Tag Archive: writing



Happy second week in the trenches!

8579377205_54a29c5cfb_zLook at you, halfway through National Novel Writing Month. You’ve made it this far, you can stick with it for sixteen more days. Don’t worry about being behind. Don’t worry about Thanksgiving robbing you of writing time. Write what you can, when you can. Remember, NaNoWriMo exists to kick you into action. If you need let your NaNo project bleed into December or January or February, let it.

Just don’t give up.

Before we get started, here’s my Week 2 NaNoWriMo 2015 update:

Project #1: edited to page 98

Project #2: 19,299 words written

Not quite where I’d like to be, but further than I was on October 31st. That’s what I love about NaNoWriMo, it gives you a standard to measure against…and it gives you a whole bunch of buddies working toward the same (or similar) goals.

And Margaret needs goals.

In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m a planner. A list maker. A tracker. I love writing goals down and checking them off. It’s great. Fools people into thinking I’m far more organized than I am. You whip out a planner, start checking things off, and people who don’t know better assume you have it all together—that you know what you’re doing.

For me, it varies.

Some days, I’m really good about sticking to the list. I write all the words, edit all the pages, and get all the stickers (more on that in a moment). Other days, I write the list, consider it and then decide to burn it. Most days are in between—for various reasons. You know, life intrudes. Other ideas happen. The newest chapter of that fic you’re really into comes out.

Writing down your goals is important–whether they’re goals for the day, the week, the month, or the year. They become tangible. The words make them real. It’s one thing to think, “Hey, I should do NaNoWriMo this year”, but open that planner or that writing journal or even just pull out a piece of paper and write “50,000 words by November 30” and it develops substance.

I’m not really one for five year plans or ten year plans—too much can change too easily for me to get on that train. I’d get all wrapped up in what needs to happen and what’s not happening and end up upset and frustrated (I know this works for some people, I just have a hard time seeing that far ahead). I like to tackle my stuff in less mind-boggling bites. Break it down. I focus on the 4,000 words I need to write today to stay on track, instead of getting caught up in how far behind I am.

While some of my goals stretch out into next (get my own place, be able to run a 5k, attend a writer’s conference next year, survive this season of Once Upon a Time, etc.), I work best with monthly and daily goals.

At the beginning of the month, I figure out what I want/need to accomplish writing-wise over the next four weeks or so. That way I have targets to aim for. For instance, this blog. Currently, I’m aiming for one post a week, with a Saturday deadline. Will my world end if I don’t publish a post every Saturday? Technically, no. But that list with four slots reading “Blog post” is powerful motivation. And it feel good to check off that little box. Just that one action leaves me as satisfied as a good jog does.

Those monthly goals get printed out and glued in the back of my planner (I haven’t always been a consistent planner girl, the blank pages in my current planner attests that I’m still not some weeks). When I plan out my week—writing time is always easier to find when you know what else needs your time—I refer to that list. And I refer to it when I sit down to plan my day. Going back to the blog, I see that blank space next to “11/14” and I plan time to write a blog post—this post, actually.

I do my best to keep my goals specific. “Write today” could mean anything, but “Work on WIP #2” gives me some direction. I don’t stop there though, after all, that leaves so much wiggle room. One sentence technically meets that goal.

So I give myself something to measure against. “Work on WIP #2” becomes “Write 1k words for WIP #2” and now I have something to reach for, something to achieve.

Of course, there’s common sense mixed in there too. After all, if I only have an hour to write, one thousand words is a reasonable goal. It gives me just enough time to warm up and find my writing groove. To try writing three thousand words, though? Even I’m not that delusional. I know my limits.

And now, to impart my most reliable secret to staying on task:

STICKERS!

Yes, I know, I sound like a five-year old. (Though, at least I don’t plaster them to every flat surface in the house anymore. You’re welcome, Mom).

Seeing the fruit of my labors is difficult when everything lives on my computer. I don’t get to watch a notebook get all warped as I fill the pages up. Instead, I wait until it’s time to print the draft and start lugging it around. To combat this, I use stickers—which serve as both progress markers and little mini rewards. Each sticker has a value. For every thousand words I write, I get a star. Did I edit five pages? Great, I get a big heart. What if it was only two pages? I get a smaller star. Read a book? I have a sticker for that. Publish a blog? Yep, sticker for that. Finish a draft? Oh, you bet I have a sticker for that. Nice big, shiny, adorable owl stickers.

Every time I earn one of these stickers, I slap that thing into my planner with pride. Especially when I can look back at the stickers I earned the day before (or the lack there of, let me tell you that’s motivation itself). It’s a great way to keep track of what I’ve done and it’s portable, which is important since my office is whatever Starbucks or library I’ve ended up in that day. I can’t claim credit for this idea. I stole it from my friend, Dot, who stole it from author Victoria Schwab (Vicious, A Darker Shade of Magic) who probably stole it from some elementary school teacher. Feel free to steal from me, or come up with your own method. But find a way.

Give yourself something to accomplish and then go after it. Don’t let anything stop you. You can do it.

Question of the Week:

What are some of the writing goals you’d like to accomplish by year’s end?


Image: Inspiring moleskine by cathredfern, CC BY-NC 2.0

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9322492135_1814439892_zHappy first week of NaNoWriMo 2015.

If it’s going well for you: Huzzah! Pat yourself on the back.

If you’re struggling: Don’t give up! You may want to throw in the towel, but it’s only November 7th—every word that you write is a word you didn’t have yesterday.

Regardless: KEEP WRITING! You have a whole twenty-three days of NaNo left, think about everything you can accomplish in those twenty-three days.

And because you guys keep me accountable, here’s my NaNo 2015 weekly update:

Project #1: edited to page 77

Project #2: 10,028 words written

I mentioned in my last post that I’m working on two projects this November. (In case you’re wondering, the original plan involved only one project, but I procrastinated with Project #1, so here we are.) Whether or not I should walk around with a “Hi, my name is Overachiever” nametag, only time will tell. No matter my expectations, NaNo motivates me. The hype inspires focus that I often lack. Someday, I hope to be this driven all year long, but for now, I’m going to make the most of the power of NaNo

Project #1 is the one people are used to hearing me gripe about. You know, the one that was kicking my butt in this post. Written last spring, it still needs work, but if Rick Riordan’s first novel (Big Red Tequila) needed fourteen drafts before it was ready to shop around, I can go through at least half as many before I shelve it (or trunk it).

Project #2 is brand new project…sort of. I might have stolen the premise from a (unpublished) fanfic I wrote last March. Before you name me E.L. James 2.0 (don’t…just don’t), you should know that I’ve done more than change the names. By the time I’m done with this, you shouldn’t even be able to tell what fandom inspiried the original story from (Everything but the premise has been scrapped). No, I won’t tell you which fandom. I’m so excited to finally be taking a swing at this idea. You can’t see me grinning, but I’m grinning.

Now that that’s out of the way, time for today’s topic: the first draft. Specifically, NaNoWriMo first drafts. I know people that think NaNo is crazy—churning out fifty thousand words in thirty will only result in trash.

To those people I’d say: All first drafts are trash.

No matter what, your book will need at least one edit. Likely several. The grand picture in your head always gets a little lost in translation. Don’t worry about that now, especially if you’re trying to NaNo. Believe me, I know your fingers itch to pick at the chapter you wrote yesterday, to start hacking it apart and turn it into a piece of fine literature. I used to do that too, but not  anymore. Why? I found that when I pause to backtrack, I lose sight of the story. I used to get stuck going over what I’d already written, leaving the rest of the story to stagnate. There are writers who work this way. Published writers. Published writers who tell you that you have to have every sentence perfect before you move on to the next one.

I’m here to tell you: You don’t have to do it that way.

And if you want to win at NaNo this year, may I suggest that you put that thinking aside. At least for November. You don’t have time to edit. (If you’re like me, you barely have time to write.) The typos will still be there in twenty-four days, the story might not be. Turn down your inner editor. Give yourself permission to get lost in the writing.

What if your main character tells you her eyes are blue instead of brown? Or switches the point of view from a third person past tense to first person present tense Jot down a quick note, maybe fantasize about what you’d do to her if you didn’t need them, and then keep going as though you wrote it that way from the start. Sure, that leaves you with forty thousand words that you have to go back and edit later, but you’ll have finished the story. I cannot stress the importance of finishing enough. Giving up is much easier at forty thousand words than it is at ninety thousand.

Don’t worry about your novel being perfect. It won’t be. Not even after it’s gone through you, your mother, your three best friends, your other writer friends, your agent AND your editor, you will find something you missed. NaNoWriMo isn’t about producing Tolkein level prose (The Lord of the Rings alone took him twelve years), it’s about creating something you can shape. It’s about digging the raw material out of the folds of your brain and so you can sculpt your David.

My challenge to you between today and November 30th is this: Keep your eyes on the road. And if that inner editor of yours tries back seat driving? Stick a sock in their mouth, wrap them in ducktape, and throw them in the back of your car until you reach the end.

Good luck in your NaNoWriMo endeavors this week, I’d love to hear about them, either here or through Twitter or tumblr.

If you need to, please revisit my writing advice disclaimer.

Question of the week:

Outside of November, do you prefer to write straight through your first draft or do you edit as you go?


Image: Don’t Stop Me Now by K.G.Hawes, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


22144212210_be0977d417Tomorrow is November 1st. Tomorrow, National Novel Writing Month begins.

Last week, I gave the non-writers a quick rundown about NaNoWriMo. This week, it’s the writers turn.

If you haven’t committed to NaNoWriMo yet, it’s not too late. We’re barely at the beginning. Yes, fifty thousand words sounds like a lot, but you can do it. This year, thousands of people will reach that goal, just like last year and the year before that. You could be one of them. I can’t guarantee that you’ll reach fifty thousand words this year, but I do know is that if you don’t try, you haven’t got a chance.

This won’t be my first NaNo rodeo (a look at my blog history tells you that much). I go into NaNo in 2012. I didn’t “win”, but I did manage to get very close. My second go around was last year and I managed to pop out the necessary fifty thousand words. This year, I’ll be participating in NaNo again, on top of re-establishing this blog and working through draft four of my other work-in-progress. If that seems ambitious, that’s because it is. But I’m not going into it unprepared and neither should you. Here are seven tips for a NaNoWriMo win in 2015:

  1. Have a plan– Listen to the pansters squirm. Don’t worry, this isn’t a sermon on the virtues of outlining. I’m talking about setting writing goals. You might be planning on a traditional NaNo, but maybe you’re a parent or you have rehearsal for a Christmas production or you work a job that works you extra hard over the holidays. That’s fine. Feel free to tailor your goals to your life (but also, don’t be afraid to challenge yourself a little). Make sure to write those goals down! Whether writing fifty thousand words is your goal or you’re aiming to work through Draft #X of your WIP, write it down. I can’t reference any studies to prove how important this is (though I’m sure they are out there), I just know that writing down specific goals is much more effective than keep an amorphous list in my head.
  2. Break it down– Fifty thousand words looks like a lot because it is a lot, like trying to leap a tall building in a single bound. Outside of Superman, I don’t know anyone capable of jumping over skyscrapers. So take the building one floor at a time. Focus on how much you need to write today. If you’ve read anything about NaNo (or read last week’s post), you know that the “magical” daily number is 1,667. Still a little daunting, but more manageable than 50,000. If you don’t have enough writing time every day to meet that goal, don’t worry. Work with the time you do have. Plan a day or two where you can slam out several thousand words in one sitting. After all, ten five thousand word days gets you to fifty thousand.
  3. Get away– This is a tip I use year round, but it’s crucial during NaNoWriMo. You don’t have to go far. It means spending a couple of hours at the library/Starbucks/Panera/etc. Or maybe heading to your brother’s room to use the desk you two share. The key is removing yourself from the familiar things that distract you: your bed, your laundry, your Netflix subscription…you know all things that sound like a better idea than writing right now. I’ve found that I get far more done when I’m somewhere other than my own room (the closest I have to an office is said brother’s room and sometimes he likes his privacy).
  4. Simplify– Life is crazy. You might be juggling school, job, family, health issues, social life, and more on a regular basis. NaNoWriMo is your excuse to put more focus on your writing. Work deals with your spouse/parents/friends to get a couple of kid free hours during the week. Eat at your desk so you can spend your lunch break writing. Get up a little earlier or stay up a half hour later. Tell your friends you love them and you’ll see them when November ends. Cut out your favorite TV show (there’s plenty of time to get caught up in time to the mid-season break). Be creative as you find ways to trim your schedule and free up the time you’ll need to complete NaNo.
  5. Keep a schedule– The word schedule just gave some of you shivers, but I’m telling you it helps. Even if it’s just for the month of November, get a little planner and use it to keep track of your time. Finding time to write is much easier when you have all the other things you need to do recorded in one place. My most productive writing days are usually the ones I sit down and plan.
  6. Get plugged in– Go to NaNoWriMo’s official page and register and then look to see what’s going on in your region. It’s nice to have other people around you working toward the same goal—especially since they’ll fuss if you get distracted for too long. Find write-ins or other events thrown by your municipal liaison and get to know your fellow WriMos.
  7. Commit to finishing– Even if you can’t do the whole fifty thousand within November—even if you can—commit to finishing the story. Don’t let “losing” or reaching the end of November stop you. Fifty thousand words is a very short novel (Unless you’re writing for middle grade), you may find your story needs another ten or twenty thousand words. Finishing the blasted thing is the important part. Once you’ve finished one novel, finishing the next is that much easier, because you know you can do it. The whole point of NaNo is completion, taking you one step closer to something publishable. This novel may not be it. That’s okay. The next one might be.

And there you have it. That’s the short list of how I’m surviving NaNo 2015. Granted, I don’t have kids, I’m single, and my work hours leave plenty of time for writing, but even though you are probably ten times busier than I will be this month I encourage you to apply some of these tips. Just a little extra effort and planning can make a drastic difference.

Question of the Week:

What challenges will you be facing during NaNoWriMo 2015?


Image: NaNoWriMo 2015 by Rachel K, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0


Disclaimer: This is a writing advice post. I know every writer is different. What works for me may not work for you. Reading writing advice is like buying a pair. The first pair you try might be perfect or you may have to try several before you find the right shoes; until you try on a few pairs, you won’t know. I use the same attitude for writing advice. If it looks like it’s my size, I’ll give it a try. If I like the advice, I use it. If I don’t like the advice, I put it back on the shelf so to speak. If my advice doesn’t resonate or work for you, feel free to put it back on the shelf.

21088225960_7337178c45_b

What working on TQG feels like right now.

And now…

It’s confession time.

I’ve reached a point where my work-in-progress (a.k.a. TQG) feels like a chore more often than not. On a fundamental level, I still want to “finish” this story. I want to get to a point where I can either say, “Hey, maybe I should see if this is something” and start querying agents or say, “I’m proud of all the things I’ve learned, but this isn’t it” and walk away. But whenever I sit down to work on TGQ? I find myself not in the mood. Here we are at the beginning of October, and I haven’t finished a chapter since August. It was Chapter One.

I know the problem: Story edits kick my butt. Want a first draft? Great, give me a few months. You want line edits? I got that. Story edits, though? They trigger my primal urge to over analyze everything, because WHAT IF I GET EVERYTHING SOMETHING WRONG!?

Writing is fun.

Editing is work.

Editing takes more motivation than cleaning my room does. (Two rooms over, my father rolls his eyes.)

So I stall. I hem. I haw. I whine—often quite loudly on social media—about how writing is hard. I get on tumblr and scroll through my dashboard until I’ve seen every post fifteen times.

Meanwhile, my novel collects (figurative) dust on my hard drive.

What have I learned? I am not a “wait for your muse” kind of girl. (Technically, I’ve known this, the past few months have made a fresh impression on me.)

I’m more the “force your muse to catch up” person. Because most of the time, my muse does not feel like writing. She’d rather read a book. Or get on YouTube. Or find something else on Netflix to obsess over. (Really, it’s mostly YouTube.)

I have to try.

I have to pull out my notes, sit down at my computer, and open that Word doc. I have to look at my week and say, “Here’s where I can spend this much time writing and here’s where I can spend that much time writing”. And I have to tell myself to try.

I am loathe to contradict the words of a revered Jedi master, but—all due respect to Yoda—when it comes to me and writing, the word “try” must exist. If I don’t try, I don’t write. But if I do try? Well, I either…

  1. Struggle for a specified amount of time (usually 30-45 minutes), write a sentence or two, and decide that a writing day, today is not.

OR

  1. Struggle for a bit, write a few sentences, make a weird face, rewrite those sentences, nod, write more, nod more, rewrite more and come to the end of my writing time with a page or two done and a pleased look on my face. (Sometimes quickly replaced by a confused look as I realize that it’s past midnight. Whoops!)

Note: This method is most effective when you ignore your muse’s initial temper tantrum and attempt a few sentences.

There are writers that mostly write when they feel like it. And as they’ve published more than a few books, I cannot deny this method works for some people. If it works for you, embrace that.

I am not one of those people.

For me, writing is similar to exercising. I almost never feel like working out, but I read once that even if you don’t want to work out you should do part of your routine. If you’re still struggling after a few minutes, then maybe today isn’t a good day. However, completing part of your workout gives you momentum, increasing the chance you’ll finish. While I will always prefer reading to jogging, 99% of the time I finish feeling accomplished and pleased that I put the effort in.

Don’t feel like this has to be you (because it doesn’t), but if the shoe looks like it will fit why not, well…try?

And with that, it’s time to sign off and go try some more.

Question for the day:

Do you wait for motivation or do you make motivation catch up to you?


 Image: Don’t try this at home by Massmo Relsig, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


2200500024_e93db99b61_mOnce upon a time, I thought the most difficult question you could ask a writer was the infamous “What are you writing?” After all, people don’t want you spill the whole book word-for-word, so you have fit your current obsession into a few sentences (the fewer the better). Cue long, excruciating pause, stuttering, backtracking, and general frustration.

Then a new writer friend asked me this doozy: “Are you a good writer?”

It took me a minute, but I said that yes eventually.

The question still hasn’t let me go though.

Am I a good writer?

If you asked my mother, the answer would be yes.

I’m not as sure. Am I capable of objectively answering that question? I am not a published writer–newsflash, I know–the only person to read my current novel is me. My only feedback is my own judgment. Is it possible for someone to be truly unbiased about their own work? I know I’m not.

But I also dislike the idea that the only writers able to write well are those that hate every word they write. In my mind, being too critical is just as ineffective as not being critical enough .

Isn’t it better to have the ability to recognize the golden nuggets in a current work? To look at a draft and say, “I think I might be on to something here, but that other thing there and all of Chapter 15 need a lot of work”?

That’s the kind of writer that I try to be.

A lot of my current project is kind of…meh, but the more I chip away at it, the more I wash and sift and refine it, the more gold I find. Or at least, I hope it’s gold I’m finding. There are good parts in this draft. There might even be brilliant parts in this draft. Only patience and effort will tell.

What I think matters is that I’m recognizing some problems. I know (and feedback on past projects has shown) that I’m WAY too close to this project to see all the problems, but I don’t think that my novel is perfect.

I don’t think it’s crap either.

I think it could turn into something.

At the end of the day, I’d rather believe in myself.

So I (at the risk of sounding narcissistic) think I’ll stick with my original answer.

Yes, I am a good writer. Or at least, I’m on my way to being one.


Image: Question mark sign by Colin Kinner, CC BY 2.0


I have finally reached that special place in my current work-in-progress that every author just dreams about: it’s time to look for an agent.

Allow me to emphasize the word “look”? I’ve finished my second draft and plan to dig into the thing with my jackhammer and scalpel when all the feedback has come in. If I am relatively pleased with the finished result it will be time to query agents. But that’s still a few months away.

So why am I looking at agents now?

Why not wait until I have completed and polished manuscript (Those are the kind of manuscripts that agents like to see)?

The answer to that question can be summed up with one word: research.

I need to know who I’m querying. Sure, I could just start with the first agent listed on Writer’s Market. But it’s so much more efficient to target queries.

Otherwise, I could send my manuscript to someone who doesn’t even represent young adult fiction. Or worse, someone who doesn’t rep fiction period. I want to respect both my time and any potential agents.

So I need to know all I can about said potential agents. The most consistent complaint I’ve seen agents make is that people submit inappropriate manuscripts—meaning manuscripts that for one reason or another don’t meet submission guidelines (these are important, pay attention to them).

So how do I go from the 85 agents that represent young adult to the six or so (the final number is still under advisement) I plan on including in my first round of queries?

Easy, I put them through something I refer to as “The Agent Games”.

So far, I’ve only completed Round 1 of this endeavor. But that still cut down the number of agents that were up for consideration.

There are many ways that someone else could go about weeding out the unpromising recruits in Round 1, but here are some of the things I considered when I was going through the six pages of results that Writer’s Market generated.

  1. I kept a big eye on all of the genres they represented. Now, not representing science fiction or fantasy didn’t get them thrown off of the list. But if they stated that they did not represent those two genres, it was an automatic “no”. Also, I kept in mind future projects I’ve been contemplating. Granted, an agent doesn’t have to be forever, but I’d hate to find “the one” only to have to find different representation because my next book is out of their field of experience. If you’re looking at making the art of Typing in a Tiny Room for Hours your career, you want an agent who can go the distance with you.
  2. Availability of info was also a big factor. Almost every agent or agency on my list had a website. That’s something to keep in mind. If an agent didn’t have a website, they had to really catch my eye to stay out of the “no” pile. I want to be able to get as much information about a potential agent as I can before I submit. What do they like to read? How long have they been agenting? Did they do anything before they became an agent? Knowing these things about them is going to make it so much easier for me when it comes time for Rounds 2 & (if necessary) 3.
  3. Also, having a website with a profile or a short bio helped picture myself working with them. Not only does the bio tell me what they represent, but if it was good, it gave me an idea of who they were. I won’t lie, there were a couple that I read their bio and was like, “You sound wonderful, but I just don’t think we’d do well together.” Obviously, an agent and a writer will clash at some point. But if I can pinpoint any insurmountable differences in personality or ideology, I won’t want to submit to that agent. On the other hand, there were a few that I really liked and I put in one of my files because something about their personality or something they said just clicked with me.
  4. When they provided the titles of books or authors they represented, I always gave that a look. Did I see a lot of big names that I recognized? Those either went into the “no” or the “maybe” pile. I’m not saying that my book isn’t good enough to be in the same agency as say, Suzanne Collins (actually, it’s not, but that’s why it needs editing). It’s just that if I don’t see some unknowns, I feel that’s a pretty good sign that they prefer to work with established authors (some just outright tell you). On the other hand, WM does list the percentage of debut authors an agent normally takes. If the percentage was high they went into the “definitely check out” or the “maybe” file.

So that was my process for Round 1. I shall commence Round 2 shortly. It will involve a lot of reading, thorough perusal of websites & guidelines, and possible stalkerlike behavior on Twitter.

Anyone out there want to chime in on how they narrowed things down during their hunt for an agent?


7666431386“Show, don’t tell.” As a writer you hear it all the time

It’s very good advice. But it’s not a rule. There are no hard and fast rules for writing. Every author is different. Every book is different. Heck, every SENTENCE is different. Unless, of course, it’s a repeat of the sentence before that, but you get my point.

Yes, showing is the preferred form to communicate with your audience. Showing draws readers into the story. It involves them, forces them to use their imaginations. They don’t just read that the character gets angry, they feel the anger. But that doesn’t mean telling isn’t just as powerful and effective as showing. What it means is that telling must be used more sparingly.

So, here are my own observations about showing vs. telling. I hope these help you if you’ve ever been confused by this “rule”.

But first, a two quick and blatant examples of showing and telling.

  • Showing: He stood quickly, pacing in front of the bench. His hands went into his pockets. They came back out of his pockets. Stopping, he looked at her, took a breath, and got down on one knee.
  • Telling: Sharon could tell Richard was nervous.

Now that even the non-writers are on the same page, let’s talk about telling:

1. Telling is great for getting information out. In your novel, there can be as many characters you can dream up. And that can mean several different points of view (POV). So Character A is obviously going to know things that Character B doesn’t know (unless the two characters are conjoined twins). You can’t walk Character B through past events. A friend can’t go back in time and relive another person’s trauma. But if Character A is that person’s sister, A can impart the information  to B. Some things are worth showing. Some things the reader needs to know, but don’t need to be detail. You see this all the time when authors summarize the events between one scene and the next. (I wish I could put in examples, but I’m not entirely certain of how to work within copyright laws.) Or when a past scene is summarized for a character that wasn’t there.

2. Telling can be extremely powerful when used sparingly. Now you don’t want to overuse this. But sometimes telling can be used to repeat an idea, for example or to communicate and emotion,

“Elaine put her hand to her forehead. It was sticky and wet. Pulling her hand away, she examined her glistening fingers. She was bleeding.”

Now there are many ways that Elaine’s surprise could have been communicated. But I wrote it the way I did, with the repetition and the blatant statement because it shows the train of the character’s thoughts. Telling is especially useful in emotional response. Sometimes you want to show the emotion move through the character. But sometimes, you want something short and sweet like, “I love you,” or “You’re a bastard”.

3. Telling can be used to show character and growth. This is kind of similar and ties in to the last point, but I feel that it’s different enough to require its own number. Let’s set up a scenario: Suppose your main character’s mom never apologizes. At the beginning of the book, you might have a scene that shows more than it tells, like this one,

“Richard’s mother blinked as Sharon finished her explanation. He’d known the truth of course, but the look of surprise on her face was gratifying.

‘Excuse me,’ Eunice said. ‘I think I need to take care of something.’ She walked off in the direction of the ladies’ room. She was gone for fifteen minutes. When she came back, she looked much the same, but it was another fifteen minutes before his mother would meet his eyes. And that she was much kinder to Sharon.”

Okay, so that’s at the beginning of the novel. She is obviously ashamed of whatever wrong opinion she had about Sharon. And she does adjust her behavior. But suppose we’re at the end of the book and Eunice is a dynamic character (a character that evidences some change over the course of the story). You might end up with a mixed scene like this:

“Richard’s mother blinked as Sharon finished her explanation. She fiddled with the clasp on her purse a moment, then she met Sharon’s eyes.

‘I was wrong,’ Eunice said. ‘I’m sorry.'”

Unlike the first example, Eunice’s change of heart isn’t implied through actions. Instead, she demonstrates her growth but outright admitting that she was wrong. As far as character growth goes, this is the more powerful scene. Maybe the previous scene set us up for this scene, but I bet you the reader is going to feel something when they finally see Eunice admit she was wrong.

Now how do you know how much you should show and how much telling you can get away with? Again, no hard and fast rule. There are a lot of variable like: genre, POV, character, audience, time period. You might have a first person narrator who operates with a 50/50 mix. Or you might have an epic fantasy novel that is primarily showing, with the telling mostly in dialogue (dialogue is almost always telling in my experience).

Before we go, a quick word about redundancy. Keep constant vigilance. I was recently rereading a favorite series and while I still think it’s well-written I noticed that the author like to make redundant statements. For example (and this is my own creation), “‘What were you thinking?’ He stood, clenching his fists and glared at her. He was angry.” Again overly simplified, but you get the idea. Be careful with this. If you’ve already shown the audience something, don’t go back and tell them the same thing in the next sentence. It clutters up your writing. Readers are smart. They’ll get it. The major exception to this is when another character makes a “Captain Obvious” observation to another character.

And that’s it. If you want to read more about showing and telling you can check out Description & Setting by Ron Rozelle and Showing & Telling by Laurie Alberts.

Let me know your own feelings on Show vs. Tell. Do you struggle with the ratio? How do you decide when to use one over the other?


This blog post is a response to a Huffington Post UK article which argues that J.K. Rowling’s success is hindering the success of up-and-coming writers. If you think that sounds a little ridiculous, that’s because it is. Blaming lack of success on someone else’s good-fortune is a little narcissistic and certainly counterproductive. But I’m not here to defend Rowling (who has earned her place in world literature).

No, I’m want to address my concerns with the second paragraph. She says:

I’ve never read a word (or seen a minute) so I can’t comment on whether the books were good, bad or indifferent. I did think it a shame that adults were reading them (rather than just reading them to their children, which is another thing altogether), mainly because there’s so many other books out there that are surely more stimulating for grown-up minds. But, then again, any reading is better than no reading, right?

-Lynn Shepherd, Huffington Post UK, “If JK Rowling Cares About Writing So Much She Should Stop Doing It

(A little advice: if you want your criticism of a book/series to be taken seriously, you need to attempt to read that particular work, even if it’s only a few sentences. At least you can say you tried.)

As a whole, children’s fiction can encompass a broad age range. From picture books and Beginning Readers to the young adult genre. However, when I say “children’s fiction” in this blog post I refer to the middle grade (MG) and young adult (YA) genres because that is what I have the most experience with.

The idea that children’s fiction is not “stimulating” for “grown-up minds” is ludicrous.

Not because they are what I write and read the most. But because this is absolutely untrue. And that is why I love those genres. I have learned more about how to write well from books like The Lightning Thief and The Hunger Games than I have from most of the adult fiction I’ve read (and I’ve been reading in the adult section since I was twelve or thirteen).

My first issue with her statement has nothing to do with that appropriateness of an adult reading children’s fiction, it’s simply part of good parenting (or so my mom tells me):

If your child is reading a book, you should take the time to read it as well.

My mom and I were always passing books back and forth and thus we were able to talk about what I was reading (Still do, actually). It’s part of being involved in a child’s education and staying aware of what they are learning. Most of my thoughts and opinions are the way they are, not because my parents forced them on me, but because we had (and still have) frank discussions that allowed me to explore my own opinions.

Now it’s great (phenomenal!) if you take the time to read to your kids. Some of my best memories are of the half hour or so my mom would spend reading with my brother and I before bedtime (I used to get in so much trouble for staying up to read ahead). Those experiences are part of why I love to read. (Thanks Mom!) But even if they’re past that age where reading together is “cool”—or it’s not practical for your family right now—keep abreast of what your kids are reading.

That brings me to my second issue.

In the grand scheme of things, the Harry Potter series is only seven books (granted, some of them are gargantuan). Now that may seem like a lot to some people. But let’s break it down.

If the average person reads eight books a year and they start reading consistently at ten and the average lifespan is 78 years (these are based on vague internet statistics, if you have better stats, post in the comments), then an average person can expect to read 500+ books in a life time. The Harry Potter series is 1% of the total books a person will read in their lifetime. One. Percent. There will be plenty of time and (hopefully) opportunity to read other books of varying age brackets.

And that brings me to my biggest issue with the above statement.

Children’s literature is NOT inferior to adult literature. In fact, I think that authors of children’s literature probably have more difficulty than someone who writes for an adult audience.

For one thing, kids are far more likely to be…um, frank (brutal) when they don’t like something. They have no problem saying, “This is dumb. You’re dumb. Why do I have to read this?” (I used to work with kids and I still work with teens, so this is from experience.)

The other challenge MG & YA authors face is length.

A typical middle grade novel is going to be under 40,000 words (established authors may have more wiggle room). To put that in perspective an adult novel is usually double that number; Sci Fi and fantasy can end up pushing 100k words.

Because they have limited space, I find that MG & YA authors have to be more intelligent and concise in their writing than their colleagues that aim for the older audience. EVERY word counts for double. They only have 40k words (70k in YA) to develop the plot, expose character, reveal backstory and maybe throw in a theme. And it has to be entertaining. How long do you think a bored twelve-year-old will keep reading?

Now for those of you that padded your college essays with shady spacing and chili recipes, this might not seem like a big issue. But us writers? We’re the ones that spent all night trying to figure out how to cut 2500 words down to a thousand and always ended up turning essays with at least one page more than required. I’m not saying this makes us better than you, it’s just that…we like to write.

My point is that the grown-up brain can benefit from reading fiction even if it’s marketed to younger readers (and it’s all about marketing). I am consistently surprised by the depth of storytelling in MG & YA novels. If you want examples, I would suggest the Percy Jackson series, anything by John Green, Ally Carter’s books, and Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series.

Finally, children’s fiction is just as capable of making us to question society and our own opinions. More so I find sometimes. Most of the adult fiction I’ve read feels more geared towards escapism. It’s the YA books that make me sit up and think about the world. Don’t believe me? Read the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins or Ally Condie’s Matched trilogy.

And don’t forget, some of literature’s favorite classics are classified as “young adult”. For your perusal, I present this list (cross-referenced between Barnes & Noble’s website and Goodreads.com). Tell me you don’t recognize some titles that cover issues we still talk about today:

  • Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
  • To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  • The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
  • The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
  • The Once and Future King by T.H. White
  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  • White Fang by Jack London
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

So what do you think? Do you enjoy middle grade and young adult fiction? What are some of the reasons you like these genres? Can you think of any examples where a MG or YA author displayed fantastic story-telling?

Many thanks to my friend Dot Hutchison, who can be found at dothutchison.com, for answering all my questions and children’s lit. Also, you should check out her book, A Wounded Name. It is one of the two versions of Hamlet I approve of (the other being The Lion King)


Mind Games is finished.

Thank. God.

Actually, MG was finished last June (The 29th to be precise and I can be, because I finished the day of my brother’s 22nd birthday) and I’ve already slogged through a second draft. That was painful. But, more on that in a minute.

I’ve been getting a lot of questions from friends and family about what I’m doing next and in interest of informing the greatest number of people possible, I thought that it was time to dust off the old blog.

It’s been forever and a day since I was last on here, hasn’t it?

I may have gone through a writing funk for a good part of last year.  Partly because I was settling into a new job. Partly because I lost said job in March. Partly because, I’ll admit it, I am lazy.

Writing of any kind repulsed me. I wasn’t even interested in writing fan fiction (up to that point, I have always been able to write fan fiction, ideas usually abound). Then about, oh, June I decided that enough was enough.

Did I feel like writing? Nope. But I also knew that if I followed my outline, I was literally pages from the end. So after ignoring the book since January, I sat down and cranked out six chapters over the course of seven days. According to my computer, Draft 1 was finished at 2:06 a.m. on June 30th, 2013 (although I count it as June 29th, my day doesn’t end until I go to sleep).

I felt like an idiot. I’d been sitting with a nearly finished book since November of 2011. All it took  finish a few hours over the course of a week.

I took a few months off to delve into some world-enriching research and then throughout October, November and December of last year I went through the excruciating process of editing my book.

Oh, editing. I think some part of my subconscious went out of its way to make it horrifying. It was a mess. I was a mess. If I could do it again, I would edit a chapter at a time instead of waiting until I’d gone the whole way through. Had time travel been possible there were no fewer than a dozen times that I would have gone back and smacked myself with all 243 double-spaced pages. Mostly, mostly the frustration came  when I ran across one of these:

Image

Just one of maybe twenty.

I mean, how unhelpful is that? Here’s another one:

Image

Unhelpful and creepy

I learned a very important lesson after that edit: My memory requires details. I know that I had specific things that I wanted to do in every instance. But my vague notes did little to jog my memory. Next time, I will be specific and detailed. And much more timely with my edits.

So update over, what’s next? Well, I plan to focus on three tasks, which I will probably be working on more or less simultaneously.

  1. The Final Polish– At least, I hope this is the final polish. I’ve decided (for now) that three drafts is my limit for a book. Two to (hopefully) get the novel nailed down and sorted and one final draft to get it ready for step two (see below). Now I’m flexible on this one. I’m hoping that when feedback comes in, there won’t be anything drastic that needs changing (in other words, anything that would require a major rewrite). As a writer, I know I could tweak until kingdom come and still find more to work on. Hence, the self-imposed limit.
  2. Find an Agent– The time has come to start researching agents. Which means, going through guides and websites to compile a list of agents that might be a good fit for my book. If I were trying to publish in a small niche market (i.e. Schnauzer grooming), I might be skip this step. But alas, I am a YA author and that market seems to abound with hopefuls. If you’re at this step or close to it, I recommend the Writer’s Market 2014 Guide to Literary Agents, which seems to offer a larger selection than say the 2014 Writer’s Market or the 2014 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market (though it does have a decent selection of literary agents). The other two, however, have more in the way of contests and book publishers, if those are your interests.
  3. Start a New Project– Or in my case return to an old one. I am currently in the process of doing research for a fairytale retelling that was put on the shelf in 2010 so I could focus on MG. Now that MG is finally in the editing and submitting phase, it’s time to think ahead. Everywhere I look writer, after writer, after writer (including the famous ones, like Stephen King) recommends starting the next novel when you reach this phase. So that’s where I’m headed.

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.


New Years-1-002 by Ludie Cochrane

Happy New Year!

I know, I know. I sort of dropped off the face of the Earth for a while.

It all started with National Novel Writing Month in November. A great success if I may say so. No, I did not make it to 50,000 words by the end of the month. On Nov. 30 at 11:49 p.m., I looked at my word count and decided that 42,000 words was good enough for my first year. I mean, all things considered I am now 30,000 words and fourteen chapters closer to the end of Mind Games (which is plotted out at roughly 40 chapters, though that will most definitely change). It’s exciting being able to look at the word count for MG and see the number 42,000. My last “book” finished at 47,000 and I’m only halfway finished with this one. I think I have a pretty good chance of hitting that 80,000-100,000 word goal for this current project.

Can tell that I’m restraining myself from over-using my CAPS Lock?

And then there was the December-long reading binge where I endeavored to finish all of those books that I started in the last year, but for one reason or another put down (mostly for another book). That went relatively well also.

And that leads in to what this year holds for me.

Now, I’m not one to really make New Year’s resolutions per se. I believe that if you want to change there is no day like today. However, the last two months have brought me to some conclusions (not to mention drastically changed the plot of Mind Games):

  1. I need to read more.
  2. I need to write more.
  3. It’s time to get this book finished.
  4. I don’t want to write for money, I want to make money writing and there is a difference.

Which has led me to set some goals that could be considered New Year’s resolutions, if I made NYRs.

The easiest one is going to be reading more. My goal for 2012 is to read 48 books. Could I read a whole lot more? Yes. Would my house, school and life suffer? At this point, yes.  Most books take me 6-7 hours to read. So, finishing a book a week shouldn’t be too hard. That’s just an hour a day. To make it more challenging and improve my reading range, I have come up with a few guidelines. First, at least one of those books is to be a book on writing. Second, I cannot read two books of the same genre/age range back-to-back. With the exception of series (because that would be just cruel). So, should I want compare say YA paranormal fantasy and adult paranormal fantasy, I can. But I shall refrain from reading…oh let’s go with Fever by Lauren DeStefano and then Suzanne Collins Hunger Games trilogy (both YA dystopian novels). There has to be something different in between. This is to encourage me to read outside of my comfort zone. I read a lot of young adult, fantasy and science fiction. That leaves whole genres that I haven’t tapped. Crime, historical fiction, suspense (which, despite my mother’s protests, I love), romance, all those classics (which I also enjoy), “Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera” as they say in The King and I.

All of this is just a step towards my becoming a better writer (my other goal).

Because by the end of February I’m planning to have a finished first draft. And then it will be time to edit. And then…it’s time to query (and start the next book). Eek! In fact, one of the gifts I asked for this Christmas was the 2012 Writer’s Market. If I want to be a writer…it’s time to BE a writer.

That’s my goal for 2012.

What’s yours? Have you thought about your goals as a writer? Have you written them down? Do it. It makes them easier to stick to. And then do your best!

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?

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