In my late teens and early twenties, I was the shit.
That's what I thought. It wasn't a completely unfounded belief, mind you. I'd been told so many times how brilliant of a writer I was. I was going to be a famous novelist: rich, well-known, with my books sitting on a bookshelf between Stephen King and Anne Rice (big names then and still). I was going places and the pats on the back, head, and nods in my direction fueled my mindset that I was really all that they said.
I was immature, unseasoned, unchallenged, and could not take criticism to save my life.
In that time, I sent short stories to anthologies and magazines, sure that they would snap me up and I would leave the military a published author under the tutelage of a major publishing house. On one occasion, I received feedback from a short story I'd submitted. I won't tell you who it was from or what anthology, but idiot that I was, I'm pretty sure I tossed it as an affront to my generous skill and expertise.
Yes, I still wrote in passive voice. I also did a plethora of other major faux pas in writing (cliches, shifting tense because I thought it sounded cool, perfect characters, etc.). I couldn't take the criticism and couldn't understand why I was getting rejected. I'd always been told how amazing I was and friends, teachers, and family couldn't be wrong, could they?
It took so many rejections, giving up for several years, and taking new writing courses before I even came close to understanding what good writing really was. I'm still learning every time I open a document to write, edit, or proof. I cringe when I look at my earlier writings not because the stories are necessarily bad but because the writing is gawd-awful (blame my grandmother for overuse of that phrase -- and it always sounds like someone is describing a rank stink when it is said in her tone).
Even my first publishing credit had me rebelling against what the publisher wanted. I will support my stance only in that they wanted me to change the ending and I couldn't see a different way to end the story. They still published it, but it was a little less prominent than it might have been had I been able to give what they wanted.
Some of you will read that and immediately get your hackles up. No, I'm not saying to write your stories and change them at a whim to suit some publisher that wants you to fit into a mold. I am saying that sometimes we are asked to make small adjustments based on our own ignorance of what people will read and our inability to see how someone else reads what we've written for comprehension. We see our story a certain way in our heads, but it doesn't always read that way to someone who doesn't live in our own mindspace.
Criticism is important to helping us all grow as writers. I teach this because teenagers, especially, think that everyone is trying to insult them by offering them criticism. Now, some teens don't know how to properly offer assistive criticism and that's something they have to be taught. Some, though, want to immediately argue out of what they're being told by peers or even their teacher. It isn't uncommon to try to reason your way out of what someone tells you needs work. The same thing happened with adult students in the Master's courses I took on Creative Writing. People don't want to feel like they're being told that they're "wrong" or "bad" at anything.
That's not what criticism, true criticism, is. Someone who is taking the time to tell you where work needs to be done is not doing it through a sense of ego or trying to bully you. They are putting their own necks out there to try to HELP you become better. We cannot write alone. We can start the process alone and do aspects of it independently, but we need others. No writer is so amazing that they can do completely without an outside editor. Writing takes a village if you want to see that writing in print. Criticism is a necessary step in that process.
This is how I know a writer will be successful -- they are willing to listen to the advice of others, incorporate some or most of that into their writing, and they don't take offense at the criticism being given. If you argue, if you try to justify why you don't feel the need to change a damned thing, you will fail as a writer. Writing isn't just about our characters experiencing growth, we the writers must be willing to grow and change as well. If you cannot or will not do that, this isn't a job you should pursue. Ego has no place in writing success, so check it at the door, grow thicker skin, and become BETTER.
Passive voice is something that people are often on the fence about. Kind of like the Oxford comma (don't get me started), but it has a very specific failing when it comes to writing, so I find myself wanting to talk about it with you all.
Passive voice is when the action happens on the subject instead of the subject doing the action. One of the biggest ways that you'll find passive voice in a sentence is when said sentence starts with a gerund.
I know, my English teacher's cap is on. Sorry!
Gerund is basically a verb with an "ing" ending utilized like a noun. If you find an "ing" word at the beginning of a sentence, it has become a gerund and is in passive voice 99.99 percent of the time. Yes, just like anything in English, there are always exceptions.
Example: Walking to the store, I saw my friend Jim.
This is passive voice. The action is happening TO the subject instead of the subject doing the action. The reason this is frowned upon in writing is that it's just weak. Characters and actions need confident, precise actions. No, this is not one of those things that you can kind of get away with if you're careful. Passive voice just makes your writing come out wishy-washy and weak. Avoid it at all costs and break yourself of the habit as soon as possible.
Non-passive voice example: I was walking to the story and saw my friend Jim.
In this example, the subject is clearly doing the action and it is more precise. This example is the right way to go. If you do the first, passive approach, your writing will get beat up by every editor you ever meet. You will be in creative writing classes filled with people who tear apart your writing. Passive voice is a painful way to die.
Why do I harp on this? I still struggle with passive voice at times -- at least in first drafts. I didn't learn NOT to writing in passive voice until after writing my first novel-length work. I honestly didn't even know what passive voice was. When someone would try to explain it, I didn't get it or understand why it was so bad. I learned a very hard lesson in pushing myself away from writing in passive voice. Passive voice makes your writing appear immature and uncertain which is definitely not what you want to come across as. It's kind of like learning the proper articles to use or when to use contractions and when to avoid them: you just have to progress as a writer and hone your craft. I know this post will raise the hackles on some of you and you'll want to argue, but take a long look at your writing and realize that subjects doing the action over action being done to the subject will create more powerful writing. This is one of the ways to put your best foot forward in writing and show maturity.
Tomorrow maybe we'll talk about handling criticism. :)
I feel like I'm full of writing adages as of late. Hopefully they're more helpful to you than not.
Tip to all writers: Write until you can't.
I know that sounds obvious, but let me explain. Sometimes what you write is crap.
That doesn't mean you stop. Think of it as a halfway decent box of chocolates that doesn't have the types labeled. Sometimes, you have to work your way through some bad pieces to get to the stuff you really want. Writing everything is like clearing the filter in your brain -- clear out the noise, then concentrate on the story. Write it all down, don't pause, don't quit, just worry about the junk later. Ask my students (adult or teen) later about how I will make them write without allowing them to go back and do any editing. The point is to get what's in your head down on paper/screen before you lose your train of thought and end up getting up to get coffee... brb...
Kidding. You must clear the way for the good stuff that's rattling around in there waiting to be part of your story, but your brain sometimes needs to warm up. To do that, you have to just keep typing/writing away.
In a way, this blog is my way of clearing the rest out. Even though I'm editing, I sometimes need to get the rest of my thoughts out so I can concentrate on what I'm writing. Editing does not mean that there is nothing new to the story. In fact, sometimes this is where elements of the story really pick up because you, the writer, see points in the story where you can enhance aspects of your character or build back-story, or describe that event that you didn't have as much time with on the first run. Like I said, write it down and don't stop. Editing is when you can fix and add what you need to.
I'm not saying to avoid describing setting/conflict/back-story by doing this. If it is in your head when you're writing the first draft (or fiftieth), put it in there as you see it in your head. I am saying that, even if you don't see it on the first draft, you know there are parts that need backstory or more description. It will be there when you return. If you're really afraid you're going to miss something, leave a proofing mark to come back and flesh something out. Honestly, though, if it is in your head and nagging at you, it will come out one way or another. Just don't stop. Write until steam comes out of your ears and your hot coffee has become the temperature of iced coffee or you're picking up to sip from an empty cup 2-3 times. Write until you can't and then, when you do stop, think about what you've written to make sure there isn't more. Then write more and more and more.
Whatever you do: Just. Don't. Stop.
I'm working on my pirate/alternative history/fantasy/steampunk/sci-fi novel.
Yeah, I know how that sounds, but there isn't one clear genre classification of this novel. It might be the reason I love it so much.
Maggy, my main character, is a handful. As is her actions, activities, and the general mayhem of her existence. The thing is, proofing something with so much action that must be fully described in order to make sense, is tiresome and somewhat like trying to play twister with one's self. I worked and re-worked a jail break the first time and found myself reworking it again today.
It isn't a bad thing, though. If you want your story to be right, it takes some reworking to make sure that the image you build in your reader's mind is the same image you see in your own. Will it be perfect? See my last blog entry.
I love writing Maggy, though. I love her spirit, her devil-may-care attitude, and her aplomb. She's just so freaking fun. So, even though I am doing rewrites again, it will be worth it in the end. I will help give Maggy more life for the reader to understand her, see who she is even when she isn't quite sure, and want to read her like I want to read her. I really hope some of you will love her half as much as I do. She's kind of awesome.
Here's something all writers have to learn...usually the hard way:
Your writing is not perfect the first, fifth, or one-hundredth time. Believing that what you write can be perfect the first time is delusional. Walk into a book store, pick up any book (including classics that have been published hundreds of times) and find one without an error. You can't. It doesn't exist.
Writers, editors, and publishers work very hard to find those errors and remove them, but something is always missed. An army of people reading, proofing, and editing will still miss a couple of mistakes. As authors, we're even more likely to miss our own mistakes than anyone else. Have you ever heard the phrase, "You can't see the forest for all the trees"? It's an accurate analogy. Writers are so close to their works that you miss the mistakes because your brain knows what you MEANT to say. You know that "teh" was supposed to say "the" and therefore your brain actually sees "the." A good editor or proof-reader will catch little mistakes like this, but what about when you accidentally change a character's eye color? Hair color? Dominant hand? Eventually, you might find those mistakes, but more likely it will be a canny reader who spots the error and you end up feeling foolish for missing it. Some errors are even deeper than that -- with repercussions that only occur in later books.
I'm not saying this to make you, or even me feel bad -- I kick myself enough, I don't need the extra booting. I am saying this to hopefully help anyone reading this understand that perfection fresh out of the gate is not a reasonable dream. It is a fantasy that we all hope for, but it isn't logical. We are human (most of us, right?) and therefore we err.
Another aspect of being less-than-perfect is to remember that writing is a journey. The first book might be good, but the second will be better as will the third, fourth, fifth, etc. Everything we write is about learning who you are as a writer and creating a voice that is all you and that grows with you. Don't be afraid of the recommendation to "find your voice" in writing. All that really means is that, with practice, you will improve and become confident. You will still make mistakes, but they will be fewer and less obvious as you progress. Writing might be a genetic gift (though I doubt it) but it is like anything else -- you must practice, hone, and push yourself in order to get better. Don't be afraid of the mistakes. Be afraid if you cannot find any or don't learn how to fix them.
For a tiny second, after typing "Back" and looking at it, my brain read "Back to School" and I had minor heart palpitations. Funny how we can have our own sort of PTSD attached to various experiences in our lives.
My writing has been a struggle this past year. I've had so much on my plate during the school year that I couldn't breathe out the time to focus on myself and my personal/professional needs in writing. We sold our house and moved which just added another layer of work to everything. I have to admit, though, that I'm a little disappointed in myself for not making the time (like I always teach other writers) to write like I should. I felt like a fraud at times. I've felt like a failure more often than not.
I'm not alone though. There are times that I feel like a deserted island under a brutal sun surrounded by unmoving water, but I'm never really alone. I'm lucky enough to have friends (writer and other) who have been here to listen and encourage me. They've offered me sunscreen or tried to help me build a raft while always listening to my worries.
Being a writer is not easy. Every day is work. Every day is reminding oneself that this is a job, too. Jobs = work, dedication, and perseverance. That last one was my daughter's word for this. She reminds me of what I've accomplished while my brain tries to tell me what I haven't done yet. There has to be a balance there -- between what is done and undone -- or we fall into this pit of wondering at our own worth.
My goals for this summer:
1) re-edit MadCap and continue to shop it around
2) give book 2 of Ice Burns another once-over and publish it already (it was ready at the end of last summer and I purchased the cover during the fall)
3) dive into something new -- a new story, a new opportunity, a new sense of self
Things I know about myself:
1) I feel more like myself when I write or edit -- I become whole
2) People (beyond just family and friends) enjoy my writing and support me
3) I will never improve if I don't continue and quitting is not an option
Happy Writing. I hope you all realize that life is full of opportunities even when it seems like they're sand slipping through your fingers. Just grab another handful and start again. Eventually some of it will stick with you.
Last weekend, I offered free downloads of my first novel, Loki Bound, through Amazon. I was hoping with the upcoming Prime Day, that more people would be surfing Amazon and would take a look at my book.
I'm pretty excited at how many downloads I saw. If you're one of my new readers: Thank you! It means a lot to me that you want to check out one of my books. Also, when I say I would love to hear from you, I mean it. I love feedback. I love reviews -- even something less than five stars is great because hopefully you're telling me why you gave me the rating you did so I can improve my work. It's a small thing that means so much.
And speaking of which: Please review books! All of you! Review every book you read. You have no idea how much reviews mean to authors. Your review not only helps us get better, but it helps our books get to more people. It helps others decide if our book is something they would enjoy or not. You help our books climb and help us find new readers. You, the reader, are the reason we get to do this and we are thankful.
I think my brain may be in overload. I have a to-do list and it has three novels on it right now (not including Frost and Flame book 2: Winter Born).
What are these new in-the-works? Ice Burns 3, a new fantasy tentatively titled Queensland, and a short story that seems to not want to let go of me! Can we say clingy stalker? Oh yes we can!
So, what's a girl to do? I'm not sure how to shut out all of the voices but for one and I want to get some good work done here. Have you ever tried to get something done with four or five voices yelling things in your ear? It really doesn't work. So, back to misery and selective hearing, I guess.
Also, I thought I would throw a gift out there for some of you lovely darlings: Free Loki Bound ebooks! Yes! Rejoice! Your summer reading list just got longer if you haven't picked up this humorous, mysterious, and sometimes romantic romp! Go to Amazon and get your free copy today Here. It will only be free for a little while. Hey, a girl's gotta eat.
Something about conventions either kicks me in the head or kicks me in the ass. LibertyCon usually does the latter. This year's LibertyCon 31 was no different.
When I got home after a grueling 9+ hour drive from Chattanooga, my brain was humming. No, not the audible type of humming (I would see a doc for that), but buzzing with new ideas and a desire to get moving.
Prior to this year's LibertyCon, I finished writing Ice Burns 2, titled Frost Flame. I was high on that sense of accomplishment but knew I still had a ways to go before I rest my weary head (or keyboard). Ice Burns 3, currently untitled, is burning a hole in my head and I had still needed to complete first and second edits on Frost Flame before sending it to my new editor.
During edits, short stories started tugging at me. It's been a while since that's happened, so I paused to take a listen and ended up writing a Sci-Fi/Fantasy/SteamPunk(ish) short story that was really fun. I actually finished that with full edits yesterday and have sent out a few feelers to see if anyone wants it. It was a fun write, though which I haven't had in a while.
Something happens when you finish a work or two though: you're either empty because you aren't actively writing, or bummed because a part of you is...absent. I'm feeling a little of both. I'm also feeling the crunch of my day job to get some items prepped and going for the upcoming school year.
Writing is an emotional journey; I guess that's my point. It has ups and downs like anything else. Some writers, me included, don't know that early on. You won't always feel high from writing. You won't always feel confident or worthwhile. You will have that drive mixed with a heady dose of procrastination trying to pull you in another direction -- don't let it. To write is to reach a sense of self; a sense of accomplishment. Even if that writing is crap and it ends up stored on your computer for years to come, it still needs a voice, and you need to speak it. If you want to write, do so. Don't let things stop you. Don't let anyone stand between you and what you want. It might take years (sadly) before you can truly hone your craft and feel at one with your art, but take that time to do so. Make your time to put the ripples in the water and watch them turn to waves. I'll stand on the shore and hand you another rock.
A good friend of mine, Toi Thomas, has written and published a few children's books. When she finished them, it seems that she decided that instead of spotlighting herself and her books, she wanted to spotlight teachers.
When she told me that, I wanted to be part of it. It isn't because I teach that I appreciate what she's doing; it is because I wouldn't be who I am without the amazing teachers that have been concentric to the person I've become. I had support systems that seemed invisible, but they were there and I know I can never do enough to thank them for that. Since I can't, I want to draw your attention to your teachers and all of the amazing things they do for your and/or your children. Teachers are not an endless resource and we must work to cherish the ones we have. Here's what teachers have done for me and I would love to hear what they've done for you in the comments:
Did a teacher ever introduce you to a book; which one(s)?
I've had a lot of teachers (thankfully) recommend books to me. One that I remember in particular was in middle school: White Fang by Jack London. It is still one of my favorites.
What was your favorite book(s) as a kid?
I've had so many favorites over time. Books have touched me in so many ways and changed how I look at the world around me. One of my odd-ball favorites was Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. I've read it at least a dozen times because I cannot help but admire the main character, Scarlett O'Hara, for her realistic heroism. She never fit the hero archetype, but she was one just the same.
Who was your favorite teacher at any point in your youth; why?
Again, so many! One that sticks with me is Mrs. Anderson. She taught my high school Journalism classes and let me come in during the summer to use the computer there to write my first "novel". I never finished the book because I just wasn't sure. I guess I wasn't ready. At least I can't say I wasn't supported, though!
What popular book have you never read and or faked reading?
The Hobbit. I know, I know. I hang my head in shame.
Did you ever do any creative projects in school based on a book; what?
I honestly don't remember. I rebelled against a lot of the literature we read because I never understood what was underneath characters I considered vapid or idiotic to see what they really were.
What book(s) has had the greatest influence in your adult life?
I would say either Pen on Fire or On Writing. Both are about writing and the life of a writer. Without them, I don't think I would have ever considered myself good enough to call myself an author.
What words or advice from a teacher has had the greatest influence in your adult life?
I don't know that there were specific words so much as general intent. My high school teachers honored me with an award for trying to write my first novel. They told me what an amazing thing it was and encouraged me to write at any time I could. I honestly didn't even know that any of them saw me doing it except for my Journalism teacher. It was a shock that they were all there quietly cheering me on!
What book have you read as an adult that you wish you’d read as a child or teen?
The Chronicles of Narnia. I would also say that I wish Harry Potter books had been around when I was younger.
If you were a teacher, what book would you recommend to a student and why?
Ha! I recommend books to my students all the time! I can't say one because I try to discuss interests and help students find books they will love and that will have an impact on them. I will say, for my fantasy kids, I often recommend The Sin-Eater's Daughter. Excellent novel.
What would you write about or have you written about in a children’s book?
I have. I wrote it during a class as part of a project. I created a children's book based off the Celtic myth about the Brown Bull of Cooley. I illustrated it as well. Mythology has so many interesting takes on the world.
This blog tour and giveaway is sponsored by Toi Thomas. Toi Thomas is a teacher and author who wants to support other teachers. Please consider buying one of her books and or entering her giveaway to support a teacher of your choice. BUY BOOKS HERE and or ENTER GIVEAWAY HERE.