Jonah Blackstone

Unusual Hero. Epic Quest.

One Bite At a Time

All of us have goals in life. And I suspect most people would agree large goals require more work than smaller ones. Well, the same can be said about writing a screenplay or novel, two endeavors that require time and a great deal of effort to complete. The problem occurs when creative people focus on the mystique of the creative process as a never-ending string of brilliant inspirations. Now, of course, creative ideas and inspiration come from all types of situations. But what happens after the inspiration hits?

For a lot of new writers, this means buying books on writing, attending local writing classes, or finding YouTube videos about the process. Don’t get me wrong. Knowing a subject is essential and demonstrates a willingness on your part to move forward with your goal.

Yet, in my personal experience as a writer and as a teacher, I’ve found that knowing how to structure a screenplay or knowing the rules for writing a novel wasn’t enough. Sometimes writers, including myself, hit a speed bump in the process. Once we dove in and discovered the project required more effort to complete, we faltered in our goal.

Today I want to talk about dealing with a large creative project by breaking it down into manageable bites. This routine has helped me to remain in control of my projects. Hopefully, it will benefit you in your writing.

Several years ago, I completed and published my first novel for a YA Fantasy series. Despite this achievement, when it came time to do a second novel, I found myself weary of the task. While writing can come from inspiration, it still requires work. Contemplating all the characters and storylines of a new novel again seemed daunting at the time.

When a friend sensed my hesitation, she asked, “Have you ever heard of NaNoWriMo?”

“What?” I had never heard of the strange-sounding word.

“NaNoWriMo? It’s the National Novel Writing Month contest that takes place every November,” she explained. “The challenge is to write a novel in thirty days. You should try it.”

To be honest, I thought my friend had gone crazy. The first draft of my debut novel had taken nearly two months to complete. How could I possibly write a new novel in just thirty days? However, I was intrigued and began to consider the idea. Maybe it was doable if planned and broken down into steps, scenes, or segments. Still, I didn’t want to risk committing my second novel to this contest.

Searching for another story concept, I hit on an idea that had a chance of working. See, I’ve always been a planner and before becoming an author, I was, and still am, a filmmaker, producer, and editor. The screenplays I wrote were always outlined before writing began and the same approach was used on my first novel.  And, working in a creative field, the prospect of having a hard deadline reassured me.

Using the outline of a screenplay for a fantasy series, I signed up for the competition and nervously waited for the first day of the contest. The rules were simple. To complete the challenge, every writer had to finish a novel of at least fifty-thousand words in thirty days. For those doing the calculations, that comes to sixteen-hundred and sixty-six words a day. That’s a lot!

When November 1st arrived and I started, the fifty-thousand-word goal felt unattainable. Only when I focused on each day and the portion of the story for that writing session did the fear of not succeeding recede into the background. Working from a general outline also helped because I knew what I needed to cover during each writing session.

Adding to that, I tweaked and planned out the next few days of writing sessions, again, keeping the focus on the smaller chunks of the story. As a result, I made steady headway toward that ultimate goal. The completion of each daily segment also added to the overall conviction that I would complete this novel.

I assured myself, “Yeah, I can do this.”

Eventually, I reached the Tipping Point, where the finish line was in sight and my momentum increased until I wrote more than the minimum word counts each day. When I completed the last line of the novel, I was surprised to find I exceeded the goal by several thousand words. There’s no better feeling than closing the first draft of a novel or screenplay after having spent so much time with the characters until they’re like old friends.

As I downloaded and displayed my WINNER! badge, it occurred to me that writing the first novel hadn’t been a fluke. I had just proved I could do it again. Breaking down a novel or script into manageable scenes or chapters became an indispensable part of my writing process.

What about you? Is there a project that seems too big to tackle? How would you go about breaking that large story down into manageable sections? Would that help you write consistently, taking it one day at a time? Have you ever tried a writing contest like NaNoWriMo?

I hope this blog helps you can take that creative dream and turn it into a reality.

Dealing with Distractions

Our modern society and world offer more distractions than any previous generation had to face. With social media, the internet, streaming services, and instant global communications, our world has shrunk. When it comes to the creative process and the concentration needed to be productive, the seduction of the distraction can be a huge problem for new and experienced writers.

Hey, I’m like everyone else. When I feel “stuck”, that next episode of the latest Netflix show can be extremely alluring. “Just one more,” I tell myself as I turn from the computer and press the play button on my TV remote. Unless we’re careful, one more turns into several more episodes and soon that writing project is forgotten; a guilty obligation in our mind. And when you add family obligations, well, the list of things that can distract us from our creative goals is monumental.

But here’s a curious thing I’ve noticed in myself and many of my students. The more time a student has, the worse they seem at organizing themselves. I found that students with family obligations tend to be more efficient in finding those moments to focus. Maybe it’s because they are regularly responsible for other people and they’ve learned to compartmentalize. But those of us with fewer family obligations, where our time is generally our own, distractions are a huge issue. We are often the biggest excuse-makers for not writing consistently. So, if you’re in that latter camp, this blog is especially for you.

I had a friend, who like me, was single and could organize her schedule on a more or less free manner. Yet, she often found distraction after distraction to her writing, Now, of course, she didn’t see her choices as distractions. They were all needed chores that she had to do. Sensing the evasion, I asked about her writing time. What was a typical writing session like for her? Eventually, my friend confessed that other things often intruded on her thoughts a few minutes into a writing session and she would change directions and take care of that other activity.

One evening, while having dinner at a local restaurant, she told me about this show (one of the distractions) that she’d just watched. It focused on this main character who needed to finish writing his book. The character discovered that he had to take a break from his friends and normal activities while he wrote. It occurred to him that he could always pick up with his friends after he finished the novel. In short, he needed to avoid the distractions and focus on his work.

Shocked and pleased that my friend relayed this information, I asked her what she thought of the show. With a little embarrassment, she admitted to the need to do the same thing with her works. Now, whether she followed through or not, I can’t say, but at least she recognized the problem in herself. And I had to recognize the distractions to my writing. For example, I know when I write, the TV has to be off, the social media closed, and I put on some good noise-canceling headphones and play music. With all of these precautions, it only takes ten minutes before I’m in the zone and focused. 

Are you having problems concentrating on your writing because of distractions? What steps can you take to eliminate the distractions? Do you have to relocate to a private place away from family and friends to avoid distractions?

I’m reminded of  what J.K. Rowling did when completing the final Harry Potter novel. She checked herself into a nice hotel, ordered room service, and completed the manuscript. Most of us probably can’t do that, but what about a local coffee shop or library study room? Whatever steps you take to manage the distractions will be worth the effort toward achieving that goal of a completed writing project.

Creative Commitment

We live in a dazzling Information Age with nearly unlimited access to any subject we wish. Gone are the days of trips to the library to search through card catalogues for books on a subject. At the tips of our fingers, we can call on experts in any field including the subject of writing. Whether you’re writing a short story, novel or screenplay, a myriad of sources and materials exist in the forms of tutorials and how-to books.

If a new writer spends countless hours reading, watching and attending lectures and workshops, they will obtain a breadth of knowledge on the subject of writing. But all of this research, time and effort will only benefit you if it is applied. In other words, what every writer needs is the willingness to commit to the craft of writing. Some of you may say, “Isn’t spending time and effort researching and obtaining information a sign of commitment?” I would answer yes, it is. But, in my personal experience, I’ve found that knowledge without action does little to development my craft.

I teach an adult screenwriting class and at the beginning of the level one courses, I make a simple request. For the duration of the six week course, I ask every student to find a time each day that works for them  and consistently use that time to work on their screenplay. What I’ve discovered is this seems to be a huge stumbling block to students.

As usual, my request is met with groans and excuses. People have kids, spouses, work, or even other college courses that took priority over a screenwriting class. I found the reactions interesting considering they were paying for the knowledge presented in class. Try as I might to explain that writers write and citing quotes from highly successful and popular writers, nothing helped. The group was in open rebellion!

Then, one student, a young woman who had remained quiet during the growing argument, spoke. She was quiet and sure of herself as she explained her view of the matter. She was a mom (had two young school-aged kids) and she and her husband both worked full-time jobs. When she went home, she was “mom.” Her weekends are given over to family time. I could feel the silent nods of agreement from the other students, feeling she was making their point. Then the young woman subverted their expectations. Because of her busy life and understandable obligations, she, therefore, wrote during her lunchtime at work. 

Finding a time that worked in her complicated schedule, this student committed to that time and as a result, she had something new to share every week. I was grateful for her comments because it demonstrated my point. Life is hard, and for some a true challenge, but everything we face as writers has also been faced by other novelist, screenwriters, poets, TV writers, etc. Yet, those who succeeded did so by practicing their chosen craft. 

One last objection I often hear goes like this. “I only took this writing class or workshop because this is just a hobby. It’s not a job.” Frankly, I find that a cop-out. There’s a reason people spend money to attend workshops and lectures on writing. Something inside has propelled them to step out of their daily life and take the first steps on pursuing that creative dream. But for that dream to become a reality, it requires a commitment.

Do you have a creative project that’s languished from lack of attention? Why not find a time that works for you, commit to it, and make progress on that idea? There’s no rule on the amount of time you spend on a project, except to be consistent.

The Next Jonah Blackstone Novel

Hey everyone.  I wanted to take a moment to let you know about events and upcoming book releases.

Halloween Promotion!
First, I’m running a new promotion for the first three Jonah Blackstone novels later this month. The promotion will culminate during the week of Halloween. As you know, events in Amulet of the Goddess, the third novel in the series, take place over the four weeks leading up to Halloween and the Witching Hour.

During the promotion, the Kindle versions will be sold at a promotional discount. So, pick up a copy of all three novels for yourself or as a gift and start the adventure with Jonah Blackstone!

Fourth and Fifth Jonah Blackstone Novels!

Recently, I attended the BlerDCon convention here in the DC area and was asked my multiple fans about the next Jonah Blackstone novel.  I’m hard at work on the book. The working title is Jonah Blackstone and the Destiny Medallion. This will be a two-book storyline with Destiny’s Sorrow being the working title for the second half of the story. 

Jonah not only goes on new adventures, but he meets a new group of kids, each with their own powers, and delves deeper into his dad’s family history. And, as his godfather predicted, Jonah is finally taking his place among the Alliance members and Council politics.

We may see the first group of Protectors in this installment! I’m excited to finally arrive at this point and plan to release Jonah Blackstone and the Destiny Medallion in Spring of 2020. The second part, Destiny’s Sorrow, will come out in late 2020.

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