Friday, October 29, 2010

It's Friday and I'm dressed like a ninja

Or a cat burglar. I can't decide. You have to understand that I own nothing even remotely costume-ish. I haven't dressed up for Halloween since I was 12, but my boss is bringing caramel corn and said she would only share it with people who dressed up. So I'm a cat burgling ninja.

Anybody else dressing up for Halloween today? Happy Friday!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Workshopping: The Revenge of the Adverb

Okay, this post has nothing to do with revenge or adverbs, but I've got movie franchises on the brain. Last night was my first round of workshopping my own piece with my creative writing class, and suffice it to say I was nervous. I had no idea if they would like it or understand it. It didn't help that I was the last one to receive feedback, either. Every once in awhile during the other critiques I felt that familiar pang of nerves in my stomach, knowing that every plot point discussed brought us closer to my own plot points.

The critiques seemed more in-depth and pointed last night, which actually made me happy. I'd been a little discouraged last week when everyone was so positive (I know, I'm masochistic that way); I was worried people were too afraid to give honest feedback, or that they didn't have a trained enough eye to spot problems in the stories. But it was a smaller crowd last night, which allowed for longer focus on each piece and more detailed feedback from each reader. I was really proud of everyone for their great insights, and I found myself nodding along to a lot of the critiques other classmates were sharing. I'd be happy to have any of them as critique partners along the way.

Of course we took a break right before discussing my piece. Just an extra ten minutes of torture for JEM. I got my listening ears on, ready for the piece to get ripped apart, hoping that they would like at least one or two parts of the story. Writing is like cutting your own hair without a mirror - you think you've got the back part right, but it falls right in your blind spot so you're really just hoping you didn't cut an entire chunk of your hair out without even realizing it. When we returned to class I did my best impression of someone who wasn't at all worried about the next thirty minutes of class, but I'm not sure everyone bought it.

The instructor had each person start by reading a piece of their story, and of course she chose a dialogue bit for me. Not to go too in depth on my story, but the dialogue is made up. As in, I'm not really sure how to read it out loud. I gave it my best shot, though, and chalked it up to preparation for all those millions of author events I'll do someday (right). Then I braced myself (I know, I'm building up tension, so sue me) (please don't actually sue me).

They loved it. They loved the characters, they loved the writing, they loved the story arc (or what little they saw of it). And what's more, the feedback they had was so awesome I couldn't even be mad about it. Many of them pointed out weaknesses I already knew I had - I don't describe scenery, I hadn't done enough research for the piece, etc. - and I found myself nodding along to several of the suggestions. Like as soon as they said it I realized how true it was. Although it was surreal to listen to a discussion about my own work and not be allowed to participate. Surreal and fun.

And the best part? They were disappointed when I said I'd be bringing in a different piece for the next round, and they asked that I bring in the next chapter of the story instead.

So last night brought me two great boons - a confirmation that I'm on the right path with my writing, and much needed feedback and insight into the mind of the reader. If you need me, I'll be on cloud nine.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

When to listen to your gut

I've had it set in my head since I started the current WIP that it would be 80,000 words. Don't ask me how I arrived at that number - it's very scientific, you writerly types wouldn't understand -  but that's the word count I've been aiming for. And I was rocking right along until about four days ago, when I wrapped up a mini-plot and  realized I'd hit a dead end. I had No. Where. To. Go.

I took a few days off to let some ideas roll around. I was pretty much waiting for that divine inspiration to strike me as I was grocery shopping/showering/eating a sandwich, but it never came. I even tried going back to the page and forcing myself to write, hoping a plotline would magically jump out of the bushes and ambush my brain (I'm pretty sure that's how creativity works). I had the end, I was about 55K words in, but I had noooooooothing to tie the two together.

And then it did hit me last night. This word count goal that I'd arbitrarily chosen (scientific arbitration, totally different) wasn't the right word count for the story. At least, not for this round. I was beating myself up trying to come up with a new storyline, when in reality that new storyline would only serve to slacken the tension and pacing. I'd set everything up to end well, it just so happens that it will end about 10K words earlier than expected.

Which, if we look at words like a budget, isn't half bad. And since I like money, I like looking at words like a budget. And the nice thing about a budget is that when you don't spend that money, it's there for the spending later. If I want to add a scene, or bulk up a scene, or add a new character, or flesh out a character, I've got the room. And the real odds are I left something unexplained, or I need more foreshadowing, or more description. Some people write too much; apparently I write too little.

Since I've let myself off the hook the words have been flying across the page, tumbling over each other to get to the end. I feel better, they feel better, you feel better (just go with me on this). I had to go with my gut that this story just wasn't meant to be 80K words, at least not on the first draft.

When have you had to go with your gut in a story? Are you glad you did? Do you wish you'd listened sooner? Are you grossed out with all this talk of guts?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Writing is my new wine

So for various reasons rather too boring to explain, I've decided not to drink for a while. I feel good about it and  it's really helped me to focus on priorities in life. I mean, I wasn't a slusher or anything before, and I'm not straight-edge now (hellooooo, holiday eggnog), but I'm making a conscious effort in my life to channel my energy in a different direction.

Cut to yesterday, which I'm convinced was a full moon day based on clients/family members/celebrities going CRAZY. And not the usual, everyday crazy, but full on foaming at the mouth and kicking babies crazy. And at the end of such craziness my coworker says, "I'm going home to drink half a bottle of wine."

Which made me think, what sweet comfort would I turn to now if not a fine glass of Moscato? But when I woke up this morning, too early to get ready for work and too late to get any significant sleep, I decided to get up and write. Coffee in hand and with the partner-in-crime and our trusty sidekick curled up beside me I snuggled under the covers and worked on my WIP. I only had about 30 minutes, but afterward I felt...relaxed. Happy. Content. And I had a wicked caffeine buzz.

All of which made me realize that writing has become my new retreat from the world, my place to go when I need to do something that makes me feel good. A place to drown my sorrows in similes and dialog tags. My new wine.

Although I guess that makes revisions my new hangover.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Author websites: what thinketh you?

Beth Revis has an awesomely informational post today about what to look for in a web designer. In typical Beth fashion she gives helpful pre-publication and post-publication website tips, not that I was furiously scribbling notes or anything...

I toyed around with the idea of a website when I was doing local music a few years ago. I even had a friend design a site for me, but we didn't end up going live with it. I honestly hadn't even given thought to having a website at this stage, but she makes some pretty compelling arguments for reasons why you'd want a website as an unpublished writer, especially during querying. Plus, it's always a good idea to buy your name as a domain. You never know how many Gertrude Sniedelmeyers there are out there.

But I'm not sure about the timing of a website. When is a good time to start one? Some of you have websites in addition to your blog, some of you only have a blog, some of you might have already bought your domain name and are sitting on it waiting for the right time.

So weigh in and tell me, what thinketh you on the topic of author websites?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Workshopping Part Deux (The Sequel)

Wednesday night we OFFICIALLY started workshopping in my creative writing class. Which means people passed out their pieces for the class to review over the next week and return flush with feedback next week. I was actually excited for this exercise; I'd been a beta reader for a couple of friends before this, but this is the first time I'll be involved in a structured feedback session. I curled up with a stack of excerpts last night and dug in, pen poised to give insightful and life changing advice. That's how this works, right?

Uh. So. Wow.

Let's start off by saying I don't want to sound like a total douche. I'm well aware of the limitations in my own writing (and well aware of when I'm NOT well aware of them), and I know I have things to work on. I expect people to rip my stuff apart, hand me the shreds, and say they don't know what I was trying to do but my story made them gag a little. I mean, hopefully not, but I'm prepared if they do. There's no way I can be objective about my own writing, which is precisely why I'm excited for this workshopping bidnizz.

I've known from the beginning that I was probably one of the more advanced students regarding technique. I completely chalk this up to all of the learning I've been doing on the blogs this past year as well as the heaps of writing I've done all throughout my life. A lot of the rookie mistakes I expect - overwriting, info dumping, a love of adverbial dialog tags that I can't seem to get rid of - have already been weeded out of my own writing. Or if they haven't, I'm at least aware of them when someone points them out. So I was fully expecting to see and comment on these things in one form or another in most of the writing. In fact, I was proud of my blog buddies and the information they've instilled in me (that's you guys!). I was only too happy to pass it on.

What I was less expecting, but got a whole heapful of, was a basic lack of proper mechanics. Incorrectly used words, wrong verb tenses, odd sentence structuring, a lack of comma usage. So much so that it frequently interfered with my actual reading. I was so caught up in trying to figure out what they were trying to say that I lost sight of the overall storyline. Eventually I had to put it out of my mind and ignore the grammatical flaws to focus on giving them character/plot/setting feedback. Several of the stories were actually good, but the mechanical issues were very surprising. These are all college level and beyond students, so I was floored that things like choosing the correct verb tense were an issue.

So for those of you out there with more experience than me in workshopping beginning writers' work, have you experienced this same thing? Do you often run into a basic lack of structuring? How do you address these issues with the writer? I'm not looking to act as their English teacher, but I don't want to do them a disservice by not addressing it. What do you do?

Thursday, October 7, 2010


We start workshopping in my creative writing class two weeks from now and I am STOKED. I've had limited feedback on my writing so far, and while it's been extremely helpful I'm looking forward to a very diverse group of opinions in a concentrated setting.

I'm in a bit of a quandry, however, as to what piece to submit. The class is concentrated on children's literature - picture books through YA - and the WIP I'm currently working on is an adult book. I don't want to pull my attention away from the WIP (I've got a daily word count to fulfill, peoples!), but I know the YA novel I wrote a few months ago isn't ready. I also know what's wrong with it and I don't know how helpful it will be to get feedback on it at this point. I know what I need to fix, I just don't know how to fix it yet.

So I'm left wondering: should I write a new piece and pull my attention away from the current WIP, or should I pull from previous manuscripts, dust them off a bit, and get some feedback on those? I want to do whatever's most helpful to me at this stage, but I'm not sure what that is. Blurg.

I'm also a little worried about giving feedback to others in the class. Based on responses from many of the class members, most people in there aren't at the same technical level as me (thanks to all of you guys and your awesome blogs!). I've addressed many of the issues in my writing they're only just now figuring out, so I'm a little worried about the basics. There seems to be a bevy of overwriting and punctuation issues, and I don't know if I even want to get into mechanical constructs. Plus, there are some hardcore fantasy lovers in that class, and while I would NEVER fault someone for their genre of choice, fantasy on that level is definitely not mine. Not sure how useful my feedback will be for those kids.

For those of you with workshopping experience (which is probably most of you), what are your tips for sharing work both ways? What do you wish someone had told you before you went into your first workshopping experience? How do you decide what criticism to share and what not to share? How do you keep from pissing people off with your critiques?