Super General Advice (the thread for advice without making a thread)

Discussion in 'General Advice' started by NevermorePoe, May 8, 2017.

  1. TheOwlet

    TheOwlet A feathered pillow filled with salt and science

    ...okay stupid question, but: why are you then not writing at the length you're naturally inclined to write at?
  2. ChelG

    ChelG Well-Known Member

    Because I'm trying to write a saleable novella and the publisher I'm aiming for has minimum word counts. I guess I could see if they're looking for shorter stuff for anthologies?
  3. TheOwlet

    TheOwlet A feathered pillow filled with salt and science

    I think that might be a better idea to get a foot in the door and be able to go 'hey i am already published, publish memore'a

    And like, it's not like there aren't absolutely amazing, influential authors out there who did their best work in short stories
  4. ChelG

    ChelG Well-Known Member

    I'll check.
    • Like x 1
  5. latitans

    latitans zounds, scoob

    Okay so I am not a creative writing teacher in any sense, but I have taken a few classes here and there and I have to do a lot of academic writing in my real life. I also write fan fiction as a hobby.

    I'm not going to give you the standard writing practices advice--not because I don't think it's valid, but because I think it's so common that you've probably come across it already. You've likely read about setting a schedule, managing expectations for output, freeing yourself from editing the first draft, treating writing as a marathon not a sprint, etc. etc.

    Instead, I'm going to focus on the second half of your comment: "My urge is to write things with the minimum of words that are actually necessary, which'll never reach novella length." (Emphasis mine.)

    Economy of language is not the problem. All writing, from Louise Gluck* to ancient epic poems to doorstopper fantasies, thrives on it. Every writer, no matter the genre, aspires to use only the words that are necessary. Differences in style result can perhaps be understood as differences in opinion on which words are necessary or different priorities in what is communicated.

    Your problem, therefore, cannot be that you want to write clearly and economically, but the form requires extra nonsense fluff. Instead, from what you've written, the problem is that you don't have enough ideas to fill up a novella. Or perhaps, instead, that you haven't thought it through.

    Just think for a moment of everything that has to go into any sort of fiction writing. You have to establish your point-of-view character and give them their own particular voice, their own ways of speaking and acting and thinking. You have to establish other unique characters for them to interact with. (Unless your story is about some lost astronaut floating in space or something. But even then, that astronaut would probably at one point think of the people waiting for them back home.) You have to establish a general setting, and multiple, smaller settings within it for each scene. You have to build some sort of narrative tension and give it some sort of resolution. You have to have things happen.

    All of that requires words, and lots of them. Compressing it all into a piece of flash fiction of 1,000 words or less would take incredible skill and finesse. It would not be anyone's default writing mode. If you feel that most of your story has already been told in 700 words and you don't have anywhere else to go, what you have is a summary. There must be places in that story that can be dug into and expanded, plot turns that would make the story more engaging, impactful moments that can be created, striking images, something.

    You just have to think it through.

    Maybe you need to read more--and not fanfic. Not because there's anything wrong with fanfic, or that it can't be well-written. But remember that list I just made of all the things that have to go into a story? In fanfic, most of that is already done for you. If I'm writing Homestuck fanfic I don't have to build Dave Strider from scratch. Everybody already knows who he is. But in an original novel or short story, the author does have to do that. The same goes for setting, atmosphere, etc.


    More generally, ChelG, this seems like another instance of the issue that you've been having for years here. You've said in the past that you want to be published because you've always wanted to be a writer--it's the only thing you've ever wanted to do. But do you actually like writing at all? Do you enjoy any part of the process? Or do you want to be a writer because a writer seems like a good thing to be?

    Telling stories is hard. Writing is hard. I am confident that every writer, from your big name fan authors to Ursula K. Leguin, has parts of the process that they hate, or days or weeks or even months when nothing works and they're totally stuck. But I am also confident that there must be something about writing that they love.


    *Louise Gluck was the first poet that came to mind, lol. She also wrote this absolute banger of a short poem, called "Telemachus' Detachment":

    When I was a child looking
    at my parents' lives, you know
    what I thought? I thought
    heartbreaking. Now I think
    heartbreaking, but also
    insane. Also
    very funny
    • Agree x 3
    • Informative x 1
  6. ChelG

    ChelG Well-Known Member

    It's not exactly a lack of ideas. I have the idea, but I did some mathematical analysis of similar books to what I'm trying to write and the average word count of plot beats for them. 2000 words for the first scene is about the average, so that's my target for it.
  7. latitans

    latitans zounds, scoob

    I just thought of something else and that post was already a monster so I'm making a new one.

    You should also try some writing exercises. There are a million prompts floating around the internet, from one word stuff like "chair" or "love" or whatever to dialogue prompts like " 'what's in your hand?' " to questions like "what is your favorite childhood memory?" You could try using those to practice once a day.

    But I think the best thing for you to try would be free-writing. You might have tried this before, but in case not--basically, you just sit down, set a timer for ten or twenty or whatever minutes, and just...write. You just go. Most of the time you start with a basic description of where you are or what you're doing.

    So I just did one as an example, and also because I felt like it because I haven't done free writing in a while

    I am sitting at the dining room table. I'm eating some roasted broccoli and leftover cheese pizza that I warmed up on the stove in a skillet, the way they tell you to in those facebook videos that show up in my newsfeed all the time now. Facebook is all ads and corporations and spon con now.

    It's late, after ten already, but I haven't had dinner yet. I didn't have the appetite. I'm anxious about work, about my parents and my grandmother. I hold anxiety in my stomach. That's funny, because I've always been anxious about my stomach, and my body. Not funny ha-ha, but funny. Even though I was a pool rat from six on up, I've never worn a two piece. Even when I worked as a life guard and all the other women wore the bikinis with the bottoms that they said looked like diapers, I always had a one piece special ordered. That didn't stop the cops from hassling me when they dropped by the gates at night, or the old man on the bus asking if I could give them mouth to mouth when I rode home still in my uniform.

    The table cloth is pretty--a light peach with bunches of pink flowers and long grey-green stems almost like vines weaving together. Loose and silver and green, like the type of flowers I'd want in a bridal bouquet if this pandemic ever ends and we can have a wedding celebration with loved ones.

    So that's 250 words. It took me about ten minutes I think, but I wasn't really keeping track. I've done this a lot in the past, so it comes easier to me. But the process is the same even if you've never done it before. I started with the most basic observation possible--what I was doing at the moment, in simple words. Then I just stream-of-conscioused from there. I stole a bit from Louise Gluck, because I was thinking about her a few minutes ago.

    If I was going to keep going, I might have picked up on the Facebook thing, and described what Facebook was like when I was in high school, or the weird shit that my cousin's posting about all the time. Or I could have talked more about my old job, or given a more detailed description of the room I'm in--the chairs, the wallpaper, the pictures on the wall and when we got them. The point is just to practice taking a moment and expanding it, and just getting words on the paper.
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2021
  8. latitans

    latitans zounds, scoob

    Didn't see the other post before.

    I mean, that sort of mathematical analysis isn't going to get you anywhere. Not every scene in every book is 2000 words. Scenes are different lengths, and that's normal and fine. And scenes can have little mini-scenes where the location changes or a new character shows up or something happens or whatever. I think this is another thing that reading more will help you with, because otherwise you're just gonna get hung up on weird surface level stuff like this instead of actually trying to tell a story.
    • Agree x 10
  9. ChelG

    ChelG Well-Known Member

    I know, I wasn't intending to make every scene fit an exact wordcount, it was just a ballpark figure to aim for.

    Freewriting without an incentive/goal tends to just leave me staring at a blank page, but I found this site where there are tangible signs of completing a word goal. I've tried one of the "battles" and it's kind of fun, I'll see if I can keep it up.
  10. ChelG

    ChelG Well-Known Member

    Also, I'm already reading the back catalogue of the indie publisher I'm planning to send my idea to. Getting a feel for what they like.
  11. latitans

    latitans zounds, scoob

    Reading the back catalogue is probably good, but I would also encourage you to read other stuff, too. You seem to get stuck in this pattern where you try to churn out something to fit some mold and then get stuck when what you're writing doesn't fit it exactly.
    • Agree x 8
  12. latitans

    latitans zounds, scoob

    Oh also, going back to this--it's true, freewriting can be frustrating! But the "staring at a blank page" phase of it is kind of the point. You push past it. You just write something down, even if it's just a description of the room you're sitting in and a record of your feelings of frustration with not being able to come up with something good. And then you just keep doing that.

    The point of freewriting, as I understand it, is not to produce work that you could later publish (although sometimes you do blurt a turn of phrase that you like and can use in something else). It is to practice. When you're practicing anything, you're bad at first, but then you get better. In particular, you are practicing writing descriptions, taking small ideas and expanding them into something larger, and turning thoughts into words. From what you wrote above about your issues with burnout and getting stuck, those are all things you could practice. And again, it takes a while! It's hard! But I do think it is helpful.

    As a side note, I'm a little suspicious of a site that charges you a subscription fee for freewriting. It seems like a bit of a scam, costing you money for something you could do on your own.
    • Agree x 3
  13. LadyNighteyes

    LadyNighteyes Wicked Witch of the Radiant Historia Fandom

    My solution is to do it longhand in a notebook. Any day when the weather isn't too miserable I go outside, sit down, and fill up a page. Once I start a page I have to fill it, even if it ends up mostly being complaining about how it's too cold and my back hurts. Gives me a tangible goal and a physical reminder that I Achieved Something.
    • Like x 1
  14. latitans

    latitans zounds, scoob

    I just looked at some old notebooks (for a different reason) and found that I used to listen to a song and then vibe with it for freewriting. Sometimes helped me get over that starting anxiety.
  15. ChelG

    ChelG Well-Known Member

    It's not a fee for the writing at all, it's for gamifying it. If there's a set incentive to complete wordcount, I do better, rather than getting frustrated and avoiding bothering to try.
    • Useful x 1
  16. ChelG

    ChelG Well-Known Member

    And it seems to be working okay so far, so I'd recommend anyone else who gets stuck at least have a look!
  17. Acey

    Acey hand extended, waiting for a shake

    Does anyone know of ways to get a (paying) writing job without a college degree? I badly need to get my foot in the door there. (EDIT: Portfolio building advice would be helpful too!)

    Also, any idea where one might find advice on screenwriting? I’m mostly unsure of formatting and figuring out timing there.
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2021
  18. ChelG

    ChelG Well-Known Member might be a good place to start out?
    • Useful x 1
  19. ChelG

    ChelG Well-Known Member

    I've said some not-so-great stuff about my family on here, and I'm worried that if I start publishing/YouTubing/etc with my actual name someone could track my username down to my real-life family. It could have really negative effects on them, and I don't want that to happen since we're doing great now. What's my best course of action? Delete stuff, change my username, what?
    • Witnessed x 1
  20. TheOwlet

    TheOwlet A feathered pillow filled with salt and science

    ...okay what is the realistic chance that you're going to get famous enough for someone to try and track that down to begin with?
    • Agree x 2
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