Write Everything

January 11, 2018

A guest post by Stephanie Raffelock

For the past few years, I’ve been a committed student of story. Larry Brooks remains my great inspiration to learn the craft. He told me that I would probably have to write 4 or 5 novels to really integrate story structure.

In spectacular rookie fashion, I thought– nah not me. I won’t have to write that much for my talents to be discovered. And as if he were reading my mind he added, “talent is just the admission ticket.”

As beginning novelists, the hard truth that we don’t want to hear is: learning to write in a multi-dimensional, heavily nuanced art form like the novel is going to take a lot of practice.  And I’ve discovered that writing things other than novels can serve that practice.

Writing Every Day:  It’s exhausting to constantly work on a big manuscript. If you hang in there, you’ll learn that you can’t wait for the muse to show up, and a lot of days it’s just damn hard work and determination that gets you through the next scene. I’m a proponent of writing every single day, because practice is how you get better.

Creating In-between Days:  Every 10 days I send off pages to my coach/mentor and then I have about three or four days where I don’t touch my big work-in-progress while I’m waiting for notes. On those days, I do a different kind of writing. I’m lucky to have a couple of blogs that publish my posts on a regular basis. I also write bi-monthly for a local newspaper.

What Blogs and Newspapers Can Do For A Writer:  If you only have 600-650 words per article, you get word-efficient, quickly.  Unless your curly prose turns into essential prose, you’ll never make your deadline.  The process of writing for blogs and the newspaper is an immediate one. And the gift of that immediacy is focus. I don’t have the luxury of thinking about whether or not I have something to say, or if my work is good enough, or any of the other sucky things writers tell themselves.

Diversity: One of my favorite writers, the late Norah Ephron, wrote magazine essays, newspaper articles, screenplays and novels. Her stories were complete, her prose crisp and clean, and I’m convinced that part of what made her so good was that she wrote everything.

Fresh Ideas:  The thing I love the most about writing for the newspaper, is that all of the articles are assigned. And thus far, none of the topics are things that I would have thought to write about on my own: burlesque, kayaking from Oregon to Alaska, an interview with a comic strip artist.  There’s a story idea in each one of those things. I was hooked when the burlesque dancer I interviewed told me that she’d been adopted by a group of drag queens who taught her the business. I’m never going to run out of ideas if I keep doing this gig.

The quest to write novels, really good stories, is a journey of love that fuels purpose in my life. And writing essays, posts and articles often reveals a voice or a conviction that can inspire the larger project.  Too, I have to admit, I like seeing my work published on sites other than my own, and the Tuesdays that the newspaper comes out, are always kind of a thrill.

I want to write everything.

One day I’ll investigate screenplays and comic books (one of many reasons to be thankful Art Holcomb is here with us on this site), just as a means of rounding out what I consider to be my writing education.

What about you?  Do you work in forms other than the novel? Does that help or hinder your larger works? I hope you’ll share your thoughts with me in the comments section.

Stephanie Raffelock is a frequent and valued contributor to the conversation here on Storyfix. She is an aspiring novelist who writes about the transformational forces of life. She served an internship at The Boulder Daily Camera, and has been published in The Aspen Times and Quilter’s Magazine. She is a regular contributor on SixtyandMe.com as well as a contributing writer for The Rogue Valley Messenger.  Stephanie is the Youth Programming Director for Oregon’s Willamette Writers, and maintains a board position with Southern Oregon University’s Hannon Library. You can reach out to her at stephanieraffelock.com and @Sraffelock.

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19 Comments

Filed under Guest Bloggers

19 Responses to Write Everything

  1. Great post, Stephanie!
    May I add two additional exercises?
    1. Write ad copy. It must be concise, precise, clear, and compelling. It’s not fun or glamorous but it sure sharpens your skills.
    2. Edit other writers’ work. Not only must you diagnose what isn’t working, you must figure out how to fix it. A critique group is an excellent place to start.
    Apprenticeships in areas besides fiction are never wasted on the long rocky road to publishing a novel.

    • Debbie – Great suggestions and a thoughtful reply. Thank you for sharing. And, I heartily agree that “apprenticeships in areas besides fiction are never wasted. . .” You got the point!

      • Debbie – these two adds you offer us this morning are brilliant. Ad copy is an exercise in subtext, which is a learned art. A great ad is a clinic in layered writing. And as far as “editing” the work of others, allow me to expand that to “study” the work of other emerging authors,” and juxtapose what you see there against what you know about the standards, benchmarks and location-specific criteria for the narrative, as well as characterization, them, subtext and scene effectiveness. This “seeing inside the novel” of another is, in my opinion, the most illuminating exercise a working author can engage with. Because a) it’s hard/harder to see and apply criteria to our own work, and b) until you see it in play, it’s all book-learnin’. It’s like reading an instruction manual on how to serve a tennis ball, and then watching video of a professional doing it, and an awkward newbie doing it, both against the same high bar of criteria.

        The great misunderstanding out there is this: new writers too often don’t know what they don’t know (the very criteria of which I speak), and they reject it, because their hero famous authors aren’t talking about it (for the same reasons David Foster isn’t explaining music theory in his interviews). Which leaves us, to a great extent, alone with this journey… at least, until one’s eyes and ears and brain are opened to it. Which you are a significant voice in accomplishing… so thanks for that! Larry

        • Steph – a thought occurred to me this morning upon re-engaging with your post (among many thoughts… you’ve certainly succeeded on the “make it thought-provoking criteria).

          Too many authors write their drafts without fully understanding the nature, shape, purpose and form of their end-game. Fine, if that’s your process, whatever gets you to that destination (though the flaw here that is, because too many newer authors don’t know what they don’t know, that destination remains elusive, even after they believe they’ve reached it). But…

          … imagine writing a blog post, or an article, or an effective ad, without a full command of the mission and the optimally-effective form of the end product. No argument, you just can’t write an effective essay of any kind without being on top of the context of it. I’ve written well over two-thousand blog posts, several hundred published articles, as well as fifteen published books (five ghosted for others, in case you’re checking me against my Amazon page) so this certainty – the certainty of what you write about here – is cemented in my tired old writer’s brain: the more you know about your (insert type of written vehicle here), the more efficiently AND effectively you’ll reach the goal. Easy to agree where posts and articles are concerned… less obvious – but nonetheless just as true – when it comes to our novels and screenplays.

          We should never confuse process and product (the former having no rules and standards, though it does tempt foolishness), the latter totally depending on specific criteria front-to-back.

  2. It comes down to “form,” whether it’s an article or a novel. Information/story has to be organized and presented in a logical way for the reader to get your point — and at the end of the day, we are writing for (or should be) the reader. Thanks for all you teach to those of us who strive to deliver on that!

  3. David Friedli

    Thanks for the insightful post, Stephanie!

    This might sound like a dumb question, but it makes Larry’s point about not knowing how much I don’t know. If a new writer wants to get into writing for blogs and newspapers, where do you suggest he should start looking? Like, I’m thinking there’s more to it than simply contacting them and saying, “Would you like me to write articles for you?”

    Thanks!

  4. David, thank you for your question. Here’s what worked for me. I hope it will be helpful to you:

    I’ve had a blog for several years. (Word Press, but there are other hosting companies too.) Having my own blog allowed me to practice. It allowed me to build a volume of material. And it inspired me to seek out and read other blogs to see what was compelling and what was successful.

    One day I came across a blog that was my exact demographic. It had lots of guest writers and I knew that I could write the kind of posts that they were publishing. I contacted them and sent them two samples. I’ve been writing for them for two years now. I do not get paid, however this blog reaches almost a million people and of those, a few have found their way to my web site/blog, my mailing list and my in-box. In short, I have a little following of like-minded individuals who I hope to one day present with a published novel.

    Not getting paid is part of the process. That being said, just recently I was contacted by a major insurance company who found my web site/blog through the larger blog, I mentioned. That insurance company licensed several of my inspirational articles for a year, for their newsletter. Similarly, I’ve been contacted by two different regional magazines that have paid me for re-prints of my blogs. Unexpected surprises and good credits.

    Finally, I contacted a local newspaper last year and again, sent samples that most closely matched the type of thing they were publishing. I now write for them regularly and they also pay. I mention the pay thing, not because it will make me rich, but because it makes me feel like a pro. Very fun.

    I hope that some of this is useful to you. Good luck on the journey and write on!

    • Mind if I add my two-cents? Maybe it will also help David. On average I receive 4-6 email requests from bloggers interested in writing guest posts for my blog. Most of the emails I don’t bother to reply to. Why? Because a) they don’t subscribe to my blog and, therefore, have no idea it’s main focus is on the crime genre and its subsets, or b) they tell me how fantastic they are at blogging in a way that sickens me (tooting your own horn gets old fast), or c) they tell me to promote their book because they want more exposure. See the trend? The emails lean more toward what I need to do to help the author rather than what they can offer my audience. It makes the site owner feel used and unappreciated. When approaching sites, make sure you’re familiar with their content and don’t rush the process. I’m much more likely to accept a request from a member of my community (evident by regular commenting on posts) than I am from a complete stranger looking for nothing more than free exposure.

  5. I always enjoy your articles, Stephanie, on various sites. In 2017, I veered into the Kindle Worlds, and it’s been an exciting, rewarding experience. Writing shorter works taught me how to build and maintain suspense in a shorter amount of time. I still prefer novel writing, but will continue with novellas, as well. They’re a great way to keep our audience engaged while waiting for our next full-length novel. I also wrote for a few short story collections, which were also fun to write. Alas, my writing schedule doesn’t allow much room for magazine or newspaper articles, but I’m keeping my options open. Never say never, right?

    Hi, Larry!!!

  6. Sue, Thanks for commenting. I thought your answer to David added a whole lot more value than 2 cents! Like you, what I’m in love with is the long form format — but I’m discovering that a few articles here and there can be very satisfying and keeps me sharp. “Writing shorter works taught me how to build and maintain suspense in a shorter amount of time.” THIS!!!! And to the point of the post, that your more concise works can inform your larger manuscripts. Never say never. 😉

  7. Robert Jones

    I’ve always written stories. Professionally, I started out as a comic book inker with aspiration toward writing. I worked with a lot of writers, great and small, picked their brains and eventually got to sit in on some plotting sessions, or just took the initiative to suggest things we might do for future stories once we got to know and understand one another. Relationships are important. Knowing what’s going to fly with other creators is sometimes tricky. And then seeing how all those ideas turned into the final printed work was quite the learning experience. It taught me not to hold onto ideas too tightly, be too rigid, and to simplify, cut the flab.

    Of course, comics are a bit like movie scripts in which the artwork (like actors and directors) has a vision all its own. Limitations, in terms of working on a canvas where less was more, was educational. Editors who made adjustments and inclusions was also a valuable excercise. And both writers and artists Working on deadlines often had to compensate, and make changes on the fly. Those team efforts could either bring out the best in other creators, or turn a project into a nightmare because once you finished your part of the job, it moved on to the next person to do theirs. Sometimes everyone was on the same page, other times the final product was very different than what was initially conceived. And yet, the clock was always ticking and bills needed to get payed.

    I’m sure Art can tell you a lot about that as well some time!

  8. Robert Jones! I am fascinated by comic books. First of all, I loved them as a kid. Second of all I think they’re a masterful study of BIG story in small packages.

    You make good points about the last minute changes on the fly and how sometimes they were the most creative. To that end, I always work on a deadline — self imposed or outer imposed. I like the thrill of gnashing teeth and the big push.

    Thanks for commenting. Write on. 😉

  9. Robert Jones

    Hi Stephanie,

    I always impose a timetable for myself as well when working.

    BTW, I thought I subscribed to your blog a while back, but apparently I either didn’t, or never received the confirmation email. Your stuff reads great. Very well crafted little articles one and all. And the layout looks great. I wanted to comment over there but couldn’t find a place to do so.

    • Thank you, Robert. I do not understand the mysteries of the universe when it comes to web sites and technology, try as I might. I do have a web master that keeps things cleaned up for me and I’ll let him know that you didn’t get confirmation on the “follow.” Thanks for the kind words — I’m always thrilled when someone reads my stuff. Write on.

  10. MikeR

    Something else – “novels are ‘BIG Projects.'” Blog-posts and simple articles, while complex unto themselves, are “much smaller.” “BIG Projects” call for different processes.

    Novels are probably “big enough” that you should never actually expect to be able to “just ‘bang one out.'” (Unless you’re Stephen King.) Projects like these call for planning and successive-refinement. There are inevitably going to be lots of “big-picture questions” that you really do need to work out in-advance … and “plausible alternatives” that you need to be able to decide-upon “ahead of time.”

    Remember way-back-when in Middle School when your teacher assigned you to do a “term paper” and warned you to “start with an outline?” Remember when you first heard about “3×5 cards spread out upon a desk?” These folks were giving you sage advice that is very applicable here. If you seriously want to take on a writing project of this size, you’ve GOT to be efficient.

    Even though you intend to send your Reader upon a journey, the end of which (s)he cannot anticipate, it is pragmatically NONSENSICAL(!) to suppose that “you, the Author, did the same!” Even though the Audience will be amazed to see a bird fly out of your hat, alas, you must first have PLANNED to put it there.

  11. Of course, you are correct that novels are big projects, and articles much smaller. That being said, both require an organization of information. The value in writing everything, is a.) you get a break from bigger manuscripts and b.) you learn to be prose efficient. The main reason that I write articles/posts in addition to my ongoing manuscript (s) is mostly I’m afraid that if I stop writing, I’ll lose momentum, so I just keep practicing, mixing it up to keep it fresh.

    It’s all good. It all needs a plan and what would any of us here rather be doing? Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  12. MikeR

    Something else to consider – very-specifically with regard to the form of “anything longer than (maybe) a ‘short story'” – is that we are talking about projects that are inherently of such a scope that we simply cannot contemplate their ends from their beginning. Therefore, these are not projects that we can reasonably expect(!) to complete by applying work-methods that an experienced newspaper reporter might successfully apply to another newspaper article. It might well be that “the inherent nature of the beast” requires a multi-step, “successive refinement” approach, as #Larry succinctly stated as “story planning.”

    #Hollywood has always required a multi-step process, even from its most-experienced authors: start with a “premise,” follow (if approved) with a “story treatment,” finish (if(!) approved) with a “script.” And, fully-expect lots of committee meetings™ at every step along the way.

    “Perhaps they are on to something . . .”

  13. Robert Jones

    @MikeR

    That’s pretty close to the plan of a novel, but with slight alterations:

    Concept/premise, outline, first draft, revision/repeat until finished.

    The hardest part for most novelists is the equivalent of those committee meetings. Finding people who are willing to give honest, constructive opinions is hard. Family and close friends will either “Yes” you to death or won’t really want to be bothered if they feel you’re wasting your time. Which can be all too often since most family members have placed certain expectations on your life since birth and probably has little to do with creative frivolity! And friends bore easily. Anyone who has a “real” job or career usually doesn’t want to spend much of their free time reading a manuscript that flies in the face of whatever their work ethic happens to be. If they even read—which requires them to think instead of playing or vegetating during their down time.

    What passes for commonality is often a rigid set of rules and viewpoints that may cause no end if stress, but shaking people out of their habitual misery is nearly impossible. Most are afraid to even try anything different. Remember the saying: If we can conquer our fear we can do anything. The opposing side of that equation is that in not conquering fear cripples one’s ability, thus, they can do nothing. Or at least no more than what’s reasonably expected of them.

    There’s a rant Kerry might be proud of 🙂

  14. Wonderful articles in this post it’s very beneficial for me. Thanks to share this post.

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