Friday, December 30, 2016

From 2016 to 2017 - Keeping the Momentum Going

Do you like this new graphic? I made it myself with a photo I took of my beautiful wife.
I felt like I should do some end-of-the-year blogging to get some closure on 2016 and publicly express my goals for 2017, especially after writing a lengthy post/essay titled "Spider-Man or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Reboot" that I then decided not to publish because it was basically just me telling the entire story of my love for Spider-Man and expressing my opinions (that nobody asked for) about the upcoming reboot film.

Concerning My 2016 Resolution

I don't actually remember my primary resolution for 2016, and looking back on last year's review, I didn't really state anything specific. Therefore I'm just going to assume my resolution was to complete the second draft of my novel, which I came very close but ultimately failed to do. I do remember, however, resolving to learn to meditate in 2016, which I did a little bit of throughout the year but not as much as I wanted to.

So what did I actually do this year, then? I read a lot more books (the entire Hitchiker's Guide series, several books in the Detective Bosch series, four books in the Series of Unfortunate Events, The Martian, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, and Childhood's End), watched a bunch of good movies for the first time (La La Land, Sunshine, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Good Will Hunting, The Revenant, the "Before" trilogy, Spirited Away, High Rise, Begin Again, Deadpool, Ghost in the Shell, There Will Be Blood, Victoria, Carol, Room, Sixteen Candles, Straight Outta Compton, Steve Jobs, Brick, 2001 A Space Odyssey, Memento, Sicario, A Scanner Darkly, Snowpiercer, and more), watched some good TV shows (Westworld, Stranger Things, Black Mirror, Game of Thrones, Better Call Saul, Parks and Recreation, etc), discovered some new music and played the occasional video game (mostly on Android).

I also lost my job, found a better one, got a new phone that lets me play Xcom anywhere, put up a fence in my back yard for my dog, started using Instagram, redesigned the blog to actually look like a writer's blog, started writing short stories based on writing prompts (one of which has gained enough attention for two individuals to ask me if they could adapt it into a short film), made new friends, reconnected with old friends, did a lot of hiking, tried out a few different haircuts, and lost 10 lbs.

2017 Resolutions

First and foremost, I really want to get the second draft of my novel finished and start sending it out to publishers. I'm really close thanks to NaNoWriMo, and I really only need to write the ending, rewrite a secondary character's arc, and punch up the humor and charisma in some parts.

Secondly, I just want to keep writing more, especially those writing prompts, and eventually put a few up on the website for public consumption.

Thirdly, ever since experimenting with mixing music again a few weeks ago and seeing the amazing film La La Land in theaters a few days ago with my wife, it's starting to look like I might finally be learning to play an instrument or two. You see, she grew up playing the violin and guitar, but after seeing Ryan Gosling in La La Land and learning that he trained himself in only three months she's been wanting to learn piano (and her parents have a beautiful one in their home that rarely gets used), and I grew up owning a guitar but not knowing how to play it and always wanted to learn to play the keyboard so I could make some music on the computer without relying entirely on pre-recorded loops. So I'll say my tertiary big goal of 2017 is to learn to play piano and/or guitar, but this just came up recently so we'll see if it really sticks.

Fourthly, I should probably continue to lose weight and get in shape. I did some pilates this year, which proved to be quite enjoyable and challenging, tried to get into a routine of exercising (beyond taking my daily walks) at least once a week, and made an effort to eat healthier or smaller portions, so more of that would be good. Now that the wedding has long passed, my biggest motivation to be healthy and in shape is that I want to be able to keep up and play with my future kids as much as possible.

Lastly, I really just want to keep trying new things in my area. For years, I was stuck in a rut of eating at chain restaurants, shopping at chain stores, and going to the same places to do the same old things, but this year my wife and I made a solid attempt of eating and shopping more locally, as well as visiting parks we'd never been to before and just overall trying to attend more community events like concerts, movies in the park, and beer gardens. More of that is always good fun.

And I still want to do more Tactical Laser Tag. Seriously, I only went once this year.

Friday, November 18, 2016

NaNoWriMo 2016 Update: Over Halfway There!

Do you like this new graphic? I made it myself with a photo I took of one of my typewriters.
November 15th marked the halfway point for National Novel Writing Month, and so far I haven't been behind on my word count for a single day, and have in fact been ahead for most of the month. That alone is an improvement over last year's attempt, in which I was occasionally a few hundred words behind on the day's goal.

I like to try something new with everything I write, whether that means putting a greater effort into a particular aspect of the craft that I feel I need practice on or stepping out of my comfort zone to do something totally different. Last year's experiment was simply to see if I could actually churn out a 50,000 word story in a single month, which I'm glad to say was a success.

This novel's experiment (or to be more accurate, this draft's experiment) is to try writing a long-form story out of sequential order for the first time. You see, when I initially got into writing, I wrote nothing but short stories of which I either knew the entire plot from beginning to end or felt like I had a good enough grasp of the concept to just start writing from the beginning and see where it took me. I carried that method with me when I later decided to try my hand at writing novels, and so my first handful of attempts were all written as they were to be read, from beginning to end.

I rationalized this by saying that, like with short stories, the novel's second half was heavily reliant on what came out of actually sitting down and writing the first. If I had a good idea while writing that would affect the later parts of the story, I didn't want to feel confined by having already written the later section of the story. Sure, I had heard from most of my writer friends and strangers online that they always wrote out of order and couldn't fathom having to write anything sequentially, but I took pride in the feeling that I was unique and found something special that worked for me.

However, it turns out that writing in order makes the whole process incredibly difficult and often turns the hobby I love into a mind-splitting chore. The thing is that I didn't realize this before, after, or even as I was writing sequentially - it wasn't until someone online explained why they preferred writing out of order that I saw how difficult my way of writing had been.

The Advantage of Writing Out Of Order

So for NaNoWriMo this year, I decided to give out-of-order writing a shot, and so far it's been going wonderfully! The biggest advantage that I was initially looking forward to was the ability to write whatever scene I was most interested in rather than having to trudge through some earlier scenes I'm not as enthused about in order to eventually get to the more interesting stuff. Not only would this allow me to follow my muse wherever it took me and deal with the connecting or missing transitional scenes later, but it would prevent me from worrying about forgetting some cool idea I had before I had time to write it down.

However, what has so far turned out to be the actual biggest advantage of writing out of order isn't actually writing the big scenes, but the small ones. You see, when writing the first draft of my novel, I had to repeatedly go back to figure out what exactly it was "that one secondary character" said the last time we saw them because it had been so long since I actually wrote the damn scene and I totally forgot where that subplot was going. Writing out of order has allowed me to treat those subplots almost as if they're stories in and of themselves, meaning that I can spend a few days in a row only writing the scenes in which "secondary character X" shows up, getting their entire story/character arc out of the way while it's all fresh in my mind.

Overall, this method of writing has been like a breath of fresh air, and I think I will continue to write novels in this manner in the future.

As for how the novel itself is coming along? Pretty good, I'd say. I think it will easily go above 50,000 words when all is said and done, and I feel a lot more confident about the overall quality of this draft as compared to the first. My only real concern at this moment (aside from a few scenes I'm avoiding writing until the end because I'm not really sure how they should go) is that I may need to do some revisions for tone, as I've always wanted Nothing But The Boots to be a dramatic story with lighthearted narration, and so far it feels like it's been mostly a dramatic story with dramatic narration. It needs more levity. Otherwise, everything is going splendid!

I'll update you again once December rolls around!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Book Review: Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke

It's been over two years since I blogged a book review, which is odd, because I've actually been reading a lot more lately.
Book Review
Do you like the new graphic? I made it myself. Yes, that is my hand, foot, and Spider-Man Tervis tumbler.

How I Stumbled Upon this Book

For most of my life, I'd never been a "genre guy" when it came to books; by which I mean that I wasn't a huge fan of mystery, adventure, or horror in particular. Instead, I was a fan of authors. After being told at 13 years old that Stephen King was the best writer of our generation, I ended up reading a lot of his books but never felt drawn to horror itself. Similarly, many of the books I've read I'd only discovered after first seeing or hearing about the movie adaptation - which led to my love of Chuck Palahniuk and Stieg Larsson, but not to the genres of satire or mystery, respectively.

As I've grown as a writer, however, genres have intrigued me, partially because of my desire to write some genre fiction myself. As such, I began reading through Michael Connelly's excellent Detective Bosch series, of which I'm currently five books into the now 21 book series.

But a strange thing happened a few months ago. I got really, really interested in science fiction.

I blame this on the hype over the video game No Man's Sky, having watched 2001: A Space Odyssey, and downloading the soundtrack to Interstellar all within a few weeks of each other. During the height of my obsession, I downloaded wallpapers of the cosmos for my phone and computer, I looked up and added several science-fiction movies to my Netflix queue, and started looking online for suggestions for the best hard science-fiction books around.

While Childhood's End wasn't one of the particular books that I was suggested, author Arthur C. Clarke was. I went to the library, found the science-fiction section (which is frustratingly combined with the fantasy section), and decided to try out Childhood's End after concluding that going straight for 2001: A Space Odyssey would be like having ice cream before dinner. I had never heard of this book, so I was going in completely blind.

My Review of Childhood's End

It should be noted that Childhood's End was not the first hard sci-fi book I read during this time, and that I actually read it immediately after first reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick, and so my review will contain comparisons between the two.

Childhood's End Book Cover
Childhood's End
Arthur C. Clarke
Published 1953
2016 Paperback Syfy TV Tie-In Edition


Childhood's End begins with the United States and Soviet Union competing to launch the first space ship into orbit when several gigantic space ships quietly position themselves above every major city in the world, putting a sudden and immediate end to the space race. The ships do nothing but hover in place, until a week passes and the aliens announce in perfect English via audio transmission that they have been sent to supervise and guide the human race through its next several generations of progress. This is met with resistance at first, as many people feel threatened by these new visitors, but resistance proves totally and literally pointless, as the aliens don't even flinch at even the boldest attempts to overpower them; to such an advanced alien race, we are merely ants.

After a generation has passed, with the quality of life slowly improving, but the aliens, now known as the Overlords, not yet revealing their end goal or even their appearance, humans have gotten accustomed to the Overlords' presence as just another facet of everyday life. The last human resistors and all those who remember the world before the Overlords' arrival have died of old age, and with them, humanity's sense of freedom, religion, and drive to explore new worlds has died as well. We have become totally complacent. It is only then that the Overlords decide to reveal their appearance and allow us to glean what their true intentions may be, and it just may be too good to be true.


Childhood's End is a short but brilliantly-told story of mankind's slow but willing assimilation to a bold universal truth. Whereas I found Philip K. Dick's writing to contain many big ideas sloppily supported by meandering and often awkward language, Arthur C. Clarke effortlessly tells a simple but compelling story with sharp and to-the-point language while fluidly presenting the reader with intriguing philosophical conundrums.

The story is told in three parts, each one drastically different than the others and connected by decades of time in-between, shifting perspectives from generation to generation as life on Earth changes drastically with the Overlords' help. What was especially surprising for me as a reader and writer was not only how gripping, realistic, and intelligently each part was written, but how the relatively slow pace of the book did absolutely nothing to cripple my desire to turn to each next page. The Overlords don't actually do much, and each human character serves only as a subject through whom to see the state of the slowly-changing planet, yet the simple curiosity of what the Overlords' end goal is drives the entire experience from beginning to end.

Momentum is something I struggle to understand when writing, and Arthur C. Clarke keeps it going in full force with minimal effort. Aside from the big mystery that lies on the last pages, the momentum is helped by a cast of realistic, well-rounded characters - despite them being replaced at the outset of each new part - as well as beautifully-detailed descriptions of each new location and change to the status of the planet. Clarke's description of the book's utopian golden age had me absolutely yearning for such a world to exist within my lifetime.

The Final Verdict

Childhood's End is a must-read for any fan of science-fiction and/or mystery. Despite being written and published during the Cold War, its style holds up to modern standards, its themes are just as relevant today as they were in 1953, and it is a rare story that remains creative and unique within its premise even decades after it was first published. This is one of my new favorite books.

For those who want to be further engrossed in the world of Childhood's End, there is a 2016 SyFy miniseries based on the book which I have not yet seen but I've heard is quite good. There are also a few songs based on the book by the likes of Genesis and Pink Floyd, titled "Watcher of the Skies" and "Childhood's End," respectively.


Monday, October 17, 2016

Announcing My Novel for NaNoWriMo 2016

So there's this novel that I've been blogging about writing since literally June 2013 - over three freaking years ago. In fact, as of right now, I have blogged about it exactly 16 times, including for the first time I participated in NaNoWriMo.

Pictured: too many rewrites.
Yet, in all of those posts, I only mention the title three times (most recently in January 2014), and that's not even the title I've been working with for the past couple years. Additionally, if you searched through all of my blog posts talking about the novel, or even read its synopsis in my 2013 NaNoWriMo, you'd have trouble articulating exactly what it's about. Sure, I revealed a few details here and there, but those were back before the massive amount of rewrites I did. Even then, all the details I had released online amounted to nothing more than "some college girl sleeps with a married man and then something complicated happens."

Well, a lot has happened since I last posted about that novel, and as a result, I'm willing to reveal its title and synopsis.

Here's exactly what happened:

The Long, Painful Journey of Realizing I'm Doing It Wrong

Sometime early this year, after three years of planning, writing, and rewriting, I finished the first draft of that novel. Just a month later, I took to rewriting it almost completely from scratch, but as the year wore on I began to lose faith in the story as a whole, going so far as to almost completely throw it out and move on to some other project.

I admit now that I was going about the rewrite all wrong by starting from scratch without even going back to look at the first draft; I was so hard on myself for what I perceived as the shortcomings that they clouded my vision and I failed to see any of the genuinely good-quality writing that was hidden within the original draft. I was so clouded, in fact, that I was determined to remove what I would later realize were key, quality, entertaining scenes.

As should be expected, it was someone else who set me straight.

I was having lunch one day with my talented poet friend, Kathrine Yets, whose delightful works have been featured in the likes of StraylightWoodland Pattern Book CenterRiver & South Review, and Blue Heron Review, when we inevitably got around to talking about my novel. You see, Kathrine and I have been friends since college, where we bonded in large part due to our mutual interest in raw, unfiltered, honest writing. Because of this and the fact that we're always genuinely eager and interested in each other's work, Kathrine has been my go-to person whenever I need advice, critique, or someone to brag to about an accomplishment or new idea in my writing. While she doesn't know absolutely everything about my novel, she's read the original short story, seen the first outline, and read and helped me to shape large portions of the first draft (and I can't thank her enough for all of that).

So we were sitting there, eating our overstuffed pita pockets while talking about my novel. I told her that I was incredibly dissatisfied with how the second draft was going, that I hated the first draft, and that I wanted to change this character and that scene.

"You're getting rid of that?" she asked, eyes wide with disbelief. "I loved that part!"

I was immediately caught off-guard. The only person I'd been consulting on the quality of my own writing for several months had been myself, and I was not a fan. However, hearing someone else be honestly upset at my artistic decision was only the beginning of her slapping some sense into me, because shortly afterwards she dropped this wisdom bomb on me:

"Never listen to your inner critic; that’s what other people are for."
-Kathrine Yets
This phrase stuck with me more than similar sentiments from dozens of other people had, because not only was it the solid advice I'd heard before but never really believed ("you're too hard on yourself") but because that part was immediately accompanied by the comforting notion that this is not solely my burden to bear. The immediate sensation upon hearing these words (after a moment of dumbfounded silence) was that of the cliché elephant being lifted off my shoulders.

Shortly after this meeting, I was able to look back at my first draft (a feat in and of itself) in a whole new light, unburdened by my inner critic. I was able to see the moments of real quality writing, and more importantly I was able to shrug off the muddy bits that had been obscuring my vision for almost an entire year.

As November approached, I realized what I had to do:

NaNoWriMo 2016

working cover designed by myself for NaNoWriMo
This year for National Novel Writing Month, I am pleased to announce that I will be completing the second draft of my novel, titled Nothing But The Boots.

Nothing But The Boots follows Mandy, a neurotic college girl in a casual sexual relationship with a married man, as she begins to fall in love with his wife.

The book is a continuation of a short story I wrote in college, titled "The Other Woman," which featured Mandy narrating from a closet, where she was forced to hide completely naked to avoid being discovered by her boyfriend's wife. In the novelization, free-spirited, boot-loving Mandy pursues her romantic interest in the wife of the man she's sleeping with, completely unabated by the social stigma and traditional rules of relationships. In doing so, she deals with the repercussions of going against the grain as she fights for what she believes is her right as a human; to pursue true happiness in whatever form it takes.

To prepare for this year's massive 50,000 word challenge, I've uploaded the original draft to my e-reader and have been steadily reading through it during my lunch breaks to find what worked and use that as a foundation.

Aside from the 50,000 words in a month thing, the goal is to develop a coherent second draft worthy of sending to agents and publishers.

Wish me luck!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Internet Likes My Grandpa

While at my mom's birthday party, I nabbed my brother's fancy expensive DSLR camera and started taking some photos with it. One of these photos was a low-angle shot of my Grandpa sitting outside listening to that day's Brewers game against the Diamondbacks. I thought it turned out pretty good, and I did some post-processing to give the photo a bit of extra life. Check out the result:
Grandpa listening to a Brewers baseball game.
Click to enlarge.
Overall, I was pretty pleased with it. It's rich in color and texture - particularly thanks to the juxtaposition of the faded fence and colorful old license plates in the background against the lush green plants in the foreground and hints of blue in the table and chairs - and my Grandpa's expression and posture really sells what's happening in the photo; you can tell something really interesting (or is it disappointing?) is going on with the baseball game just by looking at him. Without audio, you can see the baseball game in your mind.

I thought, "Looks neat. I'll post it to Reddit and see what they think."

I never could have imagined the reaction I would get.

I posted the photo on a the r/itookapicture community of photographers who share and discuss their creations in the medium with the title "I took a picture of my Grandpa listening to a baseball game" along with this description:

My Grandpa has survived war, cancer, and multiple heart attacks. He's been constantly in and out of the hospital for three years now for various issues and can no longer consume food orally, instead feeding his stomach directly through a tube.
Born in 1932 and the oldest of his living family, nothing can keep this man down.

 The response was positive and overwhelming. I'll share just a few of my favorites here:

My Grandfather was also born in 1932. He was through a hell of a lot as well, much like your Grandfather.
This brought tears to my eyes because during the baseball season you could always find him sitting outside listening to the game on the radio. I'd sit there with him and have a beer, often the only sounds being made was the announcer. Some of the best moments of my life - in their utter simplicity.
Lost him 3 years ago and miss him every damn day - he was my best friend and mentor. Cherish this time, friend. Thank you for sharing.
-  bHarv44
I really enjoy this photo. His raised eyebrow is such a treat.
- blahman135
He looks like the white version of Hector Salamanca [?]
- motown_philly
When we were at baseball games or watching football or whatever, my grandpa would say "wake up out there" 10 to 12 times throughout the course, whenever he thought our guys were fucking up, then go back to his box scores. OP, your grandpa looks like he's about to say the same exact thing.
- BlackMetalBanjo
I love this so much. And I really like the radio being in focus, because the radio is the whole focus of the moment!
- Flinkle
Your grandpa is my spirit animal.
- crypticthree

The photo was so popular that it quickly shot up to the #1 spot of the day, #1 of the week, #4 of the past month, and #21 of the year (currently it sits at just over 3,000 upvotes). In fact, it was so popular that it was chosen as a featured photo on the community's official Instagram page:
Click to enlarge.
Wow, what an honor for my humble photo to be getting such exposure! Photos on my own Instagram page typically get between 10-30 likes (my current highest peaked at 64 - and none else have touched it), but as you can see by the above screenshot, being posted on the reddit_itap account has gotten 94 likes and counting!

I felt a wave of pride and accomplishment in knowing that the photo had not only been seen by so many people, but that it had connected with so many! Of course, I assumed that was the end of it, except one user suggested I take the photo over to another community, r/redditgetsdrawn, where users can post photos and others can opt to draw them. There, one very talented user with the name thefutureeye did an amazing job on this:
Click to enlarge.
So yeah, that's definitely getting printed and framed. It just goes to show that you never know what kind of awesome stuff can happen to you in this crazy world.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Writing Prompts

I'm thinking about writing some flash fiction based on writing prompts. I figure it could be a good opportunity to flex my creative muscles and hone my writing skill in areas that I cannot in writing my novel.

I've already found a community with a plethora of creative prompts, gave one a shot, and got some nice reactions to it. If I keep this up and enjoy it enough I'll probably start sharing the stories on here or something.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Condensing and Combining Scenes

One of the biggest things I noticed about the first draft of my novel was that it was long. Really, really long. 93,000 words long.

At first, I thought this was fantastic. It meant that my initial fear of not being able to write a full-length novel was inaccurate. Unfortunately, I soon realized that the length of my first draft wasn't a result of my expert storytelling, but in fact it was evidence of quite the opposite. The length of my first draft was entirely due to my inability to plan ahead and combine multiple plot lines into single scenes. Basically, my novel was too long because it was dragging its feet the entire way to the finish line.

Luckily, in writing my second draft, I've found that the first draft is very useful as a thorough outline of what the later drafts should include, albeit in a totally different format. Each scene of the first draft typically had one objective, which was to get a single plot point from A to B. With the second draft, I'm finding it much easier to think ahead and put together the puzzle pieces to fill each scene with at least three simultaneous "objectives," AKA plot lines. Rather than just getting characters from one place to another, they're moving locations, slowly completing their arcs, and introducing mysteries into their pasts all at once. The result is scenes which feel more exciting and alive, even though they're technically another step removed from what a real-world moment in time typically includes.

It's yet another big step forward in both my novel and my abilities as a writer.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Ups and Downs of Being Unemployed

It's a bit ironic that I just recently posted about how to become a copywriter, because I've recently lost my job as a copywriter.

I hope you don't mind if I just ramble on some thoughts about all of this, because that's what today's post is going to be.

A few weeks ago, I was terminated from my copywriting position without being given a reason why. It's hard to describe the impact that sort of moment has on a person. Not only was that my source of much-needed income (student loan debt and house payments are insane nowadays), but it was also a primary source for socializing and provided the foundation for my daily routine. All of that was taken away from me in the blink of an eye, and I'm left only to speculate as to why.

But that's all in the past now, and dwelling on it will do me no good. It's time to look to the future. This is an opportunity. I can look for a job that suits me better, and in the meantime I can be the best damn "House Husband" for my wife while using all this extra free time to work on my most beloved craft of creative fiction writing. After all, I am annoyingly optimistic.

As the weeks have slowly crept by, I haven't really gotten over the pain of being let go from the job I truly enjoyed, but I have adapted as best as I can thanks to the much-valued human survival tactic known as complacency. I've taken this opportunity to finish catching up on True Detective and continue churning through episodes of Fringe, watch movies I've long wanted to see but not gotten around to (Top Gun being noteworthy for being the silliest brofest movie I've ever seen), do housework so that my wife and I can relax more when we're together on the weekends, and of course write the second draft of my first novel.

On the flip-side, it's hard to deal with the constant feeling of failure. Even with my years of professional experience, most job postings in my area for writers ask for qualifications that are just barely out of my reach. I'm constantly being reminded by job sites that I'm just not quite good enough. I apply anyway, because you never know what they'll say, but it feels like grasping at straws.

The worst moment is when I got an email alert about a job posting that perfectly met my qualifications, only to realize that it was a job posting through a staffing agency to find my own replacement.

I don't know how I'd get through all of this without the support from my friends, family, and my own insane sense of optimism that this will all just be a bad memory someday.

I should probably note that I've had a few interviews - and in fact have a follow-up interview later today - but I try to manage my excitement for such opportunities because I know that I'm not the only one in need of and qualified for any given position. There are no promises until an offer is made.

Anyway, that's really all I've got to say. Unemployment sucks, and I really miss my job and the people there, but I've got to move forward and strive to do better. I don't really have an ending to this post, because this situation is still ongoing. Who knows, maybe I'll have a job as early as next week - a present for my two year marriage anniversary.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Tips for Revising the Second Draft of a Novel

Last year, I completed rough drafts of two separate novels, each of which I wrote in very different ways. One was loosely outlined, and then that outline was almost completely ignored in favor of making it up as I went along over the course of a few years. The other was extensively planned, outlined, and then written entirely in the span of a single month with only minor deviations from the original outline.

These are the first full-length novel drafts I've ever completed, hence the drastically different approaches to writing as I'm still kind of figuring out what works best for me. While it was incredibly relieving to finally finish not just one but two full-length drafts after so many years of work, this year I'm tasked with the equally difficult task known as the rewrite. As I've never done a full rewrite before (I refuse to count the time I did massive rewrites to the first story's first draft mid-way through writing it, or the fact that the second story is actually a rewrite in itself), I've found myself in personally uncharted territory yet again. Luckily, I feel like I'm already finding my groove, so here are a few tips for the revision process based on my own experiences thus far:

Tips for Writing Your Second Draft

Rule #1: Nothing is Sacred

The first and most important rule to any rewrite is thus; nothing is sacred. You've got to be prepared for constructive criticism to do away with your favorite scenes, characters, and plot lines if you want to write the best story possible. It doesn't matter if the subject in question is personally important to you unless you can make it just as important to the story and your readers, because in the end a fiction writer isn't some prestigious person to whom all else must obey, a writer is a servant to both the story and the readers.

More important to this rule is that you must understand exactly what is at the core of your story, because if anything is to be considered sacred, it must be that core idea which inspired your story in the first place. Understanding what that core idea is will be infinitely helpful if you hit a wall and become convinced that everything you've written is rubbish. It's in moments like these that you must be willing to toss away all the rubbish and go back to and rebuild an entirely new story from that core. This core can be anything from a setting or character that initially inspired you to write a story around it, or it might be an emotion or message that you want to convey to the reader.

It's Never Too Late to Outline

After finishing the draft of my heavily-outlined novel and then ignoring it for two months, I came back to what appeared to be a horrible mess of a story written by a madman with no sense of pacing, excitement, or tone. Seeing as that draft was the result of me having already discovered the core of an earlier unfinished story and crafting an entirely new plot around it, I was confident that the general outline of my story wasn't the problem, it was the supporting details. The problem was that I couldn't put my finger on exactly what the story was missing.

This is where I turned back to outlines. For days, I did nothing but research plot structures for books, plays, and movies. I refreshed my memory on Freytag's Pyramid and the Three Act Structure, then discovered the Five Act Structure and the Eight Sequences of Film. Having found the Eight Sequences the most personally helpful structure, I poured over definitions for terms like "Inciting Incident" and "First Culmination," then, to the best of my ability, I wrote out what each of the eight sequences were of that first draft. Trying to fit my novel into this structure forced me to not only see that my story wasn't as bad as I feared it was, but helped me understand my own story so much better, which in turn allowed me to see what it was missing. Suddenly, I had a clear understanding for what my main subplot was, why it felt so natural to resolve it when I had, and how to make it even stronger in the next draft.

I'm a firm believer that, while we may have a feel for how to pace a story as we're writing it, it is incredibly helpful to break it down mathematically to understand why exactly it feels good to write it that way. For example, look at the the very middle of your story and see how it relates to the ending. According to traditional structure, if your story ends on a high note there should also be a high note in at the midpoint. If the tone of your middle is a teaser for the ending, you've now got insight into why it works, and if your middle differs from your ending, then maybe that's what's been bothering you the whole time! If traditional structures don't work for your novel, it's still helpful to break down your story to its basics to understand how it moves and what isn't working.

Just Write!

Even after all the brainstorming and outlining, some of my best ideas for revisions came when I actually sat down and started rewriting. I looked at my first paragraph, hated it, tried to think of something more catchy that better prepares the reader for the type of story they're getting into, and came up with an idea that killed two birds with one stone; not only did the new idea check off all the boxes for a great introduction to the story and characters, but out of it came a new subplot that fits perfectly into the story, will help me to tie up many loose threads, and drastically improve the pacing of the exposition.

So when all else fails, just write. Try new things. If you get stuck, take the scene or character that you hate, figure out why you hate it, draw inspiration from popular scenes and characters that you love, figure out why they're awesome, and see if you can apply the essence of that same greatness to yours. Get those creative juices flowing and let them do the heavy lifting.

Listen to the Professionals

Listen, I'm no authority on this sort of thing. Not yet, anyway. But these are the things that work for me, and hopefully I've written something here that will work for you. Otherwise go ahead and research more credible writers, I promise I won't mind.

Oh, and try not to get too stressed about all of it.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

How to Get into Copywriting

I've been a copywriter for almost three years now. I think that makes the statement "I am a copywriter" a bit more official. Also, I have business cards now. So there's that.

I was recently asked on Reddit for some suggestions on how to "break into copywriting" as if copywriting is a bank vault in a heist film. I was flattered to be seen as some sort of authority on the subject, and while I'm certainly no expert, I'm going to expand on and share my response here.

How to Break into Copywriting


So, you want to get into copywriting. Well, you wanted to be the next Stephen King, but you've just read multiple sources that say the chances of making a living as an author (and a popular one at that) are slim to none, but you don't really have any other viable skills or interests outside of your love and ability for writing. You took a few personality tests specifically designed to tell you what career to get into - or you watched a bit too much Mad Men - and settled on copywriting. You want to see your creative ideas turned into magazine ads and television commercials for Doritos, Pepsi (or Coke, not judging), and the highest of all entertainment products - beer.

For the record, I got into copywriting through the traditional method of getting a college degree, which led to an internship and later a full-time job in an office where I currently write product descriptions, press releases, marketing emails, and video narration for a small online retailer.

However, as is the primary requirement for most creative fields, you really just need to demonstrate your interest and skill in copywriting. So whether or not you spend at least four years and thousands of dollars earning that degree, here are some tips I'd give for getting the attention of potential employers.

General Tips for Copywriting

  • Be concise and direct. The fewer words, the better. Every sentence must contain a feature or benefit of the product, so get rid of all the extra fluff.
  • Look up the difference between a feature and benefit, if you don't know it already.
  • Read up on SEO. Learn how to find and use keywords.
  • Always double-check your work before submitting it. Nobody has a good excuse for spelling or grammatical errors if they're competent and passed high school, and copywriters doubly so because it's literally their job to be the best writers on the planet.
  • Develop thick skin. Don't get offended because someone didn't like your work. Listen to their advice, try to get to the bottom of what they dislike about your work, improve upon it, and move on.
  • Learn AP Style. Follow and read Grammar Girl everywhere.
  • Do you know what a call to action is? What about an attention-getter? Because you should.
  • Don't tell the reader something they already know. This is basically the same as the first point, but it bears repeating. Put yourself in the shoes of the customer, and ask yourself what exactly is the information they need first and foremost before deciding to make a purchase, and write that.

Create a Cool Online Portfolio

Create an online portfolio of your work on one of the many portfolio sites out there. I use Behance, but a quick web search will give you some other options. The point of your portfolio is to show off your creativity and understanding of how to sell with words. Make fun magazine-style ads for products you like or are just weird and interesting (stay away from the big brands and products, you don't want people to compare your work with something of that caliber). Include a headline and one paragraph of body copy. Partner up with a graphic artist that you know or on the portfolio site who also wants to show off their skill if you can't make it look halfway decent yourself.

Start a Neat Blog

You might have noticed that I blog quite a bit. Employers love that sort of thing because it shows that you're always writing and that writing genuinely is your passion. Now, mine is just a public journal for my thoughts, but if you can focus a blog around a single topic that you love, that's way better. Once you've started, keep at it. Don't go a month without a quality post.

Make a Badass Résumé

If you're applying for more creative positions at hip companies or agencies, make a version of your résumé that shows off your creativity. I personally have two versions of my résumé; a boring one I made in Microsoft Word, and a fun one I made in InDesign that is made to look like an old police file. The idea is for the second one to be eye-catching and memorable for those hip companies, and the first to be professional and proper for the others.

Even if you're not applying to high-status agencies, remember that you're trying to convince them that you can sell their products with your words, so you should be able to sell yourself with your résumé. It has to be flawless, neat, concise, and convincing. Link to your blog and portfolio on the very top so they can see for themselves just how much you deserve the job.

How to Obtain That Vital Thing Called "Experience"

As you might have heard, it can be very tough to get experience without prior experience. It's crazy, I know. When I started applying for positions in my field, I only heard back from three of the places I applied to, got an in-person interview with two, and was unemployed for two weeks out of college before the one ended up hiring me. Bear in mind, this was after I used all the tricks I've described above. With that in mind, here's what I have to say on getting experience so you can eventually get that dream job.

Firstly, apply for every low-level writing/copywriting position you feel even remotely qualified for. It's not up to you to decide if your lack of real-world experience or knowledge is a deal-breaker, so even if the requirements say "3+ years and an in-depth knowledge of the world of watchmaking," apply. The copywriters with actual 3+ years and knowledge of watchmaking are all gunning for the 5+ year jobs anyway, and for all you know you're the most qualified person who applied, so send them your résumé just to be safe.

Secondly, do freelance work. Sign up for a content mill site and churn out a few 500 word articles, press releases, and product descriptions every day. You'll get experience, make connections, and get paid (though not well at first). Check out The Freelance Writer's Guide for tips, tricks, and freelance site reviews. Who knows, you might even figure out how to support yourself entirely on freelance work and not have to worry about all the other stuff I said.

Lastly, do not give up. You've got to be patient and persistent. Even if you're not employed, you should be practicing your craft by fleshing out and polishing your portfolio and blog. Your demonstrable skill will always trump a number on your résumé. Make connections. Ask your employed friends to vouch for you or put you in contact with someone in your field. Be prepared for anyone at any moment to Google your name, find your work, and realize you're the perfect candidate.

Follow these steps, get even more people's advice, and you should land a job in copywriting in no time. Good luck.

Leave a comment below if you have any further questions and I'll be happy to answer them.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Year Five in Review

Well, this blog is officially half a decade old. That means it's time for another "year in review" post. True to my promise at the end of year four (continue reading for details), I expect this post to be quite short compared to the last four.

Lacking Activity

The first thing any casual observer will notice is that year five was by far the least-active year of this blog. However, long-time readers (all zero of you) will remember that I kind of set out to do this at the end of year four. While I didn't explicitly say that I wanted to blog less frequently, I promised that I'd stop treating my blog like an extra job with a two-post-per-month and X number of views-per-post quota. Instead, I promised that I'd only blog when I felt the need to. It turns out that I didn't feel the need to very often.

So, What's Next?

More of the same, for now. While the latest content may not be of a broad appeal or arrive as frequently as it used to, it's more true to myself than ever before. As I'm growing up and my adult life is becoming increasingly more complicated, this blog has taken a backseat to completing the first draft of two novels and partaking in some freelance jobs for some extra cash on the side. I don't know about you, but I'm totally fine with trading in time spent on this blog for those accomplishments.

I also didn't blog about being a home-owner as much as I thought I would. I'd like to do more of that as my wife and I continue to work on and improve our home. I'm already late to talk about my first year of gardening and the time we repainted our bedroom, so maybe I'll get to that this year.

Otherwise, I don't really know.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

I Figured Out How To End My Novel As I Wrote This Blog Post

I'm literally about a chapter away from ending my novel, and yet I can't decide how to end it.

Hello, and welcome to Ryan's Blog, where I rant on about my struggles to write a novel that you know nearly nothing about. Yes, this is going to be one of those posts.

Endings are tough. You have to basically wrap up all the loose strings from your novel into a really neat-looking bow. It's hard enough to wrap up the end of two ribbons into an actual bow, so this is just insane.

Actually, the ending was kind of easy for the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo; the type of plot I was writing basically allowed for only one of two possibilities, and I just had to pick the best of those two and try my best to carry it out. This, however, is a completely different monster.

And what a monster it is. As it's the first novel I've attempted to write proper (that is to say, not counting the "long story" I wrote as my first attempt at a novel - that one didn't even make it to twenty thousand words in length), it's been a very, very rough process. The overall idea stayed the same, but the details, both large and small, changed dramatically over the course of writing to the point that I felt the overwhelming need to publicly blog my promise to stop going back and changing so much. What I'm left with is a very Frankensteinian (a word I've just now coined to mean "liking to Frankenstein's monster in that it's made up of many non-matching parts to create a whole that resembles a cohesive final product, though the seams used to connect the non-matching parts are very much visible, as is the fact that those parts do not match") rough draft.

One character was shy and kept to herself, and suddenly she's bluntly honest and forward. One character was a potential love interest, and then he was a bit of a stalker, and suddenly he's just some random mutual friend. Didn't this person say they were an only child? Where did this brother come from?! That sort of thing.

But you get what kind of monster it is - I need to get back on track. The ending.

The ending, in this case, can be narrowed down by determining just what exactly the novel is about and what lessons it aims to teach both the reader and the main character. The problem is that I've spent so much time on this novel and changed it so dramatically over the years that I can't really tell for sure what it's about anymore.

I got so stressed about this three weeks ago that I attempted to write a synopsis of the novel's plot from beginning to end in hopes that simplifying it would give me clarity into what it's about and how it should end. The results of this experiment? I drafted up an ending that made about as much sense as I could figure out at the time, but, unlike the moment I thought of the novel's clever title, I just didn't feel 100% confident and certain about it.

And now, as I've just finished writing another scene, yet another ending has presented itself to me - one that I had been specifically trying to avoid for quite some time. You see, without giving anything away, I'd been working under the idea that I wanted to write a story about a girl stumbling into some very implausible situations, trying to make them work for her life, and then having a reality-check in the form of everything coming crashing down along with the realization that life just doesn't work like that; not everybody gets a happy ending because we're all just background characters in someone else's life. Jeez, that sounds like someone learned how to fly so I threw them into a pit of fire.

The thing is that the short story this novel is based on had a totally different spirit to that proposed ending. The short story was lighthearted and fun. While I tried to retain this same spirit in the novel, over time it eroded away and became more of a serious drama with only slight glimmers of the story it started as. The ending, then, became a bleak reality-check - though with a positive lesson for the main character at the end. While I still believe it's important to increase the drama as the novel goes on, I'm beginning to realize (literally, as I write this blog post) that I lost sight of what I wanted to write in the first place. I wanted to humanize an overused archetype. I wanted to make you like her.

There it is. Just as I wrote the last sentence of that paragraph, everything clicked into place. I know now how it has to end. I need the reader to be on her side. I need her to be the lovable archetype. I need to remove the story from reality and keep its feet planted firmly in the fantasy.

Wow. I'm so glad I decided to write this blog. I had no idea it would end with me knowing confidently what I want to do with the novel.

Knowing my history, I'll write another in a month or two about how the ending changed again.