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.