2016 Writing–and other–Hopes

by Me  D.M. Gutierrez

I used to make New Year’s resolutions but gave up after a couple of decades of never following through with them. Life just gets in the way; it’s inevitable. The best-laid plans of mice and men and all that.

So instead I will put some hopes out there:

1. I hope I can post more Sylvellin Sending on Critique Circle for critters to read. They keep asking me when that’s going to happen and I keep saying ‘soon’, but eventually, they will stop asking

2.  I hope I can edit my horror story and submit it somewhere. (Actually, I thought I was really close to that and then SOMEONE (yeah, you, Evensong) pointed out some excellent ways to make it a much better story so back to work for me.
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Don’t judge me! I’m no artist….I’m a writer

by       D.M. Gutierrez

I’m going to talk about why I am a pantser, so if you are sick and tired of this subject, move along. I’m not going to advocate for pantsing over outlining though, just discuss what drives me to write without an outline (like walking a tightrope without a net, no?), proposing some reasons for my behavior.

I love mystery. Well, not mystery per se, but the solving of a mystery. Even as a kid I gobbled up mystery stories, watched TV shows and movies about mystery, and tried (unsuccessfully) to write mysteries. Christmas was the most exciting when I finally got to open my presents—what is in that oddly shaped beribboned box?!—and I was sorely disappointed when the secrets were all revealed. Sure, it wasn’t because she was a greedy little tyke.

My father encouraged this behavior by drawing random lines on a piece of paper and handing it to me to complete a picture of some sort. He probably did it to keep me busy while he was working, but it sparked my imagination and drove me to turn randomness into order.

So, something like this:

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might turn into something like this: (don’t judge me! I’m no artist.)

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or this:

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or this:

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or this:

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She’s just filling up the page with childish drawings!

No, I’m demonstrating how the same randomness can lead to very different outcomes, depending on how you look at the blank (or nearly blank) canvas. Note: absolutely no effort was put into making these pictures in proportion or perspective, just scribbling furiously to get this post done!

I do similar things with my writing: turn the canvas this way and that, squint at the characters, add a bit here and a bit there, put more emphasis on one aspect than another, etc.

I often throw in more randomness when I get stuck—a shaggy-haired pony grazing by a brook, reins trailing (where did it come from, what happened to its rider?), the clang of a distant gong (does that signify something? Who is wielding the mallet?), an unfamiliar aroma wafting in through a window (perfume? roast snarfle? a poisonous gas?), and so on. Doing this often takes me in directions I never would have imagined if I were outlining. I create my own mystery—and then somehow, from the recesses of my overfilled attic of a mind—solve that mystery for myself.

I’m afraid that if I knew everything that was going to happen in my WIP from the get-go, I just wouldn’t write it. That would be like being handed an unwrapped present or a page ripped from a coloring book. I am my foremost reader, I guess. I want to unravel the mystery myself!

Writing Vacation or Vacation from Writing?

by       D.M. Gutierrez

I want to thank both A. Whitt and Lee Bradbury for filling in for me over the past two Fridays.  Kudos to both of you for your great posts!

redwoodsThis is where I was for four glorious days last week on my California vacation.  The rest of the time I was in Sacramento (which I thoroughly enjoyed), but there’s something about the California coast that is near and dear to my heart.  In fact, I have to get back to the Pacific at least every two years and touch the ocean or I shrivel up and die.  This time I did that–by managing to fall onto the sand at Goat Rock Beach and have a wave soak my hands, legs, and shoes.  So mission accomplished there.

I took my VoiceSense with me with the intention of writing up a storm.  What better to do curled up in a hobbit-home cabin tucked into a forest of redwoods and giant ferns across the road from a river and 10 minutes drive from the ocean?  But of course I didn’t write a word.
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“If you don’t have time to read…”

by     D.M. Gutierrez

 

If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.  ― Stephen King

 

I haven’t had time to write. I’ve barely had time to read lately. So I have loaded up my audiobook players with books of all sorts and am plowing through them. I read all of Mo Hayder’s Jack Caffery series, from Birdman (no, not the award-winning (why??) movie) to Wolf (no, nothing to do with King’s The Talisman (which I started reading again)) and then zipped through Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects (good, but disturbing like Mo Hayder’s books).

I then moved on to Tana French’s detective series, starting with In The Woods (which was riveting, and now I’m reading the second one, The Likeness, which is slower but still good). I’m also reading a MG/YA reader called The False Prince, and Stephen King’s Revival. All these books were recommended to me by friends who write and who write (and read) in all different genres. Continue reading

Writing is like…well, not a box of chocolates

by   D.M. Gutierrez

A while back I wrote about how online dating is like writing. I’m done with online dating (thanks to the Hawke J), but I recently found something else like writing—at least for me—bowling.

Let’s go back to an earlier post of mine and remind everyone that I am vision-impaired. My vision is worse than 20/200 so aiming for the pins is not much use.

“Can you see the arrows on the floor?” people ask. “Use those to guide you.”

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Take a look…It’s on a book!

by      D.M. Gutierrez

My fantasy novel Sylvellin Sending is still in the second draft stage and has been for over a year while I’ve been writing short stories, working on a novella, and creating about 20  new songs.  So much easier to do these short-term things than develop characters, sub in sub-plots, piece together settings and atmosphere and nuance, and make the tension tense and the climax climax-y.

That is, until a wonderful gift was bestowed upon me, a gift of genius and insight and true devotion to my story, a book cover created by the one, the only Keith M.  And here it is:

 

SS-bookcove
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A Few Words on Brevity (mostly not mine)

By      D.M. Gutierrez

“It is with words as with sunbeams. The more they are condensed, the deeper they burn.” ~Robert Southey

The fewer the words, the better, that’s for sure.

“I have made this [letter] longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.” ~Blaise Pascal, Lettres Provinciales, 1657

Haha! It does take time and effort to cull the word herd. Slash and burn, baby!

 

“In composing, as a general rule, run your pen through every other word you have written; you have no idea what vigor it will give your style.” ~Sydney Smith

Uncertainties about editing? Give this approach a try.

 

“If you can’t write your idea on the back of my calling card, you don’t have a clear idea.” ~David Belasco

Good advice for queries and loglines! I try to capture my books’ motif in a limerick.

For example, for Sylvellin Sending:
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“It’s hell writing and it’s hell not writing…”

by    D.M. Gutierrez

“It’s hell writing and it’s hell not writing. The only tolerable state is having just written.”
Robert Hass

 

yes. Yes. YES.

 

So much “not writing” going on in the last few months and it is hell. I feel guilty, unproductive, and irresponsible when I’m not writing. When I am writing, I feel lame, inarticulate, and clueless. But *having written*, oh, my gods, it is the most glorious feeling there is!

BUT…

How do you know when something has reached that ‘has been written’ status? How do you know when it is DONE?

I’m sure everyone—and I invite you all to give your take on this—has his or her own way of telling when a piece of writing is finished. I have to say I don’t really know when. Left to my own devices I would keep tweaking until every paragraph, sentence, and word was as perfect as I could make it, probably forever because perfection is impossible.

But of course this does not happen. At some point I either (a) run out of steam, (b) get so sick of it that I want to run it through the shredder, or (c) someone calls time. The last one is the most useful and usually leads to the best outcome. Submitting work to a deadline-focused editor or critique queue will make me put down my pen when relying on my own internal pop-up thermometer will not. If my writing were a turkey (okay, no rude comments!), it would probably be burnt to a crisp or dry as a…dried-up thing…like a crunchy dead leaf?…ugh, I am so out of simile practice!

Sometimes I know something is not anywhere near completion, but I toss it into a public or private critique queue just to get it off the griddle. (I seem to be stuck on cooking metaphors here, even though I just ate dinner—a delicious grilled steak, green chile (of course, I live in New Mexico), and rice bowl, followed up by a bite of Heath bar and a guzzle of clear, cold spring water…STOP ME, PLEASE! )

Tell me, o great community of writers, how do you know when your work is done? Done enough for a critique queue, done enough for submission to an agent or editor, done enough for self-publication? How do you know when you have reached that barely tolerable state of ‘having just written’?

 

 

Zip! Whap! Chug-a-chug-a-choo-choo!

by       D.M. Gutierrez

I recently had an experience a lot of writers probably never get to have, or at least experience rarely. I got to hear how two readers felt about two of my books and it was enthralling, uplifting, and gratifying!

I may have mentioned before that I used to write children’s stories when my kids were little for Highlights for Children and Jack and Jill and other children’s publications. Highlights graciously gave me the rights to republish my stories as picture books (illustrated by my stepbrother, Gary Sutherland, a fabulous artist) and I created three such picture books: Horse’s Horrible Halloween, The Pinecone Problem, and Why Baby Sister Woke up from Her Nap. HHH I printed up myself, but TPP and WBSWUFHN I had printed up by CreateSpace and offered for sale on Amazon, along with other online vendors. This all cost me nothing (oh, self-publishing, you are so cost-effective) and sales have dribbled in over the last few years. I have done zero marketing (shame on me!) so don’t expect me to buy a round at the next writer’s pub crawl.

So, back to the story—for Christmas I sent a friend TPP and WBSWUFHN as a gift for his two little girls, both younger than school-age. He said they had received them well, but it wasn’t for a few more weeks that he told me more about their reactions to the books. What he said gladdened my heart so much I was on cloud nine for days!

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“A critic can only review the book he has read…”

A critic can only review the book he has read, not the one which the writer wrote. ~Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic’s Notebook, 1960

by      D.M. Gutierrez

To get back into writing, I started critting again. Okay, I finished a crit I started months ago. For me, critiquing is a good way to inspire myself to write, since I almost always end up rewriting part of the author’s submission, if only to explain why I am suggesting a deletion here, an addition there, a rephrasing of a sentence or paragraph to give the piece more presence, pizazz, or punch. In the midst of all that, I get inspired to write—just like I get inspired to sing or write a song when listening to music. (Too bad that doesn’t happen when I see someone vacuuming!)

But the quote, “A critic can only review the book he has read, not the one which the writer wrote.” reminds me that critiquing is so subjective. I mean, of course there are some basic rules of grammar and spelling, sentence structure and the like, but if you go beyond that—and most critters on Critique Circle do in my experience—you really are addressing the story you interpret, not the one the writer necessarily intended.
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