Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Resolutions

Yep, it's that time again.

You know, the time where you suddenly look up and there's a whole new year ready to hit you in the face like a gigantic cream pie ... and you still haven't gotten the remains of last year's cream pie out of your hair yet.

Writing-wise, I think I have made some forward progress this year. At least I'm getting better at recognizing bad writing when I commit it, though in some cases it still doesn't stop me from doing it anyway. (Write now, edit later, right?)

I've had my work critiqued by more different people than since my creative writing class back in college. That's helped me see where some of my weaknesses are as a writer, and it's been very helpful. It's also been somewhat demoralizing on occasion, because it points out just how far I still have to go. But as long as I keep making progress in a forward direction, I'll count it as a win.

I've bought myself a domain name and am in the process of creating a web site. Talk about your exercises in creative writing! It doesn't help that I have to do at least part of this in an unfamiliar language. (I'm really learning to hate CSS, by the way...)

I'm part of this group here on The Melt-Ink Pot, and I've been trying to post at least something every Thursday (although this week and last week have been challenging, since, well, Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, y'know...). This is a great group of friends, and I'm hoping for good things for all of us in the coming year.

So for 2010 ... here's what I'm hoping to do:

  • Finish revisions to Phoebe and the Damned Strumpet (formerly "The Vedia Gamble") and send out the necessary summaries, query letters, etc. to some agents.
  • Finish the current WIP, The Daughters of August Winterbourne. Try to bring it in under 200,000 words, so I only have to cut out half of it during editing. {sigh}
  • Either write or edit at least a little bit every day (Except January 2.) Remember that it's easier to keep momentum going than to have to start it rolling again.
  • Continue posting here, with the rest of the ladies.
  • Finish and post web site (by the end of January, preferably).
  • Give more (preferably daily) updates on my writing progress. I started out well with that, but have faltered recently -- mostly because I've felt I'd rather spend the time writing than blogging about it. However, the daily updates help me feel as though I'm making progress, so if that's what it takes, I'll do it.
  • Network more with other writers and aspiring writers. This is not an easy thing to do, because while I can be very articulate on the page, when it comes to carrying on coherent face-to-face conversations -- especially with "the cool people" -- my tongue swells to about three times its normal size, my lips turn to wood and my brain freezes up worse than if I drink a Slurpee too fast. But I'll try. Initial forays into these waters seems to indicate that the species authorius americanus is generally friendly, if somewhat intimidating.
  • Read more, especially new books. Right now, I've been doing a lot of re-reading, mostly because the majority of our books are still in storage, waiting to be unpacked. Which has to wait on painting, which is waiting on warmer weather... But there's still the library, and borrowing from friends, and a couple of Barnes & Noble gift cards that I've been carrying around unspent for far too long.

I think that's enough to go on with for now.

What resolutions related to writing are other people making this year?

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


I've been out of town for a week and missed both my Tuesdays (travel days both weeks). So here is a substitute sort of post. I recommend that if you're writing, go read this post by NYT Bestselling Author Yasmine Galenorn about making time to write.

Making Time To Write

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Maintaining Focus; or ... Oooh! Shiny!

This time of year is hard on our inner seven-year-olds. So many distractions, so many things we could be doing, along with the things we should be doing, and there's never enough time for everything. I should write. I should also finish decorating the living room, shopping for presents, and planning for the party at my house on Sunday. Somewhere in there, I need to find time to wash my hair, clothes, and bathroom floor, and oh, yeah, I'm going to a concert tomorrow night.

I have -- so far -- managed to write every single day since the end of NaNoWriMo. Granted, my word count on one of those days was a whopping 22 words*, but it was still progress in a forward direction. I did write a mile worth of words (5,280) the Sunday before last, however.

It'd be easy to say, "Well, it would be all right if I didn't write until after the holidays." After all, it's not like the writing police are lurking outside my door, waiting to haul me off if I don't put fingers to keyboard for at least a few minutes a day. I'm only doing this for me, and no one will know the difference. Right?

Right ... but ... (You knew there would be a "but", didn't you?)

But ... I'm doing this for me. I'm doing it because it's something I really want to do, and because it makes me feel good to do it. I'm enjoying the heck out of writing this story, and I'm looking forward to sharing it with my beta readers -- which I can't do until it's done. And yes, it is good for my sometimes-tenuous self-esteem to be able to say, "Look! I wrote every damn day in December, and I've written a hundred thousand words since November 1." It will be even more satisfying to say, "I've finished another book, and I don't think it sucks."

It's also important to me to keep my momentum going. I can sit down right now and pretty much remember where my brain was when I left off last night. Two weeks from now, I might not have a clue. And once I reach that point, it's just that much easier to let it slide just another day or two ... another week ... another month ... forever ... while I wait for inspiration to strike, or the muse to return, or the planets to be in just the right conjunction, or -- even less likely -- my brain to go back to where it was when I left off.

So, yeah. I'm going to keep writing every day. I might -- MIGHT -- give myself a day off on Christmas. (Though we will have to drive back from my parents' house in Fort Collins, and that would be an hour of writing time, if I can persuade the husband-unit that it's his turn to drive ...) And I honestly don't think I'll be doing any writing on January 2nd, since I'm helping cook an SCA Twelfth Night feast that day.

But other than that, I'll be writing. Butt in chair, fingers on keyboard. One word at a time. Because I am determined that it shall be so.

(By the way, for folks who were wondering about the fate of poor, first-name-less Mr. Fletcher, to whom I introduced you last week, worry no longer. This time around, the poll was conclusive, and we have settled happily on Mr. Nicholas Owen Fletcher.)

* Yes, that was the day of the holiday party thrown by my employer. Yes, the one where they put me in charge of the drinks tickets. Yes, the one where I used my two and then some. And?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Two roads diverged in the woods...

Did I "win" Nano? Nope. And I'm perfectly fine with that. I did spend the month working on projects that I want to tackle in the future. I've been focusing a lot on reading lately. Studying books in some different genres and analyzing form and structure. There's something new niggling my brain, something that could be a series. We'll call that Project A. Then there's Project B. Project B is a derivative of Project A. It started off as an idea for part of A, but it's taking a new life in my head. It would be taking me in a direction I hadn't gone before. I have no idea if I could find a market for it. But oh man, would it be fun to write. I think for the time being my plan is to work on Project A, planning, researching, analyzing some books put out by the target publishers... and then in stolen moments work on Project B.

Monday, December 14, 2009

I've been writing every day. Sometimes not much more than a couple of sentences, but I'm writing. I've been bouncing between a couple of stories too, when what I need to do is pick one and buckle down to finish that story, but at least I'm writing. It feels good to write without the pressure of Nanowrimo. My "win" the first year aside, Nanowrimo and I do not have a history of getting along well.

So, my stories. One of the things I'm struggling with, other than not having the attention span or discipline to stick to one story, is knowing in which direction each story needs go. I have written some great scenes, but that's all they are, just scenes. I write one and then I write another and then maybe a third, but none of them are really connected. Right now my plan is to keep writing those scenes until the connection is clear. And if that doesn't happen, then I will split off what I have added to save for something else, and then I will try again.

It's not pretty, this slogging through the words. It's not pretty and it's not always easy, but it feels right.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

What's In A Name; or Does The Shoe Fit?

We've had a couple of good postings here about book titles. But when you're writing a novel, the book isn't the only thing for which you have to find a name.

You also have to name your characters. And sometimes that can be a painful process.

There are so many factors to consider:

1) The time and place in which your story is set. If your story takes place in the past, this requires research into the kinds of names in use at the time of your story. One of my stories, set in 1873, has a character in it by the name of Grant Tomlinson. It sounded like a good Victorian English name to me. "Tomlinson" is just fine, but only later did I find out that "Grant" wasn't commonly used as a first name until the 1860's (twenty years after the character would have been born), and then mostly in America. Oops.

That's fairly obscure, of course, and unless you happened to have the misfortune of having a large number of people among your readership who are fanatical about the origins and meanings of names, it probably wouldn't be a problem. But your characters' names should all be suitable for the story's time and place, or it will jar readers out of the world you are building in their minds (imagine a samurai warrior named Ezekiel or an Indian princess named Heather).

2) On the other hand, if your story is set in the future, or in outer space, or in some fantasy setting, you have free rein, right? Well, not necessarily. If you're setting your story in a bronze-age village on a fantasy world with unicorns and dragons, and most of your characters have names like Tar'jil and Kun'axa and Rog'min, when your readers come across the character Nixelthorpmoojman, you'll almost be able to hear them humming that song about how one of these things is not like the others. So unless you're prepared to explain how poor Nixelthorpmoojman washed up on the beach after a really bad storm, and even he can't explain where he's really from, you'll want to have some consistency in naming practices.

Also, your names should be pronounceable and preferably not too unwieldy -- Larry Niven's The Ringworld Engineers, as I recall, had a section where all of the people had nearly-unpronounceable five-syllable names, which was at least consistent, but it made that part of the book very tedious to read.

3) One problem I've run into is having names for my space pirates that are almost too familiar. I wanted them to be accessible, strange without being too strange. Instead, I've received comments that they're not alien enough. So people have asked why Shon Braca is named Shon and not just Shawn (they sound the same, don't they? ... well, not quite, but the difference is *very* subtle). But these are space pirates. Shouldn't they have more interesting names?

4) And then, once you've addressed all of those questions, you have to make sure that you don't have characters whose names sound (or even are) too much alike. We all know that in Real Life, everyone you meet doesn't have a unique name. The company I work for, for example, has had two Beccas and three Wendys all at once, and a Sean and two Shawns (one of whom was female). But in a story, you probably want to avoid having more than one character with the same name, or even two names that sound too much alike. Geoffrey and Gregory are two that will make me struggle every time, but I also have problems with names that have the same cadence and vowel sounds -- Julian and Lucien, for instance.

5) Sometimes you also want the name to have a meaning that's important to the character. Would Severus Snape have been the same kind of character if he'd been named George Smith? How about Ebenezer Scrooge? Luke Skywalker?

6) Finally -- and perhaps most importantly of all -- the name needs to fit the character. It's true that when parents name their children, they don't really have much of an inkling of what the child's personality will eventually be. So occasionally in Real Life, you'll see a Marigold whose blonde curls have darkened and who grew up to be a hard-bitten police detective, but unless you want that kind of irony to be a part of your story, your characters should have names that fit them. If they're to be evil wizards or cold-blooded killers, their names should not evoke bright sunshine. If they're to be heroes, they should have strong, bold names. And if they're to be involved in a romance, they ought to have a name their loved one can sigh, well, romantically.

I've run into just such a situation in my current work-in-progress, set in 1870's England. My main character, Celia Winterbourne, seems reasonably happy with her name. However, when I went to name her Romantic Interest, I decided upon Bartholomew Fletcher. Fletcher is a good British surname, no problems there. And I thought Bartholomew was a good choice, too ... right up until I wrote the first scene that has Celia whispering her beloved's name in his ear, along with a profession of her love.

Yeah. Mr. Fletcher did not hesitate to inform me that "Bartholomew" is not a name one can murmur lovingly in anyone's ear. Nor, he was quite certain, did "Bart" suit him. Not in the least.

In fact, he and I have been having a series of discussions as to what his name should be. Those can be found over at my LiveJournal, starting here (including the poll I ran). As of this writing, we have yet to make a final decision, but I think we're homing in on it. I'll keep y'all posted.

(And we're not even going to talk about the story I wrote in high school, where I decided it would be funny to give my Romantic Interest the most unromantic name I could come up with, so the poor fellow got stuck with the name "Glunk". Yeah.)

What challenges have other people found when naming characters? How did you solve them?

By the way, here are a couple of my favorite sites for finding names:

The Fantasy Random Name Generator
English Census Results for 1881
The Random Name Generator (uses U. S. Census data)

Friday, December 4, 2009

First Drafts

I hope that everyone had a great Thanksgiving weekend last week. I was off in the great Midwest visiting family hence the lack of a post from me last week.

This week I’m going to talk about something that I’m currently going through – having people read and critique the first draft of a finished product. It’s been said that there is not an author who ever existed that ever had the first draft of their work published. And boy howdy is there a reason for that! First drafts are messy, full of not only enough grammar mistakes to send any English teacher into fits but plot holes and random notes and, at least for me, places where there’s this: (put something else here).

First drafts are safe, because really the only people who should ever see them are you and your critique group (and sometimes, maybe even they should be spared). First drafts really should be one long plot summary. You lay out your story in the first draft and then go back and fill in the blanks, tighten it, see where maybe your story should start in a different place.

First drafts are opportunities I think to make a good story even better and then let the subsequent drafts make it the best story you can come up with. I know editing is a long and tedious process, sometimes even more so than coming up with and writing the silly thing in the first place. But at least at this point, I’m enjoying it. I’m appreciating my critique group pointing out the good and the not so good and making me see things in my story that I didn’t notice before.

We’d all love to think that the very first go around we have the best story EVER but the reality is we don’t. No author does. Oh I’m sure some come close but I think that comes with time and practice and success.

How do you feel about first drafts? What about editing? Do you enjoy the process or do you find it tedious?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Welcome to December; or, The Post-NaNoWriMo Hangover

Wow, what a ride!

November was great. Despite a couple of days when I got almost nothing written -- my worst day was something like 300 words -- I still ended the month with over 75,000 official, duly-counted and verified words, and a third winner's certificate to hang on my wall. (Which, I now realize, I completely forgot to buy a frame for when I was out shopping last night. Dang.) About 10,000 of that came from a single-day marathon session on the 29th. That surprised me. I didn't know I had it in me, but the story was apparently in a hurry to get out.

For the most part, the words seemed to flow effortlessly from my brain to the screen. A little too effortlessly, in some cases; I know that much of what I've written this month is wordy and more than a little bloated. However, I'm forcing myself to finish the story before I go back and start trimming. Inner Editor is just going to have to sit on her hands for another month or so. (She hates that, she does...) It was a good feeling, though, to have the story practically telling itself.

So what did I learn last month?
  • Writing an average of 1,667 words per day doesn't seem nearly as difficult as it did the first time I did NaNo in 2006. At no point did I fall behind the average pace for the month. So maybe that is something that improves with practice.
  • The resources available to authors today are astounding even compared to my first NaNo in 2006. Thanks to Google Street View, I took a virtual tour of Oxford and saw some of the same buildings my characters interact with. It helped me visualize my setting in a way I've never been able to do before.
  • Having supportive family members and friends is important. My Beloved Husband was behind me all the way (thanks, dear!), and many of my other friends, old and new, cheered me along as well. Thank you all!
  • It's good to know that if I ever needed to write 10K in a day, I could, but I did pay the price for it in sore wrists and hands for the next three days. (Mmmm, nothing like the smell of BenGay in the morning!) If I ever do that again, I will dig out the wrist braces before I start, rather than after I finish.
  • I think I still have a lot to learn about pacing. I feel as though I've spent far too much time on the setup for this story, and wonder if the payoff will go by too quickly. But that's what editing is for, and it's not Inner Editor's turn. Yet.
  • I'm also learning to spot when I'm telling and not showing, at least some of the time. I've already left myself notes in the manuscript that say things like, "Find a way to show that Adja is being stubborn, rather than telling us that she is", and "Go back and illustrate this through examples."
So overall, I think the experience helped me continue my growth as a writer, which means that it was worth doing. It also means I'll probably do it again next year.

Most important of all, though, this year's NaNo got me back into the habit of writing on a daily basis again. (Things kinda fell apart after I finished last year's behemoth.) Ideas are flowing, plot bunnies are scampering madly through my brain, and all is well and happy with the world.

So for everyone reading this who completed a writing challenge last month, congratulations! For those who tried but did not reach their goals, also congratulations. At least you wrote something, and hopefully more than you would have otherwise. Either way, I hope the experience helped you learn more about the craft of writing.

(Oh, and for those who were wondering ... yes, I did take a day off from writing the current WIP yesterday to write notes and sketch outlines for the rest of this book, plus books two and three of the trilogy. That was also very satisfying.)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Series overload

I realized last night that one of the contributing factors to my reading blahs is series overload. At least two of the books I'm working my way through are part of a series. One is the 5th book in the series and the second is the 4th (and final) in a series. I adore both authors, but I believe I've gotten to a point where I just want things to end.

In the second set, we're in the fourth and final book. And it looks like we're going to get a resolution to the events that have followed through the series. But I'm to the point where I don't even care how it ends. I've been trying to finish this one for months.

In the other set, there is no end in sight for the series (as far as I know, maybe there is). In fact, the sixth book just came out. And I have to say, I think I'll skip it. While I love the author's writing, I'm burned out on her world and want something new. Or if I have to have the familiar, I'd rather we return to the main characters from book 1 and 4. The main couple in book 5 is sort of a yawn fest for me.

And this is the conundrum for anyone that writes genre novels were series are common - how do you keep things fresh and keep your audience interested? I heard Kim Harrison speak once at a book signing. As she talked about her series, she talked about how the book we were all there to have signed ended a particular arc and that the next book (she was contracted for a few more) would begin the next arc for her main character. I think that's what I'm missing, at least in series 1, we've had essentially the same big picture arc now for 5, going on 6 books. Get on with it! Let's move on.