Do you have good intentions? Making good use of writing resources.

I don't know about you, but I have better intentions than actions. For example, I sign up for a lot of writing-related emails. I have an email account specifically for these emails, and I know that there is a wealth of good, solid information on the craft of writing in that email inbox. But some days, going through it is absolutely exhausting. Most days, I have 100 unread emails in my assorted email accounts, with most of those coming from my writing email. Every few weeks, I sit down and wade through the emails I've received, skimming over all of them and deleting the ones that don't contain useful information, while archiving or bookmarking ones that do. But still, it's a gigantic time-waster to have to go through so many emails.

Lately, I've been increasingly overwhelmed by writing resources at my fingertips. It's time that I take an honest look at myself and how I use these sources. I want to maximize my time and benefits, since social media and emails and the Internet can be such a drain on time. I need to get some good information and then get back to writing. So I've crafted some questions to ask myself before I unsubscribe to some mailing lists.

1. Does the email consistently send me information that applies to me?

This is going to be the main issue. In the information useful? Some emails, like the Writer's Digest email, can be hit or miss for me. Somehow, I'm on several email lists from them, and I'd like to narrow that down to the ones that pertain to me. There are often a lot of great, short articles that speak to an aspect of the craft I need, but there are often ones that don't. As a result, it's one of those emails that I want to keep receiving, but in moderation, and I have to be diligent about determining which ones apply to me.

2. Do I more often than not delete the email without opening it?

I confess. Sliding my finger across the iPhone to delete a message is easier than opening it, going to the link inside, and then returning to delete the email. There are some mailing lists I am on that I usually delete the emails from after only skimming the four-line preview. I think it's safe to say I can delete myself from these email lists.

3. Is it information that I will refer to in the future?

I subscribe to Publisher's Lunch, an email that contains daily information about book deals and agents who represent those authors. I may not always be at a querying place, however these are emails that I will absolutely refer to in the future when looking for an agent. If I were super organized, I would write down the names of agents that seem like a good match for me and books that seem similar to mine, and keep them in a file folder somewhere. If I were super organized. That'll be my next project.

Any of my subscriptions that don't pass these three questions, I will be unsubscribing from. My writing time is too valuable to waste.

And on that note, I return to my WIP!


My Second Writers' Conference (October IWSG Post)

Wow, how has October arrived already? Time to face up to my insecurities again, I suppose. 

This month's insecurity is easy, really. This weekend I'm attending a local Writers' Conference in the greater Seattle area. Cool, huh?

Well, I have to admit, I have a few moments of insecurity about it. Okay, more than a few. In fact, I have shoved the idea of this weekend to the back of my mind. Repeatedly. Just so I don't wimp out. 

First of all, I don't know anyone else going. Not one. I don't even recognize the names of some speakers. 

Now there's something I have to admit. I am not a joiner. I'm not one of those people who sees a group they'd love to be a part of and immediately joins, figuring I'll meet people as I go. No, I'm one of those quiet, wallflower type girls, watching a group until I feel comfortable enough to not get rejected to try joining. 

Groups of people I don't know scare me. Large groups terrify me.

I know, I know. I'm an adult. I should be over this phase in my life. And I've gotten better, trust me. But it still gives me a little tingle thinking about stepping into a room full of writers that are probably better than me, more experienced than me, more published than me, more than I'll ever be, and trying to talk to them. What on earth will we talk about? Small talk? Ugh. Just shoot me now.

Yes. My pessimist really comes out in situations like this. Now I pep talk myself, telling myself that not everyone is better than me, I am probably not the most inexperienced in the room, I could be one of the better ones in the room, I could be...well...that's about where my pep talk falls short. I am not published, I am not truly "experienced." That's not pessimism, that's just honesty. Now, I want to be published, and I've put a lot of work these past few years in feeling up to achieving that goal. I don't think any of my writing and editing over the past few years has been a loss. In fact, it's been a highly valued time of learning the craft of writing and expanding my skills so that when I am ready to query again, I can strike out with confidence in my WIP and pursue publication knowing I have a novel I can be proud of. 

So a part of me looks forward to this weekend, to meeting new local writers, both published and unpublished, seasoned and naive, hopeful and bitter. You see, I do believe that every writer can teach another writer something, and I look forward to learning. 

So I'm going to stuff my insecurities away and feign confidence. In myself, in my writing, in others' advice. After all, what do I have to lose? If I don't find anyone I like, I'll probably never see them again... 


Writing Quote Friday #15

“You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” 

― Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing


Demanding the Muse's Presence

This past weekend I went "camping" with the hubby. I put "camping" in quotes because this was lightweight camping unfamiliar to this Alaskan. This was camping in a campsite with neighbors camping twenty feet away in their RVs and with running water and toilets. This was not real camping.

However, despite this Washington camping experience, I was hoping that it would jumpstart my Muse and reinvigorate my writing. Sadly, I am several days returned from "camping" and have found that not to be the case. So now comes the moment when I must demand my Muse's presence. 

Who was it that said, "I write when I am inspired, and I see to it that I am inspired at nine o'clock every morning?"* That is the point I am at this week. While there are a million things I could be doing and a million others that must be done, I intend to carve out 15-30 minutes for myself today and write. 

I am working on a new WIP, a short story, for a class I am currently taking, and I have a deadline for it. I've got to get about half of it written by that deadline. While this is a short story, I've made it more complex than some of my classmates', and I've got several thousand words to write before I meet that halfway mark. So I'll be powering through that soon, I am sure. I just need the time to sit down and write.

So instead of pretending that I don't have to write, or taking a break while my family is in town, or while we work on some projects around the house, or otherwise making excuses, I intend to demand my Muse's presence by sitting down to write and placing my fingers on the keyboard. 

Time to write.

*footnote: And after a quick Google search, that appears to be Peter De Vries.


Writing Quote Friday #14

“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”

― Madeleine L'Engle


A problem...

I am in the middle of cleaning out my office. I'm not quite sure if this is a distraction technique from my writing (entirely possible), or something else. It needs to be done, sure, as it's become a dumping ground for things that I don't want to deal with at the moment, receipts, boxes, chairs, blankets, etc. In beginning to clean it out, I've been slowly realizing that I am a book hoarder. My shelves have long since been full, with books stacks sideways upon books and doubled, sometimes tripled up on shelves.

There's just something about me that makes me reluctant to give up a book. I can always find some excuse to keep it. Oh, I loved it? Better not get rid of it; I like to reread favorites. Oh, it was only so-so? Well, its resale value is low, I'd better keep it. Oh, I liked it, a friend gave it to me? Better keep it. 

I have a problem. I'm reluctant to part with a book. Any book. Especially a favorite. I'm one of those who buys multiple copies of a favorite--one reading copy, one copy to keep pristine.

But I'm trying to change. In my office, I ruthlessly went through each shelf and removed books I didn't enjoy the first time around, but had purchased for a book club or other reason, and put them in a box. I filled up two boxes in this way. My plan is to sell them on Amazon or give them away if their resale value isn't worth the headache of selling.

It's a slow process to let go of books, but…it can be done.

(Note: I also hoard ebooks, but I'm denying that as a problem until my iPad fills up…) 


IWSG September--Making Time for Writing

Okay, I'm a few days late on this insecure post. I thought I would have time to write this before Wednesday, then Wednesday came and went, and I fell far behind. Which is kind of my insecurity this month. While I'm feeling more confident about my writing these days, feeling like I've gotten the hang of things a bit, the thing I have been struggling with is making time for my writing.

This is an age-old problem, I know. But it seems the more "adult" I get, the less time I have to do what I want. There are always other things battling for my time: laundry, cooking, cleaning, errands, writing critiques, relationships, sleep, etc. It seems there are a million excuses I could throw out there to not write. My heart wants to, but there have been some days where I have felt so under the weather with headaches or from lack of sleep lately, that although I've had "time" to write, it feels like I don't have the concentration to accomplish anything. 

As a result, I've had a couple of no-writing days, and that's just bad--no matter how you look at it. 

On the plus side, I am in an online class right now which is on developing a short story from start to finish, so it's at least gotten me thinking of writing and planning and plotting. I try to remind myself on these days of no writing to pick up a book and read a lot, for I know there's much to be learned from reading. But on days with a horrible headache/neck-ache (remnants of a car crash years ago), it's hard to even do that.

So this month I am going to focus on getting back on a schedule which carves out specific time for myself. Perhaps I need to revisit making weekly goals for myself and meeting those goals. Since there has been so much more going on lately, I know that I will have to keep my goals simple, but if I have goals, I will be motivated meet them and more motivated to get work done. 

So here's to a productive September! 

Writing Quote Friday #13

"Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation."

--Graham Greene, actor



5 Commonly Misused Words in the English Language

The more I write, the more I become a grammar Nazi. I'm realizing one of my biggest pet peeves are misused words. To the point where if I'm not sure of a word myself, I look it up in a dictionary to confirm I'm using it correctly in speech. Wow. What a nerd I am. It's a good thing my husband loves me…although I don't think he loves it when I correct his speech…

Anyways, I've started to compile a list of words that drive me crazy. Feel free to add your own in the comments! (And look forward to more posts on incorrectly used words.)

1. anxious vs. eager

She was anxious that something could go wrong during her pregnancy.

I am eager to see my wife after six months' separation.

Anxious: 1 experiencing worry, unease, or nervousness, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome
• (of a period of time or situation) causing or characterized by worry or nervousness: there were some anxious moments.
2 wanting something very much, typically with a feeling of unease

Eager: (adjective) wanting to do or have something very much
• (of a person's expression or tone of voice) characterized by keen expectancy or interest

2. peak vs. pique

The novel piqued my interest so I bought it.

I climbed to the highest peak.

Peak: (noun) the pointed top of a mountain
• a mountain, esp. one with a pointed top
• a projecting pointed part or shape
• a point in a curve or on a graph, or a value of a physical quantity, higher than those around it
• the point of highest activity, quality, or achievement

Pique: (noun) a feeling of irritation or resentment resulting from a slight, esp. to one's pride

Pique: (verb) 1 stimulate (interest or curiosity)
2 (be piqued) feel irritated or resentful

3. their/they're/there

What grammarian isn't annoyed by this all-too-common slip-up?

That is their sleeping bag.

They're coming over today.

I'm going over there tomorrow.

their: possessive pronoun

they're: contraction for "they are"

there: a place

4. irony vs. coincidence

This can be a difficult one.

How ironic that Sarah moved from Texas to New York to get away from Texans and ends up marrying a Texan cowboy.

Coincidentally, I met my husband in New York and we are both from the same, small Texan town.

The difference is that irony is deliberately the opposite of what is expected or planned for, while a coincidence is an often similar event that appears unrelated to another.

Irony: noun ( pl. ironies )
the expression of one's meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect
• a state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result
• (also dramatic or tragic irony) a literary technique, originally used in Greek tragedy, by which the full significance of a character's words or actions are clear to the audience or reader although unknown to the character.

Coincidence: (noun) 1 a remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances without apparent causal connection
2 correspondence in nature or in time of occurrence:

5. literally vs. figuratively

I literally ate five Double Stuf Oreos.

I figuratively could have eaten a whale.

Literally: (adverb) in a literal manner or sense; exactly
• informal used for emphasis or to express strong feeling while not being literally true: I have received literally thousands of letters.** 

Figuratively: (adjective) 1 departing from a literal use of words; metaphorical
2 (of an artist or work of art) representing forms that are recognizably derived from life.

*Definitions from New Oxford American Dictionary
**The fact that this definition is now included in the dictionary drives me figuratively insane.

What misused words figuratively drive you insane?


Writing Quote Friday #11

"When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature."

--Ernest Hemingway


Why do some authors hit it big?

Forbes published the annual top-earning authors list last week, and it got me thinking. (Always a dangerous thing...) But most of the authors on the list write books which I a) cannot stand, b) have no interest in. Oddly, the only people on the list whose works I have read and enjoyed are J.K. Rowling and Suzanne Collins. (Yes, I admit that the only thing I've read by Stephen King has been his book titled On Writing. I've not read George R.R. Martin, and I don't really enjoy James Patterson.)

List from highest earning is: E.L. James, James Patterson, Suzanne Collins, Bill O'Reilly, Danielle Steel, Jeff Kinney, Janet Evanovich, Nora Roberts, Dan Brown, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, John Grisham, David Baldacci, Rick Riordan, J.K. Rowling, and George R.R. Martin.

Regardless of my feelings on these authors, each of them has hit the big league. So what is it that makes their work appeal to the masses? These are the multi-million dollar question every writer (and many a reader) asks. And I don't think there's any real answer. But based on my knowledge of these authors, I've thought of these reasons.

A best-seller must have: 

1. A good story.

Maybe this is obvious, but the most successful books tend to be well-plotted books that are easy to read--not necessarily the most well-written. The average reader doesn't like to work as they read, and they don't care about pretty prose. They read for escape and pleasure, which equals quick reads and easy to follow sentences. Literary fiction (my personal favorite genre), takes a bit more effort from a reader. Their plots tend to be slower and more drawn out, with more personal reflection of the character and reader required. I guess the majority of people don't like that. Instead of being concerned with the quality of writing, readers are only concerned with the plot itself.

Don't get me wrong, a good plot is essential to a good book. I just wish that some authors put more stock in writing well, instead of just churning out poorly written, but well-plotted stories. It would only help sales... of course, I guess the authors on this list don't need extra sales at this point.

2. A familiar plot structure.

It's generally accepted that there is a limited number of plots. Several of the authors on the Forbes list are writers of romance books. The romance genre is the #1 selling genre of books. Personally, it's not a genre I enjoy. However, there are millions upon millions of readers that do enjoy it. Why is this? Well, it tends to be a happily-ever-after ending, its plot revolves around love (which encourages happy feelings in the reader), there's a general familiarity about them (boy meets girl, conflict occurs to keep boy and girl apart, boy and girl end up together). Why does someone essentially reread the same plot over and over again? Because they enjoy that plot structure, its familiarity, its comfort. It's easy to read and understand, and they are usually rewarded with a "happy" ending.

Other genres represented on the list are thrillers (for the sake of argument Stephen King is included in this, along with Koontz, Brown, Patterson, Grisham, Evanovich, and Baldacci), fantasy (Martin, Riordan) and young adult (Collins, Kinney, Riordan, and Rowling). Thrillers, despite their many twists and turns, may be said to follow a general well-known structure, but I think fantasy and young adult have more variety in their plots. The fantasy and young adult genre success stories tend to be unique ideas with everyday characters (think Katniss Everdeen or Harry Potter).  However, the main similarity I see in all these non-romance genres is usually a theme of good triumphing over evil. And who doesn't like to see the underdog (good) triumph?

3. Write genre fiction.

Interestingly, only one non-fiction author is on the list, that being Bill O'Reilly. And having read his Killing Lincoln, I can only say that it was hardly written like non-fiction. It appears clear to me that most people read to escape real life. (But again, non-fiction tends to be written in a more complex manner, thus appealing to fewer readers.)

4. Be prolific.

Most of the authors in this list are prolific writers, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Danielle Steele...some of them publish three or more novels a year! Others, like George R.R. Martin, are known to take a great deal of time on their novels. However, Martin didn't hit the list until recently, when his HBO series, Game of Thrones, took off.

5. Write a successful series.

Who says kids don't read anymore? J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter series), Suzanne Collins (Hunger Games series), Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson series), Jeff Kinney (Diaries of a Wimpy Kid) are all authors of wildly successful children or young adult book series. Several of these are series that not only children or young adults enjoy, but adults.

Not only kids like series though--look at Janet Evanovitch and her successful series. O'Reilly's recent assassination books, Killing Lincoln, Killing Kennedy, etc., could be considered a series in the similar subjects and styles. Patterson has several successful series going at all times, with several popular characters. Dan Brown has his Robert Langdon series... you get the idea. If you get a good character and don't kill him off in your first book, take him on to a second.

6. Have a lot of luck.

The main thing all these authors have in common is luck. From Rowling to King to James, each author had their share of luck (and perseverance) in getting their work published and noticed.

To be honest, there are a million different reasons that one author hits it big while another flounders on the bottom of the list. I find myself constantly in the minority, steering clear of the best-sellers and striking out off the path to discover those lesser-known books and their authors. I find those to be the most rewarding, the most enriching reads.

7. Get your book made into a movie.

It seems that nearly all the authors on this list have their books or series made into movies. Obviously, although there is money in books, there is more money if you get a movie made out of your book.

What about you? What is your favorite genre? Why? What keeps you reading that genre?

For the article from Forbes, click here.


Writing Quote Friday #10

“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”
― Jane Austen


There Is Always Someone Better Than You (August IWSG)

I am never the best.

This isn't a new lesson. It's an old one. Quite old. Ancient, perhaps. There will always, always be someone better than you. Even if you're the world champion in the Track and Field 400m dash, there will always be someone to challenge you. More so, there may be someone who is better than you at the 200m, or the 100. Switch sports, and you may lose all your advantage. You are then no one special. I find this humbling. And rightfully so.

I think writers must be competitive at heart, or else it's too easy to give up and let go of your writing dreams. Even so, when you find yourself pitted against a near-equal, or someone who is obviously better than you, or even someone that you don't perceive as better than you yet beats you in a competition, jealousy is the natural emotion. 

I don't like to think of myself as a jealous person. I don't like to give in to envy. But is some of it useful? Does that envy teach me a lesson? Absolutely.

Writing is a subjective art. Just like painting, what one person considers a masterpiece, another considers a waste of space. In writing, what one person loves, another may hate.

I find that I am an atypical reader. I don't like commercial fiction very much. I prefer slower paced literary novels. In fact, I cannot remember the last best seller that I read and enjoyed like the masses (Hunger Games, maybe? Although I thought that could have been done better). Am I too critical? Maybe. But I like to think it's because I know what I like, and only a few people deliver that. I not only want a great plot, but above average (okay, excellent) writing and grammar. I want good structure and surprising plot twists, lovable characters and surprising depth. I want it all. If it doesn't check all the boxes, then I'm not a satisfied reader. But I'm like one of those first-time home buyers who goes in with a list a mile long, expecting not to compromise. And I won't compromise, darn it! 

So why should I compromise in my own writing? I am also one of those writers stuck in perpetual edits. It is never, ever good enough. I'm not a perfectionist in everything, but I am with writing. Because why, oh why?, would I put anything less than my best work out there? The only problem is that I am constantly learning and improving. It's almost like the newest iPhone (to use yet another metaphor). As soon as I finish one edit of a WIP, I know exactly how I could improve it--because the last edit taught me so much about writing, I can see new errors in old work. (You know, like as soon as you buy the new iPhone, the newer one comes out, showing you all the things you didn't know you needed?)

Yeah. That's me. So I guess I need to get okay with the fact that there will always be a book better than mine out there. There will always be readers that prefer someone else's writing over mine. There will always be improvements that I wish I could make to my novel. There will always, always, be someone better. That's not their fault. It's mine. Not only do I need to keep striving and keep writing, but I need to accept something as finished, even when I still think it's not "perfect." 


Writing Quote Friday #9

“If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.”

― Toni Morrison


What Makes You Read About Someone Else's Life?

What with the birth of the newest UK royal, I've been thinking about what it is about the royals that fascinates people on a whole. Why do we still have monarchies in developed countries? Why are people willing to admire someone else simply for their genealogy or because they are in a position of power? But more so, why do people want to follow these people online via blogs, newspapers, pictures, etc?

Take Princess Catherine for example. She's beautiful, she's common, she's the girl-next-door turned biggest fashion icon of the decade. The media buzz around her as bees around flowers. She's got that je ne sais quoi.

What all this media hype really got me thinking about is how many novels center around royalty and fame. Many historical authors are famous for chronicling not normal people's lives, but royal lives. Today, it seems that celebrities are the royalty of the world. I'm not going to lie, I enjoy a bit of celebrity gossip every now and then, even though I don't care to meet any of these people. But there's a certain disconnect from the "glamor" of their lives and the mundane of mine. It's that very disconnect which makes me interested in them. I cannot imagine existing in that lifestyle--and I don't--so I'll read about it instead.

There are many actors that I will read an article about and be fascinated with. Despite my mild interest in their lives, I may not care for what I know about that person's character, and I have a feeling I would despise them if I knew them personally. (No, I won't name names, that's not my point.) But this leads me to the question: would I be willing to read a book about a character like them? Probably.

People like to read about lives different than theirs. What is more different than celebrities or royals? Essentially, those are real people put into a completely foreign way of life. People read in order to experience those other lives. Every book I read puts me in the life of a new person. I want that person to be quite different from me. I need to connect with them, but I do want their lives to surprise me, to be different from "the norm." I don't want to read about someone going to work unless they uncover their boss committing a crime, or they are madly in love with their engaged coworker, etc., etc. If all they do is go to work, clock in, work, clock out and go home--why am I reading? Why would I want to read about a life that isn't very different from my own?

This leads me to my WIP, of course, because nearly everything in my life makes me think of fiction (more specifically how I can improve my fiction). One of my more recent WIPs has a main character with famous parents. By default, she has a certain amount of fame. Now, I'm not naive enough to think that's enough of a hook for a reader. However, it can add certain amounts of complications. And those complications are of much greater weight if the entire world is watching. Fame throws a wrench into many plans, especially if the plan involves a secret. And that is a recipe rife for disaster. And aren't disaster and conflict the reasons we read? 

So while I am content to read about famous people, perhaps a famous character or two in my WIPs add opportunity for conflict that will keep the reader reading.




Using Character Bios to Deepen Your Writing

Often when I'm completely stuck in revising a novel, or when I'm in the depths of NaNoWriMo hell and have no words left in me, yet I have to pump out another 10K in order to "win," I will turn to character bios to help me flesh out my work-in-progress.

Usually I use these for my minor characters (mC), a non-lead, because those are the ones whom I am unsure about. Those are the characters I haven't spent enough time developing, and so I need to go the extra mile with them and make them real. I can't do that if I continue to ignore them to focus on my main character (MC). So a character bio is an invaluable tool for me.

What is a character bio?

I define a character bio as the protagonist's story from a mC's point-of-view. This may not be the "best" or the "correct" way to define it, but in keeping this definition in my mind, I can approach the mC as I need to. Although a mC's backstory will obviously influence them as much as a MC's backstory influences the MC, their story only concerns me in so much as it concerns the MC.

So with that definition in mind, I sit down to write my mC's bio. I'll begin where the MC begins--the beginning of the novel. I'll tell the story, trying to keep it brief, from the mC's POV, without worrying about whether I'm telling or showing or if this is coming out right. I'm only concerned with how this mC sees things. So I don't stop until I get to the end. This usually comes out as a far abbreviated version of the overall story--the mC can only tell the story as much as he/she knows it, and as he/she is a minor character, that's usually not much.

However, this tactic really allows me to make those minor characters much more real to myself and (hopefully) to the reader.

I always feel that a novel is at its most powerful when the mCs live and breathe as strongly as the MCs.


How do you make your minor characters come alive?


Writing Quote Friday #7

“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” 

Robert Frost

Revelation by Robert Frost

We make ourselves a place apart
Behind light words that tease and flout,
But oh, the agitated hear
Till someone really find us out.

'Tis pity if the case require
(Or so we say) that in the end
We speak the literal to inspire
The understanding of a friend.

But so with all, from babes that play
At hid-and-seek to God afar,
So all who hide too well away
Must speak and tell us where they are.


The Peaks and Valleys of the Writing Life--What Brings You Down? What Buoys You Up?

I find more often than ever, my life is marked by peaks and valleys. I would like to say that I'm a steady worker, one who rarely gets discouraged and simply plugs away no matter the circumstances.

That would be a lie. 

I am absolutely like most other people in the world: affected by life's circumstances. 

The thing is, I'm one of those lucky few writers who doesn't work. I don't have a day job. I don't freelance, I don't have deadlines. I'm one of those lucky aspiring writers who has all day to write. So why don't I?

Some days, I do spend the majority of my day pounding away on the keyboard. But to be honest, most days I don't. I do attempt to write every day--and if I don't, I feel guilty. But some days, I am my own worst enemy. There are inexplicable days where I want to burn all my WIPs and say "good riddance" to them forever. Those are the days where my perfectionist streak really grabs ahold of me and controls my writing life. Then there are other days where I think I know exactly what is happening in my WIP and I can't wait to get to my laptop and fill the white space with words that I'm certain are magical.

This week, I knew I had to prepare a blog for today. I procrastinated both days until last night, when I said, "I'll just do it in the morning." This morning, I had no brilliant stroke of inspiration. I had no desire to write a blog post. This, I tell myself, is why I do not freelance. Too much pressure to be brilliant. And when you're a struggling perfectionist, how can you constantly deliver brilliance? (And let's be honest--a perfectionist doesn't want mere brilliance, but glistening perfection.)

But this day has led me to think what it is about certain days and circumstances that buoy me up and tug me down. 

overwhelming/overlarge goals
unattainable goals (in regards to how much I can do by a certain time or how good I expect my work to be without thinking of my limitations, whether time or talent or knowledge)
unrealistic expectations (and disappointment when I fail)
bad critiques and arrogant critiquers
bad habits

a good critique
having a stroke of brilliance that I think will solve all my plot problems
reading a well written book
my husband's confidence in me (however ill-placed)
solitude and silence
small, attainable goals
attaining said goals
daily writing
new writing software
new writing friends
reading encouraging Twitter posts from writers with my same struggles

None of these uppers are a magic bullet for overcoming distraction and getting my writing done. No, there's no easy path to self-discipline. But on a day like this, I choose to focus on the positive, on the peaks, instead of on the valleys. And that can refocus my mind onto something worth pursuing, instead of giving me a lifetime of regrets.


So what about you? What creates a good writing day for you? What makes it a bad writing day?

Share in the comments section below--I love hearing from readers!


If you've found this useful, please give it a share!

Follow me on Twitter @amor_scribendi, or like me on Facebook!


Writing Quote Friday #6

“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”

Sylvia Plath


Five Rules for Using Pronouns in Fiction Writing (Part II of II)

A few weeks ago, I threw out some reasons for and against using pronouns in fiction. This week, I'd like to explain a bit about how these are pros and cons.

If you'll recall, there are five reasons I came up with to use or not use pronouns in fiction writing. This post will discuss them in a bit more detail (although there are links for each pro and con in last week's post).

1. Don't confuse the antecedent.

Typically, "he" or "she" refers to the person last mentioned.

Joni gulped from her cup. She lowered it and stared at Kim.

"Her" and "she" both refer to Joni.

If we rewrite the sentence to say:

Joni and Kim sipped their drinks. She put it down.

Then we get confusion. Who is "she?" Is it Joni? Kim? Neither? In a situation like this, reuse their name. Or, preferably, rephrase the sentence(s) to clarify.

2. Don't overuse "I" in first person POV.

In first person point-of-view, the page can be a minefield of "I." Not only does it make the book seem unreasonably self-centered on the protagonist, it can be distracting from even the best plot.

Consider the example below, taken from one of my recent WIPs, which I've referred to throughout my blog as "StM."

In retrospect, I was lucky I'd held on to my phone so I could dig out Mother's address from the depths of my contacts list. I hoped, as I begged directions from a stranger on the street, that she'd not moved in the two years since I'd seen her.

This is a rough draft of a scene where my main character is lost in London and has just been pick-pocketed. She's finally decided to seek out her estranged mother. But while the focus is on the main character, it could be written better. 

A revision trying to minimize "I":
In retrospect, holding onto my phone was a lucky break. In the dusty layers of my contact list lay Mother's phone and address. After accosting a stranger on the street for directions, I headed north, hoping Mother hadn't moved in the past two years.

This shows how many "I's" you can eliminate if you try. I got it down from six to one.

3. Make sure you know how to use pronouns correctly.

This is one of those cons which can be corrected by grammar lessons.

Remember: the pronoun should agree in number and person with its antecedent noun, as well as clearly refer to the prior noun(s).


She grabbed the violin off the stand and raised them to her shoulder.

She grabbed the violin and bow off the stand and raised them to her shoulder.

She grabbed the violin off the stand and raised it to her shoulder.

The airlines had assigned Adrienne a middle seat—in cattle class. Which meant she was directly in the center of the aircraft, smashed between a generously proportioned woman who seemed to have poured a perfume bottle all over herself before the flight, and two boisterous talkers on Adrienne's left—one of whom was a middle-aged, lecherous flirt with a propensity for airsickness.

The Adrienne's is not "her" because it would create ambiguity to use "her."

The airlines had assigned Adrienne a middle seat—in cattle class. Which meant she was directly in the center of the aircraft, smashed between a generously proportioned woman who seemed to have poured a perfume bottle all over herself before the flight, and two boisterous talkers on her left—one of whom was a middle-aged, lecherous flirt with a propensity for airsickness.

Whose left am I talking about in the incorrect version? Adrienne's or the woman with perfume?

I'm not even going to get into the grammar lesson aspect of this, but here are some great websites if you are confused about pronouns.

Grammar: Proper Pronoun Usage 101
Grammar Girl: How to Use "Myself" and Other Reflexive Pronouns
Purdue Owl: Pronouns, Using Pronouns Clearly
Purdue Owl: Using Appropriate Pronouns, Appropriate Pronoun Usage



Only reflexive pronouns used--

The airlines had assigned Adrienne Talbot a middle seat—in cattle class. Which meant Adrienne was directly in the center of the aircraft, smashed between a generously proportioned woman who seemed to have poured a perfume bottle all over herself before the flight, and two boisterous talkers on Adrienne's left—one of whom was a middle-aged, lecherous flirt with a propensity for airsickness.

Sighing, Adrienne strapped herself into Adrienne's own personal ninth circle of Hell and winced at the screech of an infant behind Adrienne. Adrienne leaned Adrienne's head against the leather headrest, feeling the press of the woman next to Adrienne and the lech's broad shoulders on Adrienne's other side, reducing Adrienne's seat to the size of a postage stamp. These types of plane rides were the worst for people like Adrienne, who had personal bubbles the size of Alaska.

Yikes! Does anyone else's blood pressure rise at the second paragraph? Every repetition of her name grates on my nerves--I don't even want to repeat it here! Let's check out the example using pronouns properly.

Using pronouns--

The airlines had assigned Adrienne Talbot a middle seat—in cattle class. Which meant she was directly in the center of the aircraft, smashed between a generously proportioned woman who seemed to have poured a perfume bottle all over herself before the flight, and two boisterous talkers on Adrienne's left—one of whom was a middle-aged, lecherous flirt with a propensity for airsickness. 

Sighing, Adrienne strapped herself into her own personal ninth circle of Hell and winced at the screech of an infant behind her. She leaned her head against the leather headrest, feeling the press of the woman next to her and the lech's broad shoulders on her other side, reducing Adrienne's seat to the size of a postage stamp. These types of plane rides were the worst for people like her, who had personal bubbles the size of Alaska.

Aids suspension of disbelief:

According to Dictionary.com, the suspension of disbelief is: "a willingness to suspend one's critical faculties and believe the unbelievable; sacrifice of realism and logic for the sake of enjoyment." Similar to intimacy, when proper nouns are used repetitively in a passage, the reader is distracted from the story and removed from it. Like "said," "he," and "she" are nearly invisible. The reader's eye skims over them, and they can often be omitted from the story entirely. This is why the current fiction trend is to replace a tag (he/she said) with an action (E.g. "I've been waiting for this." He slid his finger under the flap of the envelope.)

The Verdict:

Pronouns go a long ways in creating intimacy between reader and protagonist. However, the danger is in creating ambiguity in the antecedent. 


I hope this has helped explain why pronouns are the better choice. If you've found this useful, please give it a share!

Follow me on Twitter @amor_scribendi, or like me on Facebook!


Writing Quote Friday #5

"Substitute 'damn' every time you're inclined to write 'very'; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be."

Mark Twain


IWSG July: What Do Others Think of My Writing?

Today's post is for the Insecure Writers' Support Group. Check out Alex J. Cavanaugh's blog for more information.


The more I consider my insecurities, the more I am convinced they all stem from being concerned with what others think of me. (Isn't that what an insecurity is anyways?)

As an introvert, I rarely confide in others about personal things. Writing, as most of us writers know, is probably as personal as one could get. As a writer we fear what others think of us and our writing.

Like most people, I want to be admired (well, maybe "admired" is too strong a word, but at least have my craft appreciated). Because my writing matters greatly to me, I approach it with a greater desire to have my writing admired than any of my other talents.

Of course, this comes with a myriad of challenges. I feel apprehensive about sharing my writing because I'm too worried about what other people will think of it. It's not because I think I'm not good enough. Although there's much I have left to learn, I know I'm better than some writers out there, and worse than others. No, I'm fearful of how it might change a friend's perception of me. 

Some of my friends know that I write. Others don't. Most of my friends haven't read a word I've written. Many strangers have.

Is this wrong? Should I be concerned with what others think? Should I ignore their thoughts of me?

To some extent, I think fear of others' opinions is a good thing. It keeps me from being rude or from acting callously. It makes me strive to become a better writer. But it can easily become crippling. If I gave in to this fear, I would never share my writing with anyone. If I become too afraid to share my writing, then what do I gain from my writing? 

I love writing, and I do it without the expectation of getting paid. Yes, that would be great if I were, and that's my current goal, but right now I'm focused on honing my craft. Because I'm a perfectionist, I want to make sure that when I do get published, I won't be absolutely horrified by my first novel. I think a little bit of time spent honing my craft now and gaining confidence through critique groups will pay off in obvious ways for the future.

How about you, fellow writers? What's your insecurity this month?



The Curse of the Writer?

The beginning of this week has been even less productive than I had imagined. There's been a lot of high-emotion stuff going on, as well as lot of sightseeing and general running around with family in town, all of which has distracted from my goals. Still, I find that I cannot separate my writing self from the rest of me.

Sometimes I wonder, if the world were ending, would I stand back just to take a writerly glimpse of the scene and try to figure out how to write it? Would I see fire raining down from heaven and try to come up with the exact word to use so that it doesn't seem overwritten, but so that terror shivers down the reader's spine? Or so the reader can see the exact hue of the flames and the exact shape of brimstone?

Is not being able to separate the writer from the person the curse of the writer?

I don't have an answer for this question. I know that embracing my writing and learning more about writing has led me to constantly see the world from a writer's perspective. If I stopped writing, would that disappear? Probably. Over time. Do I want it to disappear? Not really.

In some ways, I find that being a writer helps me protect myself. I can witness the world from a distance without getting personally involved. It's like being a cameraman or a photographer, and, although I'm in the middle of a gritty scene--by all rights, a part of it--I'm really distanced from it through a lens. But in a writer's case, the lens is purely figurative. 



Row 80 Round 3 Pre-Check

I finished this last round with a very productive week. I'm proud to say that, for the first time, all my goals were met. 

Last week's goals:

1. Finish storyboarding StM, all 24 scenes (that's only 4 scenes for 6 days).

2. Edit the next chapter on POS.

3. 7-5 blackout on TV for two days.

4. 750 words daily.

5. My writing lesson (F2K) and feedback for my classmates needs to be written and posted by Friday.

6. At least 3 critiques need to be written by Friday for my writing group.


A part of me is relieved that I reached all these goals, but writing is a never-ending job. This week is bound to be more challenging with my mom having just arrived for a visit. So with that in mind, I'm going to keep this week's goals simple.

This week:

1. 750 words daily.

2. Write at least one character bio for my WIP, StM. 

3. Edit the next chapter on my WIP, POS. 

4. My writing lesson (F2K) and feedback for my classmates needs to be written and posted by Friday.

I've been experimenting with character bios, where I write a summary of the story as it concerns to each character from their POVs. With one down, I'm finding out amazing things about perspective and entertaining the possibility of a second POV being added to StM. It's something I'm a bit nervous about, but I think it's got a lot of promise. This week, I'll be thinking over and researching that idea and continuing to write more bios and see what paths they lead me down.


What are some of your Row 80 goals? How do you choose your goals for the week? Feel free to comment and share your thoughts on how you meet your weekly goals.


Row 80 Check-In (Last Round 2 Check-In)

Since I jumped into Row 80 toward the middle of Round 2, the end of the round took me by surprise. Regardless, I missed my wrap up check-in on Wednesday, so I'll do that now. 

Overall, I'm pleased with how Row 80 has worked for me. I'm a goal-oriented person, and making weekly goals is a great thing to have when planning my week. I would occasionally do that anyways, but this gives me motivation to make the list and check it off. In some senses, it holds me accountable for getting the work done. Even though I know life gets in the way sometimes, and things don't get done when I want them to get done, making weekly (and daily) goals helps. If I know that my Monday is too booked to write, or my weekend will be unavailable for writing, I can schedule the remainder of my week accordingly.

Honestly, the biggest challenge I have is setting reasonable goals. For me, since I'm in the editing phase of two novels, a reasonable goal means I need to have an idea of how much editing a scene needs. I have to guesstimate how many scenes and/or chapters I can make it through in a day, and then set goals accordingly. Round 2 of Row 80 has taught me to give myself more time than I think I need. I always think I'm quicker at editing than I am. Considering the fact that I am editing to share with a critique group, I want it to be "perfect." (Yes, I realize it will never be perfect, but that doesn't stop me from trying.)

So my editing takes a long time. It involves second-guessing, third-guessing and sometimes quadruple-guessing myself. However, having a weekly goal of getting through 1500 words of editing and posting it for my critique group encourages me to (okay, demands that I) get it done that week. It may take a little longer, or I may post before I'm completely happy with something. But it means that I meet my goal, and I can move ahead. All too often, I'm reluctant to share, thinking it's not quite ready, and then I let the weeks slide by. In the end, when I post, it's not much different from when I was working on it three weeks before. So all in all, Row 80 is forcing me forward. And forward is where I want to be. 

(I'll save my weekly update for Sunday, since that's the day I've been setting my weekly goals.)


Writing Quote Friday #4

“If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

Stephen King, On Writing

(You heard the man, get reading!)


When to Use Pronouns in Writing Fiction, Part I

Pronouns in fiction are some of those "invisible" words that can create a lot of problems if not used correctly.

A lot of beginning writers seem uncertain when to use pronouns, and use them prolifically or rarely.  Before my overuse of proper nouns was pointed out to me, I'd never considered this subject. I didn't think I littered my manuscripts with unnecessary tags or names, and I tried to vary my sentences as much as I can, reducing such references to names.

However, since this had come up a couple of times, I decided it was time that I research the subject.

Here's some of the reasons I've dug up for and against using pronouns.

Creates intimacy with the reader (link here)
Aids suspension of Disbelief (link here)

Can create confusion concerning the antecedent (link here)
In first person POV (point of view), "I" can litter the page and distracting (link here)
Incorrect usage of pronouns (link here)

Since being told about this nasty little habit of mine, I've worked hard to eliminate as many proper nouns as I can. The pronoun, after all, is nearly invisible. As a writer, I want my reader's eyes to fly over the pages, devouring my text, not constantly stutter over my MC's name. 

Next week we'll go more in depth on the reasons to use pronouns. 


What do you think? Are there other pros and cons for using or not using pronouns? Feel free to share in the comments section!


Row 80 Check-In (Check-In #6)

Another week down. Crazy how fast time seems to go when you have actual goals to accomplish. Let's see how I did.

Last week's goals (week of 9-15 June): 
1. Must finish outlining/story-boarding StM. (40 scenes to go) 
2. Turn off the TV at least two days this week from 7-5. 
3. Post my next chapter in POS for feedback this week (which involves first polishing them). I hope to post them by Tuesday.
4. Continue writing 750 words a day.

1. 24 scenes left to storyboard. (Much better than the stagnant 40 I've been at for weeks, but only halfway.)

2. 1.5/2 days. I've definitely been watching less TV, and that makes me feel great, much more accomplished.

3. I managed to post for POS and StM this week in my critique groups. Go me!

4. 7/7 days on 750 words. :-)

I'm very happy with my watching less TV. It's focused my "free" time on writing and reading. Since curbing the TV habit, I've been trying to read a lot more, and having 12 books checked out from the library helps... I'm currently finishing The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue, and need to start We, The Drowned before it's due. (Didn't realize that book was quite that long!)

This Saturday, my mom arrives from out of town, so I have to accomplish my weekly goals with that in mind. I really schedule my weekends off, so it shouldn't affect me too much until next week.

This week, my goals are as follows:

1. Finish storyboarding StM, all 24 scenes (that's only 4 scenes for 6 days).

2. Edit the next chapter on POS.

3. 7-5 blackout on TV for two days.

4. 750 words daily.

5. My writing lesson (F2K) and feedback for my classmates needs to be written and posted by Friday.

6. At least 3 critiques need to be written by Friday for my writing group.

~I. E.



How to Use Feedback Properly

While on a jog the other day, a biker passed me. Per the trail's rules, he called out, "On your left." But then he followed up with: "You've got a good pace." 

I'm not even sure if this second comment was directed at me, but I heard it as if it was. And instead of buoying me and making me run stronger, I spent the next five minutes of my jog mentally deconstructing my pace and trying to figure out if it was, indeed, a good pace.

This deconstruction of my pace and the ensuing distraction from my run led me to consider the following:

Feedback can be the best thing for your writing, and feedback can be the worst thing for your writing.

So in light of that epiphany, I came up with five ways to properly accept feedback.

1. Ask for feedback only when you are ready to hear it.

There have been times when a writing compliment has taken me by surprise. Sometimes, it has been exactly what I needed to drag me out of the Pit of Despair. Yet, there have also been times when a compliment has distracted me from my writing by giving me a "free pass" for ignoring a part of my writing that I have "right."

If I send a chapter I'm proud of to my critique group and it comes back with red ink all over it, I often find myself demoralized. Here's this chapter I thought was ready to go and looking good, and people tell me they can't understand the sentences I wrote? They must be wrong! No, instead I've realized that I am not ready to read feedback offered to me until I've checked my pride at the door. Sometimes it takes me awhile to look at comments after I've received them.

On the flip side, sometimes I send out a chapter which I'm insecure and uncertain about. Usually I do this when I don't know where else to go with the scene, sometimes because I've run out of time. But almost invariably, when I examine the feedback offered, I am encouraged and more accepting of the scene's faults.

2. Value good feedback.

Proper feedback requires that you check your pride and accept there may be something wrong with your work. If you think you're the sliced bread of the written word, you aren't going to listen to how you can improve the dough recipe or your slicing technique. You have to accept that something could be significantly wrong with your peice--and you have to be willing to make the changes.

If you ask for feedback with the attitude that your scene needs hardly any work, and that you know better than the other writers (or readers) examining your work, then chances are you won't be accepting the true value of the feedback offered to you.

3. Recognize poor feedback.

Undoubtedly, once you start asking for feedback, you will receive some comments that are invalid or inappropriate for your work (sometimes just plain incorrect). Because you are the author, you are the only one to know where you are going. You have the responsibility, as the author, to recognize the value or lack of value of the feedback you have received. A lot of this comes from experience, and from knowing what is true to your characters and your plot. While you must keep that in mind, you also must keep in mind that if one or two comments/questions pop up from each reader, you have an issue that probably needs to be addressed.

4. Give feedback. 

This may seem like an odd suggestion, but you learn a lot by picking apart your critique group's writing (in a constructive way, of course). Being able to recognize grammatical mistakes in another's writing is the first step in being able to see it in yours. This is true for other types of writing mistakes: plot holes, lack of characterization, overuse of certain words, etc. Some people like to dive into a new skill without a lesson, but those that study hard and build a foundation attain a higher level of skill faster. Giving feedback to other aspiring writers builds your writing foundation as you actively apply what you learn about writing.

5.  Read prolifically.

Reading has a direct effect on your writing. Next time you reread a favorite book, pay attention to more than your enjoyment of it. Why does it work so well? What are the turning points of the characters? How are the characters developed? How well does the language flow? What could that author have done better? If you were the author, how would you write the novel? 

Similar to giving feedback, it is easier to see faults in another's work, but when you read a published work, you are reading something that worked for at least one other person (if traditionally published). And if you never reread books, know that even bad books have something to teach you (usually bad books can teach you more). 

Allow yourself to be taught, and you will be surprised by how much you learn.



Row 80 Sunday Check-In (Check-In #5)

This past week got a bit ahead of me. Maybe I got a bit ahead of myself? I don't know what happened,
to be honest. It seemed Wednesday was here before I knew it, then I had promises to keep Thursday and Friday, Saturday flew by, and now it's Sunday afternoon, and I'm late for posting my Row 80 update! 

Last week's goals:
1/c. Must finish outlining/story-boarding StM.
2. Brainstorm for this short story idea I have.
3. Write a rough draft of this short story in my head, even if it's horrible
4. Turn off the TV at least two days this week from 7-5

b. Continue editing a minimum of 1000 words a day on POS.
d. Continue 750 words a day

This week's results:
1/c. Still not done. (I'm really failing on this one.)
2. Wrote this short story! Wow, this surprised me.
3. Complete! Rough draft done, this should be edited now.
4. Complete! 

b. Incomplete: accomplished this 1/7 days. Yikes.
c. Complete!

4/6 goals completed isn't too bad, especially when I haven't had any chance to sit down and write since Wednesday, so these were really accomplished in 3 or 4 days.

My thoughts:
The TV thing has been a real blessing in my writing life. I'm one of those people who puts the TV on out of habit, a need for noise/distraction/etc. While eating breakfast, feeding the animals, doing the dishes, the TV comes on. I've noticed recently that once the TV is on, it's psychologically difficult to turn it off. So by telling myself that the TV goes off at 7 a.m., I have limits. 

It feels good to do this every day or two and refocus on important things. When the TV is off for a long time, I pick up my to-be-read pile a lot more, I focus better on writing and giving feedback, I find a lot more time for things I've procrastinated. I want to keep this as a goal until it becomes habit.

This week's goals:
1. Must finish outlining/story-boarding StM. (40 scenes to go)
2. Turn off the TV at least two days this week from 7-5.
3. Post my next chapter in POS for feedback this week (which involves first polishing them). I hope to post them by Tuesday.
4. Continue writing 750 words a day.

Here's to a more accomplished week!