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Gak! I have been attacked, sneak attacked at that.

I've been pushing on so many things that my life has come to resemble a tornado, touching down on one project just long enough to leave disaster in its wake before bouncing off to find another victim. To counter this, and give me space to do what I need to do...like teach a class starting August 3rd that'll run for 6 weeks...I declared once I finish Molly, that's it. I'm not starting another novel (meaning writing, not prep work) until NaNo. This is a blessing because it means I won't be scrambling to finish a novel before November 1st, especially since after the class, I'm teaching another at Muse Online (remember registration closes on August 1st) and going down to World Fantasy 2009 in San Jose (meaning I won't even be here for the start of NaNo).

And those are just the big external things. I'm currently critting a novel with another in the queue, I let my Selkie edit fall to the wayside when I got overwhelmed, and I'm supposed to be editing and submitting short stories which means getting and receiving crits...and acting on them.

Do I sound frantic enough? And that's not even considering my computer work, my kids, my hubby, and plans to go on vacation a lot in the remaining days of summer.

The last thing I needed was an article on self-publishing and the concept of having to explain your life's story on a first date to cross my plate.

What do these two things have in common? Well, absolutely nothing to any reasonable person. But when have I ever claimed to be reasonable.

Enter Let Me Tell You All About Myself.

The idea crossed my mind early this morning. I wanted to pass it to a friend because it was funny, but she wasn't around. I figured I'd have forgotten it by the time she got back, and went about my business. Bad move.

That gave the story a hook into my memory because I wanted to tell it to someone. And with that hook, it wiggled its way through the barriers to that swamp I call my idea generator and started shuffling through the mud, stirring up an unholy mess.

No, this isn't an urban fantasy, science fiction, or even a romance. I can't even claim this as a crossover mainstream like Coma Wedding. Let Me Tell is a psychological mainstream novel about expectation and delusion. About building up an image that becomes so real that you start to question whether reality can compete. (Okay, I forgot about the article talking about a man whose girlfriend is a body pillow stamped with an anime character, which might have had a slight hand in this mess too.)

The closest genre to something I've completed before is a romance, but it's certainly not conforming to the genre requirements since we only meet her through her self-published autobiography. However, because of that, I'll need to come up with entries that are sweet, funny, endearing, and positively wonderful (oh and I don't do funny well :p). But mainly it's the story of a guy who finds his perfect mate between the covers of a book, and the struggle between wanting to find the reality and fearing it won't measure up.

And to make matters oh so much better (not :p), because the idea burst in upon me with such weight, it already has an almost complete initial synopsis and a handful of scene suggestions. This makes it worthless as my "work alongside" idea for the August workshop, which is From Ideas to Outline. I still have to find an idea for that...but maybe I shouldn't look too hard until the 1st has come and gone :p.
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A long time ago, I asked you all to weigh in on my author photo (something I should redo at some point ;)), and now I'm asking for your digital opinions again. I did a complete redesign of my website from top to bottom. It's no longer a multifocused site as the old one was, and though I am planning to redesign it again in the next couple of years, most of those changes will be in the backend.

However, I created the original template using a website development software. I've done a fair amount of tinkering, so the resemblance to the generated site is minimal, but it did offer a header image I thought would work with my theme until I could find something better.

Valerie Comer offered a picture she had taken to use as a base and I've spent a fair amount of time manipulating it into what I wanted, only to discover that I've got a fundamental contradiction. I love the distance view with mountains and clouds and hints of a world behind, but the image itself is too distant for the message in a bottle that was supposed to be there as the original inspiration for my theme.

Anyway, this has left me wondering if I'm clinging to that original theme too much, or if I should just give in.

So, here comes the question:

Which of the below images do you think best represents my theme and looks best. I have put the wrapper around the new one so that you can see how it would look. I have not put a bobbing wine bottle with a scroll of paper inside in the closer one yet, but I probably could. After you've commented (if you haven't already), you might enjoy a peek at my new site. If nothing else, the extent changes should stun you. If curious, you can compare using the link to my old site at the bottom of the left sidebar.

Image 1:




Image 2:




For those of you who don't know, my website theme originally had its start in my new business cards, the style of which were designed by Val's talented daughter Hanna Sandvig. Here is an example, though she made them in three colors:


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Wow, it's been a bit since I've posted to my LJ. The absence was far from planned, but is as it is. The writing front has been a bit up and down for me through June and July, though I'm hoping to see that turn around.

I've been writing a bit of non-fiction for Vision (www.lazette.net/vision) and finally critting again, but on the home front, there hasn't been much fiction going on.

Molly stands about 15k from the end. It's not her fault. A combination of family stuff and a serious, knock me on my back, cold put an end to creativity for a bit. As much as I'd like to blame Molly, so I could move on to something else, it's not her fault. There's also the chance that with things so crazy, the hormone replacement isn't doing its job, a lovely thought considering that some day I'll have to go through ending the medication. But since this is affecting my creativity across the board, Molly is not to blame.

Neither is Selkie, another project currently in limbo. I had started collecting action points and possible reworks as I went through all the wonderful crits, but hit that same wall. This isn't a writer's block as much as a creativity amputation. The good news is that it's starting to fade...I'll admit needing 10+ hours of sleep a night has been a part of this mess.

Oh, and it's even affected my reading. I'm halfway through my very first issue of Neo-Opsis. I was enjoying it a lot, but just haven't read any. I started an issue of Discover magazine... The one thing I am reading is Steven Barnes' Lion's Blood, which I was thinking was too slow and I couldn't find the story and and... Until I realized that it's an epic. It's not about a specific tale. It's about a world and its people and how they interact and how their lives are intertwined. It's exactly the type of novel I love...or used to. So I'm adding this to the pile of missing creativity because all I can read right now easily are short, sweet things that don't ask for much.

Oh, and I need to do something with my hands all the time. I went to a wonderful acapella singing group with my sister and had a wonderful time, but if she hadn't given me some string to weave (okay, crochet without a hook and no, the results weren't pretty) I'd have lost it.

So...that's my update (note the extensive use of ellipses because my mind trails off all the time), and join me in the hope that it's coming to an end. For two days I slept a normal amount and had at least a couple hours of productivity, including sending Shadows of the Sun out to agents. Today was a little rough, but still some useful moments. Here's hoping to find a trend in the right direction.

Oh, and as a last note, a bunch of my first drafts have been calling of late, pulling me into the morass of new things to edit so I don't have to do the hard work of a final polish. I plan to resist until Selkie's set.
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I have always intended to be a science fiction writer. This may strike those who have known me since childhood (or know me now) as strange, but here's the reason for it. When I was writing fairy tales, I still considered myself more of a storyteller than a writer. Odd given that I wrote more short stories than some famous writers (though none are publishable quality but hey, I was 7-10ish), but this is a fact I only realize in the past tense. Had I considered myself a writer then, I would have known that a strict diet of science fiction was not for me...or a strict diet of anything.

But when I discovered authors as a fascinating species of people who told wonderful stories, the authors I discovered were science fiction (ignoring the fact that several have been reclassified as fantasy based on new standards of what counts :p). Had my sister any idea of how much of an absolutist I could be, she would have varied my introduction into books as fun a bit more because this led to years of frustration on her part as I scorned fantasy writers.

Needless to say, if you've been following this LJ at least, I no longer box myself so completely into a single genre. I wrote a bunch of literary stories while taking creative writing in college because that was expected of me, but they in no way impinged on my image of my writer self. I was a science fiction writer and that was that.

Then I discovered that the one author, Marion Zimmer Bradley, who had done the most to capture my imagination with her sociological science fiction actually published writers too. It was not much of a leap to my plan to succeed, a plan still ongoing despite her death because others have picked up at least part of her tradition. The only trouble was that she chose to publish fantasy not science fiction. What should have been an insurmountable barrier to the absolutist me, became instead a challenge. I went cursing and screaming my way into writing fantasy.

I was lucky enough to get all but one rejection with a kind note, something I didn't realize was lucky until years later, but ultimately I could not manage, still can not manage, to write what she's looking for. On the other hand, had she not pushed me to writing fantasy, there are a number of novels under my belt that would never have been written, so overall, I think I came out on top.

What's the relevance of that story? Well, it all becomes clear when you see the statistics that came out of my Story A Day challenge.

I wrote ten stories. The average length was 3,036 words with the longest coming in at 4,765 and the shortest at 1,124.

Of those ten stories, six were science fiction and four fantasy.

The science fiction stories were, on average, shorter (2,776 words) but that was because two of them were less than 1,300 words. The longest was the longest overall.

The fantasy stories averaged 3,427 words, with the shortest being 2,555 and the longest being 4,387.

Therefore, though I had more science fiction stories than fantasy, I had more fantasy word count overall than I did science fiction.

I can't say, at this point, which are my favorite stories because the most recent ones resonate the most just because of proximity, but I will not be surprised to discover some of each genre making it to my top list.
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Not quite an analysis, but here's a blow by blow description of writing my last three stories. I got home from BayCon (which involves a five hour drive through the mountains) on Monday night with three stories still to go and the end of the month looming.

Back from BayCon. I'm tired, but had a wonderful time. Survived my first moderation stint thanks to wonderful panelists and participants. (10:22 PM May 25th)

Today is my birthday! I'm bleary eyed and non-productive, but I have a smile on my face :D. (12:10 PM May 27th) Note: I actually started the story on the 26th, but didn't get very far after unpacking and all.

Short story up to 1800 words. That's about it for the day. (12:10 AM May 28th)

More progress on the story, though it's still not done. I think I broke it, to be honest, but maybe editing will patch it back again :). (12:28 PM May 28th)

Time for me to shut everything down and get to bed. Okay, past time, but got into a good programming kick. Sadly, the story remains in progress. (11:52 PM May 28th)

I did it! 4,765 words and has issues, but the story is done :D. (10:17 AM May 29th)

Odd statistic: I have written 95 short stories for Forward Motion's Story a Day since it began in 2003. (12:26 PM May 29th)

And started story 9. It's building as it goes. Not sure exactly where that is, but up to 800 words. (8:49 PM May 29th)

Umm, forgot to update, but as of 1am, story 9 was complete at 2555 words. And this one I didn't break :D. (10:16 AM May 30th)

Since I seem to be updating as I go: Story 10 is conceived, outlined, and about 500 words. I really like this one. SF culture conflict. (1:16 PM May 30th)

Like most writers on a deadline :p, we chose today to rearrange two bedrooms and my study. Furniture, vacuuming, even buying a mattress. (4:16 PM May 30th)

Hmm, good thing there's one more day to go. 10th story stands at 920 words (about 1/3rd), move about 1/3rd done, and I've lost my voice. (11:16 PM May 30th) Note: unrelated loss of voice as I was not using Dragon for these stories.

And DONE! 10 stories in one month. I swear it gets harder each year, but I love the challenge. (11:16 AM May 31th)
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Story 7 - Life on the Line (Speculative Fiction)

I have been doing Story a Day since 2003. Some years have been easy, some hard, and some, like this one, just filled with too much other stuff to be able to concentrate. However, analyzing the process is proving quite interesting. For example, SAD 7 has been waiting for me to do something about it forever. It's the 20th and I got the prompt on, I believe, the 8th or 9th. Now there was a lot going on in my life to account for, but ultimately I didn't have even an idea to jot down, though I had some rumbles rolling around in my head.

Today, I sat down with an "or else" hanging over my keyboard and produced an interesting little story, and I mean little at 1124 words, based on that group of random thoughts. It's not a bad story, but neither is it one I feel will cause me, or others, to sit up and take notice. So what's the difference between that and some of the prompts that have haunted me for years because I ran out of time to write them (and do plan to someday)?

Simple. This is tripping over something I already knew (and even mentioned in the Story 6 analysis) but hadn't really nailed down. Prompt writing works best for me when I get a visual of a character. Curve of Her Claw, my story in the Cloaked in Shadow anthology, came to me in a rush as the words "dark elves" gelled around a very distinct figure (which, btw, the artist did an excellent job of capturing). From there, it was just a matter of nailing down the story.

In contrast, From the Ashes, my story in Triangulation 2004, with "hard port," or Unique Worlds which won the Confluence 2007 writing contest, with "fewmets at the end of time," came very slowly, almost teased into existence. In both cases I almost didn't have a story in time for the deadline.

Characters bring their story with them for me. Ideas do not. I do write idea stories, but they may take years to come together and are written in snatches here or there rather than as a concentrated whole pouring out as quickly as I can get my fingers to move (well, on the good days ;)).

What purpose does this serve? I now have a better idea of which generators are the safer to use during SAD, but this extends beyond that. I know if I want to do a themed anthology that offers ideas not characters, there's a good chance it will take me longer to put something together. There's always the idea stories that rush out and kidnap a character into them, but I can't count on those as easily as I can character stories that will shanghai ideas to wrap around. I also know that when on a strict deadline, I should focus on finding the character however the story came to be.

What prompted this analysis is:

A Quick Story Generator:
http://www.seventhsanctum.com/gens/quickstory.php
The theme of this story: dark comedy. The main characters: clumsy novelist and stressed astronomer. The major event of the story: surgery.
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Story 6 - Prospects (Science Fiction)

What did I learn from this story?
 
Well, if you'd asked me two hours ago, I would have said that I could NOT write a short story based on something as thin as this even though I generated two characters to make it better:

The tired, rude gigolo who fears people think he/she is a fraud.
The graceful time travel technician.


However, I came up with an idea. I hate writing idea stories. They're much harder, slower, and require more work in the edit.

However, about a third to a half of the way through, Pierre came to life, took hold of the story, brought it over the edge into risque so I had to excerpt a little bit to post on Forward Motion, and I happen to think it ends with a kick in the gut...

The answer then? If I let myself be open to it, even stories I craft rather than create can take on a life of their own and bring me joy.

Of course it's at a WAY nasty length. Too long for flash and too short for anything else :p.


The prompt generator was:
http://www.seventhsanctum.com/gens/quickchar.php
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Valerie Comer is running a series on her blog about muses as a side event to her Me, My Muse, and I workshop on Forward Motion and invited me to offer some of my own experience.  Pop over and read all about it here:

http://valeriecomer.com/?p=326
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Story 4 - A Ship of the Line (Science Fiction)

This one was the perfect story. I got the prompt the night before, came up with the idea, was too tired to jot it down, and when I woke up in the morning it was still there. So I wrote up a 558 word synopsis to keep it from escaping. Then my day kind of went crazy and it took all day to get to the end, but still, this is why I love SAD. The feeling of getting a solid idea in a flash is a thrill, and then making it happy that same day? Just wonderful.

This story came from here: http://www.seventhsanctum.com/gens/generalpersongen.php

Story 5 - Balance (Fantasy)

This story was an interesting one. I set it down first as a synopsis with two POVs. Then as I was writing it, I thought it would end up too long, so eliminated one of the POVs and futzed with the outline to fix it. Didn't write much of anything most of the day, and panicked at the end. I finished all but about 400 words out of 3,338 using voice recognition (saving frequently but it didn't crash...possibly because I wasn't using it in Trillian and had cleared up some system resources). Where I had noticed before that I tended toward dialogue with VR, this story is oddly not quite narrative but certainly not dialogue heavy. It's a mood piece I guess. I'll see what I think when it comes time to edit.

However, with this one I definitely broke through any worries about Dragon crashing and worries that VR was going to be dialogue heavy.

And whoops, I used the same generator twice: http://www.seventhsanctum.com/gens/generalpersongen.php I guess it really works for me :).  For those who might have read it, this generator brought both Purity, which got an Honorable Mention in the Oceanview Short Story contest, and Ties That Bind, which got an Honorable Mention from Writers of the Future.
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Story 3 - Community Service (Science Fiction)

Now for this one I cheated. I'm not proud of it but this is the truth.

I try on the first pass to get one prompt from each generator...just to test things out. I know I'm supposed to use the first prompt I get, but the adventure game generator has never worked for me. On my good days, it offers a novel-length work in synopsis. On my bad, like today, it stymies me entirely. (http://www.bin.sh/gaming/tools/adventure.cgi)

I got the prompt last night before bed (so at 12:20 am), and couldn't even manage to read through the whole thing. Then, this morning, I read through everything only to remember that it provides not just prompts but full plot concepts. And not just one of them but several. In the last few years, I bullied my way through to something, but this year I didn't have the will. So...when nothing much would coalesce into anything useful, I chucked the prompt and skipped to the next generator. Before breakfast was over, I had the beginning to a very odd little story that hits most of the concepts of the prompt and ignores some of the big ones, but it was a fun write.

The prompt I did use was: http://www.seventhsanctum.com/gens/sentai.html, another that has given me novels, but some short stories as well, like Community Service.
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Story 1 - Independence (Fantasy)

So...what did I learn in this story?

I learned that I have to hit SAVE even when using Voice Recognition :p. I also learned that I tend to go dialogue heavy through VR and maybe I should try and focus on my storytelling more.

I also learned that trying to recreate the sweet parts from memory after a loss is a sure way to make me avoid writing. And even more importantly, that if I just let the story unfold again, it may be stronger in parts than the lost original.

I used the new Zettercise generator for this one: http://www.fmwriters.com/community/dc/Random_Zettercise.php


Story 2 - Sweetentime (Urban Fantasy)

Unlike the previous one where I didn't know where it was going, this story came together rather quickly in the shower. I actually raced out with my hair in a towel and in my robe to jot down the beginning and a synopsis, to make sure I didn't forget anything. The difficulty with this one was to come up with a way to tell the whole of the story without a lot of mechanical description of how the elves were doing what they'd done or even this world. I think I managed to show the interactions between the worlds okay. I skimmed the other and may have to change that in the revision.

What I learned? Well, I'm still a little iffy on the urban fantasy side. I write contemporary romance and fantasy, but I think the balance of the mundane with the fantastical is very difficult in UF.

This one came from Kat Feete's generator: http://www.katfeete.net/writing/specfic.php
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As some of you may know, I descend into the heart of muse insanity each year for my birthday month. In 2003, Holly Lisle started the Story A Day challenge on Forward Motion, www.fmwriters.com, as a one-off dare to produce 31 stories based on online story generators in a single month. I pushed as hard as I could and only managed 25, many of which weren't worth editing. But the rush of ideas and creation and just pure lunacy was addictive.

At this point I don't remember whether I influenced the decision to keep it as an annual event or not, but I certainly appreciated the fact. However, the reoccurring version came in a softer form. You can still drive for the 31 stories, and some do, but there are also levels from 10, 15, and 20 stories in a month.

For the past three years, I have managed only 10 stories, but still, that's more than I write the rest of the months combined. And some of my more solid stories, stories that have reached the final consideration pile in several pro markets, came from this extravagance.

However, between the fact that my son's big school musical always falls in May, and BayCon, a Northern California Science Fiction convention, also does, this challenge leaves little time for my other writing projects.

You won't be hearing much from Molly, for example. And though I hope to finish consolidating the crits for Selkie at least, that may not happen until June.

So, to keep you all busy, I'm copying over my notes for the Advanced Writers Board challenge on Forward Motion. On top of writing the stories, the challenge on the second board is to consider what each story taught you and tell everyone else about it. Sometimes the lessons are trivial, and sometimes they're a real kick in the pants.

I'm starting out behind, so I may combine a few of the shorter ones, but you'll probably see more posts from me because of this than ever before. I just hope you enjoy them, and maybe even learn something about your own process in watching me question mine.
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Through Arcane Rules and Procedures, We Persevere Because We Must

This comes as a spinoff from last week's post. In the comments thread, we had a little chat about how most writing rules aren't actual rules for all that the term is uses. New writers often promote them as absolutes when picking up almost any published book would show that's not true, while the phrase, "you have to know the rules before you can break them" is frequently tossed about. However, if they really were rules, there would be consequences (and fame and fortune from breaking them successfully is not what I mean ;)).

In driving, if you run a red light, the only question is whether you're caught. You are guilty. You have broken a rule. There's no way around that fact.

In cooking, if you substitute salt for sugar just because you feel like it, someone's going to notice, and not in a positive way.

But in writing, that's not true. Some of the experimental fiction works prove even the basics, like punctuation and capitalization, are up for interpretation if you manage to do it well. There are no hard and fast rules in writing. Everything is subjective, with the only requirement for success being that you somehow catch the imagination when you do break the rules.

This is a very difficult concept for writers. Most things work on the basis of rules, not just driving and cooking in the examples above. As you gain knowledge of the rules, you automatically improve whether it's blacksmithing, piano, or the aforementioned driving.

But writing doesn't work that way. The rules are different for each writer, the dangers are different, and techniques that help one person can crush another. Even worse, there's no guarantee that with practice we'll improve. Some writers hit a plateau they can't get beyond and others peak early.

It conflicts with our understanding of life and the way things work.

The whole fear of "writing to a prompt" is based on real life where if I follow the same sewing pattern I'll end up with the same thing you do. But that's not true of writing. If we follow the same pattern, some of us will end up with masterpieces of the genre, others will end up with brilliant outliers, and still others' efforts will result in cardboard cutouts that make a reader cringe.

People scoff at romance and detective novels because they are formulaic. Those people are usually the ones who have not read any, or picked up one and dismissed the whole. Put Nora Roberts next to Holly Lisle next to Lucy Monroe next to Lynn Viehl in romance and you'd be hard pressed to figure out that they're writing the same genre. Take it even closer and choose seven Harlequin Presents novels by different authors. Some will be works of art, some will not. Some authors take the formula as a jumping off point, others stick to it rigidly. Some have a spark; others are decent stories but no more than that.

Writing is not rocket science.

In rocket science, if you put the same ingredients into the same mix, you'll get the same explosion. If you find a rocket design that works, you can replicate that design again and again and it'll still work.

In writing, even with the same author, you put the same ingredients in and get something different each time. I have certain themes that show up frequently in my works. However, the result of those themes varies radically and cross genre lines. It takes literary analysis to recognize the patterns; I know only because I have analyzed my works out of curiosity.

Authors who figure out a winning plot structure can use it again just like the rocket scientist, with one simple difference: no guarantee it'll still work, or even that it'll look the same. Successful writers take the same design and create something new every time. If a writer rubberstamps books though, they soon lose readers who despair of shelling out hard earned cash to read the same book with only the character names changed.

Writing taps into one of those places we do not understand, the hidden underpinnings of humanity that make no sense when brought to the light. When it doesn't reach into the swampy darkness, the writing comes out flat, cardboard, or even worse, bland. When it does, tears drip onto the pages, people stare as the reader bursts into uncontrollable laughter, or readers explain in detail why they hate someone to death, only to reveal that someone exists between the covers of a book.

Creativity is a mystical force. The muse is a mystical creature that none can explain or command. Creativity doesn't require practice as much as it requires nurturing. Muses are fickle and tricky, but can be wooed and bribed. Ultimately, most writers could do almost anything else, including minimum wage jobs, and earn more per hour than by writing. Forget any dreams of low stress, hanging out at pubs, sipping your tea with a finger curled as you scribble down the next masterpiece.

I've been a non-fiction editor/abstractor fulltime, I've run systems departments, and now I write and freelance. Of all of them, the editor/abstractor was the most relaxing. Systems and writing run neck and neck, and I never had to put myself in the place of an abusive, manipulating crime boss in systems ;).

This is one of the biggest struggles. We can't see the end of the trail because there is no trail. There is no promotion path laid out, no promise of an income, much less a raise, and no hopes that anything will ever get easier.

Every writer has to cut their own way, though they can borrow another's machete to make the process a little faster. There's no guarantee of success either in improvement or in accolades. And in the measures of modern industrialized society, all but the very cream of writers like Stephen King and J.K. Rowling are failures with regards to economic status and stability.

So...if we can't measure success by the hours we've put in, by the income we earn, by moving up the writing ladder, just what is it that keeps writers going? What makes us batter our heads against rules that aren't rules, against skills that might actually undermine our progress, and an environment where we have to crawl past the carrion bodies of other writers who couldn't keep going across the desert in hopes of an oasis at the other side?

Because we have to. Because to do anything else would mean denying our true selves. Because that way lies madness as the voices in our heads start breaking out into reality because we don't keep them confined in fiction.

Whether we love it or hate it, writing is a calling as true as any other, and not one that can be ignored.
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I was writing up a note for my Thinking Sideways project when a topic came up that I wanted to talk about here as well, and in more detail.

When I discovered Internet writing communities, I was hammered with a bunch of "thou shalt not"s, as are most writers, no matter where they stand on the experience scale.

Even though I had written a ton by that point (two novels, easily 50 short stories, and a couple novelettes, plays, and poems), because of my isolation, I was vulnerable to peer pressure. I figured that I'd been hacking my way through, making it up as I went along, and so must have picked up a ton of bad habits. If the "Internet" says it's right, I must, therefore, be wrong.

To this day, I'm still fighting the impact of that period in my writing career, and to some degree, I'm still vulnerable and carrying out "thou shalt"s that if I took a step back and looked at them, are insane.

Ones I've conquered include "thou shalt not use the verb 'to be'" and "thou shalt not use 'that'" (which has the dangerous companion of "thou shalt replace 'that' with 'which' at every opportunity where 'that' cannot be purged," something resulting in broken grammar on top of unintelligible sentences).

My father broke me of "that" simply because he could not comprehend my sentences and wasn't willing to jump through the elaborate hoops expected so we can avoid a perfectly good word that (note ;)) happens to stand out when overused.

However, this concept has recently hit me on two fronts. One of the processes suggested by Holly Lisle in Thinking Sideways contradicts the "general rules" and is actually something I used to do before facing those same rules and bowing to them.

A while back, a friend edited a book for me that had two separate voices, one omniscient and one close third. She said choose one...but more importantly, choose either. I had a strong omniscient voice when I started writing that was crushed out of me, so I've substituted with a super close third. Now that change I regret with a vague sadness, but a close third is more of what the market is looking for and I'm happy with the new style, except that my third is SO close that it sometimes confuses people. SIGH.

But it's a more recent happening that brought me to writing this post.

I am in the process of collecting the crits of From the Sea (Selkie) into a single document so I can evaluate the trends. First of all, if the OWW trend of controversial stories succeeding holds true, I've got it made :p. I'm working on the third of four and there's significant disagreement about certain characters and situations :). But that's beside the point.

In going through this story and seeing their comments, I realized, had a full-on DUH moment, that I'm still crippled by one of those "thou shalt not"s.

Some time back, I was told not once but repeatedly that it is a point of view (POV) slip to say someone smiled because they can't see their own face. This started an endless round of arguments and warped my writing FOREVER!!!!! Okay, drama over, now that I've realized it, I can fix it too.

Instead of avoiding the act in the POV character, I went about coming up with ways that made obvious what we all know, which is that we KNOW when we smile. So I have smiles curling lips and pulling cheeks and...(sounds familiar? ;)) It's too much. It's ridiculous. It's annoying! I do not question why my critters pointed it out in the feedback. I question how I could have continued on this vein without realizing myself that I'd been had.

Double SIGH.

So I have my work cut out for me in this edit, in the edit of everything written prior to this moment, and in the writing of everything ever after, but I will break myself of this bad habit. I will rise above the "thou shalt"s and just write.

It seems to me there's a sense among writers that every opinion must be validated to hold weight. It's not enough to say this seems awkward to me, but rather some rule must rise from the deep to put authority behind the opinion. Only trouble is that the opinion gives writers a choice whether to adopt the change or stick with what they have. These manufactured rules, though, either make the critter seem foolish or can scar the writer for some time to come.

There are rules about writing. Grammar rules that are fixed (or mostly so) like capitalization and putting an end punctuation mark at the end of a sentence. What people need to remember is style rules are not rules. They're at best guidelines and at worse yokes around the necks of people trying to succeed.

The only rules I've heard that stand firm for me are these:

1) Thou shalt not confuse the reader (unless it serves a plot purpose).
2) Thou shalt entertain.

And, as you can see from the parenthetical phrase after the first, even those have caveats.
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I'll bet some of you thought you'd get an update on March Madness when it was over, hmm?  Well, the week kind of got away from me so here it is a bit late.

I managed 9,672 words on Molly for March Madness.  If you remember back to my last post, this is just over 4,000 shy of where I wanted to be.  While that is a sad thing, it's not as bad as it might sound.

Last year, in the midst of my medical disasters, I wrote about 9,550 words for March Madness.  I was determined to do better this year, and I did...by just over 100 words.  While this was not the margin I'd hoped for, there's another side to this story that is the much more important one.

After the 2008 March Madness, I put down the novel with an exhausted sigh...and still haven't picked it up again.  Karth's Story is currently moldering in the corner, marking the first unfinished novel I've written since possibly 1995 or even earlier.  That said, I do have plans to jump back in and finish it up at some point, but I'm avoiding it for the time being.

What's different about this most recent March Madness is that Molly has already gained three more scenes and stands at 12,340.

For me, this is a creeping pace, and it's very rough going, but there are reasons for that which do not involve failure on my part.

Molly is an experiment, a novel being written using another writer's methodology.  As you might remember, I'm taking Holly Lisle's How to Think Sideways course right now.  I've found some parts of it click into holes in my process with a smooth glide while others it is like jamming a puzzle piece into the almost appropriate opposite.

Now I'm not your typical Thinking Sideways candidate, especially on the writing side, because I already have a serious pile of finished first drafts.  This has led to a disconnect with some of her lessons where I have already developed a system that works for me, sometimes similar, sometimes taking things a step further, and sometimes completely on another plane.  None of which negates the value of the class.

As a writer, I feel I should be constantly open to exploring new methods, new avenues.  Even if I have something that works perfectly, by expanding my horizons, I may discover a way to grow as a writer that my old method was obscuring.  And stagnation is something I oppose with every atom in my body.

Besides that, in the areas where my process is still mutating, having solid advice from an experienced writer who is able to communicate her methodology in ways that allow other writers, especially newer ones, to understand is never a bad thing.

However, speaking specifically on the process of preparing a story to fly, I'm too organic for her methodology.  While hers is valuable as a companion tool to recognize which scenes are solid and which scenes are likely to end up on the cutting room floor, it does not click me into the story enough so that I am living and breathing it.  I still need to make one of my style of outlines to achieve that, something it's too late in my process to do at this point for Molly.

So, my plan now is just to struggle through and recognize I've got a serious editing project ahead of me.

Oddly, this is a good thing because my editing process is still under development.  I've completed quite a few edits I think are successful, but the process is more cumbersome than I appreciate.  If Molly's first draft came through mostly clean, it would make a poor learning manuscript for the editing phase of the class.  We learn more when things are broken and going rough than when we can just skate, whether talking writing, academics, programming, or what have you.

Ultimately, Molly's in for a hard ride, but if she can come out gleaming, not only will I have learned a thing or two, but I think she'll have a nice run at the YA market.

And stats:
New Words: 721 words
44 scenes
14 complete - 32% of the novel
30 Scenes remain
26,443 Remaining word count
38,783 Estimated length - with an average of 881 words per scene.
12,340 Current Total


 


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March Madness is drawing near (only one sleep away) and the novel for this challenge is Molly, the Asteroid Miner's Daughter.  This is one of my ideas generated during Holly Lisle's How to Think Sideways class (http://howtothinksideways.com/members/?rid=190).  I'm tracking its progress in detail through the Thinking Sideways forums and my related blog, but I thought I'd drop a mention here as well.

It's difficult when you have established, successful processes to tackle learning a new one, but I've found that resting on any particular process is dangerous as you may run into a particular novel or circumstance that bucks your previous patterns and demands skill sets you have to discover if you haven't broadened your base.  That doesn't mean learning something new is easy, but it's definitely worth the trip if only to know what doesn't work for you.

Honestly, it's the other parts of Holly's class that appeal more, the insider tips for managing publishing contracts and making things happen in an organized fashion rather than a mad scramble.  I'm on the cusp of entering that lifestyle, and I need all the help I can get so I don't dissolve into the chaos that draws me :).

So, we'll see how it goes.  I have created (and finally sorted) a 41 scene outline for which most scenes have been verified using Holly's techniques.  I'd hoped for all of them, but a huge project for the boys' school sucked up all my time.  I'll have to verify as I go, but I have some 19+ verified so I've got a bit of room.

Oh, my goal for this March Madness (a mad dash for words from 7k to 40k and a finished book in a week through Forward Motion) is to achieve at least 14k.  I had enough problems with last year that I managed a mere 9k, and I plan to do better, darn it.

And stats:
New Words: 0 words
41 scenes
0 complete - 0% of the novel
41 Scenes remain
61500 Estimated length - with an average of 1500 words per scene.
0 Current Total
 

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Not too surprising considering my last post, today I put those lovely words on the page: The End.

Coma Wedding is the first novel I have completed since my NaNo almost two years ago on November 30th of 2007. If you've been following for a bit, you'll possibly remember that a medical mystery knocked me silly all of last year and so this is a major win :).

That said, this story is not what I'd consider my normal fare, though elements of it do cross over with other stories. I thought From the Sea was hard to classify (originally Selkie), but Coma Wedding takes it a step further.

This is a romance with no on-screen sex--heck, no sex at all, though a honeymoon has certain implications :). It is a time travel story with no explanation of the event beyond the fates, and the characters don't believe in time travel despite having to admit it happened in this one unique case. Yes, there's a ghost. No, he doesn't haunt, he doesn't scare little children, and he isn't trapped there until some great wrong is undone. He hangs around because something is unfinished, true, but he's so unghostlike that both he and the others often forget his lack of corporeal form until his chill reminds them.

And most importantly, it ends just after the honeymoon...when the Laura gets an offer to return to the industry she loves--in other words, a job.

I haven't reread it yet. It could be the most horrible, mixed-up story ever, but I really don't think so. The characters caught me and wouldn't let go. They dragged me through the chaos of their tale, refusing to settle into any known pattern and refusing to compromise even on something as simple as length. I thought 80k-90k was reasonable...they thought differently.

Whether this story will find a home, I cannot say. Of all my outlier novels, I think this is the furthest out. On the other hand, because it has a (mostly) contemporary setting, because it's about "normal people" despite the strange things that happen to them, it may have an easier time finding a place. After all, the mainstream market tends to be rather egalitarian, even if science fiction and fantasy aren't as welcome. Good thing then, I guess, that the time travel isn't explained :).


And stats:
New Words: 0 words
80 scenes
80 complete - 100% of the novel
0 Scenes remain
0 Remaining word count
107039 Estimated length - with an average of 1338 words per scene.
107039 Current Total
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And the countdown continues. Only two scenes remain in the Coma Wedding outline.

 

So...I reworked one of the scene blurbs today for a reason that I think merit's mentioning.

 

When I returned to the United States as a kid, I lived in Virginia and Massachusetts before moving out to California where I stayed until about 3 years ago. I'm still getting used to having seasons again when almost half my life was spent without significant ones.

 

Coma Wedding is a (largely) contemporary novel. It's set in the southern East Coast, and it begins in March and carries through to early November.

 

I make a point of mentioning seasons, the turning of the leaves, the snow on the ground, the light turning dimmer, but I haven't quite absorbed them into my psyche. On one side of my outline is a little counter. I say how many days have passed in the book, and it comes up with a date based on adding to the "base date" back in March. This helps me keep track of the big holidays that would have to have some, no matter how minor, impact on the story. Things like Fourth of July doesn't slip by without someone mentioning it, without seeing a flag, or hearing a homegrown fireworks go off. Therefore, I need the calendar to make sure my characters notice costumed folks showing up on October 31st for example.

 

However, this also tells me what time of year the action is happening. As you might have guessed, two scenes from the end, I'm smack dab in the middle of November...in Virginia.

 

So two scenes ago, my heroine goes running outside with just an old gardening sweater as a coat. Some people can do that (like my kids) but to everyone else, she would be freezing. And so she is. I got the weather angle perfect there and even made it into a plot point :D.

 

But when I started into the next scene this morning and read over the blurb, I realized my outline failed to account for such a simple thing like season. I have them going out onto the porch in early evening for privacy...in NOVEMBER. It's not like they're going to bundle up first.

 

Since I didn't want to end the book two scenes prematurely by my heroine either dying of pneumonia or slipping on the icy steps and breaking her neck, I fixed it in the actual draft, but the problem in my outline has served as a timely reminder of the importance of tracking the time line closely, and of the myriad of ways weather has an impact on the story.

 

So what are the ways you handle weather in your stories, whether driven by reality in a contemporary setting or by the climate forces you've put into place?

 

 

And stats:

New Words: 1371 words

80 scenes

78 complete - 98% of the novel

2 Scenes remain

2686 Remaining word count

107436 Estimated length - with an average of 1343 words per scene.

104750 Current Total

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Okay, I know it's been a while since I gave a real update for Coma Wedding. But a Pretty Bauble was the higher priority project and I'm lousy at updating. But here's the thing. Coma Wedding is rolling along merrily. At the end of last week, I took some time to update the outline so it's now in pretty much final form (open to change of course as it always is) and now have a reasonable belief that the final length will be around 110k. It's an interesting length, but within limits of the type of book (so crossover it ends up being mainstream ;)).

This has been an odd book from the start. First it comes and grabs me when I wasn't writing anything, then I started NaNo without finishing the outline (and it was in lousy shape for the part I needed then), and when I reached the end of NaNo, I was dead. So I stopped entirely and blamed the book. But it wasn't the book, it was me. So now here I am racing along at frequent 1500 or better writing mornings, something generally unheard of.

I like this book. I like the characters, I like the tangles, and I even like the fact that it's a paranormal, time travel, romance, coming of age novel about finding yourself.

So, the big news in my rambling is that the outline is complete, I'm on target for finishing by March 15th, and maybe even early. I have 7 scenes to go and am completing a scene a day pretty consistently.

And it even has a real title. The title is just as strange as the book, so who knows...it might stick: Once Upon a Coma.


And stats:
New Words: 1488 words
80 scenes
73 complete - 91% of the novel
7 Scenes remain
9457 Remaining word count
108084 Estimated length - with an average of 1351 words per scene.
98627 Current Total
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(Yes, you know who you are who prompted this ;).

A lot of people complain about writing books that specify THE way to do things as though all other techniques are garbage, a complaint I agree with. It's easier not to qualify every statement, but sometimes the tone comes across as saying only idiots choose another path.

That's not what I'm writing about though.

There's a corollary to this that I don't see getting much press from writers. Though not the first time I've run into it, I had a conversation along these lines today and decided to talk about it here in case others might benefit from my perspective.

What I'm talking about is the tendency among authors to malign their current process. Now I know that just because a writer happens to work one way now doesn't mean that writer will still be using the same writing pattern in a year, two years, or more. However, if a writer has an established pattern, it makes more sense to me to accept the current state as a "for now necessity" than to fight against it.

This is an aspect of self-awareness that many people skim over. Though they complain as above about people telling them about THE way, their acceptance of alternatives encompasses not their own patterns but only those of other writing books or successful writers they know. Sometimes this is because their current process is onerous, sometimes it's because they believe they should be able to follow something like Holly Lisle's One-Pass Manuscript Revision process and when they find their draft has too much work required, they get frustrated.

I've been there. I've measured myself against others' productivity, how quickly they bring a draft to market, their submissions patterns, and what have you. It's easy with all the information out there to find some way of knocking yourself or your process down.

Here's what I say to that habit: get it behind you. Move past comparison to others and toward understanding what you're doing and why. I'm not saying you can't change your process. I'm not saying you shouldn't take the opportunity to learn other methods of working. What I am saying is that you should to recognize your current pattern as what you need at this moment based on what you know at this time. Don't fight it. Accept it.

Yes, you should work to change the pattern if it is not producing what you want, but that's not the same as fighting it.

Fighting your pattern is harmful to your self-esteem, to your ability to grow, to your very health at times, mental or physical. You adopted this pattern for a reason. I can't tell you if it's because there's a huge hole in your knowledge, whether you're on the cusp of a radical growth, or whether something happened to knock you back and you're in a mad scramble to recover. The cause almost doesn't matter.

This is your current pattern. Accept it, embrace it, take advantage of the fact that your mind and body have found a way to progress no matter how slowly, how awkwardly, how not like you wish you were. Go ahead and study other processes, learn new techniques, fill in your knowledge so you will be ready when it all comes together and your pattern shifts, but don't condemn the pattern you have now if it is producing any forward motion at all. 

A rolling stone gathers no moss and an object at rest stays at rest.

The more you fight, the more you drive yourself to a standstill. Sure, maybe that pattern's no fun, maybe you feel like you missed the bus, that opportunity never bothered to come knocking, but there's an old saying, "God helps those who help themselves." Whether you believe in a deity or not, the principle applies. By fighting, you are refusing the method of progress you have found for right now. You are seeking the greener grass on the other side of the fence rather than lowering your head to graze. If you would only feast on what you have around you, you could grow strong enough to leap the fence, to knock it aside, to burrow under, and then discover for yourself whether the new process you're exploring is actually better...or just different.

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