Friday, January 29, 2016

Not as Different as You Think

Last Sunday, I joined Giles, his wife the Other Emily, and another of our friends to watch the Broncos game. You might be wondering why I'm bringing this up, since this is a nerd blog and I'm probably the least sporty of all three of our co-hosts. I promise it has a point:

Sports people are just as weird as nerds.

Hear me out. They paint their faces with their team colors. We can spend hours getting makeup just right for a cosplay. They cheer like crazy when their team does something awesome. We scream our heads off when our favorite authors or actors take the stage. They defend their favorite players to the death. We ship our favorite characters like nobody's business (seriously, "shipping wars" is a term for a reason).

I'll admit, instead of watching the last few minutes of the game, I was totally watching the fans around me. As the clock ran down, the entire bar started chanting "Super bowl! Super bowl!" and I just laughed. It was kind of like nerds freaking out about a favorite celebrity coming to a local comic con.

Basically, everyone's got a thing (or several) that they get really excited about. Whether that's sports or comics or creating new characters or a TV show doesn't matter. What's important is that we're all fans of something, and that's kind of beautiful in a way.

We're all fans of something, and it's about time we realized that and stopped hating on other groups because they enjoy other things--whether that's sports or geekery. The passion and the desire to show off your favorite things through cosplay or team-colored body paint is the same awesome thing, just in different areas.

Emily has never really been into sports. She played volleyball in middle school and that's about it. But she's always been a nerd. And she's totally okay with this fact.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

New Projects, I Guess

Everyone's starting new projects, I guess. Michelle, as she said on Monday, started a new book. Emily is writing short stories like there's a global shortage (and doing a very good job!), so it seems only right that I should be working on something, too.

Well, my new project is actually an old project. It's the novel that I've been querying for a while (except last year where I queried, maybe, twice?). It took me some time and distance from the emotional slump that is my writing life, along with other projects (non-writing), school, and a promotion at my day job to get me back into my groove. People talk about how being in a "rut" is bad... well, I like my rut. It keeps me on track. I'm back in it, now (kind of).

I'm writing a new query letter while my critique group goes over the two short stories I've written in the last month. I'd started a third story, but the writing of that project got interrupted, and I'm not sure if I want to go back to it. I definitely won't make time before returning to the novel I'm getting ready to rewrite and revise. Which is actually the NEWEST of my new projects. I need a NEW BEGINNING to this book. Or an actual beginning, as it were.

New projects are fantastic because, often, they mean we've completed other projects. I'm excited to be querying again (once I finish this query letter), and I'm even more excited to jump into my book. Short stories are fun to write, but with my day job, Beyond the Trope, and the emphasis I'm putting on my marriage (which is better than ever!), I've chosen to keep short stories to a between-drafts project. That means when I need some time and space between me and a novel I'm working on, I'll jump into the shorts. Otherwise, it's laser-focus on novels and querying when I sit down to write.

Do you have any new projects you're excited about? What gets you excited?

Giles is querying, which is good, and he's writing a sci-fi novel for young adults, which is better.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Write Like You

I’m starting the alpha draft for a new book*, and one of the first things I do as a character pops into my head is search Google Images for someone who looks like them. There’s no “OK, that was a girl, now I need a boy” or “That one had black hair so this one should have blond hair”. I just start writing, and people show up in my brain and talk to each other.

Imagine my amusement last week when I finished the first few thousand words…and realized I’ve created a cast primarily of young women. At first I thought, “Dangit, maybe I should make a few changes.” The impulse came from my current read: The Maze Runner. There’s a grand total of one female character in that book (so far…I’m not sure if that changes), and it just feels weird. I thought my own manuscript might make more sense if I adjusted the numbers, so to speak.

That’s when I ran into a problem. I write like an improv actor, always asking, “Yes, and?” as I work through initial ideas. If I get all wibbly-wobbly about my casting decisions, my “Yes, and?” changes into “Well, I dunno…” and nothing ever gets written. Once I tried to change my female characters into dudes, things didn’t go very well. I learned that once a person comes to life in my head, the only way to adjust it is to kill them**.

My process makes for some interesting restrictions because I don’t let myself change things in the plot to make problems easier to solve. Of course, I’ll complain about it a lot down the road – just ask my critique partners – but for my writing, I really think this is the best way.

If you’ve been unsuccessfully trying to alter your writing style because someone told you what worked for them, don’t feel discouraged. We can’t all write the same way. Not everyone can be a pantser like Emily or a crazy outliner like Giles. You could spend your whole life trying to write like someone else.

Don’t write like someone else. Write like you.

Michelle writes snarky books about girls with superpowers. 

*As a story monogamist who only gets one awesome idea at a time, I’m SO EXCITED to finish edits on the one manuscript and get started on something new. And yes, I call it an “alpha” draft. It sounds way cooler than “first draft.” “First draft” = psh. “Alpha draft” = yaaaassssss.

**And YA sci-fi/fantasy isn’t exactly Game of Thrones. I’d rather not kill every other person.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Documentary Time

When was the last time you watched a documentary? And I don't mean slept through one in class. If you're like Michelle and can't get through a nonfiction book, documentaries are great. They're also great if you're just a giant nerd like me.

Watching documentaries has given me a handful of character and plot ideas, and unexpected ways to flesh out my worlds. I once created a tattoo artist character inspired by watching a history of various tattooing techniques, despite the fact that I cringe at the very idea of getting inked myself. I've taken details from documentaries on prohibition or medieval life to utilize in a story at some future time.

And I would recommend watching documentaries on subjects that might not directly relate to your interests or the story you want to write. You never know what might pop up at you as a fantastic new idea, or a new area you want to study.

The obvious warning goes here: be aware that not all documentaries are completely factual. Use them as a starting point for more research, to spark ideas, not necessarily as the end point of your research. But that doesn't mean we can't enjoy them!

Emily might have been watching H2 (the history channel replacement that actually shows history-related things) last night. She can neither confirm nor deny this, but the show was fascinating.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Learning How to Rewrite

As I've mentioned before, I'm working on a couple of short stories. Part of the process of making them good is that I'm changing how I revise.

My "normal" method for revision is to sift through sentence by sentence and rewrite the ones that simply aren't working. But I'm embracing the idea of writing a crummy draft and revising it later, which leaves me with fewer and fewer sentences that can simply be polished.

This means that I'm actually having to REWRITE some of what I wrote the first time around. In the past, this felt like a daunting, overwhelming, and inconvenient task. There was no really efficient way to get it done. Now that I'm using Scrivener, though, I can take advantage of the split screen option, read one document (set below the document I'm working on because that's how I prefer to work), and actually write in a NEW document.

This may not sound revolutionary to everyone, but it's been a huge help to me. I just rewrote a short story that started out going the way I wanted it to, then took a wild curve. I embraced that curve in the rewrites and kept some of the descriptions I liked, but basically wrote a new story for everything else.

I find it fascinating and very encouraging to see that I'm still learning new things. I haven't stagnated, though I felt like it for a while, and I'm making better stories, I think, as a result of trying to learn new methods.

What about you? How do you rewrite and revise?

Giles is a writer. A man with a plan to get published. That means he has to learn and grow in his craft. It's a long, sometimes painful process, but he's making it step by step.

Monday, January 18, 2016

An Open Letter to Non-Fiction

Dear Non-Fiction,

I saw you hanging out on the bottom shelf today. And I know we haven’t talked in a while, but I thought that you probably saw me. I mean, I saw you…of course you saw me. Yes, I’ve been getting your messages. I get them all. I haven’t responded because, honestly, I don’t know how to respond. So much has happened since, well, you know.

Sorry, I didn’t want to make this awkward. I just wanted to check in and see how you’re doing. Ever since you made me read that one book about that one guy, I haven’t been the same. I wish I could remember his name. His story. But I can’t.

I. Can’t.

Last year, I read the first two chapters of a book about Marie Antoinette. I even tried to start Catch Me If You Can. I opened a history of languages…and closed it an hour later, almost totally unread. Fascinating stories, all of them, yet I couldn’t bring myself to finish any of them. So, now I finally know. It’s not you. It’s me.

Maybe we can try again next year, but right now I really don’t think it’s a good idea to jump into anything hasty. We’ve both been burned, and I don’t think I could take another let-down right now. I don’t want to say never, but I know it’ll be a while. Months, even years. I hope you can understand.

See you around,


Michelle spends most of her days deciding when she can eat next. 
Oh, and she writes stuff and things. 

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Slump

I'll be honest--this has not been a good writing week for me. Last week, I was totally gung-ho about working toward my writing goals, getting stories out into the world, all that jazz. This week? It's been a chore to sit down and pound out my 1,000 words a day.

My novel in progress is stalling out at around 26,000 words right now, mostly because I suddenly have four antagonists and no real good grip on plot or stakes or why my protagonist is actually involved in any of this.

I sent a short story to critique group last night and realized it was way worse than I thought it was--salvageable, but I've been staring at it for two hours now trying to figure out how I want to fix everything. Again, a problem with plot and creating good stakes for my characters. Apparently a pretty common issue in rough drafts of my stories. Whoops.

But I'm determined not to let this get me down. I'm going to push through and finish these projects. For the novel, I'm going to try going back and planning (I know, shocker). For the short, I'm brainstorming and looking at character sketches to try and solidify some better stakes and consequences. It's going to be a lot of work and I kind of want to curl in a corner and cry, but that's pretty typical of my writing process, so I guess that means it's going well.

I guess the moral of this woeful tale is to not let setbacks get you down, especially in the creative world. Keep trying to find ways around them, utilize the community you have, and keep on keeping on.

Emily is looking forward to our first recording day of the year tomorrow--and getting some time away from her projects. But for the meantime, it's back to the grindstone.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Sudden Success?

You know, it's funny how I keep coming back to the challenges I'm facing this year. I'm thinking a lot about how I'm going to pursue the goals I've set for myself. Trying to figure out my book-reading goal, I started out by going to the library (great place to start, right?). Then I got a new book to read for review. Not something I'm going to make a habit of, but it's a book by an author we're interviewing, and I've been excited about the concept ever since I found out about it (but that's another post, for sure).

Long story short, I got the review copy yesterday, I'm already 35% of the way through it (which is surprising to me because I don't read very quickly). Then at the library, two of the books I'd put on hold came it. I picked up an audio book and AFTERMATH by Chuck Wendig. Needless to say, I have to finish the book I'm already reading before the weekend (because the interview is in three days), and then jump RIGHT in to this new Star Wars book. Because I won't be able renew it.

So I guess I'm getting a fantastic start to my reading challenge for the year. I set out to read 24 books this year, and by the end of January, I'll already have three finished. Yes, Michelle can read SO many books in the same amount of time it takes me to read one, but she's not a video game enthusiast like I am.

Giles had a very long day and has much more to accomplish this evening. It's exciting and terrifying all at once.

Monday, January 11, 2016

No More Inertia

An article I read today had one line that hit pretty hard:

“Fear keeps you stuck.”

I would add that inertia, not just fear, keeps us stuck. The status quo is familiar, and even if it’s not full of sunshine and rainbows, it’s comfortable. It’s what we know. Even if what we know doesn’t make us blissfully happy, inertia keeps us in our place. When nothing is awful, it just doesn’t make sense to reach for a different kind of life. I’ve spent years of my life holding back on all kinds of things—jobs, relationships, novel submissions, freelance projects—because I was too afraid of failure to make any changes.  

What if the things we think we’re risking are actually the things holding us back? I’ve been slowly working on edits for a novel I love, but without ever finishing. I think I’ve become so used to editing and so afraid to get actual agent feedback that I’ve held onto my manuscript for too long. It’s not that I’ve missed my chance, but that my chance could’ve come so much sooner.

I’ve thought about this a lot over the past three weeks. On the trip with my sisters, we had two rules:
  1. No talking about school.
  2. No talking about work.

It was like a total brain re-set. Now that I’m back to “real” life and I have to “adult”, I’ve realized that I’m tired of the status quo. I’m exhausted from the effort it requires to live with inertia and fear. Best of all, I think I’m finally ready to do something about it.

I’m going to try something that absolutely terrifies me, and I’m going to try it soon. I already know it’s going to be painful, but I think I’d rather have a few seconds of terror than stay stuck the rest of my life.

Michelle is still jetlagged, and her work email won't let her log in. 
Happy Monday. 

Friday, January 8, 2016

A History in Short Stories

On Wednesday, Giles talked about how he doesn't know how to write short stories. Since I just signed a contract for a short story this week (which will be my second published), I figure I'd talk shorts as well. Because why not?

I used to be in Giles' shoes--not knowing how to distill a story into something short without making it feel like a chapter in something larger, because the longer piece was what had my heart. In a fiction writing course I took at a community college, our final project was to write a short story. I wrote what I had thought was a nice little prequel piece to the novel I was working on at the time. The response from the class critique was unanimous: it read like a chapter of a book, not a self-contained story. So, major fail there.

Most of the other 'short stories' I attempted to write, for classes or for myself, fell into one of two problems: either they read like chapters, with too much left unresolved or not enough worldbuilding; or they wound up as vignettes to explore character, with basically no real stakes or tension.

Needless to say, I was frustrated. I gave up for a long time and just focused on writing whatever came to mind, despite the fact that I knew publishing short stories was good for beginning to build an audience and a platform. And, you know, expanding my skill set as a writer.

In the last two years, I've now written four short stories--two of which have been offered contracts for anthologies, one of that was written for a specific themed magazine call this year, and one that I'm probably going to self-publish (with it's companion story from the RMFW anthology). I find it helps when I have a theme to work toward--something specific from a content call, like "Crossing Colfax" or "Lesbian Supervillains." But maybe that's just me.

I wish I had a better handle on how to narrow down the scope of a story so the short doesn't sound like a chapter, but at this point, that still seems pretty mysterious to me. A friend once told me that a short story is like one moment, one scene, in a character's life. Which is a great way to think about it, as long as you don't get carried away with the world building and the rest of the character's life (which us long-form-writers tend to do).

I guess what I can say here is don't put too much backstory or foreshadowing on the page--write in just enough for the story to make sense. The more you put on the page, the more you hint at, the bigger the world seems to get and the more likely it is that your story will read like a part of something larger.

Good luck to everyone writing this year, whether you're writing short stories, longer pieces, or something else altogether. Keep at it, even when it feels like you're writing sucks. It will get better if you practice and keep trying.

Emily is still kind of in shock about the fact that she's signed her second publishing contract. She owes a great deal of thanks to her critique group for their help, and is looking forward to showering the internet with sparkles when her next short, Glitter Bomb, comes out this summer. She's also a little bit sorry about the length of this post. But only a little bit.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Return to Normalcy

It's been a LONG time since I felt "normal." Last year, I took several college classes that are finally over (though I may go back for more classes some day, depending on other events in my life over the next few years). I got a promotion with a raise, and I tried to start a business. All of those things combined together to make my regular "life" rather chaotic for pretty much all of 2015.

On the plus side, I finished the first draft of a novel, toyed around with some short stories, and got a college certificate. Other things happened, too, that made the chaos totally worth it.

But aside from taking an extra day off this week (I used Monday as a brew day since the in-laws returned home and my wife went back to work), this week feels like a normal routine. What I mean by this is that I got up in the morning, worked on my writing/critique reading, then went to work. I worked a full day, during which I focused on my job but also chewed over some short story ideas, then went home and followed my evening routine (cook supper, watch TV, and pretend to write). Except I've actually been writing. Last night, I wrote the first draft of a very short short story. And this morning I started a second one.

I'm going to be honest: I'm not sure how to write a short story. I can quote theories, and I can point at other short stories in my critique group and give them (proven) useful advice, but I don't know how to translate it to my own process. Reading short stories doesn't help much, either, because regardless of the market, I feel like "matching the feel" of other stories (by studying other stories and developing my own style) just makes my stories flat, unreadable, and (based on publisher response) not right for the markets. As I said last week, this is something I'm going to work on this year. Writing short stories has never been a passion. I love longer works of fiction, especially when I'm writing.

But I do truly enjoy well-written shorts. I want to get involved in that work, and I want to use this opportunity to improve myself as a writer, a creator, and as a member of the community. I may talk a lot about this in the coming year as it's going to be a major part of my actual WRITING (non-editing/non-querying) time, so be prepared to see a lot of short story-related topics in the future.

On that note, any advice for me or other writers?

Giles is working, despite wanting to just sit around and relax. He's also going to READ a lot this year, which SHOULD help.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Concerning Fog and Magic

As I go through Europe with my sisters (not trying to brag, just setting the scene), I keep thinking about all the writing I'm *not* doing. I'm not a resolutions-type person, but I do like being productive, and going two weeks without editing or drafting a novel feels weird.

But, since I don't have anything big to work on, I have time to think about other things. There's just something about Europe; I understand why so many writers and artists found/find themselves stuck here. Not stuck as in stranded, but stuck as in they just couldn't/can't bring themselves to leave.

I'm writing this while on a train going from northern Italy to Geneva, and the temperature outside is hovering near the 30s Fahrenheit. Everywhere I look, there is fog. In the sky, on the ground, in between buildings. It softens the spaces between things and makes the sky look both infinite and closer than ever.

In Venice, the fog was so thick on New Year's Eve it felt like we were in the only city in the world.

I think every city has this kind of magical, foggy power. It can be hard to see when you've lived in that place for too long, but it's remarkably easy to see while in all these new places. Thinking about the effect of the scenery on my creative brain makes me excited to get home and write, yet reluctant to return to "real" life. Yet, I don't have to let that disappoint me or make me unhappy--I have a lot of writing to do.