Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Critiquing vs. Judging

Every year the Futuristic, Fantasy and Paranormal chapter of RWA holds two contests - one for published writers and one for unpublished authors. I volunteered this year to be a judge for the unpublished author contest. Because I read all of the categories, I told them to just send me entries from whichever category needed judges. I received five entries from the Futuristic category.

As I read the entries and started making comments, I realized that I was the type of comments that I would make with my critique group. I was leaving comments in the narrative asking the author is she meant x or y, pointing out where names might be confusing, etc. I found I had to step back and look at my comments as a judge not a critiquer.

The second entry I read was not a text that was ready for publication. It was obvious that this author needed to find her own critique group for help. The dialogue was stilted and halting. The characters were two dimensional and after reading 20 pages I didn't care what happened to them. I gave the author a score of 47 (that's out of a possible 150). I felt guilty afterwards but realized that while my scoring might seem harsh to her, I hope that she finds some guidance in my comments.

As authors, we all need to develop a thick skin. Not everyone is going to like what you write (that's pretty much a guarantee). There's always going to be someone that "doesn't get it". She'll probably curse me when she sees the score sheet but if hating me helps her work on her writing, I'll take it.

Monday, September 28, 2009


It's almost October and you know what that means: National Novel Writing Month is just around the corner. Are you up for writing a complete novel with a minimum 50k words in the month of November? Of course you are!

I first signed up for Nanowrimo in 2005. As I mentioned in my previous post, I "won" that first year but barely. 50,018 was my final word count, if I remember correctly, and the story is all but unreadable. Imagine lots of flashbacks, inner monologues while the MC is driving (in the rain, natch) and endless conversations on couches and in bars. Yeah, I was all about the info dump. And the avoiding of coming up with a workable story line. One of these days I'll fix it...

In the meantime, I am gearing up for this year's challenge. I've not finished a novel since my first try and I'm ready to end my losing streak. This time I am not going to wait until the last minute to come up with my plot. No, this time I am going to try that little thing called "planning" and maybe even some of that crazy "outlining" stuff too. No more waiting until 11/1 to jump into a story; I want to have a plot with a beginning, middle and end roughly sketched out. This outline and this one are the frontrunners; I'll let you know which one I end up using and maybe I'll share some of it here.

November is coming: are you ready?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Keeping the Voices at Bay, or Why I Write

When I was a kid, I used to imagine what life would be like as a writer. Inspiration would hit like a ton of bricks, and I'd find myself in the corner of a tiny cafe, writing so fast my pen would burn the paper. Once finished, I would have a brilliantly penned piece of literature that would receive accolades and become something that future generations of people would read long after I'm gone.

Sounds easy, right?

The concept of the writing process didn't truly hit me until I began teaching it. Writing is so much more than slapping words on a page: it is the means of communication through the ages. Artists such as Shakespeare and Milton, Benjamin Franklin and Emerson, still speak to us because of this incredible gift. Words have power; thus the written word can move mountains.

The image of the 18th and 19th century Romantics - scribbling words on a page, filled with inspiration from Nature and God, publishing their fresh and perfect verse to energize and affect readers - amuses me, simply because despite their claims that true writing comes from the spirit, they labored for days, weeks, sometimes months to make a piece of prose sing.

And yet, I agree with them. Ultimately, writing starts with the soul. Why do I write? What moves me? Do I have something to say? Should I create a made-up world because I think it could enhance the real one? Why wouldn't I? is the better question.

However, let's be realistic here: writing is much more than spirit. There is a deeper side to writing which most readers don't see. Not until I began writing original fiction did I understand that writing is messy, scary, and at times traumatic. Bringing a new world to life - infusing it with believable characters and plot, a love story and conflict - is the most frightening, vulnerable thing I have ever done. Ask some of my friends and they'll tell you that I hide from my characters much of the time, for fear that I will either screw them up beyond recognition...or make them so incredible that I find my writing Voice and move closer to the real fact of being published.

So I return to my original question: why do I write? Because I must - because I would rather die than never tell the stories that keep me up at night, push me to compose words on a computer screen or on paper; or the characters who make me laugh, cry, scream, shout, and every other emotion under the sun.

The image of the inspired writer writing her novel in a notebook has never disappeared, but now I know the truth. Behind the words is the truth about one's self: the vulnerability, the side never seen in the writing process because no one ever speaks of it.

And that's okay. It's a part each writer must discover for herself.

Reading and weeping opens the door to one's heart, but writing and weeping opens the window to one's soul.
- M. K. Simmons

Friday, September 25, 2009

My process

Over the course of the last year as I’ve made it a goal (complete with cajoling by the fantastic Cherry Adair) to finish a novel I’ve had to come up with a process so that writing is a part of my daily routine. In the past I’ve just sat whenever I wanted and wrote and that was it. Trouble was, it wasn’t very productive. So I had to come up with something that was or I’d ever get the ‘damn book’ finished.

I work a full time day job that can be draining. Sometimes the last thing I want to do is come home and sit in front of the computer again. So I had to come up with a plan. This plan became even more important when I was laid off earlier in the year and out of work for five months before becoming employed again. You’d think that having all that time would be conducive to lots of page making, but you’d be wrong :)

I’ve taken workshops on plotting and on pantsing and part of my problem is that I’m neither one. I can’t do some giant fifty page outline and five page each character sketches but I can’t just not have any idea of what’s going to happen next. So I’ve come up with a chapter outline. I figure out how long my work is going to be and then outline at least 4-5 points I want to make per chapter. This worked so well with my historical western that I just finished that I plan on doing it again. It kept me on task and helped me find plot holes early.

I also do not allow myself to edit ANYTHING until I’m done. There is not an author on this planet who has ever had their first draft published. EVER. If there’s something that I know I need to double check on or a different word or phrasing I want to use I’ll use the track changes feature of word to indicate that. Since I write historicals, research is important. I do some up front so that I know if my plot is going to work. Any specifics get researched when I’m editing. This probably sounds backward but it works. For me anyway.

I also don’t come home and then immediately dive in to writing. I go on a walk, get dinner ready and take care of what I need to take care of. Then I get into comfortable clothes and I start writing. I write for two hours every night. Some times more but I make myself do at least two hours.

Now I’m not going to say that this happens every night because it doesn’t. But I’ve gone from writing only every so often to writing about 4-5 nights a week which has helped me be more productive.

What about you? Do you have a writing routine that you use? Do you have to have the whole story plotted or do you just sit and go?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Happy Punctuation Day!

I had an entry all planned out that would follow along with the themes Samantha and Andrea posted earlier this week, about planning work and organizing ideas. But I think I will hold that thought until next week because I've just discovered that today is:

As authors, punctuation is important to us. Without it, how would we know where a sentence ends? Would we be able to tell the difference between a question and an imperative? And what about all those clauses that have to be strung together somehow?

My personal punctuational nemesis is the comma. I tend to massively over-use them, to the point where I've dubbed myself "the Queen Of Excess Commas." When I was editing my first NaNoWriMo entry, I removed 347 that really weren't needed. (Yes, I kept track.) I'm not sure why I do it, except that I seem to think in more-or-less complete phrases, and of course you need commas after phrases. Don't you? Well, obviously not always.

At least I'm getting better at recognizing them when they happen. Mostly*.

But the placement of a comma can completely change the meaning of a sentence. Consider these musical examples:

No Woman No Cry, by Blues Traveler (on Rhapsody.com)

No Woman No Cry, by Boney M (on Rhapsody.com)

The first is sung as, "No Woman, No Cry"; the second as, "No, Woman No Cry." See the difference?

My other favorite example of how punctuation can change the meaning of a sentence is the (possibly apocryphal) tale of an English professor who wrote the phrase "Woman without her man is nothing" on the chalkboard and asked the class to punctuate it properly. According to the legend, the men responded, "Woman, without her man, is nothing." And the women answered, "Woman! Without her, man is nothing."

Over on her blog, Prose From The Pros, author Bonnie Doran has been discussing quotes from Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss. Several of her more recent posts have been about my new favorite punctuation mark (and therefore the one I'm currently trying hardest not to over-use), the semicolon. The semicolon is a useful critter; it's a great way to splice two thoughts together. Each of these thoughts could stand on their own, but together they're stronger. Which is great until I look at a paragraph I've just written and discover that all three sentences contain a semicolon!

What are your favorite punctuation marks? Which ones do you find yourself over- and under-using?

And who's planning to go home tonight and bake a meatloaf in the shape of a question mark?

(* Excess commas removed from this post before sending: 5)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Where I'm At

Not including the many story tidbits- basically a line or two here and a paragraph there- filed away on my computer, I have one “finished” novel (from National Novel Writing Month 2005) and three in the works. The completed novel is a stinker. I mean, it’s bad. I wrote and wrote and wrote in order to hit the 50,000 word mark and the end product is hot, incoherent mess. I still love the basic premise and while I intend to beat the story with a serious editing stick at some point, my writing these days is focused on my works in progress.

Because I am not under contract (yet), I tend to flit between the three stories I have going. I will work on one until I hit a stumbling block and then I will open up another one, work on that a while, move on to the third and then it’s back to the first. That’s clearly the most efficient and productive way to write, right? Right?? For those of you with multiple stories in progress, how do you pick and choose which one you work on?

What it boils down to is that I let myself off the hook too easily when I get blocked or frustrated. I know this, yet I still do it, still walk away when I need to stay and concentrate and bust through whatever it is that is holding me back. Because I will never finish if I don’t change how I work. I’m pinning the blame on my inner editor and lack of substantive story planning. For now, I’m going to focus on the latter.

How do you come up with your beginnings, middles and endings? Do you just let the story flow out of your head as you write or do you prepare a detailed outline complete with chapter descriptions? When I get an idea in my head, it’s usually just the beginning of the story. For the three that I have going right now I do not know what will happen next. While that can lead to interesting twists and turns, in my case it is leading to a lot of nothing. I know now that I need more structure to be productive. I don’t know that I want- or need- a very detailed outline, but at the very least I need to start thinking more about the story I am telling and how it needs to flow. So my goal for this week is to choose one of my stories and give serious thought as to an outline. If you have sites or templates you like, please share; I am a blank slate (kind of like my stories) and want to soak up as much as I can.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


I've had the wonderful opportunity to attend four writers conferences and will be attending another one next month. At every conference, at least one of the speakers talks about how they're always asked "where do you get your ideas?". I think there are some people who believe that writers have some magic pot of ideas that they pull from and that if you cajole the author enough, she might let you have access to it too.

The truth is for most authors there's no one way for us to come up with ideas. It might be a song lyric, a picture, or snippet of conversation overheard while out to dinner (I overheard a waitress telling someone at the next table that she knew someone who had been a ninja -- tell me there aren't story potentials there).

I stumbled across this link at some point: Project Indigo
And my mind went crazy with possibilities. I've not written anything inspired by these designs yet, but there are things percolating in there.

Newspapers articles and headlines are also sources of ideas for me. Just last week, there was an article following the proposition that they take the old section of the Bay Bridge that won't be used and build parks and housing on it. There were a couple artists renderings along with the article of a bridge with boxes of various shapes and sizes descending from the bottom of the bridge. Again, my mind went in a hundred different directions as I thought of story ideas.

Or as we were driving to a friend's house for dinner one night, my husband and I went around a curve on a road that we both drive every day. We were in his car and his satellite radio went out for just that curve. When the radio kicked back on, he told me that the radio always goes out in that particular place. My mind jumped to the question of 'why?'. What's so different about that piece of road? While I'm sure there's a logical explanation, I started thinking of a story were that section of road is the center of paranormal activity, maybe even a house sits there that's hidden from "normal" eyes.

Keep your eyes and ears open. You never know when an idea is going to strike.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Saturday: Willkommen, Bienvenue, Welcome!

At the risk of sounding cliched, it's the weekend. Kick back, relax, have a cold one, and enjoy yourself. My name is Katie, and I'll be your Saturday blogger - wrapping up the end of each week with whatever writing topic I'm obsessing over working through.

I'm the Southern Belle of the group - born in Virginia, raised on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and currently residing with my husband in western North Carolina, the most beautiful area in the United States. I have lived in several places and love the diversity of my country. How awesome to belong to this equally diverse group of writers!

My parents must've read to me while in the womb, because I was born with a book in my hand. My mother taught me to read at the age of two, and I remember reading second grade books to my kindergarten class. Then Mom put a journal in my hands at the tender age of ten, and my writing career began. By eighteen, my future career as a teacher-slash-novelist was decided, complete with two historical romance novels that will forever remain locked in the bowels of those things that shall never see the light of day.

Three years ago I become quite serious about writing fiction and began writing fanfiction for the shows Smallville and Supernatural. Over time, I turned to original fiction, and thanks to National Novel Writing Month, wrote one paranormal contemporary romance and am working on my second.

True to my first love of reading, I continue to carry a book with me wherever I roam - whether I have time to read it or not. Typically I'll read anything, but my first love is the romance. I'll read anything that contains a love story, especially paranormal romance. Because of that, I write primarily paranormal romances. One of these days I will tackle the historical romance, but I'm not quite brave enough yet.

So enjoy all the goodies and offerings we'll have for you in the coming months. And so I leave you with an awesome quote on writing, because I collect these and use them as sources of inspiration:
Why do writers write? Because it isn't there.
- Thomas Berger

Friday, September 18, 2009

Happy Friday!

Hello and Happy Friday!! I will be your Friday poster. My name is Colleen and I live in the Seattle, Washington area. I spent 26 years living in the Twin Cities of Minnesota (specifically, White Bear Lake and if you comment and tell me what movie featured a prominent line with my high school’s name (White Bear Lake High School) I’ll send you a $10 Borders gift card!)

Anyway – I am an active member of the Romance Writers of America and the Greater Seattle chapter as well as the Hearts Through History online chapter. I write contemporary romantic suspense and historical western romance. I just finished my first novel which I plan on pitching at the Emerald City Writer’s conference in a few weeks!!

I met Samantha about 10 years ago online (we were both part of an on-line writing RPG) and came to know Andrea through her. Samantha talked me into moving to Seattle in 2003 and we were roomies until last year when she married her hubby. Shelia (who you’ve already met) and Katie (who will blog tomorrow) are both fellow fans of the TV show Supernatural and we came to know each other and our love of writing from that.

I love reading romances – I’d love to give you author names but I’m at work and can’t really think of any!!

I’m also starting a new blog of my own called “The To Be Read Pile Project” which will feature books I have on my to be read shelf (it’s actually shelves at the moment) – when I get that up and going I’ll share –

I’m really looking forward to sharing my journey to being published with all of you and with my four wonderful friends!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

This Must Be Thursday. I Never Could Get The Hang Of Thursdays...

It somehow seems apropos that I start with a quote from The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, since Douglas Adams was a major influence on my writing style during my formative years, and remains so to this day.

Hi. I'm Sheila, and I'll be blathering expostulating sharing my trials and tribulations as an aspiring author with you on Thursdays here at The Melt-Ink Pot. I have never lived in either Washington or Maine (though I have visited both and loved them). I'm a native Denverite currently living in the Denver metro area, a fairly rare species in these parts. Colorado is an amazing mix of city and country, of mountains and plains, and I haven't yet found anywhere I'd rather live.

I've been a voracious and omnivorous reader since about the age of four and a half, when my father accidentally taught me to read (he had a bad habit of following along with his finger when he read to us). But it took me until I was in high school to figure out that I could write stories, too. That was when I went out and bought some spiral notebooks and some ball-point pens (because back in those days your only other option was this thing called a "typewriter", and if you think your old laptop is heavy and hard to lug around, you should try hauling one of these babies along for a day) and started scribbling.

Like many writers, I then spent a number of years in the "I can start novels but can't finish them" stage of my career. However, in the last few years (thanks in part to National Novel Writing Month, which I discovered in 2006), I've since moved on to the "I can finish novels but I can't edit them" stage. (Turns out I'm a bit verbose. Who knew?)

Thus far I've completed two historical romances and two fairly fluffy space pirate adventures, all of which are in need of substantial revision (okay, and word-count reduction) before they're ready to see the light of day. My other works in progress include a couple of fantasies, a paranormal romance, and some sci-fi comedies. I'm currently editing my Regency romance while sorting through my file of story ideas trying to decide on my next writing project.

Favorite authors include Anne McCaffrey, Larry Niven, Connie Willis, Diane Mott Davidson, Monica Ferris, Barbara Metzger, Gene Stratton Porter, and of course, Douglas Adams. (I'll probably think of a whole bunch more as soon as I post this, of course.)

Trivia facts about me: I nearly always have music stuck in my head; I write and fence with my left hand but bowl and use knives with my right; I don't have cable television; and I collect rubber duckies.

That's probably plenty to go on with for now. I'm really looking forward to good times with my fellow bloggers here, and I hope you all enjoy the ride!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Tuesday Greetings!

Hello everyone! I'll be your Tuesday blogger, Samantha. I'll try not to copy Andrea's intro post too much. She's already given you the rundown on who we are as a group and now we'll each get a chance to tell you a little bit about ourselves.

Like Andrea, I'm a Washingtonian. But unlike, her I've stayed here and haven't run off to points far and flung (well, there's been a little flinging, but I always come back). With all the places I've visited in the world, nothing draws me more than the Puget Sound and the snow covered tops of the Olympic mountains in the distance. Also, a fun fact if you're playing along, Andrea and I have known each other for 19 years (we met in utero or maybe fall quarter of our freshman year of college).

I predominantly write in the areas of sci-fi, urban fantasy, fantasy, and paranormal. I also have too many ideas in my head at all times. I constantly email people with opening lines or "what do you think of this idea...". I submitted my first piece to a publisher this summer and was rejected. But hey, that's part of the writing life. And the rejection gives me an excuse to expand that piece and add in some other plots threads that came to me after I submitted it.

I read a lot as well (as I'm sure all my compatriots here do). I'll read just about anything you put in front of me (romance, horror, mystery, YA, non-fiction, paranormal, etc, etc). I'm currently on a non-fiction binge (memoirs in particular). I'd list for you some of my favorite authors but I'm totally blanking on any names besides two or three and that wouldn't give you a very good indication of who/what I like.

I'm looking forward to sharing this adventure with my fellow blogmates and any readers that drift past our little corner. So pull up a chair, grab a cup of whatever, and join in.

Monday, September 14, 2009

For Starters

Welcome to the Melt-Ink Pot! We’re a diverse group of writers coming together to discuss anything and everything from favorite authors to writing meltdowns to what turns us off in a story to where we find inspiration. You name it, one of us will probably write about it. Science fiction, mystery, fantasy, horror, romance (all kinds), suspense, erotica and contemporary fiction: we’ve got it covered and we’re looking forward to sharing our perspectives with you.

So! Let’s get started, shall we? I’ll try to keep this from sounding too much like a personal ad, but no promises. I’m Andrea. I’m a former Seattleite who now lives in the gorgeous state of Maine with her husband, a native Mainah. The rocky coasts, Downeast accents, fall colors, local microbrews, plentiful lobster and ice cream shacks every 50 feet make up (mostly) for the nasty winters. When I’m not reading, I am gamely knitting and cleaning up the copious amounts of cat hair around my house. I was born in 1972. I am left-handed. And as far as that saying “I’m not deaf, I’m ignoring you” goes? I really am deaf (in my right ear), but I probably don’t pay as much attention as I should.

I read a lot. Stephen King, Shirley Jackson, Minette Walters, John Connolly, Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury, Peter Straub, Alison G. Taylor, John Harvey, Tad Williams, Josephine Tey and Caroline Graham, Roald Dahl and Ramsey Campbell are some of my favorite authors. There are more, of course, there are always more. As soon as I post this, I’ll think of ten more that I should have added to the list.

I also write, mostly in the mystery/suspense genre. Nothing you’ve ever read- I’m not published anywhere but in my own mind. Do I want to be? Of course! However, I need to focus on finishing the stories I start (a minor issue) and I need to find my true writing voice (a major one). Finding a greater confidence in my story-telling comes before everything. I am the kind of person who will obsess over three lines for an hour versus just writing whatever comes out and dealing with the results later. All of these are topics I plan on addressing in future posts (as well as my someday goal to run into Stephen King, or at least drive by his house).

This is the start of a great new adventure for all of us. I’m excited to see what my co-conspirators come up and I am eager to learn more about genres I am not as familiar with. Thanks for coming along on the journey with us!