Category Archives: Writing a book

Blogging about the process of writing my first book.

A New Adventure in Writing Begins

A New Adventure in Writing – Young Adult/New Adult Fiction

This is the first in a new series of posts. The initial series followed my adventures in self-publishing. Those posts focused on everything from working my way through editorial supports, revisions, financing the whole adventure, and some experiences related to marketing my book. Now, I’m going to try to get a book written and published by a traditional publisher.

There may be some expenses related to this adventure, but that will depend on how well I have learned to write and edit on my own, as well as developing channels for getting critiqued that do not require money or contract agreements. My adventures in self-publishing were exciting in their own way and netted me the experience I sought. I just don’t want to repeat the experience, nor can I afford to do so.

I had an idea for a plot for a story aimed at the Young-Adult market and promptly when about writing a partial first chapter. I sent it to a friend who writes middle-grade fiction. His comment was kind but pointed. He wrote, “Remember that dialogue is king,” which was a polite way to tell me that text full of exposition was not “king.” Obviously, I had another steep learning curve ahead of me, so I dusted off some software I own titled Dramatica Pro: The Ultimate Creative Writing Partner. How could I go wrong with that?

How has Dramatica Pro worked for me, you ask? The jury (ie my intellect) is still out on that question, because Dramatica Pro is based on something called Dramatica Theory, which is a theoretical, deconstruction of the structure for works of fiction, be they novels, or short stories, or plays, or screenplays. The analytical side of me, honed by years of study in pure science and later in educational psychology, loved Dramatica. The creative side of me was still that of a rather naïve individual who is ignorant about what constitutes good dialogue and how to develop great characters. The analytical side of me was happy with a useful structure to work with.

I have been engaged in this personal right brain/left brain conflict for about four weeks now, and so far it hasn’t ripped my brain into two. Here are some things that I have gleaned from Dramatica which have been useful so far:

· I have identified and developed the basic descriptions for eight archetypical characters.

· I have started sketching out my plot using a five act, rather than a three act format.

· I consider each act as journeys between signposts that mark the beginning, middle, and end of my story. Act I is the journey to the first signpost, and Act V is the journey from the last signpost to the very end of the book. I note that my favourite Scandinavian crime novelists, namely Jo Nesbo and Henning Mankell, both use a five act structure to great effect, although I had no idea what a five-act format for a novel was until I worked through the Dramatica materials.

· Dramatica is not for the impatient novice fiction writer. Fortunately I am doggedly persistent and manically capable of endless repetition. These are the very traits that tend to drive others crazy and exactly the traits required to survive using Dramatica Theory as an approach to writing.

Thus far, I have an idea of structure and an idea of character and character interactions. I have a sense of plot development and understand the Dramatica concepts of theme and genera. I am still struggling with character development and am not even close to developing an approach to dialogue. I’ve engaged other muses, genies and gurus to help me in that area. They will be the subject of my next post.  akinator_1_defi1[1]

As always, your faithful blogger,

L Alan Weiss (Larry) – Author

http://www.lalanweiss.com

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The Kicking Horse River and the Way of Water

The Kicking Horse River and the Way of Water

Last evening (May 27), I attended another performance of the Kitchener Waterloo Teachers Choir. My son and daughter-in-law are members of this amateur choir. Each Christmas and Spring they give a concert. This year’s Spring Concert included the song, “Kicking Horse River”. The lyric of this song is based on a poem of the same name by the Canadian poet Pauline Johnson. The music is composed by Jeff Smallman. This song is strongly evocative of the power and personality of the Kicking Horse River as it cuts its way through the Canadian Rockies.kickinghorsemapKickinghorseRiver

The music and words “grabbed me” and tugged at the heart of a man who loves the mountains of British Columbia and the wild rivers that emanate from their glaciers and a myriad of springs on high. The words of the immortal Pauline Johnson, mated with Smallman’s composition, and the sounds of the human voice, conjured up the Taoist ideas related to the power and qualities of water, sometimes known as the Water Way.

If you go into the natural world and observe water or you experiment with it, water reveals its qualities: [Quoted from Tao and Water – The Real Spiritual Lesson]

– Water is relentless.  It never stops exerting its force.

– Its force is a manifestation of its nature.  It does not try to be something it is not, applying neither morality nor immorality.

– When it is restricted, Water seeks the weakest spot of any obstruction and applies constant force until it is free.

– When it is pressed or attacked, it changes form and repositions itself.  It exerts constant counter force to search for weakness.

– Water is opportunistic.  Given the slightest opening it will pass through.  It will do so while the opening is present.  It will widen the opening if possible.

– Water always seeks to do the easiest thing as long as it can.

-Water does not complain about the path it follows.  It simply follows the path.

– Water has a wide range of energetic expressions but continues to be Water.  It can be still.  It can be sluggish.  It can be swift.  It can be pounding.  It can be vapor.

When you compare the words and feelings expressed in Johnson’s poem to the qualities of water, the similarities are striking. Pauline Johnson was no Taoist, but she was a First Nation’s person who lived in the late 19th Century and on into the beginning of the 20th..PaulineJohnsonThe First Nation traditional view of the natural world is very close to the Taoist concept of the unity of man and nature. The Way of Water and the Unity of Man and Nature, are two significant themes found in Through a Lens of Emptiness: Reflections on Life, Longevity and Contentment.

Water plays an important role in all lives as an essential basic need. Beyond that, when the Way of Water in all its manifestations and qualities, becomes part of one’s way of living, he cannot help but seek the Tao. I look for evidence of the Tao in all peoples, in all cultures, and in all things. Of course, I do not always find it, but that’s not surprising. Sometimes you just cannot see the Tao (which cannot be seen), but one can always feel the Tao when he is on the right path.

There are times when one is so moved by an experience, sharing it with others is the only thing he can do. The rendition of “Kicking Horse River”, and the words of Pauline Johnson created just such an experience for me. Have you had a similar experience. Please share it through the comment section.

As always, your faithful blogger,

L Alan Weiss – Author – “Through a Lens of Emptiness: Reflections on Life, Longevity and Contentment.”

http://www.lalanweiss.com

 

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In production – AT LAST

Today was indeed a special day. When I logged into my file on the publisher web site, and looked at the tag ‘book status’, I saw the words ‘in production.’ Those words mark the beginning of the end of a pathway I entered on the 29th day of May in 2012, when I purchased my publishing package. Writing a book is truly a long and winding road.

This is a short post to inform whom ever follows these posts, that Through a Lens of Emptiness will soon be a reality. The next step toward completion and publishing my project will be cover design approval. I’m leaving that up to the designers at the publisher, but I am certainly excited to see how it looks.

I have not revealed who I am working with yet, but will make that information public after the book goes live and is available in print. There is more to write about at that time regarding costs and the services provided.

Until next time . . .as always,  you faithful blogger,

L Alan Weiss (Larry) – Author of Through a Lens of Emptiness

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Now the pace quickens

In my last blog post I reported on completing the changes to the third edit version of my manuscript. Believe it or not, I listened and read the manuscript one last time before submitting it for the next stage of the process, the editorial review board. This is important, because this is the group that decides if the book merits their seal of approval. I’m feeling pretty good about the project at the moment.

This last review, reading along with the text-to-voice app generated a few minor changes to improve the flow of language. The advantage of doing so many reviews of the work arises from a familiarity with the text that cannot be achieved in any other way. Now, small glitches in rhythm, language flow and word choice stand out from the now familiar background of the text. This review process takes about six hours to complete when the text is read back at 180 words a minute for a 66000 word manuscript.

The next task is to set up my files for transfer to the person who sets the book into its final form. I will also be working with someone to set up the book cover. As usual, I’m relying on the people the publisher employs to do this. It seems that I can expect to see a completed book ready for release in two to three months.

I had a long conversation with a representative of the publisher re: planning for marketing my book. You cannot sell books without marketing them. Marketing involves a range of activity from developing a web presence, to press releases and possible speaking engagements. It takes an effort to sell a book when the author has no public profile. Ken Follett might sell many copies of an average book just because he is Ken Follett. An unknown author may only sell a few copies of a great book without recognition.

My next adventure is to develop a marketing plan. I’ll keep you up to date as this and other processes unfold

Until the next post

Larry (L Alan Weiss), soon to be author of. . .

Through a Lens of Emptiness

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The Beginning of a Look at Emptiness

I’ve been thinking about the idea of Yin/Yang relationships in the context of my writing, and reading some Taoist literature to guide my thinking. As I read, I was struck by the idea that emptiness and fullness are an important and useful Yin/Yang inter-relationships and began to think how  this idea might be applied.  The phrase “looking at something as half empty or half full” suggests that the concept is part the psyche already, so I considered the relationship of emptiness and fullness in the context of this blog. How did the emptiness/fullness concept relate to idea expressed in the title of Anselm Kiefer’s work “Everyone Stands Under his own Dome of Heaven”.

A brief discussion of the Taoist idea of emptiness is in order. The basic idea is that something that is empty like a cup, becomes useful in its ability to contain something, or the emptiness of a blank piece of paper becomes useful to the writer who has something to write. This notion is contrary to ordinary experience,  since we usually look at something that is full, being full of a material that can be utilized. The motor oil inside a bottle is useful for lubricating an engine, or the olive oil inside a bottle is useful in the preparation of food; but the use of each content is inherently different. The common factor for each of these materials is that they required an empty vessel to contain them.

The skeptic might look at this argument and insist that it is the product that is useful, not the container, but they miss the point. Consider what happens when an engine runs low on lubricating oil, in other words as the emptiness/fullness balance shifts toward emptiness. The workings of the engine are at risk in that case. By pouring some of the oil from the full container into the engine, lubrication is restored and the engine becomes useful again as it is no longer at risk. The balance between emptiness and fullness is critical, since low oil can result in friction that will destroy the engine, and too much will cause the  substance to overflow contaminating the environment. The balance between emptiness and fullness of the lubricating system is critical in the same way that any Yin/Yang balance is critical.

Consider the case of the container of olive oil; the contents are seen as useful, not the initial emptiness of the container. In fact, the contents of the bottle of olive oil is useful, unless  a salad dressing preparation requires it. The balance between two much olive oil and too little is critical in the preparation of the salad dressing since the balance between the oil and the other components of the salad dressing makes all the difference to the taste. A small bottle of olive oil even becomes more useful as it empties, since it can be refilled with more oil from a larger bottle.

Taoism is all about the essence of the Tao the right  path to follow. The Tao (way) of the container is determined by the choice of the artisan or manufacturer. There are many ways to alter the container’s shape or the materials used to make its designated use, but the Tao of a container is to hold something. One can pour hot tea into a glass, a cup, a mug, or a thermos. Each of these different containers can hold the tea, and each of these containers can be used to drink the tea, but each will have a characteristic that makes it more or less useful for the purpose. The common nature of these containers is that they are capable of holding hot tea. The common nature of their emptiness is that they can hold many different things. They can hold sand, sugar, flour, salt or cold liquids equally well. They can hold safe substances or dangerous substances equally. The Tao of these containers is the ability to contain a substance, not the substance they contain.

I hope the emptiness of this blog post when I clicked “new post” has been filled with useful word and ideas. Until then . .

L

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The Intensity of Work

I have been writing with an intensity that I had yet to experience. Since my last post five days ago, every spare minute has been spent working away on my rewrite. My focus has been on clarity, clarity , clarity. The sections of my book that have occupied my time these days are those that set the stage, so to speak. These are very important sections to say the least. You may recall that my book is a work of non-fiction, but I have not said much about it.  The book is comprised of  three main sections that fit within a developmental sequence. While each section is distinctive in character, and could stand on its own as an extended essay, they lead nicely one to the next, from start to finish.

The first section sets the conceptual base and philosophy for the second. The second section is an extended analysis of important elements looked at through the philosophical lens of the first, and is somewhat confession like.  The final section is a synthesis of ideas provoked by the first two sections of the book, which is essentially revelatory. This all sounds a bit heavy, but I am striving for the feel of a series of extended chats between acquaintances that get to know each other better over time. I cannot help but think of a Dickens’ title as I write all this, “Great Expectations” indeed.

The philosophy that initially directed my writing has matured over the last eighteen months in ways I could never have anticipated. I certainly believed in my message from the beginning of my project, but as I became more and more committed to producing the best book I can, my initial philosophical motif grew into a surge of thought that revealed a greater theme than the original.  That original philosophy has developed into the modus operandi for confronting each day and each task. The act of writing has become transformative. At the age of sixty-seven, that was a bit of a surprise. Old dogs do learn new tricks after all.

My writing project was originally just another challenge to be faced in a lifetime of taking on challenge. If you have been following my blog, you may recall that am a mild to moderate dyslexic who has a serious spell check and “Grammarly” addiction ( Grammarly is a commercial grammar checking service available at www.gramarly.com.) The project has evolved and become much more, now driven by an intense desire to communicate my ideas to others. Writing has also become a therapy for the literarily  challenged (me). If I were still a practicing special educator, I would have my students write, write and write some more. Of course they would need support to write correctly, but I am certain that the exercise would cause a few writing and language based neurons to make some new connections.

I took a break from writing to write this blog, but forty-five minutes is all I can spare. I was on a role today, and I want to get back to what I was doing before I lose the thread. I have been thinking a bit more about Yin/Yang relationships so I wouldn’t be surprised if those thoughts show up in my next entry. Until then . . .

L

PS. I am a proud Canadian today. Alice Munro, the great short story master, has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. A great day for Canada. A great day for women. A great day for the art form that is the short story. A great day for literature.

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Yin and Yang Cycle – A useful tool

It has been nearly one week since I posted thanks to a mire of major and minor technical problems. The Yin of Windows 8 is excellent. The Yang of it sometimes causes problems. It is 4:15 AM and I have finally re-established contact with the Internet.

This post is about how to apply a Yin/Yang cycle to enhance the writing process. Essentially the idea is to let the Yang (expansive, creative, and sometimes less than substantial) dominate the process for a while, then let the Yin (focused, well edited, and substantial) take over before the essence of an idea is lost or gets off track.

I have been applying this practice to my own writing and it works well with one caveat. Just before the creative burst gets out of hand and the editing process begins, make a brief note of where the thought was going. I found that sometimes it was difficult to restart a line of thought without some form of prompt. The editing process is cold and unfeeling, requiring the objective application of the rules of grammar and a critical focus on word choice, can have a dampening effect on the heat of the creative process.

Generating a prompt to assist to support generative process requires one to ask two critical questions; the first relates to the material to be edited and the second relates to the relevance of the next generative burst. The principal idea that dominates this process is relevance, which demands what has been generated remains relevant to theme of the overall piece and at the same time is relevant to the target audience. Given that the test of relevance has been passed, the written lines must pass the test of completeness of thought. When the Yang of the process is complete another Yin phase can begin. This cyclic, iterative process continues to role along like a rolling Yin/Yang symbol. process
So far, this approach to writing has been keeping the end product tightly written and strongly creative.

Until next time . . .

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The Yin and Yang of Writing

This entry comes from off the coast of Italy on what is actually a dark and stormy night. I’m posting this entry using a BlackBerry Z10 so the editing is a bit tricky. I’ll do my best.

I’ve been thinking about the nature of the writing process in terms of Yin and Yang.

The Yang of writing is the fun part of the process. It’s the creative, generative, searching for substance part of the act of writing that places demands on writer. It’s the out there, upfront energy that emerges from inspiration. It is the Yang element that results in the first draft.

The Yin of the process is that of editing. The writer take his or her draft from a stage of a work of a less substantial form to one that is more dense with greater substance. By carefully shaping the syntax, grammar and word choice the work takes on a more substanti
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Touchstones – An essential for achieving unity in writing

Once upon a time I was a teacher. Sorry for starting this like a Fairy Tale, but I have been retired for more than six and a half years and it all seems like a life that existed in a place long ago and far away. It’s interesting how when you least expect it, a few neurons trigger and you recall something very important. In my case it was the idea of using touchstones to preserve unity. Touchstones were very important to me as a teacher. As a teacher it was the unity of the subject matter I was concerned about, not just the content. The same thing applies to writing.  Another word for touchstone might be theme, but they are not exactly the same. When you carry a touchstone around, it is an object that brings you back to your center.

When I taught Senior High School Biology (I did so when there was still a Grade 13 in Ontario, so the content was equivalent to Freshman Biology at a college) I always had a few key touchstones that I would refer to as I taught through the year. I did that persistently so that my students could follow the flow of the lessons, and at the same time see the unifying elements among the different themes of Biology presented to them. It was a very successful teaching technique. So the other day, when those neurons fired for no particular reason and connected to the memory of my successful teaching technique, I saw it as a good way to approach the rewrite of my manuscript. Thank goodness for neurophysiologic phenomena.

Instead of picking some touchstones at random or through some approximation of what might work, I reread the comments of my DE (developmental editor) and reviewed all the discussion I have had with my editorial consultant, cleared my head of all preconceptions, and low and behold, there they were right in front of me all the time. My writing and thinking are heavily influenced be Eastern philosophies. In fact, my touchstones were deeply influenced by  Taoist and Zen Buddhist concepts related to “emptiness” and “Yin”Yang”. No big surprise really when I thought about it. Suddenly, the reorganization of content required by the DE just lined up the right way, and I was off to the races so to speak.

The expression “off to the races” might be a bit of an exaggeration, because the rewrite still needed a lot of work. With my touchstone securely in my mental pocket the work was moving in the right direction. There is no doubt that I was inspired to write by the essence of these philosophies, but even I had to look, read, think, and analyze to bring them to the surface. It is a “Chicken and Egg” sort of thing. The inspiration for the content arises from the philosophy, but the philosophy (the source of my touchstones) is partially obscured by the content. I not only had to look at my writing through the eyes of the reader, but I had to look at it through the eyes of a reader completely new to the content. I had to look at my readers as I looked at my new students who were new to the content of the course.

With more experience, I believe that I could have discovered my touchstones sooner in the creative process. Perhaps with a great deal of experience, the touchstones would have been there for me from the start of the project. The only thing I know for sure, at least for me, is that I need touchstones to write with power and coherence.

I don’t know how many posts I can produce over the next few weeks because I am off to Europe. My only avenue for communication is my trusty Blackberry Z10. I have been practicing writing longer and longer texts on the device, so I think I might be able to pull off a few posts. We shall see what I can do with my pocket-sized office. Have WiFi, will write.

Until the next time . . .

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