Posts Tagged With: writing

The Truth About Your Novel

My name is Sonia and I’m a recovering pantser.

For some folk, writing by the seat of their pants is the only way to fly (The Great and Powerful Stephen King, for example). On the other hand, when I try to fly without a plan, I end up crashing into the side of a mountain. Now, if I’m taking a short trip (flash fiction or short story) I can cruise along just fine. Sure, I might revise a dozen times or so but I can get to the destination without the screaming and flaming debris. For a novel length trip, however, a plan is a must.

Of course, because I have a very thick skull, that’s taken a long time to sink in. Even now, though I lean more towards the plotting end of the spectrum, I’m more a hybrid of plotter and pantser than pure plotter. A plantser, if you will. Or maybe a plotser.

Along the way, I’ve studied story structure and availed myself of Larry Brooks’s (Master Story Structure Guy) story coaching. I’ve had both praise and unsugared criticism from him but I’ve learned a great deal each time. I’ll be signing on for coaching again when I’ve worked out the kinks I can see in my WIP (which will probably be around the same time I write “The End” on my first draft…so much for being an efficient story planner…I really did plan…I just reworked a lot of that plan on the page…at least I’m comfortable with the idea of a radical rewrite).

If you’re working on a novel or just thinking about it, I encourage you to reach out to Larry. You might not love what you hear but, if you let it sink in, you’ll learn something to make your story better.

And, while you’re at it, check out this guest post by Stephanie Raffelock on Larry’s site StoryFix. Her experience was very familiar to me:

After I dried my eyes and dusted myself off from the humiliating encounter with Brooks, I got the gift he intended: the novel is a muti-layered, heavily nuanced form, best not left to writing by making shit up as you go. Respect it. Respect the forms and functions and targets and criteria that apply to any novel in any genre, and have hundreds of years of proof behind them, because every book that’s ever been commercially successful has aligned with those principles.

Read the rest on StoryFix.com –>

Categories: Tuesday Toss-Up | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Do You Have What it Takes to Succeed?

When I was a kid, I heard a lot of negative advice about becoming a writer. I heard all about how my chances of being a NYT best-selling author were like a million-to-one. I heard about how many manuscripts were rejected compared to how many published. I heard how writing was a nice hobby but I better have a back up.

Super awesome encouragement. Right?

Now, I’m sure the advice was (mostly) well-intentioned. Folks didn’t want me pinning all my hopes on what seemed to them to be a pie-in-the-sky dream (what is pie-in-the-sky anyway and what does it taste like? Clouds? Mmm…cloud pie. Fluffy. Like marshmallow cream).

All I can say is: good thing telling me no often results in making me stick even tighter to my guns.

Of course, I haven’t published a novel yet. I took a looooooong hiatus from writing starting in college and lasting until a few years ago. Since then, I’ve been poking along. It’s not going as fast as I’d like but it is going.

These days, I generally ignore any unhelpful, negative advice. I believe I will get there (there being a published author, maybe even an NYT best-selling author) if I keep working…even if takes me until I’m eighty (and I really, really, really, really, really hope it doesn’t take that long).

But sometimes the negativity still filters in and I get a little down about my prospects. That’s when articles like the one below really perk me up:

Persistence Prevails When All Else Fails—Being an Outlaster

Monday we talked about The DIP, so it seemed like a good idea to talk about being an OUTLASTER. I had years of honing this skill. Some of you may not know, but I dropped out of high school twice. 

***Note: I am the reason for the current Texas truancy laws 😀 .

Returning to high school and graduating at 19 was seriously humbling. My GPA was so low, my classes (very literally) were one step above Special Ed. When I took my SAT, the scores were so bad, I thought they might check me for a pulse.

Really glad they gave me some points for spelling my name correctly, LOL.

After a year and a half of junior college I won an Air Force scholarship to TCU to become a doctor. Six months in, the school didn’t close when we had a bad ice storm and I slipped and fractured my back…losing my scholarship.

Go read the rest on Kristen Lamb’s blog. –>

Categories: Tuesday Toss-Up | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Why the Advice You Hate the Most is Right

May I confess something to you?

No? Well, I’m going to anyway.

Because it’s my blog.

And, also, I don’t have anything else to write about today.

I’m a pantser by nature. I hate schedules. I frequently have no idea what I’m going to fix for dinner before lunch and usually have no idea what my weekend plans are going to be until it’s actually the weekend. I fly by the seat of my pants.

And it works.

Sort of.

There’s a lot to be said for spontaneity. But it often is the enemy of actually getting stuff done. Sure, we might spontaneously decide to do the laundry backlog, start exercising, finish a novel…someday. But something that needs our attention right now is bound to come up, most especially when we’ve spontaneously started a project.

And some things, when left up to spontaneity, get pushed to the bottom of the list almost every time.

Like laundry–who needs to wash socks when you can wear flip-flops?

And novels. Especially novels.

Life’s distractions breed like tribbles the moment you start a novel (the way goodies multiply when you start a fitness plan). And they only pick up steam as you go along.

The solution, of course, is to make time. Set goals and tell people about them. Come up with at least a rudimentary schedule and stick to it. Come up with a system for accountability.

I know this. How well I know this. I’ve had success with this before in both NaNo and ROW80.

And yet, I struggle nonetheless.

Call it a defect of character, a lack of priorities, a distractible mind, or project ADD. Call it fear: fear of failure, fear of success, fear of dust bunnies. Call it procrastination (which itself is probably the nasty afterbirth of fear).

Whatever you call the thing, the end result is the same.

The novel left up to chance to write will not get written.

This is why NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, for those who haven’t had the pleasure of being introduced) is so great. You join NaNo, set a goal for 50,000 words for by the end of November, tell the world about it, avail yourself of the NaNo community and write like hell for a month.

This last November, I decided to make NaNoWriMo my spring-board for finishing my work-in-progress. I’d plotted and written part of a previous version of this novel, only to discover the story had mortal wounds. Once I recovered from that unpleasant discovery, I took the opportunity to plot a better story using most of the characters, premise and concept of the previous story. I’d mostly finished when NaNo rolled around.

Perfect timing. A chance to get a solid start (50K words should be half or more of the novel) and form good writing habits. Forcing myself to plan for daily word counts. A deadline hanging over my head. Community support. The thrill of victory should I complete the challenge. What could be better?

And it worked. I won NaNo and formed a habit for writing daily. In fact, daily writing became easier and much more pleasant. I looked forward to the blank page instead of dreading it.

Once I finished NaNo, I imagined I wouldn’t actually have to worry about setting word count goals. I’d have so much momentum built up from NaNo, I’d just keep writing…

Spontaneously.

Go ahead. Laugh now. I’ve earned it.

It didn’t take long for the lack of specific daily goals, deadlines and a system of accountability to show its rotten fruit. My productivity dropped off and I began dragging my feet when it came time to write. Distractions popped up with greater number and increased power. And much of the writing I did do felt off, forced and more than crappy-first-draft crappy.

I hate when they (the ones who talk about goal setting, scheduling, yada yada yada) are right. But I can’t deny they are.

So here I am, back on the wagon, however reluctantly. I’m shooting for 1K words daily and at least 4K words a week (allowing for days off so I don’t go NaNo nuts…those of you who’ve been there know what I’m talking about). I aim to have the first draft complete by February 28.

There and, now that I’ve told you all, I really can’t weasel out of it.

Crap.

But I’ll thank myself when my novel is done. Finally.

I’m finding a few things helpful as I go along.

I use Scrivener (an all-in-one writing software program for writers) and I love having the Project Goals feature visible as I write so I can see my progress.

I have the WriteChain app (an awesome, simple app that allows you to choose your word count and writing day goals and gives you a link for each day you meet your goal) on my phone and I absolutely, positively refuse to break the chain. I’ve got 80 links so far, which includes NaNaWriMo and I stretched the coast days during the holidays.

diyMFA has excellent advice on setting and testing goals for writing (which could apply to any goal). I’m collecting data now for my own iteration process.

And Derek Hawkins has a great suggestion on his blog for keeping yourself motivated (*hint* it can involve chocolate).

How do you keep yourself on track with a big writing (or other) project? What tools and tricks work for you?

Categories: Tuesday Toss-Up | Tags: , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

How to Conquer NaNoWriMo

National Novel Writing Month is really just around the corner now. Are you ready and raring to go?

I’m not sure about the ready or the raring. I think I’m good to go but the doubties have begun to creep into my head. This year has been busier than ever and the choice to join NaNoWriMo seems crazier the closer Nov 1 gets. But I’m determined to make it happen…mostly because I have a full story plan and am way too impatient to weather another 6 months writing a draft. I need this to happen soon or else.

Or else what, I don’t know, but I’m trying to keep my motivation up here :).

With that in mind, I’m gathering my weapons and planning my assault on NaNoWriMo. Here are a few articles with excellent suggestions:

My other two weapons of mass NaNo destruction are Scrivener and Snowflake Pro. Snowflake is a story planning software (I use it with Larry Brooks’s story structure in mind) while Scrivener is an all-purpose writing software.

I’ve got my arsenal and story plan…so maybe I can make this happen after all.

***

How about you? Are you ready to conquer NaNoWriMo?

Categories: Killer Thursdays | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

How to Survive NaNoWriMo Without Resorting to Cannibalism

NaNoWriMo is just around the corner and, if you’re anything like me, you’re waiting for it to arrive with a mixture of excitement and dread.

Cake

Cake is a meal. Right?

Most of us don’t really have time for NaNo. We make room by temporarily pushing aside non-essential activities, making a bargain with our families to offset some of our individual responsibilities and planning for the chaos as much as possible. Or we just dive in and hope for the best. Either way, we do it because, if we win, we’ll have most or all of a first draft done. That’s a pretty decent reward for a month of madness.

For my family, meals are the biggest concern during NaNo. While it’s tempting to get take-out or drive-through all month, it’s not so friendly on the budget or health.

Assuming, of course, you can make it to a fast food joint. Otherwise…

So, how do we keep ourselves and our families fed without re-enacting Super Size Me or that Stephen King short, Survivor Type (lady fingers, they taste just like lady fingers. *shudder*)

Here’s what works for my family (when we work it, anyway):

Chicken Stock

Roast up a chicken or two. Eat some for dinner and cut up the rest for sandwiches, tacos, pasta, soup, etc. Throw the bones in a stockpot or a crock pot (I prefer the crock pot because don’t have to worry about leaving the range on for so many hours) along with big chunks of carrot, onion, celery and whatever else you like (if you have the giblets, throw those in there too) and simmer for 6-12 hours.

I like to leave out the salt so I can add whatever’s needed when I use the stock in a recipe.

When it’s ready, pour the stock through a strainer to separate out the bones and veggies. You can separate out the fat with a gravy separator or cool the stock and scrape the solidified fat off the top. Then, freeze the stock in meal sized portions (I usually figure 1-2 cups per person as a recipe base).

Stock is great in homemade soup, curry, chili or in a variety of sauces.

You can also make beef or veggie stock. And, of course, canned stock works in a pinch.

Soup

Our family loves soup. I rarely use a recipe because it’s so much easier to throw in whatever I have. I usually sweat some onions first, pour in my stock, and add celery, carrots, bell pepper and whatever other veggies I have on hand. Then I’ll add meat and maybe pasta. I also add salt, pepper and any other seasonings ( Italian blend, sometimes curry powder, crushed red pepper, etc.) to taste and let it simmer until the veggies are tender.

One of our favorites is sausage and potato soup. I use spicy Italian sausage, lightly browned on the stove top and sliced or diced, baby gold potatoes, onions and any other veggies I have on hand. This recipe usually requires only a little salt and pepper and no other seasoning as the spice from the sausage really infuses the soup.

Miscellaneous Meal Tips

Stock up on your favorite pasta and jars of sauce or make your own sauce and freeze it.

Make a big batch of chili (I like to add lots of veggies such as celery, onion, red bell pepper and cherry or grape tomatoes) and freeze in meal size portions.

Stock up on burrito fixings such as beans, cheese, tortillas and salsa. Burritos are super quick and easy when you have all the fixings on hand. You can even pre-chop and pre-cook any meat, then freeze them both ahead (just be sure to allow for thawing before meal time).

Make a few freezer meals.

Every week, do all y our chopping of veggies ahead of time and stash in the fridge (or you can prep two weeks to a month ahead and freeze). That way, when meal time rolls around, you can just throw the ingredients together and go.

Starting now, make a double or triple batch of whatever you’re making for lunch/dinner and freeze the extra.

Plan a couple of pizza or take-out nights to ease the stress or enlist family and friends to do the cooking.

Shoot for 2000 words every day for 6 days and take the 7th off so you can have time to relax and/or prep for the next week.

***

So this is how I plan to surive NaNo. What’s in your plan?

You might also be interested in:

How Not to Starve During NaNoWriMo

Categories: Tuesday Toss-Up | Tags: , , , , | 15 Comments

What Do You Do When You Fall Off A Horse?

A few weeks ago, my daughter was riding horses with a friend and trying to learn how to jump. After a few misses and a couple of almost-got-its, the horse had enough and unceremoniously dumped my daughter on the ground. As I saw her falling, my heart stopped, I held my breath and ran for her. But, before I could even get halfway there, my daughter popped up, said something like, “Well, that was rude,” and got back on the horse. She didn’t even dust herself off first.

She’s totally my hero.

And she did manage to get the horse to jump with her later that day.

My daughter’s a lot like me (remember how your mother used to say, “I hope you get one just like you,” and that was supposed to be a curse?). She’s persistent (stubborn), opinionated (hard-headed), passionate (moody), quick-thinking (reactionary) and tender-hearted (sensitive). Just like me…you can imagine how that goes in our house sometimes. So, it might have gone either way with the horse. She might have been discouraged, having been dumped on the ground after struggling and failing to jump the horse, and given up. She might have gotten mad and given up. She might have taken some time to consider what had happened and waited to get back on the horse. Instead, she got right back on the horse, as all the good theys say you should (as in, “they say you should get right back up on the horse after you fall off,” or “they say you should have a little hair of the dog that bit you,” or “they say you should always cut the head off a zombie to make sure it’s dead”).

Recently, I got some feedback for my novel-in-progress that was, shall we say, less than stellar. But the giver of the feedback is truly an expert and I can’t deny, as much as I’d like to, he’s on the money. It’s so tempting to give up (that’s my reactionary side talking) but I won’t (stubborn, hard-headed side). The question is will I jump right on the horse or take a little time to dust myself off?

If I jump back in, maybe it’ll ease the pain of rejection under loads of work. Then again, maybe giving myself time to mull things over would allow me to start again with a clearer head…unless that “time to mull things over” goes on forever…which, with me, it might.

I guess I should take a page from my daughters book.

Sometimes I think our kids teach us more than we teach them.

How do you deal with set-backs? Do you get right back on the horse or do you take some time to dust yourself off first? What do you tell yourself when you’re tempted to give up?

 

Categories: Tuesday Toss-Up | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

Can You Plagiarize Yourself?

Writing Tools by Pete O'Shea on FlickrRecently, while following that white rabbit known as Research through the wonderland of the internet, I came across an article with a title that stopped me in my tracks: The Ethics of Self-Plagiarism.

Even before I read it, all sorts of questions and thoughts popped into my head. The first was: how the heck can you plagiarize yourself? After all, isn’t plagiarism stealing work from someone else?

Of course, as I read the article, I realized they were talking about academic journals, research papers, etc. rather than novels or even blog posts.

Phew, big sigh of relief.

Okay, not that big. While I’ve reposted several old blog posts, I’ve always done so with a brief explanation and a link to the original article.

Even so, I had trouble wrapping my mind around the idea that you can actually steal your own work. Now, one would hope you’re not deliberately trying to pass off an old work as an entirely new one. Barring that, why would it be an issue to recall bits and pieces of an old work in a new one? Doesn’t most academic work (and creative for that matter) build on what has been done before?

But maybe I’m missing some of the nuances of the issue.

Of course, if you’ve signed away certain rights to the publisher(which, to me, strengthens the idea that authors should be able to keep all rights to their work).

Now, does any of this apply to fiction writers and bloggers? Many of us have pet ideas or areas of expertise we touch on over and over. Perhaps we’re just re-exploring the idea and not lifting any old content directly but I’m sure at least a few of us have unconsciously used the same bits of material again and again because it’s hanging around in our brain like that last party guest who just won’t get the hint to leave.

I know I don’t double-check any of my post for any reused phrases. As I said before, if I’m republishing a whole post, I always reference the original. But maybe there’s other times where I’ve inadvertently used my work again. I’d never stopped to wonder whether this might be unethical in any way. But now I am wondering, just a little.

If you’re curious, here’s a link to the original article I read: The Ethics of Self-Plagiarism. If you want to read the whole article, you’ll have to register for the site though. Note, it’s a site that provides plagiarism checking services, so it’s possible that colors their views on the issue.

Here are a couple of other links with more info:

 

What do you think? Does self-plagiarism really exist? If so, does it apply to fiction and non-fiction alike? Is there a gray area?

Photo Credit:
Writing Tools by Pete O’Shea on Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Categories: Tuesday Toss-Up | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

Is Patience Really a Virtue?

Merlin the Patient

I AM being patient. Now can I have a bite?

“Patience is a virtue,” I often tell my kids in a sing-song voice, like Rachel Weisz in The Mummy. When they’re asking if it’s time to go to the park yet or “are we there yet” on a long trip, patience is exactly what I need them to have they need. And they happily remind me of that virtue when I’m cursing the internet for being slower than usual or  when I’m telling the driver ahead of me (as if he can hear me) “the speed limit is 55 here, not 35.”

There are so many times in life when we can’t have what we want right when we want it. We have to wait on other people or for opportunities. We have to wait on ourselves to learn what we need to learn. We have to wait till the next season of Walking Dead to find out just how badass Rick has really become or for George R. R. Martin to publish that next A Song of Ice and Fire book already.

And yet the opposite of patience is celebrated far more often in our culture. Go-getters don’t  wait for opportunities, they seize them. Winners don’t let pain slow them down, they pop a [insert brand name over the counter painkiller here] and keep running. Heroes rush in where angels fear to tread.

Of course, inaction can be mistaken for patience. We tell ourselves we’re just waiting for the right time or the perfect chance and we just wait and wait and wait and…

And sometimes we give up before we’ve even begun because the payoff seems so very far away.

So how do you tell the difference? How do you know when to wait and when to act and how to keep slogging when the finish line is still miles away?

I’ve wrestled a great deal with this last one. Everything from raising and educating my children, getting fit and writing my (hopefully) début novel. All of these are works in progress and, sometimes, the end doesn’t seem anywhere in sight. All I can do is keep on keeping on.

And, while patience may be a virtue, it doesn’t come easily for me. Mostly I wind up being impatiently patient.  I promise myself the end is out there, somewhere, but I won’t wait around for it. I’ll go after it…with a machete.

It’s like the Tortoise and the Hare. Anyone else think the moral of that fable is NOT “slow and steady wins the race?” Let’s face it, if the hare hadn’t been sleeping on the job,  he’d have blown right past that sloooooow tortoise and won the race.

Slow and steady only wins the race when there’s no one else faster than you. But maybe the real moral is that it doesn’t matter how fast you go, especially if you give up or lay down on the job. If you keep putting one foot in front of the other with the goal of the making it to the finish line, you’ll get there (unless the zombies get you first…but that’s another story).

And, when you reach the finish line, you win. No matter who else got there first. Because you’re not racing against them. You’re racing against you.

Of course, it’s much nicer when you finish faster.

Just sayin.

What do you think? How do you know when to be patient and when to seize the moment? Do you have any big projects where the end seems almost out of reach? How do you keep at it until you reach that end?

 

***

I just had to share this because it made me laugh…and it’s got some useful tips on How to Be Patient in 12 Steps (but I prefer to do it in 6 steps…it’s faster that way).

 

Categories: Tuesday Toss-Up | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

I Love the Smell of Hiatus in the Morning

Yeah…okay…that title sounds a little off to me too.

Oh well.

As the year winds down and the holidays approach, I’m scrambling to wrap up my biggest goal for this year: finish my novel. The first draft anyway. As I’ve moved the deadline for this goal more than once, I feel especially compelled to make it happen this time. I’m taking inspiration from Ze Frank’s Invocation for Beginnings and harnessing my inner John McClane.

Let’s do this thing!

With that in  mind, I’m putting this blog on hiatus until the new year.

While I’ll be hunkering down and getting the job done (yippee ki-yay), I won’t disappear entirely from the online world. I’m planning to catch up with all the fellow bloggers, peeps and tweeps I’ve had so little chance to connect with this year. I joined the blogosphere and social media for the awesome community and, as I’ve wrestled with balancing home, work-projects and getting to The End,  I’ve missed hanging out with all you super folks.

And I. Will. Finish. This. Novel.

In the mean time, here are a few of my favorite posts to entertain you while I’m (mostly) away. Kind of like hold music…only, hopefully, much more interesting.

What Really Drives Dexter Morgan?
Old Favorites: Best Classic Movies
Spam and Eggs: Gems from the Spam Filter
Do You Remember Those Saturday Morning Cartoons?
How to Build a Zombie

And here’s one from Ze Frank, because he rarely never fails to make me laugh and/or think:

 

Got a favorite post, meme or YouTube video? Yours or someone else’s. Go ahead and share the linky love.

Categories: Tuesday Toss-Up | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Would You Walk with the Dead?

Are you jonesing for the Dead? Is October just not soon enough?

Well, you don’t have to wait.

No, AMC won’t be releasing The Walking Dead Season 4 early but you can step into the world…if you can survive it. Continue reading

Categories: Killer Thursdays, Tuesday Toss-Up | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.