Things I’ve Learned In The Last Year

And it’s not even over.

It’s been a busy year with serial novellas, final revisions, book reviews, and myriads of project ideas. Writing is about experimentation, about learning new things, and about remembering the old things we should already know. Here are a few of mine:

Perspective Jumps: For a serialized book like The Sky Below this can be a little tricky to follow (hopefully better once I have the full book complete). But perspective jumps can be a nice way to inject fresh viewpoints, and to give the reader information other characters might not have. It can certainly be frustrating if you really want to find out what happened to one character, but are forced to read another (though one author has a novel solution to this). My current project will probably jump between 2-3 perspectives at fairly regular intervals. This used to be something I did all the time (in my first novel) but got away from because I needed focus, or it was too difficult to follow. And maybe I needed time before I got the hang of it, but I’m loving jumps now.

Research: Want to never get a good night’s sleep again? Check out crime stats for your neighborhood. You’d be surprised what goes on. There was an (attempted?) robbery at a Huntington Bank down the street from me earlier this month. I used to do the old trick of [insert specific term here] or [write description of area there] so I could move on in drafts, but it’s amazing how even a little cursory internet searching can spur ideas for plot threads. Specificity is key to both reader engagement, and writer enthusiasm. I used to try to fumble my way through descriptions assuming my vocabulary was vast and always accurate. My wife will tell you, it is not.

Keeping the flow going: You might be tempted to take a writing break. And sometimes this is needed. But less often than you think I’d wager. Often the grind of getting back into a groove is not worth the recharge period. I finished revising book one on Monday, celebrated by watching The Maltese Falcon and eating some delicious enchiladas, then started writing book two on Tuesday. Granted, I’m kind of a nut. A day or two is certainly okay. Just don’t make it a month.

Read, Read, Read: Articles, blogposts, comic books, books, anything you can get your hands on. Both for ideas and technique. It feels like you’ll never have time, and indeed I’ve had to come up with creative solutions to reading (including my Kindle that reads to me in the car), but the time is always well spent.

Environment: I’m kind of a restless person. I was always looking for the perfect writing spot, which often happened to be the coffee shop closest to a Half Price Books or favorite bad food place. But for the last month and a half I’ve worked exclusively at home in my basement. Sometimes the dogs bug me. Sometimes I get the itch to go out. But it’s kind of nice just working in the same place every day. I try to keep the distractions to a minimum, especially multi-tasking (burns or file sorting, plus miscellaneous internet tooling around). And it helps to have both coffee maker and beer fridge in easy reach.

What have you learned in the last year?

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2 Comments

Filed under Writing

2 responses to “Things I’ve Learned In The Last Year

  1. Hi Ben, I like this straightforward post. It’s always good to get a reminder about the basic parts of the process.

    Your part about reading got me thinking. When you are writing do you continue to read everything, or just certain things? Do you read within, or outside of, the style/genre you are working in?

    It’s been a while since I took on a long-term writing project, but I’m wondering how I would shape my reading habits when I started something. I feel like if I’m writing fiction, I don’t necessarily want to be reading fiction for fear of mimicking one writer or book (even subconsciously). Maybe I would stick to magazines, articles, and quality non-fiction. The decision seems so important!

    Take care.

    • A lot of what I’m reading is from NetGalley, so that’s either comic books or topical non-fiction (often computers, technology, science books). But I don’t place special restrictions on my other fiction reading unless I think the actual plot too closely resembles my own work. I think the words we write can be influenced by the style of the authors we read, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. If anything I try to make a conscious effort to at least be aware of what other people are doing in the genre. Often my “research” is just a thinly veiled justification for buying book bundles and short story anthologies, but than can be okay. A lot of publishers want to know what your book is in relation to known quantities. I’m personally not a big fan of this, but it’s probably good to have an answer. The only problem I have is reading books when I’m in “editor-mode”. There are some passages of dialog in a book I’ll be reviewing next month that I really would have loved to tweak 🙂

      Good luck with your next long term project!

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