Writer Self-Care

Blog 86 ImageWhen I made a serious commitment to writing about three years ago, I had good energy for creating but was very inefficient. A page a day was an accomplishment. Now my energy can be hit-and-miss but I get more done. I consider a thousand words my minimum daily output.

The moderation in energy hasn’t surprised me. I think it often comes with any long-term pursuit or job. However, it’s important to do what I can to keep the words coming and part of that is proper self-care.

Here’s some of the self-care that I find helps writing.

Write Most Days at the Same Time. This isn’t an original thought and I’ve blogged about it before. In the context of self-care, though, committing to creating at the same time on most days means I know I’ll accumulate a bunch of hours in the writer’s chair. This removes the stress of worrying whether I’m really honoring my commitment to writing.

Then Give the Writing a Rest. When I get up from the writer’s chair, I have to resist the temptation to brood the rest of the day over a writing problem. More often than not, the subconscious as well as the passage of time do the work. In a sense, I have to let the story come to me.

And Give Myself Good Rest. Proper sleep for self-care isn’t just about maintaining energy. It also gives the subconscious time to do its creative work. Many of my best ideas come in the first half hour of a day before things get too busy. Exercise and good meals also give energy and spark creativity.

Get Myself Out. Another temptation I have to resist is living in my head. There’s not a lot of extra energy there. By reconnecting me with the world, a walk in the park, a sunset or a visit to a coffee shop offers much more.

Get Myself Interacting. Good exchanges with caring people are another way to get me out of my head. With a few friends, I’ll talk about my writing. Mostly, though, I’m interested in the charge I get from new ideas.

Those self-care strategies should keep me writing a while longer. Perhaps you as well.

Copyright © 2015 Peter Fritze

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5 Ways Music Can Help Writers

Blog 84 ImageThis week, I listened to a CBC interview of Ian Rankin in which he discusses the large influence music has had on him. The same is true for me. I especially remember punk and new wave emerging in my late 70s undergrad days. I was in an all-male residence and there was a big debate over how that music measured up to traditional rock. We did agree to disparage disco…until we figured out girls didn’t show up at our parties without it.

Here’s how music can help writers.

Inspiration. Music can inspire a writer to sit down and start writing. The melody or rhythm might energize him. The lyrics might spawn a storyline. The emotion might conjure a scene. (Or he might just be inspired to listen to the next song. No one said it was easy.)

A background for writing…maybe. I need quiet to write. Otherwise I can’t hear the characters speak or feel the rhythm of sentences. Lots of writers do have music on when they write. In the interview, Rankin talks about using electronic music as he writes to separate his real and fictional worlds. Each to his own here.

Characterization. When a writer shares a character’s musical interests, he helps readers learn how the character emotes. In a difficult situation or looking for comfort, does the character long for Dylan’s penetrating lyrics, Miles Davis’s aching trumpet or Amy Winehouse’s sorrowful vocals? In effect, music is a shorthand way for readers to feel more involved, positively or negatively, with characters.

So, at least for main characters, a writer may want to ask himself what music they like. And rather than just saying that a character likes jazz or Top 40, the writer can pick an artist or sub-genre, give the music a listen and figure out what draws the character. Whether or not that detail finds its way into the book, the writer will know his character better.

Setting. In describing setting, writers usually focus on the visual. But telling readers what can be heard offers a lot, too. A Top 40 song places the period of a scene. Music defines a club or bar. A background song increases the sense of a character brooding over a difficult problem.

For Social Exploration. Of course, many writers use their stories to explore social conditions. The musical context can be highly relevant. A great example is Esi Edugyan‘s Half-Blood Blues, which uses jazz in 1940s Europe as a backdrop.

Time for me to go listen to some Deep Purple.

Copyright © 2015 Peter Fritze

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When a Manuscript’s Current Draft Is Done

Blog 82 ImageToday I finished the current draft of my third book. The book is coming together nicely but I’m tired. This is what I will and won’t do this week.

Will do

Enjoy the fall leaves…now on the ground and sidewalks.

Watch every documentary on Netflix about late 60s and early 70s rock bands.

Make the “new and better” carrot cake mix that’s been in my kitchen cupboard for a year.

Play a video game (kidding…or maybe not).

Ignore the MS.

Feel thankful for what I have.

Won’t do

Spellchecks.

Worry if pages 179 and 403 are consistent.

Ask why some of my characters are so nasty.

Wonder if the book’s ending is too Hollywood.

Look at the MS.

Try to understand world events.

Copyright © 2015 Peter Fritze

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Characters: Giving Readers What They Want

Blog 80 imageIn “Thoughts on Writing”, I’ve been posting about issues I’m grappling with as I rewrite my third book. A big focus of the rewrite is character development, which is partly based on comments of several readers on the prior draft. Today’s issue: how far do I go to respond to those comments?

Some writers advise not to use beta readers at all. Stand tall and believe in your book, they say. It makes me wonder what they do with comments about characters they get from their editor(s). At the other extreme, I’ve heard of writers who try to incorporate all comments from editors and beta readers except where they conflict. Their books are almost crowd-sourced and thus, perhaps the thinking goes, guaranteed to please all.

I treat my books as my own but do pay attention to what my beta readers say about my characters. Here are the guidelines I (currently) use for those comments.

Fix or explain the inconsistencies. If a beta reader finds an inconsistency in the history or preferences of one of my characters, I obviously fix that. However, there might be a good explanation for other inconsistencies. For example,a character who reacts differently to similar situations might do so because of an epiphany or personal growth. Or I might have screwed up and should make the reactions conform.

Watch for the same comment from several readers. I’ve posted this before, but if more than one reader identifies the same issue with a character, I usually try to resolve the issue.

A character’s depth can be improved. I aim to make my key characters rounded. When I’m told that a character is flat or superficial, I almost always work to improve that.

Consider what to do if the character, a trait or an action is unbelievable. I work hard to understand a comment along these lines. I often talk to the beta reader for more input. Sometimes I make changes and sometimes I don’t.

Consider what to do if the character’s not likeable. This is a tough one. In The Case for Killing and False Guilt, quite a few characters are troubled or irritating. Often, I’ve resisted change and told myself that, yes, those were the characters I wanted. In the third book, I’m interested in creating some key characters who readers would like to spend time with, even if they’re flawed. So I’m paying more attention to comments regarding likeability.

Focus hard on comments about characters with backgrounds different than mine. An excellent example for me is writing female characters. My goal is for them to be authentic and I ask my female beta readers to help with that.

Drop humour that’s flopping. What I find funny others often don’t. If the humour of one of my characters is failing, I get rid of it. No matter how much I laugh at it.

Copyright © 2015 Peter Fritze

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Refining Plot

Blog 78 imageTwo weeks ago I posted that I had received comments on the current draft of my third book and that I was working on developing some characters further. However, I need to make some plot changes, too, and that has me asking what the best process to refine plot is.

Some writers create an outline for a book that is so detailed, they don’t make material changes to plot when they write the book. Other writers find an interesting premise for a book, start writing and let the story take them where it might.

I’m somewhere in between. For the first draft of a book, I have a premise that leads to an outline. Then, following the outline, I start writing. However, as I work through chapters, I usually think of plot changes that will make the book more interesting. Then I amend the outline, write some more, and so on, until the first draft appears. I repeat this process over many drafts to get the final book.

But refining the plot in later drafts can be tricky. I write mystery/thrillers and the plots become more intricate as I create new drafts. Changing a plot in a later draft of a book, such as the third one I’m working on now, can be nerve-wracking. A tinker in one chapter can have a domino effect across several other chapters. Occasionally the plot looks ready to unravel.

Here are three things that help me to refine plot in later drafts.

First, I only make changes that I’m very certain will create a better book.

Second, I amend the outline from beginning to end, but more with instructions than specifics. For example, I might write “X needs to reveal motive by this point, not in chapter 20.”

And third, ultimately I let the creative writing process do its work. I might worry about how to implement a plot change. How exactly will X reveal her motive? Why, when, where? Yet, when I reach the chapter that needs a change, if I let my imagination work with the scene, nine times out of ten, the change emerges and fits well.

Every writer must find his best way to refine plot. Maybe some of what I do will help.

Copyright © 2015 Peter Fritze

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Becoming a Character

Blog 76 imageHere’s another post under “Thoughts on Writing”.

Over the last four weeks, I’ve been receiving comments on the current draft of my third book. I have a lot of reason to be optimistic and a lot of work to do!

One thing that’s become clear is that, while I’ve nailed many characters, a few, including two key ones, need to develop further.

At first, I had rough ideas that one character should be more interesting, another stronger and a third fleshed out. However, I wanted to understand the nature and scope of these ideas before I started the book’s next draft. The alternative was to sort out the characterizations while rewriting, but I knew that would be inefficient.

So, here’s what I did, and it worked well enough to share with you.

I took a day for each character that needed work, and drafted letters and emails about the events leading up to the book pretending I was that character. For example, an email of one character begins this way.

“Dear X,

Many thanks for calling me after my first letter. We had such a good talk and I thought I’d done just as we decided. Talk to her. Communicate. Find out what she wants. But she left anyway.”

It was a fascinating process. With little prodding, each character gave me five or six letters and emails. I just had to step into that character’s shoes and imagine he/she had enough on his/her mind to want to share problems with a confidant. When I wrote the correspondence, the character, not I, was writing.

In other words, in each of those three days, I became one of the characters for a few hours. And I learned a lot living in their heads.

Now I just have to reflect it all in the book’s next draft!

Copyright © 2015 Peter Fritze

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6 Tips for Writers to Handle Criticism

Blog 73 ImageEvery writer receives criticism. And it’s really not a lot of fun. The first thing I want to say, and occasionally do, is, “Don’t you understand what I’m doing there? I mean, come on, it’s obvious.” At the same time, there’s a little voice inside me that says, “You see, you’re not going to be the next Grisham or King…or anybody.”

I recently circulated a draft of my third book to beta readers. It has me thinking about how to handle feedback at different stages of my book’s development more…constructively. Here are some tips for you and me.

A writer can’t please everyone. I tend to think that, unless a book of mine pleases everyone, it’s a failure. In reality, that’s an impossible standard to meet. What people like to read is highly subjective and often very specific. The real hope for a writer is to find a steady, loyal readership in his genre.

Beta readers are supposed to be critical. I use a small group of trusted readers to tell me what’s not working in early drafts of a book. A few days after circulating the book, though, I forget my instructions and expect every beta reader to love the book. That doesn’t happen but I do get great feedback. I’m especially interested in criticisms made by more than one beta reader.

And so is the editor. Any traditionally or self-published book needs an editor. But an editor’s criticisms can lead the writer into some deep soul-searching. What I’ve come to understand, though, is that a good editor has experience far beyond mine and the same desire to create the best book. Making the changes the editor suggests is almost always for the best.

There’s a lot to be learned from readers’ criticisms. Once a book is published, it’s almost certain some readers will raise doubts. Again, what I look for are consistent criticisms, particularly regarding plot, pace, characterization and language. And I remember them for the next book.

A writer doesn’t need to respond to every criticism. Of course, a writer can’t accommodate every criticism. For example, he might resist calls for a more likeable protagonist if he believes that the essence of the protagonist’s character is his dark, troubled nature. Or he might keep dialogue as written if only one beta reader thinks it doesn’t flow.

One challenge is dealing with content, such as a gruesome murder scene, that some readers find troubling. A writer may have to weigh honoring what he is trying to create against developing a broad readership. There can be some tough choices.

The criticism is about the book, not the writer. If I remind myself that a criticism is about my book and not me, it’s easier to take.

Bring it on!

Copyright © 2015 Peter Fritze

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