Good Writing Is Good Writing

Luke Skywalkwer has a deep conversation with Yodi
Luke Skywalker has a deep conversation with Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back

“I’m telling an old myth in a new way. That’s how you pass down the meat and potatoes of your society to the next generation.”
George Lucas on creating Star Wars

Some Things Never Change

You don’t have to be modern to be a successful or influential writer. In fact, more often than not, it is the author than is able to keep one foot rooted in the past and one in the present, who succeeds in today’s  contemporary, mad array of movies, flash fiction, ebooks, graphic novels and online videos.

Take for example George Lucas, who looked back through the eyes of Joseph Campbell’s, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, to create a popular, monumental, sci-fi epic, known as Star Wars. Not only did Lucas read from Joseph Campbell’s myriad of popular writings, but he also knew the gentleman personally and evidently learned a lot from his mentor.

Though the two men never met until after the Star Wars trilogy reached the Big Screen, Campbell publicly acknowledged how the Star Wars series follows the hero’s journey. In short, the hero’s journey is a narrative tale, where the hero (or heroine) goes on an adventure, and in a decisive crisis wins a victory, and then comes home changed or transformed. Nowadays, many of our popular stories, especially those portrayed by Hollywood, follow this popular storytelling pathway. However, few seem to own the idiom as well as George Lucas does, which may in part explain the huge success of his blockbuster films.

 

For those who wish to view a short summary of the Hero’s Journey, this short animation by Iskander Krayenbosch says it all.

Thanks to the movie Rocky, the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art are a popular place for sightseers as well as exercisers
Thanks to the movie, Rocky, the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art are a popular place for sightseers as well as exercisers

 

“The road to success isn’t paved with gold—99 percent of the time it isn’t paved at all.” by Chris Orwig

The School of Hard Knocks

Despite the abundance of MFA programs and other advanced literary degrees, the proverbial “school of hard knocks” might be the best education of all for writers. In the past, this proverbial place has produced some of the most legendary writing. For example, what would have Tolkien written without his time in the trenches of WWI. The same can be said for Samuel Clemens and his life on the Mississippi River or Jack London’s journey to the gold fields of the Klondike……And the list goes on and on, continuing well into the present.

Perhaps Sylvester Stallone summed this attitude up best, when he wrote this line for his most famous movie character, Rocky Balboa. “It ain’t about how hard you can hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”

Elakala waterfalls from wikipedia
Elakala waterfalls, from wikipedia

 

“In the confrontation between the rock and the stream, the stream always wins – not through strength, but by perseverance.”  H. Jackson Brown

Art Is Work

Venus at Vulcan's Forge, by Francis Boucher (1703-1760)
Venus at Vulcan’s Forge, by Francis Boucher (1703-1760)

Really!!!

There’s no way around it……Art is work. Unless you are a sculptor or mural painter, it’s a pretty good bet that you won’t  have to sweat and toil like Vulcan. On the other hand, you probably won’t have a scantily-clad goddess like Venus hanging out in your workshop either.This is especially true if you decide to pursue a career in the literary arts.

Still A Mind Game

Whether you are a sculpture putting together an over-sized display for the Burning Man Festival or just a mere digital artist glued to your computer screen, making art is still primarily a cerebral process. Some artists just might sweat a little bit more, when they make their ideas visible to the public.

Art Is Work

Though Art Is Work by Milton Glaser has been in print for 15 years, the lavishly illustrated book, still has meaning today. If you are at all familiar with Glaser’s posters and book covers, it becomes the quickly apparent that this commercial artist is very productive. The only way to achieve this productivity is through hours and hours of hard work. Producing any art is very similar to a musician practicing his scales, so he can master his instrument.

Writing As Art and Work

For the most part writing is not much different than creating visible images….It is a mental process that needs much study and practice before it can be presented to the general public in a digestible form. That’s all you need to know really. Now stop stop reading silly blogs like this one and get back to work.

Don’t Write What You Do Know, Write What You Don’t Know

Even though N.C. Wyeth was born too late (1882) to know any actual pirates, his paintings and illustrations of these colorful characters still inspire viewers today.
Even though N.C. Wyeth was born too late (1882) to know any actual pirates, his paintings and illustrations of these colorful characters still inspire viewers today. This illustration was first published in Treasure Island.

You might say that writing memoir is like pirating your own life.

Quotation From Toni Morrison

“When I taught creative writing at Princeton, my students had been told all of their lives to write what they knew. I always began the course by saying, “Don’t pay any attention to that.” First, because you don’t know anything and second, because I don’t want to hear about your true love and your mama and your papa and your friends.”  by Toni Morrison

Good-bye To The Memoir

Everyone seems to start out writing memoir,  and perhaps…….the unfortunate ones get successful at it. Look at Jack Kerouac. His second novel On the Road was a smash hit. It even got him on national TV……but at age 47, Jack was dead, victim of severe alcohol abuse. Jack London didn’t fare much better after his series of successful fiction and non-fiction titles. I’m sure everyone has read the short story, To Build a Fire, but how many know that he died at a young age of 40 from a complication of various medical problems including alcoholism.

Now it’s also very possible that having the name of Jack may have lead to the early demise of these successful authors, but no matter how you feel about this premise, I still think that evolution beyond the first person narrative is a good thing for a writer. Just by looking at the lives of famous authors, you might postulate that writing the truth can be a difficult thing to outlive.

Recent picture of Toni Morrison
Recent picture of Toni Morrison

Say Hello To an Octogenarian Novelist and College Professor

Her name is Toni Morrison and she teaches fiction writing at Princeton University. She is also a Nobel Prize (1993 for Literature) recipient and her 11th novel, called God Help the Child, is due to be released this month and is probably already on the bookstands. (Sorry I haven’t been to a bookstore lately, so I can’t verify this.) In a recent interview with her old editor and collaborator, Alan Rinzler, Toni delves into how it is important for young writers to get away from the old concept of “write what you know” and venture into the brave new world of “write what you don’t know”. This may be an invaluable piece of advice for writers regardless of age or experience level.

Maybe It’s Better To Fib A Little

So, what’s the moral of the story here. Well, it goes like this. If you fib a little bit, then you might live longer. It’s kinda like eating hard candy and drinking red wine. That is when done in moderation these things, which are supposed to be bad for you actually relieve some of your stress, thus leading to a longer life.

A very imaginative painting by N.C. Wyeth, entitled Giant
A very imaginative painting by N.C. Wyeth, entitled Giant

This surreal painting is simply called Giant. It was done by the master illustrator and painter, N.C. Wyeth. Just in case you’ve never heard of Newell Convers Wyeth he is the first generation of that famous American triad, which also features Andrew and Jamie. If you ever get a chance to see this painting in person, go do it. You won’t regret it, for this is an impressive, large oil painting that will most likely completely take over any space where it is exhibited.

The Zen of Short Scripts

The Buckhorn Saloon in Pinos Altos, NM is reminiscent of buildings used in the sets of western movies, image from wikipedia
The Buckhorn Saloon in Pinos Altos, NM is reminiscent of buildings used in the sets of western movies, image from wikipedia

Writing Features

I began writing scripts for feature length film not because I thought that it would be a good idea, but because someone else thought I had a great story for a movie. Unfortunately (or fortunately) whatever the case may be, my friend just happened to be an agent for screenplays and TV pilots. As luck would have it, he was not very successful at negotiating sales, even though he had one of his own scripts optioned and turned into a pilot. Nonetheless, I finished my first script and seeing how relatively straightforward the process was, I went ahead and put together two more. Presently, these screenplays sit in a drawer. Here’s what I learned in the process.

Some things To Consider

Will your screenplay be economical to shoot. That means no fancy special effects, no foreign locations, and the fewer scenes you have the better off you will be if and when a Hollywood executive gets to take a real look at the script. Also a smaller cast might be an advantage also. Does anyone remember The Blair Witch Project? Your concept does not have to be that bare bones, but still the remarkable and unpredictable success of this film should be noted.

Why Make A Short Film

Overall, there are many reasons why you might want to make a short film. First of all it’s cheaper. That kind of goes without saying, for making a five minute short will be a lot easier on the old budget that a feature length. On a similar note a short film does not take a lot of time to edit and involves a smaller cast and production crew. Furthermore, the short will give the director and writer more artistic freedom, so that they might undertake riskier work. Also of note, is the improving market for short films, especially with the advent of such online markets as Vevo and Youtube. And finally, if you short takes off, it could still get previewed at a high-profile film festival or even receive an Oscar nomination for Best Short Film.

The Short Film Script

Now comes the challenge of actually sitting down and writing the short script. When you do you might want to keep some of these ideas in mind. Don’t forget that a short film is usually really short, less than ten minutes with the 2 to 5 minute range being very popular, especially if are planning to put your finished product up online. Just think of a short film as the equivalent of flash fiction….that is small bite of reality that might go over well in our contemporary world of digital communications and the 30-second sound bite. And just because your little episode is short, remember that it must tell a story. This means a beginning, middle and good ending.

Old school method of using a camcorder to make a film
Old school method of using a camcorder to make a film, from wikipedia

 

 

What’s New for 2015

Vela Supernova Remnant  Image Credit & Copyright: CEDIC  (Central European Deep Sky Imaging)Team - Processing: Wolfgang Leitner
Vela Supernova Remnant
Image Credit & Copyright: CEDIC (Central European Deep Sky Imaging Conference) Team – Processing: Wolfgang Leitner

Welcome To 2015

It’s now 2015,  hard to believe isn’t it? Here in Montana we are in the midst of a four-day snow event. One that should leave us with at least a foot of snow. So far, the first two days have quite snowy and the total accumulations should hold up. Around the world, Indonesian planes are still crashing, the Russian economy is in deep doo-doo and American politics are still deadlocked….And as always, things are changing for the Indie writer and self publisher. Here’s what new for the self-published and ebook writer.

Amazon

Big changes are up and about at Amazon. On the up-side Amazon Studios is releasing new shows and films via online streaming, thus creating new markets for writers. Interested writers with a good script can apply directly to Amazon Studios and if you make it all the way through the final cut, the end result og having your little sitcom shown by Amazon can be quite lucrative.

On the down side, the Kindle Select Program is being diluted by Kindle Unlimited, so Indie authors are not making as much per boook sale. Authors with books priced higher are particularly hard hit by this new development. (The one beneficiary here would be those making sales at $0.99 cents. Since the paypout is still above one dollar, they gain by selling through KU. But not if the KU price keeps dropping…..which may become a reality.)

The Indie Field

Just because Amazon is cozying up to the Big Boys, this does not mean that the Indie Field is crumbling. There still are many ample opportunities out there, especially for those writers with a very good written, product and a good sense for how the market is changing. One thing to note is that ebook sales may not be showing the explosive growth potential that they did in the recent past. In fact, it is highly unlikely that there be another growth period than the one that we have most recently seen……Unless of course you come up with the next Harry Potter or Shades of Gray.

It’s Still A Great Time To Be a Writer

Despite some ominous signs, it’s still a great time to be a writer. Good reads are being released all the time and with a little bit of skill and a lot of perseverence you could be a writer that reaches a mass audience in a meaningful way.

My Goals

I have quite a few goals for this year. We’ll see how they turn out in about twelve months or so.

1. Finish my half-completed novel and submit the manuscript to agents. (I love the second part of this goal.)

2. Write another screenplay. (The writing part is fun and easy, but oh tell me how do you sell one.)

3. Keep blogging at least once a week. (Sunday is good but I may move to Mon or Tues)

4. Continue writing short stories and flash fiction and then self-publish them as ebooks. (Self-publishing is easy, but selling stories as ebooks is getting more difficult.

5. Invest a little in marketing.

Northern Lights in Ruka, Finland     from wikipedia photo by russavia
Northern Lights in Ruka, Finland from wikipedia
photo by russavia

It Takes More Than Good Writing Skills To Be An Author

The joker as portrayed by the late Heath Ledger
The joker as portrayed by the late Heath Ledger

Bad Morning

I thought I was not having a very good day until I saw the mug shot of Greg Jarrett, the Fox news anchor, who got arrested in the Twin Cities airport. His picture wasn’t so bad, but Huffington Post decided to add a little insult with a  slide show of  Bad Mug Shots. Sad as some of them were, I did manage a robust chuckle, at viewing other peoples’ misery. Maybe Mr. Jarrett should check out some of these mug shots. It might make him feel a little bit better, but I bet he’s got a hell of a hangover this morning and most likely doesn’t feel like doing too much. I guess this whole story is a little bit like reading the newspaper to see if your name is in the obituary.

The Original Nipper from the RCA Victola add, photo from wikipedia
The Original Nipper from the RCA Victola add, photo from wikipedia

Goin’ Audio

The other day I visited one of the more popular writer/bloggers, Jeff Goins. And to my surprise Mr. Goins had transcribed his post to an audio podcast. I clicked on it and about five minutes later I heard a strange voice come trailing out of my computer, describing the three steps to launching a writing career and also extolling the virtues of being a writer.

What this little episode underscores…… is that it just got a whole lot easier to convert your short story or novella to an audio podcast and then market the recording along with your ebook and /or tree book. The company that is spearheading this movement is called ACX. To learn more about creating your own audiobook, you can visit Joanna Penn’s informative post.

Slideshare

Another option for budding and energetic authors is to create a slide show describing and detailing your book. Nowadays online slide shows are routinely employed by large, popular websites such as Huntington Post, Yahoo and CNN. Now there is a startup company (it’s called Slideshare) that can help you put together your own slide show. Fortunately they also have a large website where you can post you series of pictures and hopefully direct visitors to your ebook or whatever. This site is called Slideshare and if you want more info, again go to one of Joanna’s posts to learn more.

very few writers still use a typewriter, from wikipedia
very few writers still use a typewriter, from wikipedia

 

It’s Still All About the Writing

If you’re serious about your writing, who has the time to deal with all alternative ways of promoting and selling your story. Both Slideshare and ACX seem like they could be of great benefit to the indie writer/self-publisher. The only problem is that each venue requires a learning curve and a level of involvement that would exhaust the average writer. The only solution here is to recruit a small circle of talented artisans who can help you get your story out……..Writing just ain’t what it used to be.

Don’t Forget The Small Things In Life

Remembering the small things in life can sweeten your day, photo by author
Remembering the small things in life can sweeten your day, photo by author

Some Simple Reminders For A Better Day

I took this picture several weeks ago while visiting  family back east in the Carolinas. These are actually the very small variety of M & Ms and not the usual sized ones that you buy in the store. They had been left out in a small bowl, for all to enjoy, and thus illuminated by the afternoon sun pouring in from a large picture window. The picture came out much better than expected and that little event in itself  sent my mind wondering and how often our best results our achieved with little effort. With this in mind I came up with a list of unnecessary activities that writers sometimes engage in (especially myself) which can lead to unneeded worrying and fretting.

Some of My Most Nagging Distractions

1. Blogging – Sure when things go well, blogging is great, but all to often I feel like I am paddling upstream with the time and effort invested.

2. TV Sports – Lately, my latest distraction seems to be Intercollegiate Girl’s Softball. Sure enough, the sport is as fascinating as it is different. Just watching the high speed underhand pitching, the adept fielding and the home runs these gals produce can catch my attention for a long time. But lately, just sitting down to watch the game for a few minutes can turn into an hour and a half activity.

3. Surfing the Net – Similar to number one except that I am not enhancing my writing skills. Just whiling away my time looking for that indispensable bit of writing advice or seeing what J Lo is up to nowadays. The first activity just might be more futile than the second.

4. Browsing Bookstores –  I love browsing bookstores. In fact, the bigger the better. That because there is an awesome feeling that comes with having so many titles, catchy covers and unturned pages sitting under one roof. The problem is that I seldom buy books and the ones that I do buy I don’t always finish. Fortunately, there is one hidden side benefit in that the hour or so I do spend in these places give me some modest cardiovascular exercise.

5. Making Lists – This activity is doubly unproductive because it takes time to make a list and I need go look for the list, later on, when I’m ready to use it. Then more often than not the list is outdated, when I finally get around to fulfilling. Come to think of it I think I’ll keep this list at five items so I can stare at the refrigerator and see what I want for dinner.

 

So long for now, think I’ll go watch the sunset.

taos sunset, photo by author