Godin wrote a blog post with 19 tips for authors that is unique, insightful, and thought provoking. If there’s one thing I am going to take from it it’s this piece of advice (number 2 in the list):

The best time to start promoting your book is three years before it comes out. Three years to build a reputation, build a permission asset, build a blog, build a following, build credibility and build the connections you’ll need later.

Why your characters are boring is an interesting (with a bit too many unnecessary pictures) post from Ben Schmitt on the importance of giving a character something they want or desire, and making sure that each scene expresses a movement towards fulfilling or attempting to fulfill that yearning.

For a scene to truly be a scene, each character in the scene has to want something. There has to be conflict, an obstacle inhibiting the character from getting what they want, and before the scene ends, one of the characters has to be different as a result of that scene.

Finally, another blog post from Ben Schmitt, this time on Now Novel, with 11 pretty solid tips on how to write even when you don’t want to. While I don’t agree with all of them (number 4 for instance. The best time to write is when you have time to write), the majority of them have worked for me in the past.

Have a great weekend, and keep on writing!

On the Importance of Being Bored

Lately I’ve been letting myself get bored again.

On the bus on the way to work I leave my phone in my bag, and just while the time daydreaming, sneaking glances at my fellow commuters, or staring outside the window.

In waiting rooms and when queuing in line, I leave my phone in my pocket, and just let my mind wander.

If I’m alone in a restaurant and waiting for the menu or the food, I just look around or while the time in thought.

It is extremely difficult, as like many people today I’m very much addicted to my smartphone. We now have an always on entertainment system that ensures that we will never be bored again if we don’t want to. And it is up to us to muster the tremendous willpower to put it aside and allow boredom to seep back in.

I am forcing myself to do that because it is while I have nothing “important” on my mind that stories begin to seed, form and grow there. It is then that I notice curious things around me that can become story ideas, or figure out how to end that scene that I was stuck on. It is then that I also discover glaring plot holes, or something that I may want to use as a red herring or a little tidbit to flesh out one of my characters.

Try letting yourself be bored every once in a while. You never know what interesting idea will creep in to keep you company.

Schedule Update

This is just a quick post to let everyone know that this blog will now be updating every Monday, Wednesday and Friday with blog entries, and every Thursday with interesting writing related links.

Fat and Lazy

A little while back I saw this vlog entry by Casey Neistat:

Now Casey has a great, great vlog, and I highly recommend it, if you’ve got some free time (i.e. Not time you should be spending writing). He oftentimes gives inspirational bits about the importance of working harder on the things that you care about, and about how you can do a whole lot with very little if you only have the courage to create.

In this video he maps out his day, and basically urges his viewers not to become fat and lazy. The videography is great, as usual, and the piece is very inspiring. Do the work, push yourself to the limit every day, cut down on your leisure time, invest time and effort in what is important to you. All of these things have been said before, but Casey puts them in a wonderfully vivid and fresh way.

But as someone who is working very hard everyday for a good while now not to be “fat and lazy,” I have a few issues with it.

Casey does have leisure time, and so should you. Unlike what he says in this video, if you’ve ever watched one of his vlog entries you know that he does have leisure time — he just doesn’t count it as leisure (go ahead and watch a few entries if you don’t believe me). Yes, you should cut down the time you spend on video games, TV, social networks, etc. No, you should not cut them down to zero. I recently talked to a friend of mine who used to love playing the piano and taking landscape photographs. His life is now all work and family, with barely enough time for friends, let alone his hobbies. “Don’t you miss them?” I asked. “Of course I do,” he answered wistfully, “but I don’t have time for them in my life anymore”. Don’t do that to yourself. Leave some time for yourself, to recharge and have fun.

If Casey slept four hours a day regularly, he’d probably be dead. We need a minimum of six hours of sleep to, you know, live, and we could all use more sleep than we allow ourselves. We live in incredibly sleep deprived times, and we all need to work hard to get more and better sleep, not less. This is your short and long term health we are talking about here. Don’t cut corners (or sleep hours) on this one.

So yes, work harder. But no, don’t kill yourself doing it.

Second Chapter

I finished writing the second chapter of my novel today. It’s also been a month of consistently writing every day, which is a big achievement for a veteran procrastinator like me.

I’ve learned that when I get stuck in my writing or my mind starts to wander into the depths of the internet I need to pull back and do a quick draft of whatever it is I am working on at the moment.

I’ve also learned that when an idea comes to my mind I need to write it down as soon as I can. That means carrying a pocket notebook on whenever possible, but also writing things on scraps of paper or my phone and sorting through them as soon as I get home.

Finally, I’ve learned that I need to “brake for nobody” when I write. No looking up anything, no pausing to find a better word, no contemplating the merits of this name over that one. Get it all out on paper or on your computer, then go back to edit, polish, do the research, and figure out the nuances.

In writing like running, stopping for anything just makes starting back up again ten times as hard.

Finding Story Ideas

Went running in the park today, and saw several things that would make for great story ideas:

  • Blind Paralympic runner running with his seeing mate, she talking him through his run, he smiling like crazy.
  • Haredi family sitting on a bench, surrounded by runners and bicycle riders in tight minimal clothing.
  • Dog owner begging dog to pick up its ball and come home. Dog completely ignores owner.
  • Group of dog owners and dogs getting together for their daily meeting in the park.
  • Woman running in the park, her right hand showing visible severe burn scars from long ago.

Story ideas are everywhere. I just need to remind myself to peel my eyes off the phone and take a good look around me.

Make It Count

Somedays you don’t really feel like working on your novel/story/article/paper, and then while procrastinating online you’ll find this piece of advice: “write something every day. It doesn’t matter what you write, so long as you write”. Write a journal entry, a blog post, a tweet or Facebook status: everything counts.

But does everything count?

If you’ve ever done any writing before you know that there is writing, and then there is “writing”. Writing a journal entry or a blog post doesn’t require the same level of effort that writing a short story, a novel, an essay or article requires. When you tell yourself that they are the same, are you not cheating yourself a little?

Blog posts have value.

Journal entries have value.

But at the end of the day, when you look at the work that you’ve done, do you count them when you say, “I’ve written X stories, Y articles, and a novel?”

Today’s post is short, because I spent what little writing time I had pounding out 700 words for my novel, instead of 300 words here. I think I made the right choice. I think I made today count.

Lizard Brain

I didn’t feel like writing yesterday. I was out and about all day, and it was extremely hot and humid, so when I came home the last thing I wanted to do was sit down and write. I procrastinated, I started telling myself that it was OK to skip a day, since I wasn’t feeling that great, and that I could make up for that day tomorrow.

I know that voice very well now. It’s the same little lizard brain voice that tells me that I shouldn’t go running today because it is too hot/too cold/too wet/too humid/I’m tired/I’m feeling so-so. It’s hard to resist that voice, since it’s easier to watch TV or waste time on the internet than it is to write or run.

When it comes to running, I get out the door by just lacing my shoes, and reminding myself that I’ve yet to regret going out on a run.

I’ve never regretted going out on a run.

So yesterday I plunked my sorry ass by the computer and started typing. When the words came out slowly and painfully, I took out a pen and paper and did a quick draft of the scene that I’m working on. And then I typed it.

When the scene came out as mediocre (since I was writing for the sake of writing, not for the sake of writing well), I went back and rewrote it. “Sorry little lizard brain. If you are going to act up, this is only going to take longer,” I told myself.

I finished my session target (a little over 500 words) yesterday, and while it took my twice as long as usual, I sure as hell don’t regret doing it.