31 October 2008

Formal Friday

Today, instead of sporting formal attire for Formal Friday, I decided to wear my NaNo "uniform" to show my support for all the other writers out there who will start scribbling furiously beginning at midnight.  You can see a NaNo flyer in the background (with the orange triangle), and I have two more NaNo flyers in the upper right corner of the picture.

In case you were wondering, this is my interrupted-while-writing look.

Samhain Brings New Year for Some, Scribbling for Others

I'd like to begin by apologizing for my unexplained absence the past couple of days.  Wednesday was my husband's birthday, and in the morning when we went over to his parents' house to let out the dogs (in-laws are out of town until this evening), we discovered that Smoke, who was adopted with his sister when they were puppies about sixteen years ago, had passed away in the night.  It has been a very difficult couple of days.  I felt very close to Smoke, and it was hard to say goodbye, especially since Hubby and I had to take Smoke's body to the animal hospital to be taken care of until Hubby's family can say goodbye.

Tomorrow, when my husband's family goes to the animal hospital, will be another difficult day.  So I think I'll hole myself up in my office space for the next few days.  After all, I do have reason to.

Today is Halloween, or Samhain (the Witches' New Year) for those more Pagan-minded, and there's something omninous looming on the horizon that has more than 100,000 people sitting at the edges of their seats, fingers poised, trembling, over keyboards.

That's right, ladies and gentlemen.  At midnight tonight, writers across the world will tell trick or treaters to shove off so they can try to get a good start on the first day's 2,000 word count goal.  I may go to bed soon and try to stay up all night to scribble.  (Okay...maybe not.)

I can hardly believe it's been a year since I scribbled for NaNo.  Last year I had the first week of November off, so I was able to finish my novel then.  This year will be a bit different, but I am taking on the ambitious goal of completing two novels in the allotted 30 days.  

I think it will actually work to my advantage, though.  When I feel stuck, I can switch to the other novel and keep working.  I've adjusted my word count goals already (4,000 words a day during the week and 6,000 words a day on the weekends), and I'm finalizing my writing schedule for the month.

I've stocked up on coffee beans for the month, I have lots of Dr. Pepper, and Hubby knows he's pretty much on his own until December 2nd (I'll need the first to recover.).

I'm as ready as I'm going to be, so now I'm just waiting for the clock.

28 October 2008

Now I know how she feels....

One of my dear pleasures when it comes to the wonderful world of blogging is getting the opportunity to tag my dear friend Dana at En Tequila Es Verdad with memes and watching her swear and fume and then, inevitably, fill out the meme.  And since I'm generally the one who finds the memes before her, I'm often able to tag her before she realizes there's something afoot.

Today, however, in a plot twist befitting the few days before NaNoWriMo, DANA HAS TAGGED ME!!  And, to express exactly how much she loves me, I'm the only person she's tagged instead of the six indicated by the rules of the meme.  Whatever, Dana.

In the spirit of getting got, I'll happily fulfill my being-tagged obligations.  Enjoy!

Here are the rules for the game.

1. Link to the person who tagged you.
2. Post the rules on your blog.
3. Write six random things about yourself.
4. Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them.
5. Let each person know they've been tagged and leave a comment on their blog.
6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.
And so here we go.

Random thing about myself #1: I first started writing my coffee house book as a NaNo book the first year I participated, but decided to stop writing it that year and worked on something else instead.

Random thing about myself #2: My dream is to retire to a residential cruise ship and spend retirement cruising all over the world.  Ah, it'd be so amazing!

Random thing about myself #3: While Hubby peruses the electronics section of Target, drooling, I do the same over at Home Office.

Random thing about myself #4: My favorite meal of all time is corned beef & cabbage in the slow cooker.  Delish!

Random thing about myself #5: I only buy purses that are at least large enough to carry a paperback book.

Random thing about myself #6: I've had chicken pox twice.

I tag the following friends who may or may not enjoy said tagging:
  1. Angie of Adventures in Home Cooking
  2. Kell of Welcome to Earth
  3. PC of The Big Stick
  4. Audrey of Witness Protection (my newest follower)
  5. Liz of A Good Idea at the Time
  6. Laura Elizabeth of Diary of a Dreamer

My NaNo Goals

The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write a 50,000-word novel (with 50,000 being the minimum, of course) in 30 days.  And in addition to this, some people set additional goals (two novels or 500,000 words or whatever else they decide to do).

My immediate goal for the month is to "win" by writing at least 50,000 words.  However, since I'm working from home this year, I have quite a bit more time, so I'm going to try and (brace yourself) write two novels this year.

I'll give you a moment to pick yourself up off the floor.

I read a little Q&A on the NaNo website about Kerry McFee, NaNo-Overachiever.  Last year, she wrote over 400,000 words in November.  If a woman who has a traditional job can write that much in 30 days, there's no reason I can't write 100,000 words or so in the same amount of time.  After all, that's only about 3,000 words a day.  No problem!  Most writers write about 2,000 words a day every day, so adding an extra 1,000 words in November shouldn't be a problem, should it?

Granted, I don't have an outline for novel #2 for November, but that's okay.  I have an idea and two days to write an outline.

NaNoWriMo is about pushing yourself to do something you never thought you could.  At first, I pushed myself simply to finish a novel.  Now I'm pushing myself to finish two.  Who knows what I'll be able to accomplish next year?

27 October 2008

The Truth About Socks: navel-gazing in language shaded lavendar*

Of late, my task list--often writ on a yellow legal pad in black, felt tip marker--has been slightly shorter in length than that of task lists past.  At first, it was a cause for worrisome caution.  For a flitting moment of doubt, I wondered if my exotic, romantic life of writing all day in much the same way as the prosists of old whose fingers, stained with ink, devoted their lives to the beauty of the written word, and sharing said word with all who would come to their fountain of ideas to drink deeply.  It had been, indeed, a difficult decision (to say the least, if I may be so bold as to speak simply) to take leave of the traditional job that once bound me by the wrists and ankles to the world whose steady paychecks and benefits of health insurance and retirement have earned it the titles "safe" and "real."

There seems to be an upswing now, as my canary backgrounded task list seems to be lengthening, line by line, and I find myself spending more and more of my day watching the golden orb crossing the sky from behind my desk, the only tan kissing my skin from the electronic glow of my laptop.  It is a feeling unmatched to know that putting pen to paper--or fingers to keys, as is the case in this technological day and age--is a skill you possess and is desired by others from you in particular.  My heart was lifted at the need to devote more of my time to Microsoft Word, but this morning, as I stood at my black stove turning eggs, milk, and cheese to a protein-rich meal fit for the start of my day, I took a moment or two to look around me.  At this moment, my eyes free from the chains--happy though they be--that kept me from being shown the harsh truth that was underlying in what was my life these many days.

In addition to being distanced from the beauty of autumn in Orlando, Florida, which is one of the things that, until recently, was all that kept me from feeling the effects of being confined to a desk day after day with no contact outside of the three friendly felines whose companionship breathes life into our home and my husband, best friend, life partner, whose support and encouragement is the foundation of what will be the success of my career, as a direct result of the sharp black words etched hurriedly on my task list, I've come to a revelation that the task list written on white paper in blue ink--those tasks that pertain not to the life literary, but to the realm of home and hearth, such as the cleaning and organizational tasks (vacuuming, dishes, laundry, bills) that keep the home ready for any in-law that would suddenly stop by to say hello.  And it was these tasks, those I was letting slip by, unnoticed, while my fingers danced over the keys of my laptop keyboard hour after hour, day after day, that would prove to be my undoing this day.

With my laptop firmly closed, its power off, I saw the interior of the apartment not from the peripheral of my vision in between paragraphs, but in the full light of morning, with no distractions keeping me from realizing that, in my negligence of household chores during the days that writing took priority, they had, for the most part, been left undone, perhaps in the hopes some brownie would sneak into the apartment as we slept and turn the apartment from what it was into a home clean enough to be mistaken for a model apartment shown to prospective residents to give them an idea of the size and space of an apartment only seen as lines of a floor plan in a glossy brochure handed out by the chipper staff of the Leasing Office.

Regardless of several looming deadlines, hovering over me as a black cloud hovers over those who have walked under ladders or broken mirrors, I was forced from that moment to keep my office, inasmuch as it is an office, closed for the morning to allow myself the leave to rectify the situation.  I knew not if the disheveled apartment was a result of my dedication to the craft or the ability to visualize blinders on either side of my creative eyes to blot out all except the task at hand, but it was a situation I could no longer leave to the efforts of the brownies, who were surely, by this point, overwhelmed so that they would use their efforts more wisely in another home in which the primary care-giver to the household tasks spent time on those tasks rather than frivolous writing exercises and articles.

I deemed the laundry my first undertaking once my breakfast--eggs, milk, and cheese, if you remember--was safely installed in my stomach and the dishes in the sink to await such time as I put them in the dishwasher to be cleaned and sanitized, so I sorted the clothes in various hampers in the bedroom into piles according to color and directions for washing machine use.  As I did so, I made the startling discovery that the white athletic socks belonging to none other than the love of my life--my darling husband--were in quite a state of disrepair.  Many of these socks he wore every day sported holes in the toes or heels, the elastic ankles had been stretched so that the sock did not so much stay in place, but fell around his ankles as he moved about his business, and the bottoms of these cotton foot warmers were no longer white, but instead a revolting shade of grayish-brown indicating they'd not been washed often enough, and were now ready to be cut into dusting rags, or thrown into the waste bin completely, being exchanged for a freshly-purchased pair.

So, in a spontaneous effort toward multi-tasking, I started to separate some of these poor, worn-out socks who wanted nothing more than to be relieved of their duties, out of the white clothing pile that would be washed, and into a separate pile known to me as the pile of items to be disposed of and never seen again.  And it was during this textile act of the mundane that my darling and aforementioned husband, who to this point had had minimal interest in the workings of the laundry beyond asking the current location of whatever favorite shirt he sought for in vain within the unkempt drawers of the dresser, wandered into the living room area of the apartment and, upon noting my segregation of his beloved socks, asked why they were in a pile separate from the other white clothing to be washed.

I explained to him that these socks, though they served him well for a great deal of time, were no longer fit for service, and would enjoy spending their days in the Sock Retirement Village, commonly referred to as the garbage dump, where they would, being cotton, be eventually returned to the earth from whence they came; I assured him there would be new, bright white cotton socks to replace those that would be leaving our home, but my husband, much to my surprise, did not accept this news of the relieving of duty of his socks with as much grace as I expected.  Instead, he began to explain, calmly, of course, for my husband has learned that when there is something he wishes to win from me, his explanations must be calm and clear for me to be convinced, that these socks were not ready to be honorably discharged from his feet, but had a great deal of "wear left in them," and he fully intended to continue using these socks he described as comfortable.

I tried valiantly to convince him that he was being cruel not only to the socks by forcing them to continue to be stretched and washed and pulled and, when our three darling felines feel particularly playful, snagged, but he was being cruel to me in forcing me to continue to wash these poor socks that were being held together by the threadbare elastic left in them that was less elastic and more thread from being stretched so much by use.

It was another fifteen minutes, a full twenty-five percent of the face of a clock, before I, in a fit of frustration and being told these socks were still of use to a man who wasn't the one who washed them every day, took the pile of to-be-thrown-out socks from their waiting space on the living room floor and threw them into the garbage can, knowing full well my husband would not attempt to retrieve them from the depths of the white, plastic pit of breakfast crumbs and junk mail.

We stared at each other for a long moment, the air between us thick with the stubbornness we both possessed that often led us to moments not unlike the one we were sharing at that long moment.  After a moment, my husband turned and retreated to his computer, not a word spoken.

I went back to sorting clothes in various hampers in the bedroom into piles according to color and directions for washing machine use.

*I decided to get all this out of my system before November 1st.

26 October 2008

Things To Do When You Should Be Writing

In preparation for NaNoWriMo, which begins on Saturday (Eek!), I've decided to get a little bit of a head start on my procrastination to-do list for November.

Lately, I've found myself doing a number of things instead of scribbling (having a light workload got me into some bad habits), so it's time to compile that procrastination list.  That way, when I really need it next month, I'll have it easily on hand.

So here, in no particular order, are things you can do when you should be writing.  (Feel free to add your own in the comments, of course.)
  • Read En Tequila Es Verdad for your daily dose of a "fountain of liberal rage."
  • Check your email.
  • Make and drink a pot of coffee.
  • Rewrite your to do list with nicer handwriting.
  • Better yet, you should do it in Microsoft Word, then print it out.
  • Add to your to do list.
  • Make sure your books are still alphabetized by author's last name.
  • Visit the forums for NaNoWriMo.
  • Update your status on Facebook to say "NP is not scribbling."
  • Vacuum the living room.
  • Play fetch with the cat (yes, one of my cats plays fetch).
  • Make Thanksgiving plans.
  • Read.
  • Rework your NaNo outline.
  • Adjust the font and margins of your NaNo novel.
  • Play the Expert level of Minesweeper until you win twice in a row.*
  • Do some early Christmas shopping online.
  • Print your NaNo outline to put in a folder since you're trying to be more organized.
  • Check your word count.
  • Watch Law & Order to get character ideas.  (Don't worry about what day or time it is; L&O is always on somewhere.)
  • See if any of your NaNo buddies are on AIM.
  • Do some laundry.
  • Gaze out the window.
  • Stare at a wall.
  • Look for writerly Christmas gifts online that you might want.
  • Start a NaNo scrapbook to document your life in November.
  • Go through your story and find ways to pad the word count (omitting contractions, changing all hyphens to spaces, lengthening lists like this one, adding mundane details that border on purple prose, etc.).
  • Take a quick little nap to recharge yourself.
  • Check the time to see how much more writing time you have.
  • Watch the cat sleep.
  • Blog.
  • Play Mahjong Solitaire.
  • Fill out an email survey and email it to everyone in your address book.
  • Add page numbers to your story.
  • Take the page numbers out.
  • Add a title page.
  • Add an Acknowledgements page.
  • Add an "About the Author" page.
  • Create an interview that could be included in the paperback edition.
  • Come up with lists for your blog.
*NOTE: Do this at your own risk. I once spent three hours playing Minesweeper trying to accomplish this goal.


Be sure to check out the newest Carnival, hosted by Thoughts in a Haystack!  

This month's carnival is quite creative, so enjoy!

24 October 2008

"Prose is like hair. It improves with a good combing."

At least, that's what Jasper Fforde says.

I think combing is a great analogy for editing and revising.  When you comb hair, you work out the kinks, smooth it, and make it beautiful.  Combing prose is the same idea.  When you comb your prose, you work out the kinks, smooth it, and make it beautiful.  And so, it's a necessary process.

To be honest, editing/revising is not one of my favorite processes in the writing realm.  When I've been working with a piece for a long time, I become connected to it, so editing can be difficult.  (How can I slash out an entire scene I spent so much time crafting?)  So I've had to create some methods to take some of the prickly out of editing and revising.

The first thing I do when I start editing something is to read it all the way through without making any changes.  That way I can refresh my memory of the story, and by reading it from beginning to end without interruption, I can get a better feeling for the flow of the story since I jump around a lot when I write.

The next thing I do is go through the piece again and only correct grammar/punctuation.  This is so I don't let superfluous apostrophes or improper tense slip me up when I'm reading for flow, character, and plot.

Finally, the third reading is for everything else.  Did I remember to change the character's name every time?  Does something sound awkward the way it's worded?  Should I add more detail in the setting description in this scene?  This is the time I take notes in the margins, cross things out, move things, and jot scene rewritings on the backs of the pages.

Once I've gone through the piece a third time I sit down at my computer and start making changes.  Even if I think a change isn't quite right, I go with my first instinct and change it.  This is an important step for me because there have been many times I've changed something and in the retyping I changed it again, only to change it back when I reread the piece.  Once the changes are made, I print a new copy and the process begins all over again.

Some people may think this process sounds quite tedious.  At times it is, but by separating the readings that way, I keep myself from having to think about everything all at once.  Instead, I can focus on one task at a time and put all my energy into that task.  That keeps me from feeling overwhelmed as I work through a piece.

What's your revision process?

23 October 2008

Journaling in the Life of a Writer

In addition to the blogopalooza that is The Coffee-Stained Writer, I keep a pen and paper journal IRL.*  I've found it to be an effective tool in my personal life, as well as my writing life.

In fact, I have more than one pen-and-paper journal.

One is for my personal life.  This is the journal that isn't shown to anyone else, and is usually kept out of sight to keep tempting eyes from prying.  In it I keep a record of my life.  I use it to work out situations, vent, worry, meditate, and whatever else comes to mind that I feel I need to share with...well...myself.  By committing these things to paper, in ink, I feel more confident about working out problems and situations.  When I'm angry or frustrated, journaling helps me center myself and calm down to better deal with whatever is causing the anger or frustration.  Personal journaling is a therapeutic practice for me, and there are days it's almost all that gets me through to the next crisis.

The other is for my writing life.  Sometimes I use it to write about how writing is impacting my personal life, but usually, I use it to make character notes, remind myself of writing tasks that need to be done, and keep a record of my writing life through notes and scribblings.  This is the journal I keep in my handbag so when the Muse strikes, I'm ready to jot down whatever scraps of a story come to mind before they go flitting away again.  If I think of someone who might be a good character, or I see a house that would be great for a setting, I make notes to myself so I can refer back to it later and remember what I was thinking.  This journal is usually a mess, and would be difficult for someone else to decipher without knowing my short-hand.  I go through these journals a bit quicker, usually, because I write in it more often than once a day or once every couple of days.  Keeping a writing journal gives me the opportunity to take notes or think through revisions when I'm away from my computer, and not worry about grammar or complete sentences.  I can just take notes.

Journaling is a way for writers to write outside the formality of creating stories/articles/whatever.  It's a place writers don't have to worry about editing or reworking and can just let their thoughts be put to paper.  It's a place to log ideas that may never materialize, bits of dialogue that can be used later, or whatever else you want to remember but for which you don't have an immediate home.

Even if you don't keep a personal journal, I strongly recommend you keep a writing journal.  It gives you a place to keep all your thoughts together, making it much easier to work when you sit down to scribble.  And, for those who are destined for greatness, it gives the scholars something to pore over and study years and years and years from now.  (And if you want scholars to talk about your journals even more, invent a short-hand they have to decipher.)

Happy journaling!

*IRL=in real life; learn the lingo, n00bs.

22 October 2008

NaNoWriMo: Writing Schedules

For normal people, NaNoWriMo is a hectic time.  In addition to a full time day gig, people have family and personal obligations, which makes NaNoWriMo one of those things that's crammed into the spaces between life and work and sleep (well, sometimes sleep is skipped).  So for normal people, a writing schedule is key to reaching that magical 50,000-word finish line.

[Please note: I'm emphasizing "normal" because some of us are fortunate enough to work from home, so scheduling is less of an ordeal.  This post is directed to those who work a traditional full time job (we'll say 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. for the purposes of this discussion).]

When you create a writing schedule for NaNoWriMo, try to keep it as routine as possible.  If you switch around your timing too much, you may forget when you're supposed to be writing, and before you know it you'll be 30,000 words behind where you should be.

So if you get home from work at 6:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, schedule your writing time for, say, 8:00-10:00 p.m. Monday through Friday.  This regularity ensures that you know that between 8 and 10 every evening, you're writing.  That's not to say you would only write between 8 and 10 at night, but as long as your time is regular, you'll be much more likely to stick to the schedule.

Something else you should keep in mind as you create a writing schedule is the minimum daily word count for the event.  If you write 1,700 words every day (including Saturday and Sunday) during November, you'll reach 51,000 words by November 30th.  Allow enough time each day to reach your minimum word count for that day.  If you go over, wonderful, but if you go under, you'll need to make the word count up on another day.  If you have a tight schedule in November this may not always be possible.  So plan to write around 2,000 words each day, just to be safe.

As you create your schedule, try to do what works for you.  If you can't write in long stretches on the weekends, try scheduling short spurts throughout the day, taking frequent breaks.  Don't force yourself into a schedule you know will burn you out before the end of the month.  That's a very counter-productive way to work.

Once you work out your writing schedule, commit it to paper.  Post it in your writing space, as well as a common area that will allow family members, friends, and house- and roommates to see it.  It's important for those around you to know when you're writing so they can give you the time and space to get your work done.  Having the schedule on paper may also help make it more concrete for you.  That works for me; if I see something on paper, it carries more weight than if it's just on my computer or in my head.

Finally, remember to be flexible.  Life happens, even during NaNoWriMo.  So you may not be able to stick to your exact writing schedule every day.  And that's okay.  Steal an extra half hour of writing over breakfast before work, or on your lunch break.

Remember that NaNoWriMo is not life-or-death writing.  It's meant to be fun.  So don't take yourself or your schedule too, too seriously.  Just write.  And enjoy it.

Happy scribbling!

21 October 2008

Beta Readers, Part Two: How to Be a Beta Reader

A couple of days ago, I wrote a post about selecting beta readers.  Obviously, this post was aimed at writers wishing to get feedback on their pieces.  However, many writers are also asked to be beta readers, and it's just as important for a beta reader to know what he or she is getting into before that manuscript arrives, waiting to be read.  So there are a few things you should remember, dear readers, as you accept the invitation to be a beta reader.

Beta readers are not editors.  Though you may be asked to proofread or double-check continuity or other tasks that editors often undertake, you are not actually an editor.  Don't assume your writer will take all of your suggestions (and yes, they are only suggestions, not directions or commands) to heart.  All editing decisions, at least at this stage, are ultimately in the hands of the writer.  Make suggestions, but don't take it personally if, when you read a revision of the manuscript, something you suggested be cut is still in the story.  After all, the piece is the writer's vision, not yours.

Beta readers should be very clear about what the writer expects.  Does your writer want you to simply read through the manuscript to make sure it flows well?  Does your writer want you to mark every misplaced apostrophe?  Perhaps it's something between the two?  Whatever your writer expects of you should be made clear in the beginning of the process.  In writing, if possible.  It can be upsetting, after all, if your writer wants to make sure the plot flows and gets a manuscript back that looks like it's bleeding because said writer hasn't edited for grammar and spelling yet.  And along those lines, once the expectations are set by the writer, stick to them.  Don't assume you're doing the writer a favor by editing grammar if he or she has asked you to focus on the setting.

Beta readers are not all about glowing praise.  Every writer likes to hear that a reader enjoys his or her work, but the purpose of a beta reader is to help improve the piece.  In order to do that, you have to be honest about it.  If you read the manuscript and something doesn't work, let the writer know it doesn't work.  (If you have a feel for why it's not working, all the better!)  If a character feels flat, tell the writer.  Perhaps he or she just hasn't spent as much time developing that character and it's an easy fix.  But if these comments aren't expressed to the writer, the piece will never be it's best, and you and the writer will both have wasted your time.  If you like something about the piece, be sure to express that, too, but don't be afraid to share your concerns.  Writers should be able to take criticism, after all!

Being a beta reader can be a very rewarding experience.  You're involved in the writer's creative process, and if the piece you read is published, you can know you had a hand in it.  However, it is a relationship that involves a lot of communication, a lot of patience, and even more than that, a willingness to be open to the personal creativity of another person.

If you're asked to be a beta reader, remember that it is something that should be taken very seriously.  If you can't take it seriously, thank the writer for asking, but suggest they choose someone else instead.

And happy reading!

20 October 2008

Relaxation Techniques

Even when things get crazy busy, there are moments I need to step away from my office space, take a deep breath, and let myself relax a bitteen.  Crazy busyness is wonderful when your livelihood depends on how busy you are at scribbling, but everyone needs to take time to relax at least a little to keep from getting overly stressed.  Even if you think you don't have time, you should make time regularly for relaxation.

There are many ways people have of relaxing, so it's easy to find a way that works for you.  These are just a few examples of ways you can reduce the stress in your life and re-energize yourself before getting back to your routine.

Yoga is a well known relaxation exercise.  The poses in yoga are slow, and focus on form and breathing over getting the heart rate going.  Yoga is about unity between your mind, body, and soul.  One of the great things about yoga is that while it is relaxation, it is also an exercise, so people who practice yoga can relax while strengthening muscle, increasing flexibility, and promoting balance and posture.

Psychic shielding is a way to protect yourself from the "bad vibes" of others, and cleanse your spirit and mind of any negative energy that may be hanging around.  It takes practice to do well, but if done effectively, it can be a great way to relax yourself and reduce your anxiety.

Meditation is another well known relaxation technique.  It can take many forms.  Some people sit (or lie down) and clear their minds, or focus on a chant or mantra.  Some people pray as a form of meditation.  The important thing in meditation is to focus on something, whether it be clearing your mind of thoughts or focusing on a chant or a candle's flame or whatever else, and not let the outside world or your own thoughts distract you from your meditation.

There are lots of other ways to relax, of course, but these are a few I've found work well for me.  Whatever relaxation technique you select, make sure it's something you're comfortable with, and something that works for your situation.  When you find something that works, you'll find you'll be happier, less anxious, and more productive!

19 October 2008

Beta Readers, Part One: Selecting a Beta Reader

A friend of mine recently finished the first draft of her first novel, and emailed it to me to go through for her.

I have to be honest: I enjoy reading other people's drafts.  Not only do I like to read pieces by people I care about, but as a writer, I appreciate the heart that goes into creating a piece, and I always feel honored to be part of that intimate process.

Most of my experience as a reader for people has been in a quite informal process.  I've never really been a beta reader.  But by reading even an early draft of a piece of writing for someone, I serve a similar purpose as a beta reader.

For those who don't know, a beta reader is someone a writer trusts to read a piece and give honest feedback from a reader's point of view.  What works?  What needs work?  Are there glaring plotholes?  Superfluous scene?  A beta reader goes through the piece as he or she would something that's been already published, and give it the same critique as something already published, without sugar-coating comments because the reader knows the writer.

Beta readers can be a valuable resource for writers.  It provides them the opportunity to get honest feedback on a piece of writing before exposing it to the world by sending it to an agent or magazine or wherever it's going to be sent when finished.  However, this doesn't mean you should necessarily send your piece to every friend on your email list to read, or give it to your neighbor who's shown a passing interest in your writing, or your significant other because they'll be honest, right?

Beta readers should be selected carefully.  Yes, often great beta readers are people you know well (and trust greatly), but you may find equally great beta readers through an online writer's community or in your writer's group.  Or your book club.  (You don't have to necessarily limit yourself to fellow writers as beta readers.)  There are a few things you should keep in mind as you consider someont as a beta reader.

You should know your beta reader is going to be honest.  This means that if something in your piece doesn't work, your beta reader should be able to tell you (tactfully, of course) that it doesn't work.  You don't want someone to give you glowing praise and say, "ZOMG, I luved yr book!!!!111!!  It wuz awesome!!!1!!!!1"  You need someone who is going to help make your piece better, and the way to do that is through an honest reading of your work.

Your beta reader should be reliable.  If you give someone a piece to read, you should know you're going to get it back in a timely manner.  Before you select someone as a beta reader, make sure they have the time to work with your piece.  It can be frustrating to send something to a reader only to find out they're not going to be able to get to it in time for you to get it back when you need it.

Your beta reader should know something about your genre...or not.  Some writers want beta readers that know enough about the genre of the piece to be able to contribute more to the piece.  For example, a writer of historical fiction may want a beta reader who can sort of double-check for historical accuracy.  Then again, another historical fiction writer may want a reader who doesn't know historical fiction to get a feel for how the piece reads to an "average" person.

Your beta reader should be warned about anything that may be...jarring.  This is particularly true if your piece has violence or language or anything along those lines that may be offensive to someone.  If this is your style, you may not want a beta reader who's easily ruffled.

Your beta reader should be someone who can give criticism tactfully.  This is a very important one to me.  Yes, I want honesty, and yes, I want to be told what needs to be worked on in my next revision, but I don't want a beta reader to go all Kathy Bates on me because of a plothole or something that steps beyond the willing suspension of disbelief into the realm of the absurd.

Your beta reader should be fully aware of your expectations before even receiving the manuscript.  Do you want your reader to just go over the piece and look for glaring errors?  Do you want your reader to dissect every sentence and scrub the piece of hanging participles and superfluous commas?  Something between the two?  Make sure your beta reader knows exactly what you want ahead of time so there isn't any disappointment or frustration at what arises from the reading.  It helps to get this in writing, especially with a new reader.

Whoever you choose to be a beta reader, make sure that reader is someone you can trust with your writing.  Writers put so much of themselves into any given piece, and you want to make sure that you can be that intimate with the person who will be receiving your piece.  Choose wisely, and when you find a beta reader, let him or her read your pieces with the knowledge they're being read by someone who wants them to be everything you want them to be.

17 October 2008

When Deadlines Attack!: writing under pressure

It seems that, for my writing life, there are two modes: bored-out-of-my-skull mode and what-the-damn-is-going-on mode.

In bored-out-of-my-skull mode, I have scads of time to work on personal projects, get errands run, and spend time with Hubby and my fur babies because my freelance load is light or non-existent.  Many times it's great because I can scribble on my coffee house book or work on other personal projects.  But this mode gets it's title for a reason.  When I'm stuck with a personal project, I find myself...well...bored out of my skull.  There's only so much you can do to kill time, after all.  During this mode I find myself going a little crazy if I spend too much time indoors with nothing to do, I get incredibly restless, and I find myself doing things around the house I think are suddenly very important such as polishing the doorknobs in the apartment.

In what-the-damn-is-going-on mode, I find myself with so much on my task list I don't have time to create individual lists at the beginning of each day.  Instead, I work off my master list from the beginning of the week so I can get to work right away.  These are the days that, when Hubby asks me something, I stare at him for a good thirty seconds before I register that I have to respond, and my response is usually something along the lines of "Hang on a sec, Babe" and when I have a moment to respond he has to re-ask the question and the process starts all over again.  These are the times I wake up in the middle of the night with an idea to fix a problem project or a new direction for an article that will work much better and sneak away to my desk for an hour or so until I can barely keep my eyes open and will have to redo what I've written once I'm more rested.

The next couple of weeks I'll be in what-the-damn-is-going-on mode.  I have lots of articles due between now and October 27th, and though most of them shouldn't take too long to write, I feel like I'm falling behind.  When I feel behind I get more frazzled (that's frazzled, not Frazzoo-ed) than I would normally be in what-the-damn-is-going-on mode.  And that just makes things worse.

I'm still working on perfecting my method for everything, but I've come up with a few things that help me get through what-the-damn-is-going-on mode so I can meet my deadlines and keep from turning into a giant lizard and eating someone.

Take frequent breaks.  I find that when I have a great deal of work to do, taking breaks every hour or so helps me from getting too burned out from working on something too long.  Taking a break every so often also helps me rest my eyes a little, stretch my muscles, and be sure to keep myself hydrated.  I can also use the breaks to help break up the big projects into smaller tasks (I have to finish this section before I can take my next break.).

Divide the bigger projects into smaller ones.  It can be overwhelming to see a huge list of projects.  I, for example, have a set of ten articles due this week.  So instead of looking at it as a huge project, I break it into ten smaller projects.  Then, when I get through each smaller project, I feel like I'm working through my task list more quickly than if I have to wait until ten articles are finished to cross a task off your list.  That encouragement may be all you need to power through your tasks.

Jump around a little bit.  If I have a lot to work on, I know I have the luxury to work on something different if I'm stuck.  And sometimes I can trick myself; if I have six articles half done, I feel like I've gotten more done than if I had three articles completely done.  Tricky, yes, but if it keeps me motivated and keeps me moving toward my deadlines, I'll keep it.

I have never missed a deadline, even in the midst of a super-what-the-damn-is-going-on mode.  These little things keep me on track, keep me moving forward, and keep me from missing deadlines.

What do you do to get through your what-the-damn-is-going-on modes?

16 October 2008

Reading and the Economy

Nathan Bransford inquired today about his readers' book-buying habits.  He asks:
We live in a tumultuous time all around, with the economy sinking and technology continuing to change habits and proclivities....Have you noticed a change in how you buy books? Do you buy fewer? More? New/used? Do you buy them online or in bookstores? 
I've found I'm a bit pickier about what I purchase than I used to be.  I used to buy whatever I could, and if I didn't like the book, I donated it or gave it to a friend.  Now, however, if there's a book I think I want, I'll pick it up from the library first.  If I like it enough I'll buy it after that.  If not, it goes back to the library and I've learned I don't like that particular book.

My hardcover vs. paperback preferences have not changed.  I've always preferred paperback except for a few cases (Jasper Fforde, for example) both because they cost less and because they're a bit handier to stick in my bag than hardcover books.

What are your reading habits?  Have they changed recently?

The Life of a Blogger


15 October 2008

The Big O

No, not that.  Ugh.  Get your mind out of the gutter.  We're talking about the other dirty "o" word: outlines.

No, no.  Don't run away screaming.  It'll be okay, I promise.  But I want to talk about outlines because, as you know, there's this little writing thing coming up, and for some of us, outlines are the only thing that can keep us on track enough to finish said little writing thing.

When I was in Advanced Composition in high school, part of each project was to write an outline prior to writing the rough draft.  The outlines we did, of course, were the standard outlines that use Roman numerals, must have at least two sub-points (if any), etc.  I hated it, but throughout the semester, I learned how helpful those outlines were to my pieces.  They helped me stay on topic as I was writing, and gave me a reference sheet as I wrote my draft to remind me of what I wanted to say (and why) to be able to get my point across in the essays and papers.  When I wrote drafts before writing an outline, I found my essays were a bit ramble-y.

So when I ventured into the world of writing in an attempt to make it a career, I decided to tweak my outline method to make it fit my style better, and I'm glad I did.  My outline style is sort of standard, but a bit more laid-back than the style I learned in school.  Much of my outline is notes to myself, particularly with fiction, or reminding myself of which characters are in which scenes.  With shorter pieces my outlines are more like a table of contents, giving a numbered list of scenes and exchanges to include in the piece.

For NaNoWriMo, outlining is one of the ways I prepare ahead of time for the whirlwind event.  With character biographies, an outline helps me get into the mindset I'm going to need from November first until the thirtieth.  Not only that, an outline can help me plan my writing schedule, using the section divisions as markers for writing goals.

One of the great things about outlines is that, despite the stigma, they can be done in any way that works for you as a writer.  Some writers do bubble outlines (like bubble brainstorming or web brainstorming).  Some do simple bullet points.  Some do paragraph outlines.  Some do the traditional-style outlines.  Some jot notes on Post-Its and stick them to their manuscripts.

If you feel yourself getting shivers and breaking out in hives when you hear that nasty "o" word, try playing with different ways of outlining and find something that works for you.

Or don't.

Outlining isn't necessary, of course.  Many many writers never outline a thing and are still quite successful.  But you may find, at least for one month, an outline is a beneficial tool to your writing life.

Good luck, and happy scribbling!

14 October 2008

Introverted Writer Seeks Nature

Anyone know knows me knows I'm an introvert.  I always have been.  And though I've had jobs that have helped me be a bit more extroverted, it was only within the context of working.  Given my choice, I'll sit quietly and people-watch over just about anything else.

My introvertedness makes for a great writing life, though.  Since I don't feel the need to be around people all the time, I get a lot of writing done.  Since I'm quiet and prefer to watch people, I get a lot of writing observation done.  And since Hubby is somewhat introverted, as well, he's perfectly content to hang around the house while I scribble away, and it doesn't bother him we're in the same room for hours and don't speak to each other.  (He gets me that way.)

Lately, I've been at home a lot.  Really.  A lot.  And it's been nice because I've gotten a lot of work done, as well as research for personal interests, but I looked at my calendar recently and realized it's the middle of October and I haven't been taking advantage of the (slightly) cooling temperatures.

I love fall.  It's not as hot so I can be outside more.  Yes, even in my introvertedness, I like to be in Nature.  I like taking evening walks when it's just cool enough to wear long sleeves, but not so cool that you're shivering when you go back inside.  I like seeing the greenery change, the animals adjust to the new season.  I like being outside in the fall.  And, sadly, my hermity pesonality has gotten in the way of taking in the beauty the wide world (of Orlando) has to offer me.

And I'm starting to feel the physical results of spending way too much time inside the apartment.  I feel a bit draggy, kind of blah, and like I just need some fresh air.  And I think, believe it or not, I'm feeling the tiniest bit (gasp!) restless.  So I think it's time to take a day (or even half a day) and be out in the world.

So Hubby and I are going to make plans to spend a day going to different nature spots in Orlando.  There are lots of them, including the UCF arboretum, and I'd like to see what's there, and recharge myself.

Yes, believe it or not, even introverts need a good dose of sunshine every once in a while!

It's Getting Closer....

Want more info?  Check this out.

12 October 2008

Reading and Video Games

A concern about video games has been, among other things, that children spend all their time in front of the television playing games instead of studying and reading and things that are often considered much more productive by the academic world.

Fortunately, at least one author has addressed this concen and resolved the problem by writing a novel with a future video game in mind.  Mokoto Rich's New York Times article explained
The online game that Mr. Haarsma designed not only extends the fictional world of the novel, it also allows readers to play in it. At the same time, Mr. Haarsma very calculatedly gave gamers who might not otherwise pick up a book a clear incentive to read: one way that players advance is by answering questions with information from the novel.
In this way, to students who are not avid readers, the book becomes a bit like fanfic, offering a benefit for reading it.  And to those who are avid reaers, the video game becomes the bonus.

Libraries are also attempting to draw in teenagers by hosting video game tournaments at the libraries.  According to Rich:
In the first half of this year, the New York Public Library hosted more than 500 events, drawing nearly 8,300 teenagers. In Columbus, Ohio, nearly 5,500 youngsters have participated in more than 300 tournaments at the public library this year.
Skeptics say video gaming at a library does not necessarily increase the desire to read for teenagers.  However, with all the gaming blogs, forums, help guides, and websites available online to help gamers inprove in their games, gamers are reading, and those who participate in the forums are writing, as well.

While I believe there is no real substitute for a great novel, I am happy so many are trying to blend video games and reading for the benefit of teenagers.

If more people look beyond the initial criticism of "Why do they play video games so much?" and figure out how to get video games to work to gamers' educational advantages, we'll all be much better off, I think.

09 October 2008

Automatic Writing as Meditation

I have previously suggested free association writing as a way to get to know characters, as well as jumpstart a stagnant writing brain.

Automatic writing is similar to free association writing, but comes from a different place creatively.  In free association writing, you write without stopping for a designated amount of time, letting whatever thought that comes to mind be translated to paper.

Automatic writing, though, is 
the process, or product, of writing material that does not come from the conscious thoughts of the writer. Practitioners say that the writer's hand forms the message, with the person being unaware of what will be written. In some cases, it is done by people in a trance state. Other times the writer is aware (not in a trance) of their surroundings but not of the actions of their writing hand.
Much of what is known about automatic writing comes from mediums who channel the spirits of loved ones who had died and write messages from them.  As a result, there is, of course, criticism that comes with automatic writing.  For example:
Psychology professor Théodore Flournoy investigated the claim by 19th century medium, Hélène Smith (Catherine Müller) that she did automatic writing to convey messages from Mars in Martian language. Flournoy concluded that her "Martian" language has a strong resemblance to Ms. Smith's native language of French. Flournoy concluded that her automatic writing was "romances of the subliminal imagination', derived largely from forgotten sources (for example, books read as a child)." He invented the term cryptomnesia to describe this phenomenon."Skeptics consider automatic writing to be little more than a parlor game, although sometimes useful for self-discovery and for getting started on a writing project."
For those who are write-minded, automatic writing may be an excellent way to meditate.  According to Deborah Lipp in The Study of Witchcraft: a Guidebook to Advanced Wicca:
The basic principle of automatic writing is to place yourself into a meditative state while seated in a position in which you can write--at your desk, at a computer, or with a pad in your lap.  Ask a deity, power, or inner force for wisdom, and then simply begin writing. (89)
You allow yourself to relax, to open yourself to whatever meditative mind you may want to, and then write instead of chanting or doing poses.  Of course, if you've never meditated, this may not come easily, but can be a useful tool for meditation, as well as for writing.

08 October 2008

NaNoWriMo: Character Biographies

When I prepare for National Novel Writing Month, one of the first things I do is to write character biographies.  It helps me develop the characters, get to know them, and have a foundation on which to create their actions.

There are lots of methods to create character biographies and to get to know your characters.  I won't recap my recent blog post on getting to know your characters, but it's important to find a method that works for you, and that can be utilized quickly for NaNo, particularly if you're not working ahead of time on your background information.  Some people prefer to do everything beginning on November 1st.

If you choose to create your characters this month, as I'm doing, don't worry too much about making them complete.  Yes, you have time to do that this month, but don't stress about it too much.

NaNoWriMo is about proving to yourself that you can write a novel in 30 days.  It doesn't have to win the Man Booker Prize for Fiction, after all.  It just has to be a 50,000-word novel that was written between November first and thirtieth.

What characters are you creating for NaNo this year?

Professionalism in Writing

Freelance writing is great.  It's one of those jobs that can be done in pajamas or in the kitchen or at Starbucks, you can be your own boss, make your own hours, use it as a moonlighting job, etc.  I love freelancing, and for the reasons listed above, many others do, as well.

Unfortunately, when many people become freelance writers, they fall into the pajama-dress-code mentality, which leads to being unprofessional in their business dealings.  After all, when you're casual at home while you work, it's easy to feel casual in all aspects of your work.

The Internet has only compounded people's casualness.  Emails are often much less formal than memos or faxes, and even some of my clients drop smiley faces at the end of their emails to me.  So for freelance writers, who often work entirely online, there's one more element to combat in trying to maintain professionalism.

Even freelance writers--scratch that...especially freelance writers--need to be professional.  Some clients see freelance writers as being less professional because of the nature of freelancing, so it's important to show them the professionalism is still very much a part of your work ethic.

You may work from home, but you're still working, and you're still dealing with men and woman who dress business professional and go to an office every day.  That's the level you need to meet when you work with clients.

And yet, I see profiles on freelance sites that are incredibly casual.  They use their pet's pictures for their profile picture, and their usernames are things like "turtleluvr316" or "princessgia."

Princess Gia?  Really?  That may be the image you'd like to portray in your favorite fanfic chatroom, but when you're seeking clients, it's not exactly the best idea.  Since your online image is most often what you have to represent yourself, it needs to be as professional an appearance as you would be in person, should you meet with a client over lunch or for coffee.  (You wouldn't wear your pajamas to meet with a client, would you?)

I spoke with a friend recently about professionalism.  She works in an office that frequently uses freelance graphic designers and writers for their marketing materials, and she mentioned that a lack of initial professionalism is a red flag to their office.  She said:
Generally, if they're casual when we first contact them, they're casual in their work ethic, too.  We don't have time to mess around with missed deadlines or sloppy work.  If they're professional when we first contact them, we're much more likely to take them seriously and work with them.
That's pretty clear, isn't it?

Blogging is another area in which freelance writers blur the line between work-at-home and pajama-dress-code mentality.  We're told keeping a blog is a good way to have an online writing presence or to begin to build writing samples, but too many writers see a blog as a public navel-gazing opportunity that doubles as a writing sample.

If you're going to point to your blog as a writing sample, make sure it's the kind of writing you want used as a sample.

Let me say that again.

If you're going to point to your blogs as a writing sample, make sure it's the kind of writing you want used as a sample.

That's why I have two blogs.  This one is my writing sample blog.  I try to keep it professional.  And while, yes, my personal life is injected into it to help round it out and show who I am as a whole person, I keep my personal stuff out of it.  Instead, I have a personal blog that I use to share family/friend info, complain about situations, and be casual.  I don't use my personal blog for writing samples because that's not the writing image I want to portray of myself.

How do you want potential clients to see you?  You never know who might be reading your blog or your profile and look at you as a potential freelance writer for their company.  And you never know who might be turned off by the picture of your new tattoo as a profile picture.

You can work from home and still be professional.  You can work in your pajamas and still be professional.  The important thing is to think about the image you portray online.

Treat your business as a business.

Sit at home in your comfy clogs, but keep a stiletto mentality.


05 October 2008

Banned Books Week 2008 Comes to a Close

Though Banned Books Week ended on October 4, there is no reason to abandon the fervor people seem to have against censorship!

People pick up books that have been challenged or banned during Banned Books Week, herald the freedom to read them, and at the end of the week, go back into their bubbles and pretend censorship isn't something that effects people every day.

According to the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index, the United States is currently ranked 48th in the world in terms of press freedom. Certain forms of speech, such as obscenity and defamation, are restricted in major media outlets by the government or by the industry on its own. However, in general freedom of speech is considered an integral American value, as protected by the First Amendment to the United States constitution.

Despite this, books are challenged every year.  The challenges are rarely successful, but some think a challenge is just as dangerous as a banning since the damage has already been done.

Unfortunately, it's not just books that are censored in today's society.  People try to restrict music, art, even political thought.

Yes, we have the right to free speech.  And to promote that right, people create "free speech zones."  According to Wikipedia:
The existence of free speech zones is based on U.S. court decisions stipulating that the government may regulate the time, place, and manner—but not content—of expression.
To be honest, it makes me a little sad that free speech zones have to be created.  Despite having the right to free speech, people have to be given specific areas in which to practice that right.

This is censorship at work, ladies and gentlemen.  People are telling when when and where you can have freedom to speak your mind.

When you finish reading your book for Banned Books Week and put it back on your shelf, don't let your passion for free speech go on the shelf as well.

If we don't fight censorship and clamor for our right to free speech, it will slowly be sneaked away from us little by little until the only freedom of speech we'll have is the ability to say "No, thanks," when we're asked if we want coffee after dinner.

02 October 2008

National Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Please, please, please visit my other blog to read my post about National Domestic Violence Awarenes Month.

This is something that's very close to my heart, and an important issue for everyone to know something about--not just women.

01 October 2008

Writing Goals for October

This month, I would like to:
  • Plan my NaNo novel
  • Continue working on my coffee house book
  • Expand my client/project list for CSW
  • Research Celtic mythology/Irish history

Currently Reading: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

In honor of Banned Books Week, I'm reading Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.  What are you reading?

My NaNo: an idea

Okay. So here's my idea for NaNo.

Some of you may know I play World of Warcraft, and in my guild, led by Hubby, I'm in charge of guild fellowship.  It's not a small task, and it has become an integral part of the time I spend on the game.

So I've decided to write a sort of how-to guide for guild fellowship in World of Warcraft as my character in the game.  So it's a sort of non-fiction/fanfic type thing.

National Novel Writing Month: poised at the keyboard

Today marks the first day of sign-ups for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) 2008, which is the 10th anniversary of the event.

Hooray!  Let's celebrate!

For those who haven't done it, let me give you a little insight into the insanity of the annual event.

NaNoWriMo takes place during November every year.  From November 1st (midnight) until November 30th (11:59:59 p.m.), writers from around the world spend every spare moment writing in order to complete a 50,000-word novel in thirty days (a little less than 2,000 words each day).

The event is a celebration of novel-writing, and to prove to writers everywhere that the time to write exists.  If you can make time each November to write 2,000 words a day, you can write your novel.

This will be my fourth year participating.  Last year was the first year I "won."  Even though I didn't win in 2005 and 2006, I came close, and the point of the event was more important than my word count at the end.  I started December with renewed energy for scribbling and got a lot of writing done as a result.

If you're considering NaNo--even a little--please check out the website.  There are great resources for WriMos, a forum to keep in touch with other writers, and even weekly podcasts to keep you going!

The adventure is just around the corner, and there's plenty of time to get ready, so sign up!  (Be patient--the site just went live for this year, so it may be a bit laggy.)