Confidence

Confidence

Confidence | Guy L. PaceWe usually express confidence outwardly. It shows in our body language, dress, attitude, and how we communicate with others.

Or, lack of confidence.

Or, in the example provided by the image here, questionable fashion sense?

Okay, I’m really not one for criticizing other’s fashion taste, though. My wardrobe consists of t-shirts with pockets and jeans. Hmmm … getting off track a little here.

At one panel at the Spokane Science Fiction and Fantasy convention (SpoCon) I listened to fellow authors talk about confidence. When it came down to honest confessions, most said the same thing. While we know our first drafts are awful, we tremble in fear that we will be found as frauds when we submit our work. That’s basically true across the board.

This is familiar territory for men. We spend most of our lives in desperate fear we’ll be found out, and worry we aren’t good enough, smart enough, talented enough, or <whatever> enough. We hold ourselves up to co-workers and find ourselves lacking, and we beat ourselves up regularly. In truth we’re capable, strong, smart, and talented. It is just to hard to admit.

Yellow Jacket

Take the guy in the image with the yellow, double-breasted jacket. He is either, based on the impression, supremely confident and courageous. Or a complete idiot. But, when you compare yourself to certain best-selling authors, they look like that guy in the yellow jacket and you might feel like me–a guy who shows up in jeans and a t-shirt. They act, speak, and lecture like they know everything and the world turns on them. But who are they really?

Is their first draft gold? Does it go to press unchanged, unsullied by an editor? Does that best-selling author struggle with self-confidence after that first draft, wondering if it rises above the 90 percent that is crap in Sturgeon’s law?

What you find out in conventions–especially small, intimate ones where best-selling authors are honest and forthcoming–they struggle with confidence just like the rest of us. They know their first draft is awful. They rewrite, revise, and self-edit before getting more professional help. Just like the rest of us.

One difference is they (those best-selling authors) have been at it longer and manage to find a public persona to present to the world. They get up in the morning, put on that yellow jacket, and lecture to students, meet the adoring public, or get interviewed by the media.

It’s when they take off that yellow jacket and sit down and share with folks at a con, you get to meet the real person and find out they aren’t really any different.

Keep writing.

 

 

Craft

It’s About the Craft

craft | Guy L. PaceWriting is a craft. An art. A skill you hone and improve with practice and time–seasoned with blood and tears.

When you first start writing, your clumsy, stilted prose dribbles down the page. Your words flow in sluggish sentences with passive verbs and all to many adverbs. Your dialog shouts with too many words.

As you practice and improve, you find efficiencies in voice and style. Sometimes you try to imitate another writer’s style to see how things fit. Still, more words end up in the trash bin than in the submission envelope.

Finally, something changes. Your writing becomes a craft. An art. You develop your own style and your own voice. You may still have one roadblock. Fear. You fear letting your feelings, secrets, desires, or beliefs out on the page. What if someone reads that?

“Write hard and clear about what hurts.”Ernest Hemingway

Papa says it best. He also says it concisely and briefly. Your fears try to keep you from getting the hurt, the emotion, the beliefs out on the page. What you may not know: You’re not alone in those things. You are not the only one who hurts, who believes what you do, who feels the way you do about something. You’re not the only one with That secret.

A Service

One of the great services writers do in society is sharing those hard things so others know they are not alone. If you hold it all back, others can’t learn and you’ll always be alone. The story must come out.

“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.”Ernest Hemingway

Then, write another. And another. Repeat until you’re done and you told the story.

Look, it if were easy, it wouldn’t be a craft or art form. Everyone could do it and stories or novels would have little or no value. So it isn’t easy. Sometimes it’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done. One more quote from Papa.

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” — Ernest Hemingway

The main thing, keep writing. Don’t quit. Don’t give up. Keep improving and learning. Someday you’ll write something others will find and value. Then you’ll know it was all worth it.

Keep writing.

 

 

Small

Small is Beautiful

Small | Guy L. PaceThese days, I’m amazed at how small things can get. What used to need more carrying capacity, now fits into a small bag.

I’m packing for a trip. My sleeping bag compresses into a very small bag. My sleeping mat and pillow go into a smaller bag. Cooking and other necessities take much less space in the saddle bags these days. What required a lot of bungee cords and cargo nets in the past, now fit neatly into the saddle bags and I have more room for basic luggage and me.

In the past, touting on my Harley-Davidson softail was more complicated. Now, with all the newer, more compressed, smaller equipment, it is getting simpler. I now expect a more enjoyable journey. I’m looking forward to it.

Like the Chihuahua in the picture (that looks so very much like my little Paco from years ago), small is beautiful. Simple, little, small things make a huge difference in our lives and in our writing. Chihuahuas bring to their humans huge loyalty and great courage. What a wonderful and unexpected benefit from such a small package.

After the first draft

When we write–after the first draft of course–we should make every effort to trim the writing down to the essentials. Just those words necessary to the story. Like Hemingway, use economy, precise word choice, nuance, to move the story and the reader. In The Old Man and the Sea, Papa kept the narrative to a minimum and used his skills to tell a powerful, complete, Nobel-prize winning novella in under 30,000 words. He claims the story did not have symbolism, but was the bare story of courage, pain, and triumph.

Like Papa, I don’t need to lead the reader around the story by the nose. I let them fill in the details with their own imagination. My own Sudden Mission could have run to 100,000 words, but would have been more of a doorstop at that length. Write just what needs writing.

Keep writing (with a Chihuahua in your lap).

 

Smelly

Something is smelly.

I smell something up thereThings smell. Sometimes the smells are good, sometimes the smells are not good.

In my current work in progress, the main character encounters a lot of different smells as she moves through the story. Riding in the back of a military truck is “hot, loud, and smelly.” Of course, that is pretty generic, so I’ll add some things that mix in to make it smelly. There are other aromas she encounters later that are disgusting or nasty, and some that are just from the terrain she is in.

Like the cat in the picture here, smells connect her to her environment or the action. You probably connect certain smells to memories, like the smell of pine trees and their sap in the early summer at Salmon La Sac in the Cascade Mountains. Or the aroma of fresh-baked bread from grandma’s kitchen when you were young. How about warm cherry pie with a melting scoop of ice cream? Then there is the smell of new-mown hay, onion fields near Ontario, Oregon, or a nearby stockyard.

Or, skunk.

Smells help set a scene or help evoke emotions, and can accomplish a lot in just a few words. Smells trigger memories and you can use that to enrich what is happening in your story. They clue your character in to what might be coming, or what might be nearby.

Think about your own memories, especially those triggered by smells. You know the ones. You’re walking down a street, entering a building, strolling by Cinnabon in the mall. A smell hits you and it brings a memory front and center. Is it a pleasant memory? A sad memory? Or, does it just make you hungry?

Some may say that visual or audio experiences are powerful, but don’t forget smells. In Nasty Leftovers, the main characters used mentholated cream smeared in paper masks to help deal with overly strong aromas of rot and filth, the sour stench in the air of the city, and the burning sulfur smell of the hellhounds. Dealing with the smells affected almost everything the main characters did.

Some of smells carry forward into the work in progress, adding continuity and bringing up memories for the main character. Those memories impact her reactions and behaviors as she works through the story.

Right now, I smell a Cinnabon and I think it’s calling my name.

Keep writing.

 

 

Voice

Voice

It’s best to use active voice in fiction writing, they tell us. Passive voice we’d best avoid.

I’ll break it down for you. Active voice keeps your reader engaged with action verbs. Passive voice puts the reader to sleep.

Back in the day, my mentor in the Navy, Senior Chief Journalist Raymond P. Lucasey*, put it this way when he found a passive voice sentence in my work.

“Why do you keep backing up into your sentences?”

He was right. Passive voice not only puts a sleeper hold on a reader, but puts the predicate first in the sentence and uses a lame verb that doesn’t direct action at all. It gets it all backward. Active voice gets your subject up front and uses a more powerful verb to direct the action.

We weren’t writing fiction, then. We were writing news releases and other material for media folks, as well as material for historical records of our command. Chief Lucasey demanded quality from me in everything we did that went out for media consumption. “What they do with it after they get it is on them,” or words to that effect were his sentiments.

A side effect of passive voice is it adds a lot unnecessary words to your writing. Cleaning up and replacing passive voice with active voice makes your writing tighter and more on point. Crisper. More intense.

Lazy

Text Clip from WIP
In this clip, Scrivener marks some of the text it thinks may be incorrect with green underscores.

But, I’m lazy and I need help. I’ve used grammar checkers since their inception back in the ’80s and I wrote reviews of them in an academic journal (Text Technology). But, that was when they were a separate, add-on application you might use with Word Perfect or Word. Then, software companies integrated the spelling and grammar checkers into the word-processing applications. Now, you have spelling and grammar checking as a menu option in the Edit drop down menu of your editor of choice. The problem with this is all you get are these colored underlines in your text where the spelling or grammar needs work.

For example, the above paragraph originally had two instances of passive voice. When I tested the text in Pages and Scrivener, they indicated nothing wrong with the paragraph. They both marked the “your” words in the previous paragraph, indicating I might substitute “you’re” (wrong). Both Pages and Scrivener have limited grammar checking capability. You can turn it on or off, but you can’t drill down into settings and configure the grammar checker for your needs. I’d love to find a reasonable grammar checker I can add to my Mac to help. Until then, I found a solution I can use until something better comes along.

I copy the text from a scene in Scrivener, paste it to a new post in my WordPress editor, which uses After the Deadline. Then I click the spelling/grammar checker. Where there are passive voice instances, or other errors, I make the corrections in Scrivener (because copy and pasting back to Scrivener makes a mess of the text).

Granted, a good grammar checker isn’t going to solve all your active/passive voice issues. You still need to know the difference between your and you’re; there, they’re, and their; to (toward) and too (also or excessive); and its (possessive) and it’s (it is contraction). It helps you take a more critical look at your writing. Is it okay to use passive voice sometimes? Well, yes. I allow characters to say things using passive voice in dialog sometimes. Not a lot, though. My rule is it cannot get in the way of the story or the action.

A may look at Grammarian Pro2 X as a grammar tool.

Keep writing.

 

*I lost track of Chief Lucasey after I separated from the Navy. I understood he retired to Arizona or Florida. Here’s to you, Chief, wherever you are.