Saturday Writers

Category Archives: Writing In General

Learning to Write My Own Way

It’s NaNoWriMo time again and I find myself facing a familiar decision – do I participate in NaNo this year?

I’ve been a part of NaNo several times and I’ve enjoyed it. The camaraderie and enthusiasm of tackling a novel along with thousands of other people is exhilarating.

By participating in NaNo, I discovered that I really can write 50,000 words in 30 days.

I discovered that I can write 600 words in 20 minutes if I set a timer and just keep typing.

I discovered that if I don’t have a good vision of a scene in my head, I end up with 600 random, repetitive talking-head words in that 20 minutes.

I discovered that while I can write fast, I don’t like writing that fast as it feels like I’m just throwing ill-thought-out junk on the page.

This year, I want it to be different.

I have a story that I am thoroughly in love with. I’m using Holly Lisle’s How to Think Sideways course to plan it out and it is turning out to be incredible.

I want to take my time writing the scenes so that they turn out as well as I see them in my head. so that I capture the passion and the nuances of my characters.

Will I participate in NaNo this year? Yes, I think I will. But I’m going to take my time with my daily writing. I’m going to use a slower, deliberate pace so that I’m happier with my scenes when I’m done.

Learning how YOU write is a huge part of learning how TO write. Participating in NaNo is helping me learn how I write, what works for me and what doesn’t.

What helps you learn how to write?

Chenita Marie Smiley

We were looking forward to welcoming Chenita into our Saturday Writer’s family but fate chose to take her away.  We will miss your smile.

Life’s a bitch, get over it!

Yeah, I know…I haven’t blogged for a while. Life gets in the way sometimes and whether we like it or not doesn’t deliver itself just the way we hope it will.

You make plans to go out with friends, live it up a little, reward yourself with a special shopping expedition…in the middle of the winter – a blizzard hits and you spend the rest of the day digging yourself out and connecting with your friends on Facebook instead. Okay, if you live in the Midwest, you asked for it when you made plans without consulting Mother Nature first. Talk about your Queen of the Bitches. In case you didn’t know it, let me spell it out for you…Mother Nature likes nothing better than to piss you off!

Then there’s the movie premier you were looking forward to. Just as you are finishing up on that last load of laundry so you can go out, guess what? The washing machine decides to quit on you.  And to top things off, THAT was the load of underwear you needed. Your plans just changed, now you have to sit around and wait for the repairman. Worse case scenario, you need to go out shopping for a new washer. DING! another unplanned hit to your already overtaxed credit card!

What about that once-in-a-lifetime family reunion you were planning to go out of town to catch? Saturday morning, the plan was to fill up the car and hit the road, the anticipation Friday night is driving you crazy, you can barely sleep that night. When you do finally fall to sleep, it’s only to be awakened at midnight…your mother has fallen and broken her hip. You leap out of bed and head for the hospital. Your plans have just been changed. In this case, your plans have been changed for several weeks. Not that you complain, you’d do anything for family. I’m just saying…stay flexible.

Life expects it of you. Message from a beast named, Karma…suck it up!

Unless you’ve been living in a cave somewhere, you’ve heard of the latest craze.

Positive thinking.

Think positive and the Universe will deliver to you all your desires. The experts like to call it the Law of Attraction.

Are you freaking kidding me?

Yeah, okay, so I’m the biggest sucker in the world. I went out and bought all the books I could find on the subject (I even read them), attended the Metaphysical Fair in town, bought my magic crystals, burned that incense, and I even gave the whole abundance-journal thing a shot. I watched The Secret. I did my grateful-awareness exercises.

I give to charities. I like to think I’m a friendly sort of person, I have no problem approaching or helping a stranger when needed.

Am I rubbing the crystals counter-clockwise when they are supposed to be rubbed clockwise?

Did I read the books from left to right instead of right to left? Was there a hidden message in there if played backwards?

What am I doing wrong?

Yes, I do appreciate when I’ve been handed something nice in life. Unfortunately, it’s the bad things that sneak up on you, sucker punch you between the eyes and leave the lasting impression.

The nice things in life don’t leave mental bruises, bruises that keep coming back to haunt you with “ouch! that hurt and I don’t want that to happen again” moments!

Nice things make you smile, be happy for a few seconds, then leave you vulnerable for that sucker punch between the eyes.

Deep down, I’m a believer that things happen for a reason. Call it Fate. Call it Karma…whatever. I have experience, and in my experience bad things happen to make you appreciate the good things…when they happen.

Unfortunately, you have to survive the bad things.

A fact of life.

A nice twist in the scheme of things? Anytime something bad happens – and everybody has their own definition of what is “bad” – tell yourself something really good is about to happen. It gives you something to look forward to.

And if you really want to give yourself a pep talk in bad times, think of it this way: the more awful the “bad” stuff, the better the “good” stuff on its way!

Right?

Now…I have a load of laundry to go handwash and then I’m going to visit my mother in the hospital, that broken hip is healing nicely.

Think positive thoughts!

I Lost ‘It’

Somewhere along the line, I lost ‘it.’

My drive to see myself in print was still there. My passion for the story was there, obscured but still there. My inspiration was all around me, from the doll resembling the main character to the music I played. But none of that mattered, because I’d lost ‘it.’

In April, we went to see Trans-Siberian Orchestra and talk about getting bitch slapped. I could see ‘it.’ I could feel ‘it.’ I could damn near taste ‘it.’ Tears welled, heart pounded, the hair on my arms stood with an electrical charge I hadn’t felt in quite a while. The high they exuded was so intense my mind reeled.

What I saw and felt was unrestrained bliss and fulfillment; they were doing what they wanted to be doing. They not only reveled in what they were doing but also shared it, showing me the error of my ways and what I’d lost. I didn’t know what I’d lost until that moment. ‘It’ was the unbridled joy of sitting at the keyboard, doing what I wanted to do, write.

Somehow, somewhere I’d lost the pure joy I felt when I sat at the keyboard. Writing had become work. Work?! No, I’m not channeling Maynard G. Krebs, but I do empathize with him. Yes, writing is work, but when you have that unadulterated love in the mix, it doesn’t feel like work.

Now I’m off to sit in paradise and work…I mean do what I want to be doing.

Moods

I’ve been asking my fellow Saturday Writer friends to challenge me. They have taken up that challenge…to challenge. Me.

The idea was for each of us, once a month, to come up with a prompt – anything, a picture, a sentence, song, smell – and write a short story based on that prompt.

The first prompt was a picture of a little girl in a red dress sitting in a field of ivy. I studied it, tried to read the face of the girl and see what she was thinking – you know, deep profound writerly stuff – and came up dry. I decided to dream up my story by some other means. Keep in mind that anything I dream up is going to turn out a little twisted. That’s just how my brain works. The girl in the picture was sweet, angelic and innocent. My story was not.

The second prompt was a sentence, a quote. Alone, it didn’t seem significant, just an idle quote about relationships. Hmm. Again, twisted brain goes into action…out pops a story about a “black widow” woman collecting the bodies of her ex boyfriends in a web in her basement.

Third prompt was the theme song from Dark Shadows. Not everybody is familiar with the classic vampire soapie from many, many, many….many, many years ago but those who are can hear the song in their heads right about now. I didn’t want to do anything vampirish. That would be too cliche, but I couldn’t get the image of a creepy gothic mansion out of my head. The story ended up being about the mansion as the main character…a living, breathing character. That was fun to write.

So, at this month’s meeting I told my fellow writers to really challenge me this time. I’m beginning to think they don’t love me anymore. What they gave me this time is going to be hard. They had that evil gleam in their eyes when they gave it to me…yep, they want me to fail this time. I can’t let that happen. They will not beat me!

What is the prompt this time?

It’s two-fold.

Porcupine quills and a lilac bush.

Seriously.

What the heck am I going to do with that?

Oh, wait a minute…I think I’ve got something. Hmm, can you kill somebody with a porcupine quill? And if you buried their body under a lilac bush, will it hide the smell of decaying flesh?

Naw, I’ll keep thinking. I’ll come up with something.

Lilac bush…porcupine…do the two even live in the same region of the country together?

Who’s idea was this? I definitely think they don’t love me anymore.

Write, rewrite, revise and repeat

Write, rewrite, revise and repeat. Such is the life of a wanna be writer, or at least this one.

Finished the writing part, the story has a beginning, a middle and even an ending. Next, the major rewrite, some of that beginning, middle and end tossed aside. Painful as it was those parts served no purpose in ‘this’ story.

I’m in the home stretch of going through and either accepting or ignoring my critique partner’s suggestions. Once I’ve finished this part I need to go back to the beginning and read it as a reader instead of a writer. There are things I know need expounding. Some are questions raised by my C.P. others are things I ‘know’ need to be added.

What do I do next? Pass it on to a couple of trusted Beta Readers. Collect their thoughts and questions and start the process all over again.

If you were living under the impression that writing is easy, you’d better wakeup. Writing is far from ‘easy,’ it’s hard work. If you’re not willing to put the time or energy into producing your best work you better find another vocation.

Maybe I’m too picky. With all the talented people out there, I need to do my ‘best’ work if I want a chance of seeing it in print. On that note, I need to get back to work.

Yes, I know I’ve shortchanged you. A teeny tiny post this month and none last, but it’s all about priorities. I’m sacrificing the posts to the gods of writing that I might have a saleable book. Keep your fingers crossed.

Just write

I’m not a published author…yet.

I’m doing everything in my power to change that situation. I’ve belonged to writer’s groups to network and hang out with fellow writers – it’s good to know others who share my affliction. I belong to National organizations. I do the Facebook thing, love the Facebook thing. Groups are good. Networking is good.

I read all the how-to-write books I can get my hands on: how to write fiction, how to write description, how to sell your book, how to write winning query letters, how to find an agent, how to…how to…how to. These – I’m thinking – may not be so good. Sure, they give you information and if you’re a reasonably intelligent individual you find a way to weed through that information-overload for stuff you can actually use. Keep in mind that there are a LOT of so-called experts out there eager to tell you the right way to do everything imaginable. Maybe it worked for them. Might not work for you.

I’ve decided to try a different tactic. I just need to write! I need to park my butt in my chair and write….gosh darn it! I am a high stress person and don’t deal well with aggravation and missed goals. I’ve spent a lot of time lately reading all those how-to books, meanwhile stalling in my actual writing. I tell myself, “I’ll just finish reading this book, it will help me be a better writer…” but you know what? I’m still not published!

You know what else? I have fried a few valuable brain cells – brain cells I can’t afford to be without – just trying to do everything the how-to experts have been telling me to do!

One book tells me I need to show not tell, use more similes and metaphors to get your descriptions across. Another book tells me to NEVER use similes or metaphors…it is forbidden.

One source tells me I need to go completely dialogue…the wave of the future! You can get all the description you need in good, fast, smooth dialogue. While another source tells me to keep the dialogue at a minimum. Tighten it up.

Then there’s that “hook” you hear so much about. Gotta have it. But there are rules there, too. Always get goal-conflict-and-motivation in that first paragraph. Always introduce Hero AND Heroine in that first scene. Never start a book with a dead body in the first sentence…never start with a mundane scene of the main character waking up in the morning…never start with dialogue…always start with dialogue…never, always, never, always! SHEESH!

To throw further confusion into the mix, I read. I have many favorite authors - some older, some newer – and when I see the “never’s” in their storywriting it nearly sends me over the edge!  What is an aspiring writer supposed to believe?

Now my favorite authors are writing how-to-write books of their own! Just about every successful, high paid, bestselling author has one on the shelves. 

Have I included enough exclamation points in this blog to express just how stressed I’ve become at the abundance of “expert” information out there!!!

What is a wanna-be-published writer to do?

My answer? First, read…a lot. Not just the how-to books. Read stories you really enjoy reading. Do they read anything like how you want to write? How old are they? Have they been published recently? That will tell you what is acceptable in the publishing business right now, not what things were like thirty years ago. Times change, keep up with those changes.

Second, write…a lot. It doesn’t matter if it’s on a story you want to get published. Just write. It could be blogs, letters, articles, journaling, or short stories you write for your kids. Maybe just long emails during the day to family and friends. Just write.

Third, remember that what works for some people doesn’t work for others.

I’m not trying to sound like an expert on the subject. I’m not. I just know what I need to do, maybe it will work for other people who are trying to be better writers and get published.

Now, I need to get back to a book I’ve been reading…”How to Stop Reading How-to Books and Start Writing” by Dr. I. Noe Itall.

Reading Is Fundamental

Time flies, even when you’re not having fun. Think I’m lying? Take a look at the clock; you just lost precious seconds reading this. What I want to know is where the hell it goes, especially my reading time.

Seriously, no matter how much I try I have less and less time to read. Not a good thing with my chosen profession of writing or the job I fell into at the library. Yeah, yeah, I know reading is fundamental for both.

Unfortunately, it’s not the same type of ‘fun’ it used to be. No longer the escape I took from reality, but my job. I can hear the sarcastic chorus of ‘Poor Amy, wish I had a job where I had to read.’ I can see the eye rolls and disgust that comes with my complaints. I also see the total lack of respect when I explain that I ‘have’ to read because of my jobs.

I understand for most reading is a luxury, a hobby, entertainment. Once upon a time, that’s what it was for me. My idea of a great night was a good book, munchies and something to sip. It still is, but now I look at that great book differently.

I rarely flip through the pages like a madwoman falling into the story, oblivious to the world around me. I take my time savoring every word, sometimes rereading passages to see how the author did what they did. Authors spend a lot of time doing the research, crafting the story, making sure it’s polished; their work deserves a little respect.

Not to say I ‘never’ devour a book anymore, there are a few authors who just suck me in and don’t let go until I hit the last page. Those usually end up in my keeper pile, reread after the initial glow is gone.

I also should factor in I don’t always read just one book at a time. At present, I’m reading three for learning purposes and pleasure, an urban fantasy, a science fiction and a paranormal romance. Then there’s the young adult for the library discussion group. Oh, almost forgot the two on writing–editing to be exact–and the pages my critique partner gave me.

Hmm, that’s a lot of reading. Maybe I should skip the housework and attack one of those books, after all it’s part of my job.

Why Put off What You Should have Done Last Year

Anyone who knows me should be aware that I’m more than a little bit superstitious. Anything can be interpreted as a “sign” of something telling me what to do. A cosmic message urging me in one direction or another. Fate. Everything happens for a reason. Karma. Well, you get the idea.

It’s not like I can’t make my own decisions. Sure, I read my horoscope… occasionally. But I don’t let it determine my activities for the day. Not much anyway. Sometimes. Okay, ever so often that darn horoscope is just too accurate to be ignored! The Cosmos has predetermined my destiny and I’m just along for the ride…I only wish I had a handbook to tell me the rules and regulations regarding that ride and what to expect on this journey. Oh well, I’ll just buckle my safety belt and try to enjoy the adventure.

Recently, Karma sent me a couple of little in-your-face messages. It was up to me to decide to ignore those messages or pay attention.

My first message came in the form of a nasty looking mole. Big, ugly, ominous. That mole told me my days in tanning beds had finally caught up to me. I was scared! I skipped over the first two stages of grief and landed squarely on stage #3 – bargaining. I started begging: if this ends up okay I’m going to do this, I’m going to do that, I’m going to be a better person, I’m going to make some changes… yada, yada, yada.

Doctor told me what has become a familiar horror story lately…”when you get older, your body changes and these are quite common, harmless” yada, yada, yada. Yuck!

Did I stick to the promises I made during that whole bargaining scenario?

Nope.

Second message came last week.

My mammogram showed a big nasty spot. They called. Wanted to run more tests. My heart started jack-hammering in my chest. The bargaining started again.

Test came back okay. I got the same speech, “when you get older, body changes, this is quite common, harmless”…you know the rest of the story.

Did I stick to the promises I made during that whole bargaining scenario?

I kinda think I did this time. I went out and bought a new car!

I made a change. Did something I’d been putting off, waiting for some other time to do, too scared to take the leap, afraid it would turn out bad.

That new car – I named her Maxine, by the way – has changed my life! I have self confidence I haven’t had in a long time. I feel powerful. The whole experience (and buying a car IS a wild roller coaster ride) made me look at other areas in my life where I needed to get busy. Things I’d been putting off for too long.

Then I got right back on a story – one of many – I’d been working on. I’d been discouraged because it wasn’t going anywhere and I didn’t know how to proceed so I’d almost given up on it.

You know what? Giving up on it wasn’t going to get me anywhere. I needed to keep going. Even if what I was writing turned out to be garbage later on, at least I was writing. And that is what second, third and even fourth revisions are for. You can’t revise something that isn’t there.

I entered a writing contest recently, spent the last three months waiting to hear back from the panel of judges. It was torture. I counted the days. Would they say my work was good? Would they trash it and tell me I should give it up? Did my whole future as a writer depend on what their comments were?

Luckily, I have just enough faith in myself to believe I have a future as a (published) writer. The judges had some constructive comments to make. I needed somebody – an impartial, experienced group of writers – to take a look at my work and boost my self confidence.  And that’s what I got. They were able to see where my weak parts were but at the same time tell me good things about my writing. They encouraged me to keep writing and told me I was good. 

So I’d been slacking off on my writing the past few months, waiting for these judges to tell me how to proceed. Now that I have a solid understanding where to start, I’m excited again. I can’t wait to get started and get my stories out there.

Look out world! Barnes and Noble better make some room on their Bestseller book shelves! There’s a new published author heading their way and they’re going to want to keep her bestsellers in stock!

Writing Serendipity

Trifolium repens ?
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Serendipity is an interesting thing. It’s when you find valuable or agreeable things that you weren’t looking for. I experienced serendipity this week, though I didn’t realize it until today.

Instance #1

I blogged about the need for writing practice over on Learn to Write Fiction a couple weeks ago.

There’s a theory that 10,000 hours of practice is required to become a world-class expert in anything. There are some caveats to this, of course.

You can’t just randomly do an activity for 10,000 hours and suddenly you’re an expert. The 10,000 hours have to be engaged in meaningful, deliberate practice where the person is actively trying to improve.

Instance #2

This week I picked up a copy of Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. His book presents a theory that it isn’t just 10,000 hours that make an expert, though that is necessary. He adds that there are often instances of great opportunity in the lives of these experts-opportunities that propelled them forward toward expert status.

This makes sense in the publishing world where there are many examples of excellent writing that doesn’t get published and examples of mediocre writing that does. The opportunities that come your way are more often the result of luck than anything else. Right place, right time, right person syndrome.

Instance #3

Penelope Trunk blogged about time being more important toward achieving expert status than talent. We think of the talented people as being assured of expert status some day and we envy them for starting out with an advantage.

But scientists are starting to discover that it isn’t talent that assures expert status. Yes, it confers an advantage, but not a guarantee. Instead, “you need to work every single day at being great at that one thing if you want to be great.” The New York Times emphasizes the need for immediate feedback, as well..

Serendipity Thoughts

All of this has come together in my brain this week and I think about what it means for writers. Here are my conclusions:

Having a natural talent for writing doesn’t guarantee you’ll be a best-selling author. That means there’s hope for writers who weren’t born with the writing gene.

Deliberate, focused practice is required to get really good at something. 10,000 hours is the recommended target based on studies of experts in multiple fields including sports, science, music, art, math, finance and hobbies. This means setting specific goals, obtaining immediate feedback and concentrating as much on technique as on outcome.

You need to really love the thing you want to be expert at, otherwise you won’t put in the 10,000 hours of hard work needed to get very good at it.

Luck still plays a large part in becoming a best-selling author. You can’t control luck or opportunities, but you can prepare yourself and your writing to be ready when luck strikes.

Your Turn

Do you really love writing? Enough to get up early, stay up late, skip fun activities, work every spare minute, dissect and study other novels, revise constantly, solicit critiques and incorporate the feedback, write, write more, write better?

Do you spend your writing time in deliberate, focused practice, always striving to get better?

Do you prepare yourself to be ready for publishing opportunities by meeting other writers, attending conferences, following news in the publishing industry, and submitting your best work over and over again?