Thursday, June 30, 2011

Must Write . . . But When?

The one chapter I would always skip in writing books was the chapter on making time to write. Why do we need to be reminded of this? Hell-o? Just write already.
That was the old me. I’m feeling a bit differently now. I just returned to full time work after nearly eight years as a stay at home mom. In the two weeks since I started the eight to five grind, I’ve written nada. Granted, I’ve moved back to my home state and into my mother’s house, but still you’d think I could find some time.
I’ve written two blogs though. I should get some points for that at least, right?
I used to write at night when I put the kids to bed, but now I’m so tired I can’t seem to write anything except a stupid post on facebook about how cold my office is.
Get up early you say. Kiss that plan goodbye. I am not a happy riser. That’s just not gonna happen. So I guess I’m screwed. No more writing for me. It was fun while it lasted.
Here’s the part where you help me. Shoot me comments full of working writer’s wisdom. I want to know how to best use my time. I’d go find one of my fav writing books and look up the chapter I skipped on this topic, but I’m too tired and have to get up and start the workday all over again.
*Note: all comments about waking up early will get an eye roll or a finger. Just ain’t gonna happen.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Dreams And A Bit Of Ass Kickin' By Angelina Jolie

I’ve been busy with a million other things the last few months. I’ve written on two different blogs here and there and half of a chapter, that’s it. The voices in my head are quiet and, to be perfectly honest, I’m okay with that. I’ve neglected life for way too long, so I understand pay back’s a bitch.

When I was writing full steam, I usually worked out my plot problems in my sleep. I’m not an outliner because that seems like it would take too much time. I prefer a nice drive in the countryside, a longer-than-I-should shower to think through my hang-ups, or a nice trip to dreamland.

Last night I went to bed thinking about my neglected w.i.p. The dream started okay and then went all crazy from there. Soon, Angelina Jolie was after me. She must’ve been some sort of spy/bad ass (Has she been anything else?). She was jumping on cars, swinging from balconies, all sorts of madness, trying to hunt me down. But I was always one-step ahead, most likely because I’ve seen every episode of Alias more than once and all of Sydney Bristow’s prowess must’ve rubbed off--minus the lean and mean body.

So I’m on the run. Not sure why and just when I think I’m going to out run her, Angie nabs me. She has me in the chair, just like in the first episode of Alias, except my hair was not bright red, it was in three pigtails (yeah, I’m not sure either). I’m wiggling my wrists trying to get out of the ropes, all the while staring that bleepity bleep down. She’s just as skinny in person, btw, so I know as soon as I get loose, I’m gonna kick her bony ass all the way back to Brad Pitt.

I know that my time in the chair isn’t going to go without a bit of torture. At some point, someone—Angie—is going to pull out the dental tools and threaten to pull out my teeth. Maybe that bespectacled Chinese man will  wheel into the room and seek revenge for what Agent Bristow did to him.

Instead of dental tools, Ms. Jolie pulled out a different sort of torture device—an electric razor. She clicked it on, I jumped of course, because that first click of the razor is like metal to metal or nails on a chalkboard. I hate it. My husband has me shave his neck between cuts and for some reason the buzzing vibration makes my nose itch.

“Talk.” Jolie pushed the razor near my face.

“Nice weather we’re having.” What else was I supposed to say?

She turned around and yelled, “Bring in the girl.”

I glanced into the hall where some wiry looking guy pushed a woman into the room. She stumbled onto the floor and as she found her footing, I realized it was the main character to my mystery/suspense novel.

The bad news for me is my MC isn’t the smartest girl in times of crisis. It's as if someone is rubbing my nose in my writer's block. I know I left the poor girl hanging mid-trauma, I have to save her from Angelina too?

“What do you want from me?” I said it in that low Ima-gonnna-kick-yer-ass voice.

“I need to know where the serum is?”

Seriously, could she be more clichéd? Wait, maybe if she asked for the microchip. I looked over at my MC and back to Angelina and shrugged. This dream sucked. I wasn't even skinny. 

“Maybe this’ll change your mind.” Angie walked towards my MC and knocked her to her knees. She fisted a wad of her hair and forced eye contact before zapping off my character's eyebrows. She wailed as if she’d just had one of her twelve-year molars yanked out by Arvin Sloane's toady. I watched her simpering, with her one eyebrow, and I said the only thing I thought right.

“Kill her.”

Do you blame me? Who needs a wimp? She let me down. She coulda jujitsued Angie’s ass and saved the day. I gave her the opportunity to stop being a pansy and what did she do? She got her eyebrow buzzed. And for those who know me well know I don’t like painted on eyebrows—creeps me out.

Seriously, what’s up with it? And don’t shoot me back with reasons why people have to pencil their brows in. I’m talking about purposeful, over plucked weirdness.  

Like this:

And this:

And this:

How am I going to write a "She furrowed her brow" or a "Her brows drew together" when her brows are actually drawn together? Anyway, I can’t remember what happened in my dream after that. Don’t really care.  All I know is I want to go back through my ’script and make sure my MC is consistent, not lame, and fully browed. (That's a word, right? If not, it should be.)

What are the ways you work through your w.i.p? Do you dream about your character? And, more importantly, what’s your view on crazy eyebrows? 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Can I Bum A Rule, Just One Rule?

So if you've read my last post Are You A Writing Lemming, you’ll know that I’m kicking writing rules. I’ve been off  rules for a couple days now, and I have to say I’m Jonesin’ for some limitations. I need a fix of red pen scratches littering my page. Quitting cold turkey, letting my writing hair down to write whatever I want, with whatever punctuation I want, ain’t so easy. Look. *holds out shaking hand*

My w.i.p. has seen better days too. This morning I found a wandering adverb mingling with a dangling participle. I like a dangling participle as much as the next gal does, but there’s a time and a place, if ya know what I mean.

My sponsor doesn’t seem to help much either. She’s encouraging me to overload my script with lively tags. 

“Throw in a ‘hissed.’ That’ll spruce it up.”

“A hissed?” My lip quivered with memories of past critiques gone wrong. Flashes of non-hissing dialogue barreled at me, one after the next, whizzing by my ear. I shook them off and tried to refocus. Must refocus back to freedom and no rules. Rules are bad. Rules dampen our creativity, right? Rules . . .  

Maybe just one rule wouldn’t hurt.

One rule. No one will know. I’ll slip in my one rule and then go back on the program—I promise. I’ll still have some freedom. But which one should I choose? I have so many favorites.

There’s the opening line with weather talk in it. I don’t like that. Or the dialogue tags that aren’t really tags. I hate those. You know, the “I love you,” she laughed. Or what about manufactured drama using ellipses. Yep, I hate that too. (“I walked into the bar with one thing on my mind . . . to murder Professor Plum.”)

So many choices. Passive voice, show vs. tell, P.O.V. consistency, tensing, lackluster verbs, yada yada yada. My head is spinning with possibilities.

If you were me what would you chose? What one rule would you cling to like a raggedy ol’ teddy bear?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Are You A Writing Lemming?

One of the things I find funny about writing, besides how many people are doing it, is the crazy amount of rules. There are published authors writing about rules. There are agents writing about rules. There are wannabes-galore writing about rules on blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and wherever. Rules. Rules. Rules.

Whatever happened to writing what works—what feels right?

I know that rules are important, but sometimes I feel like these rule makers are forcing me to be like everyone else, sound like everyone else. Not only that, they want me to pimp their rules on my blog or at writing group. The crappy part is, I do it—I’m a lemming.

It’s funny. I’ve stalked a few agents’ blogs in the past. The agent will tear a query letter apart, outlining what sucks about it, what rules were broken, and why he would reject. I would read these rejects line by line, absorbing what went wrong, hoping that when I was ready I would follow the rules and kick out an awesome query. I would apply these rules to my novel and struggle until my eyes bled just to get it perfect.

Then one day when I was scouring the blogs, I found an example of a query letter that broke all the rules. I knew it; I’ve been reading the blogs, studying the rules, so I knew the agent was going to rip it up. I kept reading, waiting for the attack, but it never happened. She loved it. Yes, it broke all the rules, but she didn’t care. She wanted to read more.

“I want to read more.”

Isn't that the phrase writers want to hear?

If you look at books on the NY Times Best Seller List there are many that are far from perfect. They break the rules. They use exclamation points, one too many adjectives, contrived plots, blah blah blah. But there are millions of people who want to read more. They are clawing, scratching, and digging their way to the bookstore to get the sequel.

Meanwhile, back in don’t-break-the-rules land, we mock these authors. We laugh at their use of punctuation, their overuse of adverbs, and whatever else we see wrong. I’m not sure if it’s because we think we’re better or if we just can’t get over these rule breakers. 

So what do you think? Is your writing bogged down with rules? Or are you a bad boy and following the voices in your head, exclamation points and all? Do you write what feels right no matter what? 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Typos Of The World Unvite

Aocdrndicg to rscheearch at cmabrigde uinervtisy, it dseno’t mtaetr waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt thing is that the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. This is bcuseae the human mind deos not raed ervery lteter by istlef, but the word as a wlohe.

I snagged the above paragraph from a post on fceaobok. I thought writers could relate to this because I can’t count how many times I’ve heard someone say, “so and so found another typo” or “I can’t believe I missed that. I’ve been through it a million times.”

I’m sure we’ve all done it. I know I have. I have on this blog, in fact.

If we have this built-in autocorrect button in our heads, imagine the other things we’re missing simply because our brains are one-step ahead of us, filling in the gaps and “fixing” our typos. This is a great reason to have a beta reader.

If you’re afraid of your feelers getting hurt, have someone proofread for mistakes and typos only. But seriously, if you plan on publishing and are too afraid of criticism—you have no business publishing in the first place. Sorry, but there are mean people out there who will eat you for breakfast just because. Then there are those who genuinely don’t like what you’ve written. A great example of this is a book club. Nice bunch of people—well read--and ready to find something wrong. I guarantee that someone will have at least one negative thing to say. Someone’s gotta bitch, right?

One of the highlights of critiquing or editing is finding one of those gems, the typo that made it through the spell check and into my heart. Nothing like a funny typo or a misplaced modifier to brighten up my day, especially when it’s one of my own.

I have to share a couple of my daughter’s typos, although she’s seven so I don’t think you could classify them as such but they are great nonetheless.

Not sure how well you can see the writing above, but for my daughter's birthday shindig at school the kids drew pictures of a gift they thought she would like. This kid thought a good gift would be "a dick." He must've realized his error and quickly scratched out the "d" and replaced it with a "b." 

Another one of her funny goofs was around Halloween when she wrote what she was going to be. 

"I am going to be a witche for Halloween. With a orange broom. And with my black boots. And a poofy scrt. Me and my mom is makeing it. And black tits.

The best part about her little story was imagining her teachers expression when she read it. I know I'd be giggling, but I am the mom who rearranged the flashcards so "under" always preceded "wear." 

Here are some favs from the web too. 

So is there any magic trick to avoid typo? There are a few things you can try, but no matter what typos are here to stay just like MC Hammer pants. (You know you want some)

--Wait at least 6 weeks and let your ‘script simmer. The time away might help see what you missed before.
--Write your script in one font, then switch for editing. I start out with Arial, then switch to Times or Courier. It might help trick your brain a little.
--Make sure you watch out for the “find/replace” trick. A friend of mine submitted her memoir to a publisher who didn’t like profanity. The most profane language she used was hell, so she did a quick “find and replace” and switched all her hells to hecks. Too bad she forgot to click on “whole words only” because she also changed a “Michelle” to a “Michecke.”

Do you have any tips or favorite typos? Please srhae. 

Monday, June 6, 2011

Why You Don’t Want Me For A Critique Partner

Besides being terribly impatient, I am not a warm and fuzzy person. I’m not a grump, but I don’t require a lot of accolades or affection to complete me. Most of the time, I brush off compliments because I just can’t figure out how to say “thanks” and move on. There's a lull that settles in and my head stirs, then I start thinking. Is this the moment when I’m suppose to say something back like, “I like your hair too?” Wouldn’t that come off as artificial? So, I just mutter a thank you and remind myself to compliment the person as soon as I can. It’s like one of those dating rules where you’re not supposed to call her for a couple days before asking for a date. Mine is for compliments. Get a compliment, wait ten minutes, give a compliment. It’s like a recycling program, right? Saving the planet one compliment at a time.
Being nice and complimentary takes a lot of work and I’m a no nonsense, let’s get down to the meat of things girl. Why waste time with fluff? Let’s just get ’er done? My husband benefits and suffers because of my ways. If he forgets an anniversary, he’s in good company because chances are I’ve forgotten too. Valentine’s Day and flowers? No way. I love flowers, but they belong in the ground and not on my credit card bill.
With writing, and especially in a writing critique group, being upfront and not so fluffy isn’t a good thing. I have found this out many times. There are rules—rules people created long before I started clicking and clacking the keys on my laptop.
First of all, you need to give lots and lots of positive feedback. Writers love to hear how wonderful they are, because they've worked so hard.  So what if the wonderful writer wasn't so wonderful? I have learned that you have to find something. Maybe the writer knows his way around a semi-colon. Tell him. After all, that is important in the grand scheme of things. Semi-colons are important, knowing how to use a semi-colon is important. If you are critiquing through email or online, you must, must, must add in smiley faces or ‘LOL’ so they know you thought it was cute, funny, or whatever. Even if it was only moderately funny, I think the rule says you must LOL them.
There is another rule that says you aren’t supposed to defend your 'script as the critique is happening. You are supposed to just sit and listen and then say stuff at the end. That’s fine, but there is a sort of song and dance that comes with that. Something like, “Thanks for your comments and while I agree that my character’s motivation isn’t clear . . . blah blah blah.” That’s a lot of work for an impatient girl like me, but we must follow the rules.
 What really sucks about this rule is that in the middle of my critiquer trying to placate me, he offers a really great nugget of wisdom. I want to talk about this nugget. I want to hold the nugget and explore its possibilities, but I can’t. Must wait. Then when he’s finished talking about motivation or symbolism or something that means nothing to me, I forget the nugget at the end and simply mutter my thanks.
You may be reading this and thinking how incredibly insensitive I am, which you’re probably right. I don’t mean to be, but writing is a serious gig. If I want to make it, I need to get tough. I can’t get tough listening to a bunch of artificial compliments because the reviewer thinks I’m too sensitive and need love. Thanks, but I want to know what’s wrong with it. Rub my nose in my failures so that I can make it better.
Wow, harsh. Yes. And that’s why you don’t want to be my critique partner. I may forget an LOL or a smiley face from time to time, but I mean well. I will go line by line finding problems. I will spend hours, away from my own writing, doing it and when I’m done, I will tell you what I liked about it. Will your stuff be littered with different colors and scratch marks? Probably. Am I always right? Absolutely not. But I will do everything in my power to make sure that I offer you something. Unless you are golden and then I will just say you kick ass and beg you to read mine and make me kick ass too.
I didn’t start out this way. I didn’t like the marks either. I wanted the LOLs and the smiley faces. I wanted to know that the lamp I described was so real they could almost touch it. But then I realized that the only time I get better is when I fail, when I blow it.
I have a tough critique partner who has made me rewrite whole chapters before. Do I feel defensive in that moment? Yup, but give me ten minutes (magical number) and I will get back to work. The rewrite part is painful. Not because of hurt feelings, I don’t think, but because we need to steer our brains in a different direction. And for a perfectionist person like me, it means I’ll put a lot of pressure on myself to not only get an LOL, but an ROLF, or maybe a OMG.
There is a great poem I found in Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird. So if you are one of those sensitive writer folks who get caught up in my critiquing net or anyone else, I want you to remember this poem by Bill Holm.
“August in Waterton”
Above me, wind does its best
 to blow leaves off
the aspen tree a month too soon.
No use wind. All you succeed
in doing is making music, the noise
of failure growing beautiful.

My friends and I at Ready, Aim, Hook Me are getting ready to send out our feedback on the first round of submissions we received. Do you think writers are overly sensitive when it comes to the critique? Or are they hungry for any feedback good, bad, and the super bad? Should we be worried? Watch our backs? LOL (see, how important those three letters are. Have you LOL'd today?)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Road Back To Vampires

I’m prejudiced. I admit it. I’ve tried to fight it for over two years, but can’t. When I feel a joke dancing on the tip of my tongue, I can’t help it. I gotta let ‘er rip.
I hate vampires. I don’t even want to talk about them, watch a movie with them in it, nothing.
I used to love them. Who didn’t? Vamps were scary, sexy, and deadly. They “vanted to suck our blood.” Now they are lovers not fighters. They feed on squirrels instead of lurking in alleyways for unsuspecting victims. They sparkle.
But no matter how much I hate vamps, they are not going away. I recently started a group blog with two friends of mine called Ready, Aim, Hook Me. We give writers the opportunity to test out their completed manuscripts or published novels. If they hook us with the first five pages, we’ll ask for more. If they keep us hooked, will give them a review on smashwords or amazon. The submissions we pass on will receive feedback privately—no negative review posted online. The blog is doing far better than we imagined, and we’re already overwhelmed with submissions. We’ve received varied genres and thankfully, not one vampire book.
How long will this last? Will I be vamp free forever? I doubt it.
I need to find a way to come to terms with vamps again. I need to forgive them for turning on me and I think I have a plan.
I checked out a vamp book from the library called The Passage by Justin Cronin.
When a top-secret government experiment is accidentally unleashed on an unsuspecting public, the world is forever changed. Almost overnight, the majority of the population has been ravaged and transformed into bloodthirsty vampires. In search of refuse, FBI agent Brad Wolgast takes six-year-old orphan Amy Harper Bellafonte under his wing. However, for Amy, the nightmare has only begun.
No high school. No sparkles. FBI agent. The author has a lot of pressure on him. Can you feel it Justin? I’m hoping his version of vampires washes away the bubblegum version occupying my brain. Will he succeed? I’ll keep you posted.
Are you prejudiced too? What genres or literary figures have you turned your back on? Weres? Fairies? Dragons?