Resource Review: “The Kick-Ass Writer” by Chuck Wendig

Resource Review: “The Kick-Ass Writer” by Chuck Wendig

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

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Author: Chuck Wendig

Published: November 2014 by Writer’s Digest Books

Genres: Nonfiction, Writing Skills, Authorship, Creative Writing & Composition

Edition Details: 282 pages, trade paperback

Source: {Purchased – Used}

Rating: {3.5/5 stars}

First Glance

I’d seen Pinterest pins of various quotes from this book, particularly during the NaNoWriMo season. Considering his mouth (foul words and verbal slaps in the face), I knew I’d likely be both amused and annoyed with Wendig’s style.

Positive Bits

I love lists! A list forces a writer to be concise and to really make sense of their thoughts. Listmaking is one of my favorite writing tools, both for vague story outlines and for stretching my creative writing muscles.

Between the jokes and silly metaphors, Wendig built a legitimate collection of writing tips I think any author could benefit from. Actually, I love the fact that the book’s lists make quoting Wendig’s points so easy! After all, every statement is numbered.

Wendig’s voice is approachable. There is no master-student dynamic in this book. Instead, he gives you that smartass friend who’s telling you all about his opinions. If nonfiction usually bores you to tears, it’s likely due to a teacher’s tone being used throughout the text. Some people just learn better from peers.

Less Enjoyable Bits

One list is fun. A dozen lists can still be entertaining. But 282 pages of lists? I’m sure it made writing the book itself much easier, but lists with the exact same format can get a bit mind-numbing.

Wendig ended up with a lot of repetition and contradiction between his lists. For example, he discussed how a plot generally needs a beginning, middle, and end on a list only to repeat that point again on another list a few pages later (maybe with a new joke). At the same time, he’d mention how you have to know how the story ends, except that you don’t have to know until you get there, but be sure to write the ending first, unless you don’t. It was a little frustrating.

I think that Wendig’s humor is best ingested in small amounts, like rich chocolate cake. Too much, and you just get sick of it. To be fair, though, I expected to end up feeling this way by the end of the book; I follow his blog, so I’m well aware of his voice and how I react to it.

Tidbits Worth Repeating

Stop Running Away: Right here is your story. Your manuscript. Your career. So why are you running in the other direction? Your writing will never chase you – you need to chase your writing. If it’s what you want, pursue it.

{page 53}

Stories Have Power: Outside the air we breathe and the blood in our bodies, the one thing that connects us modern humans today with the shamans and emperors and serfs and alien astronauts of our past is a heritage – a lineage – of stories. Stories move the world at the same time they explain our place in it. They help us understand ourselves and those near to us. Never treat a story as a shallow, wan little thing. A good story is as powerful as the bullet fired from an assassin’s gun. {page 21}

[On why you write]

You do it because you love it.

You do it because you want to be read.

You tell stories because you’re a storyteller. And because stories matter. {page 277}

Is it worth the coin?

Yes – but check out his blog terribleminds first to get a taste of his style. I’m not sure I’d purchase this book full price, but seeing it on a used shelf for a few bucks? Sure. To each their own preferences.

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Resource Review: “Breathing In, Breathing Out” by Ralph Fletcher

Full Title: Breathing In, Breathing Out: Keeping a Writer’s Notebook

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Author: Ralph Fletcher

Published: November 18, 1996 by Heinemann

Genres: Nonfiction, Reference, Studying, Language & Grammar

Edition Details: 112 pages, trade paperback

Source: Purchased – Used

Rating: {3/5 stars}

First Glance

Approaching this book, I made special concessions to its age. Written in 1996, this book was guaranteed to use a different style and voice than modern writing guides; after all, it’s over two decades old!

That said, it surprised me that the book is labeled for ages 5-17 on Amazon. Skimming through the pages, I wouldn’t think of it being aimed any earlier than middle or high school. Maybe a teacher could translate it for easier use?

Positive Bits

As someone who uses a digital journal (outside of this blog) to ramble on and on, Fletcher’s ideas about how to develop a writer’s notebook validate my own practices. It’s one thing to know a process works for you; it’s another to have someone else give you multiple examples of famous authors who do the same process for the same reasons.

I’ve always had a hard time at conceptualizing a writer’s notebook as a whole. I have Pinterest boards with writing quotes and story prompts, but they’re separate from my Google Drive folder of story ideas and scene snippets. While I prefer a digitized “notebook”, Fletcher’s explanations and examples left me intrigued enough to consider switching (at least in part) to a physical notebook.

The sections break the idea of a writer’s notebook into manageable pieces. I appreciate how often he reminds us to play with words until they come naturally, especially in the beginning.

Fletcher’s personal samples of older writings are painful… and yet painfully familiar! We all stumble through writing while we find our voice. One of the challenges (and joys) of looking at our older writings is finding the recyclable ideas among the rubbish.

Less Enjoyable Bits

I didn’t connect to Fletcher’s voice. From the start, I struggled to make myself read more than a handful of pages at a time. For such a short book, it took me two (2!) whole months to finally get to the end.

Fletcher is clearly a poet. We often get caught up in metaphors and imagery when it’s less than helpful. I feel like many of his chapters were weighed down by odd amounts of poetic prose and awkward word choice.

He turned me off when he started complaining about writing prompts and those who swear by them. It felt too much like writer’s elitism, like he’s just too good for such trivial writing exercises. (To be fair, Fletcher moved past that later in the same section, but the impression lingered.)

Tidbits Worth Repeating

Writing puts you in a state of ‘constant composition,’ and this is particularly true of writing in a notebook. Regular notebook writing acts as a wakeup call, a daily reminder to keep all your senses alert. This starts a cycle that reinforces itself. Writing down small details gets you in the habit of seeking out the important small things in your world. These details in turn often lead you to new material you never knew you had. {page 19}

It’s not that I try to write badly in my notebook. But I know I will be doing exactly that, just like countless other writers before me. If you read the notebooks of famous writers you’ll find some wonderful writing, sure enough, but you’ll also find pages and pages of stuff that is surprisingly boring and tedious. In a strange sort of way I find this comforting and even inspiring. {page 56}

The notebook is the place to take care of the writer inside you. To keep the writing flame lit amid the winds of indifference. This is important because nobody else will care about your writing as much as you. {page 84}

Is it worth the coin?

No – at least not at the prices I’ve seen online. The list price is $25, but even the cheaper (used) options are about $6 after shipping. I bought this book used on a dollar book day at our local Half Price Books, so it was probably worth the buck.

Resource Review: “No Plot? No Problem! Novel-Writing Kit” by Chris Baty

Resource Review: “No Plot? No Problem! Novel-Writing Kit” by Chris Baty

Full Title: No Plot? No Problem! Novel-Writing Kit: A Treasure Chest of Tools, Tips, and Righteous Gear to Help You Bash Out a Novel in a Month

baty2

Author: Chris Baty, Founder of National Novel Writing Month

Published: September 2006 by Chronicle Books

Genres: Nonfiction, Writing & Books, Authorship, Writing Skills, Writing Fiction

Edition Details: 48 pages, trade paperback – kit also includes a calendar, daily inspiration cards, coupons and peptalk letters, and the Radiant Badge of the Triumphant Wordsmith

Source: {Purchased – New}

Rating: {5/5 stars}

First Glance

I know I reviewed the original NaNoWriMo book, but I happened to get this kit on clearance at Barnes & Noble somewhere along the way as well. I’ll be brief, as there are few thoughts about this kit that don’t align with my review of the 2004 book.

Positive Bits

Humor is still Baty’s key approach, and it fit well with the pacing of this smaller kit’s book. The activities mentioned as similar to those in the core book, but this kit focuses on the basic details and leaves the actual accomplishment of each activity up to the writer.

I enjoyed the titles and descriptions of people who you might invite to join you. Instead of just suggesting family and friends, Baty takes the time to explain archetypes for each kind of person. A fellow writer. A challenge taker. A book group(ie).

Less Enjoyable Bits

Honestly, there’s a clear echo. The mini book in this kit would easily take the place of purchasing the full No Plot? No Problem! if you were choosing between A or B. You’re losing the history of NaNoWriMo and some depth to the exercises offered, but the basic explanation and guidance for writing a novel in a month are still present.

However, this kit really is the bare bones of NaNoWriMo guidance. It’s good… but not very different from just reading bits and pieces of the peptalk emails you get from NaNoWriMo’s website during November.

Tidbits Worth Repeating

The Radiant Badge of the Triumphant Wordsmith {throughout}

[I just really love the over-the-top name!]

Is it worth the coin?

Yes – I think the kit has been on the clearance shelves of Barnes & Noble for the past year or so. But even at full price, this kit is just playful enough to get you going on your NaNoWriMo adventure. Also, there’s just something extra enjoyable about using a kit rather than just referencing a book.

Resource Review: “No Plot? No Problem!” by Chris Baty

Full Title: No Plot? No Problem! A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days

baty

Author: Chris Baty, Founder of National Novel Writing Month

Published: September 2004 by Chronicle Books (apparently I got a used first edition)

Genres: Nonfiction, Writing &  Books, Authorship, Writing Skills, Writing Fiction

Edition Details: 176 pages, trade paperback

Source: {Purchased – Used}

Rating: {4.5/5 stars}

First Glance

Let’s be real. As someone who’s participated in NaNoWriMo for years, I was destined to enjoy this book. My only first glance impression was that my edition might be quite different from whatever’s being sold now (14 years later). Actually, my wife’s joked about buying me the newest 2014 expanded edition just so I can compare the two!

Positive Bits

Humor is often hit and miss. Baty found a good balance, I think, in using generalized jokes and dorky humor throughout the book, all without crossing the line into anything questionable (i.e. sexist, racist, ageist, etc.).

One activity I loved the idea of is the Magna Carta (and Magna Carta II). The short version is that you make a list of things you love in a story (I) and things you can’t stand (II). Those lists then serve as a guide when you feel a bit listless or lost in your plot. I’ve done this activity before (calling it “reader research”), and I think it’s a marvelous way to really discover both preferences and skills.

The language of this book (and concepts presented) never aim over the head of anyone who can read a chapter book. I think a middle schooler could get just as much use and enjoyment out of this book as their grandparent. Baty’s voice is conversational enough to make reading each chapter feel like a chat over coffee (or cocoa).

Less Enjoyable Bits

Every single time Baty directs the reader to take full advantage of company supplies or time, I cringe. Maybe that worked a decade ago, but many companies now record all emails sent and received (for legal reasons). Personal documents aren’t actually personal. So aside from the questionable ethics of not working at work, you have the reality that today’s companies will be far less naive about your digital activities (and printing). That said, a wireless keyboard and a smartphone can lend more honest opportunities to write on breaks and lunch (while avoiding company resources and time).

This book doesn’t include a lot of suggestions on your process itself. It covers the basics of your word count, your timeline, and then a weekly breakdown of how (he assumes) you’ll feel as the event goes forward. Small stories and side notes from previous NaNoWriMo participants help mediate this absence, but it still left me a little disappointed.

Baty wrote for non-writers. His pep talks and advice are ideal for them… and less useful for the rest of us. I think writers need a different approach, largely because we have a familiarity with the process that also makes us more nervous about success versus failure.

Tidbits Worth Repeating

The biggest thing separating people from their artistic ambitions is not a lack of talent. it’s the lack of a deadline. Give someone an enormous task, a supportive community, and a friendly-yet-firm due date, and miracles will happen. {page 14}

The things that you appreciate as a reader are also the things you’ll likely excel at as a writer. {page 86}

[Talking about people playing sports or videos games for fun on weekends, not to become famous]

They do it because the challenge of the game simply feels good.  They do it because they like to compete, because they like spending time with friends, because it feels really, really nice to just lose themselves in the visceral pleasure of an activity. Novel-writing is just a recreational sport where you don’t have to get up out of your chair. {page 172}

Is it worth the coin?

Yes – I’d even buy this book at full price, and I rarely do that with any book. While I didn’t get as much active assistance from this book as I’d hoped, the history of NaNoWriMo and its bare bones fascinated me.

Book Reviews – in the works

I’m becoming an expert at disappearing for months at a time. Sorry! Consider this an update on my projects, writing goals, and life stuff.

Life Stuff

Last year, I became unemployed in August and spent a month trying to figure out what to do with my life once a terrible retail job was no longer in the picture.

As a result, I poked my nose into Booktube, put together another poetry book, and found a job I enjoyed doing. Working an office job with salary (and amazing benefits) has removed so much stress from my life… and that’s directly evident in my projects and goals since last summer.

To be fair, I disappeared after October… because I started that new job in October. Not a big surprise. I quietly participated in NaNoWriMo 2017 and continued on other writing projects, but I guess I just gave myself some time to adjust to a bazillion changes all at once.

Writing Goals

Since publishing my last poetry book, I’ve been taking a more serious look at my fiction and nonfiction writing projects from previous years. I’m finally in a good place to focus on rewrites and editing and all that other “fun” stuff.

I intend to publish another poetry book by the end of 2018, but other than that, I’m letting a bunch of ideas percolate in the background.

Projects

Aside from writing, I’ve made a focused effort to read through more books we own. I’m writing detailed book reviews for some nonfiction books (mostly books about writing books), and I’ll be sharing those soon. Pinky promise!

Resource reviews are important to me, because some people (like me) can’t stand the idea of investing money in nonfiction books unless they know the book is really worth the coin. Most of mine are used books, but I figure an honest opinion can help others who might be considering a $20 purchase.

 

Writing Projects (in progress) 

I haven’t been posting my poetry for the past month or two, but I’m still writing. For 2017 I decided to make my goal a poem a day; I managed 296 poems in 2016 without a plan, so I’m sure it’s doable. 

Meanwhile, I’ve printed and started sorting the poems I have. My goal is to put together a couple of small poetry books via Amazon’s printing house, so that I can have a physical copy of the project when I’m done. Poetry is one genre I think does poorly in ebook format. 

At the same time, the scam publisher I went through for my first ever book is *finally* releasing my book from contact. Due to their pricing plans and overall crappiness, I haven’t sold any copies since publishing the book in 2009. And back then, most of the purchases were family and friends. Once the book’s free, I’ll convert it to an ebook just to keep it available. 

I’m working on editing my NaNoWriMo story from 2015, because it holds promise. I’ve found a method of reverse outlining to try, so I can find plot holes and rearrange the existing scenes. Slow and steady work, editing is. 

And of course, I’ve got this story idea that’s been percolating for months and finally refused to be ignored. I blame Tumblr. So I’ve started plotting it out, made use of my love for Pinterest by making an inspiration board too. This would be my first non-fanfic story since 2015 as well. About damn time! 

So all in all, this is me. Not sharing, but still creating. 

Random Writer’s Ramblings

I’m planning to try writing about 1,000 words per day in 2015. I got the idea from Novel Notes. The actual focus of the goal is less structured than that, though; I’ll be shooting for 1,000 words per day, but the totals at the end of each month are the real target word count.

For example, January’s goal will be 31,000 words. Ideally, I’d spread that over the course of the entire month, writing that thousand-per-day amount to keep up. Realistically, I’m going to sprint for a couple days, then rest and repeat until I’ve reached my goal. It’s my process, because I do my best writing late a night but can’t stay up late on weekdays due to work. Weekends are my big writing days.

I’ve decided to use my winter break to create a vague outline for next year.

I’m thinking of finally working on a project I’d thought up years ago. You see, I happen to love short stories. I enjoy the intensity of the plot that’s pretty much required for a short work to tell a story. My project idea is a collection of short stories designed to not have happily-ever-afters at the end (or at least not traditionally happy endings).

Another potential project is one of the two (or three) pagan books I’d been thinking needed to be written. They require more research and focus than the fiction project, but at the same time they have premade outlines in the form of my personal experiences and previous thoughts/notes on the ideas.

With the winter break just days away, I look forward to deciding on which projects to work on next year. Having a writing goal gets me writing more often, just like using the Goodreads option for a personal challenge helped me to read at least one book a week for 2014.

Speaking of reading challenges, I’m also considering an interesting twist to my personal goal (which is still just one book a week). There’s this list of book types and topics to read, and I really dig most of the suggestions. I mostly read free ebooks on my Kindle, ones offered by indie authors; I’m sure, though, that I can find books that fit these descriptions.

The best part about these challenges (both writing and reading) is the way their small, easily attainable goals make me feel successful and happy.

That’s part of how I’ve always treated my own, mild depression; I just find things to be good at or complete, and I constantly remind myself of my successes (however small they may be). Getting through NaNoWriMo and winning on my first try was specifically designed to help me move past the end of a long-term relationship and other dramatic changes I had little or no control over in my life at the time.

Overall, I’ve decided to make 2015 a productive and positive year.

Winning NaNoWriMo, and the road ahead

I did it! I successfully wrote 50K words in the month of November. Now I have a relatively horrid rough draft of a story, and access to a cute little digital sticker to prove my writer’s worth.

Honestly, I’m slightly impressed. I was correct to think that it would be similar to writing in my blog daily, so the word count itself wasn’t as killer as it could’ve been. The bigger issue was deciding where to take the story, especially as huge parts were redone in the middle; I found myself wanting to go back and redo the entire beginning just to correct it all, but I resisted the siren’s call of editing and pushed through to the end instead.

I haven’t reread it yet, either. I was using multiple small documents due to where and when I was writing, so I never had a chance to see everything all together. I figure I’ll wait until our winter break to go back and read that I vomited onto the keyboard; maybe I can salvage a story out of the wreckage? We’ll see.

In the meantime, I’ve been able to pursue intellectual efforts (code word for studying when it doesn’t involve school work). I’m working on runes right now, having finally heard them talk to me. It only took a decade for them to call my name! I’ve had the shapes and names memorized for ages, because I used them for code in high school; however, it was only recently that they held allure as a divinatory tool. I’ve been studying Greek spirituality for so long that it feels weird to move over to the Norse pantheon, but it’s a comfortable kind of weird that comes with immersion into something new.

Back in 2006, I remember studying a bit about Seax Wica. It’s a branch of Wicca created loosely around the Norse pantheon, and I found myself really attracted to many of its key ideas. For example, one maxim would be “Love is the Law, Love is the bond.” I couldn’t connect to the gods of the pantheon at the time, but the rituals and such really spoke to me. Just a few years ago, I also studied the Asatru traditions for my comparative theology paper. Again, certain aspects resonated with me (the Nine Noble Virtues, for example) and stayed in my mind long after I was done researching the topic.

And so, we circle back.

Halfway(+) through NaNoWriMo

This is a personal sigil for Inspiration. Because why not!

This is a personal sigil for Inspiration. Because why not! See the original sigil instructions here.

I’m taking a small break from writing for NaNoWriMo, mostly to let my character decide what’s going to happen next. I forgot how fun it is to let them tell the story! They even name themselves; one quirky lady tossed her nickname at me before running off to cause a ruckus!

I’ve reached about 30,000 words today. Yesterday was an allergies-and-Benadryl night, so I didn’t write anything. Thankfully, though, it’s been a slow day at work and I’ve had a muse whispering over my shoulder.

I’m surprised at where my story has gone. I’d originally allowed (begrudgingly) a small amount of romance into the plot, largely unwanted by me personally. However, the main characters ran with it, had a hot tryst, and then leapt straight into a plot of deep intrigue and political drama (a pleasant surprise).

Now I’m looking at a couple of random people who popped up, trying to figure out who they are. Are you a good guy or a bad guy? Do you plan to make this some corny love triangle (oh gods, please no!), or are you here to help the OTP get back together? Do any of you plan to die?

NaNoWriMo is helping my process, actually. Instead of struggling through pages and pages of writing until I’m drained dry, I usually write about one or two scenes a day during the scheduled word count. That means most of my scenes start and end concisely, without too much rambling or wandering off in a weird direction. It also means I’m never at a loss for a stopping point; when a scene ends, my writing ends for the day.

That might sound bad, my creative process thrives on sprints rather than long deluges of words across the screen. Most days I easily write a couple thousand words before stopping. It’s highly satisfying!

On a side note, I’ve also been surprised by how easily I shut up my inner editor. She’s much nicer than she once was! If I see myself using the same word for the hundredth time, but I’d remind her that we’d find a better synonym later and she’d hush right up. The same goes with “said” over and over, or scenes where the descriptive parts are a hot mess; she accepts that I’ll get back to it later.

Halfway through the NaNoWriMo month, I’m feeling confident and creative. That’s what this is all about!

NaNoWriMo is almost here!

This year I will win!

This year I will win!

NaNoWriMo starts this weekend! YAY!

With all of the emotional crap I’m dealing with in my personal life, I’m seriously looking forward to diving into an alternate reality for a while. This is the first year that I won’t be in the middle of a move, so there are *no* excuses to not participate.

I had a funny epiphany, though.I did a word count on half a dozen of my blog posts. In a little 30-45 minute jot, I often write up between 600-1000 words. That’s just by rambling into the aether!

With this event, though, I’ll be able to focus that pouring of words toward a story (which I should’ve already been doing, but I’m lazy and have bad habits). I don’t think I’ll have any issues, since I’m only looking at the length of two blog posts per day; considering the prep I’ve done, I’m sure that’ll be easy!

Speaking of prep, I still have bits I want to do. I’ve researched and built a nice little world, but I want to get a vague, one-page outline of my story (or at least one character’s arch) written out before Saturday. I’ve bounced between ideas, from a story of self-discovery to a story of two unlikely people becoming friends (corny, but it has more depth in context).

Another piece of random prep is creating a calendar. I want a physical one for my bedroom door, so I can mark off my word counts daily (and weekly) to be sure I’m on track. I’m in a mood right now where step-by-step processes are my jam. I saw a few interesting calendars online via DeviantArt, but I think I’d rather do my own and add quotes and junk. I’ll probably make it tomorrow during lunch, just to be sure it gets done before we start writing.

Of things I’ve managed to nail down for my story, I can say… I’m going to write something in third-person. It’ll probably be third-person limited, which is basically third-person from a specific person’s perspective, allowing you to keep stuff from the reader because an observer following your main character wouldn’t have been informed or witnessed your secret thing. It’s used in a ton of the books I’ve enjoyed reading, and it’s more relatable than first person for many of the people I know. It’s really hard for a male to get into the head of a female protagonist if she’s first-person (and visa versa); meanwhile, it’s relatively easy to step out of oneself and become an observer of the opposite sex without that sense of disconnect.

I’m annoyingly excited for the end of this week (and it’s only Monday).

Note: I’m snickering at myself, because I said the average length of my blog posts… and then wrote one far shorter (489 words) in about 20 minutes. I still stand by my logic, though, that it’s like blogging on a small dose of steroids.