Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Find Yourself an Expert

Although I majored in English in college, I sometimes still struggle with the basics of the English language.

I'm big enough to admit that.

My vocabulary is not as broad as I would like it to be. My knowledge of grammar is lacking. I find commas completely elusive. And dear lord, don't get me started on spelling. (Thank God for auto correct, is all I can say.)

I'm obviously not the perfect writer. I know I will never be the perfect writer. However, I am a pretty darn-good reader. I love reading, and I try to read as voraciously as I can. Last year, when I began writing more seriously, I decided to use my reading to help improve my writing.

It worked.

In particular, I was curious about how to make my dialogue tighter. I wanted to also make sure I was using quotation marks correctly, and of course, master the elusive comma if possible. I took out a random book from my stack of lovelies, those books that are waiting for me to read, turned to a random page, and tried to see how that writer used dialogue. 

Reading with the eyes of a writer changed my reading completely. I feel like I'm being taught by an expert every time I read. I use it in my teaching as well. With students who weren't sure how to use punctuation, I took them through the pages of the book they were currently reading. I could visibly see the lightbulb go off in that kiddos head. Just like it had gone off in mine. 

So, I encourage you to Read, Read, Read with the eyes of a writer. 

I'll warn you though, if you're not doing this already...get ready to be lifted to heights of amazement and mind-blowing learning, but also be ready to be horribly disappointed. I think I've disliked more books than I ever have before, because I now read through my books with the eyes of a writer. Especially the second-in-a-series-bridge-book. Those in particular, tend to be disappointing. However, when I find a good book, with amazing prose, an incredible turn of phrase that makes me sit back in awe, it's worth it. I take notes.

So, go! Off with you! Read, read, read, and find yourself an expert to learn from!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Time to get Chopping

It's about time.

I've been waiting patiently for a few weeks now.

I haven't talked about it. Much. Or thought about it. Much. And I certainly haven't read any of it. Much.

The rough draft.

The really, really, really rough draft of my first novel.

I've tried to lay it aside, so that I can look over it with fresh eyes. Editor eyes. Hopefully. It's printed out and sitting in a binder next to my bed. Waiting for the red pen of death.

I'm simultaneously looking forward to, and dreading the first read through. I don't want to read back over my story and tell myself, "This is crap." "This is crap." "This is crap." Who wants to hear that?

And what if I get done with my revisions, my many, many revisions, and no one likes it? What if it really IS crap? What if all I can do is crap? What if I'm just destined to be a crappy writer? What happens then?

Breathe...breathe...it's going to be all right.

Sheesh. I was really having a moment there. Okay. I think I'm done now.

So, now that I'm calm, here's the plan:
1. Don't worry that it's crappy. All writers start with crap.
2. Go through each revision with one or two purposes in mind. Don't try to fix theme, foreshadowing, grammar, punctuation, added scenes, cut scenes, additional details, all in one fell swoop. Pick a couple of things to look for first, and then go through and make changes as needed. Then go back through a second time.
3. Rinse, and repeat.
4. Don't panic.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Getting Past the Finish Line

I'm struggling so much tonight with pushing myself to finish a story that is getting hard for me.

This is a problem in my life. I'll start a story, and as soon as it gets hard, complicated, or I'm not sure what's coming next - BAM! - time to start a new story! That really isn't good for me, at least not as far as getting anything completely finished is concerned. 

I have a lot of fun starts on my computer. The beginning is always fun for me. I love beginnings. Endings can be fun, too. It's middles that I'm not such a big fan of. Middles take time. And planning. And a sense of direction. None of these are areas of expertise for me. 

This is where I find that I will go farther, do better, and feel more confident if I stop for a bit and do some outlining. I'm not a planner by nature. When I start a story, I have a general idea of what I want to have happen, well, major plot points at least. But, the devil's in the details, and I'm not so good at those. I'll start off doing well for awhile, and then I get stuck, because I don't have a clear idea of exactly what I want to have happen. When this occurs, I try to step back, and outline where I want to go from there, and usually, I get unstuck and can move on.

I'm trying to tell this to myself, so I can get motivated to finish this dang story that I'm stuck on. 

Ok. Cummon, now. Outline your plot so you can get a move on. 

Alright, I've gotta go plan my story, so that someday soon it will actually be finished. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

A FREE Education

I'm all about learning.

What can I say, I'm a teacher. Go, learning!!

I'm even MORE excited about learning something for free. If you're not into learning, that's okay, I guess. But, I think if you're a writer, you have to always be working on becoming a better writer, and part of that happens by learning from experts.

Never before in the history of...history...has it been as easy to learn something as it is now. Most of what you want to know is just a clever Google keyword away.

I wanted to know why I get dizzy riding roller coasters as an adult, when I could ride them over and over as a kid without getting the least bit nauseous.

I wanted to know how different types of cheeses are made.

I wanted to learn how to pick the lock on my bathroom door after the two-year-old munchkin locked it.

All of these things I learned through a quick internet search.

If you want to be a better writer (heck, a better anything), I think it would behoove you to find someone who is doing what you want to be doing and learn how it is that they do it. There are tons of blogs out there (like mine!) by writers, editors, agents who give advice about writing. If you haven't already, you should check them out.

Personally, I'm an auditory learner. My choice method of learning is by listening to Podcasts. I'm a Podcast junkie. Whenever I'm in the car, I get a podcast going. Folding laundry? Podcast time! Doing the dishes? Podcast!  I can't get enough of them. Sometimes, I even create chores for myself just so I can score a little more time to listen to a Podcast.

Here are a few that I'm listening to right now, and that I highly recommend:

Writing Excuses - This podcast is hosted by a team of four published authors, and is chock full of good information.

I Should Be Writing - This podcast, hosted by Mur Lafferty, is good inspiration for wannabe writers (like me!)

Packing Heat: Erotica Writing Tips and Techniques - Don't let the title throw you! Most of what the host has done is applicable to all genres of writing. Occasionally there will be talk that relates to erotica, but for the most part, it's about writing in general. (This podcast is no longer updated, but is still available for download.)

This is just a quick handful of the podcasts that I love to listen to.
Do you have a favorite writing podcast? I'd love to know what it is! Please share in the comments.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Power of Positive Thinking

I try to be a positive person. I think I am, for the most part.

At the very least, I attempt to not be negative.

Maybe I'm just neutral, then.

Who knows? The point is, I know that being positive is important.

That's a hard thing for writers to do. The very nature of writing our thoughts down on the page leaves us open to criticism, and it's so hard to remain positive when you're constantly worrying about what other people think of you. Writers pour their very souls out on the page. I don't know how to not be worried and anxious about that.

There's a cartoon I saw on a blog post by Mur Lafferty some time ago. It's a guy sitting at a computer saying how much he sucks, how could he ever think he had talent and so on. It's labeled "A Bad Writing Day." Underneath it is a panel with the same guy, saying the same thing, except this time it's labeled "A Good Writing Day" because this time, as he's saying how much he sucks, he's typing away. Writing is so much like that. It is for me, at least.

I struggle with thinking that I'll ever be successful. That I have any talent for writing, whatsoever. That anyone would ever be interested in the stories that I have to tell.

I'm sitting in the middle of a library as I type this. I'm surrounded by thousands of books. Perhaps millions. It's a big library. And I'm guessing that every one of the authors that penned these books probably had the same doubts, the same questions. Do I have any talent? Will I ever be successful? Will anyone ever be interested in the stories that I have to tell?

They're here, though. Their names are displayed prominently on the spines of their books lining the shelves, surrounding me, encouraging me. They're telling me to press on. They tell me that it's okay to doubt. It's okay to question myself. It's okay to think that everything I write is crap. But, it's only okay to do it as long as I keep typing.

Do you struggle with remaining positive? If so, I'd love to know about it. It's nice to know I'm not wallowing in fear alone.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Finding Time

One of the things I struggle with the most in my life - in EVERY aspect of my life - is consistency. I don't know why I struggle with it so much, I just do.

I have great intentions. I start fantastic projects. I have really good ideas.

I have no stick-to-it-ness, though. Or at least, very little of it.

I'm trying to change this defective part of my personality, though. Perhaps it's just part of the curse of I-can-do-that-itus (a condition I have self-assessed myself with), that I think I can do anything and everything, and so I try to do it all and get nothing done instead. Much like that run-on sentence, I have the tendency to go everywhere and get very little accomplished.

So, I'm trying to fix this.

I really, really, REALLY want to be a full-time writer. I love teaching, but I would jump at the chance to be a full-time writer and pen book after book after book. How awesome would that be? I know that in order to get started I have to, well, get started. I have some things written, but I really need to get as much out there as I can in order to have any hope of being successful. I'd like to be published by a publishing house, but I'd also like to have a successful e-publishing business as well. In order for either to happen, I have to get more stuff finished.

I have no lack of ideas. I'm brimming with ideas. I'm idea girl! But, I lack consistency in finding time to write every single day so I can get my ideas into real-live-honest-to-goodness books.

I need to make writing a priority. It needs to be more than a hobby in my mind if it's ever going to become my full-time occupation. Even if I don't have the talent to be an author, I need to at least have the tenacity to do so. The talent can be revised into my books, if needed. :)

We all get 24 hours a day. Stephen King has only 24 hours. Janet Evanovich has only 24 hours. Suzanne Collins has only 24 hours a day. I have been blessed with 24 hours as well. I need to make the most of them.

I already have tried to take out a lot of time sucks out of my day. I don't watch television. We don't have cable, which helps. I have kids, so a lot of my time after work involves getting them home, making dinner, and keeping them from killing each other until bed time. If you're like me, and working a full-time job, I know how difficult it can be to find the time to write.

But, if you're like me, and you want to someday have a writing career, then you and I both will need to find the time to get our writing done. I know I need to get rid of some more time sucks. Facebook needs to be minimized in my life. I can lose 30 minutes to an hour there, easily. I need to just do that when I can't write, like when dinner's cooking and I'm trying to shoo my kids out of the kitchen. Then, when I do find time to write later, I need to keep myself from ever logging on to Facebook and just get to writing.

So, that's my commitment. When it comes to writing time, which for me, is when the kids are finally tucked away in bed, then it's JUST writing time. Nothing else. No YouTube. No Facebook. No Twitter. Nothing. Just write.

Join me, will you?

Friday, August 8, 2014

Before you read this...

Now that I'm done writing the first draft of my novel, I'm faced with temptation.

It's such a burning temptation, that it's difficult not to give in.

Oh, the pain!

Here it is...

I want someone to read my story.

Earth shattering, I know. Of course, I want someone to read it. That's why writers write, so that we can have people read our stuff, tell us it's not nearly as crappy as we thought, bolster our very fragile egos, and tell all their friends about this amazing story they just read from us. That's what we do, right?

So, I understand the temptation to write something, and then immediately give it to a few trusted individuals to read and give us their feedback (and by feedback, I mean compliments and constructive criticism, not a scathing review, thank you very much).

But, STOP!

Don't do it!

I implore you to fight against the temptation to give anyone your very first draft to read.


Well, honestly, it's probably still full of crap. If you have learned how to write and furious, and to ignore your internal editor until you have your first draft done and on the page, then you've been flinging crappy writing around. That's okay! That's what you were supposed to do!  But, that doesn't mean you're ready to share it with anyone.

I teach kids how to write, and the biggest struggle for them is writing something down, believing they just threaded together sentences that sparkle like diamonds, and then feel that they they're done. Here! Read my three paragraph story that I wrote in 10 minutes. It's awesome!

I've learned over my 10+ years of teaching that the first thing anyone writes is never, EVER awesome. Parts of it may be awesome. Much of it may aspire to awesomeness. But, the whole piece is never, ever, EVER awesome.

Again you ask, Why?

Because it's the first stinkin' draft, that's why!

It's supposed to be crappy. It may exist in various shades of crappiness from incredibly, mind-blowingly crappy, to only mildly crappy, but it will be crappy nonetheless.

I have no desire to force my crappy writing on anyone. I'm sure you don't either.

So, what should I do? I hear you ask. Well, I think you should be your very first reader. You should probably be the second reader, too. And the third. In fact, I think you should be the only reader until you have revised the crap right out of that story, and have absolutely no idea how you can possibly make it any better. Then, and only then, do you share it with a critique group, a friend, a family member, whomever you are looking to for feedback.

I think it's imperitive that you do this.

Why? (You love that question just as much as my two-year-old daughter, I see.)

Because frankly, I don't want to read crap. I love reading! But, I only want to read the very best that my students can create. That doesn't mean it has to be perfect. It can still need lots of work, that's fine. But, I insist that my students have made their draft the very best that they know how to make, before it ever is read by anyone else.

I expect them to read their story aloud. (You should, too! You'll be amazed by what you find.)
I expect them to correct spelling and grammar mistakes.
I expect them to constantly ask themselves "Does this make sense?".
I expect them to check for continuity.
I expect them to be able to outline the main characters, problem, and resolution.
I expect that the very first draft looks vastly different from the draft they hand to me.
In short, I expect them have done their very best work before a peer reader, or their teacher, ever sets eyes on it.

I expect this of myself, as well.

I have the advantage of age and experience over my students, but that doesn't mean that I turn out nuggets of gold everytime my fingers start typing. I have to hold myself to the same standards that I hold them to, so before I ever show anyone my writing, I make sure that I've gone over it again and again (and again, and again, and again, and again, and again and again) before I ask someone else to read it.

I'll admit, I've given in to the temptation a few times. I've dashed off something, believed it to be the prose of a genius, and given it to friends to read. And then, I've always faced the shame and embarrassment of having them point out typos in my story.


When I give a story to someone to read, I don't want them to be fixated on typos! I want them to be pulled into the story and help me find key elements that need to be changed in order to make my story stronger. Is the theme evident? Are the characters believable? Is the plot intriguing?

Not - Did I spell this right? Is this the proper use of commas and colons? Are my verb tenses mixed up?

So, I urge you, writer, to be your very first beta reader, and your second reader, and your third, and so on until you've taken out as much crap as possible, and filled it with your amazing writing. Then, feel free to share it with your critiquers for advice and help.

Just don't be surprised when they find crap that you missed.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Getting to Know You

I'm about to embark on a new writing adventure. I'm thinking of a story for a writing contest hosted by Anne Elisabeth Stengl and Rooglewood Press. The story is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast.

I love fractured fairy tales. They're so much fun. I loved the retelling of Sleeping Beauty this summer with Disney's Malificent. Even though I'm not a huge fan of Angelina Jolie, I loved the movie. In particular, I loved the story, and how similar and very different it was from the Disney story I watched as a child. That's what I love about fractured fairy tales and retellings of fairy tales.

I digress.

So, I'm planning a story for this Beauty and the Beast retelling, and though I have the plot laid out in my head, I don't have a good feeling for the characters quite yet. That's always my biggest struggle.

I'll often say I have the best idea for a story!

I have yet to say, I have the best character for a story!

Maybe there are people who do that, but I'm not one of them. Nope, instead my stories tend to be very plot driven, instead of character driven. So, what do you do when you're not sure who your main character is?

Here's a technique I've used in the past, and I'm pretty sure I'm going to use it to figure out my Beauty and Beast characters for my story...I interview them.


I do.

I write down some interview questions, and then I take on their perspectives and answer the questions the way I think those characters would. It helps me to get in their skin a little bit, and figure out who they are. They don't always stay that way, and that's alright. It helps me though, to get a sense of who I am working with and what makes them tick.

Here are a few interview questions I'll be asking my next characters.

Tell me about your family.

Do you get along with your parents/siblings?

Do you consider yourself introverted or extroverted?

If you had the whole day to yourself, what would you do?

What's your favorite food?

If your house was burning down, and you had the chance to save one item, what would it be?

What quality to you admire most in people?

Where do you want to see yourself one year from now? 5 years from now?

What was the most difficult time in your life so far?

What is one thing you wish you could change about you or your past?

(If interviewing a villain) Were you born with evil tendencies, or was it something that happened over time?

(If interviewing a villain) Do you consider yourself evil, just misunderstood, or something else?

What do you most want to do in this world?

What is keeping you from doing what you want to do?

Who are your best friends?

Who/what is your greatest enemy?

So, that's about all the questions that I can think of for now. I'm sure that if I gave myself some more time, I could probably pump out some more, but honestly, as I start to interview my characters, I find that I have more questions for them. Just like a real interview.

So, if you're having trouble figuring out who your characters are, give this method a try. I hope you find it helpful.

If you have any other ways of getting into your characters' heads, I'd love to know about it. Leave your advice in the comments! Share the love!

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Art of Organization

I'm not an organized person by nature. I'm just not.

Don't try to change me.

However, with writing, it become necessary at times to get organized and stay organized. Otherwise, chaos ensues.

So, here are some organizational tactics that I use to keep my from going completely insane when it's time to revise.

There are two things I've finally learned to do, and have been consistent about. (Yea for consistency!) First, I organize all my changes, and second, I organize a list of characters and important facts about my story.

If you have a fancy-schmancy writing program like Scrivener, then you have all the tools at your disposal to stay organized, and so shame on you if you don't.  However, if you're like me -  dirt poor financially restricted, then you'll be using freeware, or something already on your computer like Word or Pages. If you're a pen and paper kinda person, well, then continue on. I salute you.

So, to keep track of my changes, ah-ha's, and oops-i-need-to-go-back-and-fix-such-and-such, I keep a running record at the very top of my document. If I'm really good, I even include a page number of where a change needs to be made. (I'm not usually that good, though, let's be honest.) I tend to write linearly, so when I come to a question in my head, I just bop my way to the top of the page, write down my thoughts, and then bop back down to the end.  Now that I'm done with my first draft of a novel that I've been working on for several months, I'm going back through my bullet points, adding, axing, changing, blending, whatever. As soon as that issue has been addressed in my draft, I delete it and move on to the next item that needs fixing. Voila! Organization. At least, a little bit.

As I was writing my novel, and I have to call it MY NOVEL, because it's the only novel I've written - up to this point (If you're reading this in the future, of course I've become incredibly prolific and probably have dozens of novels out there in the world for you to enjoy. You should buy one!) so anyway, as I was writing my novel, I didn't always have a strong idea of where I was going and who was going to pop into my story at one time or another. Before I sat down to write, I had a basic idea of who my main characters were, but then all these secondary characters starting showing up, and before I knew it, I had forgotten someone's name, or who they were friends with. It all became rather confusing, and surprisingly quickly, too. So, to help me keep every one's names straight, and how they were related to each other, I started an Excel spreadsheet and started listing characters' names, personality traits that were important to the story, setting information that I didn't want to forget, and anything else that I was worried I might forget about.

It turned out to be super helpful to do that. So, now I will remember to START my writing that way in the future. I didn't get this system figured out until I was nearly halfway through writing my novel. That meant that I had to go back and read through everything I had written thus far. It felt like such a time waste to have to go back and do that, and of course I wanted to go and edit every little thing I could as I was re-reading. I had to force myself to just keep my fingers on the arrow keys, so I couldn't edit anything else. Now I know better. Start a spreadsheet of character info from the beginning. Gee, what a concept!

So, those are a couple of ways I organized my work so that it would be easier to go back and revise, and keep everything straight. I don't have enough room in my head to keep all that information tucked in there, that's for sure.

I'd love to know what ideas and tips you might have for staying organized while writing, so please feel free to share in the comments!