My coffee this morning is defective. I had to pull out the French press and make a new cuppa in order to get that happy I'm looking for. I don't drink it to wake up, or energize me, but I do drink it to help with some aspects of my ability to focus. It doesn't feel like it does that if it doesn't taste STRONG -- like really high quality dark chocolate. 80% or higher.
When I'm settled, I write...a lot. This is not bragging, even though it may sound like it -- it's honestly a revelation and something I think anyone could do with the right environment. An average day for me is somewhere between 7K and 10K words. Editing usually goes faster than that because it's pre-written and I'm just shoring up loose ends or missing articles.
I never thought writing at that rate was much until someone looked at me like I'd lost my mind. I'd also never considered whipping out a measuring stick and seeing whose writing was bigger, but I guess some writers do that. I write this way because I lose myself in what I'm doing. Good coffee helps me with that (and limited interruptions from family or outside sources). When I'm away from my day job, and I can focus just on writing, it isn't hard to get that word count. When I'm at my day job, I do a lot of editing work (grading) there and I often run out of steam for the creative side of things. This is what I love. Writing like this makes me feel whole and complete like nothing else does.
I've felt similar euphoria and emotional upheaval in reading great novels, but not like this. Writing this way, at this level of crazy, really changes the way I see the world around me. I know it was what I was meant to do just like I know I was meant to go into the Navy or meant to have my daughter. This is where I exist; my absolute start and end. Hopefully, there will be more start on the horizon and less end.
I always emphasize how important it is to write on a regular basis. I also tell everyone that there is not such thing as writer's block (read an earlier post on that), but I do find that certain things are more cohesive to a comfortable writing environment than others.
At the beginning of the new year, we moved to a new house. Brand. Spanking. New. My backyard overlooks trees. Lots of trees. My front yard has various views of different constructions in progress (like I said, totally new). My office is at the front of the house. The view that I need to zone out on when I'm letting myself get lost in the dialogue running through my head seems to be at the back of the house.
Today, I'm sitting at the table in the kitchen with the curtains completely open so that I can see the trees whenever I need. I also have a cat circling the tabletop while I type, but that's neither here nor there. Really though, he has excellent taste -- and a great spot in the sun.
I found that my desk facing a wall in my office and no hope for a distracting view that doesn't make me feel like a nosy neighbor was distracting me. It made me feel restless.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that we need to embrace whatever it is that helps us write at times. Sometimes, that might be a change of scenery -- going to a coffee shop to write, or a library, or outside (if it isn't in the 90s and humid or you like that sort of thing). I still don't believe in Writer's Block (aka Procrastinator's Block), but I do believe that there are times that we need to shift our perspectives a little in order to get the job done.
That said, I'm going back to working on MadCap 2. Anyone have an good recommendations for Pirate music?
Have you ever read a book that pulled you so far into the story that you were sad the further you got into it because you didn't want it to end? Those books are truly a gift.
I've read several books in my life that had that lingering effect on me. I know if I name them, some of you might or might not agree because it remains with perception as to how a book or novel will affect the reader. Some of my favorites (in no particular order):
White Fang by Jack London
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton
A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah Maas
Lady of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Nightseer by Laurell K Hamilton
Sati by Christopher Pike
The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
The Vampire Diaries by LJ Smith
The Black Ship by Diana Pharaoh Francis
All of those books (and others) left an imprint on me in some way or another. They're all very different with different approaches to writing, character building, etc. But they're all books that I found myself returning to at one point or another to reread a passage or the entire novel (or series) because I didn't want to only experience it once. There are others I could add to that list, but those were the ones that first came to mind -- some from looking around my office and some because they immediately come to mind no matter what.
I'm lucky to have found books like these and experienced the personal attachment to them that I've had. This is why I write. At one point, I picked up one of these books and told myself, "I want to affect someone in the same way that this book affects me." I could have listed nothing but classics, or fantasy novels, or science-fiction -- but it isn't one book, one author, one style that creates a reader. I also could have listed nothing but books from my childhood, but books continue to influence me -- drive me to shift, change, and think.
Maybe you read this blog because you love my books. Maybe you're reading it for writing tips or to glean some insight into what someone else does in writing. Maybe you read this because you need a reminder to write. No matter the reason you're here, I hope you read and can find the joy that I'm trying to describe in the reading you do.
I have this great mug. It says: "When you cannot sleep: Write; When you cannot eat: Write; When you cannot think: Write; When you cannot write: Read."
I know I've said it before, but I want to reiterate that writing is work.
There's nothing wrong with loving your job and taking pleasure in what you do, but there are days when one must sit down and remember that there is work to be done. For writing, especially, it must be done every day.
Today is my daughter's birthday. Before you brand me as a bad mother for writing over spending time with her, I will remind you that this is what I want my job to be and must therefore dedicate myself to the repetition and improvement of my craft. That said, we spent the afternoon in an arcade after a lunch of pizza (which I really cannot stomach anymore), and will still have something special for dinner and birthday cake (ice cream that I will regret later).
Though I push myself to do this work on a daily basis, it doesn't mean that the rest of my life just stops. I am still a mother and wife. I still have pets that need me and need attention. I still have a home that needs cleaning and laundry that needs to be done. I do, however, give the majority of my time and effort to my writing because I know I need to if I want to see improvement.
In a lot of ways, writing is like exercise: if you don't put in the time, you will never see results. It doesn't mean that it has to be the only thing you do every day, but you have to dedicate time every day to it. Some days (or nights) require more than others, but some days, like today, have other things to focus on that are important. My daughter knows that I need to write, but she also knows that, any time she needs me, I am here. She knows that her birthday is important to me as is her happiness. I've made sure of this. Also, if I ask her one more time, she's going to roll her eyes at me and put her headphones on.
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.