Wednesday, January 31, 2007

I keep forgetting what I wanted to write about: Writing and My Day Job, a Sitcom

So, it's nice to be working. I'm outside the house, I'm working with, talking wit, and generally intercting with people that are not blood related. And I get paid.

Of course, I am forced to stand for 5-6 hours most days, which is uncomfortable, and there are so many different things to remember and I get a little stressed worrying that I'll mess up someone's shipping. But it's okay.

The issue is balance. I am not a morning. I need coffee, and without a lunch break, I need food before I leave in the morning. There's one show I like to watch, too, but it doesn't seem to be on every morning now. And then I get home around 5:30 and I'm tired. It's 9:50 in the morning right now, I am trying to type this, eat breakfast, drink a cup of coffee, and edit chapter 12 for my writing group tonight. I have forty minutes, I don't think I'll finish the editing, because I definitely intend to finish the coffee and I feel obligated to finish the food (even though it's a bit greasy).

So I am currently trying to find a balance between working at a day job, that takes up the bulk of the hours I would be on the computer and leaves me tired and aching afterward, with my desire to work on my stories.

But I like the challenge. Day after day solely in front of a computer monitor with few to no people around turns you into a hermit. And I think a job gives you more fodder for stories, as unconscious and unintended (and the ideas may be completely unrelated to anythng a work, but just getting out around different people opens your mind to other things, I think) as it may be.

There we go. I remembered the points I wanted to make. I have other ideas for posts, but no time now, so I am off to edit and eat.

Come here coffee, I won't hurt you.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Skip Ahead; or There and Back Again, A Writer's Tale

I was thinking about this.

In the story I'm currently writing, SH, I'm only about two chapters in. I have introduced a character named Kam and I am stuck. I think the problem is that I introduced him too soon. He's an interesting characters, and at first I thought this situation that the main character is in would be a good place for to introduce him.

Now I'm not so sure.

There are writers out there who follow an outline very strictly. Others don't start with a outline, but do work in a linear fashion. They start with their prologue and continue through chapter 1, 2, 3 until they reach the last chapter X or the epilogue.

Some start at the climactic scene and work backwards, perhaps focusing on the main scene and then filling in the smaller ones and the transitions.

I tend to write in a generally linear fashion, often because I haven't the foggiest idea how things will end or what the actual climactic scene will be. But one habit I do have is this: when I get stuck, sometimes I just stop and skip ahead to the next scene that is fully formed in my head (that I can picture the action, even if it isn't one of the more important scenes). The gap may be just a page or two to wrap up the troublesome scene, or a whole chapter.

I try to leave the smallest gap possible and just type in a note to myself that I need to fill it in later. I did this with my Honors thesis. I started that story in high school, worked until I reached a point and then needed to stop in order to focus on classes. When I took up the story again (this all before even joining the Honors program) over the next summer, I didn't know how to wrap up that scene I'd left off on. So I just skipped ahead, from that beginning of their procession, the first night away from the castle to their first major destination. I didn't know how much I was leaving out, but it was sort of a fresh perspective.

I tend to think, while, as always, it may not work for all writers, that skipping ahead is a helpful solution to getting stuck. I think it may help me with this new problem (just jump ahead to the rescue and maybe try it without Kam. If it flows better, maybe they need to meet him later).

It gives the writer a chance to step back and see how the story could work better from a different position, and reenergize him/her to write again. See how it works. I hope it helps.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Easily distracted: not a good thing for a writer, sometimes

Distractability--Here I finally start to read through and edit my hard copy of 'Hounds' and after one short phone call I am on the computer, wandering through livejournal and blogspot.

So I got a job, which means the updates here will either be a little earlier or much later, but I'll still try for some consistency. Bit at least I can say that I -did- start the edits.

Out in the world, being easily distracted, for a writer, seems both a good and bad thing. The bad part being obvious: too distracted and you never write anything.

But the good, as I see it: Maybe you're too focused on something while writing. Focused to the point of getting stuck because you can't see anything beyond that small point. But then a noise or a bit of movement or a color or (fill in the blank) distracts. You walk away. Come back. And sit down to stare at that part of the writing, but now your eyes are used to taking in more of your surroundings and you can view the whole page or the chapter. maybe then you can move on.

Or you're out in the world, literally, walking through a store or down the street. You're distracted by something, which draws your attention to something else and so on. Any of those 'something's and 'so on's could become the spark for a new story or the answer to a plot issue with a current story. (Just try to avoid it when crossing busy intersections.)

Distractability gives a writer a new perspective, a different focus, which I think could really help creatively.

Just don't let it drag you away from your goals for too long, just long to help.

And as a bonus: "pet words" We all use them (I've used my special pet word twice in the sentence above). I say that some of them are okay when used sparingly in a story, but be careful during your edits and cross off the ones you honestly don't need.

My list, of course, is by no means complete, but I know I suffer from most of these. Any other words that fall under this heading?

had (Technically correct to say, "She had called him an hour ago," but I think it works as well without it)
well (especially in dialogue)
...and I'm sure I suffer from more that aren't occurring to me right now.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

I have a Beatles song floating around in my brain

I forgot to mention this earlier.

On Paperback Writer's blog, there is this post, which I found via Miss Snark (I do believe).

It is funny. Read it and enjoy.

And then watch out for ninja agents rappelling from the rooftops.

Also, coming soon: Additional links to blogs by Patricia Wood, Holly Kennedy, Nadia Cornier, Jennifer Jackson, The Rejecter, and anyone else on my favorites list under Writing Blogs that I haven't included yet.

Neat words I just found as I opened my dictionary to double-check my spelling of rappel (I'd missed a 'p'):

purfle: 1. to decorate the border of 2. to adorn or edge with metallic thread, beads, lace, etc. --n. an ornamental border or trimming, as an inlaid border of a violin.

Then, while looking for purfle to type up this:

pyrexia: same as FEVER, from the Greek pyrexis, feverish-ness <>

putamen: the hard stone, or endocarp, of certain fruits, as of the peach and the plum, or the shell of a nut.

Make of all that what you will.

Thunderdome: Paper versus Computer

I love writing with a pen and paper. Or pencil, even though it smudges. With that, I am not bound to any one spot when the writing bug hits. I can be in my room at my desk, as I would if I wrote via computer, or on my bed, or sitting on a chair in the backyard staring at the orange tree in my neighbor's yard, or at the town center, sitting at a bench across from the bookstore, watching the different people going in and out with small children, while old men sit as a table nearby, just talking.

With paper (loose or in a notebook) and a writing utensil of your choic, there are absolutely no limitations.

With a computer, especially for people like me who don't have laptops, they're basically bound to the places that have desktops. And perhaps even more limited, if also like me, they're particular about which computers they use.

I will use my dad's if necessary, and there are computers at the library up the street and at college, there were a handful of computer labs I could go to (as well as the computers in the newsroom, where I worked, I used them a lot, for research and articles mostly), but I've always been most comfortable with my own little desktop. It's old and kinda slow, but it does what I want it to do most of the time and I like it. It's mine and I can type up anything I care to and save it without thinking I should only save it to disk and never leave a copy on the hard drive (as I'd think with the library and computer labs, a post about my paranoia coming soon to a blog near you).

I can't take this desktop to the park or chill out at a cafe with it. Too bulky; I'd give myself a hernia or something.

Generally, this isn't too big a problem for me. I tend to take some form of paper and at least one pen with me whenever I leave the house, if wearing a jacket or bringing a shoulder bag, infinitely more than one of both. My problem arises when I start something on the computer, then have the urge to continue working on it when I'm away from the computer, or even just not in the mood to turn it on. I can take notes, but without the exact few lines on the file I don't like to jump straight into a continuation of the scene.

Here's my solution: I've taken to printing out the last two pages or so of whatever I'm currently working on. Not everyday, and usually just when I'm on a roll, but can't stand the computer any longer. If I don't feel like printing it out but feel like I might want to work on it more later, I may also just write down the last paragraph on a clean sheet of paper, so if the muse hits between then and the next time I get on the computer, I know where I left off. If I don't, then the next time that situation comes up, I just skip a line and write down the new last paragraph on that same sheet.

It's a funny little solution to projects that really get under your skin or that you're alternately working on via computer -and- longhand, but it works. I tend to do more thinking about the story and more note-taking by keeping that little one or two-line reminder. I can't use "I don't know where I left off -exactly-" as an excuse.

Because let's face it, a writer can love writing, but we're horrible when it comes to coming up with excuses to not write. (You'll have to pardon the repetitive words there.) Chores, other people...I use my need to have a social life and not give in to an utter hermit-like existence as an excuse. And it isn't a matter of not loving to write. I don't know what it is. But for this excuse: "I'm not on the computer, so I can't write," this is my solution. And maybe I'm the only one with that excuse, but there you go.

Viva la papel!

Random stuff:

375 words on a first-person backstory of Rei, my main character for Book B, abbr. title "Hounds" (because I'm tired of referring to it as book B). In my head I know where she's been and what she's done the past 8 years, in a general sense, but it doesn't hurt for me to see the words and revivist her voice. It's helping already.

10,917 words total on Book C, abbr. "SH." Haven't been working on this too much, but have been thinking about it a lot, and I'm currently working out the climactic scene in my head. I think I may have introduced a character too soon and thta's stalling me in the writing. I'm thinking about the structure and plot too much for it being a first draft.

On page 85 of "The Lie that tells a Truth." I was talking about this book with my older sister, also a writer (after I came home with it, she said she'd bought the same book a while back), and we agreed that the nice thing about the book was that reading it made you want to write. Writing exercises aside (I hate the term 'writing exercise' sounds like work, even if his suggestions for them are good), ignoring the exercises, just reading the text makes you at once want to keep reading, and yet put the book down and pick up a pen and paper. And that, I think, is why this is a successful writing book.

Will now be off to edit the second half of chapter 11, because writing group is tonight. Last week's was okay, but we never got around the writing prompt and I wish we could get through a whole chapter each week (but we spend to much time talking for that). Oh well. Anything is better than nothing.

Monday, January 22, 2007

A head's up

Not that I feel like getting into another long-winded shpiel right now, I'll spare you, but just so you know...

In college I was an English and Psychology major. And for my honors thesis, even though it was really just an english honors project, I drew upon my knowledge of psychology to incorporate into my main characer (primarily). See, I like my characters messed up. If I can screw them over emotionally, I will. I don't know why exactly, except that I think it makes them more interesting. Maybe I'm a little sadistic? Who cares if your main character is a nearly-all-powerful mage? That's boring. Give them mommy issues, or daddy issues, or class/caste issues, or appearance issues, or all of the above and then throw in some repressed childhood memories that tie-in to the current situation (there's a point about that which I'll make in another post).

I think in my first story, the honors thesis one (high fantasy, I guess you'd call it, with medieval castles and whatnot) that basically incorporated all of those, mostly in the same person.

So anyway, the heads up is that I'm going to try and include posts about psychology, specific things like the DMS-IV (Diagnostic manual of symptoms, I hope that's the acronym) requirements with which to diagnose depression, or the different types of schizophrenia or mood disorders, personality disorders, sleep disorders or what constitutes Down syndrome and the like.

It just seems like I keep running into references about that sort of thing, on Patricia Wood's blog (the main character in her book, Lottery, has an IQ of 76), Written Wyrdd talked about sleep apnea, or I've come across other medical discussions. Not like I'm an expert, but I took classes on abnormal psych, developmental psychopathology (we discussed autism and conduct disorder among many others), cognitive (which I loved and later did research on, specifically problem-solving), regualr developmental psych, and loads of others, so I do remember some stuff and have plenty of notes because I'm OCD like that (keeping far too many old papers).

I tend to think knowing how people work, how they think, can help a writer create more realistic characters. You don't have to say they're borderline or narcissistic, but I think those attributes can make a character stronger.

So why not? And maybe I'll come across something that will strengthen one of my characters.

Happy writing.

I love books!

Frankly, one of my happiest memories revolving around high school (not that high school was terribly awful, but I was the chick who knew -of- a lot of people, but didn't hang out with more than a handful) is sitting outside of my best friend's English class and reading on either end of the bench.

So I am greatly pleased when my dad bought me a writing book as an early birthday present, entitled, " The Lie That Tells A Truth," by John Dufresne. I'm on chapter 5, page 52-53 and thoroughly enjoying it. The tone is easy-going, the exercises at the end of each section are simple and as rare as I do writing exercises or prompts on my own, there are some that intrigue me enough that I might actually do them on an off day. There are nearly 300 pages, but even at this point, I just want to read it, then read it again, taking notes the second time around.

The dork that I am, I find it enormously keen that he includes various quotes about writing and writing-related character traits (like patience, or lack thereof), and I like to collect quotes, but I don't want to interrupt the flow of reading to jot them down. Hence the second reading when I'm done.

There's some humor, but it's also really informative.

Here's one of his exercises from the chapter on "Writing Around the Block," retyped fully.

"Making a List, Checking it Twice
Maybe it's that I'm obsessive-compulsive or maybe it's that I know I'll forget whatever is so important in two minutes (or maybe that's the same thing), but I make lists. (Lists were perhaps the first written litterature. Even before the list that Moses brought down from the mountain, and before Hammurabi's list of laws, someone probably scratched something about cleaning the cave, planting the wheat, hunting the mammoth, gathering the firewood.) I have lists of possible story titles, interesting names, lists of things I have to do. My characters make lists. I used to worry about this behavior, but these days I wonder how people get along without their lists. How do they know what to pick up at Winn-Dixie? Lists free you up to think about more important things, to daydream. Anyway, many of us do keep shopping lists, Christmas card lists, guest lists, birthday lists, and lists can be helpful for getting in touch with your usable past and with your obsessions.

So here are some lists for you to make in your writer's notebook:

1. List all of the friends you've ever had. Put an X beside those you've lost contact with.
2. List all of the pets you have ever had, even the short-lived goldfish from Woolworth's and the little turtle that turned into cardboard overnight.
3. List all of the moments you'd live over again for whatever reason. (To get them right this time. To enjoy them afresh.)
4. List everything you've done that you are ashamed of.
5. List every object that you've ever lost.
6. List the best meals that you've ever eaten.
7. List the toys and games that you owned as a child.
8. List your favorite songs.
9. List your favorite smells.
10. List your goals for the next five years. Prioritize them.

Take five to ten minutes on each list initially. They will suggest events, emotions, people, you haven't considered in a while. What else do they suggest? Use the lists in the coming days for sources of material for your fiction."

After reading that, I continued on, but it got me thinking. I have about ten pages covered in names, some already used for characters, some attached to story-less (currently) pictures. About six pages are names I made up, the rest are from name books with their meanings ('cause I'm a sucker for a name with a cool meaning, as long as it still fits the character). I make lists of goals, lists of groceries, countless daily/weekly to-do lists. And some of his suuggestions got me thinking to the point where I couldn't keep reading, so I pulled out my notebook and jotted down the title, "The Yellow Galoshes." Then wrote about two paragraphs about a girl in the rain with an umbrella and yellow galoshes wondering how people thought getting beaten on daily wasn't normal. It was normal for her. Was it different for other people? But she didn't wonder about that in a 'pity me' way, but from curiosity, because she was at that age where she's just beginning to realize not all families are like hers.

Of course, I didn't get all that information in two short paragraphs, just her opening thoughts about it. I don't know yet what makes those damn galoshes important.

...Or maybe I do. Hmm...

And that night, trying to sleep, three ideas for blog entries came to me and I jotted them down in the pitch dark (surprisingly legible considering I was also writing on a small post-it). And at some point that day, two titles for different stories.

I love lists.

As I read this book, I will be sharing exercises and interesting facts I find. I think taking a more thorough break from writing is good. I'll read this book and another and see how I feel then.

The "other" book (oo, see how cleverly I segued right there? heh) is "The Tough Guide to Fantasyland," by Diana Wynne Jones. This one I requested through the library after seeing a mention or two of it online. It was origially published in 1996, but reprinted in 2006, with a few changes if I remember correctly. I have the '96 copy.

So far (I paused in reading the other book to check this one out and I only began this one the other night), I am greatly amused. I opened it expecting it to be more humor than relevant advice and it is entertaining in terms of humor. It certainly doesn't take itself seriously as an actual guide to writing fantasy (unless by guide, you're thinking of tour guide, because that is definitely the feeling here).

Tangent: In college, I wrote a review of a book which the title suggested was a humorus how-to approach for college students/graduates writing resumes. I don't like to read other stuff about books before writing my reviews (to avoid biasing my own opinion). So I started reading it with only their back of the book and whatever promo stuff they sent. My problem was that there was more humor than actual advice, so it only worked as a humor book and less as a how-to. That irked me. I felt like whatever advice might be there was common sense, and for the most part, they stop short of anything really helpful. I didn't enjoy it as much because my expectations weren't met.

My point being that for Tough Guide, I went in assuming it was only meant to humor, so if I found no advice per se, it was okay, because I was only looking for entertainment.

What I found was lots of humor in spoofing/satirizing the stereotypes in fantasy, i.e. Assassin and Thieves' Guilds, "Northern barbarians" and their manners, etc. At the same time, I was seeing some things that I did (for example, they talk about how there are no normal animals--random woodland creatures or farming animals, in Fantasyland--and I do include, or I hope I do, normal animals in my writing, just small mentions here and there as they pass grazing cattle or the like) or didn't do, like giving the good guys normal, unmagic armor when they think there'll be fighting.

I would read an entry (designed encyclopedia-like) and see that I do include part of it, but not all, or would get an idea for turning a stereotype on its head, like that regarding bard (and apprentices). It was nice to see my expectations more than met.

Again, not done reading it, only just beginning, but both books are enjoyable to read for different reasons. And together they make me want to write, which was something I've still been struggling with.

(This post is horribly longer than I intended, isn't it? Heh, sorry.)

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Quandary, what a fun word

Not an existential quandary, though, as Weird Al Yankovic may prefer.

I feel that I am in a strange position in terms of editing. I have brought up to the first half of chapter 11 to my writing group. And plan to bring the rest to them over the weeks (a whole chapter seems too much for most of the members, so I tend to bring half each week).

Part of me wants to do a big read-through (cover-to-cover) looking for the big changes--i.e. add a scene here change this big detail there--but I feel like I shoukd wait until I've finished bringing the pages to the group. I'm at this odd stage where I have to tell them, "Oh, you know this detail. I know it seems like it's coming out of the blue, but go with me here. I did it on purpose and I know I need to develop that point more early on," because when I started bringing pages I hadn't yet finished the first draft, so in these later chapters (written while they read the early chapters), I've already incorporated suggestions they made around chapter 3 or 4.

I guess I'm just a little concerned that the big changes in the read-through will affect the chapters I bring to group, and it'll get confusing for them.

But since the writing is stalled, for the most part, I want to do something productive and editing seems like the answer.

Some of this is due to the peculiar way my brain works, my writerly eccentricities, but I suppose I'll have to see where I stand at the end of today and go from there.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Reading--far too serious a topic for a funny title

Okay, now I know as a writer, one good habit is reading a lot. And had you asked me during high school, how many books I read for fun, I couldn't tell you, because there were so many. In college, my response would be X number fun books over the summer, because I didn't have time during the semesters.

I have been out of college since this past May and if you'd asked me the day I graduated how many books I figured on reading between then and now, I would not have been able to give you a more specific response than, "So many I couldn't count them."

That is not the case, unfortunately. As far as fiction novels go, I started and got about half-way through Kate Elliott Crown of star series (I'm still reading and enjoying them), read Lackey's "Mad Maudlin." What I do is read fantasy, but not in the same subgenre as I'm currently writing in (so reading an urban fantasy while writing something set in a medieval-type land). I've also read some books that technically fall under YA fantasy (but I sometimes think my style lends itself well to YA, so I can use the excuse that it's research as well), and... I don't know. I read some humor nonfiction stuff, some research-y books. But what I read most was manga. Since around Christmas of 2005, I have been devouring manga.

When my brother got a job at a bank, there was a bigger library nearby with a larger manga section (versus the tiny library near our house), so he would come home almost weekly with a large bag full of the Japanese comics. I read most of them. It doesn't seem fair, in my head. If I counted up all of the volumes of every title, I would probably have read hundreds of books, but I can't equate manga with books in my head. I can read one in half an hour uninterrupted, an hour if I was an hour-long program at the same time. They're addictive I tell you.

So I need to read more. And I go to bookstores (and buy manga) and book sales(where I buy book-books), and one of my resolutions is to read at least ten books I've bought and have not yet read. I've got more than that, but ten is my goal.

I think part of it, other than how quick it is to read a manga, is that reading a fantasy novel can take a lot of time. I can finish one in a day or two, maybe three, if I devote the whole day to reading. But few series make me want to do that. And then I feel like, if I have all that time, I should be trying to write. That actually sitting down and writing is more productive than reading in my genre, even though I know reading is an important part of writing. Especially reading the new stuff.

I should try reading new debut authors as well. I'm very iffy about spending money on something I'm unsure about, though.

Not reading enough makes me feel a little guilty, I guess is what I'm trying to say. I've been seeing a lot of "Currently reading..." or worse yet, "The list of books I read in 2006." (How do they remember? I wish I kept a list like that.) I think my own 2006 reading list would be painfully short did I not include manga.

Any comments out there from other writers? How do you make the time to read for fun? Do you ever feel guilty (or is it just me and my Italian guilt trip ability) for reading when you could be writing?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Guilty Pleasures

So, as a disclaimer, I do read Laurell K. Hamilton. I happen to like the Anita Blake series, although yes, I believe that the latest books have a bit too much sex for my taste. When I first started reading her stuff--sophomore year of high school, about 7 years ago, when my older sister found the first eight books in three omnibi for $2 at our library--I loved how she could mix the supernatural/preternatural stuff with vampires and lycanthropes, with her animating/necromancy work and the police cases. And mix up her personal life. I don't read romance, but this had a nice balance that although I was drawn by the vampires, I stayed for the cops and zombies.

Seeing as how I don't like romance, the last couple of books haven't been quite to my taste, but I find the tone, pace and style still good enough that I breeze through a book in a day or so.

Here's the thing. There's are others who dislike the current direction even more than I do, and they are more verbal and more vehement about it. After visiting her website's message board, LKH responded in her blog. I read that post (from last December), and then today find out that there was quite a bit of reaction to it, some likening her blog response to Anne Rice's rant on Amazon.

On livejournal, Jamie Hall lists who blogged about it. Hal Duncan's take on it (The Dufus Dollar on Notes from the Geek Show) is pretty good and nicely balanced. Although John Scalzi makes a good point too in response to Duncan. The thing is, saying "If you don't like it, don't buy it," makes sense. But LKH wasn't just saying that, Scalzi paraphrases.

Okay, I just reread it and here are the parts that are a little less than friendly in my opinion, all three saying basically the same thing (Scalzi's paraphrasing is a slight exaggeration):

"There are books that don't make you think that hard. Books that don't push you past that comfortable envelope of the mundane. If you want to be comforted, don't read my books. They aren't comfortable books. They are books that push my character and me to the edge and beyond of our comfort zones. If that's not want you want, then stop reading. Put my books away with other things that frighten and confuse or just piss you off."

"There are series out there that have many fewer characters. Go read them. There are series out there that it's obvious the writer sees the character only as a plot device, a means to an end. Go read those people, and you and that kind of writer can have a good, non threatening time. You can read about people that the writer could and does kill with little or no remorse."

"Go, and find someone who does speak to you. Someone who's characters are plot devices, so the books are neat, understandable, clinical, and utterly organized."

What I'm trying to get at is something J.A. Konrath mentions in a recent blog post. Although the post itself was about self-image and confidence, it seemed to apply. Unless your blog has an option to make it private, watch what you say. Especially when you're well-known, because people are going to see it. You may lose new readers, or just make yourself look bad. And the people you're really angry with aren't going to care. In the next post, she explains why she posted it, but most people are only going to see that post to negative readers. So it seems like the best response would have been short and sweet. If you don't like the books, don't read them, don't buy them, and for goodness sake, don't stand in line for hours just for the opportunity to say you hate them to her face. Because that's rude and writers have feelings, too.
I don't know if all that makes sense, my brain feels full to capacity, but check out the links and decide for yourself if you want.

And I fully inteded to type up a chapter-by-chapter synopsis of the book I'm showing to my writing group, so our new member would know what's going on (we're at chapter 10 as of last Wednesday), but I'll just finish that later and email it to her tomorrow morning.

Elen Sila Lumenn Omentielvo

That apparently means "A star shines on the hour of our meeting," in Tolkien elvish, according to Elijah Wood from an article back around 2001. Nice, huh? I found when going through old newspapers looking for interesting stuff. (note: I don't really feel like hunting for a way to include the proper double-dot thing over the u in Lumenn, or the ~ on the second n in Lumenn, you'll just have to trust me.)

Anyway, that got me to thinking about languages in fantasy, and world-building in general.

When I was in college, all those months ago! I had to research some stuff for my honors thesis. I was an English and Psychology double major, and had opted to overhaul and finish a fantasy story I began back in high school with a friend of mine. Since it was a creative piece it needed an introduction/afterword that analyzed the novel. It also required a bibliography. So I went to my campus library, and fell in love, because it had five floors and rows upon rows of books.

In my searches, I found a book about Tolkien's elvish. My momeory of this book is that it was not just a dictionary, but included stuff about grammar, that it was very thorough in analyzing this language J.R.R. Tolkien had created for Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Seeing the article yesterday also reminded me of interviews with other cast members about learning the elvish.

And all of that culminated in my thinking about the time and energy that must have gone into creating a language, as well as a culture and a world. Tolkien didn't just make up words, he developed a language with grammar and all that good stuff.

That make me think of an interview/Q-and-A with Kate Elliott, whose last installment of the Crown of Stars series just came out in paperback. In that Q-and-A she talked about forming the world (although the Q-and-A may have been about her Jaran series).

Examples like theses always leave an impression on me. Particularly in these genres where the writer creates a world or significantly alters the world we live in, part of helping the reader suspend their disbelief can come throuhg creating a realistic world. Sure dragons may abound and you can walk into a tavern to be confronted by elves, orcs or trolls, but if the world and the culture is well-formed in the writer's own mind, these strange situations will seem commonplace to the reader. It will seem as if these situations ciould easily occur in that world.

And all the details floating around in the writer's head, or hastily scribbled on post-its or in journals, may not make it into a finished novel, but it seems to me that as long as the writer knows it, that sense of wholeness will come through in the writing.

Think about the time of year the story takes place, how long it take to travel by foot or by horse from one destination to another, what's the weather like, what about seasons, how does the terrain affect planting, or is it only good for planting, what's the best set-up for a castle to provide the best defense where it's situated, etc.?

I think for me, that's what I want most when starting something new. I don't need to know the four major scenes of the book, or what chapter the protagonist has their call to action, or when and where the climactic scene occurs. I just want to know a general sense of the overarcing plot, and then what this world looks like and what these people want. Because motivation is another aspect of making the world realistic: knowing your characters as well as you know the set-up of the world. I took some notes this morning about my second book. Since the first in that series is done (at least, the first draft is done, it still needs major revising), the second doesn't require so much in the way of world-builidng, although I fully intend to include tasty morsels of other interesting places unseen in the first book that will add to the flavor of this world. But I need to look at every character and see what drives them. The notes I took were a first step to working out the "villain's" POV. I'm thinking that's a good way to look at a story.

I found with the honors thesis story, that it was two-thirds of the way through the first draft that I could explain fully why the villains were acting the way they acted. Their motivation for who and why they attacked. Even if some of the details didn't make it into the text (yes, that needs revision too), I had a sense of it and I hope the completeness of it came through.

With book B, the first story in this series, I got questions of 'why do they need so and so, what does person X want, what is his motivation for helping?' And although I knew the motivation was there, being able to utter it sensibly helped. It made the people and the world more real.

So, world-building: you gotta love it.

That said, here are some fun results from a quiz. The first is what came up and the second was what I was if I wasn't the first. I think I fit in both to some extent.

I am heroic couplets; most precise
And fond of order. Planned and structured. Nice.
I know, of course, just what I want; I know,
As well, what I will do to make it so.
This doesn't mean that I attempt to shun
Excitement, entertainment, pleasure, fun;
But they must keep their place, like all the rest;
They might be good, but ordered life is best.
What Poetry Form Are You?

If they told you I'm mad, then they lied.
I'm odd, but it isn't compulsive.
I'm the triolet, bursting with pride;
If they told you I'm mad, then they lied.
No, it isn't obsessive. Now hide
All the spoons or I might get convulsive.
If they told you I'm mad then they lied.
I'm odd, but it isn't compulsive.
What Poetry Form Are You?

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Weekend post, bwuh wha--?

I am in a strangely good mood, in as much as I am willing to let my inherent dorkitude, geekdom (call it what you will) shine through in real life.


Scrolling through the blog, I noticed--in the way that a person already knows something about his/herself, but is suddenly confronted with it and it almost seems like they're ralizing it for the first time--that I talk/write a lot. Probably way more than I need to.

I blame this on giving in to the temptation of tangents and switching to a different topic within one blog post.

To spare my readers, I'll try to keep it one post per topic. That's what Word is for anyway, so I can cut out the rambling bits and paste them in a Word doc marked draft (because i wouldn't remember it if it was here).

That said, I am off to write. I think (yes, I'm switching topics already, but obviously, this is an exception as the first topic was short) the reason I was stuck, or at least part of it, is that my brain is still entangled with the other characters from the story whose first draft I just finished. Maybe I'll be ready to edit that soon, but for today, I'll try my hand at the next book in that world. I'll leave Book C for later, as the story develops in my head. We'll see how that goes.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Blame the One-Armed Man

Job-searching yesterday, so I was MIA from the computer. Written Wyrdd said she writes drafts and posts them over time. I started a draft (not done yet), but I like the idea. For some reason my mind seems to think it's strange, writing an article/essay/blog post not intending to use it right away. Because I'm the same way when I consider writing articles to submit to magazines or websites and the like. Give me a topic and a deadline and I'm good. Write it up and post it immediately (to the point of bypassing a Word doc.) and I'm good. Give me the option to write it up and then wait before seeing it in print/in use, and my mind balks a little.

Very much the "Buh wha--?" reaction.

My brain doesn't always get why the rest of me does something.

It is the second January in 2007. Just shy of the two week point.

Sooo...writing stuff. In a couple of online journals, I've come across writers keeping track (perhaps as a resolution, perhaps 'just because') of their new page count, total page count, new word count for the day, total word count, and details like that. As messy as I am, and a bit of a 'write by the seat of my pants' (another disliked, but now engrained phrase) kinda gal, I like lists. Actually, I love lists. I love little objects and filing systems that can keep me organized. My dad brought me some stiff pale green manilla folder-like folders and I love them, because they're sturdy enough to write on and have plenty of space (I can fit my whole manuscript in one).

Point being, this appeals to me. Usually, when I am writing (still on break right now) I will note the word count of new stuff for that day ~somewhere~, occasionally adding those other details about what the total is for the whole thing. So I may try to note all that in a systematic way (with bold subtitles and all, how keen is that?).

Yes, I know I'm dork. I have a black leather wrist cuff that says so, literally. I'm happily resigned to it (actually, I think I'm happiest when the writing is flowing or I'm giving in to my dorkitude).

At the tailend of my job-searching adventure, I swung by my neighborhood Wal-Mart and scavenged through the scraps of fabrics. Some of those are not tiny scraps at all. I picked up a green leaf print, a pale pale blue, a dark brown with aquamarine dots (small and spaced pretty wide apart so it wasn't too much) and a black fabric with leprechaun and luck symbols (four-leaf clovers, a pipe, horse shoes, etc.). Have no idea what I'll do with any of them, but I just couldn't pass them up. Then I went to the library and got far too many books, most of them research for the writing, that I had to drag home, walking.

Also, my mother is baking brownies. We now have warm gooey brownies and a frosted carrot cake available. The smell is intoxicating.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


So I've started, finally, with the side bar o' links.

First up, links to blogs by writers, some whose work I've read, others whose blog I stumbled across in my internet meandering (and boy, do I ever meander). It is incomplete. I'll add more soon.

Soon to come, a list of links to agents' and editors' blogs. (Is it an unspoken rule that writing blogs require a link to Miss Snark? ~grins~)

I might add a third list of websites that caught my fancy, possibly including writer websites, whether they have a blog or not.

Also, although this'll go up next to Jenny Rappaport's link when I do the second list (I may very well start it today, why not?) will be Lori Perkin's new blog. She also started it as a new year's resolutions, and we humble writers get a nice look at an agent with 20 years of experience and perspective on this crazy biz called publishing. (Too much? Maybe. Oh well. It's my mood.)

This has been your friendly neighborhood blogger with an update.

Note: The 'linkage' part of my labels should be read as if you were Paulie Shore. A continuation of the imitation is no fault of mine. So I disclaim.

Noises in the afternoon

I am a dork.

I say this because I -do- look up words in the dictionary for fun (and because years and years ago I would ask my older sister how to spell something and her response was always 'go look in the dictionary,' which I greatly disliked her for back then, but I forgive her now), but also because I love the sound of my nails clacking on the keyboard as I type. I think if I got a laptop one day, I would find it a very strange difference, because the keys are flatter and not inclined to that lovely sound.

Which also means, of course, that I love my typewriter, despite the fact that I don't really use it much anymore. I did once a few weeks before Christmas, to type up a list of some sort, but not for months (possibly years, ~wince~) before then. It's nice for a quick note when my computer is turned off. Irksome only just begins to describe my feelings when my lovable, but old and slow, computer takes forever to boot up.

So, basing this on that fact that a noise I imagine most people find tedious and irritating (not as bad as nails on a chalkboard, but I don't type at night anymore because I worry the loudness of the hard clacks might wake people up who have to get up early for work) is one I enjoy a great deal, I have to say I am not a fan of the sound of my printer. It goes through this whole rigamarolle (sp?) when it's first turned on, and it's a Z22 and also slow, so I get to hear the sound of the actual printing for hours.

And I do not exaggerate the hours, because I just finished printing the second half of Book B. Space and a half instead of double-spaced and it's still 250 pages or so, without starting each chapter on a new page (the less ink and paper used up, the better). And while I didn't time it, it took a while. And the first half was even longer, because it was set for normal rather than high speed.

That is why headphones are my friend. Drowns out the noise of the dreadful printer (~knocks on wood~ 'cause goodness knows, as soon as I say that, it'll break down), but I can still hear my typing.

I think I like the sound of typing on my keyboard, because even if I don't type a word of a story, I still feel productive.

Totally off-topic, but a fun coincidence: Yesterday, my older sister sent me a link to a funny commercial starring Bruce Campbell (who is the awesomest B-movie actor, eva!) from Ain't It Cool News. The commercial was quite enjoyable and there was a little teaser trailer on the side bar for this movie called Pan's Labyrinth. I had never heard of it before, but darned it I wasn't intrgiued. So I find a link to the movie's website (because I went to another page on AICN and lost the teaser) and visit it. First, they have music playing, which you can turn off if you want to. But it was nice music. I liked it. Second, the movie itself, unfortunately only playing in select cities, of which my town is not, unless it's just painfully under-advertised, is a dark fairytale set shortly after the Spanish civil war.

The coincidence part? After seeing that little teaser and finding the website, just before shutting down my computer that same day, I see the movie and its director (Guillermo del Toro) mentioned on Neil Gaiman's journal. Then, computer off and late enough that I'm about to turn off the TV for the day, I see a commercial for it. And then I kinda thought the guy in the commerical after (for some music device or phone) might also be one of the actor's in the film I just saw the commercial for. I won't swear to the last, because in the film he's wearing a lot of make-up and costuming, but there were similarities.

So that was my fun day of coincidences yesterday, and I hope this film comes to Hawaii, because I want to watch it. (And whenever I use the word coincidence, or even think it, I picture the Gilda Radner comedy bit with the priest: "Coincidenza? I think not.")

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

"'Cause I'm out here on the other side..."

*Another line from a My Chemical Romance song

So I've been sitting at my desk since about 10 a.m. It's now twenty minutes to 4 p.m. As much as I would like to say I spent the bulk of those hours typing away on -any- story, that was not the case.

My writer friend suggested, as I searched for some answer as to how I could break the writer's block, that I take a break. I responded that I felt like I was being lazy, because I finished the first draft of Book B three or four weeks ago. I should be editing or writing something new, if not both. But beyond jotting down some notes from months ago on a critique he did for me of the first three chapters of Book B, I've done nothing of the kind today. Yesterday, I achieved 600 words. Part of me was satisfied with that, the other part is greatly irked that I didn't write more.

My brain just doesn't want to think about pirates (Book C has pirates, they aren't central, but at the moment they seem to be important and I have to deal with them to finish off chapter 2). Seeing as it needs to think about pirates to get through the next handful of pages, at least to tie off this chapter, I am stuck. I don't like being stuck.

I have the urge to sew something, or maybe draw. But then again, I have the urge to write. I just don't know what -to- write. For half this time, I've had a blank document open. That advice to just write somthing, anything, even if it drek. I want to, I really do. But I put fingers to keyboard and...nothing happens. That sounds like a whiny cop-out to my ears, but I don't mean it to be. I just honestly have no idea what to say. Sometimes, saying I'll write longhand and then doing it, works. Sometimes I say it and then never do it.

Does it make sense to say that I want to write, but can't?

I haven't used the phrase 'writer's block' in a long time, until this post, of course. It has the ring of a great stone tablet that someone's laid on your back, so you're bent over like an old man, and the weight is so great, you can barely think about lifting you arms enough for fingers to reach the keyboard or pen and paper. But it's really, for me, something internal. Like I'm trapped in string (here I picture the manga-style ninja-like woman who uses thread to ensnare your enemy, a la Inu Yasha) and I'm mobile, but only to a point. I can reach th keyboard and then one invisible string stops me right before I start typing. Both descriptions are mental blocks (and perhaps a tad over described? heh), but the former also sounds like I'm trying to blame an external force, whereas the thread is in my head, tugging back the thoughts, the strands of dialogue, if you don't mind me running with the metaphor.

That's all specific to me, though, and to this particular bout of 'stuckness.'

So I'll come online for a while, but I'm going to try and not worry about edits or new pages for a week or so. See if that gives me a fresh perspective when I return to it. Maybe some reading or drawing (related or unrelated to the current stories I'm working on) might help too, but I won't push it.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Hello, Mr. Grapevine

So I heard along the grapevine, or rather, directly from three sources, that the Sobol award was cancelled.

The Writer Beware blog also has an interesting post about facts to keep in mind when looking at literary contests.

When I first heard about the Sobol Award, I checked out the rules and prizes and such. I won't say it was a scam, but there was enough fishy stuff that I wouldn't have entered ($85 for an entrey fee is way too much for a poor, no-longer-college-student). Of course, I'm not a contest person myself--I fnd some and think they'd be a good contest to submit to, but I never get around to it. The best part of contests, in my opinion, are those that can garner you name recognition and publishing credits (and a little prize money is nice too, but I say that 'cause I'm poor). But overall, I tend to prefer focusing my writing efforts on books that I'll later query agents about. It's another one of those, 'to each his own' moments.

There's actually a fiction contest looking for stories about pirates and the high seas, which I was tempted by, and my latest story has pirates, but...I don't know. I have until March, I believe, but they're looking for short stories and this will be a novel. Maybe something else will hit me, but I won't push it.

It's also a matter of many contests looking for short fiction, and I am notoriously bad at that. I start what I think is a short story and it begins to develop into a novella or flat-out novel. heh. Go figure.

Speaking of which, though, I just read through some comments, and saw Written Wyrdd's about "the 'real story' isn't the one you sit down to write'." I'm paraphrasing and not currently looking at that particular comment, so I think that was the gist of it. And I believe that really is true.

Every story I begin, I have an idea of where I think it's going, but that idea is so vague, that the story inevitably steers toward something I never would have anticipated. Even this current story. I have 10,000 words, just shy of 30 pages. Two chapters and a prologue. Even in that short span of time, my character has already gone beyond where I expected him to be by the end of the book. (Literally--he's running away and originally was going to end up with a distant relative across the sea. By the beginning of chapter 2, I had him at a not so distant relative's home, across a short stretch of sea, and I knew he wouldn't stay there long.) There are aspects of my original idea that haven't come into play at all yet, and even in the course of writing the first chapter I realized some things about the history of these kingdoms that I hadn't even thought to consider before. Some of these are things that I've already thought about incorporating and know how, if not when, and others points are so interesting that I want to include, but haven't the foggiest idea how to go about it.

hee. This is the giddy side of me few get to see. I'm sitting here, trying not to grin like a loon as I think of all the fun possibilities still open for this book.

That's why I don't like to rewrite (not edit or revise, but actual, massive rewrite)after a certain point (to tie this back to the post that prompted the comment). The story may take a fun turn that makes the opening chapters obsolete, but then another change later that makes them pertinent again. Hence the countless notes to myself. ~grin and eye-roll~

I don't quite understand how someone can write out an entire outline and follow through with that to the end of a book. I know some people do it, and some can even leave it open enough to allow for big changes. I'm not trying to knock it. If you use an outline, good on ya. I just don't entirely understand it. I don't quite get how they don't feel boxed in by the structure right at the get-go. How do they do it effectively? I like having a general sense of where I think the story may go, but I know my stories morph over time and I end up with scenes I never anticipated. I think, for me personally, an outline would make me feel like I maybe couldn't write that unplanned scene. But maybe I'm wrong. I've never been enough of an outline girl and I've never known enough about my story when starting it to really give the whole 'outline your book before you begin writing' idea an honest shot. Any other takes on outlines and detailed plans of stories before you start writing?

Returned from my first bout of MIA/AWOL

I have to be honest, I tend to be AWOL over the weekend. If not because I actually get out of the house over the weekend (running errands, window shopping, resisting the urge to buy another manga I'll just read in half an hour anyway), then because I like to take a break from the computer.

Sometimes, I get that stuck feeling and I start to unconsciously associate it with sitting at my computer. I don't like to type elsewhere (I have a desktop--I suppose if I had a laptop, I'd be the sort who would go to a cafe or park bench and while away the hours typing), so this is the image I have of writing/typing: sitting at my small wooden desk, not originally made for computers, tucked into my room between my bed and bureau. The CPU is directly in front of my keyboard, so I can reach the floppy disk and cd drives in front as well as the usb port in the back for my flash drive. The monitor is to to my right so I have to turn my head to read what I've written. I have light green post-its on the side of my CPU, reminders, research in a word or two, passwords for things like my library account (so I won't forget when I have books due), names for characters or possible agents, even a few quotes. Okay one quote at the moment (and looking at a blank spot, I hope one of the post-its didn't fall off).

"A novel is about life, with all the dull parts taken out." said by Alfred Hitchcock, I think (I put a question mark, so I guess I wasn't sure even when I wrote it down).

Point being, the view doesn't change much, so when I get stuck with the writing, sometimes I get sick of the view. Taking two days off from that area seems good for me. I spent a lot of Sunday thinking about my newest story, Book C, so I think the writing will be kind of all right today. Almost 200 words already in the span of say 45 minutes, while typing this--sometimes that's the only progress I make all day.

And Friday, I didn't post because, well, I actually did stuff. I turned in my grad school application and all the other paperwork, then hung out with my friend. That's not the norm (I really do lead a dull existence right now), but just so you're informed about where I am on the weekends when I'm not thinking about writing and blogging.

Also, I think I remember what else I was going to post about on Thursday. The habits of writers is an interesting thing. I suspect I'll return to it in various forms. Today, though, we'll stick to the idea of writing schdeules.

I was thinking about it the other day. I have a friend who makes time before work and during a break, and sometimes after work to write. With somewhat flexible hours and a weird sleep schedule, it works for him. I wouldn't presume to know if it ties in to how he works out a story in his head, but I know that closes relates to how my sister writes. She can't really sit and write for hours at a time, 'like I do.' (I laugh when people say that. Especially lately, as I sit at my computer for hours but I would hardly claim to write the entire time.) But she plans out in a very detailed manner the story plot of her stories before she begins writing them. Then she thinks about exactly how she wants the next few paragraphs to go and will work that out in her head, so the actual time it takes to type is quite short. She opens the file types up the next few pages and she's done.

I however, like to start with a general idea of the overall arc of the story. Or in the case of Book C, which I intend to be the first book of a trilogy, I also want the vaguest idea of what may happen in the second and third books. That connecting plot that ties it all together. I play around with the next few scenes in my head, getting a visual sense of what will happen, so when I sit down I can write it out with a bit more ease. But I am just as inclined to start writing without a single idea of how to start, what to say, who this character is that just showed up. It sort of works for me, but at the same time, seeing it written out like that, it also sounds like I'm still finding what works for me as a writer.

In college, I had roommates who stayed up late, so I got in the habit of doing so as well. Maybe not to the same extent, or even more than they, but I liked writing at night. It was classes in the morning and atfternoon, dinner at the cafeteria with friends, and then I had a block of time from 7-10 that I watched tv. So I would do homework, articles for the college paper, and work on my stories from 9 or 10 until midnight or 1 a.m. I was never an all-nighter type of person though. Then my last few semesters I wouldn't have class until noon, so I would do homework and articles before class (and articles between classes), but I still did the fun writing at night.

Now, though, I live with my family and they go to work early in the morning, so I don't like to stay up late and wake them with my loud typing (nails tack-clacking away on an old keyboard--I have an affection for that sound). That means I type while they're gone, which is the morning until mid-afternoon. I had one professor who woke up at 4 a.m. to write. That boggles my mind, but I suppose the gist is, to each his own. That's all for today, I think. At least for now. I've rambled on long enough.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Glitter Cows and Writing Groups

There were a couple of topics I was going to write about. I, of course, didn't write them down, and now can only remember one. Then I thought of an additional something to discuss as well. So newer idea first.

I have a long list of websites in my Favorites list under the folder "writing blogs." It started with just a few. I went to a friend's website and found a link to Miss Snark, whom I had heard of but never visited. He also had a link to AgentQuery. Jumping the gun, I went there and searched for agents that accepted fantasy. Some had websites and blogs. From those places I found other agents, editors and writers (both published and unpublished) linked on the blogs or through the comments pages.

People like Rashenbo and Written Wyrdd (the latter of whom I must attribute the 'glitter cow' half of this entry title because it just stuck in my mind so much).

So, although I think I may have said this before, sites like these I will soon be linking to in a side bar, either for their information or because they're fun, or both. And I hope no one minds.

Shifting gears (one of those phrases I don't much like, but I've heard it often enough that it's now stuck in my repertoire, down the block from 'somewhat'), I had my writing group yesterday.

So it used to be larger, but people move, and now mostly consists of my sister and I, a husband and wife, another woman, and two ladies who don't come on a regular basis. But for around Christmas, we meet every Wednesday from 7-9 p.m. at a nearby bookstore. Since I joined (every summer since my sophomore year of college, and every week since I graduated) we've stuck to critiquing pages for the most part. Sometimes someone will have a writing story to tell, some bit of success, or a bit of show and tell about a writing book, but I go there for the critique. I know that there's only so closely I can look at my own words before I simply can't see what's wrong with it.

But this new year we decided to include writing prompts in our weekly schedule. I don't often do prompts, so I have to say, it was kind of fun. We used a picture of a fractal and a few written prompts about it and we ended up with five very different pieces of writing, which we shared after time was up.

Unfortunately, that and just talking about writing, we ended up with too little time to read through the pages I brought. So they read the first two pages and I'll bring everything back next week.

I've heard horror stories about writing groups, and had other experiences with them through workshop classes. I think they're a good idea for anyone who wants to be a writer, but they need to be a bit careful with it. Some people starts groups for the purpose of having others gush over their work, but can't take criticism at all. Others will mesh really well and everyone benefits. The hardest part I find is after a group of people read my work, then I go home, look through all the comments and revise my pages, I sometimes have to go through it again because my voice has gotten sidetracked.

'Be prepared for cirticism.' Ideally, IMO, one person shares a piece of writing and receives verbal and/or written comments (I like both) that point out what could be strengthened without coming across as 'you have to change X to Y or it's wrong.' I'm a big believer that there's no one right way to write, but if you can't handle hearing people say your writing needs work, then you could be in a bit of trouble.

'Only take the advice that fits' is another good rule with writing groups. You always know your story better than people who just read it and they might question something you know the answer to. You just need to put that answer in there. I get comments about making things clearer and I have to be very careful with that, finding a balance between clarity and giving too much away so the reader doesn't need to think or wonder (I like readers who think and wonder).

'Be careful of what others say when they write in a different genre that you do.' My sister is the only one who regularly reads the same genres as me, and no one else really writes fantasy in my group. The advantage is seeing a varied response about how the story reads, characterization and the like. The disadvantage is that different genres sometimes require different a focus. Some of the women there write romance, I do not, and I occasionally wonder if their desire to have a concrete image of a character is a reflection of that or another genre they prefer to read (versus a single detail or two, but no general description of hair and eye color, that sort of thing--my take is that it isn't -always- necessary because a reader will form their own image to suit the personality).

I could be wrong about that point, they've certainly been writing seriously for longer than I, but it boils down to that old idea of 'take it with a grain of salt.' What works for other genres may not work for yours. Likewise, the way a group is set up may not work for you, but there are plenty online that writers can try out, too. This group generally works for me, as long as I stay on my toes, and then I have a few others to read the same chapters and see if I've overedited.

I get the feeling this isn't exactly what I originally planned to say about writing groups, but it's how I feel (hopefully, I've phrased it right, sometimes I don't and my ideas get all garbled), so I'll leave with the hope that you're writing more than I today.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

"You're in time for the show..."

* a line from "The Sharpest Lives" by My Chemical Romance

I do so love writing while listening to music. Maybe that's part of why the newest story has me stuck. This album was a big part of my process while writing the end of Book B, but I haven't found something new to help me switch gears to the new story. I just end up listening to one cd then another then another, never finding the right mood music. It's an interesting thing. I know not all people can write with a lot of noise, and I do tend to get distracted if I ca hear other people's televisions and their conversations, but the right music and my fingers fly across the keyboard.

So I shut down the computer yesterday thinking I'd work on new pages today. Buy the time I was lying in bed, I wanted to rewrite an older story. So I need to amend what I said yesterday. I am not entirely averse to rewriting. I don't like to if I've written three or more chapters, but about 20-40 pages and I'm okay with it. This one happens to be about 20 pages single-spaced, if I remember correctly. I started it not knowing where it was going to go, but I know the characters better now, and I have a firmer grasp on the plot, so I think a rewrite would benefit me and the story.

And then I wake up this morning and recall that it's Wednesday, so my sister and I meet up with a writer's group this evening. which means editing chapter 10 of Book B takes precedence, especially because it grabbed hold in my head and the choice in music helped it to usurp my concentration. So I'm doing that today, as well as working on my admissions material.

I'm trying to get into the English graduate program at my nearby college. They have a creative writing concentration. Mostly, I want to do it to work with some professors I really liked when I went there for my undergraduate years. I hope I get in. I'm using the first chapter of Book B for my writing sample.

...I'm done now. I guess I'll leave you with the last line of that song:

"And you can leave like the sane abandoned me."

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

My take on an interesting plot change

Over at DeepGenre, a blog about writing by various published authors, Kate Elliott has a post about story plots changing.

This has happened to me, as well. For me, I try with each new story to have a better grasp of the overarcing plot, and I try to be a few chapters ahead in terms of main actions and plot. In book C, that I was working on last night, I am on chapter 2, but I know where I'm going through the end of chapter 3. Well, that's the plan anyway. I've never been that great picking out a chapter break. But I have the next two or three big plot points. What occurs with me, though, is that, often in the course of my writing group, someone will ask a question that makes me rethink a point. I'll decide that the opening chapter needs to change, or a strong character trait needs to be rethought, which affects later behavior, or a motivation will reveal itself for a character who I knew had a motive, but I hadn't yet put it into words (that amorphous feeling of 'I know why he's doing this, but let me try to put it in concrete words'), which give me a new insight to earlier actions.

My response is to usually make a note of it in a journal specifically for notes about my stories (I have many many journals, I would use one per book/series, but I keep jotting notes on scraps of paper, too, so I don't think I'd fill the journals up and I hate a waste of paper /tangent). Sometimes on a hard copy with other edits, sometimes in bold on my computer file. Then I charge forward with the sense of 'remember that so and so is now X'. I would go back to the beginning, I think that's a fine choice for some people, and rewrite the opening with this new information incorporated into the plot, but I don't for a couple of reasons.

1. If it happened with one plot-point or one character, it can happen later with another. I start writing with an incomplete picture and that becomes better defined the more I write, so by the end of the first draft, I usually have a list of big changes and new scenes to add in the earlier chapters. Why go through the extra work of changing the whole beginning, only to have to do it again later?

2. I don't want to get bogged down in editing the first three chapters. I know those will be important when I query agents, as, if they like the query, most ask for a partial of the first three chapters. But if I get to chapter 3 or 4, see a new direction for the story and go back to page 1 to rewrite, then rewrite up to chapter 3 or 4 and find another big direction change, and return to chapter 1 again, I worry that I'll never finish the first draft.

I had a professor (with 7 or 8 published contemporary fiction novels, so I found him to be a reliable source) once tell me that finishing a first draft meant the book was now half-done. Because revisions and edits were equally as important as writing it for the first time. I was really happy when I finished the first draft of my first story (although it's simmering on the back burner now, waiting for a overhaul revision), but I knew it had a ways to go before I could send it to an agent. Even now, I figure that it won't be the first book I try to get published. But I have a sheet of paper with notes based on comments from my professors about what changes I could make. It wouldn't be done now if I didn't just sit at my computer and type.

Happy writing, all. And may your stories take interesting new directions.

Monday, January 1, 2007

Despite the absolutely horrid stomachache...

I want to get some writing done on the first day of the year. Seems like a good way to start things off, even if January 1st is four hours from being over). A couple of days ago, my computer shut down for no apparent reason (though I suspect it was because of how little space there is on my hard drive, or a memory issue). And, I've been in a bit of a writing slump lately, never able to write very much in the course of a day. But I've tried resorting to longhand, paper and pen, and ended up with about five sheets full of text. In the midst of transcribing that onto the Word document, my computer shuts down and restarts. I lost all that I had typed.

Upside, I still had the written version, so I could retype it. Downside, I didn't feel like retyping what I'd just typed, and ended up not writing for the rest of that day and the next.

I want to type up all that stuff now to start the year off with writing, like I said, and to hopefully pull myself out of this funk.

Over the summer, from the end of June until nearly the end of July, I didn't turn on a single computer. Didn't type one word, didn't check my email or my journal. Not even a game of solitaire on my desktop. I actually had at least one friend concerned because of my absence (as email, instant messaging and our online journals were the only way we really connected). I never want to do that again. I felt so unproductive that month, but I just couldn't bring myself to turn on the computer. So now if the mood hits me, I'll shut off the computer early, maybe even take a few days off, but I keep a pen and some folder paper near at hand and I'm never gone for longer than a week.

I guess I'm just hoping the act of turning on the computer is a step forward. Even if I only type a few hundred words that day (pretty bad for me, I can average 2,000 on a good day), it's better than nothing.

I never like reading those articles or receiving the advice to set up a daily word count or page count or time frame (write an hour a day or some such). I know it works for some people, but beyond a sense of 'I'd -like- to reach at least this many words' I try not to set a goal like that. Maybe it's from college--that desire to write a good enough essay on the first draft that it only needs minor revisions, so I take more time with writing it out--that I would rather have 200 words that equal a pretty good paragraph, than 2,000 that I'll just delete the next day anyway. That's ignoring the fact that with my novel-writing, I know there'll be a couple rounds of heavy editing anyway beyond the first draft.

Ah well. My stomachache is not well (possibly the rich dinner we had tonight, or the accumulation of rich dinners during all the recent holidays), but if I can just get through a few pages of retyping, I'll feel good (mentally at least).