“Real” Writer – Part Two

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Image from Dreamstime

 

So… I have an update on my last post (delay courtesy of Thanksgiving weekend!).  I heard back last Monday from the editor and learned that my story wasn’t accepted.  I’m trying to see this as an opportunity to send the story to another market and maybe hear back more quickly, but it’s my first rejection and I can’t pretend that I wasn’t a little upset.  Still, all I can do is move on and keep trying.  One day, I’ll get my first yes.

 

Fortunately, I didn’t have to think too hard about it over the weekend, as I spent some time with my parents, helping them build a deck and playing with their new dog Gypsy.  She’s six and was rescued from a broken home, and she’s the sweetest little girl that I’ve ever met.   Only time will tell if she gets along with my cats (they have yet to be introduced).

I am a “Real” Writer

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Image from Dreamstime

 

I forget where I read it, probably because I’ve seen it in several places, but I’ve seen lately that “real writers ship”.  Which means, to send writing out into the world, to be read and to change lives.

 

Well, I haven’t shipped very much to date.  I’ve submitted to a couple of contests, but otherwise, nothing.  Fortunately, that changed last week!  I’ve been working on  a short story for an anthology that I heard about in July, and on Tuesday, I sent it out!  I’m proud of the little story, although I have no illusions that it will actually be accepted.  I think it’s a neat concept though, that I can recycle or re-use if it doesn’t get accepted.

 

In the meantime, please cross your fingers for me!  I should hear by the end of the year, and it will be my first “real” published piece (and will pay!) if it gets picked.  If not, I might just share it here!

 

Are you a “real” writer?  What have you shipped?

How I stop writer’s block in 15 minutes or less

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Image from Dreamstime

 

It happens to everyone at some point or another: you have an idea, but no clue where to start.  Or you have a daily word count goal and nomotivation.  Or you’ve written yourself into a metaphorical corner with no way out.  Writer’s Block: the bane of every writer everywhere.

 

Unfortunately, I face writer’s block quite often.  It’s a side effect of my current muse-less existence.  But sometimes I get a flash fiction prompt, or a vague idea, or even just a starting phrase and I need to flex my writerly muscles and get to work on something I’m not as inspired by or write something that I’m not 100% comfortable with.  When that happens, I have one surefire technique that I like to use.

 

Well, a few different techniques, but they’re all variations on the same theme, which is to shut off distractions, write like crazy for a set amount of time, and stop caring if it’s good or not.

 

For longer projects, the best way to do this, for me, is NaNoWriMo.  Writing 1,667 words a day (or more) given my already loaded schedule requires that I lock my internal editor away and stop caring quite as much about quality.  I don’t necessarily get amazing words out, but I get an editable first daft, and a few nuggets of pure gold that are enough to keep me going through the editing process.

 

On days when I’m struggling to focus, I need to shut off my access to the internet, otherwise I will keep checking Facebook, twitter, and various other sources of entertainment and amusement in an attempt to distract myself.  Sometimes it’s enough to turn off my WiFi for a while or use Freedom (my preference, because it comes with a built-in timer), but on really bad days, I sometimes have to pack up and move somewhere (usually a coffee shop or pub) where there is no internet, or where using the internet would drain my laptop battery (I don’t bring my charger)

 

And when I’m working on something that’s really not working or that I’m struggling to get ‘right’, I turn to the ultimate weapon: Write or Die.  Developed by the amazing Dr. Wicked, this web-based and downloadable program not only lets you set a time and word count goal, but it punishes you when you stop writing.  Depending on the setting this can be anything from a red screen to your words suddenly deleting themselves if you stop typing for a certain length of time.  Even if I keep hitting the space bar or start stream-of-consciousness writing, eventually I manage to come up with something using this program.  As Dr. Wicked says, it puts the “prod” in productivity, and it’s often the boot in the butt that I need.

 

Writer’s block hits everyone at one time or another, but I’ve found ways to combat it that work well for me.  What ways work for you?

Re-Organizing

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Image from Dreamstime

 

As I mentioned in my last post, I spent the long weekend re-organizing my latest novel.  I was unhappy with the way that it had originally been set up and so I decided to take the time and make the changes that I wanted to make.  It took over six hours, a lot of re-thinking and moving and copying and changing the point of view of several scenes and adding far more new scenes than I had thought I would need to, but I finally got it done.

 

So far, I’m pleased with the changes that I made.  The story seems to be much clearer and gets my intent across better.  The organization should fix some of the issues that my critique group had with the structure.  And, so far at least, it’s been easier to work with.  Now, I’m only still editing and haven’t yet gotten to any of the new stuff (with the exception of one new scene, everything that I am working on now is being edited or re-written), but I really believe that the time made the story better.

 

It was frustrating, to be sure, and sometimes I wanted to just give up and read a book for a while, but I’m glad that I stuck with it.

 

Next up: organizing my office.

 

Have you ever made a drastic change to a story?

R and R

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Image from Dreamstime

 

No, not rest and relaxation (although I did some of that too!)

 

No: re-plan and re-organize.

 

This last weekend was the Canada Day long weekend for me and I spent the time resting at a secluded spot by the river.  This is a very peaceful spot, completely unplugged, and very private.  I only brought one book (more on that in a few days) that I finished by 4:00 on Saturday.  What can I say: it was good!

 

The novel read, I turned my attention to the novel I am writing!  You see, I wrote the requisite 50,000 words during Camp NaNoWriMo, and almost got the book done (as it turns out, there’s only five chapters to go!)  As usual for a NaNo project, the words felt like they lacked a certain… punch.  The novel was lagging and the reviews I’d received from my critique group had given me pause.  I finally decided that the novel needed a little bit of re-thinking.

 

Nothing major, of course, just re-organizing some scenes into different chapters, changing some points of view, and adding some scenes where I felt like they were needed.

 

I managed to get down to 26 chapters (from 32), deleted about six scenes, and tightened some others up.  All told, it was several hours of work, but the basic framework should now be (relatively) solid.  I’m sure that things will change as I continue to re-work and get feedback, but I feel like I’ve clarified things a lot, even if only for myself.

 

The novel itself still needs a little lot of work, but at least I have a map for the editing adventure that will soon be upon me!  Now… to get to that little detail…

 

How did you spend your weekend?

That Point

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Image from Dreamstime

 

I’m at “that point” in my current novel.  Those of you who write will know what I mean.  I’m far enough in that the excitement and joy that I felt at the beginning of the writing have faded.  The right words seem to be slow in coming, the characterization seems to fail, and I’m alternating between over-reliance on dialogue and over-reliance on exposition.

 

I’m just over halfway through the novel and I’m convinced that it sucks.

 

That’s not true of course.  Sure, parts of it need work, but this is only the first draft (of this incarnation of the story, it’s about the fourth time I’ve attempted to write it) and there’s definitely room for improvement.  That part, I can handle, as much as I might dislike it, because that’s a part of it.

 

No, the problem is that the story hasn’t yet met my expectations of it.  It’s lagging along, with completely pointless chapters, characters that some of my critique group doesn’t find lovable, and a set of subplots that I’m not sure I have the skills to pull off.  Of course, it’s not fair of me to blame the story.  I should be blaming myself, the incompetent writer who can’t handle a simple subplot and a half-engaging chapter.

 

In short, the story doesn’t seem redeemable and I’m tempted to give up, to work on something new or, even better, to move to Florida and become an orca trainer at Sea World.

 

I have no plans of doing anything quite so drastic as moving, of course (for one thing, my co-ML would do her best to murder me if I abandoned her before NaNoWriMo) but that doesn’t mean I’m not tempted.  I don’t have any shiny new ideas right now (that and the camp deadline are probably all that’s keeping me working on this story), but if I did, I would be quite happily working away on those instead.

 

Which is exactly the opposite of the thing that will get me past that point in the process.

 

I am trying to remind myself that this is normal, that everyone feels this way, and it’s part of the process.  Neil Gaiman said it best in a NaNoWriMo pep talk a few years ago.  Everyone goes through this, but that doesn’t make it any easier.

 

No, it doesn’t make it any easier at all.  Fortunately, I only have about 5,000 words to write until things start getting exciting again.  Then I should have reached the beginning of the “momentous downhill slide” and things will get easier and easier until I can finally reach the glorious end that I’ve been longing for since word one.

 

Unfortunately, the only thing that’s likely to get me to that point is more writing.

 

A word after a word after a word.

 

That and trying not to think about how much I have to edit this.

 

What do you do when you hit “that point”?

 

Rest and Recovery

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Image from Dreamstime

 

So I took Thursday and Friday off this week.  The plan, initially, had been to take the cats to the vet, rest, and WRITE.  A lot.

 

Sadly, only two of these things happened.

 

I did indeed get the cats to the vet, and it was a resounding success.  Much better, and more hilarious, than in previous years, and I only have one scratch to show for it.  The scratch was a direct result of my impatience and my cat’s desire not to go in the carrier, rather than from the visit itself, so I can’t even count it as a strike against the experiment.

 

I also got lots of resting done.  You see, my handsomer half managed to get a stomach flu mid-week, and I caught it too.  Sadly, the half of Thursday and the Friday I had envisioned spending writing in the silence of my house were spent curled up on the couch drinking gingerale and cleaning off my PVR.

 

I only finally felt up to writing/doing anything yesterday, and that mostly surrounded knitting.  I wrote a chapter in my novel yesterday and another one today, so I feel pretty good about that, but I am still weak and (now) behind on my Camp NaNo goals.  Fortunately, the fact that I was ahead earlier in the week and that I wrote an extra 500 words both yesterday and today mean that I’m now only a day behind, but that’s not entirely comforting to the girl who’s usually confidently ahead by three or four days.

 

Anyway, I was definitely sick (when I’m too sick for surf and turf, I’m too sick for anything), so I’m comforting myself with the knowledge that resting was more important.  And it’s not worth getting angry at myself over now that I’m nearly caught back up.  Life is going to throw curve balls like that at me, and I think it’s the recovery from the setback that’s important.

 

And I’m well on my way to recovery!

Character Profiles in “The Hunger Games”

As an advance note, I’m trying out a new posting system. I hope everything here turns out okay, but in case it doesn’t, please forgive me for any formatting issues.

 

Now, onto the subject of this blog post:

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I receive the monthly eZine from Randy Ingermanson, aka: “The Snowflake Guy”. I subscribed to his monthly emails after trying, and loving, his Snowflake method. I’ve only used it for the one novel so far, but using it up to step four has been helpful for short stories too.

 

However, there’s one place where I always seem to struggle, and that’s step 5. I’ve never really liked writing down the details of my characters, it seems unnatural to me. Strangely enough, I have no problems listing their basic motivations or the details about them when it comes down to it. But for some reason, summarizing the story for each of the characters is excruciatingly painful for me.

 

So imagine my surprise when I read this month’s eZine and saw Randy do it well, with a book that I’ve read recently as an example. I think I understand the concept of step 5 a lot better now, and I think that I’ll have to go back and re-work it for my current WIP to see if I can’t discover any unknown subplots.

 

Here’s the first character profile (warning: spoilers herein and in Randy’s full eZine):

 

Katniss
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Katniss Everdeen is a 16-year-old girl in a dystopic future America. She scratches out a bare living by hunting illegally with her best friend Gale.

Katniss only loves one person in the world, her little sister Prim. When Prim’s name is drawn for the Hunger Games, Katniss volunteers to take her place, which she knows will be a death sentence.

Katniss is particularly unhappy that the other tribute from her district is Peeta Mellark, a boy she hardly knows, except that he saved her life a few years ago when she was starving and desperate.

During the last interview before the Hunger Games begin, Peeta reveals on national TV that he has a terrible crush on Katniss, and therefore he can’t win even if he survives. Katniss is furious, thinking this is a scam to make her look weak.

When the Games begin, Katniss grabs a few supplies and heads for the hills to evade the Career tributes. Late that night, she discovers that Peeta has joined forces with the Careers, and has promised to deliver her to them.

Katniss is now completely convinced that Peeta is doing his best to survive at her expense. Can she outfox the Careers — and punish Peeta?

 

Read the rest here.
I have to say that Randy does an amazing job of, not only getting me engaged in the characters, but in the story, as each successive character’s mini-bio gets closer and closer to the finale of the story, when all the little story-threads finally come together. I think I finally understand how this type of synopsis can be more engaging for editors and agents, and I definitely think that my step 5s need more work.

 

If you want to read more from Randy, all of his past eZines are available on his website, and you can subscribe to receive the ones on the first Tuesday of the month.

 

Who do you follow regularly to learn more about your craft?

 

 

This article is reprinted by permission of the author.

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, “the Snowflake Guy,” publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 31,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit http://www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.

Download your free Special Report on Tiger Marketing and get a free 5-Day Course in How To Publish a Novel.

The Muse Returns?

Originally posted January 26, 2012 (before the disaster)

 

Maybe… maybe not.

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But like wisps of steam rising off a freezing pond, ideas are slowly coming to me.

 

I posted a few weeks ago about how my muse has abandoned me.  At the time, I felt like I had the drive and the motivation to work but, other than my novel, no good ideas.

 

I still can’t claim to have any good ideas (I can’t claim anything is good when I’m still so close to it), but I did find some inspiration in the suggestions of my twitter followers.  Consequently, I just finished draft one of a short story that came to me, nearly all at once, at the zoo last Saturday.  I’ll have to get some other people’s input onto it, but I’m excited about it.  It’s dark, and unusual for me, but maybe that’s just the thing I’ve been looking for.  As a little drawing of a coffin in my Pintrest account says “You’ll have a whole eternity to think inside the box.”

 

I also have one short story about 2/3 done and another plotted and ready to go.  I’m not sure that I’m crazy about them yet, but I’ll finish them and drop them in a drawer for a few months and see if I can find anything redeeming in them.

 

In more positive writerly news, the novel I am currently re-writing is going well and I am nearly at 15,000 words!  Just another 65,000 to go!  It stands a good chance of getting done before the end of June, which would be nice, because it gives me a fair chunk of time to do some plotting and planning before NaNo this year.  What am I going to write this November?

Work-like UnWork

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Image from Dreamstime

 

I haven’t been writing much lately [cue the *gasp, choke, shock* noises].

 

Now, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been thinking about writing.  In fact, I have been doing a lot in the last few days that is writing-related but isn’t actually writing.

 

1) There’s the group creative project I mentioned, that’s kind of beginning to get some momentum since we had a meeting on Saturday.

2) There’s the flash fiction and new short story idea that I have rattling around in my head.

3) There’s the critiquing that I’m doing.

 

Of the three things on the list, the last is taking up a lot of my time right now.  Not only do I have the regular, weekly chapter critique(s) that I do as part of my critique group, but we’ve all volunteered to critique a full novel for one of our members.  Of course, it’s a long novel and I’m struggling with the process of reading the work with a critical eye instead of purely for enjoyment (my usual MO).  That’s proven difficult for me and is requiring a lot more brain power than I might like.  On the positive side, though, it’s really made me think a lot more about what I look for in a novel, which has consequently made me think about what should be in a novel.  A novel like the one I’m writing!

 

The break in writing is okay, though, because chapter two of “Fighter One” is currently out for critiques and I don’t really want to continue working on it until I know what I need to fix.  Besides, I plan on working on it during June Camp NaNoWriMo, finishing it in July, and using the August camp to plan my November NaNo novel.  Then I have September and October to edit it and it’ll be done before the end of the year.

 

That’s reasonable when working on short stories, traveling for work, and trying to get a group project finished up by the end of the year, right?

 

Right?