A couple of months ago, I revised my novel The Computer Nerd with new content and an updated paperback edition.
Well, this week, I finally did something else I’ve wanted to do for a long time: I put together a trailer for it.
I might be biased, but I think it’s a good one.
If you haven’t checked out The Computer Nerd yet, you can visit one of its official pages right here to see what it’s all about.
Note: I haven’t updated the book’s information on this site since the revision because I’m moving all of my official book pages to my author site later this summer. But you can still learn plenty from the content that still remains here.
In the meantime, why don’t you check out the trailer?
Episodic fiction is hot right now. With The Falcon and the Winter Soldier wrapping up its six-episode run, thus completing yet another story arc for our beloved Marvel superheroes, and The Karate Kid getting its fifth series installment in the form of three seasons of television and counting (in Cobra Kai), and Stranger Things stirring up all sorts of speculation about the future of Hawkins, Indiana, it’s easy to see that telling stories in bite-sized chunks over a span of weeks, months, or even years is a great way to keep the fans fulfilled but hungry.
But has it always been the entertainment equivalent to potato chips dipped in powdered donuts?
For me, my addiction to television began as a child, watching primetime episodes of Diff’rent Strokes, Family Ties, The A-Team, Perfect Strangers, and Night Court (and plenty others), and continued well into my teen years, where I had the pleasure of watching Seinfeld, The Simpsons, Seinfeld, Married with Children, and Seinfeld (and later, reruns of The Simpsons and Seinfeld). But then I got to college and whisked it all away.
Television stopped being fun to watch.
Sure, there were good shows on in the late 1990s, but most of them were on channels I couldn’t afford or pick up on my antenna. Everything else I loved watching had already wrapped. And with college becoming my focus, I didn’t really see much reason to give television my attention. Besides, the movies were much better. By that point, we’d gotten the summer of 1996 and the year to end all movie years, 1999 (look it up; it was a titanic year, even though Titanic was released a little more than a year earlier). What even was television by that point?
Okay, in fairness, ER was in its prime, and Alias was giving Jennifer Garner a named status. And shows like Friends and Frasier were going strong. But I wasn’t watching any of those. Each episode was just more of the same (and Alias was on the channel my antenna couldn’t pick up).
It wasn’t until 24 in late 2001 that something sparked my interest. But even then, I was busy with other matters. As much as I liked 24, I kept thinking I’d just catch it later (or on DVD, which ended up being the situation).
Then came March 2005 and the grand entrance of Steve Carell and The Office, and that was the end of my television fast. It just took two episodes to wrangle me back into a television habit that lasted for the next twelve years (and included weekly viewings of 24, beginning with the stellar Season 5, Parks and Recreation, and my new favorite, Community).
And though many of these shows maintained the old habit of introducing familiar characters to new situations without much memory of the previous episode, the seeds of serial fiction were embedded. The Office introduced “Jim and Pam” in a hopeless romantic subplot that spanned three seasons and didn’t truly reach its height until early Season 6. 24 boarded a rocket ship every season and rode it to the finale, keeping viewers invested in a single 24-part story arc, and residents of Los Angeles worried what was about to happen every time the clock hit 59 minutes on the hour (but only on bad days).
These shows each proved one thing: a good season of television is enough to keep viewers on the hook for another round, and to get a good season, television needs to come with great episodes. And unlike the chapters of a novel, these episodes can live independently of each other, but like a compelling novel, each episode must contain its own completed arc while serving the needs of the greater story.
It’s a puzzling juggling act. But it’s nevertheless important to keep the balls in the air. (Insert a Michael Scott catchphrase here.)
To get it right is a challenge and a reward.
And Amazon is rolling out a new service that gives authors an opportunity to get it right.
If you haven’t heard of Kindle Vella yet, well now you have. It’s Amazon’s entrance into the browser-based episodic fiction market (like Wattpad), using their massive platform to create an experience that combines Wattpad with Medium. Its goal is to entertain readers with the gift of storytelling, one episode at a time (with episodes ranging from 600-5,000 words each), but to do so behind a paywall so that authors can earn cash for their sweet and precious words.
Well, the requirements for entry are steep. In short, all stories posted to the platform must be original. That means never-before-published. And if there’s one thing Amazon is good at, it’s stalking the entire Internet and library database and your third grade teacher’s manila folder (that she left under the couch that one time she tried catching her cat on shots day) for your story. And THEY WILL FIND IT. So, keep it original.
They’re also available in the United States only, but that’s probably temporary.
For my part, I’ve started adapting my game Entrepreneur: The Beginning into an episodic novel, and will be posting new episodes every Friday, under the title The Hybrid City Entrepreneur. But because Vella won’t officially open to the public until sometime this summer, I’ve got time to frontload it with content. And that’s important because the first three episodes of every story will be free. It isn’t until Episode 4 of any story that readers will have to shell out their precious tokens (the currency of Vella) to unlock what’s next and find out what’s really eating Gilbert Grape.
Okay, yeah, I absolutely broke out the antiquated movie reference. And I don’t care. We’re not writing movies in Vella. We’re writing television, dangit! Well, except that we’re not even doing that. It’s the structure that counts here.
If you want to see how to get onto Vella, check out my video below. And if you want to find out more, I recommend Kindlepreneur’s and Reedsy’s articles on the topic.
If you decide to give it a try, make sure you let us know in the comments. (But don’t post samples. Again, Amazon is always watching. Always.)
Hey Readers: Do you have a book idea that you wish some author person would write but won’t because it’s “not marketable” or some-such?
Hey Authors: Do you wonder why nobody wants to read your “trending” vampire werewolf romance epic that you started writing in 2008 but couldn’t complete until now because you still had that boy magician YA series to finish (which you managed to write two and a half books for)?
Hey Readers and Authors: Is it possible that maybe you both actually want the same thing after all: a spy thriller about a supervillain poisoning the penguins and Antarctica’s one active spy being the only person able to stand in his way?
Hey Other Readers: Doesn’t that premise sound pretty cool?
Hey Editors: Did you even know that’s what readers want? Antarctic spy thrillers?*
If you all talked to each other more often, you might’ve figured that out by now.
Enter the Book Ideas Generator.
Readers and authors no longer have to be strangers passing in the night. Thanks to a simple ideas board that I’ve wanted to create for a long time and finally got the chance to do this week, readers can actually post the types of books and ideas they want to read, and authors who are looking for their next great idea can scour the board for that gem that just “speaks to them” and get to writing. Alternatively, they can just take whatever’s hot (once upon a time, Hobbits were all the rage; I think astronauts were, too).
The way it works is that a reader will visit the ideas page and either add a new idea, or upvote an existing idea. If he or she is feeling ambitious, he can do both. Assuming the idea is sound (and not scandalous), I’ll tag it for the “Open Topics” card, which can be viewed from the site roadmap, and anyone who wants to view topics from within the card for ideas can check it out.
Once it’s on the list, authors will see the idea and decide whether to choose it for their next books. Authors who want to write about that topic will then send me an email (listed in the first updates announcement and on my official author site), and then I’ll write their names and websites in the comments tab for that idea and move it to the “Ideas in Production” card. From there, it’ll be up to the readers interested in that idea to follow that author’s progress.
And that’s all there is to it. I also have conditions for “Hot Topics,” “Authors’ Favorites,” and “Resultant Books,” which can lead to even more interesting results. But in the end, readers can tell authors what they want to read, and authors can give the readers what they want. Everyone wins! Except penguins.
If this sounds like your ideal discovery tool, then please check it out and let your reader and writer friends know about it. It’ll eventually find its permanent home on my author website, but for now you can access it directly from its native Productstash page.
And be sure to tell me what you think.
Oh, and I’ll eventually make one of these for gamers / developers and audiences / filmmakers. Stay tuned.
If you want more information, I’ve posted a YouTube video demonstrating how to add an idea. Check it out below.
* Antarctic spy thrillers aren’t actually trending, or even in demand. It’s just an example. But if it were in demand…
Just wanted to make a quick e-book announcement to my readers while I’m thinking about it.
With the construction of my new website underway, I’ll be relaunching my author career soon, and with the relaunch will come a change to my e-book pricing and availability.
In short, many of my existing titles will be going into the archives, and those that remain will be getting price tags attached.
What does that mean exactly? It means that starting in 2021 (maybe on January 1st, maybe a few weeks in–I haven’t decided yet), I’ll be removing many of my books from every retailer but Smashwords, and those that remain will no longer be free.*
This means that if you wanted to get one of my older books from someplace other than Smashwords, now is the time. Likewise, if you want any of my books for free, now is the time to get them. I can no longer sustain my author career on freebies, and I can no longer support myself by attracting readers who will only read for free. Beginning in 2021, if you want to read my books, you’ll have to pay for them.
*Okay, so here are the exceptions:
Shell Out, Eleven Miles from Home (original and remastered), Amusement, and Waterfall Junction and The Narrow Bridge will still be available on every platform, while also being free to read here and on my author site. Eleven Miles from Home (and maybe Amusement) will remain free at the retailers, while the others will be priced at $0.99 to give readers the ability to “tip” me for a good read. But you’ll still be able to read them for free on both of my websites (but only there).
Gutter Child and Lightstorm will remain at all of the retailers for $2.99 and $0.99 respectively, but for how long will depend on what I do with my planned expansions for them. Once I expand them, I’ll make a new plan. Gutter Child will likely remain available even after it’s expanded (under a new title) just because it’s getting five-star reviews and I’d hate to lose them (and because the expansion will change its genre). We’ll see what happens in time.
When Cellphones Make Us Crazy is still under review. For now, it’ll remain at all the sites for its existing price, but I may remove it and rerelease it with new content later in the year. I’m pretty sure I want to expand it more.
The Fountain of Truth will remain at all of the existing sites for $0.99 until I finalize the McCray Parables expansion, in which case I’ll repackage and rerelease it for $2.99 between September and Christmas 2021. In other words, one day it’ll be available, and the next day it won’t. I can’t say for sure when this will happen. But the Smashwords edition will remain available even when it comes off the other storefronts.
Cannonball City and Superheroes Anonymous will likely stay online until I finish rebranding them. Again, I don’t know when I’ll finish this process, but you can probably continue to buy them everywhere but Amazon for at least another year. Then they’ll be archived.
The Computer Nerd will stay online at all the existing retailers, but it will be given a subtitle, 2015 Edition, to classify its difference from the Rebooted Edition coming soon. Its paperback edition will also remain for now. I may eventually archive it if it proves too confusing for buyers when the updated edition is released, but I’d rather test this than simply assume this behavior.
Zippywings 2015: A Short Story Collection will remain online for now, only because it has a paperback edition, but it will be recognized as an archived book, no longer to receive updates.
When Cellphones Go Crazy, The Celebration of Johnny’s Yellow Rubber Ducky, Cards in the Cloak, and The Fallen Footwear will all be archived in early 2021. This means they’ll be deleted from every storefront but Smashwords, and they’ll cost $0.99 to read there. But I’ll likely keep them free on my author site (well, the short stories, not Cards in the Cloak).
Also remember that The Celebration of Johnny’s Yellow Rubber Ducky is getting turned into a novel, so it’ll be back soon. Likewise, Cards in the Cloak is getting an expansion and new title, Norman Jensen Cheats Death, so it’ll also be back soon.
The Fallen Footwear will be rewritten as a novel eventually, but I don’t know when. It’ll be archived for now regardless.
When Cellphones Go Crazy is going to the archives and staying there. It’s already been expanded and repackaged as When Cellphones Make Us Crazy, so there’s no reason to keep it out in the open.
I believe that covers everything for now. Hopefully you got whichever books you want, or will before the New Year.
Let me know if you have any questions.
Oh, and here’s the cover for my NaNoWriMo 2020 story, if you’re interested:
Do you find yourself getting overwhelmed by the bells and whistles that Microsoft Word, Scrivener, or other countless writing apps throw at your feet? Do you wish there was a writing app out there that could strip away the distractions and just put you in the mood for writing? Do you wish that such an app was available to you for free?
Well, it’s a website that can store your writing in the cloud. All you do is show up, pick your theme, select a music track if you want background ambience, then get to writing. There’s even an option to save your work as a text file to your Downloads page if you want to transfer your work to another app for formatting once you’re finished or want to start a new project in the same theme.
It’s really as simple as that.
But what it can’t do is store your entire project in any meaningful way, or retain formatting of any kind, at least not as recently as version 3.0. Therefore, my advice is do your distraction-free scene or section writing in Frost, save to your drive (via text file) once you’re done with your current session, then open your note in MS Word or whatever formatting/editing tool you use for revision and storage, make your quick edits to retain your style and/or emphases (italics, bold, etc.) while you’re thinking about them, then go back to Frost, delete the session, and start over again with the next scene or idea.
Or, maybe just copy/paste your Frost writing to your MS Word document or whatever you use for formatting, since saving to a text file will also eliminate your paragraphs, which you probably won’t want to do. You could save to the text file as a backup or if you’re using Frost only to write your tweets before sending them.
It may not be the most efficient way to manage your work, but it’s a darn good way to make sure the work gets done. The music that comes packaged with Frost Writer will get you in the mood every time. Even if you write in your app of choice but leave Frost’s soundtrack on in the background, you can still get in the mood. However, the advantage of writing inside of Frost is you get to use its specialized thematic backgrounds to keep you in the mood. Are you writing a historical novel and need to write directly on the vellum page? Then Frost Writer’s “Vintage” theme is your choice. Or are you crafting your romantic scene and you’re about as romantic as a tree stump? Then select the “Love” theme and discover your attractive side with the pastel shades and romantic comedy score that makes you forget just how bad you are at romance.
I mean, if it works for me…
There’s even an RPG theme called “Room” that gives you a study room background and your choice of four individual or combined sound effects: coffeehouse background, grandfather clock, thunderstorm, and fireplace. Pick one, or pick them all. The choice is yours.
But Frost Writer isn’t the only free app available to those of you who want to write or study in the mood. There’s also a program called Virtual Cottage that you can find on the gaming sites Steam and Itch.io.*
Virtual Cottage is not like Frost Writer. There’s no writing involved here. It’s strictly a background program that sets a timer and plays music while you study, read, do the laundry, or whatever you’re doing that you’d normally find boring or otherwise unappealing. Once the timer expires, it plays a sound effect, telling you it’s time to stop (provided you check the box, which I forgot to do for the screenshot).
The nice thing about Virtual Cottage is that you set the parameters and make yourself accountable to them. Do you want to read for 20 minutes? Then say so on the project page, adjust your timer, and hit “Start.” Don’t stop until the timer rings. Do you want to study during a rainstorm? Then select the atmosphere button and listen to the pitter-patter of raindrops as you hit the books. Do you want 90 minutes of uninterrupted chill music (or is it 15—I can’t remember now) while you organize your filing cabinet? Then click the music note and submerge yourself into that sweet coffeehouse vibe.
And you can do it all for free.
At the end of the day, isn’t that what you really want in a productivity app?
Let me know in the comments below if you’ve used these apps and how they’ve helped you improve your productivity.
Oh, and if you want to see these in action, I’ve featured them in this week’s video review. Check it out.
As always, like and subscribe below. And if you want to stay up-to-date with all of my latest articles, videos, books, and so on, please join my new newsletter, available now. And don’t forget that my official author site will be live to the public soon.
Thanks for reading.
*To run games and apps on Steam, you need to first download and install the Steam App. Consult the header on its store page for more information on how to do that.
If you’re writing a novel for National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short, then you probably should’ve started already. But if you’re still warming up to the idea, or if you just want to use November as a warm-up month and go for the main event in December (because why do you need a month to tell you what to do?), then you’ll probably want to start planning for it.
Unless you’re a discovery writer (or organic, or pantser, or whatever your label of choice—it’s all the same), which is perfectly fine, you may want a plotting tool to help you prepare.
Have you heard of Plottr yet? I’ve probably mentioned it on this blog already, but in case I haven’t, it works like this:
You “create a book” on a series page, give it a title, tagline, short synopsis, and series number (standalones get “1” as their number), and if you have cover art finished, you can attach it to a 3D mockup. Then you click on the book you want to work on and enter the construction zone (my term, not theirs).
Inside the construction zone, you can begin planning your book by creating a timeline, list of characters and places, and establishing keywords to mark important metadata.
Sounds simple and basic, right?
That’s kind of the point. It’s simple. But hardly basic.
Once you enter the timeline, you can create plots and subplots, establish chapters and scenes within those chapters, character arcs, etc., but you can also color code everything, insert characters and places inside the scene cards (while also describing them), and tag to your heart’s content.
And best of all, you can import premade templates from some of your favorite story structure devices, including the Hero’s Journey, Save the Cat!, and most recently, the Snowflake Method. In fact, you can also import your existing Snowflake Pro file directly into Plottr (as of October 23rd). So, if you’d rather use an established method over your own, you have plenty to choose from (at least a dozen different structure and beat types).
For creating characters, you can import a template or create (and save) your own. For places, you can do the same. For items…well, that part isn’t available yet, but Plottr is adding new features all the time, so I’d expect to see that available soon enough. You can actually see their active roadmap here, as well as post your own suggestions.
But since this is a review, I think it’s fair to list some of its problems:
It’s still a work-in-progress, so it’s missing some options that are sorely needed, including custom sorting inside of character and place menus, as well as the ability to update your existing template with new entries without having to create a new template (and forgetting which version number you’re saving to now). It doesn’t have features for tracking items, nor does it prepopulate with expected tags like “inciting incident” or “main character” or any of the elements that most writers would like to have available. And, well, it’s an outlining tool, not a writing tool, so you’ll still need another program to do the actual writing.
But it does have an interactive timeline with adjustable boxes, and that’s probably all you really need, especially if you’re coming from other story development software that maybe don’t have as good or intuitive of a timeline feature. It doesn’t track actual time, though, but I think it’s coming, maybe (check the roadmap to be sure). It also has an outline view that you can export to your preferred writing app, as long as it’s Microsoft Word or Scrivener, so you don’t have to worry about switching back and forth as you write.
And don’t forget to check out Plottr’s templates if you give it a try. The premade templates are there to increase its value and usefulness, and I highly recommend you look into them if you’re not sure how to start.
Finally, there is a 30-day trial available, and if you do commit to the purchase (and you should because it’s my favorite story developing app so far), it’s just $25 for the program and a year of free updates ($37 if you want Windows and Mac access). You’ll have to renew that fee after the first year to keep getting updates, but you’re not required to buy it a second time to keep using it. If you’re happy with its functionality by the end of your subscription period, you can keep using that version indefinitely.
So, there’s no reason not to give it a try, unless you’re really, really broke. And if that’s your situation, I hope it gets better soon.
Also, if you want a video demonstration of Plottr, you can check out its tutorials on Plottr’s website (recommended) or my review on my YouTube channel (also recommended).
Don’t forget to like, subscribe, and comment below if this article has helped you, entertained you, or kept you from starting your honey-do list.
P.S. I may be uploading some of my own character and place attributes templates here soon.
National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short, is right around the corner. Chances are, if you plan to participate this year, you’ve already started getting your materials together. But my question for you is, have you decided how you’re going to write your novel?
“Er, I’ll probably type it. How else would I do it?”
Okay, not exactly the answer to my question. Of course you’ll type it. But will you type it in Microsoft Word, Scrivener, or some other software? Do you plan to write it on your desktop or laptop? Or will you pull an E. L. James and type it on your phone while sitting by a pool (in November, mind you)?
Well, if you plan to type on Microsoft Word, a dedicated fiction app, or your window of great distraction (phone), I can’t help you. But if you plan to type it on Scrivener…
It’s my NaNoWriMo Basic Template, which I created last year for my work-in-progress Washed Up: A Pirate Adventure, and you can now download it directly from Drinking Café Latte at 1pm. In fact, you can check it out, along with some of my other templates, right here on my new writing template page. If you see anything else you like (and the list will be very small as of this writing), all you have to do is click the link, read the full description to make sure it’s right for you, then click the download (from Google Drive, if that matters).
Then after you try it out, come back to the description page and leave a comment letting me know what you think.
Hope it works out for you.
So without further ado, jump on over the new templates page and give it a try. And if you want, check out my other Scrivener template, Story Planning General (still a work-in-progress), if you like obsessive planning and complete from-scratch-to-published design work (read: insanity). It’s another way to bring your story from idea to “What Have I Done?” status.
Once again, if you want to participate in NaNoWriMo this year, check out my Scrivener template, NaNoWriMo Basic Template. It’s good stuff.
Writing a novel is no straightforward process, in spite of what the “experts” may say.
Okay, the experts, whoever they are, make no actual claim that writing a novel is straightforward, though the pantsers (like me) will argue that it comes pretty close, given that we start at the beginning and drive toward the ending, discovering as much as we can along the way (hardly straightforward, even though the momentum is almost always forward). In reality, of course, writing a novel takes planning, dedication, and follow-through, with a heavy dose of insanity—I mean organization—and reaching its proper ending will require seeing it at both the big picture level and the micro-scenic level. In short, writing a novel means you gotta have some foresight. There’s no way around that.
But I didn’t always have a problem with that.
For years, I would just open a document in Microsoft Word, crank out a chapter in a day or two (or sometimes a week if I let it get too large), and move on to the next one, making sure to save it in a folder dedicated to the novel. Once I’d finish the last chapter (usually six weeks to a year later, depending on the novel), I’d read what I have, take notes on what I like and what I don’t, and then move on to the next revision. Then somewhere along the line I’d decide that something doesn’t work, at which point I’d start adding, moving, or removing scenes, relabeling my documents to something better reflective of its current state, and make such an atrocious mess of my work that nothing would make sense anymore, yet I’d somehow bring it back together, and then I’d shelve it for a few years until somebody would ask me if I’ve written anything lately, to which I’d say no, then go back and see if I actually like that old novel that I blew up in the rewrites now, because, hey, somebody reminded me that I should really finish what I started because, hey, I’m not exactly starting on anything new. At that point, I’d take note of the scenes I like, try to rethink the ones I don’t, and then shelve the thing yet again for another few years because now I have no idea where to begin fixing it.
(Okay, I’m referring specifically to my first thriller, Panhandler Underground, which I wrote in 2005 but put on the shelf until a time I could make sense of the main character’s profession. Fortunately, I’ve ordered my copy of the Occupation Thesaurus, out now, and should receive it in the mail soon, so maybe I can finally sort this dude out and get his story back on its proper track.)
Nowadays, I find that organizing a novel is as difficult as writing it, especially when I go back and try to repair the damage I’ve already done to an existing novel, so coming up with a plan to make sense of it all is necessary. But merely going back through all of my Microsoft Word documents and trying to remember where everything is supposed to go is madness when my memory is so bad that I often read a story I like, check the author to see if he’s got anything else I might enjoy, and discover my own name on the front cover. (Okay, this doesn’t happen with my published titles, but it definitely happens with old stories I find in my documents folder. The fact that my name is on it is the only proof I have that I wrote it because I don’t remember a thing about it.) Because this is no way to work, I’ve decided it’s time to implement a new system for organization.
This is where I’ve decided to integrate multiple resources into my writing workflow, each one dedicated to a particular function within the writing process, and each one designed to keep me on track.
For the record, I just put together a video about this, which you can watch for more information, but the short version is this:
If I’m writing a novel from scratch or nuking a story that no longer works in favor of starting over, then I’ll want to begin conceptualizing with the Snowflake Method and using the software dedicated to the Snowflake Method, Snowflake Pro, to accomplish this goal. This will allow me to develop the idea and move it through all ten steps toward a fully-fledged outline.
Next, I’ll want to develop the flowchart and additional character and/or scene details (like setting or items) that Snowflake Pro doesn’t visualize for an alternative way to see the story from a bird’s eye view. I can use Plottr or Campfire Pro (or Plot Factory or some other story planning software) to create the visual map, as well as fill in the additional details that Snowflake Pro doesn’t cover. If I use actual maps (created with Campaign Cartographer 3+, for example), then I’ll want to use a program like Campfire Pro to tie my maps to their descriptions. Using these programs, I can create the world and backstory I need to understand my characters and their motivations better, as well as to keep track of the nitpicky items in their lives that I’ll want to remember and quickly access at some point.
Once I have a clue what the story is about, then I can start writing my scenes in Microsoft Word. Or, if I’m revising an existing story, I can write whichever scenes are still missing.
Note: If I’m revising a novel, which is my case for The Computer Nerd, I probably won’t use the first two development steps unless I need to go for a complete rewrite, which is currently my case for The Fallen Footwear. The exception would be if I wanted to create an outline or summary or synopsis of an existing novel for verification of its integrity or for various marketing purposes. I would also map an existing novel if I know I’m going to write a sequel, as having a snapshot of the previous story would be immensely helpful in developing a new chapter for its characters, because, you know, my memory sucks.
Once I’ve written my scenes, I can move them into Scrivener, where I can then write notecard summaries and provide status labels to help me determine whether the scene is in its proper location and achieving its proper goal. From the notecard view, I can make a more informed judgment about whether the existing work is, in fact, working.
So, that’s the current workflow I’m using to either write or revise my novels. Are you a writer? What’s your workflow? Let me know in the comments below.
You can also check out my video demonstration below:
Nearly any activity that contains the word “free” as a prefix will likely function in this same way. It’s a method that leads primarily to the clarity of ideas.
Quick question: When was the last time you got in your car and drove around town without a goal? How much gas did you spend on completing the circuit? What about time? Did you stop anywhere for a sandwich? Did you meet anyone interesting along the way? Would the drive have been any better or worse if you had a destination in mind?
If you’ve ever gotten in your car and drove without a destination, why?
Take a second to think about that.
Now, I know that driving without a destination has a similar emotional purpose as going for a walk or painting a picture or doing anything that allows you to clear your head. It’s therapeutic. But where did you go? Anywhere? What does your painting look like? Any progress to show for it?
Even though walking has its primary goal rooted in exercise and painting has the purpose of creating art, these activities also have the secondary purpose of offering you clarity of a situation, especially when freethinking during the core activity leads to new ideas, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s a bonus side effect to the therapeutic goal you’re trying to achieve, which is to make yourself or your art look better. Now you can also think better.
If you’ve done any amount of relaxing activity, you know this is true.
So with that said, here’s a free idea to think about:
Nearly any activity that contains the word “free” as a prefix will likely function in this same way. It’s a method that leads primarily to the clarity of ideas.
Freewriting is one such activity that carries this exact purpose. Makes the practice attractive to most writers.
The problem, however, is that most writing instructors teach freewriting as an exercise for oiling the writing engine, as a means to get into the mood before getting into the project or as a means for figuring out what you want to write about, and not so much about what makes freewriting useful. It sounds noble on the surface. But it can also sound like a waste of time if you misuse it.
Now for a confession. As a writer, I must say that I hate freewriting. I often find that there’s not much point to it. If I want to write, I go right for the story, just as I would go right for my destination when getting into the car and turning on the engine.
But as a writer, I also find that some efforts to write compelling prose goes wasted because I haven’t developed the proper skill that would allow me to keep the prose effective. This is where freewriting might serve a useful purpose.
Case in point: To this day, I still have trouble showing character emotions through any action not involving the eyes or the mouth. In the heat of developing a scene, I want to capture the thrill of the moment without obsessing over the character’s reactionary expressions, and the eyes and the mouth are the cheapest sources to exploit. Once the scene is finished and I have time to review each character’s actions and reactions, I realize that I have nothing new to add. It’s not because I don’t need to make changes—I always need to change something—but it’s because I haven’t developed the skill to make that specific improvement.
For example, according to The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, a reaction to fright (under the definition for “fear”), which I might show through “widening eyes” or an “agape mouth,” can also be shown through clammy hands or a move toward escape (and whatever props are necessary to convey this), or any number of additional actions or reactions that are specific to that character.
Of course, in the heat of writing, I might not initially think of this, nor would I likely crack open The Emotion Thesaurus to find the proper expression to add authenticity to the first draft of the scene. But at some point I need to go back and add in the detail that best shows what the character is feeling rather than simply telling the reader what he or she is feeling.
While it’s certainly valid to practice this skill on my actual novel, just as it’s valid to practice my driving skills while trying to get to a particular destination, there’s something to be said about using freewriting as the canvas for developing this skill, since freewriting has no other purpose but to generate thoughts and ideas prior to committing to the project.
For example, if I want to get better at creating character expressions, I can start by writing a disembodied scene that features a character I know nothing about who emotes really, really well, and learn from the experience. I can even use The Emotion Thesaurus to help me craft the scene:
Bob drove his fingernail under the edge of the envelope and cracked it open. Ignoring his impulse to rip the whole thing apart, he merely peeked into the gap and caught a glimpse of something pink. He flipped the envelope over. It was his name on the front. But he didn’t recognize the return address.
The envelope leapt out of his hand and landed on the desk. Or maybe he tossed it. But whatever happened, Bob pushed himself away from the desk and considered leaving the room.
The problem was that today was his birthday, but he didn’t know the person who was sending him the birthday card, nor did he know why they were sending it to him. The fact that it was his birthday wasn’t good enough for him to trust the source. Was he being watched somehow?
Hopefully the emotion is clear: I’m indicating Bob’s suspicion of the sender (and the card).
My impulse is to give him “narrowing eyes” when he stares at the card. I’ve got plenty of examples where a character has this exact reaction to something equally suspicious. In fairness, The Emotion Thesaurus lists this “narrowing eyes” expression at the top of its action list for “suspicion,” maybe because it’s the most obvious character response. But it also lists “retreating or keeping at a safe distance” as a possible reaction. For some characters, this might be a ridiculous reaction. For Bob, it’s a perfectly suitable one. And that’s the point, and that’s why I use it instead of “Bob narrowed his eyes at the envelope.” This reaction is not only used less often than “narrowing eyes,” but it says something about Bob’s response to items he doesn’t understand. I could use this example as a baseline for additional reactions to other items or situations throughout the story that Bob may interact with. In short, Bob is jumpy, and now I know that. If I saved this scene for the heat of the moment, I might’ve missed that idea and found myself writing an inconsistent character when, in the next scene, he sees a suspicious object and runs toward it.
Freewriting a standalone scene that has no stake in my story won’t move my story forward, but it can at least help me understand my character better.
So, my message today is simply this: If you lack a particular writing skill, use freewriting to fine-tune it. It’ll make implementation into your important projects much easier and you less prone to stalled writing as you try to think of the perfect way to communicate an idea. Because, let’s face it, sometimes we can’t recapture the heat of the moment in the rewrite, no matter how good we are at faking it.
And for one more note of clarity: You don’t really need to use freewriting for any other purpose. If you can’t warm your engines on your actual novel, then maybe your novel isn’t ready to be written.
Thanks for reading. Be sure to check out Angela Ackerman and Bella Puglisi’s thesaurus series to improve your knowledge base. They’ve got a new one about occupations coming out in two weeks, and like their other thesauri, it looks promising. I highly recommend their books.
I also highly recommend that you subscribe to this blog because you learn things here. Usually. Sometimes.