Thursday, July 29, 2010

Embrace the Boredom

So the moving of the boxes is over. Now comes unpacking. It’s only a few boxes because I am only staying with my parents for 4 months, but I still LOATHE unpacking. It’s just so very boring.

Which is why I am here today to tell you to embrace the boredom.

Most people’s minds are filled with clutter. Thoughts of what to make for dinner, and when to pick up the kids, and what’s on TV, and when that next Neil Gaiman book is going to be published fill our minds. Normally we distract ourselves with music and TV and noise while we perform monotonous tasks that busy our hands as they empty our minds.

But as writers, this can be some great time for thinking. We writers are a strange breed, and I am sure most of you have some activity built into your day, even if you don't realize it, that you use as your “writing-thinking-time".

Driving, walking the dog, doing the dishes, and gardening can all be considered WTT activities. You mull over characters and plot their love and demise. No matter what you’re thinking about, it’s good to give you mind some room to breathe. Sitting at the computer, crunching words day in and day out without reprieve can stifle your creativity. Of course you should be productive, whether your writing or editing, but some times you need to just walk away from a writing problem and mull it over.

I find it especially helpful if I use this WTT for specific writing problems. Sometimes I use it to develop a character, or unsnare a plot, or brainstorm for an idea.

So today, even though I dread unpacking, I plan to use this ripe WTT for working on my next novel. Now that pesky things like moving are out of the way, I finally feel like I have the time and energy to focus on my writing again. I got most of the worldbuilding I am going to need at this early stage done, so now it’s time to move onto plot and characters.

Hello WTT!

What about you? When you do like to take time out to think about your writing? What other methods do you use to give yourself a little distance on your writing?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Moving Day!

Hi guys!

I am moving today (and yesterday) so there won't be a regular blog post until Wednesday probably. So! In the meantime, cast your eyes to the other wonderful bloggers out there and have a great day!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Decoding Beta Readers

Yesterday I posted about my trials as a beta reader. Authors talk about beta readers as though they want the same thing out of their beta readers as the next guy, but this simply isn’t true.

I love to beta read, and think it’s a great way for me personally to improve my writing. I have been beta reading for years, and I noticed that certain phrases don’t always mean what I think they do.

For example, when someone tells me they want “brutal honesty” this usually means “please tell me I am the next Dan Brown/Stephanie Meyers/J.K. Rowling”.

(Just like The Da Vinci Code. Only better.)

Here are some other phrases I have decoded the double meanings of. Don’t thank me, just send chocolate:

“I have edited this manuscript extensively” really means “I ran MS Word Spell Check.”

“This is my seventh finished novel” really means “The other six novels were only 10,000 words long Star Trek-Harry Potter slash fanfiction. But each “novel” had a different vastly inappropriate character pairing.”

“Tell me if these characters are working or not” really means “These characters aren’t working at all.”

“Tell me if the plot feels too unoriginal or cliché” Really means “this plot is really unoriginal or cliché.”

Seriously though, I am kidding. I swear, please, just kidding. A couple of people who I beta read for actually read my blog, so please for the love of all that is good in the world, don’t think I was talking about you. I was just making a vain attempt at being funny. I know, I know. I realize I should never try to be funny, and I have learned my lesson.

(I am not the funny one in the family. That's my twin brother's job. He never has to wear the Not Funny At All Hat.)

I am cracking wise about beta reading because I recently had an…incident with a person I beta read for in real life. I dubbed her Jane in yesterday’s post, and taking the wonderful advice of Charity Bradford (you should read her blog, she’s funny and sweet) and Joseph Selby (you should read his LifeJournal, he’s funny and witty), I told her how I felt about her book.

Nicely, of course. But I told her I thought she needed to take a step back from her novel to try to figure out what wasn’t working. She’s written four of them in three years, and they all have the same feel of good-but-not-quite there. I also told her all of the strengths of the book, and pointed out specific examples of what was working. But I also think her writing still feels too green and fresh.

There comes a point where I think you need to take a step back and think, “Maybe the answer isn’t write novel after novel, and hope someday to get published.” In Jane’s case at least, I think she needed to edit her novels better. Get into those manuscripts and just roll around in her prose, and pull it apart. She’s not planning on publishing the first one, so there’s no worrying about “ruining” or “breaking” the novel from over editing. But editing means more than just checking the spelling, grammar, and continuity of the novel (you know, when Sam has a glass of Coke in his hand in Scene A, but a glass of Pepsi in Scene B. Not to mention that Sam would never, ever drink Pepsi to begin with).

It’s not like I expect Jane to do as I say, not as I do. I am tearing the last novel I wrote apart. Literally. It’s not pretty. There’s all sorts of notes and red pen markings and notebook pages of character changes. I feel like a surgeon who’s opened up a patient for a routine gallbladder-ectomy (I am aware that’s not a real word) and discovered the patient riddled with…something. Cancer maybe. Or all of the organs were replaced with kitchen appliances. Either way, that surgeon shakes his head and says, “This isn’t good.”

(Not good at all.)

And of course, what I think personally about Jane’s prose still remains at the end of the day, my humble, unpublished opinion. But she didn’t react to my gentle, sweeten-to-make-the-bad-medicine-go-down opinions very well. She made some thinly veiled comments about how I wasn’t published yet either, and she’d taken into consideration what I thought.

To be Frank (you can be Jeannette), it hurt my feelings. I really wasn’t trying to be mean, I swear. It’s hard to hear criticism, no matter how nice the person is trying to be. I have been on the other end of that relationship, and it always stings. But what good am I as a beta reader if I don’t tell her what I really think? I was hoping maybe she’d get inspired by my gentle criticisms, and this might be the event that turns her writing career around.

It’s also my policy as a beta reader to offer as many suggestions or fixes to any problems I think exist. I also explain in detail WHY I think something isn’t working, so the writer can make their own decisions. It’s not like every suggestion I make the writer should follow or he’s clearly mental. Deciding what works and what doesn’t is a process you as a writer must face alone; beta readers are just other people’s opinions after all. If I say I think Scene A has too much gratuitous violence (hard to imagine, I know), and the author disagrees with me, but sees why I remarked on the violence, maybe they will get an idea for revision that doesn’t change their vision for the book, but addresses possible concerns.
Then the author still gets something useful out of the Author-Beta reader exchange, even if they ultimately decides to not make a change you suggested.

So, at the end of my long ramble, are a few points:

a) Know exactly what you want out of a beta reader. Do you want them to pay attention to spelling and grammar or just the plot-character-theme stuff? You should clearly state what you want from the beta reader, and what type of feedback you are comfortable with. I have never, ever heard someone tell me “go gentle, I am sensitive to criticism”, but this is the case many times. If you know you are sensitive to criticism, there are a few things to do about this:
1. Let your mom read your book first. Or your spouse, or brother, or whoever is going to tell you how wonderful you are. Don’t be ashamed; there’s nothing wrong with a little ego inflation now and then.
2. If you decide to embark on the wonder and despair that which is beta readers, make sure you tell them. It’s so much better to know someone is a little sensitive in the beginning, than finding out later (case in point: my recent experience with Jane).
3. DO NOT ask questions you can’t handle the answer to. This seems really, really simple, but my goodness, is this a doosy. Not just in writing, but in your real life too. Remember when you were in high school, and you really like that guy/girl? And you didn’t know if they liked you back? And you imagined all the dates and the wonderful times together? And then you found out they thought you smelled like cats and old tires? Crushing, wasn’t it? So yes, before you ask beta readers questions, or even submit the book at all, make sure you’re ready to cope with hearing about all of your mistakes.
4. Try as best as you can to cope with it. Criticism will always be there, and it’s best to start trying to put up with it now. Also, try not to get bitter about criticism and publishing in general. I have meet people my age who are like shriveled, bitter old people, always cackling about how no one understands their magnificent prose, and those darn kids on their lawn. It’s not pretty.

b) What do you personally want from a beta reader? I am very curious as to what other people have to say on the matter. Even those of us who haven’t been published can still relate to the beta reading matter. What qualities do you like for, if any? What do you tell them ahead of time, if anything? Do you feel like it’s mostly helpful or useless?

c) What about the flip side? What do you like about beta reading for other people? What don’t you like? What do you wish you knew now about beta reading that you didn’t know earlier?

Ultimately, I think beta reading can be a vital tool for a writer. It improves your writing whether you’re the one doing the reading or the writing. As the reader, you can clearly spot common mistakes that people make, or what the author is doing in the story that isn’t working. You can then apply this to your own writing. As the writer, having someone read your story is a God-send. They have a fresh set of eyes, and help me see what on the page, and not what I think is on the page.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Advice for the Insane

So, I haven’t been feeling well these last few days, but I am on the mend, as they say. I thought I would post about a recent experience I had, an experience some of you may have had as well.

There’s a writer’s group that meets every week at the local library. They usually meet during Friday evenings, a night I work, so I normally can’t make the meetings. But honestly, I am not sure I would go every week even if I could.

I made last week’s meeting, and while everyone there were supportive of each other and their work, I still felt like they were missing the bigger picture. Each meeting they would read out loud from their recent work, and the other members would offer their advice and feedback.

Next, each member talked about their respective progress on the querying front. One particular writer, let’s call her Jane, has written four books. She wrote a book, queried it, it was unanimously rejected. Lather, rinse, repeat for four books.

Needlessly to say, she’s a little bitter. What strikes me about Jane is she’s also very confused as to why her books are being rejected. She asked me to look over her books, and offer some feedback. Having done so, I can say she’s a talented writer with good ideas. I can also say I know why she’s been rejected. I am not trying to be mean, she’s a great writer, but her writing just isn’t quite there. Have you ever had that experience? You’ve read some other aspiring author’s manuscript and you can just feel the… “greenness” of it?

I tried to figure out a really nice way of putting it, but I am not sure she’s gotten my point. I told her all of the strengths of her writing, the good plot points, and so on, but I also mentioned that writing is a craft, and maybe she should work on giving her latest manuscript a deeper edit. Jane said she’s clean some things up, but from the way she was talking about it, I got the impression she was just going to change some words around.

Here is my problem: How do you tell someone they need to study writing more? How do you suggest that maybe churning novel after novel out, while helpful, isn’t the only answer to rejection? That maybe Jane should also think about why she’s being rejected in the first place?

It’s not like I don’t need to improve my own writing. It’s not like I am some grandmaster sage of writing with All the Answers. These are just my opinions; I am not even sure telling Jane she needs to work on her writing is any of my business. I told her what worked and what didn’t with her book, so I did what she asked of me as a beta reader.

It’s something I have been giving a lot of thought to, and wondered what all of your experiences were. What do you all do when you beta read?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Progress By Any Other Name

I realize that while I am brainstorming for the New Project I don’t have a word count to report, so I will talk about my worldbuilding progress. I worked on brainstorming and worldbuilding every day the past week, in between work and packing.

Even though I don’t have a rough draft to show for this work, I have instead the phases of both moons worked out, the lay of the continents, a rough idea of the climate, and loads of thoughts on the economy and how magic works on my planet. I am drawing a picture of my main character, drawing a topographical map of the world, and figuring out how the political structure of the country the main character is from works.

It’s important for you to count progress of all sorts, not just a word count. If you don’t keep track of your worldbuilding or researching progress you’ll feel like you’re just spinning your wheels in the mud. Or worse, you’ll get bogged down in research or worldbuilding and spent two weeks on details that will probably never make it into your novel.

While I have vague ideas for a plot, I know where I want to set the New Project. I have a really clear feel for the setting, and it excites me. I have included some pictures (courtesy of Free Digital and Wikicommons) to show you want I am talking about. The country is going to be cold, and icy, and have a vast expanse of boreal forests. There’s green meadows, and craggy mountains scratched out by glaciers, and a geothermal hot springs.

I plan to move onto developing the language and some of the culture today, but I am not feeling well, so I might not get as much done as I was hoping.

What do you guys do to keep track of your various bits of book work? The stuff that can’t be easily categorized?

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Goldilocks Method of Setting

Have you ever read a book where the world felt…thin? It feels like if you skipped ahead of the characters in the story, you’ll see the stage hands setting the props up. Or the setting itself felt like one giant cliché? Or maybe not a cliché, but it didn’t really bring anything to the story? Characters went around and did plotish things, and the landscape was always a vague forest, with taverns, inns, and the occasional wolf?

Or, on the flip side, have you ever spoken to someone who is writing historical fiction/fantasy/science fiction or any other genre that requires you to research or make up the setting who has been working on said setting for years?

Been there, done that on both accounts. I have read lots of fantasy books where the world barely felt real, and I have talked to numerous authors who are still “researching” for that book they are going to write.

Madness I say. There’s a better way. A way to develop your world that you know enough about it to make it come alive around your characters, but not let worldbuilding/research bog you down so you’re making up every single country in the world and every language, and the history for the last 500 years, and so on.

Today we’re going to talk about how to worldbuild a culture enough so that it feels real, and the rest of the world around them feels real, but you don’t spend weeks getting there. It’s kinda like those two for one deals you see at shoe stores. You get to build your culture, you get to make things seem real, but you get to side step Wordlbuilding Hell where you toil for years on a setting (I think this toiling is partially where we get so many infodump in fantasy too…the authors thinks, Dang it! I spend time making this up, now the reader should know all about the intricate weasel trading policies of the four colonies of Fantasyotopia).

First, let’s answer the question: Who needs to worldbuild?

I use the term “worldbuild” to include historical fiction author who’s primary goal is to research their setting, not make it up.

So if you’re writing a story set anytime other than right here, right now, you need to worldbuild your culture. Even if your story is set twenty years ago, you will need to do a bit of research. We all know how much technology has changed over the past few years. If you have lost perspective, go watch a movie from the eighties.

Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Hilarious, wasn’t it? And that was just thirty years ago. Less than one person’s lifetime. Not just technology, but hairstyles (A side pony tail? Really, 1980’s? Really?), makeup, and music (who could forget Hair Bands? I love me a good power ballad. That is actually one of my favorite genres of music, I am not afraid to admit it. In fact, I think I will play some eighties music right now…) have all changed in a sort span of time.

You need to give your readers the impression within your novel that the world your characters are living is as fleshed out and developed as our own world. Without actually doing all of the development necessary to make your fake planet as diverse and developed as Earth is.

Yeah…that pretty much sounds impossible, right?

Not exactly.

The trick is you divide and conquer. Before I start worldbuilding I make myself a short of list of the areas in the character’s lives I am going to be moving around in the most.

So if the character is a cleric, “religious hierarchy” will be on that list. If the character isn’t a cleric or particularly religious, no “religious hierarchy”. “Weasel trading” or “hairspray for musicians” perhaps, depending on their professions.

You also need to include what aspects of culture will affect their daily lives. So if they live in a country similar to America, you might add “schooling systems” “common professions” “modes of transportation” etc…

The point here is to figure out what aspects of the culture will directly impact your plot. If your characters are weasel traders, then you’d better figure out how those weasels are breed, the going market values for rodents, if the weasels have magical powers, how the weasels are transported, how one gets into the weasel trading business, etc.

If your character has nothing to do with the weasel trade, then you probably don’t need all of that specific information. If the country is a major weasel exporter, you might figure some of that information out, but again, the point here is to figure out the most important information you need to know.

I like to start with these personal details, and work my way out to the country in general, but you could go the opposite way, and figure out general facts about the country you’re setting the novel in, and move into the city your character is from.

Developing plot and worldbuilding usually happen simultaneously for me. I sort of go back and forth. I might decide while brainstorming my main character has inherited a weasel farm (or a nursery? What would you call where weasels are raised?), which in turn leads me to developing the specifics of the weasel trade.

When I decide I need to know more about the world in general, I do what I call “broad strokes”. I figure out what countries neighbor my main character’s country. If they are friendly or hostile. If they trade weasels for marmosets with the main character’s country. I figure out the trade triangle, and if there are weasel bandits that sail the four seas. I could create a ring of pirates, with a Weasel baron in the middle, who believes that weasels are gods incarnate, and he and his pirates seek to free all weasel kind. These development would then give me ideas for plot complications. What if the Weasel Baron stole the main character’s cargo? What if she chased him to get her cargo back, because she’s bankrupt without the money the weasel trade will give her?

The key here is to develop the information you need specifically, and have a vague feel for the rest. It’s not that you can’t develop more of your world. I tend to develop lots of different stuff for a story that never sees the light of a manuscript, but I don’t spend years working all of this out. Usually I have a good feel for the state of the world, I know some specifics crucial to the plot, and then as I am writing the first draft I make more stuff up in my free time.

But then, I am a weirdo who LOVES worldbuilding. That’s just me. You can always fill in more information about the world as you need it too. Let’s say you are a major pantser, that is, you write without plotting a single thing. And somehow your character winds up on the other side of the world, far away from her weasel farm and the Weasel Baron. You can either fake it, and add details upon revision, or you can stop writing to spend a little bit of time to worldbuild what you need to know (like, How does a person sneak into Port City without the proper papers? How does a character get out of Port City jail after being caught without papers?). Personally, I prefer to stop and do some quick worldbuilding, just because every time I wing it, and worldbuild later, it totally changes the story.

My last bit of worldbuilding advice is to find some pictures online, via Free Digital or Wikicommons that looks like where you want to set your story. I am extremely visual, and just having some pictures of the area my story is set in makes it feel real.

These pictures that have been scattered through this post? That’s my next setting, the place I am worldbuilding.

What else? What do you guys do to make sure your setting feels real enough to vacation there?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Know When To Hold Them, Know When to Fold Them

Quote: “There are some books which refuse to be written. They stand their ground year after year and will not be persuaded. It isn't because the book is not there and worth being written -- it is only because the right form of the story does not present itself. There is only one right form for a story and if you fail to find that form the story will not tell itself."
- Mark Twain

Music Playing: Welcome Home by Coheed and Cambria

Okay, so today we’re going to talk about some Important Issues, and we’re going to get some things off our chest, okay? Okay. Glad you’re on board.

First of all, I have mentioned “my current book” or something of that nature to indicate the book I was preparing to write occasionally. What you guys didn’t know is “my current book” did not refer to the same book this entire time. It’s changed several times. I didn’t mean for it to happen that way, but that’s just how these past few months happened. I don’t mention titles because I tend to change book titles a lot. But these past few months I have experienced a writing issue that is ugly, very ugly if you’ve never actually experienced it yourself: sometimes the book idea isn’t ready to be written yet. And it’s hard to know the difference.

Deceptively simple, but it’s true. Sometimes you have a brilliant new idea (or loads of ideas, in my case) but no matter what you try to do with the idea, you can’t come up with ANYthing for it.

This is scary. This is very scary.

In April I decided I needed to start seriously thinking about my next project. I started thinking about the various book ideas I have, but none of them seemed right. They were interesting enough, but I wasn’t “in love” with any of them. I didn’t lay awake at night thinking about the characters. I didn’t drive to work thinking about the plot. I didn’t get a shivery feeling in the pit of my stomach when I thought about the book in general. When I tried to develop the idea, I used every brainstorming trick I knew, and still nothing. I liked the idea, but didn’t “feel” the book. I didn’t have that “it” feeling, that burning passion for the story.

It’s okay, I told myself. You’re just not sure where the story is going yet. Give it some time.

So I did. I gave it some time. I brainstormed, I built some of the world, but the idea still didn’t catch fire.

Then I thought, Maybe I’m rushing this idea.

Sometimes I need to let an idea sit around for a while, like that Mark Twain quote suggests. Sometimes I just haven’t found the right form to tell the story in. I decided to release this idea back into the stream since it wasn’t big enough to be caught, and caught another promising story idea I had (yes, I am mixing metaphors, work with me here).

The same thing happened. No matter the process or time I gave it, I still didn’t fall in love with the story. I never felt like I was inside the world of the story. It didn’t feel completely right. This happened to me three more times.

For those of us counting, that a total of five times I tried to tinker with a book idea and came up with nothing. It’s not for lack of ideas, trust me. I told myself it was just because I was so busy with the wedding and moving, but deep down I was afraid.

What if I never fall in love with a book again? What if I’ve lost it? What if I never feel obsessed with a book idea ever again? What if I only ever feel mild interest in the ideas, and nothing more?

For those of you who think this sounds sort of New Agey, I don’t know how to explain it better. When I write a book, I have to feel this burning sort of obsessive passion for it. When I am in the beginning throes of a book, I go to bed thinking about it, I wake up with the character’s voices in my mind, I dream about the setting. If I get to the point where I am not in love with the idea, but I write it anyway, it comes out like crap. I know because I have done this before. I wrote a book before the idea was ready, and it turned out to be half baked drivel.

In order to write, I have to feel like I am living inside the book, breathing the characters, tasting the air around me.

The pressure to write was awful. Friends in real life who knew I was working on a book would ask how things were coming along. When I answered slowly, they would press for more information. Invariably they would say I needed to just sit down and write it. The terrible thing about this sort of phase, is no matter how you explain it to other people, it just sounds like excuses. Procrastination. “Oh, the book isn’t ready yet.” “I need to let things simmer a little while long.”

This extra pressure wasn’t helping. I know my friends meant well, there are plenty of time a writer needs a kick in the butt from outside forces, but it just seemed like confirmation that I would never fall in love with a story idea again.

But instead of sticking with any one of these ideas, like the “rule” goes, and pressing on, I set all of them aside, and did nothing new. I tried to ignore the voice screaming about how I am a has-been before I ever was. I tried to ignore the gentle pressure from friends and family. I forgot about starting something new, and concentrated on reading, editing, and worldbuilding. And the rest of my life. Heaven knows it’s been pretty hectic.

Then I started getting interested in a character idea. Instead of immediately working on that spark, I just thought about the character. Instead of dumping some firewood onto the spark to start a fire, I just let the spark grow. After a day or two, I “wrote about writing.”

Writing about writing is fun, and slightly crazy. It’s basically where you write about what you’re feeling, like a conversation with yourself. I find it very helpful. I wrote about what I wanted to write, about how frustrated I felt, how I felt like a failure, how I was worried I would never write anything ever again, and so on. I also started writing about different ideas that fill me with excitement (I’ve mentioned this list of interests before, and let me tell you, situations like these are where it starts paying off).

From there, I am starting the slow, gentle brainstorming process. My character idea is attaching himself to another book idea I had, and stuff is starting to catch fire. But it’s not boiling yet, and that’s okay. I am being patient, and just trying to fan the flames a teensy bit.

Now that I have had some time, and the crazy voice isn’t screaming that I will never love another story idea again, I can think more clearly. And I realize now the idea that the creative part of me can go away is absurd. I know some people think their creativity can go away, and a lot of authors talk about the creative process as though it’s this mystical commune with the aether, but I really think it’s just a matter of your state of being.

Creativity feels harder sometimes because you’re stressed or tired or anxious or any number of other things that can get in the way. But that part of you is still there, waiting. Sometimes you have to go after it with a hunting knife, and sometimes you just have to sit and wait for it, but your creativity is a part of you. Writing certainly feels mystical, but I don’t think it will just vanish with a puff of smoke.

You have to learn how to trust your writing instincts, friends. You have to remember that your writing process is valuable, but it’s also flexible. I once read a writer’s blog, and she said she hasn’t written a book the same way twice. Every time a book gets written it’s in a slightly different fashion. I know we all have writing “rules”: processes and methods we’ve tried that do or don’t work. It’s great to know what works, but I just want to remind everyone that these rules you have are self-made.

Sometimes you have to break those rules, and that’s okay. We’re rebel writers after all!

So. I can’t be the only writer ever to have experienced something like this. What about all of you? Have you ever worried about where the creativity comes from? Have you ever tried so hard to make something work but it refuses to? What did you do to “fix” it?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Write Stuff (Get it? Write Stuff? Because I am a writer? Haha!)

Music Playing: Star Sailor “Faith Hope Love” (on repeat one)

Urgh. It’s July in Georgia, so naturally it’s hotter than the surface of the sun outside. I think the asphalt is melting…

Anyhow, it’s time for the long awaited status update. Despite the challenge of writing while we’re also moving (countdown to two weeks), I still managed to get some worldbuilding on my new project done. I also bought some Prismacolors colored pencils so I could make my maps pretty (and accurate. I am coloring in the biomes of my made up planet). I am still brainstorming for my newest project, since it would be futile to start something and then move a week later (I moved once while in the middle of writing a novel, and let me warn you: do not do this. Avoid it at all costs. It kills that lovely momentum you generate while you’re in the fervor of creation).

But that’s okay, because I need to do some serious worldbuilding before I can start writing anyway, and it’s proving to be a good diversion from all the boxes lying around.

Recently I have fallen in love with Starsailor’s song “Faith Hope Love.” I mean, in deep, deep lover with this song. I have listened to it over and over. Yes, I am one of those annoying people that like to replay the same song to death. But I am considerately annoying, and only do it when no one else is around.

I consider this song repetition to be an extension of my mild OCD. I call it OCD for lack of a better term, but I am actually just extremely anal retentive about certain things. I don’t have a meltdown if my desk is messy, however, so I am not clinically OCD. But I DO like things to be a certain way, and I am fussy about organization. I can also concentrate on repetitive things (as you might have gathered from my listening to the same song over and over).

This freakish ability has translated well into my writing. I can line edit for a good period of time, not to mention being able to sustain interest in a world, an idea, and characters long enough to write and edit a book with them. Just another example of how certain behaviors that are frowned upon in the “normal” world are a boon for a writer. Other behaviors include talking to yourself, making up stories, and staring at a computer all day.

What about you guys? What personality quirks have actually come in handy for your writing?

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Magic Formula: How to Write a Novel

One of my best friends just showed this to me. So naturally, I am going to pass it along.

How to Write a Novel

Clearly I have been doing this novel writing thing all wrong. I am especially guilty of number 2 and 4. And number 1 and 3. Okay, okay. So now that I have been shown the Magic Formula for writing a novel I shall go forth and write a masterpiece. I just need to make sure I remember 1. Think up a story and 2. Using about 80,000 words, write story down.

It’s all so much clearer for me now.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


Music Playing: Slipknot: Snuff

Hi guys! Elizabeth here, blogging from the floor. Yep, the floor. I am moving in two weeks, so we’re getting our stuff pack and furniture broken down. The desk that my lap top normally sits on it no more (it was old and falling apart…it wouldn’t have survived another move), so the lap top is sitting on the floor while I get my desk packed up.

Staring at a mountain of boxes, I am struck by the importance of organization. Not that I have too much stuff, but the importance of organization. At least, that’s my story and I am sticking to it.

I am an organized person, mostly. But there have been times where I searched all over the house in vain for the slip of paper I wrote a book idea or a sentence down on. Especially when that paper relates to a current work, it feels like finding that sentence is the deal breaker for whether or not the book is going to be absolute crap or a literary masterpiece.

Even if you don’t go so far as to have “make such and such list” on your to do list, like yours truly, I think we all can agree that organization is important to writers. Some people make entire “book bibles” where they dedicate a notebook to their book. They keep pictures, and character bios, timelines, settings, and plot events all in one, easy to reference notebook. Sometimes this is in addition to notes on the computer, or in lieu of them.

I haven’t tried making a book bible yet, but I intend to for my next book. I like having everything on the computer, but sometimes it’s a pain to shift through several documents on the computer. It might be easier to have everything right in front of me.

Whether it’s a book bible, a spot on your desk, or an entire shelf built as a shrine to your book, it’s a good idea to stay consistent with your organization system. And, please please please back up your work. We’ve all heard horror stories about losing books on the computer. Don’t let this happen to you. I lost an entire hard disk (back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and we used hard disks to store information on) of poetry and story ideas when I was 19 and I cried for weeks. I still think about that disk. It feels like losing a piece of yourself when you lose that amount of information. So back up your books. Save an extra copy, and keep it somewhere safe. You don’t want to lose a book because you forgot where you stuffed the manuscript or because it got lost in the shuffle of papers.

In other news, Noah Lukeman has an entire book about writing query letter for free download on his website. I have already downloaded it, and let me tell you, it’s a gem!

Well, that’s the end of today’s PSA. How do you guys organize your work? Anything brilliant?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Enjoy the Silence

Quote: “Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.”
Gloria Steinem

Song Playing: Wasting My Time--Default

Well, I had intended to post regularly starting last Monday, but a spyware virus rampaging through my laptop greatly impeded my Internet abilities. We (read: my husband) had to reboot the computer with the recovery disks, which gave me ample time to think about what I wanted to post about today.

I was without the Internet (our cabin didn’t have wifi) for almost an entire week while I was getting married/on my honeymoon. And now more recently, the past week.

It was strangely relaxing. Of course, I was busy getting married and having an awesome honeymoon (part of which was spent watching the sharks in the aquarium we visited. Man, I love aquariums. Seriously, these sharks had rows and rows of long, jagged teeth.) but some of that time was spent relaxing on the couch with my laptop, working on my writing stuff.

Without the Internet, I wasn’t distracted by the lure of the blogs, and the siren’s call of Wikipedia and Google fell on my deaf ears. It was glorious. I just sat down and I wrote. I didn’t check my email five times, or my blog, or any of that.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the Internet is a fabulous resource and tool for authors. I have learned more about the publishing industry, and agents, and the proper way of going about getting published in the two years I have spend doing my homework than I feel I would have doing it the old fashioned way of looking all of it up in possibly outdated books.

I also think a writer who ignores the publishing world is at a great deficit to the writer who pays attention to the various industry blogs, and knows what’s going on in the world of publishing. At the very least, writers like me who follow the industry knows what to expect once they get published, better than writers who don’t pay attention to publishing until they are actively trying to get published.

In addition to all of that, the Internet is a great research tool for me whether it’s IPA pronunciation or the migration patterns of hermit crabs (don’t ask).

But I was without the Internet for a week, and I am still alive. I think the writing I did over that time benefited from the lack of distraction. Writing became what it has always been about for me: the words. The people. The worlds. I was able to shut away my fears and doubts about publishing and queries, and I stepped out of the fast paced world of publishing to focus on my craft. It was exhilarating.

These thoughts have lead me to the conclusion that the Internet is like one of the artifacts of massive power you see in cheesy 80’s fantasy movies like “Krull” or “The Dark Crystal.” The Internet (or Internets as I affectionately refer to it as around here) can be used for great good, but also great evil.

You can research almost anything, but you have to double check your sources to make sure you aren’t reading false information. You also have to make sure your “research” phase of the book doesn’t take longer than it should, no matter if you wait to do your research until after the book is written, or before.

You can read agent and publisher and marketers and all other sorts of “-ers” in the publishing industry, and get up to the minute updates on the status of what the submission guidelines are, whether the agent is accepting queries or not, and how they want the queries formatting. There are awesome sites like QueryChecker where you can form an online database of your queries, and look up an agent’s individual query stats. It’s all there, ripe for the picking.

But it can also make you neurotic with worry. You can lay awake wondering if you’re going to make a mistake, sure that you’ll forget to query the agent that could have been “the one”, and in general, drive yourself bonkers with all of the advice out there for authors, much of it contradictory.

Sometimes reading all those blog articles can amount to so much noise in your head, crowding out the real reason why you’re bothering with all of this anyway: your book.

When you sit down to write your book, if you think about the Internet, and all of the stuff you have read, all of the wonderful advice from Nathan Bransford, and Janet Reid, and Anne Mini, and Holly Lisle, you will drive yourself crazy. It’s like having another set of editors in your head—your personal editor and the editor of the Internet, those blogs you’ve tried to read and internalize.

You can’t worry about any of that while writing. You need to find your quiet place, whether it’s at a desk (like me), or a train, or a mountain top or wherever your writing space happens to be. During your allotted writing time, I think you need to just think about the book and nothing else. The publishing industry and the Internet can wait. Your dog might not be able to wait, so you’ll have to schedule time for him, and probably the kids or husband or wife or the mailman you’ve had your eye on will all need some of your time.

But for your writing time, whether you’ve allotted three hours or three days, I think you could do worse than disable the Internet and shut off the TV. I have been reading Anne Mini’s blog lately, which is a remarkable treasure trove for all kinds of information, and she made a statement that has stuck with me. Since I have been reading her backlog, so I have absolutely no idea which post she mentioned this, so forgive me for paraphrasing (I am pretty sure it’s in a post under the tag “Finding More Writing Time”). She said you only have so much time on this Earth. Only so many hours in a given day, week, month, only so many years. A lot of people don’t realize how much time they whittle away on nothing. On the TV, they turn it on “just to see what’s on” and spend hours not even watching something they really care about. At some point you’re going to have to prioritize and protect your writing time. You have to say, “Would I rather watch every episode of The Simpsons, or would I rather write another book?”

End of my terrible paraphrase. Now, I am not saying TV is evil, and you should never watch it. Heaven knows I have a few TV shows that I watch religiously. But I love the idea of deciding to spend your time consciously. Instead of sitting in front of the TV or surfing the Internet, or whatever other activities you do that are time wasters, and letting hours pass, hours that you will never get back, you could make a choice. You could say, “I want to watch something at 7” and work on your writing until then. Or if you know you have to go to your parent’s house, you could schedule your writing time around it, instead of just killing time before you have to leave.

So today I urge you to go forth and protect your writing time, and also devote yourself to it. Try to shut out the voices of the blogs, and the critics, and the fans, and everyone else. While you’re writing, make it just about you, and your book.

Now, there’s the greatest romance ever told!