Tag Archives: Mark Stevens

Scriptnotes…Do You Think in Movies?

By Mark Stevens

Do you think in movies?

Can you see your work in progress scene by scene, playing out on the screen?

I do.

I’d be surprised if you don’t.

I’d be surprised if you don’t cast your story. Yes, I happen to think Hilary Swank would make a great Allison Coil. Or Amy Adams.

Go ahead, shoot me for dreaming.

As long as the actress knows her way around a horse, I’d be fine.

I’m interested in story-making, no matter the medium. Novels are my thing. I could never write a play or screenplay. Or epic poem, for that matter.

And this brings me to Scriptnotes, the best podcast you might be missing.

Why?

Because John August and Craig Mazin understand what makes a story work. Each week, for free, they talk about specific issues. Sometimes they spend time on mildly interesting inside-Hollywood industry stuff, but the meat of Scriptnotes is the nitty-gritty of screenplay writing itself. I give you the recent extended conversation over “Frozen” (not just another animated feature!) or the brilliant deconstruction (Episode 73) of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” But every week has something good.

August and Mazin have serious screenplay credentials. For August, it’s “Go,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “Frankenweenie,” to name a few. He also writes musicals and develops apps. He’s a cool geek and tends to take things a bit more seriously than Mazin. But if I’m not mistaken, Scriptnotes was August’s idea and the pairing with Mazin was a great choice.

Mazin—“Identity Thief,” “The Hangover Part II” and many others—brings the attitude, maybe a touch of venom every now and then, and a strong point of view. Dig it. From what I can tell, he takes nothing seriously. He might be the loud one at the dinner party, but you’ll probably die laughing. Okay with me.

Here’s what I like: these two care deeply about what makes stories work and that passion comes through.

My favorite segments involve the “Three Page Challenge.”

Bold podcast listeners and would-be screenwriters submit the first three pages of their screenplay-in-progress and August and Mazin have at it (the three pages are posted online so you can read along, too).

When the pages work (which happens), August and Mazin dole out praise and encouragement and we learn what works—and why. When the pages don’t work (the majority of the time), it’s like attending a forensic exam of a corpse with Temperance Brennan as your guide.

Remember that great workshop (“The Agent Reads the Slush Pile”) at the last Colorado Gold conference where two agents, Kristin Nelson and Sally Harding, dissected the openings of novels in progress? Insightful—and brutal. “The Three Page Challenge” is along those same lines. Character, pacing, action, plot, setting—what is tripping up your story?

I’m always picking up something from August and Mazin. I listen while walking the dog or working out and I can’t begin to tell you how many times an idea has surfaced while listening to them chat about movies and screenplays.

The last 20 episodes are available for free but for a whole whopping $1.99 you can get access to the entire back catalog.

I highly recommend Scriptnotes. A different point of view, perhaps. But it’s all about storytelling and, you know, it’s all good.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Mark StevensMark Stevens is the monthly programs coordinator for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and the author of the Western hunting guide Allison Coil mysteries Antler Dust and Buried by the Roan. Book three in the series, Trapline, will be published by Midnight Ink in November 2014.

Never Give Up!

By Mark Stevens

Regrets? I’ve had a few.

One bothers me more than most.

I knew it at the time, when I first read Gary Reilly’s stuff.

Gary ReillyWe’d meet in coffee shops, frequently the Europa Café on South Pennsylvania Street in Denver. Hip joint. Cool vibe.

Gary would pluck a stack of things from his satchel—offbeat fiction he’d found in the used bookstores along Broadway. He’d pull out cheap paperbacks, maybe a manuscript of mine that he had edited for the fifth or sixth time. He’d tell me the story of some B-movie he’d stayed up to watch. The guy loved movies.

And, over the years, he’d hand me one of the novels he had written.

About 25 of them.

This was years ago, when he was healthy and hearty and could talk for hours. Two rounds of large iced lattes, no problem.

I’d take the novels home—one at a time.

I was astounded at the sheer range of voices the guy produced—the comic adventures of his erstwhile cab driver Murph (the star of 11 novels), two dark psychological thrillers, some sci-fi, some fantasy, some straight-up, multi-generational all-American fiction and two of the best Vietnam-era novels I’ve ever read.

During our years of coffees, I went from “unpublished” status to “published.” Yes, a small indie publisher but I got an advance; it was a regular deal. Nobody could have been happier for me than Gary Reilly.

Here’s where the regret comes in.

I just re-read the first of the Vietnam-era books again: The Enlisted Men’s Club.

Poetry on every poetry. We’re in the Presidio, in San Francisco, and Private Palmer is waiting orders to ship out to Vietnam. All he wants to do is drink beer and avoid “shit details.” Nearly 100,000 words of raw honesty. Gary drew on his own experiences (he served as an MP in Qui Nhon) and The Enlisted Men’s Club takes you smack back to the mood and the feeling of that messy political era.

Here are the opening two paragraphs (following a brief prologue):

The ground is damp where Private Palmer is standing, sandy, with some sort of small-leafed green vine which wraps itself around everything planted in the earth—the white wooden legs of the NCOIC tower, a picket line of telephone poles, even the rows of smooth white rocks as large as footballs which border the sides of the dirt drive leading into the rifle range.

The sky is overcast and the wind is blowing hard, making Palmer’s fingertips ache each time he pinches a brass-jacketed round of ammunition and tries to stuff it into a spring-loaded magazine. His gloves are in the pockets of his field-jacket because this isn’t the kind of work you can do wearing gloves, you have to do it bare handed. Colorado raised, he’s used to the stale dry mile-high bite of lifeless Rocky winters, not these damp, heat-sapping, muggy mists blown inland from the coastal waters at dawn. San Francisco Bay is hidden by barren brown hills which border the rifle range, but he can still smell the odor of beached fish in the air.

I read The Enlisted Men’s Club and knew Simon & Schuster would need only tweak four or five typos to turn it into a book today. Flawless, perfectly paced and beautifully structured. The ending is a piece of work—a fine insight into humanity that gives a ray of hope to what is otherwise a fairly bleak tale.

And, now that Gary is gone (he died nearly three years ago), I was near tears as I read The Enlisted Men’s Club.

I’m angry that I didn’t stand him up, march him out of the coffee shop, drive him to a place where I could really give him a piece of my mind—that he needed to do more to get his damn books published.

I was frustrated at the time that Gary wouldn’t send out more queries.

But I didn’t really do anything about it.

I was frustrated at the time that Gary wouldn’t come to RMFW events, to network and find a path to publication.

But I didn’t really do anything about it.

When I’d ask him if he wanted a list of agents to contact, he said would think about it. He’d give me a little shrug of the shoulders. Self-promotion and marketing weren’t part of his DNA.

But I didn’t insist.

I should have made an issue out of it.

Gary would go back home—and write. We’d meet again in six weeks or so and he would have polished up another manuscript.

The guy was born to write and tell stories. He wrote (obviously) for the sheer joy of it. He was fascinated about the process. He loved words like nobody I have ever met.

Twenty-five novels and most (in my mind) could go straight to print.

Five Murph (The Asphalt Warrior) novels have been published so far and the response has been terrific. One Colorado Book Award finalist, two number one Denver Post best-sellers, and reviews coming in from all over the country—and around the world. Murph has followers on Facebook and Twitter.

Because Gary was a vet, the Vietnam Veterans of America website just reviewed all five of Gary’s books—and raved.

The VVA is waiting on his Vietnam novels, of course. If all goes well, The Enlisted Men’s Club will be out late this spring or early summer. Readers will not be disappointed. I guarantee it.

When readers start to see Gary Reilly’s range and his storytelling ability, I have a feeling my case of regret will only get worse.

What’s the lesson for the rest of us? Sure, write up a storm. Sit in that coffee shop. But get out there and network—knock on every door, query everyone in sight, never give up.

Truly.

Never.

Give.

Up.

Gary Reilly books

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Mark StevensMark Stevens is the monthly programs coordinator for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and the author of the Western hunting guide Allison Coil mysteries Antler Dust and Buried by the Roan. Book three in the series, Trapline, will be published by Midnight Ink in November 2014. Mark is also a partner in Running Meter Press, the company publishing Gary’s works. All proceeds from the company are going to Gary’s longtime girlfriend.

Scrub Your Mindscape Clean … by Mark Stevens

This post was previously published on August 6, 2013

Skip the tips.

Forget everything you’ve learned.

Put down your copy of 100 Fabulous Secrets to Better Writing Now!

Move away from the stack of books you slowly acquired ever since you first had the thought that you might want to write fiction. (Spoiler alert: all those books pretty much all say the same thing. They are as repetitive as magazines about how to swing a golf club. Or how to diet.)

That’s right.

Forget it all.

Put it aside, shove it to the back of your brain or, even better, scrub the whole mindscape clean. Lesson-free, worry-free, anxiety-proofed. Silence the inner coach.

Oh yeah, one more thing: don’t even think about your favorite author or some writing style you’d like to emulate.

There. Got it?

Now, tell me a story. Only, pretend I’m in a soundproof room and you’re going to have to slide me pages under the door as the story unfolds—as you write it down. In your writing voice. With your words.

Okay, there you go.

Here’s what I want: I want to know your character—inside and out. And, well, it would be pretty cool if something actually, you know, happened.

There must be a reason this is a story and not just an account of some random, meaningless day. Or week. Or series of connected events.

My point? My point is sometimes you have to get back to basics. And those basics are:

1. See clearly.
2. Describe honestly.
3. Keep things moving.

Sometimes (drum roll, please) you just have to write.

And write some more.

(Of ALL the writing advice you’ve received over the years, isn’t that the most common refrain? “Write every day.” “Keep on writing.” “Write, write, write.” “Write a million words.” Or some such variation. Has one writing coach or respected elder of the writing community ever suggested that you think more or suck your thumb harder? Didn’t think so.)

And after you’ve written, have some other readers check what you’ve written, to see if they get the story you’re trying to tell.

That’s it.

Your voice, your words, your damn story.

It’s bound to be one of a kind.

But if you do need a jump-start or if you’re looking for that one magical moment of inspiration, come to Colorado Gold, RMFW’s massively brilliant three-day conference in September in Denver.

For more information about the conference, visit the RMFW website.

I can promise you one thing: you won’t starve for advice.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Mark Stevens is the President of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and the author of the Western hunting guide Allison Coil mysteries Antler Dust and Buried by the Roan.

Listen to Your Heart

By Mark Stevens

According to one website, the first draft of Garth Risk Hallberg’s City on Fire was 1,400 pages long.

400,000 words.

He has since whacked it down by one-third, but the projected 900-page novel drew a $2 million advance.

The deal was announced a few weeks ago.

First novel.

Hallberg had previously published one novella, A Field Guide to the North American Family, way back in 2007.

It was 144 pages long and, apparently, out of the ordinary in its own way.

Check this description from an online review: “…a compendium of brief one-page thoughts titled alphabetically and matched with a photograph that illuminates the words written. And as if this weren’t clever enough, the entire book is a marvel of design, taking the form of a notebook one would take on a journey, a collection of musings, paraphernalia, variations in paper types and typefaces, and printed in such a way that the reader feels almost guilty about opening the cover of someone’s private diary, so intimate is the structure and the content. This is an art book—but it is so very much more.”

Sheesh.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? I just ordered a copy.

I guess we will all have to wait on City on Fire, see what we think of the 900 pages. (No publication date is set.) The advance buzz is, of course, quite buzzy. As with all hype, it’s over-the-top. Hype: short for hyperbole.

But can you imagine querying an agent today? “Dear Literary Agent of My Dreams: I have recently completed my first novel, a 300,000-word novel about…”

I sit here and think, yeah, Hallberg lives in Brooklyn—right there in New York City. He can move in those circles. He can flash snippets of his prose here and there, pique the interests of the Publishing Powers That Be. And it’s a novel about, get this, New York in the 1970’s. New Yorkers love New York. New York publishers love books about New York. (Okay, who doesn’t?)

Turns out I’m way off.

Hallberg isn’t saying much about the sale or the novel, but he’s been quoted as saying he doesn’t write for people in the publishing biz.

“They’re all very bright and good-looking and well intentioned — but they’re not the ideal audience to have in mind when writing, I don’t think,” he said.

Good looking, really? Maybe flattery got him what he was after.

In the two-day bidding war for City on Fire, 10 publishers offered over $1 million. (I didn’t know there were 10 publishers left that could offer those sums; I thought we were down to “The Big Five.”)

Anyway, somebody knows how to stage a frenzy.

So, great for Hallberg. (Film rights have already been sold, too.)

That whopper of an advance is great news: reading is not dead. Twitter hasn’t turned us to monsters who require ideas fed to us in rapid-fire fashion one minuscule morsel at a time.

Publishing lives.

I hope Alfred A. Knopf makes a bundle from their $2 million investment and turns the dough right back around to support 100 other up-and-comers, too.

I love Hallberg’s audacity—circulating a 900-page doorstopper. I love that the agents and publishers are going to make it happen—and the fact that they believe there are enough readers out there (book buyers!) to make this happen.

And I already like Hallberg—taking six years to execute the story he imagined.

He listened to himself, followed his own instincts, set his own course.
He wrote the story he wanted to write. How many times have we heard THAT advice?

Bottom line? You gotta listen to your heart.

It’s art.

There are no rules.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Mark StevensMark Stevens is the President of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and the author of the Western hunting guide Allison Coil mysteries Antler Dust and Buried by the Roan.

You can learn more about Mark and his novels at his website. He can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

Scrubbing the Grand Canyon Dam with a Toothbrush

By Mark Stevens

Practice makes perfect.

Yeah, right.

I’ve been practicing this fiction thing for 30 years. Perfection? I can’t see it from here. A bit of joke, don’t you think?

What is perfect when it comes to storytelling? You can put together a bunch of perfect sentences, but you don’t necessarily have a perfect scene—or story.

I’ve been thinking about perfection because right now I’m editing. Again.

I’ve been asked to clip 5,000 words from my next mystery, which I thought was lean and mean at 102,000 words. (“Hey, man, it’s perfect.” “Hey, man, I’m done.” “Can’t get any better.”)

Think again, sucker.

Going through the manuscript at this stage, for me, is eye-opening.

And eye-bleeding.

I’ve been through it 50 times, maybe 100. Another 10 or 15 friends and critical readers have read it, pointed out mistakes. A professional editor (on my dime) has been through it. In addition, I made a ton of fixes based on a reading by a professional editor who works for my new publisher. That’s two professional editors, if you’re counting.

And then the search for those 5,000 “extra” words began—5,000 words that will soon meet the grim reaper: the delete button. “Get out of here, it was nice having you during our fat phase but you are no longer needed in diet mode.”

And I’m still finding mistakes.

Not borderline, debatable issues. No. Real mistakes. Things that your third-grade teacher would circle and that would cost you points on your grade.

I wonder about perfection because, at this stage, I’m scrubbing the Grand Canyon Dam with a toothbrush. That is, I’m up close and personal with every syllable. I quibble about each word, each sentence. I’ve discovered my true inner talent: I’m a master at redundancy.

But the slow-crawl approach is not the way it will be read. Most readers will motor right along (I hope). I’m currently reading “Alex” by Pierre Lemaitre and it’s so good that my reading pace is probably Mach 2 compared to my prop-plane pace for editing. But I’m not reading “Alex” for mistakes; I’m dying to know what’s going to happen next. I don’t care about his word choices—just give me the damn story.

So there’s different levels of perfection and this goes straight back to how you write.

Did you come here thinking I’d have the answer to this little conundrum? Whether to concentrate on the big macro story in the sky or sweat the details down on Planet Dictionary, Thesaurus and Rules of Grammar?

Of course it’s both. But, it’s worth thinking about—and recognizing that there’s all sorts of levels on which your story works.

Or doesn’t.

Practice makes perfect?

Maybe it’s that practice makes pretty good: there might still be work to do.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Mark StevensMark Stevens is the President of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and the author of the Western hunting guide Allison Coil mysteries Antler Dust and Buried by the Roan.

You can learn more about Mark and his novels at his website. He can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

RMFW Spotlight: Mark Stevens

The new RMFW Spotlight feature will introduce a few of our RMFW officers and volunteers. We started out with the first three members of the board of directors, sat them in the hot seat, shined the bright light on them, and channeling our best inner Oprah, plugged them with a few questions. Here’s what we learned from Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers President, Mark Stevens.

1. Tell us what you do for RMFW and why you are involved.

I’m currently president, at least for a few more months. I’m involved for one reason only: I love this organization. I’d be at home staring at blank sheets of paper and walking around the room in a useless daze if it weren’t for RMFW.

Stevens_Two Covers2. What is your current WIP or most recent publication, and where can we buy a book, if available?

The third book in the Allison Coil Mystery Series, Trapline, is with Midnight Ink and they plan to publish it next fall. They also asked for a fourth book. Well, they did more than ask, they gave me a contract so that’s my WIP. The first two books, Antler Dust and Buried by the Roan, are available pretty much everywhere books are sold.

3. We’ve all heard of bucket lists– you know, those life-wish lists of experiences, dreams or goals we want to accomplish– what’s one of yours?

I would love to spend a few weeks in New Zealand and Australia. Oh, and to make my way around Scandinavia. And Eastern Europe. And China. And certain parts of Southern Africa. I wouldn’t mind a sailing trip around the Caribbean, either. You asked!

4. Most writers have an Achilles heel with their writing. Confess, what’s yours?

Ugh. That’s easy. Action scenes. I think I’m doing somewhat okay and then I go back to read the draft and those sections are usually downright awful. I miss my late friend Gary Reilly, who was an excellent editor and really knew how to pull these off.

5. What do you love most about the writing life?

What happens on the page…how ideas and story directions develop when you’re least expecting it. You’re innocently doing something else and then some idea pops into your head and you think: “that could work.” It’s the surprise factor. I live for those jolts that come out of the blue.

6. Now that you have a little writing experience, what advice would you go back and give yourself as a beginning writer?

Simple: write more, write more, write more. Get more feedback and then write some more. And read a ton, too.

Stevens_Desk
7. What does your desk look like? What item must be on your desk? Do you have any personal, fun items you keep on it?

I write by hand. My desk is the dining room table. I keep a watch handy to keep me focused. I give myself 45 minutes to an hour each morning.

 

8. What book are you currently reading (or what was the last one you read)?

Just finished Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. Now reading The Cut by George Pelecanos.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Mark, thanks so much for participating in our Q&A. Julie, you can switch the light off now. Mark has left the building.

You can learn more about Mark and his novels at his website. He can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

Making the Long and Winding Road to Publication a Little Shorter with RMFW

by Mark Stevens, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers President

As she accepted the Writer of the Year plaque at Colorado Gold, Linda Joffe Hull talked about living and writing for a decade in the “purgatory of almost” before finding a publisher for one of her books.

As she will tell you, it was a long and winding road.

But Linda credits a certain organization (its initials are Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers) for the final break-through. As she talked about the two books she has launched in the last 12 months, she talked about the relationships she developed by taking an active role in the group.

Our group.

Yeah, yeah, yeah—for the last few weeks it’s been all Colorado Gold this and Colorado Gold that. (See paragraph #1 above.) It was three days of good times for us fiction nerds.

But RMFW is so much more than Colorado Gold and, I dare say, the tremendous variety of other events on the calendar offer an even better chance to develop relationships and make new friends who might have that one key introduction to an agent, an editor, a publisher. The conference can be, you know, intimidating. Fun, sure, but pressure too.

I’m not saying the conference isn’t cool, but now it’s another 12 months away (Sept. 5—7, 2014).

In the meantime, there are plenty of other chances to dive in and make friends—and develop your network—in a more casual setting. (And, in some cases, free.)

Check it out:

  • Later this month, a free two-hour workshop titled “Diving In: Character and Motivation” by Courtney Koschel. Location: Arvada Public Library, downtown Arvada. Date and time: Saturday, Oct. 26 at 1p.m. Courtney is the senior acquisitions editor for Month9Books. Senior. Acquisitions. Editor. Enough said.
  • Also this month, the experienced Trai Cartwight is offering a dirt-cheap online course called “Building a Better Book” that will help you demystify the process of novel building. It’s all about asking—and answering—key structural questions at the heart of every well-executed novel. Trai has roots in Hollywood, among other places. Get to know Trai and it’s one degree of separation between you and Stephen Spielberg. Or something like that.
  • Next month, there’s a free two-hour workshop titled “World Building: Don’t Let the Dream Collapse.” Location and times are still being finalized, but the program will be given by Colleen Oakes, author of the best-selling Elly in Bloom.
  • Also online soon, Sharon Mignerey (a true RMFW legend—she helped start our group about 30 years ago) is running a dialog workshop called “Let Your Characters Do the Talking.”
  • Also next month, over at our Grand Junction home away from home, best-selling author and RMFW stalwart Jeanne Stein is leading a day-long workshop titled “A Publishing Primer.” The first 20 people who register have the chance to pitch to Angie Hoddapp with Nelson Literary Agency and/or receive a two-page critique and 10-minute meeting with Warren Hammond, author of the KOP science fiction series. (Warren also won the Colorado Book Award this year!)

Cool programs, great opportunities to improve your craft and, maybe give you a chance to get to know other writers, develop connections and work your way out of the “purgatory of almost.”
All the details are available at www.rmfw.org. You probably knew that.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

2013conference66Mark Stevens is the President of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and the author of the Western hunting guide Allison Coil mysteries Antler Dust and Buried by the Roan.

You can learn more about Mark and his novels at his website. He can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

Writing and Reading and Podcasts. Oh my!

By Mark Stevens

If you’re addicted to reading and writing—like me—I’m here with a few tips so you can pack more into your day.

First, an important fact:

I only write—pen on paper—for about 45 minutes a day. Sometimes, it’s an hour. But most days, 45 minutes.

However, I’m thinking about those 45 minutes frequently throughout the rest of the day. I’m thinking about that precise moment in my current story—the attitude of my characters, what’s happening, what’s next, what they are thinking, what they will think next, what they will do next, what memory haunts them. Etcetera. You get the picture.

So when my 45-minute window rolls around, I’m writing (not thinking).

But what about the other 23 hours and 15 minutes?

Well, there’s work. And eating. And sleeping.

But my tip for being able to think about writing (and reading) more is to start listening to three dynamite podcasts—ideal for the car and for walks (mine happen to be with a dog).

  • The Bookworm. Just listening to Michael Silverblatt chat with an author is incredibly inspiring, at least to me. This is ‘serious fiction,’ whatever that is, but I find his questions are thoughtful and the authors are a talented bunch from the literary side of the tracks.
  • Scriptnotes. Yes, a podcast for ‘screenwriters,’ but it’s also about story structure and plot and characters. The three-page challenge is the most useful stuff—it’s where John August and Craig Mazin dissect the opening three pages of a screenplay for what works and what doesn’t. Many of the problems they find apply to writing fiction—and they post the challenges on their web site, too. Is there a similar podcast about ‘regular’ fiction writing? Want to start one? Let me know. In the meantime, check this out: http://johnaugust.com/podcast
  •  Authors on Tour. Do you see the events at The Tattered Cover and wish you could go? I do. Many of the presentations are recorded here. A great way to “meet” new authors or listen to famous ones—and find out how they approach their book tour presentations, how they answer questions. Inspiring—through and through. I’ve found several terrific authors this way. Just can’t your book signed.

I also like the Slate Audio Book Club, The Reading and Writing Podcast with Jeff Rutherford, The New Yorker Fiction Podcast (one short story per month, read by another famous writer, and includes a thoughtful discussion of the work). All of these are available on I-Tunes. All free. All will help you get more reading (and writing) into your day.

By the way, I’m serious about the podcast proposal. I’m thinking it would be very cool to have a podcast with an established agent, a publisher and an author discussing the business as well as the art.

Do you have a favorite podcast? Let me know. I’d love to check it out.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Profile_Mark_StevensMark Stevens is the President of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and the author of the Western hunting guide Allison Coil mysteries Antler Dust and Buried by the Roan.

You can learn more about Mark and his novels at his website. He can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

Scrub Your Mindscape Clean

By Mark Stevens

Skip the tips.

Forget everything you’ve learned.

Put down your copy of 100 Fabulous Secrets to Better Writing Now!

Move away from the stack of books you slowly acquired ever since you first had the thought that you might want to write fiction. (Spoiler alert: all those books pretty much all say the same thing. They are as repetitive as magazines about how to swing a golf club. Or how to diet.)

That’s right.

Forget it all.

Put it aside, shove it to the back of your brain or, even better, scrub the whole mindscape clean. Lesson-free, worry-free, anxiety-proofed. Silence the inner coach.

Oh yeah, one more thing: don’t even think about your favorite author or some writing style you’d like to emulate.

There. Got it?

Now, tell me a story. Only, pretend I’m in a soundproof room and you’re going to have to slide me pages under the door as the story unfolds—as you write it down. In your writing voice. With your words.

Okay, there you go.

Here’s what I want: I want to know your character—inside and out. And, well, it would be pretty cool if something actually, you know, happened.

There must be a reason this is a story and not just an account of some random, meaningless day. Or week. Or series of connected events.

My point? My point is sometimes you have to get back to basics. And those basics are:

1. See clearly.
2. Describe honestly.
3. Keep things moving.

Sometimes (drum roll, please) you just have to write.

And write some more.

(Of ALL the writing advice you’ve received over the years, isn’t that the most common refrain? “Write every day.” “Keep on writing.” “Write, write, write.” “Write a million words.” Or some such variation. Has one writing coach or respected elder of the writing community ever suggested that you think more or suck your thumb harder? Didn’t think so.)

And after you’ve written, have some other readers check what you’ve written, to see if they get the story you’re trying to tell.

That’s it.

Your voice, your words, your damn story.

It’s bound to be one of a kind.

But if you do need a jump-start or if you’re looking for that one magical moment of inspiration, come to Colorado Gold, RMFW’s massively brilliant three-day conference Sept. 20, 21 and 22 in Denver.

For more information about the conference, visit the RMFW website.

I can promise you one thing: you won’t starve for advice.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Mark Stevens is the President of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and the author of the Western hunting guide Allison Coil mysteries Antler Dust and Buried by the Roan.