Cup of Dcaf: The Value of Creative Writing Classes

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Earlier today, I stumbled across this article from Hannah Jane Parkinson at the Guardian. In it, she talks about her experience with creative writing classes and workshops, and whether or not she agrees that they’re a “waste of time.”

The verdict: yeah, she thinks they’re pretty much a waste of time.

Now, like Parkinson, I spent four years and a sizable amount of money getting a degree in creative writing. But I think I had a slightly different experience from what she writes about. Continue reading

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Cup of Dcaf: Music That’s Impacted My Writing

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I know for a fact that I’m far from unique among writers as a big music fan. Almost every writer I know has some sort of writing playlist; many have the same habit I do of making a new playlist to fit the tones of new books or stories.

But just because I’m not unique doesn’t mean that music isn’t worth talking about in the context of writing. It’s indispensable for me. I simply cannot sit down and be productive on a manuscript without music.

On top of that, I get a lot of inspiration just listening to music. Often, it will be the tone of a song that gets me; others, it’s a line that I particularly enjoy or a really cool song title. In this vein, I thought I’d talk about some of the songs and the stories (that you can read right here on Dcafwriting!) that they inspired.

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Cup of Dcaf: On the Subject of Prologues

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I must admit to some discontent with myself even as I write this. I’m a fan of a well-executed prologue, especially in a fantasy novel, and indeed there is a prologue in All Flames Cast (and will be one in Of Genesis). Yet I’m about to argue in opposition of prologues, for some reason.

Actually, for good reason. You see, prologues are generally unnecessary.

Oh, most authors will argue heartily that their prologue absolutely HAS to be in there. “It sets up so much!” they maintain. Or, “There’s tons of background there!” Possibly even, “It’s where the plot gets set up!” Continue reading

Cup of Dcaf: Goals For a New Year

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It’s 2016, apparently. I guess that happened? Weird.

Looking back now, 2015 was easily my most productive year of writing. I posted more on here than I did in the previous three years combined. (Unsurprisingly, 2015 saw more site traffic than the rest of its existence combined—by a lot. Somewhere in the range of 200%.)

More importantly, I made a few big strides toward my ultimate writing goals: I completed the manuscript of All Flames Cast, I sent off my very first query letter to an agency, and I received a request to submit part of the manuscript. You can find a big chunk of preview chapters here.

I’m heavily involved in revisions now, with the outline begun for the next Chronicle of the Sons, titled Of Genesis.

Which brings me to the “looking forward” part of this post. I need to build on 2015. I want to get All Flames Cast published (traditionally). It’s gonna take a lot of work. The current state is somewhere between a first and second draft. There are some seriously rough spots that need to a hefty amount of attention. A couple chapters may need to be rewritten entirely. Continuity issues abound, especially earlier in the book, written before I’d fully laid out the plan for a four-book series. These are all things that need to be done, even (maybe especially) if this agent decides to pick me up.

So that’s priority #1 for the first part of this year. I need to get AFC into a state worthy of review from beta readers and, if not probably but ideally, an editor at a publishing house.

The next step is finishing the outline and filling out character notes for Of Genesis. I’ll be talking about this process and this book more in the coming weeks and months, since it’s not your typical sequel. I’m trying something different, and I’m not certain how well it will work. Fingers are crossed. It might not be realistic, but I’d love to finish the first draft of this by the end of the year.

Another priority is setting aside the time and money to attend at least one writing conference in 2016. I haven’t made this a priority in recent years, and indeed haven’t been to one since AWP in 2010. As I take the next steps in my writing career, I think this is an important thing to get back into.

Lastly is something that, honestly, will take a backseat to Chronicle of the Sons but remains present in my mind: I want to get back into the short fiction game. Last year I wrote one piece of short fiction that I liked a lot, and in fact inspired a new trilogy that I’ll write one day. I wrote two others that didn’t end up so great, set in the same world. You won’t be seeing those on here anytime soon, since I don’t like to post outright bad stories.

What I’m getting at is that I’ve gone from loving the short fiction format and writing seven or eight stories a year in 2011 and 2012 to almost completely abandoning it. I think I need to break out of that, get the creative juices flowing again, and use it to help flesh out some of the worlds my novels take place in. If things go well, I’ll post at least a couple short stories set in the CotS world this year.

Mostly, these all add up to finding a balance in my writing life. I’ve gotten very little concrete production done since finishing AFC last July, and a big part of that is the new job and coaching a hockey team. My schedule changed a lot, but it’s up to me to find the time and build the schedule that allows me to be productive again. I’d love to get back to doing at least 500 words a day.

So, as 2016 gets going, I’ll be a busy guy. What are your writing goals for the year?

Cup of Dcaf: Writing and Fear

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I will admit, I’ve never really understood the sentiment that so many writers express: namely, fear about their work. I know many fellow aspiring writers who have said they’re uncomfortable, at best, and outright scared, at worst, about sharing their work with a wider audience. I co-admin a writing group on Facebook with over 100 members, and many of them don’t post their own work; lots more only do so after much encouragement from the rest of the community.

The fact that this website exists, and the volume of work available for all of you to read should tell you that I’m not shy about sharing.

After all, I’m in this racket because I have stories that, at some level, moved me. I write them because I hope that they can move others, as well. I talked about why I write last month, and I think that post stands pretty well on its own. I don’t need to go into my reasons for sharing this stuff here, and I don’t need to go into further detail on why I want to be published. No, this post is about the first time I’ve actually felt scared when sharing my work.

About a week ago, I got a response from a query letter I sent to an agency in New York. A big agency. One that I’d written off months ago as a rejection. Instead, much to my surprise and immediate delight, they want the first 50 pages of All Flames Cast.

Let me tell you, clicking the send button on my response was the scariest thing I’ve done as a writer. This is a major step (even if the likely outcome occurs and they end up rejecting it) toward my dream of getting Chronicle of the Sons published. It’s exciting, and it’s terrifying.

What if it sucks?

What if I just wrote a great query letter, and people who are in, people who are pros at this, come back and say that it’s not salable?

What if it’s bad, and my relative happiness with the story is complete naivete and blinded optimism?

I’m pretty sure my stomach will be curdling nonstop until I get a reply (and who knows when that will be?).

Cup of Dcaf: Why I Write

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With November being National Novel Writing Month, I’ve seen a proliferation of posts about writing habits, motivations, help and tips, and, most of all, identity as a writer. NaNo is a big deal in the writing world, especially the amateur section of it (let’s be honest here: the pros were already writing during November). NaNo is the time for people who “always wanted to write a book” to find the motivation and acceptance in the community and sit down at a keyboard or put pen to paper. There’s a general air of beginnings with NaNoWriMo.

For me, though, NaNo is something I’ve struggled with. It feels very much like it’s targeting a different demographic of writer than I fall into. NaNo, for all of its freedoms and encouragement and message, feels very restricting to me. I plan things out way in advance, and even when I don’t or can’t stick to those ambitions, I still have an order of things. NaNo seems like a wrench in the gears when it comes to that.

Because of all this, I’ve been giving a fair amount of thought to my situation and identity as a writer. Continue reading

Cup of Dcaf: So You Want to Write a Book?

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I want to start off with some encouragement here. You want to write a book? AWESOME. You can do it. Sit down with your pen or your keyboard and write it. If you want to write a book, it’s probably because you have a cool idea that you like. Write about that cool idea.

But here’s the thing. You have to understand what writing a book actually is. And what it actually is, is hard work. Continue reading