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!



Writing Quote Friday #2

This Friday's quote on writing comes to us courtesy of About.com.

"If you want to be a writer, you have to write every day. The consistency, the monotony, the certainty, all vagaries and passions are covered by this daily reoccurrence. You don't go to a well once but daily. You don't skip a child's breakfast or forget to wake up in the morning. Sleep comes to you each day, and so does the muse." (July 2000)

~Walter Mosley



ISWG: Trying To Do Too Much (Or Weaving Too Many Threads in Your Novel)

When I posed my last chapter to my critique group, I really wasn't quite sure how it would be reviewed. I was pleased to receive mostly good comments on it, but then a recurring comment occurred: the scene did a lot--possibly too much.

I know this novel I'm working on has a lot of threads (i.e. subplots). So many so that I have deliberately removed some threads that are less important to the story I want to tell. But it's led me to an interesting line of thought, and that is: how many threads are too many?

Say the chapter is 3000 words, one setting, essentially one long scene or two medium-sized scenes. Does tackling three or four subplots in that chapter constitute as "too many threads?" I don't know if there's a right answer here, but it's something that I've been thinking about. The last thing I want to do is pull my reader in too many directions at once, and I've been working on having all my scenes pull double-duty. I don't want a scene in my novel to only do one thing--even if I love the way it's written, every scene must do at least two things or it ends up on the cutting table. 

So, a part of me was thinking (before receiving feedback), that I was really making these scenes work and I was kicking butt in making my scenes do double-, triple-, even quadruple-duty. Then the comments came back, and although they weren't negative in the sense that it was too difficult to follow or even that my scene was divided, they made me consider: where is the point when a scene tries to do too much?

Now I find myself reconsidering each scene, wondering if it's not doing enough or if it's doing too much. I certainly don't want my reader overwhelmed, but I also don't want them underwhelmed. In some ways, I feel overwhelming them is better than underwhelming them, but then again... It seems that this may be one of those things that requires a delicate balance best determined by experience.



Row 80 Sunday Check-In (Check-In #4)


  I had several goals last week, some of which I forgot about... find last week's post here. I'm not going to address the ones I already completed as of last week, but the ones I hadn't completed are below.

Last week's goals: 

b) Edit an average of 1000 words a day on this WIP

WIP #2=StM
c) Storyboard StM and get the main points of this novel figured out for draft two

d) Write 750 words a day in my freewriting journal (ongoing goal)

Additional Goals for week of 25 May 2013-01 June 2013:

1. Finish storyboarding StM this week and examine what needs to be done in my revisions.
2. Brainstorm for a short story I've been digging my heels in about writing. 
3. Work from home at least one day this week.
4. Turn off the TV from 7-5 at least one day this week.


b) 7/7 days completed
c) began, about 1/3 way through
d) 7/7 days completed (6241/5250 words)

1. forgot about, will roll over into next week

2. started today, must continue next week
3. Work from home at least one day this week. (done, although not very successfully)
4. Turn off the TV from 7-5 at least one day this week. (2/1 times)

This 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

Whew! That feels ambitious. I'd better get started...