Happy for Thanksgiving

Is it just me, or did everyone actually make the effort to be more pleasant this Thanksgiving dinner? True or not, I appreciated the difference.

Too stuffed for pie, but hopefully not for writing. Spending all day actually trying to interact with everyone wore me out and also left no time for writing, hence this late, short post, and also my need to hurry of and get my novel-ing done. But otherwise I’m nearly caught up on my quota, and even ahead on my reading. It’s just knitting that’s fallen behind this month.

Hope everyone else had so nice a day, even if it can only be considered so outside of the particulars.

But I do have to get writing, it’s so cozy in the room right now: a fire burning, sleeping cats and for once a very quiet house. I think I’ll take advantage. Image

Books for Writers Who Read Books on Writing

NaNoWriMo: Word count for today: 31,578.

Today, I should be at 33,333, though I still have two hours. I have already typed some forty-five hundred words; I’ve discovered my writing music is Irish Pub Rock, as Pandora calls it. When listening, I believe I type faster, and of course the tempo encourages me to keep up the pacing, which I don’t think is my strength at the best of times. But on a roll I can get up to two thousand words an hour, which

Now, the Sims is still on my other computer, because I didn’t actually end my playing session before coming out to watch NCIS and spin-off, but I doubt I’ll want much more time. My current pixel family has four horses with one on the way, and they’re time consuming, even more than the game alone.

Anyway, in honor of NaNo, I thought I’d mention a few writing books I have and have read recently.

  • The Writer’s Book of Matches Just a book of prompts, 1001, plus suggestions to modify them further. Most writer’s writers probably don’t need ideas, or so I hear. Ideas have never been my problem, at any rate. I get plenty. But my trouble is following through to the end. At best I get out slips of paper to jot down inspirations, collect them in any of a number of collector’s boxes. Sometimes I go so far as to write out a couple paragraphs, or even a scene. But finishing a story? The only time I’ve completed any fiction is through the two creative writing classes—and even then I often didn’t finish. But I’ve completed NaNo once, and I have crossed fingers for this year.

    Also, I have ideas for several genre-style fan fictions that I desperately want to complete. Mostly because my original writing tends to be about crazy people with mostly character development. Fan fiction on the other hand, demands more, because the readers already know the characters (except best case scenario, where someone discovers a new show after the fan story). Should be good for me. Goes hand-in-hand with the whole ‘complete’ problem too.

    Back to Matches. Personally, I found many of the suggestions to be rather tired, to be honest. Mostly genre—which, again, I don’t tend to write. But the appendix is helpful and just looking at someone else’s ideas can inspire your own. The Writer’s Book of Matches is put out by the Boiled Peanuts literary journal staff.

  • Next, I’d like to recommend The Storyteller’s Art by Francis Porretto. It’s available free as an e-book, check on Goodreads. For the sake of full disclosure, I will say it’s taken from a collection of blog posts from a blog devoted to apparently conservative and Christian values. It’s not a blog I read, so if that’s what you do like, go ahead and look it up, though I can’t personally recommend it; but if it is something you don’t like, pick up the book alone, because this is a book strictly about the craft of telling a story: not the workmanship of grammar and spelling, not the selling of the final product. This book gives the reader a different way to think about their own writing, their work-in-progress.

    I admit, however horrified my creative writing teachers would be to hear it, I enjoyed the author’s emphasis that you should not be writing ‘literary fiction.’ It does sound as though he writes genre himself, but his advice—to think about your theme and resonance  to be concerned about character, to complete the story—applies to any kind of fiction, short of deliberately changing every rule in some post-modern goal. But like Picasso, you should know the rules before trying to break them. Some people might be put off by the constant reference to himself as the ‘curmudgeon’, so they might want to read the original blog posts, if they’re still available. Otherwise, I found this readable and motivating.

  • I’ve read a few other free e-books on writing recently, but the only other one I’ll mention is Write Good or Die by Scott Nicholson. It’s also a collection of blog posts, but less well-formatted than The Storyteller’s Art. It’s also an anthology by several different authors on all parts of authorship, from the initial idea to publishing. Some are great, some had me looking at them sideways, but you may have the exact opposite reaction. With so many different perspectives, you’ll probably get something out of it. Even if you don’t, it’s free and you won’t even be out anything.

So if you like writing, I hope you’ll check them out. If you’re also in the middle of NaNo, well, you may want to look them up next year…or if you’re not waiting that long, at least until you’re finished whatever story you’re working on. Personally, I keep finding I’m much happier writing than I am when I’m not, but then I stop writing. Maybe this time will be different. I’ll keep writing best I can; maybe it’ll stick this time.

Mini Update

NaNoWriMo isn’t going all that well. Just up to a little over 19000 words today, which is still a couple thousand under. And then there’s tomorrow. I’d like to catch up, but it’s so much easier writing somewhere else, where distractions don’t feel as acceptable.

Also, I’m back to obsessing over White Collar, the television show, and then the fan fiction of it, mostly because I have some great fan fiction ideas for White Collar which would be so much easier than trying to figure out this original novel thing I am at this moment attempting to work on. Like, White Collar, it has a genre, and I know the characters—as much as one can know a character as depicted by an actor, because at that point the character exists for so many people: the writer, the director and only then the actor. It makes for a fascinating (to me) philosophical discussion, but not really one useful otherwise. Maybe if I go into the philosophy of theater I can use it as a thesis. If that is already your goal, I may allow you to steal it so I don’t have to do the work.

But still, given my understanding and familiar with television show characterization and all attending issues, I can make do. Writing a new plot turns out to be the easy part, though I’ve always said it’s what I have the most trouble with. I suppose that’s because knowing the characters (however possible) and the setting and the genre. There’s already even a style there to build from.

This novel thing? At best the genre is a fantasy/dystopia*/magical realism and unfortunately even I don’t know exactly what that means, which is no good, given I’m the one writing it. In theory, I should have control over this sort of thing. And most of my characters don’t have names: even those who do only have place holder titles. One has just been dubbed O until I can think of something better. Also plot is hard. I have the beginning fairly down, and last week it seemed brilliant. This week, while I still have hope for the beginning I’m not convinced it’s possible to make it go anywhere.

Oh well, if I do ever manage to make it until the end of the month, I can go from there. At least I’ll have somewhere to start. It’s like discovering a new genus. I don’t have the full shape yet, so I can’t even start thinking of the connections to everything else.

*and google wants me to correct that to ‘topiary,’ which wouldn’t not fit either.

 

P.S. Can I add this to my word count?

Good Luck!

Because it’s time to start writing if you’re participating in NaNoWriMo. And I know from experience staring late causes all sorts of problems.

I started last night, right at midnight. Stopped at an even 1000 words, because it’s a nice even number. Instead of continuing, of course, I’m writing this post, both as it has been scheduled and also because I was introduced to an author today.

Sigh.

Apparently this guy is some kind of big deal, or at least an  author with influence, though fortunately I’ve never heard from him and don’t need to worry about having it color my reading of his work. Someone feels threatened.

Because that’s what happens. Published authors, are, of course, the only ‘real’ authors, and god forbid the dirty common people get their mucky hands over their white towers.

Do I sound a little bitter? I suppose I am. When I first found NaNoWriMo, I was thrilled by the almost innocent thrill of the organizers. It wasn’t some way to convince people anything they wrote would be worthy of publishing, but to show people writing, and by extension, authors, aren’t worthy of blind devotion simply because they’ve managed to get a few tens of thousands of words onto paper. Great authors deserve recognition for their work, their word play skill, their insight into the human condition. Challenging amateur writers to make a similar effort in no way threatens the respect we pay to dedicated authors who can change the way we see the world.

If you haven’t noticed, our culture has lately failed to honor the humanities it depends on to be culture. People have recognized that modern ‘literary’ authors and critics are out of touch, that they don’t relate to humanity at all—that modern literature can be little more than a circle jerk of mutual appreciation from student to teacher to student, and hardly anyone new enters the picture.

NaNoWriMo brings hundreds of thousands of literature lovers together actively in a way I don’t recognize. Not like universities, where you have a limited list of acceptable reading material: what my professor called ‘serious’ literature. As much as I liked him, that’s such an artificial and unnatural limiting of everything literature is and can be. For example, I recently read a non-professional critical article* on the qualities of the best science fiction versus what science fiction has become. Science fiction, especially is dismissed by ‘serious’ authors because it doesn’t realize with real stuff. Whatever that’s supposed to mean. And the article points out that the best part of Science Fiction speculates about how our world today will affect the world tomorrow. What could be more profound than that? The best science fiction provokes wonder from the reader, changes the reader, offers the world possibilities. Everything the best literature has always done. Do read the article, it’s a thought-provoking read with a great discussion afterwards. But somehow science fiction is just not good enough for real authors.

Back to NaNiWriMo, why do professional authors object to others knowing how difficult it is to truly craft a novel?  I’ve long heard complaints from authors about people pointing out they just get to ‘stay at home all day’ or that they ‘have a great idea for a novel’ that they just haven’t gotten around to writing yet. Even after NaNoWriMo, people will still say these things. But some of them will actually try. And maybe they’ll appreciate how hard their favorite authors, or even least favorite authors, have to work at their profession.

No, somehow it’s a challenge. It assaults their delicate sensibilities. Maybe it even makes it harder for them to be published…because if you’ve been published once, it’s your right to be published again.

The creators of NaNoWriMo have never, in my experience presented the challenge as the path to publishing. It’s always been nothing more than permission. Permission to write a truly terrible novel that maybe no one will ever see, that will never be graded, but that maybe, just maybe, could be made into something worthwhile. With work. Every year, successful NaNo winners—which really includes everyone who attempted any writing at all—to continue to improve, to edit what they have, to expand anything missed in the rush, to close up the plot holes. And unlike everyone trying to sell their self-publishing services, the NaNo crew has always advocated editing, once the work is to that point. As an editor myself, and a discriminating reader, I greatly appreciate that attitude.

So, Mr. Bertschy, I may well read your work in the future. I probably won’t even be reminded of this post. Heck, everyone’s allowed to say stupid things; it happens. Generally, I prefer to avoid attacking others on Twitter, because it sounds so much more cruel in fewer than 140 characters. I’m sure you’re not a terrible person. But I’m blogging about it instead of replying there because I’m not sure I want to engage directly with that kind of perceived elitism. If you do stumble across this post? It’s not personal, but I hope you understand why I disagree.**

Unfortunately, while you did back off a little when the ‘tongue-in-cheek’ part was pointed out, the tone of your first tweet hit a number of my berserk buttons when it comes to literature. I truely think the literary scene suffers from the artificial split between ‘literature’ and ‘genre’ and in insulated nature of the the big prizes. These thousand words are not a direct response to you. However, if you—or others of that kind of mindset—are willing to engage in a sincere discussion on the relative worthiness of fiction, I would love you forever. Seriously.

*”The Issue with Science Fiction Nowadays: Where Has All the Wonder Gone?” by Kyllorac (August 17, 2011)

**It is exceedingly unlikely, as I’m not going to tag the name, but as the entire post was in response to that Tweet, I thought I should clarify why I felt it necessary. Should he visit, I’d hate for him to feel attacked, but it’s very difficult to have a true discussion online.

P.S. Oh look at that! Back to the tl;dr posts—looks like the limited schedule helps. And I didn’t even start to talk about my own NaNo first day, which I must get back to, or the fantastic writer’s group I found. I know you’re all devastated to miss my over-sharing.

Taken By Surprise

 

Good thing a few people posted about National Novel Writing Month today on Goodreads. Because my brain had refused to recognize that November is just a week away!

 

Honestly, I’m just a little terrified.

 

When I checked my author page on the NaNo website, I remembered that my idea for this year is essentially the same one I had last year. This year though, I’d like to not just start on time but to finish. I’m convinced it’s a good idea. See me confident I have the best idea ever. Totally, completely confident.

 

Yes.

 

Hee. Anyway, it is a story I can have fun with, one responding to tropes I’m familiar and sometimes uncomfortable with common in current literary trends, like I did in my one successful NaNo, in 2010. You know, when I was looking at my profile, I realized I started NaNoWriMo in 2007. Five years ago. I feel old.

 

But if I win, I can at least feel accomplished.

 

Also, the NaNo site links to their corporate sponsors, through which I found Yarny, my new favorite writing site. Now I know I’ve blogged about other writing sites, like Plinky, if you want prompts, Write or Die for timed challenges, or 750words.com, which is good for getting into a writing habit, but Yarny is fantastic for fiction. You write in snippets that can be grouped and also keep track of “people, places, and things” that are important to the story. Everything connected to one story is saved on one screen, so it’s like a different folder for every story.

“The trouble is that we have a bad habit, encouraged by pendants and sophisticates, of considering happiness as something rather stupid. Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting. This is the treason of the artist: a refusal to admit the banality of evil and the terrible boredom of pain.”
― Ursula K. Le Guin

 

It seems fairly intuitive, though I’m never quite sure I think like other people, and it’s a clean and simple layout. I only signed up for it today, and only the free version, but I think it’s by far my new favorite. I’ve already set up my novel for November, and started several stories that I keep thinking about writing without having started.

robot unicorn attack merino

I wish I had! *robot unicorn attack merino (Photo credit: lemonhalf)

Every once in a while, though I suppose it’s actually common now that I think about it, I have this … compulsion…no, call it emotion, to write. There’s a single, vivid image, visual, tactile, whatever and the only thing I want to do is get it down, shape it, say this thing that I know I want to say, have wanted to say without the words or without articulation, and suddenly it clarifies and all I want to do is write it down.

And I never do.

Oh, sometimes I’ll jot a note on a scrap of paper, or it’ll even make it into my journal (that was supposed to replace all the scraps of paper), but most of the time, the best way I can think to express myself is through fiction or poetry, and honestly, I’m frightened of both.

As with drawing, what I try to get down in paper never quite resembles what’s in my head. And I just don’t know how to get from there to here.

So Yarny gives me a chance to get all my ideas together, collect all the dots and not feel like I have to start at the beginning, but get out the image I have instead of what I think I ought to write. Because the linear nature of most word processing programs keep me from just starting. To arrange it as Yarny does would probably take me several different folders and many documents, and I know I’d lose track. Forgive me my gushing, but I’m just a bit giddy at how perfect Yarny’s setup is for my process.

Wish me luck! I really think I can do it this year.

“I really think I write about everyday life. I don’t think I’m quite as odd as others say I am. Life is intrinsically, well, boring and dangerous at the same time. At any given moment the floor may open up. Of course, it almost never does; that’s what makes it so boring.”

― Edward Gorey

 

Perfection and Writing: Two Words that Don’t Get Along

NCIS Filming

NCIS Filming (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You know what I should be doing right now?

Writing.

Well, technically I am writing, but I ought to be working on more formalized, structured work that actually accomplishes something.

Storytelling.

Right now my only active project is actually a fan fiction (so low brow!) of NCIS. It’s been my most recent fandom; my obsessions of other people’s work cycle on about a bimonthly basis, so I’m about ready to move on from NCIS. But in the meantime, it has given me the idea for a mystery, and since I’m not all that great at plotting, mostly through sheer lack of doing-ness, using already established characters and being able to disregard a lot of research into technicalities (given that it’s an already inaccurate and glorified television show), I can rely on the conventions on the genre as I figure out how to structure a full-length plot.

So far, it’s both easier and harder than I expected.

I think I have the rough plot outline fairly well sketched out. (Enough qualifiers there, do you think?) But making sure it’s in a rational order while keeping track of plot twists and tension complicates things: I keep moving around certain discoveries, character responses, and am also trying to tie in to enough character development to make sure there’s a point in reading it—NCIS is hardly the most procedural show.

For once the scenes themselves are causing me trouble. Usually when I write I start with a character, throw them in a situation and see where they go. (Mostly the scene ends and then the story goes nowhere.) Two years ago, I did manage to finish NaNo with even less preparation than I’ve done for this fan fic, but I can’t say it ended well, especially since I didn’t do any revising. I still don’t know that it would be worth it. I very much want to finish this NCIS story before November, because I want to participate in NaNo again, and have the start of a plot—but at the same time I’m still trying to figure out my characters and how they’re going to start the plot, and make sure each makes sense with the other.

This writing thing is HARD y’all. I’ve only finished a few short stories and attempted a few terrible poems, mostly in classes. But I tell myself so many stories I may as well write them down! And preferably well, as I am a perfectionist.

I’m sorry, I just love linking to writing blogs about writing, mostly because I love reading them, and I do love the suggestions box.

Deadlines

National Novel Writing Month

Image by Steve Rhodes via Flickr

Getting things done on a deadline is much easier than just generally deciding to ‘do’ something.

Something always comes with the time frame Sometime. Sometime usually comes right around never. Mostly because sometime, when you’re trying to plan for it, falls right around tomorrow. And as Hannibal says in The Curious Savage, “Today is safe, tomorrow may be filled with disaster.” Therefore, if you don’t sleep, tomorrow never comes. Anyway, only live todays and never tomorrows. Which makes Sometime awfully hard to plan for.

I’m trying NaNo again this year. National Novel Writing Month=NaNoWriMo=NaNo if you’ve spent time around certain websites lately and have maybe seen many of these permeations. Or possibly in earlier articles—it’s getting to the point that I can’t remember what I’ve written about.

For the past three years or so, I’ve intended to try NaNo. The first year I got all of three thousand words, or maybe a page and a half, and then I got busy. Then I scribbled in a notebook while hanging out in the laundry room—earning me several sideways looks from all the cool people who just abandoned their clothes. However, because of the notebook, it never got typed up and I didn’t get my participation badge on the official page. And last year was my last year of college and I missed November 1st entirely, so I just didn’t bother.

240/365 National Novel Writing Month begins

Image by owlbookdreams via Flickr

This year, I only (currently) have a part-time job, a play, several volunteer positions, and a few editing commitments, but still have lots of unstructured free time. As I think I might have said a few days and/or weeks ago in the post “Calendar Days” I need to have plans for my unstructured days or I don’t get anything done. Perhaps that is why I can’t even remember exactly what I wrote about.

I just had to stop writing to post some of the ‘recommended’ pictures, as they are very nice ones and already about NaNo! I very much like that leaf.

This year, I have an idea for a novel. Is it a good idea? That’s hard to say, especially since I can’t actually start writing about it yet. But it’s an idea. I have a little notebook called “cliffhangers” with a picture of a monkey on the cover. Inspiring, right?

My little notebook only has a few character sketches and the germ of an outline, but that’s already more than I’ve had any other year. Before, I just tried sitting at my computer (or notebook) and start writing. Maybe if I’d tried writing for more than a few pages, I might have gotten further —but without pushing past that first scene, nothing happened. And also, 2008’s “notebook” wasn’t a single book, but borrowed pages from class notes and from a sketchbook. In fact, rather than ‘noveling’ I ended up doing a nice little sketch of the folds in the black plastic trash bag.

This year, I’ll try again. And get somewhere, this time.