Thursday, January 28, 2010

Quick Take - Epic

From Merriam-Webster Online...

Main Entry: ep·ic
Pronunciation: \╦łe-pik\
Function: adjective
Etymology: Latin epicus, from Greek epikos, from epos word, speech, poem
Date: 1589

1: of, relating to, or having the characteristics of an epic
2a: extending beyond the usual or ordinary especially in size or scope
2b: heroic

Monday, January 25, 2010

In the Beginning...

Alright, I promised a blog about my development as a writer, and so far I’ve managed to neglect saying anything directly about my work in progress. No more! It’s time to lift the veil a bit and give you some insight into how I ended up writing a trilogy of young adult books.

As I’d mentioned back in my NaNoWriMo entry, it didn’t start out as a trilogy. It wasn’t even envisioned as a series. At its simplest, most innocent form, I was just working on a one-shot narrative that spun off from a small collection of short stories I was writing at the time. Sure, there was potential for follow-up stories, but my mind wasn’t at that stage yet. All I wanted to do was to tell a little tale to entertain people and show off my “mad writing skills.” I did just that – with every week of NaNoWriMo, I would bring it to the group that inspired my short stories, led by the remarkable Barbara Deutsch and populated mostly by actors, and let one of them read the Excerpt of the Week aloud.

Let me just say right now that if you literary aspirants ever find an opportunity to have your work read aloud by someone you trust, seize it with both hands. Get over your anxiety at having people see your work in progress and let them read it aloud as if to an audience. A successfully crafted narrative is one that flows smoothly, and the best test of this is to see if someone can cold read it without stumbling over the words and sentence structure. More than that, if you’re writing dialogue, you can hear if it sounds conversational or if your characters sound like textbooks. In addition, if you’re writing a story that incorporates humor, you can see and hear if someone gets it or not… depending on if your reader is part of your target audience, of course. (I, myself, am pleased to report that people responded very well to the humor in my first draft.)

By the end of the month, I had a first draft of a novel, but it only barely fit the criteria. I set to the task of reworking it, adding chapters to fill out the narrative, weeding out chapters that were redundant or otherwise added nothing to the story, and changing whatever was left to fit the new material so it would flow even smoother than before. In that time, the word count on my novel blossomed from barely over 50,000 to well over 65,000 words. Plot was tightened, the world was expanded upon, and the whole thing seemed much more cohesive. There was just one little problem.

I had no idea who exactly it was for.

Sure, I had an inkling that it would make for a fine young adult novel, but the tone and some of the material suggested that it might find a home on the sci-fi/fantasy shelf. The fact that I hadn’t decided on who it was for could be seen throughout my story, though, and it suffered greatly for it. I had to pick a genre, and that decision either way would mean a rewrite of my novel. After a great deal of consideration, I decided to bring it fully into the realm of young adult fiction. I’d always had a fondness for the genre, and the success of the Harry Potter book series (among others) showed that they weren’t just for kids. With a little retooling of the story and plot, I could make an awe-inspiring tale of wonder and magic that would sit proudly on the YA Fiction shelf.

I’ll delve into some of that retooling next week!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Writer's Block Disease

It happens to the best of us – writer’s block, the complete and total inability to make any sort of progress in our writing. This horrible affliction is like a debilitating disease, destroying your inspiration and eating away at your sanity until you’re left as nothing more than an empty husk of a writer. Fear and doubt start to creep into your every waking thought. Is there a finite amount of inspiration within you? Have you used it all up? Were you even a writer to begin with? Was this all some delusional state of believing you could write, or a dream that is slowly turning into a nightmare?

I’ve been diagnosed with this dreaded affliction more than a few times, and one case was so fatal, it took me years to recover. I felt adrift, abandoned by my muse to float lost and alone in a sea of despair, wondering if this dream of becoming a published writer was an unattainable fantasy. Depression ruled me and seeped into every aspect of my life, which affected my relationships to the people around me in unhealthy ways. I went from being a reclusive writer to simply a recluse, wearing my angst and drama like a thick cloak, wrapped tight enough to smother me.

Writer’s block is no fun, kids.

So how does one treat the Writer’s Block Disease? First, you’ll have to shut down the computer, step away from the keyboard, and get out. Go somewhere, anywhere, and do something. It could be as simple as going down to the corner store to pick up something to drink or as elaborate as taking a trip to see a place you’ve never been before. Go skiing, surfing, biking, hiking. Watch whatever blockbuster movie is in theaters, or take in a play. Buy a DVD or CD… or better yet, buy a book. Visit friends, walk through the park, or check out the latest roller derby bout. Whatever you do, you need to do it away from your writing.

To some, this advice will no doubt appear antithetical to what a writer is supposed to do. Writers write, right? Yes, but your writing will suffer if you don’t get out there and back up those words with life experience. Sure, you can try to use someone else’s experience to create a narrative, but borrowing from another’s life will not ring as true as if it came from your own hard-earned experience. Despite what some people think, writers aren’t fabricators of lies put to print, we take the truth and wrap it in fantasy and allegory. This truth must be personal, or your most vital connection to your readers will be lost. Make them feel what you feel. Live, love, lose, then come back to the word processor or notebook and get it all down.

What if you’ve stepped away from the computer, “lived and loved” and all that, and you still have writer’s block when you come back to the writing? At that point, I’d probably switch gears to something else that I’ve been meaning to work on and leave the other project on the mental backburner for a bit. Sometimes the brain just gets stuck on something and needs a new creative avenue to travel down. I go back and forth between my trilogy and other projects every so often, and even this blog lets me write freely so my subconscious can mull over the other projects I’m working on. If you’re not feeling it, don’t feel guilty for wanting to switch gears to something else. This may be just what you need to move around that mental block.

What if you’ve done all of the above, and you still can’t get any further on the project you want to work on? Well, all is not lost. Maybe you just need to sleep on it and let your dreams sort out how to get past your writer’s block. My ski instructor years ago taught me that the subconscious will help you learn and grow just as much as any class or instruction you might take. Maybe you need someone to bounce ideas off of, just to get them out of your head. Speaking aloud the problem you’re facing in your writing can sometimes trigger a breakthrough that you wouldn’t reach by internalizing the issue. Maybe your solution isn’t anything discussed here, but something you stumble across on your own. The creative process isn’t something you can codify, as much as other writers (myself included) might lead you to believe. What works for one of us won’t necessarily work for you. Sometimes we have to forge our own path as creators to discover what resonates best for us.

Do you have a preferred way to cure the writer’s block disease? Post it in the comment section and share them with your fellow writers!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Q&A Time, Part One

I was inspired to make a Q&A post after talking with one of my roomies. Specifically, we were talking about what question you would ask of your favorite writer, and the question posed was so out of left field that I stole it to use as a blog entry:

What do you do first thing in the morning?

My answer, it turns out, is somewhat conditional depending on what day it is. As I've stated before, I don't make a living off my writing just yet, so I wake up Monday through Friday knowing that I'll be trudging off to my day job. On those days, I generally wake up (grudgingly) to a warm shower and jump online for a handful of minutes before I make my morning commute to work. In the time I'm online, I generally make a habit of checking weather first (because SoCal isn't always sunny these days) before moving on to email, Facebook, and my favorite forums. Rarely will I make a reply at this hour, but I'll always check to see who's posted what. I'll even spare a moment to glance over the news items on my home page.

The exception to the above is Wednesday, when I generally have a chance to sleep in an extra hour before heading off to meet with my personal champion, BD, and our tight-knit group of creative minds. Without BD and her support, I may never have achieved the focus required to create the trilogy I'm currently working on.

Weekends, of course, are wildly varied depending on what happened the night before, but generally I sleep in (because I believe dreams are an important way of resolving any problems you may be facing with characters or plot) and wake to either a good book or some quality writing time with my laptop. And, of course, there's the requisite online time to check my usual morning sites, though I'm usually quicker to reply over the weekends.

And there you have it, my early morning routine... such as it is, since I'm very much not a morning person.

Do you have a question for me that you'd like answered here in my blog? Click on the comments link below and submit your query. Each question will be answered in its own post to the best of my ability. Be warned, though, I tend to be cryptic when it comes to the specific details of my trilogy. Gotta protect my property, you understand. That caveat aside, though, ask away!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Quick Take on the Harry Potter Series

These books are the best reason to get into Young Adult fiction, and the story of how they got written and published is incredibly inspiring to me.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Location, Location, Location

Whew, survived another holiday season! This time of year, to me, typically means more travel than usual, at least out of town if not out of state. I’m fortunate that my mother doesn’t live too far from my Los Angeles sanctum, but it’s still a sizable drive. The rest of my family is scattered to the four corners, which means braving airport security just so I can enjoy a nice plane ride filled with writing.

Earlier in my blog, I discussed being able to write anywhere to take advantage of odd writing moments throughout the day. In this entry, I thought I’d expand on that a little bit to discuss the traveling writer and some of the excellent opportunities to write that present themselves away from home.

Airlines are always encouraging their passengers to arrive in advance to check in, and in this day and age, it’s a good idea to show up well in advance of your flight just to make your way through the increasingly heightened airport security. As such, your writing opportunities begin before you even board the plane. Instead of counting the minutes until your flight starts boarding, try a word count to see how much you can get down before they start pre-boarding. This is actually a pretty good incentive to get to the airport on time for those who typically have “no time for writing.” What else are you going to do, browse the overpriced souvenir store?

The flight itself is the perfect opportunity to delve deep into your writing. You’re stuck in a cabin with nowhere else to go except the lavatory, there’s really no scenery to look at once you hit 30,000 feet (unless you really like cloud formations), and for the price of those airline headphones you could rent whatever in-flight movie they’re showing. They even provide you with your own mini-desk, and the flight attendants will fuel your creative juices with nearly any kind of drink you want. This is the perfect situation for a writer to be in – no one calling you on the phone, no chores that you remember you need to do, none of the usual distractions and excuses. It’s just you, your writing, and at least a good half-hour of writing time. And unlike the writer’s usual coffeehouse haunt, they’ll bring your drink to you on the plane.

Now, writing away from home can be tricky depending on where you’re staying and who you’re staying with. Family has a habit of taking priority if you’re visiting them for the holidays, and it’s considered rude to ignore your hosts if they’re letting you stay at their place. Fortunately, the same rules apply here that apply at home – you can write first thing in the morning or right before you go to bed. Time changes can help you out here, because everyone expects you to be jet-lagged after the flight, so it’s not unusual for you to wake up before everyone else if you’re going from East Coast to West Coast, or to stay up after everyone else has bedded down if you’re going from west to east. When I would visit family in Texas for the holidays, I’d still be wide awake after everyone else had succumbed to sleep, so I was able to get some nice, uninterrupted writing done without being disruptive or reclusive.

Of course, you might also get lucky and have a wonderful, understanding family like mine who supports your writing and wants to give you the opportunities you need to get in a little alone time for that story you’re working on. If this is the case, make sure to tell them at every opportunity how much you love them, because this is the greatest gift a writer could ever ask for around the holidays.

Jet lag can help you out here as well. People expect you to be tired after a long flight, so they don’t mind if you excuse yourself early to catch some “shut eye,” AKA writing time. Hey, if you can come up with excuses NOT TO write, surely you can come up with an excuse TO write. Right? Right. And if you’re visiting family that you’re not exactly keen on spending too much time with, this is a good way to get out of hearing Uncle Ned’s retelling of how he got kicked out of the Vatican for the millionth time.

As for the flight home, repeat the above section on airports and airplanes. Seriously, it’s some prime writing time, and you’d be a poor writer to pass up such an excellent opportunity dropped in your lap like that.

The traveling writer has a great deal of time to work on his craft while out and about, he just needs to seize it. (And I mean “his” in an all-encompassing sense, not to leave our lady writers out.) The trick is not to let a good opportunity pass you by, and to create those opportunities yourself if given half a chance. Trust me, your inner muse will be glad you did.