William H. Johnson

Archive for April, 2011|Monthly archive page

The Benefits of Writing Everyday

In writing tips on April 21, 2011 at 3:35 pm

For the last week I have settled into a new rhythm. It feels excellent.

Traditionally when working on a project I would write 2-4 times a week for 3 hours. That worked great for THE DARK PROVINCE but now is a different time. I only had one child when I wrote my first book and I wasn’t going to grad school.

New times and new stresses have demanded more of my writing. For the moment I have jumped on the daily writing train to find my answer. For the last week I have written everyday for at least an hour. In that hour I can get about 500-600 words out long hand. This morning I went longer and cleared 1000. It’s a good way to get 4000-5000 words done a week but there’s more!

I am one of those writers that need to write for their sanity. If I haven’t written in too many days I start to get the shakes. I get anxious. I’ll be working on other work and I can’t convince myself to focus because my need to express through written word is too hungry to keep quiet. By writing once a day I have a powerful tool in negotiations with my creative side. I can reassure him that he isn’t being neglected—that he was tended to earlier that day and that he is on the schedule for the next day. And the day after that. And so on.

That’s another thing that helps, setting a time for the daily ritual. For me, right now, it’s 9:30-10:30am. It also helps that it is one of the first thing I do so that I can tell my creative side that he has priority. He likes that.

So to sum it up, writing once a day is a good way to make real progress on a manuscript If you write 4000 words a week you’ll arrive at 80,000 in 20 weeks. That’s just 5 months. It can also satisfy your creative needs so that you can be more focused on other obligations like, say, your children.

Don’t have an hour? Give it 30 minutes a day. Even 150-350 words a day will accomplish a great deal if you stay with it. Just a little prescription in a moment of writing bliss from my workstation to yours.

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Visiting “The Set” of a Desert Love Story

In Inspiration, writing tips on April 14, 2011 at 11:59 am

One of the biggest differences between the two main projects I’m juggling is the setting. My small town love story is set in the present day on earth and the the sequel to THE DARK PROVINCE is set in a fantasy world out of our reach. To stretch this contrast even more, the world of my small town love story is modeled after a town just 35 minutes east of where I live—on the edge of the southeastern California desert. The cool thing about this is that it allows me to visit on occasion to gain inspiration. Of course everything I describe in my work is imagined however there is something amazing about physically standing on “the set” and imagining where my characters walk, play, and work.

Here are a few photos from a recent visit that I thought would be enlightening to share and give a breath of how this type of visit can generate inspiration.

“There’s something about a town where stores most people would recognize are far and few between.”

The road into town begins with a secluded drive off the interstate. One of the things I love most about this town, like so many small towns around the world, is that nobody’s heard of it. Consider the energy of that; consider what that can represent. There is a sense of privacy inherent in a story set in a place that a relative few have heard of or been to. It can feed a sense of intimacy and at the same time a sense of isolation for the characters. This being a love story about childhood friends that come of age a little late in their lives, I get the benefit of both.

“He chose the mountains that rose toward the sky beyond the town to anchor his frustration and let the words come to him.”

This mountain range guides your drive into town and hovers above the flat desert city. It can be seen from virtually anywhere you stand giving the tiny community an even greater feeling of being hidden. The mountains feel like the walls of a fortress keeping its secrets. In the summer they are bold, arid structures of stone that rise from the desert floor. In the winter they are dressed in green and at times adorned with a misting of fresh snow in the highest elevations.

“If you haven’t played the game of basketball in desert heat, you haven’t truly played the game. The sun nearly scolds your brow and the concrete is like the devil on your shins.”

The main characters, Carlton and Libby, are childhood friends. They’ve spent a great amount of their adolescence right here on this basketball court in the town’s main park. There is nothing glamorous here. Dusty desert soil covers the edges; there are no lines on the backboard. The rims don’t always have nets on them. Glamour, however, never measures how much a place can be called home.

“Morgan’s taxi turned onto Main Street where her glad eyes welcomed more of the same—an antique mall that was less like a mall and more like a pair of Siamese storefronts.”

These antique shops are the centerpiece of the main thoroughfare through the old part of town. They are part of an ensemble of unique, locally owned storefronts that welcome Morgan to town. She is the most significant supporting character, and the lone outsider in the story. With her comes a more objective viewpoint of the setting. I feel that her appreciation for the community’s hidden quality helps to seal off the outside world and reveal its true warmth.

“Do you miss her? I mean, outside of the saintly stuff—do you ever just wish she was still right there at home where you could go and talk to her?”

Estelle “Stella” Trubaker, Carlton’s mother, is something of a town legend. She died when he was eight. Stella was the founder of a children’s home located in the old part of town. With Libby having grown up in that home, Stella is the most intimate thing that she and Carlton share in common. But their memory of the saintly woman differs greatly. While Libby remembers Stella clearly—her face, her voice, the old soul songs she used sing to herself during visits to the home—Carlton has no memory of her at all.

Whether you build your world from scratch, chose a distant land you’ve never visited, or your own hometown you’ve spent most of your life in, choosing a setting is one of the purest joys a writer gets to experience. If it’s based on a nearby town that intrigues you, consider a day trip or even spending a night (I’ve done that too!). If it isn’t nearby, search the internet for pictures from the city or town. If it doesn’t exist on this earth but instead a fantasy world, you can still search online for architecture in real life or fantasy art that you feel a connection to.

Happy location scouting!

How to Take Criticism Professionally

In writing tips on April 5, 2011 at 2:35 pm

“Did the woman right this? The woman wrote this right?”

Those were the condescending words of a man I looked up to that read a film script I co-wrote with a female student in college. On paper he was a good choice of a reader—a professional director with a lot of experience with scripts of all kinds. But wow it took some shaking off. I was insulted for my absent writing partner who he belittled with broad swipes and I was hurt by his overall aggressive style. Did he help make my script better? Yep. Did it feel good? Nope.

Feedback is supposed to help our work. We want our work to be better. So how is it that taking criticism the right way can be so much easier said that done? It is part of being human, I suppose. I don’t know if we ever become immune to the emotional stress of hearing a less than glowing response to our work. But it’s crucial we get good feedback on our writing during the process if we are planning to sell or publish our work. Here are five tips in managing the emotional aspects of receiving feedback.

Make it formal. Treat it like business. Set a specific time to review your manuscript with your critique partner and be prompt. You can even wear business casual attire if you want to. What you wear can help influence your mindset. Get out of the clothes you wrote the draft in. Wear something that is comfortable but that will place you in a more distanced mood.

Prepare in advance for a feedback session. This is a big one for me. Go over your manuscript or script and write down anything that you felt unsure about. Be specific. If there was a scene that you thought went too fast, write that down. If there was a date scene that didn’t have the tension you intended, write it down. When you get into session with the person providing feedback, ask specifically about those scenes. “How did you find the pacing in the date scene between Harry and Bryn? Too rapid? Did the dialogue cause it to drag?” I find this empowering to do because it puts me in the mindset that I am going to the meeting to get work done.

Take copious notes: Write everything down. Everything. This way if there is a note that doesn’t make sense, you can ask about it right away and get clarification. It also makes sure you don’t forget the valuable notes you received during the session. If nothing else it gives you something to do with your hands so you don’t wring them nervously.

If you can, have the initial feedback sessions close together. Syd Field says in his book Screenplay once a draft is completed and cleaned up for viewing that it’s best to have three pairs of eyes looking at your script for the initial feedback. I agree with this number. More gets confusing, less isn’t enough perspectives. I would recommend agreeing on the date you’ll sit down and discuss the work prior to handing it over to the reader. This way, the reader has a target and even if goes past that time, if they are a dependable reader it won’t go too far past. This also allows you to set the meetings within a few weeks of each other and makes it easier to avoid the temptation to start “fixing things” after just one of the meetings. It is important to hear them all out before beginning revisions.

Put the story aside for a time after the sessions are over. Again this is made easier when the sessions are close together. Plan on taking the time—perhaps even have something else you’re working on to get your mind off that piece being critiqued so that you aren’t tempted into diving into it right away. I find that it takes time to process the feedback and most importantly, let any uncomfortable emotional vibrations settle so that clarity can return. For many, their new writing is as dear to them as a new baby and they feel the need to protect it. I think that as a result even solid constructive feedback can register in the mind like an argument with a member of their family and those often take the most down time to shake off.

Happy revising!