The Kick-Ass Writer: 1001 Ways to Write Great Fiction, Get Published, and Earn Your Audience

I am a huge fan of online ruffian Chuck Wendig. He is hilarious on social media, his website Terrible Minds (terribleminds.com) is funny and informative, and he has his tentacles in long novels and comic books and everything in between. He’s the fun uncle (funcle?) with the bushy beard that you want to get all your life (and writing advice) from.

I picked up this book recently, figuring it to be a good companion to his very well written and helpful book Damn Fine Story. When I received it, I saw that it was a series of advice in 25 item groups, similar to the #TenThings threads I’ve been following with Delilah S. Dawson, another writing guru and dreamboat. I began reading, figuring that a bunch of lists would be quick work and I would be able to bookmark where the currently relevant information was and come back to it later.

Oh dear reader, I would not recommend this. Not even close. Look at this Table of Contents.

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The Kick-Ass Writer should be viewed as a dictionary or a quick reference guide. If you are writing a book and you need inspiration concerning setting you might pick this up, read the chapter “25 Things You Should Know About Setting,” and then immediately put it down again. It is painfully obvious that these chapters must be sitting on his website somewhere and I could have gotten this advice on the interwebs. I tried to read this like a book and that is not what it is meant for.

Aside from the structure lending itself to reference instead of reading through, there is the subject of Wendig’s humor, which I love but admittedly lost a taste for after about 4 “25 Things” lists of it. I still love it, especially when it pops up on my Twitter feed to give me a giggle, but this as well as other Books From Blogs (TM) tend to lose their flavor when smushed into book format. I’m supposed to have these to enjoy once a week, not necessarily to binge read for motivation.

Chuck is one of my top five authors whom I trust, follow, and look to for advice as I begin my journey in the traditional publishing world. This book will remain on my shelves, but as reference and reminder, not as a read-through novel. If you are an aspiring writer, you should pick it up too and check out his website. You won’t be disappointed.

Damn Fine Story

Damn Fine Story

On Writing by Stephen King

Story Genius by Lisa Cron

I’m a music educator turned math educator who almost became an accountant. I’m 35 years old but I feel 85 if you factor in how done I am with everything. I start over more than I continue and I can’t seem to find a place where I am happy.

But last November I started thinking about what makes me happy, and I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo 2017. I discovered I had a story that could be a series that could be something I actually would enjoy making out of my brain hole. I have read so many books that I figured I could put some of what I’ve read to use in framing my own story.

Problem is that it’s intimidating out here for a bitch without an MFA. I have writing skills that have seen me through a bachelors, masters, and two years of a doctorate, but the Master of Fine Arts is not part of my experience. So dipping my toe into the same Twitter as Stephen King and Chuck Wendig sometimes creates a situation when I feel like a 100% imposter. These people are in the game, they define the game, and I’m just armchair quarterbacking the game.

That’s not stopping me though. I’m writing a goddamn book. And the longer I dabble in writer Twitter, the more I see that people of all shapes, sizes, and professions are writing books. There’s self-publishing and traditional publishing and small press publishing and everything in between – there’s something that’s right for everyone.

Still, I’m starting at ground level, so I can’t necessarily think about the publication step of things, I have to take things one step at a time. And the first step is to finish this damn first draft. Part of this is understanding the kind of book I’m writing and keeping to as many of the norms as I can muster. Reading craft books about outlining and structure and building character arcs will help me with that, especially in the editing and revising stages. I’m a good learner. So I’m always open to learning structure and procedure and I love reading so I’m just going to absorb everything.

Yet, with all the professional and procedural advice I’ve received and read, I still need to hear that any Joe Schmo with a story and a dream can write a book. This explains why I responded so well to On Writing, and just recently to Chuck Wendig’s Damn Fine Story.

There’s writing advice sure, but the bulk of these books exists to give you a picture of normal people telling stories that other people might like. These books exist to give permission to writers to be writers if they want to be. I don’t mean that we have to approach these authors to receive permission, it’s that reading these books will make your imposter syndrome disappear. They will make you feel as though you can join the club of writers. You may wear the jacket, sit in that area of the plane, be seated in the nice part of the steak restaurant.

Chuck’s writing is quirky, brash, and will keep you on your toes. You will immediately love him like a fun uncle (funcle?) who teaches you to swear. He’s engaging and makes you want to join in and immediately start writing something! Anything! This is cool, I can do this!

This craft book is inspirational, down to earth, and reminds us all that storytelling is as old as the human race. It’s programmed into our DNA, we are programmed for story. So why not try to tell one yourself? You might be surprised what comes out. If you’re currently writing a book or considering writing one, you should make Wendig’s “how to” one of the first books you buy. Go get you some.

Story Genius

Story Genius

In the process of writing my book I have been working my way through several craft books a.k.a. How-To books meant to help you outline, structure, and write your characters, plot, and overall novel. Stephen King’s On Writing was the first one I read, and it spurred me on to begin what is now 61,000 words strong. The next book I opened was Lisa Cron’s Story Genius, and while very different from King’s how-to, it has been just as useful in helping me craft my story.

Cron focuses on what she calls a third rail – the central idea of the book which is the main character’s big problem or misunderstanding of life. This is the why behind all of his or her actions, and should spark all decisions leading up to the major aha! moment, which is when he or she sees past her misbelief and sees clearly for the first time. Every scene included in the book, Cron writes, should touch this misbelief/resolution in some way to make sure the reader has a clear connection to why everything is happening.

A common complaint I have with the books that I ultimately set aside is that I stopped caring about the outcome. You’ll read a review later this week of a book that I set aside not because I was bored, but because I just didn’t care how it ended. Cron explains that a book should not just be a run down of what’s happening, it should also always be evident why those events are important, from something as simple as going to the grocery store to something as complex as a huge multi-army battle. This really spoke to me so I ate up all her advice about making sure I constantly ask why something is happening.

In partnership with the why is the how you communicate the why to the reader. It seems really simple, but something should happen, which causes the character to act, and that action causes something else to happen, which sparks yet another action. Everything should be connected, and if everything is connected then everything will speak back to the why behind the main character’s story. Just because something is well-written doesn’t mean it should be in the book. The reader isn’t reading for beautiful writing, they are reading for a good story that helps their mind escape.

The part of the book that I read quickly through but plan to come back to later were the last 3-4 chapters covering her organizational method for outlining, planning, and keeping track of the internal workings of individual scenes and the novel as a whole. Folders and scene cards and character cards – if I had read this book before I started writing I probably would have gotten caught up in the organization of it all and written very little. I probably would have gotten very frustrated with myself and maybe not have written anything at all, convinced that I’m not smart enough or whatever.

Once this first draft is done, though, this system will be very helpful in revising and rewriting. I can fill these scene cards and character info pages and world rules lists as I reread through my manuscript, and then I can rearrange those details as I need to. I am glad I wrote from my mind first and will organize second. This book will be right next to me once I’m ready (hopefully Halloween, fingers crossed!).

For someone who is just starting out and excited, I’m not sure if I would recommend this book as one of the first ones to read. It’s pretty full of “you musts” and “if you want to write a good story you have tos” and I found that a little…I don’t know, aggressive and discouraging? I mean, if a person hasn’t done a lot of writing in other areas I might, just to make sure they understand how to structure a novel. But if you read a lot and write a lot, you’re probably okay getting started and coming back to this book when you need some motivation or guidance when you get stuck.

It’s got a lot of great advice though, and so as long as you listen to all of it and take what you need, it’s a great book to have on your shelf if you’re plugging away at your own book! Go get you some.

Second Reading: Six of Crows

Six of Crows

I read Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo back in October of 2016 (original review linked). It is the inspiration for the team component of my current novel, and so I returned to read it again now to remind me how the elements and points of view worked together. This is not so much a review as it is a revisit to see if any of my opinions changed from the first reading and to encourage you to enjoy some of my favorite books.  

There are only a few authors that I trust so implicitly that I would preorder their books without taking them out of the library first. One of these authors is Leigh Bardugo. I have read every single one of her books and they all are amazing and I will sing her praises from on high until everyone that can hear me has read her books.

I was in a bit of a reading lull this summer. Every book I picked up seemed to make fart noises into my brain and I couldn’t get into any of them, even the ones that were identified as HOT SUMMAH READS. Eventually this got tiresome so I decided to return to the Grisha universe and reread Six of Crows.

This book goes from 0 to 60mph in 2.5 seconds and it never stops. Everyone is hot, and while you might think that’s creepy because they are all 16-18 years old I will repeat what I said in my original review and say that you forget all about that. Their age doesn’t matter. This story could be written with them as older teens or in their mid-thirties and it would still work. So I choose to see Kaz Brekker as a cranky af 32yo ready to get some crazy revenge and I AM HERE FOR IT.

The backstories are absolute gold. Kaz’s traumatic childhood experience with the death of his brother and being fooled past the poorhouse and into the streets of Ketterdam. You see exactly why he is who he is and why, and you understand that he has one purpose, which is to get revenge on Pekka Rollins for essentially murdering his brother and creating the bastard of the Barrel.

Nina is me and I am Nina – a Heartrender Grisha who can control people’s hearts, pulses, and consciousness. She longs for her home in Ravka and is wrapped up with Matthais, a soldier from the very anti-Grisha country where the prison is that they have been hired to break into and steal a scientist who has come up with a formula for a drug that will turn all Grisha into drug addled killing machines.

This book is just so fucking tight. It’s the perfect game of Tetris. Everything makes sense. Everything has a purpose. Everything fits. Bardugo does not waste a single word or action. Everything that happens moves us towards a goal, one of six mind you. Intertwined with the character stories and backstories is an unfurling of the world that they work in. All the different locations are mentioned and described in this book and you get a sense of what a person coming from each location might believe, especially in relation to Grisha and the use of “magic” (what they call the Small Science).

This book is one that I love so much that I have a difficult time describing why. I just want to shove it in your hands and then sit there and wait until you are done reading it so we can talk about it together because you will love it too.

If you haven’t yet, PLEASE, go get you some.

Angry Angel Novel: 48 Days

The book project I started this summer has been coming alone nicely. There have been days where I haven’t written and days when I’ve written my ass off, but for the most part I’ve been trying to write about 1,000 words every day. Thanks to the #1000wordsofsummer event on Twitter I discovered that this was a habit I could keep up with, and it yielded fast results.

The event that got me thinking that I had a novel series in me, National Novel Writing Month, holds a summer event in July called Camp NaNoWriMo. It’s mostly for people to make progress on a manuscript or some work that is unfinished, as opposed to literally writing an entire novel in one month’s time. I put in what I had written so far in June as my starting point, made 75,000 words my goal for the end of July, and then I was off to the races. Their website keeps track of my progress and gave me these stats as of my writing today.

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I am aiming for 100K words total on my first draft, but if I keep writing like I have been (and not the 2250 words per day as suggested by NaNoWriMo), I’ll be sitting at between 65K and 70K (at least!) by the time I go back to school on August 6th for teacher planning week.

Guys, I am really proud of myself. I am enjoying writing this story and I hope that someday people will enjoy reading it. I have never written this much in this short of a time span, even when I was writing parts of my dissertation during my doctoral work. My manuscript is sitting at 93 Microsoft Word pages, and I make that distinction because I have learned that Microsoft Word pages and book pages aren’t the same thing (e.g. 100K words = 400 book pages). The point I am making here though, is over the past 48 days I have written 93 pages of something. NINETY-THREE.

I can’t wait to finish this draft and then go to Staples to have them print and spiral-bind it so I can start revising and re-writing. I want to read about outlining and editing and take time to read books I think would be comparable titles to get inspiration. I’ve already started rereading Six of Crows because I couldn’t wait. I’ve ordered some writing how-to books that will help me strengthen my characters and enhance my storytelling. I’m so excited that I’m already thinking about the next step. I’m acting like this first draft is already finished, because I know that it will be, because I will finish it.

I hope you are enjoying seeing these updates. I am excited to share just a little of my progress with you, my readers, because without you I wouldn’t have this blog, and without this blog I wouldn’t be reading nearly as much as I do, and without all this reading I may never have become inspired to write my own book. Thank you for being here. Thank you for supporting me. Have a great weekend.

Angry Angel Novel Update

Oh angels, it is summer and I am living it up – if living it up is sitting for long periods of time, playing too many hours of video games, and still going to bed at 8:30pm because you can’t be hungry if you’re sleeping. Oh, and also going to the gym because I WILL GET MICHELLE OBAMA-LEVEL ARMS. Please clap.

The husband was in Utah from June 2nd through June 10th grading AP World History exam essays, so I had a whole week to just do whatever I wanted, so I met Joe Biden.

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But that was only Monday night from 7:30-9:30 so I had another 6 days to fill. Some of that time was spent writing THE BOOK.

Things I have discovered writing THE BOOK.

  1. I write about 1300-1700 words each time I sit down to write. I could do more.
  2. I can see this story beginning to end and that makes it easier to write. It’s like I’m watching the characters do stuff and I’m just describing what I see to you via THE BOOK.
  3. I skipped some days last week and so I feel a little behind now.

Things I want to try to do now that I’ve eased into summer:

  1. Write twice a day. Once in the morning and once some other time in the day. I’d like to up that word count and stick to it.
  2. Write more about the world/setting and not be afraid to describe things more. Since I am so often putting books down because I get bored with them, I am afraid of having that affect on readers myself.
  3. Think more about the magic system. Every fantasy book has a pretty clear idea about how magic works (although if we’re being honest “I was born with it so just hand me a wand” was kind of vague in HP but I still love it so much) so I want to be sure to give clear information about how magic works in this world.

As of today I have 10,000 words into this novel. It’s the 12th of June so mathematically that averages out to less than 1,000 words a day, which isn’t what I was aiming for, but it’s more than I was doing. This weekend I am leaving the husband at home and taking a few nights in a hotel just for me. I’m planning to sleep a lot since I won’t have to worry about taking the dogs out, reading, and writing, hopefully enough to catch up to where I would be by the 17th (about 25,000 words) since I won’t have anything to distract me except myself and the entire internet. What could go wrong?

This book is happening. I’m really excited and proud about it. Thank you all for supporting this effort. New book review is up tomorrow. See you then!

 

 

Angry Angel Novel

If you’ve been a member of my Facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/angryangelbooks/) or followed me on Twitter (https://twitter.com/angryangelbooks) you’ve noticed a fair amount of writing content in addition to my usual book reviews and essays. Since NaNoWriMo in November 2017 and attending the AWP writer’s conference in March of this year, I’ve been exploring writing/author Twitter and researching the worlds of agents and publishing, mostly because I’m discovering that I have a story in my head and I wanted to know how I might get it out into the world.

The summer of 2018 will be the first summer since 1997 that I will be free to do what I wish. I mean, I have a 4 day AP Statistics training to attend in July, and the husband and I are taking an anniversary weekend in St. Augustine just before that, but that’s like 7 days out of 65 total days between this school year and the next.

It’s not a lot of time. A fiction novel meant for adults tends to be around 100,000 words, and a first draft must be edited, read by trusted friends and colleagues, revised, and sent out to agents once it feels “done” to me. As a first time author, I would probably have to pitch with a complete manuscript because I am a higher risk and an unknown.

The mathematician in me says that 100,000 divided by 65 is about 1540 words per day. My depression says “ha, bitch, I’d like to see you try!” The teacher in me says, “a little each day means success in the end.” The failure says, “one more thing to start and never finish.” The reader, “I can do this.” The writer, “You only need a pen and paper, and you have computers too – you have everything you need to put words down, in order, many times over.”

There are a lot of internal voices that have opinions about this new endeavor. The loudest is the logical side of my brain that insists that I have the time, I have the resources, and I have friends that will help me. I have nothing to lose. The husband supports my efforts. It shouldn’t cost me anything. So, logically, as long as I can set that daily word count and stick to it, I can at least write my first draft. Everyone says that’s the hardest part. If I can do that, then I can handle the rest.

Starting tomorrow I will be writing a novel. The first in a series. Wish me luck. It seems as though it is a required element of the process. Posting here may reduce for the summer, but I will give occasional updates and a couple of reviews a week since I will, of course, still be reading.

And you should be too. Check out my summer reading list suggestions right here tomorrow!

Read. Be brave. Stay angry. Have a great summer, angels.