Thursday, November 30, 2006

There's fun ... and then there's fun.

Whew! I finished the essay today. I'll tell you all about it when I get the "for sure" we're going to use it. Don't worry, I'll tell you if they hate it, but I'm just neurotic about not jinxing it. It sure feels good to get it done. I believe that was the hardest thing I've ever written. I'm still in the just-finished-it-hate-it stage, but ... at one time I thought it was good. I loved the idea.

After I read my stuff twenty million times, live with the research for ages, write and re-write and edit, think about it hours every day, then I hate it. After some time passes, I read it again, and it sounds like someone else wrote it, and it doesn't seem so bad. :-)

Anyway, I was thinking today how the circumstances of our life affect our personality. One of my good friends walked in the other day, took one look at me and said, "Ohmigosh, your foot isn't hurting anymore, is it?" While I stared at her in shock that she guessed, she said, "You look happy and you're smiling!"

*cringe* Evidently, I've been a bit of a pinch lately.

Just like, after I finished my essay today, I realized how much hard work non-fic is for me to write. It took me until Jade's reminder to remember that to incorporate my enthusiastic spirit in the essay. And gosh, I really love this anthology and was tripping over myself, dying to get in! I love the subject!

Just a few days ago, I was growling at someone using the word 'fun,' and how it's not always fun, and you gotta keep writing.

Er, well, after I finished the non-fic, I realized how much I miss the fun of writing fiction.

Fun is good. Personally, I still like the words fulfilling and rewarding better--I read fun as a bit flippant--but ... one needs to write with the heart and a playful spirit, at times.

Well, what is it that Bridget Jones said? "Oh, for Christ's sakes. It's only a diary. Everyone knows diaries are just full of crap."

Read more...

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Learning from the Masters: Neil Gaiman, Chapter One of Anansi Boys

After spending HOURS today wrestling with the Christmas tree (and no, those cool-looking trains that go up in the tree do NOT work--too plastic and flimsy!), here I am to talk about the first chapter of Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys.

Important Note: This is review from the perspective of learning how to write. As such, I have to include details that might spoil some of your fun. Maybe. This book is so good, I doubt it. Still, be forewarned!

I have to mention, first, that I'm absolutely delighted by the dedication page. I won't spoil it for you, but pick up the book, take a peek, and I think you'll be delighted, too. :-)

First Line:
"It begins, as most things begin, with a song."

He starts pretty grandiose, with a little bit of poetic prose that establishes the world since the "beginning," but then he jumps straight to introducing us Fat Charlie Nancy's father. He is a CHARACTER! Hah! Over the top, quirky, but completely recognizable. The way he sets up and describes this character is amazing. Essentially, we watch a whole bar re-energized, all because Fat Charlie's father walks in.

"The second time he got up to sing, he ruined Fat Charlie's life."

I love this hook. Neil Gaiman uses hooks so well, that you can't help but be pulled into the story. And he never just lets it lie with one hook. In the first chapter alone, there are so many hooks I lost count, and each one is bigger than the last. Fine storytelling!

We meet Fat Charlie, and then we learn that Fat Charlie's father's names for things stick, in a little tiny story. It's almost as if Neil Gaiman writes teensy stories that are satisfying and complete, and then he threads them into the big story arc with little hooks, everywhere.

As soon as we're told the story about Fat Charlie's father's power with names, we're hooked by, "That was far from the worst thing about Fat Charlie's father."

What's surprising is that once we learn what is the worst thing about Fat Charlie's father (he's embarrassing), we're skeptical. Rosie, his fiance, (who seems to be a conduit for the reader's emotions, because I always thought the same things she said) challenges it. The more he explains, the more we're charmed by Fat Charlie's father. We believe and understand how Fat Charlie feels put-upon to have such a father, but at the same time, we're as enamored by his father's escapades as everyone else.

Somewhere in the story, after the delightful stories of his father, we briefly see a stranger. We know nothing about him, but we know he's important. One paragraph, and we're hooked.

That hook must surface in a future chapter. I like how he does one hook, then another, and then another, and some hooks are addressed and answered immediately with another little story, and other hooks surface several scenes later. I've never thought to do that! I just hook to the next chapter. Must learn!

Another hook ... at the end of the story-telling section, Fat Charlie calls an old neighbor to ask his father to the wedding. After he learns he's dead, and how (but we're not told--yet another hook!), he can't speak. Rosie thinks he's too grief-stricken. The truth? "He wasn't. That wasn't it at all. He was too embarrassed."

We learn how Fat Charlie's father died, and then we hear birds and songs again (see how everything has such satisfying form? Like music! Repeating the beginning, closing all the circles, leaving some open as hooks? I just love it!)

He ends the chapter with another, bigger hook. "Later, when birds something to be afraid of, Fat Charlie would still remember that morning as something good and something fine, but also as the place where it all started. Before the madness; before the fear."

See, a lot of people would have started with that hook. He didn't. He made the whole first chapter one huge hook, with lots of little hooks on it.

I wouldn't have needed that last big hook to keep reading. The storytelling is so lively and interesting, and the characters so fascinating, that I would have kept going no matter what. The last hook? It sweeps me off of my feet, into his world.

Reading this, I can't believe how few hooks I put into my stories. I don't think I ever layer them like he does; it's a very effective technique. I'd be surprised if anyone could read the first chapter and not finish the book.

The form of everything just thrills me. It's so musical. I love short stories, and each of his memories are like a little tiny short story, with a beginning, middle, and twist. Then a hook. Rinse and repeat. Very effective.

I'm gonna have to try that, sometime!

More later. I'm going to go settle into the tub and enjoy the second chapter ... again. I can't remember the last time that I've enjoyed a story so much, that I've re-read chapters before going on, because I don't want to get to the end. I want to read this story forever!

It reminds me of Narnia. I've read the books at least eight or ten times. When I was in fifth grade, I sat on my bed and bawled for two hours straight, because it wasn't real, and there were no more books. :-(

Oh! I almost forgot. Nowhere, in this first chapter, do we learn Fat Charlie's father's name. Another hook? Or a way to increase the bond between the two characters? Interesting ... time will tell, I suppose!

Read more...

Monday, November 27, 2006

Fun, and Domesticating the Muse

Remember the other day, when I talked about how we all have hot buttons or issues that make us see red, and can even make us irrationally argue with someone who was just making a light comment, or a joke?

I have two: teaching, and the word "fun."

Believe it or not, the word "fun" just makes my blood boil. Please let me side-track a moment:

"The only things that can teach writing are reading, writing and the semi-domestication of one's muse." ~Stephen King, from the Washington Post article on the Writing Life.

Today was one of those exhausted days. I don't know why. Last night, I couldn't keep my eyes open to watch a tv show. This morning, the alarm went off for a full 15 minutes before I even woke up (something that hasn't happened to me since high school, eons ago!) and while I was writing at Borders, I dozed off twice. (I woke up when my head dropped, LOL.)

The wonderful thing? I got 1,000 words written. Yes, I'll probably need to make them a bit better tomorrow, but they're pretty close to what I would have written if I'da been awake. It did take me three hours instead of an hour and a half, but still, there was something so reassuring about the fact that, no matter what, I can get words out on the paper.

Even during the bad days.

On my myspace blog, someone mentioned that they don't write, if they aren't having fun. That's great! That's fine! Nothing wrong with that, if that works for you. And that person probably didn't mean it in the way I interpreted it. Remember, I get completely irrational at the word "fun" and start ranting and raving like a lunatic.

But see, the muse isn't going to get semi-domesticated if we don't feed it daily. If we want to make this a career, we've got to develop a good, solid, working relationship with that "one small animal, sometimes quite vicious, that makes its home in the bushes. It's a scruffy little thing with fleas and often smells of whatever nasty mess it's been rolling in. It can never be more than semi-domesticated and isn't exactly known for its loyalty..." (Stephen King)

So why, after what seemed like a sidetrack, does the word "fun" make my blood boil?

Because fun is fleeting. Fun is a moment. Fun is a rush, a wonderful, great rush, but it's a feeling. You can't turn fun on and off. It's not a thing. It holds no intrinsic value.

You can pursue fun with everything you've got, and you know what you've got at the end of the day? A feeling of emptiness. Have you ever seen kids get a little depressed after Christmas? Bored after all that "fun"? Ever hear yourself say to a daughter or son, "How can you be bored, with all the new toys you got for Christmas!" How about, as adults, those "fun" one-night stands? Exhilarating, exciting, and fun (usually). How do we usually feel in the morning?

Empty.

Once fun is done, it's done. There's nothing left except empty. And the more you try to pursue fun, the harder it will be to get, and the more difficult it will be to hold on to it.

But if we work hard, if we give our all, and if we strive for a rewarding experience (allowing for tears and decidedly not-fun moments); if we strive for fulfillment of our potential and destiny, then those moments of fun will happen much more often.

And when the fun moment passes, we have an incredible feeling of pride, accomplishment, and fulfillment. It's not only rewarding, but it's a way, way, way better feeling than "fun."

It was once argued, and I pretty much believe it, that the downfall of a society comes when said society becomes obsessed with self-pleasure and self-gratification. Let's teach our kids rewarding, not fun. Let's teach them the feelings of pride, fulfillment, and accomplishment. Let's teach them the joy of quality and excellence and virtue.

While we're at it, we can remind ourselves, and save our society!

Read more...

Sunday, November 26, 2006

A Writer's Writer, or How Neil Gaiman Saved My Essay

So I read somewhere, I don't know where, ages ago, that Neil Gaiman was a "writer's writer."

I remember crinkling my nose. What the hell is that supposed to mean? Sounds all fru-fru and hoity-toity to me. I may be a writer, but I'm also a reader. Are you telling me that I'm too stupid, as a reader, to understand and appreciate the writing of Neil Gaiman? You mean, is this going to be one of those writers who everyone nods thoughtfully at and rubs their chin and pretends like they've just read a profound statement about the human experience, or society today, or some such grand notion?

You know, the kind of deep thought-provoking artistry, where I nod and rub my chin too, trying to appear as if I've been profoundly affected by a plain blue triangle, while inside I wonder if the testing scores in grade school were mixed up, and I'm really intractably, unrepairably, and intolerably stupid?

I don't like to feel stupid. Can you see why I avoided him for years, even though one of my heroes, Stephen King, said he was the Next Best Thing?

But this fall, Neil Gaiman published a collection of short fiction, Fragile Things. You know how I am with short stories. I love short stories, like I love chocolate and candy stores and ice cream parlors. I've been nibbling at his stories all fall, with quite a bit of delight (the stories, that is, but the chocolate and the candy, too).

So yesterday I bought another book, Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys, even though I've got a stack of nearly forty unread dying-to and can't-wait-to-read books.

After pulling my hair out and lecturing myself on my latest attempt at a non-fic essay, I settled into the tub for a nice read. I'd started it yesterday when I got it, but I couldn't help but start all over.

This time, I told myself, I was going to pay attention to his craft, and try to store up stuff to write another attempt at a learning-from-the-masters review.

Yes, Neil Gaiman is a master at fiction. He's earned the right to sit on my top shelf with my book-treasures, like Stephen King, John Irving, Emily Dickinson, and C.S. Lewis.

So I thought I'd try to read it in one sitting, so I could blog a quick post about Neil Gaiman's methods. Instead, as I read, I was delighted by so much in the first chapter, that I knew I'd have to do this review in parts.

See, he writes Fiction with a capital F. Like Stephen King and John Irving, he suspends disbelief. Unlike so many contemporary writers, he writes disbelief that needs suspending. It's fiction, and I love it. When did fiction become so refreshing in the fiction world?

And somehow, in the reading and analyzing and wondering why I was so engrossed and couldn't put the book down, I realized that it was the fascinating struggle between disbelief and belief that held me so entranced.

Geronimo! The disbelief! That's it! My essay suddenly clicked in my mind, a whole form shaped by proving my theorem against my disbelief.

It's probably been done before, but I whipped through half of a re-write on my essay tonight, and I got tired, and I stopped, and I didn't cry. I had that proud feeling, like I get when I know I've pushed myself and millimetered myself another notch forward on the quest to become a writer. I sighed with relief, knowing that I could turn in something that, even if rejected, I could say was the very best I could do.

You know how I don't hold much stock by talent? Well, Neil Gaiman is one of those Amazing Talents who live up to their talent and work at it, like Stephen King and John Irving are Amazing Talents.

Reading him, you know it's a thing you can't learn, and that's a little depressing. But there's a whole sea of regular writers like you and me (unless you're one of those Amazing Talents, that is), who get quite good by working hard, and even get published.

Anyway, that's how Neil Gaiman saved my essay. And this week, I'll tell you all about my experience reading Anansi Boys, and what I learn. Wanna join me?

Oh ... and you know what? Neil Gaiman may be a writer's writer, but he's also a kick-ass reader's writer. So if you haven't tried his books, then give them a chance. You'll be thrilled you did!

Read more...

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Neurotic, freaked writer today ...

So, I finished that non-fic essay that I've been struggling with. I promptly came home and cried. Really, tears running down my face, snot stuffing my nose, face all scrunched up, cried.

It's not good enough.

No, seriously, it's not good enough. I know it, deep down and through my bones. This piece is kicking my ass.

So now I've got this little pit in my stomach of terror, and my mouth is set in a firm line, and my brain is glaring at me.

I must ... have to ... need to ... do better.

But what if I can't?

So I've got a little voice on my shoulder saying, "shit, oh no, oh no ... what am i going to do-o-o-o ...," while this big black woman is on my other shoulder, yelling at me, hands on her hips and screaming at me to do better.

So it's time. I gotta start kicking the ass out of this project, and I gotta find a way to thread my thoughts into an interesting, flowing essay. I've gotta find the story. If I gotta write it thirty times to nail it, then that's what I'll do. If I gotta rediscover my voice, then that's what I'll do. If I gotta revise the thing a million times until it flows, then that's what I damn well am going to do.

Damnit, damnit, damnit.

I can do this. I'm meant to do this. I am going to do this. I swear, I'm not just going to make it good enough, I'm going to make it ten times better than good enough.

Prayers and luck appreciated.

Read more...

Friday, November 24, 2006

Interesting Tidbits Today

Just thought I'd pass on some interesting tidbits I discovered.

Since we've been talking about prolificness, I thought I'd pass on what Gayle Lynds has to say on the subject. She has 5 youtube videos that show the best parts of a conference workshop she gave at the International Thriller Writers Conference. The first, I believe, talks about prolificness, and how a writer shouldn't feel pressured to produce more than they can. She's right. Whatever works ... as long as it works.

Oops, gotta sidetrack here for a second. I teach several adult students, and have been teaching many of the years. The number one problem we adults have, is that we try one method, and we stick by it because that's how we think we need to do it.

When that method fails, we adults tend to blame ourselves, rather than the method, for the failure. Instead of saying, "We should eat spaghetti with a fork, not a spoon," we say, "I'm just not good enough with the spoon to eat spaghetti. I'm a failure at eating."

We should never sell ourselves short like that. Chances are, if we change our approach enough times, we'll stumble upon what works.

Anyway, here's the links:

A couple months ago, Neil Gaiman talked about making a will for writers. Now how do you ask your editor what happens to your work when/if she/he dies? The one page contract thing just isn't doing it.

Read more...

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Five Things, and Ten Things

I was tagged! I'm not as interesting as others, though ...

Five Things You Didn't Know About Me:

  • 1.) I was once a lifeguard.
  • 2.) I had a hermit crab when I was little. I gave it a pearlescent shell to crawl into, but it stubbornly stayed in its ugly red and brown shell. After a year, I forgot to feed it, and it died. I cried for three hours straight. Should of cried longer, probably. I feel bad still, almost thirty years later!
  • 3.) I made out at midnight with a cute blue-eyed blond-haired guy in a cemetary in Germany. A few months after the wall came down, and a week or two before they won the World Cup. Fond, fond, memories.
  • 4.) I love music and am a musician, but sometimes sound, even music and the piano, can irritate me beyond reason. Actually, oftentimes. Even silence is too noisy, at times.
  • 5.) I am telephonobic.

Good lord, I sound nutso. I'm really not, I swear ...

Okay, who's next? Any takers? Since we're playing around, here's:

Ten Things I'm Thankful For:

  • 1.) DH
  • 2.) Our health.
  • 3.) Our cats.
  • 4.) My blogging friends.
  • 5.) RWA
  • 6.) Taekwondo
  • 7.) That others write.
  • 8.) That I can write (not saying how well, LOL).
  • 9.) That my foot is healing.
  • 10.) That my stepbrother is a genius.

Read more...

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Thanks! ... and Hot Buttons

Ohmigosh, thanks guys. From the bottom of my heart, seriously. You saved me! (I hope!) starvingwritenow, I really tried to wade through my left brain with my creativity intact. Took some work, but I think I'm getting there! Erik and Bernita, gosh, that helped, too! I pretended I was having a drink, and that helped even more than the coffee. ;) But Jade, wow. That's totally where I lost it! I forgot why I loved this essay. I forgot how enthusiastic I am about it. How could I forget? Thank you for reminding me! Not only is it improving my essay, but it's making it more fun to write.

I've been playing around with Google Reader. You can "add" all the blogs that you read, and it'll compile them and show them in one organized place. It's kinda cool! Better than clicking Favorites and jumping here to there. I'm a little addicted to order. :-)

It's proving a bit slow, though.

Do you guys use something like that? I do miss looking at everyone's layouts, but when I feel compelled to comment, it takes me to the author's site anyway. The best of both worlds!

The other day, I was reading the comments in a blog, and one commenter got a little fussy and overreacted to a funny post with, er, lecturing. For awhile, I thought, "Geeze! Get a chill pill!" And I also shook my head and rolled my eyes.

But as I was thinking back on it today, I realized that we all have buttons, that when pressed, we can act irrationally. She was every bit as concerned about her issue as I often am about mine. And we all have our pet peeves. :-) There are some things that we believe in or feel so strongly or passionately, that when anyone touches the subject, we get upset or jump up on the box and can't help but spout off on the subject.

I was thinking about my next couple characters, and I wondered what their buttons are. I wondered what would set them off, irrationally getting all worked up. What kinds of things do you think about when planning a character?

I tend to just watch my characters in my head. I really don't do as much thinking about my characters as I should!

Oh! I forgot I was tagged! Sheesh. Tomorrow, I promise!

Read more...

Monday, November 20, 2006

Fiction vs. Non-Fiction

Whew. I'm pulling my hair out on the non-fic piece I'm working on. I'm determined to make it good, but it still needs work. Can you believe that a little 3,000 - 4,000 is killing me? I usually write that in a day off, in fiction! I've spent nearly thirty hours on this thing, and I'm only halfway done! Granted, about twenty hours of it was research and organizing. And about ten of those hours were enjoying my reading instead of analyzing-reading, like I should have done.

But I'm fearing that I'm out of my element. Failure is just not an option. I've got to pull this thing out of my fingers somehow and make it good. I want it so bad ... but boy, is this a challenge.

My voice is disappearing in non-fiction. I have a feeling that I'm finally going to learn the art of revision with this one. Man. I've got to put my fiction voice back into this piece of non-fiction.

My motto has always been that it doesn't matter HOW much work you do. Yeah, Joe Schmoe may be able to do it fast, in one draft, and it may take me five drafts, or he may be able to do it in five hours, and it may take me fifty hours. It doesn't matter. The end product is (ideally) the same. Who cares how long it took, except me?

But man. This little voice in my head is yelling at me to work, work, work! Do better! I guess it's better to listen to that than to that little voice in my stomach saying, "What if you can't? What if you're just not good enough?" But I've seen it over and over in my day job. Talent doesn't matter much. Hard work, and smart work make all the difference in the world. (I'm saying this over and over because I'm trying to remind myself, LOL.)

Does anyone know any good articles for writing non-fiction essays? In a creative style? Have any tips? Boy, I really could use them.

Read more...

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Prolific ... such a dirty word.

Wow, everyone's talking about prolificness this week. Over at JA Konrath's blog, he posted in the comments section about how he's had "several authors privately speak to me over the years about my telling the writing community how fast I can write. These authors believe that if I share with the world that I can write a book in 30 days, the book can be viewed as somehow lesser."

A few weeks ago, Allison Brennan had similar reservations when she posted on her blog, "I worry that people will begin to think 'Well, if she didn’t have to write that book in two months it would have been a lot better.'"

Someone made a comment that I don't think was directed at me, but I did (stupidly) take it personally. I wrote the Nora and asked on her Stooopid Questions board, what she thought of comments like that, and she said, "There are still those who maintain that if you write quickly, you can’t be writing well."

Today, at Miss Snark's blog, people nay-sayed writers who complete their nanowrimo novel and submit it two weeks later. How in the world, they say, could they clean, revise, and polish a novel in two weeks???

And saddest of all, a dear friend of mine is feeling discouraged that she isn't prolific.

Before we discuss prolific, we should define it. Stephen King writes two thousand words a day. Nora Roberts publishes between five and ten books a year. If you take 48 working weeks, 5 days a week, you get 240 writing days. At 2,000 words a day, that's 480,000 words a year! If you write 3,000 words a day, that's 700,000 words a year! At 'only' a thousand words per day, you're still writing 240,000 words a year -- that's two to three books a year, which is still considered prolific.

Two - three thousand words a day, two days off a week, four weeks off a year, is really not that much IF you're writing three - eight hours a day, every day. You'd be hard-pressed to sell that much!

Let's talk about the writing quality vs. quantity argument, and then let's talk about how to write prolifically.

First, I think the whole perspective problem comes from writers who've written one novel or two novels, and it's taken them years. (That's okay! *me jumping up and down* That's normal, dear dog, it's normal!) But we look up at these authors who are flying through novels and think, "How could they possibly be writing that fast, and well?"

For some odd reason, when we start out, we expect ourselves to be perfect writers without any practice. We write one novel, and expect that to be an indicator of whether we have any talent or not. We expect that one novel to be an indicator of what the writing process is like.

There are many writers out there who've said that it took them years to write their first novel, and months to write their second. The first novel is a big bear of a pain in the freakin' ass to write. It's hard as freakin' hell. You've never completed one, so when you stall halfway through and hear that little voice say, "What if I can't finish it?", you have no evidence that you can finish it, to shake that fear. Because it's your first time exploring the form, you haven't internalized the pacing or the structure, and you can get WAY off-track, at which point you'll have to throw HUGE chunks of writing in the trash and start over.

And you know what? The second and third are hardly any better. But we can't be writers unless we practice, and we can't expect polish and skill until we've written a couple hundred thousand words. Some say a million. I've been writing seriously for six years, and I've only put away a little over a half a million words.

All these wrong-turns and self-doubts make the first few novels take a LONG time to write. That's not bad or good. That's no reflection on talent. It's just the learning process. And please, know that writing a novel WILL get easier with practice.

After four or five or eight novels, one doesn't make wrong turns as often. One doesn't bother writing words that one is going to have to delete later--why waste time? And one has the experience to know which words are not economical to write in the first place.

The other reason why I think people assume quickly means less quality, is because when you first write, it's FUN. Ohmigod, it's just a BLAST. And boy, toying with words, switching them around, and turning them upside down is an absolute DELIGHT. I used to spend thirty minutes to an hour, just playing with a single paragraph.

From that perspective, we look at prolific authors and think, "they don't have the time to do that. If they're not doing that, then they're not choosing that one perfect word that just pops!"

Again, daily practice makes it less of a delight and more of a skill. I'm not going to write a sentence that I'm going to have to delete. I'm not going to write a word that's not the right one. And better authors than me have acquired the habit and skill to choose the right word, the first time.

I suspect a small part of the nay-saying about prolificness stems from insecurity. We worry why we can't do it. Well, here's my handy-dandy guide to learning to be prolific (expect results in a YEAR, not a week ...):

1.) Write five - six days a week, every week.

When you take weeks off, the writing muscle deteriorates. Heck, when you take ONE DAY off, the writing muscle deteriorates. I don't know why, but it does. It's only possible to write quickly, day in and day out, if you're actually writing day in and day out. And writing non-fiction will NOT help you write fiction faster. It's gotta be fiction practice for fiction, and non-fiction practice for non-fiction.

2.) Write at least 100 words a day.

Someone else came up with this gem, but I've forgotten who. A hundred words is easy, smaller than an email, and it will get you started. Most times, you'll write much, much more than a hundred words.

After a few weeks, push yourself up to 300 words. Then 500, then a 1,000, and so forth. You have PLENTY of time. After all, it's more than you were doing, right? And we already calculated that 1,000 words is plenty prolific.

3.) Sit in front of the computer, open your document, and don't let yourself do anything but write.

Period. And don't ever stare at a blank page. Push through it. Sometimes I write half a sentence from one scene, two sentences from a scene three chapters ahead, a couple paragraphs in another part. Just write. If it's crap, that's okay. You can clean it up the next day. Writing clean the first time is NOT something you want to aspire to. It's something that will happen after TONS of practice. Trying to will just make you crazy.

4.) Make a goal of writing ten or so novels before giving up, and allow yourself to write one BAD novel, just to get the hang of the form.

You won't become prolific overnight. It takes practice, practice, and practice. And that's okay, because you won't become skilled overnight, either. Maybe a few of you have natural talent (I know I don't!) and god bless you, if you do. If you don't, don't worry. I've been in the arts all my life. Talent is WAY underrated. True, if you've got talent and hard work combined, you're unstoppable. But if you're just average and you've got hard work? You can be pretty darn good. Smart practicing is the key to success. Use your right brain to create, and your left brain to figure out your goals.

5.) Imagine in your head, before you sit down and write.

I take thirty - forty minute showers. During these showers, I 'watch' my characters talk to each other. While my DH drives us to wherever we're going, I 'watch' my characters' stories. When I can't fall asleep, I live in my character's world. In fact, I can't tell you how many times I've been staring off into space, DH says something, and I snap at him, "I'm working!" It took a few years of training for him not to look at me like I'm crazy.

Alright, handy dandy guide over. One last thought: one thousand, two thousand, and even three thousand words is NOT that quick, if you think about it. If all you're doing is sitting at the computer (and not engaging in that temping Solitaire or Minesweeper or the book sitting on your desk ... or the internet), then what else are you going to do for eight hours? Even if you sat and imagined for four straight hours, then wrote for four, you're still going to put out about three thousand words.

Sure, when you're a marketing maniac (and I say that in the nicest sense) like JA Konrath, then you're going to have a ton of that to do. Still, if you want to be a paid writer, then you've got to carve out two to three hours a day. If you can't, then expect your first novel to take years to write. That's okay!

All I'm saying, is that you can't get orange juice if you're making apple cider.

But, in the end, don't compare yourself. Whatever works, works. Don't expect yourself to write ten thousand words a week, if you're not sitting and writing for ten to thirty hours a week. And especially if you're not spending an additional three or ten hours a week day-dreaming about your story.

Read more...

Friday, November 17, 2006

Ideas

So I've been struggling with plot for my spy story. (It's fourth in the queue, but I kinda think about my stories in my head, before I focus on writing them.)

A letter came from my editor today, asking about a certain story with a certain plot, with this and that element. My mind starts racing and twisting, trying to turn all the ideas upside down so that it's fresh and original.

Even when she doesn't send a request, I'm always working within pretty clear guidelines. Ten chapters, 3800 - 4200 words each. My mind just starts racing, trying to find the most creative way to work within the guidelines.

But take my dream: to be NY-published. I stare at a blank page. Everything I write isn't good enough. There are no rules.

I had a thought, though. Maybe I should try making up rules, and then force myself to work through them?

I've always said--and heard said--that the stricter the form, the greater the creativity. Anyone have any thoughts? Advice?

Read more...

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Lazy Week

Bernita, in the comments section, passed on the tip that the Metropolitan Museum of Art features a different artifact on their site every day. Very cool, thanks! Visit her blog here, because she's one of those writers that make words sound pretty.

I'm having a lazy week this week. Today I reached my goals at noon, and I stopped with two hours to spare. I just got up and went home. And then sat at my desk at home, with absolutely no idea what to do with the extra two hours. So I sat and surfed around the net.

A friend of mine got a little rejection. It was for something little, and she's got tons of really good things going for her out and about, and some great projects that have been accepted and published.

I honestly don't know how she felt about it, but I was devastated. I felt like an idiot and I didn't know what to say (so I just said what I truly felt and thought, which is usually a mistake, LOL). She's out in the "real world" more than me, so it's probably just part of the process for her. Maybe. Still, I felt horrible.

Stupid of me, probably. I don't know. If you've been rejected, what do you want to hear your friends say to you? What will make you feel better?

Read more...

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

I can walk! I can walk!!

Ohmigod, I'm SO happy! I finally got in touch with my genius stepbrother, and he fixed my foot. One session. I might need to go one more time, but only if it has an issue. I can do taekwondo again! Yay!

We won't talk about the fact that I wasted $7,000 with a dumb doctor who is "supposedly" the best.

I have another bit of good news, too. If you go to Daily Lit, you can sign up to have a bite-sized chunk of poetry or a classic (and some other genres, too) delivered to your email inbox every day. Just a little, manageable chunk to brighten your day.

I love having a poem to wake up with every morning. Some art, whether it be music or poetry, is just soothing to the soul. How is that? You read it, and you feel like everything is going to be okay.

So what do you guys think about blogging for readers? I like blogging for fun and meeting people. Well, that's what I'll do. If it makes more traffic to the website, great. If not, at least I'll have fun and meet people, right?

Read more...

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Latest Sightings

Just found a couple cool things that I wanted to share!

First, there's a relatively new magazine out there, called BeE, "for the woman who's interested in Politics, Lifestyle, and Finance." It seems to be meant to be a cross between O Magazine, The Economist, and Vogue.

I love the idea. The execution is still shaky--it needs more Economist and less Vogue. Politics and Finance are their smallest sections, but I think it would be awesome if they were expanded.

They're pretty new. Maybe if we all buy it, they'll be able to expand, AND they'll listen to their readers, who, imho, should all share the same opinion as me. *grins*

They also talked about a collection of short stories that sounded awesome, called The Nimrod Flipout by Etgar Keret.

I read through one while standing in Borders, and it immediately went onto my "I want" list. I liked. A lot. Must read.

Read more...

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Best Thing I Learned At the Conference

One of my pacing buddies got a request for two fulls at the conference (big jumping up and down!). It was so cool to be there!

You know, I just realized. The really cool thing I realized at the conference, is that I get to hang out with writers for the rest of my life.

How cool is that???

Read more...

Plotters vs. Pantsers

May I say that the writing conference was TOTALLY awesome? Ohmigosh, I had the absolute best time. I got to meet the funny and very knowledgeable Kalen Hughes (Love her, and I can't wait until her book comes out, titled Lord Sin. I'm drooling already.)

Cherry Adair gave a fabulous presentation on plotting, include all the elements of a novel. She's a plotter, and a she's got a great system of colors and post it notes to make sure that nothing is left out.

That's so much fun!

Unfortunately, I can't do it. I'm not going to go deep into the plotter vs. pantser discussion, but I just want to bring up one point that no one mentions.

When you pants it, you have to know, understand, and have practiced writing in all the required elements SO much, that including the elements is effortless and subconscious.

That's how pantsing works well.

I have to pants. So if I notice a flaw, then when I pull out my next short story, I have to think about including it. I work on that area for a few short stories or chapters, and then I realize other elements that need my attention. Because when you're pantsing, you can't hold all of the 22 elements in your head. They need to be effortless.

And that takes TONS of practice. I've sold twenty or thirty short stories and about fifteen novellas. I counted up about 400,000 or 500,000 words. I've still got a lot of words to write before it all starts clicking and coming together well, on its own.

That's where plotters have an edge. They need less practice; but it takes revision and work to make it flow later. Pantsers get the flow, but we miss the elements.

That's where revision comes in. Someday I'm going to learn that, too. :-)

Read more...

Thursday, November 09, 2006

A wtf, pardon me ...

Wtf? WTF?!!!

So I have a student, whose parents own a million dollar home. They live in the richest community in Ohio, and they live on the richest street in Ohio.

Wtf? WTF?!!!

The father makes more, in fifteen minutes, than I charge his son for TWO MONTHS of lessons.

And they're two months behind in paying me. They keep dropping off the son. We keep sending late notices, invoices, etc. Today I meet the mother at the door, hand her the invoice, and tell her that I haven't received a check and we're getting a bit behind. She takes the invoice, gives it a dismissive wave with her hand, and launches into a bunch of excuses about why her son hasn't done his assignment this week (for the sixth month in a row, btw). Before I know it, she's gone, he's still here, and I have no check.

GEEEEEEEEZZZUUUUUZZZZZ HHHHHHHHHHHHHHH KRINGLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

See, what I don't understand, is they have the money. Plenty of it.

And, what I don't understand, is that I would EMBARRASSED as all hell. I'd be tripping over myself, red-faced and apologizing. I'd feel horrible about it for DAYS. Months after, I'd be WAY early with my payment. And I damn well would hand over a check that instant, or I'd tell her that I'd back in the seven minutes it takes me to go home, get my checkbook, and bring her back a check. Better yet, I'd stop at the ATM and get cash.

So what do I do? I sit here with this kid, and I'm furious. Absolutely furious. I feel so disrespected and taken advantage of. But it's not the kids' fault.

And so because I'm supposed to be a self-sacrificing teacher who loves the kids more than I care about getting paid, I'm supposed to just sit here and take it? Just let myself be walked over?

I don't understand!!!!!

Read more...

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Friendly Writers

This weekend is my FIRST writing conference. Boy, I can't tell you how excited I am. I feel like a little kid or something. I've only been able to go to one RWA meeting, because of work. I did go to a little retreat, which was fun!

But this is a conference. And already I'm meeting all these new people, am going to gain a hundred pounds eating, and bloat up from martinis. I'm tickled pink!

I'm not just excited to talk to other writers, I'm also excited to be among and talk with adults. Sure, I talk to my student's parents, but it's only for a few moments, and I always feel pressured to paste on an enthusiastic and upbeat persona when I'm trying to mentally re-group and relax before so I can be fresh for the next student. Sure, I can be very enthusiastic for real (I'm a little bit like a kid that way), but I usually don't feel enthusiastic about small talk. I can never seem to drop the act and feel comfortable being myself with parents.

Besides, teaching is about listening and saying what needs to be heard. When I'm talking to a parent with a student in the room, I'm often forced to fib, because the student needs to hear one thing, and the parent asked a question whose honest answer doesn't match what the student needs to hear, particularly in front of the next student.

When I'm among writing friends, or friends, I can be myself. They're not paying me, LOL, so I can just be normal. It's SO relaxing.

I hear writers sometimes say that the persona is exhausting. I'm going to try to make sure that this is one area of my life where I let it all hang out, quirks and all. It's more fun to be oneself.

Read more...

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Voting Hell

I keep making posts, and my computer keeps freezing up! Sorry for the disappearance.

Boy, my voting experience today really burned me up. I'm so trying to laugh at it. I really am. Two people 'confused' the election people by asking for a new ballot to change their votes ... makes me wonder if it had anything to with an experience similar to mine ...

For some odd reason, everyone telling me to vote is getting on my nerves. Look, I'm going to vote already. Do you think I'm stupid? Do you think I'm an irresponsible citizen? And heck, even if I decided not to vote, that's my right, too. I don't like anyone on the ballot. Not a single person. And I don't know anyone I'd write in, either. So I just voted for Senator and a couple issues that were important to me.

If it weren't for those issues that I actually cared about, I wouldn't have voted. I'll vote if I want to, and not vote if I don't want to. I don't know why this bothers me, because I've missed maybe one election in my adult life, if that? I guess I don't like being told what to do, LOL.

Anyway, we vote in this archaic place that doesn't even use chad technology; you have to fill in the little circles. So I go up, hand over my driver's license, sign in six places, and they finally give me the ballot.

While I'm writing in/on the wobbly booth, I hear my name. I turn, and DH is patiently waiting while one election worker is confused (and bless her soul, I know she's volunteering, but she's at every election. Goodness, but I hate to say it. I hate to say it because she's volunteering. Okay, I'm going to say it. She shouldn't be allowed!!!).

"What number does spyscribbler have?" she yells to the whole room.

Standing Election Worker says, "100. She has the right number next to her name; don't change it."

I turn back to my ballot to wade through the language of a tax levy.

"Scribbler?" she asks Standing Election Worker, "Is she 103?"

My DH is standing good-naturedly, waiting to get his ballot. The lines are piling up, and no one is getting a ballot while Confused is trying to make a mess of an organized system. How did DH get to be so patient?

Standing Election Worker says again, "Don't change spyscribbler, she's 100."

I shake my head at the fact that while, in theory, one is supposed to be relatively anonymous and allowed privacy while voting, in reality, thirty people in line know that I'm voting.

I go back to reading. It takes me awhile, because I'm one of those must-read-every-damn-word kind of person. About ten minutes later, I suddenly realize that DH is still waiting. I hear my name again!

I turn. "I'm 100. The same number you wrote down the first time," I say, getting a little ruffled. The people in line start grumbling and eyeing me, as if I'm the one who's causing a hold-up.

Confused shakes her head. "You're spyscribbler?" she calls to me. I nod. "What number is on your ballot?"

Dear God. I take a deep breath and manage not to growl or yell. "One hundred."

I shake my head and go back to coloring in the circles. I heard my name, I kid you not, several more times, as Confused asked Standing Election Worker my number. Standing Election Worker kept repeating, ad nauseum, that my ballot number was correct. Confused kept changing it, ad nauseum. It was perplexing, really.

I finished, and DH finally got his ballot. I took my ballot to the guy standing and waiting for it. I hand it to him, since last time, I kid you not, we had to slip them in a box.

He looks at me kind of snotty. "This your first election?"

I stared at him, thinking, okay, I missed one election because I was on vacation. But last time this stupid place had us throw these stupid ballots in a box. For the entire fifteen years before that, I've voted in places with competent workers, and much less archaic voting processes than this place. Sad when chad technology is a step up.

None of that passed by my must-be-polite filter, so I just managed a strangled, "No."

He instructed me to slide it in this scanning thing. "You made a mistake!" he calls to the entire room. "You didn't vote for a judge!"

I bite my tongue. I think, boy, my voting results sure are private. I cast a look over to the line, still glaring at me because they believe it's my fault that the line is held up, since the lady kept calling my name out in confusion.

"No mistake," I say. "One is allowed to abstain from choosing between two candidates that one doesn't like." I have to put a smile on my face at this point, because my voice is starting to sound a little irked.

The machine beeps. He frowns at me. "You didn't vote for attorney general," he says. I frown back.

"There was only one choice for attorney general," he says as if I'm an idiot.

I bite my tongue and press "accept" on the machine.

It beeps again. "You didn't vote for county coroner!" he booms. Again, the room looks at me.

I smile at him. "Well, they're both new. I don't think either of them being a democrat or republican much matters, in this case. They're both unproven." I turn to the room and explain, "And they both want to cut up dead people. I don't know one freaking thing about that."

He shuts up. The room stops looking at me. I leave.

Yay for voting! I can't wait to do it next time.

Read more...

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Typing Healthy: Always Feel Loose and Easy!

I had carpal tunnel syndrome in my wrists and tendonitis in my elbows, pretty badly, years ago. (I felt that pain; I don't want any of my friends to feel it!) I'm a pianist, and it comes with territory if you use your muscles incorrectly. Please don't accept pain as a necessary evil.

I look at hands for six - twelve hours a day, and am a little bit of an expert at spotting tension and correcting it. Unfortunately, I can't see you through the computer! Below I've listed the best tips I can just list, without seeing your hands.

The number one most important thing you can do to help your hands, is to be sure to ALWAYS FEEL LOOSE AND EASY inside your wrists, hands, and arms while typing/playing.

Principle #1:
It is possible to type for hours and hours, day in and day out without pain.

Principle #2:
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Tendonitis are not a life sentence. I can't believe how many people I've run into that think (and are told!) that they have to put up with this forever, and that they have to quit typing or quit playing piano.

Prevention is the best 'cure' for tendonitis for carpal tunnel syndrome. Once you're in pain, though, you can use the pain as an indicator for when you're using incorrect technique. Find a way to type without the pain. Use the pain as feedback to help you know when you're using your muscles incorrectly. You will not feel pain when you're using them incorrectly.

Healthy Technique #1:
When you type make sure that from the outside elbow, to the pinky, are in a straight line. The wrist should not be at any angle from the pinky to the forearm. Look for a straight line.

This is easier with an ergonomic keyboard, but it is possible for regular keyboard, too. Make sure your forearms form a triangle rather than the forearms typing parallel to each other.

Healthy Technique #2:
Keep your wrists up. This is the tricky bit. I'm not advocating using tension to do this, but resting the wrists on something creates a 'valley,' which is very bad for your wrists. We want a flat plain, not a valley, and not a hill. Your wrists should be on level with the back of the hand.

Healthy Technique #3:
Fingers were made for closing around an object, not for lifting up. Before you strike a key, do not pull your finger up to aim. Keep your fingers close to the keyboard and grazing the keys at all times. Again, do not do this in a 'tense' way. Just let your fingers relax.

Healthy Technique #4:
Memorize the 'correct' feeling.
Hold your arm up, and let your hand and fingers dangle from your wrist. Feel how loose it is? How easy and relaxed to move your hand around? This is how your hand should feel while typing.

Notice when and where you feel tension, and change what you're doing until it feel easy. Typing/playing should feel good (not just pain-free), like a nice massage to your hands and fingers and forearms.

Healthy Technique #5:
Before you type, make sure your muscles are loose and warm. Funny enough, moving your fingers has been proven to make your hands colder. Instead, move your arms in great big circles, until your fingers and arms are glowing with warmth. Also, run your forearms and hands under hot water--I go for scalding hot water until my arms are red and tears are in my eyes. That's just me, though.

If at any time, your fingers/arms grow cold, repeat the large body movements and the hot water so that the muscles stay loose and warm.

Healthy Technique #6:
Stretch every fifteen - thirty minutes. Listen to your body; you'll know when you need to stretch. Again, never stretch or use cold muscles. Make sure they're warm!

Healthy Technique #7:
Sit comfortably. Let your arms hang from your shoulders comfortably.

If You're Already Hurt:
I know I said to use your pain as an indicator and feedback, but I should mention that you will probably feel weather changes, too. Also, taking several days or weeks off, will make it worse. It'll feel fine while you're on the break, but when you go back, you'll feel pain again. After about five - six years, if you're typing correctly, you'll no longer feel these things. It takes a long time to completely cure, but you can type without pain almost immediately, as long as you avoid the movements and muscles that are causing you pain.

Taking an anti-inflammatory will help, and icing the affected areas can help after you do the work. Before, though, it's important to use hot water to help you loosen the muscles and keep them warm while you work.

You must rebuild your habits from scratch. The way you type and the muscles you use are a habit, and it will take a lot of attention to change what you usually don't consider in the first place. It's worth it, though!

It's so important to listen to your body, and remember that it's possible to type without pain. If you live around me, I'll be happy to watch you type and help you! Or if we see each other at a conference. Feel free to leave a question in the comments, or gmail me at spyscribbler.

Disclaimer: I'm not a doctor. Holding the arms and hands in the correct position is possible to do both with and without tension. One will hurt, one will not. You have to listen to your own body, your own judgement, and talk with your own doctor. I accept no responsibility for what you do at home. (Although, if I ever see you, I'm happy to help and watch and fix!)

Read more...

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Christmas is Coming!

My DH loves Christmas. He's complaining about the snow, at the moment, but he tore off the Halloween decorations yesterday and is promising to put up the Christmas decorations any day now. Today he bought Celine Dion's Christmas Album, and we had to listen to it in the car.

His enthusiasm is infectious, and I have a lot of fun with the holiday because of him.

As Celine Dion was making the hairs on the backs of our necks with O Holy Night on the way home, a man on a mobility scooter sped towards us down the street. He was dressed in all black, with dark gray shades and a black stocking cap. On the back of his scooter, he had a bag of who-knows-what.

He looked like he was racing home from a bank heist, LOL. (This was funnier in person, I swear.)

Anyhow, last night DH and I had a ... er, disagreement. In the middle of it, he yells at me, "Stop talking like you're writing dialogue!"

I was dumbfounded. Um, I write dialogue like I talk, or my friends talk. I just can't figure out how it sounds like I'm writing dialogue when I'm talking!

Ah well. At least the Christmas lights will soon make the snow bearable.

Read more...