But on a More Positive Note

I ended my thoughts on trying to NaNoWriMo while managing chronic pain on a rather bleak note.  It wasn’t my intention but so often my current moods will color my writing–especially the nonfiction–and I was feeling broody and pragmatic that day.  It goes against the spirit of why I even joined NaNoWriMo this year to end the month feeling pessimistic, so I’ve come back to add a final thought.

Some is better than none.*

I am reminded over and over again that writing a novel mostly lives in the editing portion. That is where you grow and that is where you shine.  Brilliant books go through several drafts.  But you know what you have to do before you can edit your manuscript Yup, you have to write the first draft. Physically. On paper. It has to exist in 3D, not just in your daydreamer brain.

So, while I may have only gotten 2,000 words out of the 50,000 word goal (I dunno, I stopped keeping track. It was probably less.) that is still 2,000 more words than I started with on November first.  It’s something.  It’s positive. It has value. It was the best I could do this year and that month and it was enough.

*Psssst. I borrowed that. Click the link.

 

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Writing and College

originally posted at my other blog Jessica Sita/Watchful Creature.

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Should you go to college if you want to be a writer? Absolutely.

Do you have to? Obviously not.

There are plenty of famous writers out there who never went to school for English, Creative Writing, Literature, etc. (did someone say J.K. Rowling?).  There are plenty of famous writers who didn’t make it to college at all (including Ray Bradbury and Shakespeare).

I have an Masters degree in English (emphasis Creative Writing). Did I want to teach? No. Do I want to pursue a PHD or an MFA (which is the next logical course of action)? Not at this time. Do I currently have a job outside of writing and housewifery? No.  Why did I do it? Do I value my education? To the extreme. In fact, I had to fight my parents every step of the way just to keep my major as English/Creative Writing in college.  They wanted me to study something with a more solid career path at the end of the line, like business.  I wanted to follow my dreams.  They finally relented when they saw how good of an education I was getting and realized that surely, simply having a degree at the end of all of this meant job prospects. After all, how many of us have jobs that reflect our major in college?

I wanted to be a better writer. And so I learned. After college, I still wanted to be a better writer, so I went back (I really should have chosen the MFA route instead of the MA route but that’s a story for another time). I became a better writer, and just as importantly, especially as an undergrad, I grew as a person.

Now education cannot, CANNOT make up for talent, passion and practice, practice, practice.

My advice is, go to college. At least for something.  Get a good job. You’re going to need it to support those coffee habits while you pursue your true passion. Writing.  Go to college and study Creative Writing. Follow those stars! Be prepared to find a career that has nothing to do with writing.  Or hell, maybe you’ll be one of the lucky ones.  But no matter what your “job” is or your “major” is, never stop saying: “I am a Writer.”

The Lies that Writers Tell Themselves

I’ve been saving this quote in my photo stream for several months because it struck me and I kept intending to write about it.

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It reminded me of something that was said at last year’s Writing Well Workshop that has stuck with me. Sasha Martin (Life From Scratch) wanted to debunk the lies that all writers seem to tell themselves and I wrote it down in my notes as the title to her section. The lie that plagues me the most is a variation of the following:

*Who would want to read this?

She challenged us to seize the doubts, the questions and answer them.

This has all been done before. This echoes through my head repeatedly because I’m writing a vampire novel and vampires are trendy. I feel like the popularity of the vampire ebbs and flows like so many things but in the wake of Twilight I noticed that vampire novels flooded the market. And vampire movies, and vampire tv shows, merchandise, etc. Vampires were no longer pushed to the goth edges of the socially acceptable; they were pop culture icons now. The public was bored and the critics were making fun. I don’t remember if I was actively working on my novel then but it wouldn’t resemble its current incarnation anyhow. But I had been an avid devourer of novels in the genre and I had been planning (hell, dare I say even plotting) to write my own vampire novel since middle school. As you can imagine, I often feel discouraged.

I know that you can’t control what people think but it would bother me endlessly if people assumed I was writing to the trends, trying to make money by riding on the coattails of Twilight (it’s never been about the money). God forbid someone claim that my work is unoriginal.

But now, I’ve found ways to counter those doubts. First, by the time I finish, edit, and get accepted for publication (let’s stay positive here), the vampire trend will be in the distance and the world will be primed and ready for a new take on an old myth.

And second, well, you have to tackle that word “original” or “unique” because we ALL borrow from other writers. There are even arguments that are no more original stories left! Sometimes, I don’t even realize that I am doing it. Sometimes, I do, reading widely and taking someone’s idea and twisting it until it’s my own.  But even if I wrote something steeped in goth and horror tradition, it still wouldn’t be a copy of anyone else’s. It’s my story to tell and only I can tell it this way. Yes, I am writing a vampire novel, like so many before me, but this is my contribution to the genre, to the long conversation passed through books and down through generations.

I am adding my voice to the song.

 

 

How to Find Novels for a Book Club

books-2-1422196-639x894I’ve been running the book club for my mommy group for about a year now so I think I am entirely qualified to talk about this. There really aren’t enough blog posts or articles on the subject. I could find some recommended novels and some questions to run a meeting but no one talks about how potentially hard it can be.

To make things easier on yourself, you should run a book club where the membership has at least one narrow thing in common whether it be age, education level, or taste. Being a mother is entirely too broad. My group ranges along the entire spectrum of age, education, religion, socio economics, background, values, politics … you name it. We are all women and we are all mothers but our differences has made selecting a novel to fit everyone, an exhaustive task.

So if your book club is as diverse as mine, you’re going to have to find ways to limit the store of books that your members can choose from.

The first thing I suggest is to have your club vote on what they are going to read that month. Don’t give them too many choices. I go with three and attempt to pick three books that are pretty different. Your club then reads the majority. If they end up disliking the novel, they can barely blame you.

Now we are faced with how you, the Fearless Leader of your local book club, will find three choices for the group to vote on. Here are some ways to limit your Google searches:

Limit length. At one point, I could only look at books under 300 pages. We are busy people and although we do take two months for one selection in my club, certain times of the year can still make finishing a novel cumbersome. You can also do the opposite. Pick only from long novels. Say you won’t read anything under 600 pages.

Choose from the classics. It’s a fairly long list with numerous different types of books.

Choose only from one long list. For example, something like “100 Books That Changed the World.”

Limit to new releases from a chosen year.

Can you guess my key word here? Limitation. Pick a theme and go from there. This year, I’ve decided to take only from books that will become movies in 2017 or already are movies from 2016.

The Wolf and the Mary Sue

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I have an unpopular opinion for you:

Writing a “Mary Sue” is not the worst thing an author can do.

Or, at least, it’s not a bad place to start.

If you don’t know what a Mary Sue is, here is an explanation from UrbanDictionary.com:

A female fanfiction character who is so perfect as to be annoying. The male equivlalent is the Marty-Stu. Often abbreviated to “Sue”. A Mary Sue character is usually written by a beginning author. Often, the Mary Sue is a self-insert with a few “improvements” (ex. better body, more popular, etc). The Mary Sue character is almost always beautiful, smart, etc… In short, she is the “perfect” girl. The Mary Sue usually falls in love with the author’s favorite character(s) and winds up upstaging all of the other characters in the book/series/universe.

It is, however, not limited to fanfiction. Some famous Mary Sues include Bella from Twilight and that chick from 50 Shades of Grey.

Let me clarify that we should not be publishing these kinds of characters.  I just think there are worse ways for a young writer to start. To become successful in this writing game, one has to have passion and dedication. And you have to practice. Practice.

In middle school, I found myself writing a lot of fanfiction. I used L.J. Smith’s Night World universe and inserted an original character. Of course, my original character was just me in fantasy land–a Mary Sue. But in navigating another author’s universe, I was essentially studying the art of urban fantasy.  And I was having a blast, so I wrote a ton. Not much longer later, I was creating my own world with its own set of rules. I learned so much about writing and, in specific, genre writing because I had taken the easy way out: used myself, used someone else’s template. I knew, even then, that these stories would go nowhere but it didn’t matter because I loved the craft. That simple joy is what will take you through to “the end” when you are wading through the swamp of your own novel. Because writing is hard.

Also, I have heard several times in my writing education, that every single character you create, has a part of you inside them. Even if it’s the villain. Even if the villain is a true horrendous being, there exists a sliver of the author’s soul, temperament, or personality inside him. I think it is ultimately how we bring what is essentially dead, a mere abstract concept, to life. We breathe ourselves into our characters and they awaken.

I have found that at the very beginning stages of an original project, only a few pages or a short outline in, that I start with a character that is too much like me. I change their physical appearance first and then, through my various methods of brainstorming and daydreaming, the character expands.  I discover their motive.  How they make have experienced the same thing that I have, but how it has affected them differently.  Gradually, the character turns into someone else. Complicated. Dynamic. She fits in the story and I am able to slip into a mind that is nothing like mine, but somehow familiar.

So, writers, beware of Mary Sues. But don’t hate yourself if you discover one upon first read through of your first draft. Use them as a tool.  It’s a starting point that should evolve into something that will no longer be recognizable from where you began. Your characters will be richer and more real.

 

Blogging for the Busy

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My babe is about three and a half months old now. I stay at home but I still find myself with very little time. So how the hell do I keep up with a blog?

Here are some tips for the busy blogger.

*Keep your posts short.
I used to worry about the length of blog entries but now I have a new philosophy: short and sweet. We are busy. You don’t have time to write and your readers don’t have a lot of time to read. It’s win-win.

*Use the App.
If your blogging service has an app, use it. Most of my posts are typed on my phone. Yes, my phone. Any time you can catch a break, whip out an entry.

*Keep a running list of topics.
I keep a list of topics and/or blog post titles in the notes section of, you guessed it, my phone. This helps when I am blocked and also when I don’t have time to write a full entry. Save the idea, use it later.

*Schedule your posts in advance.
It is possible to kill a blog by not posting. I know. I’ve done it. So, write when you can and if you happen to be able to write a lot, set up the posts so that they publish later in the month. Your momentum will keep going even if you are physically passed out on the couch for a month.