Archive for November, 2010

Friday, November 12th, 2010 by Rosemary
Don’t Hammer the Funny

I love it when movies give me examples to use for a writing lesson. Even if I have to suffer through some bad ones.

I couldn’t sleep the other night, and The Land of the Lost was on. The recent movie, I mean. (Don’t judge. It was 3 am.)

I must have been really tired or desperate for distraction, because I ended up watching the whole thing. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d heard… but ‘good’ just ‘not as bad.’ Every time I reached for the remote, something juuuuust amusing enough to give me hope would stay my hand, until I got to the point that I figured I may as well watch to the end.

Funny bits? Grumpy the dinosaur, don’t trust anyone wearing a tunic, Matt Lauer’s deadpan self-portrayal.

Unfunny bits? Giant mosquito and other bloodsucking insects. *shudder* Not. Funny. Ever.

One of the problems with this movie (among many) was that the jokes weren’t allowed to stand by themselves. They had to be spotlit, underlined, italicized and beat to death.

This is something I notice with writers in my critique group who are good writers but haven’t learned to trust their own writing yet. They’ll write something funny or evocative, then immediately explain the joke or metaphor.

Going back to Land of the Lost. There was this bit with the T-Rex, where Will Farrell,, had escaped over a ravine and the dinosaur couldn’t follow. He was turning away in resignation when “Dr. Marshall” goes, “Don’t worry about him, he has a brain the size of a walnut.” There’s a nice, full-stop beat of reaction from Grumpy, and he resumes the chase.

Then later, while the humans are hiding in a cave, there’s this thump of something heavy hitting the ground outside the entrance. They go outside, and there is a leaf-wrapped gift on the figurative doorstep. A walnut the size of a kitchen table. Cut to Grumpy, watching. Waiting to exact his revenge.

I laughed out loud, not just at the walnut, but the image behind it, of this dinosaur planning and executing this message/threat, grumbling to himself, “Walnut my scaled ass. There’s a day of reckoning coming, you human butthead.”

Then the actors had to open their mouths: “Wow, that’s a big walnut. Oh, we get it. You’re smart.”

They’d just show me Grumpy was smart. They didn’t have to tell me. Apparently they didn’t think *I* was smart enough to get it.

The lesson here is this:

  • Trust your writing.
  • Show it. Don’t show, then tell me what you’ve just shown.
  • Give your readers some credit, too.

It’s a balancing act, like everything else in writing. The only way to find that balance is to keep writing, and keep experimenting!

Thursday, November 11th, 2010 by Candace Havens
Shaking Things Up: Part 3

I’ve been talking the last few weeks about how it’s good to continue to hone your craft and learn as much as you can about writing. You never know what might spark your New York Times bestseller. I follow quite a few writers on Twitter and Facebook and one of the most prolific Tweeters is Neil Gaiman. It just so happens that he’s written some of my favorite books. I have a slight crush on that voice of his. (Listening to him read his books is one of my favorite past times.) And he’s wicked clever.

He also tweets a great deal of useful information. A few days ago he posted a link to an article about Terry Pratchett teaching a writing class. Here’s the link

It was kind of nice to read Pratchett, who has been so successful and writes such clever books, almost never knows where the story is going to go until he writes it.

But what I liked best was when Pratchett talked about the secrets of writing. One of his topics was writing drafts. He tells the students that with the first draft “let it run. Turn all the knobs up to 11.” I couldn’t agree more. I know there are some people who feel that they must edit as they go along, but I can’t help but wonder how much more clever their prose might be if they’d just let their imagination take over and worried about the editing later.

I find it freeing to write this way. I do it even when I’m on a tight deadline. The minute I start to even think about editing, I begin second guessing myself and feeling as those what I’m doing is total crap. Pratchett says the second draft should be hell. He says, “Second draft: hell. Cut it down and cut it into shape.” He goes on to talk about the third and fourth drafts and he’s absolutely spot on.

He also compares writing fiction to writing music. “Playing chopsticks on the keyboard, waiting for a melody to turn up. Listening to what notes are making sense.”

I’m curious if you’ve read an article or taken a class that has changed the way you look at things or helped to build your confidence in some way.

Please share.

Oh and if you want to read the first book I fast drafted, check out Charmed & Dangerous.

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010 by Bob Mayer
Creative Blocks and How To Overcome Them

I wanted to discuss ways to generate creativity.  A lot of writing is subconscious and emotion fueled.  It’s not logical.

Given that, what can block us creatively?

  1. Focusing too much on the strategic goals to the detriment of creativity.  The first thing we did in Warrior Writer was set that strategic goal and then say everything we do has to support that.  That’s true.  But you can focus too much on it, that you don’t focus on day-to-day things you need to do in order to achieve it.  Also, that goal can overwhelm your creativity.  Sometimes we set goals for ourselves that we subconsciously know we can’t achieve in order to make failure a self-fulfilling prophecy.  I always project that I finish a manuscript faster than I do.
  2. Being a perfectionist/expert.  I know many writers who spend way too much time on research.  They want to be sure they are absolutely correct in all their details.  While details drive the story, the heart of it is the characters and the reader’s connection with them.
  3. Getting too caught up in the business side of things.  Yes, you have to keep track of things.  Try to stay ahead of the changes.  But you can also spend too much time on the business side, you lose the excitement of the creative side.
  4. Trapping ourselves with a brand.  Branding is important and takes a long time to build.  Make sure the brand you construct, though, is what you really want to do.  Because once you’ve built it, it is really hard to change.

How can we increase our creativity?

  1. Breath.  Slow down and breath.  We are always under deadline.  But sometimes you just have to stop.  I am almost always going 100 miles an hour and have to force myself to stop and step back every once in a while.
  2. Do something physical.  My writing day is broken up by a workout around noon.  I take Cool Gus out to the woods for a run.  It’s a good break from sitting at the desk all morning.
  3. Embrace not knowing.  I’m a fan of outlining and planning (why we are discussing front-loading the work) but there a times I have to accept that what I know isn’t enough. That there is something else out there.  Once you accept you don’t know everything you need to know, those things will start to come to you.
  4. Keep track of your dreams.  I keep a recorder next to me when I go to bed.  If I wake up with a dream or thought, I record what it was.  I’ve found if I don’t do that, I won’t remember the next morning.
  5. Remember, as Warrior Writers you have a catastrophe plan.  Everything is not riding on this particular manuscript.  Allow yourself to accept this one might not be the one, but it’s the path to the one.
  6. Try something different.  Add an edge to your writing.  If you never write something humorous try writing a humorous scene.

If you aren’t a Warrior Writers, next weak I will post about the Catastrophe plan you need in order to improve your creativity.

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010 by Sasha White
Boot meet butt

Someone posted today on facebook(or maybe they tweeted it, it’s all a blur to me) that they though the more books they wrote the easier it would get, but the reverse is true. Each book gets harder than the last. I’m pretty sure it was facebook because I remember “liking” the comment-meaning I agree 100%. Either way, the point is, that writing doesn’t get easier the more you do it.

It might get easier to write every day, or whatever schedule you’re trying to keep yourself on. The habit might become more ingrained, but the actual writing doesn’t get any easier. My theory on this is because we all want each book to be better than the last. All good writers should. Even if you think your last book was the best you’ve every written, you still want the next to be even better, and this is not a bad thing. Striving to be better is good!

But sometimes the writing isn;t hard because we don’t think we’re doing good. Sometimes it’s simply because we’re tired, or lacking in inspiration. Thats when it becomes clear that if you want a career as an author, you have to treat it like a job. Sure you can call in sick or play hooky and noone will call you on it, but it won’t get you anywhere. If you want this, you have to fight for it.

That means finding ways to inspire yourself when you need to. Some of the things that work for me are movies and music. Sometimes reading will help, and sometimes I just need to go stand in the shower with the lights off, (something about a dark room with the noise of the shower covering the noise of everything else going on helps me think-is that wierd?) Other times I’ll surf the net in search of inspiration.

One of the sites I always stop off at is Marjorie Liu’s blog. Strangely, I think I’ve only ever read one of her novels. I keep meaning to read more but I never seem to get to them. I love her blog though. Her energy and her love for creative and beautiful things shines through and I always find something inspiring.

Yesterday I was struggling, and I went to her blog, and read this….

Great article on writing. I suppose it was meant for NaNoWriMo, but its suggestions for how to tackle your book, first draft, whatever you want to call it, all still hold true.

You want to know how most writers fuck up? Seriously, here it is — the fatal flaw of the writer: we are lazy no-goodniks, forever hopping from project to project. We’re like meth addicts, our dopamine centers blown to ragged tatters, forever in search of the next high. Except, writing can’t be about the high. It can’t be about that one great day of word count. It also has to be about all the shitty ones. What NaNoWriMo will give you is discipline: the ability to staple-gun your shit-can to a chair every single day and pound the keyboard the same way a beat cop pounds pavement. It can’t get done unless it gets done.

Yup. That’s pretty much it

Sure, she’s quoting another article, but I might never have found that article if not for her doing that…and honestly, I didn’t even go read the article….everything I needed to hear at that moment was in that post.

I thought there might be some others out there searching for inspiration, or just needing a metaphorical kick in the butt, so I thought I’d pass it along here. And maybe next time you find yourself searching for inspiration, you’ll visit Marjorie’s site, or come here. After all, we all need a little kick in the pants every now and then. 😈

Monday, November 8th, 2010 by Carrie Vaughn
Where I’m At

I’m making the final push on writing the last quarter of the tenth Kitty novel, which is turning out to be a little unusual process-wise in that I’m further behind on it than I’m used to.  Not so far behind as to panic (it’s due December 1), but I’m very focused on it right now.  I wouldn’t be worried at all, except I’ve got another trip coming up, ten days away from home right before Thanksgiving, which will cut into my writing time.  I was hoping to have a draft finished before I leave on Saturday.  The draft may not be completely finished by then, but I’ll have something to print off and bring with me, so I can work on it on the trip, making lots of notes to help me revise and polish the manuscript when I get home.

On Saturday, I stopped forward movement in order to go back and rework/rewrite and fill in holes.  This is normal for me.  I get two thirds of the way through, write the end, figure out what I need to do differently in the first half of the book to make the climax and ending work, and revise.  I didn’t do it for Kitty 9 — I wrote that one straight through — and in hindsight I think that’s why I had so much trouble revising it.  I’d missed a step, that stop-in-the-middle revision phase.  So on #10 I made certain to go back to my more normal process:  I jumped around, wrote scenes as they came to me, and I think as a result I have a much better idea of what needs to happen earlier to set up the finale.  Once I’ve finished this proto-revision, I can move forward through the big climactic scenes of the book with a much better idea of where everyone’s starting from.

It’s tough.  It’s tedious.  Some of this stage of revision involves questions of logistics — should character B meet the main character in person to deliver a piece of information, or call her on the phone?  In the final story choices like that are almost invisible, but right now I need to decide which one is best.  Which one will make the choice seem invisible in the final book?  Everything that happens needs to seem like it couldn’t possibly happen any other way.

I’ve got a plan for December, after I turn in this manuscript:  I’m taking a break.  My first real conscious break in years.  I’m still going to write every day, but I’m putting a time limit on it, and it’s going to be a short time limit.  30 minutes or so.  I have one short story due in January, but other than that I don’t have any more deadlines for awhile, so I’m going to research, read a ton, woolgather, and have fun.  Recharge the batteries.

I’m looking forward to it.  But I have to finish this book first.

Saturday, November 6th, 2010 by Ken Scholes
Me and My Editor

I remember when I first starting listening to writers talk about The Business  just after I made those first short story sales.  I’d hang in the Green Room at local cons and listen to them talk about publishers, agents and…editors.  I wasn’t paying too much attention because I really didn’t expect to write novels anytime soon.   But I still heard tales from those further ahead of me on the trail.

There were a lot of not-so-good stories.  There were some out and out terrible stories.  And there were fewer great ones.   I want to do my part to right that by talking about me and my editor.

I was in g-chat with my editor at Tor, Beth Meacham, this week.  We were chatting about some changes I need to make at the front end of Requiem — changes I really have to make now in order to move forward with the book.   Going down the wrong path is part of what’s slowed me down and my editor saw that.  Fifteen minutes online, and I saw it, too.  We kicked around some ideas.  A day later, and I knew exactly how to fix it.

Of course, not all editors are alike.  And not all writers are alike.  But for all the scary writer/editor stories out there, I have an editor who I nicknamed “The Ken Whisperer” a while back because of how amazingly she works with me (she trains horses so it’s an apt nickname I think).  I trust her eye on my books because she works out of vast experience with Story and I trust her eye on my process because of the sheer number of writers she’s worked with throughout her career. 

When I’m stuck, she’s a sounding board and problem solver to help me work out whatever’s blocking me.  And she does an excellent job of gauging what I need as a writer along with what the Story needs.  Beth has never steered me wrong and her uncanny insight has been just right again and again.

In our particular arrangement, because I’m not married to my words, she edits me with a heavy hand (that never feels heavy-handed.)  I don’t know if it’s just my process or a result of the crazy circumstances I’ve been writing under, but we’ve discovered I do best turning in my books one chapter at a time.  It keeps her in the loop and — like this week — she can see what I’m up to at all stages of the book and can help me with course corrections along the way.  This makes the revision process at the end pretty painless.

We were at a con together the week after my Dad died and her gentle wisdom has stayed with me.  I was trying to push myself through Antiphon and she and I were talking about it over breakfast.  “You can’t write now,” she said.  “Don’t try to.  Go read a book.”  She knew the story and the writer were better served by taking the time to grieve and letting myself off the performance hook for the time it took to process the hardest bits of that loss.

When my babies were born, she knew the impact it would have on my production and told me up front how long it would be before I was back to work.  I didn’t believe her.  She was right, of course.  That first year of twins, combined with some unpleasant health issues, took me out of the game for a bit after turning in the third book.  And when the muse walked back on the job, Beth was ready to start getting her chapters again, reading along as I landed the words.

I trust Beth and I know she’s helping me become a better writer.  I view our work together as a long term partnership and I value it.  And though it’s absolutely a business relationship, I also consider her a friend.  Even my children love her.

A lot of people would say I was lucky enough to win the editor lottery.  The truth is, I think luck only played a part of in it all. 

I’ve heard a lot about how writers choose agents but not so much on how they choose editors.  We often view it as the editor choosing us.  But the truth is, it’s a mutual choice or should be.  A choice made proactively.

When I finished Lamentation I knew I wanted to land in the Tor stable.  I’d met Beth a few times in passing at a few conventions and she edited my friend Jay.  Good fortune did bring her to Seattle for Norwescon six months after I finished the book.  But we did the rest of it ourselves.  She’d heard through Jay that I had a book and she invited Jen and I to dinner.  But before dinner happened, we were already in the bar drinking wine and talking.

We talked about influences.  We talked about Story.  We talked about our experiences (her’s were vast.)  We didn’t talk about my book.  We spent the weekend chatting here and there and over dinner and then she came to my reading to hear me read the short story Lamentation was based on.  At the end of the con, I knew she would be a good editor for me and I remember telling someone that I thought she’d not only be good for the Story but also for me as I learned how to maximize my strengths and understand my opportunities for growth as a writer.  I was right.  Her wisdom, grace,insight and candor have been some of the best gifts I’ve had in my writing life.

When we shook hands and said goodbye, she told me to have my agent send the book over.  Not long after, I had an offer for all five books and the best editor a boy could find in exactly the stable I wanted to be in.

So for those of you out there shopping books, pay attention to the editors you submit to.  Find one that will work with you, that resonates with you.  It makes all the difference.

Okay, I have some work to do.  Beth wants chapters and her enthusiasm for the series and insight into both content and process makes me want to get them over to her. 

Trailer Boy out.

Picture 493


Friday, November 5th, 2010 by Rosemary
The Fear Whisperer

Facing the blank screen can be as terrifying to me as walking onto a stage without a script. My heart pounds, my hands sweat, I feel an urgent need for a glass of water, or a Coke, or anything that will delay my going out and falling on my face…

Fear is a very real barrier for writers.  It’s the voice–which sounds like the twin sister of the inner critic–that says “What if this stinks? How can I do this idea justice? What if I fail?”

Something never attempted (or completed) cannot be screwed up. Of course, the Fear Whisperer doesn’t say that. It says you’re too busy to write. Or you’ll work better after the kids are in bed. Or in school. Or DONE with school and off to college. Or when you’re retired. . .

It’s not limited to starting a book, either. The Fear Whisperer is especially vocal in the middle of a novel, when the going gets tough. And if a book is never finished then it can never be rejected. It’s not a flop, it’s just “the book I’m going to finish someday.”  Same goes for submitting it to an agent or editor. Nothing ever earned a rejection from the desk drawer.

But nothing ever sold from the desk drawer, either.

So how do you get over Page Fright?  I haven’t figured that out yet. (Even now, that horrible expanse of thrilling, terrifying possibility awaits me.)  But here are some things that help me muscle through it:

  1. Avoid the blank page. Start typing nonsense on the page until it’s not blank any more. “I have not idea what to write,” over and over again often works for me. Or, “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.”  I type until the nonsense morphs into something meaningful.
  2. Start a new chapter before you wrap up the session. Don’t stop writing at the end of one chapter. Start the next, even if it’s just a paragraph, before you go to bed.
  3. Or stop just before the end of the chapter. This is especially helpful if you know exactly what happens next.  If you don’t know what happens in the next paragraph, stop in the middle of the last one.
  4. Reward yourself. Save your Starbucks run until after you’ve written two pages, or five pages, or whatever you need to do. I work with Smarties on the desk beside me. When I write a page, I get a Smartie. Or sometimes, when I type a paragraph, I get a candy. Or a sentence. Or, heck, sometimes when I write a word. There are days like that.
  5. Keep your butt in the chair. Don’t go for a snack, don’t go get the mail, don’t do anything that will keep until you’ve put something on the page. (Unfortunately, I have developed the ability to teleport. One minute I’ll be sitting at my desk, staring at the screen, the next I’m standing in front of the pantry scarfing down Annie’s White Cheddar Bunny crackers, with no idea how I got there. It’s a little terrifying, actually.)

Unfortunately, the only really way to deal with the Fear Whisperer is, like the Internal Editor, just to drown her out with the sound of your fingers tapping the keys. And the only way to get started is to jump with both feet.