October 27, 2013

I Love It When a Plan Comes Together

About ten months ago I wrote something about planning versus pantsing. In this article I was hell-bent-and-determined that I was a pantser and would be forever that's just the way it is no question about it thank you very much and good night.

To recap, there are two basic camps when it comes to writing: plotters, those who plot out their story ahead of time; and pantsers, those who fly by the seat of their pants and wing it.

Well, since then I've managed to write a lot of blog posts (none of them really planned out to any degree before I sat down to write them), written a few odd things here or there that haven't amounted to anything, and I've got within five thousand words (or so) of finishing the first draft of my first novel. What was interesting about the novel is that any progress I made over the summer was entirely due to the fact that I started mapping things out.

Was my obsession with organization and planning spilling over into my writing? It appeared so, but what did it mean? Well, for starters it meant that it's entirely possible NaNoWriMo wouldn't be a complete bust this year. Intriguing. But, it also meant that my excuse list for not finishing my first novel was down to a single item: laziness. Hmm.

Let's focus on National Novel Writing Month (http://nanowrimo.org) instead of the laziness.

NaNoWriMo is upon us and this year I have a plan. Well, I have a plan for a plan. Two NaNos ago I did not even have that much. Life intervened and derailed my writing and I couldn't get back on track. Last year, I finished but it was an exhausting effort and took more discipline than I thought I had in me. This year, now this year is going to be different. I can feel it. At a minimum I will have all the main points I want to cover written down and in some order. This way, if life intervenes and writing gets derailed at least I'll have an idea of what's left so I can start chipping away at it.

Naturally, I started out with the idea that I would map out this book in excruciating detail with oodles of back story and character development and all that fancy stuff, but to be honest it started to feel a lot like work and it started to resemble real life, so I scaled it back. I write because I have stories to tell, and I take a great amount of joy in crafting them on the fly. If I were to map them all out piece by piece I don't know if I'd enjoy writing them as much as I do. I haven't missed a week of blogging this entire year and the only plan I had was a few post subjects queued up. After that, each post came together in the moment, and it was a lot of fun.

For another novel though? Well, at least at this point in time I don't think that's going to cut it. Not if I want to make thirty days of writing 1,667 words a day a little less manic than it was a year ago. Even if it's just a few bullet points that read "MC freaks out" or "Antagonist does something antagonizing" at least I'll have something to work with.

So, whether you've mapped out everything for NaNo from start to finish, have no plan at all and are just going to wing it, or if you're somewhere in between, I wish you good writing! Look for me on Twitter and Facebook for word sprints and support:

~ Andrew

Thanks to http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/ for the use of the following images:
  • "Row of hanged blue jeans in a shop" courtesy of foto76
  • "Tired Man" courtesy of graur codrin

October 20, 2013

Continued Tales...

... from the other, other Cambridge

... from a bar

... from Rhode Island

... (and from the road, again)

This is the thrilling conclusion to my 2000 km solo road trip to the North East United States (and back). What began with an absolutely fabulous Pearl Jam concert in Buffalo and a visit with one of my favourite writers in a wee town so far out of the way in New York that Ithaca can be heard saying, "Where is that place anyway?" continued on without incident and spectacular weather - until the border and my last 90 minutes of driving.

First, after visiting Gordon Bonnet I was treated to a 6 hour drive to Cambridge, Massachusetts - some of it along I-88. Where's I-88 you ask? It's a good question, and one I received a lot (apparently not many folks make the Binghamton to Schenectady run these days):

There's our friend Ithaca way out on the left. Bahsten sitting wicked awesome on the right. Thanks to Google for the map.

Honestly, with most of the drive along I-90 it wasn't too bad, especially when you have scenery like this to stare at the whole way:

Yellows were prominent along I-88. I dub thee "The Golden Highway".

Anyway, on with the travels. I was visiting a lifelong friend of mine in Cambridge, MA (I can't possibly keep typing that state out in full) and every time I visit we go do a few touristy things that I haven't done before. I love museums and history and such, but being Columbus Day there wasn't a lot open. We went to Walden Pond where I could have stayed taking pictures all day and then some.

A lone maple leaf floats at the edge of Walden Pond.

The afternoon was filled with more fun and excitement as I got to fill my sports and history void all in one shot with a tour of Fenway Park! It wasn't a game day but Major League Baseball had control of the field so we weren't allowed in the dugout or on the field, but the view from atop the Green Monster is something to behold.

Panoramic view of Fenway as seen from the Green Monster

For those keeping track, I promised fun times and beverages with some pretty awesome writers on this trip. Do not despair! My first full day in Cambridge, MA ended with a trip to the Cambridge Brewing Company with none other than the author of The Prodigal's Foole, R.B. Wood. This is a guy I've only interacted with on Facebook and Twitter and meeting him in real life was a thrill. I'm not just saying that because he bought me dinner.

Richard likes beer and was drinking a dark ale, I believe.
I'm the pretentious ass at the beer place drinking red wine.

Tuesday was a pretty laid back day hanging with my bud and his 14 month old son. No need to go into much detail except to say that it was great to spend some quality time with my friends in my favourite city in America. Oh, we went to the aquarium where I managed to take this picture:

Please caption it!

Wednesday brought a short drive into Rhode Island. I'd only ever driven through it once before and happened to blink so I didn't really see much of it. Make no mistake, even though people like to use "... the size of Rhode Island" as an expression it's actually pretty big (you're welcome, RI tourism).

While the state is small in size and population it is home to at least one seriously good writer, and I got to meet him! Alex Kimmel is a native Californian that through a series of interesting events has ended up in a quaint little town in the middle of Rhode Island. If you're looking for a scary book to read check out The Key to Everything. Right now it's sitting at #4 in its genre on Amazon, after two Stephen King novels and ahead of another King and an Anne Rice. I told you he was good.

A great guy, great writer, and #4 on the Amazon horror list - and me on the left.

So there you have it. Wednesday night was spent staying at a cousin's place in Connecticut and Thursday was a looooooonng drive home. With no tolls and no stopping for food and gas and no border crossing and no traffic Google says it's 7 hours and 58 minutes. It turns out that not many people live in this Utopian Google Land of Perfection and it took me a full 10 hours. Again, with the awe inspiring beauty that are the fall colours of New England and upstate New York it felt like a lot less.

Wishing you all happy travels and good writing!

~ Andrew

October 13, 2013


... from the road!

This week I'm at the beginning of a mini vacation and whirlwind meet 'n greet tour of a number of wonderful places in the northeastern United States... and Buffalo. With special Fan Club tickets to the Pearl Jam show in Buffalo on Saturday night, airline tickets being what they are, and me with my new fuel efficient Mazda 3 (Sport, with SkyActiv technology), I made the executive decision a few weeks ago to drive from Buffalo to Cambridge, Massachusetts while making a stop in upstate New York to visit my friend and fellow blogger/writer Gordon Bonnet (his twitter handle is @TalesOfWoah and his blog is Skeptophilia).

But before that I had a few things to sort out. Step one is getting across the border. Last time I made the trip I was harangued at the Peace Bridge by an overzealous guard. In addition to the usual "What's the purpose of your trip? Where are you staying?" questions the following exchange occurred: 

Guard: "How do you know your friend?
Me: "We grew up together." 
Guard: "So you've lived in the United States?" 
Me: "No he used to live in Canada?" 
Guard: "So why is he living in the United States?" 
Me: "He went to grad school in Wisconsin and then got a job in Chicago. He switched jobs and moved to Cambridge. Met a nice girl and got married." 
Guard: "So is that why you're visiting? To get a job?" 
Me: "No sir. I have a job. I just want to visit my buddy." 
[Handing me back my passport] 
Guard: "Have a good trip."


This time the trip across was a lot smoother, even if it did take 45 minutes to complete. With it being the long weekend and with there being a Bills game on Sunday it was amazingly busy. The border guard did rummage through all my stuff and check the wheel wells of my car for contraband but other than that it was uneventful. Oh, a lady a couple rows over was detained for reasons unknown, so I guess that was exciting.

Saturday night was spent in a packed arena in the armpit of America watching one of the most exciting bands of the last two decades. Pearl Jam has graduated from 1990's grunge to good old fashioned Rock and Roll and they put on a show that I certainly won't forget. Smart phones being what they are I managed to capture a few things. Here's a taste (oh yeah, I caught myself a Mike McCready guitar pick too):

Sunday brought a quick 90 minute drive down to see Gordon. It was everything I hoped it would be, and then some. I'll admit it, I have a serious man crush on him and he did not disappoint. Aside from writing a thoroughly entertaining blog, he's written some thoroughly entertaining books, and he's a SCIENCE TEACHER! Anyone who knows me knows that science is my favourite -ence. 

We chatted about writing. We talked about art and creativity. I got to see his son working on his art (glass blowing and other assorted glass creations). He made me a cheese and bacon sandwich. He even let me see his writing hole... er... workspace. He probably has the best window ever for looking out of. The picture doesn't do it justice:


So it's been an eventful weekend to say the least. Tune in next week as I continue my quest to meet as many writers as possible. With any amount of luck I'll get to tell you what Richard B. Wood drinks at the pub, what kind of flooring is in Alex Kimmell's house, and where A.J. Aalto's favourite place is to dump a body.

Stay tuned!

~ Andrew

October 06, 2013

The Great Distraction

I am not giving you parenting advice. I'm going to repeat that just so I don't get a mass of overly defensive wingnut parents ripping me a new one on my blog or on Reddit: I am NOT telling anyone how they should raise their child. Okay, now that we have that out of the way I'd like to share an observation about something I have noticed over the years:

There are some people out there who are remarkably good at keeping children distracted.

I was thinking about this at swimming lessons with the kids last week. Neither child was in an area of the pool that I could see particularly well so I'm on my iPhone just jotting down ideas for future writing and waiting for one of my kids to come into view (my kids are a little older so I'm not sitting with my face pressed to the glass and quiet clapping / waving / thumbs upping at every fart bubble they produce).

A small child, probably 3 or 4 years old was bored out of her mind waiting for her older brother to finish his swim lesson. The viewing area was absolutely packed with parents and this child was clearly seconds away from pitching a fit of epic proportions. I mean this kid was about to seriously explode. I've seen that look before. Every parent has. My first instinct was to plug my ears and duck.

Then, an amazing thing happened. The older woman wrangling the child, cool as a cucumber, pulled a pencil and random scrap of paper out of her purse, handed them to the child and said, "Hey sweetie, can you help Nana? I need lines drawn all over this piece of paper. It's really important. Can you draw lines all over this for me?"

I'll be damned if the kid didn't just sit down right there in the middle of the floor and start scribbling all over the piece of paper. She did this for a solid ten minutes, every so often looking up and showing her work to Nana, who would smile and pat her on the head and say something like "Wonderful! Keep going! You're such a good helper."

Based on my observations at swimming, and throughout the last decade of hanging out in places where there are a ton of small children (Gymboree, the library, various parks & playgrounds, the mall) I have identified the two main groups of people that are insanely good at keeping a restless child sufficiently distracted: teachers and grandmothers.

That's not to say that there aren't a whole host of other people out there who are capable of keeping a child occupied for a few minutes when you need them to, it's just that this is a particular skill that you're either professionally trained in, or have honed over decades on your own.

The rest of us, well let's just say that many have difficulty channelling it into anything productive. What not enough people realize that you're exercising the same muscle group in procrastinating as you are in keeping a child occupied.

Even fewer realize that it's the same skill you need to get some ideas down on a page and start writing. If being wrong looks a lot like being right, then distraction looks a lot like discipline. This is what sets successful writers apart from all the rest of us. It isn't a particularly new concept, but it is one that you can easily grasp by comparing the kid that wants to pitch a fit with the ominous blank page staring you in the face:

Stop Kid From Pitching Fit
Write Something
Kid is bored!
I am lazy!
Distract the kid
Distract your mind (huh, what?)
Find something, anything, to get the kid's mind off of whatever boring non-event you've dragged them to
Find something, anything, to get your mind focused on whatever writing you need to accomplish 
Why It Works:
You have given the child a purpose. Kids like accomplishing things: "Look what I did!" They also like pleasing grownups: "I helped Nana!"
Why It Works:
You have given your distraction a purpose. You like accomplishing things. You also like pleasing yourself... er... never mind

It's surprising how simple this is to accomplish. Here's a quote from Henry Ford:

"Whether you think that you can, or that you can't, you are usually right."

You see, it's all about the end goal. A while back I made my goal "idea generation". With this in mind I watched two consecutive hours of Jerry Seinfeld's Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee but the whole time I had the goal of "idea generation" at the front of my mind. Watching creative people interact in a humorous way got my creative juices flowing. By the end of it I had blog topics mapped out for the rest of the year.

Distract with the right intent and you've turned procrastination into dedication.

Apply the same logic to whatever you need for your work in progress. If you need a crime to occur then go to the internet and read about some of the best unsolved capers. If you need a way to kill someone, go to YouTube and search "epic fail". The list goes on and on. Just make sure that you've got your WIP handy and ready to go. Soon, you'll find that you're not paying as much attention to your distractions. You probably won't even notice it's happening, but what you will notice is that you've got a nice messy page filled with words, and you'll feel good about that.

You can even work in a little reward system. For me, once I had my ideas all jotted down I flipped to some Louis C.K. stand-up for nothing but a cheap laugh. You can make the reward whatever you want, just don't make the reward the goal. The goal is to get your work done. The goal is the main course and the reward is just the nice little treat at the end of your meal. Besides, everyone knows that if you listen to Nana she might just have a treat for you hiding in her purse.

~ Andrew

Thanks to http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/ for the use of the following images: