Monday, August 29, 2011

And then life happens...

I love being a writer. There's nothing quite as exhilarating as spending hours pouring ideas from my head onto a blank page; watching a story unfold and characters running around doing things. I love to learn, and writing gives me ample excuse to research anything and everything for the sake of a believable story. Even sleep deprivation is worth it sometimes because as I drift off to sleep, plot holes will mend and plot points will fall into place. I love the "aha!" moment when a snag works itself out in my subconscious and bubbles to the surface. To quote one of my own characters: "The mind is an amazing thing."

The only trouble is...all of the aspects of writing - from the writing itself, to the research, to the obsessive-compulsive planning and plotting - are very time consuming. When you're not a professional writer, when it's a passion not a job, you have to sneak in time to write wherever you can cram it.

And life always seems to get in the way. I can only ignore housecleaning or errands or exercise classes or friends and family for so long before all of that violently reclaims my time and attention.

I was doing so well. I was on track to hit 50,000 words before August 31st for Camp Nanowrimo. But the past several days have been demanding my attention with a vengeance. I kept having to put off writing, and now I am about six thousand words behind.

To be honest, I could knock that out in maybe three or four hours. The trouble is, life not only kicked me in the ass, it then kicked me in the face while I was down. My head is filled with mucus and my nose/throat/eyes are burning, Wednesday is the dreaded year anniversary, my three days off this week where I was supposed to relax have somehow filled up with endless appointments and other commitments, I haven't slept more than 5 hours a night in over a week (and last night I slept maybe an hour), and there is a goddamn mouse living in my bedroom. He's not paying rent, so he's got to go. I just haven't figured out how yet.

I just can't seem to make myself care about writing with all of that going on. Even when I have the time to work.

All I can really do when this happens is hunker down and hope it passes quickly. My story has so much potential. I don't want it to go to the Nanowrimo graveyard like so many others.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Motivating the Muse

I thought I would try to do a fun post where I conduct an interview with one of the characters from my story, kind of like on a talk show or something, but it turned into an epic failure. One flat our refused, one didn't bother showing up, and then I got in an argument with my last resort (I honestly had no idea how upset he was about the whole love triangle thing). Unfortunately, that doesn't leave me with many other characters, so I might have to try that another day, or use a character from another story sometime. I suppose this is what I get for being so mean to them all the time. Give them a chance to talk to me out of the story and they let me have it.

So instead, I am going to talk about motivation. More specifically, my motivation. Every year I resolve to write more than just during National Novel Writing Month, but my muse is fickle. What it is about this past year that has kept me writing when in previous years my resolutions ended in epic failure?

The answer is this: meetings, deadlines, and tracking.

krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Meetings - The Writing Buddy and I have been steadfast in our meeting schedule. We've been meeting at least once a week almost without fail since December, and while not all of those meetings were wildly productive, it kept us both in touch with our current project and constantly thinking about the next project. Some of this I think is accountability, but it is also actually scheduling time to write - setting aside that time in my week so I have no excuse not to do it.

Rawich / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Deadlines/To Do lists - I've found the more specific the better with this, however they also have to be realistic and give me a bit of leeway. I set the goal to have my fanfic and my Sally Prescott adventure done by the end of the summer - they both got done. I set the goal to have my Rift story transcribed before I started the next story - it got done in record time. I've set the goal to write at least two blog entries a week, and so far I have. None of my past "write for at least an hour every day this entire year" or "type up every story you've ever written by hand as soon as possible" or even "you have to write a blog on Tuesday and Thursday by 5pm every day." I've discovered ways to set deadlines so that they work for me instead of against me.

krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Wordcount bars/charts - I've had a chance during Camp Nanowrimo this month to analyze what makes Nanowrimo so effective for me. A lot of it has to do with the community: fellow writers who are fighting the same battles at roughly the same pace. That's why I am Municipal Liaison for my region - to help unify that community and offer support and encouragement. But I've discovered another part that keeps me motivated: I am obsessed with tracking. I track the books I read, the exercise I do, the food I eat, the money I spend, so when Nanowrimo rolls around and I can input the number of words I've written and see it come out in a neat little chart or graph, I am immediately hooked. I want to spend the month of September finishing the novel I started this month, so on my "Current Writing Projects" page I've implemented a word count bar, and I spent (probably too much of) yesterday morning creating a bar graph in Excel that has a trend line for each day's wordcount. It's not pretty, but it's functional and I'm excited to use it.

I am confident that in the years to come I will be able to use these strategies to get the words written. If I can keep up, or even increase, the amount of writing I did this year, I should be able to complete several novels over the next few years.

Now if I could just find some motivators for the editing aspect, I might actually end up with a novel I can query with someday. Advice?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Tools of the Trade

Rawich / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
This list will probably look different for every writer, but here are some of the tools that I can't write without. Many of these are linked on the right side of my page. In this post I'll explain why these resources are invaluable to me.

Thesaurus.com and Dictionary.com
When I've been using a word excessively, or if I use a word but I'm not quite sure if it means what I think it means, or if there is a precise word that I know exists for what I'm trying to say but I can't seem to pull it out of the depths of my brain, I plug in variations until I find what I'm looking for.

Wikipedia
Probably not the most reliable source for information, but it gives me a starting point, a foundation, which I then build from. And actually, new scenes and plot twists have resulted from stuff I've read in Wikipedia articles.

Babynames.com
As I have mentioned before, I am abysmal at coming up with names. At my job, I see a lot of names, so I collect the ones I like, but sometimes I exhaust my list and need a fresh supply. I often use this site to find names based on what I want a character's name to mean, or if I know I want it to start with a particular letter. This site also has a brilliant section on Character Names, Tips for Writers, that I read through now and then to remind myself that not every one of my characters needs to have an exotic name.

Pandora
Sometimes I need mood music. And sometimes it's a nice distraction if it keeps playing crappy stuff I don't want - then I can spend time cultivating the perfect mood music station by disliking and skipping the stupid songs.

Goodreads
I include this because so much of what I write is influenced by what I read, and without Goodreads, I'd be lost in a sea of all the books I own, need to read, and have read.

Youtube
You can learn how to do anything on this site. Taught me how to pick a lock. I think I needed this information for a character once...honest!

Real life
No, that's not a website. Sometimes us writers get so wrapped up in the worlds that we are creating that we forget that there's a real one out there. When I step back and reflect, I realize how much material I can pull just from the experiences of one normal day. As I am writing, those things filter into what's going on in my story. Sometimes subconsciously. Sometimes very deliberately. On days that I get stuck, I go out into the world and pay just a little bit of extra of attention to the things going on around me. This always helps me find the piece I need to move the story along.

My People
Last but not least: my writing friends. All those blogs you see linked in the corner on the right? Yeah, them. And many more who don't have blogs. The Writing Buddy is especially wonderful to bounce ideas off of. Not just my writing friends, either. My brother and sister and my non-writing friends are great when it comes to talking through ideas.

I use a lot of other tools - anything from books about writing and editing to random  Google searches (the internet is a wonderful thing) - but these are the ones I consult the most often. This is my essential toolbox.

So, my writer-ly friends, what are your tools of the trade? Anyone have any other recommendations for good writer resources?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Love is in the Air


 luigi diamanti/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It's half way through the month (holy crap where did August go??) and I am on track with my novel at 25,000 words. I've reached the point where the story has taken on a life of its own, and has set my vague road map on fire and thrown it out the window. I'm ok with that, actually. It's making the trip much more interesting. And I'm pretty sure we're not lost. Yet.

But I'm feeling a bit like a sell out. I broke down and gave my protagonist a love interest. I had been trying to keep her chaste - being that she is inspired by the maiden goddess Diana, and, for a big spoiler-of-a-reason, she won't be getting together with the main boy in the story - but I've realized that chastity is boring. Or at least, I'm bored with it (I'm not sure what that says about my priorities). So I threw in another boy for her.

Maybe I haven't sold out, though. Maybe having a budding romance as a subplot makes a story more engaging.

Besides, I also want her to have a non-Hunter friend - someone who isn't involved with the dangerous Lawrence Underground. Someone that she can discover that world with, instead of having to experience it all by herself or having another character lecture her about it.

I suppose if I really want her to have a non-Hunter friend, instead of a "civilian" she could befriend one of the monsters who could then introduce her to the fantastical underbelly of Lawrence. Might make sense, since the goddess Diana is also associated with being able to talk to and control animals.

It's become apparent that my need for another character is a crutch; I am a dialog fanatic. I need someone for her to talk to. She talks to herself too much already, and I write dialog so much better than I do action or description.

So anyway, what do you think? Do you think a love/romantic interest adds an interesting dynamic to a story, or do you think it's distracting and irrelevant? Is adding another male character superfluous?

As a side note, I am considering having her fall in love with a unicorn trapped in the body of woman (my sister's character suggestion that I am taking a liberty with). This would probably be instead of the male love interest, if I go that route. More interesting? Or maybe too contrived?

For the record, she is NOT falling in love with a vampire. My vampires are proper vampires - the terrifying kind that violently rip your throat out just because it's funny and they are only interested in humans because their hot red blood is delicious.

So yeah. Who's hungry?

End of side note.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Watch out for that Hole

Is this what a plot hole looks like?
The one cool thing I took away from the Tad Williams book I read was that the goblins in his faerie world always told their stories with a hole in the middle. It was a neat concept - you'd have the beginning, and then the middle, but then all of a sudden you're at the end and it's like you missed a chapter or something, because the event that led from here to there was missing. It was up to the listener to fill in the blanks. It thought it was a very clever device.

Well, I seem to be having that problem with my current story, although not intentionally. There is one pivotal scene that changes it from a story about a normal girl moving to a new town and trying to fit in, to a girl who becomes a vampire hunter bent on revenge. I've written up to the scene itself, and several snippets after that scene...but I have yet to write the scene itself.

I always do this when there's a scene I don't want to write. I do whatever I can to write around it. I add backstory, I add subplots, invent new characters, and this time I'm even writing later stuff (which I almost never do), but I avoid the actual scene.

Not that I haven't been thinking about it. It's pretty much all I can think about: how am I going to write this scene? I've written it in my head a thousand times, but I have yet to commit it to paper.

What's the problem?

I have no idea, but my suspicion is that it's going to be a hard scene to write and I'm being a weeny.

So for now, my story is like a goblin story from The War of the Flowers, with a gaping hole in the middle of the narrative.

My plan tonight is to settle down at my computer with a bottle of wine and get the damn thing written.

Wish me luck.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Input/Output for Camp Nanowrimo

Urban fantasy has been the rising star genre lately. I'll admit, I read a lot of it. It's always so jam packed full of action and horror and fantastical creatures and, as long as it's not YA, some sex thrown in (although even then, sometimes you get some good before-the-cutaway scenes).

It's all so fun and fluffy. So dramatic. No wonder people like it. It's almost like watching television.

Since I enjoy reading the genre so much, I've really wanted to try writing it for awhile.

Enter Camp Nanowrimo. What better genre to write when trying to cram a 50,000 word novel into a month?

And so my first true attempt at urban fantasy is beginning to take shape. I'm roughly 11,500 words in, and I haven't introduced my first supernatural creature yet - at least not a full frontal look. Lots of things lurking in the shadows and the corner of the protagonist's eye. But the big reveal is a scene that's coming up soon, and then it will all be chaos and action and blood and fighting and death. Rawr!

I'm only slightly worried about the fact that I am terrible at writing action scenes.

Anita Blake Vampire Hunter Guilty Pleasures Vol 1
I've found while writing this particular story that I am pulling a lot from the Anita Blake novels. Anita Blake is a badass vampire executioner who also happens to be a necromancer. All kinds of baddies from vampires to zombies to shapeshifters make trouble for her. Some of the snippets I've written, jumping ahead in the narrative, have been a bit influenced by Hamilton's world and style. It's also interesting because her books take place in St. Louis, Missouri. So not too far from home, since my story takes place in Lawrence, Kansas.

The other series I am finding myself heavily influenced by is the Mortal Instruments books by Cassandra Clare. I love the world she created, with the angels vs. demons dynamic, not to mention her characters are dynamic and deep. Her pacing is excellent and her dialog is brilliant - laugh out loud funny at times. The entire time I was reading, I kept thinking "these are the books I've always wanted to write." So now I am. I've stolen a couple of character traits and other ideas from her novels. I can't quite nail down the humor, though. I'm just not that funny, I guess. Don't get me wrong, I find myself hilarious, but not many other people get my sense of humor.

Diana, maiden goddess of the hunt
I've also found myself drawing from Greek/Roman mythology. I'm not sure how it happened, but I have two characters based on Roman gods. Their stories are nothing like the stories of those gods, but I've stolen character traits and relationships from these two gods. My protagonist is named Diana, which I thought appropriate since she is going to become a vampire hunter. I've given some of the traits associated with the goddess to her. That's all I will say for now, in case this story turns out to be any good. I would hate to give out spoilers for my own work.

Finally, both surprisingly and unsurprisingly, a lot of my own life experiences have inspired this story. A year ago this month my mother passed away after a long fight against breast cancer. While I am so lucky to have lots of friends and family left, I got to thinking about a person who might not have much family after losing someone close. And what if that person had the only family member she had left violently taken from her? What would that look like? How would I react? I have put a lot of myself into my protagonist, even if she isn't actually me. In a way, all of my protagonists are me, or at least share some of my experiences.

But I digress.

And I procrastinate.

It's time to go work on that novel I've been yammering about.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Pages

Insert Myst reference here
Since I started this blog back in June, it has been slowly evolving. I customized the look and feel, where things are, what gadgets I include, and I am constantly fiddling with all of that. Then I discovered the brilliance of pages! So I began adding them (possibly in excess), and I tweak those quite a bit, too.

If you haven't had the chance, I encourage you to check them out and let me know what you think. Do you like the pages? Are there too many? Is there enough content on them? Or too much? Do they need more pictures? Are they easy to navigate? Do the titles on the tabs make sense? Can you even find where the tabs for the pages are??

I suppose what I am asking is for you to critique my website. I am open to any and all suggestions or feedback. This blog will continue to evolve as I figure out what works and what doesn't, what people like and don't like, and also where I am on my path to publication. Maybe one of these days the "Read My Stuff" tab will become a bibliography for stuff I've actually published instead of stuff I've just posted on the internet.

Today I added the "Current Writing Projects" page. I don't think anyone saw the boxes at the bottom of the home page that list what I'm currently reading and writing. I decided that I would like to showcase my projects so people who are interested can really see what I am working on and where I'm at with the project. It will be another way to illustrate my process, which is one of the primary functions of this website.

Maybe someday I will actually have fans and that tab will be of interest to them. In the meantime, I suppose it's mostly for myself and my dear friends and family who only read it because they love me. If you are reading this purely because you want to, then I am your fan. Can I get your autograph?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Roadtrip Without a Roadmap

50,000 words in 31 days? Pshaw.
Camp Nanowrimo is underway. I may not have any idea where this story is going, but my word count is on track, the story is unfolding, and the pages are filling up.

I've become neurotic, like I always do during Nanowrimo: babbling to myself as I wander through my apartment, acting out scenes to get dialog right, insomnia, leaping out of bed with a flashlight to write down ideas that coalesce as I fall asleep, and drinking copious amounts of coffee even though I had completely kicked the habit. All of these things mean writing to me. It gives me a warm, euphoric feeling. Normally all of this is associated with November, but now the Christmas for Writers comes multiple times a year. I am ecstatic.

I'm don't know what it is about Nanowrimo that gets my writing juices flowing. While I will say that this year has been better in leaps and bounds as far as my writing progress, I just don't feel the things I feel during Nanowrimo as strongly. Something about the community, the deadline, the pressure (get 50,000 words written in a month), and also the lack of pressure (write for the love of writing without judging what comes out). Writing with true literary abandon. It really is magical.

Granted, it's only what, Day 4? Everything is still fresh and new and exciting. I'm sure posts full of complaints will follow in the days to come.

For now, though, I'm settling into the groove and ideas are coming and characters I didn't expect keep introducing themselves and I have gotten distracted doing internet searches to chase down ideas. My brain has spark flying from all the information and ideas. I'm stealing every drop I can from my life and infusing it into my story: the funny guy at the coffee shop, the weird kid at my apartment complex, the street performers on Massachusetts Street, a conversation I had with a friend. Nothing is safe. You'd better not do anything memorable or noteworthy around me for the next month, or you might find it in my story.

I'm even building a Pandora station for mood music for this particular piece. I am finally writing the urban fantasy I've been obsessing about. I have no idea how it ends, and only a couple of vague scenes in the middle, but I have characters and a world and some very strange things going on and a very horrible thing about to happen. I may not be driving a shiny new Porsche easily across the finish line (more like a beat up Ford Taurus clunker), but I have got the wheels to get me there.

Oh, and I'm happy to pick up hitchhikers along the way. Care to go on a road trip without a known final destination? I've already got R.L. Naquin and Could the World Be About to Turn in the car. I'm sure we can fit a few more!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Hell and Screenplays and Camp Monsters

When the subject of weather is introduced into a conversation, people assume that it's because there's nothing else to talk about, that you are just exchanging pleasantries with someone you don't know very well to pass the time. Not so for us Kansans. Weather is an event. An ongoing drama. I honestly never get bored talking about Kansas weather even with my best friends and family.

And right now Kansas is HOT. Hot even for me, and I love summer. I hate to use a cliche, but it really feels like what I'd imagine hell to be like if there was such a place.

Due to the "excessive heat warning," and the "dangerous heat index" I have been spending a lot of time indoors - because weather.com tells me that outdoor exposure should be limited - so I have had lots of time for input/output. Mostly input.

I devoured a great deal of Doctor Who over the weekend. Yes, I'm still on that. But. I spent as much time watching special features as I did actual episodes, and I've learned something about myself. I've entertained the idea before, but I'm beginning to think that I might be better suited for screenwriting than for novel writing. Not only do I seem to write at the pace of a 45 minute television show, but I also focus a great deal on dialog and tend to neglect setting and description. And I suck at writing action scenes. My action scenes beg to be choreographed by a professional on a production team.

But the aspect that intrigues me the most about screenwriting is the collaborative nature of it. Sure, the writers do have to spend their private time actually writing the script, but based on all of the behind the scenes stuff I watched, the production team and the other writers all get together to go over a script to work out scenes and tweak it. And then they all get together with the actors for a read-through. All of the writers have to work out with the head writer where the overall story is going. Can you imagine some of those meetings? All of those ideas flying around? My idea of the perfect job. I thrive in collaborative settings like that.

All of that being said, I'm quite sure that I actually have no idea what I'm talking about. I have researched all of the ins and outs of novel writing and book publishing, and even self publishing online, but I have no idea how one begins a career as a screenwriter and what the job itself is actually like. I am going to have to look into this.

In other, completely unrelated news (although still slightly related since it still has to do with writing): I've actually committed to doing Camp Nanowrimo this month. I started my story and everything! I'm exploring the urban fantasy genre I've been wanting to write. I have no earthly idea where I'm going with it, but I'm taking the "write what you know" advice. It takes place in Lawrence, and I'm taking a lot of real life and twisting it a bit. Easy, laid back, familiar, and something I'd enjoy reading as much as I hope to enjoy writing it. Here's the synopsis I offhandedly came up with for the Nanowrimo website:

A lonely woman, trapped between adulthood and childhood, moves to a new city to be closer to her sister - her only remaining family - after they lose their mother. As she explores the new city, she finds that monsters are real, and one of them is after her sister.

I'm tentatively (with tongue in cheek) calling it The Monsters of Lawrence. The irony there being that I just finished a true crime book for book club called The Monster of Florence. Too clever?

So yeah. There it is. I'll keep you updated on how it goes.