Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Day 21 - Reflection and Progress

There has been a great deal going on in my personal life over the past few days that have made it difficult to concentrate and nearly impossible to write.

My husband's mother is approaching her last days here with us. It is heartbreaking to watch her slip away, but more so to watch the pain of the family. Soon her suffering will come to an end, while that of her husband, children, grandchildren, and everyone else in this large closely-knit family will grow.

I often preach about the importance of making and taking time to write. About how crucial it is to set daily goals and stick to them no matter how badly you may feel.

The truth of the matter is there will be times in everyone's life so tumultuous that everything else (including writing) will take a back seat to just dealing with surviving and helping loved ones survive.

Does this mean I still won't encourage others to make time to write? Or to set and keep daily goals? Does it mean that I will no longer hold myself accountable for these things as well? Absolutely not.

As with all things, "this too shall pass." And when the regular chaos of life returns, I will pick up my pen and make myself write. Until then, I will write when I feel like it. There are times I even find it soothing to escape into my work and live in that other world for awhile.

I guess what I'm trying to say is this. Writing is personal. It is probably one of the most individualized activities in which a person can engage. What works for one person, may or may not work for another. I like to share activities and resources that have worked for me, but it does not mean they will work for everyone.

Just keep that in mind when you are reading the umpteenth article you've found about how to write more or write better or whatever. Never be hesitant to try something new, and if you find something that works for you, use the hell out of it. If it doesn't work, don't dwell on it - just move on. And remember there will be times that life is completely out of control, and day when you don't write anything. And that's okay too.

Until next time. . .

Good Day and Good Writing to you all!

Novel Stats - pages: 83; word count: 22079
For the past month - beginning word count: 5683; word count for the month: 16396
Currently, Welcome to anytown is approximately 1/4 completed

Friday, August 15, 2014

Day 20 - Writer's Block and Mining for Ideas Through Generators

For me, writing is much like riding a bike along mountainous terrain with bouts of terrible struggle to get up the hill followed by the exhilaration of gliding swiftly down the other side.

I thought that detailed outlining and planning would be helpful, and it has been - but not this week. This week has been a struggle. While I have been diligent about sitting down to write every day, the story has eluded me.

This week has been a test of my fortitude as a writer. When the writing is going well, it is easy to say, "I love writing." When the writing is going badly, it is easy to ask, "What was thinking when I decided to write a novel?" For me, the thoughts of being a failure actually work as an impetus pushing me forward. It keeps me working even though I may only write 100 words, and that scant offering is like trying to take a bone away from a hungry dog.

I keep at it because I realize this is just a part of the journey. Eventually, I will reach the crest of that hill and fly down the other side.

What Do I Do When I'm Struggling with Writing?

I use the times when I am slogging along up the mountain to engage in my 3 R's. I read. I revisit. And I research.

READ - This week's reading has been provided courtesy of Richard Matheson's Nightmare at 20,000 Feet: Horror Stories. Matheson's writing inspires me. His stories epitomize the fact that sometimes the worst monsters come from within us.

REVISIT - Sometimes it's old stories, sometimes it's whatever I am currently working on. This week, it's been old writer's journals. Revisiting things I have previously written sometimes will jump start ideas for current projects or remind me of ideas for new projects. This week's offerings have inspired a couple of new short story ideas.

RESEARCH - This takes many forms depending on where my head is at when I begin. Sometimes it is research for a current project. Often it is craft research on some aspect of writing that I am working on. This week it was research for ideas. This week's research led me to the discovery of a ton of random writing generators, and these are what I am going to share with you today.

Random Writing Generators from Around the Web

  1. Plot Suggestions Generator from RanGen - choose a genre and get plot ideas.
  2. Random Title Generator - Gives 6 results at a time to help spark ideas. Also an excellent tool for free writing.
  3. Character Appearance Generator from RanGen - choose gender, type, and detail level. Get a brief physical character sketch.
  4. Bulk Identity Generator from Fake Name Generator- Need a crowd of identities? Look no further. Choose name sets, countries, genders, ages, fields to include (given name, surname, middle initial, address, and much more), and quantity (up to 50,000). The whole list will be delivered to your email as soon as it is complete.
  5. Identity Generator, also from Fake Name Generator - get a single detailed identity generated based on gender, name set, and country.
  6. Character Quirk Generator - Random ideas to make your character more unique.
  7. Character Motive Generator - Another offering from RanGen. Looking for what drives your characters? Find ideas here.
  8. Cause of Death Generator from springhole.net. This generator offers cause of death for characters, but the site has many other interesting generators to choose from.
  9. Fantasy Name Generator - Choose from a long list of types of names to generate, from serious to fun to specialized and generate away.
  10. Worlds Terrain Generator from RanGen - Where are your characters going next? Choose forest, ocean, desert, mountain, jungle, or river and receive a description of the area.
  11. Worlds City Generator from RanGen - Offers a collection of statistics to lay the foundation for your fictional city or town.
  12. City Map Generator - Downloadable program that allows users to create a physical map of their town or city.
  13. The Forge - For help with all things fantasy. The linked portal takes users to fantasy name generator; creature name generator; spell, effect, and arcane name generator; and setting and location name generator.
  14. Serendipity - another site with a collection of generators, including city and country name generators and a variety of character name generators.
  15. chaotic shiny - Tons of fantasy-themed generators. People to culture, accessories to evil, plot to color. This site has a lot to offer.
  16. RanGen - While I've included specific links to several generators on this site, there is so much more available. Many more generators and monthly writing challenges, A visit to the site is worth your time.

I hope you can find something helpful or worthwhile among these sites. If nothing else, they are great resources for free writing, challenge writing, or sprint writing activities. 

Until next time. . .

Good Day and Good Writing to you all!

Novel Stats - pages: 72; word count: 19986 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Day 19 - Writing and Dialogue

The writing has been slow and steady. Chapter 9 (AKA Warnings and Watches) is complete, and Chapter 10 (better known as 1916) is on its way to becoming a fully realized section. Chapter 9 is highly dependent on the occurring dialogue, so I thought dialogue would be a good topic for discussion.
Anyone who has attempted to write dialogue knows it can be tricky. Good dialogue can transport the reader into the mind of the speaker, offer insights into the character, and help solidify story elements such as location and time period. Conversely, reading poorly written dialogue can become the literary equivalent of getting a root canal – something to be avoided at all costs.

Personally, I have a few tricks I use to try to improve my dialogue.

1.  I take a page from Steinbeck and read what I write aloud. Sometimes I even enlist my kids to read the conversation I write, which often works even better. Hearing the words out loud is one of the best ways to catch inconsistencies in voice, over-use of dialect and/or accent, misuse of dialogue tags, and gaps in flow. 

2. I eavesdrop on conversations when I’m in public. I promise this is not nearly as creepy as it sounds. Really listening to the way people talk to one another is a fantastic way to learn about writing dialogue. Pay attention to the age of the people talking, the pace of their conversation, and pauses and fillers used (e.g. umm, like, ya know, ETC). While writing dialogue and transcribing it are two totally different things, listening to people converse in the real world can help make fictional conversations feel more realistic.
     3.  In the same vein as #2, I also watch people in public. (Again, not as creepy as it sounds.) Conversations do not happen in a vacuum. People move around. They gesture. They make faces. They engage in movement and action. A conversation written without these things will feel flat and fake.

As with most things related to writing, there are many great resources to help writers improve their dialogue-writing skills. Here are a few of my favorites.

1.  10 Easy Ways to Improve Your Dialogue from Ali Luke on write to done.

2.  How to write dialogue that works from Creative Writing Now

3.  Speaking of Dialogue by Robert J. Sawyer on sfwriter.com

If you are struggling with dialogue, you must be diligent about searching out ways to improve your dialogue skills. As with all things writing, the more you study it and the more you do it, the better you become.
Until next time. . .
Good Day and Good Writing to you all!

Novel Stats – pages: 69; word count: 19100

Friday, August 8, 2014

Day 18 - Writing and Character Building

The novel has been humming along nicely for the past two days. I have been doing A LOT of character work over the past two days; and with the imminent completion of Chapter 9 (either tonight or tomorrow), I will enter Chapter 10 and begin the whole character building process again.

Because every other chapter of my novel addresses the lives and deaths of a variety of characters from the past, I decided character building would be an excellent topic to talk about for this post.

A couple of days ago, I struggled to complete my last story for Chapter 8. When the character finally emerged, the writing came very quickly. After I was done, my daughter asked me how the novel was going. I told her, “Good, now that Rebecca informed me her name is actually Lila, and the way she died was not even remotely what I thought it was.” First, she looked at me as if I was crazy. Then, she patted my hand and said, “Okay, Mom. Whatever you say.” J

Building Characters

Writers have as many ways to build their characters as there are characters in literature. Being heavily influenced by visuals, I always tend to see my characters before anything else. After that, if everything works out well, they will begin to tell me about themselves and their stories.

I have always seen value in creating character sketches because, let’s face it, it doesn’t matter how fantastic your setting is or how engaging your plot may be, if you don’t have strongly developed characters to live in that world and carry out that plot, then you have nothing. I use character sketches at different times during my writing. Many times they are the first thing I do when I begin a story. Other times I will revisit character sketches while I am writing or when I decide to introduce a new character.

Often, if I find myself stuck in the middle of the story and not knowing where we are going next, it is because I do not know my character well enough. Rewriting or revising the character sketch can reinvigorate the story. It is my opinion that if you are involved deeply enough with your characters, it doesn’t matter what you throw at them – you are going to understand how they will react and why. This can dramatically affect both the output and quality of the writing.

I unequivocally believe that any writer can benefit from taking the time to do character sketches – no matter how long he/she has been writing or how much he/she has written.With this in mind, I would like to share a couple of resources I use to complete this important process.

Writing Resources for Character Building 

First, Character Questionnaires are a great way to get to know your characters. There are two good examples available through Gotham Writers. You can even download them as .doc files to fill in on Word or to print out and fill in longhand depending on your personal preferences.

Second, I personally also use character sketches to fill in my characters’ back-stories. I find this helps me not only get to know my characters, but also to gather information that I can use to show readers where my characters’ actions, feelings, and motivations come from. It is particularly helpful for creating flashbacks and dropping clues within my stories. Corey Blake has written a wonderful article featured on movie outline – Writing Characters Using Conflict & Backstory. My heartfelt suggestion is to read this article and follow its directions.

Until next time,

Good Day and Good Writing to you all!

Novel Stats – pages: 66; word count: 18377

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Day 17 - No Writing Today, Researching Writer's Platforms

Day 17

I'm not going to try to defend my lack of writing yesterday. I didn't write - not a paragraph, not a sentence, not a word. I own the fact that I did not make the time to move my story forward. 

It sucks! But, it happens to most writers at one time or another. The important thing is to not make excuses - "oh, I had x, y, or z going on yesterday, otherwise I most certainly would have gotten some writing done." 

Sorry, but there are no justifications for not doing your job. At the end of the day, writers must hold themselves accountable for their writing. Whether you have an editor breathing down your neck or simply a group of supportive friends and family, you, dear writer, are the beginning and end of the work. No one can do the work for you, and no one is responsible for it getting done except you.

So, today, I will pull myself up by the bootstraps and make time to write.

Instead of Writing

What did I do instead of writing yesterday? Well, I'm glad you asked. 

I spent my writing time yesterday researching and reading about creating and building a writer's platform. If you've been writing and selling (or trying to sell) your work for awhile, you probably know all about this concept. However, if you are new to the world of publishing and self-marketing, then you are probably not familiar with the term.

A writer's platform is the public, online, and publishing presence writers build for themselves. Not only do you need to write a kick-ass story that people want to buy and read, you also have to take the time to get your name and ideas out there for other people to see. Unless you plan to go the self-publishing route, publishers expect you to have the drive and tenacity to get this done.

Now, you may be thinking this is a case of putting the horse before the cart, but I assure you it is not.

Since it is election time around the country, look at it this way - being a writer who hopes to be published is much like running a political campaign. Name recognition is important, but the ability of the voters (publishers) to find out about you, your ideas, and brand (platform) is imperative.

Susan Grigsby, one of my writing mentors, has told me many times about the importance of self-marketing, particularly online. To paraphrase Susan: 

Potential publishers will look for you online if they are interested in your work. They want to see that not only have you taken the time to build an online presence, but also that you have the technological skills to do so. If the choice comes down to two authors, one who has a strong online presence and one who doesn't, they will choose the one with over the one without every time.

The fact of the matter is this - publishers only spend marketing money on their top selling authors. The remainder are expected to market themselves and their work. This is where building your writer's platform comes into the picture. In my personal research of a wide assortment of publishers, I have found approximately 25% (particularly smaller presses) ask about either what you are willing to do to help market yourself (readings, conferences, workshops, ETC) or what platforms you are currently active on (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, ETC) - more often than not, they ask both.

Resources for Building Your Writer's Platform

During my research yesterday, I found some good resources to share with you about this important facet of being or becoming an author.

Moving Forward

I am going to have to work on this process. I tend to get lost in a time suck when I enter some of these online forums. I need to streamline the process. I'm looking into HootSuite to help with that (fingers crossed).

For now, I'm imposing time constraints on the amount of time I spend in these online endeavors (because there really is no point if I never finish this book). The way I figure it, if I can't accomplish what I need to in an hour, I'm not doing it right.

I'm going back to my writing. Yesterday, I encountered a stubborn little girl who insists her story be told differently than I first saw it in my head, so I had better get to it.

Good Day and Good Writing to You All!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Writing Day 16

I chose this bit of wisdom regarding rejections today because I feel it is something I need to remember as I ready myself to jump back into the fray - the wonderful world of editors and publishers and rejection letters.

Coming off a rejection for my most recent academic offering, it becomes imperative to remind myself that my writing does have worth. On the plus side, two of the three reviewers did say that while my piece was not quite academic enough for their use, it was a promising op/ed piece for a different venue. so, that's exactly what I did with it. I used it, along with some of the resources I discovered while writing it, as a new post for my academic blog. If you are interested, you can read it here.

Having digitally submitted my children's book to two publishers and getting my hard copies and queries ready to submit to three additional houses, I feel it is necessary to remind myself again that even if my book doesn't find a home with one of these publishers, there are more out there. I just have to keep looking. Now, an interesting thing about children's publishers is that they do not send rejection letters. If they are interested, they will respond to you within a given time frame - usually 3-4 months. If they are not interested, you will hear nothing from them at all. They will recycle your manuscript and move to the next one in their pile. There is an awful lot of waiting involved in publishing, but I'm not sure how I feel about submitting and not getting anything back. However, if you think about it, it's just like filling out job applications - submit them and keep your fingers crossed someone will call you.

In the writing class I took over the summer, we spent a good chunk of time talking about publishing, researching publishers, writing query letters, and working out the best way to present our work to editors. In the process, I learned a great deal about matching your work to publishers and querying with an eye toward not only each house's current catalog, but also their affiliates and partners. Getting published (especially the first time) is A LOT of work. It's not for the faint of heart, that's for sure.

If you are looking at publishing, the best advice I can give you is be prepared to do your research. Get your hands on a copy of Writer's Market (you can get the previous year's volume at a deep discount which is fine because by the time the next one gets published many of the entries are already outdated or you can subscribe online for $5.99/month). Visit the publishers' websites, check their criteria, browse their catalogs, read their books, research their company, and decide which houses seem like a good fit for your work. Submit to a variety of publishers (make sure they accept simultaneous submissions [SS]) both large houses and small. Do not submit to publishers not accepting unsolicited submissions. Make sure you read their guidelines carefully AND follow them to the letter. Personally, I would not submit to a publisher who doesn't accept SS unless I felt strongly that they were the ones for me.  The publishing world changes quickly, so I don't see the value in paying for a subscription when I am going to have to do all this work either way.

At the end of the day, I write because I love to write. I will continue to write for the same reason. I'm not saying it wouldn't be wonderfully satisfying to see my work in print or to see it in the hands of readers who enjoy it as much as I do, but whether or not this happens, I will continue to write (and to look for homes for my work).

With all this being said, let's talk about the novel for a moment.

It is steadily coming along. I finished another section of Chapter 8 today. One more and I'll be ready to move on to Chapter 9 (and back to Verity's story again). While I did a lot of work today, I didn't get as much writing done as I would've liked - 592 words today. But before I beat myself up too much, I did get almost 600 words and really that's nothing to sneeze at. :)

Tomorrow, I will be talking about another aspect of writer's work beyond writing - self-marketing AKA building your writer platform, but until then. . .

Good Day and Good Writing to you all!

Today's Stats -

NIP - WTA - pages: 58; word count: 16121

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Writing Days 14.5/15

Today, I chose to include this quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald because over the course of my writing work this week, I have discovered that there are far more people living in my head than I previously believed.

To put this into perspective, I feel it is necessary to provide you with a little background on the current novel. The story follows Verity, a woman born and raised in the rural Midwest, who upon beginning work on a community-based genealogy project realizes something isn't quite right in her idyllic small town. As she begins investigating the cycle of deaths she has uncovered, she  begins experiencing vivid dreams of these "accidental" deaths from the perspective of the deceased. So, over the course of the novel, she not only is telling the story of her search to find answers and uncover the truth, but also the stories of the unfortunate souls who have lost their lives in and around the town.

If I were to say this involves a lot of stories, I feel like I would be downplaying the reality of the novel. It is a ton of stories - or a shit ton if you'll forgive my overuse of a colloquialism. All of these people insisting their stories be told becomes somewhat overwhelming if I think about it too much. So, I have decided, much like Verity, that I will tell them one at a time as I come to them rather than ponder on the enormity of the task as a whole.

I have to say one of the positive aspect of this experience is that I am still madly in love with this story, and from everything I've read, this is a good sign for me. Also, I constantly doubt whether anyone will actually want to read it when I finish; however, according to my sources, this is also totally normal. So there you go.

I have one complaint over the past two days which I feel obligated to share. I am certain that I am not the only one this happens to, so here it is. WHY is it that I can sit and stare at the television for hours and no one feels the need to speak to me, BUT as soon as I open the laptop and put the ear-buds in, everyone in my house is suddenly possessed with the need to engage me in conversation or ask me questions or beg me to do something for them??? Why is that? It drives me absolutely up the wall! I'm like "OK guys, I have been sitting on the couch for two and a half hours watching crap, but as soon as I start typing, you all need me for something!" Good Grief! I feel like Charlie Brown - can't win for losing. Anyway, I needed to get that out there. I feel better now. I just have to remind my family members from time to time that if I am typing, I am working, and they are NOT to bother me when I'm working. :)

I believe that's it for the past two days. The novel is steadily progressing in a forward motion which is a good thing. Chapter 8 is nearing completion, and after finishing Chapter 9, I will officially be a quarter of the way through the project. Hopefully, this week will be at least as productive as the last few days have been. Of course, either way, I will let you know. :)

Good day and Good Writing to you all!

Writing Stats -

NIP - WTA - pages: 56; word count: 15529

Friday, August 1, 2014

Writing Day 14

I love this quote from Joseph Heller. It seems that when you write, trouble is just a part of the process. I think this is so important to remember when you are writing anything, but especially when you are working on something as long and drawn out as a novel. Sometimes, when the trouble comes it seems like you will never write anything again. And that negative outlook is just no good. You begin doubting your writing ability ("I don't really think I can write anyway."), then you doubt your capability ("Even if I could write, a project like this is just beyond the scope of my abilities."), then you doubt your publishability ("Even if I ever get this thing written, no one is ever going to publish it."), finally, you doubt your salability ("Even if someone takes a chance on publishing it, no one will ever read it.") Okay, so I took some liberties with the -abilities, but you get my meaning. It all becomes a spiraling mess of self-doubt circling the trash can drain.

With this in mind, I have taken a couple of days respite from the novel to re-energize and refocus my writing. And you know what? It actually worked! Can you believe it?

If you have read my previous entries, then you know Verity (my main character) and I have been having a bit of a struggle with telling her story in a way that suited both of us. I did move forward with other aspects of the story, but because Verity is THE center of the story, it just seemed wrong to move on without her.

Yesterday, my daughter and I took a field trip. Just as Verity had to "go home," I decided I needed to take that trip myself. To go out and drive the back roads, to be out in the country (the real country), to go down those old gravel roads and pick wildflowers, to be "home."

Just for fun, here are a few of the pictures I took on our little field trip.

"Going home" has been highly productive for both me and Verity. Today, I finished Chapter 7 and half of Chapter 8. I also posted two new articles to my education blog (Building Intelligence Plus Character). All in all, a full day of work. I believe I my need to make field trips a regular part of my process. :) So, until next time. . .

Good day and Good Writing to you all!

Today's stats -

NIP - WTA - pages: 51; word count: 13621