Creative Advice, NaNoWriMo, Writing, Writing Tips

Editing a Monster: Index Card Therapy

I’ve mentioned before that I’m still editing my monster of a novel I did during last year’s NaNoWriMo. And y’all? I do not like editing. I am not good at it. Ask me to write something – anything – any length – and I’ll do it. Ask me to take that mountain and whittle it down into a terrarium, and I lose my damn mind.

As I consider this crazy, meandering thing, I’ve found that I have a lot of characters. So I’m trying a technique that uses a tool I’ve read about many writers employing when they are working on books: index cards.

Here is the process I’m using. For now. Until I get tired of it. But you might find it helpful!

  1. Take an index card. Write the name of your character on the blank side, including possibly a picture if you have one or a brief physical description.
  2. On the back, it’s bullet list time. Write down what part you want that character to play — are they the hero? The villain? Someone’s foil?
  3. Next, write down what they want, ultimately. Their best case scenario. Where they seek to find themselves.
  4. Write down a few of their favorite things and who they are most linked to in the story.
  5. Write down what you like about the character. Maybe it’s their dialogue. Maybe it’s just the fact that they seem like someone you would want to be friends with (or, on the other hand, someone you’d like to be running from).

Now, take the cards and lay them out on a table or flat surface. How does your cast look? Did you struggle to find things to write about them? Are there characters you could put together into one MEGA AWESOME CHARACTER FUSION? If your book was a movie, would you want to see it?

Over the next few weeks leading up to NaNoWriMo, I’d like to talk more about my editing process. If there are any aspects to this you would especially be interested in hearing about, leave me a comment here or head over to my Facebook page! Or Twitter! Or homing dolphin!

Creative Advice, Writing, Writing Tips

Woe is You, Maybe, But WHOA is Me!

I read a piece in the New York Times today that I found during my nightly looksie of the Twittersphere. It was tucked away between political ramblings, San Diego Comic Con calm down and adorable doodles. It was about writers and their perspective on their body of work, and how there seems to be this constant malaise after pieces are done. According to this writer, at the end of the day, writers can’t even stand to look at what they’ve done, and there is this terrible feeling of disappointment.

And I found myself tipping my head and feeling really, really sad.

During my twenties, I owned the whole image of ‘serious’ writers as these downtrodden, perpetually anxious, sighing lot. “Writers are supposed to be miserable,” I was essentially told. “Happy writers aren’t good writers.” Being a writer meant, if the ‘classic’ examples were to be any indication, hating the process, loathing the words themselves and doing it because it was a calling. For if we did not, then who would? It all came off very masochistic. And not even in the good way.

If I had a time machine, I would go back to the twenty-something me, shake her a little and go, “Yeah, okay, that’s garbage. Stop looking at that shit and go write something you’ll love.”

And I don’t just mean the content itself, but the whole process. Write something you’ll love making. Write something you’ll look forward to looking at. Write something that you can hand off to a friend and be like, “Hey, man, I wrote this thing. All of these words came out of my brainstuffs!” Don’t look at what you’ve written as some sort of reminder of your mortality or some posse of gargoyle antagonists sitting on your shelf, waiting for you to go to sleep so they can whisper thoughts of fear and failure in your ear. Put party hats on your books. Sure, the early stuff probably is ripe with terrible prose, but laugh at it the way you would at baby pictures.

Yeah, dude, we’re all going to die (unless someone is here and willing to give me robot parts, because seriously, sign me the eff up). So if you’re going to take on something as your art and you are going to be spending at least a decent portion of your waking hours doing it, then maybe you ought to at least like it, right?

Creative Advice, How to Have a Day Job, Writing Tips

The Simplicity of Giving Advice with Neil Himself

This weekend, I got to watch something really cool on Twitter.

As a bit of background because you may be new here, I think Neil Gaiman is a pretty cool guy (and the Award for Understatement of the Year goes tooooo…). His fiction is great, the people in his life are awesome and inspiring (I interviewed Cat Mihos for How to Have a Day Job, and she is a really fantastic lady), and he is a wellspring of cool.

On Sunday, while waiting for his plane to take off, Neil took questions on Twitter. About anything: writing, love, publishing, John Hodgman (well, I think John just showed up to the party), etc. And I found myself really moved by the simplicity of his answers. Not even in that ‘you only have a thimble’s worth of words to use on Twitter’ but just how straight to the point it was. It felt like finding little stones at the bottom of a rushing stream. I found myself moved and inspired.

A few of my favorites included:

“I have a lot of ideas, and even more unfinished stories… How do I pick up the pencil from here?”

“When’s the best time to write?”

“And advice to someone who want to start writing?”

“Advice to self-doubting writers-in-training who got extremely rusty after a long time of not writing?”

Notice a theme?

Always write. Even if (especially if) you don’t know what you’re doing. Make it happen. Let the words come out. Make the art. Your hands will learn what to do, but only if you hush up the brain and let them move.

And remember, whether you’re an artist or a human being:

“How do you get over heartbreak?”

 

5 Things, Writing, Writing Tips

5 Writer Reminders

  1. Not everything is going to be awesome. Still keep writing, though, anyway. You never know when one of those rocks is going to be a gem.
  2. Look at the world through the eyes of your pen. Make note of how things are, how things make you feel, and then put it into your work.
  3. If you are writing anything, you are doing more than a huge population of people in the world. Perspective: appreciate it.
  4. You can’t write all the time. Still try to.
  5. You are your own worst enemy. Worse than the rejections, worse than the critics, worse than all the people who smile and nod at you. Because they get to be outside of your head until you let them in.
5 Things, Writing, Writing Tips

5 Ways to Improve Dialogue

1. Go outside and listen to people talking. Restaurants, coffee shops, shopping malls and sporting events are all great places to see how people interact naturally. Make note of their emotional states and patterns of their speech. Do they pause at certain points? What words make them slow down or react?

2. Decide where your character is from and then seek out material from those locations. Youtube is a great resource for this. If it’s a language you know, listen to the radio stations for that area. If it’s a completely new place (a fantasy land or foreign planet) get a few ideas of what earmarks their local language may have.

3. Read your dialogue out loud. With others, if possible. You can usually tell immediately if something sounds contrived or unnatural. Is the emotional force of the scene being communicated in the words, or is the conversation too flaccid? If you can, try to improvise with people and record what works.

4. Learn how to format dialogue in prose. This may sound like a ‘duh’ but I can’t tell you how many issues I’ve seen that have been caused by lack of clarity resulting from poor dialogue tagging and misinterpreted writing.

5. Tap into how you feel. When two lovers are talking to each other, do you get warm fuzzies? Do you get nervous when the hero and the villain are at each other’s throats? Do you get teary when characters are saying goodbye for the last time? Even if you aren’t having a dramatic response, your heart should have some sort of reaction to your writing. If it’s not, ask yourself why.

Writing, Writing Tips

Paper: It’s Not Just for Wrapping

So this weekend I did something that I never thought I would do.

I printed the entire draft of my novel.

Well, I didn’t print it. I had it printed at Fedex. I got it 3-hole-punched and then I purchased a binder for it to live in. I also double-spaced the draft so I had room for notes and line-editing.

And y’all. Y’all.

I will never not print my first draft of anything ever again.

It’s so satisfying. And not because of any sort of aesthetic, like the feel of the paper or the scratch of the pen, although those things are very nice. No, it’s because I’m not seeing it the way I see every single other part of my day: on the other side of a screen. I don’t find myself going cross-eyed at walls of text. I’m not terrified of cutting and pasting chapters because I think that at that moment my computer is going to crash or Internet demons will steal my words away into an oblivion of deletion.

If I want to move a chapter, I literally pick it up and rearrange it.

If I like a passage, I can draw a giant smiley face.

If I hate something, I can punch it without replacing my monitor.

Try it. Print out a short story or a poem or a blog post. Look at it with a pen in your hand. Really read it. Write on it. Cross shit out. Underline words. Doodle in the margins.

It’s a completely different experience.

Creative Advice, Writing, Writing Tips

FINISH HIM!

Not too long ago, I asked a friend what he would be interested in seeing me talk about on my blog. And he gave me a very good topic. He asked me what I do when my inspiration runs dry mid-writing or when another idea comes along that captivates me despite being in the middle of something else. Do I shelve my current project? Come back to it later? Or what?

The answer to that is really that it depends.

It used to be that I would have multiple projects going all at the same time, but I found over time that it stressed me out. I would realize that nothing was finished – I couldn’t put any one thing out because they were all in states of incomplete-ness. I would find that I was generally just so easily distracted that I could go on and on and stockpile a million works-in-progress. I would have this on-again-off-again relationship with all of my work — I would love it one day and hate the sight of the next. Ultimately I found myself accomplishing…very little.

Now, I try to finish things. Or I at least try to get things broken down into pieces that can be ‘finished’ for a time so I can do a little bit of something else and then come back to it. Or, if absolutely necessary, I finish it even if it means it isn’t absolutely perfect. Perfect is an illusion anyway.

Mostly, though, I do try to balance. For example: I have a several things I’m writing while I’m also working on editing my novel from NaNoWriMo. I know that I cannot do this all in one sitting and I also know that I will lose interest if it’s the only thing I’m doing. So, instead of focusing on just that for as long as it takes, I’m doing it in chapter chunks. That way, I’m satisfied with my progress while balancing out my wandering interests.

My recommendation if you find yourself getting burnt out in the middle of something and getting drawn to something else is this: give it 24 hours. Make a note of this new fantastic idea and sleep on it. If it’s still amazing the next day and you want nothing more than to sink your teeth into it, set a date for when you are coming back to the project you’re currently on. Literally. Get a calendar, plot out how long you think this awesome new something will go and then say, “Okay, on May 1, I’m going to pick this other thing back up.” You’ll know two things by May 1: if that new thing was really as great as it seemed and if the original project is worth going back to.

Are you a starter or a finisher? Do you chronically collect works-in-progress, or do you try to finish anything you start, no matter how crappy it gets? Tell me about it on my Facebook!

 

NaNoWriMo, Writing, Writing Tips

It Has Begun…

So this week I started editing my NaNoWriMo novel.

Y’all. It is a struggle. Ask me to write a billion words and, sure, it’ll take me a while, but I can do it. Like a champ, in fact. Ask me to then edit those billion words, and you will see a girl cry her damn eyes out.

Because it’s not at that point yet where I could conceivably hand it over to someone to work on for me. There are probably a solid 2-3 beginnings. Some people have read segments of it, sure, but if I tried to toss it into someone’s lap, they’d probably get about 10 pages in and go, “Wtf is this?” Thus, I am here alone, wading through my own blah blah blah, trying to figure out what’s there, how it got there and what is staying and what is going.

Also, with what I wrote in November and the prior draft, it’s over 90K words.

Holy guacamole, y’all.

So here are a few things that are working so far, and how I am doing it. I am praying that my suffering will at least do some good for the world if I talk about it. Because I HATE IT.

*ahem*

  • Taking notes: right now, I’m just reading. Not editing, not proofing. Just reading. I’m keeping a notebook and pen and taking notes of names, things that are happening, names of places and major plot points.
  • Highlight: I can tell there are some things that are not staying or working at all, or that changed drastically in the NaNo draft. They are getting highlighted. Again, I am not deleting anything. I’m just making sure I can see them when I return to this wall of text.
  • No judging: this is a hard one. I am trying very, very hard not to judge myself as I work through this. I’m trying to look at this book the way I might a friend’s piece of writing or even a complete stranger’s. It’s helping me be objective, even if it is a huge hurdle.

Do you use any tactics when editing a big piece of fiction? How do you even start? I am very curious, because I keep looking up like, “Am I doing this right?!”

5 Things, Writing Tips

Writing with Mr. Pool. Deadpool.

deadpool_ver8

Last weekend, for Valentine’s Day, in a move that could only be the best in history, my husband and I went to see Deadpool. It was raunchy. It was hilarious. And it was a really, really good movie (that isn’t for kids – I feel like I’d be remiss in not stating that clearly).

Now y’all know I love comics. Gimme my sequential art. I need it like air. And if it’s a good adaptation and I can learn some stuff, all’s the better.

And now I share them with you. Five Things Writers Can Learn from Deadpool.

  1. Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue – I will get into this one later this week, but even if I just read the script and couldn’t hear the voices, each one was unique. It is so crucial that all your characters don’t sound exactly the same.
  2. Challenge all conventions – Do they think it’s going to be a comedy? Throw in some emotion. Woops, are they getting comfortable? Time to ruin that moment like a cold pair of feet under a comforter.
  3. Better be likable – There better be at least a few things the reader can look at in the main character and go, “Yeah! That guy is worth sticking around for!” Even if he’s a violent psychopath who really shouldn’t be looked at as the hero.
  4. Don’t be afraid of the first person – talk to me, Mr. Narrator. A conversational feel to a story can really pull us in.
  5. Happy endings aren’t just for garbage stories – it feels like we’ve gotten to a place as a culture that we expect something to go poorly at the close of the story. Someone dies. The hero fails. The villain escapes. The villain escapes with the girl who has fallen for him/her. And sure, not everything should work out with a little bow on top, but if you can have a happy ending now and then, it will absolutely keep your readers guessing.

Whatcha waiting for? Go get a chimichanga and head out to see Deadpool!