Friday, December 19, 2014

Anniversary, and a building year ahead

So I just realized that Tuesday will be the one-year anniversary of this blog.  I still haven't finished a book to the point of self-publishing, but I've written more this year than I have in several years past, so I consider it a win.  (I've written even more, if I include the blog posts I've put up here.)

2014 has been an...interesting year.  Health issues and deaths in the family aside, it hasn't been bad.  I feel like I'm getting a better sense of who I am as a writer, which is a big part of what I need to be confident in my writing.  My day job has had its ups and downs, but the year is ending on a high note, which always makes me feel a little better.  I'm thankful for the life I am privileged to lead, and I hope to use my time to make the lives of others a little better, too.

There.  Now that I've gotten the maudlin sentimentality out of the way, it's time to set some goals for myself for next year.  More and more, I'm realizing that if I take the kind of business-like, metrics-driven approach in my personal life as I do in my professional life, I will probably be able to meet a few goals and feel like I've accomplished something.  I'm going to give myself a timeline as well, and will hopefully track against those dates here, where the internet can see.  Accountability!  That's the aim.  Anyway, goals!

  • Complete draft of book 2 of Paranormal Investigations, Inc.
    • Due: April 30
  • Complete draft of Church of Book
    • Due: August 31
  • Win at least one of either Camp Nanowrimo or Nanowrimo
    • Due: November 31
  • Complete edit of Paranormal Investigations, Inc.
    • Due: December 31
  • Submit at least one short story for publication
    • Due: December 31
Next year is going to be what they refer to in football as a "building year."  My hope is that I'll have something polished and actually COMPLETE by the end of the year.

Happy holidays, my friends.  I will be away from the blogosphere for the rest of the year, unless something extraordinary happens that I just can't wait to talk about.  Here's to a glorious 2015!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Character building - personal effects

The other day, I started sorting through my jewelry.  I had recently gotten a new necklace, and I wanted to put it away and make sure I had everything else in order.  A few years ago, I had done a massive culling of the herd, as it were, and I like to go through and see if there's anything else that should be sent out to pasture when I add new items.

I don't have a ton of jewelry (anymore), and I realized that the items I kept, and that I wear the most often, are the ones with stories behind them.  There are the necklaces my husband has given me, a locket with some of the dirt from my father's grave inside, and earrings my mother gave me when I graduated from high school.  Not all of them are things that have big, important meanings, of course - I have several necklaces that I bought at various conventions that I keep because they remind me of the convention and, of course, because they're pretty.

You can tell a lot about a person (or a character) by the things that they keep that are important to them.  Sometimes it's something as simple as a ring they always wear - it may look completely innocuous, but there's probably a reason why that person always wears it, and it's a great hook into a character's psyche.  Everyone has something that, if lost or stolen, would affect them emotionally.  And if a person doesn't have something like that, well, that's another angle on the character.

Writing is going slowly, but it is going.  I've decided to go back to Paranormal Investigations for a bit, since it's been a while since I've spent any time on those characters and I've missed them.  I'm also working on a guest blog post for my husband's blog Talking Game, about being a woman in the land of gaming.  I'll be honest - I'm a little nervous about that post.  I've been extremely lucky, in that the majority of my negative interactions have simply had to do with being condescended or patronized to, with no threats.  By making myself more visible and writing about it, that could change, and I'm not certain how I feel about that yet.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Series Review - Discworld by Terry Pratchett

Well, that last post certainly got more attention than I expected!  To any new readers, welcome to my little corner of the internet.  I'm a writer who's working on making writing a bigger part of my life, and will someday have a book or short story published, be it by a publisher or by my own hand (thank you, self-publishing).

Being a big fan of fantasy and science-fiction works, I read a lot of books in a series, and I've enjoyed seeing how different authors handle the overarching story lines.  My favorites are the Discworld books by Terry Pratchett, the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, and the October Daye books by Seanan McGuire.  Conveniently, I'm involved with craft swaps on Ravelry for two of the three series, so I've been going through the books again and reminding myself why I love them so.

The Discworld books were the first series that hooked me from the start.  They're not a traditional book series, in that you don't necessarily need to read each book in order, but they contain several overarching plot lines, as well as a few threads that are seen in the entire series.  For those of you who don't know the books, the series is set on a fantasy world that is flat (a disc, one might even say), which is carried on the backs of four elephants who ride through the stars on the back of a giant turtle.  There is magic, obviously, as well as some technology that resembles more modern tech.  Don't let the fact that there are 40 books in the series scare you - you can start anywhere.

The first few books are more or less a take on the standard sword-and-sorcery tales of old, with a whole lot of humor thrown in.  Pratchett is wonderful at taking the status quo of fantasy and looking at it from a different perspective.  He creates some characters that start with a standard archetype (wizard, barbarian, witch) and gives them enough unique personality traits that they become something more than a stereotype.

Later books in the series take breadcrumbs that were dropped in the early books and fleshes them out, building on stories and characters that could really only exist on the Discworld.  For example, there's a passing reference in an early book about using semaphore flags to signal from one police officer to another.  By the more recent books, this system (now known as the clacks) has become incredibly important politically, as well as essentially mirroring modern mobile phone services.

Personally, I enjoy the books that are about the City Watch, and those about the character of Death.  The character development for the Watch (particularly the character of Sam Vimes) is a master class in how to create interesting, complex characters, and Death is just a great voice in the series.  He appears in many of the books, even if it's just a cameo, but there are a few in which he has a starring role.

I give the series as a whole five stars, and not only would I read it again, I do on a fairly regular basis.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

End of Nanowrimo and New Ink!

Alas, I'm not winning Nano this year.  I'm disappointed, but I'm not all that surprised.  I've gotten a good handle on what I want to do with the story, so I'm hoping to continue with it over the next few months.  My goal is to have something ready for self-publication by this time next year (and I'm pretty sure I said something very similar around this time last year, so take that goal with a grain of salt).

In other news, yesterday I finally got a couple of tattoos that I've been planning for several months.  They're both song lyrics, one around each wrist, and they were done by the magnificent Magdalena Sky at BJP Southcenter.  I wanted to go over what I got, and why, when it's still fresh in my mind.  Pictures!

The right wrist:




 

The quote around the right wrist is the title of Seanan McGuire's beautiful song, "My Story is Not Done", with a quill across the inside of my wrist.  I first heard her music at a concert at Norwescon earlier this year, when I finally went to my first filk concert.  While I had heard of this style of fandom-related music, I had never actually listened to it.  I'm a huge fan of Seanan's fiction, and so I thought it would be great to actually listen to some of her music since she was performing live.  I was absolutely floored by the music.  I immediately bought everything I could from the merch table, and one of the CDs had this song on it.

I've been fighting depression for many years, and I wanted something that would remind me that I still have more to do.  I also wanted to remind myself of my dedication to writing - thus the quill.

The left wrist:


The quote here is from Michelle Dockrey's (of local filk group Vixy and Tony) fan anthem, "We Are Who We Are", and it says "we are creators of our own worlds," with a book on one edge of my wrist.  Vixy and Tony was another act in the same concert at Norwescon, and they were actually the first ones I had heard.  I nearly broke into tears when I heard them, and all I could think was "I didn't know we could do that."

This reminds me of why I got into the business of storytelling, and how much I enjoy the worlds others have created.

I admit, I'm a little nervous about going in to work tomorrow, but I adore the art on these.  They've been done beautifully, and I would recommend Magdalena in a heartbeat.

How about you?  Any literary or musical tattoos?  Anything you would like to get, but are nervous to get inked permanently?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Nanowrimo Days Twenty-Three through Twenty-Six

My friends, it's not looking good.  According to the Nanowrimo website, I need to write 5,543 words a day (including today) in order to finish on time.  While I do tend to have good days, I'm not thinking it's likely that I'll have that many days that are THAT good in time.  I think I've got a good handle on what I'm writing now, though, or at least a good idea of what the plot is going to be, so I'm hoping to keep the momentum up.

Of course, beginning tomorrow we have The Holidays, and there is much crafting to be done before Christmas.  With luck, that will just be my time on my commute, but it depends on how behind I get on things.

In other news, I hope to get back to a regular (though less frequent) blogging schedule here.  I'm pretty close to recovered from surgery, so now it's a matter of getting back up to speed.  All I can think right now is that it's been a very long year, and I'm hoping for things to be a little calmer in 2015.

Happy Thanksgiving, U.S. folks!  Happy Thursday to everyone else.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Nanowrimo Days Twenty through Twenty-Two

I admit, I seriously contemplated throwing in the towel on Nano for a bit.  I didn't write anything for a couple of days, thinking that maybe it would best if I took a break from writing altogether for a bit.  Besides, it's getting close to the holidays, which means that there's going to be a great deal of crafting to be done to get gifts together for everyone.

Then I woke up this morning, and realized that I needed to write.  Even though I know it's unlikely that I'll be able to finish Nano in time (I only need to write about 4400 words a day, no big deal *faints*), I needed to write.  Not writing anything for a few days had actually bothered me, and I noticed that my depression seemed to pick up.  I'm not entirely certain what kind of link, if any, exists there, but if it helps, I'm all for it.

Going back to the story, I decided to change around some of my outline, which was mostly caused by one of my characters showing up having been beaten up like crazy.  I wasn't expecting that.  I also hadn't expected to kill off one of the main secondary characters, but I'm pretty sure that's what's going to be happening shortly.

At any rate, it feels good to be back.  Maybe I just needed to take a couple of days off to remind myself that writing isn't just something I want to do - I need to do it.  Even if no one ever reads what I write, I still need to do it.

Back to the word mines!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Nanowrimo Days Eighteen and Nineteen

My friends, I have to admit that I'm hitting the wall.  I'm also starting to be overwhelmed with doubt.  I had hoped that this would be the year I would get something to a point that I would be willing to self-publish it, or that I would submit something I had written for publication.  I did manage the second, and was rejected - twice - but at least I managed to accomplish something.  I have serious doubts about the first goal, though, and at this point I'm not sure it's something I should even be trying to do.

My writing isn't great.  I'm pretty sure it doesn't even cross the line into "good" territory.  I have ideas, but I don't know how to implement them, and I don't think I'm capable of putting them in such a way that anyone outside of my head would even care about it.  I've gotten pretty accustomed to throwing words into the void, but now I don't know if I should be doing even that much.

I have no idea if I'm going to finish.  Part of me really, really wants to throw in the towel, and I'm having a hard time justifying why I'm not.  Maybe I'll feel better after a good night's sleep, or maybe I'll decide that I should wrap my dream of being a writer in some cotton and put it away in a trunk, where it belongs.  We'll just have to see what tomorrow brings.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Nanowrimo Days Sixteen and Seventeen

Right now, my main character is caught under a table while a meeting is getting ready to take place.  This means that I have a batch of characters to introduce via their voices and shoes alone.  This has actually been a lot of fun, because it gives me a chance to figure out how someone's voice will make an impression on a person who doesn't get to see who they are.

Of course, my main character is going to get found, but in the meantime, I'm having fun with it.  She's getting in way over her head right now, and she doesn't even realize it.  Bwahahahaha.

In other news, I'm back to work for the first time in a week and a half (the last week, I was working from home, so I'm back in the office now), and I'm already exhausted.  I'm just going to try my best to get through as much of the week as I can, and use the time on my commute to write a little more.  I'm behind, but I think I still have a chance.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Nanowrimo Days Thirteen through Fifteen

Catch-up day!  It seems like every time I do Nanowrimo, I ended up with one or two days where I start to write ALL THE WORDS and try to play catch up.  The two times that I've won Nanowrimo so far, it was done on the last day, within an hour or two of midnight.  Clearly, the words flow better when I'm closing in on a deadline.

Of course, that's not completely accurate - sometimes the words flow better.  Other time, there's a loop of "can't write" repeating in my head while I stare at the blank page, which is less than useful.  Still, it looks like today is doing some damage to the backlog.  I decided to actually try out the timer page (Moosti, if you're interested) that I had bookmarked in preparation for Nano and then completely forgotten about.  I've never really written with a timer before, but I think it's working pretty well for me.  I do think that 25 minutes is pushing it for me - by about minute 20, I was having trouble focusing and starting to look for an excuse to do something else, but up until that point, I was just forcing myself to write without letting myself stop, and that helped.

Here's to the halfway point, my friends!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Nanowrimo Day Twelve

It's been slow (shocking, I know), but it's moving again.  I'm having fun learning a little more about one of my side characters, who I hadn't really fleshed out before.  That's the part I enjoy the most about Nanowrimo - having to spill language out means that the characters get the chance to play without much supervision.  Of course, that's when things like my fluffy chick-lit book turning into psychological horror tales happen, so it's a mixed blessing.

How are things going for you all?  Anyone else having a slow spell, or are the words just flowing forth for you?  If so, I'd ask that you send me some of your good writerly vibes, but I'm not going to take away from another writer's groove.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Nanowrimo Day Eleven

Remember how I said my word count was pathetic yesterday?  Today makes it look like GOLD.  I need to skip over the rest of this section and get into something where things are happening, because right now, it's not what I want to be writing.  I'm doing a lot of emotional set-up between characters, and discovering that my main character is a bit more of a bitch than I had intended (hate it when that happens), but nothing's really going on.  I need to fix that.  Bring on the magic and the espionage!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Nanowrimo Days Five through Ten

Hark, I have returned!  My word count is utterly pathetic, but I'm back from the hospital and appear to be on the road to recovery from the surgery.  Note to self:  don't neglect your abs so much, because they do far more for you than you realize.

I think I'm going to try going back to writing on the computer, rather than drafting by hand, at least for now.  I can type much faster than I can write, and I'm spending a lot more time in front of a computer for the rest of the week.  I'm working from home (because my office is made of awesome and lets me do things like that for cases like this), which means fighting with the cats for lap-space.  In general, the cats win.

I'm hoping the writing will pick up, as I'm getting into the plot and out of the set-up portion of things.  At least, that's what I have planned, and so far, my characters haven't been fighting me too much.  Of course, I've been giving them plenty of time to babble their way through introductions, so I think they're cutting me a little slack for now.

How go things for you all?


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Nanowrimo Day Four and Hiatus

Unfortunately, today saw no new words added to the novel. Between trying to get things at the day job at a place where I can leave for three days and not check email and trying to remember what I need to bring with me, something had to give.

On a personal note, my friends, I am terrified. The only time I've ever even been to a hospital was when I sprained my hands when I was a kid. I visited my father when he had his heart attacks, but I've never been in a hospital bed myself. And now I'm going to be cut into and have part of myself removed and... I've the feeling I won't be sleeping well tonight.

I'll most likely be offline tomorrow, but will be back soon after. Keep the words flowing in my absence - I know you can.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Nanowrimo Day Three

Well, it's only day three, and I've already missed my word goal for today.  I'm still in the range where I can make it up easily, but it always makes me a little anxious.

Writing on the train was a little more difficult than I had anticipated - I'm going to need to figure out the best angle to hold the pen while balancing the notebook on my bag on my lap, otherwise my hand is going to feel like it's falling off.

I decided that one of the scenes I'd been getting stuck on wasn't strictly necessary, so I skipped the rest of it.  Of course, then I realized that I'd planned on building off of things that were set up in that scene, so I'm probably going to have to go back and do some clean up.  But for now, that's for December.  (And so the list of things to fix in post begins!)


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Nanowrimo Day Two

Well, I've survived day two, and I'm still on target.  I've finished the first two scenes (which are predominately set-up), and started the third scene, which will finish out the intro chapter.  It's been moving pretty well, though today there was more real-life stuff going on that distracted from the writing.  Tomorrow, the commute to and from work should give me some solid time to sit with the notepad and some music and confuse the heck out of my seat-mates on the train.  Something about scribbling in a hardback journal with a fountain pen seems out of the ordinary for some folks.  Can't imagine why.

I'd read about this tip a couple of different places, and I thought I would pass it along here, as it's been working pretty well for me so far.  Every time I've stopped (either to type up what I've written, or to take a break), I'm stopping mid-sentence.  It means that, when I come back to it, I have a good idea of what the next few words will be.  Once I get the first few words down, it moves pretty quickly from there.

How go things for you guys who are participating?


Saturday, November 1, 2014

Nanowrimo Day One

Hello, all!  For those of you who get bored with Nano-update posts, I'm going to try to keep this brief, but I'm also planning to use this space as a way to "take a break" without taking myself away from the keyboard.  If I start surfing the net, I may never go back.

So far the Church of Book and I are getting along pretty well.  Around 11pm last night, I realized that I wanted things to go in a different direction, but that was a whole hour before Nano started, so no problem, right?  (Incidentally, let me introduce you to Seshat, the Egyptian goddess of writing, wisdom, and knowledge, also known as the Mistress of the House of Books.)

This year's process is a little different from previous years.  Anyone who knew me in college knows that for big papers, I would draft them long-hand (so many trees died for the sake of my senior thesis), and then typed them up later.  This was in part because it forced me to edit when I retyped it, but primarily it was just easier for the words to flow if I were physically writing them.  I decided to give that a shot this year.  It seems to be working reasonably well - while I find myself wanting to edit a bit when I type it up, for the most part I end up adding in words that I had thought of when I was writing it, but apparently the message never made it down to my hands to write the words down.  I used Scrivner to outline what scenes I wanted to write, so I have a basic idea.  Then, out came the sticky notes:

And yes, one of my scenes is titled "Training Montage"

I've got enough notes on here to help me remember what's supposed to happen, so I won't have to go to my computer and look it up when I'm starting the next scene.  Also, this way I can flip in the notebook to the scene I want to work on easily.

I'm working on building up a cushion this weekend, as on Wednesday I'll be going in for surgery, and will be out of commission for a few days.  (Possibly - it's also possible that the pain medication is going to make this novel take a turn for the AWESOME!)  Either way, I may be quiet on the internets for a bit, but I'm going to try to make a post daily if I can.

Behold, the word count widget!  I'll be putting it on the home page, as well:


Happy writing, all!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Writing through pain

This is a difficult thing for me to write, but I think putting it down on virtual paper will help.  There are loads of blogs and books and magazine articles out there that give writing advice, and the main point comes down to one thing - as Chuck Wendig so eloquently put it, shut up and write.

It's not bad advice - a writer writes, after all, and nothing gets written if someone doesn't sit down (or lie down, or stand up - however you feel comfortable) and write it.  I understand it completely, and it's certainly something I've tried to cleave to since I've decided that being a writer was more important to me than whining about wanting to be a writer.  However, that doesn't mean I write every day, and I know there are a lot of people in a similar situation to mine.

In order to write, you have to be able to hold a pen or pencil, or type, or dictate, or in some other way cause words to bleed onto a page (whether digital or physical).  The act of bleeding words on the page may involve sitting or standing in one place for extended periods of time.  It means putting yourself in the minds of characters you've made up, and deciding how they're going to react to the situations you create for them.  It all sounds reasonably easy, doesn't it?  On good days, it is.

Then there are the bad days.  The days when the pain is so bad that the idea of moving to a desk or lifting your hand to hold a pen or reaching for a laptop can leave you in tears.  The days when the depression lies and tells you that everything you write is terrible and no one will ever want to read it, so why are you bothering to write it down?  The days when the anxiety is so high that your hands shake at the thought of someone - anyone - ever reading what you're writing, and you second-guess every letter and word, certain that someone else has done it better and that people will tear it - and by extension, you - apart, if ever they were to read it.  And of course, there are the days that combine any of the above, or add in the exhaustion that can tag along with the pain or the depression, leaving you with absolutely no energy to move, much less create a world and characters out of thin air.

Sometimes, forcing yourself to write can help push the demons back into the darkness.  The words can be like a lion tamer's chair, forcing the lion back and keeping you safe.  The words may not be great, but they help you focus on something other than the pain, either physical or mental.  Distracting yourself won't work forever, but it can keep you moving for another few steps, and that might be just what you need right now.

Sometimes, no matter how much you want to write, and how much you want to fight and win, you'll lose the battle to the pain.  The physical or emotional pain will be too much, and you won't be able to write.  That doesn't mean you're not a writer.  You can still create worlds and people in your mind, and when you're able to, you can memorialize those worlds and people on paper of some sort.  The fact that you can't do that today doesn't mean you aren't allowed in the super-secret Writers' Club.

"Shut up and write" is solid, if harsh, advice.  First and foremost, though, you need to take care of yourself.  You can't write if you don't.

Progress - wrote about three days of the last seven, mostly in preparation of Nanowrimo.  Still trying to figure out what story I'm telling, but I'm getting there.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Very superstitious...(Character and world building)

Speaking with my husband earlier today, I remembered one of the very first things he told me about role-playing games.  "Never touch another player's dice unless they give you permission," he had stated very seriously.  I remember smiling a little bit, but I took it to heart, figuring it was tied to gamer etiquette.  It is, in a way - many gamers feel that having someone else touch their dice might change the dice's luck.

There are loads of other superstitions related to anything randomly determined, which makes sense in a way.  People in general will look for patterns and for anything that might cause randomness to work in their favor.  My mother played Bingo for a long time, and I went with her to the Bingo parlor and saw that some of these ladies would nearly come to blows if someone was sitting in "their" seat.  I saw a woman around the age of my grandmother who had about a dozen stuffed animals that she would line up in a particular order in front of her cards.

Not everyone is superstitious, at least not consciously.  I'm not one to avoid stepping on cracks, and one of the cats at home is black.  I will, however, set all of my dice on their highest possible roll before a gaming session.  There's a lot of randomness in the world, and it can make people feel better to have some kind of ritual to give the impression of control.

What's random in the world you're building?  What might be something that the people in your world will want to claim some kind of control over, even if there isn't anything they can do?  There's always things like the weather that people will always want to believe they can control.

How about your characters?  Are they overtly superstitious, or do they scoff at anything along that line?  Even if they don't claim any kind of beliefs, there may be some things that are considered part of a culture's etiquette that are really just a superstition that's been codified into a cultural norm.

In terms of writing, well...Hi, my name is Stephanie, and it's been six days since I last wrote.  (Everybody together:  "Hi, Stephanie.")  I can give a bunch of excuses, but it won't help me write more.  I need to get back into the swing of things, and I'm hoping to have a couple of "normal" weeks to get me back into the writing rhythm.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The geek girl emergeth

Apologies for the late post - it's been a very busy weekend.  My 12-year-old niece has been visiting this weekend, and I took her to GeekGirlCon, which was her very first convention.

My niece is just starting to come into her own as a self-identifying geek, and she's not that aware of what kind of community is available to her.  She's begun to play video games, and she's started to spend time online with other gamers.  At the same time, she's living in an area that doesn't have the biggest geek community, and she's never spent much time in a face-to-face situation with other people who share her interests.

The first thing she did was hurt herself, of course.  After that, though, she started to get excited about seeing other people like her, and people that didn't make her feel like she "stood out".  By the end of the convention, she said that she felt comfortable, and like she was with people who were like her.  It was one of the best experiences I've ever watched happen, and I'm truly grateful to have been a part of that awakening.

With luck, I'll be able to spend some more time writing in the next few weeks.  I'm going to call it about three of the last seven days that I've written, which is pathetic.  Things will only go up from here.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Blocked

It's been a rough few weeks in the writing world of the Stephie, and I think I can say that I've been blocked.  Now, I know that there are a ton of well-respected authors out there who say that writer's block is a myth, it doesn't exist, it's just an excuse for writers not to write.  It's all probably true, but that doesn't make the terror of the blank page that much easier.  For me, it means that I now feel guilty for not being able to get the words out, as well as frustrated.  Guilt combined with frustration is usually a good way to make sure I don't make any progress.

I'm trying to work my way through it, which is significantly easier said than done, obviously.  I'm essentially using this blog post as a way to force some words onto a page, and hope that it'll get the words flowing a little more easily.  Considering it took about half an hour to write the last two paragraphs, I'm less than convinced that this is working.

The latest project is coming along slowly but surely.  I've worked on some character sketches to give myself an idea of who these people are, and I need to work out a better plot outline to give myself a better map of where they're going.  I think I've been focusing too much on the research, and that's been sending me into the research black hole that I tend to flirt with.  Were it not for the fact that I find nearly everything fascinating in one way or another, this probably wouldn't be as much of a problem.  On the other hand, I wouldn't be the veritable font of useless knowledge that I am, and I wouldn't clean up at trivia games nearly as well.  Everything has its trade off.

I think my next step to get things going is to interview my characters.  In the past, I've found that it gives me some good insight into the characters, and when I do it this early in the process, they can give me some ideas of where they want (or need) to go over the course of the story.  It also gives me something small and finite to work on, and when I'm fighting the blank page, giving myself a definitive goal (besides "reaching word count" or "finishing the scene") can really help.

Obviously, given all that, the last week hasn't been great - four of the last seven days spent writing.  Still better than half, still not where I want to be.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Writing environments

Everyone writes differently, and it takes everyone a little bit of time to get themselves in "the zone".  I've started meeting with a local, non-work writing group on Saturday mornings, and the vibe between that and my work-related writing group is very different.

There's been a lot said about making the perfect writing environment, and getting yourself in the right mind set to write.  I've also heard that some writers try to avoid relying on specific rituals and setting up the perfect place, because it limits when and how you can write.  I can see both sides of the coin, and for myself, there are a couple of things that help, but I don't think they're absolutely necessary to get me to write.  They certainly help, and I definitely feel more productive when I have them.  It's pretty clear when you see what I carry in my bag with me at all times - a way to write, a way to listen to music, and a way to read.

Music is something I have to have in pretty much all parts of my life.  I always have either music, podcast, or audiobook going at my desk at work and when I'm on the bus or train to and from work.  I am a big fan of playlists, and have several of them that help with different moods I'm in.  If I'm trying to write and particularly if I'm editing, I need to listen to something that doesn't have the kind of lyrics that will distract me.  Rodrigo y Gabriela and any performance of Andrés Segovia's work are high on the list of music that I can write to.

Reading has always been something that I need to do in order to feel like myself.  I used to carry at least two or three paperback books with me at all times (which helps explain why I've always carried large messenger bags, instead of dainty purses), but thanks to the beauty that is the e-reader, I'm able to carry essentially all of my favorite and new books with me at all times.  It's been one of the best ways to help me come down from an anxiety attack, as it allows me to remove myself from whatever situation has triggered me by taking me away for a minute.

This is where my writing habits come into play.  If I can have some music to put in the background, and a moment to read to clear my mind, whether it's on a full laptop or just scribbling on a notepad, I feel like I can move forward.  It won't be the most polished sometimes, but I don't need to make every sentence perfect (as anyone who's ever been one of my beta readers or even reads this blog can tell).  It gives me a conduit to exorcise the words floating around my head, and that's what I need.

What about you?  Do you need to have the perfect environment to get the creative juices flowing, or can you write anywhere, any time?

This week, I was only able to work four of the last seven days.  The week essentially kicked my butt, but I'm gearing up for the next week and I fully intend to make a comeback this week.  Wish me luck.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Research and NaNo-prep

I'm getting ready to pull things together for this year's NaNoWriMo, and I'm trying to go about my research in a little bit more of an organized way.  I have a tendency to write until I come across something that I don't know (what kind of reference would a person born in 1920 recognize?  Did the Inca have buildings with doors?), stop writing, and then get into a black hole of research.  I have a bad habit of "wiki-hopping", where I go to one page on Wikipedia, which leads to another link that looks interesting, to another link...Next thing you know, I have twenty tabs open and I've suddenly started reading about Sing a Song of Sixpence.

I've mentioned that I have a germ of an idea, and this is what I'm planning to work on for NaNoWriMo this year.  So far, I've written a of vignettes that are giving me a great idea of what my characters are like, which has been immensely helpful.  It's also helping me figure out what questions I need to answer to make me comfortable with the world I'm building.  Coming up with a list of questions has been an easy way to help me organize what I need to figure out, and will hopefully keep me from getting lost along the way.

I'm also going back to a process I used in college, and drafting my NaNoWriMo longhand.  My college required every senior to write a thesis in order to graduate, in addition to whatever classes they were taking.  It was my first experience with writing a paper that long, or that involved that much research, and I found that one of the best ways to force myself to edit along the way was to write out my first draft by hand, and then type it up later.  I still have the binder with all of the pages I drafted, and it's an interesting exercise to read not only the original ideas I had, but also how excited I was when I was writing them.  My handwriting changes dramatically when I'm on a roll, and when I'm struggling to get the words out, my handwriting becomes very precise.

I'm curious how my research plan will work, and how soon my cunning plans will fall apart.  That is one of the things I've come to terms with as I get older - that whole saying about "the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry"?  It's a saying for a reason.

Progress report:  I'm including research in my "what have you done today" count, and I've still managed six out of the last seven days.  I feel good about my progress, even if it means that I spent some times reading a page or two on the history of written language or write a few lines in a vignette that will never see the light of day.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Crisis of faith

Last week, I listened to an interview with Dan Simmons, in which he described an experience he had had in the early part of his writing career.  He had been in a writers' workshop, and a fellow participant had received a critique on his manuscript.  The teacher of the workshop had asked the participant how long he had been trying to write, and the participant said that he had written 64 novels.  The teacher then told him, in front of everyone, "You are not a writer.  You will never be a writer."

Listening to this story sent a sudden chill down my spine.  The thing that frightened me was the idea of having someone say this to me.  I haven't invested as much time and energy into my writing as the participant at the writers' workshop, admittedly, but writing is something that I've been wanting to do ever since I realized that books were actually written be real people.  It's been a goal since I was a child, and the idea of someone telling me that I'll never reach that goal is pretty depressing.

Of course, this all depends on what makes a person a writer.  The standard response, of course, is that a writer writes.  By the same token, a driver drives, and I drive all the time - that doesn't mean I'll tell people I'm a driver when someone asks me about myself.  In this era of indie publishing, getting published is no longer a mark of a true writer, as anyone can make their work available to the world and (theoretically) receive payment in return.  Many prominent authors still have day jobs while they write, so making a living solely as a writer isn't definitive, either.

More importantly, does someone else have the authority to decide whether or not I'm a writer?  By putting my work out in public, criticism is to be expected, and not everyone is going to like what I do - it's the nature of creative work.  In the end, however, I have to be the one to make the decision about whether or not to call myself a writer.  Right now, I still call myself a writer, and I'll continue to do so until I've decided to stop writing, if that ever happens.

Speaking of writing...progress report for September - I've written or plotted for six of the last seven days.  The new project is coming slowly, because I have a good idea of the world, but I'm having a hard time figuring out the characters.  It's coming together, slowly but surely.  Until next week, my friends!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Gaming, contract drafting, and writing

Remember how I said I would come back to the idea of writing and gaming? Well, I've had a chance to think about it, and I realize it's not just gaming that ties into my writing, but also my day job within a legal department.

Both gaming and legal writing require a level of consistency in language.  When drafting legal documents, contracts generally have some sort of glossary near the beginning or end of the document, outlining the defined terms.  The main thing to remember with those terms is that a defined term has to mean the same thing every time it's referenced.  It's a convenient way to both make it clear to anyone reading the document what the parties mean when they use a potentially ambiguous term, and also a standardized shorthand to refer to a specific idea.  Even though you wouldn't think it, legal writing can teach a writer a lot about being concise and clear.  Well, the important thing is to avoid the standard "legalese" of heretofore and "the party of the first part", and the like.

Similarly, when writing rules for a game, being consistent with terms is key for making sure the players understand what the designer meant.  In my copious free time (/sarcasm), I work with my husband to edit translations of board game rules.  There's a specific jargon involved with board games, which can occasionally get lost in translation.  We review the rules with an eye towards making the language flow naturally, as well as being consistent throughout.  If something happens once a turn, for instance, we make sure that it isn't referred to as happening once a round later on.

Now, I'm not saying all of this to mean that everything you write needs to have a glossary.  However, consistency is key, and it's one of the easiest ways to pull a reader out of the world if it isn't there.  How often have you read something in which a character's clothing changes in the middle of the scene?  It gets under your skin, and generally, irritating your readers is a bad idea.

Now for something a little different.  Recently I read a list on Cracked that asked a very simple question - what have you done today to get yourself closer to your goal?  I want to be able to answer that question everyday, even if it's just "I wrote ten words".  So, I'm going to hold myself accountable here.  Since the beginning of September, I've written six out of seven days.  Things are going slowly, but I think my new idea is coming together.  It's still a fledgling, so I'm not quite sure enough of what I'm doing to discuss it much, but it's there.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Languages and personal lexicons

Growing up, I didn't speak Spanish all the time, though my mother is a first-generation Mexican-American who speaks Spanish fluently.  Although she didn't actively teach my brother and me Spanish, she did use certain phrases and worked their way into our family's lexicon, just because in her mind, it was faster or easier to get the point across in Spanish than in English.

By this point, I feel comfortable saying that I can read and write Spanish fluently, but I don't speak it all that often.  Even so, there are some of the same phrases of my mother's that I hear coming out of my mouth when I'm not thinking.  It's easier and faster for me to say "fíjate" than it is to say "look at that!", even if I didn't actually know that's what it meant in English.  Even though my husband doesn't speak Spanish at all, he's learned what some of the phrases mean just through the way I use them.  Similarly, I've picked up on a couple of phrases in Japanese, because my husband uses them as shorthand.

In general, we all have our own personal shorthand that we use with people we are close to.  Inside jokes are the most obvious example of this, as anyone who has been the third wheel with a couple who has been together for a long time can tell you.  Jargon's another way of describing language used for a specific purpose, as certain terms will me different things for different companies or businesses.  But even when it's not some sort of joke, everyone finds a way to reference a complex experience without describe the entire event, and everyone has a way of speaking that they use only when speaking to certain friends or family.

When creating a character, it makes sense to find out how your character thinks, and figuring out what their linguistic shorthand is can be a great way of getting an insight into that thought process.  Say your character has to tell someone that they are seriously ill.  How would your character tell his or her best friend?  What about their parents, or their employer?  Imagining how the same conversation will happen with different groups of people will tell you a lot about how your character interacts with different environments, and more options can always lead to more interesting interactions and plot lines.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Movement and people watching

Lo these many moons ago, I studied acting.  I took some classes at an academy in London for a semester in college, and one of them was called "Modern Physicality".  No, I don't know why that was the name - just go with it.

A few weeks into the semester, we did an exercise in that class where we each walked around the room and eventually paired up.  Each person had to try to imitate their partner's walk, and in the end we had to perform this by walking around in a circle, while the rest of the class watched.  One person would walk normally, and the other would imitate their walk behind them.  The class would call out suggestions for improvement, and finally the original person would be pulled aside while their mimic would continue the imitation.

I was paired with a woman who was fairly confident, and walked with a swing in her hips and her head up to face the world.  It took me a few tries to get the walk, because I had to fight my natural tendencies, but I got it down eventually.  Then it was her turn to imitate me.  At the time, I had been fighting with undiagnosed depression.  I hadn't been so far away from my family for this long a time before, and this happened to have been right after 9/11 - as in, my first day of classes in this program was September 11, 2001.  In other words, I was not in a good place.

I started walked around the circle, with my mimic behind me, and the first thing I heard was someone saying "Awww!" from among my classmates.  A second later, my teacher asked, "Is that really your walk, love?"  It wasn't until I was pulled back and watched my imitator's walk that I saw what they did.  Her head was down, eyes focused on the ground.  Her arms hardly swung at her sides, and she continually reached as though she were trying to put her hands in pockets that weren't there.  She moved slowly, so slowly, and her back was bowed as though under a great weight.  I could hardly believe it - this was what everyone else saw when they watched me walk down the street.

I'm in an airport right now, waiting for my flight home.  Remember the lessons from that class, I find myself fascinated by the body language of the people around me.  Some are walking slowly, casually, as if they really didn't care if they got to where they needed to be.  Several are walking quickly, looking around constantly - they're probably trying to find their connection.  There are a few who appear determined to get this over with - sitting upright, a look of boredom on their face as they poke at their phones.  And some are giving me the seeds of an idea - a man receiving a phone call and responding, loudly, by saying "No way!" repeatedly, for instance.  Watching people watch others is entertaining, too - as this is the closest major airport to GenCon, the convention we just left, there are some folks with different colored hair, funny t-shirts, and (in one case) carrying a stuff sheep waiting for their flights home.  Seeing how others react to these blips on the radar tells me a lot about both the observer and the observed.

Me?  I'm just trying not to get caught staring at people, and waiting to take the first leg of the journey home.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Quick post on gaming and writing

A bit of a shorter post today, as I have many and many a thing to do before I flee for GenCon.  This is the eighth or ninth year I've gone, and I always go as a demonstrator for Asmodee Games.  It's a ton of fun, though a touch on the exhausting side, so who knows how much actual writing will get done this week?

I've noticed that over the past ten years or so, while I've become more serious about my writing, I've also spent more time playing games (mostly board games and roleplaying games).  Both types of games have definitely influenced my writing, and my writing experience has influenced my game play.  I hope to get into this in more detail another week, but I'm curious - of those of you who write, do you also game?  Do you feel like there's an impact between one activity and the other?

Have a good week, my friends!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Plot bunny management

I'm not sure about everyone else, but I have story idea overload on a regular basis.  Some image will come to mind, or a phrase, or a plot idea, and I know I need to grab onto it before it disappears back into the wild before I have a chance to do anything with it.  These ideas are plot bunnies, and they are hard as anything to wrangle sometimes.

My main storage space is a Google Document (appropriately titled "Plot Bunnies") that I can access online and on my phone.  It's one of the easiest ways for me to jot down what I'm thinking of before it vanishes, and it gives me access to those ideas later if I get stuck.  Now, because I'm usually writing them down frantically while trying to get enough detail across that I'll know what I was talking about, there's a level of surrealism that pops up.  Things like "soul lever" and "honey blood" are just there, with no context whatsoever.  Admittedly, a lot of time there is no context to give, but still, it can be confusing.

While I enjoy using the Google Doc, and usually move everything over to that document so it's all in one place, I don't really like writing on my phone.  If I'm away from a computer, I'll usually jot the idea down in one of the multitudes of notebooks that surround me.  I admit to being a stationery addict, and have more notebooks than I could ever really use.  But you never know when you'll need a piece of paper, or you'll have an idea that'll take less time to write out by hand than it would to fight with your phone.  Also, as I discovered in college, moving text from the hand-written to the typed gives me an opportunity to do a first run of editing.  It can help me smooth out some of the wrinkles that come from just getting it on the page, and it also helps that it becomes legible after I type it up.

Finally, when it comes to images, I've become a believer in Pinterest.  One of my coworkers spends a lot of time on Reddit, and frequently sends around photos that she finds interesting.  After the second or third email, I created a Pinterest board for the images that seemed like they had a story waiting to be told.  I don't update it all the time, but it's nice to have an easy place to stash an image for later inspiration.

So tell me how you organize your plot bunnies.  What tools or tricks do you use to keep them under control?  How often do you use them to inspire new ideas in something you're working on?

Monday, July 28, 2014

Book review - Help Fund My Robot Army!!!

I thought it might be nice to try something new this week.  If you watch my Goodreads profile, you'll see that I tend to read a lot of different kinds of books.  Of late, I've become hooked on short story anthologies, as they give me such a broad range of stories and styles in one convenient package.  The best anthology I've read recently is John Joseph Adams' Help Fund My Robot Army!!!

The premise of the anthology is that each story is told as though it were a project page on a crowdfunding site such as Kickstarter or Indigogo.  The format is pretty well restrained, as the author is limited to essentially a sales pitch, different levels for backers, updates, and occasionally some conversation through backer comments.

Even with these restrictions, the authors who wrote the stories that make up this anthology are able to use every little bit to create characters and worlds that feel completely fleshed out.  For example, Jake Kerr's story "A Memorial to the Patriots" gives us a United States in which terrorist attacks have led to a severe reduction in any kind of communication (and shows us how futile that can be), while Carmen Maria Machado's story "Help Me Follow My Sister Into the Land of the Dead" manages to give an in-depth view of a family that's falling apart.

There are some silly projects, too, since that makes up a good number of the projects actually available on Kickstarter.  Even these, however, have far more depth than I expected in such a small amount of space.  As a reader, I'm enchanted by how many different worlds and how many unique voices the authors are able to create.  As a writer, I wish to learn exactly how they managed to pull this off.

Overall, five stars, would definitely read again.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Character building - pain

Something that every person has to deal with at some point is pain.  Be it physical or purely emotional, how a person handles pain says a lot about that person, and people can learn a lot about themselves when they have to encounter pain of some sort.

I find that figuring out how a character reacts to pain is a great way to flesh out a character.  It's usually just a thought experiment, though occasionally I'll write a brief scene to help me solidify the things I learn about that character.  For example, I'll put the character in a situation that would cause the "average person" some sort of emotional pain - the death of a family member.  Finding out how the character reacts to that brings up a ton of questions right away:
  • How close is the character to the family member in question?
  • How does the character react externally, in public?
  • How does the character react privately?
  • Is there anyone that the character would feel comfortable expressing their pain to?
  • What's the first thought that runs through the character's head when hearing the news?
There are stories that can grow out of this information right away - if the character isn't close to the family member who died, why?  Was there some sort of estrangement?  If the character breaks down in public, how do the people around the character react?

Physical pain is less similar that it would seem on first blush.  Speaking from personal experience with chronic pain, I know that I can "push through" pain I'm used to, but will be laid out flat by something unexpected.  I have chronic head pain, so I'm used to working around headaches; however, if I throw my back out, the slightest shift in movement will leave me incapacitated.  So ask yourself: 
  • What kinds of pain your character can work through, and what will drop them into the fetal position?
  • Does your character react differently if someone witnesses an injury, as opposed to being alone?
  • At what point will your character ask for help?
In general, people don't like to think about pain.  However, seeing how someone reacts to different kinds of pain can help give a character depth, even if it never comes up explicitly in the text.  Try not to torture them too much, though - you don't want them to run off screaming into the night.

Monday, July 14, 2014

World building - important artifacts

One of the nice things about having a lazy Saturday at home is that something random on TV will spark inspiration.  This weekend, it was the History Channel (which, every once in a while, remembers that their focus is history), and 101 Objects that Changed the World.  The list is basically a bunch of tangible items that represent some major change in the world, or some major event in history.  It includes things like the hard hat (which allowed major buildings and bridges to be built safely), the cannon ball shot at Fort Sumter (beginning of the US Civil War - the list is a bit US-centric, shockingly enough), and the Coca-Cola contour bottle (first major company to use uniform packaging).

It made me wonder what objects would be considered "essential" in a world that I'm currently building.  There's the big important thing, in this case a golden rope that magically binds the different territories of the land together, but that's not something that the average person would encounter on a daily basis.  The clockwork servants, however, are things that are so common that they fade into the background.

To me, an important object for a world is something that helps differentiate the world you're creating from the real world.  It can also help you figure out how your setting got to where it is when your story is taking place.  A story is a snapshot of time in a greater timeline, and it's helpful to remember that there's a history to the world you're writing in that influences the way your story takes place.

Monday, July 7, 2014

World building - holidays

Happy late Fourth of July to those of you who celebrate!  I sincerely hope you all still have as many fingers as you started with.  Naturally, the recent holiday made me think of how to create and celebrate the holidays in the worlds I'm building, and how they would look to outsiders.

For example:  Between the ages of eleven and fourteen, my family and I lived in a Naval station in Spain.  We lived "off-base", in a gated community where several houses had been leased by the US military and the rest of the community was made up of local civilians.  On the Fourth of July, the only place where anything was really happening was on the base itself, as the day wasn't any kind of holiday to the rest of the country.

My father was never a big fan of crowds, and we knew that the base would be filled to the brim with homesick Americans watching the fireworks and listening to "God Bless America" while hoisting their beers.  Instead of going on base to celebrate with everyone else, we decided to make use of the fact that our house had an accessible roof.  (The way the houses in our community were built, the roof was the closest thing to a yard any of us had, so everyone used them for clotheslines and some gardening.)  I just remember being on the roof with my family, watching the fireworks from the base, and noticing the other Americans on their roofs doing the same.  It was a much calmer way of celebrating what can be a very boisterous holiday, and remains my favorite way to celebrate.

In general, societies use holidays to reinforce some kind of unification among their people.  It's a great way to take a moment and reflect on what's important, and an excellent way of defining "what's important" to the masses.  I feel like a world is incomplete without some kind of celebratory event that happens regularly.  Now, I don't mean that every fictional society has to be like Seanan McGuire's wonderful Aeslin mice, in which anything can be a holiday, but it helps to have a few events that are commemorated in some way.  In the world I'm working on for Camp NaNo this time, there's a Unification Day, celebrating the day the final treaty was signed and all of the territories fell under one ruler.  For some of those territories, this is a day of great celebration; for others, it's a reminder of the freedom they lost when they were conquered.

Not everyone celebrates the same holiday the same way, so it's another good way of getting inside the heads of your characters.  How do they celebrate Christmas?  What are their favorite and least favorite holidays?  You may never actually put it in a book or story, but it's another one of those things that helps flesh out a character and a world.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Camp NaNoWriMo Round Two

It's coming up on July, which means the year's second Camp NaNoWriMo will be coming up.  I'm going to give it another shot, but this time I'm going to do something a little bit different.  Instead of working on the plot of something I already have started, I'm going to spend some time world-building for the Epic Epic of Epicness.

To explain a little further, I've had this vague idea for a world in which several territories are tied together under the aegis of a magical rope.  I have a good idea of what story I ultimately want to tell in this world, but I need to build the world first so I know what I have to play with.  So, my idea is to spend next month writing what are essentially entries in a history book of the world.  In the end, I'm basically going to be writing a lot of words that will probably not see the light of day, but they're going to make telling a story a heck of a lot easier for me.

This is the first time I've ever done any kind of work beyond outlining when writing something, and I'm curious to see how it will change my overall writing process.  What about you?  Do you make yourself a world bible, or do you discover what your setting is like as you write?

Monday, June 16, 2014

Questions for a new world

So, I'm going through my notes on a plot bunny that's been sitting and waiting patiently for a year or two, because I want to give it a bit of a shot for the next Camp NaNoWriMo.  I had developed a timeline, which was helpful, but just reading it over made me realize that there were a lot of unanswered questions I would need to work with.  I started writing some of those questions down, and realized that it might not hurt to have a generalized questionnaire for world- and plot-building.  And so, I share with you.  Feel free to let me know of any other questions you think could be helpful!

1.  What does the average person in your setting do for a living?
2.  How does the average person in your setting live day to day?
3.  How does the average person become educated?
3a.  What obstructions are there to education in your setting?
4.  What kind of person is your main character when we first meet him/her?
5.  What kind of person is your main character by the time the book is over?
5a.  Does the main character die?  How and why?
6.  Who is the most important person in your main character's life?
7.  Who would your main character say is the least important person in his/her life?
8.  What's the first thing your main character can remember?

I'm sure there are more, and I have a feeling I'll be coming back to this topic in the future, but tell me what you think.  Do you try to get some answers before you write, or do you just dive in and let the answers come about naturally?

Monday, June 9, 2014

You say 'escapist' like it's a bad thing...

So, last week I made the mistake of reading an article that I knew was going to make me angry.  I know, I know - someone was wrong on the internet, and I fell into the trap of reading about it.  Still, it gave me something to think about.

The article on Slate was regarding young adult books, and how adults should "feel ashamed" for reading them.  One of the main arguments the author made against the YA world was that they are escapist.  This, to me, seems ridiculous.  I don't read fiction to immerse myself into the trials and tribulations of today's world, exactly as I am living it at this moment; I read fiction to go to a different world, or even a different part of this world.  I read, in fact, to escape.  I'm finding it hard to believe that escaping in that way is a bad thing.

One thing that I've learned from writing is that sometimes, you have to step away from a story and do something else for a bit.  It gives you a chance to change your perspective, and may help give you an idea of how to solve the issue you've been having - an idea you might not have thought of if you hadn't stepped away.  Shifting perspectives, looking at something else, taking a break - those all sound like things you get from reading, don't they?  Frankly, I feel better after reading even a "trashy" novel, because I've had a chance to go somewhere else for a bit.  I might not want to stay in that somewhere else - hell, when I read zombie novels, I definitely don't want to stay there - but it's nice to take a breather before diving back into the "real world."

I don't care that I'm a "grown-up", and should be reading Serious Literature that Deals Seriously with Serious Things.  I get enough of that in the day to day.  If I want to spend some time in a world where the biggest problem is getting that cute guy's attention (well, until the aliens show up), then that's where I'm going.  That's one of the perks of being a "grown-up" - you can read whatever you want.

And you can pry my copies of A Wrinkle in Time from my cold, dead fingers.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Getting back on the horse

Apologies for the radio silence last week.  The US holiday weekends always throw me off my rhythm, and I never realize how much of a creature of habit I am until my routine gets disrupted.  The plan is to be back on track now, so we'll see how long that lasts.

Speaking of getting back on track...I freely admit that I've been neglecting my stories woefully.  Without something like NaNoWriMo to give me a goal to aim for, and without a group of like-minded creative types to bounce ideas off of, I apparently just let things drift away.  While I am self-motivated in many other areas in my life, evidently I need to do some more work when it comes to creative ventures.

I wonder, on occasion, if I'm just fooling myself with this whole "I'm going to be a writer!" plan.  Imposter syndrome and I know each other very well, and it's never more obvious than when I'm trying to be creative in some way.  Who am I to think that people will want to read what I have to write?

In my line of work, I encounter a lot of books that, if they'd been passed through a publishing house, would never have seen the light of day.  Self-publishing has become a haven for people who have things to say, and want the world to read it, regardless of what a traditional publisher might feel is commercial enough.  Now, I freely admit that there's a lot of content that isn't all that good out there.  But even when it's terrible - maybe especially when it's terrible - the author has been brave enough to put the words out there into the world.  Even better, some small portion of the world will read those words.

I'm not going to be famous.  There aren't any awards that will be coming my way.  But I do have a story to tell, and maybe - just maybe - someone will be interested in knowing what happens next.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Sanctuary

This past weekend, I went to the town in Maryland where I went to high school for a friend's bridal shower.  I've been back once or twice since I've moved to the West coast, but not to the town itself, and I was nervous.  I don't have the best of memories of high school, so I wasn't sure what to expect.

One of the places I was able to get to was the public library near my old high school.  I worked there most of the time I was in high school, and it was the place (other than the theater at school) were I spent the most time, especially after my father died.  While I had always loved books, that library was the first place where I felt comforted by the presence of so many books in one place.  Bookstores were always a little too cold, but the library...the books were welcoming, the tables and ridiculously uncomfortable chairs were the perfect place to hide when things got to be too much.  Even when I wasn't working, I still spent countless hours hiding out, filling my notebooks with scribbles and not worrying about the rest of the world.

The library was almost exactly the same as I remember it, and the branch manager there was the same person who had been my manager when I worked there.  I spent over an hour in there, reading and getting myself in a good place to meet with a bunch of people from high school.  In the end, that was one of the best things I could have done for myself, and it reminded me that maybe not everything about that period of my life was as bad as I thought.

Sometimes I miss having that kind of sanctuary.  There's something to be said for having a place away from the rest of the world, to just write or read or do what I need to do to keep myself together.  It's one of those things that I need to make a priority again, and I'm very glad to have had that reminder.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Comfort reading

I've always been a re-reader.  Growing up, my father instilled in me the desire to buy or otherwise obtain books that I could keep, rather than borrowing them, so I could always re-read them if I wanted to.  Naturally, this led to the kind of library that causes moving companies to glare daggers at you, but that's beside the point.

I discovered early on that there are some books that I enjoy re-reading multiple times, because they make me feel better.  Something about revisiting a story I already know well, and characters I've met before, can be very soothing.  Some of them are books I read about once a year; others I cling to when I need something specific, even if it's undefinable.  Below are some of my favorites:

A Wrinkle in Time - probably my favorite book of all time.  This was the book that taught me it was OK to have a female protagonist who wasn't the prettiest/smartest/best at everything, but rather someone a little more like me.  It also showed me that heroes don't always want to be heroes.

A Little Princess - this one's a close second of favorite book ever.  I find that I like to read it when I'm hungry - the scenes describing the food that the Magic leaves for Sara always interested me, even if they aren't particularly detailed.

The Anne of Green Gables series - I freely admit, Gilbert Blythe was my first crush.  It's also really nice to read about a girl with the kind of imagination that can run wild.

The Discworld series - I didn't discover Terry Pratchett until I was in college, when a friend handed me Maskerade.  I devoured it, and haven't looked back.  Sometimes, I focus on one series - usually the Watch or the Death books - but occasionally I'll just pick one at random and see where it takes me.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - I have probably read this book five or six times since I got it when it first came out, and I find new things about it every time.  Watching people bond over books and letters, even in the aftermath of World War II, is something I think I will always enjoy.

So, what are your comfort reads?  What do you find yourself reaching for when you're having a bad day or just need something familiar?

Monday, May 5, 2014

Momentum, or lack thereof

So, April ended and my Camp Nanowrimo story...didn't.  I managed to make a little over half of my goal, but there's no winning certificate for me this year.  I tried to figure out why that was, since Nanowrimo has gone pretty well for me the last few years.

One of the big issues I came across was that I lost interest in the story I was writing.  By about ten thousand words in, I realized that I was having a hard time caring about what happened to my characters.  Even as they were doing things that were off-script (as characters are wont to do), it didn't really interest me.  I found myself drawn back to the world of Paranormal Investigations, which had been put on the shelf for a few months.

Once I shifted to the other story, my momentum moved much faster than before.  I knew these characters, I'd spent time with them, and I cared about what happened next - all of these things were lacking in the original story I tried to write.  Honestly, what it taught me is that I should probably shift over to the story that interests me earlier on if I want to maintain momentum.

How do you handle the lulls of writing, the "muddle in the middle"?  Do you shift projects, or just fight your way through?  Any advice you can give, I'm happy to receive it, as I clearly still have a hard time with this problem.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Still here! Still writing!

Just a quick post to let you know that I survived Norwescon (and it was excellent) and that I'm horribly behind on Camp Nanowrimo, so I'll be spending the next three days playing catch up.  Wish me luck!  I'll have a longer blog post next week.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Conventions

By this time on Thursday, I'll be at Norwescon, a local science fiction and fantasy convention with some gaming and alternative lifestyle panels thrown in.  I haven't been to this convention in a long time, and this will be the first I'll be going and focusing on my writing.

I'm still working my way through Camp Nanowrimo, though it's going slower than I had hoped.  Some new characters appeared out of nowhere, and for some reason I decided to write it in first-person present tense.  For the most part it's working, but I still have a feeling that it's something that'll have to be fixed in post.  I'm hoping that I'll be able to spend some time in the writing panels at the convention, and get some inspiration (or at least, some tips on what not to do) while I'm there.

There's also just something so beautiful about going away from home and away from the day-to-day obligations.  I won't get as much written as I want to, because I always go into these kinds of situations with these grand and glorious plans of writing all day and into the night.  Then I get distracted by a six-hour-long Mah Jongg marathon, and there went that plan.  Still, it's a chance to see friends, to put time aside to at least think about writing, and hopefully get a boost on my word count.

Do you go to conventions?  If so, what are your favorites?  Do you find yourself more productive or less when away from home and surrounded by like-minded folks?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Research

The last few things I've written have involved a fair amount of research and world-building, which can be the kind of rabbit hole that Alice would envy.  Over the years, I've found a couple of ways to keep myself from getting completely lost in the backstory, but it's definitely a work in progress.

I admit, I usually start with Google and Wikipedia when I'm looking for historical details.  If nothing else, they are great places to begin and (usually) find links to more academically-respectable resources.  Often if I just need to know something quick and concrete (what year did Pizarro land in South America for the first time?), this is where I'll stop.  I can find the information that I need, and note it down somewhere that I'll be able to find it again - this is the part I used to have a hard time with.  I use Scrivener now for a lot of my note-taking and outlining, and it makes it easier to find all the bits of randomness that I've found across the internet.

I try to devote a particular time to research, as well, knowing that I can start clicking through links and never get back to writing if I let myself.  I try to get a lot of the fiddly questions that would require research out of the way before I start writing, as well, so I don't have to interrupt the writing process to stop and look something up.  Of course, that only works when everything goes according to plan, and nothing goes off the rails - so, never.  For instance, with the second Paranormal Investigations book, I realized during one scene that I needed to know about cryptography and what would have been standard knowledge in the 1940s.  This was not exactly something I had been counting on, but it lead me to my next main source for research - the bookstore.

I prefer to go to used bookstores if possible, because it's amazing the kind of things you can find there that are out of print and near-impossible to find otherwise.  Fortunately, I live in an area where Half Price Books has several stores, and Powell's is only a train ride away.  Both places offer the excellent opportunity to wander through the aisles and stumble across the exact book you didn't know you needed, and another three besides.

Even though I am a devout Kindle fan, I still find that reading research books in dead-tree format is the most useful.  It allows me to see quickly what kind of notes I've made, and lets me flag sections that will come in handy later.  I still take notes separately, but it's nice to be able to mark a page and just note "go to sticky note on page X" to remind myself of a section of important material.

So, how do you go about research?  Do you try to get as much in before you write, or do you let yourself stop and fact-check as you go?  What are your main sources for information?

Monday, March 31, 2014

Penmonkey evaluation, courtesy of Chuck Wendig

I follow many, many blogs on writing and other subjects (including pictures of cats - that's 85% of the internet, isn't it?), and Chuck Wendig's blog terribleminds had a really interesting post a while back.  Basically, it's a set of questions to see how you're doing in the realm of writing.  I thought, what better place to answer them than on my blog?  Plus, it saves me from coming up with a new blog post.  Huzzah!


a) What’s your greatest strength / skill in terms of writing/storytelling?
World-building.  I tend to spend a lot of time figuring out what the world looks like, and why things happen the way they do.  I also do a reasonably good job figuring out pacing and timing for my stories.

b) What’s your greatest weakness in writing/storytelling? What gives you the most trouble?
Exposition.  I tend to get into the Department of Backstory when trying to explain some important piece of information to the reader, and just end up with someone telling a story to get it all down on the page.  The intent is always to go back and edit it into something more readable, but that's where I get hung up.

c) How many books or other projects have you actually finished? What did you do with them?
I've finished draft zero of two books, and finished and edited a short story.  The two books are in process of being edited, while I submitted the short story to an anthology.  The editors rejected it, but it was the nicest rejection email I've ever received, so that helps.

d) Best writing advice you’ve ever been given? (i.e. really helped you)
Get your butt into the seat and write.  It's hard to edit and make revisions if there's nothing to revise.

e) Worst writing advice you’ve ever been given? (i.e. didn’t help at all, may have hurt)
Any of the advice that outlines a specific schedule or regimen for writing.  While it may work beautifully for one person to get up two hours early in the morning and write 4000 words before breakfast, that's not something I'm going to be able to reliably.  If I start missing a day, I'm going to feel like a failure, which is just going to keep me from continuing.

f) One piece of advice you’d give other writers?
Beyond "get your butt into the seat and write," I'd say to just keep writing however you can.  If that means rushing to your computer at 3AM because you've finally figured out how to solve a problem, do it.  If it's important to you, if you want it to be a priority, you will find a way.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Outlining vs. Pantsing - FIGHT!

There appear to be two schools of thought (at least) regarding how much preparation should go into writing fiction.  One is the outline - giving yourself a framework in which to write, and knowing what the ending will be before you write a single word of the beginning.  This requires more up-front effort, but can make it easier when fleshing out the outline by going from point to point.  The more detailed the outline, the more information you know ahead of time that will inform your writing.

Pantsing, on the other hand, is writing by the seat of your pants - thus the name.  You don't know what the ending will be before you start writing, and it's possible you don't know what the beginning will be, either.  You start with a vague idea of what you'd like to write, maybe a couple of character sketches, and you just start writing and see what happens.  You may have a a few plot points that you know you want to work in somehow, but you don't know where or how just yet.  This seems to be a popular method of getting through Nanowrimo, and offers the most opportunity for surprise as characters and plot take unexpected turns.

Which way to write depends on the person and the circumstance.  I tend to write this blog as a pantsing exercising, coming up with a topic and starting to write until something catches.  All I can say is, you guys should be thankful that I can edit this before I post it.

As for my fiction writing, I've found myself becoming more of an outliner in the last few years, and my outlines have become more detailed over time.  However, I do still have some pantsing aspects to my writing, and there are certainly things that come up that through my outline out the window.  I like the hybrid approach, because it gives my characters room to grow in their own way, while still giving me goal posts to aim for.

What do you think works best for you?  Do you prefer to have a detailed map going in, or would you rather wander aimlessly and possibly find some really awesome things you never would have known to look for?

Monday, March 17, 2014

NaNoWriMo (or, Write ALL the Words!)

For the last few years, I've attempted to do NaNoWriMo, which basically means I've driven myself crazy trying to write 50,000 words in 30 days.  I've "won" three times so far, so I've decided to up the ante and try to tackle Camp NaNoWriMo this year.

For those of you who've never encountered this, NaNoWriMo happens every November.  A large community builds up around the NaNoWriMo website, and in individual writing groups as everyone tries to encourage each other to make their word counts for the day and win.  The years I've won have been years in which I had a good group of people also attempting NaNo, and set times to meet with them to write.  That last part was critical, as it gave us a chance to bounce ideas off of each other and talk our way through sticking points.  While writing is, in general, a solitary activity, it can certainly benefit from having other people around who are also engaging in the same activity.

Camp NaNoWriMo is essentially the same idea - it just takes place in April and July instead of November.  I'm getting my outlines together for April, which is what brought this to mind.  Fortunately, a couple of members of my work writing group will be participating as well, which will help the process.

One of the things that I enjoy most about NaNo is that it gets me in the habit of writing every day.  Giving myself a deadline has always been one of the better ways to make myself productive, and working with other people who will hold me accountable to those deadlines works even better.  Essentially, I'm driven by panic and guilt, and NaNo helps me harness these forces for good - or at least, for writing.

If any of you are interested in participating and would like to get a friend on the site, my user name is setauuta.  And best of luck!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Memories (No, Not the Song)

My apologies for going radio silent on you last week.  After returning from the land of ice and snow (aka Minnesota), I couldn't quite get my feet under me again.  The experience of being surrounded by family again did, however, give me a few ideas that I needed to let sit for a little while before I could express them.

My older brother and his family (wife and eleven-year-old daughter) drove from Baltimore to Minnesota for the funeral.  I hadn't realized it at the time, but his wife and daughter had never met this side of the family before, and so there was a lot of introductions to be made.  As with most family gatherings, there were lots of stories to be told, and my sister-in-law and niece were fascinated by them, as they'd never heard them before.  I found out later that my older brother doesn't talk much about his family life, so they don't hear many tales from the past from him.

What was interesting to me was what kinds of stories everyone told.  Everyone seemed to have a slightly different view on the same events, and each person remembered different events around the same time.  For instance, we discussed how we used to celebrate Easter when my brother and I still lived in Minnesota.  My brother remembered that our dad was fond of hiding un-dyed eggs for the Easter egg hunt, as there was frequently snow still on the ground and it made them next to impossible to find until the spring thaw.  I didn't remember that, exactly - my memories of Easter involved breaking cascarones over people's heads, and needing to ride on my uncle's shoulders in order to reach my dad.  That was something my brother didn't quite remember.

The idea of shared memories, and how they differ person to person, is a solid way of establishing something about a character.  The things they remember, the aspects of a situation that they remember more clearly than others, can tell a reader a lot about what they find important and what events may have shaped them.  Even if you don't write something explicitly into the text, knowing that one character will remember the details of the food at Thanksgiving, while another one will only remember the argument between two of their uncles, can help inform you about your character.  It's another tool in the kit for figuring out who these imaginary people are.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Coloring Your Writing

Apologies for the late post today.  I've had a bit of a family shake-up, as my aunt passed away last night.  Today has been spent making arrangements and trying to figure what to pack for North Dakota in the middle of February.  (Answer - every sweater I own, and a few more I'll have to buy.  Also, thermal underwear.)

I've found that, when I read through some of my earlier writing and journals, I can learn more about my mood at the time of writing from the way that I write than the words themselves.  It's something that I've found really helps flesh out a character's emotional state when writing, even if the character isn't speaking.  For instance, I've found that I tend to use shorter, simpler sentences when I'm very upset or angry.  Longer, more rambling sentences can mean that I'm either happy or anxious.

+Mary Robinette Kowal has spoken before (on the podcast Writing Excuses) about using breath in puppetry, and how it relates to writing.  Several short sentences used in succession gives the impression of speaking and breathing quickly, which makes the character sound upset or excited.  Using this kind of sentence structure when in that character's "head", even if they are not speaking, can give the reader a taste of what the character is feeling without dialog.  It makes the immersion experience for the reader a little smoother, and when done well, is nearly invisible.

What other tricks have you found to help set a character's mindset when they aren't speaking?  This is one of those skills I'm always looking to improve, so any ideas are always welcome.