Book Review – Bird by Bird

Why I read this book: I’m very interested in understanding and connecting more with what it means to “be a writer.”  Outside of the news headlines and bestseller books, the glam and glitz that take years (decades) of hard work or lottery-style luck… I want to know if what I endure and enjoy are what all writer’s feel.

Did I enjoy it:  Absolutely.  Probably the best book on “The Writer’s Life” I’ve read to date.

How I will get better as a result of reading it:  I think the biggest take-away from Bird by Bird is comfort.  This book reiterates in no uncertain terms that the writing should be done as a result of a desire to write and gets the words on paper, and share your unique voice and perspective with the world.  The rest of the details may or may not take care of themselves.  On top of that, there’s two big pieces of advice including a willingness to write some terrible first drafts, plus a focus on looking at the world through a  1-inch picture frame.  Both of these techniques I think are important, and will definitely include them.

 

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and LifeBird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is an outstanding addition to any writer’s library of books on the craft and the life. Lamott uses this book to relay autobiographical accounts of her own life as an author, both the somewhat desperate bits as well as the thrilling successes (which turn out to not be nearly as lovely as one might surmise). However, she doesn’t stop there, she also provides great tips and techniques for aspiring authors, including some useful tools, plus a few hard-to-hear, but probably necessary reality checks. All the while, she provides some exceptionally funny and easy-to-read metaphors that flow directly into the work, and really help build the story up with no confusion.
Lamott sugar-coats nothing. She drags all the dirty laundry of what it actually means to get published, and the heartache of trying to finish a book and having it under-appreciated. Through this, she gives us lots of great tips.
Some of my favorites include: The 1-inch picture frame (a way of looking at your work in smaller doses) and shitty first drafts (just coming to grips with the fact that the first thing that spews forth onto the screen is almost certainly not the thing you are going to keep when you submit to a publisher… or even the thing that will be in your second or third draft… So get over it and just write.
All the while, she reminds us that we write because of the joy we ultimately get from writing… Not the accolades or the glory that we see in headline authors. This book has really helped me level set some expectations as I continue my writing journey, and I believe every would-be author should take a day or two and read this fun account.

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Interview – Matt Kilby

Took some time to catch up with Matt Kilby, author of The Road Cain Walks, a new suspense/horror novel releasing on Amazon this week!  I met Matt during a critique group, and got the opportunity to exchange some works with him.  Since his book is releasing, I asked if he’d answer a few questions for my readers, and he’s graciously agreed!

TRCW cover final.jpg

 

 

The Road Cain Walks is currently available for FREE for until March 2nd on Amazon.  Check it out now!

Additionally, feel free to follow Matt on Twitter:
@Gradyperlson

 

 

 

SYF: How did you get started writing?

My first attempt at a novel was around age 12, but I don’t remember much about the story. I just remember all the characters were my friends and I, and the main character’s love interest changed constantly to fit whatever girl I had a crush on at the time. I’m not sure I want to know if there is a surviving copy of that somewhere. Then, in high school, I got into writing poetry, which was mostly Jim Morrison knockoff stuff, but it kept me interested in writing and eventually led me to try prose again.

SYF: Is this your first book?  If so, what were some of the biggest challenges
you faced while writing it?


This is my first book but is actually a major revision of a version I self-published in 2003 (more on that in the next question). My biggest challenge was finding my voice. When I found that, I learned the difference between putting words together and really writing a sentence. The Road Cain Walks is the start of a much larger story, but that isn’t so intimidating now that I understand how to tap into that part of myself.

SYF: How long did it take you to write?  How many drafts did you go through?

I started the first draft in 2000 but didn’t spend every day of the past 16 years on it. As I mentioned before, I self-published in 2003, which was to make it easier to give the book to friends and family who were interested in reading it. I also sold a few copies to cover the print costs, but that only made me forget it was still a first draft that needed a lot more fleshing out. But I put it down and drafted another novel, this one more in the fantasy genre, and it got me thinking about the potential for connecting the two. I went back to this one around 2007 to start that process, but there were plenty more missteps between then and now. I lost track of the exact number of drafts, but I’d guess there were at least three full rewrites (meaning tossing the whole thing in the garbage and starting fresh).

SYF: I’ve read *The Road Cain Walks*, and you have so many fresh and different
characters.  How did you keep them (and the immense plot) straight while
you wrote?


Thanks for that! I started this final rewrite (and decided it was the final rewrite) at a pretty pivotal time in my life. I lost my grandfather to cancer and found out I was going to be a dad early in this draft, so grief and fatherhood became major themes in the story. Though each character is individual by their actions, I think the real thing that helped me keep them separate was how they related to those two themes. In every chapter, one or both elements are present in some form and define the focal character’s interactions with the world (and plot) around them. As for the plot itself, I credit that to throwing out the advice I always hear to write a full first draft before editing any of it. That might work for some writers, but I needed more control of how each chapter developed. Revising each as I went helped me do that and keep the events straight as the story progressed.

SYF: I definitely can relate to needing to find your own path when writing.  Do you use any specialized software or other tools in doing your writing?

I’ve tried several over the years, but for this final version, I was pretty bare bones. I used Word to write and the notes app on my phone to keep track of any ideas that popped up along the way. I think the fanciest I got was using a seriously outdated version of Photoshop Elements to add color to my cover (which was hand drawn by an artist friend named Justin Doring).

SYF: What made you decide to self-publish?

These days, there are plenty of great reasons to choose self-publishing over traditional publishing, and I could cite them all as influencing factors. But the ultimate reason was that my book clocks in at about twice the upper limit of what agents and publishers will consider for a first-time author. I’d have to cut it in half to even get my foot in the door, but then The Road Cain Walks isn’t the book I want it to be. For better or worse, that’s an option we have now.

SYF: Any other words of wisdom or advice you’d like to give our readers?

Just write. Too many writers are caught up in becoming writers, building a platform, etc., when it really is as simple as putting the time in and words on paper. As with anything else, the more you do it, the better you’ll get. Write what satisfies you. This isn’t your job and you don’t have to treat it like one. A major turning point for me was accepting that I wasn’t making any money at it yet so it was technically a hobby. By definition, you should enjoy your hobbies and not let them stress you out, so that’s how I approached my writing. Most important, there are no “rules”. Anything you read about writing is nothing more than a suggestion and should be treated as such. Try it all and take or leave what does or doesn’t work for you.

SYF: Here, here!  Thanks for your time Matt, and good luck!

777 Challenge

Eve Messenger just threw down a 777-challenge for me, and although I don’t know who else to call out for this, I thought I’d response with my answer.

The challenge:

Go to a work in progress.
1.  Page 7.
2.  7 Lines down.
3.  7 lines of the manuscript.

I selected the current Steampunk work I’m driving… (Skycraft).  I’m pretty impressed with where this one ended up:

—–

The words had the effect he hoped.

“You bastard.”

“Will you come?” he repeated.

She didn’t say anything for so long that Andrick wondered if he needed to ask once more.
Instead he watched her even as she stared at a point far beyond him, beyond the
White Veil.  Finally she spoke.

“When do we leave?”

 

Sleeping through the Night

I find myself recently reflecting on my children.  I have two daughters.  At the time of writing this, my oldest is four, and my youngest is two.  I’m constantly amazed at how physically resilient they are.  I keep expecting them to be more fragile than they are.

Today’s memory goes back to the birth of my first daughter.  She actually started sleeping through the night at 6 weeks.  Great, right?  How that came about was a little more scary.

I thought I killed my six week old daughter.

My wife had needed an emergency cesarean to deliver our baby.  It was a pretty scary night and next few days, but ultimately both mother and daughter came home.  Once they had, we ended up moving into the basement.  It’s a finished basement, so it wasn’t like we were living industrial.

We moved down there because I had awesome bachelor couches.

Once we bought the house, I had to move all my old furniture to my man-cave basement, as my wife replaced them with prettier couches upstairs.  My couches were a sort of dark mud brown color, but what made them great was that they had high backs and could be turned into recliners.  I guess I found them more endearing than my wife.  But as it turned out, the recliner was a lot better for her sleep.

One of the other problems with these couches was that bachelor days had abused them.  I often sprawled over the arms of the couch, and as such, they had slowly been coming away from the rest of the couch over the years.  This meant a pocket had opened between the seat and the arm… A pocket that often claimed loose change, wallets, cell phones, etc.

Oh yeah, And my kid.

So during those early weeks, mom and dad are waking up every two hours to handle feedings and carry the baby around the room singing so she’ll go back to sleep… All that good new parent stuff.  We had our wakeup schedule on an alarm on my phone.  Usually my daughter slept in her rocker/crib, but sometimes we’d fall asleep holding her.

In this case, she was tucked in my left arm like a football, and that’s how I fell asleep.  around midnight or one.  The alarm was set to go off at 3.  I silenced it in my sleep, and the wife and I slept right through it.

Sometime during that sleep, baby Jessica slides down from my arm into the mechanical gears of this recliner couch.  The rays of the sun wake me up around 6 am.

No baby.

My first thought is panic.  Where’s the kid?  I look over; wife doesn’t have her.  She’s still sleeping away.  I look around.  Thankfully, I didn’t close the recliner; this might have been a different story.  Instead I look down and see the top of her head poking up from the space between the seat and the arm.

I want to throw up.  I’m confident I’ve killed our child.  How do I wake up my wife and tell her I killed our 6 week old baby girl?

I pull Jessica up out of the couch and hold her, sickness settled into me.  She’s missed two feedings and has been cramped inside the couch for who-knows-how-long.  What kind of crap father am I?  Do you go to jail for this kind of thing?  Despair is pretty overwhelming as I look over and start to reach out to my wife to wake her.  Then I notice Jessica breathing.

She opens her eyes and smiles.

First thought here is relief.  Then panic again… Why is she smiling (they all say it’s gas… but no… Couldn’t be gas, could it)?  I guess I brain-damaged her.

She turned out okay.  Wife panicked when I woke her, and while Jessica was hungry, she was no worse for wear from her experience.  A slightly larger than average feeding later, and Jessica was settling back into to go to sleep again.  I changed the diaper and bundled her back up into some swaddling cloth and then set her down to sleep.

In her rocker this time.

She pretty much slept 5-6 hours a night after that, and even now, she tends to be a good sleeper.   How long before your kids slept through the night?  Any new parent stories you’d like to share?

Serving two masters

I’ve been working on a short-story (Skycraft) that I’ve been having a lot of fun with.  The writing process is following a similar arc to the Five Draft structure I outlined last week, and I’m currently in the middle of the third draft.  At this point, I’ve pretty much firmed up the events that take place and how the story goes.

I started this story for a contest in mid-October.  As with many of the stories I tried to write last year, I just couldn’t find a way to finish it in time.  It left me with about a dozen half-finished short stories…

I’ve gotten better at finishing them at this point, which is great.  So one of the things I’m doing is looking for other places to submit my stories, which brings me to today’s post.

Skycraft was originally designed as an airship story, so as I’m reading the contests, I see a few places looking for stuff in the Steampunk genre.  With a few tweaks, Skycraft qualifies.  I’m not sure if you noted the operative word at the beginning of this (and why this post is titled the way it is):

A few places

This sounds great to me.  I can write the story, and then submit it to several markets.  I check the submissions requirements to ensure they allow simultaneous submissions… And they do.  Great.   Then I get to the fine-print.

The requirements are slightly different…. Only slightly, but there are differences.  One has a target audience of youths, so I need to keep the language pretty PG.  One is 3500 words, the other is 6000.  One wants to focus on discovery and wonder, the other focuses on the steampunk nature, still another wants to focus on adventure.

I’ll be the first to say that I’m a firm believer that constraints can help make some really creative stuff (hence the reason I love writing prompts).  However, I’m trying to figure out how to serve two masters, each one demanding to be the boss of the story.

Anything with more than one head is a monster.

And that’s what my story became.  As I tried to tweak it so that it could fit into all the boxes, I started actually killing the story.  Colorful characters were cut.  Scenes dropped.  Boring narrative descriptions added (I know that many of you don’t find narrative description boring, but I do!).  I started looking for other things to work on rather than finish this ugly painful story.

So… I’ve decided to cut off all of the heads but one.  It may be limiting the number of markets I can submit to… But I sincerely hope that limiting who I am writing the story for, I will be better able to put forth my best work…

Quality over quantity

What do you think?  When you write stories, have you ever found yourself writing for more than one submission?  How do you deal with it?

Book Review – You’re a Writer

Why I read this book: The title jumped out at me.  “You’re a Writer – So start acting like one.”  I expected another book similar to “On Writing” (Steven King), The Writing Life (Annie Dillard) or “Bird by Bird” (Anne Lamotte).  It wasn’t really any of those.  It felt more like “Tribes” (Seth Godin) or “48 Days to the Work you Love” (Dan Miller).  All of those listed are excellent books, and well worth a read to anybody looking for inspirational material.  By this, I mean the book is great general “rah rah rah! you can do it,” but doesn’t really provide me much in the way of personal experience on a long road of writing.

What I enjoyed about this book: It was a very easy read; I was able to slice through each chapter with no muss or fuss.  The advice provided is generally useful, and there were a few really good tips that are definitely worth picking the book up for.

What I will do differently because of this book: The big thing I want to focus on (and I was already planning to before reading it) is to actually write the stuff that I enjoy writing; stuff that paints a picture of who I am rather than trying to build my platform.

You Are A Writer (So Start Acting Like One)You Are A Writer by Jeff Goins

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

You’re a Writer (so start acting like one) is an inspirational book designed for hopeful authors. If you read any other motivational or servant leadership books, you are in for an equal mix of the same general advice and lots of encouraging words, peppered by a few really useful tips that any aspiring author would benefit from knowing (and accepting).

It is broken into two major sections: Writing and Getting Read. The Writing section is mostly a series of “You should write. Go do it! No really, go do it!” However, the Getting Read section has some strong advice on building a platform, building a personal brand, and connecting with other individuals. Goins does a great job at breaking down your connections into three buckets: Fans, Peers, and Patrons, each bringing something different to the relationship table, and each should be leveraged in different ways.

Goins focuses primarily on writing for magazines or blogs, basically nonfiction or commentary type pieces. He does give a slight nod of the head towards “art,” but even that references poetry as opposed to general fiction. That said, the tips he provides can be adapted for fiction, and it doesn’t really take away from the work if you are reading it for advice in working on your novel. All in all, it’s a quick read that is completely worth the time you spend on it.

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A Time To Write

I have been a terrible steward of my blog in the past two weeks.  I’ve been struggling to hang onto my FFfAW to make sure that I’m not dropping it completely, but it hasn’t been the best showing.

I’ve certainly neglected all the wonderful blogs I follow and great content that they put out.  Promise I’ll rectify that soon!

I’ve been terrible on the writing front for about two weeks.  I’ve tried to switch up my sleep schedule and write in the mornings.  This was a terrible mistake.  I want to be that guy… But I’m not.  So let’s take a peek at it.

When do you write?

Popular literature, common sense, and Benjamin Franklin say that getting up early is the way to go.  Why do so many people advocate writing first thing in the morning.

1. Pay yourself first

What does this mean?  I’ve used this expression in other places, and it’s typically used for finances (specifically, saving).  It means that before you do anything else with your money, you should sweep the amount you want to save away immediately.  You’ll build your week/month/whatever around the new total you have left.

For writing, this means time.  Get that writing done immediately… Or you’ll always find other things in life creeping up and taking that time.  You’ll look back at the end of the day and say, “Man, I wish I had managed to get some writing done today.”  When you pay yourself first, you get your writing done quickly, so it’s not looming over you.

2. Fewer Distractions

Life is busy.  I’ve got somewhere between 1 and 18 million things going on at any given moment.

But let’s face it.  Most of life doesn’t get started until 7, at the very earliest… More likely somewhere in the vicinity of 8 or even 9.  If you get up at 5, there’s nothing good on TV, nobody is up to chat with.  The reality is that there is far less to keep you from focusing purely on writing.

3. Write while you are fresh

At the end of a very long day, a lot of times you want to just “vege out.”  Let your brain ooze out through your nose.  And why not?  You’ve earned it.  So you start getting into your relaxation cycle.  By the time you pull out that keyboard to start on your writing plan, your brain has already checked out.

You’re tired.  You’re beat.  You just want to gets some rest. Big enemy of writing.

These are all great reasons.

They just don’t work for me.

I prefer the evening writing schedule.  I’ve actually gotten more written this evening than I have in probably the last two weeks.

Here’s why evenings work:

1. My kids wake up when I get up too early.  I try to sneak past their door, and sure enough, I’ve got multiple kids wanting my attention.  I love my kids and want to show attention… But it makes it hard to write.

2.  I don’t like waking up early.  I’m sluggish.  I’m exhausted.  And I’m really good at rationalizing to my still mostly asleep mind why I should stay home.  That said,  this past week, I’ve actually gotten out of bed each day… But did nothing with that.  Maybe I take an early shower.  Maybe I climb back in bed.  Maybe I just stare blankly.  Regardless, not a lot of writing getting done.

3.  My brain doesn’t wake up until later.  Even if I manage to get past the first two bullets, this one always gets me.  I stare at the screen and make zero progress.  My eyes drift closed, and soon I’m not paying attention to the flashing cursor in front of me.

4.  At night, I can recall things I’ve seen or done during the day.  This gives me content to put in the stories.  By the time I sleep, all of that is gone.  Pushed back to “long-term.”

I don’t know that my way is right or wrong, but it’s the one that works for me.  When do you get your writing done?