research, Writing

Novel Thoughts

I’ve begun work on another novel, working titled Unspoken. This is a secondary world fantasy novel that has involved a fair share of behind-the-scenes world building, which I’ve enjoyed a lot. It also gave me an opportunity to create two entirely new species, one predator and one prey, which, OMG is just fascinating. Talk about your research rabbit holes! I could research critters’ biology and habits until the cows come home, until the power grid goes down, until…well, you get the point. I kinda likes that sort of thing. ūüėČ

My process for this novel has changed from the previous ones, and those changed from the process I used before that. Basically, I’m moving from “pure pantster” to “whole lotta plotter.” This is not something I’d anticipated doing when I started writing seriously. It’s happened organically, and I’m happy with the changes so far, so… *shrugs.* Live and let live, right? Which also means to be willing to try something new if your old way just isn’t working for you anymore.

Unspoken has gone through three full levels of outlining–or outline editing, as I prefer to think of it. I’m thinking of each like a mini-draft of the novel itself, which let me get over the “just outlining” negativity. The first pass was simply taking the bits and bobs of story and imposing an order on them, then filling in the blanks. This was comparatively easy, as it’s how I started adding structure when I found pantsing wasn’t doing it for me. It’s fun. I saw the shape taking form, and it was thrilling (this was the only step I took for book one of Jess, btw).

The second editing level came next. I let the ideas simmer a week, then went back to the rough outline with a “Yes, But/No, And” checklist. The idea here is that every scene should have a protagonist with a goal, and for every scene I should ask “Did the goal get met?” The answer, of course, should never be “Yes” until the very end. It could be, “Yes, BUT…” and then something worse than the present situation came about. The answer could be “No, AND…” so that something worse came about. But always, things get worse, get more complicated, etc–even when some small victory is achieved, there is a setback.

That process drew my attention to where the story was fuzzy in my mind. Where the protagonist wasn’t fully on my mind, just the “really cool world building” or “here I’ll show how tough the desert is” and that kind of thing. Then came another cooling off period, a plot-breaking with others to see what was/wasn’t working, and my final round of editing: the scene/sequel process.

I found this bit at the old Jim Butcher LJ (scene bit here, and sequel bit here), and he’s carried the links to his new site, so honest, go read them! His “Scene” reiterates the “Yes, But/No, And” process, so for me, “Sequel” held the gold. I’ve always muddied my reactions, dallying too long around the emotions, etc. And even after the second edit of the outline, going through Unspoken scene by scene really let me zero in on the places where I was still dallying too long, or too unsure of what I was saying, or why. It was a frustrating process, but one that showed me–quite clearly and plainly–my own writing weaknesses.

And now I can’t imagine having written off that first draft of the outline! Nor do I want to imagine the process of trial and error to get three full written drafts to structural state this first draft will be–my mind simply boggles at the thought! That said, there are as many ways to write as there are writers who write. Do whatever works for you to get words on the page, and to feel good about them.

As for me and my writing style? I’m still a work in progress. My next novel will probably see yet another change in process. But that means I gotta get back to writing this one. So…*waves and disappears*

Taos Toolbox, Viable Paradise, Writing Workshops

It’s That Time of Year Again.

If you’re a writer, you know what I mean. December 1st (or January 1st) is when many writing workshops open their application period for the following year. I’ve been to two workshops: Viable Paradise in 2013, and Taos Toolbox this past summer of 2016. Both have been wonderful experiences, and I’ve met wonderful people–classmates as well as instructors–at both. If you’re looking for a workshop experience, I highly recommend either one of them. So, how do you decide?

Viable Paradise is open for applications Jan 1 – June 15, and the workshop this year is Oct 16-21. It’s held in Martha’s Vineyard, MA, and lasts one week. Both short story writers and novelists are welcome. At VP,¬†a whole bunch of instructors are there the whole time, and a couple special guests, as well. You may think, “Well, what can anyone learn in one week? That’s just not enough time.” And you’d be wrong. That week is intense. It’s filled to the brim with lectures and laughter and bonding and critiquing and reading and writing and food and fun and the Horror That is Thursday. You will arrive one person, and leave someone else. Maybe not obviously different, not at first. But fast or slow, you will be changed by your journey across the sea and back again.

Recap: one week; lots of instructors the whole time; no before-hand reading prep.

Taos Toolbox opens for applications on Dec 1, and has a sliding payment scale based upon when you applied (so it helps to apply early if you can). This workshop lasts two weeks, and is located near Taos, NM. It’s mostly novel-focused, but short story writers are welcome, too. Walter Jon Williams and Nancy Kress are the co-instructors the entire two weeks, and guest lecturers came in for an evening of extra instruction. This year’s three guests are George R. R. Martin and Steven Gould and E. M. Tippets, so you’ll certainly find something to your tastes there! Two weeks is twice one week, but the pace here is a bit slower, since there is more time . Also, we got reading packets before the workshop, so we¬†read and critted one another’s novel excerpts before arrival (mostly, at least!). There was a free weekend inside the workshop, too, when many of us explored and did fun things¬†(I hiked down Angel Fire Mountain with two other classmates–how often do you go hiking¬†above 10,000 feet, after all?–and most of us went on¬†a group tour of Taos Pueblo). We wrote, we read, we critiqued and learned the joys of “plot breaking” and talked writing until bats swooped into the skies, distracting us. We learned and learned and learned more. The desert skies changed us, and our words.

Recap: two weeks; two co-instructors and a few 1-day guests; lots of pre-workshop prep.

Of course, these are not the only workshops available. The big six-week workshops are Clarion, Clarion West, and Odyssey. While I’ve heard good things from those who’ve attended them, I haven’t gone to these, so I’m¬†only¬†linking to them for your convenience.

Of course, no one has to attend a workshop in order to become a writer. No one will look down on you, and your career as a writer won’t suffer if you never attend one. But if you can and want to attend, it’s a fun way to learn, to make friends at your own level, who’ll¬†go on to crit and hang out afterwards, both online and in real life. And those friends can see you through a world of ups and downs relating to writing and the writing life. They can make you feel less alone in the isolation of writing from your desk, wherever it may be. And that is never a bad thing.

If you can, I recommend you apply.

Moving, Personal Life, What I'm Reading, Writing

Failure, Success, and Keeping On with Keeping On

I’ve been busy lately: battling health issues, traveling, dealing with house hunting/moving, and yes, even writing. So I’m sorry to have let the blog here slip, but, well, something had to give. It was this¬†or what little remains of my sanity, and, well, hubby dearest is rather fond of my rare moments of sanity.

That said, I’ve got things on my mind (uh-hunh, and when don’t I?) and I’d like to share them. First off, Hugo voting. Wow. There are some amazing contenders for these awards. The artist categories are blowing me away. I’m reading the Novellas now, and again, just…wow. I hope to come back to this later, but let me encourage you to read some of the nominees in any category.

And now, a¬†thing that’s been preying upon my mind¬†for some time, bothering me. When I started thinking about writing seriously, I–like many others–read books on learning the craft of writing. I wanted guidance.¬†A helping hand pointing the right way, and barring the wrong way. I found some of¬†that, and am grateful for it.

But I also got ambivalent about trying to write, even afraid to try, when I read, over and over, the advice that goes something like: Writing is tough, so if you can walk away, if you don’t have a burning need to write, just don’t. Do something else, anything else, instead.

Well, I thought. I don’t have a¬†burning need to write. Not really. If I learned I had 6 months to live, I’d quite writing in a heartbeat. Honestly, I would. That said, I do love writing. I enjoy the written word, and always have. But I value living my life more, and I think that, for me, this is the right way to go about things. And so the newbie writer in my wondered: Does this make me a bad choice for a writer then? Should I just give up now? After all, so many writers say just that.

Fortunately, I¬†am¬†(as my grandpa would say) full of piss and vinegar. The surest way to make sure I do something is to tell me not to,¬†to¬†tell me that I’ll fail and therefore shouldn’t even try. That kinda makes me mad, and contrary. So, I kept at it,¬†writing¬†even when, deeply depressed by rejections, I remembered those words and wondered if they were really right, that I’d never make it since I didn’t burn with the need.

Just recently, I’ve read two separate posts on just this topic, and both have made me cheer, and punch the air. Yeah! So there! that little voice inside me cheered. And, Yes! I’m not alone in this feeling.

Let me give you these links. First is a post from Josh Vogt. It’s a sideways look at the subject, but one that really resonated with me. What is success? Does it only come in one size: writing full time for a living? Or can I make it something else? Read his post and see.

The second hits the target squarely in the eye. (I have to thank Philip De Parto of the Writers of the Weird for bring this ¬†one to my attention.) It’s a Locus Online posting from the incredible¬†Kameron Hurley¬†titled¬†“Busting Down the Romantic Myth of Writing Fiction, and Mitigating Author Burnout.”¬†Here, she comments on “not having the passion” vs “having the passion” and what that truly means in everyday terms. And she makes a surprising, and yet vindicating, conclusion. If you’re wavering, wondering if “this writing thing” is for you anymore, you may want to read this. Pronto.

 

Quote of the Week

Quote of the Week

There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are. ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†. ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†‚ÄďW. Somerset Maugham

There are so many rules, and guidelines, must-do’s and must-not-do’s, that it’s easy to forget that one is left standing there scratching one’s head, trying to make sense of the often-times conflicting advice.¬†Here’s what I’ve learned: every writer is different.

Just like some writers are strict Outliners, and some are dedicated Pantsters (writing by the seat of the pants, or without an outline of any kind), while many fall somewhere in between, so it is with everything else. No piece of advice applies to all writers. For some, getting up early to write (an often-repeated bit of advice for getting in daily writing) is the worst possible thing to do. Those people would be better served by staying up later, or maybe writing at lunch, in their cars if necessary. And some (gasp!) just can’t write every day, no matter what. But every other day if perfect for them, and in this way, in a week’s time they’ll exceed the output they’d make if they attempted writing daily. Because that “daily” bit just doesn’t work–for them–now.

Things change over time. We change, our minds change, our habits and our circumstances fluctuate. So we need to revisit things occasionally, to see if what once didn’t work now will.

When I first started writing, I couldn’t write on a computer. The clacking of the keys distracted me, made me feel horribly self-conscious. “Who the heck was I,” my internal editor demaned of me as I was cringing at the sound, “thinking I can write a story, a novel, even?¬†The nerve!” For me, at that time, writing in a notebook with a pen got me over my initial fear of writing. Eventually, I moved past that fear. The ease of editing in a computer swayed me, at last, along with a quieter keyboard. Now, while I sometimes go back to pen and paper, I usually write on my laptop.

Some folks start stories with nothing more than a gentle prompt. Others need at least two days to contemplate the character, the plot, and the storyline. Some people kill if you don’t use the Oxford comma, others smack you if you even think of using it.

Don’t sweat it. If it gets you writing, try it. If it works for you, do it again. If it doesn’t, try something else. End of advice.

So, what writing advice has worked for you? Or what hasn’t worked at all?