Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Importance of Input for Output

It’s been awhile since I’ve done an input/output entry. Lately I’ve been reading a great deal of non-fiction, books I’m not all that into, and watching a lot of episodic television, so I haven’t had much input to speak of.

I believe this directly correlates with how much trouble I’ve had writing this month.

I’ve said it so many times before: writers have to be avid readers. We have to constantly stimulate the mind in order to stay in touch with our creative sides; too much of our daily grind causes a complete shutdown of creativity, so in order to nurture, to cultivate a mind fertile for ideas to grow, it needs nutrients.

I’ve been starving my poor mind of stimulating input.

It’s true that I’ve had spurts of good, fun writing this month, but overall it’s been a slogfest.

Until two days ago. Writing the last two days has been easier than it has been all month. Fun even.

It’s possible that it’s because I’m nearing the end of my story – I’m finally on the downhill stretch, things are finally starting to happen, my characters are starting to reach the crest of their character arcs – but I think all of these things are happening because I finally read a book I was really excited about.

I have to remember to read while I’m writing. It’s tough sometimes to make time to write, let alone read, but the two go hand in hand.

Which brings me to this post’s actual input choice:

Grave Dance, by Kalayna Price

It only took me two days to read this book. I realized as I was reading it how much of my world in Online Dating for Demons was influenced by this series. My female lead has similar promiscuity issues, there’s a heavy use of glamour, the way magic/supernatural works in the world is similar. The main difference is I use demons instead of faeries.

I didn't mean to steal so blatantly from this author, but her books, while being pretty fluffy paranormal romance, are pretty awesome.

So. Yeah. If you like my story, you will love this series.

And with the help of this book and my writing group, my story will be done by midnight tomorrow, just in time for the end of National Novel Writing Month. I'm taking a long nap after that, and a short hiatus from writing.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

I've been struggling all day for the topic of today's blog, and while I contemplated all of the possible subjects, I realized that none of them felt quite right.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. I've been pretty anti-holiday this year - mostly because I went overboard on holidays last year for various reasons - so I haven't thought much about the meanings behind them lately. They've all seemed like selfish or silly or commercial celebrations. I'm even soured on Christmas already and it's not even December.

But Thanksgiving is different. I know the true reason behind the day is the conquering of the native peoples, but I think the idea behind it is a profound one:

Be thankful for what you have.

People in our capitalist society always seem to want the next new thing - electronics, clothes, cars - but I've come to realize over the past year that those things are all just status symbols. Do we really need all of those trappings to be happy?

The answer is no. Friends. Family. Doing the things you love. Those are the things that make you happy. And for the most part, those important things don't cost money.

So tomorrow, as I sit down to our Thanksgiving feast, I am going to take a minute to count my blessings. And I am going to take that warm feeling and infuse it into the rest of my life.

I am thankful for my health. I'm thankful to have a good job. I'm thankful for little things like a wonderful cup of coffee or a fabulous glass of wine.

I'm thankful for my amazing friends. Those close friends who are the family that I chose, not the one I was born into.

I am so thankful for my family - my brother and sister are amazing people, my Dad has always been supportive and loving, and my aunts and uncles and grandma and grandpa and my cousins.

And I am so thankful for my writing group. These people have helped me realize that I can do this writing thing. Their support and encouragement has been the most amazing thing I've experienced this year.

Because I've also realized that I am finally doing what I love. I am writing. It's the smallest thing, sitting down every night to record the stories in my head, but I love it. Even the days I hate it, I love it. I've challenged myself more this year as far as writing than I have my entire life, and I met every challenge I set for myself. It feels right. It feels like I have finally answered some question about myself that I've been asking all my life.

I am so thankful for everyone who helped an encouraged me to follow my dream. I have a long way to go before I am successful at it, but I've been living my dream every day for the last year. Even if I never publish a book, the time I've spent writing and the time I've spent with my writing friends has been beyond worth it.

The invaluable things are the biggest things I am thankful for.

Thank you friends, family, and readers. I hope you have a fabulous Thanksgiving. Count your blessings, eat, drink, and be merry.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Should I Be Worried?

Please don't stab me
I think my serial killer is keeping secrets from me.

As a serial killer, he is, of course, by his very nature a secretive character, so one would expect him to be a bit reserved...but he won't even let me in. And I'm the writer. It's difficult to write a character who won't tell me what's going on.

He won't tell me what happened.

Maybe nothing did. Maybe he lived a perfectly normal, happy childhood and adolescence.

But the man is a serial killer. He doesn't believe that he is - he thinks he's doing the world a favor by ridding it of demons - but he gets too much joy from blood and death to avoid the sociopath label.

Something had to have made him that way. I keep trying to figure out what, but he keeps deflecting me with horrifying lines about murder being like popping zits, and watching blood soak a cotton ball, or contemplating the murder of inanimate objects, or what inanimate objects make good murder weapons.

He makes me uncomfortable when he talks like that, but also fascinated. It's like he's waving a shiny object in front of me so that I forget the nagging question: why the hell are you a serial killer??

I know that he has scars on his face. I know they enrage him. I suspect demons gave him those scars, but I don't know for sure. It could just have easily been his parents, or his next door neighbor, or the school bully.

What do you do when your character refuses to tell you the truth?

Those of you who don't write or who don't write fiction may think I'm being silly: I made up this character so why can't I easily make up his backstory? To put it a different way: I have tried on several different scenarios as to what trauma might have set off this descent into madness and darkness, but nothing fits. Nothing resonates. Nothing I think of feels right. I haven't found it yet.

This character has a very strong voice - and it's certainly not my normal style - but because of that, I've been letting him reveal bits and pieces of his life at his own pace.

I know eventually it will come to me. He'll blurt it out, like he does with everything. Even when I don't want him to.

But in the meantime, I can't help but feel like he's standing in the shadows behind me with his enchanted dagger clutched in his fist, waiting to slide it between my shoulderblades rather than tell me his story.

I've had a constant tickle between my shoulderblades since November started. I don't entirely trust this guy in my head.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Write-In Magic

Magic: The Write-In Gathering
The Write-In is a powerful part of National Novel Writing Month. I've already discussed how Nanowrimo is all about the community, and write-ins are a key component of that. 

There is a particular tool used in conjunction with the write-in, which can be in-person or virtual in nature, and that is the Word Sprint, which is also magical.

Here are some examples of write-in and word sprint magic:

  • They have unclogged my writer's block more than once, one time resulting in an info dump that helped me explore my character, and another pushing me through a painfully uncomfortable scene from the point of view of my serial killer character. The most recent set of sprints during an online get together with The Writing Buddy resulted in a lovely word-boosting sex scene. I can now reclaim this story as a paranormal romance!
  • They got R.L. Naquin back on track. She was frozen, unable to figure out what came next, having doubt, which she tried to Give Fear A Swift Kick Out the Door. It wasn't until the write-in and our word sprinting that she was able to start hammering away at it again.
  • Between the online and in-person word sprints, we shot several people past 25k and even 30k. They even helped my poor Writing Buddy get back some words she sadly lost due to technology failure.
  • Word sprints at write-ins, a blissful silence descends, except for the clack of keys. It's motivating and helps us flighty writers focus.
  • My favorite part is the whole room full of energy from the humming minds of writers. The air just oozes creativity when you get that many writers in a room working on their novels. Some of my best stuff comes from those meetings.

So while write-ins are also for the community, and the social aspect of writing, we also get an amazing amount of writing done at those things, primarily thanks to word sprints.

I definitely need to do some word sprints tonight, as I am really lagging again. I wish I would stop hating my story every other day. Sort of takes the fun out of writing it.

The Halfway Party is tomorrow night, though, which will help with the motivation, and then, thankfully, we'll have another write-in on Thursday! I need it badly.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Info Dump

I really want to whine about my novel writing, complain about the doubt gremlins and the doldrums of Week Two, but instead, I'm going to do an actual blog post about writing. Here it goes.

We writers like to call a dense block of information that doesn't move the story forward an Info Dump.

Incoming Info Dump - watch your toes
Have you ever been reading a story that is moving at a good clip, and then all of a sudden, the action slows down and you are innundated with all of this information - about the character, the magic system, the class structure, the geography of the world, or a long-winded story about how everyone knows each other or the origin of everything?

I hope not, because that's poor writing. The writer should feed you that stuff gradually, so you don't even notice it, because you absorb it along with the story as it plays out.

Or rather, I suppose a blatant info dump is more poor editing, not poor writing.

Because the info dump is actually a very useful tool for writers in our early drafts. It sometimes will read like a flow of consciousness, where we work things out as we type. We tap into the creative side of our brains and give it free reign.

It is like we are walking around in the world, describing what we see, feeling our way along, watching the details unfold. It helps us establish the world we are creating. Helps us get to know our characters - we listen to their backstories and their opinions on various topics that are sometimes irrelevant to the story itself. We work out the intricate details of government organization, or religion, or society structure.

All of that is important information for the author to know, but how much does the reader need to be exposed to? Small, edible chunks that flesh out the world or characters without detracting from the story that is being told.

What it comes down to is that a lot of the info dump details might not make it into the final book itself. But the writer knows, and can therefore write a convincing story in a fully formed world with those details in mind.

I stagnated on my Nano story for a couple of days, but I sat down and did some timed word sprints with my Wrimos last night, and got about 1500 words written. Those words, I realized when I was done, are a giant info dump. I know a lot of it will either be cut up and inserted/distributed elsewhere, and the rest will be shucked off for the second draft, remaining only in my mind and my notes.

But I also know that I was in desperate need of that info dump. I hadn't delved too far into this new world of demons and humans that I created off the cuff for this story. I have a better understanding of it all now. I was so focused on the needs of my individual characters, I hadn't thought about the demon population as a whole. What does this entire species want? Why would they even need a dating website?

And so I came up with the past, present, and future of the demon races.

So while many of you may never see what I wrote last night, it was an enlightening evening of writing, and it boosted my wordcount significantly.

And now I am moving on to the point of view of my serial killer. Should be an interesting couple of days.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The True Meaning of Nano (for me, at least)

My job is to keep my Wrimos
stocked in sugar and motivation
Day One started with a bang, but since that intense opening scene, I've been whimpering. The words are coming, I really like my idea, and the characters are starting to take shape...but something has been missing.

I finally figured out what it is.

November is no longer the only month of the year that I write. I am missing the excitement I usually feel when embarking on 30 Days of trying to write every day, because I've been writing every day for the last three months already.

So while all the newbies and the weekend warriors who only write in November are blasting through Week One excited and motivated and clocking huge word counts, I am plodding along at the 1,667 words to stay on track, feeling more like it's Week Two.

I know this slow and steady pace will get me to the end. But I want this to be fun! I want to be excited. I want to love my story so much that I keep going back to read over it.

My opening scene is that way. I still read it and love it (you can read it, too - I have it posted on the Current Writing Projects page). I need to find that magic again.

On the upside, I am still having the time of my life this November. I have a whole crew of writers that I get to boss around and administer sugar to. It brings me back to the Christmas analogy: I love getting and giving gifts, of course, but to me, the holidays are more about spending time with family.

I've realized it's the same for Nanowrimo. I love writing. Really. I'm a writer. It's what I do. But for Nanowrimo, it's about the community that forms during November that I look forward to the most now. Anyone can sit and try to write 50,000 words in a month by themselves. Some will succeed. Many will fail. The magic of Nano is in the writers themselves.

Photo compliments of Dave DeHetre
It's like I told Jason in the comments of my last post: my writers are my adoptive family. They are the people who understand exactly what I'm going through because they've been there themselves, who will celebrate my successes with me and comfort me through my failures, who will push me to be a better writer and put myself out there.

I hate to be sappy about it, but it's true. And it's important.

And if any of you make fun of me for this, I will probably cry.

So this year, between painful sprints of writing, I troll the forums, exchange tweets, and haunt our Facebook page to stay in touch with the family.

And I am really looking forward to this Sunday's write-in.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Online Dating for Demons

Everybody's favorite serial killer
National Novel Writing Month is officially underway, and Online Dating For Demons now has an opening scene. I started the month unsure of a lot of things about my novel. After the first day, I still am unsure about most of those things, but I've settled into the spirit of NaNo, so I have confidence that things will work themselves out as I write.

So far I've got demons named using Latin, a demon serial killer who I've just discovered likes Stevie Ray Vaughn, and a fat, insecure demon on a blind date from the online demon dating service.

Oh, and a gruesome murder. That I enjoyed writing way too much.

For some reason, everything I've tried to write lately has turned into horror. Or at least, I thought it was lately. I've been thinking back to some of my old stories, and it seems I've had a horror fixation for awhile. I blame Joss Whedon and Clive Barker.

It doesn't help that my Dexter calendar this month has a picture of Dexter smugly holding an axe.

There will still be love stories in what was originally supposed to be a somewhat fluffy paranormal romance, but they are going the way of Shakespeare's tragedies. Or his comedies, even.

I will admit to something: I had serious concerns about my ability to start another book so close on the heels of my last one. I had no motivation to write, and couldn't get my head out of one project and into the next.

But NaNo is truly magical. The second midnight struck I was writing, and by the end of the first day, I was in the zone. My head was buzzing, filled with ideas and pride, as I tried to fall asleep. I am only 1700 words in, I'm not sure what my next scene is going to be, but the words are solid, and I have big hopes for this story.

It makes me a bit nervous to have high hopes, though. Makes it too easy to disappoint myself, and adds more pressure to try and make it good. And then Publishing Paralysis sneaks up and Writer's Block plops itself in the middle of my keyboard and my muse runs off with another writer.

But. I'm getting ahead of myself. Those are more likely to be Week Two problems. Right now I am definitely wrapped in the warm fuzzies of Week One. I really love my story so far. I'm excited to write it and I'm looking forward to seeing what happens!

I'll keep track of my word count and my favorite lines on the Current Writing Projects page, so check back frequently. I'll let you know how things are going in another blog post after a few days.