Back to basics

Sixteen days into April’s Camp, and I have handwritten 50 pages. Quite the accomplishment, if I say so myself. I’m not bothering with a daily word count. In fact, I’m not really considering myself an active participant in Camp. I don’t do word sprints, word wars, or the writing challenges. To be perfectly honest, I think they’re pointless. I see the challenges suggesting the writer insert something completely random and I can’t help but wonder, How the hell does doing that improve on the narrative? If anything, won’t it just make things more complicated during the revision process? I look on these exercises with a critical eye because that’s not how I do things. Others, however, do, and that’s okay.

I’m simply writing. Like I’ve always done since I first thought to put pen to paper. I can’t remember the last time I worked on something that felt so natural. No strings attached, no preset goals other than that of finishing a draft, and no distractions. NaNo has sadly become a distraction. I was more focused on matching the word count than on writing. It became a competition with myself and other writers. Writing should never be a competition. And that is why I’m no longer going to participate.

Part of me feels a sense of betrayal since I do love the atmosphere NaNo creates for writers. I appreciate the community feel it fosters. Writing itself is a solitary craft, and people are social creatures by nature. Just knowing so many others are sitting at their computers (or at a desk with a notebook) plugging away at a first draft was enough for others to push forward. It was never about finishing, but starting something you may not have if left to your own devices. Some writers need this. I’m not one of them. I don’t think I ever was. I wrote my epic fantasy back in the early 2000s with nothing driving me onward but pure love of what I was doing. I want to recapture that feeling. The result is a draft I’m truly enjoying. The pacing is what it should be. I’m taking my time with introducing my characters and their world. I’m getting to know them. It’s like I rediscovered the joy of writing.

I understand this approach isn’t for everyone. I’m not knocking those who embrace the community feel to better help themselves. I think it’s like how some writers are pantsers, others are plotters, some outline while others don’t, some use Word, some use Scrivener, etc. etc. In the end, it’s all about the story. Because ultimately that’s what readers will care about.

 

 

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Updates for Camp NaNo

Sometime last week, I determined that I wanted to try handwriting my draft. The prospect of finding a new notebook and pens got me super excited to begin, so I thought why not run with it? I’ve written eight pages so far. It’s my goal to add many more as the month progresses. It’s my desperate hope that I can translate what I wrote when the time comes to transfer it to a Word doc. I have a habit of writing really fast when I get into a scene. I’ve lost count of how often I end up confusing myself when I go back to re-read the previous page.

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My Andrew Luck Pop makes a return engagement as my writing mascot.

Why handwrite when I have a perfectly good iPad? Simple. I was looking to shake things up a bit as far as the process goes. I don’t want to suffer another ‘failure’ for this Camp outing. I also like what I’ve written tons better. This is key. The relaxed atmosphere of Camp prevents me from filling pages with words just to say I’ve produced something. Now I am being more conscious of what I want to say. It just reinforces my decision to skip November’s NaNo this year. It pains me to do it since I love participating. But after two years of producing effectively useless drafts and spending the winter recovering from writer burnout, I think it’s the best course of action. My other stories were written at my own pace. Time to go back to it.

Hope my fellow Campers are enjoying success!

Getting ready for Camp

Despite a low success rate with my previous Camp experiences, I decided to give it another shot. It pleases me to announce I have begun work 0n the outline for this year’s project. It’s the hard rewrite of my untitled NaNo 2015. I’m not quite done with Cassie and Drew yet. I also think entering football’s off-season will help sharpen my focus. Drew’s face and body model is pretty damn distracting.

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The Chiefs and Patriots fan in me writhes with such shame, but I also don’t care.

I also crafted an updated synopsis. Have a gander!

Earth, 2202. Ten years ago, the New Frontier Corporation’s attempt to sustain the world’s first colony die when Bright Hope is ravaged by a solar flare. Its survivors, mostly young children and adolescents, are left to fend for themselves when the company abandons the colony. Enter the League, the newly-formed intergalactic arm of the North American Football Association. The League takes over the remains to promote lucrative football games using the survivors as players. But it is not without cost, for soon Bright Hope becomes nothing more than a subsidiary of the League.

Cassiopeia Tennant, like the other survivors, is considered a ‘burnt colony kid’, her social status that of a second-class citizen, her prospects no higher than just above poverty. With everyone she ever knew dead and left with less than nothing, Cassie works to find a way off the colony.

Like Cassie, Drew Thomas lost all he knew in the flare. In the years since, he has experienced nothing but success, popularity, and pride as the quarterback of the immensely popular Central Sector Spartans. Yet when he comes across vital information that reveals the League plans to replace all players with more durable clones, he runs.

A chance encounter with Cassie prevents the League from taking action against Drew, but his appearance draws her into a world she has no knowledge of or great admiration for. Along with the help of a reluctant geneticist formerly of the League’s clone project, Drew and Cassie take a stand against the very company that saved them.

It’s my hope that the draft that results from April’s Camp proves more substantial than what was born from November’s frenzy. I’m also debating on not participating this year. I noticed that the pacing from my previous two drafts was set to ludicrous speed. How can I expect readers to develop connections to characters if there’s no time to get to know them outside of their roles in the plot? The reverse is just as bad. Too slow a start can result in bored readers. The best example I can come up with is LOST VOICES by Sarah Porter. I was fascinated by the premise- a lonely and forgotten girl who becomes a mermaid- but the pacing killed it for me. I read up to chapter four before putting it aside. All events these chapters focused on seemed to have little to do with the plot other than worsening the MC’s already shitty situation. It was overkill. Not even the passages describing the girl’s transformation into a mermaid was enough to hold my interest. And they were among the best.

However, Peter Liney’s THE DETAINEE- a sci-fi featuring an older male character exiled to an island with other 60+ people for the crime of being old- kept me engaged despite a similarly slow start. The reader is fully aware of the MC’s shitty situation, one that’s complicated by groups of crazed, drugged-up teenagers slaughtering the people he lives with. An offhand observation about the MC feeling he was being watched turned out to be a direct link to events to come. I think the difference here is I established a connection to the lead in THE DETAINEE, while the girl in LOST VOICES didn’t jump out at me at all. Every reader’s experience is different. I’m sure there are those out there who sympathized more with the girl and sympathized less with the older man.

Bottom line: pacing is something I think depends more on the story rather than the writer. But it must be balanced. That is my personal challenge to myself. For those of you participating in Camp or just writing, I wish you good luck in whatever challenges you set for yourself. They will make us all better writers.

Crushing Self Doubt

Oh, hey there. Forgive my consistent inconsistency with this thing. But there is a legit reason as to why I’ve been away. And since it directly ties in with my entry into the Positive Writer’s Writers Crushing Doubt contest, I thought it was the best way to bring my blog- and my confidence- back from the dead.

This past month or so has been trying for me. Why? I’ve spent all this time trapped in that oh-so-dreadful state of mind that befalls even the best of us: extreme self-doubt. I’m not talking about the kind that results from a scene you have been debating on eliminating and trying to convince yourself why you should keep it. This is the kind that encompasses your whole identity as a writer. Nagging questions start rearing their ugly little heads:

Is what I’m writing even any good?

Does anyone outside of the three or four people I know even want to read this?

Who the hell am I kidding? I’m not cut out for this.

I keep getting rejected. Maybe I’m not that good of a writer as I think I am.

Fraud.

Untalented hack.

Unoriginal.

Might as well quit.

I couldn’t tell you why I started feeling such incredible dissatisfaction. It doesn’t really matter what set it off. When you’re in the grip of self-doubt, everything looks bleak. For me, characters that jumped off the page now appear lifeless. Words lost their punch. Plot lines started looking worn and cliche. I couldn’t bring myself to look at anything I’ve written. It all looked the same to me: bad. Uninspired. Insipid. Worthless. I had seriously considered abandoning all attempts to revise or complete projects. I had hit a struggling writer’s rock bottom.

So what did I do? I cried. A lot. I tried to rediscover my passion through fanfic. When that didn’t pan out, I pushed all writing to the wayside. I turned to books and video games in the hope that something, anything, would break me out of this funk. I read and finished two awesome books, I advanced in the latest Batman game. But still I couldn’t seem to shake the darkness of self-doubt. This went on for weeks. And then, oddly enough, playing Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits proved to be the catalyst. For those not in the know, it’s a JRPG released on the PS2 back in 2003. What was it about this old PS2 game, you may ask? The realization that it was chock-full of every bad trope you could imagine. It didn’t do anything new or earth shattering. It took what was familiar, gave it a new name and look, and ran with it. The end result? A mostly forgettable JRPG in an era that was replete with them. The only reason this particular title got any notice was because of its association with the Arc the Lad series.

I put the game controller down and took a long, hard look at my current project. New thoughts started coming to my mind:

You are better than you think.

This is not going to be just another manuscript condemned to someone’s slush pile.

You CAN do this.

You WILL do this.

You are a writer.

Embrace it.

Never quit.

And, just like that, the elusive spark to ignite my creativity was back. I’m ecstatic about getting back to work. The steps I’ve taken are small, but they are meaningful. And it’s all thanks to some JRPG nostalgia wanted me to revisit. So, thanks, Arc the Lad, for providing me with an example of what I don’t want to become. Thanks for being the splash of ice water I needed to free me from this most dreadful of emotions.

If you ever find yourself in the stranglehold of self-doubt, just remember, fellow writers: you ARE better than you think. You CAN do this. You’re NOT going to quit. And, most importantly, you’re not alone. You have legions cheering you on. I’m one of them. So crush that writer’s doubt and keep going.

 

 

 

On writing cliches

I came across Anne R. Allen’s post concerning things that identify a newbie novelist. I’m here to talk about two of them: cliches and prologues.

Cliches are as much a part of our speech and culture as anything else. You don’t think twice if you hear someone say, ‘What, you think I’m made of money?’ We know and understand what they mean. But never, ever rely on that understanding in writing. Cliches are lazy and a surefire mark of an amateur. We all have written them. Anyone who says otherwise is either lying or isn’t familiar with what a cliche is. I count myself among the latter. When I had someone edit the opening pages for my historical romance, I was honestly surprised that the phrase ‘sinking feeling in his/her stomach/gut’ could be considered cliche. The point I’m trying to make is don’t be ashamed if they sneak into your writing. Just be aware of them and move on.

Another cliche that needs to be discussed is the prologue. As I have read a lot of fantasy over the years, I am familiar with the lure of the prologue. I thought, What a great way to introduce my fantastical world to readers! Also, here’s my world’s rich history and inciting incident all in one package. What could go wrong?

A lot, it turns out.

I loved writing prologues, I won’t lie. It helped familiarize myself with my world and the stakes (if any) that would be touched on in the remainder of the book. But as I matured as a writer and reader, I realized that the prologue is not that great. I’ve since eliminated them from anything not a first draft. On average, prologues tend to serve as a vehicle for info dumps for writers. I’ve sample both traditional and indie titles with prologues and found both wanting. Why tell me about Bill and Sue and their drama-filled story if only to find out the book is about someone else entirely? It’s misleading and a surefire way to kick a reader out.

Dreams are lumped with prologues as far as I’m concerned. Let me give you the best example I have as to why dreams in writing- hell, in anything- are generally a bad idea to convey story.

I loved this movie’s premise. It fascinated me. But when the majority of the film proved to be SPOILER a dream, I was furious. I still can’t talk about this movie without getting upset. My boyfriend defends it on the basis that Nicolas Cage’s character benefited from close proximity to the love interest, so logically the dream sequence made sense. What he doesn’t understand is that during the whole thing, viewers were invested in the race-against-time aspect. To have the entire experience nullified by a dream was a smack in the face. I can only think of one instance where I pulled the ‘and it was all a dream!’ trick: a fanfic based on Disney’s Gargoyles written circa ’94-’96. All evidence has since been destroyed.

Again, there are good examples of prologues, dreams, and cliches in writing. The key here is how they’re presented. But I would rather avoid them altogether. They don’t help your skills stand out. They hinder them.

 

 

New Year means new books

Happy belated New Year’s to everyone! I hope your holidays went well. We skipped the alcohol and gatherings in favor of a quiet night in. I am pleased to announce that I was awake after midnight. The past few years found me sleeping early. Getting old is such a killjoy sometimes.

Though I had wanted to finish my NaNo draft despite its glaring flaws, I’ve set it aside to let it ferment. I’m not here to ramble about my writing. This entry is dedicated to what got me into writing in the first place: books.

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I resumed reading two books, THE DETAINEE by Peter Liney and THE GHOST BRIDE by Yangsze Choo. I also picked up two others that serve the dual purpose of personal interest and research: IS THERE LIFE AFTER FOOTBALL?: SURVIVING THE NFL by James A. Holstein and THE GLADIATOR: THE SECRET HISTORY OF ROME’S WARRIOR SLAVES by Alan Baker. There’s yet another title I grabbed purely for interest’s sake: THE WITCH OF LIME STREET: SEANCE, SEDUCTION, AND HOUDINI in the SPIRIT WORLD by David Jaher. Not a bad start to 2016 considering I didn’t read nearly enough books in 2015.

I’m ashamed of myself for not reading more. I violated the cardinal rule of writers everywhere. Part of the problem is finding something worth my time. I’m such a hard sell lately. I’m finding little to interest me even in my favorite genres. A lot of fantasy seems like they’re trying to cash in on Game of Thrones. Fantasy series in general seem to suffer the longer they go on. I direct you to Terry Goodkind’s SWORD OF TRUTH books. Even Melanie Rawn’s DRAGON PRINCE/DRAGON STAR books, of which I have a deep love, did not escape this fate. As for GoT, I read the first book. Outside of my attachment to Jon Snow, nothing really stands out about it. I’m not invested enough in all the POLITICAL INTRIGUE to pick up the rest of the series. Jon’s fate will remain a mystery to me.

The science fiction titles I’ve sampled are hit or miss. Andy Weir’s THE MARTIAN was one of those unexpected surprises. Mindi Arnett’s AVALON has held my interest, as has the indie title TALES OF A DYING STAR BOOK ONE: SIEGE OF PRAETAR by David Kristoph. I think you’re more likely to find gems on the indie market than what’s being offered on the shelves anyway. I’ve avoided the YA fantasy and sci fi titles for the most part.

Speaking of YA, there is one I am eagerly anticipating: JERKBAIT by Mia Siegert. Not only is Mia a good friend of mine (and she’s been a HUGE help with my writing), but this is her debut novel. Check out the page on Goodreads: Jerkbait Her Facebook page has more info on the book, such as release date and how to pre-order: Mia Siegert Author Page I have a feeling this will be BIG for her. Please support her, fellow writers! She’s living the dream we all aspire to. 🙂

Speaking of Goodreads, you can find me there as well: my profile Feel free to add me as a friend. I don’t bite. 🙂

Well, that’s it from me. Happy writing/reading, everyone!

 

 

 

 

 

Getting that groove back

My writing had slowed some due to post-NaNo fatigue, but then I was hit with one of those unexpected curve balls life likes to throw. Sadly, writing took a backseat as I endured possibly the most painful week of my life. I’ll skip the details, but the good news it’s all over and I can focus again. There’s no excuse for me not to keep working. It’s my only project now. No distracting ideas to draw me from it.

Speaking of projects, some months ago I had submitted a YA fantasy to Baen Books. I finally got the rejection. It made me happy because there’s just no way I’d be able to shift gears for it. I’m not even sad about shelving it or the other ideas. I thought I would be considering how much effort I put into the characters and such. I suppose if I felt sad at every incomplete project, then I’d never be able to move on from them. The last thing a creative person wants is stagnation due to the inability to let go. And hey, I might try Baen Books again when this project of mine is complete. They’re more about sci fi than fantasy anyway.

Back to NaNo: anyone see the list of winner’s goodies they have this year? I thought about doing with the hard copy from Fast Pencil. I find having a physical copy will benefit me when it comes time for editing. I feel I see more when it’s in my hands versus on a computer screen. Plus I cobbled together a prototype cover that I’d slap on there just for fun. I have until the end of January to take advantage of this offer. I’d like it if I had the finished draft available rather than half. So I better get started!

NaNo Day 28: Overtime

I know I won on the 26th, but things are going so well with the story I’ve decided to keep going. I’m still updating my word count (55,673 right now) and things are happening. Lots of things. Cassie and Drew are on the cusp of facing their greatest challenge. The Big Bad has sent what they perceive to be a clear message. The third character has been pulled into the fray against her better judgment. How everyone responds will make or break everything. As the one in charge of their fate, I can promise only pain. Let me give you an example of what I mean.

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It’s been a great NaNo for me. As I’ve said before, I can’t recall a previous idea that has filled me with such inspiration and glee and hope and yay. It’s many months, possibly years, from being anywhere near the story I know it can be. But it’s great to be excited about something new again rather than waste my time on an old story I should have let die years ago.

If you’ve reached the illustrious 50K, kudos to you! If not, keep plugging away! Let the words flooooooooow

NaNo Day 26:VICTORIA

Friends, fellow writers. I have reached the promised land. I am at 50,378 words. Please allow my teams and my favorite Colts player to celebrate for me.

I am far from done with this as-of-yet titled sci fi dystopia of mine. My female lead, Cassie, has been rattled a bit by recent events but she has risen to the occasion. Drew is impressed as hell by her game face. If I gave them the chance, they’d be celebrating this with lots and lots and lots of sexins. There’s no time for this (not yet anyway). They have a Big Bad League to take down. Will it be easy? Of course not. Lots still more to come for them. I intend to keep the this thing going.

Happy writing, everyone! May your words be epic!

NaNo Day 21: Course Correction

It pleases me to announce that I am back on track with my NaNo. I am over 43K words right now. A new, vital-to-the-plot character has been introduced, my MCs are starting to venture into choppy waters, and the stakes have been raised even higher. Oh, and they’re starting to show their feelings for each other in more ways. Conflict, oh my! I already foresee this story’s conclusion will take me past 50K. Maybe by then I’ll have a title.

I also have to say that this is truly the first original idea I’ve had like, ever. EVER. And I’ve written/conceived/rejected stories by the dozens. Just goes to show that the writer, like the craft, is an ever-evolving machine. Gotta pan through the rocks and dirt before you come upon a gem. No coincidence then that I came upon this gem while taking a bath.

Is it a bit premature to consider this untitled science fiction dystopia of mine as THE story? The one that will help me knock on doors? Maybe, but I have high hopes for it. It’s the first one I feel has real market potential. The intended audience is broad.

May you find yourselves feeling as successful, fellow WriMos!