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Month: October 2016

Tips-y Tuesday: How to Schedule a Hot Date (With Writing!)

Last week on Tips-y Tuesday we looked at how it can take a while to find “The One” when you’re trying to publish, but you’re not alone in that struggle, and getting there eventually is worth it.

This week I’d like to talk about one of the few things I’m actually decent at when it comes to writing: consistency.

I may not be so great when it comes to painting vivid scenes and bringing characters to life and even just putting words together nicely on a page. But as far as setting aside time to write every day and actually sticking to it, I’m practically Einstein.

Well, most of the time anyway.

einstein

The way I go about doing it is by using a schedule book. Every day I write down what I have to do, and I’m not allowed to go to bed until I cross off everything. Of course, “write one page” is written in there too, so if I want to lay down on that sweet soft pillow, my fingers need to get typing.

It follows the same kind of pattern as exercise. The first few times it hurts… a lot. But after the first week, then month, of writing every day, it gets easier and easier until it becomes a habit. Then, something magical happens: you suddenly want to write every day. If you don’t write, you feel bad, just as if you’d missed a favorite TV show, and you rush to finish it before bed.

Of course that sounds great, but it’s a lot of work to get to that point. One thing that helps make it easier is by having an end goal in mind.

What I like to do whenever I start a new novel is plan out how long it will take me. If a 70,000 to 80,000 word novel written in MS Word is around 100 pages, then the initial schedule can look something like this:

A pace of one page per day, six days per week
(one day to rest) results in 100 pages finished in four months!

schedule

(Yes I know the last day has 4 pages instead of 1, but hey, most months aren’t 28 days long either, so you don’t have to do that final four page sprint on the last day – you’ll make them up in the 30 and 31 day long months.)

Being able to visualize an end helps make it easier to get started. Personally I find it easier to begin a race when I know where the finish line is rather than running around aimlessly, and the same goes for writing.

So just think – if you started writing one page per day starting today, then you would have that novel you’ve always dreamed of finishing actually done by February. It wouldn’t be ready to ship off to agents by then, but you’d be in a great position to start editing and harassing friends and family for feedback.

And you know what else is in February? Valentine’s Day. What better way to find a significant other (or seduce your current one) than by offering them your recently completed, hot-off-the-word-processor manuscript? Ooh, makes me all tingly just thinking about it!

(Featured image via GAHAG, edited by me)
(Insert image via Wikipedia, edited by me)

Masterpiece Monday: A Sexy Voice

Last week on Masterpiece Monday we saw sound effects making a splash in some scenes. This week I’d like to show off a great example of something that I struggle with: voice.

Giving your writing its own distinct personality is tough. It’s not something you can easily fix or add in like grammar rules or putting in more details. In order to get a good, sexy voice, every sentence – every word – has to feel like it’s coming from an actual human being with a unique personality. The second one syllable feels forced or out of place, it all comes crumbling down.

I recently read John Green’s young adult novel The Fault in Our Stars. I don’t know why or how I’ve managed to go this long without reading it, but thankfully I managed to fix that. I was blown away by the narrator’s voice starting on the very first page.

Here’s a sample from page one where the narrator (Hazel) describes her discussion session at a local church with other kids fighting cancer:

So here’s how it went in God’s heart: The six or seven or ten of us walked/wheeled in, grazed at a decrepit selection of cookies and lemonade, sat down in the Circle of Trust, and listened to Patrick recount for the thousandth time his depressingly miserable life story—how he had cancer in his balls and they thought he was going to die but he didn’t die and now here he is, a full-grown adult in a church basement in the 137th nicest city in America, divorced, addicted to video games, mostly friendless, eking out a meager living by exploiting his cancertastic past, slowly working his way toward a master’s degree that will not improve his career prospects, waiting, as we all do, for the sword of Damocles to give him the relief that he escaped lo those many years ago when cancer took both of his nuts but spared what only the most generous soul would call his life.

AND YOU TOO MIGHT BE SO LUCKY!

Now that’s one hell of a voice! You immediately get a sense of exactly what kind of person Hazel is just by her description of a church meeting. Cynical, sarcastic, brutally honest, but not in a pretentious way – it all feels very natural.

One of the ways that Hazel’s voice is so strong is through her word usage. She doesn’t let herself be limited to the mere vocabulary of any dictionary. She uses multiple words at once (“walked/wheeled”), odd-sounding words for emphasis (“lo those many years ago”), and even makes up words when necessary (“cancertastic”).

But you can’t just have one fantastic paragraph and hope that carries the voice for the rest of the story. Hazel’s voice is just as clear for the rest of the book.

Here’s just three examples I particularly liked:

(1) I woke up and soon got into one of those experimental trials that are famous in the Republic of Cancervania for Not Working.

(2) I liked that he was a tenured professor in the Department of Slightly Crooked Smiles with a dual appointment in the Department of Having a Voice That Made My Skin Feel More Like Skin.

(3) “It must be some book,” she said as she knelt down next to the bed and unscrewed me from my large, rectangular oxygen concentrator, which I called Philip, because it just kind of looked like a Philip.

From the very first word to the last, author John Green does an amazing job of bringing Hazel to life as a distinct human being. Never once as a reader did I think “This sounds like a thirty-something man wearing the mask of a sixteen-year-old girl.”

That’s something I know I have trouble with when writing; my characters often feel like they’re just Scott Wilsons wearing masks instead of their own unique beings. Hopefully by learning from great authors like John Green we can all try to turn our novels from awkward mask-wearing parties into just actual parties instead.

(Featured image via GAHAG, edited by me)

Photo & Haiku Friday: Bear Mug

Every Friday I like to decorate a photo in Japan with a fresh-off-the-frontal-lobe haiku. I bribe my wife to add her own as well, so we can get as many interpretations as possible, and sometimes a Japanese one happens to float in on the wind as well.

Last week we composed beautiful words to chair socks. Here’s this week’s photo, also taken at a 100-yen store nearby our apartment:

img_2403

My English haiku:
Why did I wake up?
Where is my reason to live?
Only coffee bear knows

Abbey’s English haiku:
I’m HERE, you are THERE
Please don’t touch my underwear
You perverted bear

My Japanese haiku:
目閉じれない!
ここってどこだろ?
蜜地獄

(I can’t close my eyes!)
(Tell me where is “here” anyway?)
(You are in Honey Hell)

W.T.F. Japan: Top 5 strangest kanji ever 【Weird Top Five】

This week for my RocketNews24 W.T.F. Japan article, I wrote about the top five strangest kanji ever. A few months ago I did the top five most difficult kanji ever, which resulted in an explosion of comments demanding more articles counting down the top [insert theme here] kanji.

I wanted to start writing more immediately, but unfortunately the resource that I’d used (the Morohashi kanji dictionary) was at UMass Amherst – not exactly nearby. But now that I’m back in Japan, my local library has a copy of the 10+ volume behemoth of a dictionary, so I was able to go back and do some kanji research!

My last article was all about the most difficult kanji, but I think this one might be more fun because it’s all about the strangest-looking ones. It was fun to look through the index of Morohashi and see which ones caught my eye. Whenever a kanji made me go “whoa!” I wrote it down as a possibility. After collecting several dozen “whoa!” kanji, I sorted them by craziness and the top five are what made this list.

There were so many ridiculous kanji that I found that I think there’s still plenty left over for another few more kanji articles. So long as people enjoy reading them, I’ll keep writing them!

Whether or not you know anything about Japanese or kanji, I think you might like this article. Enjoy!

Read the article here.

Tips-y Tuesday: Finding “The One”

Last week on Tips-y Tuesday we saw how the Hammer of Detail can crack open scenes like eggs and let flow the juicy rainbows hidden within.

This week I’d like to take a break from talking about writing (with a lowercase w) and look at Writing (uppercase!) instead

The difference? Writing (uppercase!) is everything concerning writing that doesn’t involve words on the page. It’s scheduling time to write, getting in the zone, minimizing distractions, overcoming rejection, etc etc. It’s just as important as writing (lowercase!), since you could have the greatest story idea ever, but if it never actually gets written and published, it’s the same as if you never wrote it.

To start off on the topic of Writing, I’d like to take another look at yesterday’s Monday Masterpiece. It was taken from Beth Revis’s novel Across the Universe, and I was inspired to read it after seeing her video about overcoming rejection on Operation Awesome.

If you haven’t seen her video yet, watch it here. It’s well worth the seven minutes.

As someone who has completed five full novels, and has several incomplete ones, without so much as ever getting a partial request from a literary agent, Beth’s video spoke to me on a personal level.

You always hear about how Stephen King or J.K. Rowling was rejected dozens of times before they were finally published, but here’s the difference: their first novels were good. My first novels (and Beth’s too), were not good. You never really hear about the graveyard of books that accumulates between starting out as a writer and then finally making it.

You always think that every novel you finish and send out to agents is going to be The One, but that’s not usually the case. Like Beth said in her video, she wrote 10 novels before finally getting Across the Universe published, and she thought each of those 10 was going to be The One too. But that wasn’t their purpose – their purpose was to act as steps on a ladder toward something better.

It’s a ladder made of manuscripts, leading up to The  One. The only catch:
you can’t know how many rungs it has until you’ve already climbed to the top.

ladder

I feel the same Beth does. I thought each of the five novels I wrote previously was going to be The One at the time. But now, looking back, I can see their flaws. I’ve learned something important from each of them, making my subsequent stories better. I’m hoping that the current novel I’m writing will be The One, but if it isn’t, then I’ll learn from it and move on as well.

That’s what today’s Tips-y Tuesday is all about: learning from past loves. Just because you sent out the novel you pured your heart and soul into to 100 agents and didn’t even get a  reply, that doesn’t mean you failed. You only fail if you give up. Instead figure out what you did wrong – show the books to friends, family, writing groups – then learn from it and try again. Repeat for several years until successful. Serving size: one.

So if you’re like me and are amazing at coming up with ideas but cursed with mediocre writing skill, don’t give up. Keep on plugging away, and like Beth showed us, it may take several years, but the only way you won’t eventually make it is if you give up.

Or if the Earth explodes. But hey, that could make a good story.

(Featured image via GAHAG, edited by me)

Masterpiece Monday: A Drop in the Universe

Last week on Masterpiece Monday we looked at how Harry Potter is so good that it outright tells us. This week I’d like to change gears from sentences and scenes and look at the effect that a single word can have – specifically the “sound” it can have.

One thing I miss about Japanese when I’m writing in English is the lack of sound effects. For those unaware, Japanese is ripe with onomatopoeia words like sara sara for the rustling of leaves, or gotan goton for the sound of trains on tracks. There’s oven sound effect words for things we’d never imagine having sound effects, like bata bata for the sound of being busy or ira ira for the sound of being frustrated.

Using just the right onomatopoeia word in Japanese feels similar to finding just that right verb in English. Like when you write “he clambered into the car” instead of the generic “he got into the car.”

So when an author uses onomatopoeia in English, I immediately take notice.

I was inspired to read Beth Revis’s YA science-fiction novel Across the Universe after watching her video about failure that was featured on Operation Awesome. Right at the very beginning chapter, I was hit with a line that “sounded” amazing

“Daddy and I stepped back, but not so far that Mom would think we’d left her in that icy coffin alone. Ed pulled Mom’s eyes open. His fingers were big, calloused, and they looked like rough-hewn logs spreading apart my mom’s paper-thin eyelids. A drop of yellow liquid fell on each green eye. Ed did it quickly—drop, drop—then he sort of pushed her eyes shut. She didn’t open them again.”

I don’t know about you, but when I read that “drop, drop” part, I couldn’t help but smile with delight. Using the sound effect is much more effective here than just writing something instead like “Ed quickly dropped them in.”

Not only does the sound effect give us a sense of just how quickly he did it – drop, drop and then it’s over! – but it brings us as close to the scene as possible. When we can hear the physical sound the drop makes, it’s like we’re actually there with the narrator, watching – and hearing! – it happen.

Using sound effects in English can often come across as childish, and even when used well it can read awkwardly if it’s overdone. But when used sparingly and in key places like the above, it can make writing come alive far more than any verb or adjective ever could.

As always, thanks for reading. Join us next week on Masterpiece Monday when we take a look at a character with a sexy voice. See you then!

(Featured image via GAHAG, edited by me)