My 2017 Project: Become a Writer

In 2016, I earned my Ph.D., went vegan, and got my cholesterol under control. I was on a roll.

But I hadn’t successfully finished a piece of fiction (except one short story that I didn’t and still don’t like) since January 2014, when I finished the novel I’d begun the one time I legitimately won NaNoWriMo.

I realized I was never going to be a writer at this rate. So my 2017 project was learning how to write. Not how to get published or how to indie publish, but how to write fiction.

I wanted to break writing down into step by step aspects I could address directly. Writing is a HUGE “thing,” and I honestly didn’t know where to start. But I trusted that if I DID start, eventually I’d get traction.

For the first several months I studied Kishotenketsu, which was a fun warm-up to my serious studies.

Then Dannie, an awesome horror writer and long-time friend, told me about Holly Lisles’ online courses and Brandon Sanderson’s course lectures on YouTube.

The first thing I did was take Holly Lisles’ free flash fiction course. It honestly changed my life. I learned so much about structure and felt so much thrill of success planning and writing story after story.

I learned, proved to myself, that writing IS a repeatable phenomenon. It’s not magic we can’t explain, or lightning that doesn’t strike twice, or a wind that goes where it wants.

I started her novel writing and character courses, but she’s a serious outliner, and I’m much closerto a discovery writer, and that mismatch made them less useful to me. I still learn a lot by reading her blog. I’ll write a whole post about her later.

Then I started watching Brandon Sanderson’s lectures, and I learned so much about novels, including how to approach things from a discovery writer perspective. He’ll get his own post, too.

Brandon Sanderson recommended Dan Wells’s presentation on plotting, and I watched that. I also read Rachel Aaron’s article on planning a novel.

At that point, around July 1, I realized I was ready to start planning my own novel.

And so I did. But that’s going to get its own post, too.

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Freestyle Friday: Writing Goals for July 2016

Since it’s “Freestyle Friday,” I’m going to take a break from the heavier topics I discussed in my last two posts.

I want 2016 to be the year I got my act together.

  • I earned my Ph.D.
  • I’ve started getting my health back under control by eating a fully plant-based diet and exercising more (in the summer, that means swimming. I’ve got a plan for the fall, too).
  • I’ve started trying to unify my personal ethics with my actions, digging deeper, actually changing from the normal.
  • I’ve restarted this blog after a 3-year absence.
  • I’m going to make another go of my fiction writing.

Let me talk about the last two here. It’s not that I haven’t been writing fiction for the last couple of years, it’s that I haven’t been successfully writing fiction.

After writing a novel that I loved, one that did everything I wanted it to, one that I actually go back and read sometimes like somebody else wrote it … I found I couldn’t even come close to replicating it.

Lightning wouldn’t strike twice, and I spent two full years not knowing why or how.

But I’ve come to the conclusion that I just don’t have the skill to reproduce it yet. For those of you who play RPGs, I got a critical success mostly from the luck of the dice.

But now, I have a plan. For July, I want to:

    • Continue writing this blog five days a week, putting out material that is actually useful, that gives something of value to at least somebody every day.
    • Write 4 “

Story Spines

      .” In case you’re not familiar with them, they’re proto-outlines invented by Kenn Adams in 1991 and used extensively throughout the entertainment industry,

especially by Pixar

      .

For each story, I’ll then create the main character. That character will need to be relatable, with relatable motivations that will be powerful and engaging enough to push through the entire story.

A bit more about story spines: They’re designed to get to the heart of the story long before you write an extensive outline or start putting dialogue and description down.

Like a living creature, a story only has one spine. So four spines means (the start of) four stories. The story spines will actually be the easy part.

Creating a relatable main character with powerful enough motivations to drive the whole story, well, that’s the hard part.

And that’s why I’m going to do at least 4 story spines a month (maybe more) until I get it right, and then keep doing them (and analyzing them) until I figure out what causes me to fail and what causes me to succeed.

I’ll continue to read books and articles about writing, and work on technical aspects of my prose. But the bottom line is, if I can’t write a powerful enough central motivation and relatable enough lead character to drive the story to completion, nothing else matters.

So that’s the plan for July. I guess this means I’ll owe you a status report at the end of the month.