Friday, July 29, 2011

Audience

One of the things writers have to think about is who they are writing for. Who is their target audience? Are their stories for children? For teens? For bored housewives? For literature buff English majors? Sometimes the themes are the same, but obviously the writing, the characters, the focus of the scenes are drastically different.

I never used to think about my audience. Well, obviously when I wrote stories for class I was writing with my teacher in mind, but for the most part, I have always written for myself. Occasionally I wrote with the intention of showing my closest friends what I had written, but I mostly figured I'd be the only one to ever see it. I wrote all kinds random snippets thought up during class, from a dream, from a mashup of different movies or books or TV shows. Many of those snippets are still filed away in my filing cabinet, never seen by the light of day, let alone an audience. I haven't even gone back to read them in awhile.

When I started writing my National Novel Writing Month novels, I wasn't thinking about audience, either. My only thought for those first few years was to get to the end. Get to 50k. It wasn't until the writing group cropped up around me that I started thinking about audience, knowing I would ask some of them to read my work and give me feedback.

And then there was Nanowrimo last year...where I was truly only writing for myself. Nobody will ever read that. Not friends, not family. Maybe not even me. It was an exercise purely in therapy and writing 50,000 words.

Since I've decided to work towards publication, it's become apparent that I have to start thinking about it. Looking back over what I've written when I didn't have an audience in mind, my writing seems mostly geared towards the young adult fantasy crowd. I've tried darker, more mature stuff, but the YA fantasy comes most naturally. Now I can write with that in the back of my mind.

What's your favorite genre? I always like to challenge myself as a writer and try on different genres, so I'm always open to suggestions for a new project.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Rose by any other Name...

I am abysmal at coming up with titles and names. I ordinarily add placeholder names and titles in all of my writings, and when it comes time to figure out what to actually name or title things, I really struggle. I think of something clever, and then clever seems obnoxious. I think of something bold, and then it feels pretentious. I think of something bland, and it sticks, but I know nobody will ever want to read it.

So far none of this has really mattered. I know someday it probably will. I hate titles. I will probably call upon you, readers, to help me with names and titles from time to time.

Now is one of those times. My writing group (hi guys!) has decided to put together a website. I am super excited about this. We have ideas for content, we're going to use it to promote our group and it'll be a great tool when National Novel Writing Month rolls around. It'll be a place where we can grow and document our journey and share our insights and knowledge all in one place. We even know what platform we're using and who is going to host it.

It's all ready to go.

Except that we need a name.

We just can't seem to find something we all agree on that isn't already being used or will be buried in a Google search, or so offbeat that nobody will ever search for it. Visibility is our trouble. And consensus.

So. Say you wanted to join a writing group. What kinds of names would be appealing to you?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Character Auditions

As a writer, I always have voices in my head: characters who have a story to tell, or characters who want me to get to know them better so I'll find a story for them. Rarely is it the other way around. But sometimes it is. Sometimes I have a world with no people in it and it needs filling.

When this happens, I like to put a call out to friends and family for character suggestions. A casting call, if you will. It's worked really well for me in the past, so it's something I'd like to do more of from time to time. Usually it'll be for minor characters. Right now, though, I need protagonists/antagonists.

The story will be urban fantasy, since I realized in my last post that that's where my head is at. So vampires, werewolves, witches, zombies, magicians, demons - all fair game. What's a character you always wanted to see in one of those worlds that was never there? Feel free to submit yourself as a character, and what role you'd like to play. Always wanted to be a vampire? I can write you as one (disclaimer: this would be a caricature of you, so you wouldn't be allowed take offense to over-exaggerations).

So, do you have characters you'd like to audition to be in my next story?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Comments and The First Input/Output

I have a quick public service announcement, then we'll get you back to your regularly scheduled blog:

It was brought to my attention that people were having difficulty leaving comments on my site. This should now be fixed and anyone can comment - you don't need a special account or login or anything. I apologize for my technological ignorance, and I hope those of you who visit will now comment liberally.

I got so excited about the concept of the Input/Output posts, and still haven't done one. As I am still project-less, I feel like a poser bringing it up, but I'll give you a quick rundown of what I've been reading. Maybe it'll help me pick a project.

I just finished the book Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever. I got it for a couple bucks on the last day that Borders was open because it sounded interesting (and was cheap). It had a lot of good advice for health, but at the same time it talked a lot about advances in medicine and technology that will allow us to live for hundreds of years. Some of that stuff seemed incredibly science-fictiony and it gave me a lot of creepy ideas involving nanobots taking over human bodies. You rely on technology that much, something is going to go horribly wrong. I've tucked away a lot of ideas and marked some pages to go back to when I'm in the mood to write sci-fi/horror.


 I am reading a gigantic stand-alone fantasy novel by Tad Williams called The War of the Flowers. I'm almost halfway through this behemoth and it's finally starting to get exciting, but I still don't really like any of the characters. The world building is kind of creative, but my overall feeling is kind of meh. I started reading it to help with atmosphere for the story I was transcribing, but that fell totally flat. I am just not in a high fantasy mindset these days.




I watched David Tennant and Patrick Stewart in a movie version of Hamlet, and it was phenomenal. I am still a little hung up on David Tennant, and now he has me thinking about Shakespeare. I'm going to stay away from more Doctor Who fanfiction, but I'm thinking about re-reading some Shakespeare plays. Maybe I'll do an adaptation. Could be fun. I wrote a Shakespearian sonnet while I was studying Shakespeare in college (one of the best poems I've ever written, in my humble opinion, although that isn't saying much since I'm not much of a poet). Maybe I'll give it another go. Although I'm not really in poetry mode, either.

I have the tendency to read several books at once, and while I always try to read at least something non-fiction so I get a healthy balance of information and pleasure, I do read a lot of fluffy stuff. I hate to say it, but I am hopelessly stuck on a smutty urban fantasy series with a badass vampire hunter chick (and, ironically, the first book is called Guilty Pleasures). All I want to read and write is urban fantasy. Trouble is, none of my story ideas really lend themselves to that genre, so I will either have to adapt an idea or come up with one from scratch.



I think this is why my muse is a beached whale right now; I don't have a story that fits my mood. Giving it gentle nudges in the direction I wanted it to go hasn't been working. So now I just need to come up with a plot and a world and some characters.

Hah.

I might have a start, though. I went to a mindnumbingly boring training for work last week, and the notes I took morphed into a cross between making fun of the guy giving the training, and trying to create a story out of some of the things he said. It left me with a couple of snippets that I might try to weave together into a short story. An actual short story (since my shorts have been ranging 15k words, which really is too long to be short). Maybe 6-8k words.

So, what are you reading right now?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Publishing Paralysis

I finished transcribing Riftworld (although after doing some research, I've discovered that I have to change the name since apparently Stan Lee had it first). It was a chore and an adventure at the same time. The world has a lot of potential, and it has a couple of interesting characters, but it needs serious rewriting to fix lame dialog and plot holes. I'm not quite ready to write the book yet, though. I need some space from it so I can start over without it being so fresh in my memory. I've taken copious notes for additional scenes and even made a detailed outline for what was already written, but I'm still not in high fantasy mode. It may not be a bad project for Nanowrimo in November.

Now that that's done, you'd think I'd be doing the happy dance, right? That I'd be excited to actually write some fresh material and not have to do any more mind-numbing typing.

In fact, the opposite is true. I'm miserable. I was able to hide behind transcription and could still say I was working on writing without having to think. Now I'm back to trying to decide what to work on next.

I am drawing a complete blank. Again.

After some soul searching, I think I figured out why.

I am suffering from what I've decided to call Publishing Paralysis. I've been putting the cart before the horse lately by doing research about publishing and agents and if it's possible to make money as a writer...and it's causing me a lot of anxiety.  A few of my writing group friends have had some publication success lately. It's all very exciting and cool and I wanna do it, too! But it seems that the pressure to come up with something publish-worthy is oppressing my creative drive. I suddenly have to be brilliant, and it's taking the fun out of it. I can't be brilliant on command. I usually fall into brilliance unintentionally. And really, it's more like quasi-brilliance. Miniature brilliance babies adrift in a sea of uninspiring crap.

So, as much as I am in awe of my successful writing friends, and wish I could be where they are at, I know I'm not ready. I need to work on creation for awhile. I'm thinking about putting a minimum two year restriction prohibiting myself to even think about publishing and just write as much as I can. I need to keep building that body of work (as a sidebar, does anyone else automatically think of Dexter when that phrase comes up?) without thinking that every sentence has to impress an agent or editor.

I haven't written a book (or even a short story) that I feel is publishable quality yet. I think I need to get out there and experience life a bit to enrich my ideas and find my own unique perspective. Not to mention, I need more practice. I do have a bit of natural talent when it comes to writing, but it is still unrefined, underdeveloped. I've learned a lot and my writing has matured over the last few years, but I have a long way to go yet.

Once I have a few more projects finished, I will be able to pick the best ones and maybe then, after much cleaning and polishing, I can start the querying process.

I'm counting on you all to hold me to this! If I start talking about publishing or queries or even editing, please yell at me. Feel free to throw things, or, in extreme cases, punch me in the face.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Conflict

I had a lovely time with the Writing Buddy during our writing arts and crafts escapade. I forgot to bring my camera (I sort of had my hands full, as you can see!) but the Writing Buddy let me use her camera phone.

I didn't get things done on the epic scale I was hoping for, but I worked out some kinks in my Scavengers story. I also assigned each set of characters a couple of conflicts at random to spice up their Hunt a bit more. They all have plenty going on already, but sometimes it's fun be as mean as you can to your characters. Although maybe I feel that way just because I've watched too much Joss Whedon.

I have an analogy about good stories, if you've ever read Life of Pi (and if you haven't you should go read it right now). This is a bit of a spoiler if you know nothing about the book, so don't read the rest of this paragraph if you don't want to be spoiled. If you don't know the premise, it's basically a survivor story - a kid gets shipwrecked and it's about how he survives in this life boat while he tries to get back to land. Sounds like he has enough going on just trying to stay alive, right? Well, to make things just a little more interesting, the ship he was on also had a bunch of animals (I can't remember why), so he ends up sharing this life boat with a tiger. Yes, a freaking tiger. A good story suddenly becomes an amazing one. So, my analogy is that I have my main story, my main conflict, but then I like to throw a tiger in the mix.

That's one thing The Boss taught me in editing my manuscripts: always give your characters another obstacle, and always go with the unlikely or unexpected twist. Keep your readers guessing and they'll have more fun reading.

Although I suppose it would be easy to go overboard with that and have too much going on in a story. But I think I'd rather have too much and have to cut stuff out than not have enough and have to go back in and write more conflict in later. That's the trouble I have with my handful of past Nanowrimo novels.

Of course, what do I know? I don't even have any finished books.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Input/Output

I have always been an avid reader, which is probably how I ended up becoming a writer: I am compelled to completely immerse myself in any story possible. Characters become best friends, their conflicts my conflicts, and when I stop reading I get confused because the real world seems like the fictional one.

This also extends to television, as well, although I'm not one of those casual TV watchers. No channel surfing, and definitely no reality TV, but I will get swept up in a show with strong characters and compelling stories - good writing, essentially.

It seems an odd analogy, but I look at my need to create and my story obsession as two different "modes" that I go into.

I have my "output" mode where I create. I write, I do pottery, I make collages, I convince myself I want to build spice racks or a bookshelves, and every now and then I'll draw or paint.

And on the other side of the coin, I have my "input" mode, where I absorb everything I can. I'll read voraciously (a book or two or three a week), I'll lose entire weekends to TV show marathons (I told you I'm not a casual watcher), occasionally I'll go to an art or photo gallery, or sometimes I'll just people-watch.

Obviously the goal as a writer is to be in output mode as often as possible so I can work on building my body of work, but I've realized how important my input mode is, as well. What I read and watch and see and hear influences my writing a great deal. While I sleep, or sometimes even when I daydream, my brain will come up with strange mash-ups of different worlds which result in some of my best story ideas. It also exposes me to different story telling styles and reminds me to keep an open mind. Sometimes it discourages the hell out of me (why do I even bother trying when this is so much better than anything I could ever write), but sometimes it encourages and inspires me (I am a better writer than that, so if they can do it, I might be able to).

I bring this up for two reasons. For one, I like to share my process with you all. Sharing helps me figure out what my process actually is!

The other reason is because I believe it would be a useful exercise to talk about the significance of the things I'm inputting. That way, I'm forced to think about what elements I find compelling, and I can steal those things and fold them into my own style. I'd like to start doing a weekly (or maybe monthly) themed post on what I've been devouring for my "input mode" and talk about how it is influencing my "output mode."

A recent example, of course, is Doctor Who. The characters and the plots and the world inspired me so much that I literally stole the whole package for my output mode. Usually it's not that extreme, but you get the idea.

This may be a Monday-type post, since I tend to start and finish most of my stuff on weekends when I have time to immerse myself without interruptions. It could also turn into a Friday-type post so I have something to look forward to writing on Friday afternoon. I'll play around with it for awhile until I figure out what works. Stay tuned!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Kindergartners have it made

As I walked through Wal-Mart yesterday, a splash of color caught my eye, and I felt a thrill deep within my cerebral cortex.

Guess what time of year it is, friends.

It's Back to School time! Which means stores have put out all of their lustrous school supplies.

I think it goes hand in hand with being a writer, but I am hopelessly addicted to school and office supplies. Notebooks, pens, colored pencils, crayons, markers, folders, binders, divider tabs, note cards, glue, scissors, rulers, sticky notes, legal pads, pencil boxes, backpacks, even the little boxes of watercolor paints: I am held in thrall by all of it.

So, due to the culmination of Back to School sales and my Creativity Constipation, the Writing Buddy and I are meeting this weekend to regress into kindergartners. We're going to bust out all of our school and writing supplies to brainstorm and outline and make an artistic mess. She and I are both in that dark space between projects, so this is exactly the retreat we need to revitalize our muses. It should be wonderful chaos. I'll try to remember to take a couple of pictures so you all can share in the madness.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Tuesday disguised as Monday, complete with Writer's Block

Some mornings I wake up and I am completely appalled at myself for thinking that I can write worth a damn.

Of course, these are also the mornings where the sun is too bright and the birds are too loud, people are more annoying than usual, and I feel like I suck at life.

This is one of those days.

It's not even a Monday, although it's pretending to be since yesterday was a holiday. Days like this should only happen on Mondays. Real Mondays.

It'll pass. Always does. But in the meantime, it makes my creativity constipated. In a previous entry I talked about how I have more story ideas than I could finish in my lifetime, but on days like these, I don't like a single one of those stories. The Well may run Deep, but I feel dried up today. It was a dried up sort of weekend.

I'm in the process of typing up a story I started six or seven years ago. I read back over some of it while I was in Florida and was amazed at how well-written it was. Unfortunately, as I type, I am more and more amazed at how bad it is. Whose brilliant idea was it to waste time typing up a lame story idea?

Oh yeah, that'd be me.

It'll more than likely prove to be a worthwhile effort one of these days, so I will continue to transcribe. But I'm going to be pouty about it. I'm also going to hold it partially responsible for dampening my motivation to write.

I am reluctant to call it Writer's Block, although I suppose by definition that's what it is. I spent the long weekend cleaning and doing chores and finishing projects around the house that I've been putting off for months. A clear sign of avoidance. Anything I could do to not write. I even took apart my vacuum cleaner and washed all of the filters.

Yeah, I wish I was kidding.

The way I see things right now, I need one of two things. I either need to find a shiny new project that I am so excited about that I have no desire to clean dust-bunnies out of my vacuum...or I need a break from writing to recuperate after my significant output of two short stories.

Maybe it's too soon to jump into the next big project. Maybe I need some downtime. I'm afraid to go there, though, in case I lose momentum. I know I have ten years, but I am on a deadline.

What it really comes down to right now is that I am itching to write, but I just don't know what. If it wasn't so damn hot, I would take one of my long, creatively rejuvenating walks to get the juices flowing. Somehow the repetitive motion of walking and the changing of scenery loosens me up (to stick with the sort of disgusting constipation metaphor). Taking a walk outside always seems to jump start my inspiration.

What do you do to battle Writer's Block and get your ideas moving?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Sally Prescott made it home safely

I took advantage of the fact that there was nobody in my office at work today and did some writing on the Sally Prescott adventure.

It's officially finished!

Ok, when I say finished, what I really mean is written. I'm not done with it by a long shot. It's one of those "shitty first drafts" that all the writers talk about, so it needs a lot of tweaking before I let anyone else read it. But. It's written. I have a complete story to work with.

You may or may not realize what a milestone this is for me. Or even the Doctor Who fanfic. I have long suffered an acute case of Unfinished Story. I know it's a common syndrome among writers, but mine is particularly severe. National Novel Writing Month did wonders as far as treatment; I finished my November novels for the last two years in a row now. But it didn't cure me of it completely. Outside of November, I hardly write at all, let alone finish a story.

With Sally Prescott and the Haunted Treasure, and also the Doctor Who fanfic, I have finished two whole stories outside of November. I am making progress.

These two newest accomplishments were for the pure fun of writing. No deadlines, no accountability, just me finally getting serious about my craft. It was also an exercise in confidence building: I proved to myself that I can finish what I start.

Of course I've realized that neither of them are publishable. As much as I love Sally and her wacky adventures, I will probably always write those for fun, and only share them on Scribd. Maybe someday when I have enough of them I'll make a collection and self publish them on Create Space. The Offbeat Adventures of Sally Prescott Volume One or something. At around 30 pages apiece, they're too short to be novels and too long to be short stories, and honestly I wouldn't want them any longer than that.

It's interesting. Most of my shorts end up being about that long. Maybe I should be writing for television?

I made a deal with myself that I could move on to the next big project once I finished writing those two stories. Well I've finished just in time for the start of the very first session of Camp Nanowrimo! I wasn't going to do it, but it's July 1st and I have a three day weekend ahead of me. Plus, I was a good girl and finished my dinner, so now I get dessert, right? I think I'll give it a shot. Nothing ventured nothing gained, as they say.

I'm guess I'm off to camp!