Thursday, September 29, 2016

In the Trenches - Five Creative Writing Lessons I've Learned

Five lessons I’ve learned from writing five books

1. Time is a writer’s most valuable commodity: It’s hard to write when you’re tired. When I teach creative writing classes I tell my students that I write every day, which is true, but that doesn’t make it easy. When I sit down at 9 o’clock at night, after a long day, and try to continue a story that I’ve been writing for three months, it’s hard. It’s really, really hard. It would be easier to sit down and watch an episode of Stranger Things, or read a book, or go for a walk, or bake a cake. It would be easier to do just about anything than write the next part of that book. So if you’re out there, and you’re struggling because the only time you can find to write is at night or at 5 in the morning, I feel your pain. Try to find time, time when you’re fresh. Fight for that time and don’t feel guilty when you take it. People fight for time to exercise and they fight for time to make money, it’s perfectly legit to fight for time to write.

2. Do the work every day: You’ve no doubt heard the quote by Ovid, “Dripping water hollows out stone, not through force but through persistence.” Well guess what, that’s not just a hokey inspirational quotation, this actually holds true with writing. If you can move your story forward a little every day, even if it’s only one sentence at a time, there will inevitably come a day when you write those amazing words, “The End.” That’s how you slay the dragon and become a hero. That’s how you finish what you start.

3. Finish what you start: Okay, so I’ve actually written six books in the last six years, but one of those books hasn’t quite made the cut. It’s a good story, with interesting characters, and a distinctive style, but it’s not ready for the world yet. I knew it wasn’t quite right halfway through writing it, but I’ve made a vow to myself that I will finish everything that I start. Why? Because it’s the only way I will figure out what’s wrong with what I’m doing. If I bail on a project because it’s not working, then I never consider why it’s not working. If I walk away I learn nothing. When the wheels fall off you must consider why that happened. Is it the plot? The characters? Is it the point of view? Figure out the problem, fix it, and march on. Once you cross that river, once you start the book, burn your bridges, there is no going back.

4. Finish the first draft: My worst habit as a writer is going back and constantly revising the first half of my book. I’ll write the first 40 pages a dozen times, maybe two dozen times. I tell myself I’m doing this to make sure all my ducks are in a row, but really I’m doing it to avoid moving on. I’ve watched myself waste two weeks (sometimes more) writing one beginning, changing it radically, and then revising myself back to the original beginning. I’m hiding from the ending. I’m resisting writing the next part. Here’s the thing, you probably don’t know how the book is going to turn out until you actually finish the first draft, so revising the beginning over and over doesn’t put all your ducks in a row, because eventually you’re going to have to make changes to the beginning of the book based on the ending, which you don’t know until you FINISH THE FIRST DRAFT.

5. Take some time to plan before you begin: I know some writers say they don’t plan, but I bet they do. They might not lay out their story plot point by plot point, but I bet they mull things over in their head at the very least. I recently watched a video clip in which Stephen King said he’ll tell himself a new story as he goes to sleep before he starts to write it. He seems pretty dead set against planning out his books, but it sounds like he works things out in his head, at least a little, before he starts pounding out words on a keyboard. I like to plan a bit, and I know it saves me time in the end (and time is my most valuable commodity). Ken Follett plans a lot, Stephen King is on the opposite end of the spectrum, I’m somewhere in the middle. A lot of young writers don’t want to plan, they want to get their ideas down on paper and they want to do it right away, but in my experience spending some time planning things out will make your story better in the end.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays

I've been on a blog hiatus for a few months, but I'm planning on starting some new posts in 2016. If you'd like to see what I've been up to, check out the links below:

My website - http://www.jamesleck.com/
My FB page - https://www.facebook.com/writerJamesLeck/?ref=hl
My Tumblr account - http://jamesleck.tumblr.com/
My Twitter account - https://twitter.com/JamesLeck

Have a very Merry Christmas!


Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Trying something new!

Check out my Tumblr account to find out my latest and greatest creative adventures. Just thought I would try sharing in a new way.

Cheers,
James

http://jamesleck.tumblr.com/


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Save what you write!

I'm working on a new book that I'm calling The MacGuffin for now. About two months ago I wrote a scene that took place in a top secret bunker. It was a scene that was easy to write, it was a scene that was action packed and funny, it was a scene that I thought had to be in the book.  Eventually, however, I had to admit it really didn't fit into the flow of the story. So, sadly, I had to cut it out and move on in another direction. That new direction worked much better and the book has been coming along nicely. Yesterday, though, I realized my characters had arrived back at that secret bunker about 100 pages later. It turns out that the bunker scene was a part of the story after all, just in a different spot. So what did I do, rewrite that scene all over again? No way! Luckily, I save multiple versions of my writing, and I'm extra careful to save if I cut out a big chunk of text because you never know when you might need it again.

TIP - Save multiple versions of your work! Sometimes you don't write things in the same order that they happen in your story.

Monday, July 27, 2015

After Dark

One week until my next book, After Dark, hits the bookshelves. Aug. 1 would've also been my dad's 70th bday. The fact that he died when I was 18 is a big reason I pursued writing. Not only did I realize I was going to die, but I also had to face the fact that it could happen at any time and might go down in a pretty bad way. Don't put off those things you want to accomplish today until tomorrow, life is fragile and it can turn on a dime.

A few reviews are already out:

https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/james-leck-47404/after-dark-leck/

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Expanding Your Character

In the last post I showed you a way to create a character quickly and easily. Now I'd like to show you one of the ways I get to know my characters. Of course, as I write a book I start to learn things about my characters, but I like to know a bit about them before I begin. So, what I'll often do is answer a few questions. I spend 10 minutes on each question, and the rule is I can't stop writing for the whole 10 minutes. If I can't think of something to write I jot down blahblahblah (etc.) until I do think of something to write. Here are a few of my favorite questions to answer:

What does their bedroom look like?

~I think a bedroom tells you a lot about a person; is the bed made, what posters are on the walls,     what's in the closet, what's under the bed, is there a funky smell in there? I want to know as much as possible. J.K. Rowling taught us a lot about Harry Potter by introducing us to his bedroom at the Dursley's house.

What's in their fridge?

~I had a student once who told me the only thing in his fridge that morning was a bottle of mustard. That was incredibly sad to hear, but my writer brain started to wonder what series of events would lead to a fridge containging only one bottle of mustard. Consider what's in the fridge and you'll be surprised what you might learn.

What's the worst thing that ever happened to your character?

~Is the worst thing that ever happened not getting a pony for their 10th birthday? That tells you something. Is the worst thing that they traveled back in time and were almost eaten by a T-Rex? That would need some explaining. 

Do they have any scars?

This is my favorite question because scars almost always have a good story attached to them. I have lots of scars. I have one on my cheek that I got when a big St. Bernard jumped on me as a kid and ripped open my cheek. I have one on my chin that I got when a guy slid into me playing soccer, my chin split open and his forehead split open. I think I got the better deal. I have one on the bridge of my nose that I got when a speaker fell off a shelf and landed right between my eyes. That's a great story that I can't share, but trust me, it's a doozie.

Try to answer those questions and see where it takes you. Sometimes they can lead to interesting side stories. Remember, have fun!









Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Creative Writing - Developing a Character




Here's a quick and easy way to create a character.

Divide your page like so:


Now think of a person that you know really well. Two rules: it can't be a famous person (you may think you know Taylor Swift, but you probably don't), and it can't be a fictional character. It has to be a real person.

Get out a timer and give yourself one minute to write down everything and anything you can think of about that person in the top left hand section. (prompts: hair color, eye color, height, weight, body type, fav music, fav sport, are they funny, are they shy, what do they want in life, what are they afriad of)

Now think of another person that you know really well.

Get out that timer again and give yourself one minute to write down everything and anything you can think of about your second person in the top right hand section.

You should have two lists that are filled with information about your two friends. For instance:


Take that information and mix your first person together with your second person in the box at the bottom. This time, however, you have permission to mix in some information that is made up or kind of altered. So, if you want to give them a black belt in judo, go ahead, or if you want to make them a sparkly vampire, go for it.

For instance, here's John and Howard mixed together:

Man (both boys)
32 years old  (made up)
6’2” (made up)
blue eyes (Howard)
auburn hair (John)
Scientist (Howard?)
black belt in tae kwon do (Howard)
loves to talk (John)
loves lasagna (John)
***fears losing (Howard)
***just wants to have fun (John)

By the way, I'm going to name my new character Johnny Howard.