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 AndrĂ©s 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.