Tag Archive: writer’s quirks

I have a confession to make: My passion for my work-in-progress has kind of fizzled out.

I had some awesome momentum last year. Wrote twenty chapters in a month (thank you NaNoWriMo). I knew what was happening. There were great and exciting things running through my head.  I would sit down at my computer and typing was an adventure. And then, it all stopped.  Not like I hit a brick wall or anything and more like I ran onto a giant sheet of flypaper.

Today (actually, last Thursday), I stared at the screen for an hour and didn’t even make five hundred words. To put that in perspective, I was writing between 1000-1200 words an hour at the beginning of the year.

Thanks to my outline, I still know what’s going to happen next. I know how to get from point A to Z, I’ve just lost interest in getting there. There are so many other things I would rather do. Read City of Lost Souls or watch Psych or finally find out what this DC reboot is all about (I am suffering a relapse of Batman mania due to the sheer awesomeness of Dark Knight Rises, but more on that another time). Or write fan fiction, my mind is churning out all kinds of fan fiction ideas. And the sad part is, the fan fiction I’ve written lately is better that the three or four most recent chapters of Mind Games. I mean, Chapter 28 mostly reads like lines for a play, with a few notes about blocking and scene. Well, at least some of the dialogue holds water…maybe…once I polish it up. I have successfully reached the Half-way Blahs (which does not always occur at the actual halfway point).

If this was my first experience with the Blahs, I might be worried. And those of you who’ve just reached this point for the first or second time may be worried. But before you start throwing ashes over torn-out hair and hold a funeral for your muse, listen for a minute. I can tell you that this isn’t my first frustration struggle with the Blahs. And this won’t be your last (And if you haven’t met them yet, they’re coming). The Blahs will pass. The glue on the flypaper dries out eventually and you can build up to that run again. Better yet, you can use the flypaper as kindling to get your fire going again. The work you have to do to escape the Blahs is always worth it.

And as for me, I’ve been lounging about and feeding my inner artist for too long. Problem is, this diet of (phenomenal) reading with no writing has made my inner artist fat and lazy. She could run, but she had no desire to and obviously can’t last for very long. So it’s time to get back on the track. I’m going to make her work, even if she can only manage short bursts at the keyboard. Because even though it may take weeks or months, I will get back to the point when I can spend huge chunks of time writing. I’ll find the passion for this story again. But until then, I will push on (for more about writing even when you don’t want to, check out this blog). I’ll do so much research. I’ll drag out the playlist and listen to it incessantly. And I’ll keep stumbling through my story, because sometimes you have to fall a few times before you can run.

The Music That Makes Me Write

I ❤ Music by Dia

As writers we have our lucky pen. And our trusty laptop. And our favorite writing programs. We have our routines, our favorite writing spots, our “bibles”, our quirks and our writing buddies. I am no different. The pen I use changes, depending on what mood I’m in. Some days I can get a ton of writing done at home and some days I can hardly get two words out. I have a three ring binder that I carry with me wherever I go, even if I know I won’t need it, because it has all of my Mind Games stuff in it and I can’t bear to not have it on me (because, the one time I leave is the time I’ll need it). But my most important tool? The one that affects my writing the most? That one never changes.

My music.

Give me my music and I can turn almost anywhere into a writing spot. I can write in the middle of a lunch rush at Chick-Fil-A, with a packed lobby and a gaggle of high-pitched little girls two tables over. Music is one of the most important parts of my writing process. Can I write without it? Yes. Will I like it? Heck no. And it’s not just because I am a music major and have constant need for some form of music to be playing.

Music helps me write a better story.

Now of course, it does often help me to write faster (once I resist the urge to sing). I don’t have a specific writing CD as some do. What I listen to can change from day to day. Right now, country is the music of choice. Tomorrow, it might the Star Wars soundtrack or a Broadway Musical. Or,  it might be a collection of songs that I picked because they sync with my WIP in some way (Yes, I have a Mind Games playlist).

One of the things that music affects the most is the development and the relationships of my characters. For example, if I’m writing from Annette’s point of view, I might listen to Trouble by P!nk or As She Cries by La Rue. For David, I might choose Build Me a Wall from Shrek the Musical or Hero by Bethany Dillon. My friends can testify that I’ve been listening to my iPod in the car or at home and gone, “This is such a/an [character’s name] song.” I eat us any song that fits with a characters journey or relationship with another character. I have (or had, it’s gone apparently) a playlist that was dedicated to the relationship between Annette and David (my two mains in case you hadn’t guessed) which includes Accidentally in Love, both versions of You Found Me, some Disney,  and Haunted and several other songs by Taylor Swift.

In addition to inspiring my work with the characters, music is also extremely helpful in setting the mood when you’re working on a specific section. Creepy beginning? Then I listen to Fog Bound from POTC. Am I trying to get the writing fires revved and type a storm? Then I skip to the section of the list with the Kelly Clarkson songs. This may seem extreme to some, but when I was developing the playlist for Mind Games, I actually sat with my outline and arranged the songs so that they fit the mood of certain chapters. Doesn’t mean that I always stick to that, but it helps when I’m trying to get into the scene.

And who knows, the music you’re listening to might cause you to realize something about a character or discover a plot twist that you didn’t know was there before. Example? Oh boy, do I have one. Picture this: I’ve finished getting the outline for Mind Games down. It’s typed, I’ve divided it into tentative chapters, I’ve started picking songs that match them. And then I go jogging and Speak Now comes on. BAM! I realized that my book was missing a whole four chapters in which the heroine actually agrees to marry the big bad evil dude. What?! Needless to say, David’s not happy. It didn’t affect much of the beginning of the story, but it did completely change the ending of the book. Okay, not really, but it threw quite a loop in the road that got me there.

So what’s your relationship with music and writing? Can you live without it? Is it a necessary part? Or do you just use it when the mood hits you?

“ Well, the first thing you should have is an idea and then… Well, first you need something to write with. They… they know that. Well, obviously you need a writing instrument and you need an idea. I’m just not sure which should come first.” –Dr. Temperance “Bones” Brennan in The Woman in the Car 1.11

Warhol's Lightbulbs by zetson

Are there any Bones fans out there?

Oh, wow, yes I see you all. Remember this hilarious interview from the first season? I do. As a writer myself, I love it any time they work in details about Bones’ writing career. Moments like this make me giggle.

Though, I think if she went about it scientifically, she’d find that the idea usually comes before you even pick up the pen. The idea is, in fact, the reason that a writer starts writing.

You hear a lot about writers and their muses. This is it. The idea is the muse. The idea is the thing that gets us up in the middle of the night when we have a 6 a.m. shift and makes us turn the laptop back on. The idea is the thing that makes us laugh and cry and tear our hair out when we can’t quite figure out a certain part of it. Ideas don’t always come when it’s convenient and hardly ever when we have a pen or a piece of paper handy (often they like to come when you have one, but not the other). We learn to carry notebooks with us and enough pens to supply a small classroom, because, when that idea comes you don’t want to lose it. (Any fledgling writer’s out there, learn now. Go get a small notebook and a pack of pens and keep them with you at all times.)

And ideas aren’t that hard to come by. We are inundated by them (which is sometimes a problem). What’s the saying… “There’s nothing new under the sun”? It’s true. Original doesn’t necessarily mean brand spanking never-seen-the-light-of-day new, but it does mean that you’re looking at something in a new way. Think about all the retellings of Cinderella that there are out there:

  • Ella Enchanted
  • Just Ella
  • Ever After
  • A Cinderella Story
  • Before Midnight
  • Princess of Glass
  • Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister

Those are just the ones that I could name off the top of my head. I know that there are oodles missing from that list. Each one of them tackles the “original” story in a different way. They play with characters, relationships and even the very plot.

This is one of the reasons that reading books is so very important. Reading provides constant exposure to other ideas. Ideas outside of our own experience and exposure. And you never know where a story idea is going to come from. You can find them in books, movies, music, dreams and life experiences just to start. Don’t believe me? I can give you a few examples.

My first “novel” (which is unfinished because I lack the skill to rewrite it into what I want it to be) was inspired by Lord of the Rings. Not the movies, but the books. I mean, the movies are awesome, but it wasn’t until I read the actual books that I realized that I wanted to be a part of that world. TROA (Still working on an actual title) started out as a LOTR fanfic and evolved from there (more about that later).

There’s also Shattered, my own Cinderella retelling (as a lover of fairy tales, I felt that I had to  add to the list at some point) which was inspired by a movie. That one came to me one day while I was watching Ella Enchanted with friends. It struck me that it might be kind of fun to write my own reinvention, but the kind of character that I envisioned wouldn’t be one to just sit idly by and let her stepmother bully her. So I started wondering: “Apart from horrible curses, how could I get Cindy to act so out of character and make it credible?” And then the answer came to me. Of course, that is still highly top secret. You’ll read about it someday.

And then there is my current WIP, Mind Games. My baby. The book that keeps trying to grow up too fast. This one is a hodge-podge of ideas and inspirations ranging from manga to previous story ideas.The first actual scene I wrote was inspired by a dream (which was the product of an Alias marathon and a Kelly Clarkson song). The idea was in my brain brewing, but I didn’t know the characters or anything about them. My dream didn’t lay out the whole book, it was only the one scene, but that was enough for me to sink my teeth into the idea and really start to develop it. Of course, that scene has since been cut. Sad, I know. But the story moved away from that plotline and into something better.

And that’s my final bit of advice. Don’t get too attached to your ideas. They’re going to grow, they’re going to evolve. So often ideas start out as a question, that becomes more questions with each answer you discover and the idea becomes more than you ever imagined. Remember that first story, TROA? That’s actually an acronym for the original title, The Ring of Alythya. That story started from a simple question (I am bearing my former sixteen-year-old soul in telling you this): What would happen if there was someone who was born to face down Sauron? That little bit of fanfiction eventually ceased to grab my interest (I think that character could win some serious Mary Sue prizage), but the idea was still there and some of the scenes I’d come up with were kind of decent. TROA started as a LOTR rip-off that was truly cringe-worthy, but with each successive edit/rewrite I discovered that even though the characters (and I) thought it was about a ring, in the end it wasn’t about the ring at all. It was about making the main character into someone who step into the role she was being prepared for. (Or course, it still is kind of Lord of the Rings-y, but now it’s more because they share the same genre.) I had to let go of a lot of my first ideas somewhere around draft four or five (And I’m going to have to let go of more when I’m ready to pick it back up again). It wasn’t pretty. It hurt. And turns out, it was better without all that gunk. Writers are like parents, we give that idea years of our lives, nurturing and growing it and then we have to let it go make its way in the world. We have two choices: We can let the idea change as the years pass, allowing the story to be its own person. Or we could be that psycho parent that forces their kid to wear children’s clothes and locks them in a closet. You know, the scary one that has to appear in at least one episode of every crime show? (Mrs. Epps anyone?)

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!”

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?

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.

Writing by pedrosimoes7

So…this is it. The pivotal moment that is going define the rest of your writing career. You’ve read lots and lots of books, maybe even a few on how to be a good writer, and there is now an idea in your head. An idea that you want to turn into a novel. There is a notebook on your desk and your favorite pen in your hand. You are ready to write your first draft.

But wait! You can’t just start writing–can you?

You sit there, staring at the blank page as you wait for the perfect words to come to flow from your pen. After all, it has to all be perfect  from the get-go, right?

LOOSEN UP. Don’t be afraid to write dirty (I’m referring to the quality of your writing here, not the content).

That’s what I have to tell myself. Often. Sometimes every few minutes. It is possible to get so caught up in writing something just right, that nothing gets written at all. Remember that whole “week” of writing that I did back in August? Yes, the one where I only wrote 1200 words. Part of that was writer’s block, but most of it was because I got so caught up in how the words should be put down that I wasn’t putting any words down at all. No book is perfect. There are good books, great books, amazing books and books that can fool us into thinking that they are perfect. And you know what: it took a couple of drafts to get them there. Of the two writers that I was able to poll, both said that they revised several times before they were “finished”. If someone who has been writing longer and has also managed to write and sell a trilogy doesn’t expect to get it right the first time, why should I put that kind of pressure on myself.

Multiple revisions are perfectly normal.

You gotta allow yourself to get a little sloppy. Have some fun with that first draft. Don’t worry so much about how you write it. Just write. As soon as I did that I was able to churn out 600 word in ten minutes (I know, I took a whole week off and only actually wrote for ten minutes a day). This is the draft where you get to be corny and repetitive and over dramatic and cliché. Don’t be afraid of that sentence or phrase or scene being too over the top, just write it. Allow yourself to write freely and you may discover genius that you never knew you had. You can clean out the crap later.

In the two stories that I have actually finished there is a lot that needs to be worked on, but there are also pieces of it that blow me away because I find them absolutely brilliant. There is dialogue and foreshadowing that I thought was too (insert word here) at the time, but once I pulled back and looked at whole picture, it actually kind of fit. And I couldn’t believe I had written it. All it needed was some polishing up.

When you’re growing flowers, you need to be ready to do a little weeding.

This is the most important thing that I felt that I took away from my little write-cation. When I find myself stalling because I want to get it down perfectly, I just give myself a slap on the wrist and start writing again. I have no doubt that I can write an amazing book, but first I need something to work with.


So, for those of you that don’t know—and that is probably a good deal of you—I have been on vacation in St. Augustine for the last few days. Not for the beaches, since I am definitely an anti-beach person (grew up in Florida with skin problems, so they just lack some of the appeal). Nope, it’s because St. Augustine happens to have the closest thing I could afford to an honest-to-goodness castle: The Castillo de San Marcos. What better place to take my Write-Cation? So I packed myself, my computer and a friend to act as bodyguard/slavedriver (because I am easily distracted) into my parent’s minivan and we headed off to St. Augustine for a few days research, refresh and writing. And this brings me to my main point:

It’s important to get away from it all every once and a while.

I’ll admit it. I have been a very bad little writer for the last month. I’ve been working my “real” job to death and trying to get my room cleaned and painted. That takes a lot, so I kind of put the blog and the book to the side. It’s alright to do that, by the way. As much as I want to write every single day, it’s not always possible. Sometimes, other things need to take priority. My parents needed my help getting the house ready to sell, so I gave it. And time got away from me. Rather than beat myself up and make myself feel guilty I made myself a deal. I would go on vacation and then I would go back to working seriously on my writing.

And that was the real point of the St. Augustine trip. Did I get a ton of research done? Eh, no not really. Mostly because St. Augustine is the wrong time period for me to use in my book, so I wasn’t planning to do much in the way to research (I unfortunately do not have the funds to go to a real castle over in Europe). I went more for the inspiration of touching it’s walls and to be able to say that I’ve been to real castle. My imagination can take it from there. Did I get a ton of writing done? Um, no. I only wrote about 1200 words altogether between the two nights that I sat down to work. Did I have a fun time? Absolutely. And that’s the important part. I got a chance to recharge after two packed semesters of school and a summer of working full time. I spent three days running around a city that I’d never been to, learning the differences between Spanish and British architecture (kudos if you can tell me what they are) and not worrying about anything greater than making sure I was on the last trolley back. And I got to spend time with two friends that I love dearly (one of whom I don’t see often enough and the other I of whom will be shortly be living across the Atlantic).

I am refreshed. I am recharged. And I am ready to kick this book’s butt. I am going to spend tomorrow relaxing and reading and possibly doing a little housework to placate my mother. And I’m going to go down to the library to pick up the books they have on hold for me (excited!). If I feel like writing, I will. If David and Annette are not feeling particularly talkative, I won’t. On Sunday, I will sit down with my schedule and figure out my major chunks of writing time, I will figure out what I plan to blog about, I will maybe read some email and I will definitely plan out when I’m getting my chores done (writing tends to be easier when your parents don’t have to nag). And then we will take it from there.

I guess what I’m saying is this: don’t be afraid to tell your story or your characters “Chill, let’s take some time and relax. Forget about the story for a minute.” (I’m lucky enough to be operating on my own deadline; this should be exercised with extreme caution when someone else is setting your deadlines.) Your book is important…oh boy, is the book important. But I think sometimes we forget that we are important too. And we need time to regroup. If you’re dead and tired, chances are your writing will be too. Now, you don’t have to go to the extremes that I did and go on a five day roadtrip. That’s just something I like to do every summer for the fun of it (hehe, last year I went to Hawaii—I guess this trip is tame compared to that). But maybe you decide to spend one of your days off lounging in bed with a good book. Or maybe you grab a friend and hit the mall (or bookstore). The possibilities are as endless as the personalities out there.

And that said, I suppose it’s time to fold the laundry that I was too lazy to fold before I left on Monday.

shock by Meredith Farmer

Watch out, I’m opening with a shocker…

I don’t want to write Christian fiction.

Yep, you heard me right. The ambition of my life is not to write a gazillion books about Character #1 who is either unsaved or [falls for/becomes friends with/talks to] someone who is unsaved and how they get saved by Character #2 or lead Character #2 to Christ. That’s not me. That’s not the kind of writing I want to do. (Yeah, those of you who read Christian fiction know exactly what I’m talking about.)

Now hold on, before you get all huffy, let me continue to explain.

I don’t want to write Christian fiction, I want to be a Christian who writes fiction. See the difference? Yes? No? It is a subtle difference, I’ll give you that. Almost a nuance. But, for me, it’s more than just changing around the order of the words.

I have spent the last year reading as much as I could cram into my schedule (which, honestly, was still not enough). I’ve been eating up YA fiction like asphalt eats at my tire treads and I have been doing my best to keep up a regular Bible study. And here’s the thing…this stuff that I’ve been reading? It’s breath-taking. It’s amazing. It’s brought up more questions about myself and caused me to look at more things through my world-view than many of the Christian books I’ve read. Now, I’m not saying that I dislike Christian fiction. It’s what I grew up on and some of my favorite authors write solely Christian fiction.  But I think that in the Christian genre there is a tendency to fall into a rut. A bad habit of focus solely on the message you want to get across (or beat into the reader’s head) and forget you are telling a story. That you’re trying to glorify God with what you’re writing and how you’re writing it. I’ve read a lot of good Christian fiction, but I as I look back, not much of it has been breath-taking fiction. Not much of it has challenged how I think (there are some very, very good exceptions, like Ted Dekker and Frank Peretti come to mind) or look at life or even my faith (that usually comes from my Bible).

I don’t want to write a good book. I want to write a great book. I want to write a book that is going to make people sit up and take notice because it is different, because the characters are different, because I am different. Because in the end I could write a book that preaches the salvation message perfectly. That has every biblical ‘i’ dotted and ‘t’ crossed. But what happens when the reader looks at my life. What happens when they follow my Twitter feed and like my Facebook page and see how I live and think and act? If my life isn’t in line with what I believe, then that book I just wrote is worthless. Because I am a hypocrite. Because I am saying this is what is right (and it is), but you don’t have to live that way. To me it is a more powerful witness is to have them take note of your life and see that there is something there that they don’t have. To read what you write and realize that you are different. And then to go find God for themselves.

I don’t believe that a book has to lay out the salvation message or mention God/Jesus’ name every third page in order to glorify Him. I believe that if we could look at Jesus’ bookshelf (oh, boy, that’s just a wonderful thought right there, Jesus’ bookshelf) we would be surprised by what we see. I think we ‘d find things like Pride and Predjudice and The Princess Bride and the Percy Jackson series on his bookshelf. Because they are a part of this world and sometimes God brings something beautiful and bright and true out of the sludge that gunks up our lives. Sometimes He uses the least likely source to create something pure (That is in no way a comment on those authors faiths, I honestly have no idea what they believe).

Does this impact how I write? Drastically.

You see I believe that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. And that He came and took our sins upon Himself so that we might have life and have it more abundantly. You can disagree with me if you like. And I’ll withhold the right to disagree with you. It won’t keep me from reading what you write. But it will most definitely influence what and how I write (and what I read/recommend).

You see my characters may not spout Bible verses like a Junior Bible Quizzer and they may not be actively involved in leading others to Christ. In fact, in my current WIP, they are a little busy fighting for their lives. Not many opportunities for them to talk to others about Jesus. But just as my faith influences my life and how I live and act and speak, my characters’ faith is going to influence their lives. What they do, how they handle relationships (both romantic and platonic), whether or not they fight the urge to cuss–that is how my faith is reflected through theirs. And yes, they will probably (okay, they will definitely) drop the name of Jesus in casual conversation. They may (will) debate or discuss their faith.

And that is going to glorify God.

Because to me, it’s far more important that I have my act together (or that I trust God to help me keep my act together). It’s more important that when my readers are browsing Barnes and Noble and they pick up my book and they look deeper into my life, that they see something different. Will I write a book that deals with the salvation message? Heck yes. In fact, I already have a series shelved that covers just that, I’m just waiting for my writing skill to catch up with my vision for that book (I’ve already written about six drafts of it…or was it seven?). And I won’t be offended if you decide not to read it. I mean, it’ll still be as awesome as my other books will be, and you may be missing out…but just as it is my prerogative to skip chapter or even put a book down if it conflicts with what I want to put in my mind, it is your right to skip over my book because you don’t want that in your mind.

Because in the end, I believe that how we live our lives and how we act out our faith through our lives is a greater and more powerful witness. And if the sum of my life ends up being what I have written (which I would be just fine with) I want to be able to stand next to Jesus at his bookshelf and have him point to the ones I have written and say “Well done.”

That is enough for me.

Just Another Summer Day by Dia

Writing is like breathing for me, it’s necessary and a part of what makes me the way I am.

Indulge me in a little  bunny-trailing. I’m an avid lover of Twitter. And I might follow some sort of famous people. And some of those famous people might have a Formspring account. Okay, just take out the “mights”, and you’ve got the picture.

Anyways, no names, but someone posted on this person’s Formspring (Margaret’s paraphrase) “After you finish with your current series will you write other things?” I looked at this question and knowing the (very) little I know about this person from their blog and Twitter, I had this reaction:

“There is such a thing as a stupid question.”

Now, I’m sure there are those out there that wrote their one grand opus and then they were done. But the writers I know wouldn’t be able to stop writing without the aid of a lobotomy.

You see, writing is like a disease.

A happy disease, without the coughing, puking or doctors visits involving large needles. You don’t want a cure.

It starts with something small, like a love of reading or make-believe. And then it spreads and the next thing you know your hurriedly scribbling notes onto a Chick-Fil-A napkin while trying to hear some soccer mom’s order over her screaming kids.

Looking back, I should have seen it coming. This writing thing. It just followed the natural progression of things. I was always grades beyond where I should have been reading. I never went anywhere without a book. And then there were the games my brother and I played. We’d pretend to be Transformers (anyone remember the show Beast Wars?) or Digi-destined and we’d come up with whole storylines. Of course they were never very complex, but we didn’t care. Eventually, just for the fun of it,  I joined a creative writing class at my co-op (once a week gathering of homeschoolers where we learned things our parents didn’t want to or couldn’t teach us, i.e. math). See what I mean about natural flow?

I believe it really started with Star Wars. My brother and I were obsessed (well, really, I was obsessed with Padme and her wardrobe, but whatever). We came home from, maybe our third viewing of Episode I and we decided to make it so Qui-Gon didn’t die. Cause that was just sad. And from there, off I went. I’d always had a vivid imagination, plus I was good at entertaining myself. So I started entertaining myself in pretend worlds. Basically, I wrote Mary-Sue fics in my head. I believe I wrote about my character, Danae Naberry, somewhere else in this blog. And as I grew and learned more about writing, my Mary Sue became a little like a real character. Of course, by then, I had expanded to other world’s. Like J.R.R. Tolkein’s. Oh that was bad…I lived slept and breathed Lord of the Rings for three whole years. And that’s about the time I started taking my fanfiction and writing it down. What I got was very bad rewrite of the first half of Fellowship. I think still have that sucker tucked away in some dark corner, because I actually came up with some vaguely usable dialogue and stuff, just not as fanfiction.

From there, I wrote The Ring of Aluthya. Yes, it is exactly what it sounds like. It was my first attempt at original fiction. Over the few years that I worked on it and rewrote it and rewrote it, it went from LOTR knock-off to a story with actual potential. This one too, I have filed for later. Mainly because I just don’t have the skill yet to take it to the level I want to. My second novel, a Cinderella spin-off inspired by my time reading twisted fairy-tales has been shelved until I’m finished with Mind Games, simply because my mind-set is currently in the MG world with David and Annette. They are the ones who keep walking in my head and chatting, even if they do it haphazardly and I often have to ask them to back up and tell the story in an orderly fashion (they like to skip around between books, today’s it’s book one, but yesterday it was book three and some of book two).

And that is my writing life as of yet. It’s crazy to think that I have been writing for over half my life now (that’s only 12 years, before you start feeling impressed). I’ve gone off and on. But even during the days or months or years that I haven’t been working on a book, I’m always writing. It just doesn’t get onto the paper sometimes. At work, I’ll be playing around with the scene I was working on. Thinking up ways to make David a little less perfect or make Annette a little more real. When I watch movies or TV shows, my mind starts analyzing scenes and coming up with what’s going on inside the character’s heads. When I finish a book like The Lost Hero or Wither or Uncommon Criminals (all three of which had less than complete endings) my mind takes those characters and tries to figure out what will happen next, it comes up with scenes and conversations and possible plot paths and tries to figure out [Insert Author Here] will handle *spoiler spoiler spoiler*. And some days, when I’m really bored or life is just a bit too much, I pretend I’m someone else. I turn to my favorite movies or comics or books and I make my own character and do some internal fanfic-ing. Which is actually the start of a lot of my fanfiction now that I think about it…

I am always writing.

It actually gets kind of ridiculous.

To the point that I lie awake in bed, with plot ideas and characters backstory and dialogue spinning in my brain. And it won’t stop.

But I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I am so thankful, that God has given me this gift and that he has given me the passion to pursue it. That no matter where life takes me, or who or what is in my life, writing is constant. Kinda like He is. It’s always there in the back of my mind and if I get nothing out of it but a little amusement and some good stories for my friends, then it is enough.

Not that I don’t also spend time imagining how it would feel to walk into a Borders or a Barnes and Noble and see my book on the shelves…

I recently came across the first story I ever wrote. It was for a creative writing class that I took when I was eleven. I vaguely remember the story: It was during my Beanie Baby phase and of course, they came to life and we had adventures. I didn’t reread it, because I’m pretty sure I would cry (and not the happy kind). After all, it hails from way before I discovered all of the authors that taught me what a good book is made of. But there is something nostalgic about holding that folder, with it’s Lisa Frank stickers and being able to see the date, January 22, 1999, typed in the chunky font of my mother’s typewriter (which was bought shortly before I was born). And something satisfying in knowing that I’ve been writing for twelve years now. It makes me feel accomplished. I can still remember sitting at that little desk, covered in wood grain contact paper, staring at that tiny screen with its glowing green letters armed with nothing but an idea and a deadline.

How far I have come.

I use my own desk now. And I’ve learned that, while a good idea is of utmost importance there are a few other more mundane things that make a writer’s life a little easier.

Like a baby name book. I still remember the look on my mom’s face when she saw me with it for the first time. She of course had (and has) complete faith in me and knew that there was no way that I would actually be naming any babies (not yet at least), but she was really wondering why the heck I had that book. Of course, once she saw the notebook, she got four. It is perfect for when I need a name for a last minute character…or when I discover that all of my characters have names that begin with ‘A’. For my main characters, I like to rely on my reverse name dictionary. This one is great for when I have a character that I know a bit about, but don’t know their name (my leads usually introduce themselves). For example, let’s say I need a name for the sidekick, who will end up being the main characters closest friend–All I have to do is look up the word friend under the appropriate gender and I have a host of names to choose from.

I also have a dictionary and a thesaurus nearby. The dictionary is there is because sometimes I feel the need to double-check the meaning of a word and because when i come across a word I don’t know, I like to actually look it up. The thesaurus is for those times that I I realize that I’ve used the word “glare” six times in the last chapter. Simplicity is best, but there are words, like dazzling, that stand out. You don’t want to use them too often. If I feel I’m using a word too often I’ll look up a quick equivalent. It’s also useful for those times that I know exactly which word I want, but I can’t remember what that word is-but I can remember a synonym. Then it’s time for a word search.

Of course I have my stack of Writer’s Digest magazines…all but the last six months of them still waiting to be read. I know it’s horrible. I’ve always stunk at keeping up with my subscriptions (It was even worse when I subscribed to Dog Fancy right before I got my dog), but there’s SO much in them so I am trying to at least stay up-to-date. You can now find me walking around with the newest issue for about two weeks. I like to spread each issue out, helps me to warm-up for working on my book. As with a good book or a book on writing, these magazines make me want to write, no matter my mood. So obviously, I don’t usually get very far into an issue before I’m putting it aside.

And then there are a the books we all have. Reference books. Mine are mostly books on writing. Actually, mine are all on writing. All of my other research comes from library books because I’m a poor college student.  There’s the textbook from my creative writing class at UF. And the book on getting published that I now refuse to read even though it says “Read this before you start chapter one” (or something like that). Why? Because I read somewhere else that I shouldn’t read any publishing books until after I’ve written the first draft. But it was 40% off at Borders, so I don’t feel too bad. There’s also my B.I.A.M. book that I’ve restructured to do over the course of a year (because there’s no way I can pause my life for a month at this point, but I still like the structure). And then my two personal favorites: 45 Master Characters by Victoria Schmidt and The Writer’s Guide to Character Traits by Dr. Linda Edelstein. The first caught my eye because it breaks things down into mythological dimensions and me being a mythology buff, had to have it. It’s been very thought provoking. The latter I bought because I seem to always have one character with some sort of mental illnessand it had a very good chapter on that. They turned out to be a well-spring in my character development process–from thought process to childhood memory to traits that fit the type (I was typing characters in TV and books for weeks afterward).  There used to be a shelf full of spiral bound notebooks also, but I got tired of them taking up valuable book space, so they’ve been boxed until I can get the story starts and the ideas typed into my computer.

Sadly all of this only takes about a shelf on my little desk-side bookshelf (of course, the other shelves are filled with novels, so maybe it’s not so sad). It won’t stay that way for long if I can help it, but right now it seems rather insignificant. And yet, this one small shelf probably tells you a lot about who I am and where I am as a writer.

What about you? What do you find near your writing spot? Or what tools do you have that you favor? And what do they say about you?

So…it’s the end of the 2010-2011 television season. All of my shows have officially ended for the summer (Hold on, Chuck, Castle, Bones, Fringe, Grey’s, yep that’s all of them). Which means that I have turned to my best friend over the summer hiatus…fan fiction. Yep, yep. That’s how I silence the part of my mind that is still going: “Wait, did that really just happen? AAAH! *giggle* Booth’s face.” Yes, the me that was perfectly calm after the Bones season finale has abandoned ship and the me that wants to write for a living is starting to churn out possibilities mentally. So, I read what other people think might happen to get my giggles and to daydream about next season. However, there’s this inherent problem with fan fiction. While some of it can be really good, there is a lot of stuff that is really, really bad. Or at least so riddled with misspellings and grammar goofs that I stop reading before it gets good. It’s a problem that comes when anyone can post something to the internet. I go through probably ten bad ones to find a good one. Many I don’t even open because I can tell from the title/summary that it’s probably going to suck. And with the ones I do read I often find myself making a list of things that fanfic writers should or should not do. A list that does no one any good when it stays stuffed in my brain. So for those of you that want to improve your fanfics (and gather more readers), please read on. Whether your brand new or a veteran, you might find something helpful…or at least thought provoking. Thanks to Dot for helping me fill in some of the blanks in my little list.

Now, I’m going on the assumption that everyone knows what fan fiction is–pretty self-explanatory. It’s technically not legal, but it’s kind of like speeding—if you don’t go too far over the limit (i.e. try to profit from your fan fiction) the authorities generally ignore you. It is meant for enjoyment, not profit and therefore is considered acceptable. It is also a very good way to improve your writing (more on that and conquering writer’s block in a previous blog). It’s amazing what you can learn about plot structure, character development, significant detail and dialogue when you already have the basics to work with. It’s great for practice or for when you need a break from your work-in-progress or when you simply want some way to satisfy your craving for the next book/episode/issue (It’s also good for when anime editors royally screw up a series ending and you will be depressed until you fix it).

The first and most drastic way that you can keep your readers is to proofread. I will say it again, and this time I’ll break out the capital letters just for emphasis: PROOFREAD. I have continued reading stories that plod, that have poor plot or an exceptionally abysmal amount of OOC-ness because the grammer didn’t give me any reason to pause. I have also passed up potentially great stories because the writing was messy. Posting something without proofing is a BAD idea. Let it sit for a few hours or, better  yet, the night (like I did with this) and then proofread, it’s easier to find mistakes. But always look for misspelled or misplaced words (or missing words in my case). Refine the grammar to the best of your ability and make sure that you’re capitalizing the first letter of every sentence…and the pronoun “I”. I struggle with this myself. My most notorious bad habit when it comes to writing is that I leave out words and then, when I proofread, my brain inserts the word into the blank space. That’s part of why I try to let it sit a day or two. Poor grammar and bad spelling just equal sloppy writing, but if you take care of these problems, almost any other sin you commit writing a fanfic will probably be forgiven (at least by me). For a little more on proofing, read The Red Pen is Your Friend.

You should treat anything you write seriously. Now, keep in mind that I use the term “seriously” in very loosely. What I’m trying to say is that even when you are working on fan fiction you should put effort into your work and be professional. I have a friend who rides horses and she’s always saying that every time you ride you’re either training or un-training your horse. I’d say that the same can be said for writing. Don’t get used to producing sloppy work. Use everything you write to hone your craft. Always aim to write well, whether or not the story will ever be published. This definitely applies to proofing your writing, but it goes further than that.

If or when you write your own book and want to publish it, you are going to have to be able to summarize your story. First question people are going to ask when they find out that you write for a living is what your book is about. Now is the time to practice being able to summarize a story in one sentence. When I look through fan fiction, it quite often is the summary that makes me decide to read. So don’t put things like “I suck at summaries, but the story is good” or “This is my first fanfic” in your summary. Guaranteed way to turn the reader off before they even start reading. Sit down and figure out what your story is about. Who is it about? What is the problem that they are facing? Whittle it down to a sentence or two and voila, you have a summary. You want something short, sweet and slightly sneaky. Now I don’t claim to be a master at the summary thing, in fact I am still working on it. But here’s an example of what I am talking about from a Batman fic that I wrote:

“Living with Gotham’s dark knight was going to be hard, but somehow, Selina had never figured this into the equation.”

Granted it’s a little vague…but doesn’t it make you wonder what the “this” is? Now that story is a one shot, summaries for a multi-chapter story can be a little more difficult because you have an entire plot versus a single scenario. However, it you’re smart and write down the general plot of your story you’ll already be halfway there. On that note, I have a confession to make: I have several unfinished fanfics because I was too lazy to write down the plot. Yep, I have at least three stories that have been left hanging and may never be finished and I have learned a very valuable lesson. Create an outline…or at least jot down a few notes about where you’re going with a story. That way you’ll be able to keep going and your fans won’t want to kill you. Just a little bit of wisdom I thought I’d pass on.

Another big problem that many amateurs run into is handling point of view (POV). POV is the bane of every author at some point in their career. It is best mastered through experience. The more you write, the better you get at handling POV. However, POV isn’t something you typically announce. There are occasions where you do need to have that extra bit of clarity. For example, when you’re handling a story with multiple first-person narrators. Not that I suggest doing that first time out of the gate. Still, you want to develop distinction is your narrators so that even without the names at the top of the chapter people can feel who it is narrating. You want to have a chapter break or something similar to indicate that you are changing viewpoint.   Trust me, your audience will appreciate not having to guess at who is narrating. If you find it necessary to indicate who the narrator is, I’ve found that the least intrusive way is to put the character’s name in bold print at the top of the section. But don’t switch too often, constant switch of POV gets annoying and tiring for your reader.

Keep in mind that you are using someone else’s world and characters. Disclaimers, though it may not seem necessary, are good form when you’re posting fan fiction. Also, be careful about going AU (alternate universe). Granted, if you start a fic during book 3 and there are now books 4, 5, and 6, then there will definitely be differences between what you are writing and the actually storyline that the real author came up with. When I say AU I don’t mean a story you wrote because  you think Bella should’ve ended up with Jacob/Mike/Tyler/Ben. That’s okay (If you go for off-canon stuff like that). But there is such a thing as being too “creative” when you’re fanfic-ing. Fan fiction is about immersing yourself in another author’s world and working with that. My favorite compliment with my fanfics is when I’m told that the reader can’t tell the difference between me and the real author. It means that I’ve done a good job…that I have ninja-writer skills. However, don’t use another author’s story and characters to dress up your own story. It is one thing to wonder how Harry and Co. would fair in a normal high school. But taking Harry Potter and inserting him into a world that you created with nothing to tie him back to J.K. Rowling and her world is a big no-no. You need to respect the original author’s work and keep your own true to that in every way your talent/training allows you to.

Remember, the fan fiction scene is a community. The people who read your fan fiction are just as much in love with that world as you are. Which means that they will have their own opinions. And those opinions may not necessarily agree with yours. Hopefully, your story will bring them around to your point of view, but don’t get hostile. Even if they do.  Engaging in a…I believe the technical term here is “pissing contest” with any of your readers is very bad form. A little friendly debate is always fun, but know when you should just walk away.

While we’re on the subject of feedback and community. Let’s talk about reviews. Obviously, you aren’t the only writer of fan fiction. And all those other writers out there are craving reviews just as much has you are. I know, it’s hard. A lot of the time I don’t feel that I have anything constructive (or nice) to say. Now granted, “OMG! This was an awesome story. It’s the bestest, best (insert fandom here) story I have ever read!!!!!” is not very helpful. Good for the ego, but not helpful. I’ve started trying to point out two things: 1. What I liked about the story/What they’re doing well and 2. One thing that I think they could improve. For example, “I really like the way that you’re handling the characters, you’ve hit so-and-so’s character spot on. However, I’d be a little more careful when you proofread. Especially with the difference of “your” vs. “you’re”. Can’t wait for the next chapter!” Notice the specificity…and the judicious use of exclamation points. Being specific gives a person something to watch out for. And if you ever end up on the tail end of one of these reviews, don’t get mad. It’s much harder for you to see your own faults, so be grateful for the help. Always thank them for taking the time to review.

Finally, no discussion of fan fiction would be complete without covering the most notorious, obnoxious and cringe-inducing character of them all: the Mary Sue (if your name really is Mary Sue, I apologize, but I didn’t come up with the term). We’ve all read stories with him/her in it. She’s perfect, has every power in the book (along with the ability to immediately control them), has the looks of a supermodel, the genius of Einstein, and is loved by everyone who isn’t pure evil…and even that’s not a given, no one has converted more bad guys than Ms. Mary Sue. Typically, this character is the author inserting themselves into a story, and not in the cute Stan Lee having a cameo in the Marvel movies kind of way. I’m talking in the story-destroying, snore-inducing, hair-tearing sort of way. Let’s just take a moment and pretend that I am a Star Wars nerd (which I am) and I wanted to create my own character to insert into the storyline (which my brother and I did…we were big role-players as kids).  If I were to create a Mary Sue for the Star Wars world, she would be the world’s most powerful Jedi with the uncanny ability to see the future, who also happens to be an intergalactic senator, who single-handedly is able to stop the Empire, all while keeping Anakin from turning to the Dark Side and having a secret relationship with Obi-Wan. And did I mention that she’s Padme’s twin sister? Don’t you hate her already? Not only does she screw up the entire story, but she’s guaranteed to be a snob because she’s so much better than everyone else. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing bad about an original character (OC). There are often necessary for whatever story you’ve created. But there is a line, a very big, glaring, “Do not pass Go, do not collect $200” line between an OC and a Mary Sue. Even canon characters can become Mary Sue-like if you don’t create real obstacles for them. Rule of thumb: If they’re perfect and have no problems, then dirty them up a little. Add a couple of flaws or/and take away some (or all) of their powers. The strange fact is, if you give us a reason to hate them, we will just love them all the more. (Don’t believe me? Two words: Severus Snape.) Keep an eye out for any character that is starting to become too Mary Sue-ish, whether it is a canon character, an OC, or even a character in your own original fiction.

All-in-all, there is some really good stuff in the fan fiction community. And some of it could be yours if you keep these things in mind. If any of my veteran fanfic-ers think of something that I missed, feel free to leave a comment. Also, I’d love some feedback on the length of this blog. Was it too long? Just right? Would you have preferred a two-parter?

Oh, and one last word of advice. Authors are obligated by their contracts to report any fan fiction that they receive, so don’t send them your story. No matter how awesome it is.

Eternal clock by Robert van der Steeg

If you were to assign points to all of my time management skills six months ago and then add them together…you would probably come up with a negative number (some days you still do). Yeah. I’m the one who sits down to check her email “real quick” and discovers that three hours have passed (though that might have something to do with the fact that my FanFiction.net alerts are forwarded to my email). Time is not fluid for me…it is either too fast or too slow. And there is never enough of it.

Seriously, between school, a part-time job, homework, fifteen hours of driving, voice practice, piano practice, guitar and chores (thought I try to avoid those) where is a girl supposed to find time to read and write in her week? Plus, I’m trying to be semi-regular with my blog (it helps if there is something for readers to read).

So I came to a simple conclusion: There needs a eighth day in our week. Preferably added to the weekend category and not the weekday.

However, since that didn’t appear to be happening any time soon I decided to do the next best thing.

Learn how to manage my time wisely.

It’s a trick that I have tried many times through high school and college and it’s never really worked out. My lack of persistence probably didn’t help any either. But I think I finally found a system that works for me…and you can find a system that works for you too!

The key to my system is my planner and calendar. When I can I like to have these in the same place. Now, my planner is divided by weeks, with plenty of space for each day’s activities. I can open to a particular week and see what I need to get done. I also try to keep a calendar that I can just jot down tests, due dates, deadlines appointments and the like on. It might also have my favorite TV shows listed…it just might.

Everything goes down in my planner. Forget the syllabus…all my assignment, test and paper dates go in my planner. That way I don’t have to worry about having nine different syllabi (remember, I’m a music major we take, like, a bajillion classes a semester), it’s all right there. Of course, the syllabus is good for other things, so I keep it around, but at least I’m not going to be surprised by any tests (hopefully).

From there I make lists.

Oh, yes, I am a list person. I like making them, I like the feeling I get as I cross things off. It makes me feel powerful (Mwahahaha!). I’m also much more focused when I have a list that tells me what I need to get done that day. Or as I sometimes look at it…these are the obstacles standing between me and my book–DIE!

However you want to structure your system I would suggest having something that looks at your week as a whole and then at each day. I can know that I have a paper and two tests in one week, but that doesn’t mean I’ll be disciplined enough to study for them ahead of time. At the same time, taking things day by day can let things sneak up on you. So I have one list that looks at my whole week so that I can balance things out. Do I have two assignments due for two different classes on Friday? If I were to discover this the day before they were due, I’d be tearing my hair out.

I happen to like my hair, so I try to avoid that.

My weekly list allows me to balance assignments. I’d know to work on one on Wednesday and one on Thursday. As I said before, the daily list gives me something to focus on and cross off each day. I try to give each item a general start time (or a definite one if it’s something that needs one) so that I know about how much of my day has been used up. It helps to keep my day from becoming too full.

A word of caution though: avoid planning out every single minute. You’ll kill yourself. Things happen, you forget to switch the laundry over or you take a route with three school zones. Time gets away from us. Or we happen to be missing an all important piece for that project. Sometimes, you have to reschedule.

Sometimes you crumple the list up and decide, by Zeus, you are going to finish Magic Study today and the rest of the world can just wait.

On that note, makes sure you leave some time for you. I try to leave my whole Sunday afternoon.

So, yes, I have to schedule my writing times, most of the time. But that also helps me to focus. I go, “Alright, I have two hours to write–let’s go!” My words are my uniform, my pen is my weapon. I’m on a mission. Deadlines help us focus like nothing else so use them. Set them for yourself.

Say, “Okay, by the end of the week, I want to have character sketches for A, B, and C” of “By the end of this month, I’d like to be to this point in my story”.

Using both of these tools, your “planner” and deadlines (or goals if you prefer) you will be surprised how  much you start to get done. Even the housework–because, dog-gone-it, I am not letting these dishes stand in the way of me and my book.

Speaking of which, it’s time for me to go write.

So what about you? What do you use to keep yourself on track? How do you mark your progress?

(BTW, as proof that I’m not just being anal about this whole “writer’s write” and “make time to write” deal, here’s a post from my friend Dot’s blog. Check it out, she’s got some useful tips.)


PB15 on timber trestle bridge by Leonard John Matthews

If you’ve been reading my blog from the beginning you’ll be familiar with my post: Stop Waiting for You Muse–She’s Not Coming…. If not, you might want to take a look at it, since this is sort of a follow-up

Anyways, as I have stated before: Writers write. Whether you feel like it or not. Whether you’re inspired or not. You need to make time to sit down and write. The more often you make your brain think creatively, the easier it will become. The human mind gets used to routines. I try to set aside definite, fixed times to write. Granted at this point I’ve got just two or three hours to work with on a predictable basis, but the important part is this: At least twice a week I spend an hour and a half working on my book. No, it’s not much, but it’s better than nothing.

Still, sometimes it can take a while to get the creative juices flowing. And then there are the days or times that I just don’t feel like it. Here are a few things I use to get myself in the mood. Sometimes, all you need is a little inspiration.

  • Magazines: My two-year subscription to Writer’s Digest was probably the best use of $36 I have ever spent. Now I’m not saying that it has to be WD. There are many good publications for writers. There are even a few that are free online. This is useful to me because there’s so much to work with. I find I always walk away with something, be it a new lesson about writing or an inspirational thought from one of the interviews. It also takes me a while to read an issue, because while reading I constantly find that I’m wanting to put it down and start working on my own stuff.
  • Other Writer’s Blogs: If you are lucky enough to have a friend who writes and blogs about it, I’m sure you are already subscribed to their RSS feed (if not, you probably should be). If not, look around the internet, Google a few of your favorite authors. Almost all of the big names now at least have a website. Most have a blog and a Twitter feed.  Not only do you get to learn new stuff for free (I’m all about the learning…especially if it’s free. Yes, I was homeschooled) but you also get a lovely little reminder on a (hopefully) regular basis. Seeing posts from my friend Dot’s blog excites me not just because she happens to write good stuff, but it also feels like she’s dropping in to say “So, how’s the book going?”. Or guilts me into picking up my pen and notebook on the days that I’ve been bad.
  • Good Books: Writer’s write, but writers also read. Why have I been reading books like the Hunger Games trilogy, the Uglies series and Incarceron? Besides the fact that they are awesome, of course. I read them because something about them has struck me as similar to the book that I want to write. If you’re writing Science Ficiton novels, chances are you read a LOT of SciFi. If you want to write for YA, then you should read YA. It keeps you in touch with what the readers are expecting and with the trends in the market.
  • Instructional Books: Another favorite of mine. My librarian can testify to the stacks of books on writing that I have lugged out of my library.  If you’re a writer, you are constantly learning, constantly seeking more knowledge. Don’t forget to take some time to hone your craft.
  • Take a class: Kind of self-explanatory. But it’s always good to have a safe place where you can play with ideas.
  • Start or join a writer’s group: Again, the safe place and the feedback are the key factors here. Also, it’s nice to have support and someone who won’t mind if you indulge in gushing over your book every now and then.
  • Music: I find that with me, the music I write to depends on my mood that day. I actually make a playlist or chose a CD for specific projects. Do I need something that’s going to keep me high energy? Then it’s POTC. Am I having to figure out how to move the relationship of my two protagonists along? Then $10 says that I’m playing Taylor Swift.
  • Indulge your quirks: So much of writing is finding what works for you. I like to write long hand, because there’s just something about a college-ruled notebook, just something about the physical act of writing that is exciting to me. Now, I love my computer and I’ll often use if for smaller projects, but my big ones get written down first. Also, I got through phases when it comes to my writing apparatus of choice. Right now, it’s the Sharpie Pen (because they are awesome). But I’ll have weeks that all I want to use is a pencil. Or a ballpoint pen. It kind of runs in phases (although the Sharpie has kind of started taking over). Indulge them (as long as they’rehealthy…and legal), use them instead of them using you.
  • Find your spot: I can write anywhere. As long as there is light and somewhere for me to sit, I can write. Too noisy? That’s what my iPod is for. But I have found that the place I get the most work done (and yes, I admit this is weird) is Chick-Fil-A. Even in the middle of lunch rush or a Spirit Night. There is something about that place that just makes focusing on writing easier. My friends think it’s because I work there and therefore, my mind is more focused as a default when I’m there. Which is a possibility. I think it’s because I’m removed from my normal distractions…my messy room isn’t screaming at me, my dog isn’t begging for attention, my brother isn’t coming in an sitting on me just for the fun of it. At CFA I am free (sort of).

So what about you? Do you have any suggestions that you use to inspire yourself to write, even when you don’t feel like it? Do you have any funny quirks that you feel make it easier to write? Go ahead, speak up. I’d love to hear from you. =D

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