New Year, New Horizons

I promise this won’t be a stereotypical New Year’s resolution post–but with the coming of 2016, I have some different goals in mind for myself as a writer.

Last year, the goals were unrealistic. I think every writer goes through this–they’ve finished a novel, they can’t believe they actually wrote a novel, and naturally said novel will soon be famous. I definitely fell into this trap. There’s a fine line between believing in your book, and being blinded by your book. I’ve crossed this line, toed it, jumped back over it and fled back to the other side of it to huddle in scorn of my own art.

Looking at the big picture, this is a natural process. And it’s one to learn from. I have never been a good conceptual editor, so one of my goals for this year is to be less afraid to go back and make big changes to my work. Slogging through a rewrite is something I still haven’t worked myself up to a fever pitch of excitement about, but it’s something I need to do.

Last year, I had the big goal to finish three manuscripts in one year, all the while querying trying to sell my first book. This is too much. Not only was it jumping the gun on the query trail, it led to such burnout for the series in general. I need to set more realistic goals for myself. Aggressive writing goals, still, but not burnout inducing, one chapter a day or I’m in trouble type goals.

Finally–and this may be the biggest change–I had a comment on a previous blog post, which I unfortunately deleted by mistake because technology and I don’t get along at times, that talked about keeping multiple projects rolling at once. Different manuscripts that you can bounce back and forth between when you’re getting really sick of one or the other. I love this idea, and it especially speaks to me because I want to try my hand at other genres. I’ve been told over and over again, why not try romance/erotica? I never would have envisioned myself for this genre, but the more I think about it, the more I say “Why not?” Obviously, I picked a very hard sell genre to start out with–dystopian, over sold–so by branching out to see how other genres fit, I hope to grow as a writer and become more confident in all areas and find my niche.

Those are my writerly goals for the year. I will admit, it is going to be difficult to keep to them and make big moves this year as I have a whole lot of personal changes in the works for this year (think business start ups and a big out of state move). Stay posted, and I hope everyone is having a spectacular start to 2016!

Holiday Magic

I believe that magic truly happens sometimes, and when you’re a writer, that sometimes occurs on a more regular basis. I had one of these moments the other day when I was (finally) working on Chapter 17 of Resistance.

I won’t give any spoilers away, but my MC was thrown into an extremely trying scene unexpectedly. I puzzled for a lot longer than I should have about how he would handle the challenge. Finally, I sat down to write still not knowing what would come about but putting my mind to the task anyway.

What happened was something unexpected and great. A plot twist came flying out of my mind and onto the computer screen as if by…magic. It was a crazy turn of events, the kind of thing that makes a reader say, “Oh my gosh, what are the chances?? Yikes!” Plus it added depth to my MC. Thus, I overcame both the fear of the blank screen and my difficulty to implant truly larger than life twists or elements into my book for the sake of realism.

The twist got me excited about my book again. The product of my mind reminded me why I enjoy writing fiction–it pushes my mind to amazing limits and surpasses them. It also instilled a sense of peace about my inability to agent, sell and publish Capacitance as of yet–if I had a published book 1 in this series, the twist/element I just introduced would not be viable as it would contradict character development and history introduced in the first chapters of Capacitance. In fact it contradicts information that you all have already read if you’re keeping up with my chapter posts on here (don’t worry it doesn’t totally change the story, it’s just one of those minor details that isn’t vital but would be noticed if it didn’t match up).

True to my prediction, the holidays have put the printing press that is my mind to a standstill, but it feels good to think, “I can’t wait to write again.” If that’s not magic, I don’t know what is. Happy Holidays!

It is Wednesday, and on this Wednesday I am going to take the theme of a book that inspired me as a writer and twist it a little bit. Today I am going to talk about a book that didn’t exactly inspire me, but it definitely made me think as an author!

The book–or series, rather–that I am going to discuss is the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. My unpopular opinion: it wasn’t that great. However, I did (eventually) feel compelled to read all 8 books that the series has so far. And it did inspire me to write an entire blog post on the series, so there is something to be said. Let’s dive into it.

First of all, I picked the first novel in the series up at an airport (on my way to the Vegas writing conference), and I nearly ditched it in the plane when I landed. The writing was slow and wordy, the plot didn’t catch me right away, for the first time in my life I was about to abandon a book! But I didn’t. However, it took me a long time to get through the first book for reasons I already named added to the fact that I found the story line implausible. Maybe this is my cynical side taking over, but who would stay in the 18th century over the 20th century simply for love? This isn’t very generous to more romantic sensibilities, but throughout the entire series I found this to be a hard hurdle to get past. If it were me, I don’t think I would give up present day safety and technology advances.

Secondly, the books made me angry and frustrated on my journey as a writer. Here I am all year desperately trying to get published while reading these books that have been wildly successful. Should have been an inspiration, right? It was not. While I got back letters from agents admonishing my use of adverbs and exposition, Gabaldon’s prose mocked me with its casual use of verb modifiers and excessive description of her characters’ hair color. Most pointedly in contrast–her characters used elevated language and highly eloquent word choice, while Capacitance was being criticized for characters “not talking like actual people.”

Essentially, it seemed that Gabaldon does not follow the so-called “rules” that are supposed to apply to aspiring authors. While I admire her intelligence and obviously vast knowledge of the historical periods about which she writes, I found her characters and her choices for the plot a little hard to swallow and, at times, to stay awake for (over 100 pages dedicated to the events of one day, hmm..).

Now to give Gabaldon credit, which I must do! I did read every one of the books, and I will read the subsequent books when they come out (I believe there are supposed to be 2 more). This speaks to her as an author because she has created a compelling story line (even though the plausibility doesn’t sit right with me at times). I want to know what happens to these characters and I will slog through the slow parts just to finally see what happens. At the end of the day, Gabaldon is a successful author and businesswoman because of this–she has created a marketable product and essentially has free range to “break the rules” and write however she wants, and isn’t that the ultimate goal?

First Page Trepidation

I’ll be the first (and not the last *ahem, agents*) to say it, my first page and pretty much my first chapter of Capacitance blows. It really sucks. There is too much exposition, it lacks any immediate grip to draw the reader to turn the page, and it contains a confusing flashback.

I’m somewhat embarrassed that it is included here on this blog, bar the fact that I hope to one day post a marvelous revision that will showcase my growth and effort as a writer. Someday.

For now, all my attempts at re-writing my first pages have been second rate at best. At worst, they haven’t even happened and have resulted in me staring obstinately at the computer screen refusing to mutilate the first stirrings of life in the brain-child that is my book.

There is a huge mind block for me in revising my first pages. In fact, there is a block in writing them in general. Each of my three books (perhaps with the exception of Inductance) the beginning is very weak. The writing is insecure and it’s obvious that I am just trying to get past that blank page anxiety and get my words on paper. Fast forward to the middle of the book and the prose is clean and engaging, things are moving much more quickly.

However, even if I am in this great writing style flow, the moment I go back and try to write the first chapter in the same style, my brain freezes up. I wish this post could turn from the struggle to the solution, but as of yet I have not been successful in revamping my shoddy first chapters. Does anyone out there have tips?

Tolkien & Allegory

Last week, I started re-reading Lord of the Rings for probably the fifth or sixth time. It has been about three years since I’ve read it, so I am definitely due for a read. That the series is my favorite work ever is reconfirmed every time I give it a read. Although I know what will happen, the writing draws me in every time. It feels like a sort of coming home, a tradition of familiarity in the comfort of immense talent–a perfect nostalgic sense to evoke during the holiday season!

This go-around, I actually read something new in the book–the author’s note in the forward. I claim to love Tolkien, but for some reason my anxious mind always wanted to get to the story and skipped over this part. Now, being an author myself, I found this segment fascinating to hear another author’s perspective. One quote really stood out to me. Tolkien was speaking about readers’ questions about whether or not the story was an allegory to the current events during the time of writing (WWII). Tolkien had this to say:

“I think that many confuse ‘applicability’ with ‘allegory’; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.” –J.R.R Tolkien

This quote really spoke to me as a former English major. I couldn’t begin to guess hour many hours of explication and class discussions we spent trying to figure out the “author’s true meaning” in everything from works of poetry to novels. Admittedly, historical evidence does show that some works are meant to be allegorical (Spenser’s “The Faerie Queen” comes directly to mind), however, I like Tolkien’s view to consider applicability. Part of the beauty in a work of literature lies in the unique impression it gives to each individual reader. If a Lord of the Rings fan wanted to apply the context of WWII to the trilogy, and that gave the work more meaning to them, they are free to do so (although Tolkien might argue some of their points on the matter!).

Literature is not only the author’s freedom to write what words he will, but also the reader’s freedom to interpret or apply the words in the way that makes sense to him. It should not be the author’s task to move every single reader to the exact same conclusion or interpretation as that would take the magic of the human mind out of the equation.

Processes.

I’ve been off my writing grind for awhile, caught up in a busy time for my other job (driving grain trucks for harvest, believe it or not). It has given me time to realize, in a much more prolonged way, the processes I go through as an author. It was nearly a year ago that I made the big step which started me on the transition to “someday I will do this” to “I will do this now.” Over the past year I have learned a lot–to say the least! A lot of this learning has been about the industry, but much more has had to do with myself.

I go in cycles with my work. It starts out in trepidation, a lot of doubt and not much self confidence. But the need to write builds up and eventually I put words out there and feel an immense sensation of mental release.

Then I go back and read the words. This is an essential part of my process. When I’m writing I get so involved in the flow that I scarcely remember all the details the story accumulates. Thus, when I go back not only does it remind me of the plot twists, but it also builds my self confidence. I read my own words and my mind allows a not so humble thought (“hey, this doesn’t suck!”) to emerge.

This gives me confidence to write more. In my most confident moments I will go on a writing spree, accomplishing a chapter a day. I am high on the feeling of actually accomplishing my goals, and doing them well. This is how I got two manuscripts (rough drafts admittedly!) done in only six months.

After the high necessarily comes the low. For me, this comes with the denials, and the frustration of being stuck in the plot. When the writing isn’t flowing, I feel like it never will. When denial after denial flows into my inbox, I despair that is the only response my work will ever get. This is a recipe for sluggishness, a part of the process where I shy away from my Word document.

Thus, I’m back to trepidation and lacking self-confidence. Square one of my process. However, it is fascinating to inspect this circular way I work, and it is heartening to know that the next step is one in the right direction. Happy Friday!

I am in the midst of my busiest time of year, so I know the posts have been few and far between, but I wanted to drop by and give an update on the literary side of my life. 🙂

Most of my work on the trilogy is happening in my mind right now. I have a very dialogue-heavy chapter to finish up, but I haven’t found much time to sit in front of the computer and focus. The characters will be talking about some pretty heavy stuff, and one of the characters is going to undergo a major shift in perspective. Thus, it is good that I have some time to meditate on how to carry that off and make it believable. This character has been rather one-dimensional before–a pretty shallow asshole, to be honest!–but now he is going to gain some dimension. Whenever I have time to actually sit and give the words the focus they deserve, that is!

I also have started to finally, finally, loosen my grip on the structure of Capacitance. While I was running yesterday, I found myself toying around with possible ways to restructure and give a different pace to the opening. For the longest time, I haven’t even been able to accept the mere thought of changing the way the story is told. However, I am glad that my mind is becoming more open to the idea. I am a long ways from actually sitting down and creating a new draft of the story, but I will get there eventually. Knowing what changes to make is the first step to going there.

I’ve also been doing some editing on Inductance; that has been eye opening! I am noticing so many more things I want to correct and clean up even beyond my original edit! Semi-colons, overused adverbs, and overused character names are the problems that I now am on the lookout for!

I have been reading and I’ve fallen off my alternating between fiction and non-fiction as I have been plugging away at finishing up the Outlander series so I can finally write a cohesive blog post on my opinions of that particular saga. My opinions are still not fully formed, but I will say the 6th book is slightly redeeming. More on that later! 🙂 When I forget to charge my Kindle, I have been picking up The Opposite of Loneliness, a collection of short stories and essays by Marina Keegan. I will definitely have to write a blog post on that as well. I haven’t read much of it, but the writing is wonderful and the subject matter is great for millennials (friends my age, seriously pick this up!).

My birthday is next Tuesday, and I must say, even though they remain unpublished, it feels amazing to have two manuscript drafts and a good portion of a third under my belt by the age of 26. For the longest time writing novels had been a distant dream, and I’m so glad it is no longer a dream but a continuing process. I’m excited for what the future may hold!

Game Plan

Last week marked some great progress in my writing journey. As I already reported, I finished the dreaded Chapter 14. After this hurdle, I then went on to complete Chapter 15 and a part of Chapter 16. I feel my mind humming with ideas once again and I am feeling much more centered and confident about finishing out the trilogy.

That is my strategy, I have decided. Finish the trilogy is my first priority. This activity will be interspersed with editing the still-unpolished Inductance manuscript. Once the trilogy is complete, I will begin the process of rewriting from the beginning. I decided to do it this way because I think rewriting will be much easier if I can think of the story cohesively as a whole rather than as separate books. Since I write from improvisation for the most part, it is difficult for me to see the big picture and overarching plot of the story. Once this is in place upon the completion of the trilogy, it will be easier to go back and find places that can be repaired, omitted or added to.

At times, it is rather like feeling my way through the dark when it comes to writing. I am not sure where I am going, or if I am taking things in the right direction by the right methods. All I can do is find my path with what feels right, and I am glad to be back on a solid path with this plan. Truly my mind has not been able to commit itself to the rewrite, and having a first draft of Resistance completed will allow it some vacant space to devote to rewriting.

Coming Unstuck

Last night I breathed a huge sigh of relief as I finally, finally, FINALLY finished chapter 14 of Resistance!! I sat down to write for an hour; two hours later I called it quits and the dreaded chapter was behind me after nearly two weeks of halfhearted attempts resulting in paragraph length progress at most.

If you’ve been following this blog at all, you know that Resistance has been a slow process in and of itself due to many reasons that are explicated elsewhere in the blog. But chapter 14 holds a special place in my heart as being especially difficult. I felt the writer’s block coming back. I was avoiding my computer and second guessing my ideas. For the first time in a long time, I made excuses not to write and let myself use them. These are the components of an unhealthy relationship with the manuscript. There is a large difference between taking some time to actively think about the next move for your story and just taking some time off because you “don’t feel like it.” Just like it becomes easier to get in the habit of writing regularly, it is easy (if not easier) to get into the habit of not writing. So last night was excellent for me–I overcame what could have been a potential writer’s block event and rekindled my interest in the story now that I am over this hurdle.

There are some legitimate reasons (besides just falling into a lazy spell) that this chapter was so slow coming. First of all, I struggled with pacing. I had so many events I wanted to cram into this chapter. I knew the initial scene and the final scene I wanted to set. Thus, I became frustrated sorting out how to deal with all the events that needed to play out in between chapter end and beginning. Essentially, the chapter was to encompass an entire day, starting in the early morning and concluding 24 hours later. Major events would be happening in the early morning and late night of the day. While I had a rough outline of what Mara would be doing during the day, my mind couldn’t place enough significance on these events to flesh them out for the text. This is where the halting writing habits commenced.

The answer to this pacing problem was obvious and took me an embarrassingly long time to come to. Simply do not write the parts of the day that aren’t sparking interest. If they seemed boring and superfluous to me as a writer, they certainly would to a reader. When reading a novel, every single event of every single day is not related–this is the very essence of pacing. My hang-up was that I felt the potential to incorporate importance into the events that I ultimately decided to leave out. However, in the future I can always come back and add details or scenes as necessary. The important thing for now, I realized, was to get the chapter written.

So I cut out the chunk of events that was holding me up and segued from one key scene, building up suspense and then arcing it back down, to the next end of the day scene where I once again started the build-up of suspense. The chapter climax came at the end, and will hopefully keep the reader hungry to turn the page. Ending chapter 14 has certainly given this writer fuel to keep the story alive.

Realistic Speculation

I’m at the point in my writing that I am heavily into the scientific side of my story.  Resistance has generally been living up to its title and being a very slow writing process, and now is no exception as I am having to once again do research. The story has cycled back to the Meditrinum mutation and since it is at the forefront of the story’s conflict, I have been doing research about DNA, the cell cycle, mutations and the construction of treatments once again.

I think research is fascinating and I actually enjoy that part of the process as it allows me to write more freely when I am well versed in the topic. However, I am struggling right now trying to decide where to draw the line between speculation and facts. Since my story is set in the future, I have some flexibility with the scientific aspects of the situation. Yet, as I have mentioned before, I want the story to be believable, for people to read it and pause to think, “This could be not so far off from where we are now.” Thus, I want to create a perfect mix of facts and fantasy.

The challenge continues in the fact that I challenge myself and want to know what is most likely too much about the subject. I was researching how vaccines are made and found myself on a website describing the preparation of chemotherapy. This was not exactly related to my research but I had to read it anyway. It’s always a good thing to know more about your subject than you need to, but I also need to remember to make the technical details accessible to readers as many of them are not likely to head to Google and delve into a full scale investigation.

I am hoping I can find that balance in all these areas and get past this particular scene because I have some really exciting ideas backing up in my head behind this one research-contingent scene and I can’t wait to let the floodgates burst.