Sudden Bursts of Inspiration

Yesterday I was taking a shower, and suddenly I had a whole scene just pop into my head.  A scene from a book I wasn’t writing.  It included dialogue, character descriptions, narration, everything! Aside from the bizzaro factor, it was awesome!! I hurried out, pulled out my trusty ole laptop, and typed it down as fast as I could.

Anyways, I was wondering if this kind of thing happens often to anyone else? It’s a very rare occasion for me, although I know other authors have said they’ve had whole books practically fall into their heads.  J.K. Rowling, for example, claims that the idea of Harry Potter just came to her, fully formed.  Lucky…Also, I wrote about Robert Louis Stevenson and his whole little people thing in this post here, so apparently it does happen.  Just usually not to me.

Now I’m left in a quandary.  Previously I mentioned how I was having trouble writing.  I started about three different stories and then just stopped, then started something new.  It’s been an ongoing issue ever since I finished the first draft to my sequel and decided I needed to write about different characters now.  Anyhow, I finally managed to get into a story, and I’m now about 17,000 words in, so it’s coming along, but now thanks to this flash of inspiration I have this new story I’ve started, which is exciting and interesting and unlike anything I’ve ever written before (kind of sci-fi punk/dystopian future).  So.  Which should I work on?

I know how I am.  As soon as I actively stop working on a story for more than a couple of days, that story is dead.  I might look at it later and think, hmm, that’s a pretty interesting story.  I wonder where I was going with that? But I won’t go back in and finish it.  I’m not sure why, but there are probably a good fifty unfinished bits of stories on my computer, some of them really long, and there they’ll sit.  Unfinished forever.  It’s like the great story graveyard, or something.  So now, do I resign my 17,000 words to this little bit of literary limbo, or do I put aside the 5,000 words I typed in my rush to this new story?

Conundrum.

Writing versus Reading

I came across this post by agent Nathan Bransford asking whether people spend more time reading or writing, and since this is an issue I’ve struggled with personally, I thought it would make a good topic for my own post.  I’ve heard that you have to read in order to write–agent Janet Reid makes a comment about this on her post here where she says, “The idea you’ll write a novel without reading is like saying you’ll play pro basketball but not practice with your team. You’ll just show up and people will throw you the ball.”

However, I’ve also heard it said there are two kinds of people, those who read and those who write.  Personally, I’m more inclined to believe Janet Reid’s take on this, and not just because she’s the shark.  Most people I talk to who actually love to write, love to read as well.  If you don’t love to read, there doesn’t seem to be much point in creating yet more words.  That’s like people who hate to eat becoming chefs.  Does it happen? Maybe.  I don’t know.  But it certainly doesn’t make much sense.

Whenever I write and I get into the flow of my book, I feel like I’m reading.  In fact, when I’m really into it, there’s hardly any difference between reading and my writing except that my fingers are moving.  These are the parts of my manuscripts that are the best, versus the sections where I’ve had to painfully plot along, stringing a few words together, just trying to get through a scene.  So, since reading and writing are very similar if you’re in the flow in each, then it makes sense to me that the more you do of one, the better you’d be at the other.  The more books you read, the more stories you absorb, the better you’ll be at creating your own.  This is especially true if you read critically–analyzing bits of dialogue, character description, etc., while still enjoying the book.

However, on the flipside of this I’ve found that the more I read, the less I actually write.  I just have no self-control, and when I’m reading a good book, all I feel like doing is reading that book.  Writing, schoolwork, household chores, and all that important stuff just go right out the window.  Not only does this lead to some interesting fights with my husband, but it’s really not good for my attempts at a writing career if I’m not spending any time actually writing.  I try to pass it off as research, but I’m not really fooling anyone, least of all myself.  The worst part is when I’m in the middle of a series, because this can lead to days, weeks even of my doing nothing but reading.

So, how do you balance your reading and writing habits? I know someone who only reads on the lightrail to and from work, and when she’s home, she keeps the book closed.  Personally, I’ve found that I just need to have periods of time when I’m not reading a book.  Like right now, for instance.  Since I took that lovely hiatus the past couple of weeks, I’ve been staying away from books for a while, just so I can get my word counts back up again and get into my own writing.  I’d be interested in hearing any other suggestions people have for balancing these two.

Published in: on June 23, 2010 at 9:14 pm  Comments (2)  
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Write or Die!!

Alright, I admit it–I fell off the wagon.  The last time I posted here was…well, I don’t even remember, and that’s sad, but really that’s not the worst part.  The worst part is the fact that I stopped writing entirely.  True, there are some very good reasons (some would call them excuses), but the fact of the matter is, I’ve found the longer I stay away from my computer, the harder it is to go back to it.  If I take off more than two days in a row, for example, I have serious trouble trying to get back into a story and I practically have to re-read everything I’ve written in that story just to start writing again.  Trust me, this is not the most efficient way to go about writing.

So last week I finally forced myself to open my laptop, sit down, and just write something.  It was hard.  I wrote about 150 words and then played a few rounds of spider solitaire, but at least I started.  I’m now over 10,000 words on that story, and most of those words are junk–I can clearly see the parts where I was forcing myself to grind out the words, but at last I finally found myself getting into the flow, and I’m now looking forward to sitting down and getting some serious work done on it this afternoon. And honestly, what first draft isn’t full of junk words? Or at least, that’s what I’ve been telling myself.  ; )

What I’ve found is that there will always be a reason not to sit down and write.  The world is full of excuses; all you have to do is look around you and you’ll see something else you could/should be doing instead, so the key is to just ignore all that and force yourself to get to that computer and open it.  Once you start, the excuses will eventually fall away.  And even if you’ve taken off a few weeks/months/years, it’s never too late to get back to it.  Really.  So, to my fellow slackers out there, I say sit your butts down and get to it! I will be doing the same.

Published in: on June 21, 2010 at 3:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Why aren’t there more evil female villains?

Best villainess ever...

The other day, Cassandra Jade had a post asking people about their favorite female protagonists.  Check it out if you haven’t already–lots of good characters listed.  Well, this got me thinking about the flipside of the coin, and I tried to come up with a mental list of favorite female villains.  Surprisingly, I could only think of a few, and now I’m wondering if my memory is just really shoddy, or if there really is a shortage of female villains.

When I say “female villains,” I mean truly evil characters.  Not the bitchy boss, the lying friend who isn’t really a friend, the snarky whatever.  I mean the kind of villain who wants to kill or hurt people, or take over the world, or…well, be really evil.  Can you think of any good ones? So far, I’ve thought of the White Witch from “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” by C.S. Lewis, Umbridge from “The Order of the Phoenix,” by JK Rowling, and, well, I’m sure there must be many more, but I’m mostly drawing a blank.  I know a lot of the different fairy-tale retellings have the evil witch or stepmother figures, and there are some female villains in different series; Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake books have some good ones, for instance, but they all feel almost like minor villains since they only really affect the one book they’re in, and not the series as a whole.  But maybe I’m just being picky.

If you think of any good ones, let me know.  I’m curious, and I’ve now decided I’ll have to have a good female villain in my own future writing.

Published in: on May 21, 2010 at 11:41 am  Comments (7)  
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The art of world building

I read an interesting post by Nathan Bransford today where he posed the question, “if you could live in the world of one novel, which one would you choose?” Now, I always like questions like this, maybe because the nerd in me likes imagining what life would be like if I were in each of the worlds I read about.  I’ve come to a few conclusions over the years; I wouldn’t want to be in any of these sword and sorcery novels where I’d have to do a lot of running, and nothing where my life is constantly in danger or where the world is very uncomfortable.  And by uncomfortable, I mean worlds like Cherie Priest’s “Boneshaker” where you have to walk around with a gas mask to breath the air and there are gangs of super-fast zombies traveling around.  In fact, any world with zombies is automatically O-U-T.

Which leads me to the one series I would like to live in: Harry Potter.  Who didn’t see that one coming? Embarrassingly enough, from the comments it looked like about 90% of the people answering wanted to live at Hogwarts.  So, instead of being bothered by my lack of originality, I decided to take a closer look at why everyone wants to be a wizard in the world of Harry Potter.

What’s there not to love about Hogwarts? Before going, you’re told you are special and belong in this whole other, better world, where you can do magic, live in a really amazing castle, and take classes that are full of fun things like how to ride a broomstick or transform items into other items (and honestly, even potions seemed like a pretty cool thing to learn).  True, there’s that whole He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named thing, but really, it seems like a small price to pay.

J.K. Rowling is able to create a whole separate world, with so much detail and so many fun little facts that it feels like a real place.  And while I’ve read many other books that accomplish this just as well (see “Boneshaker” above), none of them seem nearly as fun.  This is why I think the Harry Potter books are so popular; the characters are good and the storyline is good, but again, I’ve read books that are just as good and better.  But the world of Harry Potter is such a fun place that readers love these books, just for the chance to belong in that world for a couple of hours.

I’m still working on the art of world building in my own work.  I know the key is including plenty of little details that might feel insignificant or pointless at first, but that illustrate how this new world is different from other worlds.  If done right, these little details will eventually tie in to the main plot, becoming important, much like the room of requirement in the Harry Potter series, which started out as a comment from Dumbledore about a room full of chamber pots in the first book and became very significant in later books.  But what else do you need to do to make your world come alive? Suggestions? Comments? Thanks, and happy writing!

Published in: on May 19, 2010 at 9:45 pm  Comments (6)  
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Loving those intuitive writing moments

Alright, I’m back from my writing-cation, and I almost met my goal.  I got to about 19,000 words for the weekend, and I was aiming for 20,000, so not so bad.  Definitely more than I’ve ever written in a three-day period before.  And the best part is I have one last chapter and I’ll be done with my first draft.  Then the real fun begins…

One thing I noticed while writing is that I began to get more intuitive lurches.  Things like, “you need to have this character show up now,” etc.  The longer I wrote, the more I felt like I was getting a little bit of help, little nudges in the right direction.  I talked about this briefly in an earlier post–the ability to write intuitively without a real plan, but I wanted to talk about it some more because it is the part of the writing process I’m most interested in.

There was an interesting post by Tribal Writer recently about how you shouldn’t write what you know, but instead, “write what you want to know, or write what you don’t know, but will discover in the telling.”  I found this intriguing because I always felt like writing what I know would be problematic, since I like to write fantasy, or at least have a supernatural twist to my stories, and at least so far in my life I have yet to develop magical talents.  The day is still young, but I don’t really see that in my future.  So, instead I would start with something I know, and then imagine how that would change.  For instance, my current WIP is about a fourteen-year-old girl who is locked into manacles by the god of death and forced into another world.  Not something I would know much about, but as I wrote I’d try to picture what that would be like, and go from there.

I think the best writing advice is not “write what you know,” but “write what you love.”  If you’re enjoying what you’re writing about, then other people will enjoy reading it.  It’s sort of how you can tell if someone is smiling when you’re talking to them on the phone, you can tell if a writer is having a good time.  And while writing, you just need to trust that your subconscious will help you out, if you relax and listen to it.

Published in: on May 17, 2010 at 9:51 am  Comments (1)  
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Writing waves and embarassing English majors everywhere

Well, today I made my goal.  7,061 words, to be exact, which is actually the most words I’ve ever written at one time.  One thing I discovered was that there is a definite wave to my writing process.  I don’t know how anyone else works, but I had periods of a lot of productivity interspersed with periods of just slowly grinding out a few words. 

I noticed that I’d have some success, and then I’d reach a point where I felt I could stop for the day, but if I kept pushing it, I’d get through a slow word grinding period and into another productive flow.  This makes me think that writing is similar to running a marathon, or any other physical  activity; you might think you’re at your limit, but if you just ride it out, you’ll actually discover that you’re capable of doing a lot more than you originally thought. 

That’s my only thought for the day.  Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, I ended up going to happy hour with my sister and her friends, and found myself the only english major at a table full of physicists.  Naturally, that meant I had to drink enough beer to understand what they were saying, which lead to the one english joke I know, which is “how much does a Hemingway?” Heh, heh.  Alright, so not so funny, and I think I think I misrepresented engish majors everywhere.  Sorry, guys. 

Anyways, tomorrow’s the last day of my writing-cation, and if I’m going to make my goal of 20,000 words, I’ll have to write another 7,000 words, which honestly I’m not sure is going to happen.  I’ll keep you posted.  Until then, happy writing!

Published in: on May 13, 2010 at 10:07 pm  Comments (1)  
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A bad writing foundation is better than no foundation, right?

Alright, so I just finished my  first writing-cation day, and let me tell you, it was pretty successful.  After a rough start (i.e. 6:30 am train ride), I arrived in Davis, ate some crepes, and got started.  I set a goal of 7,000 words, which I didn’t quite meet, but I did make it to about 6,000, so all in all not bad.  Tomorrow will be even better, I’m sure.  Hopefully.

More importantly, I’ve managed to advance the plot quite a bit, even though I came to the realization that a lot of my sentences were pretty terrible.  Not the nicest realization, but when you’re trying to slap down as many words as you can, it’s not always going to be pretty.  But, I decided that the goal is to get a foundation in place, and then after that’s complete, I can go back and fix up everything. 

I first tried this method when I did NaNoWriMo a couple years ago–the goal of this is to write a whole novel, or 50,000 words and a complete story arc, in a month.  It’s actually really fun, but when you’re done, you’ll have a pretty ugly first draft.  This was how I wrote my first story, and it was awful–I usually try to pretend it never happened.  I decided there was nothing I could do to salvage that sad wreck of a first draft, but the next year I did NaNoWriMo again, and that’s actually how I wrote my current complete novel.  Of course, it took me another year and a half to make it readable, but I don’t think I would have ever gone back and fixed it up if I hadn’t had something finished to work with.  So, even though it’s not November, I’ve decided to take this same mentality on vacation with me.

I’d be interested to know what other people think of this method.  Is it better to carefully type out a decent first draft, and take a longer time with it, but have a lot less work to do on subsequent drafts? Or is it a good idea to write as fast and as furious as you can, ignoring  plot holes, bad dialogue, and character inconsistencies, to be fixed later? Since I don’t outline ahead of time, as mentioned previously, I feel like if I can just write fast enough and allow myself to be in the flow, the story that comes out will be better and more consistent then if I spend a lot of time perfecting words.  Everything else can be improved upon later, but I’m curious what other people think.  Happy writing!

Published in: on May 12, 2010 at 11:29 pm  Comments (6)  
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A Writing-cation

It’s going to be a short post today.  Sorry, people! I’m actually headed out to Sacramento, and I still need to pack.  I’ve decided to see if it’s possible to go on a writing vacation, or writing-cation for short.  Clever, I know.  😉 Anyways, I’ve heard that sometimes if you go away somewhere and just focus on your writing, you can get a lot done, so I’m meeting my sister and I’m going to spend the next three days just trying to add as much as I can to my word count while she works on her thesis.  My goal is to add 20,000 words by the end of the weekend, but honestly I’ll be happy with 15,000.

I’ve kind of reached a stand-still a little bit with my current WIP.  It’s a sequel to the novel I’m currently trying to get published, and I feel like it isn’t going at all how I originally pictured.  I know in my last post I talked about intuitive writing, but I’ve been having trouble getting into the flow with this work lately, and I’m hoping a change of scenery will help.  Plus my sister has the most recent episodes of Dr. Who saved…but that has nothing to do with my decision to go out there.  Honestly.

I’d be interested to know what other people do when they feel like they’re stuck on a piece.  Do you still force yourself to grind out the words, even if it’s like typing through wet cement? Do you work on something else? Any suggestions would be great! It’s always interesting to hear how different people handle their own writing dry spells.  Thanks, and happy writing!

Published in: on May 11, 2010 at 9:41 pm  Comments (2)  
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Clueless Writing – Is it bad if you have no plan?

Proof that you don't need a plan to be happy

I’ve decided to veer away from villains and protagonists and all that fun stuff for now and talk about the writing process in general.  It is my opinion that there are two types of writers: the planners and the poor saps who never learned how to write a friggin’ outline.  Guess which category I fall into? It seems like some people can carefully plot out their whole storyline, occasionally jotting down particular scenes that they see in their head during their planning stages, giving little notes about the different characters along the way, and generally being annoying with their tightly plotted stories and ridiculous organizational skills.  Clearly, I am very envious of these people.

Then there are the other people, like me, who just start writing without a plan.  Sure, I start off with a vague idea, or really more of an impression, but I usually have no idea where I want my story to go, or what’s going to happen along the way.  I just write and try really hard not to think about what I’m writing, because as soon as I start thinking, I realize I don’t have a clue what I’m writing about and I freeze, panicked, the whole process crashing down around my ears.  While this doesn’t seem like the best system, there are definitely pros to it as well.  For instance, since I have no idea where my story is going, it feels more spontaneous to me, and I’m never really bored while working on it.  In fact, writing without a plan is like reading, only at the end of a couple of hours you’ve gone through much less story and you’re exhausted.

I was thinking about this today, while working on my current WIP.  I call unplanned writing “intuitive writing,” and it’s actually pretty neat how it works.  Usually, the first draft has gaping plot holes the size of Kansas all over it, but in between these sad, terrible pieces of writing, there are some really good things that just come together.  Even without a plan, my subconscious seems to know what it’s doing, at least a little, and if I’m in the flow and I listen, occasionally I’ll get little nudges, like, “you need to bring back this character in the next scene,” or “here’s where she needs to find out x information.”  Little hints like that.  Which makes me wonder occasionally who’s really writing these stories…I heard that Robert Louis Stevenson had little people in his dreams that he molded into a story factory, and they are the ones who gave him the idea for “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” and wow that last sentence sounds really crazy written out like that.  I’ll go into that idea more in a later, crazier post…

Anyways, I’ve decided not to be envious of people who can actually plan out a story ahead of time, because I think both styles of writing will get you where you need to go in the end.  The key is really trusting yourself enough to complete the story, whether you’re using an outline or are just throwing yourself into it NaNoWriMo style.  But, as an experiment, I’m going to try to outline my next story before I start.  I’ll let you know if it turns out to be an abysmal failure…