Writing terrifies me, and I hope it always will

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I’m scared to begin. I think we’ve all felt that way about something, right? There’s a moment where we teeter on the edge of something, like a skydiver hanging out of the plane and all she has to do is let go. All I have to do is let go and start.

I’m talking about Episode 2 of Gone To Wonder, but I feel this way with every Big Project I start. Sure, sometimes I’ll poke at something, write a few paragraphs, sketch some things out, but that’s not a start to me. I’ve gone into novel-length projects and done significant work, even finished a few, but the whole time I knew this stuff isn’t going anywhere, you’re not going to show anyone this, so it’s okay. It belongs to me, and no one has to know whether it’s crap or not.

But when I’m starting something I really care about, and I’m not sure how it’s going to turn out, and I want so badly for it to pass my internal standards and the standards of all those that may read it someday, I’m terrified. Am I alone here, writers? Is anyone else as neurotic as I am about a silly story?

Once I’ve begun, the neurosis don’t go away, but I’ve already started, and my Cheese Monster is hungry (explanation about him in the video below). Sometimes I’ll peter out (okay, most of the time). Sometimes, the urge to find the end wins, and somehow I get there. It’s hard, it’s exhausting, it drives me insane (just ask Andrew). But before I’ve begun, before all the potential energy has been converted into kinetic, all I have are doubts and some silly ideas.

I’ve sketched out a few of these silly ideas for Episode 2, even taken a few cracks at starting, but always felt comfortable because I had my precious delete key. I love that key. I wield it like a katana in a room full of zombies. But after a while, write-delete-rewrite-delete serves its purpose. After a while, I know that I’m stalling, but I don’t want to start start.

The thing is, even though I’m anxious as hell, I wouldn’t want it any other way. I want my writing to always scare me so much that I doubt everything, because that’s how I know I care and how I push myself to improve. If I’m not scared of failure, I won’t fully appreciate success.

Time is running out, though. A deadline approaches. The pencils are sharpened enough, the man says. Time to start this shit up.

If you’re like me, wanting to start something but you’re scared, or you’ve started and you have doubts, watch Ze Frank’s Invocation for Beginnings. Even if you’ve seen it before, watch it, then tell me about your beginnings. I want to know, am I the only one this nuts about a story, or anything? Are you scared to start things? And if you aren’t, what’s your secret?

Music To Write To: “Ekki múkk”

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One of my favorite things about Sigur Rós is how much they leave their music open for interpretation. The ethereal quality can lend itself to be an accompaniment for nearly any genre, story, or emotional state. It makes them ideal music for the writer looking for mood music to help the writing process, and makes them a go to for me for so many projects.

For a different look at Ekki múkk, check out this music video, featuring Littlefinger himself Aidan Gillen and Shirley Collins. A warning, though: this video might break you.

Fall for the Indie Book Challenge

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Just a quick update this Sunday to let everyone know Andrew and I will be participating in the Fall for the Indie Book Challenge. You know us, always up for a challenge*.

This challenge is all about highlighting Indie authors and books, which is great, especially since that’s what Andrew and I are. Over the next fifteen weeks, participants will be selecting fifteen indie books, reading them, and reviewing them. For my part, I’ll post reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, and from the blog perspective, we’ll be posting reviews here on the blog.

I should note that I may not complete the challenge, but I’ll do my best around a busy writing schedule (see the link above for exactly why it is going to get busy). If you’d like to join in, visit the Goodreads page for the group and sign up, there’s a lot of indie authors in there already with suggestions in a bunch of genres. And if you’re participating, might I humbly suggest my newest book, Absent Hero, available wherever there is the internets.

Good luck to those involved, I look forward to reading lots of books and reviews.

*Not sure we mentioned it, but there’s been an additional challenge between Andrew and myself over this writing deadline. If one of us does not finish a first draft by Oct. 1st, then that person must sing the entire score for HMS Pinafore, and release it for the world to hear via podcast. If neither of us finishes in time, you’ll get to hear us both. I’m counting on hearing Andrew belt out “I’m Called Little Buttercup”.

How Not to Do Something

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Learning how to write is a long, slow process. There’s the technical bits, there’s the craft part, and there’s the intangibles that come from learning how to communicate not just effectively, but artfully. There is also learning how not to write.

It’s as important as anything else to learn what not to do in your writing. A good way to make sure you’re not going to end up writing crap is to read crap, and understand why it is, well, crap. Here’s a couple resources that will give you a quick and dirty lesson in things not to do.

Awful Fantasy

I don’t know who manages this Twitter account, and I don’t care. All I want is for them to keep doing what they are doing. Every tweet is a microcosm of terrible genre sins. Heres a few highlights:

Worst Muse

Another great Twitter account, all about encouraging the worst desires in every writer. Please, do not follow this muse.

Red Pen of Doom

One of my favorite blogs to visit is this one, devoted to how to edit well and not write bad. This post in particular is excellent, but the whole blog is worth reading and subscribing.

Cringe Writing*

For a laugh (and some lessons), check out the subreddit Cringe Writing, where redditors share stories and examples of particularly cringe-worthy writing. Hopefully, nothing of mine has been passed around there before. . .

Read Bad Books

Finally, maybe the best of all, is to read bad books. It can be tricky to find them, not because there aren’t a lot of bad books, but because you want to find just the right kind of bad. Books that are written and self-published by people who do not have a literary bone in them won’t teach you much. Instead, seek out the popular books, read them with a critical eye, and see what you find. I read Twilight for this reason. It taught me a lesson in writing and characterization, and also that even weak writing can sell (a lot!).

In the end, it may not matter if your book is a masterpiece. One could write like a marketer, targeting audiences ruthlessly and writing exactly what you think could sell. I don’t do it that way, because I have this illusion that someday I’ll be a great writer. And that means never forgetting how not to write.

*Redditor readbeam pointed out something very important with regard to this subreddit. It contains some examples of writing taken without peoples permission and criticized. I don’t condone that sort of thing. Writers should have the freedom to write whatever they want in private, without the threat of being judged. Critique can serve a constructive purpose (or should), mockery is only for amusement at someone else’s expense. Deconstructing published works is one thing, lambasting someone’s private writing is something else. If you are a writer, you know what it would be like having your material viciously mocked. Cringewriting does not distinguish much between the two. I’m not going to remove it from the list, because that’d be too revisionist for me, but I will note that I discourage people from the practice of mocking writing. This list is about personal growth through analyzing the missteps in other authors’ writing, not amusement.


 

cover3I’ve been writing since I was a kid, so I’ve learned over the years some things not to do, and hopefully someday I’ll learn all of the things not to do. I’m also have a book out now, Absent Hero, the first part of the Gone To Wonder series. It’s about a steampunk theme park, a bunch of teens who know way more than your average teen about story archetypes, and it’s nerdy as hell. Get it now for Kindle.

EVERYTHING IS FREE!

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HI THERE, KA-RAZY ZACH HERE…

Ahem, excuse me, I turned into a terrible used car commercial there for a second. But there’s a deal going down right now that has me in that frame of mind. Yes, prices have been slashed to historic lows! Hundreds of hail-damaged digital books that must go now!

My book, Absent Hero, first episode of the Gone To Wonder story, is absolutely free this weekend on Amazon. It is free every weekend and weekday if you ask for it, but I thought I’d throw poor Amazon a bone. They’re hurting right now, folks, and they need all the traffic they can get.

So if you’d like to get a copy of Absent Hero for your KindlePad Phone, go on over to Amazon this weekend and download it. Remember, this is about helping them.

 


 

cover3The first episode of Gone To WonderAbsent Hero, is available now from Amazon.com. Seventeen-year-old Wendy Danek is a superfan of the revolutionary theme park Finnegan’s Wonder, a place where stories come alive around you. But her world is thrown upside down when the Wonder pulls her into a story she never imagined she could experience. Will she save the Wonder, or end it? Pick up a copy of Absent Hero and be Gone to Wonder!

It’s (a)Live!

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ahkindle

 

I wrote a thing, and now you can read that thing. That’s right, the thing I’ve been jabbering about on the blog and Twitter is available now for your reading pleasure. I posted it Saturday night, and it has been flying off the shelves! Okay, that was a lie, it was never on any shelves.

What’s the book called? It’s called Absent Hero, the first episode in a series called Gone To Wonder. For a brief description, here’s the blurb:

In the middle of Denver lies the most extraordinary building on Earth: Finnegan’s Wonder. Inside, a theme park unlike any other, full of mechanical men, pirates, airplanes, and monsters. It’s a place that seventeen-year-old Wendy and her friends have dedicated their lives to experiencing and documenting. But when the visionary creator of the Wonder, Clayton Ferris, is usurped, the place Wendy loves so much is in jeopardy. It’s up to her and her friends to unravel secrets, brave out-of-control robots, and face down the richest man on the planet to save Finnegan’s Wonder.

Suspenseful, swashbuckling, and dramatic, Gone to Wonder is a journey that chronicles what happens when make-believe becomes real.

Wow! Sounds fun, right? …right?

Well, for a less brief description, I’ll tell you a bit more about the book, and the rest of the series, and it’s origins. Gone To Wonder features a theme park. If you know me well, that should not surprise you. (If you don’t know me, you probably aren’t surprised either, but for different reasons). Theme parks have been important to me for most of my life. Like many kids, my parents took me to various parks when I was young, but unlike most people, they’ve become lodged in my psyche. They are a form of art, blending many disciplines, with the aim to take you out of the normal world and give you an experience. And that experience is a narrative one, whether it is directly or indirectly.

In GtW, the theme park is called Finnegan’s Wonder. It’s an indoor theme park (inside a massive building), of which there aren’t many in the world, but besides that it’s a bit different from parks you might experience in the real world. The Wonder, as it is called for short, is based around a single property, a series of video games and other media, originated by a mysterious, reclusive genius named Clayton Ferris (think Walt Disney meets Howard Hughes). Ferris has taken the narrative form seriously—it’s the core of the Wonder, the thing that he decided to make the park for.

The best way to describe it is it’s as if you were inside a video game, only without the more game-like components. Imagine if you could step into the world of The Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones, and not just watch it happen around you, but interact with it, be part of the story, and even be the hero of the story. In this case, every day inside the Wonder, a Hero is selected (and yes, for simplicity’s sake, the masculine is default—more on this in future episodes). That Hero is a normal guest who, because some narrative choices throughout their day, is singled out for having the best story of the day, and

That’s the idea that caught me, that made me want to write this series. In fact, it has so captured my imagination that the core concept, a narrative-based park, a “story park” if you will, has ballooned outward. Gone To Wonder is just the start, and Absent Hero is just the start of that.

What is Absent Hero itself about? It’s about a girl named Wendy, and a single day at the Wonder. Wendy is seventeen, and she is a huge fan of the Wonder. How big? Well, for about a year, she has visited every day. She likes it, obviously, but that’s not the only reason she’s been every day. Wendy is a young woman who never had the best time in social situations, like school, but she’s had an even greater struggle since her mother died.

One night, though, something happens that will change the Wonder forever. Clayton Ferris, the semi-mythic creator of the Finnegan World, is forced out of his own company by his partner, Charles DeWitt. DeWitt, citing flagging attendance and profit, rallies the board of directors against Ferris.

Wendy and her friends struggle with what this means to them and to the place they love. How much say do fans have in these creations? That’s something I’ve pondered myself. On the one hand, the creators of a thing own that thing, in a legal sense. On the other, I do believe that, once a story has become part of the cultural zeitgeist, it should not be changed lightly. Profit motive notwithstanding, narratives are cultural objects, whether they are religious myths or Star Wars.

Over the course of one day, Wendy becomes embroiled in the story like she never has before—like no one has before. Something is happening, beyond the control of the employees, maybe beyond the control of DeWitt. It may even be the work of Clayton Ferris. Wendy and her friends aren’t sure, but what becomes apparent is that Wendy may have the opportunity to change the fate of a story, to take control of the property.

Gone To Wonder, as a whole, is about an evolution of entertainment. If we have the capacity to surround ourselves completely with a story, where does myth end and life begin? There’s an excellent book that came out this year, called Every Guest Is A Hero by former Imagineer Adam Berger, that discusses how Campbellian monomyth structure is applied in a theme park setting. In Gone To Wonder, that’s a theme I aim to explore, and far beyond.

I’ve begun working on Episode Two, but in the meantime, pick up a copy of Episode One, available exclusively on the Kindle store (as well as Kindle Unlimited, which I recently signed up for—my review of that service coming soon). I’d really love to hear what you think. Leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads, hit me up on Twitter, or comment on the blog.

Cross Them Genres

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By Zyllan Fotografía (http://www.flickr.com/photos/zyllan/5436985592/) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The burst of e-publishing in the last decade has created an exciting situation. Gone are the days of books relegated to their sections in bookstores, fighting for space along side others in a genre system that never quite made much sense. Vonnegut in the same section as Robert Ludlum? Stranger in a Strange Land next to the latest Star Trek book? Nope nope nope. Silly.

No, in the wide open digital world, books are free from being shoehorned into broad categories. This is the era of the cross-genre, where a story can blend whatever elements they like to whatever fantastic end the writer can conceive. Case in point, my forthcoming series, Gone To Wonder.

GtW is about a theme park. A steampunk theme park. With Celtic fantasy elements. And a hint of far-future scifi. With near-future whiz-bang technology. But ultimately, it’s the story of a young woman finding her place in a crazy world. There’s a lot going on, but thankfully, I don’t have to simply label it “science fiction” or “young adult” and move on. I can list it online with as many keywords as I’m allowed, in whatever combination suits it best to both describe it and find readers.

I adore the idea of cross-genre. As a creative writing exercise, it can grease the wheels. Try it–think of two genres that you wouldn’t ordinarily imagine working together, then think about the story possibilities.

Paranormal romance/Ocean’s 11-style heist: Girl recruits vampire, ghost, and merman to help her steal from the rich oil baron that wronged her family; vamp, ghost, and merman compete for her affections.

Superhero/post apocalypse: Amnesiac hero sets out to fix a shattered world, but discovers his god-like powers caused the end of the world.

Time-travel/detective: History has gone awry in a time-travel incident, and it’s up to the Hercule Poirot of historians to uncover the clues, discover the perpetrator, and fix the past.

The possibilities are infinite. Tell me some of your ideas. Do you have a favorite book that stepped genre lines brilliantly? Have any unlikely blends you’d like to see?