Thursday, March 31, 2011

Role-Playing and Writing: Why You're Glad You're a Writer

So I innocently thought that role-playing with my twin brother, sister in law (his wife), and husband would be a Good Idea, despite prior evidence. 

Role-playing is like this for those of you who have never had the joy/horror of role-playing:

1. You pick a setting. We play Dungeons and Dragons 3.5. I made up the world since I am the DM and they have to do what I say.

Side Note: 3.5 indicates the edition we play. There have been four major rule changes in the history of D&D, starting with the needlessly convuluted first edition, slightly improved second edition, weak third edition, 3.5 which is like third edition, but with minor changes, but changes big enough that you can't mix the source books from third edition and 3.5 (I learned THIS the hard way). There's also a fourth edition, that they waited to spring until after the father of D&D Gary Gygax died because it SUCKS and if you play fourth edition you're dead to me.

2. You pick a DM, or Dungeon Master, the person who is going to tell the story and keep the players from trying to kill each other. It's like trying to herd kittens. I am DMing this particular story, called a campaign. 

3. The other people (ideally four players, since that's how the challenges are figured up, but since we don't have a lot of friends, it's just three players and me as the DM) make their characters. This takes a LONG TIME. There's lots of dice rolling involved, and addition, and MATH, and reading, and thinking about what sort of class you want your character to have. Are they going to cast spells or wield a weapon? What sort of feats will they use?

And once you decide on that, you have to buy your character stuff. You have to figure out how much that stuff weighs to make sure it's not too heavy, if your DM is a jerk (I am) and wants to make sure a player didn't buy an elephant's worth of trail rations and expects to tote it around without penalties.

4. Then, you start to play. The characters meet each other, and poke around. Thus your epic story starts.

In the past as a DM I used to write these epic stories. These stories had well developed towns, with a rich history, and detailed antagonists. The story would seamlessly pull all the characters into the plot of the story (save the world! save the princess! kill this person and take all their stuff!) and keep the players on the edge of their seats.

And then I actually RAN a few campaigns and learned the truth. 

Now, my session planning goes like this:

Me: So you're in a town...
Twin brother: What town?
Me: Uhhhhhh, Panatias.  (PAN-uh-t-as)

*snickers from the players* *confused looked from me*

Sis in law: So, kind of like, Panty-ass
Me: Uhhhh, anyway, you're in Panatias--
*more snickers*
Me: and you're at the market place. Your lead said that the black market is here somewhere.
Twin brother: I bet the rogues called it a "panty raid" when they come sack this town.

And then the conversation devolves for five minutes into more puns and jokes while I contemplate murdering their characters on the spot with a giant meteor strike. I am not kidding people, that actually happened. So as a DM, I get to have my own sort of fun, and start threatening them that mountain giants were going to come and slaughter their characters if they didn't stay on track.

Here's a big difference between role playing and writing. I control the story that I am writing as a writer. I decide I am writing about goat colonists from mars, that's what I write about. But players have a way of totally derailing the best laid plans. You set up foreshadowing and do everything except lead them around by their ears, but they still get their own crazy notions and go off in an opposite direction.

You have books of monsters. Every monster has different difficulty levels. No matter how sweet and nice a person is in real life, you sit them down with a character sheet, and suddenly they want to kill some stuff. Really. The players get anxious if they aren't hacking something to bits every five minutes. 

You have NPCs which are the Non-Player Characters. You know, the barmaids, and the kings, and the guys giving them jobs, which I as the DM control. But you have no control over how a player is going to respond to these NPCs.

I had an NPC that was supposed to be crucial part of giving them information to get to the next part of the story. I drop a subtle lead that they might need to go talk to him. For the next five minutes the players talk about how they don't like the look in his eye, and she just got a bad feeling about him, and that guy knows more than he's letting on (to which my brother says "He's a drow, he knows more about his morning cup of coffee than he's letting on). 


But you can't break the story and tell them they're crazy and that the NPC isn't going to stab them in the back.  Sometimes it's fun to sit there all sphinx-like, "Well I dunno...maybe he is going to stab you in the back." Suspcious players are anxious players, and that's part of the fun of a DM (what, I have to get my kicks in somehow).

I can't blame them too much, since I am also the same DM that lured them into the woods with a sweet old granny type who then poisoned their tea. The really hilarious part is they were suspicious of EVERY SINGLE NPC up until then. It was priceless to see the looks on their faces. *sniffs with joy*

Seriously, it's a lot of fun, but it's also a pain in the neck. Writing a book is easier, way easier than trying to get three people to go in the same direction for any length of time. It's impossible to plan out ahead of time, because you never know how they are going to respond to the situation.

So be glad you're a writer, where you at least have control over your characters and setting.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Protect the Happy

Bunny brought to you by Free Digital Pictures
Going on a bit of a rant today, but it's something I think we all need to hear. Also, disclaimer: this is just my opinion. Your mileage may vary. 

Life is a funny, fickle mistress. I have a great life. I am relatively healthy. I have a great family and a wonderful husband. I have a job, and I am able to pay all my bills (on time no less!). I have my own office, and bookshelves full of books.

Life is good.

But I have realized that the state of your happiness is dependent upon your personal mind set. This feels counter intutive. It feels like once you achieve XYZ you will be happy for ever and ever. But this is not so. 

I distinctly remember figuring this little nugget out. I was sitting in my car, in the parking lot of my first ever "real" job, and talking to my best friend on the phone. We were discussing a mutual acquaintance. We couldn't figure it out. No matter what happened in this woman's life, she was never happy. Never satisfied. Always had a reason to complain.
This bunny knows happiness is just a hop away.
You've met people like that, I am sure. They especially like to hang out at gas stations in the lotto line, for some reason. Draining to be around, a black hole of energy. Energy vampires, not the sparkly kind either.
So while talking to my friend, we both came the realization that being happy isn't the fallout of a perceived event, even though things can make you happy. You graduate college, you're a happy camper. You get married, happy too (right??). But are you really going to wait around for a big milestone in your life to make you happy?
I hope not. I hope people can look at the good things they have in their life, and be overjoyed about it. There's always something to be happy about, and there's always something that can disturb this happiness. Some events are bigger than others, like I realized yesterday.

Like I said, life is good. I am cruising along, happy as a calm, and BAMN! Major stressor. Huge source of stress. I won't go into details because this is teh Internets (relax, I am not dying. Still healthy. It was a personal life related thing dealing with my family.)

So I did what I do best (not eat chocolate!) and started to worry. Man, I am good at worrying. I mean, Olympic Gold Medalist class worrier. In high school I almost gave myself an ulcer worrying about tests, conversations, big events. It was my default state of being, a near panic that made it hard to eat and sleep. 

I mostly have the worrying thing under control, once I realized that no matter how much I worried (or "planned" is what I called it, "If she says this, then I will say that." "If I flunk this test, I will sell myself to a goat shepherd in the Andes.") I still couldn't predict how I would respond to the event I was worrying about.

Worried that you're going to fail a test? That sucks, but once you fail the test, your emotional response lasts for a few seconds, and then you're on to damage control. 

Last night while trying to sleep, I reminded myself of all this nifty things that I learned. No matter how much I worried, I literally couldn't do anything to change the outcome. We just play the waiting game. Naturally this resulted in my vacillating between sleepy contentment and blind panic, but hey! One day at a time, right?

Because it comes to down this: protect your happiness. Seriously. Arm yourself to the teeth--to the gills if you have them, for my fishy followers--and you protect your happiness! There is always something to panic about. To worry about. To feel bad about. I am not saying that worry won't win the day sometimes, especially if the worry is major stuff like surgery and life threatening illness. I am not saying you're a bad person if you feel sad. Not the case!
Worry-wort Bunny worries.
I far from have this "Don't worry, be happy" stuff down pat, if last night was any indication. I just wanted to share my thoughts about this with you guys, because writing isn't exactly for the faint of heart. Querying can suck the life out of you, and then you get an agent (yay!) but then agent edits (boo! hiss!) and then you go on submission (yay!) and then editor edits (boo! hiss!). You might not sell the book, or it might get published but everyone hates it.

It's a veritable cornucopia of worry and stress that will turn you into a ball of anxiety. So you have to be proactive about your happiness. You have to go after happiness with a big stick and straight club it upside the head. Waiting for things to make you happy will make you miserable. Because that event last only so long, and then you're back to waiting again.
This bunny has wisely armed himself with some lettuce.
And who likes to wait? Why not be happy right now?! (I got so excited I used an exclamation point AND a question mark! The horror!)

Two things that help protect the happy:

1. Think about all the awesome stuff you have going. 
It's really hard to be upset and worrying when you're thinking about how awesome that book you're writing is. Or when you think about how much you love your spouse/parent/sister/brother/goldfish. You have to really be happy about your awesome stuff though. Not a mentally checking off, "Yeah yeah, health and family members, blah blah, yay for them." Focus on how much you love spouse/parent/sister/brother/goldfish and let that take over the worry.

If you are single and you don't love anyone, not even your pet bunny, and you're homeless, and sick with all sorts of diseases and have made your way to my blog about writing and life and the writing life anyway, welcome! You can be happy about your favorite soup kitchen, and maybe that other homeless guy that lets you borrow his tarp.

You don't love Mr. Floppy?
2. Think about how it could be worse. 
It could be worse. Much worse. We're writers, so we KNOW how things can be worse, since we regularly do awful stuff to our characters. I have a confession, and this is so stupid and silly, but whenever I get really upset, I think about how I am not in a hostage situation. It's true. I think about how even though I am worried about money, or health, or a person, it could be worse. I could be stuck in a gas station with a crazed gunman waving a gun around. It's silly, but it usually helps calm me down. "Okay, yeah. We're eating beans and rice for a week, but no one is robbing me at gunpoint! Thank goodness!"

So there. Some weapons to protect the happy with. I am sure today's post has revealed my not-really-a-secret that I am a optimist, but that's okay. I trust you guys.

Chime in if you have strategies to keep the worry away. What do YOU do to protect your happy? We could train each other in the Art of Happiness War, and become like...Happiness Ninjas. We could be called the Happiness Harpies. No, maybe Harpoons. Hmmm, the name needs work, but we could make an ARMY of happy happy people.

I for one, am off to work on my book which is going fabulously, by the way. It's time to torture some characters, because well...doo doo rolls downhill.

*the rest of the bunnies were brought to you by Wikicommons. Aren't they adorable? They could be like, mascots or something. Ninjas have mascots, right?


Friday, March 25, 2011

My New Goal: House Giraffe

Some of you might not know, but there's this sport called basketball. And this is a time of the year called "March Madness". I found this out yesterday when my husband came home, turned on the TV, and starting yelling at the tiny people running around.

When I went into the living room to inform him that the tiny people couldn't hear him, and the game wasn't live anyway, so he's trying to yell through time and space, I saw this commercial instead.

There are many amusing things about this commercial--dogs playing poker in the background, the obligatory Swedish models, Twilight is the movie playing in the background--but I would like to focus your attention on the House Giraffe.

Isn't he just adorable? I saw another commercial that had him running on a little treadmill. Since I already have a house buffalo, I thought maybe a new addition to the family would be in order. My husband and I talked about it last night, and we've decided to go ahead and get one.

I am so excited! They are just so cute, don't you think?

Gentle reminder: I am having a blogfest! Yay! It's to celebrate reaching 50 followers, and also my new ones! Hi new followers! Thanks for joining us! So everyone go sign up because it's going to be lots of fun!

Happy Friday everyone! I am off to go pick up a mini-treadmill for our House Giraffe.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Things to Do While Writing a Book

We've all been there. Writing a book. Somehow, the place between "OMG I HAVE THE BESTEST IDEA EVAR!" and "Yay the book is done!" isn't as filled with sunshine and puppies as we have initially been lead to believe.

I am lucky, in that my book still feels new and shiny, even though I am rewriting scenes I've written before (I just really like this idea, okay? That or I am a narcissist. Perhaps both.). But you still have to keep your eyes open, least the demons of "This is garbage and I am writing something else. Something about unicorns." show up unexpectedly.

So you need a plan. A goal. A battle cry. Something to keep yourself going through the long haul of starting and finishing a book. Because ladies and gentleman? That's a big cavernous place right there. That gulf between "I started writing a book" and "I've finished writing a book" separates a lot of would be authors. I have lost track of how many people have told me, upon hearing that I write, that they've always wanted to write a book. Some even say, "I started writing a book, but got bored."

There's nothing wrong with starting and stopping a book. Goodness knows I've done it a bazillion times. Experimenting and breaking things is part of the writing process. But if you ever want to advance and get to the Revision level, and the Querying level, and the Bargaining Away Unnecessary Organs for a Chance of Publication level you need to finish the book.

So here's some tricks for doing just that (finishing the book, not bargaining away unnecessary organs. You're on your own there).

1. Bribe yourself. With chocolate, new books, new toys, a new car, whatever. Reward yourself, and frequently.

2. Set frequent goals. This gives you the illusion of progress. Goals can range from "Finish this chapter tonight" to "Kidnap Charlie Sheen to force him to endorse your book". Once you complete this goal, you feel good about yourself. It gives you the strength to move on.

3. Keep a schedule. If 3 in the morning under the light of the moon is your writing time, stick to it, even if the raccoons are talking about you behind your back.

4. Play games. If you're stalling out on what happens next, or a character is losing their luster, play a game with yourself. Ask What if my main character turned into a small flightless bird? What if the story isn't really set in a desert, but in outer space? What if this is all just a dream (smack yourself for that one). 

5. Blow some stuff up. Kill a character. Cripple a character. Give the character leprosy and watch as his friends think he's a zombie and try to shoot him "for his own good." Stake up the status quo in your plot, and take no prisoners. 

6. Combine any and all of the above. Maybe while writing by the light of the moon, you set the goal to tie up those nasty raccoons and milk them for life experiences. Or reward yourself with a new flat screen TV if you can successfully get Charlie Sheen to pretend to be the character with leprosy. Add in a bag of popcorn if Sheen pitches this to a movie producer, and it gets the green light. Or you could buy a book once you've gotten past the swampy middle of the book, and managed to kill all but the main characters. You know, that or the Charlie Sheen thing.

The point here is to keep going. Stay interested in the book, and show those raccoons what for. 

What do you do while writing a book to keep going? Anything extreme like nailing yourself to the chair, or you know, discipline could work too.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Once More with Feeling: Starting Over on a Half Finished Draft

Today I am starting over on a book I have about 20,000 words of already. I set it aside in November, sure it was a steaming pile of garbage. Happily I read through it a few weeks ago, and it's not as bad as I thought.

This last week or so I have been preparing to start over on a book I was in the middle of writing. It's no easy feat. In the interest of saving you some grief, here are some ideas/guidelines to help you along, should you find yourself treading a new path in an old forest. 

1. Figure out what went wrong the first time.
When deciding to rewrite a book, or pick up a half-finished manuscript, it's important to know why you put it down in the first place. You had a good reason to set the manuscript aside the first time, and sadly, the book elves have not fixed those problems while you were off doing other things. 

If the problem was something like being super busy or sick, chances are you're doing a little better than those of us who stopped because we didn't know enough of the plot to carry us through the rest of the book (like me). 

2. Make a plan of action.
If your problem turned out to be lack of conflict or stale characters, make a plan of action of how you're going to fix that. Develop the characters or plan out the plot a little bit. Anything to keep you from reading up to where you left off and saying, "Hmmmmm what now?" Hopefully the time off from your book has given you some distance. Now isn't the time to edit the life out of the half finished book, but to figure out why you staled out. Like any other outline or plan for a book, chances are it's going to change once you get back into the book, but that's okay. Having a plan now will keep you from losing steam later.

3. Figure out how much of the original draft is salvageable.
Here's where your personal preferences might vary, so take this with a huge grain of salt. You need to figure out how much of the draft to keep, but personally, I don't think now is the time to start editing. Editing a half finished book isn't really going to do anything for you, and you might get stuck on commas and word choice and less on finishing the story.

Your objective while looking over your partial draft is to figure out how much, if any, is worth saving. This will also depend on how far into the book you actually got before jumping ship. For me, that first 20,000 was pretty solid. I wrote the scenes I knew I needed to be there, but stalled out when I couldn't figure out how to get the characters where they needed to be next. 

BUT. I am also planning on changing the POV from multiple first to multiple third, adding in an extra POV, and changing one of the current POV character's personality. So while the scenes are okay, there's going to be a lot of changes to the original draft. 

I've gone back and forth whether or not I wanted to make those changes, or let what I have stand now and change it during editing. I finally decided to go ahead and rewrite the scenes. Because a) it's not that far along into the story and b) making those changes will give me a better feel for my characters as I see them now.

However, if all you're doing is adding in another character, and tweaking some events, and your half finished manuscript is something like 50,000 words long, you might consider simply letting it stand as is, and fixing the errors in revision. It's really a personal call. Consider how long your draft is now, and the magnitude of the changes you plan to make. For me, if I am changing a few characters around, and adding in another, that's a change of large magnitude. I like to see how the characters come together, and how they act towards one another. Skipping over the crucial introductory scenes has never worked well for me in the past (one time I decided to skip two crucial characters meeting each other, and went straight for when they were being the best of buds. Turns out, the characters couldn't stand each other. Had I started with their introductory scenes, I would have saved myself some grief).

4. Plan new stuff.
This sounds a little weird, but hear me out.

You're going to be working on a book you've already started. That initial spark of "this is the bestest idea EVAR" is probably gone. You've already stalled on the book once. Not such a great track record when going back to write a book.

So try to re-imagine the book now. Even if you've taken only a few months off, you're a different person than you were before. Don't assume you can simply sit down with the old outline and just punch out the book as you originally saw it. Figure out why you stopped in the first place, but also add some new spice to the book. Maybe a new character, or a new location. Allow yourself to brainstorm for new events and ideas. You're still in the creative process of writing a book, so allow yourself to be creative. Giving yourself some new and cool things to look forward to in the draft will help you from feeling bored with the book.

What about you? How do you approach starting over on a half finished project? Any advice for me? Other than lots of chocolate of course.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Almost Famous

Last night at work one of the people working up at the front desk asks me, "Do you have cute feet?"

I mentally thank the stars I just painted my toenails, and said yes. I took my shoe and sock off to demonstrate. She agreed I had cute feet, and that I was also pale.

"What size do you wear?"

"Six to six and a half, depending on the shoe," I reply, wondering where this was going.

"Darn. A casting director just came in asking for girls with "pale, cute, size seven feet for a foot double in Shia Labouf's new movie, Wettest Country."

Apparently they are filming the movie in the area, and the actress doesn't want to show her feet on screen for some reason. And I was almost the foot double for her.

Alas, my tiny feet!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Once More Into the Breach, Dear Friends

I image this in a Mr. Smithers voice.
After three weeks of catching up on my reading, housework, and social life, I am ready to jump back into my writing. I realized that I was moderately burned out, and needed to recharge my batteries.

Consider the battery recharged.

I spent last week pondering what I should/wanted to work on next. I've decided to finish the novel I set aside in November, tentatively named REDEEMER, since the interest has come back, and I have ideas on how to fix the problems that made me set it aside in the first place. This story won't leave me alone; it refuses to be forgotten. So now I get to look through all my notes (another benefit of planning a novel--if you have to stop for a long period of time, you're not going to forget all the cool stuff you had in mind) and try to get back into the swing of things.

I had fun these last three weeks, but I am itching to be writing again. This time, however, I plan to balance out my time. Writers spend so much enery trying to carve out time for our writing, we forget to plan for other activities, like reading and socializing with our families. There will be times that a deadline will force you to eshew reading, spending time with friends, and housework, but I don't think it should be the default setting for writers. 

Maybe you guys have this figured out already, and I am just slow on the up take. I tend to go all in. I throw myself into a project and focus on it solely that until it's complete. I can multitask, but it's not my default setting. So when I am working on a book, everything else falls to the wayside, which isn't a good long term strategy, both for my creativity and for my personal life.

So from now on, I am going to budget time, not just for writing, but for reading, and housework and all the other things I need to take care of.

I spent the last three weeks quite busy, and I don't want to give up reading in favor of writing again. So I plan to reorganize my time more efficiently. 

And now, my accomplishments for the last few weeks:

*Several trips to the shopping center with my best friend, with many books bought. 
*Moving up to Medium on Guitar Hero. The learning curve is at a 45 degree angle, by the way.
*Started beta reading a book I've had since December. Sorry Joe. :D I should be done by the end of the week.
*Went to North Carolina this last weekend to meet my husband's extended family, and attended his great-grandmother's 90th birthday party.
*Caught up on housework and still in the middle of spring cleaning. I have too much stuff. 
*Started a role-playing campaign with my husband, twin brother and sister in law. I am the DM, or the dungeon master, which means I control the story. It's really interesting to tell a story and watch the audience/characters interact.
*Read a ton of books, and I have even more on the "To Read" pile.

Here is a list of what I have read:

The Iron Duke, by Meljean Brook
Wicked Appetite by Janet Evanovich
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
Steampunk'D Edited by Jean Rabe and Martin H. Greenberg
Sunset and Sawdust by Joe R. Lansdale
Haunted by Chuck Palahnuik (unfinished)
John Dies at the End by David Wong
Lost Echos by Joe R. Lansdale

I am still working on Haunted,'s Chuck Palahnuik. There's a story in there that made me physically sick to my stomach (I didn't actually throw up, but it was a close call). I was just getting over a sinus infection, so I decided I would just set that aside. But if you've ever read Palahniuk, you know that he casts a spell on you while you read. The main character could be the worse person in the world, and you're still reading to find out what happens to him. 

Don't forget, I am having a blogfest on April Fool's Day! You should sign up!

How do you budget your time? Can you multitask well? What's on your current To Read list?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Books that Changed Your Life

I had an interesting discussion with my best friend Melissa the other day. We both love to read, so naturally the conversation turns to books whenever we spend more than five minutes around each other. 

We talked about books that changed our lives. I don't necessarily mean something as dramatic as "I had lupus-cancer-diabetes, and when I rubbed Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone* all over my body I was cured!" 

Books that changed something inside you. That after you read them, you felt like you were a slightly (or majorly) different person. A few titles sprang to mind, and I thought I would share them with you.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding: Lots of you had to read this one in school, so the forced reading might ruin things for you. When I was younger I would simply grab books off the library shelf and check them out without really looking at the spine. It was an adventure.

One day I innocently picked up Lord of the Flies. I was thirteen. I read it in one sitting, and I was horrified. There are still images that book created in my mind that haunt me.

I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier: I cannot stress what an amazing author Robert Cormier is. I read everything I could get my hands on after stumbling across I Am the Cheese. It too scarred me for life when I got to the ending and discovered exactly what he meant by the title, taken from a nursery rhyme "The cheese stands alone, the cheese stands alone..."

She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb: I read this book as a teenager, and then promptly passed it around to my other friends. Every year I reread this book, and it still manages to captivate me. It's one of those books where it's really hard to describe what it's about. "There's this girl, and her life is really messed up, and the story describes her situations..." The characters are vivid and real, and it really challenges what we've been taught about how to structure a story. I have two other books by Wally Lamb that's on my stack of "To Read" and I can't wait.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman: Again, this book really challenged my ideas about people, and places, and how a story could be told. I love Gaiman's novels, but American Gods just stays with me. I think about certain scenes from time to time.

There are tons of other books that I've read and felt moved by. Heart Shaped Box, The Gargoyle, Hearts in Atlantis, and Shelter to name a few. Some of it I think it timing. Sometimes you need to read a book that will change your view on the world, that if you'd read even a year later it wouldn't have affected you in the same way. All I know is I felt like a different person after reading these books. The foundation of myself, if you will allow me a dramatic analogy, was forever shaken.

So what books left you feeling like a different person? What books changed you inside in ways you can't describe?

*Note: As far as I am aware, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone has never cured someone of their ailment other than boredom and lack of awesome in their lives. I haven't tested the British version of the book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone**, so perhaps there's still hope.

**Further Note: My inferior American search system on Amazon did not pull up the UK edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, just the 10th Anniversary Edition and the Welsh translation. Go figure. So you're just going to have to take it from me there's a British version of The Sorcerer's Stone, and it's actually called the Philosopher's Stone, and for some reason they thought the American audiences wouldn't know what a Philosopher's Stone was, so they changed the title. Even though as a fantasy author, I already knew what a Philosopher's Stone was, and felt gypped that they changed the title. As since the author is British, you should know that when I say "British version" I really mean the original book.

Monday, March 7, 2011

50 Followers Blogfest!!

After a year of blogging, I have reached over fifty followers (52 at the time of this post). I cannot tell you how awesome or special that makes me feel. Over fifty people subscribe to my blog to read my ramblings. I have regular comments on my posts, and an awesome group of followers. 

This is slightly surreal to me, since I am not used to anyone outside of close friends and my Mom wanting to read what I've written. I cannot thank each and every one of my awesome followers enough for taking time out of their busy lives to read my posts. You guys rock!

So in honor of your awesomeness, I am hosting a blogfest! I thought it would be fun (and easy for those of you who are busy) if we posted an excerpt of our old work. It can be something from your diary when you were 12 or your last trunked manuscript. It could be a poem you wrote in fourth grade for your Mom, or a fanfiction you wrote as a teenager.

The beauty of this is you don't have to come up with something new. All you have to do is find something you wrote previously, and post it. This should be done in the spirit of fun and humor, and is not an excuse to berate yourself for your failings. I think we need some perspective sometimes on how far we've come as writers. It feels like we're not making progress. We write, produce a manuscript, query, rejection, and then the process starts over.

We feel like publication will be the validation that we are improving, we are getting better. Or if you're already published, you want a bigger advance. A prestigious award. We need some outward sign that we really are getting better.

And you are. By the simple process of continuing on through the doubt and insecurity your writing skills are getting better. It's just hard to see the forest for the trees sometimes. 

So! On April 1st (because really, why not?) we are all going to post an excerpt, short story, or poem, from an earlier work. Me personally, I plan to find the most awful piece of drek of mine that I can find. And that's going to be hard to top, considering my last offering for this sort of public humiliation

Sign up below and let the words fly!

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Friday, March 4, 2011

In Which Neil Gaiman Says Something Meaningful and I Post It For the Eddification of All

The title pretty much sums this post up.

I finished reading "Good Omens" by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett last night, and am left wondering why it took me so long to read it. I suppose the number of the people who haven't yet read this book is down in the single digits, and I urge the rest of you to go read it. 

At the end of the book Neil Gaiman talks about how he met Terry Pratchett and how they wrote the book together (as in, together. Not that one of them wrote one half and the other wrote the rest. They would sort of trade off, and write when they knew what happened next). 

I was struck by what Gaiman said about Terry Pratchett:

"He constructs novels like a guildmaster might build a cathedral arch. There is art, of course, but that's the result of building it well. What there is more of is the pleasure taken in constructing something that does what it's meant to do--to make people read the story, and laugh, and possibly even think."

For a long time I've thought about art versus craft. You hear people talk about the art of writing, the creative energy that goes into a novel. Depending on the person, and whether or not they have an MFA, really big words get thrown around that basically mean "Writing is as nebulous as the clouds, and real writers cannot predict the whims of the muse anymore than we can predict the whims of the weather."

Then there's the other camp, the "storytellers". You know the writers, the ones that claim, "I am not shooting for high art, I just want to tell a good story." They pay special attention to dialogue, and characters, and *gasp* might even plot out their novels in advance.

Obviously I am generalizing. I have met people with MFAs who were down to earth and people who consider themselves "storytellers" but refuse to change one word of their deathless prose.

And all the while I am left wondering, "Can't it be both? Can't a person write a really great genre novel and it still have literary merit?"

The answer, of course, is yes, and authors do it all the time. Gaiman and Pratchett are examples. So is Holly Lisle and Orson Scott Card. Sure, they want to tell a compelling story, but there's usually something deeper going on in the story if you care to think about it. 

It's just that I think we're trained to think of it as being only one way or another. Since I write genre novels, I am excluded from the Deep and Literary table. Likewise for literary authors, your books are treated like children who must eat your veggies: you won't enjoy the actual experience, but it's good for you. Builds characters (pun intended).

Gaiman's statement really hit home for me, because I think that's the key to merging literary merit with an awesome story. Art comes after a certain level of competence is acquired. If you can lay down a seamless structure (whether it's through plotting or pantsing and tidying up afterward) it becomes much easier to focus on excellence in characters, plot, and word choice. 

I think a cathedral arch is an excellent analogy:

Wikicommons allows me to illustrate my point.
See how beautiful the architecture is? There's a quite grace to a cathedral arch. But think about all of the planning that went into the design.

You can have both art and entertainment. It doesn't have to be one side or another. 

What do you think? Do you label yourself as an artist or a craftsman? Do you consciously try to merge literary merit with entertainment, and if so, how?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Lookit the Links!

For today I shall bring you links.

First one: Terribleminds. I really love Chuck Wendig's blog. A word of caution: he does use, erm, strong language. But it's never really...ummm...gratuitous. This man can make a swear into an adjective, and make you laugh in the process. He also has some fabulous writing advice. So check it out, but don't blame me for finding his irreverent humor funny. 

Janice Hardy posts a link on *her* blog about mistakes writers make. So I am posting a post that posts a link. Let's pray that I didn't create a hole in the time space continuum. Or that if I did, we get to see how cool the future will be (with us all published, naturally). 

Nathan Bransford poses an interesting question: How Much Do You Share About Your Idea?
Me personally, I tend to talk about the vague glimmering idea over with a few friends and tease the idea out of hiding. If the story has spoilers or major secrets to be revealed though, I usually keep mum so the beta readers can be surprised (hopefully). I am a little suspicious of telling the entire world every detail about my book, because I think it can kill the interest in a book, and because well...sometimes no one cares. Not in a mean way, but if every writer blogged about their books in great detail I think our eyes would just glaze over. We have no context for the book most of the time, so it's hard to care.

Joe Selby suffers from a common dilemma most of us do who are well informed, but unpublished, namely when aspiring writers receive the wrong information. 

And for something completely random! Go ahead, be brave! Click the link! I dare you!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Running Low

My brain feels like saltwater taffy right now.

I wish I could say it's because I've been really productive, like I just finished beta reading for Joe, editing my own book, and wrote another, but alas that's not the case. I have started beta reading, but I haven't even looked at my own work. In all fairness, I need about another week or so before I can realistically start editing. 

In the meantime, my brain has no story to think about. I've have the occasional idea come and go, but I can't really get pumped up over an idea until I have a plot to work on too. So the ideas start to loose a bit of their luster. But I really need this break. I didn't realize while I was writing my last book I was running on empty, much like that Jackson Browne song "Running on Empty". (P.S. I really like Jackson Browne. I love the sound of his voice. You might also like "Doctor My Eyes" by him as well. Why yes, my parents raised me on classic rock. Why do you ask?)

But after a few days of goofing off, getting the boring housework type stuff done, and reading, I realized I felt much better than I have in awhile (sinus infection notwithstanding). More clear headed, and far less panicky. I've spent far less time on the Internet reading blogs, and more time reading and spending time with my friends and family.

You know how writers talk about reconnecting with life after a book? I've come to realize that is a vital part of the writing process, at least for me. I wouldn't change anything that happened last year (like getting married) but it took it's toll on me.

Part of the problem was my own doing. I felt like I had to start querying by February. I figured I would finish writing the book in December, give it a few weeks to settle, edit, give it to betas, implement changes, and then I was off to the querying races.

Ummmm yeah. Best laid plans of mice and men, right? The problem was even when I knew I wouldn't be ready by February I still felt like a big fat failure. I still felt like I was behind. This is not a good feeling to try and write a book to. Stepping back from the Internet and the rest of the writing world for a while has helped me let go of some of that self imposed anxiety. It's good to have deadlines of course, but you also have to know how to adjust things accordingly. 

Free Digital Pictures for all your picturing needs!
Back to not having a story, my brain is rebelling. I am having these weird, crazy dreams about ice cream and wedding videos. I have trained myself to be creative every day since I was a teenager, and whenever I don't have a project I am actively working on, my brain gets a little crazy with itself. Sometimes I distract it with chocolate but that only works for so long.

But that's okay. It's a small price to pay to recharge my batteries. You just can't expect yourself to constantly put out quality creative material without taking some creativity in. I think in the future I am going to schedule down time more frequently, so I can keep up a steady pace. 

In the meantime, I get to decide what book I am going to work on next. I will probably finish my previous WIP, although I am considering changing the POV from first to third, and adding a POV to bring the book closer to what I had originally envisioned it to be. 

So what do you do to recharge your batteries? How do you prevent yourself from burning out?