Writing With A Shotgun Held To Your Head

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Thread: Writing With A Shotgun Held To Your Head

  1. #1

    Writing With A Shotgun Held To Your Head

    So far this year I have adopted two 'rules' to my writing and reading which I have, so far, found beneficial enough I thought I would share.

    - Not Starting Without Finishing: This goes for both reading and writing. I no longer start reading a book without finishing it, even if I am not enjoying it. This is a pain in the ass and why I am currently laboring my way though a 400 page Roman-A-Clef about a women's finishing school in the 1950's. I am picking books to read outside the genres I like and I am reading them. Similarly, I am no longer beginning writing a story without a commitment from the outset to finishing it. Having this commitment facilitates completion (I have completed six short stories this year already and am right now winding up a novella) and, in reading, forces me to learn from other writers whose subject matter may not be 'my kind of thing'. The upshot is this means I finish stories and, so far, have expanded my tool set by becoming familiar with styles and genres that are unfamiliar.

    - Not writing what I like: I no longer write stories based on whatever random idea enters my head but instead through provided prompts from Submission Calls. They want a 5,000 word story about a toilet? I'll do it. They want a piece of flash fiction told from the point of view of a cat? Sure thing. Ghost romance? Love it. This way I have an established end goal for the work should whatever I come up with within the prompt be decent. And if it's not decent, the exercise of going outside the comfort zone to come up with something original from a source that can be challenging seems a good one. By writing to a prescribed theme or subject area I am no longer burdened with the luxury of choice. I literally imagine somebody is holding a twenty gauge shotgun to my head and telling me to write about X 'because you're a writer and I want a story' and I force myself to think of an idea. It works, so far, every time.

    I don't really have a question for this thread, its more just about the general idea of forcing oneself outside of a comfort zone to write according to imagined duress. So far I quite like it, but I suspect I may be the only one...
    "If you don't like my peaches, don't shake my tree."

  2. #2
    I follow a similar process, although I'm not quite as strict about the actual subject matter of the story. I tend to write more "from the back of my head" if that makes sense. In a way, I write what my brain tells me to write without criticizing the actual subject matter, only the spelling and grammar.

    Other than that, I follow the same rule of completion. Currently on my fifth 35k word novella since last year (which was spent mostly on short stories).

    I have also started to set a word count minimum of 1000 words per day. Used to do 2k, but I have a full time job and my own business, so 1k will have to do for now. That's a new novella every month. 12 books a year. Not Asimov speed, but still not bad. Doing this forces me to be creative "on demand".

  3. #3
    Adrian, I admire and attempt to emulate, your discipline. Very nice.
    Her: I love my computer! All of my friends are in there!
    Me: Yeah, I was thinking the same thing about my freezer...
    Her: What?
    Me: What?

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by AdrianBraysy View Post
    I follow a similar process, although I'm not quite as strict about the actual subject matter of the story. I tend to write more "from the back of my head" if that makes sense. In a way, I write what my brain tells me to write without criticizing the actual subject matter, only the spelling and grammar.

    Other than that, I follow the same rule of completion. Currently on my fifth 35k word novella since last year (which was spent mostly on short stories).

    I have also started to set a word count minimum of 1000 words per day. Used to do 2k, but I have a full time job and my own business, so 1k will have to do for now. That's a new novella every month. 12 books a year. Not Asimov speed, but still not bad. Doing this forces me to be creative "on demand".
    The idea of having a minimum daily word count is one I like and have previously used (though not since adopting the other principles listed above) and the only reason I am not religious about it right now is because of other commitments - there's no word count I can commit to ensuring on a daily basis that is high enough to be 'enough'.

    I typically manage anything from 500 words to 3000+ but my sweet spot is something between 2000 and 3000. Part of the issue as well is that writing stories based on prescribed subject matter often requires more consideration that something that is 'my idea'. I am happy to allow myself a day or sometimes two simply to consider and plan out a story in which case reaching a word count would be sacrificed.

    I do have a rule of writing (and editing) one short story a week. That should be possible for any serious writer IMO.

    The reason I think its important to be able to write in subject areas that come from someone else is partly because of utility. There aren't sufficient numbers of places requesting submissions to find a home for all of 'my stories' so by writing as though I am under some sort of commission from whoever is asking for work means I am guaranteed at least one suitable destination for work.

    Additionally as mentioned there is the matter of being able to adapt. Some may (strongly) disagree but I see writing as being as much for a prospective audience as it is for me. That doesn't mean I don't try to make work my own. It simply means I am open to flexibility with my work in order to secure a readership and see the 'individual expression' aspect of my work as being something that comes across pretty much thoughtlessly, simply by my interpreting the given topic. Hopefully that makes sense...

    I know many authors who have struggled/still struggle now to find a place for their stories to go once finished. My thinking is to avoid all that. I also believe avoiding it is generally a good exercise in self-discipline and humility and accepting that there are conditions and rules attached to the goal of being a professional.

    Basically the idea is that a good writer should be able and willing to write a story about anything. So, where possible, write for actual opportunities, not imagined ones. A portrait artist takes commissions and expresses themselves according to a given subject. They don't paint some random person and then hope they stumble across them at some point.
    Last edited by luckyscars; February 25th, 2019 at 07:42 AM.
    "If you don't like my peaches, don't shake my tree."

  5. #5
    For me, the guy with the shotgun wakes up at 0330 every $#@! morning.
    I'm like "But it's dark outside, I don't wanna write this morning..."
    And he's like "You either write or no morning carrot for you. Now drink your muddy-ass coffee and start pressing those keys."

    I like carrots.

  6. #6
    ...and I am not a fan of word-count goals.
    I write a scene at a time.

    Word-count goals are good during your first 200,000 words when you are still practicing & learning the craft.
    But once you start writing for publication, your goal has to be quality of story & characters.
    I consciously avoid word-count goals because I don't want to put a random factor ahead of the creative process.
    To me, it's better to write 10 of the right words than to write 10,000 of the wrong words.
    The Declaration of Independence was only 1400 words long, but they were the perfect words.

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Ralph Rotten View Post
    ...and I am not a fan of word-count goals.
    I write a scene at a time.

    Word-count goals are good during your first 200,000 words when you are still practicing & learning the craft.
    But once you start writing for publication, your goal has to be quality of story & characters.
    I consciously avoid word-count goals because I don't want to put a random factor ahead of the creative process.
    To me, it's better to write 10 of the right words than to write 10,000 of the wrong words.
    The Declaration of Independence was only 1400 words long, but they were the perfect words.
    There's nothing random about it. The purpose of a word count goal is (or should be) about establishing habits. Productivity metric tracking is an established and proven method to achieve results in many walks of life. It's how most corporations measure success, for one. Professional athletes still use timers. So there's no reason, none, I can see why writing should be different. Indeed plenty of writers have used it. Presumably if they don't anymore its because they write full time. Many still write to hard deadlines however, which is really just another version of the same principle isn't it?

    We live in a world of distractions. This forum is a distraction. Right now, as you write forum posts, you are not writing and neither am I. That's not a criticism - Sometimes (now, in my case) we cannot write even if we do want to. So, we come up with solutions.

    Your solution might be to wake up at 3am and give yourself an hour or two to work in peace and quiet...because, presumably, your schedule, lifestyle and/or human biology allows for that. I respect that. But I also know if I tried it I would not be able to operate to do my job safely or well, which could result in a big problem for me and for others. So, I do my writing at night. Often the last thing I want to do is come home and do it. Not because I don't enjoy writing or am some sort of newbie - it's literally all I want to do - but because I am exhausted. It then becomes a choice of getting five hours of sleep with no writing or four with writing. It is in my interest to make sure that precious hour or two hits a mark if I am to finish work.

    So, having a fixed target for words per day based on this compromise gives me a way to track productivity, which in turn helps keep me motivated and able to easily spot if I need to find a way make writing a higher priority (if I am consistently falling below) or vice versa. But it is nothing to do with not having the desire to 'write one scene at a time'. Hope that makes sense.
    Last edited by luckyscars; February 25th, 2019 at 08:08 PM.
    "If you don't like my peaches, don't shake my tree."

  8. #8
    I believe it's good to have some structure with your writing, whether it's related to your output, your routine, or your creative environment.

    Output, for me, has been a weakness, so this year I've been focusing on trying to write one chapter a day. It doesn't always pan out, as some chapters pour right onto the page, while others need a few days of deliberation to figure out. But progress has been steady, nonetheless.

    I also made a rule to print out the pages when I reach the end of the chapter. Then I leave it with my wife for feedback, and I start the next chapter the following day. No going backward. (And, louder, for the people in the back: NO. GOING. BACKWARD. ) I won't allow myself to edit until THE END is reached.

    My pace hasn't been blistering, but I currently have 40,000 words done in a novel that I started on January 1st. About halfway there!

  9. #9
    I have so little structure, it's ridiculous. I write from somewhere inside. I am motivated by feelings. For example, for the story I wrote for Chicago Literati, previously, I had gone online to look for exotic places. Places not many people may have heard of, just for inspiration. I ran across Scotland's Black Isle and wondered what that was about. I am good at research and I found it really isn't much of anything, but my heart said it could be quite a romantic place, couldn't it? So, I put my heart into the picture I had found and before I knew it, there was a boy and girl and then they had kids, and so on and so on. I hardly ever know where I am going with my stories unless they are for a prompt, and then I am much more committed.

    I wish I was more structured. I think the work would flow better from my end and I wouldn't anguish over where to go or what to do. I admire you all so much for your ability to utilize the tools available and make sense of things that don't seem to fit at first. I would really love to write different types of stories, maybe something unusual or unexpected.

    Once you picked your genre, did you ever switch, or think of doing something different? And if you did, how was that?
    When the night has come
    And the land is dark
    And the moon is the only light we'll see
    No, I won't be afraid, no I won't be afraid
    Just as long as you stand by me.


  10. #10
    I don't know if I ever picked a genre. Certain things just seem to light my candle. I like anything that's eerie, maybe a little macabre... Anything with lots of atmosphere and a little fear thrown in for good measure. LOL

    That said, I've written a couple of children's books. How that squares with themes of teen suicide, people being annihilated by lightning bolts, and all of the other crazy crap I write, I don't know, but lately, I've been toying with the idea of writing a cheesy romance novel just for fun, and to keep me stretching my writing chops.
    Her: I love my computer! All of my friends are in there!
    Me: Yeah, I was thinking the same thing about my freezer...
    Her: What?
    Me: What?

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