Sunday, June 26, 2011

Business Travel Doesn't Alway Suck

Actually, that's not true. I change my mind. Business travel does suck.

But sometimes... just sometimes... something unexpected makes it all worthwhile.

My Tweeps (Tweeps = Tweeter Peeps (Peeps = My Peoples (Peoples = you know... people... a lot of 'em))) got a handful of tweets from me when I was on my latest trip in San Diego.

I shared a picture of the marina from my room... If you haven't been to San Diego, find an excuse. It's one of those places that gets a hold of you and does not let go.

The trip itself was good. Conferences, coffee, workshops, coffee, one-on-ones with experts, coffee, meet new people, coffee, strategy sessions, and... let's see... did I mention coffee?

From 7 AM until approximately 6:30 PM I was busy with this stuff. And typically, my brain is fried when I go to these things. So much information, limited capacity left in my brain, and that typically results in no more juice left to be creative.

This time, it was a bit different.

Maybe it was the weather.

Maybe it was this statue that just spoke to me.

Maybe it was the coffee.

Or maybe it was the fact that I was still on a high from the James Scott Bell seminar that kickstarted the revisions of Rocky Peak.

Whatever it was, I had a phenomenal three nights of writing. From Sunday evening (when I arrived) to Wednesday afternoon (when I left), I had accomplished two things:

(1) I had added all the new scenes that I had identified ~ 12k words in 3 days
(2) I had completed the manuscript

And boy am I proud of how things have come together with this story. I am now doing a final read-through before I send off a copy to my mentor Michael Levin and my wife.

So I thought I'd share a couple of additional pictures. My "Hotel Room Office" and the elements that I use to get things done.

This is what's on my desk.

And when I look over my right shoulder, this is what I see.

It may be hard to figure out, but what I have on my window is a bunch of stickies.

Throughout the day, I jot down ideas.

It may be a new scene...

An inconsistency...

A good line...

A question...

or a reminder to further peel the onion layers of the plot challenges...

These are the things that bring everything together. The little accents that make the pieces flow with texture.

When I was revising, as I addressed a sticky, I would move it off of my "To Do Window" and set it aside in my "Done" pile. This is a very effective method that I've used for more than just writing. It comes from a project management methodology called SCRUM. Maybe I'll tell you guys about this rapid and agile process for getting things done in a future post.

Finally, Here's a blow up of my desk with some explanation

Research Material: 
  • My iPad with all the Evernote research in front of me.
  • My Revision plan -- A few sheets that includes the plot summary
The Avatar:
  • That's my now infamous Moleskin notebook and pen that are my avatar on Tweeter
  • Self-explanatory. In this case, I was listening to Evanescence
The JSB Flashcards:
Scrivener in Action:
  • Read my post on why I love Scrivener so much here and here
  • Really? You need me to explain this?

Fight the good fight!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

A Weekend to Remember

I must confess, sometimes I can be a snob.

The Myth, the Man, the Master
James Scott Bell
Not over silly things, mind you. Well... okay, I can be a coffee snob. But any writer will tell you, coffee is one thing we should not take too lightly. But I digress.

No, I'm talking about being a snob over what I "already" know.

The thing is that if I learned something, if I have experience in the domain, if I feel that I've paid my dues and now I'm a bit of an expert, then I don't want to be treated like a novice. After all, I am an 'expert' now.

I've chronicled my challenge-paved path to writing before, but I think it's worth explaining again. For years (eight to be exact) I fiddled with a manuscript. On-again, off-again, but yes -- eight stinkin' years. And in the end, this manuscript was categorically bad.

It's sobering to admit something like this. But I have always been my best (or worst) critic. Of course, I didn't understand what made it stink. I just knew a bad smell when I sniffed it!

To the rescue: James Scott Bell's book on the craft --  Plot & Structure. I can't properly explain how much it helped me. As I read the pages, I became convinced that he wrote this for me. I had no quota and no goal. Every silly plot twist, flat character, and boring dialogue that you can think of, I was guilty of committing to paper. All of 'em!

So I dove into JSB's book. I like to believe that I became an expert on the material. And the result was that I completed the first draft of Aces in a matter of weeks. 8 years and I produced junk. 12 weeks and I had a complete novel. After I was done revising and editing, I started my second full-length novel, Rocky Peak. Same results.

Therefore I felt like I had it all down. I am the master. "I can probably teach that book," I thought very (very) quietly. Then I saw the posting of the "Seminar" by JSB. In LA, less than 10 miles from me.

Full Disclosure: I thought the seminar was for beginners. NOT me! I got this. I'm D man! What can he possibly team ME?

The reality is that I was struggling with the revisions phase for Rocky Peak. I felt like I was getting close, but something was missing. I couldn't put my finger on what exactly. This is where my snob-like mentality was my biggest obstacle. Once I got off my high-horse, I registered and in that act alone, things started to open up.

Last weekend, June 4th and 5th, I attended Jim's seminar "Novel & Screenplay Intensive." I walk in and there he is. Either he's very tall or I'm really short (okay, keep your opinions to yourself!). And this is when I knew I was in for a great weekend. Jim is a humble man. You would never know that he's a best selling novelist, a talented writer, and an expert teacher of the craft. Because he comes across as if he's still learning, but wants to share what he knows. In the business world -- in the domain of leadership -- we call this type of person a Level-5 leader (as explained in Good to Great by Jim Collins). Mr. Collins says Level-5 Leaders "...display an unusual mix of intense determination and profound humility." This statement personifies James Scott Bell.

A true expert isn't someone that hoards the knowledge, but one who willingly shares the knowledge for the overall improvement of the tribe (in our case, the writing community). And share he did. Some of us at the seminar joked that JSB is like Master Yoda. Although considerably taller, and less green!

One of the wonderful things about seminars is the people you meet. Yes, some were like me: working on getting their first novel published. But then there were others who had already published many novels. These are experts! They make a living writing novels. And they were at the seminar! Learning, taking feverish notes. No, you are never done learning and every novel you write will have its unique challenges. As a writer, I felt transformed and reinvigorated.

The seminar was filled with tools, techniques, and phenomenal examples from novels and movies. What he taught, sunk in. I mean really deep. I can't think of a technique or tool as a theoretical idea anymore. There are examples engrained within me. I do have a very long list of movies that I want to watch now, but that's a personal issue.

I hope that what he taught us will be released in his next craft book because there are nuggets of brilliance there. I don't want to give details about the seminar. So no real spoilers here (okay maybe one!).

At the end of day one, Jim showed us a tool that was worth the price of any seminar, book or on-line workshop he gives. He calls it the "12 Signpost Scenes."

If you've read his Plot & Structure book, or Art of War for Writers, or Revisions & Self-Editing, a lot of the "Scenes" will be familiar. But what he does here is he provides a framework for these critical scenes. The general flow, the main disturbances and "Doorways of No Return" and clearly articulated timeline.

Before you "purists" who write from the seat of your pants get all wound up, this is a simple exercise that helps you identify the big scenes, but just as important, you identify the big GAPS! That's it. You can stop there if you want. But oh, it gets better. I promise you.

I got home that first night and prepared my 3x5 cards for the "12 Signpost Scenes." And you know what? The problem that I faced with Rocky Peak suddenly became clear. There it was! I made that one correction, then the pieces magically started to fall into place. It was magic. It is magic. And Jim Scott Bell is a master magician of the craft.

I am a better writer as a result of this seminar. I have met other great writers. And I am in awe of JSB.

Now, if you don't mind, I have revisions to work on.

Fight the good fight!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Great "Great Lenore" Book Giveaway!

I've been tweeting about this for more than a week now, but I think it merits a blog post as well.

As you will recall, I posted a review of JM Tohline's debut novel, The Great Lenore back on April 3, 2011. You don't recall? Well, go there now!

You should also check out Jordan's site and the Great Lenore page, while you're at it.

Suffice it to say, that I loved it. So much so, that I'm giving away two (that's TWO) free copies (yes FREE) to anyone that spreads the word on Tweeter.

All you have to do is something like this:

Step 1: Copy this --> @araTHEwriter is giving away two free copies of @JMTohline's "The Great Lenore"

Step 2: Paste it in your Tweeter message field and press "Tweet." Now all your followers know about the contests and the book.

Step 3: Wait until June 12th

I will add the names of all those that have already tweeted and all those that will tweet through 5 PM PST June 12th to and find my two (did I mention TWO?) winners.

I will announce the winners on Tweeter, then ask them to DM or email me a mailing address. I will have the books direct shipped to the winners from

Can it be any easier? Me thinks not!

Here's my motivation. There are a lot of great books out there that may not get the marketing budget for whatever reason. If I love something, I will spread the word. As a writer, I'd like to believe that it's also my task to help propagate great stories. Thus, I'm propagating! So help a debut author make an impact in the writing world. You will be able to say, with no doubt, that you helped make a difference.

Always, fight the good fight!
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