Thursday, April 29, 2010

Writer's Workshops and Other Conventions

Since Samantha posted earlier in the week about conferences, I thought I'd chime in with some other opportunities to learn more about the craft of writing.

I've gone to many useful panels and connected with other writers at the World Science Fiction convention. Last year's WorldCon, in Montreal, got me some feedback from professional writers and got me involved in a great on-line critique group. This year's WorldCon is in Australia, so I won't be able to attend, but next year's is in Reno, and I'm already signed up to go.

On the local level, my area has a couple of good literary science fiction conventions every year. COSine is already over for this year, but it's an intimate convention with focused programming, and I always come away with valuable insights. MileHiCon is a bit larger, and usually features many of the local authors, such as Connie Willis and Carrie Vaughn. Listening to people like these and like the many well-known guests of honor that have come to MHC is an education in itself.

Of course, the workshop that really has me drooling and wishing I could attend is the Taos Toolbox -- a two-week, intensive workshop led by Walter Jon Williams and Nancy Kress, with Carrie Vaughn as a guest instructor. Although I'm not sure I'm quite ready for something of that caliber, it sounds like it would be a great experience. Unfortunately, the price tag, while quite reasonable for what you get, is a little out of my price range this year. Perhaps if I start saving my pennies...

Do other folks have a "dream workshop" or convention they'd like to attend?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Prompt that wasn'

Well, you know what they say, right? Don't Wait: Postpone Now. That seems to be my MO lately. Lately, ha! I mean my MO in general. Baby steps, though...yes? Here is my response to Samantha's prompt of last week: Late into the night, the snow fell and fell.


My parents are dead, I say to anyone who asks. No, I have no siblings…my brother died with them. Shock usually keeps them from pressing for more details, but I just mutter the words “stuck on the train tracks, no time to get out” and that tends to shut even the nosier ones up.

After a while, no one asks anything else. I’m okay with that. After many tellings, the lie becomes its own truth and I start to believe it myself. I have to: the truth is worse than any story I can come up with and no one, least of all me, wants to hear the real tale. It’s only in my nightmares that I can’t lie, can’t forget about the night the snow fell and fell and the monsters that came with it.


The thing I love about these prompts and the little bits of inspired writing that come of them is that I let myself write without restraint and without wondering what I’m doing. I just let the words present themselves, even if they don’t make much sense. In my snippet above, even I don’t know what the real story is but now the wheels are turning in my head and I’m curious to see if there is anything more I can make of this. Maybe there isn’t anything else, but now my creative juices are flowing a little more; maybe I can take this exercise and go back to my current novel in progress and make some headway.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Conferences, conferences, conferences

It's that time again, conferences season. Oh yes, there are conferences earlier in the year. But RT Booklovers conference always feels like the start of the gauntlet. For those not familiar with RT, it's a HUGE conference put on every year by RT Magazine. This year's is in Columbus, OH. It typically begins on Wednesday, so authors and readers have been flooding into the city today. They also have both Begineer and Advanced Writer Bootcamps that run on Monday and Tuesday.

A quick review of the workshop listings this year had me wishing I could attend:

And that doesn't even touch all the sessions on marketing, business, or other aspects of craft. Next year's conference is in LA, that might make it doable.

Then in a couple of months, the big one happens... RWA Nationals. This year is in Nashville. This is definitely a conference geared for writers and not for readers. It's all workshops and networking. I really long to hit this one someday.

And then come October, the one I'm most familiar with.. Emerald City Writer's Conference. This is the one put on by my local RWA chapter. We're the largest romance writer's conference on the west coast. Because we're a smaller conference (max out at about 250 attendees), you have a better chance of chatting with the agents and editors that attend. Last year at lunch, my fellow Melt-Ink Potter Colleen, and I randomly picked a table. Guess who joined our table... the fabulous bestselling author, Cherry Adair. We got to chat with her and the editor who wanted to come sit by Cherry. You can't get that kind of face time at some of the bigger conferences.

But these aren't the only ones out there. A good number of the RWA chapters put on regional conferences throughout the year. And even if you're not writing romance, they tend to have some great speakers who can give you great insight into the craft of writing and publishing.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

My Response To The Prompt

So this week, as you've probably noticed, we're doing something a little different here on The Melt-Ink Pot. Earlier in the week, we posted a prompt: "Late into the night, the snow fell and fell." We're posting our various responses to that prompt, just so we can see how many different directions one prompt can take us.

I have to confess that my response is a little longer than I expected. But the prompt seems to have landed in a part of my brain that grabbed it and ran, and so ... 7,500 words or so later, a story fell out.

Rather than cluttering up space here, I've posted it on one of my other blogs. But here's a teaser:

Christmas Wishes
by Sheila McClune

Late into the night, the snow fell and fell. Risa's aching hands clenched the steering wheel in a death grip. This is stupid, the nagging voice in her head told her for the thousandth time. Turn around. Go back. The voice got louder, grew strident as she approached another in-the-middle-of-nowhere exit. She turned up the iPod, patched into the radio with a makeshift cable, to try to drown it out.

That, too, was a bad choice. Bohemian Rhapsody ended, and the next song began. Three notes were all that had a chance to play before Risa mashed the skip button, but it was too late. The three notes had already stabbed their way into her heart. Their song. Her eyes flooded with tears...

A mile marker – 420, some idiotic portion of her mind noted – loomed in her headlights, straight ahead. Risa yelled a few words she'd never repeat in front of her mother and fought the urge to yank the steering wheel sharply to the left. Instead, she eased it to the left as gently as she could while still having a chance of not biffing the signpost.

The car almost-but-not-quite scraped the signpost and headed back toward the center of the northbound lanes of the interstate, but then the back end started to skid. She knew she was supposed to steer into the skid, but that would head her straight into the median, so she yanked the wheel back the other direction. The car fishtailed, then described a graceful three hundred and sixty degree turn...

(Read the rest here)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Response to prompt

Here is my response to the prompt:

Late into the night, the snow fell and fell. The main room of the inn was filled with travelers trapped by the early snow. All the rooms were full but the inn keeper was allowing the overflow to sleep on main floor. Tarn and Alia had arrived too late for a room but managed to capture places on the floor near the large fireplace. Alia cupped her hands around the bowl of stew hoping the heat from the bowl would dry her gloves. It would be much simpler to take them off and lay them by the fire. However, she couldn't risk anyone seeing her hands. Most of the mountain peoples had strange superstitions about mages and even more so about anyone that could wield death magic.

Now this was just a rough draft idea so there's not a lot of detail in it. On a second run through I would have included more details of the room, the other people inside, etc. And since my writing lately tends to run toward either Fantasy or Sci-Fi, that was the way I went. The characters are from an idea I've been playing with off and on in little snippets. Alia is a mage who can wield death magic and is feared for it. Tarn is a healer who has sort of attached himself to her.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Experimentation this week...

As you can all see, the Melt-Ink Pot ladies have updated the look of our blog. We decided it was time for a little change.

Also, this week we're doing things a little differently. A prompt has been posted on our private critique group and we'll each take a shot at writing something inspired by that prompt. The prompt might be the first line of the piece or the last or maybe not even appear in the piece. Now, what we post will not likely be anything complete, not even a complete scene. It's just an exericse to get the juices going and to see where each of us goes when presented with the same idea. We'll each also give you an idea of why we wrote what we did.

We'll probably be undertaking this fun challenge once a month.

The prompt this time is -- Late into the night, the snow fell and fell.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Procrastination; or, Why Do Today What You Can Put Off Until Tomorrow

Short entry tonight, because I'm about to fall asleep...

Okay, I admit it. At 11:38 pm on 4/15, I was in my car, in line, at the post office, waiting to mail an envelope. No, not my tax return. An extension. Yes, I'm a procrastinator.

Although to be fair, I probably would have gotten it done during one of the weekends between the middle of March and now, if I hadn't been sick enough to sleep through all of those weekends.

When it comes to writing deadlines, I procrastinate on those, too. I was late with an article for work recently, but after two weeks of staring at the data, inspiration failed to strike. I finally stared long and hard enough that I found my story, but it was a challenge.

On the other hand, I have had good luck with "speed editing." Seems like the longer I take to think about it, the harder editing is. So in that case, procrastination actually helps.

How do others deal with writing and procrastination? Do deadlines help or hinder you?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Those Little Habits; or, "You Might Be A Writer If..."

Came across a blog posting this week that made me laugh, called, "You Might Be A Writer If..." Y'all should go read it. Go ahead. I'll wait. Just don't forget to come back, okay?




You back?


So after I read that and laughed, I got to thinking. The reason it's funny, of course, is because it's about things we all do. Maybe we don't do all of them (I don't have kids, but if I did, I probably wouldn't name them after famous authors), but we do at least some of them.

But they -- or at least most of them -- are also habits we've gotten into because we write.

I'm still editing my Regency romance (almost halfway done, yay!), and as I've been going through, I've found myself thinking, "Why did I ever write this scene that way? Didn't I realize that it's wordy, that it's overwritten? Do I really need to tell the reader the entire guest list of Annalise's breakfast party?" (Yes, I edited that out today. For a guest list, it was actually reasonably well-written, but it still needed to go. But I digress...)

And then I realized that the reason some of what I'm editing is so cringe-worthy is because I've developed new writing habits since I wrote this story. I've gotten much better at recognizing passive voice, for example, and knowing when I've included too much exposition.

Which doesn't mean I don't still write that way sometimes. But at least when I get around to editing, I'm better at recognizing what to take out.

I've also gotten used to writing (and now, editing) in short bursts. If I have a spare half-hour or so, that can be 500-800 words written, or half a chapter edited. I don't need to wait until I have half a day free to get anything done.

Of course, some habits are less beneficial, like my need to hop into a hot shower when I have a plot point to resolve. Makes it mighty inconvenient sometimes!

What writing habits do other people have? Have they changed over time, and if so, how?

(p.s. Bonus points to folks who figured out that posting to this blog is another habit I've been trying to develop!)

Friday, April 2, 2010

Beginning Again

Earlier this week I got my entry back from an RWA chapter contest that I’d entered. This particular contest was very similar to my “home” chapter’s contest in that it was only the first few pages that was submitted. My judges were an RWA PRO member and then two readers. One of the judges was particularly harsh in her comments and as a result my excitement about this particular story took a giant nose dive.

In a way though I’m realizing that her comments (along with comments from the other two which were a bit more constructive) helped me see something about this particular story – namely, I’m writing the wrong one. This particular story was about a mail order bride in 1880 Montana Territory. One thing I found out in my research before beginning this story is that not only were there mail order brides, but mail order grooms as well. The women who needed a mail order groom were most often widows who had a ranch or farm that needed to be worked and didn’t want to lose her family’s legacy because she couldn’t own it outright herself.

So I made the decision to scrap this particular story for now – I’m not saying that it won’t ever be written – and begin again. It’s kind of aggravating but in a way refreshing because I know that this story is going to be unique (there aren’t many mail order groom novels out there that I have been able to come across) and as a newbie author that’s what I need.

I also made another decision this week – due to a move and a family medical issue I’m placing myself, writing wise, on hiatus until May. My tiny apartment is over run with boxes (and I’ve only packed about 6) and I need time to get my life settled so that I can concentrate and make this novel the very best it can be.

So what about you? Have you ever started a story only to realize you’re writing the wrong one? What about taking a break from writing all together? How did you cope with either of these things?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

More Thoughts on Editing; or, Getting Down To The Nitty-Gritty

Because I'm still in the process of editing the Regency romance, I thought I'd post a few more thoughts on editing this week.

People are always telling me that it's easier to edit stuff out than to add more stuff in. Just once, I think I'd like to be on the "add more stuff in" side of the equation, so I could tell whether it's true or not.

The first draft of the Regency romance came in at about 200,000 words. So far, I've edited chapters 55-77 (working my way back from the end), and I've taken out maybe 5,000 words, net, just by reducing wordiness.

Here's an example of the sorts of edits I've been making:

Farlsborough took in the scene at once. Seeing the smoldering pile of clothing on the fire -- for it was too wet to burn right away -- he wondered what could have befallen the girl for her to end up in such a state. He rather suspected he would find out, in due time. "That's better," he said, gesturing toward her. "At least now your lips don't look all blue."

Involuntarily, one of her hands stole up to her lips. "They were blue?"

He nodded.

"Well ..." She paused while they listened to the sleet rattling against the windows concealed behind heavy drapes. "It is rather cold outside."

"Not a fit night for man nor beast to be out," he agreed. Then he gestured toward a pair of chairs that were somewhat more comfortable than the hard wooden one Hughes had placed by the fire for her.
[Word count: 147]

Farlsborough saw the smoldering pile of clothing on the fire -- for it was too wet to burn right away -- and wondered what could have befallen the girl. "That's better. At least now your lips don't look blue."

One of her hands stole up to her lips. "They were blue?"

He nodded.

"Well ..." She shivered, listening to the sleet rattle against the windows. "It is rather cold outside."

"Not a fit night for man nor beast." He gestured toward a pair of comfortable chairs.
[Word count: 86]

That's a difference of 61 words, or 41%. Now, if I were able to reduce the entire manuscript by that same amount, that'd be roughly 82,000 words, which would at least be getting me into the right ballpark. Sadly, there are some sections which defy further streamlining.

I thought it would be interesting to look at what I changed and why:

Farlsborough took in the scene at once. I don't need to tell the readers that he's taking in the scene when I immediately launch into a description of what he sees.

Seeing the smoldering pile of clothing on the fire -- for it was too wet to burn right away -- he wondered what could have befallen the girl for her to end up in such a state. The "for her to end up in such a state" part can be implied if I just say he wondered what could have befallen her.

He rather suspected he would find out, in due time. Since that is the point of this scene, I don't need to tell the readers that's what's going to happen. They'll figure it out pretty soon. Also, by getting rid of this sentence, I don't have to go back and delete the unneeded comma.

"That's better," he said, gesturing toward her. This dialogue tag is not needed.

"At least now your lips don't look all blue." Readers can infer that her lips are "all" blue if I just say they're "blue".

Involuntarily, one of her hands stole up to her lips. "They were blue?" If I say that her hand stole up to her lips, the reader probably knows it's involuntary.

He nodded.

"Well ..." She paused while they listened to the sleet rattling against the windows concealed behind heavy drapes. I seem to have my characters pause a lot. I'm trying to break that habit. Also, while it's nice to know that the drapes are heavy, it's not really necessary to this part of the story.

"It is rather cold outside."

"Not a fit night for man nor beast to be out," he agreed. "To be out" really isn't necessary; nor is the dialogue tag. We know who is speaking.

Then he gestured toward a pair of chairs that were somewhat more comfortable than the hard wooden one Hughes had placed by the fire for her. Comparing the comfortable chairs to the uncomfortable one probably isn't necessary. Also got rid of a "then" at the beginning of the sentence. I have way too many "thens" in my writing.

The revised scene still contains the meat of what I was trying to get across -- that it's a cold night, that the girl was out in it but is warmer now, that Farlsborough isn't unsympathetic to her plight, and that they're about to sit down and have a chat. Oh, and that she burned her wet clothes rather than have him see what shape they were in (she's in a dressing gown during this scene, by the way).

So that's how I approach an in-depth edit. How do other folks go about it?