Thoughts on Writing


Silence is soft and silky.
It soothes and relaxes.
It inspires and motivates thought.
When combined with light it calms and promotes introspection.
In the darkness it sparks creativity and imagination.
But in those moments of in between,
At dawn and at dusk,
The power of both light and dark combine to form the genesis
Of the most beautiful and meaningful opus of all.
The combination of the mysterious and the mystical.
The fountain of both joy and enlightenment.
The optimism of a beginning
Connected to the thread of adventure
Leading onward to the ultimate ending.


In Aristotle’s Poetics he asserts that a whole has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The author’s task, given an idea for a story, is to discover where it begins, follow it’s development through the middle, arriving ultimately at the end. In creating a story, it is often easier to determine how it ends before attempting to discover where it begins. The middle is the easiest portion of the story as it conveys the protagonist from the beginning to the end.

Now, looking at the process of creating a story from a slightly different perspective, we have a protagonist. The protagonist wants something. There is an antagonist, someone or something that stands between the protagonist and the thing that they want. Then there is the call to adventure, the thing that convinces the protagonist that they might be able to attain that which they desire.

The protagonist sets their feet on the path to obtain that which they desire. They soon meet obstacles that must be overcome. At first the obstacles prove insurmountable. They try and fail, multiple times. And yet, just as they are about to concede defeat, they figure out how to overcome the obstacles and attain their hearts desire. As a result of the journey they have taken they have become a different person. They have grown.

When examined as a template, the story seems tame and uninteresting. The job of the writer is to hide the skeleton of the story in the details of the journey. To be satisfying, it must not seem to be a foregone conclusion that the protagonist will succeed. And then there is the matter of the price of success. The reward doesn’t come to the protagonist without a sacrifice of some sort.

The choices that the protagonist makes reveal the growth that they have accomplished. It is useful to illustrate the flaws of the protagonist early in the story so that it is obvious how they have changed by the end of it.

Another important thing to remember is that everyone, including the antagonist, is the hero of their own story. If you want your villain to be believable, you have to understand what their perspective and motivation is. They will often perceive the protagonist as the villain of their story.

Stay safe. Wear a mask when you go out. Keep social distance. Wash your hands. Take care of yourself and each other. We’ll get through this together.


A writer paints with words. Words express the colors and shapes that place the story in its context. They illuminate the bright places and obscure the shadows. They communicate the joy as well as the pain. They sketch the exterior of characters and expose their inner composition.

A writer observes the world and works to reproduce it on the page. At first they may mimic their favorite writers for they are also avid readers. But just as painters attempt to reproduce the masters and yet so often fall short, writers too attempt to reproduce the great writers and also initially fall short.

And yet both writers and painters eventually find their style, that which makes their creation unique. And when they do, it doesn’t matter what the topic that they portray is, it is transformed into their own. This comes with persistence and practice. It comes with determination and inner confidence. It shines for all the world to see.

Flash fiction is a sketch. Short stories are small paintings with a limited view. And as the stories get larger they take on ever growing dimensions until a series becomes the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

A painter wouldn’t know how to use a writer’s words any more than a writer knows how to use the painter’s brushes. The tools that each uses is peculiar to the medium in which they work. And yet the painter gets more leeway when it comes to being derivative early in their career.

Stay safe. Wear a mask when you go out. Keep social distance. Wash your hands. Take care of yourself and each other. We’ll get through this together.

To Plan or Not To Plan…

I have been working on my self confidence lately. I have been blogging for years, sometimes more frequently than others. I have been writing seven hundred and fifty words a day, or more, in a journal almost every day for the last ten years. I often have to write technical prose at work. What I’m getting at is that I am a competent writer. I can write prose that people can read without any difficulty. The thing that I’m struggling with is whether I can write something that people enjoy reading.

I’ve been participating in National Novel Writing Month almost every year for the past seven or eight years. The challenge is to write at least fifty thousand words in the month of November. That amounts to a short novel. I have met the challenge five or six times. I have managed to finish a first draft within those fifty thousand words twice.

This year I have been writing a story at my weekly writer’s meeting. I didn’t plan it ahead of time. I write about 1200 words on it a week. As the story unfolds I have been figuring out some of the places it could go. I have no idea how it will actually unfold. Some writing teachers suggest that the first draft is for telling the story to yourself. Subsequent drafts are for cleaning it up and fixing the glaring flaws in it.

Other writers sing the praises of planning their story ahead of time. This varies from a few notes on a legal pad to a huge spread sheet that tracks every scene, every character, and every plot point. I’ll never be the latter type of writer but I am starting to believe that some amount of planning can make writing the first draft a lot more pleasant.

It’s not the minor details of a scene that are hard to write. I have no problem writing dialog aside from sometimes sounding like I’m talking to myself instead of recording a conversation between two (or more) distinct characters. The problems I have is with figuring out what is happening that moves the characters to the end of the story or even more importantly, what the end of the story is going to be.

I have started taking notes as I write. I’m tired of discovering that a character that I introduced as Alice in chapter one somehow has become Amy by chapter five. I also try to make note of physical and personality characteristics so that I can refer to them later. I use a program called Scrivener to write my stories. It has character sheets to record biographical data on your characters so that you don’t have to search through you manuscript to look up every detail that you have already written about them. It also has a template for recording details about locations in your story. I haven’t used that as much yet. It’s just a habit I haven’t established yet.

There are other useful features of the program. It has a cork board where you can write scene descriptions on note cards and play with rearranging them to see which scene needs to happen when. It has a feature where you can take a snapshot of your manuscript at a particular point in the writing and later roll back to that point if you don’t like the direction the story took.

It also has rudimentary formatting features. Some of my acquaintances that use it to write their manuscripts export them to another program to do the final formatting of them. I don’t worry too much about format. I am a believer in plain text as an archival format for my work. Plain text manuscripts don’t run the risk of the program that created them becoming obsolete and making the draft unaccessible. I have some manuscripts that my father wrote using WordPerfect before he died. I no longer have a program that can open them.

To get to the point, I feel a need to do more planning before I start writing. If while I’m writing I go off plan, I’ll evaluate whether it was better than what I had planned and keep it if so. I think most writers, even those clearly in the planning camp will do the same.

Take care of yourself and your loved ones. Stay at home if you can, wear a mask if you go out. Wash your hands and keep social distance. We’ll get through this together.

A Verbal Ramble

I started writing this post yesterday. It sat here overnight, a blank page. The only way to cure that is to write something on it. I’ve got several things on my mind that I could write about. I’m working on a couple of programming projects. I need to revise my short story for the anthology that my writing group at the library publishes every year. And then there is the story that I’ve been writing at my other writers group since March or so.

But I don’t really want to say much about those topics. They are better served by spending time working on them than talking about them. I could talk about my friend that has embarked on a career as a full time writer. I have to admit I am a bit envious of her. On the other hand, she had already published two books and has finished two more books and four novellas in the two months that she has been writing full time. Granted both of the books that she finished were already works in progress when she started writing full time.

But that’s really her story to tell. My story is that I am working hard to learn how to write stories that sell. I am continuing to be productive at my day job although I am not as excited about it as I used to be. That is primarily because I’ve let myself become burned out on it. I’m actively working on overcoming burn out and reclaiming some of the joy that I used to get from my job.

I’m looking forward to the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. I would love to get out and do things again but between me and my wife’s health issues, I don’t think it’s wise to get out until its completely under control.

One of the things I’m looking forward to is traveling to see some of my relatives that are getting on in years. I’m not expecting any of them to die any time real soon but I’d like to visit with them while they are still feeling like company.

I’d also like to visit some of the places where I grew up. I haven’t been back to many of them since I was in my twenties. That’s something around forty years. I’ve taken Google Maps tours of many of the places so I’m well aware that they have changed considerably. The pandemic will have a hand in changing them even more.

In the mean time, everyone take care of themselves and their loved ones. Wash your hands, stay home if you can, wear a mask if you must go out, and maintain social distance. We’ll get through this together.