Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Happy Holidays!

Yes, the title is horribly PC of me. I'll try to do better next time.

In any case, my best holiday wishes go out to you all this season... which is somewhat silly, because I'll likely say the same thing next year. Are these my best wishes, or am I saving them up for the next holiday? Or am I going to trump this year's wishes with next year's? Only Santa knows, and he's too busy to dish right now.

Just like Thanksgiving, you may need to wait a little longer for the next post, but it's coming. Just because I'm out of town doesn't mean I'm not writing, and the next entry will be inspired greatly by my travel plans. All the same, my baby sister gets priority for the rest of the week, so don't hold it against me if you have to wait a few more days for the goods.

Enjoy the holidays, and drink some eggnog for me!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Tools of the Trade

I’ve mentioned earlier in my blog a few items that are in my writing arsenal. Since it’s the holidays and sales are par for the course over the next couple weeks, I thought I’d discuss my writer’s assistants along with a few other things that aid in my wordcraft.

As a writer on the go, I’ll start with my portable writing companions first. Back when I was toiling through NaNoWriMo, I wanted something lightweight, compact but still capable of storing a novel-length work (and accompanying short stories), with the appropriate programs to allow me to store a large text document and transfer it to my desktop computer at the click of a button. I looked into laptops, but since I was still toiling away as a mere file clerk at that time, I wasn’t exactly rolling in the spending money. The answer was simple – a PDA would serve all the functions of a laptop that I needed in an affordable and easier to carry package. Enter the HP iPAQ rx1950 Pocket PC. This little beauty operates on Windows Mobile 5.0 and includes a basic version of MS Word for your writing needs, a memory card slot to expand its storage capacity, built-in WiFi for coffeeshop internet access, ActiveSynch to move your files to your desktop easily, and even has Windows Media Player if you want some video clips or music files to inspire you. You can even hit the easily accessible record button to dictate flashes of inspiration. The rx1950 is better than the Palm PDAs in that you can replace the battery if it ever craps out on you (and it will if you don’t keep it charged properly), but you have to be very gentle with tapping the stylus on the touch screen. Too much repetitive tapping in one area may damage your touchscreen. (Also, you can find the latest and greatest HP PDAs here.)

While we’re on the subject, a good accessory to this PDA is the Think Outside stowaway wireless IR keyboard. While it’s not quite a full-size laptop keyboard, the FN keys give you access to everything you need for touch typing so you don’t have to hunt and peck with the stylus to type. It corresponds well with the built-in infrared of the rx1950, folds up nicely for ease of storage, and it has an extremely long battery life to keep you typing well into the night.

My PDA carried me through much of the development on what would become my trilogy, but the actual writing of my three-book epic requires something a little more powerful, yet still affordable. For this, I turned to the HP Mini 110, a notebook laptop that has everything the techno-savvy writer needs to write away from home. It’s got Windows XP and the full Microsoft Office suite installed, which means I’ve got access to everything that I’d normally have on my desktop while I’m out and about. It’s got QuickSynch capability, so transferring your files back and forth is just as easy as with the PDA, and I’d dare say that it’s easier to use the Mini’s built-in WiFi capability for those moments when I need to fact-check something online. It’s not as versatile as your average laptop – there’s no CD/DVD drive, but there are three USB ports to plug in everything from flash drives to headphones and everything in-between, and the optional 6-cell battery puts the Mini at a nice angle to use the keyboard comfortably. I’ve only had it for a couple months so I don’t know what drawbacks might crop up after a year or two of constant use, but I’ve fallen in love with it already. (And again, you can find more HP laptop options here.)

Not every tool of the writer’s trade has to be high tech, though. Some of the best are actually very mundane. I tend to keep a stack of index cards on my desk for jotting down the odd note, or for writing out summaries of my chapters to see if they need to be rearranged to improve story flow. There’s also something to be said for carrying around a pad of paper, if you want to go that route, too. Both options require a reliable pen on hand at all times, and I’ve got them scattered everywhere. A writer without a pen, after all, defeats the classic stereotype.

And there you have it, the equipment in my writing arsenal. There are others, of course, including digital recorders, cell phones and Blackberry devices, and even Post-it notes. Not all of them will be your cup of tea, but with a little experimentation, you may find just the right tool to aid you with your own wordcraft.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Busy, Busy

If you’re like me, you’re not making a living with your writing. Sure, you’ve got that dream project in mind, and maybe you’ve started taking steps to plan it out on paper. Maybe you’re further along than that, and you have everything but the kitchen sink plotted out for the world in your brain (and trust me, I’m looking for a way to bring that to life, too). Any way you slice it, you’ve got something in mind that you want to write, a great idea that needs to be expressed. There’s just one problem – you have no time to write!

Whenever I talk about writing to other creative people, a common phrase tends to crop up with minor variations: “I’d love to write, but I have no time.” Everyone has a million other things they need to do first, and they all take up every moment of every day. Whether it be work or kids, or boyfriend/husband (which, let’s face it, can also fall under the “kids” category sometimes), whatever your excuses are, they’re keeping you from letting you exercise your writing skills. They’re also completely bogus.

It’s always possible to find time to write. There are a number of perfectly good opportunities in the day to get something down on paper, opportunities that might otherwise slip by without you even knowing it. You can write first thing in the morning or just before you go to bed. You can write while you eat lunch, or while you’re on the phone listening to crappy hold music. You can write while you’re waiting for your friend to pick you up, or at the bus stop, or on the bus/train you take to work. Heck, you can write while you’re in the bathroom, provided you don’t have family threatening to break down the door if you don’t get out of there right now. There are tons of little moments in the day where you can put down some words in story form, if you know where to look.

How do I get around balancing a day job and social obligations to friends and family, and still find time to write? I’m fortunate in that I have a number of opportunities throughout the day where I can exercise my wordcraft. While I may not have much time between waking up and heading out to work (a morning person, I am not), I’ve got a good stretch of 20 minutes on the train ride to work where I can do my thing. At lunch, I can usually snag the same amount of time to nail down some story. And after work, I can either sequester myself at home or take a couple hours to fuel my imagination with caffeine at the local Starbucks.

Incidentally, I’ll take a venti Peppermint Mocha, the Frappuccino version if the weather is warm.

The point is, the supposed “lack of time” that everyone complains about is easily solved with some applied time management skills. Sure, you may have to sacrifice time in other areas of your life to accommodate writing – a little less time watching TV or fiddling around on the internet – but your writer’s spirit will thank you for it. And you may find that your writing will enrich the other areas of your life if you set some time aside specifically to let your imagination run wild.

Try it out, and see how it works for a week or two. And if you see me typing away on my laptop at Starbucks, I like my Peppermint Mocha with whipped cream, please!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Writing For Yourself

Everyone wants to be a published author, including myself. Who wouldn’t want to walk into a bookstore and see their creation sitting there on the shelf (or better yet, the bestseller table) bearing your name on it like a badge of honor? How many of us seek out the spot on the shelf where our book would be, nestled between the other published authors, and imagine that our mythical book is actually sold out? C’mon, I can’t be the only one.

Getting your writing published is the dream of every aspiring writer. It’s a form of validation for all that hard work you put into birthing a brand new story. Somehow, seeing the words you put down in story form on widely published pages means you’ve finally made it. For me, it represents a major accomplishment. It means the story I’ve been toiling over for who knows how long has made an impact on someone who has seen it all and rejected most of it, an impact powerful enough to convince that someone that my story must be shared with an audience beyond my family and friends. It’s the prize won from all that brainstorming, the crappy first draft, and all of the torment that goes with polishing that draft to perfection.

But what about writing for the fun of it? What about writing for an audience of one?

What about writing for you?

Stay with me, here. Writers want to write, right? Of course we do. We NEED to write. It’s as basic as needing to eat or sleep. Sure, you could go without for a while, but the need is still there, and eventually it will bring you back to the blank page. And of course, publication is a perfectly valid reason for writing. A lot of us write for publication, of course, especially the most successful of us. It’s not the only reason, though.

I write for myself all the time. When I’m not toiling over my trilogy, I create works that aren’t intended for mass consumption, which is always the concern when you’re writing something for publication. Writing to be published means you’re writing for the masses, gearing your written word toward reaching an audience. It means your concerns have elevated beyond asking yourself questions like “Is this paragraph structured properly?” to “Is this subplot appropriate for my audience?” A fine concern to have, to be sure, but sometimes writers just need to write for the hell of it.

Personally, I write for myself as a form of writing exercise. I use it to work on technique and voice. I’ve experimented with first, second and third person perspective, tackled various genres, and explored everything from my room to a bowl of pretzels in written form. It’s allowed me to work on dialogue, description, and pacing. It’s freeing, allowing yourself to write without concern of who might be seeing it or what they’ll think, because you’re allowing yourself to experiment and explore, and yes, even make mistakes. We should be allowed to do that every now and then, right?

Try it sometime. Come up with a subject you’d want to write about, but not necessarily for anyone else to read. It could be a love letter to your significant other or family member, or a hate letter to that jerk that cut the line in front of you. It could be a stream of consciousness work about what you’re feeling right this second, or it could be a confession about something you did when you were a kid. Whatever it is, sit down with your favorite drink and snack, pull out that pen and paper or word processor, and give yourself a goal of 1-3 pages. Then write. Just write, and let it all flow until the stream turns into a trickle. After that, you can do with it what you will, though I tend to save mine for future reference. You know, just in case.

Writing for yourself might not get you published, but it will get you writing, and there’s nothing wrong with that at all. You might even surprise yourself with what ends up on the page!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Why I Don't Read As Often As I Write

A hungry lion was roaming through the jungle looking for something to eat. He came across two men. One was sitting under a tree reading a book; the other was typing away on his laptop. The lion quickly pounced on the man reading the book and devoured him.

Moral of the story: Even the king of the jungle knows that readers digest and writers cramp.

An actual entry will come this weekend, I promise!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Crappy First Drafts

If you scroll down a bit, you’ll see one of my favorite quotes from Anne Lamott and her “how to write” book, Bird By Bird. In it, she delivers a lot of good advice for aspiring writers with wit and verve, so much so that you’ll want to read it again just for her sense of humor. Hidden within the chapters of that book is a section on writing first drafts. As a writer of young adult fiction anticipating that some of those young adults (and the parents of the same) will find this blog, I won’t repeat her moniker while discussing this stage of the writing process. Instead, I’ll choose a toned-down equivalent – crappy first drafts.

When I was a young(er), less experienced writer, I labored under the misconception that every time I sat down to write, perfect prose should spring from my mind fully formed onto the page before me. The blank page should transform my words into the finished product automatically, with my pen or keyboard as the conduit to brilliant wordplay, complex characters and engaging plot. The first draft would be the last draft, it would be held up as an example of the greatest tale that modern storytelling has to offer, and that would be that.

I was such a cute little novice writer.

The truth of the matter is, it never happens that way. Never, ever. I would consider myself lucky if I liked half of what ended up on the page, and more often than not, I would be completely unsatisfied with what I’d written. Largely, it was crap, a pale shadow of what I had intended to convey in my writing. It would send my perfectionism into fits of rage that would put the Hulk to shame, and leave me depressed and doubting my ability as a writer.

I’ll let you in on a little secret, one that took me a long time to discover but opened up my writing in all new ways. I’ll even give it some space so this mind-blowing concept doesn’t get lost in the shuffle, because if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to know that elusive key to turning crap writing into great writing.

Ready? Here it is:

Your first drafts are supposed to suck.

Who knew, right?

Seriously, your first draft isn’t supposed to be the be-all, end-all of spectacular writing. (And if it is, keep it to yourself, because you’ll have a legion of jealous writers hunting you down to usurp your magical powers for themselves.) The first draft is supposed to be crap, because that’s the only way you’ll get that story onto the page. Laboring over each chapter or even each line, polishing it to perfection before moving on to the next, is a surefire way to make sure you’ll never finish that story. You just have to let it flow, crap and all, and get to the end before you start polishing the crap to get to the gems within.

And there will be gems. A free flow of ideas, unfettered by perfectionism or your inner critic, will yield so much garbage, you’ll fear the stench will linger around you for years afterward. But hidden within all the crap will be the pieces of genius that will make your story. Some of it will be a shade off from what you had imagined it to be, and that’s okay. Some of it will be a pretty radical deviation from what you wanted it to be, and that’s okay, too. Sometimes these variations will inspire whole new facets of your story that you’d never stumble across otherwise, and these can take your story to the next level of greatness.

The secret is not to find a way to make sure your first draft is your final draft. The secret is to keep writing, to avoid getting discouraged, to stick with your story until the bitter end. Once you’ve got it all down from beginning to The End, you can go back any time you want to change up some words, maybe add in a few details you’d skipped before. You can do all the nitpicky stuff you want at your leisure, because the hard part is done.

I know the crappy first draft is not an easy thing to accomplish. If it was, everyone would be doing it. Rest assured, however, there’s no better way to write your tale, and the satisfaction and accomplishment that comes from getting that crappy first draft onto the page will lift your soul to unimaginable heights.

Then there’s the second draft, but that’s a story for another time…

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

It's that time of year, when I overindulge in turkey and pumpkin pie with family and friends while watching a plethora of movies. That's right, it's Thanksgiving once again, which means this week's usual Friday entry may be delayed due to food coma. There will be a new entry, but it might be on a Saturday or Sunday.

I hope all of you have a very happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 20, 2009


No, it’s not baby speak, or technobabble, or any other sort of babble. NaNoWriMo is the abbreviated form of National Novel Writing Month, which takes place throughout the month of November. While I won’t get into the specifics of NaNoWriMo here (you’re better served by following this link to find out more straight from their website), I thought it very timely that my first real entry here should discuss this month-long writer’s challenge and how it helped me reach the next stage in my life as a writer.

Back in 2005, I was struggling with my writing in a way I’d never done before. In hindsight, I was sabotaging my own efforts to launch any attempt at creating a novel-sized work with my own perfectionism, but at the time, it felt as though my inspiration had left me to flounder helplessly in my pursuits. It was the lowest point I’d ever reached in my writing to date, and that dark dissatisfaction at my inability to write wormed its way into other aspects of my life. Sure, I was writing short stories just like I always had, but I wanted to do more. I wanted to write a novel.

I honestly don’t recall now how I’d heard of NaNoWriMo. Maybe it was from a friend online who was trying to get other people into it as well, but how I got to their site isn’t nearly as important as what happened once I got there. The more I read about this challenge – 50,000 words written in the span of a month – the more I wanted to do it, if only to see how far I could get before my perfectionism shut me down. I decided on my story idea, inspired greatly by the flavor of short stories I was writing at the time, and was brainstorming characters and plot all the way through the last week of October. It was all in my head, nothing written down in any way that would give me a head start on the challenge, and all loosely structured to give myself the freedom to go anywhere my characters wanted to go with the story.

As the clock struck midnight, I started writing the opening chapter of my month-long obsession. I set myself word count goals for each day, taking into account the hectic family reunion on Thanksgiving day, and devoted myself to writing at every possible moment. To assist me in writing away from home, I bought a PDA (nicknamed Ziggy) with a bare-bones version of Word on it and a pocket-sized keyboard to go with it. I wrote on the train to work, at lunch, in coffeehouses and bookstores – anywhere I could find a few spare moments to tap out another little facet of my story. The discipline I exercised in that one month was greater than any I’d ever shown in my previous projects. Then again, I never had a community of fellow writers to hold me accountable in my previous projects.

It’s true, my favorite aspect of NaNoWriMo was the write-out. People would announce what coffeehouse they’d go to for a bit of writing and invite others to come out and join them. This flies in the face of the age-old stereotype of the writer locked in his little room, crafting tales in absolute solitude. It’s a stereotype I embody often, but for this one month I was the social writer, sitting with other writers as we all created whole new literary worlds. It was great fun, and immensely helpful to have those of like mind around to bounce the occasional idea off of, or perhaps to inquire about a particular subject or turn of phrase or what have you. That community of writers is at the core of NaNoWriMo and, I believe, the key to its success in many ways.

At the end of November, one day before the end of the month, I crossed the 50,000 word mark. I felt a sense of accomplishment greatly different from any I’d felt from completing a short story. Here, in all its crappy first draft glory, was my first novel, titled Inanimate Gods. It was the most agonizing, wonderful, terrifying, exhausting and amazing feeling in the world to have written my first book, and while I reveled in that achievement, I knew that my journey had only just begun.

But that’s a different story for another time…

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


"For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die."
Anne Lamott, Author, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Friday, November 13, 2009

Prelude to a Blog

Why write a blog? If you’re going to write, my brain rationalizes, why not go to that little menu in the corner of that computer screen right in front of you and pull up that Word document hiding somewhere on your hard drive that contains that young adult modern fantasy trilogy you’ve been slaving over? You need to be writing there anyway, and you’ll be making good progress by forcing yourself through word after word instead of wasting time online.

My brain raises some good points. Sometimes, though, you need to go with your gut and tell your brain that you’ll get back to it later.

Why write a blog? Truthfully, it’s because I need a break from that Word document hiding on my hard drive sometimes, but I still want to write. Better to switch gears, my gut says, than to force yourself to write something when you’re just not feeling it at the moment. It’d be a different case if I was writing something on a deadline, I’m sure, but since I’m not, it isn’t.

To assure my brain that this isn’t just a flimsy excuse for me to jump on the internet instead of doing the “real writing,” I’ll be using this space to chronicle the development of my aforementioned trilogy, from its humble beginnings all the way up to its eventual publishing date, and likely more beyond that. All the highs and lows will find their way in here, and I promise you’ll get plenty of both. In addition, a lot of very good ideas will be recorded here so I don’t forget them. Everything from quotable notes to notable quotes will end up on this blog, covering all manner of topics from story structure to character development and everything in between, as well as bits of inspiration that make the writer's life worth living.

In short, this will be a blog charting my progress as a writer.

Join me for the adventure, won’t you?