Archive for October, 2011



Excuses, excuses, excuses... by hugovk

So, I’ve been thinking about these funny little things called excuses. You know, those strings of words we use to keep from working on our current WIP. And I figured that with NaNWriMo coming up, now would be a good time to talk about them. So, whether you’re planning to write a book in a month or if you’re just trying to write a book period, I invite you to examine your own excuses as I examine mine.

Now, of course, there are such things as legitimate excuses. There are times that you just can’t meet your goal or fulfill a task. Things like kids, car problems, relatives and basic sanitation do require some of your attention. You also require some of your attention. There are just certain things that we have to take time. And then there are those things are just helping us stall. For whatever reason, we don’t want or are afraid to pick up that pen and start writing and so you avoid it. Be warned, sometimes legitimate excuses can be used for stalling. Most of the time, you know the difference. I know when I’m stalling. Like, now. Actually, like this past week.

To illustrate my point, I’ve written down some of my most common excuses:

  • My room: This could be a legitimate excuse. My room has been in a constant state of chaos for months. Not to mention the laundry that has to be done daily it seems. Problem is, I kind of clean, but then I get distracted or start playing on the computer. So I can’t really say it’s legitimate, but neither is it entirely stalling. It doesn’t help that I currently have an extra mattress, a dresser, two ends tables, a crib and a box spring jammed in here at the moment.
  • “I’m tired”: This is probably my most common excuse. When you get up as early as I do (or earlier) tired is a common problem. Thing is, I’m always tired it seems, so apparently I’m going to have to deal with it. Getting enough rest is important, but somehow, getting too much ends up leading into getting too little.
  • “I don’t feel like it/I’m not in the mood”: There are times that I know I should write and that it wouldn’t be terrible, but for some reason I (mentally) stomp my foot like a three-year-old and go, “I don’t WANT to!” This one is probably the most embarrassing for me, considering that I’m a part of the write every day, rain or shine camp. But I’m no different from anyone else, there are days that I just don’t want to write. And there’s not necessarily any harm in taking a break for a day. Sometimes your noggin’ just needs a break. Still, you need to use discretion. Do you really need a break? Or are you just frustrated? Maybe you should walk away, go for a jog, get something to eat, possibly take a shower and then sit back down and continue working. Or start working as the case may be.
  • “Work was a bear”: Anyone ever have a particularly hard day at work? Really, no one? Ya’ll must be lying. Anyways, there are some days that I the last thing I want to do is sit down and write. There are days that my day has just been terrible and writing is just more work. Fine, whatever. Don’t let it stop you completely. Grab that book you’ve been meaning to read for months. Or grab some of your research materials if you find those particularly fascinating. Chill in bed, or on the couch or as you pig out on ice cream and Oreos and do something that is both enjoyable and constructive.
  • A book: Not much to say about this one. I stink at limiting my reading time. Now, reading is never a waste of time, but at the same time I have things that need to get done.
  • This blog: This one is a tricky one. Because sometimes I use the blog to avoid writing the book and other times I work on the book when I need to stop and work on the blog. So there are times that the blog is a legitimate excuse and times when I’m just using it to stall.

And that’s my list of most often used excuses. What’s your list? Sit down for a minute and think. Write them down. Identify which ones are legit excuses and which ones you use to stall. Of course, that’s only half the fight, but it’s easier to come up with a battle plan once you know what you’re dealing with.

Have you completed step one? Awesome, time to move onto step two. For each excuse that you’ve put down, come up with a plan of action. Is it something that needs to get done? Then get it done. Figure out a date or a time and stop using it as an excuse. Here’s how I plan to conquer my excuses:

  1. Clean my room- Once I get all this extra furniture out of my room, I am going to take an afternoon and that’s all I will do. No writing, no reading, no stalling.
  2. Use my desk- It’s a lot harder to fall asleep while I’m writing if I’m sitting in a chair vs. my bed.
  3. Give myself a cheat day- One day a week I give myself permission to just veg. I don’t have to write or do any research or get anything constructive done. But that’s it.
  4. Plan ahead- There are several things that I can do to keep work from being my excuse. I can do my heaviest writing on my day off or on my short day at work can help. Also, planning to get out of the house and going to the library to work. There’s something about going to a specific place to write that makes you get stuff done.
  5. Plan my reading time- again not much to say.
  6. Designate my writing time- It’s time for me to start designating one or two days a week to sit down and pound out a few blog articles (like I’m doing now) to store up for the rest  of the week. The rest of the days I work on my book.

So that’s it. That’s my plan. A lot of it will be easier as I work on prioritizing and managing my time.

Keep in mind that there are going to be times, long stretches of days or weeks or even years that you may not be able to write. And that’s okay. Life is kind of crazy. Things happen. Cars get crashed, loved ones die, finals week (*cough cough* month) comes. Those things  are bigger that an excuse. Just accept that there are going to be times that you have to put the book aside and focus on other parts of your life.

So join me as I say: “DOWN WITH THE EXCUSES!”

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Tortall & Other Lands by Tamora Pierce

Ages 12 and up

I thought about coming up with something resembling a synopsis for this review, but I realized that due to the nature of this book, it would be very short (or really long). So I’ll just put it plainly. This is a book of short stories by Tamora Pierce (Song of the Lioness Quartet, The Immortals, the Beka Cooper Trilogy). Most of the stories involve Tortall or one of its neighbors. It is good. You should read it.

I’ve been reading Tamora Pierce’s books since I was a teenager. I actually picked them up because of her book Trickster’s Choice, the cover called to me. Of course then I found out that book wasn’t where the story really started, so me being me, I had to go all the way back to the beginning before I could start what I’d originally wanted to read.

It was nice to be able to interact with some of my old friends in from Tortall, as well as some of the new ones. I enjoyed that she switched up the point of view between the different stories. They weren’t all in first person, nor were they all in third. She matched the POV to the style of narration to the story and the characters.

Speaking of which, this book was an awesome study of different characters. With only a few pages for each story, Pierce managed to connect me with her characters. She used the details extremely well.  Many of them show you something about the characters at the same time that they move the story forward. There’s also something to be said about the continuity of style that she shows throughout the book. She may change voices, but Pierce is always at the helm. Some of the stories that stood out to me were: “Testing”, “Mimic”, “Student of Ostriches” and “The Dragon’s Tale” (because Daine and Numair from The Immortals remain my favorite of her characters and because Kit is awesome).

The only sour point for me was how the stories seemed to become repetitive. They always seemed to deal with a similar problem: a young girl being oppressed by her father or society or someone else. Which is a wonderful topic and the source of a lot of fiction, but at the same time, it’s not the only problem out there and I would have like to see some of the stories deal with other issues. It kind of felt like I was being beat over the head.

Still, this is a lovely little collection of stories that are worth the read. Especially if you are a writer (or already a fan of Pierce’s work). I think that the short story format allows you to see the individual elements of what makes a story great a little bit easier than a full length novel.

This is a good example of:

  • Point of View
  • Integration of story and world
  • Continuity of style
  • Character sketches

This book is on my recommended list.


Ah. It’s that time of year again. The hustle. The bustle. The stress of that looming deadline that creeps closer each day until suddenly it pounces on you. And hopefully, you’ve got a fool-safe plan (because, let’s face, there is no such thing as foolproof).

You thought I was talking about Christmas, didn’t you?

DSCN5902_edited-1 by Lindsey Hickman

Nope. I’m talking about National Novel Writing Month a.k.a. NaNoWriMo. It’s one crazy month where writers all over the world try to write a 50,000 word novel between midnight Nov 1 and 11:59 November 30. If you want real details, you can check out the Wiki article.

The idea of writing an entire novel in 30 days is not a new concept for me. The current method that I am experimenting with and tweaking is from Book in a Month by Victoria Lynn Schmidt (Good book). I modified her plan so it could be spread over the course of a year. I love the idea of spending one month focused on writing a book, but at this point in my life, I would just be setting myself up to fail miserably.  There is unfortunately a lot going on in my life right now that cannot be put on hold for a whole month. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t’ want to get a ton of writing done. It’s just that focusing on one project is a bit beyond me right now.

Then I had this thought: Who says I have to play by the rules? I mean, I’m not planning to submit. So I came up with my own plan.

I decided that my goal would still be to write 50,000 words. If I can bang out 50,000 words of Mind Games, awesome! That’s half of my 100,000 word goal. But I’m going to take November and focus on consistently writing every day. That means 12,500 words every seven days…that’s just under 2,000 words a day. It’s a big goal for me, but hey, if you don’t aim big, you’ll never be big. Right?

Anyone else out there that wants to join me? Maybe the idea of NaNoWriMo scares you or you just don’t have enough time or your stories just aren’t long enough for 50,000 words. Let’s not let anything like that stop us. Let’s decide that we are going to join in on the fun, even if we’re being a little unorthodox. Maybe you decide on less than 50,000 words. Go ahead, modify it a little. It’ll be good practice for next year. It’ll be good practice period.

And let me encourage you. If you can participate in NaNoWriMo, if it’s even a possibility, GO FO IT!!! Make this the year that you finally write that book.

So, how about it? Anyone going to join me?


The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

Ages 16 and up

Mary’s world is simple. There is the fence that separates her village from the Forest of Hands and Teeth and the masses of unconsecrated (a.k.a. zombies). There is the Sisterhood that keeps order and protects the village. And there are her mother’s stories about the outside world and the ocean. The path her life will take is simple and uncomplicated and controlled. She will either marry and raise a family or join the Sisterhood. When her mother is infected and no one has spoken for her, the Sisterhood abruptly becomes her only choice. Inside the walls that shelter the sisters, Mary starts to discover that the Sisterhood hasn’t been entirely truthful. Mary’s world begins to turn end over end as she tries to discover what exactly these women have been up to and what dark secrets are hidden in the church walls. And she begins to wonder, what if her mother spoke the truth about the ocean?

It has taken me several months to get to where I can objectively talk about this book (I finished it in July). You would think that for my maiden voyage into the zombie genre I would choose something that was comical, like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but no…I chose Forest of Hands and Teeth. I’m glad I did, but it took me a long time to get there. To put it simply: I love the writing but I didn’t like the book.

Now, disclaimer: My opinion of this story is subject to change. Okay, not really, let’s rephrase. My opinion of this series has changed. I put down Forest of Hands and Teeth and had to think long and hard about whether or not I was going to pick up the next book. I did eventually decide to continue on with the series, mostly because the recommendation that made me pick up the series in the first placecame from someone a trusted (two someones actually). And I will say I’m loving the second book. My main problem stemmed from the fact that this was only the first book in a series, and that means it ended in an unhappy place. And as many of you know by now, the ending factors a good deal into whether or not I like the book as a whole (Anyone remember the Specials debacle). But I still say you should read this book. And not just because you need it to set up the second book. I think that there are also several lessons that you can learn by reading this book.

First off, the writing was superb. She was great with the descriptions, I felt the world around me. Could sense the Forest crowding in at the edges of the fence. Ryan also did very well with grabbing my attention. She opens the book with her heroine facing two simple problems: zombies and boys. And then BAM! Her mom gets infected, her brother tosses her out and the boy that was going to speak for her (though she’s actually in love with his brother) goes silent. That coupled Ryan’s spin on the whole zombie thing hooks and drags you through the first half of the book (drags as in tied behind a runaway horse).

I liked the her spin. My limited experience with zombies (Abhorsen trilogy anyone?) uses magic in the creation of the undead (or weird forms of Kryptonite). This was the first time that I remember science used. The unconsecrated were created by scientists out of the desire to do good and help people. They weren’t planning on making a horde of flesh-eating animated corpses.

Unfortunately (and this would have helped my overall impression) I felt like there was a lack of a character arc for Mary in this book. She kind of starts in one place, has an adventure, and then ends in another place that is the same as the first place. A character needs to have growth, they need to be different in a marked way. Not just in that they have had new experiences, but in the fact that they have changed as a person. I don’t feel that Mary did this.

Another thing that I suggest you watch for (and you will learn a lot from this) is the way the story kind of lulls in the middle. The tension does pick up again at the end (oh boy, does it pick up), but it does go a little limp for a chapter or two. This is a good section to maybe analyze when you’ve finished the book. Figure out why it dies down like it does and determine how you can avoid doing that in your own book.

This book is worth the read. It will entertain you and it will teach you something about writing. I had to take a long, hard look at myself to figure out why it was exactly that I didn’t like it. That exercise has made it easier for me write about a book objectively when it comes time for me to review it.

I will put out the caution that these are teenagers we’re dealing with and because of that sex is very much on Mary’s mind (especially considering that they’re expected to wed and increase the population at the age of sixteen). There is nothing gratuitous and it is all very subtle. I didn’t feel the need to skip any chunks of text as I have with some books, but I would still steer younger teens away from these books.

This is a good example of:

  • Description
  • World-building
  • Starting tension

You know as writers we always love a good story. We read other writer’s works. We watch movies and listen to music. Nothing gets our blood going like a well-told tale. But I recently realized that they best stories aren’t fictional. They can, in fact, be sitting right next to you and you will never even know it.

Now this is something that I should have known, growing up with the mom that I had. She loved telling us stories about when she was a little girl. Okay, maybe I begged her for the stories. But the point is that she had some pretty awesome stuff to tell. About her childhood and about growing up (kids, your parents do know they’re talking about—listen to them). Like the one where a tornado once deposited an stable (intact, horses and all) in her backyard.

But no, I didn’t realize it growing up. The things we take for granted. Of course I didn’t want to be a writer when I was little, so I didn’t spend much time thinking about these things.

No I realized it a few weeks ago reading a friend’s blog post. I remember reading it and thinking, “Now, that’s a story.”

The amazing things in life don’t happen when you’re reading the book (at least, most of them don’t). They happen while you’re out living it. While you’re out making memories and laughing (or crying) with friends. You discover them when you talk with other people.

Your life may not seem interesting to you. You may think that it’s boring or dull. But the person sitting right next to you probably thinks the same thing about their life. So swap stories, you might discover that the tale they have to tell is more amazing than anything you could ever read or write.


Twitter is a valuable tool for any writer. From bestselling authors to those of us just trying to write something—anything—that people will enjoy as much as we do. And Twitter isn’t very hard to figure out, just takes a few months or years…Actually, I’m not sure I’ll ever really know entirely what I’m doing with Twitter. Mostly, I just take a shot in the dark and try it again if it works. The one thing that I’ve noticed, though, is that tweeting good content often, is the best way to engage with others and will get you the most exposure.

But finding good content can be hard. All that searching and reading and having to decide if it’s worth retweeting. It just takes so much effort. Right?

Wrong.

If I’m focused I can plan out a whole day’s worth of tweets in just two quick sit downs (I use Buffer, which only allows me to store 10 tweets at a time). How do I do this?

Tweeting good content is mostly about staying informed and trying to predict what your audience would want to know. Now, chances are you are no more a mind-reader than I am. So, how do you predict what your followers are going to want to read? Simple. Just pass on what you find interesting, chances are they will find it interesting too. After all, they most likely followed you because you share some similar interests. Now that that part is out of the way, we can talk about how to find good content. Or at least, what I’ve learned  about finding good content.

Half the work will be done for you if you follow the right people. If you follow people that are posting good content that interests you, it’s easy to find stuff you want to pass on to your followers. When trying to build your Twitter list look for these kinds of people:

  • Authors like you– Look for others that are in a similar spot in their writing journey. They are the most likely to post information that is applicable to you. They also love to interact with others like them. They will be the first to congratulate you when you make your word count. And the first to encourage you when your book is driving you up a wall. Or slamming you into the wall.
  • Authors that inspire you (or your friends)- I didn’t start following people like Rick Riordan (@CampHalfBLood), Ally Carter (@OfficiallyAlly) or Lauren DeStefano (@LaurenDeStefano) because I dreamed of becoming all buddy-buddy with them. I followed them because I loved their writing…Okay, mostly I followed them for news about their upcoming books, but I have learned so much from following them and other published authors. I’ve learned about book tours and copy editing and keeping going even when you want to burn your manuscript, so I now follow as many of my favorite authors as I can.
  • Publishing houses/agents/editors- These are good to follow so you can stay up-to-date with the publishing industry. They also happen to post a lot of advice about writing and publishing. So follow them. Especially if you’ll be submitting your book to them.
  • Social media experts– Let’s face it, we’ve entered a world where managing your Twitter and Facebook and blog are just as crucial as writing that book. Following social media accounts (good ones) are a good way to learn and keep abreast of what’s going on. After all, the more you know…

Another good source of info for me are the blogs that I subscribe to (Most of them are located in my blogroll to the right). I apply the same criteria to choosing my blogs. All I have to do is log into my email and I have all kinds of interesting posts at my fingertips. Plus, just like with retweeting, it’s nice to support others that you admire.

If neither of those are working for me—or if I feel like I’m lacking variety on that day—I will do a hashtag search. There are all kinds of people that you never even knew about posting stuff that might just tickle you. Plus, including posts with hashtags makes it easier for others to find and follow you. Some that I have used include:

  • #amwriting
  • #writetip/#writetips
  • #writer
  • #writing
  • #author

Finally, even though you want to be passing along the content of others., there is one big reason that people (real people at least) decide to follow you: They like you. Something you said resonated with them. So don’t forget to be yourself. After you’ve got all kinds of fun stuff to pass along, put in a few personal tweets. Twitter is a great place for accountability. Ask people to hold you responsible for goals. Post updates about where you are. Are you sitting down to write for a few hours? Post your word count, people will celebrate with you…or berate you if you didn’t make your goal. Twitter can also be a great place to ask questions and offer any insight that you might have.

Finally, I couldn’t talk about Twitter without mentioning how I make it happen.

The main problem that you may discover if that you don’t have the time to sit on Twitter all day long and space your tweets out evenly. Nor do you want to flood the Twitter stream with everything that you’ve found to share. Here comes the importance of scheduling your tweets using an app like Buffer or TweetDeck or HootSuite. They all have their pros and cons and it doesn’t much matter which you use. It just depends on what your preferences are.

Now I can’t claim to be any kind of Twitter expert. Heck, I can’t claim to be an expert at much of anything (except running a Chick-Fil-A drive-thru). But this is what I have learned so far, so I wanted to share it with you. Please chime in with your own advice.

And if you’re interested in following me my handle is: @TheGladElf.

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