Review: The Art of War for Writers, by James Scott Bell

Note:  Typically I post my reviews on Brabble.  However, as this book is specifically dedicated to writing, I thought I’d include it here as well.  If you are subscribed to both I apologize for the double post!

Another note: Whenever I post a review I include a link to make things easier for you, the reader.  I do not make a profit from my recommendations.

***

I’ve always assumed that if one is creative enough to write well they’ll never succeed in business.  Good marketing does take creativity, it’s true.  But the business end of “show business”, be it acting, writing, music, you name it, is usually the last thing the muse has time for.

It was a rude shock when I discovered that to be a successfully published author one must be equally successful in business.  I look at the wide world of “The Suits” with alarm, fear, and dread.  It makes me want to slink away and hide.  Fortunately, there are people like James Scott Bell in the world.

sun-tzus-the-art-of-war-a-52-brilliant-ideas-interpretation.1I’m big fan of eastern philosophy, so I thought I knew what to expect when I picked up “The Art of War for Writers“.  The original “Art of War”, a military treatise written by Sun Tzu around 500 BC, is a strategic guide that can be applied to nearly any situation.  When I was in college it was the “big thing” to read, especially if you were in pursuit of an MBA.  When I saw it applied to writing I pounced on a copy without hesitation.

This book is one of the happier surprises I’ve had in some time.  The original “Art of War” is an outstanding book, but to get the most out of it you’d be well advised to take it slowly and really think about what Sun Tzu is trying to explain.  Mulling the various applications is what takes so long, as the book is quite short.  Unlike its source material, “The Art of War for Writers” is an extremely user-friendly read.  In the introduction he explains “…the publishing business is a messy affair… there are many obstacles on the way to publication… it seems daunting and down-right hostile out there.”

Ah, says me, this guy speaks my language!

“I am, like you, a writer.  We understand each other.  We are not like other people.  We are, in fact, pitiable wretches.”

HA!!  I’m sold.

ArtofWarforWritersThe Art of War For Writers stays focused on three main ideas: reconnaissance (mental focus), tactics (the craft of writing) and strategy (the wilds of publication).  I was pleased to discover that while he does include “how to” tips for the creation of a novel (he is, after all, a writing coach!) James Scott Bell never strays far from the topic of publication.  THAT is what I really need to know!

One of the best surprises in the book is the tone.  Sun Tzu is very straightforward, very matter-of-fact.  What else would you expect from a Chinese general who lived 2,500 years ago?  James Scott Bell, on the other hand, is warm and encouraging.  He spends a good portion of the book acting as your personal cheerleader while at the same time managing to keep things real.  It’s a fine line, but he walks it well.  After reading the book I found that not only had I learned a great deal, but I was calm, focused and optimistic about my eventual success.

Sun Tzu would be proud.

Scene Excerpt: 75 Miles to Montauk – Friendly’s

On my Pinterest page for the novel, you’ve seen a small, innocent looking picture of a Friendly’s.  This is the beginning of that scene, where it all starts to come together.  This is a first draft.  It will be tightened, less tell etc.  The POV will definitely change to omni.  But for a first draft I’m pleased with it.

***

New York.  He was in New York.  Evan was not happy about this.  Not the destination so much as the entire experience.  He could live here, sure.  But why?  New York?  Rent through the roof, pay rock bottom, competition out the door, for the possible opportunity to tell the same lies.  Damn.

“Stay there, Slinky.  I’ll be back soon dear.”  A woman breezed through the doors, which was noteworthy because Evan took note of her.  Normally he ignored the locals.  This lady couldn’t help but make an impression.   She was tall and curvy, carrying a few extra pounds no one would think to call “fat”.  She had hit that golden age where, by appearance, she could be someone’s mother or grandmother with equal ease.  Her travel stained raincoat seemed way too practical considering her large, colorful earrings (were those parrots?).  Her smile seemed to say “you may not be someone I know, but I like you anyway.”  She settled into a booth then scanned the menu with a sigh.    Having nothing else better to do, Evan settled down to watch her settle as his food arrived.

“Hello menu, what’s good?”  He half wondered if “menu” would respond before he caught himself.  This was good.  His reporter instinct was kicking in – the patented Peter Parker spidey senses tingled.  “No, menu, that’s too fatty.  Thanks anyway.  But no salads either, dear.  Strictly for rabbits.  Come on menu,” she encouraged, “surprise me.”  Without warning she looked at him, eyes sparkling.  “What about it?”  She indicated his plate.  “That looks delicious.”

“Belgian waffle.”

“Caden Parks, nice to meet you.”

He was in New York on gut instinct.  Why not?  Without preamble he gathered his food and slid in across from her.  “What kind of name is Caden?”

If anything, her eyes sparkled just a bit more as she unwrapped her cutlery.  “It means “we really wanted a boy”.  In Welsh.”  She speared a square of his waffle for emphasis.

Evan felt a knot loosening, ever so slightly.  When he smiled tension eased from his face.  When did he acquire a tense face?  “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Caden Parks.  Evan Lamarr.”

“You’re not from around here are you?”  It was not a question.

“Boulder, by way of New Orleans.”

“Right.”  Caden waved over the slightly confused waitress who had returned to check on Evan’s now empty table.  “I’ll have one of him.”

The girl offered a startled look before plastering the trademarked “whatever the customer wants” smile firmly in place.  “That’s great, be right up.”  She walked away, scribbling.  Evan could only hope she wrote down “Belgian waffle” and not “bored black guy from Boulder.”  Though that did lead the imagination down some interesting paths.

Caden casually forked another bite from his plate.  Myrna held the opinion that all food was communal, but he’d never met anyone else who was so nonchalant about the idea.  Usually he would have made at least a token protest, but something about Caden disarmed him.  He pushed the plate into the middle of the table and started working from the other side.  “You’re from here?”

“Oh, no dear.  I’m from Stony Brook.”  His puzzled look seemed to amuse her.  “That’s thataway, you see.”  She made a vague but musical gesture to the left.   “I’m on a bit of an adventure.”

He nodded sagely (when did he develop a sage nod?)  “Not all who wander are lost”.

“Precisely!”  She flourished the fork like a small sword.  “Damn the orcs, full speed ahead!”  She suddenly became still, her gaze fixed in the middle distance.  “Though I do wonder about My Precious.”

His grin took on a slightly maniacal edge, rubbing his hands together.  “My… Precious?  Is it.. sweet?  Is it… juicy?”

Caden looked offended.  “You realize Bilbo cheated, don’t  you?  That was no riddle.  “What’s in my pocket?”  Honestly.”

“Sure he did.  “Bilbo cheated” is the second most popular convention T-shirt.”

“What’s the first?”

“Han shot first.”

“Course he did.”

Not even half a waffle, and it was getting hard to remember he and Caden hadn’t walked in together.  As she rooted around the waffle for more strawberries he caught himself about to ask her if she knew how Myrna was doing.  He was almost afraid to – she just might tell him.

And now… a motivational message.

Today is February 16th, which means that those of us who are participating in Febnowrimo have just hit our halfway point.  I volunteered to offer the midway motivational message.  So here it is!

 Neil Gaiman says...

Neil Gaiman says…

My original goal was just like November – 50,000 words.  This averages to 1,667 words per day. THEN reality came to call.  Drear Mundania stomped in, tracked mud all over my carpet and put its grimy feet up on my couch.  I’ve just passed 17,000 words and there’s little hope I’ll make my original goal.  I’m feeling the weight of a lot of unexpected pressures right now.  Maybe I’ll just quit.

give up

Oh, heck no.  Not going to happen.

We can start with cliché.  Anything worth doing is worth doing well.  However, if that isn’t working, fine.  Don’t stand on perfection.  Don’t worry about the world or what they think.  Just WRITE.

atwood

Writing grows as you do.  Your idea will take shape around you.  The key to it all is to start, and not to stop until it’s done.

steinbeck

GO WRITE!

 

How to write: cutting down exterior distractions

Right now, as I type, there’s a siren going past outside.  My cats are trying to kill each other.  The phone has been ringing all morning (the dentists had to cancel my partner’s appointment – apparently the surgeon quit).  My own surgeon canceled my appointment (again), I’m mulling the benefits of a one-on-one vs. class action lawsuit, and my partner’s alarm clock is going off.

Why-yes-Im-a-bit-stressed.-Why-do-you-ask

Why yes, I’m a bit stressed. Why do you ask?

Yeah, this is what happens when I try to write during the day.

But it brings up a good point.  Writers write because they must.  It’s not a calling, it’s a necessity.  It’s not like I can stop.  However, there are days when I suffer not so much from writer’s block as from serious brain frag (pause here to comfort the little frightened cat who just jumped into my lap).

It’s time to pull out a few tricks, designed to keep Drear Mundania at bay.  Incidentally, these are honest recommendations – I don’t profit from them.

1. Noise cancelling earphones.  This was a gross indulgence – I admit it.  I got an amazing deal on a professional pair of Koss headphones nearly 20 years ago.  I almost cried when they finally died.  It took a long time to settle on a replacement pair.  Ultimately, I decided to go with the Bose QuietComfort 15.  They’re targeted to the business / commuter crowd, designed to block out airplane noise.  But they also block out sirens, cats, doorbells, telephones, televisions alarm clocks etc. etc.  When you don’t have the luxury of solitude, this is the next best thing.  If you want to listen to music in addition to blocking outside noise, the sound quality is amazing!  Just what you’d expect from Bose.

2. Ambient sound – I know most writers have a soundtrack for their stories, which is a grand idea.  But sometimes I prefer a different type of mood.  That’s where the ambient sound generators come in.  My favorite (by a long chalk) is “Relax Melodies” from Ipnos Soft.  I’m so enthusiastic about this product I really should work for the company!

One of several pages of ambient sound choices from Relax Melodies

One of several pages of ambient sound choices from Relax Melodies

The basic package for a computer (vs. a smart phone) comes with nearly 100 different sounds that you can combine, depending on need.  Feeling cheerful?  Let’s combine bird song, children’s laughter and some water sprinklers.  No, I’m feeling drama coming on.  For that one, how about slow rolling waves combined with the sound of a distant fog horn.  Maybe some seagulls.  Wait, I’m writing historical romance!  Punch in a crackling fireplace and a harpsichord.  Wait, it’s set in the winter.  No problem!  Fire, harpsichord and sleet hitting the window.  Got it!  And so on.  The combinations are nearly endless!

In addition to the sounds, Relax Melodies also includes six “binaural beats”.  These are not intended to be heard, you layer them under the sounds you’ve selected.  When listened to in the headphones, the binaurals promote different brain wave activity ranging from “pre-sleep” and “Deep meditation” to “Concentration”.  I’ve found that the “Relaxation” setting is the most productive for writing, but YMMV of course.  It also can be set to a timer if you want to use the program to sleep to.  Nice touch!

ommwriter1

3.  If heavy duty headphones or binaurals aren’t your thing, how about a distraction-free word processor?  Many packages come with a minimalist environment setting to help you focus.  I personally like the “OmmWriter” by Dana.  This software starts with a blank screen, artfully decorated with a scattering of trees in the background.  You have the option of turning on ambient noise such as keyboard clicking, and there are relaxing musical tones such as chimes that can repeat softly if you wish.  It’s inexpensive and the company just upgraded to work well with the latest OS packages.

These ideas won’t keep all your problems at bay, but they can certainly help improve your writing environment!

Scene Excerpt: 75 Miles to Montauk

Of course they got caught!

***

“They think we’re part of a… a… conspiracy theory!”  For the first time in a very long time, Caden was angry.

“We are part of a conspiracy theory.”  Muffled in his arms, Evan’s voice still carried.

“That’s hardly the point.”

“They don’t really think that.”  For once Julie was calm, reasonable.

“My ears must deceive me.”

“It’s what they want you to hear.”

“What?”

Julie warmed to her topic.  “Conspiracy theory is sort of a code.  They want us to think they’re blowing us off.  They’re just testing us.”

“For what?’  Tristan seemed neither angry nor bitter.  He was just curious.

“To see how serious we are.”  Julie looked around.  “Am I the only person who saw Close Encounters of the Third Kind?”

“No dear,” Caden replied wearily, eyeing the bars.  “You’re just the only one who took it seriously.”

 

Writing Journey – HOW many hats does an aspiring author wear?

When I decided to really get serious about my writing, I took several factors into consideration.  The idea for this novel is very timely, and will remain so for at least the next 18-24 months.  If I’m lucky, I should still have a socially relevant book to sell when I’m done pounding keys.  I’ve shown a few scenes to various groups with enthusiastic results.  I also have time to write just now, which can’t be underestimated.  Combine that with signing up for Nanowrimo at just the right time last year, and I gave myself permission to go for it.

That was last October.  Since then I’ve not only focused on my writing, but on learning as much as I can about the publishing industry.  I’m not discouraged by what I’ve learned.  In fact, I’m glad the climb is becoming more defined, less nebulous.  But this is not a climb for the faint of heart.

First: statistics.  As of a few years ago, 47% of American households could be expected to go out and buy a book.  Yes, that means 53% of all American households didn’t.  Of that 47%, 80% bought romance novels.  This leaves 20% to split between JK Rowling, Suzanne Collins, Stephen King, and the rest of us.

Wow.

If a first-time author wants to try publishing the old-fashioned way (that is, find an agent, an editor and a publishing house willing to take a chance) the first thing that author must bring to the table is (obviously) a finished product.  Finished, polished, buffed, honed and as perfect as they can get it.  While your first hat must be your “Author” cap, your second hat should be that of “Editor”.  It’s good advice to squash the inner editor during the creative process.  However, that voice is of critical importance during the polishing phase.  The word count for a debut novel should be no more than 50,000 – 80,000. If your team wants a more detailed effort they’ll tell you, but it’s likely they’ll want to hedge their bet.  Short novels have a better chance of catching a new audience, and cost less to publish.

Ok, you’ve written the greatest American novel ever.  You’ve edited it down to a nub of its former self.  Do you have a fan base?  If not, stop.  Go forth, new author.  Obtain fans.  In addition to being a fantastic writer and a whiz bang editor, the modern novelist must also excel in marketing.  Beat the bushes.  Network like mad.  Bring at least 1,000 willing and able readers with you to the negotiating table or go home.

I will NOT be intimidated! (she says, eyeing the growing pile of hats)

Right!  You’ve written the novel, you’ve polished your baby, you’ve whipped up a rabid fan base.  You’re good to go, right?  Park that right now, aspiring author!  Get measured for hats #4 & 5, movie producer.

Isn’t this putting the cart slightly before the horse?  No, not really.  There’s two ways to employ your inner director/producer/casting agent, both will serve you well.  The first really is in the form of a film.  I remember one of my favorite Ian McKellen quotes.  Coming off Lord of the Rings, moving into X-men, he was asked what it was like jumping back and forth between them.  He didn’t miss a beat.  “Darling,” he replied with a smile, “one can never have too many franchises!”  Likewise, you can never go wrong anticipating multiple markets for your material.  You’ve got a great story.  Now you’re trying to sell it.  You’ve got the readership, no problem.  But if you can throw in a potential movie, it may be one more reason to move forward to publication.  Are you supposed to contact studios before publishers?  No.  But if your project lends itself well to multiple mediums, it certainly doesn’t hurt.

unitThe second way is a “book trailer”.  I was introduced to this concept several months ago while considering “The Unit”, by Ninni Holmqvist.  It’s an intriguing dystopian novel on the subject of “disposable humans”.   As I mulled over the description, I saw a link asking me to “View the Trailer”.  What, it’s being made into a movie already?  No.  As I quickly discovered, it was a 2 minute teaser for the book itself.

According to this happily straightforward article featured in the “ProActive Writer Blog”, a book trailer is a must-have for the self-published writer.  I agree, but I’d expand that to “every single author engaged in the art of self-promotion”.  In other words, all of us.  While books are designed to appeal to a readership, a book trailer works quickly on an emotional level to promote a concept.  It also helps boost the idea that yes, your book will easily adapt to the silver screen if (when!) the time comes.

Writers are creative, or we couldn’t do this at all.  Shepherding your first project from concept to sale will require quite a bit of mental gymnastics.  JK Rowling did it.  Suzanne Collins handled it.  Stephan King makes it look easy.  I can do it!

Can you?  (the correct answer is HECK YEAH!!)

Stephen King, marketing genius

You may notice that I talk a lot about Stephen King when discussing writing.  I’m a huge fan, though I have no use for the horror genre.  I like King in spite of his chosen subject matter. I wish I could teach a class on characterization just based on his works.

CTOne of the things I admire most about King is his business savvy.  He’s not afraid to take chances.  Recently I mentioned his Kindle Single as yet another innovation in communication.  Before that I was impressed with his idea of a serial novel Green Mile, an old fashioned concept brought into the modern era.  It didn’t work as a serial, but I loved it anyway.  I own every volume of the Marvel graphic novel adaptation of The Stand.

I’m watching the Super Bowl right now, where I just saw a commercial for King’s newest project, “Under The Dome“. It’s a one season serial for CBS, 13 episodes beginning June 24th, 2013.  This is in keeping with a guy who lives to experiment – one season serial shows are common in Europe, unheard of in the US.

dome

I was impressed by the commercial, so I went to the website to learn more about the show.  The WEBSITE scared me.  In fact, my heart is still racing.  And once again, if I could stand and applaud Mr. King’s business sense I would.  An unfortunate reality of modern publishing is that any successful author must also be successful in marketing.  He can teach us all quite a bit.

Thank you!

ThanksMy blogs date back to 2011, but in truth I’ve only been using them about 2 weeks.  There’s been quite a learning curve in those two weeks – you all have been very patient while I figured out the blogosphere.

The generosity of the online writing community has sparked a renewed feeling of optimism in me.  Over and over I’ve asked “newbie” questions only to be flooded with detailed (and often hilarious) replies. When I needed examples, fellow authors offered their own sites to learn from and coached me along the way.  At all turns I’ve encountered an unshakable “we’re all in this together” attitude that has, in turn, encouraged me to produce much higher quality journals than I might have otherwise.

To those who follow my blogs, to those who have helped me along the way, please accept my thanks.  In return please do not hesitate to let me know if I can return the favor.  If I can explain something about blogging, coach about writing, offer sympathy about a diagnosis or just offer encouragement about your project, all you need to do is ask.

After all – we really are all in this together.

How to Write: Are there rules to good writing?

I like io9.com.  It’s a strange little website covering geeky stuff that appeals to my inner nerd.  But I just read something in their “writing advice” column that had me gnashing my teeth.   “What it Means When Someone Tries to Tell You THE Rules of Good Writing“.  This is an informal follow-up to a previous article, “10 Writing “Rules” We Wish More Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors Would Break”

The ideas behind them both is that hard and fast rules, when applied to the creative process, are more like guidelines.  Essentially, go with whatever works for you, but try to be consistent.  Then they offer an example of an occasion when one of their suggestions actually worked.  At this point I’m reminded of the old bumper sticker; “Just because you’re misunderstood does not make you an artist”.

I appreciate the well intended “accept yourself for who you are” movement.  And I do agree that ironclad laws should not be strictly applied to creative expression.  There is a strong need for individual expression, otherwise “creative” wouldn’t be in the description.  But there’s what works, and what doesn’t.  If your goal is to write for public consumption you need a solid foundation in the mechanics of the written word, along with the construction of longer works.  After you’ve got that down. then start branching out into your own unique style.

What annoys me so much about articles like this is the mixed message it sends out.  Unless a writer is completely delusional, they know when something isn’t working.  It’s the “something” that confuses so many.  They know what they want to say, but how do you get to that point?  According to the self-acceptance movement, you don’t.  You create in whatever manner you see fit, it’s up to the public to accept your genius for what it is.  If they don’t the problem is with them, not you.

Really no.  There is such a thing as bad writing.  And yes, there are some excellent guidelines to follow.  I traditionally recommend “On Writing” by Stephen King as my favorite how-to book.  King is wildly popular with a broad swath of the public – his credit is good.  Also, he offers solid information without making the reader feel like a moron.

Let’s look at examples.  We’ll start with bad.  The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest is an annual contest seeking out the worst writing of the year (in a single sentence).  It’s named after the guy who really did begin his novel with “It was a dark and stormy night”.  Here’s the whole passage, from the novel “Paul Clifford”:

“It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents–except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.” –Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, 1830

This is classic “purple prose”.  Why say it in one word when fourteen will do?  I can already hear the protests going out – Yes.  It works sometimes.  Two examples off the top of my head are “The Witching Hour” by Anne Rice, and any line written by Quentin Tarantino for a Christoph Waltz character.  But these are devices.  They should not to be used on a regular basis.  Anne uses the device to draw a reader into a dreamy world of magic, where life moves at a different, slower pace.  Intended as a seduction, it works only occasionally.  Most readers will tell you it’s cool for a while, then they start skipping pages (entire pages!) of descriptive passages.  Tarantino, meanwhile, balances the verbose Waltz characters with a taciturn counterpart, King Shultz with Django Freeman, Hans Landa first with Perrier LaPadite, then with Shosanna Dreyfus.

Let’s stay with Stephen King for a great example of an opening sequence. This is the first page of “The Long Walk”.  One of his infamous “Bachman Books”, he wrote under a pen name to see if he could appeal to an audience when they didn’t know who he was.

***

An old blue Ford pulled into the guarded parking lot that morning, looking like a small, tired dog after a hard run.  One of the guards, an expressionless young man in a khaki uniform and a Sam Browne belt, asked to see the blue plastic ID card.  The boy in the back seat handed it to his mother.  His mother handed it to the guard.  The guard took it to a computer terminal that looked strange and out of place in the rural stillness.  The computer terminal ate the card and flashed this on its screen:

GARRATY RAMOND DAVIS

RD 1 PAWNAL MAINE

ANDROSCOGGIN COUNTY

ID NUMBER 49-801-89

OK-OK-OK

The guard punched another button and all of this disappeared, leaving the terminal screen smooth and green and blank again.  He waved them forward.

“Don’t they give the card back?” Mrs. Garraty asked.  “Don’t they–”

“No, Mom,” Garraty said patiently.

“Well, I don’t like it,” she said, pulling forward into an empty space.  She had been saying it ever since they set out in the dark of two in the morning.  She had been moaning it, actually.

“Don’t worry,” he said without hearing himself.  He was occupied with looking and with his own confusion of anticipation and fear.  He was out of the car almost before the engine’s last asthmatic wheeze – a tall, well-built boy wearing a faded army fatigue jacket against the eight o’clock spring chill.

His mother was also tall, but too thin.  Her breasts were almost nonexistent: token nubs.  Her eyes were wandering and unsure, somehow shocked.  Her face was an invalid’s face.  Her iron-colored hair had gone awry under the complication of clips that was supposed to hold it in place.  Her dress hung badly on her body as if she had recently lost a lot of weight.

“Ray,” she said in that whispery conspirator’s voice that he had come to dread.  “Ray, listen–”

***

King makes the most of his 320 words. His use of simile quickly draws his reader into a fantastical situation, by comparing it to the ordinary.  Description of the objects around them go far to describe both Ray and his mother – her dress hangs off of her, the car is old and in need of repair.  By associating the word “asthmatic ” with the engine he puts in a clever twist.  While it’s possible for rich people to have asthma, it’s typically associated with the poor.  He’s implying not only a broken car but reinforcing an economic assumption about his character.

The guard is given next to no description.  He’s young and has no expression.  He does not judge.  But note Ray’s mother – her panic when he didn’t give the card back.  Her reaction establishes everything we need to know about the soldier.  He is part of the machine they find themselves trapped in.  They don’t attempt to speak to him directly – this telegraphs to the reader there’s no point.  He is AUTHORITY.

What do we know about Ray? It is implied he’s in the back seat because he’s too young to drive.  And yet in two sentences King established that the mother is in need of reassurance, the child must be patient with her.  This tells you a great deal not only about both characters, but about the situation as a whole.

The selection concludes with Ray’s mother whispering frantically to him.  At this point the reader should really want to know more.  Why is she whispering?  Why does he dread it?  What the heck is going on?  Already King is building a cage for his characters, and by extension his readers.  When she hunches in, the conspirator’s voice, it begins to close in.

Good writers are normally voracious readers.  When you see something good, stop.  Go back.  Read it again.  Start taking it apart.  Why did this work for you?  At the same time don’t avoid bad writing.  Seek it out.  Start at a page like The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.  Read over the entries.  Check out the comments.  Why don’t they work?

There may not be ironclad rules for creative expression, but don’t be lulled into the idea that it’s “anything goes”, or even that there are just casual guidelines.  Even Picasso had to learn the basics first.

Of Writing Sprints and FebNoWriMo

I was reading over Twitter about a year back and I came across the account from Jane Espenson (@JaneEspenson).  Her career has the power to make me cry with envy.  As a producer she’s worked on such shows as Buffy, Battlestar Galactica, Caprica and Once Upon a Time.  She’s doing amazing things with her current project Husbands.  And there she was!  On Twitter!

Almost at once she sent out a tweet, asking anyone who saw it to participate in a writing sprint with her.  I thought it was a wonderful idea!  Just one problem.  What’s a sprint?

It turns out a “writing sprint” is when a group of writers gather together, either physically or in cyberspace, to totally ignore each other and everything around them.  We do one thing, and one thing only – we WRITE, at least for that designated amount of time.  The typical sprint is anywhere from 15-30 minutes.  After that you break and compare word counts, which hopefully will motivate you to focus while you’re writing.

I found out quickly I’m not a great fan of writing “sprints”.  For me 15 minutes is just getting started.  Even an hour is a drop in the bucket.  And while I love being in such illustrious company, Ms. Espenson can only host a sprint when her schedule allows.  So we both have to hopefully be on at the same time.

I went in search of another group.  Fortunately, I found a great one pretty quickly on Facebook – Endurance Writers.  Now THESE guys speak my language!!  Forget this 15 minute stuff – they’re hardcore.  The shortest “sprint” I’ve ever seen this group schedule is 2 hours, with a 7 minute break in between.  The longest I’ve seen is 6 hours, with different members hosting part of the session.  It’s fantastic!!  Not to mention productive.

This group has decided to find out if we can re-enact Nanowrimo this month.  Since it’s 30 days long in November, it will extend 1 day in both directions, beginning January 31st, and ending on my birthday, March 1st.  I didn’t have to think long before I agreed to join.  Writing with others is a fantastic motivation, but when they try for a word count of 50,000 in 30 days, it’s possible to make serious progress.

To that end I’ve included a new word count widget on the sidebar, which will track my progress this month.  Wish me luck!