Friday, September 29, 2006

Friday 20

My thanks to everyone who joined in the Rags to Riches discussion. The winner of the giveaway is Nicole, who should e-mail a full name and ship-to address to LynnViehl@aol.com so I can get your mags & surprises out to you.

I'm also going to pick on Pixel Faerie today and talk about part of the comment she made during the discussion: Also, how to not make if feel like you're about to jump into a cold shower every time you open a blank page and start typing?

There's a transition stage that happens when a writer goes from not-writing to writing or back again. It's probably different for everyone (I get more of a jolt when I have to stop writing) but I think there are ways to make it easier.

I've talked about what I do when I write, but I also have some preparations I make before I go near a keyboard. I clear my mind as much as possible before I begin writing, usually with morning meditation. At night, before I edit, I take a shower or soak in the tub. Whether I'm writing or editing, I always dress in very comfortable clothing and slippers (I can't work barefoot, for some reason.) I rarely eat before work sessions, but if I have something, it's light and non-sugary. A cup of decaf tea or a bottle of chilled water always goes with me to the desk.

I think attitude also factors in how abrupt or shocking the transition from person to writer or editor is. I look at the blank page as work space, not that blind white glaring eye as other writers often describe it. I'm not afraid of it; we're old pals. Because I generally use VRS to type, I have to kind of tune out my own voice and concentrate instead on the words inching across the screen. Every paragraph has a certain structural appeal to it (the words themselves are beautiful to me) so I really like building them. The more I build, the more pleased I am. Creativity = satisfaction.

Forgetting about who I am and what I'm doing is also easy, because my writing time and space are like a visit to a personal Mansion of Solitude. I'm a solitary person who is rarely alone, so work is restful, rejuvenating, and helps balance out all the other crowded, busy parts of my life. I have no expectations, no hovering self-critic; writing well for me means not worrying about writing well at all. Fighting the words, letting frustration set up house in my head or getting tangled up in a quest for utter perfection only inhibits me. The more relaxed and calm I am, the better writer or editor I become. Find the things that do the same for you and that transition may get a bit easier.

So, any questions out there in writer land this week?

32 comments:

  1. How do you practice to write in a totally different style? If your writing style is primarily clean and simple, how do you adopt a more verbose form?

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  2. A great exercise for that is to create a character; Name, age, ocupation, add enough background to flesh them out then write a peice of writing as that character would write it. Type up a letter from that character to another, or a journal entry, or even a shoping list. It's kind of like movie actors getting "into character". It helps writers to do the same and in a way your style changes a bit with each character that you write especially if your trying to write a story or some prose in that character's voice.

    Thanks for reading

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  3. There never seems to be a shortage of writing events here in northeast Florida and they’re usually multi-day events, strategically held somewhere along the coast. Advertised as festivals where booklovers can relax in the company of fascinating authors (most of which I’ve never heard of), and authors can meet others in their field along with agents and publishers.

    They offer workshops, luncheons, presentations, signings, receptions and the ever popular, meet the editor or agent sessions. All of which come with individual ticket prices, including the one-on-one sessions. It’s always been my belief that a legitimate agent or publisher does not charge a fee; in most instances a 10-minute session goes for $20, sometimes $40 and higher. Am I way out of line in thinking this is just another way to milk more money out of literary hopefuls, or is this normal protocol and the way things are done?

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  4. Facing a blank page is never easy. What works for me when starting a new book is to not worry about story, character or setting, but to simply come up with a great opening line.

    And just as a great opening line will spur the reader to continue reading, it also spurs me on to continue writing.

    But sometimes, in the middle of the book -- because I don't outline -- I'll find myself facing a blank page after ending a scene or a chapter. Those are the toughest blank pages for me. Especially when I KNOW what's coming next, but can't quite figure out how to approach it.

    I've found that if you just get words down, even if it doesn't make much sense, it'll get the creativity flowing.

    Rob, writing from Bouchercon.

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  5. Joel wrote: How do you practice to write in a totally different style? If your writing style is primarily clean and simple, how do you adopt a more verbose form?

    The counter-question that immediately pops into my head is "why would you want to?"

    We'll assume you have your reasons. I'd say the best way to quickly acquire an artificial style is through parody or writing fanfic. Like imitating a speaking voice, you have to practice by mimicking someone who has a style similar to the one you want to write in.

    If you're looking more toward changing your writing style to bring out a different voice, or make yours more sophisticated, try writing in a different genre that is suited to the style you're aiming for. Also, think about how you can alter your sentence constructions and the composition of elements like narrative and dialogue to reflect the different style.

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  6. Mel wrote: A great exercise for that is to create a character; Name, age, ocupation, add enough background to flesh them out then write a peice of writing as that character would write it.

    Style change through role play. Interesting idea, Mel.

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  7. Jill wrote: There never seems to be a shortage of writing events here in northeast Florida and they’re usually multi-day events, strategically held somewhere along the coast. Advertised as festivals where booklovers can relax in the company of fascinating authors (most of which I’ve never heard of), and authors can meet others in their field along with agents and publishers.

    There's a reason they're referred to as "cons" and not because it's short for conference. The sole purpose of events like these is to separate the attendee from as much of their money as is legally possible.

    They offer workshops, luncheons, presentations, signings, receptions and the ever popular, meet the editor or agent sessions. All of which come with individual ticket prices, including the one-on-one sessions. It’s always been my belief that a legitimate agent or publisher does not charge a fee; in most instances a 10-minute session goes for $20, sometimes $40 and higher.

    God Almighty. Okay, a legitimate writer's con will be sponsored by a writer's association or entity. There is a registration fee, usually anywhere from $50.00 to $200.00, and maybe $20 to $50 for a special big banquet or luncheon. Other than your hotel fees, that's all you should have to pay.

    Lage romance writer conferences usually provide free workshops and the best opportunity to meet with a good number of editors and agents. I was never charged a fee to have a five minute pitch session with an editor (although that may have changed since my con-going years.) Other genre cons don't provide one-on-one sessions, but there are some informal gatherings at which you can meet and chat with editors and agents. If you interest one of them, you may get an invitation to submit a proposal or partial.

    Am I way out of line in thinking this is just another way to milk more money out of literary hopefuls, or is this normal protocol and the way things are done?

    It's not the way things are done, and it sounds like your common sense is kicking in. I would listen to it. Anything that sounds to good to be true generally is. Any event without headliner speakers that nickle-and-dimes you to death for attendance is probably a money scam.

    If you'd like to talk to authors when they're at their best, I recommend attending their book signings or solo free speaking events at places like libraries. There's no alcohol at these things so the author should be sober, and since the author wants you to buy their book at the event, they're more willing to talk to you.

    Meeting editors and agents is much harder. You can try to attend big bookseller cons but the editors and agents are usually buzzing around their authors or trying to chat up the buyers. A big genre conference is better, but again, depends on if individual pitch sessions are made available to the attendees.

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  8. Anonymous9:51 AM

    Hi, PBW! More good news on my end. I wrote a monologue that was quite acclaimed by peers and professor alike this past week, so yay, confidence boost, especially relative to characterization. I'm also inundated with more homework and was recently hired for an internship writing press releases and copyediting and all that stuff for the university communications office. So I'm quite busy. My question -- how do you keep up the momentum for your work when you're swamped and tired? Especially considering middles can be saggy by default.

    Jess

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  9. Which VRS program do you recommend?

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  10. Rob wrote: But sometimes, in the middle of the book -- because I don't outline -- I'll find myself facing a blank page after ending a scene or a chapter. Those are the toughest blank pages for me. Especially when I KNOW what's coming next, but can't quite figure out how to approach it.

    I've found that if you just get words down, even if it doesn't make much sense, it'll get the creativity flowing.


    Write until the muse kicks in -- a great strategy, and one that's worked for me, too.

    Rob, writing from Bouchercon.

    Now this man is a serious blogger! Lol.

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  11. Jess, who is leaving flame tracks around campus lately, wrote: My question -- how do you keep up the momentum for your work when you're swamped and tired? Especially considering middles can be saggy by default.

    I don't think you have to do as much with the work as you have to do with yourself. Diet, exercise, meditation and personal pleasures, all in small amounts strategically sprinkled through the day, can see you through hectic, burnout-potential times.

    Diet I know I harp on constantly, but you really do need to watch what you're eating when your work schedule is nuts or you're stressed. Fresh veggies, fruit, soy beans, water instead of soda and eating light at night can do amazing things for your physical well-being (as always, check with your doctor before you make major changes in your diet.)

    Exercise should be inspirational as well as perspirational. A ten minute walk through a park or nature area can really recharge your creative battery. So can Tai Chi, yoga, or low-impact aerobics. It doesn't have to be a huge chunk of your routine; I can only spare 20 minutes per day but I've found that when I skip my walks I actually feel more tired. Regular exercise also helps discharge some frustrations and snarls from the daily stress.

    I believe meditation defrags your brain. Our thoughts are so scattered and fragmented by our many responsibilities that we often end up having the attention span of a two year old. My half hour of meditation in the morning is peaceful and quiet and sets the tone for the whole day for me.

    And, finally, personal pleasures -- all work + no play = blocked writer, in my experience, and I think we all need something to look forward to. For me it's bubble baths, reading, cooking, quilting and playing with my camera. I can't do them all every day, but I don't need to. I also don't always wait until the end of the day now to get in a little fun time. Yesterday I got up early to photograph the sunrise, which obliged me by being spectacular. I printed out the photo, taped it in my private journal and wrote a poem about it. All that took was getting up twenty minutes earlier and incorporating it into my morning meditation time.

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  12. Anonymous11:16 AM

    *g* Thanks. I never really thought about it as dealing as much with the writER as the writING. (That said, I suffer from GERD so my diet is supposed to be pretty healthy anyway. Too bad the hubby lives on red meat like it was oxygen...) ... and, um, getting up twenty minutes early would set my alarm for 4:40AM. Luckily I do have half-hour chunks of time sporadically throughout the day I can use to debrief. Not as good as starting the day that way, but helpful nonetheless. I'll definitely be trying your suggestions.

    Jess, who is actually usually parked in the library because all those massive doses of homework are really just reading heavy books

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  13. Heather wrote: Which VRS program do you recommend?

    Dragon Naturally Speaking. I wrote a post about it here in which I detailed how the program has worked for me. There are some good comments with that post about how the Dragon didn't work for other writers, too, so check those out.

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  14. I think something is happening to my 'voice'.

    Does voice grow and change and evolve as you write?

    I assume so, but I'm not sure I'm growing the 'write' way.

    Are there awkward transitional phases in voice evolution? What is the cure?

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  15. I went through an e-publisher for my first novel. I submitted it to about a dozen agent and actually got ALOT of personal comments about how it was good writing, but sort of an odd book. So I went through an e-publisher and got the book accepted and it should be coming out soonish.

    My question is how do I deal with the people who want to dump a bucket of ice water on my happiness and say that e-publishing isn't 'real' publishing? I have to admit, sometimes it gets into my head and I wonder if I took the 'easy way out'. I know I worked just as hard to write, edit, submit, and re-edit, yet some people make me feel like I'm not a 'real' writer.

    I'm not really looking for validation of my choice of e-publishing. I guess I just wonder if there is a way to block out these other opinion so that they don't start creating doubts in ME.

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  16. Anonymous5:08 PM

    I was digging through your archives and found two broken links.

    Is it possible to get your Single Novel Plotting Template from your ten things to help with novel plotting post (link was once located: on the FMwriters board here.) and also the Character Outline Sheet you did for your protagonist Jory Rask in Blade Dancer (was located: here on sff.net) from your post from your novel I: Imagine workshop post

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  17. I can attest (is that the right word?) to the diet thing. I have a horrible habit of bringing my box of Rasinets to the computer with me to munch on. Now it looks like I inflated by butt and stomach area. Grr...

    Thanks so much for answering my question. :) I do get up early to write, and I'm one who loves to sleep in. I just feel like I get more done writing when I get up before everyone else does.

    One more question, I think I am 'plot blind'. I think a plot is really cool at first and then when I get to the end of the story, I start to worry. Is this a normal phase?

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  18. corine7:00 PM

    Hello PBW and everyone.

    The time has come for me to hire an editor for an overview of my first novel. I wrote it five times and was about to start a 6th but decided to stop the madness and hire a pro. Have you posted something on the subject? What is the best way to go about finding one?

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  19. Hi PBW...

    I am restarting a book that I started almost 15 years ago. I have tried to finish novels several times, but my mind keeps coming back to that first book.

    So a few weeks ago, I printed out all the pages-- and wrote. I am now about 50% through it. Is this normal? Or am I the only one that has to finish a project before starting another?

    PS.. I have had no problems writing short stories, essays, and poems. Probably because they are short and I can finish them in a week or less. :-)

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  20. *** I have no expectations, no hovering self-critic; writing well for me means not worrying about writing well at all.***

    This was something I really needed to hear. Thank you as always. :)

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  21. M wrote: I think something is happening to my 'voice'. Does voice grow and change and evolve as you write?

    Absolutely. Life changes, writers change. We also have periods, the same way artists do. Changes happen a little or a lot, depending on the person, their ambitions and how their experiences shape/reshape them.

    I assume so, but I'm not sure I'm growing the 'write' way. Are there awkward transitional phases in voice evolution? What is the cure?

    You could get a second opinion from another writer. Show someone whose opinion you trust a series of pieces you've written before and after you think this voice change and get a diagnosis. You may be headed in the "write" direction but fighting it because it's not comfortable -- but then, change rarely is.

    If you'd rather skip getting outside opinions, do the comparison yourself and pin down what's changed in your voice. Listen to your instincts, not any fear of change. If something isn't right, it really won't feel right on the page (versus that uneasy "in unknown territory" feeling you get when you try new things.)

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  22. I've been diligently working on my novella for your e-book challenge, and I'm starting to tinker more with sci-fi versus the fantasy and horror stuff I normally write. My problem is lack of knowledge of standard sci-fi things such as how to fly a spaceship, or at least the different parts of one; creating believable alien species that are just not humans with special parts added (this is a biggie for me); language and slang expressions unique to the species. That kind of stuff. When you first started writing sci-fi, how did you find out all of the different things you needed to make your books believable? And, the second question, how does one like me do this on a deadline (ooh, never said that before!) so my novella is as realistic as possible?

    I got mostly everything else down, but those things have constantly alluded me, and I worry that the novella will suffer for it.

    Thank you,
    Erin K.

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  23. Crista wrote: My question is how do I deal with the people who want to dump a bucket of ice water on my happiness and say that e-publishing isn't 'real' publishing?

    Not real publishing? Well, I'd better call Holly Lisle, and Mary Janice Davidson, and Stephen King -- and, oh dear, myself -- and tell us that we're not real writers because we've all e-published something versus publishing it in print.

    I have to admit, sometimes it gets into my head and I wonder if I took the 'easy way out'.

    You'll always wonder, and that's okay, too. We each have to make tough choices, and there's no writer's manual that says "Do this" so we have to choose what seems like the best thing for us. To this day I still can't decide if coming out in print with SF first was the second stupidest thing I've ever done professionally. If it's not #2, it's probably #3.

    I know I worked just as hard to write, edit, submit, and re-edit, yet some people make me feel like I'm not a 'real' writer.

    I find it amazing how easy it is for some people to know just how to measure another writer, or how to run someone else's career. I would never presume to do something like that. It's beyond rude.

    I guess I just wonder if there is a way to block out these other opinion so that they don't start creating doubts in ME.

    Fuck them. Well, not literally. Smile, be polite, whatever you feel generous enough to do, and then have a good laugh after they sashay away. They don't know you, they don't own you, and they can't run your career. The only woman you need to worry about is the one in the mirror. If she's okay with what you're doing, then you're okay.

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  24. Anonymous wrote: I was digging through your archives and found two broken links.

    Thanks for spotting these -- someday I have to go back and find/repair all these links. But until then:

    Single Novel Plotting Template

    Jory Rask Character Worksheet* (warning, some Blade Dancer spoilers.)

    *Note: I had a little photoshopped image of Jory at the top of the worksheet but my FTP isn't working tonight so that's missing.

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  25. Pixel, who isn't mad at me for picking on her, wrote: One more question, I think I am 'plot blind'. I think a plot is really cool at first and then when I get to the end of the story, I start to worry. Is this a normal phase?

    I don't think you're plot blind; sounds more like pre-post-story paranoia. Kicks in at about chapter seventeen to nineteen for me. That lovely feeling that everything I write is complete nonsense, that the editor is going to laugh her butt off when she reads it, and I should do the right thing and burn the manuscript before it makes a disgrace of itself before other eyes beside mine. I get a repeat, slightly stronger dose of the same thing just as I'm packing up the finished, edited ms. to send it to New York. Occasionally other people have to do that last bit for me.

    I think it's better to be a little paranoid than to think our work is perfection. It keeps us diligent.

    If that isn't what's happening to you, then you might not be outlining or plotting out the story enough before you write (or outlining or plotting too much; that also happens.) I think as much about the structure of my plots as I do any other element in the novel. When I have doubts, I like to make POV flow charts and write up event lists and map out a precise timeline. That seems to reassure me more than anything else when I'm not feeling 100% on the plot.

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  26. Corine wrote: The time has come for me to hire an editor for an overview of my first novel. I wrote it five times and was about to start a 6th but decided to stop the madness and hire a pro. Have you posted something on the subject? What is the best way to go about finding one?

    I'm sorry, Corine, but I can't in good conscience recommend using any outside editors or book doctors. The majority of them are scammers and prey on the hopes of aspiring writers. I was nearly the victim of one con artist who scammed hundreds of other writers.

    I wrote one post on things that can help you with editing your novel here. I know it's tough, and sometimes it does seem like it would be more sane to hire someone to do the editing for you, but you can learn how to effectively edit your work by educating yourself on the best ways to self-edit. Knowing how to edit your work naturally makes you a better writer, because you'll start doing it as you write.

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  27. corine10:40 PM

    I read your post on the con artist editor, and here is my reaction:

    HaaaaHHHH!

    Thank you for that bucket of iced water. It came just in time.

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  28. Cynthia wrote: I am restarting a book that I started almost 15 years ago . . .So a few weeks ago, I printed out all the pages-- and wrote. I am now about 50% through it. Is this normal? Or am I the only one that has to finish a project before starting another?

    There is no such thing as normal with writers. :)

    Seriously, I never start writing a book now unless I commit to finishing it, and although I work on multiple novels at the same time, I feel it's an important part of my self-discipline to make that level of committment to the work. If for no other reason than to finish out each project whether I sell it or not (it's also great for creating an inventory of finished manuscripts.)

    I think book ideas can haunt you, too. Some novels stay in my head until I do write them, and with all the ideas that pop in there, it gets pretty crowded sometimes.

    In all things writing, go with what works for you. Besides, normality is highly over-rated. :)

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  29. Jordan wrote: This was something I really needed to hear.

    Happy to oblige, ma'am. :)

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  30. Erin wrote: I've been diligently working on my novella for your e-book challenge, and I'm starting to tinker more with sci-fi versus the fantasy and horror stuff I normally write. My problem is lack of knowledge of standard sci-fi things such as how to fly a spaceship, or at least the different parts of one; creating believable alien species that are just not humans with special parts added (this is a biggie for me); language and slang expressions unique to the species. That kind of stuff.

    Aka the story of my SF writing life. Lol.

    When you first started writing sci-fi, how did you find out all of the different things you needed to make your books believable?

    I should state upfront that StarDoc was never meant to be anything more than a very looooong writing exercise; half self-parody, half wish-fulfillment. I never expected to get it published and therefore did not take it too seriously (this is where Jesus wept.)

    I also never got the memo from the Borg about how it had to be plausible so it would fit in the collective (seriously, I never read much SF after A.M. Lightner during middle school so I was pretty clueless about the genre. You should have seen my face when they started billing me as a SF writer.)

    StarDoc started out as simply me taking a break from my serious work and having fun. Now I think, given the popularity of the series, that there is a lot to be said for having fun. :)

    All I did initially with the world-building in my SF was update or project into the future stuff from my years in the medical field. Things, people and events that I had been witness to, experienced personally or wanted to change (the aliens were part parody, part what I simply thought sounded unique and cool.)

    After I found out how much trouble I was in -- about the same time the Borg's Queen Bitch called my house to threaten me for daring to escape from the collective, but that's another story -- I started picking up space flight, astronomy and biology books and incorporating interesting bits of the real science from them into my SF stories (Dark Side, my short story about building the first radio telescope on the moon, was about as realistic and technical as I think I'll ever get.) I couldn't get into the massive science info dumps because I already had quite a bit of converted medical info in each book, and I felt like the more science I shoved down the throat of the reader, the less fun the book would be for both of us. Plus they're boring. If I want to read a textbook on astrophysics, I'll read a textbook, you know?

    And, the second question, how does one like me do this on a deadline (ooh, never said that before!) so my novella is as realistic as possible?

    I'm probably the wrong person to answer both of your questions, but I think if you pick your SF elements carefully, do selective research, and incorporate small, light amounts of interesting science that enhance them into your novella, you'll end up with a SF story that the average reader will actually want to read.

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  31. PBW...

    Thank you.. I think you are right about books haunting you. I have three other ideas that are sitting there waiting for me to finish this one. :-)

    Gawsh dang..

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