The word counter I’ve been waiting for…

I have just found the best Mac app in the history of apps. Sounds hyperbolic, right? Not even. It’s amazing. WordCounter has taken so much pressure off my scatterbrained mind.

I’ve been tracking my writing, trying to boost my words per hour, figure out when is my best writing time, and all that good stuff. Anything you can measure, you can improve… and all the other cliches we writers hear all the time.

I’m horrible at keeping track. I forget to log my word count. I write in three different programs. I never remember when I sat down to work. Now, I don’t have to.

So, before I sound like some stupid infomercial–why has nobody told me about WordCounter before?

It tracks how much I write in IA, Scrivener, Flowstate, and for the online writing tools I use, like storyshop.io, it tracks words for browsers too. I had no intention of advertising on this blog, but this might have been the best twenty bucks I’ve ever spent. (Besides the IOS version of Scrivener, of course)

Screen Shot 2017-12-04 at 11.38.02 AMIt shows the totals for the day. And hovering over the bars, shows an hourly breakdown.

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And, if you are like me and forget to log your numbers every night… there is a calendar view with all your past days, still broken down by hour and app. I’ve been using it for over a week now and it’s been incredibly handy.

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I just wanted to pass this along, because as many writing podcasts as I listen to, I’ve never heard this mentioned. It’s $20, but money well spent as far as I’m concerned. 

Good luck and happy writing,

WR

The Adverb Myth

Ok, first, let’s start with a quote that pretty much any modern writer has run across…

“I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops. To put it another way, they’re like dandelions. If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day… fifty the day after that… and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely, and profligately covered with dandelions. By then you see them for the weeds they really are, but by then it’s—GASP!!—too late.”
― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Excellent advice, until it isn’t.

Adverbs should be controlled, true enough. Adverbs should be avoided at all costs? Utter b.s.

Some people seem to think his advice is to never use an adverb, but there’s no way. The paladin of the anti-adverb movement himself uses them. I ran a quick Google search through a couple of King’s books for the first adverb (and one of the most useless, IMHO) I could think of – quickly. And here’s what I found in the book where he makes that statement…

King, On Writing

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Then I went to one of his short story collections, which are my favorite of his writings. He tends to ramble in his novels, but when he has to rein himself in for shorter works, he’s brilliant. There are fourteen results for “quickly” in this example of his uber-condensed writing.

King, Night Shift

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Then, I realized that we all change styles over time, honing our craft as we go. A search of the recently published Different Seasons turned up the same thing.

King, Different Seasons

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So, here is the quandary… he’s right, and he’s wrong. What should you do about it?

Adverbs are not the devil, but excessive adverb use shows lazy writing and every adverb you use should be scrutinized. As they showed in Nabokov’s Favorite Word is Mauve (which I HIGHLY recommend ever writer read), the fewer adverbs an author’s book has, the better it performs in the market. That’s not because readers sit around with a clicker, counting off adverbs. It’s because the writer payed more attention to their words.

Nabokov's Favorite Word is Mauve

But, don’t go through and delete adverbs willy-nilly. Things like ‘quickly ran’ should not be cut down to ‘ran.’ They don’t mean the same thing and ‘ran’ can be boring. Instead, use a more powerful verb – i.e. sprinted, bolted, etc.

On that note, ‘sprinted quickly’ and ‘bolted quickly’ are times you should out-right kill the adverb. The words already mean that, so adverbs are superfluously unnecessary.  (See what I did there? That reminds me – I need to get back to that post about ‘purple prose’ I was working on yesterday.)

English is a robust language with words for differing degrees of a lot of verbs. If there is a powerful verb that gets your point across, use that and not an adverb with a boring verb.

However, English is not all-encompassing (it’s not German, after all). There are times when there isn’t a verb that means what you want to say. When that happens, by all means, modify a verb. Just make sure you are doing it with confidence and not because you are too lazy to care.

Pluck adverbs and other indulgences from your writing with care and contemplation – leaving the ones necessary to convey your images and getting rid of the ones that a stronger verb would take care of.

Unlike some of the wisdom I’ve heard imparted recently, adverbs are not weeds in your writing. They aren’t some sort of infestation that can only be culled with fire and deforestation. They are flowers that should be used sparingly to add color.

Use them when they’re needed, but pay attention, pay attention, pay attention.

W.R.

“As you know, Bob”

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Sam picked up the long stone and held it out to Willie. “So, what was it Ms. Jones said about dinosaur bones in class the other day?”

Willie took the stone and examined it. “Well, she said…”

This is known as the “As you know, Bob” dialogue faux pas. This happens when a character is being told something they already know just so the author can get the information to the reader or remind them of something. This doesn’t happen in real life, and it shouldn’t happen in your fiction. Find another way to get the information across.

When a person starts recounting a lecture or a conversation I was involved in, my response is usually, “Yeah, I was there. Remember?”

If the information is that important, have it delivered to someone who doesn’t already know. And, if it’s really, really important, show us the scene where they found it out. If there’s a quick lesson about dinosaur bones at the beginning of the book, I’m going to assume it’s important and won’t need a refresher when a bone is thrown into the plot. Quite the opposite, I will have been waiting for it.

Things like this weigh your story down and insult your reader’s intelligence.

WR

Talking heads – leave them on CNN and Fox

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I just critiqued a chapter of someone’s work that included three pages of non-stop dialogue with no action, no internal dialogue (or should that be internal monologue?), and no description of the room. It was aggravating and confusing.

Talking Heads don’t exist in real life unless they are yammering on a cable news channel. Things are always going on around your characters. They are never in a blank physical space and nobody has a three page conversation without interruption.

If your characters are in a hospital room, there are machines beeping, codes being called, doctors being paged, antiseptic smells, bland food, cups of Jello, florescent lights humming, televisions on in other rooms, nurses passing by or coming in the door. We don’t live or talk in vacuums. Don’t overdo it, but give enough to settle us into the space.

And a conversation in real life would never go as long as it takes for a three page back and forth without pauses. Someone has to stop and think of what they are going to say next. An awkward silence happens when someone deals out too much information, or not enough and your main character suspects they are lying.

Nobody talks for extended periods of time without breaks in the conversation — except that one guy we all have in our lives, but he’s annoying and we don’t invite him to parties.

As for actions between dialogue, make sure they are relevant to the scene. Is your character anxious? Maybe she’s tapping a pencil. Is she ready to get going on a new clue? She’s probably fingering her keys. Is she excited, interested, bored? Make sure her actions give depth to what’s happening.

This is also a good way to avoid telling your reader everything instead of showing them. If someone has to consciously stop their leg from jumping, the reader knows they are anxious, so you don’t have to say it. (And, yes – I am a firm and adamant proponent of the singular, non-gendered ‘their’)

Do you need to casually introduce an object that’s going to be used as a murder weapon later? This might not be a bad time.

Make your characters real people, give them real surroundings, and real actions.

WR

Contractions… use them.

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One of the horrors wrought on good writing comes from one of the most unlikely, or possibly the most predictable, places — schools. Academic writing drills into us that we must use formal language and that means no contractions. Somehow, this can get dragged into our fiction.

We aren’t writing term papers about the effects of stimulants on the basal ganglia. These aren’t final theses on Shakespeare’s use of conjunctions. Those things would make anyone’s eyes bleed and brain cells shrivel from boredom. How my professors stayed sane is beyond me. On second thought, I’m pretty sure a few of them didn’t.

Unless your character is Data or Queen Elizabeth II, they will probably use contractions. These are stories of murderers, victims, elves, bakers, etc. All of the dialogue cannot be formal. Even if your main character is a stiff who only uses formal language, it’s unlikely everyone he comes into contact with will. Or, maybe they do, but only while he’s around? That would add a layer to the story and be an actual reason for not using contractions.

Here are a few examples of how contractions can change the meaning of a sentence:

I didn’t go to the store.

That’s a fairly straightforward statement of fact. By itself, it doesn’t imply anything; no defensiveness or forcefulness.

If the same character were to say:

I did not go to the store.

That adds emphasis. Our character is emphatic that he was not at the store. I think he’s probably lying, but that’s just me.

Either way, your ability to add that emphasis is lost if your characters don’t use less formal language most of the time. We all use contractions, your characters should too.

 

WR

It_s one of the god_s great gifts that men get to carry their favorite toys with them everywhere.As the master of setting goals that are far too lofty for my, and sometimes any sane human’s, abilities, I am used to eating crow. Whenever I hear someone use the words “failure is not an option,” my response is, “Oh, yeah? Hold my beer.”

Conventional wisdom is that a writer needs to write every day. Since I stopped working for other people and decided to write full-time, I took that advice seriously — and because my eating now depends on my writing, I took it to the nth degree.

Then I suddenly looked up (with exhaustion) and realized that I hadn’t taken a day off in over a month. That wasn’t such a big deal back in the days when I worked two or three jobs at once. I’m pretty sure that between 1992 and 1998, I didn’t take even one day off. But that was way back in the 1900s. Even though I’m still in perfect health and as strikingly handsome as ever (there are some people giggling right now who really need to stop), I also went from walking between 14 and 20 miles a day to sitting on my butt typing five or six hours a day for a month. I hit burn-out mode a lot easier.

So, all that to say that I bit off more than I could chew with the push for 10,000 words a day for a week straight. Now the question is, what to do with a setback?

The answer is, not a damned thing. It is what it is. I beat myself up for a day or two, and thought about applying to be someone’s secretary. But, my dream is still my dream and if it’s ever going to happen, it needs to be now.

I’m going to take one day off every week. No social media, no blogs, no writing, nothing. Well, except for notes about my WIP that pop into my head constantly. But, that will be a few quick scratches in my notebook and then putting it out of my mind.

I still believe in the story I was working on. The world needs more slightly goofy, barely sexy superheroes. Right? And, now I have way over half of it written! I’ve never pushed out that many words in that amount of time – so in the end, it was a pretty amazing experiment. Despite its abject failure.

Failure’s always an option – sometimes it’s just inevitable. What happens afterward (after a little pouting) is what’s important. I hope. The smart thing to do would be to take down all my challenge posts, but I’m going to leave them up as a reminder to myself.

RW WR

Day 5

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You ever set out to do something insane, and realize half-way through exactly how insane it is? I couldn’t post last night because I didn’t want to touch another key.

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I have a Yeti microphone and Dragon set up on my laptop… I may see what I can do with that today. About a year ago, I was working with it and had gotten pretty good at saying my punctuation (period) But (comma) it’s been a while and will take some getting used to again (period) (new paragraph)

I took some time to sit by the beach this morning and watch the sun come up and read more of the Robert Crais book I’m working my way through.

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Now, I’m ready to knock myself out again. Bring it on. Oh, and I was right about appreciating the very detailed outline – I’m definitely going to do that in the future when I have more than a few days to write.

RW WR DP