Monday, January 31, 2011

You're The Artist—It's Your Job To Write What You Love

The Big Post going around today is the recap of Sara Zarr's keynote at the New York SCBWI. It's taking the internets by storm for a reason. As a writer who is in that icky "not beginner but not published" phase, this is what I needed to hear. I already love Sara Zarr, but now I love her more.

This post, of course, got me thinking a lot about my journey the past few years. Particularly the advice that has been helpful, the advice that hasn't, and the advice that is deceptively helpful but can be very damaging.

The past year in particular I've been stressing over what kind of writer I'm supposed to be. I write YA, but I tend to do very big genre hops from project to project. Let's look at my last, say, five finished projects (as in full 1st draft): Contemp Fantasy, Super powers, Sci-fi, Steampunk, Contemporary. This concerned me because I hear over and over again that you need to build a brand! You need to establish yourself in one genre so your readers will know what to expect! This is your career at stake! DO NOT MESS IT UP.

I was freaking out about this. I felt like I wasn't allowed to write a contemporary because the project I had on sub wasn't, which was one of the major reasons it took me a year to commit to finishing that contemporary even though I secretly loved it.

At one point I was even considering switching to writing contemporary. This would be the ideal time, I thought, to make that change. I still don't have a book deal. I have had a fresh start with a new agent. My subs on the current project are quickly dwindling as the rejections roll in. Etc.

So I called Anna, my agent, because that's what you do when you need help making Big Decisions like this. I told her that I was struggling with my identity as a writer, and I wasn't sure if I wanted to be locked into the "brand" that I was currently in. What she said surprised me. Basically, she told me that wasn't something I needed to worry about. She said, "You're the artist—it's your job to write what you love. It's my job to figure out where that writing belongs."

(I cannot emphasize how wonderful Anna is. She keeps a low profile, which I'm pretty sure is because the writing world would be overwhelmed by her awesomeness otherwise.)

In that moment, it felt like she'd unlocked the handcuffs I'd unknowingly put on myself. Her advice was the exact opposite of everything I'd ever heard. It may not be for everyone, but it's what I needed very, very much.

That freedom—to write whatever I loved—got my fingers typing again. Instead of feeling guilty for every strange idea I want to chase, I feel like I can pursue what makes me happy. Oh, how I'd forgotten that's what writing is really about. I had lost a lot of my passion. And if you don't have passion for what you're working on, it's extremely hard not only to finish it, but to give it life. Yes, brand is important, but for me writing what I love is more important. That may ruin me, but if it does so be it.

For a writer who's been in limbo for quite a while, I've got to admit that I've been happier than I have been in a long time. And it's not because I have deal prospects or whatever. It's because I love what I'm writing, and my opinion is really the only one I can control. So I will write what I makes me smile, what make my heart flutter, what keeps me up at night with ideas and characters and dialogue. And I will leave it up to my smart, wonderful agent to find the right place for my books.

I think sometimes we try so hard to be the writer we're supposed to be. We try to follow all the rules because we think—hope, hope, hope—that if we do it will equal success. Well, sometimes it doesn't. Like I've said many times: Not every piece of advice you read is for you. It might take time to realize that some advice is hurting more than helping, but when you do figure it out just let it go. You're the artist. Do what you need to foster your creativity and happiness, and everything else will come when it comes.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Happy Writers Society: What If Writers Were Rockstars by Renee Collins

Renee Collins is one of the very first people I met on the internets, and since then she has become a very dear friend. A real life friend! Renee recently signed with Molly Jaffa of Folio Literary Management, and I am so excited for her to join me in agentland. Today we'll be introducing you to one of Renee's regular blog features—Photoshop Friday. These always make me smile, so I thought it'd be perfect for Happy Writer's Society!

What if Writers were the new Rock Stars?
by Renee Collins

I think we in the writing community are pretty supportive of our authors. We buy their books, write rave reviews on our blogs, and come up with complex, educated reasons why this author or that book is so great. But what if the rest of the world got as into these books and authors as we did?

For one thing, they definitely couldn't go out without being thronged by screaming hordes of fans. Look at poor John Green, signing autographs on his way to the grocery store.

Kids would decorate their rooms with all the latest paraphernalia of their favorite YA novels.

Instead of debating on message boards and Amazon, the masses would take their opinions to the streets.

Even celebrities would get in on the craze. Beyonce has paparazzi cameras flickering with her stylish support of the writing community.

And book readings/signings? They couldn't take place at a table in Barnes and Noble anymore.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Frog Eyes and Spiders

I started out writing contemporary fantasy. I've written A LOT of contemporary fantasy—dragons, elves, magic, angels, and more. Early last year, I admit I was so burned out on it that I thought I may never write one again. I could barely even read them. I was so afraid I'd lost the love forever.

Welp. I was wrong. As usual.

I'm writing! And it's contemporary fantasy! Yay! It's weird and a little gross and strangely funny. I have no clue where it's going, and that is rather exciting after all these edits and outlines I've been doing.

It's funny how trends work, how we get so excited about something only to be bored to tears with it the next year. But it just goes to show—I don't think genres ever really die. They just go in cycles, much like my writing interests do. That's why trend-chasing isn't necessary. It'll come back around eventually. Probably sooner than you think.

And so here I am writing about witches and old magic houses and dark somethings.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Giant Lucky Pomegranate

In exchange for a drawing I did of her characters, Cindy Pon sent this beautiful painting to me. I just got it back from the framer, so of course I had to show it off. Isn't it just beautiful? I love Cindy's art—so simple and clean and gorgeous. I'm truly lucky to have one of her pieces in my home. You can't quite tell from this picture, but it's pretty huge. With the frame, it's around 2 1/2 to 3 feet. I love it, and I can't wait to hang it. Just have to find the right wall to hold such awesomeness.

Cindy calls this The Giant Lucky Pomegranate, since pomegranates are lucky in Chinese tradition. You know you have crummy luck when people start sending you good luck charms, hehe. But in all serious, I kind of need it, don't I?

I want to thank Cindy for all the support she's given me. She is such a positive force in the YA community. And I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you. I have been so humbled by all the kindness and encouragement I get from this community. Whenever I'm feeling down, it seems like there is always someone around to pick me right back up. Considering all the stuff I've been through, I'm not sure I'd be here without you! It's so much easier to give up when no one else cares. But I do feel like I'm being cheered on constantly, and for that I am so grateful.

Here's to hoping The Giant Lucky Pomegranate works!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The First Paragraph

My former agent, Nathan Bransford, is holding his sort-of-annual 1st paragraph contest. For those of you who don't know, I won that a few years ago. December of 2008. Wow, that was forever ago. Anyway, that serendipitous victory changed my life. I'm not even being melodramatic about that. I am confident that I would not be the writer I am without the guidance Nathan provided on my prize critique.

So go enter if you can. Before I had an agent, I entered a lot of contests. I think they are excellent learning experiences, even if you don't win. Seeing what others are writing, what is successful or not, it's just a good experience all around. And having a chance for Catherine Drayton to look at your partial? Dude. She's awesome. Don't miss out on that.

I actually kind of miss entering, so in honor of this life-changing contest I thought I'd do what I did then—make up a paragraph. Yes, when I entered that contest all I had of that story was...the first paragraph. I wrote it on a whim, since I didn't want to enter the one from my project he, uh, already rejected.

Let's see...a paragraph...

They say a witch lives in the old house under the interstate bridge. Always in the shadows, draped in ivy and sorrow, the house waits for a child too daring for his own good. And inside, the witch sits with her black eyes and toothless sneer. They say she can foresee your death in return for a lock of hair. She can make someone love you for the small price of a pinky finger. And, of course, she can kill your enemy if you give her your soul. Some people think it's only a silly tale to scare children, but it's true. Every word.

Sigh, that was fun. I love first paragraphs.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Overdoing It

Tip: DO NOT edit 2 books in 3 weeks. Just...don't.

I thought it'd be fine. I was already in the groove when I finished off Transparent. Since I had to send a partial of Sidekick to my agent, I figured, "Eh, why not just do the whole first edit?"

Yeah, not my best idea.

I am fried, guys. I've spent too much time fixing book problems. Too much time with two separate characters. Too much time stressing over getting things right. Friday night my brain essentially exploded. I went to bed, had a horrible dream about ants crawling all over me, and then didn't sleep at all after that. Got like 2 hours of sleep.

And that night, awake, I could not shut off my brain. I was in emotional overdrive. In a strange way, it felt like all the emotions I'd been working to put in my characters had taken over. Plus, I'm waiting for feedback from my agent, so it was a night full of "Are these books good enough? Will she like the rewrite? What if she hates both? What will I write next? I have no idea what to write anymore I'm so tired and where and who and what and why am I oh my gosh I might really be losing my mind?!?!

Really. Don't edit 2 books in 3 weeks. It's not admirable. It's stupid. I should have taken a breather, instead of getting all obsessed.

There is a reason this writing process takes so long. It's mentally and emotionally and sometimes even physically taxing. Sometimes I forget just how much it takes out of me, and then I pull some stupid stunt like this and go, "Oh yeah, taking time IS important."

Don't overdo it. Really, it's not worth it. I am so fried right now that I'm not sure I'll be able to write for a few weeks. I just want to sleep. A lot. And do all the other stuff I didn't do the last few weeks.

Also, it would be really nice if this constant headache would go away.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Blank Paper

I know a man who collected watercolor supplies. When I was younger, I remember going down to the basement and seeing beautiful brushes out on display. The kind of brushes artists dream about, with rich wood and perfect tips. And the paper—the finest from Italy or England, etc. Heavy grain, soft. Thick and thin.

But I don't remember any paintings. I can't remember a single time I saw him mixing colors and putting them to that gorgeous paper.

The paper and brushes ended up in storage. One time I went with him to get an unwanted couch—me and Nick's first uncomfortable-but-free couch. Complete with rat poop. The man opened drawer after drawer of paper, all sizes and grades and prices neatly written in the corner of every sheet. He told me about them, how valuable they were.

All I saw was blank paper. Slim drawers full of paintings that could have been.

I didn't understand. I still don't, really. Yes, the paper and the brushes are wonderful, but what good are they unused?

Sometimes I speculate on the mystery of the unused paper. Maybe he simply never had time. He was a busy man with a family to care for and hardships to face. Maybe he kept buying the supplies thinking, "One day. One day I'll have time to paint."

Collecting the supplies might have been easier than learning to use them. The man could have found more pleasure in the idea of being a painter, rather than enjoyment in actually painting. The supplies could be years of pretending and never becoming.

Or perhaps the man felt like he should save that paper until he became a better artist. "Not yet," he might have said to himself. "I'll ruin the paper." Maybe he thought the value of the paper was more than what he could put on it. It could have been fear of failing that kept those sheets blank.

I'm not sure I'll ever know the real reason, but whatever it is I can't help but feel sad when I think about the man who keeps blank paper in storage. Paper that may never have a brush put to it. Paper that is waiting for something, anything. Paper that could have been art.

All I know is that when the man shows me that paper, I would prefer to see paintings. Even if they were amateur or simple or strange. They would tell me about the man. They would be little windows into his life and interests. They would be something. There is nothing sadder than a blank piece of paper, a could have been.

Someday, perhaps I will have the chance to pull those brushes and that paper from storage. I may not be the best with watercolors, but those sheets have been blank long enough. I will fill them with my own stories.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Happy Writers Society: A Writer's Education by Adam Heine

Adam Heine is one of my favorite people on the web, and it has nothing to do with his love of ninjas. (Okay, maybe it does a little.) He writes about sky pirates, which I also happen to love. I know, loving ninjas and pirates is against all nerd laws, but that's how I roll. Oh, and he and his wife foster children in Thailand. Cool, no?

A Writer's Education
by Adam Heine

It's hard for Professional Aspiring Writers to justify hours and hours (and years and hours) of time spent on a hobby that doesn't pay. It's hard to ask my wife to watch the kids so I can "work." If nobody pays me, and the likelihood of publishing success is comparable to winning the lottery, can I even call it work?

Well, it feels like work. And I treat it like work, sitting down to write or blog or social-network every day—planning for a book deal and a career that may never happen. But what kind of job demands years of uncompensated service before giving you even a chance at wages?

All of them, it turns out. It's called college.

College is 4+ years of work that pays nothing and (these days) doesn't even guarantee a job at the end. That's exactly what we're doing when we sit at our computer, typing a story nobody may ever buy.

It's better than college, because it's free. Better because it's easier to hold a job while writing than studying. Better because if we don't get a job with our first degree (i.e. novel), we can write another and learn more.

So next time you shut out the world to write, remember you're not wasting time on a gamble. You're studying to be a writer. There's no guarantee of success, but what career offers that? (Shoot, I recently had a friend get turned down at MCDONALD'S. If burger-flipping isn't guaranteed, nothing is!). So long as you live life, working to get published is as valid an education as any other.

Keep writing. It's your education.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

My Favorite Part

I am, like, madly, ridiculously, blissfully in love with my book right now. It's always a little nerve wracking to open a project after six weeks. I mean, I typed the last word and closed it up to simmer. Over the last weeks I've been saying stuff like "It's not as good as I think it is," "It still has so many problems," "It's not very marketable and no one will want it."

There's nothing like opening that project and falling in love with it all over again. Sure, it does still have kinks, but there is so much here. Life and quirkiness and so many things I love.

No matter what happens with this thing, this moment, right now, is extremely rewarding. Better bask in it. You know, before it goes away.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Hello, Kindle

I unexpectedly received a Kindle about mid-December, and yet I haven't talked much about "life after e-reader." That's mostly because, well, it hasn't been much different. I've only downloaded one book so far...and I'm not done reading it. So no, it hasn't stopped me from being a slow reader, and I haven't gone wild buying every book I can, even though it's so easy to click and read.

I've kind of felt bad, honestly, for having this lovely little thing and not really using it. I know a lot of people who use their Kindles all the time—like my mom, who reads a ton and loves that she can make the font bigger if she needs. She's totally gotten her money's worth. It just felt like an e-reader would be wasted on me, a slow reader who stays home most days and doesn't really have a need to carry around more than one book at a time.

Well, things changed last night.

Now that I've finally finished my huge edit of Transparent, I have some catching up to do on beta reading and drawing (not that the Kindle will help me with drawing, just saying). Then I realized, "Hey! I could put this manuscript on my Kindle!"

So I figured out how to send a personal file to my Kindle, and in less than five minutes—tada!—there it was, all pretty and book-like. I cannot tell you how wonderful it is to read on this as opposed to my computer screen! My friend's manuscript not only looks like a book, it's now portable like a book, too. I can take it with me to the mall and read while my kids play at the indoor playground. I can read longer without killing my eyes. I can still make notes. I don't have to scroll!

While I was rather indifferent to reading a published book on paper or e-reader, it's this feature that converted me. As a writer, this will certainly be a tool that makes my work easier, and hopefully my crit partners will get their manuscripts back from me faster.

I know there are still a lot of people out there who dread e-readers, but they are pretty dang cool. And as a writer, it's such a useful tool in addition to reading for enjoyment.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The First Edit

It's been about 6 weeks since I finished my first draft of Sidekick, my little pet project. Which means, of course, it's about time to tackle the first edit. Yes, FIRST. Maybe you are the kind of writer who can resolve every issue with a manuscript all at once, but I can't. I know going in that there will still be things to fix when I'm done. I will still need to polish.

That doesn't stop me from freaking out.

It goes a little like this: "I am so not happy with that sequence of events. It needs to be drawn out, and I need to really make it hurt more. And that one character—her backstory is WAY too complicated. I need to simplify while keeping her resulting personality relatively the same. And the dynamic between those characters needs more spark. Oh, and I need way more backstory for him! There are so many details I need to add to make these people real. The setting kind of sucks, too. I really need to ground this novel somewhere, because setting can really bring a novel to life. And speaking of "really," I probably have too many in the manuscript. The prose is so rough. Ack."

The first edit is a lot like the first draft. There is so much to do! It can be just as overwhelming to have a finished book that needs to be ripped apart and put back together again.

So what do you do? There's lots of ways to tackle that first edit. But I personally set just a few focuses for myself. If I look at everything at once, it's hard to tell what's most important. So I take a step back, and I think about 1) What is good already, 2) What is kind of crappy, 3) What is missing.

Then I try to figure out how I can make the good stuff great, the crappy stuff better, and what I should add to make the novel more like I envisioned.

I'll use Sidekick as an example.

1) Good Stuff
Plot is in decent shape. Needs filling out near the end, to draw out tension a little more

Characters pop. At least most of them, focus on adding more dimension to Colin and Trina, more history between characters could give more weight to current story

2) Crappy Stuff
That one scene near the end. That fight needs to be bigger, MC needs to get more defensive and upset.

Summarizing. Add Real Scenes for the important stuff that's summarized, and cut the boring summaries.

Messy prose.

3) Missing Stuff
Setting is pathetic, needs more detail on every level. And pick a real place, lazy.

Backstory. Characters have known each other a long time. Needs to feel that way.

Details. Details. Details.

Those points may look small, but you all know they can mean pretty intense, sweeping edits. Once you have your own list, it's time to pick the ones you really want to focus on. Right now, I am working on all the Good Stuff and Crappy Stuff, save the prose. The Missing Stuff has taken a bit of a back seat. Sure, I add Missing Stuff at my whims, but I'm not looking for it.

You just can't do it all at once. That's okay! Sure, it's work. And it takes a long time. But splitting up the tasks helps me stay focused and prevents me from totally panicking. Step by step, the work gets done.

Good luck to all those working on their First Edit! I'm right there with you, and I have cookies.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Happy Writers Society: Love Lists by Stephanie Perkins

Oh, do I have some treats for you, Happy Writers. I have gathered a bunch of my writer friends for HWS guest posts over the next few months! These people are way cooler and smarter than me, and many are published or soon will be.

First up we have THE Stephanie Perkins, author of Anna and the French Kiss. If you didn't know, this book is making some serious waves, and rightly so. It's freaking awesome. Steph is an amazing writer and person. I feel lucky to know her. She challenges me as a writer. She gives me hope as a friend. So, without further ado...

by Stephanie Perkins

Whenever I begin a new project, I also begin a list called “What I Love About This Story.” I start by writing down those first ideas that sparked the fires of my mind, and then I add more ideas to it as I discover them during my push through early drafts.

Sometimes, my list stays short and simple:

a beautiful boy
boarding school

Sometimes, my list grows long and detailed:

crushes on cute baristas
a dead city
the scent of grapefruit bringing back memories
velvet waistcoats
a bald heroine
loose change in unfamiliar currency
cats who know too much
secret radio stations
honeysuckle vines
mysterious round stones
a funny pop song that can’t be escaped
eyes rimmed in kohl
strawberry-frosted sprinkled donuts
a lost painting
elaborate cages filled with orange birds
a stranger with a limp

(I'm not actually writing that second book, but now I want to!)

I use this love-list as a touchstone to remind myself during the hard times why my story is worthwhile. It’s easy to forget the GOOD STUFF when I’m wading through the muck, and the end is still months away, and it feels pointless and hopeless to continue. This list becomes a crucial reminder: Yes! This is a story worth telling! If I saw this sitting on a shelf, I would want to read it!

Making a love-list also serves a second—and perhaps even more important—purpose. By taking conscious note of the things that I love about my story, I have a handy guideline during the revision process about what ideas I should be building up (this good stuff, of course) and what I should be slimming down or cutting entirely, a.k.a. the stuff that didn’t make the list. (Like, oh, that depressing sub-plot about the protagonist’s brother’s junk habit.)

A good rule of thumb: Anything boring or un-fun for you to write will be boring or un-fun for your readers to read. Enrich your pages with ideas that you love, and someone else is bound to love your pages, too. Your enthusiasm will shine through.

If you keep a list of ideas in your novel that make you proud, you will CREATE a novel that makes you proud. My love-lists help to keep me a happy writer.

They might help to keep you a happy writer, too.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Just Hit Send

Sometimes you just have to do it—you just have to write the dang email/query and hit send. There's this point when there's really nothing more you can do, even if you know there might be more stuff but you're not sure what it is yet. Does that even make sense?

I know the traditional advice you hear from agents and writers is to make sure you've made that book the best you possibly can. Edit edit edit. Wait. Don't be too hasty.

But...sometimes you just have to hit send.

Now, I'm not advocating you write a first draft manuscript and then a first draft query and just shoot them off to every agent out there. No. DON'T DO THAT. I'm just saying there are times when you hang on to that book too long—those who do that know what I mean. There's like two camps of writers. Those who jump the gun and those who stay at the starting line long after the gun fires.

I was a jump the gun writer. I used to send stuff out way before it was ready. I didn't know that. I do now. It took a lot of mistakes to figure that out.

With TRANSPARENT, I seem to have turned into a hesitant sender, sharer, talker, whatever. I feel like every time I say something about it I'll jinx myself or something. It felt like the moment I hit send I would realize how it still sucks and is ultimately flawed. This has filtered into my other new projects as well. Soooo hesitant to share my work now.

Well, I hit send today.

It actually feels pretty good, to have it out of my hands for a while. We'll see how I feel when it comes back...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Some Things Never Change

I finished editing a book today. It doesn't feel like finishing that first draft. For me there's no elation—just relief. It's a quieter feeling, but it's nice. The problems are fixed. I hope. The story is good. I think. It was worth it. Probably.

Notice how nothing is definite. I guess that's why I struggle with editing so much. How do you really know if all that work helped? I've done a lot of editing that's essentially gone down the tube. I'm not complaining—it's just the truth. Yeah, yeah, I learned stuff and grew as a writer so it's not technically wasted. But it sure doesn't feel like that when you have a failed submission under your belt, and here you are with a new manuscript to send into that party.

It's still freaking scary. Maybe more, because you know so very well what could happen.

I wish I could tell every new writer out there that once you get an agent, once you get a book deal, once you hit the Bestseller list, that it all magically gets easy and every single one of your subsequent books will sell and succeed. But that would be dishonest. Your agent or editor can say no to that next book. It happens often.

I'm not sure I can explain how scary it is to send this manuscript to my agent. Yes, she's my agent! She likes me! I like her! But...she could still not like the book. I've learned that the hard way. Man, it sucks that your agent can still reject you, basically. Well, reject the book. We are not our books, right? Kind of?

It was just so much work. I can't describe how emotionally and mentally draining this process was. I want so badly for this experience—this book—to be validated, not just by me but by some editor out there. Yes, I said it. I want this damn book to sell. And it might not. And all that work I did, once again, could end up as just another "learning experience." I wonder how many learning experiences it'll take to get to the next level.

Sigh. Some things never change, do they?

I still want this. I still can't control when or if it will happen. That's still frustrating as hell. And, yes, there's still only one thing I can do:

Work on the next book.

Ah, the writer's life.

Monday, January 10, 2011

World of Warcraft, Etc.

A few people have expressed interest in knowing more about my gaming habits. I haven't really talked much about it, save in passing, since I figured most people wouldn't care at all.

That, and I've already proven definitively that I am, in fact, a nerd. Why add more evidence?

But it is true that I play World of Warcraft, among other things. I have played for a very long time, actually. It came out when Nick and I were engaged (he got it at midnight the day of, back when you didn't have to wait in a line to do that), and I watched him play with interest for a few weeks before I asked him if I could try it.

It was my first MMOPRG (Massive Multi-player Online Role Playing Game [I think.]), though I have played video games since I was a kid. I remember the Nintendo fondly—Tetris and Super Mario and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. When SUPER Nintendo came out? Dude. It was so awesome. I remember rainy afternoons spent trying to beat my brother at Mario Kart and Street Fighter. I didn't win often. That first time he beat M. Bison was like winning some epic war.

Then came the RPGs—Secret of Mana and Chrono Trigger and Earthbound. That's where I really started to love video games. They were always fun, but a video game with a story? Heaven!

And then I met Cloud Strife.

Oh, Cloud, how you changed my life. *mwah*

Final Fantasy VII can I even explain it? The Sony Playstation. This game. It was kind of like when Apple introduced the iPod, I guess. Or maybe when TV started coming in color. Suffice to say, it was BIG, guys. If you don't know video games, at least know that. And if you do, you know what I'm talking about.

Like it or hate it, Final Fantasy VII was one of those games that changed the face of the industry. The graphics were insane for the time. The cut scenes! The story! It was Freaking Amazing.

I cried at that one part. WHO DID NOT AT LEAST TEAR UP AT THE ONE PART?!?!!

I was kind of a Final Fantasy fanatic after VII. I waited anxiously for the subsequent games. I hunted down the older ones. I played Tactics, both of them. Heck, I was a Squaresoft junkie. I even loved Saga Frontier! (Who remembers Saga Frontier? I will hug you if you do. One of my all time faves.) And since then I've always been on board for a little gaming, though I thoroughly SUCK at 1st person shooters. I'm pretty awesome at DDR though. Just saying.

Anyway...going a little off track here. I guess this just proves that I was kind of primed to like World of Warcraft (WoW). I'd even played Warcraft 1-3, but I had this terrible opinion of mmorpgs. Why? Because the Final Fantasy franchise decided to make XI online, and I couldn't afford a monthly subscription!

Talk about devastation.

But that day Nick let me play? Oh, I was hooked. I still couldn't afford it, what with paying for school and rent and all that, but he let me play his account and we talked about buying one for me when we got married. As luck would have it, my brother left on a mission shortly after we married and I stole his account, mwahaha.

So yeah, I've played WoW on and off for six years. Boy, have I learned A LOT about online gaming in six years. It's fun and fascinating and very much a "man's world" still. I still remember going to the midnight release of Burning Crusade and getting stared at. I was one of maybe 7-10 girls. Out of a few hundred at least. Things are changing, though. Seems like a lot more girls are trying it out and discovering how fun it is. Time sink, sure. BUT A FUN TIME SINK.

For the WoW players out there who want to judge my playing habits, I've been both horde and alliance, so I don't make fun of either (Except Blood Elves, because almost every noob/alliance deserter goes BE, and they're supposed to be an "endangered race." Snarf, they're usually half the Horde's population now...) I've played almost every class except paladin, because they bore me to tears (though they aren't half as bad as they used to be). I'm currently leveling a warrior. I have two druids, one on each faction, but don't play them now because the new healing changes SUCK.

Also, I'm pretty sure this new Archaeology thing is a huge inside joke, because it's the lamest profession ever created.

If you know what I'm talking about, high five.

Lately I've been thinking it'd be cool if I could play with some of my writer friends who play WoW. It's like my new fantasy to have y'all on RealID so we could at least talk cross server.

So...yeah. I guess you could say I'm kind of a gamer chick. Not like Hard Core, but I like me some video games. I think a lot of people still have this idea that gamers in general all live in their parents' basement and are super losers who don't contribute to society. Well, I'd like to refute that stereotype. WoW in particular has brought gaming to a more mainstream player, for better or worse. And while it's certainly its own kind of culture, it's not as crazy backwards as you'd think.

And it's really fun, kind of like pretending to be another person. Hmm, that doesn't sound anything like writing...

You should try it.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Happy Writers Society: Alpha Reading

Happy Friday, everyone! I have officially hit the 100 page mark in entering edits! Woohoo. Those first 100 are like torture, but then I get momentum. I can start to see the end and I WANT TO FINISH SO BAD.

Since that's top priority right now, HWS will be short and sweet. Then you can all hang out in the clubhouse and talk about how your first week of 2011 went. Or watch Avatar: The Last Airbender. It's on non-stop for inspiration.

So. Guess what I got to read this morning? I'll give you clues:

1. It was the beginning of the final book in a series.

2. No one else has read it. Or at least very few people have.

3. My friend whose name rhymes with Beersten wrote it.

Man, I love gloating over all the awesome stuff I get to read in manuscript form. I can't lie—it's SO FUN. I love watching my friends create. They are freaking geniuses. I feel so privileged to get early peeks at their characters and worlds and plots. They inspire me. They push me to do better. They make this whole writing process easier and much more fun.

I love you guys! I love your books!

Go tell your writer friends how awesome they are. Hearing it never gets old.

Also, all of you are awesome, too.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Give Me Your Best Fears. I Will PWN Them.

In honor of yesterday's post, today I will play therapist/BFF/mom/etc. for anyone who needs a few encouraging-ish words about their fears when it comes to writing. That's right—you have a dilemma? I'm here to listen.

*pours glass of milk*

*slides over plate of cookies*

Get it out, guys. Just get it out. (I will also be opening Anonymous comments for this, if you prefer not to have your name revealed.)

We'll start with a comment from 52 Faces yesterday:
So Natalie, how 'bout _this_ one (cuz you're like the guru and stuff): My fear is that even when I manage to eke out some good writing, I STILL won't get published.
Oh, 52, that is the ultimate fear, isn't it? I wish I could say that if you put in your absolute best it'll work out. But, well, sometimes it doesn't. It might sound cocky, but I know my failed submission book is a good book. Editors said it was a good book! They...just didn't know how to market it.

That is the sucky truth. You could write a good book, and it could still get put in the trunk. I wish I could take that reality away, but I can't.

Here's the thing, though, that I've taken comfort in these past months: It's NOT my fault. I did my best. I followed the rules and revised my little heart out. I got close—close enough that I know it wasn't merit that stopped me, but the market.

I can honestly say that I am proud of that book. When I think about it, it's not "Oh, I should have tried harder and listened to my agent about that one flaw." No, I put in everything I had! I truly did. I have no regrets concerning my own efforts and how I handled the story. It is what I always wanted it to be. I did the best with what I could control in the process.

That, despite the not-so-happy outcome, is rewarding. To this day, it is really my only manuscript I feel comfortable saying is DONE.

So yes, 52, that is a valid fear, but it's no excuse not to give it all you got. Knowing you did your best, that you stayed true to your story, is its own kind of reward.

Alrighty! Let's have a heart-to-heart, shall we? I will be here all day with cookies, comfort food, chocolate, comfy couches, and tissues. We can even watch period dramas if you're into that.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

What Are You Afraid Of?

"I'm afraid my story will suck."

Sometimes I hear this from new writers or those who are thinking about writing. It's kind of a frustrating situation, because it begs a compliment like, "Oh, it won't suck. You don't have to be afraid. Your story will be great." Well, I'm here to burst your bubble (Hey, I'm entering edits and not in the best of moods. Time for a New Year's reality check):

Your story probably will suck.

Wait, don't go running to your trailer in a fit of diva-like tears! I am not being mean—I'm being honest. But rest assured, 99.9% of writers are in the same boat as you are. Even the published ones. And the truth is, worrying about your story being crap never goes away, either.

Sucking is the very nature of first drafts. If you're afraid to suck, you're kind of saying you're afraid to write. And if you're afraid to write...well, that's kind of an issue if you want to be a writer. Like a pilot being afraid to fly. Or a pottery maker who's afraid to get their hands dirty. Part of the writing gig is writing some really bad stuff—sometimes for a really long time. And even when you think you have it figured out, you get slammed in the face by your crap writing when you least expect it.

If fear is stopping you from getting that story down, it's time to shrug it off and jump in. What are you afraid of? If everyone writes bad first drafts, what makes you think you need to write perfect ones?

I always think of drawing when I think of this process. Hey, I'm an artist, so sue me. Starting a book is like staring at a blank canvas—almost exactly like it, really. You're supposed to create a picture, except a novel is more like painting a mural spanning an entire city block. Talk about overwhelming.

But here's the thing many writers don't realize: You are NOT painting on that wall when you write those first words down. Nope. You are sketching on grid paper, trying to figure out how the mural is supposed to look. You try things that don't work, so you erase them. You figure out what you want to say, but maybe you haven't quite nailed the presentation of that statement. You never have to show a soul what's in your sketchbook unless you want to, maybe to get opinions on composition and color scheme. You don't paint the mural until you have all the elements worked out.

Guys, there is nothing to be afraid when it comes to writing your story. Yes, it may turn out sucky, but here's another cool thing I've learned—ideas don't suck. It's impossible for an idea to suck. You never have to doubt your idea, though sometimes it doesn't come out on paper quite as you planned. Believe me, I've written a lot of awful books. But when I think back to the actual ideas? They're still good! I could spruce any of them up and make a better book.

So, if you're one of those people who are afraid to mar that blank document with some crappy words, get over it and get writing.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Insert Catchy Title Here

Happy New Year! Can you guys hear that? It's the sound of hundreds of writers typing, because it's the New Year and they have GOALS.

In other news, the gym was twice as busy as usual this morning...

Anyway, I will spare you a post on resolutions. I'm mostly here to inform you that things will be changing a little around these parts of blogland. Because, well, I have less time and more to do than ever. And there's this revision breathing down my neck. I kind of need to get that done, among other things.

Also, it turns out it takes a little over three years to say practically everything there is to say about your views on writing, etc. Either that, or my brain is shrinking. That's probably more likely.

So I am hereby declaring that I will not guarantee a post every weekday as I have for a very long time. I'm not setting a schedule. I just want to post when I actually have something interesting to say. Which, let's face it, isn't very often lately. But don't worry, I'm sure I'll still post rather often, and Happy Writers Society isn't going anywhere. This declaration is mostly just for me, so I don't feel guilty when I close the "New Post" window because I can't think of anything I haven't already said.

In relation to that, I will be doing some serious work on my Reference tab in the coming weeks. Please, if you have questions or are seeking advice on specific writing topics, check there first. You can also search my blog with a high chance of finding something useful. Seriously, I've probably answered your questions somewhere on my blog. I'm long-winded and enjoy sharing my opinions even when no one cares to hear them.

I should also fill out that "About Me" tab sometime. Or can I just write "See Blog"?

And to finish off this random post, I really want to write another book. Nevermind the two I need to edit and that short story/novelette/novella thing I'm working on...

You'd think after writing like 14 books and still being unpublished I'd be tired of it. But seriously, I really want to write another one! It's just a matter of what and when. It's like I can feel it coming...and I'm kind of scared it'll be that historical I keep daydreaming about. BECAUSE I CAN'T STAY IN ONE GENRE TO SAVE MY LIFE.


But it's so...shiny. And creepy! And funny! And weird! (Duh, of course it's weird because it's my idea, and I can't write a normal book to save my freaking life.)

I need a Code Red.

And why is there no Chinese place in this valley that delivers?

Wow, so can you tell I have a cold yet? This post has degenerated into nonsense.

I think I'll go read about seances in the 1890s now...

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Already Off to a Good Start

2011, meet my Sugar Ninja Army.

Sugar Ninja Army, meet 2011.

One false move, and you're goin' down, buddy.