Sunday, February 27, 2011

Writer's Block? Write an iPhone App for your Cat!

It's not actually "writer's" block per se. I've been working on this evil thing known as the synopsis. It feels like I'm going through a full-cavity search. But I digress.

While trying to rethink how I explain certain plot point, I developed an iPhone app. No, you will not find it on the iTunes App Store. I will give it to you here. For FREE!

Three key ingredients:

(1) Southern California Sun:

Other suns will do as well, but since our weather experts said we would have snow in Southern California, and instead we have a beautiful sunshiny day, I want to give a shout out to OUR sun.

(2) An iPhone:

In fact, other phones will do as well, you just need a nice shiny surface

(3) Cats:

Any garden-variety cat will do

The Application:

Position item #2 (iPhone) such that item #1 (SoCal Sun) reflects onto a wall or any flat surface, hence, exciting item #3 (cats)

The Result:

Happy cats, fee iPhone app, and not a single word closer to being done with my evil synopsis.

Fight the good fight!

Monday, February 21, 2011

I am NOT looking for permission

Are you?

Someone asked me why my twitter & email usernames are "araTHEwriter"

It was the "THE" that caught their eye. I could have said that it was there to break up the three words so that it's easier to read and parse my name from the username.

I could have said that I have an alter-ego: my business-man side. That's the technologist Ara, who works in the entertainment industry. I suppose there could be "araTHEbusinessMAN"... don't search for it. No such name exists.

But the truth is, my username is a declaration.

I AM a writer. I want it to be clear that I am not waiting for some magical event, or external confirmation. I am a writer. Always have been, but didn't do much about it until about a 18 months ago.

I tittered on the edge. Never committing, always riding that fence. Have you noticed that when you lean on that fence too long, your butt starts hurting? That's where I was.

When I started to work on the craft -- learn, practice, and write -- magic happened. In a period of ten months, on a schedule of three to four hours a night, I've written two novels. If I didn't believe that I was a writer, I would still be working on the outline. I would be stuck. Second guessing every plot twist, and character arc.

Commitment is about being on the court--wanting that ball when the seconds are ticking away. Putting yourself on the line, because you know that the joy of life is realized when you play the game, not just watch it.

Do not be a spectator in game called "Your Life."

Let me say this another way -- do you really need some external validation, to know that you're a good person, a smart person, or happy? Really? Didn't think so.

I work 60 hour weeks. Yet, every night, after our kids are fast asleep, I find a few hours to write. Every night. No exceptions.

Writing is not work. It's joy. Is breathing work? Is laughing work? Is loving work?

Love what you do, do what you love, but above all, take pride in what you do. When you respect your craft, others will also.

Fight the good fight.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Am I a Seven-Year-Old?

My seven-year-old takes piano lessons. He takes them... what he does with them is unknown.

When I was thirteen (that was, like, a couple of years ago...) I started to play the guitar.

Why? For the popularity of course :) I say that in jest, but there is some truth to it. It was cool to be that kid that knew how to play Crazy Train and Stairway to Heaven. But there was more to it. I wanted to learn those songs.

I wanted to feel the music hum through my chest as I strummed the strings. The feeling of accomplishment, completion, and mastery was my first taste of unadulterated joy.

I spent hours, upon hours, practicing. My fingers were literally bleeding, until they built the callous that made my finger tips iron-clad.

By the time I was about to start college (that was, like, a couple of years ago...) I put my guitar aside and focused on... video games, of course (What? School? What's the matter with you?).

I not only played video games, but I learned how to design them. I could play for hours, and would think just as long about what made some games better than others. My engineering studies fortified the designer, the problem solver in me. I got pretty good at it.

By the time I graduated, and entered the work-force (Yes, you guessed it, that was also a couple of years ago...) my friends and I decided we had enough energy and knowledge to launch a start-up video game company. We did. Had a lot of fun. I spent every waking hour drawing, coding, testing. It was a passion.
Hank from Beach Raiders - Art by Jack Edjourian - Partner & Friend (Copyright, 1999 Sudden Presence LLC)

Let's fast-forward to today... and get back to my son. We got back home and he had to practice. Had to, not because he wants to, but that's what he has been told to do.

He sits behind the piano, plays the song once and says, "Okay, I'm done."
"I want you to play it three more times," I say.
"So... two more times. I played once already. Two more is three. You said three."
"No, three MORE times, from this minute," I say.
"So, you want three more... then that's four. That's it, right?"

I know that this is typical of the generation. I get it. "Tell me exactly what you want from me, and I'll give that to you. Just as you asked. Nothing more, nothing less."

However, in that moment I saw my face in his. That is my pitiful attitude as it relates to query letters and synopsis. I've been looking for that magic formula. "So... if I have a hook, explain the plot, and the challenge, then I'm done. Right?" I have not treated this part of the process with the same passion that I give the actual novel. Seems completely illogical.

I am a realist. I study the rules of the game, and find the way to win. Everything I do, I do with pride. Nothing half-assed in my life. When I decided to get a graduate degree (yes, a couple of years ago) I went to a top-20 program and graduated with honors. When I decided to buy an espresso machine, I learned how to make the best damn coffee possible (come over and you'll never think of coffee the same way again :D ). I have never--ever--done anything with lack-luster passion for it.

So why have I not jumped into the query process with both feet? Why have I only queried four agents? Don't know, don't care. It's NOW that matters.

Release the hounds! Take the children inside! This'll be fun.

And don't expect me to blog about the rejections. I play to win. I'll tell you when I have found my agent, my partner. It may take years, it may be for another book, but when it happens, you'll know!

Until then, fight the good fight.

Monday, February 14, 2011

You're A Writer If...

Let's do something fun.

It seems to me that those who pursue the art and craft of writing are a unique type of humans...

Originally from:

Let me explain: We sweat over each word, for years, knowing there's less than a 1% chance we will finish the novel, much less get an agent, much less find an editor, much less get it published within three years after getting an editor, knowing that there's a 95% chance that we'll sell less than 400 copies.... Yet,  millions of us keep on doing it, day in and day out.

I am convinced there are some traits that makes us writers.

So let's start tweeting out favorite lines.

The format should be as follows:
     -->  #youreawriterif [your reason]

A sample tweet would look like this:
     -->  #youreawriterif the word query induces instant nausea

If you want you can also include the link to this post:
     -->  #youreawriterif [your reason]

If you don't tweet, get an account already! Just kidding (so touchy are these writer types). Post a comment and I'll tweet it for you.

Have fun, get creative. Let's do this!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Bring in the Beta Readers!

Rocky Peak Academy is almost ready.

"What?" you ask.

That's my new novel. Not sure if this name will stick, but that's what I'm calling it and I'm the master of my writing destiny (for now, until an agent, and an editor, and a publicist, and a... you get the picture).

I'm just about done editing my first draft. I suppose that would be considered the 2nd draft, but I'm not ready to make that commitment yet.

My manuscript will go to my wife (first reader) and Michael Levin (coach, BS detector and best selling novelist extraordinaire) sometime next week.

Once I have their feedback (the good, the bad, and a bunch of ugly), I will start the 2nd draft in earnest. And once that's done... bring in the beta readers.

Here's how I choose mine: they need to really care about my writing goals, they need to be willing and able to tell me the blatant truth, some will be artistically inclined, some are nearly copy editors, some are aspiring novelists. In total, I try to get about six of them. But it needs to be an even number.

Why even? For the tie-breaker, of course!

I will take all of their feedback and consider everything carefully (my ego is very small... it really is. I accept most feedback on face-value). If there's a pattern, then I have to trust my beta readers. But if there's a split, then house wins (that's me). I will make the call.

How do you pick your beta-readerss?

Do you look for people with strong fashion sense?

Maybe physically attractive?

Or is the intellectuals?

How many people?
Nope... no steroids here

Let me know. I'm very needy.

Take care, write well, and always, fight the good fight.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Like Fine Wine...

Today, I completed the read-through of my new novel. I'm very proud at this moment. It may be the effect of the special energy concoction I twitted about...

I needed a boost and this one did it. I was able to complete the non-editing read-through of my first draft. I found some holes, some gaps, and some not so impressive areas. But that's what the 2nd draft is for, right?

All in all, I am very happy. I got goosebumps at the end of the story. That has to be good, particularly since I knew how it ended :)

When I finished my first draft, I set aside my manuscript for two weeks. I was very good about it. Not once did I read it. I was tempted. Big time. Here's another one of my paranoid tweets:

On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the CraftI waited two weeks. My hero, Stephen King, in his book on the craft of writing (On Writing) recommends a minimum of two weeks, ideally a month.

My other hero, James Scott Bell, also recommends the same thing in his fantastic books.

Plot & Structure: (Techniques And Exercises For Crafting A Plot That Grips Readers From Start To Finish) (Write Great Fiction)So I did, and it was the best thing I could have done. The time created distance and objectivity. In fact I had forgotten a lot of the details. Even the name of the bad guy had escaped me. I was able to read it like a "near" first time reader.

On my first novel, ACES, the two weeks was painful. With this one, I was able to handle it. During the two weeks I read books that I need to read, worked on my blog, got sick, and worked on strategy documents for my day job. And because I worked on other things, I was able to get a lot more value from the process.

Tell me, what's your process between your first draft and when you read the entire manuscript again?

How long do you wait?
What do you do to fill that space?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

What's this eBook thing, anyway?

This is almost painful to watch. The look on their faces as they speak about this weird, new thing called the "Internet"

Okay, so maybe the video has nothing to do with eBooks... but maybe, it really does.

I can't help but let my very expensive education from USC get in the way. I guess when I got an MBA, I learned to look at most things through the eyes of an entrepreneur. Most people in the industry are pretending, hoping that this eBook-thing and self-publishing-thing and indie-publishing-thing will go away. If we shove our head deep under the sand--real deep--it'll go away.

It won't go away. It's already too late. The question, the only question, that should be asked is what are YOU doing to ride this wave? How are you reconsidering the impact and possibilities and opportunities that this wave will bring.

In this blog, I write about writing.

But my "other" life is, and has been, about bringing new technologies to market. I've launched businesses, ran businesses, and helped others realize their entrepreneurial dreams. Today, I help develop the technology roadmap of the movie industry. And I see a dangerous disease everywhere I look.

There is a disease that's called denial. And unfortunately, in the book publishing industry, denial is the de facto standard. As writers, we can't be blind. This is our careers, the future, the platform upon which we are able to deliver our stories to others.

We can watch that 1994 TODAY SHOW video and laugh. "How ridiculous, and blind," we'll claim. "For the love of everything that we know of, the Internet is the backbone of everything we do."

In ten years, will we look back at the articles, and YouTube videos produced in 2011 about eBooks and laugh? Will we wonder how so many people missed the boat?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

First Draft - Open or Closed?

Those who follow my brilliant, witty, and insightful Tweets (just ask my mom), already know this: I've finished the first draft of my second novel.

Yes, tis' true. Thank you for your support, furry one.

For some, this may be a 'so what' moment, but to me, it's a big deal. I wanted to know that I had more than one story in me. I mean, I knew I had more, but would I be able to get it out and put it on paper.

I am happy to say that my fears were laid to rest. Not only was I able to call on the muse again, but this time I was able to finish even faster than with my first story. This novel took me 32 days to write.

Granted this is only my first draft, and my story will go through a lot of surgery before it's done. But this got me to think about my writing process:

Writing my first draft is a lonely experience. It's only me and my manuscript. No one else.

Stephen King calls this writing with the doors closed. He, like me, writes his first draft behind closed doors. I guess I should say "I, like Mr King, write my first draft"... as opposed to... oh, you know what I mean!

He doesn't mean literally closed doors, although I'm sure that would help. In my case, my home office doors don't actually keep my little monkey's out.

Even when I close the doors, they stand behind the glass and wave at me.

I only share the first chapter. And only with my wife. After that, I am in solitary confinement. I share nothing. NOTHING.

For whatever reason, I assumed most people write their first draft this way. But, nay. Many write one chapter or two and get it to their critique group. I would be such a mess. For many reasons. My first draft has gaps in it. The themes have not been harnessed. The archeological find is still in the soil. The shape is there, but the definition, is far from being ready for others to read. How could I share that!

I've taken a lot of my studying and coaching to heart. You write the first draft fast and furious. Don't let anyone or anything get in the way. Finish your first draft fast.

Another writer, Gwen Hernandez, reminded me of a perfectly appropriate quote by the great Nora Roberts: "You can fix a bad page. You can't fix a blank one."

Critique group? Not me. I don't think I could do it. If people started to give me their input, I would be a basket case. "But, I'm not really done yet. Don't judge me!" Maybe as I get more novels under my belt, I'll change my mind. But somehow I think this is in my DNA.

I'd like to know:
  • What's your first draft velocity? Are you fast and furious, or methodical, with various revisions while you write the first draft?
  • Do you share your work in progress? Or write with the doors closed?

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