Thursday, December 30, 2010


It's Alive! Alive!
Yesterday was a productive writing day, even though I didn't write as many words as I had initially hoped. I stopped to do some brainstorming, because I wasn't sure where I was going.

This is the drawback when you start over with a book you've started twice. You have in your mind the scenes you've already written, the scenes you planned to write but are now null in void, and the characters that no longer matter. You have the scenes that have made it across a three attempts, and the scenes you've yet to write, but at still making you shiver with delight.

(I feel the need for clarity. The "second" try was when I have a great idea about 25,000 words in, but it wasn't so radical that I had to chuck the previous words. I changed some names, and pretended with the future scenes I had written the beginning the same way. So that was Attempt 2. When the real whammy came 35,000 words in, the whammy that changed everything and simultaneously fixed ALL the plot problems I was having, it was partially because of this second attempt I decided to start over. Three different books grafted together, dropping one main character, and combining another seemed too confusing to pretend I got it right the first time.)

Starting over from scratch after you have two previous attempts under your belt is very confusing. Everything feels familiar, because you've been here before, but like you're working with the soul twin of the book. If your reasons for starting over were sufficient, then you've probably made major changes to the book events, the main characters, the setting. 

Here are some steps you might want to consider, in order to ensure you have the best first draft you can write, while making use of what you have written previously and allowing yourself to write something new and better.

1. Forget about the words that came before. 

At least at first. I know this is painful, but hear me out.

If you try to mine your previous attempts for good bits right away it become even more confusing (this was my personal experience anyway).

If you focus on dropping in scenes you wrote before, the book won't have the same rising action feel to it that you get during a first draft. Normally as you write the first draft, you're discovering characters, getting a feel for the world, and coming up with plot events. Adding in preexisting material and trying to force it to fit your current project is like trying to graft an extra arm on your torso, because the other guy wasn't using it anymore. 

Also, you might realize as I did, that your characterization is so tight (go me!) that you can't just take a scene and change the names. If you are doing your job, each character will have a individual way of speaking, gestures, and mannerisms. If you have a scene between the main antagonist and his second in command, only you've changed the second in command character, you can't just drop the different name into the scene. It won't read like him, and you're also denying yourself precious time to develop the new second in command's character.

So I decided to put away my first draft, and all notes I had relating to it. Don't delete it, but just put it in an new folder labeled "Early Attempts". If you're really going to start over, then start over.

2. Jot down some quick notes about your story. 

Instead of thinking you will remember all of the changes you have made between Attempt 1 and Attempt 2, and New First Draft, write down the changes you're making.

This is not an excuse to procrastinate and write out long notes about the story instead of writing the book, but you still want to record what's different. 

I also decided to write a page and a half of the story as it stood now. I had a clearer idea of the secondary characters, and the roles they would play, so I wrote that down as well. Treat this like a brand new book you're getting ready to write. Write the conflict and character motivation from memory, and then get to that first draft.

3. Do not beat yourself up for starting over.

This is tricky. It can feel like you've wasted time and energy with your previous attempts. It feels like you're spinning your tires in the mud. But you're not. You have a genuinely better idea and now you're starting over. You made the best decision for the book, now commit and get excited. Remind yourself that it could be worse. 

I only "lost" 35,000 words, but I've been at the end of the book before when I had a revelation that changed the rest of the book (at that point, I finished writing the first draft, but it was a helluva revision). So it can always, always, always be worse. Trust me.

I wish I could remember who, but a published authors blogged about having to start over with a book 50,000 words in because he was writing from the wrong viewpoint. Ouch. And this is while on a deadline.

Also, do not tell yourself you should have prevented this. It's very possible that those previous words were the scaffolding to you finding out the true nature of your book. 

I am actually not surprised I keep having new, better ideas. It's par for the course for me. I just normally do all of this "but what if this happened????" in preplanning. Also, consider that that as you go through this stage of honing your ideas, you're improving your book. You're not just sitting down and writing a story untested. You've thought things through. You've considered different angles. Your story will be stronger for it.

4. During revision, print out your first attempt and mine for goodies.

Remember how I said you're setting it aside? Now is the time to bring it back. Exactly when is a personal call. I am going to mine my first attempt after I am done with the first draft, but before I have let the book sit for a few weeks. This way the thoughts are fresh in my head, but not interfering with the new draft. At this stage though, I would only bother with scenes that you loved and want to put in the new first draft.

Word of Caution: It's tempting to rework your entire first attempt and try to cram it into your first draft, but you probably don't need all of those scenes. Just consider it valuable writing practice and let the dead horse die. 

Second Word of Caution: Remember that thing we talked about, where you can't just change the names and graft the scene onto the book? That rule still applies. Chances are, you're going to have to rewrite the scene from scratch. So really, really make sure that scene deserves to be there.

During revision, you can revisit the first attempt for a good sentence, or apt description. Highlight any pieces you like and make note of where they could fit.

There's also a chance that those good pieces won't fit your first draft, but you can always save them for later books. 

5. Resist the urge to throw a ton of brand new ideas into the book.

My muse is a little sadistic. She likes to toss awesome new ideas, of how I could make the book even BETTER at this stage. Especially during yesterday's brainstorming session, my muse took this as the perfect opportunity to show me the ways I could change the book even more!

But be vigilante. Not every new idea you have should be in the book. You want to stick with the same premise and idea, not try to cram every idea you ever had into the story.  Some of these new ideas will be helpful; I got to reintroduce a character I thought I was going to have to axe.

(Side Note: make your characters work for you. You owe them nothing. You are the director, they are the actors. This particular character was just dead weight in the first attempt so I fired her. She came back yesterday with a very convincing speech about what she could bring to the book, so I rehired her.)

But some of these ideas are like will-o-the-wisps trying to lead you astray. Resist! New ideas, or different spins on the same characters should add to the book. It should make it deeper, more richly layered. It should not confuse you, or wind up being the literary equivalent of the six year old who dresses herself and comes out with puce polka dots, yellow plaid, and a fedora.

These steps might not work for everyone, but it's at least something to consider when you find yourself on draft 1.5. 

And drop me a line and let me know how it turns out for you. I am still struggling through my own Frankenbook, so maybe you will have some ideas and advice I haven't thought of. This isn't a well covered topic of writing, because it either doesn't happen often (doubtful), or people just don't admit it when they have to toss out half a book because they finally figured out what they were trying to write about (closer to the truth I suspect).

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Bringing Balance to the Force

In the Star Wars universe the Jedi are worried about balance. It's part of the reason why Anakin Skywalker was trained (that, and survivor's guilt on Obi Wan's part. Just sayin'.) They thought he might be able to bring balance to the Force. 

(Short tangent: why exactly did they want to balance the force in the first place? I mean, balance was in their favor. There was way more good Jedi than bad ones. Ironically, Anakin Skywalker/ (SPOILER!) Darth Vader did bring balance to the Force. Just not the way ole' Yoda wanted him too)

I am discovering that like the Jedi, I must also bring balance to my writing life. I just got a bunch of really cool books on writing for Christmas. I am itching to read them cover to cover, and see what wisdoms they might impart upon my eager soul.

But no. If I start reading those books now I will a) be distracted from the actual writing of my book and b) I will start to analyze what I am writing too much.

I have recently discovered that I can't have all of the Internet and How to Writing book voices in my head, telling me what to do while I am writing. It seems counter intuitive , I know, but just hear me out.

I can't seem to write anything of real quality unless it's just me and the words. If I start thinking about the great blogpost I read about foreshadowing, I choke up. My Internal Editor comes out and start ripping apart the words I just wrote.

"That line is crap, there's not a single bit of foreshadowing." She says, in between drags of her cigarette. "In fact, everything you just wrote is terrible. Just delete the file and start over. Everyone knows that if you have the character think too much, it's boring."

Same thing goes for the social networking part of my brain. If I am spending a lot of energy being extroverted, and being a good little writer and writing long, insightful blog posts, updating my statuses (statusi?) on Facebook and Twitter, I am exhausted when it comes time to write. My creative energy has been spent elsewhere.

I don't remember it being this hard to maintain focus either. But then again, every other book I have ever written (three trunk manuscripts and countless false starts) were not written while I was also social networking.

Clearly it can be done. Writers do it everyday. And I am honestly glad that I live in a time where I can shoot a tweet over to one of my favorite authors and he actually tweets back. 

But in order to keep the secret writer part of yourself--that recluse that writes the book--and the social butterfly part of yourself balanced, you have to make a conscious effort. I finally realized that is what I was doing wrong. I was trying to do it all. I tried to maintain a strong Internet presence, read books in my spare time, and then write my heart out onto the page.

Shockingly, this didn't work out. The blog slipped. Then I focused on the blog and Internet presence, and the writing slipped. Both times I felt frustrated, like I was failing at being a writer. When I sat down to write I couldn't shut out all of the things I "should" be doing.

"Make sure there's conflict on every page. Make sure the characters are funny, and witty, and well motivated, and you show layers and complexity." Internal Editor said on her lofty perch. 

Finally, I just caved. I sat down and started to write, whatever it was I wanted to write. I told myself that I would just write for myself, like I used to. Forget my dreams of publishing, forget the Internet, forget everything else. 

The only thing that matter is the story. I wanted to tell myself a story, and I wanted to take it where ever I wanted to go. Forget about marketing and genres, I wanted to just fall in love with a story.

So I sat down and started to write.  I had a small plan, but nothing to speak of as far as outlines and development goes. I stumbled across an awesome idea about 30,000 words in, and implemented those changes. Wrote a few more scenes, and then found the real plot, the heart of the story. 

I then proceeded to chuck the 35,000 words I had previously, and started over. Some of you might be screaming at this point, but I assure you it was necessary. I took the two main characters and made them one. I added a new antagonist, and changed the way the character comes to the inciting incident completely. Normally I just pretend I got it right the first time, and create Frankenbook!

But the changes were so radical, I thought it would be easier to just start over. I wasn't wrong, and the good news is those previous words aren't all wasted. I have a strong feel for the character and the setting as a result.

I suspect if this happened even a month ago, I would be panicking. "Oh noes!!!!!! I just had to toss 35,000 words! I should have prevented this! To the thirty page outlines!"

But now? Cool as a cucumber. Sure, I wish I had thought of this sooner, and thus saved those words, but I am aiming for a story to tell myself. Right now, it's just for me.  I am really starting to believe that the first draft is for the author, and the revision is for the reader. 

I am placing less pressure on myself. Strangely enough, the less pressure I place on myself to produce something "PERFECT", the better off my writing seems to be. And after I am done with this story, I will revise. Because I am a writer and that's what we do. We write books and then we revise them. Hopefully this book will be something that can be published, but that's not what I am thinking about right now. Right now I am working on writing the best damn book I can. 

I almost lost my cool a few weeks ago. I subscribe to the newsletter from Nelson Literary Agency, and in this issue, one-of-my-dream-agents Agent Kristen said that steampunk was hot. I did a happy dance: my secret heart book is very steampunk. Yay! Steampunk is hard to market but there seems to be a trend! Squeeee!

Then came the pressure. "Okay, so I would never try to write to a trend because that's a fool's game, but if I finish this book in two weeks and revise it in--" I had to stop myself. I was thinking about the book. I was no longer inside it, where the book lives. I can't think about the marketing, or even revision while I am in the middle of writing a book. I've tried to, but it just doesn't work.

It all comes down to balance. There is a balance to everything. There is a time for writing the book like your hands are on fire, and there is a time to cool down and study the prose on the page. Right now I am just focusing on writing a book, and nothing else. It can't be about anything else, because there is no editing and marketing without the book.

How did you guys deal with the pressures of publication and revision? How have you had to adapt your writing style now that you're "plugged in" to the Internet and the blogosphere?

Monday, December 27, 2010

I Prefer to Think of Myself as Pre-Published

I had a wonderful holiday, and I hope everyone else did as well. The only thing that makes me slightly sad is Christmas just feels...different now that I am an adult.

Does anyone else know what I am talking about?

When I was younger, Christmas seemed like a magical time. I know "magical time" sounds like a cliche, but it really truly did. There was something special about waking up on Christmas morning to find presents underneath the tree. In my family, Mom and Dad started a "tradition" of barricading the living room off with a ribbon so we would stay out of the presents before they woke up. For some reason this worked, even though we could easily crawl under the ribbon. Each year we took turns cutting the ribbon.

We also open presents one at a time. We watch what the rest of the family got for Christmas. It's maddening, but fun, and dragged out the "opening the presents" time. 

One year we convinced our parents to let us just tear into the presents, like most of our friends do. Christmas was a bust that year, I am sorry to report. It was over in like, three seconds. There was a small cloud of wrapping paper and tinsel, and we didn't see the dog for a long time. And when it was over, we felt somewhat disappointed. The presents were great, but now Christmas was over. 

We never opened presents like that again, not even now as adults.

I think the difference is now as an adult, I can mostly buy what I want. I have this thing called a job that lets me buy stuff after I am done doing boring things with my money like pay bills. As a child, twenty dollars is a lot of money. Christmas is like...well, Christmas. You get all kinds of stuff. Granted, I do received gifts that I wouldn't have bought myself but still. 

Now, as an old fogey, I like watching people open presents from me. I like to see how excited they are, and if I guessed correctly. I suspect there will be even more excitement when I have children and I can watch them open their presents. 

But I don't mean to complain. Christmas was great, and I got all sorts of stuff. My Mom even bought me these two awesome shirts from Cafe Press. I really like this writing shirt, and think I might have to buy myself a birthday present.

Oh what's that you say? Yes, in a week it will be my birthday. My poor, poor family doesn't get a holiday/special occasion break until February. November is Thanksgiving, a week before Christmas is my little brother's birthday, a week after Christmas is my twin brother's and I's birthday, and at the end of January is my sister in law and my dad's birthday. Also, my best friend's birthday. So yeah. That's a lot of birthdays.

Christmas fell on a Saturday this year, so I had it off, and Sunday is my normal day off, so it was pretty nice to have two days off in a row. I did some cooking, and watched Batman Begins and the Dark Knight yesterday with my husband. I tried a new recipe, and it turned out very tasty.  It's called Bigos, or Hunter's Stew in English, and is meat stewed with sauerkraut and cabbage, mushrooms, and onions. There's tons of different recipes for it, and I look forward to tweaking it to our tastes. The best part? It tastes even better the next day.

I used this recipe, but I didn't add the peppercorns or allspice berries, because I loathe peppercorn and couldn't find any allspice berries. I also added onions, because well, you can never have too many onions. My coworkers enjoyed it, and since one of them is from Poland, where this dish originates, I considered it a success. 

I also worked on my book yesterday. I am really enjoying working at this pace. I had a lot of time at work to think about what's going to happen next, and as soon as I finish this blog post, I will be off to Bookland. I still feel like I am groping around in the dark, but after two false starts I finally feel like I am on the right path. Writing is fun again, which has been absent lately, and I am glad to find my groove again. 

In short, life is spectacular. 

How did everyone's holidays go? Any amazing gifts? Discoveries?

P.S. It snowed on Christmas! At six o'clock at night, but still! I made a tiny snowman! You can still see the grass through the snow, but still. There was real snow!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Holidays!!

I just wanted to come up from my writing bubble to say happy holidays to everyone. No matter what holiday you celebrate, as the year closes I hope all of you have a great time.

Oh, and watch out for that egg nog. It will sneak up on you. 

Friday, December 17, 2010

Entering the Bubble

I have entered the "I am in the middle of writing a book" bubble.

The real world feels slightly surreal because I have been living in WIP land for a while. It takes me longer to process what people are telling me. 

Normally while writing a book I turn into a hermit, and refrain from reading, interneting (yes I just made that verb up), and doing anything else with other words. It's not that I think it will kill the book mojo, it's just that I usually don't want to process other people's words while I am thinking of my own.

BUT! I have a blog and Internet friends to maintain. And sometimes it's good to come up for air.

So while I don't have a post fraught with witticisms for you today, I do have this lovely post by Janice Hardy. It's a little test to see if you're too nice to your characters. It made me laugh out loud. If you've never read her blog, I seriously recommend it.

How do you handle real life while you write? Do you sequester yourself into a dark cave? Or do you carry on business as usual?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


What's that? Yes, I did make up a new word for my writing process thank you very much. Actually, Joe Selby first mentioned it, but I changed the spelling a bit. 

It's a hybrid of plotting and pansting. I know, it sounds like I am being overly nit picky. After all, any amount of plotting should place me in the plotting camp right?

Not exactly. Most of the time when you plot the book out you have detailed character bios, extensive worldbuilding, and ten or more plot events. You know the minor subplots and how the character gets not just from Point A to Point Z, but from B, C, D, and E. 

You have a plan, in other words.

On the other side of the camp are your pansters. They might have a vague idea about characters, and what the plot might possibly be about, and where it could be set, but they might not really have a clue either. They make it up as they go along.

I am sitting somewhere in the middle. I have a little background information, more so than most pansters have, but I have no idea how my characters are going to get from one point to another. As I stated in a previous post, I mostly write until I don't know what happens, and then I brainstorm what could happen based on what I just wrote.

It's interesting to write this way, but it's a lot messier than I am used to.  Overall I think it's working very well, and I will probably use this method in the future. The only bad thing about it is when you get a great idea for the plot, but it completely rearranges what you've already written.

In which case you can normally just pretend that's how the book was already written and fix it in revision. This time however changed two of the character's roles and jobs, so I went back and wrote some opening scenes to get a feel for the characters. 

I could blame that on not plotting things out ahead of time, but it wouldn't be true. I've had the book perfectly plotted but when I got to the end, the antagonist did something that completely changed everything that came before. That was an instance I did pretend that's how I always meant for it to happen and just moved forward. 

So how are your books coming along? Well? Train wrecks have looked better? Are you all ready for the holidays?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Why Do We Read?

There was a tweet going around the other day that asked, "Why do we read?"

And I thought about why. For days, actually. Because reading was sort of a knee jerk reaction for me. I can't remember a time I wasn't reading.  My mom is a voracious reader too, so there were certainly books lying around the house. But I don't ever remember making the conscious decision to read. I just always did.

I remember spending most of my free time at the library, reading every single children's book they had, and moving on to Young Adult. I tore through the Babysitter's Club, and the Boxcar Children, and the Little House on the Prairie series. 

Still, I wanted more. By then the librarian Mrs. Crookshank, the apotheosis of all librarians ever with her glasses and fuzzy gray hair, knew me well. It got to the point where I would just start at one end of the shelf and move through forward, reading each book at a time (Boy was I shocked when I got to William Golding's Lord of the Flies in sixth grade. Talk about your wake up call!)

I can still remember the day I discovered Roald Dahl. Man, those are some good books. "The Story of Henry Sugar and Six More", "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory", "Matilda", "James and the Giant Peach", and the "Witches" just to name a few. I still love those books. If you could point to one event and say that's why you are the way you are now I think Dahl's books are what sparked my interest in fantasy.

His stories have a fairy tale element, mixed in with real life. I found myself wanting to go on the adventures that his characters did. I wanted to have special mind powers like Matilda and Henry Sugar.

I kept reading. In books I found not a new world, but a world that felt real. I think it's part of the human condition that we don't often get to reflect on our own life. We are in the middle of experiencing it, so rarely do we have an out of body experience and think, "This is my life, and I am the person that is living it." If that sounds strange, is it. I have had a few moments where I stepped outside of myself (not like astral projection or Out of Body Experiences) and it does feel strange.

But when you read a book you get to experience someone's life for them, but with the benefit of this awareness. You are aware of this person's life. Even as you loss yourself in the story world, there still comes a sense of actively experiencing something. 

Reading is a cathartic experience for me. I always feel cleansed and whole after reading a good book. Some books are so good they stay will you, they come inside you and take up permanent residence. "She's Come Undone" by Wally Lamb is a book that lives inside of me. I still think about passages from the book, even though it was at least seven years ago that I first read it. Roald Dahl's books live inside me, and so do Stephan King's, and Jim Butcher's, and so many others. It's wonderful to be filled up by all these other lives. 

I think it's part of our nature to feel alone. Even when we are surrounded by friends and loved ones, we are still alone. I don't mean that to sound depressing, but as a reflection on how we feel. You are the only person (hopefully) inside your head. Even your closest friend doesn't know exactly what is going on in your mind. Why you think the way you do; why you feel the way you do. Only you can ever know exactly what you are feeling and thinking. 

And unless you read, you can't know what other people are thinking and feeling.

One of the most profound experiences I have ever had was while I was in massage therapy school. Some of you may know that my day job is as a massage therapist. I received an excellent education on anatomy and physiology, and neuromuscular therapy techniques, but we also had a few classes on the profession of...well...touching people. My best friend who is a nurse confirms she had similar "etiquette" classes on the fact that you would be spending your day touching complete strangers. 

I am not talking about just refraining from the inappropriate touching either, so get your minds out of the gutter. I mean the psychology of it. It's invasive, to go to the doctor. You don't know this dude, and here he is, putting his hands on your throat and asking you to say "ahh". And that is the least personal he could possibly get with you.

So in this first class the instructor told us to go around to each of our classmates, put our hands on their shoulders, look them directly in the eye and say, "I see you in there. I know who you are. I'm not going to hurt you."

That was intense. This class was within the first week of school. Naturally, there was a lot of giggling and jokes made about the exercise because we were all really uncomfortable, and felt silly. But it was still profound. If you ever want to feel vulnerable--like, stripped naked on live television dancing the cha cha while confessing you're in love with someone vulnerable--just look a complete stranger right in the eyes (and watch them back away from you because you're subtly invading their personal space. Isn't psychology fun, kids?). You feel like they are looking right inside you.

I read because I feel like I am looking right inside the characters, and they in turn, are looking inside of me.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

New Year's Eve Resolutions (In December)

I was going to participate in The Rejectionist's early resolutions uncontest, but I was busy freaking out over losing my book, moving, and working.

But I still want to make some resolutions! I like to have goals; goals are good. Goals force you out of bed in the morning when you feel like just laying around until it's time to go to sleep again.

So here are my goals. I have specifically made some of them impossibly hard, so when I make REAL New Year's Eve Resolutions, I will feel more confident about my abilities to actually achieve lesser goals.

The purpose of these goals are to do these through the month of December. Then when January rolls around, I will revise my goals accordingly. Think of this as a trial run.

1. Finish my current WIP.
And then revise it, and send it off for querying. Before January 1st.
(the GOOD news is that I am loving my current WIP! Even though it's scary to not have a good idea where I am going! I wrote 6,754 words yesterday! Huzzah!)

2. Memorize every single rule for grammar ever.

3. I will FINISH UNPACKING. I have three or four boxes left, that are filled with random stuff it's hard to find a place for.
4. I will write for twelve hours every single day.

5. I will go through every single one of my old binders from high school. I wrote longhand in high school before I got my own computer, and I have been meaning to transcribe and get ride of them for YEARS now.

6. I will go to bed at a reasonable hour and get up at a reasonable hour. I will use this extra time to write.

7. I will write a query letter that will make agents weep for joy. 
8. I will read Kristin Nelson's ENTIRE backlog.

9. I will update my agent list, as it's been a couple of months since I have obcessed over looked at it. I will add a thousand new agents to the list.

10. I will worldbuild three completely brand new planets in anticipation of all of the novels I plan to write there. They each will have complete ecologies, a thousand years of history, and multiple cultures with each country completely fleshed out. I will know the density and gravitational constant of each planet. I will then brainstorm ways to get those numbers into the books without it being obtrusive.

11. I will go through my clothing and get rid of those old shirts I never wear anymore.

12. I will buy my domain name! And then make a website! Even though I don't know HTML at all! My website will be a work of breathtaking beauty that will make the Internets weep for joy.

And those, ladies and germs, are my December Resolutions. There's an element of truth in all of them, but I certainly don't expect to do all of that in a month. Maybe two.

What about you? Have you thought about making New Year's Resolutions?

Monday, December 6, 2010

A New Beginning

For those of you who missed my Saturday post, I will recap.

I scrapped the book I was working on and started another one. Yep. It was painful, but necessary.

Yesterday I wrote most of the day, and have a sizable word count for the story: 11, 7oo words. I am happy with my progress, but now I have reached the point where I am not sure what happens next.

After so many failed starts on books this year, I did some light pre-writing planning on this WIP for a couple of days, and just dived into writing. At this point, I just want to write a book. I missing writing a book, and it was very depressing each time something derailed the others. So I have started this book while the premise and few events I have in mind are still white hot in my mind.

This has lead to a hybrid between pantsing (writing by the seat of my pants) and plotting. I haven't quite plotting enough for me to consider the book "plotted." I have a rough idea for the beginnning, and a rough idea for the end, and one or two scene ideas in the middle, but that's it.

I have about ten pages of notes on the characters, the conflict, the themes, and worldbuilding, but this is nothing compared to the planning I usually do. Especially that big gap in the middle of my scrawny outline.

Yesterday's writing was mostly effortless. I knew how to start things off, and I knew where I was headed. I had a good feel for the world and the characters. But now I am at the point where I don't know what happens next. And a tiny voice in my head started to panic, until I threw it some chocolate.

I do know what I think will be the ending, so now I am just trying to get from here to there by asking myself some questions and doing some light brainstorming.

Just in case there's anyone else out there who is trying something new or just plain stuck here are some good questions to kick start the plot:

*What is the worst thing that could happen next?

I listed some silly things, like "a swarm of bees attacks everyone and they all die." just because I was pleased my Muse was tossing ideas out at all. I actually came up with some pretty good ones that I will use later.

*What is the best thing that could happen next?

I had less ideas for this one. Generally I am trying to make my characters miserable, not happy. But happy is good, just to make the awful stuff more awful. ;)

After I had a good pool of possible events, I thought about how the characters would respond to these events, and how that would effect the world in turn. There should be a certain amount of pull-push between the characters, the plot, and the world.

It still feels really strange, this new writing process. I feel like I am in a dark room, and groping around for the light switch. But I am trying not to panic, and just focus on the next scene.  In addition to being a logical outcome of what has come before, and something that advances the plot and character development, I am making sure it's a scene that I WANT to write. No filler scenes that are "necessary". If the scene is boring me to write, it's going to bore the reader to read it. 

Chocolate is also helping. I am really happy with this new WIP. I feel like I am finally on the right track, and I am writing about something that is coming from my heart. 

Has anyone else tried a totally different writing process for a book? How did that turn out? How did you get over that incredibly uncomfortable feeling?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Success of Our Failures

After much debate, I am have decided to break an unspoken rule amongst blogging writers and make a confession. I decided that it would be better to share my tale of woe with the blogosphere and hopefully help some poor struggling writer, then to put on a happy face and pretend everything is okay.

I did win NaNo with my WIP, but I had to stop just afterwards because of moving. For a week and a half, the book sat on my hard drive unopened. During that time I didn't think about the characters, or the plot, or the conflict.

When I reopened the file, I had zero interest in the book. At first I thought it might be fatigue, but after reading through what I wrote, I realized there was something very wrong.

Remember how we talked about listening to your gut instincts? This is where it's imperative to have those instincts honed. You can't listen to your self doubt or that nagging voice that says you're no good. But if you feel like something is wrong in the pit of your stomach, then maybe something is.

Upon closer inspection I realized I didn't have enough sharp conflict, the main characters weren't the most interesting ones in the book, didn't have the most to lose or gain, and a slew of other major problems. Ouch. Some writers would just keep writing anyway, telling themselves they will fix it in revision, and maybe that works for them. But I couldn't continue, know there was so much fundamentally wrong with the book. 

I still love the premise. I still love the setting. I still love the characters. But I need to reimagine the story, and in order to be able to do that, I need some distance from the story.

So I set it aside.

It's incredibly hard to say that. It's like a golden rule of writers. You start a book, you finish a book. Period. It's supposed to be bad for your career if you admit you switched projects. "Agents will think you're a bad writer. They will think you never finish anything." 

That might be true. I hope it's not. I hope it's considered better for me to do what is best for the book and not adhere to some nebulous guidelines about writing. I haven't stopped writing; I am working on a new book right now. 

But it's hard to admit when the book throws you off track. It feels like you've failed. I've learned a lot from this manuscript, and when I return to it in a few months, I will be able to make it even better. But the sad truth for writers is the only tangible proof of our labors is a written novel. Preferably finished and edited too. Anything short of that, and it seems like you're not doing your job. You're not taking your writing seriously. You're failing as a writer.

In some ways, I do feel like a failure. This year was very hard on me. I didn't accomplish everything I wanted to. I wanted to have a finished book, edited and starting to query. I wanted to blog on a very regular basis. I wanted to take care of some things in my personal life. I didn't accomplish any of those things.

It's depressing. I had a love affair with a tub of chocolate peanut butter ice cream for a little while, I'm not going to lie.

But then I look at what I have accomplished this year. I have taken three classes on writing, and attended one seminar on the craft of writing. I have read over fifteen books on the craft of writing, and over fifty (or higher, I loose count) fiction books for fun. I have gotten married and moved twice in four months.

I have revised one book, and made the hard decision it wasn't good enough to be published short of a complete rewrite. I have started three books. I haven't finished any of them, this last WIP being my latest "failure". I have blogged on a semi regular basis, and have some really great people as followers, even if I don't have 5,000 of them. I have studied and learned about the publishing and querying process. I follow writer and agent blogs on a regular basis to keep myself current with the publishing world.

In my ice cream haze, I realized that you can't just measure your success as a writer by the number of books you churn out. We talk about not measuring success by "not published" or "published", but I've learned you need to take that a step further. You need to analyze everything else you've done, everything else you've learned. I didn't finish three books, but each time I learned something about my writing process. What not to do is the hardest lesson to learn, but it's also the most valuable.

Especially this last time, I could really notice the difference in my skill as a writer now, than the writer I was at the start of this year. There will be some growing pains, which seems to be what I am experiencing. I feel like I am reinventing my entire writing process. I've learned so much about querying and agents and publishing, but I have to put 90% of that out of my head while writing a book or I will choke up on all of the "You have to have ____ in your book."

I am training myself to write with purpose, but also with deep love and passion. I am taking things slow with this new WIP, and trying desperately to forget about the other three unfinished books I have on the hard drive. 

I hope my confession has helped any of you out there struggling like I am. Know that you're not alone, that writers go through ups and down. It feels like you're all alone when the book implodes and you have to switch gears or totally rework it. It feels like you're a big, fat failure.

But you're not. It happens. A write will learn from their mistakes, move on, and write another book.

I appreciate every single one of my followers, and any one else that happens across this post. Thank you for letting me share my failures, as well as my successes.

Has this happened to any of you? How you do measure your success or failure?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

And Now A Word from Our Sponsers

Just kidding. Rachelle Gardner really isn't my sponsor. She's an agent who has a fabulous blog geared towards publishing and writers. Her advice is sagely no matter if you're just starting to think about maybe writing a book, or you've been in the game for years.

I was trying to think of a really great way to say that every writer is different, and you should figure out what is the best course of action for you, but then I read Ms. Gardner's blog post today, and it seems she's already said it for me, only better. ;)

So, go forth and read her post. It really resonated with me today, and it might help you too.

Monday, November 29, 2010


I am pretty sure after Thanksgiving, no one wants to talk about food. But since I am sitting here thinking about food, I thought I would make a post about the wonders of food. 

If you're anything like me, you love food. I enjoy food in most forms, and there's very little that I don't like. Even food I don't care for I could eat if I had to. And I am not talking about "I am starving and I don't want to turn into a soccer team stuck in the Andes" if I had to. I mean, if it was polite, or that's what was prepared. I actually lived with some roommates who had radically different ideas on what constituted as food than I did, and I survived (for example, hotdogs cut up into macaroni and cheese is not something I would voluntarily eat, but if that's what was made for dinner, I choked it down).

If you think about it, people have very different ideas about what sort of food they should be eating. Lucky for my writing, I've lived with several different types of eaters, from the "I will eat anything that doesn't run away fast enough" to "I will only eat these five meals, and that's it." While it can be annoying to deal with these people in real life, in fiction this is a golden opportunity. You can tell us so much about the setting, the character, and connect the reader to the character with the simple mention of food.

You don't have to make the entire book about the character's quest for chocolate (or a Twinkie, like in Zombieland) but food is a really great way to sneak some worldbuilding in. Especially for fantasy and science fiction writers, the sort of food the character eats tells us about the setting without you having the character make awkward conversation like, "Boy, I sure am glad that we live in a subtropical climate!" 

Instead, you mention the character eating mangoes, coconuts, kiwi, and using banana leaves for a plate.  Sure, those fruits can be imported, but if you're writing a low-tec setting it's obvious between the food and the mention of balmy weather the character is living somewhere tropical. Even if they aren't imported, if you make that type of cuisine part of the character's normal diet, it will be assumed that's what's readily available.

It's not that readers have the exact origin of every food memorized, but people have certain connotations with food. Like smell, taste is directly connected to your limbic system. Your limbic system is why you associate taste and smell with certain memories and people. If Grandma spent her days making cookies in the kitchen, then you normally associate the scent of baking with happier, childhood times. 

Everyone's memories of food and smell are different, so you're not guaranteed to make the reader feel at home just because you mention the kitchen smelled like warm cookies, or the character took a bite out of a warm, gooey chocolate chip cookie. Maybe one of the reader's Grandma was a terror, so now they break out into cold sweats every time they smell chocolate chip cookies. 

But by paying attention to the type of food your character is eating, you can strike a very visceral connection between your main character and the reader. You shouldn't flood your pages with detailed instruction on how to make pie, or mention every morsel that passes through the lips of your character, but a reference here and there of what they are eating can be a very subtle, yet effective way to bring the reader into the character's head.

One piece of pie at a time.   

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Tired Yet Content

I am still alive, and now I am moved into my new apartment. Huzzah!

My husband came home at five in the morning on Thanksgiving and we've been going non-stop to family dinners and to the store for all the little things you forget you need until you need them.

I literally have been running around every day this past week. I moved on Sunday, and then spent Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday unpacking and getting groceries. I have this thing about bare shelves. It makes me panicky, and I always feel like I am about to starve. Which is not true, of course, but my brain doesn't seem to comprehend. So I made sure to stock up food on Monday. Three hours in the grocery store the week of Thanksgiving=lots of cranky people.  Today is the first day I could really slow done and catch my breath, and I am about to go back to work.

In short, I am tired. Mentally and physically. It takes a lot to move a household, however small, and then we had two different family dinners to attend, plus going to the store for stuff. My writing has suffered as a consequence, but this is one of those instances where you really have to look at your priorities. And family time on Thanksgiving is one of the few things that trumps my writing time. I'm really lucky to have such a great husband and apartment, but I will be SO glad when our lives slow down to something like a routine. Tomorrow should kick our routine off, since my husband starts his new job. 

So I thought I would drop you all a line, and let you know that my blogging will now return to it's normal schedule as of this week. 

How was everyone's holiday? Did you all travel, or stay home?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Critical Writing Skills: Check Your Gut

Today, amidst the panic of Week Two for NaNo, I am going to blog about a topic that is important to all writers.

I usually refer to it as a "gut feeling" but I've heard it called listening to your Muse, or following your intuition. Whatever you call it, every writer has it.

Your gut feeling is there from the entire process of having an idea to editing. You just "know" things about your book, that can't be explained. Certain things just seem right and wrong. If someone were to tell you to make your main character a squid, you would feel in your gut that your main character isn't supposed to be a squid; she's a human girl.

Sometimes the choices you make for your book are logical ones. The setting is often a logical choice depending on your conflict. If you want to write a high seas adventure, then writing aboard a ship on the ocean is a logical choice.

But sometimes we make choices for our novel that are neither logical nor based on novel-intuition. They are just assumptions we make when we develop the idea. Sometimes these assumptions are fine, but if you haven't sufficiently thought through these assumptions they can cause real problems, the very least of which becoming parts of your book that sort of bore you.

I was in that place two days ago. I was feeling restless and bored. My gut was telling me something was seriously off. Not a good place while trying to write. In the past, I just wrote past those feelings, and had some serious issues to work through in revision. Normally those feelings crop up when I have something fundamental off about the book. So despite the pressure to continue, I stopped and took inventory of what I had so far. 

Taking inventory really isn't such a bad thing while writing a novel. Sometimes mid-novel your idea of the characters or plot or setting changes. You can either panic and run around the room (did that) or you can sit down and brainstorm all the elements of the novel you love, and how to incorporate them into your novel better (did that). My gut was telling me something was off. It was my job to figure out what.

How did I do that?

I questioned everything. Not just half halfheartedly going through the characters, plot, and setting, assuming everything is okay. You can't expect the problem to just jump out at you. If it was that obvious you would have fixed it already, right? 

Your problem will normally be something you didn't stop to consider when you were plotting your novel (or just threw out there, for you pantsers). 

I even went so far as to consider throwing out my conflict. Yes, ladies and gentleman, 21,ooo thousand words in and I actually considered throwing out my conflict. I just wasn't sure anymore that the conflict fit what I really wanted to write. When I first thought of the book idea I am writing now, the characters and plot were much different. Sometimes it's hard to let go of how things used to be. So I sat there, with my list of notes of elements that I loved about my book, and figured out how to best showcase that.

Turns out the conflict is still the best choice. But if I had thought of a better one I would have changed it in a New York Minute. I just needed to refocus the conflict so I am writing the scenes I actually care about, and not where the conflict was taking me initially.

Next I checked my characters. I talked with my friend Lena, and discovered while there was plenty of interaction between my two female main characters and their possible love interests, there was little to none between the two main characters. It gave the story a disjointed feeling, like I was writing two mini books. This fix was pretty easy. I didn't have to change the characters, just add some history in their backstory. 

This time around I lucked out, and most of the fixes I made were minor in nature. My plot, setting, and characters are still mostly intact, only now I am writing scenes with life in them.

Learning to listen to your novel-intuition is not for the faint-hearted. You have to be very careful--and confident--that it's actually your gut feeling telling you something is off about the novel, and it's not your self-doubt trying to sabotage you. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices when you realize what the problem is. If I had realized the conflict didn't fit the story I wanted to tell, I would have had a lot of work ahead of me.

For those of you who haven't made a radical change in your story mid-novel before, the technique is called Pretend You Got It Right the First Time. For example, I wrote a book where a villain threatened to release a DVD of people who were pretending to be normal humans changing into werewolves. I never actually planned on him releasing the DVD (I know, rookie mistake) but I got to the point in the novel where I realize there was no good reason (other than it totally destroyed the rest of my plot) that he WOULDN'T release the DVD. So he did. In this case, you DON'T throw away what you've already written and start over. You'll never finish a book that way. You just keep writing as though this is how it's been all along. Then in revision, you make the necessary changes to the earlier scenes.

Sometimes you DO have to chuck what you've already written. If I had decided the main characters needs a complete overhaul, the setting had to go, and the conflict was crappy, I might have tossed what I had already written. But you should make sure that's what you HAVE to do, and not your self-doubt talking. Your job as a writer is to finish this book, come hell or high water. 

Learning to listen to what your gut is telling you is, I believe, a vital skill as a writer. It's what will tell you during revision what is important to you, and what you can toss. It will tell you mid-novel that something is rotten in the state of Denmark, and then help you figure out what is stinking up your novel so you can go back to being brilliant. Before making any radical changes though, I suggest you talk with some trusted writer friends who have experiences similar to yours, and for the love of all that is holy, back up your current WIP just in case your self-doubt sucker punches you. 

You all might think I am raving mad, talking about listening to your gut. I just know it's been an invaluable tool for me. And in this case, it saved my novel.

I hope everyone is doing okay during NaNo. Slow and steady wins the race!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

How's It Going?

Excellent, thanks for asking. But I really mean all of you. How are you doing? A lack of relabable Internet connection has prevented me from blogging or even surfing the Internet lately.

I hear all of you gasp in horror. I know, I know. It's been like living in the Stone Ages or something. I wondered if I rubbed two wires together, that the Internets would come back (btw, it didn't work). 

But never fear, they cannot keep me down! I will spread my cheer and love for writing and books even if I have to hold up a McDonald's just to use their WiFi. I feel sorry for my co-workers, since I've been talking to THEM about what I usually blog about. They are not amused by such conversations:

"Did you know that Nathan Bransford retired as an agent??? I know, the travesty!"

"Keeping your chapters around 2,000 words makes your pacing even."

"How do you balance your other priorities without letting your writing suffer?"

And so on. 

Meanwhile, the WIP is coming very slowly. I have to remind myself to be patient. I am used to writing much more quickly, but in an effect to avoid over planning, there are still lots of things I don't know about the book. It's a little like jumping into shark-infested waters with only a knife, but I am still alive so far.

In other awesome news, I will be moving in two weeks. My husband will be back from training, and we will have an apartment together. I am virtually bouncing with excitement. 

Yep, November's turning out to be a busy month.

What do you when there's other priorities that get in the way of your writing? How do you carve out the time? Threats or bribes?

How is everyone doing in NaNo land? It's still the first week, so spirits should still be high.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Blogest: A Very Merry Halloween

“What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow 
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,  
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only 
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats, 
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief, 
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only 
There is shadow under this red rock
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock), 
And I will show you something different from either 
Your shadow at morning striding behind you 
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you; 
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”
                                                                                    T.S. Eliot, The Waste Lands

“Let’s talk, you and I. Let’s talk about fear.
            The house is empty as I write this; a cold February rain is falling outside. It’s night. Sometimes when the wind blows the way it’s blowing now we lose the power, we lose the power. But for now it’s on, and so let’s talk very honestly about fear. Let’s talk very rationally about moving to the rim of madness…and perhaps over the edge.”
                                                                        Stephen King, Forward in Night Shift

For the Halloween blogfest, I thought I would talk to you about fear and wonder. I think there is an essence of emotion behind every genre. I think that is actually why books are grouped by genre…not just to make sure the Science Fiction and Fantasy cooties don’t get on the other books, but so readers can find a book based on what emotion they want to experience.

Even though I don’t write horror fiction, I still try to take a page from Stephan King’s book and capture that essence of emotion. This core emotion is different depending on your genre. For horror writers, it’s fear. When you read a book by Stephen King, he’s talking to you about fear. He’s showing you where it lives, and where to touch the body lying on the table. He’s showing you death.

When you read a book in fantasy, it’s about wonder. It might be cold wonder, or horrific wonder, or resigned wonder depending on the flavor of the book, but fantasy boils down to wonder. Look at THIS, Tolkien or Jim Butcher or George R. R. Martin tells you. See what new and different things we have here…let’s explore shall we? A fantasy author shows you where wonder lives. Depending on the subgenre, wonder might live in the sewer and quickly turn to dread, but fantasy is about trying to know the unknown. My favorite part about fantasy is when you get to the end you discover that are actually aspects you DO know about this unknown thing, and thus you have cyclically ended up in your own backyard.

My suggestion for you this Halloween is to try to identify what core emotion you are writing about, whether it’s the fear of horror or the wonder of fantasy, or the mystery of mystery. There must be some reason you’re writing. There must be some driving passion that is pushing you forward through the long nights and heartbreaking days. Writing is an obsession that most of us will pursue until the day we die, without any guarantee that we will ever get outside validation.

I personally believe that writers are simply born with the desire; that it’s part of who we are. Every day I spent on the Internet and read countless aspiring author blogs, marveling at how many of us there are, is proof enough for me. We’re writing because it’s what we do. It’s who we are. But I feel like you will be much happier and content with yourself as a writer if you have some thoughts and conversations with yourself about why you write what you write.

Be honest, because there’s no shame in writing any genre. When you’re figuring out why you’re drawn to steamy romance novels, shame should not enter into the equation. Plenty of strangers will try to make you feel weird for writing what you’re writing, whether it’s Young Adult, literary fiction, or fantasy, so make sure the Shame Train stops with them.

It is my belief that when you have a better understanding of your subconscious, you will have a better compass to guide you. Just like having a clear idea of where you stand on Right and Wrong and whether or not there’s a God gives you an easier time navigating the curve balls life throws you, I think having a clear idea of the figments of emotions you are pursuing gives you an easier time holding on. To your book, to your conviction that you will be published, to your certainty that you won’t run out of idea, that upon publication you won’t turn into the laughingstock of the entire world. If you have the idea that you’re writing to find fear, or because you’re in awe of the sky, or because injustice is burning within you, it will act as your compass through the book and your career.

Each book is written with different emotions in mind, but I think there’s an even more elusive concrete reason behind it all. The man behind the curtain, if you will. I think that there’s a reason behind my urge to write, a reason I am not entirely aware of. It’s always been there, so I can’t blame it on external events, even though my life has help shape me into who I am. I think at the core of every writer exists a reason behind your drive. We’re all driving towards something with no visible gain, no sure-fire benefit. We all must share some need in common that writing fulfills.

For me, the urge to write has something to do with the combination of the catharsis I feel when I express words on paper, and my incessant curiosity. I need to know why. It was my favorite question as a kid, and sometimes I feel like books are an elaborate form of asking: If this happened, under these circumstances, to this set of people, what would happen, and why?

Or maybe I am just chasing butterflies, and trying to know the unknowable. Ahh, the curse of a fantasy writer.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Bad Boys (Whatcha Gonna Do When They Come For You)

In case no one caught my pop culture reference in the title, I give you the Cops Theme Song (and now that song is stuck in your head. You're welcome.)

Today I would like to talk about a subject near and dear to my heart: bad boys.

As you wish.
Yes, I know. Guys seems to think all girls want are bad boys, and nice guys finish last and all that. But let's table the real life discussion in favor of fiction. Jessica Page Morrell has an awesome book that talks about the different flavors of antiheroes called Bullies, Bastards, and Bitches that you might consider picking up if you're really into antiheroes like I am. 

So here we go. The word(s) of the day is the moral spectrum. As writers, we might not think about our character in terms of their moral spectrum and where they might fall on it, but it's usually something we at least have a feel for. If you ask a writer if his character would kick puppies or steal money if he thought he would get away with it, they can usually come up with an answer of what each character would do. But usually in a book you have the main character and all the secondary characters existing within the same spot on the moral spectrum.

I think it's sad that more writers don't play around with their character's morals. It's a great way to provide contrast and conflict between your characters. Usually the main character's morals only vary slightly from what the writer themselves would and wouldn't do. So the characters all seem to fall in that gray area between willing to kill to protect themselves, but not willing to kick puppies and push little old ladies into the street.

Whether or not you spell it out on paper or not, you might consider writing a character that acts wildly outside of your personal code of ethics.

Bad boys don't exist just so rabid fangirls can write uncomfortable fan fiction about them (lampshaded in this funny comic). They can really add some spice to your book without taking the entire plot over. They come in two main varieties: Bad boys and Dark Knights.

Bad Boys: These are the sexy lone wolf-types. They are normally rebellious pleasure seekers who enjoys breaking the law more than a regular hero. They are almost always charismatic, and the sort of guy your mother doesn't want you to bring home. They are normally slightly mysterious, with a vague and shady past. They break too many rules and flout tradition too much to be considered regular heroes. Within each category you also have a range. So Han Solo comes to mind, at the very top of the Bad Boy moral spectrum, while most of Vin Diesel's characters are at the very low end of this spectrum.

Dark Heroes: These guys are dark and brooding. They have a core of rage and pain, and almost always have a tragic past.They often have their own moral code, that is usually not in line with society's current moral standards. They are often rude and prickly to the main characters, and are the lowest on the moral continuum. Which means if they take one more step down, they become villains. Batman is the titular example. Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice fits this nicely, and in my opinion, if John McClane from the Die Hard movies was just a little less scrupulous with his bullets and explosives, he would descend into Dark Knight status. And if Prince Nuada from Hellboy II didn't want to kill all humans, he would be considered a Dark Knight. At the moment he's earned Tragic Villain status, so someone should tell his PR department to step up. 

Of course, these are generalizations, and there are no hard and fast rules. There's a lot of overlap, and like any category there are ways to break it. You don't want to make cardboard character regardless of where they fall on the moral spectrum. Bad Boys are a great way to shake up your plot and characters a bit, and a nice way to experiment with your writing. 

Oh, and for those of you wondering why I only talked about the guys, bad girls fall into different categories, because certain behavior is deemed more acceptable by society from a guy (i.e. sleeping around) than it is from a girl. So woman act in a different manner in order to gain "bad girl" status.

I have a secondary character in my WiP and he's definitely sitting in the Dark Knight camp. I am not sure I would want to know him in real life, but he's certainly shaking up the status quo between my more moral main characters. No matter how you cut it, conflict is fascinating, and nothing quite stirs the pot like a bad boy who refuses to toe the line.