Karl Lagerfeld, who is a bibliophile as well as famous designer, is developing a perfume that smells like books.
I’m in the latter half of the current book. There’s nothing much new about what I’m feeling right now on the current book in terms of the writing process for me, but I should mention that it’s still as much of a pest as the previous 26 books have been. Don’t get me wrong, I really like this job, but writing a book is always a PITA during parts of it no matter what. As I’ve said before, writing a book is like hitting yourself in the head with a hammer: it feels so good when you stop.
My process, as one of my co-authors recently reminded me, is to grind along on the first third of the book figuring out what I want to write, then I hit smooth sailing for most of the rest of it with a possible long chapter in the middle and a bump near the end of the road when I’m almost done. I am jamming out chapters right now and it feels bloody marvelous.
What I actually feel like right now (other than the enormous pressure to hit my deadline) is that I’ve got tunnel vision, rather literally. I’m not focusing on anything much except what’s right in front of me. There’s a pressure in my forehead and I don’t want to talk to people because it’ll shake me out of the writing reverie… and I really need that to help the words keep flowing. I’m thinking of little more than the stuff that I’m writing about. And I’m listening to a lot of music from Hearts of Space: drifty, non-vocal, background Nouveau Age stuff that doesn’t get in the way.
My sleep schedule’s getting strange, too. I’m drinking a lot more tea than coffee because I can keep drinking tea and don’t get as wired as I do on coffee. (Unsolicited plug here: I buy all my tea from Seattle Teacup, which is one of the premier tea stores in the Pacific Northwest. They do lots of mail order–how I usually get mine–and they’ve got a wider selection than I’ve seen anywhere else. If you want something interesting, delicate, and flavorful without being fruity or floral, let me recommend Queen Anne’s Treasure, which is what I’m drinking today.)
That’s probably all I have for the moment. I don’t want to stay away from the chapter too long or I’ll lose the flow.
I’ve had some questions about fiction writing and I wanted to provide a guest post on a basic technique, that of narrative tension. This is by Bill Johnson, the author of A Story is a Promise and The Spirit of Storytelling, a popular writing workbook available in trade paperback on Amazon and on Kindle. He’s the webmaster of Essays on the Craft of Dramatic Writing! at http://www.storyispromise.com
Narrative tension is the tension story characters feel about unresolved and unfulfilled events and needs. When characters are blocked from gaining what they want, they experience narrative tension. When acting to gain something increases a character’s pain (because the story/storyteller increases the obstacles) a character in a story experiences increasing narrative tension.
In a nutshell, a storyteller creates a character who can’t refuse to act because of the cost of inaction, but there’s also a price to pay for taking action.
Romeo, in Romeo and Juliet, is a great example. To act on his love for Juliet is to turn against his clan and family; to not act on his feelings for Juliet is to violate his sense of what’s important. But any action he takes increases his pain.
Romeo is a great character because he won’t allow even death to block him from being with Juliet.
A novel (or memoir) that lacks narrative tension fails to be compelling. It can appear to be episodic; events happen, but there’s no tension around an outcome to these events. Characters act, but there’s no tension or drama generated around their actions.
Suggesting tension for characters is only the first step in generating narrative tension. The second step is to write in a way that this tension is transferred from a story’s characters to its audience. That’s why the introduction of a story’s promise around an issue of human need is so important. When a story’s audience identifies with a story’s characters and goals, that audience can also be led to internalize tension over whether those characters achieves their goals.
While a great plot can help hook an audience around finding out what will happen next, when an audience has internalized a story’s narrative tension, that audience needs to experience a story’s resolution and fulfillment for the relief of the tension created by the storyteller.
The greater the tension, the more compelling the novel.
This is why keeping a character’s purpose in a promise off stage can be so lethal. That lack can lead to weak or absent narrative tension.
Generating narrative tension, then, begins with the opening sentences of a novel or memoir.
Narrative tension can be compared to an electrical current that runs through a story. The weaker the current, the less voltage a story transmits to an audience. The greater the current, the greater the spine tingling excitement experience by an audience.
When I’ve worked with or talked with agents, a lack of narrative tension is their number one reason for rejecting novels.
If you can create a novel (or memoir) with a main character in a deep state of narrative tension, you’re on your way to creating a compelling story.
I have a couple random thoughts on the things that people will try to get something for less or for nothing from you.
Years ago I heard an artist talking about how people will frequently try to bargain with you and give you some hourly rate for a piece as if you’re a house painter or something. He says that people will say “How long did it take you to paint that picture?” and he’ll respond “All my life.”
There are times and places to do things for the exposure. When you’re new to the biz, when you want to try out a new market, when you’re willing to do something like blog posts or articles for an organization’s newsletter or whatever Just Because, sure. Shucks, I do lots of things just for the exposure, myself. I’ll publish a lot of otherwise-saleable content here on this blog and contributing to lots of other blogs and some non-profits’ newsletters. It’s all pro bono and I’m glad to do it. But you also need to remember that, in a lot of places, people die of exposure. (Thanks to David Okum for that pithy thought.) Another friend, JoAnne Kirley, observed similarly that, when she hears “It’ll bring you business,” she responds “That’s not the kind of business I need.”
I’ve been having a lot of fun exploring LinkedIn groups about writing (something I recommend that everyone who reads this blog try). There are literally hundreds of LinkedIn groups for writers. (I’m making a note to do a future post on some of the groups you should look for.)
People who write blogs for writers frequently post links to articles. (We all do it.) My last post was a link to an article on the WOW! blog. Today’s post is about a blog by Judy Cullins on book coaching and a recent post of hers: Blog Marketing Strategies for Authors – 7 Success Rules.
Finding all these blogs is fun, but I’m not going to be able to explore them to the level I’d like until I’m done with the current book. Oh, well, I’ll have more motivation to finish besides getting enough sleep.
Dovetailing neatly with my recent post Do you need to know your topic when you start writing a book?, there’s a lovely post about nonfiction book ideas entitled “When your nonfiction book idea is stuck in the mud.” This is on the WOW! (Women on Writing) blog, which you should check out.
Hiring the right people is always a challenge for any of us. We’ve all hired people who looked good but who failed dramatically. We’ve similarly hired people who looked marginal and who then went on to become stars. This article gives you the secret to consistently hiring people who are star performers.
Bob, my mentor, ran a Tech Pubs department at a high-tech hardware company in the greater Seattle area for 15 years. After his first 5 years there, he noticed that some people didn’t work out and others did, and he started experimenting with his hiring practices to figure out what was the right thing to do. After another 5 years, he had isolated the element that made people work out. He started hiring based on this factor and, by the time he left, he had a powerhouse team.
What Bob described he was looking for was an attitude that he dubbed “being a winner.” Being a winner had two elements:
First, winners get the job done. All of us have blown deadlines at one time or another. There are always lots of reasons for not getting a project done on time, but the bottom line is that the job didn’t get done. Winners, on the other hand, get the job done. They make their deadlines.
Second, and equally important, winners inspire others around them to get the job done, too. This part matters. Screamers and bullies can get the job done by beating on everyone until they get the job done, but their ability to continually get people to do a job this way is limited. Having experienced this once or twice, people will avoid working with people who get the job done at everyone else’s expense. They’ll tell them “no” or quit and go elsewhere. Winners instill enthusiasm in their co-workers. (“Enthusiasm” is from the Greek entheos, “to have the God within one.”)They inspire the people around them to get things done. They are exothermic.
Bob says that during his 5 years of research (and his subsequent 5 years of validation for his theory), he found that being a winner counted for 60% of the ability necessary. Everything else–education, experience, training, certificates, writing ability, technical knowledge–were collectively worth the other 40%. Bob says that he found that he could teach people all the other things, but being a winner was not something he could teach. Hanging out with other winners would light the fire in people and move them forward, but it was best to start with winners.
I’ve got a huge deadline on the book, but while the coffee brews, I wanted to mention something about background noise.
A lot of writers like quiet when they write. I don’t. I need something going on in the background to write well. I was greatly amused when my Myers-Briggs said that I’m an ENFP or ENTP (don’t remember; it was close either way) and that I thrive on a little background stimulus to keep the words going. I’d known that, but I never had had an explanation for it. Very interesting!
Gerry Weinberg described something in “The Secrets of Consulting” about early radar systems. People thought the gear should be stable, solid, and not move. They’d bolt them down in relay racks. However, it turned out that radar systems need systemic noise or they get stuck and don’t work. As a result, people would add a jiggler, something that would inject random motion to the gear, which would keep the background noise up and the radar systems didn’t get stuck after that.
I’m like that. A lot of writers are like that. For me, I’ll frequently have the TV on while writing. But it can’t be just anything; it has to be something I’d like to listen to regardless. I’ll also play classic rock (such as King Crimson) or comedy albums. All of this helps me write.
But there are times when what I’m doing requires a lot more thought and analysis and then I simply cannot have something going on with words. It becomes enormously distracting. I’ll put on classical music with a single instrument then or maybe ambient stuff (also usually with one instrument, now that I think of it). The music keeps part of my brain occupied and I can write, write, write.
I’m currently putting together a chapter in the Author-it 5.5 book that’s requiring a lot of planning as I write because I need to use it as a leaping off point for the structure of the next 3 or 4 chapters. Right now, it’s Scarlatti and me against the world. (I feel a bit like Jimmy Cagney here: “Top o’ the harpsichord, Ma!”)
Ah, the coffee’s done. Life is good.
I’m on the fly here, madly dashing hither and thither getting my book cover designed and finalized for the new book, while simultaneously trying to write it.
But I found a lovely place to look at for technical writing jobs, something that probably 95% of the people reading this blog can do. Not surprisingly, the site is named Get Technical Writing Jobs (thank you, Captain Obvious!) and it’s a fabulous site with information for all kinds of tech writing jobs all over the place. I recommend it. You can also follow @GetTechWritiJobs on Twitter, which I recommend you do.