Still Typing: A Tuesday Post of Accountability

Hello writer-friends. It’s Tuesday, which means that it’s time to be accountable…which I wasn’t last Tuesday.

Quick reason for no posting last Tuesday: My grandmother died on March 31. It was rather an emotional week that manifested some strange things.

The first of which – Last Monday (the Monday after her death) I decided to go crazy and write a book in a day. For those of you who would wish to attempt this feat, here’s what you have to do in a nutshell: type 8 pages an hour for 24 hours.

I was unsuccessful.

But I think I’ve figured out the emotional component that made me want to attempt such a reaching kind of thing. It’s this: my grandmother never read anything I wrote. Because I’ve never really finished a draft that I was proud to show her, or the readers that surround me. I have the rough drafts and sketches and all that stuff we writers accumulate. I’ve shown these things to my fellow writers, but not to any readers.

Which, I’ve decided, is stupid.

What the hell am I doing this for if it isn’t for people to read the stories?

I’m over halfway there for my book-in-a-week. And I think it’s accomplished a multi-purpose emotional set of tasks:

1. I know that I can finish a rough draft relatively quickly – even quicker than a NaNo pace. So that has given me a sense of time…I have plenty of it to accomplish the telling of stories.

2. Writing is fun. Don’t focus on the publishing, people. If you’re focusing on the publishing and ‘business’ elements, you’re not writing anything anyone wants to read. I’m sorry, but that’s just the truth. If you just take the time to cut loose and enjoy yourself, you’ll accomplish a lot more and have more fun doing it.

3. Be willing to show the people you love what you’re up to. I’m sure a lot of you have read the Door Open/Door Closed section of Stephen King’s On Writing. He’s describing writing with the door closed and then, when the rough draft is finished there’s this offhand line: “it’s time to give up the goods.” I hadn’t thought much of that line – it seemed to me that he was saying “show it if you wanna show it.”

But what it really means is: Give up the goods.

(Profound, I know.)

Yes, there’s editing to do. Yes, you’re gonna change things. But the people that love you and surround you want to see some evidence of what you’ve been up to. Some of them actually want to read it and give you encouragement/advice/their opinion. Don’t spoil it for them.  
***If they actually read it you also get the added bonus of having something to discuss with them – what they think, what they dislike, what they were impressed by, and what they wished they didn’t know about you.***

4. Palate cleanser. I needed a break from the two humungous projects I’ve been working on. (One in a first draft bang-it-out state of affairs, and the other in a rewrite phase.) I’ve realized that I have a ton and half interesting ideas and that it’s okay to splurge and refresh every now and then. I don’t think I could’ve emotionally dealt with the two in-progress projects last week – I’ve placed too much on them intellectually and emotionally. A fuck-it-whatever piece was just what I needed to recollect myself.

That’s what I’ve learned this past week-and-half-or-so. What’ve you guys been up to?

P.S. In case you’re wondering – the novel is a steampunk romance mystery with Jack the Ripper. I think it might make an interesting series…we’ll see!

Formula Doesn’t Equal Easy

Humorists, like romance writers and, to some extent, mystery writers, catch some flak because, for whatever reason, it gives the impression of being ‘easy’. Which, as anyone who has tried to write comedy knows, it isn’t.

Why would people think it’s easy?

It occured to me as I was reading Comedy Writing Secrets by Mel Helitzer (I was inspired to learn more about comedic writing because of Wodehouse) that one of the reasons people think writing funny is easier is because there are formulas. Things like reversals. Things that can be put into acronyms, pneumonics, and formats that can be otherwise memorized.

Meaning that if you stick to the pattern VOILA! you will be funny.

Well, in that case, why isn’t every comedian Robin Williams or any one of the Kings of Comedy or the Blue Collar crew?

Let’s take one of the formulaic pieces offered by Comedy Writing Secrets: knowing the audience. This seems fairly obvious, doesn’t it? But this isn’t as easy to gauge as you think. Robin Williams has note-takers who tell him what got the biggest laughs and what didn’t and he adjusts his routine accordingly. The Blue Collar guys bank on the idea that, while you may not be related to the guy with the car under weeds in his front yard, you have seen it. And Bill Engvall’s schtick about stupid signs…he’s not making fun of a group directly, he puts the audience in the position of power because it’s a “You know that guy but you’re not that guy, of course” kinda bit.

But for every Robin Willams, Bill Engvall, Bill Cosby, and Steve Harvey you’ve got a bunch of unnamed comedians trying to break out in the club circuit. The club circuit guys know the routines, know the formula, but for some reason or other (maybe just dumb luck) they haven’t hit it yet.

However, my guess is that Harvey, Cedric the Entertainer, Bernie Mac (God rest his funny soul), and D.L. Hughley as well as Williams and the Blue Collar dudes, have skill sets that allow them to read and engage an audience differently. Perhaps it’s note-taking, perhaps it’s just paying attention to the local enviornment. Whatever it is–and playing at these levels, it’s not dumb luck–they have it and they use it.

Which is the same for writers like Nora Roberts, who gets simultaneously knocked and praised for being Queen of Romance. Just because there’s a formula to romances and just because, sure, you can predict happy endings and sex and what order they come in doesn’t mean creating something like that is easy. Roberts has a skill set which allows readers to engage with her writing, she mixes up the complications–capable of portraying medieval, Western, supernatural, mysterious worlds to mix it all up–and the reader is left satisfied.

If it’s so easy to engage the reader, to create creative complications within a framework, develop language that doesn’t come off too hokey (because let’s face it, there are only so many adjectives for ‘hard’ and the hard-core romance reader don’t buy into really hokey description anyway, regardless of what the outside world thinks), and to make characters an audience will keep coming back to…why isn’t every romance a mega-bestseller?

Dudes. Because it isn’t easy.