30 January 2012

Seeing characters everywhere

I love to watch people. It's something I've enjoyed for most of my life.

I was very shy as a child, so I often found myself in the enviable position of being overlooked when others were having private conversations. I heard things others didn't. I saw things others didn't. I enjoyed getting to see these private sides of people, so as I got older, I continued to keep my mouth shut, and my eyes and ears open.

Now that I'm older, being this kind of observer has been beneficial to my writing. I still see these private sides of people, and when I do, they are somehow transformed into characters begging to be included in stories. I know it's a writer thing to see characters and stories everywhere, and I'm thankful for that. After all, it's because of my observation I have the coffee house book characters that I do. Most of them are inspired by people I have seen, talked to, or known in my adult life.

Like visual artists, writers see things others don't, and in ways that others don't. And just because you don't write realism doesn't mean you can't use the people and relationships you see every day as inspiration for your stories. Even invented worlds need an element of truth in order to for readers to relate to them, so even non-realism stories can draw on that quirky cashier you chatted with last week, or the always-on-his-phone guy that drops by your neighbor's house sometimes.

If you want your characters to seem real, using real people as an inspiration is a good start!

Of course, you'll want to change the character enough that he or she is unrecognizable, and hat he or she fits into the world of your story. Usually it involves changing more than just a name. But you have to do what's true to your story. Look at the character sketches you've created from your observations and flesh them out. Lots of writers have great advice on how to create characters. Robert Atkinson also has an amazing life story interview in his book The Gift of Stories that I frequently use as a character biography interview.

Regardless of how you create your characters, it all starts with someone you see, or some character trait or quirk that caught your eye (or ear) and just screams, "Put me in your story!" So just keep your eyes and ears open, and your story world will be populated before you know it!

23 January 2012

An update on the coffee house book

Sura Nualpradid / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
I promise I'm still working on the coffee house book! I expect to have the rest of my background information collected and organized in the next few weeks, and then I'll finally be ready to write the first draft of the story.

I know it seems like I've been procrastinating or simply not working on the coffee house book, but that isn't the case. The reason it's been taking so long to get all the background work done is because it has to be so extensive. After all, the coffee house book is one aspect of a larger collection of works, all of which are closely interrelated. When I began, I knew I would have to do background work for more than just the coffee house book before I could write it, and that's what I've been doing.

Character biographies and relationships, outlining the coffee house book (and the other books in the collection), and, yes, world-building*. As all this background stuff is being wrapped up, I'm looking ahead to the actual writing.

It's been a long time coming, and the book has seen many different versions of itself before ever being written, but I'm finally, finally coming up to the next stage in the process. The stage that is the most fun, the most harrowing, and the biggest. The writing.

I think I'm going to need a drink.

*The collection is set in the real world, but I still have to create a community to fill the stories. I still have to build the world of the stories for the collection.

17 January 2012

In the midst of chaos, there is still writing.

For those who took yesterday off, welcome back from a long weekend! I did take yesterday off. In the afternoon, my kids, niece, and I loaded up in the car and drove about two hours north to pick up my brother, who had spent the weekend with our dad. It was a nice little trip, and I was glad to get to spend some time with my dad and his family.

It meant I didn't work yesterday, but with everything that's been going on in my personal life over the last few weeks, it was a much needed break. The kids slept the entire trip north, so I had that time to myself. Funny enough, with the chance to let my mind wander and work through some "stuff" that's been going on, my mind turned to the coffee house book.

It's funny how that works for me. When I'm facing challenges in my personal life, my mind turns to writing. It's a comfort to me to be able to write regardless of what's happening in the real world. It's a way for me to escape for a little while and focus on something else, or even work through problems by putting my characters in the situation.

Regardless of what's going on in my life, my story is the same as it was before the problem(s) started. My characters are not affected by what happens in my life. When my life is being turned upside down, my stories are a constant. Writing is a constant.

I expect I'll be getting a great deal of work done on the coffee house book in the coming weeks and months. Because in the midst of chaos, there will still be writing to do.

13 January 2012

Clearing your desk for the weekend

Happy Friday! Yes, it is Friday the 13th, but my day has started out nicely, and I'm hopeful the trend will continue through the rest of the day. After all, my kids are healthy and happy, the snow outside is beautiful, I have a delicious cup of coffee next to me in one of my favorite mugs, and I'm making progress on the coffee house book. What else could I need?

I'm looking forward to a fun weekend with the kids, but that means I have to make sure to get my work done today.

I have some methods for staying on top of my projects throughout the week so I can try and have a clear desk by Friday afternoon/evening. It doesn't always work, but it's certainly better than if I did nothing.

Weekly task lists. At the beginning of every week (usually Sunday evenings) I make a list of what I need to do that week. It includes deadlines, active projects, any meetings or appointments I have, and emails I need to send. It's an overview of my week, and a sort of master list for my life that week.

Daily task lists. Once I have my master weekly list, I use it to make my daily task lists. Every evening (sometimes every morning) I make a list of what needs to be done the next day. I try to divide the tasks somewhat evenly, taking into consideration when my deadlines and meetings are. Anything that doesn't get done gets pushed to the next day's list.

When I make my lists, I don't indicate priorities on the lists, but I know in my mind what the priorities are. So when I work on the lists, I don't simply go from top to bottom, task by task. That way, I can be sure that the items that are most important get done first, and anything that doesn't get done is lower on the priority list.

If I finish my list for today, I'll be able to relax this weekend and spend my days playing with Bean and Bunny. If not, I'll likely have to work tomorrow. We'll have to see how my list goes this today. How do you stay on top of your projects throughout the week?

12 January 2012

Making time to read for pleasure

I'm still on the first book of my reading challenge. I'm starting with Sula by Toni Morrison. My sister read it for a class last semester and passed it along to me to read when she was finished with it. So it's on the dresser, waiting to be enjoyed.

I knew that it was going to be a challenge to make time to read this year, particularly with some major changes I'm facing, but I thought I'd have a little more time than I've had so far this month. Still, I'm determined to try.

Like anything else, this reading challenge is teaching me that I have to (and can) make time to do the things I want to do. During November, I can make time to write 50,000+ words, and in 2012, I can make time to read 100+ books.

It's important to me to have time to read for pleasure. As with reading, I get cranky if I haven't gotten the chance to escape into literature in a while. It's important to me not only for the escape, but to give me the opportunity to step away from the chaos of every day life and take some time for myself. It lets me recharge myself. So it makes sense that if I don't get to do that, I feel overly drained.

Do you make time to read for pleasure? How often? If you don't have time to read, does it affect you? How?

09 January 2012

The importance of a journal to a writer

I've written about journals before. I've written about personal journals and writing journals, why (and how) I journal, and how it's therapeutic. Journaling is not a new topic in the writing world. But I wanted to take a moment to talk about journaling from a writer's perspective targeting non-writers. Because it is something that can be difficult for non-writers to understand.

I recently had someone close to me read my journal. This person, who I'll call D, is someone I always trusted, and D says the journal fell open, and D read it because of something that caught D's eye. Regardless of whether or not I believe that, the fact remains that D read my personal journal. For me, this was the biggest violation of trust that could ever happen.

My journal is a place that I can write anything I want. I talk about what's going on in my life, vent, seek clarity, write prayers, brainstorm, and just ramble. In my journal, I'm not a reliable narrator. But, as a writer, I need this place. It's sort of like a pinboard, but with words. It doesn't make sense to anyone else except me.

Every writer needs something like this. For me, it's a journal. Other writers use pinboards, notecards, whatever else that works for them. But to have that place to write, brainstorm, scribble nonsense is integral to my writing life (and my life in general). I can't even think of an accurate comparison of my journal to something else in someone else's life. It's just my journal.

Even if I made everything else in my life public, no one else would see my journal. In fact, I plan to write in my will that any journals found in my home when I die should be burned, unread. No one else can really understand the writings in them. It's all scattered thoughts, fragmented brainstorming, and the ramblings of a crazy writer jittery on coffee. And one of the most important things in my life.

Do you journal?

02 January 2012

Goals for 2012

The past few years I've chosen not to make resolutions for the new year. Instead, I've set goals. It may seem an insignificant difference (especially when the end result is that I make positive changes in my life), but it's a big difference to me. To me, resolutions are ironclad promises you make to yourself of things that have changed or things you will or will not do. They are... resolute. Goals, on the other hand, are things you'd like to do or stop doing, but you're realistic in that it will take time and effort.

If I make a resolution and break it or don't achieve it, I feel bad. If I make a goal and don't meet it, I keep trying.

Big difference.

So I'd like to share with you a few of the goals I've set for myself for 2012.

I would like to read 100+ books in 2012. I know it's a lot. I used to read voraciously. Motherhood sort of changed my priorities so I don't read as much. This year I'm taking a reading challenge, and even if I don't hit that magical number, I'll still have read a lot more than I would have otherwise!

I would like to finish the coffee house book in 2012. By "finish," I mean I'd like to write, edit, and polish the manuscript and have it ready to send out on queries. I've been working on this story for a long, long time, and it's time to tell it in its entirety.

I would like to reduce/eliminate negativity in my life in 2012. I know it's just about impossible to completely eliminate negativity in my life. And that's fine. But there was too much of it in my life in 2011, so I would like to work on distancing myself from overly negative people, as well as working on being more positive myself.

I would like to get healthy in 2012. I have a specific goal weight I would like to achieve, as well as some other health-related goals, but for the sake of this blog, I'll just say I'm going to "get healthy." On the short-term end of that goal, my mom and I intend to run our first 5K race this spring, so I have a lot of "get healthy"ing to do between now and then.

There are other goals, as well. There are things I'd like to do or see or change about my life. I've told many people already that, for me, 2012 is the year of change. But those are the big ones.

It's going to be a good year. I just know it.