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Paul B. Crowley

Paul B. Crowley Writing writer who writes about writing. And other stuff.


Assorted Ramblings

1.  Writing a Clothesline-type scene is hard.  You may be wondering what that is.  That's because you're a well-adjusted person not going to Comedy School. Let me break it down for you.

Who's On First

That is an ancient, ancient bit of comedy.  Everyone knows it.  Everyone's heard it, seen it, or heard of it. It's brilliant.

It's insanely difficult. It's joke after joke after joke after joke. It's not a strength of mine. I like the build-up. I like the verbal wordplay, and I like the quick retort. What I'm bad at is the constant barrage of comedy. I get the sense that I'm insulting the audience's intelligence, and I also get the sense that I'm not that funny.


2.  So Wisconsin Democrats have enough signatures (they say) to trigger a recall election.  I'm no fan of Walker, but they don't have a viable candidate to run against him. I've watched "anyone but him" elections. John Kerry wasn't running as John Kerry, he was running as "I'm not Bush," and I don't know if you remember this, but Bush had four more years.  I personally think Walker's a moron. I think his policy-making decisions are toxic to this state, and would be toxic to any state.  My impression of him is of an incredibly petty twerp willing to lie, cheat, steal, and whine until he gets his way. This is not a dude who is going to give up the seat without a good fight.

2a.  Wisconsin passed concealed carry.  As a person who has used weapons in the past, I think this is insane. I know the stats. I know that it's actually quite rare for states where concealed carry laws get passed to turn into the O.K. Corral.  That doesn't matter to me.  I liked the state I lived in when I didn't have to worry that if I got into an argument, some drunken douchebag was going to pull out a gun. I think the Second Amendment was great when we had to worry about the British coming in and quartering themselves in our homes.  That's not really a concern now.  I mean, the Brits love us.  They're crazy-go-nuts for us. I suppose China could be a concern, but you know what? Until they develop a stealth aircraft carrier, I'm not going to worry about it.  Our other enemies, by and large, have trouble baking bread. I think we can take them.

So given that we no longer have to worry about the King of England invading Boston, why do private citizens need guns? "To protect ourselves from criminals. If everyone is armed, they'll think twice about attacking people." Yeah. Right. Because the guy desperate for cash or for eager to hurt you is probably conducting a threat assessment. What if, instead, we took away guns, and made it a felony to possess one? You know, treated them like the instruments of death they are.

And before anyone tells me, "I use it for self-defense, and what's next, are you going to confiscate knives cuz they can hurt people," let me say two things: first, spelling out the word "because" is neither difficult nor time consuming, you dipshit. Second, knives can be used to prepare delicious food, excise tumors, (hopefully not at the same time) or fashion garments to be worn on a desert island after your plane has tragically crashed. Guns break shit and hurt people.  That's it. That's it. I mean, I suppose you could use it as a nutcracker or paperweight, but honest to goodness, that's not the design.

Some people just like guns.  And I can deal with that. If someone tells me, "No, hey, I think guns are awesome, shooting gives me a big boner," okay, I can accept that. I don't want to really have the image, but I can manage. Don't tell me that after a six hour class taken online and a $1200 dollar purchase, you're prepared to defend yourself from threats foreign and domestic.  It makes you look like a fucking jackass.

3.  I'm planning a trip to Ireland in September.

That is all.

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Stop using the word “rape” when you’re pissed.

Attention fellow children of the 70s/80s:

Stop using the phrase "X is raping my childhood." It's dumb. Not only is it dumb, but it's insulting as hell to actual rape victims.

Look, I liked G.I. Joe. I liked Thundercats, Voltron, and M.A.S.K. I liked Akira, even if I didn't really understand it. I fucking loved Transformers. Okay? I was there when Optimus Prime died (for the first but certainly not the last goddamn) time. They were shows that, when I was a kid, defined a huge part of my childhood. I identified with Lion-o, even if Panthro was cooler and Tygra was smarter. I hated Pidge, laughed at Chunk, and couldn't tell Lance apart from the other heroic thin one. I desperately wanted a car that turned into a goddamn plane. When I hear about movies being mined from my childhood, I get (I think understandably (especially when Michael Bay is involved)) upset. Which is to say, I think "Wow, that's going to suuuuuuck." Because these were not shows that were too deep. The good guys were good.  The bad guys were bad. There was a moral at the end.

All of those shows were commercials for toys. They weren't a grand statement about humanity, at least, not intentionally. Any statements made were about the crass consumerism available back then.

If your basis for how to behave as an adult man or woman is whether or not Cheetara is accurately portrayed in a movie (she was the fast one) then you have a problem that is way, way deeper than a damn movie being made.

Did I hate Transformers 2 and 3? Yes, I did. They were awful movies. Terrible. They were the kind of movies you can make when the characters are as one-dimensional as cartoon characters have to be. There's only so much you can do with "Oh, he's a VW Bug who is heroic. Like every other robot on his side." There's no source of drama there.

I don't mind people freaking out about Hollywood mining our collective childhood. I mean, I think it's annoying when they cast Nicolas Cage in anything, but certainly as the Ghost Rider.  But you know what? People our age have disposable incomes. We're spending money on things that we don't need. Fewer and fewer of us are having children, and what's more, we've demonstrated a willingness to support kitsch.

What does  bother me is the use of the word rape. A rape is an ugly, invasive event. I don't know that any of my friends have been raped (and I'm not necessarily asking) but I have to tell you, what I know about rape makes it incredibly difficult for me to hear someone using that term so casually.

Two seconds on Google defines rape as: Force (another person) to have sexual intercourse with him, esp. by the threat or use of violence against them.

So yes, Devastator in Transformers 2 had dangling balls on a pyramid. The Chronicles of Narnia kind of sucked. No one really enjoyed Ghost Rider or Green Lantern. Shut up about rape. You sound like a jackass. There are a hundred different ways to express that without diminishing what rape actually is, and without also diminishing the victims of sexual assault.

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Wherein our protagonist crashes and burns

This was the first class at SC where I did not leave totally in love with the class and buzzing in my writerly noggin.

Now, part of this could be due to my birthday party on Friday, where a great number of my friends came out to celebrate with me, and where a great percentage of those people did their level best to kill me with really delicious scotch. I thought one of the things about getting older is that you either got a better tolerance for booze, or gained the good sense to stop drinking the stuff when it was placed in front of you.  Certainly, I have a better tolerance than I did when I was younger.

(Oh, 25 year old Paul, the things I would tell you. Many of them would even be true. (It should come as a surprise to no one that I would mess with myself, given the opportunity. "Oh, dude, totally, in the future all anyone ever wears are mesh shirts and fringed chaps. Get on the train now, and you'll be cutting edge. Also, Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ is going to usher in an era of high quality film making and general human prosperity. So don't miss that one."))

What's been happening in class is that we have our normal teacher, who is both a performer and a writer, and she's quite good. She's able to talk about "energy" in terms of the stage and not sound ridiculous, which is no small feat to someone who likes to make fun of people who talk about energy as some sort of nebulous construct.

Sometimes, however, she's not able to make it. I don't know why, but I do know she's a working actor, and I'm pretty sure the combination of getting paid and following her avocation is worth following. So I don't get irritated at it. But when she's not in, we have a substitute, and he's very intense. He's also big on note-taking, and I think is really more of a writer than a performer. So there's a lot more focus on theory. He has incredible things to say, and his guidance is really valuable.

So why am I kind of bummed?

Two reasons, one intensely whiny and the other only slightly less so.

First, we were given an assignment to work on a scene two weeks prior, which can be found here. Just a simple two page scene, and we had to make revisions after last week's class, and I was kind of stoked about it, because the suggestions I got in class were good, and I thought, yeah, okay, sweet, I can do better, I will  do better, I am going to straight up destroy this assignment. Hello, Assignment. My name is Paul, and I was sent from the future to kick your ass.

So I was kind of pumped up, is what I'm trying to say. I was pretty excited about the opportunity to read it in class, which is not usually a thing I go for. Reading in class, as you all know, leads to your spectacular failure and then your necessary relocation to some remote part of the world where you tell people to call you "Spider," and try never to show your entire face.

And we had the sub, and we did not read any of the scripts. I know some of my classmates were also kind of looking forward to reading and getting some feedback, and since there was none, it felt like a bit of a letdown. Basically, I'm whiny because I wanted to be awesome, and the requirements of the lesson plan today required that my ego go unstroked.  That's right. As I type this, my ego is dangerously in check. (Of course, I'm assuming someone's going to read this (Hi Mom!) so it's not like I'm being the soul of humility or anything.)

So that was the first thing. The second thing happened during the break.

I was talking to a classmate, just chatting a bit, and he told me about iO. For those of you wondering what in the Samuel Langhorne Hell I'm talking about, stick around. For those of you that do know, go ahead and grab a soda or something. From what I understand, there are three schools of thought on improv, and there are three big schools on writing improv in Chicago. I'm going to Second City because, hey, it's Second Freaking City, right? This is where improv gets done. My classmate mentioned that he completed the iO program, and that he really wished he'd done the Second City program first and then the iO, because iO just throws you right into the writing. At Second City we're talking about scenic points of view, and we're talking about using the environment to heighten tension or establish characters, and we're talking about establishing sketch pitches. This is the down and dirty of it all. This is where it gets started.  By contrast go ahead and check out iO's writing program. Go ahead. By the time you're done, the soda people will be back.

And holy shit, is that ever something I want to do. That whole thing. Those writing courses? I want to go to there. I want to go and do that and then go work on a show or create a show or just hang out outside a show and give someone my ideas in the hopes that they use them.

The Second City program goes for just shy of a year. So does the iO program. I can't help but think the iO program won't be incredibly useful. But I'm aware that skipping isn't the way to get there. So I have to finish the Second City program.

And that's why I'm bummed. At first I was just having a good time, loving what I was doing, and having in my mind that after a year I'd start submitting stuff. And that may still happen. But I get the distinct impression that I would be better off doing the iO program, and I'm pretty pumped about all of that. What I'm bummed about?

I'm 33.  I realize that's not super old or anything, but I realized today that had I spent less time screwing around, I might have gone sooner.  Right now, looking at my tentative plans, I'm going to be 35 before I'm done learning how to do this stuff.  And you know, again, that's not like decrepit or anything, but I wonder how excited someone is going to be to hire a writer who is well past his 20s. Because I freak out unnecessarily.

Still excited about the next class, though.  And it's cool to have a plan for my life for the first time in a long-ish time.

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Second City Class Exercises 9/25/11

The following stories/exercises were about our discussion about beginnings, middles and endings.  We were given a sentence (and I’ll bold it) and then had to use it in a specific section of the story.  This got much much harder with each story, for me. I think the hardest was working the middle sentence in, just because you had to build a rational reason for it, and then had to move from there.  Each exercise was 10 minutes long, and we do this stuff by hand. I understand why we do the stuff by hand; paper and ink are cheap, computers need electricity, theft is a concern, etc. Still, my hand cramps something fierce after twenty straight minutes of furious scribbling.

I’ll Take Two, Martha Said

“I’ll take two,” Martha said.

I grimaced. “Maybe, before we dive into the place guns blazing, we can try something less confrontational? Like maybe letting the negotiators do their jobs?”


This was Martha all over. Two years on the SWAT team, and she still had to prove that she was the biggest badass in the room.

At first, it made a kind of sense. SWAT guys are notoriously macho. Something about breaking doors down and wearing ski masks in the summertime makes their brains melt. Martha dealt with a lot of ribbing, and a lot of jokes. She had to prove more than most. Not just that she could do the work; which she could, anyone could see that. But that she could hang with the guys after a rescue went down.

For the most part, Martha did fine. Better than fine. She took the jokes and gave it back. The guys stopped trying to run her out and instead let her in.

Still, she was too eager for my tastes. No one should be too psyched to risk her or her own neck.

This was the easiest one to do, I think. I had a place to start from, and my brain went nuts with options.  I settled on the one I did because it seemed the most interesting.  For those of you wondering, I think female SWAT team members are way more interesting than, say, a woman in a bakery.

That Was When They First Noticed The Smell

Jeeves and Thumb were criminals, but they had rules. No women, no children. Minimal violence (Thumb thought the threat of violence  was more effective; Jeeves disagreed) when possible, and if at all possible they robbed well-to-do assholes. Jeeves explained that really they were agents of karma, as well-to-do assholes didn’t get to be well-to-do without doing bad. Armed with this certainty, they walked behind a man with more taste than humanity. Thumb made a gesture which meant “Let’s take him into this alley,” and Jeeves nodded. As a stroke of luck, the man turned down the alley on his own. Both brigands smiled. This would be too easy.

That was when they first noticed the smell. Sulfur, with a layer of rotting meat. The cold winter air was suddenly thick and suffocating in its warmth.

“Hello boys,” the mark said.

It had to be the mark. He was wearing the same suit. But his skin was...not skin anymore.

“Time to talk about paying the devil his due, boys.”

I really, really like the idea of two lower rung criminals named Jeeves and Thumb. I don't know why. I have the idea that they fancy themselves gentleman bandits, and are really just generally incompetent.  I can see them unintentionally solving crimes and saving puppies while generally being inept.

The Clop-Clopping of 10,000 Horses That Could Be Heard From Beyond The Horizon

We’re going to die, I thought.

Six days into the siege. Lord Tennville never bothered to provision for a siege. “Who would want us? What have we got?” The sheriff bristled every time they had the argument, and left disappointed every time.

We’re a small nation. Landlocked, with no real resources to speak of. Our timber suits our needs, our livestock is unremarkable, and our grains make acceptable bread. We’re on the trade route north to Wintershire, a smaller, even less conspicuous town.

Less conspicuous until gold was discovered. Now everyone wants to control Wintershire, because they have the gold. And someone reasoned, “Mountain towns are a pain, but the next one down, where the supplies come through, that’s at the base of the mountains. That’s easy.”

For six days we were held under siege. Any hopes of a reprieve were drowned by the clop-clopping of 10,000 horses that could be heard from beyond the horizon.

Hi, I'm Paul Crowley, and I have an unholy love for Glen Cook and everything he's ever written, ever. If you haven't read the Black Company books, I can safely said you've wasted your adult life. This was easier than the middle one, if only because I feel pretty confident of my ability to safely wrap something up.  It's that middle bit that drove me insane. I suppose an argument could be made that taking the class is one of the ways to not have stuff like that drive me nuts. Fie on logic.


Class Stuff

So for my class at Second City, we had to write a short two page scene of dialogue telling a story.  I think it went well.  We have to revise.  I'm pretty excited about the class.  I'll be posting stuff from the exercises we do.


A MAN and a WOMAN are standing in an elevator.


I want to talk to you.


Well, you’ve got me for the next 35 floors.


This will take longer than that.


I’m not willing to commit beyond that.


That’s actually what I want to talk to you about.


30 to go.


We’ve been dating for 3 years.




We’ve been living together for 2 of them.


Yes. 25.


We were having a pretty nice dinner two nights ago.


It was nice.


I asked you to marry me.


You did. 15


You then dashed out of the restaurant, ran into a cop on a police horse, and caused a two car pile-up.


In my defense, my veal was underdone. 10


So I’m here, and you’re here, and we’re both on our way to work, and there aren’t any Mounties nearby. So I thought I’d ask for an answer.


You don’t think my running out was an answer?


I think you’re picky about veal.

Elevator dings.


You’re out of time.


Can I have an answer? An actual answer?


Not right now.


I’m not going to give up.



I’ve noticed.


People are boring.

I'm taking a class at Second City in Chicago. It's a class in sketch writing. First, let's get this out of the way, though you're going to be seeing it a lot. A lot. This class is awesome. I mean, crazy awesome. I've never had formal writing training. I learned in elementary, middle, and high school about English, and about writing. I read a lot, and I still do. But as far as formal training, beyond the stuff I got in school, I've had none. I've been cribbing off of authors I liked and developing my own voice in a start and stop kind of manner. It's been halting and messy.

So, with that in mind, I signed up for the course mainly because I wanted to write better, and I wanted to see if I could do it, and mainly because I didn't want to be doing nothing to improve. And the second I signed up, I started to freak out, because I couldn't think of anything funny. Nothing. I was like, unfunny. This was a concern because I like to think I'm a fairly funny person most of the time. I work at it. I spend time that should be spent thinking about world affairs or starving children thinking of better turns of phrase for when this girl Stephanie rejected me at a dance in middle school. You say "neurosis," I say "prepared to coach my younger self should time travel be possible." But that's a post for another time.

I've never really enjoyed school. Ever. A lot of it was boring, and the parts that weren't boring were often full of people who would not shut the fuck up about inane nonsense, a situation known as "typical school scenarios."

My head buzzes in this class like it only does when I'm writing on a book and it's flowing. I'm not focusing on theme or character or whatever, I'm just writing and losing time in the words. It's awesome. It's amazing. I've gotten great feedback, and I'm feeling better and better about my writing.

So, bearing that in mind, we have homework from the class. And it's not especially onerous. The first assignment was to write a synopsis of a television episode. Not terribly difficult, and now I had a totally valid reason for re-watching The West Wing for the billionth time.

The assignment from the most recent class was to listen to conversations around me. The teacher was very clear that one should not be obvious that I was eavesdropping, and I wasn't worried about it. Most of the time when I'm in public, I have my headphones in, largely to avoid hearing people talk. So having them in and not listening to music would give me the cover I'd need. It was like being a spy or a cop doing surveillance. And from I've learned about both espionage and police work, it was just as boring as you could imagine. Because for the most part people talk about some boring shit. It's like being forced to read a blog post.

I was at the train station, and decided to eavesdrop on the people while I waited for my train. Someone's luggage toppled over, and the conversation went like this:

Woman 1: Your luggage just fell  over.
Woman 2: Oh, sure enough it did.
Woman 1: I saw it wobbling, and I thought sure enough, it was going to fall over.
Woman 2: It sure did.

And that went on for five minutes. Five minutes of discussion about the luggage, and how it was no longer upright. For the duration of the conversation, no one made a move to right the luggage. Eventually Woman 2's husband showed up and offered this piercing insight:

Man: Your luggage fell over.

And that brought on another five minute discussion, with a quick recap of how Woman 1 saw that the luggage was unstable, and how Woman 2 didn't notice that it fell over at first, and Woman 1 giving a play-by-play  of how it fell.

The luggage, by the way, was still in the middle of the floor, like they were expecting it to jump up and right itself. Someone walking by had to step over it and gave an exasperated look at the trio. Woman 2 just nodded, as if to say, "Luggage today. When I was a girl, suitcases didn't fall over, and if they did, they knew enough to reassemble themselves without someone having to tell them."

So after ten minutes of that, I turned on the music in my headphones.  I got on the train a bit later, and tried again. Some dude was laying his best game on a woman, trying to sound suave as he asked her what she did for a living. The problem was that he as apparently raised in a cave until the day before he got on the train.

Dude: So what do you do?
Lady: I'm a lawyer.

And you know, there's a lot of places you can go with this as a starting point, right? Maybe you discuss her passion for justice. Maybe you find out the kind of law she practices. Maybe you talk about how your grandfather was the model for Matlock. Just having watched television for two weeks gives you a basis of knowledge that there are different types of lawyers.

Dude: So you write laws?

And the headphones played music again.

One of the things that people say is hard about writing is writing good, realistic dialogue. I submit that it is not that hard to write realistic dialogue. People talk about boring shit. I'm just as guilty of it as anyone. Get me started on how awesome Firefly was (so awesome) and I'll go on for hours. And hours. The real challenge is writing good dialogue that sounds close enough to real that you can imagine someone actually having that conversation. They have to be clever, and quick, and above all interesting. And that's much harder.

I still love the class though, even if they did make me listen to people talk about luggage for 10 minutes.


The floats are terrible…

Getting a rejection notice on a query for a book is an easy way to go straight to Mopeyville, USA, where you are the Grand Marshal of the Pity Parade.

I’m speaking from some experience on this one, kids.

It’s a chance to sit and really examine your writing, and your style, and your characters, and your life, and find all of them wanting. To realize that not only did you fail at writing, but you’ve probably failed at life. You’ve failed so badly that if and when you’re reincarnated in the next life, you’ll come back as some sort of reprehensible bug, and fail at that, too.  Maybe your wings won’t be fully formed, or you’ll have an allergic reaction to the single type of food that your specific species has to eat to survive. Who knows? All you can be sure of is that your book query sucked, you suck, you will always suck, and really the only solution that makes any sense is to give up writing and find a hobby that you can’t fuck up. Maybe coloring? I don’t mean that shading stuff, either. I mean getting a Rainbow Brite activity book and being careful about staying in the lines.

(There will be a tiny voice in the back of your head that is really not tiny at all that will tell you that you’ll suck at this, too.)

It all makes sense, too. You worked really hard, right? You spent your time writing, creating the world and the characters, then writing a query and a synopsis, and then you sent it out. Then the agent, a person who is a professional, says no thank you.

With those three words, your hopes, your dreams, your plans for a palatial Hawaiian estate where you hire an ex-Navy Intelligence officer to be your head of security, all of that is dashed and gone. There’s really no point to it after that.

I would like to speak to that whole miasma of negativity for a second, if I may (and I will, since this is my site, so there):

Fuck. That. Noise.

Any amount of time on the collection of tubes can show you writers and authors who endured years and decades of getting rejections for books that are considered classics. Seriously.  Go look it up. I can wait.

Astonishing, right?

It’s also important to remember that agents are people too, and not monsters who hate you. When one says “it’s not right for me,” he or she is not, I repeat, not saying “I think you are a stupid poo-poo jerkface, and I hate you.”

They’re saying they don’t think they can sell the book. Maybe it’s because it blows. That’s always possible. But maybe they just aren’t feeling it that day. Maybe you queried the wrong agent at the agency, and your opus about dragons coming of age in space went to the person who only represents mysteries.

I read a quote somewhere that has stuck with me during my writing process. I’m paraphrasing, but it goes along the lines that a rejection is not really a rejection; it’s an invitation to find the right agent or editor.

So the punchline for me is that after I query a book, if all the agents I’ve queried have said no, that’s okay. That book wasn’t where I needed to be yet to get published. Writing, like anything worth doing, takes practice. It takes skill, and deep periods of rest and recuperation before you get back up. All those rejections mean that the next book will be better. And the one after that. And the one after that. And eventually, I’ll get where I want to be, with my snooty English majordomo having a fight with my chief of security over use of the estate’s camera.

The only time you fail is when you give up.


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After Action Review

Here's the thing:

I love to write. I love writing. I also enjoy reading, but that's not important at the moment.

I love to write. When it's good, it's better than the best sex. Even when it's bad, it's still better than some sex. You know, where it's awkward and neither of you are really into it? I mean you're there, you're committed, by God you will finish what you start, but you're having a harder time than usual keeping your mind off of what you're going to do when you're done.

I also like editing, which if we're going to continue the sex analogy, would be the part where you and your partner review the tape you made and give each other pointers.

Those pointers, even if they're made with the most loving of intentions, will never come out as anything other than "you messed up."  Editing is similar.

You can have good words, good sentences, good paragraphs, good pages, etc. and that one passive verb will fuck you up.  And I mean bad. It does not matter if someone else is reading your stuff and says, "Oh, hey, I loved your book, it totally changed my life, I'm naming my children after all of your characters, even the ones you put in just because you giggled at the names, and I'm dressing like your characters.  I noticed you had one sentence misattributed to someone, but I didn't even blink. I loved it so much. Also, I am an heiress and have billions in liquid assets and would like to give you a million dollars for every letter in your name."

I can tell you right now, I would bypass all the good stuff that was said (initially, at least) and zero in on the misattribution. I will spend hours and days in a deep funk because I screwed up. I will eventually remember the heiress offering me money and make a lickety-split trip to the J of the P and get my name changed Alexander Trewilliker Zibiginewski.  Hell yes I will.  Crowley wants to get paid.

I have friends who write as well, and when they tell me about this kind of experience, I tell them the truth: you're always going to find one more error, one more thing you could have done better. Do the best you can, and then when you're done, don't beat yourself up too much over it. You're human, after all, and there is not a single human endeavor that does not have errors.

Then we share a riotous laugh.  This is, I think, because people who write, as an avocation or occupation or both, have to be perfectionists. You cannot spend hours working on word choice and scene and whatever the hell else it is that writers think about (I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about making my characters emotional without making them emo) and then after that say "Yeah, fuck it. That's good enough." Not until you've gone through the steps of editing.

I suppose blogging could be an exception. I rarely do more than edit on the fly here.

The most recent book was an experiment in a couple of different ways for me. I dove more into outlining than I had in previous projects. Instead of editing for a set number of pages (which I would inevitably rush through just to get it done) I edited for a set amount of time, and then hid the timer's display on my phone.  This did two things:

  1. I got deeply into the editing process of finding words and fixing things, eliminating the passive voice, checking consistency, etc.
  2. I edit with music on my headphones, which plays through my phone.  So when the timer would finish, I would be treated to the kind of klaxon you usually hear when they're launching a nuclear missile in a movie. Naturally I would jump up out of my chair every time the timer ran down, like a skittish ICBM.

Maybe the ICBM is my spirit animal or something.


Characters Do Not Do What You Want

One of the problems that I used to run into was that my characters rarely did what I wanted them to do.

As an example, I had a character that I wanted to be brooding and dark. I did everything possible to make it easy for him to be brooding and dark. I murdered his family, his pets, his favorite waitress, and I canceled his favorite Joss Whedon show after one season. The weather was dark and frightening, with storms either brewing or already brewed and pouring down upon him. The cityscape was Gothic, with the flashes of lightning providing stark glimpses into the dark soul of the city.

In essence, I did everything I can think of to make my character reflect on the bleakness surrounding and suffusing him.

What did that son of a bitch do?

He made a damn sandwich.

This is a complaint I’ve voiced many, many times when I’m out with my friends drinking. This is at least in part because I’m probably just a weensy bit obsessive about writing. I’m engaging in understatement here. I think about writing, and story, and themes, and characters, to the point of not thinking about other, important things, like traffic lights or whether or not I’ve actually eaten that day.

I used to try and force the issue. I used to argue with the characters. “No,” I’d say, (usually not aloud, but writing is a solitary hobby and it’s easy to forget about inner monologues) “go be broody. Be Batman-esque. You know. Gruff and dramatic, yet sensitive. You know. Do it!

“I’m just saying,” the character would respond with his mouth half full, “this roast beef and sharp cheddar is delicious. And this garlic mayo? Divine. On a stormy night like tonight, a nice sandwich, maybe some soup, that’ll fix you right up. Thankfully I DVR’d that entire season. I think it might be a good night to stay in.”

And then I’d drink more and curse the cussed nature of creation.

I’m a big fan of writing organically, but the problem with doing things that way is I end up in a corner. Or maybe not a corner, but somewhere I don’t want to be, like Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin. It’s easy to get to, and it’s easy to get out eventually, but there’s not part of being there that’s fun.

I’m sure there are writers out there who thrive that way, who write by the seat of their pants. I am not one of them.

I started outlining my stories at first as a way to look busy at work, but it’s turned into an incredibly useful tool to avoid going to the literary equivalent of Fond Du Lac. At the moment, the outline is mostly just characters, and their primary actions in the book. There are some defining traits as well, with measured and deeply researched shorthand, like “self-righteous asshole” being used. It also reinforces the characters for me, so I’m not sitting there wondering which of my bad guys had the nervous tic.

What about you? Do you outline? How much or how little? What works for you?


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It’s like hypnotizing chickens.

There is something to be said for finding an avocation other than writing.

Heroin use, for example.

Heroin is, like the color black, always in fashion. Using needles makes you edgy. Not eating, also, gives you that model thin body that people are always so psyched about. There are downsides, of course. You run the significant risk of being arrested. If my viewing of The Wire is be believed, you also run a very real risk of being used in a pseudo-murder investigation by a rakish police detective. So, yeah, those might be dealbreakers for you.

Writing, on the other hand, requires you to spend time alone, shunning other people. Most other writers I know already shun people, so that's not too big a deal. You have to spend time having long, in-depth conversations with people who do not, in the strictest sense, exist.

You have to think about things like theme, and plot, and character development, and you have to do those things without giggling. You also have to do it without sounding like a pretentious twerp. I usually err on the side of giggling, even though that disturbs people around me.

I usually write two thousand words a night, after a long day of working as a professional writer. The only times I don't write tw0-thousand words is when I'm editing something. I've noticed that when I'm not writing, when I'm not editing, when I'm not actively involved in the creation/destruction/creation cycle of a story, I'm generally crankier around people.

So...there's that.

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