Wednesday, November 26, 2014

NaNo Near the End

With only five days until NaNoWriMo is over, I've found that I can, indeed, punch out 50k words in thirty days. I'm not there, yet, but I'm so close that if I don't make it, it's basically because I got lazy, or tragedy struck. So there's a 50-50 chance that I have no excuses.

So what else have I learned? I learned that, often enough, it's important to write, even when the words, narration, plot, or characterization are VERY bad. All of that can get edited later. But I also learned that, as much fun as it's been to "pants" my way through this draft (writing by the seat of my pants), I don't particularly care for this method. The work that goes into outlining helps to keep me on track. It makes the story mesh and meld together. And it makes sure that (like we discussed in this week's episode), my characters have agency.

Right now, I'm not sure what my character wants, why she wants it, or what she has to do to get it. Or, for that matter, why I or any reader should CARE.

Again, this is what revision and editing are for, but this is going to be a much more daunting task than previous books have been. Getting all of that information into the next draft may take as long as a "normal" first draft, which means this book could take longer than I typically like to edit.

That being said, I'm still learning with this whole writing thing. We'll see where things go with this book, but if it doesn't go anywhere, it has, at the very least, helped me get my brain working with STORY again. I'm excited to write! So I'm going to go write.

Giles is excited about books and stories. He has so many ideas, he kinda hates the fact that he only has time to work on one project at a time. But at least he's writing.

Monday, November 24, 2014

A Character with Agency: Harry Dresden

Every time the podcast team gets together, we wait for the moment Giles will mention Jim Butcher or the Dresden Files. We don’t usually have to wait for very long. Mention fantasy, mystery, detectives, humor, heroes, or great style, and Giles will launch into something about Jim Butcher.

This is not to say that it’s a bad thing. It’s just that until a few weeks ago, Emily and I were totally in the dark. We had never read Jim Butcher’s work, so the most we could do was nod and smile. But after we talked with Mr. Butcher, I knew it was time.

…and it was awesome.

If you haven’t read anything by Jim Butcher, go do it now. Right now. I could give you several reasons: the first book in the Dresden Files series is hilarious, it was a well-written rollercoaster crime show. It was like Castle meets The Thin Man meets your favorite fantasy series. I don’t think I’ve ever read an urban fantasy that so easily made me think its world could be real.

Harry Dresden is like a study in character agency. Every time he is faced with a decision, he walks through it using his own logic. I loved seeing him choose between terrible and awful things and then sticking with his choice. How can you argue with a guy who so plainly knows the consequences of each of his actions?

We talk about character agency in tomorrow’s brand-new podcast episode. It’s all about having a character who makes things happen – not someone who lets things happen to them. A character with agency makes decisions, moves the plot, and then makes more decisions. Butcher’s character of Harry Dresden does this with gusto. Sure, there are some plot things that are there to push back, like his backstory and the way magic works in this world. But on the whole, Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden (yes, that’s his full name) kicks butt in just about every sense of the term.

Michelle has a problem with reading the first book in a series, getting impatient to wait for the second to arrive at the library, and starting a completely different series in the meantime. Going from Storm Front to Steelheart to Divergent is interesting, to say the least. 

Friday, November 21, 2014


On the podcast this week, we interviewed Jim Butcher and talked about writing communities. So, I'm not going to talk about either in this post! Listen to the episode if you want to hear my thoughts. [Insert evil laughter here.]

With the holidays coming up, I've been thinking a lot about how I'm going to squeeze writing in between celebrating and seeing family and trying to make sure I don't fall behind in my day job. It's a rather intimidating task, if I'm honest. Unfortunately, it's all too easy for me to shove writing and creating into the lowest-priority spot on my to-do list. I don't have solid deadlines (yet), and it's incredibly simple to make excuses--"oh, I'm too tired," or "I can't brain," or "I'll just write double tomorrow and catch up." Spoilers: that double-writing never actually happens.

I know I'm not the only one who has this problem. I think it's a pretty common thing about us creatives, especially when we're under stress or are in the "I hate everything" phase of creating.

So, how do we get around that? Find a way to make your creative time a priority. It's important! As human beings, we're wired to express ourselves and art is a great way to do it, no matter your medium. As hard as it is, find a way to carve out time to focus on your art, even if it's only half an hour a day. Any time is better than none. Reward yourself on the days you get your creating done. Or (what I'm thinking about trying) tell a friend that you'll write them a check for something that feels perhaps a little too tight on your budget if you don't get your word count/goal finished in a set amount of time.

Find something that pushes you to be creative, whether that's a community, or a routine, or something else entirely.

Emily's trying not to be what one might call a professional procrastinator, but she's not so great at baby steps. In the meantime, she'll be over in the corner staring at her manuscript and trying to force the words out.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Finding the Right Community

In this week's episode, we had a chance to talk with Jim Butcher. And he talked about how he got the idea for Codex Alera (a great series!) in an online writers forum.

Over the years, I've found that those forums are difficult for me to get involved with. I waste so much time on the internet when I should be writing (like this morning), and it's easy for me to get lost reading conversations where I really have nothing to say.

One of the reasons I stopped writing my other blog is that I didn't have a lot to write about over there. Here, there's always a topic of the week to discuss. On the forums, I feel like I have nothing to offer. By the time I get into a post where the topic is interesting, or I might have something of substance to contribute, someone else has already said basically the same thing I would. And I hate when anyone posts in a thread just to say, "Yeah, I totally agree with this." I never want to be the guy who says something just to say something. Not unless there's something to add.

On the podcast, we've talked quite a bit about joining a community. And for many people, the forums are the best option. I didn't start to feel a part of a community until I met people in real life. That's how I work. That's how I connect. I've met a few awesome writers through the internet, but out of every thousand people I've chatted with online, only three of them turned out to be people I could have substantive conversations with online. As opposed to less than a hundred people met in real life who led me to my critique group of awesomeness with five members (all of whom I can have conversations with), and two of those members are my amazing co-hosts.

The tough part about communities, especially for us artistic types who want validation of some kind, is finding somewhere safe to be yourself. With the anonymity of the internet, that's almost impossible to find online. For me, anyway. I spend a lot of time trying to craft my words in a way that won't be misconstrued because I don't want to even accidentally say something rude or disrespectful. And if I'm ever going to be a professional writer, I can't spend my time in the forums.

Because if I do, I won't spend it writing. And professional writers have to write.

Giles wants to talk to a TON of other authors, but he doesn't always have the time. If he did, NaNoWriMo wouldn't be going as well as it is for him.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Creative Community

I never thought that one of the things I would love most about writing and being creative is talking to people. Ten years ago I was fairly certain I would become a gazillionaire, buy a cozy cabin in the Alps, and never need to talk to people ever again.


Not only does the creative community make writing more fun, it supports all the highs and lows a writer goes through. We each would love to make it on the bestseller lists, but if one of our colleagues gets there instead, we know how to celebrate. Won an award? Let’s have a party. Got an agent? We’ll make you cake. Hit a word count goal? We’ll drink to that.

The creative community is phenomenally friendly. Just check out the interviews we’ve done with writers, directors, artists, and beyond. These hard-working souls are incredibly busy, and the mere fact that they responded to a request for an interview makes me feel all glowy inside. And we didn’t have to do anything fancier than ask for some talk time*.

We Americans tend to glorify fame and forget that behind every famous person is…a person. I used to approach interviews with an awed "Oh, my gosh, I am so unworthy" kind of attitude. Now that I've done a few, though, my feelings are much more accurately described as, "Oh, sweet, another fun person!" Of course, that doesn't keep me from getting just a tiny bit nervous. I do want to leave them with a good impression, after all. 

The point is, the more I get to talk to other creative peeps, the more I like people and the more I realize that I could never hide myself a way in a hermitage – I would miss out on way too many cool things from really interesting people. 

Of course, I still want that cozy Alpine cabin. Please.

Michelle likes to ask quirky questions during interviews, so if you are ever on the other side of the conversation, you might like to be prepared to talk about your dinosaur counterpart, your most-repeated jokes, and what your favorite shoes look like.

* “Ask” as in “beg”, really. And make expert-level puppy dog eyes. Just kidding! We’re just so nice, how could you not want to talk to us? 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Chemistry Club in Concert!

Last night, Michelle, Giles, and I braved the frigid cold to see Chemistry Club in concert. If you listened to episode 24 of Beyond the Trope, you heard us interviewing the band (and you've heard snippets of their awesome music in several episodes since).

I have to say, I love seeing live music--and it's a bonus if you kind of know the band! Chemistry Club has a great on-stage presence, with lots of energy and a super-fun performance. If you get the chance, I definitely recommend hitting up one of their shows!

Like maybe the release party for their new album on December 5th. We're incredibly excited for their new album--which is going to be the beginning of a scifi concept album (aka a scifi story told through music, with some comics on the side). Epic science fiction told in music? What more could genre-loving nerds like us ask for?!

To sum up, Chemistry Club is great--great guys, great music, great shows--and you should totally check them out and come to the release party next month. We'll probably be there, too.

Emily is pretty good at falling head-over-heels for new, awesome bands, books, movies, and more. You could say she's a total fangirl (and she wouldn't even deny it). Keep up with her obsessions on Twitter @Emilyksinger.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Winter Writing

Winter is by far my favorite time of year. I know it's not winter yet, but it's 2 degrees outside, so I'm going to pretend fall is over. For now, anyway.

I love snow, as long I don't have to drive around other people. I love sitting under a blanket with a mug of coffee, tea, or hot cocoa. And when it's this cold out, I love setting my warm laptop in front of me and typing away at a nice story.

If I could live in a land of perpetual winter, sit indoors and write all the time, I would never want for anything. Except, maybe, a trip to the summer lands every couple of years. But for no more than a week.

What do you like about winter? Does it energize you to get writing done? Or does it make you sleepy (like I know it does to several of my friends)?

Giles is warm at home right now, even though he spent several hours this morning remembering why most people shouldn't be allowed to drive in the snow. He's working his way through NaNoWriMo at the moment, so this is a short blog post.

Monday, November 10, 2014

5 Reasons I Need to Buy More Books

For those of us who need excuses to justify our addiction, here’s a short list of reasons why I should definitely jump over to my local bookstore with a wad of cash in hand:

1. My house could look like these heaven-sent photos: 

 Images from (yes, that’s the actual name of the actual site)

2. I would learn to recognize SO MANY MORE emotions

Image from

3. Having more books will make me cooler. 

Image from Google…because apparently memes aren’t easy to track down.

4. My brain will make giant leaps in creativity.

Image from

5. Owning and reading more books will give me the ultimate power over other readers’ happiness

Image from

So there you have it. If I buy more books, my house will be awesome, I will be in touch with my emotions, I'll be super cool and creative, and I will be all-powerful. Please excuse me while I go indulge in my book addiction. 

Image from

Michelle is a registered book addict at her local library. Her current addictions include audio books, Harry Dresden, and Jasper Fforde. She finds the best therapy for book withdrawal is dark chocolate.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Challenges and NaNo

This is the first year in ages that I'm not participating in NaNoWriMo. It's kind of a weird feeling, not going onto the NaNo forums to whine about how poorly my manuscript is going, or to steal a dare or two because I'm stuck. It's also really amusing to me that my first year not participating is Giles' first year actually giving it go, but that's another blog post.

Why am I not trying to pound out a 50,000 word manuscript in a month this year? Because I'm already working on a novel (that I don't want to rush through), and I have other things to focus on--like this podcast.

We're heading into our last formal recording session for the year tomorrow! How crazy is that?!

Anyway, I guess the morale of my not-doing-NaNo story is that we've all got different creative paths, and it's great to try new things. Challenge yourself to try NaNo (or not, if you've done it before). Challenge yourself to write something off a prompt you hate. Challenge yourself to improve both your quantity and quality of writing.

My personal challenge is to finish this manuscript I'm working on by the end of the year and help shape Beyond the Trope into something incredible. What challenges are you tackling this week and beyond?

Emily's big challenges are motivation and consistency, but she's working on that! Follow her challenge-tackling on Twitter @EmilykSinger, and don't forget to download the latest Beyond the Trope episode!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

NaNo What?

Michelle isn't doing NaNo this year. As I said last week, this is my first year of participation. So what have I learned in the first half-week of this challenge?

First, I've remembered how fun it is to plow through a story that has real potential. It's been fun to create action scenes, chapters, and characters who pop in my brain. Obviously, it'll take at least one revision for them to pop on the page, but even in this first draft, they have a life that surpasses many of my previous manuscripts.

Second, I know, now, that I can hammer out two thousand words a day when I knuckle down and block out distractions. I've written more in the last few days than I typically get done in an average week. And that has me energized! I'm already a few hundred words away from the 12k, mark. In less than a week!

Third, my personal issues with NaNo may have been relevant to me when I voiced them, but I'm realizing more and more that my perceptions, whether or not they're flawed, shouldn't influence my decisions to write. By pushing those dumb ideas out of my brain, I've been able to accomplish something that I thought wouldn't happen until I managed to get myself writing full-time.

What have you learned about NaNo? About yourself? About your writing or reading preferences?

Giles is getting a ton of writing done. He posts about it on Twitter, and if you want to check out his profile on, feel free.

Monday, November 3, 2014

No, no NaNo

To NaNo or not to NaNo, that was the question. Every time November rolls around, in fact, that’s the question. Writers everywhere dust off their favorite pens, break out their typewriters, and check the charge on their laptops. For some it’s a yearly tradition. Crank out a book in four weeks? Um yes! For others it takes a little more thought. 

I asked myself “the” question from mid-October to last week. NaNo or no NaNo? Nix it or stick with it? It’s fun, gives you a goal to hit, and if/when you finish, you know you’ve accomplished something. In the end I decided that starting a brand new manuscript would not be the best idea right now.

You see, I have a problem. Always have, actually. I write about 3/4 or 7/8 of a book, and then I just sort of…stop. Something about writing those final scenes freezes the nerve impulses between my brain and my fingers. It’s not that I can’t think of endings. I totally can. But none of them seem good enough to be written down. Besides that, a finished book means you have a book that, if you are driven, then needs to be pitched. It’s scary in a hopeful way.

All that just goes to say that I have two manuscripts waiting for endings and editing, and I think that if I jump into another project for NaNoWriMo, all three will just end up in the trunk. So instead of powering out another beginning to another book, I’m going to power out the ending and edits for the book I already have in my back pocket.

In the end, November is more a celebration of written creativity than anything. It’s a chance to be virtually connected to an online support group of thousands of people who love writing and creating just as much as you do. So who cares if I write the end of a book instead of the beginning?

How about you? Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year, or will your creative juices go somewhere else?

It is raining today. Therefore, Michelle should not have to go to work. She should be home writing, surrounded by a cocoon of blankets and pillows.