Category Archives: Technique

5 Suggestions When Collaborating With Another Writer

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We all know that writing can be a pretty solitary act, but sometimes it’s fun to switch things up a bit and write in collaboration. Seriously, it can be fun; and it worked for Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs.

I tried writing collaboratively only once before, with an ex-girlfriend who is a formidable writer in her own regard (click here to see a sample of her work) – it didn’t work out so well. We were working on a piece of alternative literature, with her writing from the female perspective, and me writing from the male perspective. It fizzled out after a mere two chapters each.

If you want to collaborate with another writer, here are five suggestions to make the process go smoothly:

1. Plan an outline. Make sure that you and your writing partner both know where the story is going.

2. Be professional. Whether the person you’re writing with is a spouse, lover, or best friend, as far as your work together goes, make sure that you both hold yourselves to a professional standard.

3. Personal chemistry. If you don’t like a fellow writer (and writers hate being around other writers as a general rule) don’t work with them.

4. Literary chemistry. If you write like Kerouac, and your partner writes like Woolf, make sure that you two can come to an interesting juxtaposition, or don’t start at all.

5. Don’t be too critical. It takes time to turn 1st drafts into quality writing. Don’t be too critical on your partner. Don’t bite their head off if they miss a deadline. People produce their best work when they don’t get the whip cracked on them.

I hope these suggestions prove to be helpful to you in your writing career!

Also, if you need any help with copy editing, intensive editing, or publishing consultancy, I’d be honored to help an aspiring writer move their literary career forward. Simply email me by clicking here.

You’d Better Be BOLD

Hey friends. It’s been a while…

This message is a simple one, but one that cannot be ignored: Your writing must be bold.

It’s common for aspiring writers to fall into one of these two traps:

1. Their ideas are radically intriguing, but they have no understanding of the structure of writing (which you need to know, even if you want to break it).

2. Their work is technically sound, but boring and/or extremely derivative.

This is not an either/or dichotomy. You need to know how to write well. All that stuff you can learn from this blog, or from a creative writing workshop, or a famous author’s guide, or from a BA or MFA program in Creative Writing is essential, but it’s not enough to establish yourself as a writer. That’s like thinking that because you bought a paintbrush you’re suddenly in the same league as Picasso.

Publishers are starving for original material. If you throw the same old recycled literary tropes their way, you’re not likely to get your work noticed. It doesn’t matter how much mastery you demonstrate over language and structure, if your writing is boring and derivative, you’re wasting your time.

Break new ground. Experiment. Yes, it can go horribly wrong, but writing is art, and like any other form of art, it’s always evolving. If you don’t evolve, if you don’t challenge yourself, no one will take your writing seriously.

On that note, I’m privileged to have my poem “Big Boys” in Jeremiah Walton’s literary zine Fuck Art, Let’s Dance. Jeremiah is one of the most talented young poets I’ve come across, and even better than that is this man has a truly revolutionary spirit. Watch out for him. If you don’t know his name yet, you’ll know it soon enough.

Check it out by clicking here.

A Critical Mistake to Avoid When Writing Short Fiction

Don’t treat short fiction as a novel.

Whatever you do – DON’T treat short fiction as a novel.

What I mean is this: when you are writing short fiction, it takes a different approach than if you’re working on a novel. The key is brevity. You have to say just as much as you would in a novel, but you have to do so succinctly.

A good rule of thumb when writing any piece of short fiction: stick to as brief a period of time as possible. The story can take place in 15 minutes in one location. It doesn’t have to be wildly ambitious. 

Of course, in writing, as in all art, rules are meant to be broken…once you’ve achieved mastery. There are short fiction writers like Isaac Bashevis Singer whose short stories read like mini-novels in the depth and complexity of their plot. In my opinion, Singer was one of the best short fiction writers. He could get away with flouting that rule; and once you grow as a writer, by putting in much time and effort, you can too.

However, for now, as an aspiring writer, I suggest adhering to the following acronym:

Keep

It

Simple

Stupid

And I guarantee that your short fiction will be a lot easier to write, and have a much greater chance of getting published by a literary magazine.

Do you have any other tips for short fiction writers? Feel free to leave a comment!

Four Reasons Why You Should Consider Writing With a Friend

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My first time writing with a friend wasn’t very auspicious. It didn’t ruin our friendship, and what was completed of the story was pretty interesting; the only issue was the simple matter of completing our chapters, which sort of fell by the wayside. The end result was a project that ended before it had even really started.

Which brings us to the present – I’m now partnering on a screenplay with a new friend that I made, a very talented writer/actor/filmmaker named Zubair Simonson. I met Zubair as I was walking down Lexington Avenue in New York City. My briefcase, filled with admittedly gaudy advertising for this project written in Wite-Out, was slung over my shoulder. I noticed a man looking at me with a quizzical expression. This being New York City, I kept walking. One block later, Zubair inquired about the blog, and the rest is history. 

I’m a slow writer; Zubair is not. I have connections to the film industry; Zubair does not. We’ve formed a perfect partnership. I’ve seen screenwriting partnerships work already. My cousin Andrew Friedman and his screenwriting partner Stephen Dackson have one of their scripts in pre-production. Teamwork can make big things happen.

So, why should you consider writing with a friend? Here are a few reasons:

1. It’s a lot more fun than writing alone.

2. Bouncing ideas around to someone else helps deliver a sharper story.

3. Your partner can complement your weaknesses.

4. It can speed up the time it would take to complete a story. 

If you think this applies only to screenwriting, you’re wrong. Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs worked in collaboration to produce And The Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks. Why can’t you collaborate on a novel, or a short story, or a poem, with a friend?

Have you ever tried to write collaboratively before? What was your experience like?

The Subtext in Dialogue

“‘Cause you know sometimes words have two meanings” – Led Zeppelin, Stairway to Heaven

What we say isn’t always what we actually mean. The implications of our words often have a deeper value beyond the surface. The societal conventions which most people (and many characters in your fiction) follow dictate certain codes of behavior and speech. Just as in real life, your characters’ words may have a double meaning, and many times may even be contradictory to the literal understanding – this is subtext.

Imagine a scenario of a married couple on the outs, yet attempting to maintain a facade regarding the strength of their marriage. It’s clear to see how the husband’s “Yes, dear” to his wife’s request isn’t really a “Yes, dear.” Likewise, the wife’s “I love you” wouldn’t actually mean that she loves her husband if the story shows their marriage falling apart.

Understanding subtext is one thing, but how can you translate that awareness to the page? I believe that the best way to show subtext is by amplifying your description of the character’s behaviors while they speak. If a character says “Yes, dear” through clenched teeth, your readers will have a much easier time picking up on it. Of course, sometimes you want to be quite a bit more subtle in your description. No reader likes to be beaten over the head with what can be inferred. 

Without mastery of subtext, your dialogue will be read as flat and unrealistic. Start giving more thought to your dialogue. Don’t just consider the right words – always consider your character’s true motivations and feelings.

If you’d like any help refining the subtext in your writing, or for any other issues, consider utilizing our editing service (currently free). Please click here for more information.

You Are The Final Arbiter of Your Writing

“Beware of advice—even this.”
—Carl Sandburg

This message may seem a bit counter-intuitive coming from a man who runs a blog that offers writing advice, but it’s the truth – don’t take my blog posts for gospel truth.

I love writing The Literary Game. I love the opportunity to help aspiring writers through this simple daily blog. I hope that some of my posts are useful to you, wherever you may be in your literary journey.

But know this, I am not the final arbiter on good writing.

I may have published some poems and stories in a few good literary magazines – so what?

But it’s not just me…

Stephen King said to do such and such in On Writing – so what?

A professor in your MFA program said you should consider doing this and that – so what?

It’s not that my advice or their advice is bad. You should want to learn from those around you, from your friends, from other writers, from your professors, from esteemed authors, but at the end of the day, don’t forget that it’s your writing. While the advice that you may read or hear may be spot on, there’s a possibility it may be wildly inappropriate for your writing or situation. 

You know yourself and you know your writing better than I do, better than Stephen King does, better than a professor in your MFA program will. Yes, it is important to embrace the possibilities to learn that are all around, but please don’t neglect your inner compass. Measure the information in front of you. If it works, go ahead and embrace it, but if you know it’s not right, never be afraid to blaze your own path.

 

Have you ever listened to others’ advice and took a wrong turn because of doing so? Have you ever had a major accomplishment because you disregarded others’ well-meaning advice? I’d love to hear your experiences.

Brainstorming Your Plot

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A little backstory: I quit a good job as an academic to devote myself entirely to my fiction (and poetry and screenwriting). After cutting the cord, the first step I took towards building a literary career was deciding to take a visit to the Clarion Free Library in Clarion, Pennsylvania.

Once there, I pulled an assortment of books written by many of my favorite authors off the shelves. I brought these books over to a table, and started analyzing how these authors constructed sentences and paragraphs, how they segmented their stories into chapters, how they wrote description, how they wrote dialogue, how they fleshed out character. I tried to understand the “bones” of quality writing.

After this exercise was complete, I penned my first short story in years. Rairigh Drum, my friend and editor, told me that this story was good enough to be in The New Yorker (not quite yet, I’m afraid). However, there was one problem that continued to come up as Rairigh edited my short stories. The plotting in my stories left something to be desired, necessitating numerous rewrites.

Rairigh shared this one secret with me that has made my job (and her own) quite a bit easier. When you’re plotting your story, always think of the possibilities of what could happen immediately after a major action.

For example, imagine that your story is about a firefighter in love with a plumber’s daughter. You might start the story with the plumber taking the firefighter aside and telling him in a cryptic fashion that marrying his daughter isn’t advisable. You want to end your story with the firefighter and the plumber’s daughter getting married with her father’s blessing. You know the beginning and you know the ending, but how do you fill in the middle?

Rairigh explained that for every start point, you should brainstorm an assortment of possibilities of what could happen next. I would add that it helps if you put yourself in your character’s shoes. What are the possibilities of what you would do if you were the firefighter? List as many ways that the story can go as you can imagine (I hope you’re good at divergence tests), and then for each action, brainstorm the many possibilities as to what would happen if you take that road, and keep doing so until you reach the finish point.

You may have a great idea, but it can be hard to sustain it to the end without a strong outline. This fun exercise makes plotting easy, which in turns really speeds up and improves the writing process. I hope this practice helps you as much as it has helped me.

How about you? What fun strategies do you use to plot out your stories?