How do you write?

Each person has their own way to get into the spirit of writing. Sometimes it requires a little prep time or a stress free day. I’ve noticed many people have their favorite writing music, spots and even medium. I’ll give a rundown of how I like to do it (heh) and I’d love some comments to know what you guys do.

My Medium

Writing itself is hardly written anymore. The irony (is it actually ironic?) is that most people don’t actually write anymore. They type. My current medium of choice is a pretty nice Toshiba laptop. That itself has been a double-edged sword for me. It does mean that I can write anywhere, but that also means I can get distracted anywhere. All of my best writing to date has been done at my old desktop when I was locked in my room.

Does anyone use pen and paper anymore? It certainly has a charm to it. I would say it is certainly the best way to read. Maybe I’m old-fashioned like that. I even have professors telling me that books are going to make the move to the internet too. Especially thanks to devices like the Kindle. It’s book sized. The resolution is supposed to be better then any computer screen you’ve used. I still like paper.

Writing music

In this new media age, with most people writing on the computer, you can’t deny the ease of access of music. Most of my writer friends, and myself, can not resist opening up itunes while writing. Music has that power to put you in the right mood or totally distract you. I’ve tried writing school papers with my ipod on shuffle. Let’s just say Metallica isn’t the best thing to listen to while doing academic papers.

The best writing music

For me, nothing is better to listen to while writing then the band Explosions in the Sky. It’s hard to explain their sound, so I think it’s best that you listen to them yourself. They are great at drowning out the world and making me feel emotional about what I’m writing. Their music makes everything you do, no matter how mundane, feel important and grandiose.

Some old school Smashing Pumpkins and underground hiphop (Talib Kweli, Deltron 3030, Madvillian) help to round out my playlists.

Location, Location, Location

There’s only two places that I can get my best quality writing done: my computer desk in my room and my school’s library. Some suggestions on location would be great. When the weather breaks I’m going to try taking my laptop out on the patio and spend an evening out there writing.

This is a really open-ended post. I’m hoping for a lot of feedback and a good conversation or two to spring out of this.

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Traveling down the wrong side of the tracks – Hidden City Quarterly

My first literary magazine review comes from a little city close to my own heart. Hidden City Quarterly is a Baltimore based literary and arts online magazine trying to bring about recognition for the older arts in a new media world. The site itself is pretty traditional and clean in layout and concept. Four times a year, they release an issues containing poetry, art and of course fiction.

The site itself tries to read like a magazine, with links at the bottom of the few first pages so that you can “turn” them. For ease of navigation you can also use the tabs at the top. There are no ads and nothing is to spread out, meaning that it will display nicely even on smaller screens.

The reason I bring them to attention is the “theme” of the magazine. They send out an appeal to suburban America, to the hidden artists who have a passion and don’t know where to share it. In a way, Baltimore is a hidden city. Located so close to Washington D.C. and Philadelphia, someone has to visit to properly understand our charm. They use that as the building block of their concept to connect the hidden artistic communities of American (and the world – I was informed they received a submission from Australia).

They are an up and coming arts magazine. That means up and coming writers should jump at the opportunity to submit. In my correspondence with current fiction editor (and writer of this issue’s letter from the editor) he informed me that they are trying to expand their fiction section and are looking for more submissions.

This is a nice site that is just starting out and trying to build up some credibility. Give them a read and tell them(and me!) what you think. The next issue is planned for April so get to submitting. I’m going to give it a shot and you should to.

Location: http://www.hcquarterly.com/

Current issue: http://www.hcquarterly.com/thisissue.html

Overcoming story length

For beginning and amateur writers, knowing how long their story should be can sometimes be a difficult task. Many are high school or college students that are used to having the number of required pages given to them ahead of time (sometimes even in a fiction class, sadly). Given the characters that we chose to develop and the situations that we want them to engage in, knowing how long we want them in that situation can be a difficult task. Here are a few of my suggestions.

First of all, avoid the flash fiction trap. Flash fiction is a one to two page story. My time spent as the fiction editor for my school’s literary magazine (perfect time to give them a link but no one knows the password for the page so it’s trapped in the late 1990s) taught me much about amateur writing. For some reason, young writers love the idea of flash fiction. Maybe it seems high concept to them. Maybe they like the idea of having something be, “complete,” in only one page. It’s hard to say, I’ve fallen into the trap myself.

This is not to say flash fiction is never successful. I’ve read good flash fiction. I don’t think it’s a wise idea to get yourself into the habit of only writing a story for a couple of pages when the characters introduced and their situation could easily play itself out through 10 pages. Same can be said for all three to five page stories. If you made it to five there is definitely a lot more you can say. In general, short stories are a snapshot, so don’t crop it.

On the flip side, don’t over write. There is a crossing point when a short story begins to encroach into novella territory. If you’ve gotten that far, you’ve probably gone in over your head. I believe writing something to that length or greater can’t come purely out of inspiration and would require a lot of planning and mapping (as in detail mapping, it’s very easy to lose track of characters and ideas the longer a piece becomes).

The general rule I like to follow is that you want to say enough with your story, but you want to say the least amount possible. In a short story, where space is at such a premium, every line and every word should be carefully selected. Think about your details and their necessity. Think about the length of your dialogue and what it does to advance your action. It can be hard work, but if you end up with an eight plus page story with just the right pacing and well picked details, you’ll know you’ve accomplish something good.

Or hey, prove me wrong and write a kick-ass piece of flash fiction.

It’s only fitting

Though this is old news by now, it seemed fitting that a blog about fiction writing would make some form of comment about the recent death of John Updike. Count this as my personal tribute and an extended about me section.

Anyone that has any concern about this will know by now that John Updike has passed. The LA Times wrote an excellent obituary that is worth checking out here. The reason I bring up Updike is, from my perspective as an almost graduate with a major in Journalism and a minor in Creative Writing (probably not supposed to be capitalized but my stylebook is upstairs so suck it) I can’t help but notice the impact he has had on my life.

Going back to my freshman year I remember wanting to start reading again. As a kid I loved to read and would go to the library to get books. My parents also bought me an amazing collection. It was all of the classic works of literature condensed and with the writing simplified so that children could read and appreciate them. From when I was around 5 to when I “outgrew” them, those books were read to me, and then I would read them out loud.

But now I was 18 and I had not read a good book in years besides books that were required from school. And here came in my friend Matt, who had recently started generating a great interest in reading and writing. I asked Matt if I could borrow a book to read and he handed me a copy of, “Rabbit, Run.”

I was so engrossed that I couldn’t put the book down. I needed to know everything that happened to Harry Angstrom. I was so starved for reading that I didn’t mind Updike’s perchance for paragraphs that might take up a page or more. This is not to say that I would have just read anything, but that it was the right book at the right time.

What John Updike did was make me realize that I always enjoyed reading and writing, I was good at reading and writing (still to be proved, but I’m working on it) and that those are two things that I always want to be a part of my life.

Forget the two Pulitzer Prizes, the numerous National Book Awards, the 50+ works of literature, the countless criticism, if a book that John Updike wrote in 1960 can unlock the passion in an 18 year old in 2004 then certainly he has achieved something with his life.

So it is with a heavy heart that I say goodbye to one of the most prolific writers of the 20th century. Farewell sir, see you on the other side.

What I’m all about here

First post. Emergence into a new world.

The idea around here is that this blog will be a vehicle for fiction writing. Around these parts we’ll talk about fiction in the news (hey, sometimes it happens), ideas and schools of thought in writing, places that you can submit to for free online and of course I’ll intersperse excerpts of rough drafts or maybe even finished copies of my own writing.

The hope is that by establishing a readership and hooking up with like minded people and online literary magazines we can create a community around a love of writing and a general interest in improving our quality. Discussion is highly encouraged. So is reading.

Maybe I should have called this post, “Lots of lists.” Seriously though, this is going to be a lot of fun. Hold on to your hats, we’re about to get extreme. Fiction. Hell yeah.