Alright, it’s summer. For many of us, that means snowcones, sunscreen, and family vacations. For the readers among us, it can be a terrific time to kick back under a colorful umbrella with a fun beach read (or for strange people like me, beach reads and creepy thrillers, plus some sci-fi thrown into the mix).
But for writers, especially writers with families and other commitments, summer presents a challenge: precious little time for writing.
*Mental health disclaimer: if you are a writer or an artist of any kind, you MUST absolutely CREATE TIME for your craft. I tend to agree with Kafka, who said that “a non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity.” But it often isn’t easy to entertain the muse at the height of summer fun, while wet towels grow mildew and bored children search YouTube for tips on “how to make a bomb with leftovers from the fridge.” Balance is key, I think.
The good news? If you have access to a library, bookstore, or the Internet, you can work on your writing style even when you don’t have time to write. From the publishing frontlines, here are two non-writing ways to improve your writing:
Dissect the first page of at least ten books. The first page of any published book should be a finely honed specimen of solid writing. By the time a book hits the shelves, a slew of beta-readers, trusted friends, agents, and editors have weighed in their two cents about every word on that page. So grab your library card or Kindle and STUDY UP on at least ten books of your own choice. Does page one grab you? Why or why not? What makes you want to keep reading, to take that coveted glance at page two? Is it the action? The nuance? The voice? The main character? What about pacing? Sentence structure? Paragraph length? This is more than mere literary analysis. Trust your own opinion. Make it personal.
Critically read the first chapters of five books in your genre. Writers learn from other writers. So grab (or download samples for) at least five books in the same genre you write, and read the first chapter for each one. What happens in the first chapter? How much backstory does the writer withhold about the main character, and how much does he or she surrender? At the end of the chapter, what do you know about 1) the main character, 2) the plot, and 3) the external and internal conflict? How did the writer go about establishing that knowledge in your mind? Again, make it personal. This is your chosen genre, after all. Your opinion matters.
So there you have it, two free and simple ways to improve your writing this summer, without breaking a literary sweat. In the next post, I’ll address poolside ideas to strengthen your social media platform… with a cyborg twist.
Have you ever been tense? Stressed out? In limbo between one choice and another? Good. Then you have what it takes to be a writer. Writing is about tension. We all know that life has an abundance of inherent tension. The writer’s job is to draw out the tension and elevate it to heightened levels.
As a matter of fact, I’m tense right now.
Waiting…Hoping… Restless. Anxious. Agitated.
Because I’m at an “in-between” place in my writing. A few weeks ago I attended the fantastic DFW Writer’s Conference. Three solid days of networking with authors, agents, editors, and writers of all levels. To be honest, it got me so pumped up that I’m just now starting to come down. This may sound crazy, but if you were there… then you understand what I mean. This was my third year attending DFWCon, and it was the most inspiring yet.
Oh yeah. Back to the tension.
So at DFWCon, I pitched my novel to several agents and an editor. Actually, I pitched to anyone who would listen. Then I sent out queries with the requested partials, full manuscript, and/or synopsis. Now I’m waiting. But then again, “waiting” isn’t really the best word for it.
That’s the word.
An uncomfortable place between one point and the other. Taut. Stretched. Precarious.
To cope, I’m writing and researching the next book in the series. Editing for Henery Press. Getting in trouble with friends and family. Writing some more. Also, I’m chain-eating candy. Guzzling coffee. And so on.
I imagine many of my fellow DFWCon writers are in the same boat. It was all fun and games at DFWCon, a band of literary world-changers linked arm-in-arm with our pens and notepads. But now we’re back to the reality of the writer’s life in the slow-moving publishing industry—one person against the clock and a blank page. So to pass the time, I’ve compiled a few inspirational quotes from what I learned at DFWCon, especially related to tension in writing.
DFWCon Forensic Panel, The Science of Crime: “With a decomposed body, look for bugs in odd places. You normally get bugs near moisture. The eyes. The mouth, etc. Bugs in odd places are a clue.” (Not sure about you, but for me this statement does a GREAT job of establishing tension.)
Finally, a simple but relevant quote from bestselling author Jonathan Maberry: “Writing is art. Publishing is a business. The quicker you get that, the happier you’ll be.”
And the tension?
Pour it into your writing. Raise the stakes. Remove backstory. Look for bugs in odd places.
The writing life might be tense, but it is NEVER boring.
I tend to write about technology that scares me. Implanted microchips fit the bill… there are all kinds of things that can go wrong – horribly wrong – with subdermal electronic devices. My novel-length writing explores the darkest corners of my imagination, the terrors that await a future world where brain implants and subdermal ID chips are the norm.
I pray we never live in such a world. But if it does happen, I’d have to find a few perks to get me through the existential horror of it all. So here’s the third thing I would do,
IF I HAD A BRAIN IMPLANT….
I would record my dreams.
Dreams are like candy for writers. Dreaming is a no-stress source for weird ideas, fantastical worlds, surrealistic nightmares, vivid characters, and heart-stopping terror. Writing ideas abound in the dream world. Many successful writers got ideas from their dreams, including horror masters Stephen King and Mary Shelley. Even The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson was inspired by a dream, a neurological state that Stevenson described as “that small theater of the brain which we keep brightly lighted all night long.”
But how often have we forgotten our dreams? How often have we woken up in the middle of the night, haunted by the most sublime dreamscape, certain we’ll remember it in the morning, and yet dawn brings the dreaded amnesia? Then it becomes merely a faint memory, a feeling, with no concrete words to describe it. Lost. Forever.
If I had a brain implant, I’d program it to digitally record my dreams. The pictures. The sound. The emotions evoked. The fear, joy, pain, sorrow, desire. The sheer impossibility. The longing. The bliss.
Then I’d send the dream to a word document and write a story around it. I’d never run out of ideas. Never hit writers block. Never have a dry spell. My stories would literally write themselves overnight.
Of course, there’s always the chance that someone would hack into my dreamscape and alter my subconscious thoughts. Fans of the movie “Inception” remember the concept of shared dreaming – two or more sleeping dreamers who can change aspects of the dream to achieve a certain result. But dream hacking is a frightening thought that’s best left to novels and screenplays.
If I had a brain implant, I wouldn’t use it for anything dark or nefarious like the characters in my books. Instead, I’d sync it to my coffeemaker for fresh coffee every morning when I woke up. Then in the day, I’d use it to perfectly match my music with my mood. Finally, I’d record my dreams for writing inspiration.
You know, the fun stuff. Basic. Simple.
The stuff of dreams.
(This concludes my series, If I Had a Brain Implant…)
There are an infinite number of possibilities with cybernetic characters, and every writer has their own version. The CBS series Intelligence (loosely based on John Dixon’s new release Phoenix Island) features a government agent with a neural implant that connects him to the global information grid. The new FOX series Almost Human pairs an enhanced cop with an android partner, and the long-running NBC comedy Chuck takes a more humorous approach.
And then there’s Descartes’ Discourse on the Method from 1638. Bet you didn’t know that Descartes wrote about cybernetics, did you? I wonder what he’d say about today’s tech options. “I post on FB; therefore I am” or “When it is not in our power to determine what is true, we ought to follow what is most retweeted.”
Okay, that train of thought might end up in a different blog post. But for now, here’s the second thing I would do,
IF I HAD A BRAIN IMPLANT….
I would match my music with my mood.
I like music. All kinds. For writing. For cleaning the kitchen. For driving through the massive amounts of construction and traffic near my home. The only trouble is that I’m not consistent with the style of music I want to hear at any given time. If I’m feeling tired, I might listen to upbeat dance music. If I’m in a deep frame of mind, I might appreciate some alternative rock like Flyleaf and Evanescence. Sometimes I use music to complement a mood, other times I use it to counteract one.
Clearly a brain implant would be helpful.
If I had a brain implant, it would analyze my neurological patterns and learn which types of music fit each of my many moods. Then it would sync to the correct playlist automatically. No more skipping songs on Pandora. No more flipping through the radio stations in the car, trying to land on the right one. My brain implant would just know.
Some research even suggests that music can treat and/or prevent depression, autism, stroke, Parkinson’s and other disorders. But let’s take it a step further: Imagine a brain implant programmed to detect neurological diseases early and adjust music therapy accordingly. Early disease detection and prevention? Sounds good to me. No medications. No annoying side-effects.
Just oh, you know… a tiny computer wired INTO YOUR BRAIN.
Would you do it?
I write sci-fi thrillers about cyborgs with brain implants. I just finished the first draft of my second novel, and it is my darkest writing to date. There’s blood. And gore. And all kinds of cyborg programming gone awry. So as I begin the revision process in the New Year, I thought it would be fun to lighten things up with a new blog series.
IF I HAD A BRAIN IMPLANT…
I would sync it to the coffeemaker.
Coffee is a morning necessity for me. There are some days when I don’t even trust myself to drive to Starbucks unless I’ve already enjoyed a cup or two at home. And while I have a decent programmable coffeemaker, it isn’t good enough. It could be better. WAY better.
If I had a brain implant, I would program it to notify the coffeemaker when I wake up. My brain implant would be able to read my brain waves. It would learn my sleep patterns and would detect the difference between sort-of awake, and definitely awake. No more setting the clock the night before. No more broken late-night promises that tomorrow will be the morning I get up – really get up – when the first drip of java hits the carafe. No more tar-thick brew at the bottom of the carafe when I finally stumble out of bed.
Picture it with me… there would be fresh coffee even on those holiday mornings when you hit snooze twenty-three times and sleep way past the coffee timer. Or when your children keep you up half the night. Or when your dog won’t stop barking at the goats (but then again… maybe that’s just me).
I’m sure there are more practical and beneficial uses for brain implants. But teaching my coffeemaker to read my mind is at the top of my list.
Stay tuned for the second thing I would do, if I had a brain implant…