Choose the Bolder

“When you cannot make up your mind which of two evenly balanced courses of action you should take–choose the bolder.”
– Ezra Pound

This month, you’re doing what many think is the impossible: you’re writing a novel-length book in thirty days.

Fifty-thousand words in thirty days.

Are you insane?

Yes, yes you are, and I love that about you.

I know many of you might be struggling at this point. This is the rough patch, really. You’re close to the end, but so far from it, you know?

So I’m sure you’re at a crossroads. You don’t know the next step your characters should take. You’re tempted to go back and edit what you have written. Whatever you do, don’t do that.

Here’s a suggestion: choose the bolder path. What would happen if, say, one of your characters died? Or did something almost  as radical?

Maybe it makes sense, what you’re about to do. And then again, maybe it doesn’t. That’s not the point of NaNoWriMo. The point is to put pen to paper, and at the end of the month, have something to workshop. Get that? Have something to workshop by the end of the month.

Good luck. If you need a place to vent about your work, leave a comment and we’ll see what we can do about sparking your imagination.

The Motivating Purpose

I wrote my first novel because I wanted to read it.
 – Toni Morrison (American author)

This is very true for my current novel, and perhaps even for my first novel. But is it true for you? Last week we talked about the motivating purpose behind our main characters, and then some. But what is the purpose behind writing about those characters?

This is what I like to call the theme of the work. Why are you writing your book? What spurred that first idea? Who are you writing for?

These are questions that are as important as knowing that first problem that your main character must face. Why? Because it focuses your work. It gives you a breadcrumb trail to the second problem your main character faces, and then the third, and so on…

So what is your motivation behind writing your book? Are you writing it because you, like Toni Morrison, have looked for a book like the one you’re writing, and have found nothing similar? Or have you found one, and was so disappointed by it, that you simply had to give it a try? Or is it something completely different?

I’m writing my book because my parents have entered a stage in life where they are losing those they hold dear. And it occurred to me that I will enter that stage as well. What if it were to happen to me tomorrow? What if I were to lose both my parents? How would I handle it? How would I take care of my younger siblings? What would happen to us?

More importantly, what if I lived during an age where, as the eldest child, and a female, my options were severely limited? What if I lived during an age where death was an everyday thing, and to succumb to grief for longer than the prescribed amount of time was considered selfish?

What is my motivating theme? Understanding the grief that comes from adult orphanism. What is my genre? Historical romance. Will it work? Who knows. But this is the motivating purpose behind my writing.

Tell me in the comments about your motivating purpose, or the story behind your story. Why are you writing what you are writing?

As you can see, I’m relying on writing quotes to provide a thesis of sorts for each of my posts now that I’m in graduate school. It seems to be working out, would you agree?

Pursuing Water

“When I used to teach creative writing, I would tell the students to make their characters want something right away even if it’s only a glass of water. Characters paralyzed by the meaninglessness of modern life still have to drink water from time to time.”
– Kurt Vonnegut

Tell me what your character wants in your first chapter.

What is their basic want, the one that propels their actions for the first fifty pages of your work?

My main character, Mary, wants a little bit of peace. That’s all she’s asking for. Can it really be that hard, finding peace?

The important thing about this is that I don’t allow peace of any sort to come anywhere near Mary. In fact, I throw more demands on her so she’s not likely to find peace for the entire book.

What is your main character looking for? What about your secondary characters? Your romantic hero, if you have one?

I know there are a number of you reading this blog but for some reason are reluctant to comment…so I’d love to meet you for the first time through this exercise!

Because We Must

I run great risk of failing. It may be that I shall encounter ruin
where I look for reputation and a career of honor. The chances are
perhaps more in favour of ruin than of success. But, whatever may be
the chances, I shall go on as long as any means of carrying on the
fight are at my disposal.

 – Anthony Trollope (1815-1882) English Novelist

I love this quote. As creative persons (a.k.a. writers), we continually run the risk of failing, and failing miserably.

There will be readers who e-mail us, not to praise us, but to complain that the ending was horrible, that no man would ever say those words, that no woman would ever react that way. They will tell you that your facts are wrong, that trains didn’t exist then…even if your pile of research books sitting beside you as you politely type a response say otherwise.

There will be agents who say your work simply isn’t publishable at this time. Not because it isn’t good writing, but because you missed the trend train, and your topic has “come and gone.” Still other agents will request a partial, or even a full, only to back out for some reason which cuts your heart in two.

Your publisher, should you find one, may put a Fabio-like beast of a man on your cover, despite your claims that you’re writing a sweet romance. Why do they do this to you? Because they know, really, they know, that sex sells. Even to people that don’t want to see sex on the cover. Even if the book doesn’t have an ounce of actual sex within it. Go figure.

So why do we keep writing? Why do we pursue a published career? Why do we do this to ourselves?

Because we must. It’s what we know, it’s what we breathe (sometimes), it’s what drives us through the Writer’s Block and Purple Prose and 2D characters. We have a story to tell, we writers, one that cannot be silenced by external distractions, or doubts.

Continue to write, despite your fears you’re not as good as you think you are. You’re only right if you stop writing, stop practicing, stop reading. Everything will fall into place, and you’ll find yourself with a work that shines. Always know that you have at least one person in your corner rooting for you, and her name is Worderella.

Anthropologic Laboratory

For a novelist, a given historic situation is an anthropologic laboratory in which he explores his basic question: what is human existence?
 – Milan Kundera (Czech writer)

Fellow novelists, do you feel as though you question the foundations of human existence in your writing?

Perhaps this may not be so for romance writers, or not felt as deeply.

Or perhaps it is felt deepest by romance writers, as they often deal with humanity on an intimate level, in terms of emotions and heartbreak.

I read this quote days ago and have been mulling over it since. You see, while re-typing First Draft B into the Second Draft, I’ve come upon a snag in which I feel like I’m writing crap. Which is heartbreaking and odd, as I’m very much in love with this novel as a whole.

In my quest to Show Not Tell, I’m afraid I’ve written a chapter of talking heads. It may be the most dynamic way to get the information across, but is dynamic the best way, after all? I’ve striven against relying completely on my narration, but it is my narration which I often find to be my strongest bit of writing at any given time.

In any case, my lack of sleep as I transition into graduate school has not helped my editing process, as my sour mood only makes my work look amateur when a month ago it looked shiny, enthusiastic, and sincere.

I’m thinking of cutting my posting schedule back from twice a week to once a week in response. As much as I love discussing writing as a whole, I need to do some actual writing if this book is to be seen by someone other than myself.

And I still search for a beta reader, as it seems I’m past the point/not entirely in the market for a critique partner (grad school and all). Which is unfortunate, for I was beyond excited about Crit Partner Match. This is why it’s best to do one’s research before jumping in.

So tell me: do you ponder human existence in your work? Is that the underlying question to all our writing?

Share and Share Alike

“Good writers are those who keep the language efficient.
That is to say, keep it accurate, keep it clear.”
– Ezra Pound

Today’s post is a distillation of news I’ve seen around the blogosphere.

First of all, I’m about 60% done editing the WIP. Maybe not a great bit of news for the writing world at large, but something worth noting anyway. As I’m editing by paper and pencil, I can’t tell you how many pages I’ve cut, but this is one substantial tummy-tuck of which everyone will approve.

J.A.Konrath collected over 300 of his A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing essays into a free E-book this week. It’s 750 pages bookmarked by topics such as writing, breaking into the publishing world, promotion, reviews, motivation, and more. The no-nonsense style of writing is appealing, and Konrath’s got a pretty good sense of humor, so at least give it a try. It’s not every day a published writer hands out a free book about how they got published in the first place.

Bernita at An Innocent A-Blog reminded us to check out Absolute Write’s Bewares and Background Checks forum for those of us looking for an agent, small press publisher, print-on-demand company, or traditional publisher. The forum is beyond huge, so I wouldn’t try browsing. But if you have a specific company in mind, this is the place to look them up and see the experiences other writers went through. (For some reason the search is at the bottom of the page… annoying.)

Sidenote: Notice how there’s an entire conversation put aside for PublishAmerica? Summary for that conversation: Don’t publish with PublishAmerica. I looked up Aventine Press, the company that manufactured my first book, Catching the Rose, and found the comments there to be accurate. (As for my own opinion, I’m thinking of working with them again because yes, I liked them that much.)

And in that vein, I hope all of you are keeping up with the Writer Beware! blog. In this technology-driven age, there is no excuse if you sign up with a bad editor/agent/publisher. Do your research before you commit to anything. The professionals will understand if you take a couple of days to decide. The scam artists will tell you, just like those infomercials, that you better decide in the next ten minutes or you’ve lost the deal.

Rather than going to the annual Romance Writer’s of America convention, Lynn Viehl is hosting a substitution Left Behind & Loving It week of online workshops (July 28 – August 3). This is where Viehl organizes fellow authors to host workshops on their own blogs, much like Eliza’s Villain Month. Published and aspiring authors alike can host the workshops as we all can stand to learn something new.

I updated my Affiliates and Links page to include the new websites. Leave a comment here or on the affiliates page if I’ve left out a resource you consider valuable. Also, tell me how your work-in-progress is coming along!

Writing for the Love of it

The real secret is to do it because you love writing
rather than because you love the idea of being a Writer.
– Iain Banks

I once got into an odd conversation with someone about writing… let’s call this person Frank the Writer. So Frank saw my pile of writing magazines, and I could tell by his expression upon opening one of the issues that he was surprised I highlighted certain sentences which I found insightful or helpful to me as a writer. Watching him read my notes in my old Writer’s Digest, Poets & Writers, and The Writer issues was, for some reason, like watching a child realize there is no Santa.

Frank asked why I think I’m a writer, and I responded, “Because I have to write, or face the possibility of insanity.” I added something about how I’m drawn to writing, that I get personal satisfaction from it. I asked him if he didn’t feel the same.

“No,” he said. I’ve never heard anyone sound so mournful. “I don’t. I read these books that tell me I should feel something that tells me I’m a writer, just like how you just told me, but I don’t. I never feel anything when I write.”

This was puzzling to me. How can you write something and not feel anything while writing it? I asked Frank a series of questions which led me nowhere until, frustrated, I asked, “Do you want to write, or be considered a writer?”

“I want to be a writer.” No wonder he never felt anything when writing. His motivation was all wrong. He wanted the fame without the work. He wasn’t writing because he felt any special need to, or because he wanted to send a message of sorts out into the world, or even because he thought he had a story to tell, but because he wanted the recognition for being brilliant. No wonder his writing felt cold, empty.

Writing takes guts, patience, and stamina to do what it takes to be “considered a writer.” It takes years to be “discovered,” and by that point you will have numerous drafts hidden beneath your bed, stuffed in a back cupboard, shoved between cracks in the wall. Even if you go the self-publishing route, you have to be a savvy business-minded writer to make the publishing process worth it.

What do you think? I know some of you have multiple drafts lurking in the dark corners, and others of you with agents. What do you have to say to Frank and his misplaced motivation? Can I help him learn to love the process that is writing rather than love the idea of being a Writer?

Refresh Your Writing

“I think that writers need to be out there, be in contact with people, struggle with other things and then come back and bring it to her writing.”
– Chitra Divakaruni
Belinda writing and re-writing, drawn by WorderellaWhenever I feel like my writing is losing focus, or that I’m losing the edge or spark, I begin to panic. Mainly because these symptoms preclude a wicked case of Writer’s Block. If you’re lucky enough to have never suffered from this horrible disease, let me be the first to congratulate you and explain what I mean. Writer’s Block is a common disease and hard to recover from; even if you do recover, there are always those pesky flare ups. Its symptoms include staring at a wall or out the window, willing something creative to flow from your mind to the paper, with nothing doing. You will be given to bouts of depression as you walk past your neglected computer/journal/legal pad on your way to your day job. Your characters shun you. Your plot turns trite and your dialogue cliché.

What is a writer to do??

I like to follow Chitra Divakaruni’s advice, as in the quote posted above. If you have Writer’s Block, you have sapped all of your creative juices. We writers tend to think we should write all the time without replenishing our imagination, which is as unhealthy as exercising all the time without stopping to replenish fluids. How do you replenish your imagination? Get in contact with people! We attempt the impossible by trying to transcribe the unorganized chaos of life into an organized plot that (dare I say it?) makes sense, is engaging, and means something.

So if your characters are flat or your dialogue stilted, have a dinner party or meet some friends for lunch. While you’re with them, watch how they speak. What are they doing with their hands? Do they maintain eye contact, or look away while speaking? Or better yet, go to your local park, sit on a bench, and pretend like you’re reading. Or have headphones on, without the music playing, and eavesdrop. You’d be amazed how detailed and intimate conversations get when people think no one is listening.

Little girl journaling by JOD Old-Fashioned GraphicsIs your plot lagging? Read the newspaper, or tune into your evening news station. Truth is stranger than fiction, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use a bit of that strange truth to inspire you. I once read about a woman who dug up her boyfriend because his family didn’t invite her to the funeral or visit him at the hospital while he was sick. Now that’s a short story in the making. Edgar Allan Poe would have loved that, I’m sure. Or better yet, use your own life as inspiration, with some tact and restructuring, of course, so no one gets insulted.

What about your setting? Have you even thought about it? Are your descriptions tired? Go out and enjoy a bit of nature. Pretend you’re new in town, or you’re doing a study on local names/descriptions for the flora and fauna of the area, and ask people what they think that flower is named, or how they would describe that park. Don’t take their idea as your own, of course, we don’t want another Cassie Edwards case on our hands, but allow their ideas, if imaginative enough, to spark a few of your own.

…Still distracted? Unable to focus? Clear your desk so you’re not fiddling with the items there. Move your pens out of the way, file your bills, hide your mail. More importantly, if you do your writing on the computer and you use a program like MS Word, use the “full screen” option under the View menu. This will make your writing the only thing visible on your monitor/screen, thus preventing you from wanting to check your e-mail again, or answer that quick IM, or (if you’re like me) re-organize your files. Simple as that sounds, I get so much more writing done with Word in full screen mode. It prevents my usual multi-tasking, which is refreshing and a little nerve-wracking at the same time. 😛

Do you have other suggestions or little tricks that work for you? Let me know, I like to be prepared… You never know when another case of Writer’s Block will knock you unconscious.

Quote: Tight Plot

Boiled down to its basic elements, a plot is comprised of people with motives which meet resistance, creating conflict and leading to consequences. Scenes must either advance the plot or develop one or more of your characters so avoid waffling on if it isn’t relevant. If when re-reading you do find a section which is a touch on the flabby side, rewrite so that it works with the plot and characters, or steel yourself and press the delete key.
– Mike Philips

Quote: Effective Openings

An effective opening may do many things at once. It might set up the main characters and their relationship, it might describe a setting or a dramatic event, it will probably always introduce key themes.
– Michèle Roberts