The DIY Journal: Practice

Pile of books on a black backgroundSo far, I’ve outlined and partially written three DIY Journal entries. The file names are called “Paths”, “Productivity”, and “Strategy” — to give you an idea of what topics have been going through my mind. What’s holding back these entries is pretty simple and lame at the same time: I don’t feel like I’m qualified to lead a discussion on the issues relevant to indie publishing.

I have strong opinions on publishing and writing, to be sure. I often share those opinions. The thing is, the more I learn the less I truly feel like I know. Who am I to teach others about how to go indie? Indeed, when I discuss what I do as a career in any depth with someone, I refer to them back to the gurus I mentioned in the previous Journal entry.

The deal with being a writer and entrepreneur is that you have to practice. Everyday. Try. Fail. Try. Win a little. Try again. Et cetera. It’s not that practice makes perfect — the goal is far from perfection — rather practice keeps you in shape. Out of the many elements of success — luck, talent, perseverance — practice is I think the most important. Practice gives you an edge over someone who only relies on dumb luck or pure talent to get through. The most talented writers (or any artist or athlete) will lose their touch if they don’t practice their talent in a meaningful way.

Practice is the way of doing. There is no try, to paraphrase Yoda, only do.

All writers have a hard time doing. This is a damned hard craft to learn, and we (writers) are typically a lazy bunch. We sit alone in a room and make things up. Or we don’t, as the case may be. We make up every excuse in the book to not write, to not practice. I’m the worst offender.

Lately, I’ve been bouncing off my projects. I can’t seem to focus. The “blank screen syndrome” is killing me. Practice is getting hard for me, and I have no flipping idea why. I made good progress on Pins and Needles, only to shelve it again. Ditto with my erotica succubus novel. Ditto again with some short story projects.

I know what the problem isn’t: writer’s block. I’m writing this blog entry, duh. Writer’s block is a myth and just doesn’t exist. In fact, that’s probably another Journal entry in itself.

Nor is it from lack of trying. I sit at my computer every day, and some days nothing comes. At that point, I get frustrated and walk away. I’m very frustrated right now.

So, I’ve decided to do something about it. I need practice, and sometimes I think a little creativity helps with practice.

Last night I stared at the computer screen for a half hour, cursing myself for not being the writer I think I am, and walked away long enough to get an idea. I just wanted to type something, anything really. Just make the keys go clickety-clack. I turned on my Kindle and opened Dean Wesley Smith’s short story “The Old Girlfriend of Doom”, and typed it word for word into Scrivener.

Copying a story is a like when artists take sketchpads to museums to copy the master painters. It allows the artist to study the curves and lines, to imitate the shading, to figure out how the art was made. Writers can do the same thing with stories, in fact I’ve done this before long ago. Copying gives the writer an opportunity to study closer how a story is put together. It’s also a good excuse to type.

Typing “The Old Girlfriend of Doom” took about two hours, and it’s a 5,000 word story. When I was resting afterwards (my wrists hurt like hell) I got an idea: I’ve never copied an entire novel.

I’ve written several novels, and have several more in incomplete stages. But I don’t feel like I know how to write a novel. My last three novel attempts are all incomplete. I want to change that.

Change, I believe in this case, begins with practicing new habits.

Over the next two to three months, I will retype at least four novels, pretending they are my own, and write them to tight deadlines. This is an opportunity to type without worrying about how to tell a story. The story is already there, I just have to do the work. This will be practice in sitting down and being productive. Instead of talking hypothetically about business strategy and paths, I will be doing.

I’ve chosen the number four, because in my business plan for this year I stated I wanted to have four novels published. The first will be a Tracy Hickman novel. I’ll do at least one Elizabeth Bear novel, and one Simon R. Green novel.

I’m not sure what I’ll learn from this project. What I hope to accomplish is to improve my daily writing habits, as well as maybe learn something about story structure.

Also, I will be doing this publicly, meaning I will post on my blog here my daily word count and total hours spent copying, as well as progress on my real projects (I still have a business to run, ya know). I also plan to discuss what the books i’m copying mean to me (I’m only doing books I’ve already read). I’m not doing a literary analysis, more like a gut instinct reaction of how the books strike me.

I begin the copying tomorrow (Monday). Given my schedule, the first post will probably be very late Monday/early Tuesday.

By David Anthony Brown

Indie writer and publisher. Among other jack-of-all-trade skills...

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