Sunday, February 24, 2013

Writing...It's a Process

In the business world, it seems most work environments are the same. Whether it’s a cubicle, an office, or a receptionist desk, things tend to stay constant. Often a local radio station plays softly in the background. People’s fingers click across keyboards, computer screens glowing in the space. I often find it interesting that, while similar, no two writers create in the same environment.

For me, there has to be music playing in the background. If it is an intense scene, then the tone of the music has to match the tone of the events. I don’t have a designated place, but I typically write the most in my living room. This space is open enough that I don’t feel Closter phobic. But I also have access to windows looking outside. The best view is the mountains. I think because in the summer, when most of my writing gets done, I can watch storm clouds roll over the rough cliffs. Another area I like to look at is the desert garden in my backyard. I imagine the location would change if I lived in a house full of people. Solitary seems to be the only constant amongst writers. I write the best in the evening or early morning, when the light outside is changing. Add candles burning inside and I have the recipe for a great writing experience...most of the time.

This can look weird for those who don’t write. In college, our neighbors would come over to see what I was doing. My dad even got yelled at when I was a teenager because he kept coming into my room, disrupting my thought process. I understand now that a teenager cooped up in her room all afternoon created a curious father needing to investigate. The funniest incident occurred when I was living with my brother and writing The Lord of Nightmares. The room was illuminated only by the computer screen and a couple candles. It was a pretty dark scene, so I’m pretty sure a dreary Beethoven piece was playing. My brother came in, frowned, then asked if I was worshipping Satan. I sarcastically answered yes, noticing only after he left a paper from my research for a demonic character sitting in plain view on the table. Yes, it was on satanic worship.

There is no set cocktail for creativity. Writers argue whether writing on a computer or by hand is the best method. I, for one, am driven by the sound of my keyboard clicking, but I grew up with technology. Some have to have silence. Some write outline upon outline and some just dive into the blank page. No one method produces better quality than others. Despite the stereotype, I have never actually met someone who writes in a coffee house. I love that creativity cannot be contained in a stereotypical how-to. While that fact may be frustrating at times, is the only way to stay fresh. So happy writing everyone, no matter how you do it!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Series Growth

Apparently, I am in a list mood, because here’s another one. As some of you know, I am currently writing an Atlantis series. The first two were a breeze. Now, I have come to admire those who have a double digit book series. Writing one is harder than I thought because there are a lot of things to consider from book to book. Here are some things I have learned and am still learning through this process.
1. Characters change. Some may change more than others (Pandora has gone from a child to an adult, major character arc there). But, if done right, the characters are not the same people they were when the story began, otherwise the plot is a dead in the water. Which means I, as their author, must acknowledge this reality. I need to let go of who they used to be and deal only with who they are. It’s kind of like any real relationship. If we keep thinking of someone as their current self, then present relationships will not survive.
2. Forget the backstory. This book especially, a lot has happened to my characters (two books worth). While I value it all (I spent a year of my life on each), not all of it is valuable to the current plot. It is important to sift through what is important and what is not. As hard as it is for me to say (because everything is so personal to me), I must let go of the stories that no longer matter. I think this goes back to driving the plot, which is the only thing that matters. Therefore, only the information that pushes the current plot along makes it in. I find it funny I had to discover this because, as a reader, I hate when authors do too much backstory. I tend to skip it. If I skip it as a reader (and still follow along), then I guess it’s not important to put down as a writer.
3. Don’t repeat the same story. I discovered this in a recent series I tried to read, and have since dropped. As a reader, I am impatient. I don’t want to return to the same plot. I don’t care if the author added a slightly new twist. If it rehashes prior concerns, then why do I want to devote my time to see if it ends differently. Maybe it’s just me. But this kills any type of series for me (whether it be on TV or in book form). Find a new plot a new twist. Even in a book like Harry Potter. The plot may not really end until book 7, but they also don’t revisit the same issues. They expand and grow, encountering new challenges. The characters have to make progress in the story because the reader requires it.
I am by no means an expert on series. But I am having fun with the new challenge of writing one.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

A World of Advice

In my ten years writing, I have encountered an abundance of advice. Some of it I sought, but others come without prompting. I love both types because they provide either “ah-ha” moments or “ha-ha” ones. This week, I started thinking about all the advice I’ve come across. I decided to share it along with my experiences.

1. Use as little adjectives as possible. This advice may also come in the form of taking out all the “ly” words. I have rejected, accepted, re-rejected, and grudgingly admitted the value in this thought. Those who criticize these words claim the sentence has better imagery without the passive words. They say those who use them are either being weak or lazy in their writing. I don’t think I would go that far. I am not yet willing to sift through my words to remove all adjectives just yet. But, I will concede that there are often stronger sentence structures and descriptive words.

2. Write every day. This one is an ambition of mine, but one I find myself battling. I have heard anywhere from ten to thirty minutes set aside to write. Marry Higgins Clark got up two hours earlier to write before her kids awoke. I contend that, in a world that asks me to get up earlier and earlier to fit in daily habits, I just don’t think I can convince myself to wake up at 4:30am every morning. Yet, I do see how rusty my writing becomes when I have large gaps in between writing sessions. I have written about this topic often. I think it’ll remain valuable, but still difficult. Yet, I know the results are worth the effort to figure out how to write every day.

3. Build a platform. This advice is given to those who haven’t published yet as well. It also goes along with knowing one’s audience and the trends of their genre. Basically, I always think this advice boils down to knowing your business. I think writers tend to forget their passion is actually a business in which we are selling a product, or at least I do. That’s not the fun part. But I would hope a realtor knows the trends in the market before trying to sell my house. I think writing is no different.

4. Create memorable characters and an action-packed plot. I always love this type of advice. This is a “no-dah” type of advice. Create a good story people want to read. Doesn’t seem like it needs to be said, but I have heard many story pitches that may need to understand this advice. You may love frogs, but can you really make others love them, too?

My advice? Know everyone has an opinion. Writers can’t please everyone. There will be someone who will put my work on their hate list and others who will put it on their “can’t live without” list. It’s all subjective and that’s okay. It’s all part of the joys of writing.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Not Perfect

Being critiqued is a difficult and sometimes dangerous process to participate in. Don’t get me wrong. I believe it is importance. I find, if left to my own thoughts, I will deem my work as either brilliant or worthless. There can be nothing wrong with a scene, but I can tear it down. Likewise, there can be a lot wrong with a scene but I see it as the best piece ever written. I think the trouble with self-analyzing is that I know what was supposed to be on the page. I know every detail of the scene, every emotion, and where it’s leading. The question always remains…did I succeed? I don’t think this is something I can answer.

For the most part, I send my work through readers. These are people I trust not to tear me down to make themselves feel better. They don’t interject how they would have done it differently. They simply tell me if I accomplished my goal. I think it helps that these readers are not writers. But, as I said before, I believe every now and then it is good for a writer to hear true criticism. Not something from someone paid to criticize. Their critics are more about their careers. No, I am talking about criticism from writers in the same boat or people aware of the technics of writing.

This process is hard, though. I believe I’ve gotten better. I always will say my mother took me through the “what do you mean it’s not perfect” stage. The poor woman had to deal with a writer’s first encounter with criticism mixed with the hormones of a teenager. She is a saint. Yet, even though I’ve gone through a bachelor’s degree and a few writing courses, criticism is still tough. For me, the hardest part is hearing more than just the negative. What did I do wrong? What proof do they have that I really should give up writing? It is always crushing to have someone say the scene just didn’t work and then list out reasons why. I always have to sit on their words for a few hours, force myself to examine them, and then begin to recognize what should change. After thinking about it, I often find what I agree and disagree with. I think that’s important; realizing that I have the right to disagree and it doesn’t make me snobbish. People like different things. What speaks to one doesn’t speak to another. That’s fine. But the important part is to honestly weigh their thoughts before casting them aside.

I don’t believe criticism will ever be easy. Yet, I’d rather have someone honestly give me their thoughts rather than always saying “it’s great.” If that’s all I hear, I will seek out those willing to tell me what they think. That’s the only way a writer can truly grow. But too much criticism can be detrimental to a writer’s confidence. It’s a fine balance, but worth the effort.