Your Story Is Not Your Manuscript

A few days ago I bought a lecture series on how to write short stories from Kristine Kathryn Rushe and she said something that blew my mind. She said, “your manuscript is not your story.”

Mind. Blown.

What I’m writing is not my story? How does that make any sense? When I say I’m writing my story everyone knows what that means. It means I’m writing a story I want other people to read, and hopefully like.

But that’s not actually true. When I’m writing I’m writing a manuscript. I’m trying to communicate the story I feel in my head so that somebody else can read it, and understand the story that existed in my head when I wrote it.

Why the Difference between Story and Manuscript is So Important

I’m pretty sure every author has been there. You get an idea for a story that excites you. You either start outlining or writing into the dark. At some point when writing your manuscript you look at it and you say, this is complete and utter rubbish! What am I doing?! Why am I even writing this?!

When you realize that it’s the manuscript you don’t like rather than the story, it gives you a way to solve the problem without trying to find a new story to tell. That’s the reason in the six years I haven’t finished a single manuscript. I’ll start writing a story or outlining it and then at some point I will get stuck or a character will do something I don’t want to. Then I get frustrated, and give up on the story without finishing it. Then I will try to find a completely new story to tell. So far it has been a failing of formula for finished fiction writing. (Sorry I couldn’t help the alliteration there.)

It’s also kept me safe not publishing anything so I don’t get criticized. Funny how some things the mind does based on its desire to survive keep us from being who we are meant to be.

The Story That Demands to Be Written

When I first decided that I was going to blog seriously about my journey becoming a professional author, I wanted to start from scratch. I wanted to show aspiring authors how a new author can go from no idea to finished novel. I wanted to show every step of the journey so that people can look at every step of the process and see exactly what was going on day by day.

The truth is if you want to become a writer chances are that you have a story you want to tell. To put it more correctly, if you want to become a writer chances are there’s a story inside you that is demanding to get out. It’s been that way for me for the last decade and before I can go on I have to write this story, because it won’t let me write any other story until I finish it.

Elizabeth Gilbert talks about this phenomenon in her book Big Magic. She talks about stories being their own form of creature. I don’t know if that’s true for all stories, and I’m reasonably certain that it’s not true for all authors, but it is true for me in this case.

I need to write a romantic comedy with a man who has cerebral palsy as the protagonist.

Why do I say that? The attitude surrounding disability in this culture frustrates me to no end. I have been to three psychologists and 2/3 of them think that depression is an appropriate response to life in a wheelchair.

Me before You by JoJo Moyes puts forth a worldview which says government assisted suicide is okay for quadriplegics because they can’t be expected to live a happy life, even if they are rich enough to own a castle and good-looking enough to date models before their accident. Because all disabled people do every day is worry about accessibility.

Yes, occasionally we worry about accessibility because it impacts our existence. But, speaking for myself, I don’t spend too much mental energy being concerned about accessibility issues. To be fair, I have cerebral palsy, not a spinal cord injury. And because every human being is different, I’m sure there are people who do worry about accessibility a lot. But I’m sure there are also people like me whose life does not revolve around accessibility.

Kevin Smith has said in various interviews that he includes gay characters in his stories because his brother is gay and it bothered him that his brother didn’t have anyone to identify with in that way in the movies.

We’ve come a long way since Clerks premiered in 1994. But one demographic that isn’t well represented are people in wheelchairs. The new show Speechless which premieres on ABC September 21 looks like it might buck that trend. Still, we’ve got a long way to go in terms of honestly portraing disabled characters as more than someone to feel sorry for or be “inspired” by.

That’s why this story demands that I write it.

I’ve been reluctant to write the story because I’m surrounded by people who have an opinion about how my disability shapes who I am. The truth is in my life there are possibly three people who truly understand every aspect of my personality and see me as a complete human being. Everyone else gives my disability too much weight or the wrong sort of emphasis.

I can’t deny that my disability has shaped the direction of my life
. It limits the friends I have to those who aren’t afraid of people in wheelchairs. It prevented me from signing up for the military on September 12, 2001. It’s what made me consider writing a viable career. Both of my favorite writers HG Wells and Robert Heinlein took up writing after contracting tuberculosis, and more physical occupations were closed to them.
But it’s the one part of who I am, and arguably the least important part of who I am.

So I have to write this story before I write anything else. The universe demands it. I haven’t decided whether I’m going to use a pen name or not. That decision comes later.

What I’m going to do now is read Nail Your Novel by Monica Leonelle and Fiction Writing Demystified by Thomas B. Sawyer both of them have solid ideas about how to think about and craft your story. I want to read those books and then come up with an outline for my story.

My Plan for Tomorrow September 19, 2016

I want to read Nail Your Novel and take notes for creating an outline.

I don’t know what tomorrow’s blog post will be out, but I don’t think that I’ll finish reading Nail Your Novel in one day. I’ll probably just free write a blog post
An update you on my progress.

What to Do When You Fail

That didn’t take long. I was going to spend an hour a day working on my story. That lasted for two days. I’m making some changes.

1. Instead of working for one hour I’m going to work for at least 15 minutes a day.
2. I’m tired of trying to come up with the perfect story idea. I’ve wanted to write a novel for six years. Everything I have studied of writers says that on average they write 10 novels before they publish their first. With that in mind, I’m going to use a Udemy course and write my novel 15 minutes at a time starting today. I’ve spent enough time concerning myself with theory.

I will be using the course Outlining a Whodunit Mystery Novel by Mike Dixon. I will watch at least one lesson a day and work towards completing my practice novel. The value here is that it gives me a path to go down that forces me to move forward. 15 minutes a day is stupidly simple. It’s not a huge time commitment and it allows me to create a daily habit without trying to hard.

To understand the heart and mind of a person, look not at what he has already achieved, but what he aspires to — Kahlil Gibran

Brainstorming My Book Idea Continued…

Brainstorming My Book Idea Continued…

I had an interesting experience today. I’m on SSI so I deal with the government quite a lot. It honestly felt like I was arguing with an artificially intelligent government agent today.

Returning to my story idea

I want to write about the conflict between those who want control human human beings and those who have no such desire. I wonder if I can make the protagonist the person who wants to control human beings.

Every animal can be tamed. And man is just an animal. Is he though? Man is a spirit with a body.

And then of course there’s that other idea I had where ideas were the true dominant species on Earth. Their purpose is to survive like any other living species on the planet. Then comes the question how do you personify an idea?

A story idea is somebody wants something and there’s an obstacle to them achieving what they want.

Give me liberty or give me death.

If this goes on —

America is in chains. We are all appendages of the federal government. Even the corporate party which pretends to be at all odds with the government party is itself an appendage of the government party.

I think I need to watch Serenity again and it maybe read at The Abolition of Man and the Great Divorce by CS Lewis

I am free no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable I tolerate them. If they are intolerable I break them but I alone am morally responsible for my own actions.

Okay so let me ask this question: if things go on the way they are going what do you see as the natural progression of things?

If things go on the way they are going for the United States and nothing changes there will come a point when the United States cannot borrow money to cover its bills. At that point, government services will come to a standstill. There will be hyperinflation and anarchy in the streets. There will be riots and looting. People won’t be organized enough to march on Washington. There will simply be chaos everywhere.

If we are doing a 24 book series with 4 6-book-arcs doesn’t it make sense to start either just before were just after the collapse.

Remember, the conflict you want to dramatize is the idea of people who want to control the human race versus those who have no such desire.

I’ve got to read the abolition of Man and the great divorce by CS Lewis to explore this idea further.

If we and the story after the United States collapses what does the story become. Every time society collapses people come together and we are all equally poor. I’m going to have to listen to the opening of the story of civilization by Will Durant as well and take notes on that as well. I have a sense of where I’m going but nothing is clear yet. That’s okay though. I’m three hours in on day two.

Books Mentioned

The Abolition of Man by CS Lewis

Our Oriental Heritage: The Story of Civilization volume 1

What I want to do Tomorrow Friday September 16, 2016

Listen to The Abolition of Man and The Great Divorce take notes and incorporate it into the story plan.

Bonus Post: What is a Story Idea?

My task for today was to come up with a story idea is that I can write.

What Is a Story Idea

in order to have a complete story idea you need to know three things.
The Protagonist
What is the protagonist wants.
What is stopping them from getting what they want?

A story happens when a protagonist decides they want something and they try to get it but something is standing in the way.

The thing standing in the way is essential. It is the story obstacle that creates the fuel for story conflict. Without conflict there is no story. Without conflict all you have is a recorded series of events that will bore your readers.

If I knew I could write any book in the world, and it would be as popular as Star Wars what book what I write and why?

The Book I Want to Write: Brainstorming Begins

The book I want to write would be the first in a series of 24 books all around 80,000 words. I’m a huge fan of the Dresden files by Jim Butcher. He’s still currently writing the 16th book in the series Peace Talks. And if I could do anything I would write my 24 book series and self publish it before the Dresden files is finished. Jim is a hero of mine and I judge fiction based on the standard he has set. So to finish my series before his would feel amazing! And if I do it right I can give myself something good to read while I’m waiting for the Dresden files to be published.

If I could write any book I want it would be the first book in a 24 book series. It would appeal to urban fantasy readers, and it would be amazing!

My readers would love the protagonist and hate the antagonist. The settings would be vivid. The story would be action-packed. The story would be fast-paced. There would be a conflict between magic and technology.

There’s a quote from Robert A. Heinlein that has been bouncing around in my head for years as the basis of a story that I have to tell.

Political tags–such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and. so forth–are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort. — Robert A. Heinlein Time Enough for Love

That is a conflict I very much want to dramatize. It is a conflict very close to my heart. Everyone who knows me knows that I am very conservative. So I like the idea of revealing that conflict for what it truly is, rather than what the media would have you believe.

Every four years the country gets really dialed in politically and they buy into this idea that it’s Republicans versus Democrats when the truth is it’s the people who want to control us versus the people who want every human being to be free to pursue their life’s work in their own way. Democrats and a lot of Republicans fall into the first category. Republicans don’t want to slow the growth of government they simply want to change who controls it. That’s how you get Donald Trump as a nominee for the Republican Party…

And I seriously just hit my hour mark! Not. Even. Kidding.

What I Want to Achieve Thursday, September 15, 2016

I want to continue fleshing out this idea of a series to write about. Tomorrow I just want to keep exploring. I think on Saturday is when I want to focus in and start trying to find the individual elements of the story idea.

Teaching Myself to Write Fiction

A simple idea

What I want to do is spend the next 365 days of improving my life. I’ve been binging the Publishing Profits Podcast recently and it occurred to me that the greatest predictor of success in life is consistency. It was pointed out a couple of times that is the only difference between someone who succeeds of what you want and someone who fails. So I want to spend an hour a day on one Definite Chief Aim.

My definite chief aim is to complete a novel length work of fiction (50,000 words or more.)

I’m not giving myself a deadline on it. Whenever I put a time deadline on things they never get done. Instead I’m going to focus on spending an hour a day moving towards the goal of finishing a novel length work.

I decided to blog about it at the same time because I’ve bought a lot of info products. (I mean A LOT!) And all of them were useful to me in some way. But they were always taught by this guy who knew what he was doing because he was already massively successful. There’s a lot of value in that, of course. The theory is that in order to teach something you’ve got to have been successful at it first. That makes a lot of sense with most things.

In my experience, writing fiction is a slightly different animal. Sure, there are a lot of people out there who will try to teach you how to write fiction, and there’s a lot that can be learned from those people.

The problem is that every author who sits down to write has a slightly different instrument to work with. We have different strengths and weaknesses. Some of us are really good at describing scenes. Others are really good at writing authentic dialogue. Some are really good at writing action scenes, while others excel at showing us the internal life of the character.

I haven’t finished the story since 2006. So I’m writing this blog to teach myself what kind of writer I am. My hope is that in following my journey other aspiring writers will be able to follow my footsteps by seeing a journey from its very beginning through to a completed work.

The first thing I’m going to do is map out a plan with tasks that I must do in order without deadlines attached.

THE RULES OF THE CHALLENGE:

1. I have to have fun writing this book. If at any point in the process I am not having fun writing this book I will reevaluate what I’m doing and move forward.

2. There will be no deadlines writing this book. Deadlines have never helped me in my creative endeavors all they have ever done is send me into a despair spiral what I didn’t meet them.

3. I will free write a blog post about these 200 words every day detailing my progress for that day.

4. I will define outcomes I want to achieve for next day’s hour in my blog post. I will report on how much of what I wanted to get done I actually achieved.

5. If I don’t get done everything I want to for that hour I will simply start from where I left off tomorrow.

What I Want to Achieve Tomorrow Thursday, September 15, 2016

I want to brainstorm story ideas to figure out what novel I’m going to write. For this exercise I’m not going to allow myself to write any idea that I’ve had in the last two years.

That means no Wheelchair Doppelgänger.
No King Arthur Space Opera.
No Scandal Meets Cyberpunk.
No Series of Love Disasters.
No thinly veiled autobiography.
No criminals escaping into alternate universes.

I may write those books later. But I want to start fresh so that anyone who reads this in years to come can see how I came up with the idea and developed it.

DAY ONE COMPLETE!

See you tomorrow 🙂

StoryShop: The App Created By Writers For Writers

Limitless (The 2011 movie that inspired the TV show) is one of my favorite movies. I’m sure you can guess why. The protagonist Eddie Mora starts out as a struggling writer who doesn’t know what to write. We’ve all been there at one time or another. We’ve all wondered what comes next, and felt some variation of stupid and incompetent because writing is what we’re supposed to do.

Then Eddie takes a pill. The book he’s been struggling to start he finishes in four days. Why is he able to perform this miracle? Eddie says it himself, “I knew what I had to do and how to do it.”

If you’re lucky as a writer, you’ve experienced this too. The last time I was able to write like that was in 2006. I wrote a one-act play in college for class. It took two hours to write the first draft, and when the star of my show quit, requiring a massive revision I was able to do that in 12 hours with the help of my actors.

The reason I could do it is I wrote an autobiographical play. I was intimately familiar with the setting, characters and conflict. I knew what I wanted to do and how to do it.

What if writing every story was like that? What if you always knew what you wanted to do and how to do it? Wouldn’t writing be easier and more fun?

Sure, but how do I get to that place?

The answer is simple. If you know your characters, setting, conflict, and plot really well you will never get lost telling your story.

Great, so you want me to outline my story to within an inch of its life. I’ve heard that before and it’s either too much work, or the notes become overwhelming to keep track of.

No. I’m not saying you have to outline your story to within an inch of its life. If you’re a plotter, you need to know your characters, conflict, setting and what comes next really well, so that you can pull your reader in and keep them turning pages. If you’re a pantser you need a way to keep track of the details you’ve written so far so you can easily review them for future sessions.

Either way you still have the problem of how to organize your ideas so that you can easily retrieve them when you’re writing your story. Well now, “there’s an app for that.” Well, almost.

StoryShop is being created by Seth Atwood and a team of software designers with the help of Sean Platt, Johnny B. Truant and David Wright. Together these guys have written 2 million words in two years (that’s two Harry Potter series in about 1/4 the time.)

They were able to do that because they knew their characters, setting, conflict and plot as well as they could before starting to write. StoryShop makes collecting these details and linking them together effortless. After you’re done collecting details in the pre-writing process you’ll be able to export a file that can be read by the word processor of your choice. Then you will be able to write your first draft fast because all the details of your narrative will be at your fingertips!

Every character you create will become part of the social network of your story. You’ll be able to track relationships with ease. Don’t know where to start when creating character? That’s okay. StoryShop 1.0 will come with Character DNA questions you can answer to get a sense of your character is. You’ll be able to cherry pick questions you want to answer, create your own questions, or have StoryShop generate a random list of questions. Future versions of the software will include personality tests which will help you see in greater detail how different characters interact with one another.

In fact StoryShop links everything together. Every time you mention a character story shop will link back to their profile. Every time you mention a setting StoryShop will link to its setting card. This way, you’ll never have to worry about forgetting some detail when you go to write your draft.

The setting interface for StoryShop functions a lot like the corkboard mode in Scrivener. Every setting will have an index card. And within that index card you can link to other index cards and create a stack. So you can have an index card for your villain’s lair, and a series of linked index cards for every room in the lair. Or you can have an index card for “how magic works” and create a stack of index cards for each form of magic and how they interact.

The setting index cards can also be used by non-fiction authors. If you are nonfiction author outlining a chapter, and you want to get to the end without stopping to review your notes, all you have to do is use a hashtag to link back to a setting card where you put research.

So something like:

StoryShop is awesome! You can even write nonfiction books with it. Staying in the flow is easy because you don’t have to review your notes when writing an outline.

#StoryShopResearch that proves my point.

Then, when you go to write your draft, you just review the #StoryShopResearch card in your setting file.

What I really like about StoryShop though is how the beats pane works. The beats pane has two elements: beat cards and dividers. Beats are story events, or plot points that take place in your story. In this example below a divider is used at the beginning of the chapter. And every time you mention a character the divider above the beat keeps track of the mention of automatically. So at a glance you can tell who was mentioned when you review your notes.

Untitled

So what do you think? Are you excited about StoryShop? Do you want to get your hands on the software? There’s one problem. It doesn’t exist yet. The good news is that creators are running a kickstarter to raise the money needed to develop the app. Back this project at any level and you will be able to write better stories faster.

If you’re happy with the way you write stories now, that’s great. But if being able to capture all the details of your world, characters, and plot points into a document that’s easy to navigate sounds exciting to you then go to The StoryShop campaign page and back StoryShop at whatever level makes sense for you.