Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Back at it!

After being in a big writing slump over the past few weeks for a variety of reasons, I'm back at it. A big thing about writing is that you have to have to do it. You can talk about it all you want and discuss the business side of things, but writers gotta write.

I really like the concept of my current work-in-progress. It has nothing to do with superheroes. Pop culture plays a major role in it. I'm not quite ready to share the concept just yet.

The book was at about 50,000 words when I stopped writing it a few months ago. I ended up going through revisions for II Crimsonstreak and then worked on III Crimsonstreak. Because of that, this book went by the wayside. I'd written the first 50,000 words pretty quickly, but returning to it proved problematic. I needed to read the whole book again and make notes. I struggled mightily to get back into my characters' heads and then set aside some time to outline the plot.

I'm happy to report that I'm back into the swing of things.

Saturday: 3,600 words
Sunday: 1,100 words
Monday: 1,500 words
Tuesday: 2,000 words

I'm averaging about 2,000 words/day over four days. I feel that surge of momentum and know there's a long way to go before I have a first draft. If I can keep up this pace, I should have a first draft completed in about three weeks.

Then, it's likely time to revise III Crimsonstreak and try to figure out what to write next.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Dealing with 'Crutch Words'

We have a multitude of words in the English language. As a writer, that means I have a huge toolbox to pull from. Sometimes, though, I don't do a very good job of pulling out a different tool; I instead find myself reaching for the same ones over and over again. It's part of being human; we all have tendencies and comfort zones.

I find myself leaning too often on certain words and phrases. These are crutch words--familiar phrases I use far too frequently. The thing is, sometimes I don't realize that I use them. Thanks to editors and beta readers, I have a better sense of the words I use too much. How do I deal with them?

Identify. The first part is actually the hard part. Many of these words are ones I use without realizing they're crutch words. There are couple of ways to figure out which words/phrases are problematic. The first one is to put a manuscript aside to get it out of your "mindspace." Then, when you read through it a few weeks later, you'll be more likely to see repetition within your own work. I'd also suggest reading in a couple different formats; you're likely to see something on paper that you might not see on your computer screen. I read a lot of my manuscripts on my Kindle.

The second step is the more effective one: consult outside people. These crutch words are so intrinsically tied to your writing that you don't realize it. Even getting some space from a manuscript isn't enough. You need someone else to read your work and help you identify these words. That can be an editor, a beta reader, a critique partner, or a friend. Since they're not you, they'll be able to spot instances in which words appear too often.

As an aside, it also doesn't hurt to check out a couple of different manuscripts or short stories at the same time. If it's a problem in one story, it's likely to be a problem in another. This will increase the size of your writing sample and help you identify your crutch words.

Make a list. This one's simple: write them down. While doing a significant revision on a novel I've been working on for a long time, I noted my crutch words on my Kindle and then wrote them down in a notebook.

For revisions:

Destroy! (or Replace!) I use Microsoft Word, but I imagine most other word processors have a "find" and "find and replace" function. Take that list of crutch words and search a manuscript to see how often you've used them. A few instances of a particular word are fine, but if you find a bunch clumped together or a certain word or phrase appears every few pages, you have a problem. You can use the "find" function of your word processor to locate the specific place where you've used a crutch word and then rewrite that section.

For writing:

Internalize. Now that I have an idea of what words I use too frequently, I can catch myself using them when I write. I won't stop myself every time--when I get into a good writing "zone," I want to stay there--but I can reduce how often I use certain words.

Some of my crutch words:
  • pointed
  • turned
  • seemed
  • boomed
  • thundered
  • eyes pleading
  • shook his head to clear it
  • tapped his forehead
  • looked/heard/saw
  • anything to do with a "cape flapping in a non-existent breeze"

How do you deal with crutch words?

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Preseason: 10 questions about the Colts

While my blog is primarily dedicated to writing, I'm an obsessive Indianapolis Colts fan. I blogged after every game last season, something I plan to do again this year.

Today marks the first preseason game for the Colts. Preseason football is kind of like a summer blockbuster that has an awesome trailer but ultimately lets you down because of bland characters, a stupid plot, shoddy specific effects, and general apathy. Sure, you're excited when it starts, but about five minutes in you realize what you're getting into.! Colts!

So as Indy gets set to take the field at Lucas Oil Stadium against the Buffalo Bills, here are 10 questions about the team:

Will the Horseshoe's spending spree pay off? The Colts were flush with cash this offseason, something that hasn't been the case in the past. They upgraded in almost all areas: secondary, linebackers, offensive line, running back. Will those upgrades make a difference?

Will Andrew Luck get killed in the pocket? Last year, #12 was under constant assault from all angles. Some of it was rookie stubbornness to try to make a play. Some of it was his tendency to hold the ball too long instead of running or throwing it away. A lot of it, though, was that last season's patchwork offensive line wasn't up to the task. The unit should be stronger and Luck more decisive.

Can Mathis thrive without Freeney? I know the answer to this one (it's 'yes'). I also know that asking this question about Robert Mathis will serve only to ignite his competitive fire. Mathis always plays with a chip on his shoulder, and the chippier he is, the nastier he plays.

Will the offense have enough Pep? Terrible pun aside, the Colts transitioned from Bruce Arians "Throw Deep, Gun It, Have Fun, Get Killed" offense to Pep Hamilton's "No Coast" system. They're expected to run more in a scheme that's intended to get the ball out of Luck's hand quickly. They'll still take their shots, but those long-developing plays of Arians' system won't be the norm.

A fullback? Really? The Colts are expected to make use of a fullback in the new system. The position has become sort of a vestigial feature in today's NFL offense, but the Colts want to run with power. After watching the team utilize mostly a one-back system for more than a decade--and bring in offensive or defensive linemen when calling for the "jumbo" package--this will be a different look.

Will be Chapman be the immovable object in the middle? The Colts gambled on Josh Chapman in the 2012 draft, selecting him in the fifth round. The guy has first-round talent, but he played his senior season with a bum knee that required surgery. Concerns about that injury were enough for many teams to pass--and in a win-first league, most teams didn't want to snag him in the first four rounds because they wanted guys who could step in immediately instead of investing in a guy who couldn't play for a whole year. If he's healthy--and it's looking good so far--Chapman can be that space-eating force in the middle the Colts haven't had in a long time.

Will Whalen make an impact? I liked what I saw from Griff Whalen last year, but he hurt his foot and had to be placed on injured reserve. From all indications, he's looked great in training camp and could be a fantastic, reliable slot target in the vein of Brandon Stokley or Wes Welker.

Will the Colts have a better team but a worse record? No doubt about it, last year's 11-5 record was a Cinderella story--a team rallies behind a sick coach, catches a few breaks, and seizes the opportunity. They came out of nowhere. This year, they'll have a tougher schedule and a target on their back. Fans expect them to be better because of the free agent bonanza. This has been a common sentiment: while the Colts will no doubt put a better team on the field this year, they may not win 10 games.

Will their Luck improve? One day, I won't stoop to stupid "luck" puns. One day. Still, despite the offensive and defensive changes, the Colts will live and die with the man responsible for directing the offense. Great expectations have followed Luck as he's stepped into the Hall of Fame cleats of Peyton Manning. Luck was fearless last year, and I expect that will be the same this year. The offense should give him a chance to make plays and keep a healthy completion percentage.

Is there anyone in the receiving corps other than Reggie Wayne? If the Colts stay healthy and get consistent play from their wideouts, they could have one heck of an explosive offense. Still, Reggie Wayne is the only proven commodity there. T.Y. Hilton can be lightning in a bottle, but he could struggle in his second season. Griff Whalen has impressed, but can he stay healthy and have an impact? Darrius Heyward-Bey has great speed but a history of injuries and dropped passes. LaVon Brazill will miss the first four games of the year because of a drug suspension. We'll just have to see what we get from the unit as a whole.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Everyone needs a vacation

After finishing up edits on II Crimsonstreak and The Franchise, I took a break. I haven't written any new words in about two weeks. Part of it is that I've been trying to figure out what to write next. Part of it is that I've been reading through III Crimsonstreak as I prepare to get notes back from Super Beta Reader Mike so I can get it ready for submission.

I finally settled on what my next project will be. I'm not going to say what it is--it's an existing draft that needs about 30,000 or 40,000 more words--because I want to keep the concept guarded. I downloaded it to my Kindle so I can read it easily. I already know some changes I want to make, but the first order of business will be to read the current draft to re-familiarize myself with the characters and map out the rest of the book.

You see, even though I wrote it, even though I created it, I don't remember 100% of everything in the book. So I have to go back, take notes, check my character beats, and then map out the rest of the book.

My writing vacation, it seems, will soon come to an end.

I have to finish my new work in progress. I need to revise III Crimsonstreak and write the appendices. I want to work on the chapter-by-chapter commentary for II Crimsonstreak. It all starts next week.