The Worst Thing That Could Possibly Happen

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Well, maybe not the worst thing. There are a LOT of terrible things happening in the world right now. The stock market is fluctuating like crazy, monster storms are flooding cities, people are shooting other people instead of talking to them. Those things are the actual worst things that could possibly happen.

But for a writer who’s been off his game for a while and then just starting to get right back on his game, the worst thing that could happen, happened. Right in the middle of some really important writing that I did not back up, my computer just gave up the ghost and went blank on me.

I had just gotten several great pages done on a new solo show I’m working on. This one is big. It’s life changing. I’ve avoided writing this one for years, that’s how close and important it is to me. It’s about my dismal days working on a big Broadway tour and how I almost didn’t survive those days.

I decided to finally sit down and really start working on it because I’m in a hotel room in Newark, Delaware, away from the family to do an acting gig. It’s the perfect set up to get some writing done. I had a few days off because my scenes are all in the second and third acts of the Feydeau farce we’re doing.

I could feel a good idea coming on. So, I paced around the room. I drank some water. I took some notes on a legal pad. LOTS of notes. Suddenly I knew where I would start and what I would call the piece. I opened up OMM Writer (a great writing app) and zen-ed out while I bled words. I got just about as far as I could before I had to go to rehearsal. I was elated and exhausted and excited, all at the same time. (That’s a lot of “e” words, but I guess emotions are somehow tied to the letter “e”.)

I saved my file and closed everything down and went to rehearsal. I thought about backing the file up, but then thought, “What could happen between now and later?”

When I came back to the hotel, I talked with my family for a while on Skype and then decided to watch “Fear the Walking Dead” on AMC.com. I thought of it as “research” because some of my years on the big Broadway tour were like being one of the walking dead.

Everything on the computer was running a bit slowly. The ads were loading strangely, the computer kept freezing up. I thought it was just the crappy internet that the hotel lets you use for free. Then, suddenly, like a zombie jumping out from behind a door, the computer froze up, the screen turned into a bunch of horizontal lines that wavered and shook and then the screen went black.

Uh-oh.

I tried rebooting the computer. It’s an old MacBook Pro. The Apple symbol came up. Good.

Then the screen went black for the video test.
Fine.

Then…the dreaded gray screen hang.

I did some searching on my phone about how I might be able to fix it. I tried rebooting it to safe mode. The computer belongs to a college, so there is a firmware password. I couldn’t boot it. I could just take it back to IT at the college, but it’s over three hours from where I am now. Plus, they might have to wipe everything. I wanted to try to save it first.

So, I tried buying a Thunderbolt cable and booting it as a target disk to another Mac. Nothing.

I tried removing the hard drive and getting an e-SATA cable and hard drive enclosure and plugging it into a PC. Well, the pretty blue drive light comes on, but at the hotel’s PC I have no access to it’s hard drive so I was still out of luck.

I left the hotel and carried the darn thing around campus for several hours looking for a computer. No luck. School is not back in session yet, so no Mac labs are open. I tried the PC lab. No luck there. The library was closed. The classrooms are all antiquated and only have plugs for PC laptops. The bookstore was closed.  I was hoping it was open so I could just walk up to their Mac sales display and plug this thing in. I really want those opening pages.

But it’s not just the pages for the solo show. I was also going to publish my second children’s book this week. Now I can’t. The formatted book is on the Mac.

I was making great progress on another play I’m writing. I can’t work on that either.

I was several pages into a short film we want to shoot this winter. That’s in there, too.

All in all, I’ve put in about 25 hours trying to get this information back. Hopefully, I’ll be able to use the e-SATA cable with a Mac tomorrow and I’ll report back that I was able to recover the information.

If not, I guess I’ll have to try to reproduce what I originally wrote. I know I can get close to it, maybe even make it better. But there’s something about that feeling you get when you just know something is working and it’s good. That kind of experience is hard to repeat.

I guess the moral of the story is ALWAYS back up your writing. Every time. Otherwise, you’ll end up like me, a poor lost soul wandering a huge university campus in search of a Mac computer, hoping that you can either retrieve those pages or remember them just as they were.

4 Steps to Get More Writing Done by Sowing your Wild Oats

Flickr photo "Sea Oats" by James Lee

Don’t feel like sitting down at the computer to write? Then don’t.

Not yet anyway.

Sometimes, you can get more writing done by sowing your wild OATS.

The phrase “sowing your wild oats” is an idiom meaning to “do wild and foolish things in one’s youth” according to The Free Dictionary.

Now, when I say this, I don’t mean you should go out and do a bunch of wild and foolish things and then come home and write about them. I want to share a technique I sometimes use to get more writing done. I’m using the acronym O.A.T.S. to explain the technique, so I had to find an idiom that matched the acronym. “Sowing your wild oats” is what I came up with.

Like Grammar Girl, I’m crazy about English idioms. I also love learning about idioms in other languages, too. They really show off the power of metaphorical language to express ourselves. They can also show us how crazy and wild our language can seem to other people.

I chose “sowing your wild oats” as an acronym for this exercise because I was looking for a way to get more writing done by doing something “wild and foolish” instead of forcing myself to sit at the computer banging my head against the keyboard to come up with writing ideas.

If you follow each step of the “sowing your wild OATS” process, you’ll have a finished piece of writing that you gets out there into the world instead of languishing on your hard drive.

Leave me a comment with a link to anything you create using this method and I’ll check it out. Any other thoughts or comments are also greatly appreciated!

How to Sow Your Wild Oats

1. Observe

As you know from my post 10 Ways to Know You’re a Writer, I love the app Evernote. I make sure I have a copy on whatever device I carry with me so that I can make quick notes and keep them organized. I keep a folder called “Observations” in the app where I’ll jot down things I notice throughout the day that might come in handy for my writing later.

I’m currently doing some work on a feature film. The main part of the action takes place in a high school on Long Island. Instead of sitting around waiting and chatting (there is a LOT of sitting around and waiting and chatting on a film set), I decided to “sow my wild oats” and get a little writing done without actually sitting down at the computer.

I pulled out my device, opened up Evernote and made some observations. Since my work in progress (#WIP) is set in a middle school in Tarrytown, NY, I wanted to use this opportunity to get some authentic detail about schools today.

Here are some of my notes:

Boy’s bathrooms – voices echo off tile, rust spots on the walls near urinals (eww), gray tiles with ugly peach paint above, no locks on stalls

Hall lockers have a THICK coat of blue paint from years of repainting and abuse. They really are wide enough for Lance (my main character) to be stuffed into. Should I ask my son if I can stuff him inside one? (I didn’t.)

Most of the trophies in the trophy case were for tennis. Must be a school of wealthy students. Maybe a tennis pro is a coach?

Really confusing layout of hallways. Freshmen must get lost all the time.

There were a lot more observations, but I’ll stop there.

Now I could’ve just closed the app and said, “I did my writing for the day. Ah!” But just observing and taking notes doesn’t really get any writing done. Those notes are like a warm-up. If I stop there, they’ll just sit there collecting electronic dust in my Evernote app unless I do something with them.

If you have tons of files, notes, scribbles, and jottings lying around, e-dust them off by taking the next step.

2. Analyze

Before deciding what to do with your casual observations, analyze them. I don’t mean going through and judging them, “This one is terrible! This one is awesome! This one is meh.” (I often do that, though. Sigh.)

I mean thinking about them differently. Try finding the connections, figuring out what the observations are trying to say and what they mean. Sometimes I see patterns and meanings that I hadn’t noticed when I was just writing down the original thoughts.

For this set of observations at the high school, one or two or possibly all of them will make their way into my middle grade paranormal adventure novel. My main character, Lancelot Greengrass, is kind of small and occasionally gets pushed around because of his size. The kids who do this call him “Grass-stains” because of his weird last name and because he always has grass stains on his knees from falling down when he gets pushed.

As I analyze the observations I made, some them are getting me excited to add those details into my story. I can’t wait to get to the computer and write. Excitement is always a clue that those ideas are the ones to pursue when you take the next step.

3. Transform

The bare facts are rarely enough when writing for an audience. Even news tells a story from the point of view of the person observing it.

What we call “voice” can be thought of as the transformation of “what happened” into “this is how I saw it, processed it, understood it. I hope you will, too.”

This is the part of the process that usually happens in the shower or while you’re doing the dishes. Your inner critic is distracted by the mundane activity and your creative brain makes connections you didn’t think would happen. Suddenly, you have a great idea! The original observations suddenly transform into another way of using them.

The blue paint on the lockers might become an activity for the janitor to be doing in the hallway.

The gym teacher might become a washed up tennis pro after seeing those tennis trophies in the display case.

Lance might get lost all the time because he’s new at Washington Irving Middle School.

And, lastly, the observations I made might make the transformation from details to be used in my novel into details I can use for a blog post like this one. (See how I did that?)

4. Send

This last step is the most important. It’s what Austin Kleon talks about in his excellent book, Show Your Work: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered (and in this GREAT VIDEO).

We all write because we love it and it’s how we express ourselves creatively. Some of us keep our writing to ourselves and some of us have a world-wide audience. No matter what size audience you have or form your writing takes: a blog, short story, play, screenplay, novel, article, poem, textbook, a letter to the editor or a love note, you need to send those words out into the world in order for them to make a difference and to learn something about what your writing is all about and what you have to say.

As Mr. Kleon says, “The only way to find your voice is to use it.”

This final step to getting more writing done is called Send but it could just as easily be called Sowing. Like a farmer sowing seeds on a plowed field, we need to do the same with our writing. When you cast your words out there like seeds, you’ll be amazed at what grows. So go make some Observations, Analyze them for content and connections, Transform them into something creative and amazing and then Send those words out into the world.

Now go forth and sow your wild OATS!

Writing Prompt 05: World’s 10 Most Mysterious Photographs

For this prompt choose one of the 10 photographs from this fascinating video by Hybrid Librarian and write a story that relates to the actual photograph or the circumstances surrounding or suggested by the photograph. I’m particularly drawn to the photograph of STS088-724-66, the Black Knight satellite.

An alternative would be to write a story about an album of mysterious photographs that someone finds or is given.

  • Why are the photographs in the album?
  • What do they depict?
  • What does the protagonist need to do to solve the mystery of the photographs?

When you write a story using this prompt, please send me a link. If you have any other ideas based on this prompt, leave a comment. Thanks for sharing!

Stories are the Wildest Things.

10 Ways to Know You’re a Writer

You’ve wondered, right?

You’ve asked yourself this question many times and you’re reading this post to find out, “Am I a writer?”

Like a hypochondriac checking out WebMD over and over again, you scour articles and blog posts for the telltale signs and symptoms that you’ve got what it takes to declare yourself a writer.

I do, too. That’s why I came up with this list of 10 Ways to Know You’re a Writer.

After reading the list, click on the links to the other great blog posts and articles that relate to each of these ideas.

Please leave me a comment about which symptoms you come down with most often, or add some new ones of your own.

You Know You’re a Writer if…

10. You take really long showers because you’re working on a writing problem or your fictional characters are having conversations in your head and you’re eavesdropping on them. (I came up with the idea for this blog post while taking a shower this morning.)

9.  Your favorite hashtag on Twitter is #amwriting (<=== or these nine other hashtags).

8. Your friends and family ask you to “pick a movie already” when you’re on Netflix and you tell them, “I’m not picking a movie, I’m reading the synopses.”

7. You check Amazon.com synopses for books that are similar to the one you are writing right now (you also say “synopses” a lot).

6. You have a Pinterest board where you pin cool spaces for writing retreats.

5. When you’re out with friends, instead of engaging in conversation you narrate your life – “Paul sat on his bar stool nursing a half-finished beer. Conversations swirled around him, but he was lost in his thoughts. He should be home writing, but his friends insisted he come out with them to celebrate his latest book, All By Myself’.”

4. You constantly notice grammatical errors in other people’s writing but can’t seem to find them in your own.

3. You love words and could spend hours pouring through 500 billion of them or enjoy lexicography.

2. Your Evernote app, filing cabinet, desktop, etc. is overflowing with so many ideas, photos and articles for future stories and blog posts that it’s hard to find the one you’re looking for when you need it.

1. But the number one way to know you are a writer is – You declare yourself to be one and then sit in the chair and write!

There are a LOT of great 10 Ways to Know articles out there on the internet. My Google search turned up 1,650,000,000 hits in .039 seconds. That makes 16.5 billion things to know. That’s about 2.28 things to know for each person living on Earth today. Here are 10 of the 1.65 billion 10 Ways articles I took a look at for this post.

  1. 10 Ways to Know if You’re Confident – or Arrogant
  2. 10 Ways to Find Happiness
  3. 10 Ways to Know that You’re a Stoner
  4. 10 Ways to Know Very Quickly if your Man is a Psychopath
  5. 10 Ways to Develop Your Personal Style
  6. 10 Ways to Alter Your Consciousness Without Drugs
  7. Top 10 Ways to Annoy the Locals
  8. 10 Ways to Help Your Community in 30 Minutes or Less
  9. 10 Ways to Know You’re Having a Hot Flash
  10. 10 Ways to Be a Great Dad

Unhappy with your Writing Progress? You Need This Secret Power

In this TED talk, Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi asks the question, “What makes a life worth living?”

He says that a lack of basic material resources contributes to unhappiness but the increase in material resources does not necessarily increase happiness. He shows in this video and his books that those who find pleasure and lasting satisfaction are engaging in activities that bring about a state of “flow.”

I know that when I was in “flow” mode today while working on my MG adventure novel, I was very happy. I hit my word count goal for the day. I enjoyed the food I ate and the music I was listening to while writing. When I picked up my four-year-old after daycare we played and laughed and ran around more vigorously than when I haven’t been able to get any writing done for the day.

When we are in flow, Czikszentmihalyi says, we disappear. Our existence is temporarily suspended. I feel this way when I write or perform. I disappear into these other worlds for the time I am engaged in my story.

Seven things he mentions that are important for flow:

  1. We are completely involved in what we are doing, focused, concentrated
  2. A sense of ecstasy – being outside everyday reality
  3. Great inner clarity – knowing what needs to be done and how well we are doing
  4. Knowing that the activity is doable – that we are up to the task
  5. Serenity – no worry about self, feeling of growing beyond the ego
  6. Timelessness – focused on the present, hours seem to pass in minutes
  7. Intrinsic motivation – engaging in flow is its own reward

Stories are the wildest things.

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Write a Novel in 30 Days – Fiction Unboxed (Days 3-15)

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I haven’t posted from day-to-day on Fiction Unboxed from the guys at Self-Publishing Podcast because I’ve been busy writing, parenting and reading the updates that the guys have posted each day. Their steam punk YA grows by leaps and bounds with each day. The past twelve days have been all about getting words on the page. They are about halfway through their first draft and they’ve already begun to polish. I admire their tenacity in getting the pages complete. My own output has been anemic in comparison.

They write a few pages, do some editing, upload everything and we get to read the work in progress. They’re super fast with their first drafts, making very few changes to the story as they go. They are also running their podcast, working on other projects and parenting as well. It’s pretty amazing to watch the guys work. They’ve definitely got FLOW.

Because they set up the beats so well, the writing really flows. The edits are mostly line edits for grammar, sense and rhythm. I really appreciate seeing the edits because they show how having an external eye can really strengthen your writing for the better.

As far as the influence on my writing, I’m not sure yet how it’s been helping me with my MG novel other than keeping me focused on word count. I have had a few ideas for stories within their world, which I’m getting “itchy” to begin beating out. Because they are opening the world to us, it will be fun to play within it and see what happens. I know I have to keep focused on the story I’m working on now, though. Like Henry Miller said, “Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.” I will probably do some beats on this idea tonight, though.

The community of writers who are participating in Fiction Unboxed are positive and interesting. We’ve formed a community on Google+ with several members organizing and other members watching and participating when they can. I haven’t yet been able to take part in a Google hangout, but I’d like to. If you’re interested in finding out more about this fascinating project, check them out at Fiction Unboxed.

As a busy writer parent, I’ve tried to balance my participation with Fiction Unboxed, parenting, my writing, blogging and reading and my other projects. My wife and I had a production meeting last night. We have several films coming up this summer and an energetic four-year-old who wants and needs our attention. We’re also searching for other opportunities to pursue at the same time. All of it seems a bit overwhelming. We always come through the other side of our dilemmas, but right now we are searching for an opening to dash through to find a solution.

As I write this, my four-year-old is munching cereal and watching Sesame Street. He has a milk goatee. Now he is chewing on a pillow. Now the pillow has a milk goatee, too. The birds are singing outside our window in a cacophony of birdsong and the wind chimes are tinkling in response to the wind. Cloudless blue skies are beckoning. I’m behind on word count and stuck in a story dilemma. Do I stay in my fictional world or go out into the one outside my window? Henry Miller again, “Keep Human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.” I won’t be drinking, but I may have to take my little one to the park.

The solution we came up with last night is to play hard with our four-year-old and insist on some resting time in the middle of the afternoon to give me an hour or two to pound out some words. I am going to post this, go play hard and then post again this afternoon with the results of this new procedure.

Let me know what solutions you’ve come up with as writer parents to get your words on the page. Also, please sign-up for my email newsletter, Stories are the Wildest Things, you’ll get insider tips and inspirational quotes right to your inbox. I’ll never sell your email or send you any SPAM. Have a productive writing day and I’ll see you later this afternoon.

PJ

 

 

Write a Novel in 30 Days – FICTION UNBOXED (Days 2 & 3)

Fiction Unboxed Day Three

So the guys, Sean Platt and Jounny B. Truant, are “steaming” along with their ideas for their 30 day novel and the process is FASCINATING. Getting to sit on their story meetings has given me some valuable insights into a working method for collaborators that could really help writers pump out the kind of volume the guys have been pumping out.

For the first three days they threw around a lot of different ideas based on the Steampunk genre. They’ve already written and discarded tons of words.

They worked hard to come up with a world for the characters to live in and a story line that they would both be excited to keep exploring. This process is difficult enough when you are working in private, but adding the stressful element of everyone watching has to be affecting the guys in some way. They do discuss how strange it is and how aware they are that people are watching, even incorporating it into the story idea. It will be interesting to hear them talk more about this as they move forward.

They’ve also been posting their pages. As of today we’ve seen emails, beats, and a first draft of Chapter One. You can check out where they are in the process by visiting FICTION UNBOXED. There are some FREE levels you can still take part in.

Here are a few take-aways from the past few days:

Discipline is key to getting this accomplished, what the guys call “ass in chair” time. Agreed.

When talking about their protagonist Johnny B. Truant said, “You can’t desire something you don’t want and you can’t want something if it’s too easy to get.” I think that’s really good advice for creating a character your readers want to follow. Give them something they want more than anything else and make it REALLY hard for them to get.

While trying to figure out the beats, the guys discussed how they wanted to find the story that is true to them. They used a great term while describing themselves – genre agnostic – and said that no matter the genre, “our voice is what matters.”

As they work, there is not a lot of changing the other person’s ideas by saying “how about this instead.” What they do is ask a lot of questions about WHY the world works or doesn’t work as they are creating it. They also say, “I like that ” a lot and then riff off of the given circumstances they are creating for the characters to live into. You can see why they are a great team by how they communicate their ideas to each other.

At one point Sean Platt says he talks to his wife, Cindy, about the ideas and immediately feels like he can expand on it, this happens for me as well. It seems that if you start telling the story to someone else and get caught up in it yourself, that can be a really good sign that you are headed in the right direction.

They continue to spin the story out as they go along and keep comparing it to other stories and tropes, mixing and mashing them up into new combinations. “Good writers borrow, great writers steal!” (this quote and versions of it is attributed to various people: Oscar Wilde, Pablo Picasso, T.S. Elliot, Austin Kleon even Steve Jobs)

They keep talking about what they like, “I like this, I love this, I want to get that” and they laugh and curse and make fun of their own ideas and get excited about them as well. It’s strange to watch because it is very similar to the process that goes on in my head.

The last quote for the day that I’d like to leave you with is “Our hero has this itch that she can’t scratch for her entire life.”

This is brilliant because if we build characters that have something they have a deep longing to accomplish or solve or acquire, we as an audience will want to go on the journey with them.

This experience is just like that, too.

The guys have a deep longing, or itch, to get this book done in 30 days and we are following along on their journey fascinated by how difficult it is and wanting to know what their process is and if they are going to accomplish it, even though we know they will (but do we?). We started with nothing and by the end of this journey we will have watched them build a whole new world with all of its bumps and bruises and false starts and unknowns. In some way, watching them do it, can give us permission to do it too.

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