Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Real Life Gets in the way

Ah look, my first late post. And it's fitting quite fitting. What I wanted to talk about what to do when life gets in the way.

Contrary to what this blog may lead you to believe, I have not been working on my novel as much as I would like. Actually, I have not been working on my novel for two weeks.

Which brings me to the fact that sometimes real life gets in the way. Many of us have other day jobs and can't spend eight hours a day writing. Then sometimes those few hours we have have to go to other activities - friends, families, spouses, other career paths, hospital trips, etc. It just eats away at writing time.

This weekend I had the amazing opportunity to compete in a car show and film for G4 Attack of the Show's Viewer's Army. I couldn't miss out on that, but it was at the cost of working on my writing this weekend.

I don't regret any of my choices this weekend. I had a blast at Wizard Con and the Hearse Club won best club display - which makes us awesome! I wouldn't trade that weekend for any amounts of writing time. It just means that I need to give myself a kick in the butt and do some catch up writing next week.

So, my lesson for this week is that it's ok if you don't make your writing goals sometimes, and don't let it dishearten you!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

New Year's Resolutions

As January comes to a close, and some conversations with friends about already failing on new year's resolutions, I got to thinking about what makes a resolution work. Looking back at my goals set for last year, I achieved nearly all of them, and if I didn't, it wasn't for lack of trying. So what was different about my resoultions, which I called goals, from others?

I think any resolution that requires a dramatic lifestyle change over night is going to fail.

That being said, insteading of "writing every day" my resolutions were more along the lines of "write another manuscript" and "revise finished manuscript." I don't write everyday; I don't write every other day. I'm lucky if I write once a week. I tend to stick to my month long Nanowrimos and script frenzys, because, well, it's easier to block out a month than an hour every day. It also keeps the pressure off of me.

If I said "write everyday" and I missed one day, well, I would have already failed that resolution. Since I already failed, why bother? And since I tend to be my own worst emeny, that type of resolution would never work for me. I can't dramatically change my life over night, and I don't think others can either.

Writing everyday is an unreasonable goal; writing more than than two frantic months a year, is not.

So, I like to keep my goals reasonable, and measurable not by days, but by quantiy, like keeping a blog (or 3) over the next year. Of course, this is a slow start - being as I've only managed to get one going. But I see that in Feb, I'll be able to start up another. By keeping, I mean that I post semi-regularly, and don't go months and months without posting. Then I can look back and say, well, I managed to post once a week every week of the year! That's pretty awesome!

I hope this will get me to start a new habbit, such as writing more frequently. And if I write more frequently, this year, then I can write even more next year. Then maybe, I'll be able to do one of thos "write 500 a day" resolutions without having to dramatically change my lifestyle.

Being as it's still a new year, I think there's still plenty of time to revise new year's goals...

So readers, how are you coming along with your goals this year?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Revision is Hard - The Right Tool

Revision is hard, and Scrivener is awesome.

In my last revision post, I mention it was time for me to do something most writer's do befoer they write - outline. So I took a little notebook and wrote a small summary of every chapter of my book down. I also took any notes about new scenes and put them into this new outline as well as deleted scenes that weren't important. Then, I spent a week trying to look at those pages in that little notebook as a whole story.

And that's really hard. I got so frustrated with trying to figure out if I wrote enough details down. Trying to see the holes in the story that I knew were there. I needed a better way of looking at outline, and a little birdy told me to pull out my handy dandy Scrivener.

I could write a whole ode to Scrivener (because I love this program), but I'll stick to talking about what I'm doing with it. I pulled out my copy and realized that I need to update. A major update that was going to cost me $20 bucks. Well, with Christmas just passing and my health insurance sucking, I couldn't afford that week. So I almost let my story lapse. (And I'm sure I'll soon write about avoiding procrastination, because that's sort of what this was.)

But I wouldn't let myself lapse, so I did something new, I rewrote the first scene of the book incorporating some of the changes I knew I wanted to make. It might have only been about 300 words, but it helped pass the time until I could get the $20 bucks to upgrade Scrivener.

And thank god I did. The layout of Scrivener is just what I needed to look at my story a little better. Which leads me to the point of this blog, know what tools work best for you.

Once upon a time, I wrote everything long hand. I swore by long hand. Then Nanowrimo came along and long hand can be the kiss of death. Yet, because of my history with long hand, I returned to it for this revision. Turns out it wasn't working for me - at least not like I wanted it to. Since I've been writing digitally, I need something digital. Scrivener fit the bill.

Everyone is going to have different preferences on what tools they need. But having a good tool is a great resource to sticking on track with revision. For me, that tool is Scrivener. But I think it's important for writers to mess around with all sorts of tools. Finding something that helps in the revision process is priceless, so download that free trial and see what's out there!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Short Story: Amphibious

So, yesterday marked the beginning of the voting period for Figment Fiction's Cinder short story contest. My entry "Amphibious" is up, so if you like my blog, head over and read it.

I have two reasons for my shameless self promotion:

1. Maybe you'll heart it, because, well, I want to win.

2. I'm putting my money where my mouth is so to speak.

Many of you readers have not read any of my work, so you may wonder, how I can be any authority on anything. Well, this does prove I write, and you can sort of gague my skill. And I know that if I were you I'd be interested in seeing what I write.

And as a bonus, I get to talk a little about my process for this story.

"Amphibious" is a short, horror/sci-fi story retelling the "Frog Prince." It's actually an idea I've had floating in my head for a few years now, orginally as a short film. Well, I never made it as a short film, and my film team never seemed to be interested in it. So when I saw the Cinder genre mash-up contest, I figured, what the hell.

Interestingly, I always imagined the main character (May) being a professor. But when I saw the challege was more for the young adult crowd, I tried to see if there was anyway to make May younger. She knew her boyfriend/fiance wasn't talking to her (via a ring), so her engagement ring became a class ring. I knew I wanted to mention the glowfish, and originally May was telling a student those facts, but it became May learning about those facts. I was really surprised at how easily all my points could be swaped for a younger protagonist (which actually makes the story more gruesome).

I started writing this maybe a week and a half ago. It went though 4 to 5 revisions. The first revision involved any major plot changes (such as the ending). The second revision was to make sure I didn't skip any details and I foreshadowed anything of importance. Revisions three through five were mostly line edits. I wanted to make sure everything was clear, and that I used the best words I could think of. Hmmm, this is probably a map for what I'll need to do with my novel...

Honestly, I wish I had more time for revision. While I like the story, I still think it could use some more work. But, feel free to read it, critique, tell me if you love it or hate it, ease your curisoity, etc. And enjoy!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Review: "How to Write a Sentence, and How to Read One" by Stanley Fish

It seems perfectly reasonable to use this blog to also review books on writing. Because writers love to read, and especially love to read books about writing. Plus, I'm certainly on the lookout for books I can get tips from to apply to my revisions.

I believe I'd been recommended How to Write and Sentence by another writer I follow. She had good things to say about the book, and I said, what the hell? I love being nit-picky with sentences (probably because of my foundation in short stories), and that title is certainly catchy, should be a good read.

Well, I have very mixed feelings about Mr. Fish's book. And I have dubbed it a toilet reading book.

What is a toilet reading book you ask? Well, it's a book that I'm sort of interested in, but can't seem to make myself read unless I'm on the toilet (making myself a captive audience). I can actually get through it because I only have to devote a few minutes every day to it. It's something I know I should read, but not necessairly something I'm enjoying reading.

Here's what I didn't like about the book:

1. It feels more like a book about studying literature, then a book about writing.

Most of the book is detailed analysis of sentences from classic works of literature - praising them for their genius. Yes, Mr. Fish offers us some exercises to try so we can learn to mimic what he calls form. But, nearly all of the examples of sentences he uses are from classics written before 1930. Which brings me to...

2. Almost all the examples are from books a hundred years old.

There is an appreciation for classics that all good writers should have, yes, but I don't know if mimicking a hundred, two hundred year old styles is productive for a contemporary writer. Modern styles are very different from things written a hundred years ago, from fifty years ago. We don't speak or write like our grandparents, and publishers aren't really looking for people who do. That doesn't mean there's not something to be learned from classics, or that something sounds like it was written a hundred years ago won't publish, but it's certainly not the norm. I wished that he would have looked at a more well rounded or at least contemporary writing to do this comparisons. But because he doesn't it feels like he just wants to look at classics making it feel more like a literature appreciate class than a writing tip.

3. Mr. Fish sounds pretentious.

Clearly he loves writing verbose sentences that border on the poetic, which becomes very difficult to read by page ten. Hence, the toilet reading status.

However, as much as it sounds like I didn't like the book, I think it's a good read.

Here's what How to Write a Sentance has going for it:

1. It's short.

The book is 160 pages. A quick read even with the intense literary writing style.

2. The sentence analyisis are really good.

There are some really interesting analysis of what makes a lasting sentence that is really useful to think about when applying it to your own writing, particularly first sentences. There's a whole chapter on a first sentence that really helps nails what an opening should be. It made me want to turn around and start looking deeply at my first sentence, and a few others I'm particularly fond of. I wanted to do some sentence analysis of some of my favorite book openings.

3. It got me thinking.

As much as the classic comparisons irked me, it did get me thinking about how I can apply this wisdom to what I'm writing. How I can use what he sees in that old sentence, and how I can stick it into a new sentence by me. And that made it worth reading.

So, if you think you can, I actually recommend reading How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One by Stanley Fish, but not buying it. I know it's available at my library, because that's where I got this one. So, go check it out and be prepared to renew.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The First Read Through

So besides "The Wait," the only other piece of revision advice I've been given is to read my draft through from start to beginning without revising anything. Just a straight read through.

This is harder than it sounds.

If you're like me, you're itching to start throwing yourself into revision. To take out this scene and that scene and rewrite this scene...

Let me step back just for a moment. This particular manuscript I wrote entirely without an outline. Up until now, I'd only written lengthy pieces with at least a basic outline so I never got stuck and always knew where it was going. But November '11 was fast approaching and I had this concept and no time to develop it because I was planning my wedding.

So I barreled straight into November armed with my idea and just started writing. For me, this has worked better than any outline I could have come up with. Thus, when I started writing, I had no idea where it was going to end, or looking back, who the main character was.

This could be why the "Read Through" was particularly helpful to me as a first step. Even though it hadn't been more than a few weeks, I'd completely forgotten whole chunks of my book. Scenes, characters, great lines, major plot points. I have no memory of even writing them. Some of them will be useful, some I'll probably lose.

Still, for the first time, I was able to look at the draft as a whole. The Read Through allowed to figure out my next step to finishing this manuscript.

Unfortunately, it's not rewriting - yet. It's outlining.

Now that I know where I want the story to go, and the basics of how it gets there, I know that I need to change some events that don't work any more. Like the whole first 30 pages, or the role of some characters. Or a bit of foreshadowing that could be in the very first scene.

But I will admit, that during my read through, I didn't just read. I went ahead and x-ed out passages I knew couldn't be saved, or at least didn't need to be there. I highlighted lines that made me giggle, or that I had forgotten but were particularly good. I made notes about how to revamped scenes or add some detail that would become relevant later, even redesign a character or subplot - but I only made notes in the margins or on the back to the page. I didn't write anything new.

So I did do the whole read through, and I think, for the first time, this could be the first big step towards actually getting through the revision process. I also realized that this won't be my only read through.

Read throughs are an important tool for revision because it let's me look at the big picture. I've never been able to do a read through before, which could be because of a combination of factors, but, it could be that the story wasn't interesting enough to keep my interest. Maybe it's a good thing I've shelved my other projects because if I found them boring, then I'm sure others will. It could have been the first sign that they weren't drafts that needed to be revised.

Or it could be my other theory - that I'm terrible at beginnings.

But, if I could go back and change something about doing the first read through, it would be to take notes about what happened in each chapter. This would make the next step I need, outlining, so much easier...

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Book Review: Cinder

I will start this off by saying that I am completely biased towards this book. Obviously since I turned my red shoes into red cyborg shoes! (There's the fangirl in me.) That being said, I've tried to separate myself from it to give the most unbiased review I can.

I've watched Ms. Meyer work on Cinder from the beginning via her newsletters she use to do under her fanfiction penname. I've also been reading her fanficiton work since...well she started. I even have a signed copy of her self published poetry book. I always associated her name with quality. She's also been a personal inspiration to me.

Looking back at my goodreads account, I put Cinder on my "to-read" list in May and pre-ordered my book through B&N as soon as it was available (because I had a gift card wedding present). I pestered the library I worked at until they purchased it (which, it's now sitting in the back waiting to be processed). I was so unhappy on Jan 3 because my book was still in shipping, that my husband drove out to B&N seven minutes before closing to get me another copy so I'd have it release day.

All of this means my expectations were very, very high - and I was not disappointed.

I read the whole thing in less than 24 hours, but finding the words to adequately express my feelings has taken much longer.

But I can say I loved it and I think it's one of the best books I've read in a long time. As soon as I finished, I wanted to pick it right back up and start all over.

Cinder is a futuristic retelling of Cinderella as a cyborg. It's a simple concept, executed in a beautifully complex story. Cinder is a second class citizen because she's a cyborg, but, she is the best mechanic in New Beijing. She keeps her rotten stepmother and stepsister (excluding Peony) afloat with her mechanic business, but she doesn't get any of the profits. Everything is turned upside down one day the prince of the Eastern Commonwealth shows up at Cinder's booth in urgent need of a android repair. Cinder struggles with her own identity, forced upon her by society, and with a very pressing political threat not only to the Eastern Commonwealth, but the whole world.

There are lot's of reviews out there praising this book (and this is pretty much one of them), but I'm going to talk about the things that I love that don't seem to be getting coverage.

The themes in this book are well executed and plentiful (without being preachy), but it's the theme of globalism that really caught my attention. Cinder takes place in New Beijing, and I know the that Scarlet, Book 2 of the Lunar Chonicles, takes place in France, then Cinder ends with an allusion to Africa. Plus, there's this great scene with all the world leaders showing the state of the entire world. I love the globtrotting that I think this books are going to have, and that this is a full developed world. Most Sci-fi and Fantasy just clump everything together, as if in the future we're all one people having the same experience. It's so refreshing to see this isn't the case with Cinder.

The setting is also superb. Meyer's world building skills are something to be studied. I felt emerged in the world from page one, and without any need of the dreaded "Exposition Dump." I have to say, I never found the world as dirty as the Firefly inspiration she claims, but I did find it to be a real world (a little more like Bladerunner to me). And on top of that, it's the whole world! I love that the world is still broken up, abit, a little less than today's standards. And I get the impression that each place is different with their own quirks and customs, just like the world today.

My only issue with the book is the whole Cinder is this amazing/one-of-a-kind/super special/exactly who we're looking for/special powers character. I usually get a little miffed with a protagonist who discovers that she is this super-duper-special-save-the-whole-world-lost-at-birth person, but with Cinder it didn't really bother me. I will admit there was a moment or two I rolled my eyes, but on a whole I went with it. This is something that makes me livid at books, but was so well done in this one, that I didn't care.

But the most amazing part of this book to me is how meticulous it is. Every character is well thought out; every plot point carefully placed. This is a book that doesn't waste a single sentance, or even a single word. Each line was well thought out and lovely placed to make the book the best it could be. And that's what makes me give Cinder a 5/5. Now you know, so go out and get a copy of this right now!

Monday, January 9, 2012

My Prior Revision Attempts and The Wait

Until 2009, I'd always revised as I went. Of course, I mostly wrote short stories. In short stories it's easy to get away with revising as you go because, well, they're short. Until Nanowrimo 2009, I'd never managed to complete anything longer than a short story because, well, I was revising as I went. I'd write about one to three chapters, spend hours and weeks tweaking and perfecting them, get distracted and leave the piece alone - never to return.

So, in November of 2009, I managed to shut away that editor for a month and get my first major draft done. Something I'd never done before (though not from lack of trying).

So my first generality of revision for anything longer than ten pages is: do not revise as you go. It really, really doesn't work.

Which brings me to the first revision rule of thumb I've heard over and over - get some distance or "The Wait."

Getting distance from the first draft is suppose to be crucial to revision because I can come at my piece with less bias. The way to achieve this distance is with time - "The Wait." Let your book sit and stew for a while. Depending on who you ask, the time in "The Wait" varies, but going by another rule of thumb, it's about a month.

So upon completing my 2009 draft, I knew I needed "The Wait" to get some perspective, though I was itching to get my hands on the piece and get into it.

Well, I waited somewhere between four and six weeks, a little over a month. My enthusiasm for piece dwindled, but I was determined to work on it. So I tired. And I tired. And I rewrote Chapter One, and wondered if I needed to change main characters, and if I should really start at Chapter Four, and if I should pull all my hair out because my female protagonist was annoying...

Needless to say, I fell "out of love" with that book and shelved it.

Enter November 2010. I have a new idea based on some old characters. I get the draft down, and all the while I keep thinking, hey, I've really got something going here! This book is completely marketable, and it's new and interesting! But it's going to need some revision.

So I followed that rule of thumb, but thought, maybe I was a little too soon with 2009's novel, so I'm going to wait a little longer on this one. Get some more distance and perspective. Oh, let's say, three months! Because if one month is suppose to be good, then three months should be better!

I think I got as far as revising the first line, and that was about it.

Well, November 2011 is wrapping up and I'm really really itching to start revising - mostly because I wrote this entire book without knowing where it was going at all. So by the time I reached the end, I knew that the beginning was going to need work. And I was really curious to see if all these connections I thought I'd made really were as awesome as I thought they were!

But that little voice was telling me "you need to wait."

Then another voice was saying, "has waiting really helped you?" The answer - not really.

Well, I knew that the first thing I wanted to do was print the whole thing out (because I wanted to slash some of those scenes I knew where dragging on too long, or were totally useless, and basically, the first 30 pages). It would feel so wonderful just x-ing through pages! I mean that's revision right?

Well, my printing plans didn't go quite as quickly as I'd hoped. It took me two weeks to get the thing printed, and I think, that was the perfect amount of time for me. Which leads me to my thoughts on "The Wait."

Yes, we do need to distance ourselves from our work so we can come at it with fresh eyes. We need to forget the beginning so we can really see how it relates to the end, which is what "The Wait" does. But, how long we need to wait is going to vary. I think my earlier problems was I was waiting too long. I have a buzz, an energy after finishing a draft that keeps me involved in the story, and that by waiting, I was allowing other things to take control of that energy, so when I finally made it back to my writing, I'd lost interest. I really had fallen out of love with my piece. I need to keep that love to continue working.

So I'm going to venture out and say there shouldn't be any sort of set time for "The Wait," but should be like a weekend away from a lover - just long enough to miss it, but not long enough to forget. For me, that was two weeks. For some it could be two months, or even two years. But when you start to feel that spark for the book fade, that means you need to stop "Waiting" and start rewriting.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Cinder by Marissa Meyer Red Shoe Release Day!

Today is the wonderful and talented Marissa Meyer's debut novel release day! Cinder! And I am anxiously awaiting my copy to arrive by mail. In honor of the release, I decided to join in on the red shoe fun by making my own Cyborg Red Shoes.

I spend about three days with various supplies (most of which are scraps from my husband's junk heap) and some silver fabric paint.

Cinder is a futuristic retelling of Cinderella as a cyborg. But it's so much more than that. You can tell just by reading this first chapter: http://www.amazon.com/Cinder-Book-One-Lunar-Chronicles/dp/0312641893 .

As a long time fan, very long time fan, I've followed Ms. Meyer's journey from fanfiction, through Nanowrimo, through the revision of Cinder via her blog (http://marissameyer.livejournal.com/) and her newsletter she sent out under her fanfiction penname (and of which I'm currently following some of her advice with my own revision process).

She's been a great inspiration to me, and a personal hero. I hope the best for Cinder and the rest of the Lunar Chonicles - where I will always be one of the first in line.

But I spent a lot of work on these shoes, so I'm posting more pictures! (Photos by my lovely husband, Kirk.)

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Why a Blog on Rewriting

The other night I was at Friday's restaurant, enjoying happy hour dollar off cocktails and half off appetizers, in celebration of a promotion at my day job with a writer friend of mine. So of course, the subject inevitably led to writing.

We'd met during Nanowrimo, and being as it was the end of December, we were both talking about what we were going to do with our Nano Novels over the next year.

Two years ago I promised myself that in three years I would have a completed manuscript so I could start really looking into getting published. Instead, I've written three first drafts and done absolutely nothing with them. Well, nothing of use. Until about a week ago.

I started reading through my 2011 Nanowrimo Novel. My first step to actual revision.

I was so proud that I've actually managed to start revising a project, that it got us on to the epic discussion of revision.

And the epic lack of materials about revision.

I mean, if I want to write a first draft, there are endless books and general truths out there regarding it. If I'm looking for publishing information, well, there's oodles out there too, as well as even more general truths about how to do it. If I'm looking for tips about writing in general, there's even more on that!

But if looking for something in between, that magic way to get from first draft to something ready to submit to an agent, the horizon is surprisingly quiet. Is everyone afraid to talk about that next step? Is it because it's hard to define, or because we're afraid as writers that if we release that secret, we'll only add more competition?

The subject of revision seems to be this: it's what you do after your first draft, what you need to do before you publish, and completely different for everyone.

Somehow I doubt that.

I mean, there is some really good advice out there regarding writing that first draft like, write all the way through. Kind of a general truth there. Or you know, working out how a story is structured with a little outlining work. But when we get to the finished the draft, now what? stage, everyone gets silent. I mean, there has to be some universal truths out there that can at least help me get on the right path with this.

But everything I read just seems to gloss over it (or be a companion manual to a drafting book that if I didn't follow the drafting process doesn't make sense because I didn't fill out form A).

Well, it's a new year, and I'm going to make a resolution to write about my revision experience so that others like me might have some guidelines to follow. And it might keep me on the revision train. I'll talk about what I'm doing, what's working, and what's not working.

I can't guarantee that I'll be regular with this blog, because well, rewriting isn't the most scheduled thing. Still, I welcome all writers, of all genres, shapes, and sizes to follow along, question, and comment during my next year of revision. I want to make this a learning experience for everyone.