Eating the Elephant

Eat ElephantIs it better to write a short story all at once or over a period of several days? Since each method has its advocates, the question is worth examining.

Everyone knows the adage about the proper way to eat an elephant—one bite at a time, meaning you should break down any major endeavor into manageable tasks and patiently accomplish the tasks. How does that apply to short stories? Let’s hear from both sides in this furious debate.

 

Mr. One-Sitting Writer:

Forget about elephants. A short story isn’t an elephant. The reasons you must write the first draft of your short story all at once are as follows:

1. You have to capture the mood of the inspiring moment. Enthusiasm is a fleeting thing. When you’re in the mood to write, when you’re consumed by the power of the idea, that’s the time to get it all down. That’s when you’re most likely to get in the zone when the words flow best. Tomorrow you won’t feel the same way. You’ll lose the moment forever.

2. Your readers expect consistency throughout your story. They want a constant tone or mood. The best way to achieve that is to write the first draft all at once. Readers will sense when you haven’t done that and it will lessen their enjoyment of the story and lessen your chance of future sales.

3. There’s a certain romance in staying up late at night and into the morning to type at the computer or scribble on paper. Didn’t all great writers do this? Aren’t all the best stories fueled by nocturnal spirits conjured from the wisps of steaming coffee cups? In that final surge of energy when you type “The End,” compose your e-mail, and hit Send with thirteen seconds to go before the deadline, you know you’re completely spent, and you are channeling the spirits of the best authors of all time.

Ms. Bite-at-a-Time Writer:

I notice Mr. One-Sitting Writer didn’t talk much about how he performed at his day job the next morning. Maybe writing is his day-job and he can afford to sleep late and rest up for his next bout of binge-writing.

Those of us in the real world have lives. We have responsibilities other than writing. We have jobs and families, appointments and duties. We love writing as much as he does, but we have to fit it into the nooks, squeeze it into the crannies of time we can spare.

He made three numbered points; I’ll do the same:

1. I agree it’s best to write a story when you’re wrapped up in the enthusiasm of the idea. If the story is short enough, and if your schedule allows enough time, by all means write the first draft in one sitting to preserve the tone and feel throughout the story.

2. If you can’t do that, then here are a couple of tricks to try:

a. Stop for the night in the middle of a sentence, a sentence for which you know how it should end. You’ll remember that tomorrow and be able to pick right up from there.

b. At the start of your allotted writing time for the day, review the last few pages you wrote. That will help you recapture the mood so you can continue in the same vein.

3. The romance of staying up late to write? Please. I did that a few times in college to finish assignments on time, but it was never my best work. Plus, I’m not as young as I was then.

As for me, Poseidon’s Scribe, I work like Ms. Bite-at-a-Time Writer, but wish I had the time to work like Mr. One-Sitting Writer.   You’ll have to take your pick based on your circumstances and what works for you. That’s today’s discussion on elephant-eating by—

                                                Poseidon’s Scribe

Just Your (Writing) Style

Style is one of the five fundamental elements of fiction, along with character, plot, setting, and theme.  It’s also the most difficult of the five to explain or understand.

StyleI like to start my blog posts by defining terms, but this time I’ll let the definition of style emerge as we go.  For now, I’ll say that every author writes differently, with certain identifying characteristics.  In theory, if we took a sufficient random sample of any single author’s writing, we could identify the author by the style.

According to Wikipedia, the components of style include:  Fiction-writing modes, Narrator, Point of View, Allegory, Symbolism, Tone, Imagery, Punctuation, Word choice, Grammar, Imagination, Cohesion, Suspension of disbelief, and Voice.

Each item on that long list does contribute to style, but some are more important than others, and some are more characteristic of a particular story than of the author’s general manner of writing.

To me, the major characteristics of style are Tone, Word choice, and Grammar:

  • Tone is the attitude displayed by the writer toward the subject matter of the story.
  • Word choice, or diction, relates to the author’s vocabulary.  Does the author stay with simple, understandable words or employ arcane words?  Does the author embellish with adjectives and adverbs, or let the nouns and verbs do the work?
  • Grammar is all about the structure and logic of sentences.  What sentence patterns and lengths does the author prefer?

Although your style may change as you mature in your writing, readers like it better when authors maintain a consistent style.  Style can set you apart from all other writers; it can be the factor that keeps readers buying more of your books.

If you’re wondering how to go about creating your own style, I recommend you read the list created by author David Hood in this blog post.  His eleven-item list can seem intimidating, so just focus on items 1, 2, 3, 5, and 7.  I think if you learn the rules of writing, expand your vocabulary, read a great deal, experiment with different styles, and learn about literary techniques, your own style will emerge naturally.

What’s more, you shouldn’t have to work too hard to continue using your newly discovered style.  It should flow from you in a natural way.  Unlike your stories, which are overt acts of creative effort, your style is something that should emerge.  In a sense, you’re unleashing it, not creating it.  Even if it does require a little effort at first, in time it will get easier.

Perhaps you’ve gotten a better understanding of style now, that signature or fingerprint that identifies you and separates you from other writers.  With any luck, readers will love your style.  For now, I’ll sign off in the usual style of—

                                                         Poseidon’s Scribe

Interview with the Adjective Expert

Recently I had the honor of interviewing Amber Wise Savage, President of the English Language Adjective Council (ELAC).* Following is the entire text of that interview:

Poseidon’s Scribe: First of all, Amber, welcome to the world of Poseidon’s Scribe and thank you for consenting to this exclusive interview.

Adjective Expert

Amber Wise Savage: You’re most welcome, and many thanks for the superb opportunity.

PS: Let’s start with the basics. Please tell us about adjectives.

AWS: I’d be happy to. Adjectives are describing words. They modify or qualify nouns and noun phrases. They make up about a solid quarter of all English words. That’s only half the number of those over-plentiful nouns, so we have some catching up to do.

PS: Catching up? Do you think the language needs more adjectives?

AWS: Of course. The current number is meager, scanty, and insufficient.

PS: But don’t you think fiction writers should be sparing in their use of adjectives? Not every noun needs an adjective, after all.

AWS: I disagree. I’ve never seen a noun that couldn’t benefit from two or three choice adjectives.

PS: That used to be true, certainly, when authors used long and flowery descriptions, but don’t today’s readers prefer prose with unadorned nouns and powerful verbs? Don’t adjectives slow down the pace?

AWS: What a dreadful thought, and quite false. Fiction would be bland, barren, and dull without adjectives.

PS: But you’d agree that most adjectives tend to tell, not show, and writers are always being told to show, not tell.

AWS: Again, indisputably false. Writers whose fiction tells too much should not blame innocent adjectives. In like manner, in fiction that shows, you’ll always find well-placed adjectives there, shouldering their share of the burden.

PS: I can see why you’re President of the ELAC. You must acknowledge, though, that some adjectives are used in a redundant way, pleonasms such as closed fist, exact same, and new invention. Also, there are some worthless adjectives that do nothing to modify a noun, weak and ineffectual words like comely, foolish, lovely, pleasant, pretty, stupid, and wonderful.

AWS: For every poor use of adjectives you could cite, I could give you a myriad examples of excellent adjectives that give crisp, focused meaning to their nouns.

PS: I’m sure that’s true. On that note of agreement, I’d like to thank you, Amber Wise Savage, for joining me today. You’re an effective advocate for adjectives everywhere.

AWS: You’re welcome. It’s been…interesting.

Well, that was something. You readers of my blog will have to form your own opinion. Other good blog posts about the use of adjectives in fiction are here, here, here, and here.   Amber and I disagree about the extent to which fiction writers should use adjectives. But you’ll have to decide who you’re going to believe, a paid proponent of adjectives, or—

Poseidon’s Scribe

* Not a real person. Not a real council. No interview took place. Some of the facts are true, however.

Cliché Okay, or So Passé?

Every writer tells you to purge clichés from your prose (and I will too), but then those same writers go ahead and use clichés in their own books.  Sadly, I have too.  That’s not due to intentional hypocrisy; it’s just that the nasty critters are so darn hard to eradicate.

ClicheWhat’s a cliché?  It’s an overused expression or phrase.  Before becoming a cliché, the short collection of words started out being clever.  The original author discovered a compact, understandable, shorthand way of stating an idea.  The trouble began when others liked the phrase and repeated it.  Over and over.  Eventually readers got sick of it.  The expression lost its freshness and became annoying.

Apologies up front—I have used some clichés in this very blog post.  Again, it’s just because the infernal vermin can be difficult to spot and exterminate.

You can understand why it’s unwise to use too many clichés in your writing.  They mark the work of an unimaginative and lazy amateur.  Such writers just go for the easy, readily-available, (and perfectly apt) phrase instead of thinking deeper about fresh, new ways to express the same thought.  The prose comes across as tired, hackneyed, trite, and stale.

Your first draft may contain clichés by the bushel-full.  That’s because you were writing at full speed to get the basic thoughts down, knowing you would come back later.  At that fast pace, you’re more likely to grab the convenient phrase that comes to mind, the combination of words you’ve heard a hundred times—the cliché.  Make a point of hunting for them as you edit and proofread your later drafts.

The best place for spotting clichés is in descriptive passages, where you tried making a comparison between some object or situation in your story to a more real-world example familiar to the reader.  Many, many clichés are of that type, handy for relating one ‘thing’ to another in a few, image-enhancing words.

How do you know if you’ve written a cliché?  There are lists of clichés online, but by definition clichés are always being created and a few get forgotten through lack of use, so the real list is dynamic.

If you find one in your prose, what do you do?  Probably the easiest thing is to delete it and substitute some non-cliché that conveys the same meaning.  A more creative alternative is to give the cliché a clever twist, especially one that delivers your message even more exactly than the cliché would have.  Consider the twist imparted to the cliché ‘passing the buck’ by President Truman when he posted a sign on his desk reading, ‘The buck stops here.’  Of course, that saying became famous enough and repeated enough to become a cliché itself.

When is it okay to use a cliché?  I’d say it’s more acceptable in dialogue, since that’s the way people speak.  You can also use them in book or chapter titles, but make sure they fit and are appropriate to the book or chapter text.

At the end of the day (cliché), when all is said and done (cliché), you’ve got the gist (cliché) of clichés and been put in the know (cliché) by—

                                                Poseidon’s Scribe

 

The Life Story of a Short Story

AlexandersOdyssey9Hello.  I’m a short story.  Since Poseidon’s Scribe never got around to blogging about the whole short story process, he invited me to guest blog today.  My title is “Alexander’s Odyssey,” and I was written by Steven R. Southard.  My life story is typical of other tales, and might be obvious to many of you, but the steps weren’t clear to Steve when he started.

Idea1.  Idea.  I started as an idea.  You did too, I suppose, but with stories you only need one human with an idea, if you know what I mean.  Getting a story idea isn’t as difficult as most believe.  Ideas are all around you.

Outline2.  Outline.  This can take many forms, not just the standard I-A-1-a-(1) type.  It can be a mind-map, for example.  An outline can keep you focused as you write, but don’t be afraid to deviate from it if the story takes off in a different direction.  Steve used an outline for me, but if you don’t want to, just skip this step.

Research3.  Research.  You might have to conduct research for your story like Steve did for me.  Use the most authoritative sources you can.  Steve didn’t include all the researched data when writing me, just a tiny fraction.  You might enjoy research, but don’t get stuck at this stage.  At some point, enough is enough.

First draft4.  First Draft.  Steve wrote my first draft fast, without caring about quality.  He didn’t even stop to correct typos.  He got it all down, the emotions, the drama, and the character interactions.

Edits5.  Edit.  Steve did several drafts of me where he corrected typos; deleted extraneous stuff; added in foreshadowing, metaphors, similes, and symbolism, etc.  Don’t get stuck at this stage either; some stories never even get submitted.

Submit6.  Submit.  Steve located a suitable market, and had to modify me a bit to conform to the submission guidelines.  After much hesitation, he submitted me.   These days, you writers have the option of self-publishing us stories, so you could skip this step.

Reject7.  Rejection.  Actually, I didn’t get rejected the first time, but I know the feeling.  I don’t understand why writers take rejection so personally; the editor is rejecting me, not you.  Just shake it off and submit your story to some other market.  Keep us moving!

Accept8.  Accept.  I was pretty happy when an anthology editor accepted me, but Steve was positively giddy.  I’d never seen him so thrilled and, frankly, the details are embarrassing, so I’ll just move on.

Rewrite9.  Rewrite.  The editor suggested Steve change me a bit.  He agreed the changes would do me good, and made them.  I’ve seen Steve agonize over suggested changes to other stories, though.  I’ve even seen him push back against the editor.  In the end, they always reach agreement and Steve signs the contracts.  I guess he could always refuse and walk away if he wanted.

Launch10.  Launch.  These days, publishers don’t just publish us, they launch us.  It does make me feel like a rocket going off, sort of.  Again, Steve seems really happy when a story launches, and again it’s awkward to watch.

Market11.  Market.  If I’d been picked up by one of the top publishing houses, they’d spread the word about me.  Steve didn’t send me there, so he had to do it.  Boy, does he hate that part, though I’ve heard some authors like marketing.  Use social media, newsletters, writing conferences—anything to advertise.

Read12.  Read.  My favorite step.  When a reader buys me and reads me cover to cover, that’s what I live for.

Reprint13.  Reprint.  When the rights to me reverted back to Steve, he submitted me for publication as a reprint.  After three rejects, another market accepted me, but asked for significant changes.  My reprint version states where and when I was published the first time.

Spin-off14.  Spin-off.  Oh, I hope, I hope I can get spun-off into a novel, a play, or even a movie.  Hey, a story can dream, can’t it?

That’s my story.  Forget about Steve, or Poseidon’s Scribe.  Address your comments to—

                                            Alexander’s Odyssey

December 8, 2013Permalink

Ay, Now the Plot Thickens

When George Villiers, the 2nd Duke of Buckingham wrote those words for his play “The Rehearsal” in 1663, I believe he had today’s blog post in mind.  For, ay, I intend to discuss how to plot a story.

First, what is a plot?  It is simply a series of connected fictional events.  Here are two rules about these events:

1.  In a non-humorous story, the connections between events should be logical, with a minimum of lucky coincidences; the events should be related by cause and effect.

2.  To make your story appealing to readers, there should be a certain structure to these events.  That is, experience has shown this particular plot structure (sometimes called a “dramatic arc”) to have a maximum emotional impact.

But how are rules 1 and 2 related?  What does it mean to have a cause-and-effect chain of events that rises and falls?  Think of it this way.  Your story must have a protagonist with a problem, a conflict of some kind.  Often there is both an external and internal conflict.

I’ve said before that stories are about the human condition.  More specifically, stories show human ways of dealing with problems.  It may seem strange to generalize that way, but without a problem or conflict, you have no story.  Even if there are no humans in your tale, your non-human characters are really just standing in for people.

Plotting diagramsBack to plotting.  Think of the series of events (Rule 1) as events showing your protagonist encountering an initial obstacle, overcoming it, then encountering a worse one, overcoming that one, etc.  Each obstacle thrown at her causes her to struggle against it.  Her struggle causes the antagonist (which may be a person or nature or anything) to oppose her even more.  That’s what Villiers described as a plot thickening.

Think of the dramatic arc (Rule 2) as a portrayal of the increasing difficulties for your protagonist as she contends with her problems. Tensions should increase in this section, culminating in a climactic turning point.  There she must confront both her external and internal problems.  The remaining events convey the resolution of the conflict and represent a decrease in tension.

Although I’ve geared this discussion to short stories, all fiction is similar.  Screenwriter H. R. D’Costa has written a wonderful blog post providing the secrets of movie plot structures.

Oh, one more thing about problems and resolutions—if you have a problem with what I’ve said in this blog post, leave a comment and I’ll try to resolve it.  I also accept praise by the heapful.  I’ll close by saying, Ay, now the plot’s been thickened by—

                                                          Poseidon’s Scribe

September 1, 2013Permalink

Pantzers vs. Plotters

One of the ways writers differ is in the type of preparation work they do before the first draft.  Some, called pantzers, write that draft “from the seat of their pants.”  Plotters, by contrast, organize and lay out their story’s plot and characters within some sort of outline before writing one word of the story.

Aries vs. VirgoThese two approaches might be epitomized by two zodiac signs, and the personality traits attributed to each.  Aries is characterized by impulsiveness and rushing right ahead—a pantzer.  Virgo is characterized by analysis and careful prior thought—a plotter.  Astrology is bunk, of course, but that comparison gave me an image for this blog entry.

Which type are you?  Is one approach better than the other?

Here are some advantages the pantzers claim:

  • I write stories faster, without having to do all that preparatory work first.  While the plotter is still doing her careful outline, I’m a quarter done with my first draft.
  • My writing has a sense of spontaneity, of natural flow; since I don’t know what is going to happen next, neither do my readers.
  • I’ve learned to trust my instincts.  I’ll figure out which way to go when I get there.  The story has its own direction, and I’ll figure it out.
  • I write with a feeling of freedom, without having added a constricting, constraining outline.  If I used an outline, I’d feel like I shackled myself.

But the plotters counter with the benefits of their method:

  • I dispute the pantzers claim of writing faster.  I think plotting helps me avoid getting stuck.
  • Good prior planning helps me avoid the kind of re-writing pantzers do to add in earlier parts so the later parts make sense.
  • Without a plot outline and some character sketches, I’d lose focus, forget where I’m going, and write aimlessly.
  • I write with a sense of comfort knowing I’ve got things all planned out.

I suspect this is really a sort of spectrum, a continuum of ways to write, and that very few people are really located at the extreme ends.  That is, I suspect pantzers do a little bit more pre-plotting than they’re willing to admit, even if the organization is not written down.  For their part, plotters aren’t always so wedded to their outlines as they think; they’ll deviate if the story takes off in a different direction as they write.

Further, authors may well move back and forth along that spectrum as their career progresses.  They may even find some stories require more pre-planning than others, so they become adept at both methods.  My guess—and it’s only a guess—is that among the more accomplished and prolific authors there are more pantzers than plotters.  I think they’ve developed sufficient writing skills so they no longer need a written outline and have come to trust their abilities in avoiding, or writing their way out of, plot problems.

As for me, I’m further over toward the plotter side, though I’ve been exhibiting pantzer tendencies lately.  Those who adhere to the snowflake method of writing are definite plotters.  Most of the writing software packages out there are dedicated to plotters.  Pantzers would find the snowflake and such writing software quite frustrating.

So, in this battle of pantzers vs. plotters, who wins?  Naturally, you do!  You can choose how to write your stories in the manner that suits you best.  You can change that method later if you want, depending on what ends up working for you.  Please leave me a comment letting me know whether you’re a pantzer or a plotter, and why.  It’s okay to share your secret with the Internet, and with—

                                                    Poseidon’s Scribe

 

 

Describing Your Characters’ Feelings

How are your characters feeling?  It’s important for your readers to know.  I’ve written an earlier post about conveying a character’s thoughts, and another one about facial expressions, but it’s time to tackle emotions.

For this blog post I’m going to regard ‘feelings,’ ’emotions,’ and ‘moods’ as being synonymous, even though neuroscientists draw distinctions between these terms.

Emotions are part of the human experience, and seem to result from how we’re hard-wired, what our individual background has been, and a recent external or internal stimulus.  Since we all have emotions in the real world, the characters in your fiction must have them too, to make them convincing.

Whether there are six basic emotions, as depicted by Dr. Paul Ekman…

Emotions

…or eight as pictured by Dr. Robert Plutchik…

591px-Plutchik-wheel.svg…writers just need to know there are many emotions, and characters can feel them in combinations and in various intensities.

As a writer, it’s your job to convey these emotions to the reader with clarity and accuracy.  There shouldn’t be a doubt in the reader’s mind about what a character is feeling.

How do you do that?  Here are some guidelines to follow:

  • Make sure the emotion is appropriate.  Remember, it’s based on a character’s background, but is also a response to a recent stimulus.
  • Show the emotion through the character’s actions:  speech (not only what is said, but word choice and tone of voice), facial expressions, hand motions, or body posture.
  • Show the emotion by describing the character’s thoughts or mental state.
  • Use metaphors and similes, but shun clichés.
  • In certain situations (fast action scenes, very short fiction, or if applicable to a minor character or sub-plot), just tell the character’s emotion.  This is not as effective as other methods and indicates amateurish writing  if used too often.

If you get stuck trying to portray a character’s emotion in words, one technique that might help is to recall a time when you had that feeling yourself.  See if you can draw on that memory and maybe even recreate the emotional state within yourself.  If you can conjure up within yourself the same emotion your character is feeling, you stand a good chance of finding words to describe it.

There are some helpful websites that list adjectives useful in describing emotions, notably this one and this one.  But I caution against an over-reliance on such adjectives.  It’s more effective to show emotions through a character’s actions or by describing what’s going on inside the character’s mind.

How did this blog post make you feel?  Are you now confident you can convey a character’s feelings in a more precise way?  I welcome comments from you on this topic; in fact few things in life bring greater joy and serenity to—

                                                      Poseidon’s Scribe

Leave Yourself Wanting More

You’ve heard the show business adage, “Always leave them wanting more,” meaning an entertainer should exit the stage before the audience gets bored.   Helen DunmoreBy the same principle, novelist and poet Helen Dunmore said you should “finish the day’s writing when you still want to continue.”

 

Why is that?  There seems to be some important facet of human nature at work here.  To cite another example of this phenomenon, I used to read to my children when they were quite young, but I tried to observe them as I read to look for the early signs of boredom.  In time I found I could stop reading, even in the middle of a book, and tell them that was it for the night.  They’d beg me to go on, but I wouldn’t, because I knew I’d timed it right.

The human brain seems unusually good at pattern recognition and associating things together.  If your brain associates a given entertainer with a feeling of boredom, you’ll be less likely to pay for a ticket next time.  Similarly, if a child associates books with a feeling of interest and yearning for more, the child will likely develop a love of reading.

Let’s say it’s late at night and you’ve been writing for a while.  You are at the point when you usually go to bed.  You know you should call it quits, but you’re so near the end of a section, or chapter, or the whole book.  Moreover, you’re in the flow, and the words are coming out well, better than usual.  If you can just push it a little longer, you’ll achieve the satisfaction of completing something good.

This is the moment of decision, and you’re tempted to push on.  If you do, and your fatigue causes you to get stuck for words, your brain can start associating writing with being stuck and tired.  That leads to writer’s block.

However, if you save your work and turn off the computer now, your brain will associate writing with being in the flow, with feelings of interest and enthusiasm.  Moreover, you’ll get the sleep you need.

It’s a funny thing, but you needn’t worry about forgetting overnight what you were going to write next.  When you come back to your manuscript the next day all the memories flood back in, along with the confidence and fervor of the previous night, and pretty soon you’re in the zone again.

If you wish, before you finish for the night (even in the middle of a sentence!) you could jot down some quick notes of where the prose was headed.  By some mysterious mental mechanism, your brain will be thinking subconsciously during your non-writing interval, working out better phrasing, solving plot problems, etc.  The next day when you resume, you may find you have better ideas than you ended up with the night before.

Has this been your experience?  Do you agree with Helen Dunmore and me, or do you adhere to a different school of thought?  Leave a comment and let me know.  There’s much more I want to say, but I’ll stop here, so you’ll associate feelings of fascination with—

                                                          Poseidon’s Scribe

Is Your First Draft Terrible Enough?

That’s not a typo; I’m questioning whether the first draft of your story is horrible, trashy, and amateurish enough to qualify as a first draft.  I’m not talking about cacography here, I’m talking about tripe, drivel, bunkum.

Yes, I know all writers are different and for some, their first draft is their publishable, final draft.  Isaac Asimov said he didn’t re-write his stories.  But I’m guessing that doesn’t work for most writers, especially beginning writers.

For most of you, here’s my advice:  set out to write a bad first draft.  Why?  I’ll explain.

The first draft is unlike all later ones in that it has no predecessor, just a blank screen (or page) and a writer’s mind buzzing with ideas.  That moment before you write the first word is a daunting one; the task seems mountainous.  Often that story idea in your head seems so perfect, you just know readers will love it.

But when you try writing down that idea, it looks so awful it’s embarrassing.  The text falls far short of the shining, crystalline structure in your mind.  You can get so frustrated you’ll be tempted to abandon the whole stupid idea.  “What was I thinking?  I’m no writer!”

I’m suggesting it’s best to admit up front your first draft will be garbage.  That way you’re establishing reasonable expectations and lessening the frustration.  Trust in your ability to improve the first draft later.  Accept that those later revisions will be easier than writing the first draft; you will get closer to the ideal story in your mind.

How do you write a first draft that qualifies as pure dreck?  Think of your writing mind as having at least four component parts, four people with distinct attributes.  These are your muse, your playful inner child, your squint-eyed editor, and your glad-handing marketer.

I’ve described the muse before.  By the time you’re writing your first draft, her job is done and she’s left town.  Think of your squinty-eyed editor as a scowling old man with an eyeshade and a huge supply of blue pencils.  Send this editor on vacation now.  Trust me, he’ll come back well-rested to help you with your second draft.  As to that ever-smiling, extroverted marketer with the plaid suit, he’s on vacation most of the time and that’s okay for now.

215px-Big_PosterLet’s focus on the one I left out, the playful inner child.  I suggest you picture the character Josh Baskin, played by Tom Hanks in the 1988 movie “Big.”  He was pure drive, energy, and enthusiasm.  He had no inhibitions, no taboos, and no fear of failure.

Channel that character as you write your first draft.  Strive to get in the zone, in the flow.  If you find yourself momentarily stuck, write down what you will need later to get past the sticky part, put that in brackets (or different font or color, whatever), and move on.  For example, knowing how important the opening hook is, let’s say you can’t think of one.  Just write “[come up with hook]” and write on.  Chances are the words you write next might serve as a hook, or a hook will occur to you later.  Don’t stop to do research now, just bracket it, “[Do whales really get hiccups?],” and look it up later.

Even though your first draft is a stinking pile of compost, you’ll feel better about having something written down, something you can now work with.  Further, by writing in burst mode, you can maintain a consistent, integrated work that maintains the same tone and voice throughout.

More great first draft advice is available here, here, and here.  By the way, do you think this blog post is poorly written?  Ha!  You should have seen the first draft typed up by—

                                                     Poseidon’s Scribe