The Beginner Culture of Writing

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A few weeks ago, I got a personal rejection from a magazine because of my pacing.   So I went off in search of anything on pacing that might help. Typically, most resources said:

“Write short sentences.”

“Write short scenes.”

“Cut all out all necessary words.”

Well, first, I’m not writing a thriller, so a lot of short sentences isn’t going to help me, except during a fast-paced scene. The same goes for short scenes. The unnecessary words guidance is one of those bizarre ones that leads people to cut out information that’s important. I’ve seen writers under-describe a scene to try to be fast-paced.

In fact, it’s been hard finding anything on this topic. Odd, considering it’s one of the four that the professional publishers look for in stories (the others are story, setting, and characters).

Or maybe not.

Most of the craft advice out there is for beginners. And not any beginner; it’s for the ones starting their first book.

It’s like anyone else above that level doesn’t exist.

We see it in the writing magazine with articles that sound like fad diets: “Do these 10 Things to Get Published!” You know, eliminating adverbs, show not tell—well, you’ve seen them all before.

I was frustrated for a long time because I wanted to push into the more advanced areas, and there isn’t anything to tell writers what those are. If you figure out what those areas are, there isn’t much available beyond what a beginner would need to know.

Like pacing.

Anne Allen mentioned in her comments to me on her blog that beginners need the most help. That’s true, but when the craft information focuses nearly entirely on the beginner, it does a disservice to everyone. The beginner thinks they’ve learned all they need to—but doesn’t understand why they’re being rejected or not getting indie sales. The ones who want to push beyond the basics can’t find much. There is some out there, but it’s hard to find, and you have to constantly keep digging.

I think the most important thing though is recognizing that most of the craft advice is for beginners, and that everyone should not stay a beginner. Try one new non-beginner thing today.

Maybe pacing.

Military, Snowmen, and Washington, DC

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After all the snow we had this last week, I ran across this fun photos from the DOD Website, courtesy of the Navy.

A Navy petty officer looks up at inflatable snowman.

151217-N-OI810-080 YOKOSUKA, Japan (Dec. 17, 2015) Electrician’s Mate 2nd Class Godson Bagnabana, from Gadsden, Alabama, erects an inflatable snowman on the flight deck of the U.S. Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). Ronald Reagan provides a combat-ready force that protects and defends the collective maritime interests of the U.S. and its allies and partners in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Nathan Burke/Released)

You can find the original here: http://www.defense.gov/Media/Photo-Gallery?igphoto=2001326913

Snowzilla, The Aftermath

But the snow was anything but fun for us living in the Washington, DC, area. We had about 22 inches of snow where I was at, and the Federal government shut down for two days (that turns the area into a ghost town).

One of the problems of this area is that it’s a car culture. Everyone assumes you will drive everywhere (this, in spite of encouraging everyone to take public transportation). I’ve been out to some of the developments where construction companies build monster houses. The houses are in a maze of cul-de-sacs. No sidewalks, and pretty much out in the middle of nowhere. As I kid, I could walk to the library, to the grocery, to the drugstore, to the park. Here, I might have to take a car.

The result is that the sidewalks didn’t seem to be much of a priority to get cleared, even when the children went back to school. Mind you, I’m not talking down to pavement, but cleared enough that they were safe to access.

But there seemed to be a disconnect with the cities saying they wanted everyone to not drive so they could clear the roads, and then not realizing that people might walk instead.

I was getting my oil changed on Saturday. This is a full week after Snowzilla. The roads are pretty good, though there are places where we lose lanes. While I waited, I walked to one of the local department stores half a mile away. The sidewalks were buried under huge mountains of snow. I was forced to walk out in the street with cars going 30-50 miles an hour past me. Some of the drivers keep an eye out for pedestrians, but a lot of others are like, “You’re in my way, and I’m not slowing down.”

The good news is that a lot of the snow will melt off during the next week when we’re in the 40s and 50s. The bad news? Flooding.

Yup. That’s Washington, DC.

Books About Women at War

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This list of 25 books about women at war was posted to the women veteran’s list.  I remember coming back from Desert Storm and reading everything on war I could lay my hands on.  I wanted stories about women at war, and the best I could do was stories about men at war.

For this list, I was surprised both at what I didn’t know about and what got left off the list.  So I’m thinking of doing a list myself.  If you know of any titles, post them in the comments.

Meanwhile, here’s a few more:

A Piece of My Heart: The Stories of 26 Women Who Served in Vietnam.  This is the only one of two books I read that was about women following the war.  This book was used as the basis for the TV series China Beach.  I read this one over and over and over until I couldn’t read it any more.  It’s now available as an ebook.

Visions of War, Dreams of Peace: Writings of the Women in the Vietnam War.  This book came out in 1991, so right about the time I came back.  It contains poetry about Vietnam.

Women in Vietnam: The Oral History.  Getting the link on Amazon for this one turned up a lot more books.  I have this one in my collection, but I haven’t read it.

Women Vietnam Veterans: Our Untold Stories.  This is a new release for 2015 that showed up for the search for the one above.  Spiffy cover.

Side-by-Side: Photographic History of American Women in War.  A coffee table book with photos of women in war through history.  I was given a copy by the author.

I’m a Soldier, Too: The Jessica Lynch Story.  The media made her into a big hero and then threw her away when the true story came out.  The result is that this book got a lot of bad reviews not because it was a good book or a bad book, but because of the politics.  It is a frightening story of when things go really wrong for a soldier.

She Went to War: The Rhonda Cornum Story: This one’s from Desert Storm, and the other book I read following the war (because that’s all there was).  This is about an officer who was captured during the war.

These last two books are one of the reasons I wrote Soldier, Storyteller the way I did, and also ePublished it.  The story about the war experience in both books was too short for a hardback coming out of New York.  The result was about half the books are on the soldier’s life before the war.  I remember reading Rhonda’s book, and every other chapter was why she became an officer.  I was skipping those chapters because I felt like they were filling space.

When I did mine, it was automatic to epublish it because then I could tell the story I wanted without having to fill in extra to make up for the costs.

 

Military to the Rescue

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The military’s trucks pretty much are made to go anywhere.  The National Guard rescues a fire truck.

Snowzilla Update

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This is what it looks like this morning. If you look to left, there’s a fire hydrant, which is barely visible.  It’s that thing sticking up out of the snow near the road.

Snow faill in Northern Virgina, near Washington DC

The biggest problem in this area is the cars.  People commute everywhere, and there are always major traffic jams.  That makes it hard for state and county crews to treat the roads.

The federal government did shut down at noon to help clear the roads.  Even so, there was quite a bit of traffic at 5:00, and cars were still on the road after it got dark and the snow got worse.  This morning, it’s like a ghost town.

Desert Storm: 25 Years Later

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This weekend marked the 25th anniversary of the first Persian Gulf War, when the war actually started. For us, it started in the middle of the night because of the time difference, and by morning, planes were coming in low over our tents.

Soldier, Storyteller: A Woman Soldier Goes to WarThere were a lot of things I discovered while I was writing Soldier, Storyteller that I was glad I didn’t know then, because it would have make the non-stop onslaught of fear worse. But one of the things I remember from immediately after I returned to Washington State was that I needed books about other veterans’ experiences.

Other women.

And there wasn’t any. The Vietnam books were just starting to come out, but they were only about the men. So that was what I read. I heard that it takes 20 years before something war can be written about.

But a year after the war, I wanted to write a book about. I thought there was a story in it. I thought I had a story. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was an attempt to bleed off some of the poison of everything that happened.

The story never amounted to much. I’d get three chapters done, and it just felt wrong. I was focusing too much on details that no one would understand or care particularly about. Details were things I could focus on without touching things that were worse.

I’d revisit it over the years, even as a novel, but it just didn’t stick past the first few chapters. I had some people telling me I ought to write a book, and I don’t think they really understood that it was going to be in its own time.

One of the problems was that when I first thought about the project, it was to bleed off the poison, not to really tell a story. The creative brain put its feet down (being as my muse looks like a Golden Retriever) and said, “Uh uh.” I think a lot of memoirs probably never quite work because the writer is trying to get back at someone or exorcise the proverbial demons, not tell an actual story.

But it was like one day, it hit me how to write it, and I did. I guess it was time, and I was ready. Finally.

Checking in

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I’ve been offline for a little while because I caught a cold.  Christmas in Washington DC was 69 degrees, and then the temperature bounced down and will be in the 20s tonight.  Everyone’s been getting sick.