Tuesday, September 29, 2009

In praise of the Muses.

Writing groups, in my personal experience, are kind of like bears and pig-tailed burglars.

Being in the wrong writing group kind of really sucks. It's too hot. Competing egos and no real desire to improve the craft have a detrimental effect to everyone involved. Slamming everyone's work in order to make yourself feel more competent is counter-productive and unprofessional. On the flip side, gushing about everyone's work because you don't want to offend can do the same thing.

Of course, being a solitary writer kind of sucks. Too cold. You can't work in a vacuum. There are aspects of writing that just need an outside eye. Grammar people are valuable. Nice grammar people are priceless. Human encyclopedias, style watchers, semi-professional readers, industry gurus--anyone and everyone, all are people that you don't have when you're alone. Duh, I know.

Being in the right one is awesome. Warm, porridge-y, awesomeness. :D Having different styles, voices, viewpoints and goals is the whole point of being part of a group. But the ability to maintain your own and validate those of the people around you while everyone produces at their own pace is so much fun.

So, yeah, I love my writing group. :)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tomorrow, tomorrow, and tomorrow...

...and maybe the day after that. I'm the Queen of Procrastination. Well, maybe not the queen, but probably an ambassador on a bad day and a low-level bureaucrat the rest of the time. I can't help it. It's in my nature. But the truly terrible thing is that my strain of the sickness only manifests when writing is concerned. All my household stuff gets taken care of, the cooking done, the errands completed without being put off. It makes one weep just thinking about it. Well, I'm tearing up, anyways.

The more I've been seriously dipping my toes into the writing community, the more I've found that I'm not alone. Apparently, there are mountains of resources and abodes for literary procrastinators, I just haven't checked them out yet. Isn't that terrible?

I have a theory, though. I think that I use up all of my "complete a task" discipline on all of my non-writing tasks for the day. As much as I push myself to get the boring things done, the less I have to motivate my daily word count. Hmm, I think I'll try that one. Maybe it'll get me out of some housework. :)

*sigh* Like that will ever happen. But, hey, a girl can dream.

Most kidding aside, I've been examining my writing habits lately, trying to see what I can do to be more productive. Unfortunately, I have no "optimum" window for writing. Morning, noon, or night, there's complete random productivity. Location doesn't seem to help all that much, either. Although, I would love to wrangle a dedicated workspace one of these days. Noise levels are hit and miss; sometime the silence is golden, and at other times the racket is awesome.

Two things that have been giving me more consistent results are planning and reporting. Lately, I've been trying to structure my work rather than fly by the seat of my pants and hope for the best (well, aside from the first draft). I LOVE FreeMind for that (saw the advice on Spacejock's site-fabulous!). Yeah, you could idea bubble on paper, but this is a cool computer program! Also, being involved in a writing group has kept me on the ball. "Reporting" my status updates and receiving professional feedback motivates me to keep on going. And in case you're wondering, yes, I was that kid that craved getting the gold star.

I'm not sure that this is a fix all way to go about things, but it's definitely a start, which is what I'm after.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Be nice to me or you'll end up in my novel.

I love that saying. It makes for really cute decoration for coffee cups and t-shirts (both of which I keep meaning to buy), it adds a bit of levity when frustration hits, and it comforts me when people bug me. But it's not just a guilty pleasure for revenge (while satisfying, is very naughty!), it's also a very valuable tool for characterization.

It'd be dang near impossible to be a member of this world and not have my writing influenced by the people that cross my path. But with great power, comes great responsibility, or something like that. There are so many interesting people around that it would be a sin not to take advantage of such a wonderful natural resource. :)

But (there's always a caveat, I know), like any other resource, it has to be utilized with care and forethought. You have to go green! It's easy, and perhaps a smidgen therapeutic, to have a stand-in of a high school rival as comic relief, you have to ask: Is it necessary? Does my story really and truly need that element, or am I just being bad? Not that being bad is, well, bad all the time. It's a fine line to walk; sometimes it doesn't work, sometimes it does. One of my friends relayed an unpleasant run-in she had with a waitress. I ended up trying to write the waitress in a piece as payback (in my defense, the juvenile behavior was when I was an actual juvenile). But the character took on a life of her own and contributed a lot to the story, instead of what I had planned. I'm glad I couldn't pull it off.

There's also an inherent danger of the tool becoming a crutch. Relying solely on outside ideas for drawing up characters can backfire quickly. You get lazy as a writer, and when your friends find out all the stories they inhabit, you might find yourself short of friends. So yeah, lose/lose. So go gathering every once in a while. Have fun with the things you find. Just don't over-harvest.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

I'm framing that puppy!

So I received my very first rejection letter last week. All in all, I have to say that it was very anti-climatic. The experience wasn't even remotely close to the ideas I'd had about it. The editor was pleasant and professional. A simple "no thanks," not the "you suck" I'd been fearing. Short, simple, painless. I felt a lot like a child crying and flailing over a shot that didn't even hurt.

One of the things that had concerned me most when I had thought about submitting work was the prospect of REJECTION! The idea that an editor wouldn't like my work paralyzed me. The scenarios that would run through my head would range from 'Aww, isn't that adorable? She thinks she can write.' to searing criticism so intense that it would leave the letter's edges turned and smoking. And for a lot of years, I allowed the 'what-ifs' keep me from the 'actually doing.' 

Not completing a piece became easier and easier to justify when the fear of someone disliking it had a welcomed place in my head. It was safe. I could have all of these wonderful flights of fancy and not have to produce anything to show for it. It was also rather selfish and short-sighted. I wasted a lot of time that I could have spent honing the craft and sharing my vision. I kept my ideas to myself like a hobbit-hating cave-dweller fixated on shiny things. But that doesn't really matter now. That's in the past. My eyes are used too the sunlight now. :)

Rejection letters, as I'm led to understand from my more prolific friends, are part of the business. They're not anything personal. So file them and get back to submitting. That's what I'm doing. Now I'm just left to wonder if the acceptance letter is as awesome as I've imagined. Hmm.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Ninjas, attack!

What makes a good story? It’s one of the questions of the ages. Well, it is from a writer’s perspective. You ask it every time you set out to put pen to paper (or fingertips to keyboard). You think about it through all the various edits. And if you’re not careful, it can haunt your dreams. Ok, that may be a wee bit of an exaggeration, but not by a lot. We all want our stories to be good. If we didn’t, there would be an entire subset of how-to books that would go bankrupt. But that still doesn’t answer the question. The definition of a story is: a narrative, either true or fictitious, in prose or verse; tale. *crickets*   *Sigh* Thanks a lot, Webster.  Ok, never mind the dictionary. There are the ‘no duh’ things that you need for a story. Like a beginning, middle, and an end come to mind. Yeah, yeah, a no-brainer. But little things like, oh, an ending, can get lost if you let yourself write into a dead-end. I know, I’ve done it before, more than I like to admit. As long as I’m being insultingly obvious and honest, I’ve also managed to forget one or more of the importance of setting, character, and plot. Yeah, I’m terrible. But I’m getting better. I promise.

  I’m not a world traveler. When I write about a place, it tends to reflect the places I know. Which, more often than not, is small-town Americana. But actually visiting a place every time I happen to write about an exotic location just isn’t going to happen, no matter how many times I say “pretty please.” Oh well, that’s what they created the Travel Channel for, huh? That’s where research and imagination are your best friends. Not to mention all of the fantasy and science fiction locales there are to be created. There’s not a passport around that’ll help you there.

  My characters are the heart of my stories. Without them, there’s just a tumbleweed blowing across a desert or an alien swamp bubbling away. I’ve seen many different pieces of advice over how to create characters. Some of the formulas work for me, some don’t. Most of the time my characters are just “there” on the paper. Exceedingly helpful, I know. But they tend to be stubborn. If there were an insane amount of choice when it came to where to put your characters, it’s paled by the amount of characters writers and readers create and love. I’m not a fan of the perfectly good protagonist or the impossibly evil antagonist. There’s a bit of darkness in my good guys, and a bit of goodness in my bad guys. I think that it adds to the realism.

 If characters are the heart of a story, then the plot has to be the lungs. A place can be pretty, a character dynamic, but nobody is going to want to read about them going to the market. Unless, of course, they get abducted by aliens, or ninjas, or alien ninjas! If it’s not interesting, why would anyone read it? And if no one is reading, game over. But what makes it interesting? Alien ninjas are a good start. Then again, that may just be me. I abuse my poor characters. That’s what they get for being stubborn. But they can take it, they’re a tough lot. They get through whatever I throw at them and they ask for more. It’s what they do. It’s their job.

  And we still don’t have an answer. I’m about as helpful as the dictionary, huh? The thing is, I don’t think that there is a single one to be had. The whole idea of what “makes” a story is like religion and politics; there are myriads of views, all very personal, all very subjective, and with no wrong choices. Because of all those different outlooks, there are so many different tastes in story preferences, so many things that make a good story. Yay!