Category Archives: Writing

A to Z Challenge Theme Reveal!

During the month of April, I will be participating in the A to Z Blogging challenge. This is my first year, and I’m really looking forward to participating. The idea is to write a post for every day of the month except Sundays, and have each post relate to a different letter of the alphabet. So I’ll start out on April 1st with a post related to the letter A, and end on the 30th with a post related to the letter Z.

Although not required, many participants will choose a theme for their posts. While the most important thing for me is just to write something each day, I am going to try a theme for my posts this year. And that theme is…

Book reviews!

I’m going to use titles or characters to tie in to the letters. Not only will this help me become better about blogging regularly, it will be good motivation for me to keep up with my Goodreads reading challenge so as to have more material for posts.

I’m really looking forward to visiting other blogs during the challenge, and seeing the ways other bloggers use the letters of the alphabet to inspire them. If you’re participating, feel free to share your blog link in the comments.

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NaNoEdMo Week 3: Those crazy characters

So I’m getting this out a little late, because I had a deadline to meet last week on an unexpected project. I was asked to do a guest blog post for a major website, an honor which I feel was completely unearned. I’m pretty pleased with what I wrote, though, and I’ll share the link here as soon as it’s up. Let’s face it, I’ll be sharing that with everyone who will listen. I’m pretty excited. Because of this, I’m ridiculously behind on my NaNoEdMo hours, and I actually forgot to log them at all last week. So I will not be winning this year. Nevertheless, I am still plowing ahead with my revision of PQ.

One of the biggest areas needing improvement in my novel is my characters. As is typical in a first draft, I had characters who walked into scenes and then never appeared again. Others were very inconsistently portrayed, both in small details and their motivations. My villain was weak, and actually fairly undefined. The climax involved a war between forces that had never been properly introduced. I had a major character start a scene talking about his wife, then completely ignored that and had him be single for the rest of the novel. These are the sorts of things you do when you’re writing a first draft. You change your mind, move on, and pledge to fix them in revision.

Actually fixing them is not always easy. In analyzing my characters, I realized that I had made the wrong person the villain. A different character had much better motivation to oppose my protagonist, and it was possible to keep his identity hidden until ultimately using it as the biggest twist in the story. This means that I am now re-plotting my entire novel, because this character had been more of a pawn in the big picture of the first draft. In some cases, I’m just tweaking existing scenes to place him in a position of power. In others, I’m scrapping entire scenes and adding new ones.

Another character issue I found is a bit of a tougher call. I realized that my protagonist has no friends. Well, she has one friend who disappears about halfway through the story, and who is little more than set dressing. The trouble is, I’ve written a very independent protagonist who is used to spending time on her own because of her profession, and who has only just returned to her home city after years of being away. I’ve decided to bring in some new characters that were friends of hers during her time away, and I’m looking for ways to better incorporate the one friend I originally wrote.

When considering character changes, the biggest question I’ve been asking myself is, “How does this person help the story?” Clearly defining each character’s role in the story is the first step in making sure you have the right cast of characters. Weeding out extraneous characters makes the story flow better for your readers, and can tighten up your scenes. I’m getting rid of probably a dozen one-off characters, but adding nearly as many supporting cast members to flesh out the story where it was thin on first draft.

Have you had to cut a character you loved? Or maybe, like me, you realized your protagonist had no allies to help them reach their goals? Share your own experiences in the comments. I’ll have one more NaNoEdMo post later this week. If you’re participating, let me know how your revision is going and if you’re on-target for total editing hours. You can do it!

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NaNoEdMo Week 2: Your Story, Re-imagined

These days, it seems like remakes are everywhere. From comic book heroes to fairy tales to classic musicals and cult favorites, Hollywood is bringing plenty of re-imagined stories to the big screen. Sometimes these stay fairly close to the original material, other times only the bare bones of the familiar stories remain. And since people have been retelling old stories pretty much as long as stories have been told, I doubt that trend is ending any time soon.

Revision is just another form of this kind of adaptation. You take the story you originally wrote, and turn it into a fresher version of itself. You might introduce a whole new cast of supporting characters. Maybe you’ll move things to a new setting. In my current project, I’m drastically changing the plot. Glancing just at the series of events that occur in the book, my rewritten novel bears little resemblance to the first draft. Yet both are undeniably the same story at heart.

So how do you know what to keep when you know your story doesn’t work in draft form? Unfortunately, this is one of those situations where the answer depends on the story and the writer. It’s also why I don’t recommend taking a first draft to critique partners, even very good ones. Knowing what to cut and what to keep, which direction your new adaptation of your story should take, comes from within yourself as writer. What made you write the story in the first place? What is sacred to you within it? With PQ, my urban fantasy, I could not sacrifice Celtic mythology influences on the magical world I created, or my main character and her unique definition of beauty. In my current rewrite, I’m putting my focus on making sure the magical elements are present throughout the story, and on strengthening my characters. To do so, I’m tightening my plot and removing anything that detracts from the core of the story I want to tell.

One of my favorite things to do is play the “What if…” game. I do this most often in the pre-writing stage, when I’m brainstorming new story ideas, but it’s really helpful when I’m stuck on how to fix a problem draft as well. I ask myself questions like, “What if this happened in Spain instead of the US?” or “What if Bob isn’t the villain? What if it’s Suzy instead?” The more outrageous the question, the better the results. My writer friends are great at asking good questions when I’m stuck. I’ll give them a quick elevator pitch of what I’m working on, or break the problem down into a few sentences, and they’ll throw out awesome questions for me. Since change can be hard, one of the best things I’ve learned is to just roll with their questions or suggestions rather than dismissing things out of hand. They may not always know the best way to change my story, but they always give me a fresh perspective, which is just what this sort of re-imagining work needs.

If you’re feeling stuck in your revision, take a break from the manuscript and start asking yourself questions. You may feel like you’re losing your mind, but let’s face it, if you’re a writer you’re at least halfway there already. In addition to the “What if…” starter, other favorite questions are, “What’s the worst thing that could happen here?” and “What’s the last thing you would expect to happen next?” Both are great for building conflict and keeping the reader’s interest.

If you’re participating in NaNoEdMo or otherwise doing revision, I’d love to hear your own tricks for re-imagining your stories, as well as any stumbling blocks you’re hitting along the way. I’m behind on editing hours because I got an amazing writing opportunity with a looming deadline (more on this when I can share it later). I should be able to get caught up in the last half of the month, though. I’m really having fun adapting my rather wrecked first draft into a much better version of itself. This is one story that needed a remake, and I’m happy to see it shaping into something new.

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NaNoEdMo Week 1: Giving your novel a workout

I hate to work out. I don’t like being sweaty. I feel ridiculous doing repetitive exercises or lifting weights. Knowing the benefit of these things doesn’t make it any easier to start doing them.

That’s how I feel about starting revision on any project. New ideas are fun for me. It’s simple for me to start writing a first draft if I’ve got something that intrigues me. Most of the time, though, that passion and energy dwindles greatly as I write the draft. Even if I love what I’ve written, it’s hard to commit to returning to it later to face the hard work of revision.

Beginning to revise a novel is a bit like going to a gym for the first time. You may get a quick orientation, but after that, you’re pretty much left wondering where to start, how to even use half the equipment, and feeling like everyone can see your flaws and will be judging your every move. My first reread of anything I’ve written is painful. I find criminally bad grammatical errors, underdeveloped plots and characters, dropped threads, and every other mistake imaginable. It would be far easier to shove it in a drawer and never look upon it again. True, some projects do meet that fate. There are some stories I don’t care to refine, to share with the world. Sometimes the act of creating the story is enough. But most deserve more exploration.

What I’ve learned is that I can motivate myself to do almost anything–even work out–if I see a direct benefit in doing it. It has to connect with me. I found motivation to exercise when I joined roller derby. I hated the drills, the crunches, endurance exercises, the reek of our protective gear (hockey players may be the only others who understand exactly how badly these things stink), and the pain of injuries. I had to do squats to strengthen my legs and core, stretches to develop flexibility. I had to learn how to fall so that if I was hit I could avoid getting run over by other skaters and be able to get back up as quickly as possible. Learning to deliver a hit well is difficult. Whips–a fan favorite–seem simple but take proper timing and execution to be effective, and can cause injuries if done improperly. But I loved skating, and in particular, skating alongside incredible women who hit hard but were fiercely supportive of each other. So I did all these and more, knowing that even if they were really difficult for me, these exercises made me a better derby skater. They also got easier the more I did them

Tackling a revision requires very different tactics than planning and writing a first draft. Just as I never could have just jumped into a derby bout and been successful–quite frankly, I would’ve ended up in the hospital–starting all over from scratch and writing a new draft can’t be the only tactic in getting your novel into a polished form others will want to read (and hopefully spend their hard-earned money to buy). Developing structure, plot, characters, voice all take different strategies. And just like physical exercises, these tactics get easier over time.

It’s hard work to slog through a manuscript, finding its flaws. It’s even harder to cut out parts you may love that just aren’t working. Sometimes you have to play around with the order of scenes. Other times you may need to add characters or give some the boot. And yes, eventually, you’ll need to clean up grammar, spelling, and word choice in order to make the final draft sparkle. Sometimes you’ll mess things up trying to make improvements. Working on improving your novel will improve your craft. Eventually, you may not make the same mistakes you’re making now. You’ll make new ones, of course, but that’s the learning curve for any activity.

If you’ve got a project that needs some liberal use of a red pen to get it into shape, why not join me and many others in participating in National Novel Editing Month? NaNoEdMo takes place each March, and challenges each participant to spend 50 hours during the month editing an existing novel. Check out their community at www.nanoedmo.com for more information, and let me know in the comments if you’re participating. I’d love to cheer you on as you work to improve your own project!

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Why I’m giving up books for Lent

Yep, I’m giving up books for Lent. No, I’m not halting my reading challenge or anything crazy like that. And I’m certainly not giving up writing. This is a specific sacrifice, one that hits me fairly hard after the last year. Beware: there are potential TMI moments in this post.

For each of the 40 days of Lent, I’m giving away one of the books from my children’s book collection. But yes, I’m saying I’m giving them up, because what I’m sacrificing is what those books represent. I’ve collected children’s books since I was a teenager, and have shelves full of picture books, mid-grade treasures, and of course, amazing YA novels. Some of these I keep because they are stories that I read again and again, tales that have had a huge impact on my writing and that inspire me to craft my own novels. Many I read to my nieces and nephews, who have now outgrown picture books. But I know that part of why I have collected these over the years was in the hopes of passing on to my own children the same love of reading that my parents instilled in me when I was young.

I’ve always wanted to be a mom,and my husband and I had hoped to have a big family. But for years, I’ve battled fertility issues. A year and a half ago, I had a miscarriage. It was the only time we ever conceived. Then last summer, my husband was diagnosed with testicular cancer.

For those who don’t know, the only way presently to diagnose testicular cancer is to actually remove the testicle and biopsy it after it’s been removed. Since Josh’s first surgery was done on an emergency basis, we didn’t have time to discuss fertility preservation until after his diagnosis. The cost for cryobanking is high, not covered by insurance even for cancer patients, and most agencies who provide financial assistance in these cases require that no treatments be started which could reduce fertility–including surgeries. The timetable the doctors wanted to follow didn’t give us time to save up or raise funds to cover the costs, and the hospital requires prepayment for all fertility preservation services with no exceptions. We had to make the tough choice to go ahead with Josh’s second surgery without banking, because stopping the cancer from spreading was the most important thing.

So now you all know why I was absent from blogging for so long. I spent about two months just helping my husband recuperate from surgeries. Then there were all the tests and meetings with doctors. His tumor was atypical, and he has all the risk factors for recurrence. After much back and forth, we made the decision–approved by two of his three oncologists–to forgo any chemotherapy or radiation treatment at this time, opting for observation only. This means we’re on the five-year cycle of appointments, monitoring him closely for any signs of the cancer’s return.

It’s been frightening, but we’re hopeful that he’s beating this. It just came at a price, far greater than the financial costs. We had to accept that we will never be able to have children of our own, and the high cost of battling cancer pretty much puts adoption out of reach as well.

A few weeks ago, my employer announced that all of our locations are going to be collecting children’s books to donate to local youth programs in the weeks leading up to March 2nd, Dr. Seuss’s birthday and Read Across America Day. I knew I wanted to contribute, but only this morning decided that this is what my Lenten sacrifice will be. I am going to give one book from my collection for each of the 40 days of Lent. I will still keep some favorites, ones that I enjoy as an adult and some that I want to share with my godchildren, who are still young enough to enjoy them. But I plan to purge most of my collection, using this sacrifice as a means of finding acceptance of everything that has happened this past year. It’s a new way of finding healing through story–this time, remembering that endings are just as important as beginnings.

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My Big, Fun, Scary Goals for 2015!

It probably says something about how my year is going so far when it’s nearly the end of January and I’m just now writing my first post of 2015. (Never mind for the moment the fact that I didn’t write anything for the interwebs for pretty much the entire second half of last year.) In truth, I’ve been using the month thus far to make progress on one very big goal. You see, I’ve decided to up my reading goal this year. My self-imposed challenge is to read 100 books in 2015. Clearly I’m insane.

To illustrate how crazy I am to take this challenge, let me tell you how last year went. I set a goal of thirty books, which felt like a stretch, but seemed reachable. I didn’t even come close. In a valiant push to the finish, I ended the year having finished a whopping ten books. And one of those was a picture book. (It was actually research for my NaNo novel, I swear.)

So far this year, though, I’m ahead of pace. I’ve finished six books already, and am nearly done with a seventh. I have the support of my local writing group, and we’ve even started a book club of sorts. I suspect this was created partially because they know I won’t get anywhere near my goal if I don’t have accountability, and my friends are awesome. We all decided to stretch our reading goals this year, so I may be insane, but at least I’m not alone.

In NaNoWriMo, there is a tradition of setting Big, Fun, Scary Goals after November ends each year. The reading challenge is just one of mine. Here are the others, in no particular order…

  • Take a trip for my 15th wedding anniversary in May (we’re thinking San Francisco)
  • Actively blog. Okay, so I’m already behind on my goals, which were bi-weekly posts here, and weekly posts on my new dog rescue blog. But I’ve got some good ideas, and should be caught up soon.
  • Finally get through revision of my urban fantasy from NaNo 2011 and send said project to readers for feedback (Eek!!!)
  • Take care of myself by exercising more and cooking at home more this year. I’ve broken this down into gradually increasing, tangible monthly goals, and I’m actually doing quite well so far.
  • Start planning next year’s NaNoWriMo project early, and shoot for 100k words total in the month of November. I have an early idea for this year’s story, but I don’t think it’s one I can get 100k out of, so I may try it for Camp instead and figure something else out for November.
  • Which brings me to Camp NaNoWriMo. I’ve never managed a win during Camp, so I would like to achieve that for at least one session this year. I’m planning a shorter goal, maybe just finish my FBK project from last year.

That’s pretty much it. Last year was turbulent, sometimes painful, sometimes amazing. There will be some posts eventually about the year that was, but right now I’m content to have come out on the other side, and to be on my way to a better year in 2015. I’d love to hear about your goals, and if you’re on Goodreads, why not join the challenge? You can set any goal you want, but if you’re crazy enough, join me in a #100bookyear. I figure even if I don’t make it to my goal, I’ve already read some fantastic books so far, and am getting excited about reading and writing again when I had lost some of my passion this past year. So a belated happy 2015, everyone!

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When Words Won’t Come

I began July with huge writing goals. It’s Camp NaNoWriMo again, and I’m working on a short story that will be part of an anthology with my friends from my writing group. It’s a silly adventure sci-fi piece, and I’ve had a blast working on it.

I did everything right leading up to this month. I loosely plotted my story. I planned my month, mapping out time for writing alongside my volunteer time with the animal shelter and my full-time job. I even gave myself room to increase my activity with my Mary Kay business. Since my story has a 15,000 word target, I knew I could reach it easily with the right amount of planning.

The month started out as busy as expected, leading up to the holiday. I didn’t write at all through the first few days. Part of this had been scheduled, but then I got sick on the 3rd. I had a terrible cough and a fever, and was sick throughout the holiday weekend. Somehow, I still managed to start writing my short story.

I was in love. For the first time I can remember, I made myself laugh out loud. I’ve never really written comedy before, so this has been a huge stretch. I adored every one of the first 421 words I wrote last Monday. I know it will need polishing, but I can’t remember ever being so excited about a first draft before.

Then my husband caught my bug. What was bad for me became far worse for him. We spent all Wednesday night in the emergency room, and learned that Josh had severe bronchitis with moderate pneumonia. But they sent us home since he responded well to medicine, and he had to follow-up with his regular doctor the next day. That’s when things really went south.

An unrelated issue was noticed in my husband’s appointment, and the word everyone dreads hearing was spoken: cancer. We don’t know anything yet. It might be nothing. But once you hear that word, all others leave your mind. Our next steps involve a lot of waiting. Another week until an ultrasound, which will likely be followed up with more scans, more blood work, and possibly a biopsy. It could be as much as a month before we know anything for certain.

So here I am. I love my story, but when all I can hear is my mind screaming one word over and over again, it’s difficult to will the other words to come. I’m sure I need some comic relief, but I’m not feeling in a place to provide it to myself. I don’t want to give up on this story, but neither do I know how I can keep writing it right now. So I’ve made a deal with myself. I will still keep my appointments with myself, keep showing up in front of my computer, butt in chair. If I need to, I will spend the whole allotted time staring at the page, not writing. But I will at least be there, be present. So far, it hasn’t amounted to much in the way of words, but every bit helps.

I am a writer. I’ll keep showing up to write, even when the words won’t come.

 

Here are my #WriteMotivation goals for July:

1. Camp NaNoWriMo project: my semi-secret F.B.K. project for my writing group’s anthology. Short story, adventure/sci-fi, 15k words

2. FINALLY finish my focus outline for my PQ revision

3. Attend write-ins with my group at least once per week

4. Check in daily with my Camp cabin to cheer on my fellow FBK writers

5. Log 20 hours of PQ revision (focus on plot/subplots and characters)

6. Post weekly on my blog and reply to all comments within 24 hours. (Obviously this hasn’t happened yet.)

7. Check #WriteMotivation on Twitter at least 3x a week, and check all WriteMotivation blogs at least once to stay in touch with and cheer on my fellow writers (because you rock!)

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