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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Transformations (New Year, New Me?)

There are a few transformations coming up in my future (in two to five weeks, I’ll no longer be a father-to-be, but the father of a newborn). There are also a transformations I’d like to intentionally undergo. I know New Year’s Day was a month ago, but anything that’s going to stick is going to have to be ongoing, not a one-time thing.

I want to transform from the kind of person who lets a lot of time slip through his fingers without knowing where it went into the kind of person who moves efficiently from one thing to another. I want to be the kind of person who chooses what he’s doing intentionally, rather than just bouncing aimlessly from one thing to another, like I’m following links on TV Tropes or Wikipedia.

Second, I want to transform my physical conditioning. Over the course of 2012, I let myself get pretty out of shape. I slowly started building back up in November and December, and I plan to push myself further. I really don’t like exercise that much, but I have a kid coming, and I’ll need to be up to speed for playing with her, carrying her, carrying all her stuff (car seat, diaper bags, toys, etc).

Third, of course, I want to transform myself into someone who has done the data collection and analysis necessary for a PhD. I hope to get my degree by the end of the year, but even if I don’t, God willing, I will finish my data collection this year.

Fourth, I want to transform my imagination. Too long I have been content with an imagination that is tied to conventional cultural messages about redemptive violence.  Too long, the stories I think in terms of have been violent ones, where good overcomes evil through force.

I do believe in self-defense, and I do believe in military action in extreme circumstances (such as World War II). But I don’t believe that battle is ever glorious. Not consciously, at least. But it appears that idea lurks in the back of my mind, and it needs to go.

I’m not talking about an exorcism or amputation. I don’t want to cut that idea out with a knife – that’s a pretty violent image in itself. I want to replace it. I want to heal it and redeem it. And that will mean finding new stories, creating new stories, and thinking in new stories.

Ultimately, this one is as important as my physical health. I have a daughter coming: what will I teach her about heroism? What will she aspire to? I will play a big role in shaping that, and I need to be sure I’m steering her right.