Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Back To Business

I took my vacation very seriously. I ate lots of pumpkin pie (and then went to the gym to work it off). I slept in. I played Warcraft in copious amounts (the new Cataclysm lowbie stuff is awesome!). I even read an ARC of Julie Halpern's DON'T STOP NOW, which was amazing and fun and I will talk about in more detail soon. Vacation rocked. So much so that I am struggling to convince myself back into working.

But to work I must go. There is a book to be edited—Transparent. This book has been my nemesis this year, so the thought of going back into it kind of makes me want to rip my hair out. That's not to say it's a bad book—I actually think it's one of my best—we just have a rocky emotional history. I'm sure many of you know exactly what I'm talking about.

And if you didn't know, TWO of my friends have books coming out this week! You may have heard about a little book called MATCHED? By Ally Condie? Yeah, out today! Then there is my dear friend Stephanie Perkins' ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS coming out December 2nd (though I've heard it's already shipped from B&N and is in many stores already)! Guys, you want these books. Trust me.

Also, it's the last day for NaNoReaMo! I, uh, didn't finish my goal of 12 books read, but I did finish 8! I'm pretty happy with that, seeing as I also wrote more than half a book this month. All in all, a very productive and good November for me. I'm on a mental high (which is also why I dread opening up the revisions...ack).

I will be back to regular posting this week. I'm sure you are SO excited, because your life was basically meaningless without my posts to read everyday. Sorry about that. Wait...what? You didn't even notice or care? Oh, well, okay. I guess that's...healthy.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Happy Writers Society: Live Life

Hey guys! Hope you Americans are having a lovely holiday. Thanks for bringing your Thanksgiving leftovers—really takes the pressure off me having to provide decent treats. I do have a whole pumpkin pie left, though, so feel free to dig in. Just save a few slices for my husband otherwise he'll be surly.

We'll make this short, so you can get back to your shopping or whatever else you are doing today.

I want to talk about life. It's really easy as a writer to get caught up in other, imaginary lives. Even the internet "life" you have can become all consuming. It's kind of part of the job, right? I know when I'm writing, sometimes the people in my head feel more real than anything. And then when I look up from the words, it's hard for me to remember that those people don't actually...exist. You can only live in that imaginary world so long, and then you have to go back to your real life.

Wow, that sounded a little depressing! No, this is HWS! I have a point, and it's a happy one. I swear.

As wonderful as those imaginary worlds and people are, your life is just as magical. It might not feel like that, but I promise it is. Living life is the best way to find new stories, to learn new things that will filter their way into your writing. I've been on a serious contemporary fiction kick (which shouldn't be a surprise, since I just finished writing my first), and something very surprising has resulted from all my reading:

I appreciate my own, real life more.

Don't get me wrong, I love me some fantasy/sci-fi. But I've noticed a subtle difference in my mentality when I read that versus contemporary. When I read fantasy/sci-fi, I often find myself feeling like my little life is so...boring. I wish for more. I want to be bigger than I am. That's not necessarily a bad thing. I think that mentality helps me push for my goals, reach for the stars and all.

When I read contemporary fiction, I find myself marveling at how such "small things" can be meaningful, magical, and all around HUGE. I start to think about my own small life, and I realize that, little as it is, it's wonderful and fulfilling and special. Contemporary fiction reminds me to live my own life, to look for the magic in every day.

I honestly think you need both sides to be a good writer. You have to think big and small. You have to live your life and imagine others. If you aren't out there living, you're forgetting to do half your job.

You are not "wasting precious writing time" by having a life. You should never, ever feel guilty for doing things other than writing. You should never forget that living life will make you a better writer.

Take time away from that WIP. Go on a walk in the cold, just to feel that nip on your nose. Try a new restaurant, a new dish, just to see if you like it. Hug your kids, just because you can. Be adventurous. Observe those around you. Absorb life so you can imitate it on paper.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

In Which I Get Giddy About First Drafts...

Hey guys! Remember that book I was writing? Yeah, I finished it today. I mustered my inner ninja cyborg and hammered out about 37k words in 2.5 weeks (total word count = 58k). I totally could have rocked NaNoWriMo if I had more book to write. (This is actually why I don't do NaNoWriMo—I do not have a problem getting a first draft down. All the editing after that? Yeah...maybe I should do NaNoEdMo...)

That First-Draft-Done high is awesome. I'm basking in it, guys. Oh, I know the book needs a lot of work, but it's there. I have a whole book, start to finish. It even has a plot this time! Actually, I'm pretty proud of this plot. But I have been working on this book on and off for a year (not to mention I tucked the idea into my "you can't write that yet" pile like three years ago), so it had a lot of time to marinate.

I know we all have different relationships with the first draft. Heck, we have different relationships we every first draft we write, don't we? But I gotta say I still love finishing a book for the first time. I guess it's the closest a writer can get to reading their book like a reader—there's a discovery and excitement you can't quite get back in revisions. Oh, revisions can be rewarding, but it's not the same feeling, it's not holy-crap-I-just-wrote-a-WHOLE-BOOK. It's more like holy-crap-this-book-finally-looks-SHINY.

Do you want to know stuff about it? I've kept this book pretty close to my chest, especially in comparison to some of my other ones. I should at least throw out a few random facts:

• It's contemporary YA. Yes, I wrote a book with no creatures, special powers, or even explosions. I'm kind of questioning my identity, actually.

• There is a car named Puke.

• The MC secretly listens to James Taylor.

• There is a good girl, a bad girl, and a girl in the middle.

• There is a weekly Anime marathon night. And cat ears.

• Also, the MC plays football. He's a running back.

• Basically, it's a weird book, but what else would you expect from me?

*Happy sigh*

Did I mention I finished writing a book today? Oh, I did, huh. I really didn't think I'd be able to say that this year, and I am so, so thankful that I get to. I love my little, misshaped book baby, and I kind of hope that someday you'll get to see it all growed up.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Why Grammar and Punctuation MATTER

It's time for another rant. Sure, I like to bring the happy with HWS, but I also enjoy laying down the law. Or...er...getting all worked up over things that most people don't care about. Today on the menu? Grammar and punctuation.

Yes, I'm looking at YOU. I know how you feel about the blessed G&P. You think it's a waste of time, perhaps. Or maybe that it doesn't really matter. "Oh, it's not as important as writing a good story," you say. "I don't need to know all the rules. That's what copy editors are for!"

YOU are wrong. Hopefully by the end of this post, YOU will reconsider your stance. Because your stance is LAZY, and it's not helping you, honestly.

I will be the first to admit that I am not perfect in this area. I am not asking for perfection, only a solid understanding of the English language and how to use (and even abuse) it. As a writer, I believe it is your duty to learn these principles. Writing is your craft, and the job only gets harder when you have dull tools.

Time for the handy dandy list! Why G&P matter:

1. Knowing Grammar = Knowing The Language
This is coming from an English linguistics major, so keep that in mind when I get all crazy about this. Grammar isn't just a bunch of rules—it is the foundation of our language. Grammar is a word that encompasses the syntax and morphology of a language. Sometimes even phonology and semantics.

How can you really write unless you understand, in detail, the makeup of the English language? Yes, you might be a native speaker, but I promise you that learning more about the actual English language will never, ever be a detriment to your writing. In fact, you should know more than the average person. As a writer, words are your medium, your way of expressing ideas. Not understanding grammar is like being an artist who uses oil paint but never actually learned how to manipulate that medium properly. It labels you as a novice. Harsh, but true.

2. Knowing Grammar = Knowing Where To Put Punctuation
Most people make punctuation errors because they don't understand grammar. Punctuation is simply a tool to clarify grammatical structures. So when you know grammar, the use of commas, semi-colons, dashes, periods, quotations, etc. becomes about a bajillion times easier.

In very basic terms, punctuation sorts out and organizes a language. In some languages, they use declensions and morphemes for this. Like in Japanese, the subject, object, and verb are labeled by a sound ("wa," for example, is a tag for "subject"). In English? Our subject, object, and verbs are largely dependent on sentence location (the subject first, verb second, and object third, in a basic sentence). When ideas get more complex, punctuation is needed to clarify English grammatical structures.

If you know the difference between an independent and dependent clause, you will know where to put a comma, period, or semi-colon. If you understand the difference between a gerund, prepositional, and infinitive phrase, you'll know how to use commas. G&P go hand in hand.

3. Using Proper Punctuation = Looking Professional
Since proper punctuation indicates a mastery of English grammar, it makes your writing look professional. It makes you look like a writer who knows his or her stuff. I know you want to think that a good idea will be enough to get you an agent or editor, but with competition so high it might not. Knowing G&P gives you an edge. It shows an agent/editor you are serious about this. It indicates that you have studied the craft.

4. Understanding G&P = Increased Ability To Express Yourself In Words
If you don't know the rules, you can't mold your writing into something beautiful. Well, maybe you can, but it takes a lot more trial and error. Sentence, paragraph, and word variation is key in creating interesting prose.

Let's look at a paragraph that has no sentence variation:

I went to see Harry Potter. I sat in the the theater. The theater was packed with people. A kid put his feet on my chair. I didn't like his feet on my chair.

That reads simplistic and boring for a reason. The sentences are all the same, essentially. Same structure and roughly the same length. Simply by varying structure, I'm sure all of you can make this into several different paragraphs.


When I went to see Harry Potter, people packed the theater. Some punk kid put his feet on my chair, which made my experience less than desirable.

You could write that a bunch of different ways, right? Now imagine if you knew the tools. I used a prepositional phrase in the first sentence. What if I changed that to an infinitive phrase?

To see Harry Potter, I had to push my way into a packed theater.

See how that changes it just a bit? Same basic idea, but a different emphasis. Ah, variation. It's the spice of writing, and G&P is the key. Why in the world would you deprive yourself of those skills?


Hopefully you are convinced that G&P might be something you want to learn or revisit. But what now? Where do you go to learn?

Well, you could take a class, of course. But for those who can't, you need to learn on your own, through books. When it comes to a grammar book, most are going to be roughly the same. I will not pretend grammar is super fun and entertaining. I learned grammar in college from a linguistic approach, which I found much easier than the traditional. For example: A noun isn't a "person, place, thing, or idea" in a linguistic approach, it's simply a morpheme that can accept a possessive or plural (monkey's, monkeys).

Find a book you can stand (hehe). There are all sorts of grammar books, from the humorous to the we-take-ourselves-way-too-seriously. There are also a ton of online resources a Google search away.

Once you have a decent grasp of grammar, I would recommend The Writer's Options. Please take note that this book isn't so much for teaching G&P—it is for applying and practicing. It teaches you how to vary your sentences, etc. Yeah, it's a pain, but most practice is.

Again, I encourage you to get serious about grammar and punctuation if you haven't already. It matters. A lot.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

What I (er, Didn't) Read This Week: Week 3


I'm behind. I *did* read a book, but then I had to crit a manuscript asap. That took time. I try to be thorough. It's the least I can do. There might also be 17.5k words on my WIP involved in there as well...

But I am going to hold my head high! So I might not hit my goal of 12 books—I did get over half so far. AND I've written over 27k on my WIP this month, which is basically half of NaNo in the last two weeks. All things considered, I've had a lovely NaNo experience thus far. PROGRESS, people, that's what's important.

I almost thought for a second that I might be able to hit the NaNoWriMo goal, but then I realized my book will probably be done in like 10k. That's weird. This WIP has spent such a long time *not* being done. First draft done? Whoa.

Anyway, I have a book to talk about!

7. Hourglass by Claudia Gray
Yes, sometimes I like vampire books, okay? Actually, the Evernight series is the only vamp one I'm still following. I LIKE it. I just do. (So if you don't I am plugging my ears right now. *la la la la* I can't hear you.) And the third installment in the series was cuh-RAZY, guys.

Seriously, who has read this? Because I want to freak out with someone. Like, could you believe when she freaking ______? And then when he up and ______? And when they ______? Dude. I was seriously wigging out by the end. It took a VERY different turn from what I expected, but I actually LOVE that turn. It's horribly smart and awful.

It was just plain crazy. Tense. Surprising. Hot. Sad. Everything. I cannot wait for Afterlife, which comes out in March. Man, I will not be waiting to read that one because Hourglass left me on the edge of my seat.

And that's it this time. I will push on with NaNoReaMo, and hopefully I will have more than one book to talk about next week!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Happy Writers Society: The Importance of Reading

Welcome, welcome, my dear members. How have you been? NaNo going well? Oh, sorry, I'll talk quieter for those who're furiously typing away in the back over there. Thanks for at least coming—I do know what a sacrifice that was at this point in November.

Ahem, as you know, I've been doing my own version of NaNo, in which I read as many novels as I can this month. I'm...a little behind at the moment, but I am determined to keep going! Because, as always, reading has helped me write.

This is our topic today, and HWS member Jadi has sent me some thoughts I'd love to share:
King Stephen, um, Stephen King says, "If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that."

I've read Stephen King's memoir not too long ago. I didn't agree with everything, I won't lie. But the reading thing is almost non-negotiatable. Earlier this year (I was reading my first SK novel, actually), I almost got into an argument with a guy that said reading isn't that important.

"Do you write?" I asked him. I thought that surely a real writer would know better.
He said that you should discover it on your own. Wing it.

I almost said, "Well, you must not be very good," but another guy in the room defended the readers' case against him. It was probably for the best that I didn't say anything more.

No part of the writing process other than the writing itself is as important as reading. Not research, not attending conferences. Reading is the literary gas that fuels your writing car. Without it, you can't go very far. For those of you that started writing because of reading, it will remind you why you love to write. Reading is magical, just as magical as writing is. It's a great cure for writer's block. Period.

It may also help you with an area you're struggling with. If you're struggling with a certain area, partner up with a friend who knows a book that shines in that area. You shouldn't copy their style, but you can get an example of what it's supposed to sound/read like.

Your favorite book was once a crappy first draft too and reading it shows you what it can become.
I'd just like to add a hearty "Amen!" to this. Reading is so, so important. I know that many of us worry about accidentally copying or being too influenced by another's style, etc. But to that I say, "Is that such a bad thing?"

I lived in the art room in high school. I took every art class my school offered. My art teachers? They didn't tell me to just wing it, to draw straight from my imagination so as not to be influenced by any other artist or style. No, we copied a lot. We made displays to replicate on paper. We had models for figure studies. We studied masters, copied masters, in order to learn established techniques.

Why? Because just like in any field, you can't break the rules until you know the rules. How do you learn the rules? By studying. In writing, that should include a great deal of reading.

Reading is an essential tool in your education as a writer. Don't be afraid of it! Use it! Enjoy it! Reading teaches you what works and what doesn't. It teaches you what you like and what you don't. It really can fix writer's block. It helps you find your style, not mimic, trust me. It inspires you to do better. And, yes, sometimes it reassures you that you are good enough to get published.

In short, reading (especially this month) has made me a much happier writer! I've set up a reading room in the club house in honor of this post. It has comfy chairs and a hot chocolate dispenser. Feel free to enjoy, and learn from, a good book.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Writer At Work

So, uh, I'm working. And not just "make my minimum word goal and be done with it" working, but actual "oh my gosh I can't stop myself from writing" working. It feels good, and I'm gonna run with it while I can.

I've said before that I haven't finished a new project this year, and I've decided that needs to be remedied. I have around 25k to go on Sidekick, my WIP also known as Squishy. Finishing before the end of the year is totally doable, and thus I will do it. And then I can say I wrote a new book this year, which will make me feel productive.

I don't know what that is. I mean, yeah, I rewrote and edited my brains out this year, but for some reason that never counts as progress in my head. Oh, it should, but it doesn't. It's not "new."

Anyway, in lieu of my new goal (plus all the other stuff I still have to do), I am hereby admitting that my blogging practices must change. At least until the end of the year, I won't be posting every weekday. I'm still deciding on a schedule, but yeah, there it is. Happy Writers Society will still go up every Friday, but other than that things are up in the air around here.

I hope you'll stick around. I'll make sure to bake extra cookies and cupcakes to make up for it.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Blah Blah Blah. Whine. Oh, and a Contest.

Julie Halpern is holding a contest for an ARC of her newest novel, Don't Stop Now. Head on over to enter! All you have to do is comment, so there you have it. Go.

Other than that, I don't have much to say. Unless you want to hear me whine about how much I suck at writing contemporary, which I don't think you do. I seem to have confidence issues about writing it. I'm not entirely sure why.

I've been going in huge swings on this project. One minute I think I'm the most brilliant writer in the entire world. And the next I think I'm the worst ever born. No middle. One or the other. It's annoying.

Maybe it's because writing contemporary feels almost the exact opposite of writing fantasy. In fantasy, you spend a lot of time making "magic" feel real. In contemporary, you spend a lot of time making reality feel magical. I have no clue if I'm doing that!

*Sigh* Oh well, enough complaining for me.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

What I Read: Week 2

NaNoReaMo Week 2 down! I am happy to say that I am still on track—finished book #6 around midnight last night. And then I didn't really sleep because I couldn't stop thinking about it. You know how it is...

Also, something unexpected happened this week, too. I wrote. A lot actually. More than I even realized. I just tallied it up, and I added 9,995 words to my Squishy, sekrit project (which isn't very sekrit anymore). I know I said I wouldn't work this month, but I think all this reading has jump started my brain. I just wanted to point that out, because I think we forget sometimes how important reading is. So yeah. Read.

Now, on to the books! (Reminder: I don't do summaries, but if you want to read one click the title.)

4. The Reckoning by Kelley Armstrong
This is the final book in the Darkest Powers series, which starts with The Summoning. It was everything I wanted for the story and characters, so I was very pleased when I set the book down. The ending was well balanced. I won't say more because I hate to spoil things.

I really enjoyed this series overall. It's fast-paced. The paranormal powers are different (the MC can raise zombies, for example). And it twists without throwing you off the ride.

Actually, I would recommend this series to guys, despite the extremely girly cover. I feel sad that boys might not pick this up due to that, because the story itself is mostly action based. Conspiracy theories. Being on the run. Creepy undead stuff. And guess what? There isn't even one single kiss in the first two books. So, boys, just take the jacket off and read.

5. Gone by Lisa McMann
I freaking loved the first two, and the final installment was no exception. Be warned, it is on the gritty side, and some people say the style was too hard to read (third present). But I think it was the perfect choice for the mood of the series. I love the short, clipped pace of these books. It makes for fast reading and room for lots of interpretation. I love that.

Gone was not what I expected after reading Fade, but it was an awesome change of direction. I am so glad for the surprise, and I think it might actually be my favorite of the series. It tied everything together so well, gave answers and revelations, but it wasn't a pretty bow either. It stayed completely true to the story.

6. The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen
Basically, this book made me regret not reading Dessen sooner. You know how sometimes you mean to get to some of those big authors everyone lauds, but then it just doesn't happen? Yeah, that was me and Dessen. (It's also me and Meg Cabot, sadly.)

But holy crap, I loved this book. I didn't want it to end. I'm still sad it's over. It had so many things I loved—art, catering, Truth. I don't get the compulsion to reread books often, but this is one I will likely come back to.

Besides, I practically blew through the last 150 pages going "Oh my gosh why haven't they kissed? She's going to drag this out to the very end! Oh, I will DIE if she does that. WHY, SARAH, WHY CAN'T THEY JUST FREAKING KISS ALREADY?"

So...yeah. I probably missed some of the finer details in the back third, which is a shame because the more I thought about it the more I realized its brilliance. This is what kept me up all night. I started to think about the seeds she planted in the beginning, how they grew and came together at the end. On the surface, it looks effortless, maybe even simple. But as a writer? I can see the work she put into this, and it seriously paid off.

Yes, Sarah Dessen is one of my new writing heroes.

And with that, I begin week 3. Woot.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Happy Writers Society: The People Who DO Like You

We as writers tend to dwell on the negative. I don't know what it is. Perhaps those tough crits or bad reviews are food for the little doubt monsters that live inside our brains.

"See, I knew I sucked. I just knew it, and this random Amazon troll knows it, too."

"I knew I couldn't write a decent book. Look at all these revisions...I'm a failure."

It's silly, isn't it? A writer could get hundreds of good reviews and three bad ones, and which ones do you think they'll remember? I don't know why, but we seem to forget about all the people who DO like our stories, who do support us and think we have talent.

Because really, the people who like us are the ones that matter, aren't they? I don't think any writer out there writes for their critics. They write for their fans. You may only have five people in the world who have read your stuff. You might have thousands. Either way, these are the people that matter.

I've been thinking a lot about this idea lately (since it happens to play a big part in my WIP). We all want to impress people, to be liked. But are you trying to impress the right people? In my mind, the people to impress are the people who actually care about you. Sacrificing them for people who don't...well, that's just stupid.

A while ago I interviewed one of my favorite authors, Julie Halpern. She had so many great things to say, but the advice that stuck with me is this: "If you like what you write, someone else will like it, too."

Does it matter if it's only ten people? Sometimes it feels like it does, but when I really think about it I'd rather have those ten than a bunch who just pretend to like my stuff. I need to be grateful for the people who believe in me. I need to listen to them, make them happy. If others join the bandwagon, so be it. But there's no reason to dwell on the critics—they aren't my audience, obviously.

So I want to give a great, big virtual hug to the people who love and support me. My family, especially my mom, who reads and likes everything I write (hey, I need that sometimes). My writer friends, who keep me going when things get rough. My agent (both old and new), for believing in my talent enough to put their own reputation on the line. And, yes, all of you, who keep reading my blog and encouraging me. You are all far more important than any critic or troll or flamer.

Thank you. Times infinity.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

I'm...Enjoying Writing

For the first time in a while, I am writing new stuff and enjoying it. That probably sounds lame, but I was starting to wonder if it would ever happen again.

Sure, I've been editing like a good little writer, trying to write through the suckage. I've been doing my job. The love just wasn't there anymore, nor was the confidence. That might be a functioning mentality for editing, but for drafting? Um, no.

I haven't finished writing a book this year. From a girl who wrote 6 and 4 books in the past 2 years, this is a serious drop in creative productivity. I am not proud of how much this year has affected my confidence, and thus my ability to put out new words.

Not only did I stop believing in my ability to actually write a story—I stopped believing my ideas were good.

This was new. And scary.

I'd never lost faith in my ideas. Of course it was hard to get them out the right way on the first shot, but I'd get there if I worked. This year it wasn't about the work. I knew I could work. I've worked my writerly butt off. No, this year I questioned if I should even bother putting so much effort into my crap ideas.

That's a really ugly place to be, guys. If you're there, I just want to say that I get you, and you're wrong. Your ideas are wonderful, and they are worth it.

I've finally gotten back to a place where I at least believe in my ideas. That, I think, is key. Of course I still struggle with feeling like a good writer. Of course editing still makes me wonder if I'll ever get there. But that's okay, because I believe, and actually love, my ideas again. They are worth the work.

So I'm writing again. Really writing, not just going through the motions. It feels good, kind of like a miracle. I love my flawed, imperfect work in progress. There's something there, and with a little work (okay, a lot) I'll make it shine. I couldn't ask for more.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Hobby vs. Job

Ahh, I finally got around to drawing again. I go in spurts. One week it's all I want to do, and then maybe I don't pick up the sketch book for a month. Anyway, this is Daphne Semens from my WIP, Sidekick. She's a soon-to-be Judo black belt, manga collector with a penchant for strange-colored lipstick. She also has a massive crush on her best friend's older brother (who is the MC). I kind of love her. A lot.

Anyway, on to the other stuff I wanted to say today...

Writing is my job. Drawing is my hobby. This is an important distinction because it changes the way I tackle each.

I work at writing, honest to goodness work. I write when I don't want to. I edit much more than I feel like. I push, push, push myself to continually to improve. I pursue professional avenues in writing, like getting an agent and hopefully being published at some point. While I often enjoy writing, it's my job. I treat it as such.

Drawing is something I do when I feel like it—a hobby. Yes, I am a fairly decent cartoonist, but I am no where near professional level. If I put in a lot of work, I have no doubt I could get there. But I don't want to. I want to keep drawing as something cathartic, a hobby to enjoy at my whim.

There is nothing wrong with that, is there? And yet it seems like a lot of people have this idea that if they write, they must pursue it professionally, make it a job.

Is writing your hobby or your job? Think about the mentality those words require. If you're bringing a hobby mentality to writing, and yet you want to be published...maybe you need to reevaluate a little. Or perhaps you claim writing is a hobby, but you're working so hard that it's more of a job. You have to be honest about what writing is to you, embrace it. There is nothing wrong with either choice.

Monday, November 8, 2010

What I Really Want To Say To New Writers

People often ask me for advice. I don’t know why, seeing as there are many, far more qualified people to ask. But they do. Sometimes they ask me how they should go about writing a book or publishing said book. Sometimes it’s just a big, general “Should I even be a writer?”

These, admittedly, are tough questions to answer! I usually find myself giving some vague advice (Just write! You can do it! Don’t give up!).

But today I’m going to write what I really want to say to new writers. Or any writer, if they care to read. This advice might not get you published, but I hope it keeps you happy and productive, both of which are more important than publication.

• If you really want to write, then do it. Sure, you may never get published. Sure, you may suck at first. Sure, you may not even know what to write. That’s all okay! You have to start somewhere, and I promise every author started with a very crappy first chapter, followed by some more not-so-great stuff. It’s part of the game, and you can’t get better at it if you don’t play.

• Stop caring so much about advice.
No, really. The more I write and talk to other writers, the more I’ve learned how personal writing is. Everyone gets the book finished differently. Everyone edits differently. Everyone has a different query method. You should do what works for you. If advice happens to fit into your process, yay! If not, don’t waste your time feeling bad about it. You are not a lesser writer because you don’t do insert-whatever-method-here.

• Finish the dang first draft. You can’t do anything else until you have an actual book to work with. There’s no sense worrying about publishing or editing until you’re done. Typing “The End” is just the beginning. So stop freaking out about how many adverbs you have and get writing. Save the editing for, you know, edits. Don’t worry about your “platform.” You need an actual book for that to even matter.

• You are NOT the exception.
Okay, maybe you are, but never, ever think that you are. I know we all hope we’ll be that writer who gets an agent in a week and sells in two days, but seriously, bank on that NOT being you. It will make you much happier. And when you aren’t the exception? Please, don’t feel bad about it. It doesn’t make your book any less special. It doesn’t make you any less of a writer.

• Remember how much you love writing.
Remember the rush of this story, how much you adore it and why you want to write it. Remember that you love to write and that’s what matters. Remember that passion. You will need these memories—they will keep you going when things get hard.

• It will get hard. There will be times you want to give up, where you’ll wonder if your stories are any good or if things will ever happen. That doesn’t mean you are doing something wrong. It just means you are a totally normal writer. Welcome to the club of worry warts.

• It’s worth it.
Writing has brought me some of my worst personal moments, but it’s also taught me a lot about who I am as a person. Writing has made me stronger, and the success I have had is that much sweeter because of failures.

• Success is no substitute for self-esteem. Oh, success feels great…for about a week. Or a day. If you don’t believe in yourself or your work, no amount of praise will change your mind. This makes two things true: 1) You can be proud of your work whatever stage you’re at. And 2) You can hate your work whatever stage you’re at. It’s completely up to you.

• Don’t rush.
I know we all want to be published yesterday, but there is no harm in taking your time. Books are permanent. Once it’s printed there are no take backs. Don’t you want your best possible work out there? I’m guessing yes. So take the time it needs. If that’s a month, okay. If it’s a year, own it and make it rock.

• Be yourself. No one else can use your voice. Be proud of your style. Sometimes it’s hard to be yourself. Like when an agent will only take your manuscript if you rewrite it without the supernatural element, and you believe in that element but you also really want an agent. Or when you know your genre isn’t selling too great (or your book is just too different in general), but this other genre is hot and maybe you could write in that. In the end, you have to like what you write. If you’re not passionate about it, it shows.

So, New Writers (and everyone else), this is really just a long way to say write what you want to write, enjoy it, and work hard. Don't worry about the rest.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

What I Read: Week 1

Yay! First week of NaNoReaMo is over, and I'm happy to say that I'm actually a little bit ahead of schedule. Woot. It has been quite the week of reading, and today I get to share the 3 books I picked from my 12. You know, if you haven't guessed by my tweets.

Just so you know, I will not be doing summaries. So if you want to know more about a book's plot, click the link for the Amazon page.

Here we go!

1. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
I'm still not sure what I should say about this book. Was it well-written? I think so. Compelling? Definitely a page turner. Collins is the master of the pager turner. Did it have an impact on me? Definitely.

But I have a hard time saying I liked the book. It seems wrong to say that I enjoyed reading about Katniss becoming even more of a pawn, losing everything she cared about, and descending into, well, insanity. I didn't enjoy this journey. It was hard to read. Painful to see her go through even more when she'd already suffered so much. A little frustrating to realize that she would never actually be happy, but just a little less broken.

That said, I think Collins accomplished what she set out to do. I don't think she ever intended this series to be a hero story or a love triangle or whatever, as much as the readers might have tried to see it this way (which actually says a lot about our media-fed minds in and of itself). The final installment made it very clear that this was a story about war and grayness and the ugly side of humanity. Can't say I love it because I'm totally a sparkles and happy endings kind of girl, but I do respect it. I respect it a lot.

2. Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins
I knew I would love this book, I just didn't know that love would manifest as a raging passion. It has everything I love in a story—clever, funny MC, a boarding school (reform school, actually), magic, and a page turning mystery. Oh yeah, and a cute boy.

I adore books that can be both tense and funny. It's an extremely hard thing to do, actually. Believe me, I've tried it. The line you walk is thinner than a tightrope, but it's worth it. I think we need more books with a little humor in them. I'm so over the angst.

I told Kiersten that if Paranormalcy and Ally Carter's Gallagher Girls series had a baby, it would be Hex Hall. I completely stand by this. It's such a beautiful baby, and I can't wait for Demonglass! No, seriously, if anyone knows how I can get a hold of Demonglass, please tell me.

3. Scarlet Fever by Maureen Johnson
I so enjoyed Suite Scarlett, which I actually read last year for NaNoReaMo! If it's possible, I think I like the sequel more. I gobbled it up, losing myself once again in Scarlett's New York.

One of my favorite parts of this series is Maureen's portrayal of New York. I must admit the usual high society scandal stuff never gets me excited. It never seemed real to me. I could never picture that this was all New York was about. This series is different. I've never felt this IN New York while reading, and I've never had such an appreciation for the city (total mountain girl here). New York feels real to me in this series, with all it's funny quirks and interesting people.

Also, I couldn't stop laughing. Every page seemed to have some funny commentary or witty dialogue or hilarious turn of events. And Murry the dog? He might possibly be my favorite new character.

The only complaint I have is the total cliff hanger ending. Oh, I'm in agony of how cliffhangered I am! I could have kept reading all night. But I was forced to stop, stranded in suspense for who knows how long. *Sigh* I guess that's not so bad. It just means the book was freaking awesome and I want more right now. This is the trouble with series. You'd think I'd learn my lesson and wait until they were all out to start reading.

There you have it! Week 1 down, and I've already picked the first book of Week 2. Yes, it's the FINAL BOOK in a series. I am determined to have some resolution to at least one story this week! As for the other two I'm reading, it'll be a surprise even for me.

If you've been reading along with me, let me know so I can check out your lists! I'm always on the look out for more wonderful books. Who isn't?

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Worst Good News Ever

If you haven't seen yet, Nathan Bransford is no longer an agent. He is no longer my agent. I can't tell you how weird it still is to say that! Never in a million years did I plan on having a different agent. I mean, hello? Nathan freaking Bransford!

And yes, I totally bawled when he called to inform me. I'm a baby like that. But you have to understand what a huge influence Nathan was in my writing life. Without him, I would not be the writer I am. I completely mean that. He helped me take my writing to the next level. I may not have a book out there, but Nathan taught me how to really edit, how to push myself further than I thought I could go. And he was polite about it to boot.

If I ever do sell a book, you better believe he'll be in the acknowledgments. Even if it's a book he never read.

I'm not gonna lie, I will miss having his advice and eternal optimism to keep me going. But at the same time I am so happy for him and wish him the best in his new adventures. It's a strange tug and pull. Happy. Weepy. Extremely grateful I had the chance to work with him.

And of course he made sure I'd still be taken care of, even after he left. I am happy (and relieved) to say that I still have an agent—Anna Webman, who is also at Curtis Brown. She is absolutely fabulous, and I know I'm in very good hands. It has been surprisingly comforting knowing that another agent likes my work and can't wait to get it out there.

So thanks, Nathan, for everything. You'll rock the new job, I have no doubt.

The Not-Merely-Happy-But-Also-JOYFUL Writers Society!

Today the Happy Writers Society has been hijacked by Kayla Olson. I told her I needed someone to watch the club while I was reading for NaNoReaMo, and she was kind enough to oblige. I never expected her to come in and RENAME us. Lesson learned. Don't worry, though. Me and my ninjas are preparing a plot to recapture HWS any day now...

Welcome, friends, to my quaint (read: tiny!) apartment. Be careful when petting Dexter the Kitty – he might LOOK like a snuggly little fluffball, but really, his beautiful tail is only there to distract you from his teeth. Which are sharp. And attracted to flesh. (Especially
writer flesh.) So, beware.

Now that that's out of the way, feel free to make yourselves comfortable while I whip up some lattes and flourless chocolate cake.

Everyone situated? Okay. Sweet.

Let's begin.

You may have noticed: I'm not Natalie. Natalie doesn't drink lattes. Also, I don't know much about ninjas, and I know even less about Inuyasha. I don't have an agent (yet), and I haven't written zillions of novels (yet). But – before you throw your lattes and cake at me in protest (while shouting, "WE MISS NATALIE! WE WANT HER BACK – NOT SOME UNCULTURED POSER!!!") – know that I heart you. I have nothing but your best in mind. Promise. So, uh, hey! I'm Kayla, Natalie's fill-in for this week's meeting. My areas of expertise include espresso beverages, Patty Griffin songs, Post-Its, and a smattering of other useful (and not-so-useful) things.

I also know a thing or two about being a happy writer.

Did you notice the not-so-subtle change I made to our society's title? Today, we are the Not-Merely-Happy-But-Also-JOYFUL Writers Society. (This makes for a somewhat lame acronym, but whatevs.)

Last night, as I attempted to drift off to sleep, I pondered the difference between being happy and being joyful. At first glance, they seem interchangeable. I propose, though, that there is a subtle (albeit significant) difference between the two. Here's how I see it:

Happiness: A pleasant emotion, inspired by pleasant circumstances. When you don't have to try to smile. When your head isn't weighed down with anxiety or fear and, therefore, you practically float around on clouds and rainbows. When getting caught in a thunderstorm is inspiring – not an inconvenience – because ohmyword it's RAIN and you can FEEL it on your SKIN and you are aliiiiiive! (And you may or may not be singing, too! While surrounded by sparrows who harmonize with you!)

Joy: It's rooted in hope and is unshakeable by circumstances. It can look like happiness, but it doesn't have to. Unlike happiness, joy can still exist even when your present circumstances are unpleasant and undesirable. It's rooted in the hope of big-picture success and does not crumble at the hands of individual failures along the way. Also, where happiness is an instinctive emotion, joy tends to be a choice. It's choosing to view the thunderstorm as an inspiration, a reminder that you're alive and life is AMAZING, even though you're tempted to be annoyed about it. (Note the difference: with joy, you're fighting the temptation to be annoyed. With happiness, being annoyed is nowhere close to on your radar, because everything is lovely – you simply ARE happy, because you can't help it!)

So. I'm sure it won't be too hard to predict where I'm going with this, but I'm going there nonetheless.

Writing comes with a whole slew of things that aren't always pleasant. Are you writing a first draft? You'll hit a roadblock. Revising? You'll hit traffic jams, roadblocks, AND you'll have scary hitchhikers pounding on your window. Polishing your fourteenth draft? Um, hi, it's your fourteenth draft. Writing your query letter? Waiting for a response on that query letter? Waiting for a response on that submission? Writing under a deadline and who-knows-how-much pressure, now that your book is a bestseller?

If you are merely aiming to be a happy writer, this process is likely to smash you up along the way. It's not always fun. It's not always easy. It's not just coffee and inspiration, romanticized handwritten manuscripts, perfection on the first try. It's WORK. It's HARD. You cry. Then, you tell yourself to toughen up because you're not supposed to cry.

Those who are way up ahead of me tell me it's worth it, though. That it's rewarding.

That, my fellow members of the NMHBAJ Writers Society (told you it was a lame acronym), is a hopeful foundation for this process. Focus on hope. On the big picture. On the WHY of what you do. You might hate the waiting, might want to vomit at the thought of another revision – but if you hold on to hope, you'll start to see beautiful stepping stones where you once saw merely jagged stumbling rocks. Even if they cut you along the way, those scars will be beautiful to you, because they'll be worth something.

Take heart, friends. I wish you both happiness AND joy, my society sisters (and the occasional brother).

Oh, by the way, I hope you enjoyed the flourless chocolate cake. I'm sorry to say we've run out. Good news, though – I have the recipe if anyone wants it! And trust me, you do want it. It's as easy to make as it is delicious.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

When You Break The Agreement

Yesterday I talked about how we as writers make promises to the reader. Whether in genre or through the first chapter or even the first act, you are telling the reader what to expect from your story. If you don't make good on those expectations, you might have an unhappy reader on your hands.

But does that mean you can never break a promise? Never throw in a twist or have a character ultimately fail? No, it doesn't.

You can break a promise. Maybe you want your reader to feel a certain kind of upset, a betrayal, that comes with throwing off their expectations. For example, maybe it's a character that is supposed to be good no matter what, but they go bad or have always been bad. That registers emotion, and it can be a "good" emotion in propelling a story forward.

Another reason not to meet an expectation is to add tension to the story. Writers actually do this frequently! Does the MC achieve their goal on the first try? My bet is no. Every time your MC fails, it makes the reader more worried that your MC won't succeed at all. They start to wonder how your MC is ever going to get out of this mess, because surely they must get out otherwise it would just suck. That worry makes the eventual success much sweeter.

You have to be careful here, though. You pull the reader's leg one too many times and suspense will turn into frustration.

And finally, what if you break the biggest promise in your book? What if your MC fails in achieving their goals? People (and I'm talking mostly Americans here because it does vary culture to culture) generally don't like to read a story where the "hero" loses. It goes against the general assumption that stories are about someone who, even if it takes a long time, ultimately succeeds in some form.

This is the hardest promise to break, but it can be done. If you want an absolutely incredible example, read L.K. Madigan's Flash Burnout. The key to breaking this expectation is replacing it with something else—likely it's character growth and/or restitution.

If an MC learns a very big lesson or has some kind of revelation, then a reader is usually able to accept the failure. Why? Because in its own way that's a success. Maybe not the success promised, but something nonetheless.

If the MC makes restitution for their failure, then readers are more likely to forgive the MC. They can accept that the MC recognizes the failure and is trying to fix it, even if it's impossible. Readers can respect that, though it's not the way they hoped it would happen.

In other words, if you break the biggest of expectations, there must be some kind of healing to follow. And it needs to be enough that the reader is left satisfied. Maybe not happy, but satisfied that the MC came out of the story with something.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Writer/Reader Agreement

I've been thinking a lot about what we as writers owe the reader. On the one hand, it's our story and we have the right to create it however we want. But on the other hand, is it fair for a reader to invest so much time and emotion into a story just to have their expectations go unmet?

As a writer, I am determined to keep my creative freedom. As a reader, it ticks me off to no end when I invest myself in a book and the writer doesn't make good on their promises. I certainly understand that they can write the story however they want, but when my trust is broken I am far less motivated to read more of their work.

So what do we as writers owe the reader? Well, I think it depends. Genre plays a big role. They are there for a reason. People pick up a cozy mystery expecting a certain thing. They pick up a thriller expecting something else. You can push the limits of your genre, but you do have to respect what readers expect going into your novel as well.

Besides genre, what we owe the reader largely depends on each individual novel. I read recently that the first chapter in your book is like a promise to your reader. I think that's very true. It sets up the expectations of tone, conflict, and motivation. Ultimately, it tells the reader what the MC has to do to succeed. And of course we want the MC to succeed.

Even if it takes a long time, even if your MC must go through hell and back, even if they have to lose everything, even if the MC DIES, a reader can accept that if the MC ultimately succeeds at that initial goal in some way. If not, you will probably have some unhappy readers.

I believe this goes for all stories, and it's important to acknowledge the importance of that reader/writer relationship. Breaking reader trust is a serious risk, and if you plan on doing it you better know what you're getting yourself into.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Fluff, Toilets, and Lame Commercials! Oh my!

Hmm, maybe NaNoReaMo will teach me how to write short posts, because I'm already feeling the crunch here. I know, day two and I'm freaking out. I'm really fine, mostly. I just have to read like 150 pages today to stay on track...

A few random thoughts today, in no particular order.

• So remember how I was rewriting the ending of Transparent for the bajillionth time? Yeah...I hate it. It's way, way too much. This is a problem that comes with rewriting a whole book from page one. You automatically think rewrite instead of minor revisions. And sometimes stuff doesn't need to be rewritten. Tweaking never feels like enough now, even when it is. But anyway, at least I know now that I do like most of my current ending. It just needs a little more oomph.

• Ninja Girl put something in our downstairs toilet yesterday, and we have yet to fix it though both Nick and I have attempted the usual plunger/snake strategies. She's done this before, too, and I can't figure out for the life of me why this is so entertaining. Dino Boy was never that interested in the toilet—it scared the living daylights out of him, actually—so this is new, frustrating territory. I'm trying to look at the bright side, though: running up the stairs to go to the bathroom will burn more calories, right?

• There's something intoxicating about NaNo. Reading about everyone hitting word count goals and working so hard? Yeah, it makes me want to work, too! Except I said I wouldn't, dangit. For the first time in awhile, I actually kind of wanted to write last night. I must admit it has been a chore for about, oh, six months. I worked, but it was out of duty and not love. I feel like the love is slowly coming back, and I need to stay very still for fear that it'll run away again.

• There's this commercial that's really ticking me off. It's for some big SUV and features this "cool kid" who's all complaining about how his parents drive a dorky car that ruins his image. And then he's all "this big SUV is cool and stylish and so me." What makes me most angry is the end tagline that goes something like "just because you're a parent doesn't mean you have to be lame." Seriously? Is that what parenting has become? We're supposed to make sure our children aren't embarrassed of us? We're supposed to cave to their desires instead of teaching them that crowd following is foolish? Oy, I could rant about this all day.

• And I need a fifth random thought, because heaven forbid I end on an even number. Oh, yes. Got one. I really like light reading. I said this on Twitter yesterday, but I can't help saying it again. I like sparkles and swooning and happy endings! I like funny, light, quick, and smart. I know we're all supposed to be into the deep tortured stuff, but when it comes to my entertainment in any medium, I want to feel happy! I want to laugh! I want to close the book with a smile. I don't think that's such a bad thing, and I'm so grateful for every writer out there who writes this so-called "fluff." To me, it's not fluff at all. It's exactly what I need when I want a break from life, when I need to see the humor in tough situations. So thank you.

Okay, that's what's on my mind today. What's on yours?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Happy NaNo!

Oh, NaNoWriMo, how you've set the internet aflame with excitement! I rather enjoy watching writers work for their NaNo goals each year, though I've never participated myself. I mean, I've written a novel in 15 days. I don't need help speeding up—I need help slowing down. (Actually, I've learned A LOT about slowing down this year.)

So here's to you, NaNo writers! Good luck! You can do it! If you need motivation, let me know. I am a big fan of the pep talk, if you haven't noticed. I will gladly cheer you on!

Today, I start my NaNoReaMo adventures. Twelve books. Thirty days. I've even decided that I'm going to stop editing and use this time to let poor Transparent simmer. I'm so excited to dig into these books! So many of them I've wanted to read all year.

My tentative plan is to read one book Monday through Wednesday, the next Wednesday trough Friday, and the third over the weekend. *Gulp* That's such a challenge for this slow reader! And so you know, there will be a temporary feature each Sunday on my blog—What I Read This Week—where I will share some of my thoughts on the books I finished.

If you are reading like I am, please let me know! I'd love to see what you're reading as well. And if you are doing the traditional NaNo, you are completely excused from reading my blog until you hit that 50k. But after that, I expect you to catch up. No, kidding. With all the reading I have to do, I'm sure November will be rather dull around here.