Welcome to the HDeck Blog

You will find four types of blog entries here:

Writer’s Craft Q&A: These posts answer specific questions about writing and publishing. If you have a question that’s been bugging you, send it by e‑mail.

Writing Exercises: These are writing exercises drawn from Max’s classes, so grab one and give it a try. Please note that Q&A answers and all exercises are under copyright.

Tales from the Road: News from Max’s travels, classes, bookshelf, events and adventures in the writing world.

Free Box Ideas: These are ideas for stories, memoirs, poems, screenplays, anything at all. They are given freely and not covered under copyright, so use them any way you want with no need for permission or citation. But remember that other writers might be using the same idea. If you want to donate an idea to the Free Box or if you use one yourself, send us a note and let us know how it went!

Writer’s Craft Q+A

Q: Do you think reading books on the page is better for writers than reading on electronic readers?

A: Truly, it depends on who you ask. I still read books on the page, but I’m also a big fan of e-readers, kindles, iPads, etc. their portability makes traveling as a writer easier that its ever been before. The most important thing is that we, as working writers, (no matter how we do it) make more time to READ. For us reading is NOT a luxury, it is a necessity.

Brick-books-2But I did see an interesting study today about the effects on the human brain of reading books on the page. You can see it online here, at this web link:

Science Has Great News For People Who Read Actual Books

The study found that reading in general, and especially reading books on the page, significantly decreases stress, keeps brain waves and brain function active, leads to greater retention and even decreases the chances of developing Alzheimers Disease. So regardless of HOW you read, make sure you are making enough time to do it. Reading before bed or while you are on the airplane is great, but experiment with making time to read during the day as well. Immersing yourself in a field of language will keep you in the world of words and ideas and get you closer to your own writing life.

Free Box Idea

The Haircut

medusaA story begins with a character getting a bad haircut. From this relatable, possibly comic event, a series of things begin to happen. See if you can transform the story from a comic or light beginning to a serious ending. Remember that your story can be written in any genre, mystery, sic fi, fantasy, general fiction, western, children’s lit, thriller, anything you want! (or, of course, you can write a modern Medusa story, about a very powerful woman wearing a lot of snakes!)

Writing Exercise

Relax

What do you to relax? What does your main character do to relax or wind down after a stressful day, and what do those activities say about them? What was the most relaxed day you ever had? Where were you? What did you do (or not do?) Write 2 pages with as much detail as possible.Puppeh-Yoga-resizecrop--

 

Writer’s Craft Q + A

Facebook vs. Facing the Book

Q: I spend a lot of time on Facebook, am I wasting all the time I should be spending on my writing?

A: The short answer is: probably. But lets open it up. Facebook has become the major player in social media, which is at the center of our current media and technology-based culture. Writers use social media in two major ways, for two different purposes, personal and professional.

FBdrawingThe first way we use it is to connect personally to other individuals and companies. You might use Facebook to keep track of friends or family, to see what others are thinking, reading, watching and what they are doing. You might trade photos on Instagram or Pinterest or use Twitter to keep tabs on what your kids are up to. It is also worth noting that our interconnected technological culture has revealed a growing population of folks who suffer from isolation and/or loneliness, and social media can be a lifeline for those folks. But regardless of how you use it, connecting on social media is taking up startling and increasing amounts of our time. According to Businessweek, the average Facebook user spends anywhere from 40 mins to a few hours checking their Facebook feed, and as a culture we spend about 9hrs a day on electronic media (Including the internet, cell phones, tv, etc) So YES, we need to look carefully at how much time we are spending online and how much time we are NOT spending on our writing lives.

The second way we use social media is to build and maintain our professional profile and network as professional working writers. If you have public goals for your work as a writer (and not every writer does, which is fine) then creating and maintaining an Author Platform, which is a network of author website + social media+ public presence, will be important. Over 30 million businesses have a Facebook page and as a working writer you may eventually have to have one too, but we use social media tools very differently for our personal and public selves. If you have a big Facebook network and are comfortable using and maintaing social media tools then that will be a big advantage when its time to build your Author Platform.

But here is the catch: most folks DO use distractions to avoid their work as a writer. Sometimes these distractions are productive (I once painted an entire house to avoid finishing my Master’s Thesis) but they are still distractions. The 1.3 billion OTHER monthly Facebook users out there are a BIG distraction. So without judging your Facebook time, just take a minute and think about how much you might get done if you spent that same 40mins a day writing.

If you want to experiment, here are a few things to try. Keep a timer going and notice (but don’t judge) how much time you spend on social media in an average day. Now try a few days of spending an equal amount of time writing. Did it stress you out? Did it make you more productive? You might also try a app or tool for tracking and/or intentionally limiting your Facebook or social media time. For example, tools like Minutes Please, App Cap or Facebooklimiter can help you track how much time you are spending on these sites and even close the windows when your pre-selected amount of time is up. Just remember, there is nothing wrong with social media, but don’t let it take away your writing time, its too vital to your work as an author, and you will need discipline and dedication to protect it.

Writer’s Craft Q + A

Taking-the-plunge-next-to-a-waterfall-resizecrop--

Q: What is “up time” and “down time” in a story?

A: In any story that is driven or defined by plot, there is always “up time” (parts of the story that have a lot of action or activity) and “down time” (parts of the story that are more quiet or slow moving). For example, in a mystery novel the  “up time” might be the scene where the cops are chasing the suspect on foot through the back alleys of the city. The “down time” would be scene where the cop finally comes home after their long and stressful day, dropping their jacket on a chair, sitting down in the kitchen, taking a deep breath, telling their spouse about the day. But up time and down time are not just present in fiction. In narrative non-fiction stories, like memoir, there is also a balance between big, active dramatic action and quiet dramatic action. In “up time” your reader’s pulse speeds up, in “down time” your reader’s pulse slows down.  Which scenes in your story and plot are up time and which ones are down time? Which to you write most easily?

Writing Exercise

Best Friends

The concept of a best friend evolves over the course of an individual’s life. Is it only humans that can be best friends? What about animals? Even in the human world, best friends tend to change. Who was your best friend as a child? Who was your best friend in high school or college? What did they look like? Do you remember anything specific they said to you, a statement, a confession, a conversation? Where did you go together? Are you still friends? Name 5 things you knew about them for sure and at least one thing you never knew about them but always wondered. Who is your best friend today?

True-Friends-resizecrop--

Writing Exercise

Curiosity

Cat-stands-by-snow-resizecrop--It’s a natural human response to the world around us, we get curious about everything. Try making a list of 15 things you are curious about. What are the people at the next table talking about? How do homing pigeons find their way home? What was Stonehenge used for? How powerful is the human mind? Does your first girlfriend ever think of you? Whats really going on in India? There is no wrong direction in which to turn your curiosity as a writer. The ability to imagine, to wonder (and sometimes to go find our for ourselves) is a key component in living the writer’s life. In fact, whenever you get stuck as a writer, try leading with your curiosity. If you are working on the early stage of a story, try asking “What if?..” to create alternate plot points, character possibilities, surprises or to shake the project up a little.

Writing Exercise

Your First Car

grand_wagoneerWe are all a a bit mad for our cars. We love them, hate them, buy and sell them, covet them, customize them and spend WAY more time in them then we probably should! What was your (or your main character’s) first car like? Was is new? used? An old junker or a new shiny machine? Where did it come from? How did it feel to drive it? Where did you go? Who was with you? What was the landscape like? What happened to the car? Give us the details!

Free Box Idea

An Unexpected Sign

A character is going about their daily life when they suddenly see an unexpected sign. It could be a street sign, a sign held up by a panhandler, a sign in the window of a shop, a sign in the heavens, a gesture done by a stranger, any kind of sign, big or small, you could even use the sign below! Seeing this sign changes something and makes the character choose something different, it sets them onto a new and unknown path where they are no longer in control of what happens next. Jump in and write the story!! (and thanks to Tall Ship Trading for the awesome sign below!)deceleration

 

Writing Exercise

Ancestors

What do you know about your own (or your main character’s) ancestors? What do you know about your family history or lineage? Where were your grandparents born? What did they do? What were their dreams or struggles? What were their joys or sorrows? What about your great grandparents? You might not know many facts about your ancestors or you might know a lot, but even if you have no information at all, use your imagination. What were their names? How did they live? Are their parts or your (real or imagined) lineage that impact how you feel or think or live today?Ancestors