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Knowing What Your Dreams Are in the First Place

I didn’t always want to be a writer. In fact, I think I might happily trade writing for my first love and obsession: unassisted flight.

To 9-year-old me, flight without the baggage of airplanes and jetpacks was the highest accomplishment a human being could achieve, and I pursued my obsession with the religious fervor of saints (as much as a 9-year-old could). I knew that if I believed strongly enough, if I could jump off the deck with my arms spread wide enough and my heart filled with the nine feet of air beneath my heels, that I would float magically and divinely about the backyard.

I always fell.

After battling through the depression of my age turning double digits for the first time, I accepted with grudging bitterness that I would never fly without the help of some clunky, man-made device. I resolved next, briefly, to be an astronaut so that I might have the privilege of floating (which is like flying), but failing math in fourth grade kind of killed that dream (I later went on to be quite proficient at mathematics, in case you were wondering).

I then settled down to my true destiny and focused on becoming an author. I didn’t start reading at a particularly young age (though I talked abnormally quickly and proceeded to tell everyone the storied I’d made up, so… basically the same thing) but I loved stories, and found in them the merging of the normal with the magical that I so despondently lacked in real life. After the dream of true flight, what else could there be but to disappear into worlds where all sorts of miracles were possible?

To her credit, my mother always believed in me, but everyone else looked upon my dreams with skepticism. Everyone was so afraid I’d end up a starving hippie artist that they tried to steer me into more practical career solutions.

“You like to write? Never mind with being a novelist, how about a journalist?”

So I tried my hand at that. I even won an award from the Journalism Education Association based on a contest I did at a convention while I was in high school. The only problem is that I truly despised journalism. The award wasn’t so much based on my investigative skills -it was a feature article!- as my instinct for rearranging sentences into pleasurable reading.

Journalism -that hateful beast- finally out of the way, advice talks turned to other forms of professional writing: contract, technical, copy, etc. Anything, ANYTHING but creative writing! A well-meaning relative once told me in no uncertain terms that if I liked and was good at writing then I should be a judge (yes, as in courts), because they wrote all the time (summaries of cases and stuff like that).

I was perplexed by the massive misunderstandings of the adults in my life. Was creative writing really such a dead-end career path that they were throwing me any lifesaver alternate they could think of? Or did they simply not understand the depth of passion and dedication I felt towards novel writing? I guess non-writers face a bit of a challenge in trying to understand why writers feel compelled to write.

Though I was willing to consider other suggestions, and might have expressed excited interest in a topic I really didn’t care for just in order to make a well-meaning adviser go away, I never wavered in the belief that what I really wanted to do was make books. If I had to work full time at a job I hated or become a trophy wife (if I was even eligible for such an occupation) in order to survive while I got my novelist career started, so be it. Writing was always inevitable, no matter what I had to do around the time I wasn’t actually writing.

And no one but other writers seemed to understand that.

I thought I’d put this out here tonight in case anyone was feeling the frustration that results when everyone around you is doubtful of what you are so certain. When you want something as bad as I wanted writing, you just want it, and no logic or scare tactics are going to keep you away. And that’s perfectly all right. :-)

~~~

Also, last weekend I went and hung out with my friend and fellow LTWF blog contributor, Susan Dennard. She was wonderful and I had a fabulous time just hanging out. I put some pics up on Facebook if you’re interested in seeing someone else’s pictures of animals at an aquarium ;-)

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My Nook Article is Up!

You can read it here :-)

Leave me a comment and let me know if you’d be okay with an e-reader or if you’re too attached to physical books. Bonus points if you have one/have played with one.

In other news… I’m starting to get comments trickling in about A Clear and Beautiful lie (what chapters I sent off of it anyway), and it looks good so far. I’m strongly considering posting excerpts here :-)

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Reactions to Jealousy Article

Today I posted an article about Jealousy and Fictionpress over at Let The Words Flow, and it’s gotten some interesting reactions.

Firstly, I didn’t think it was that great of an article. When I showed it to sjmaas a few weeks ago when I wrote it, she told me it was the best I had ever written, and that puzzled me.

Surely Sudden Novel Death Syndrome or Failing Better were better written, definitely longer, and more relevant for the daily life of a writer.

But today I’ve gotten tons of long comments detailing readers’ own experiences with Jealousy. And it’s made me think; I’ve been focusing on the quality of the article, its insight, and its brevity, but there was something I was overlooking: Honesty.

My article is very honest. It shows readers the inside emotions of some former FictionPress giants and how we all, large readership or not, felt the same sting of jealousy. And while we don’t pay it much attention in the mainstream, jealousy is a huge factor of our internal lives, because it blends with another emotion a reader was insightful enough to point out: inadequacy.

I feel inadequate. I bet you feel inadequate, too. I have an agent, but no published book. At any moment I’m in danger of getting all rejections for the book I have out on submissions, and it will never be published, and my agent won’t like the other book I pitched to her, and I’m back at square 1. Even if I get published, at any moment the news could come in that no one is buying or reading my books, or reviewers hate them, and I’ll never make comission and no publisher will ever want to work with me again.

Even the Movers and Shakers of the writing world: William Gibson, Neil Gaiman, JK Rowling, Stephen King, Anne Rice, Nora Roberts, etc. must all feel inadequate. I’m sure that some or all of them have felt jealous of another Mover and Shaker.

Jealousy and inadequacy is a universal, and constant issue. I try to be zen about it and accept that I can do things that no one else can, even while others can do things that I’ll never be able to, but I admit it’s hard. Sometimes I feel like I’m covering my ears, shutting my eyes, and screaming my own written words to myself, just to block everyone else out so I can feel good about what I’ve written.

And sometimes there are good days, when I’m the best writer in the world. And then there are bad days when I suck and I’ll never be published and none of my ideas are commercial enough to sell.

In conclusion, I’m glad that those who read the article felt a sense of community and kinship with other writers, some of whom they might have been jealous of in the past. I guess I need to never overlook the honesty and the human element.

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The Importance of Setting

As seen over at Let the Words Flow:

Think of your favorite book. Think of the characters; what do you love about them? What do you see them doing?

More importantly, where are they?

Today I’d like to talk about the importance of Setting, and how it impacts both your writing life and your future readers.

Let’s switch gears a little bit and talk about Harry Potter. I assume most of you out there are fans. What do you think has led to the prominence of Harry Potter fan fiction on Fanfiction.net? Is it the characters? Is it the widespread popularity? I propose to you that what makes Harry Potter so popular is its setting.

If you’ve read one of the Harry Potter books, then you know what Hogwarts looks like. In your mind you know exactly where the Gryffindor common room is, what the doors to the dining hall look like, which direction Dumbledore’s office is facing, etc. You might not be able to draw a functional map of it, and your ideas of where everything is might not match J.K. Rowling’s ideas at all, but the point is that you have a very vivid mental picture of Harry Potter’s primary setting, and in your imaginings during History class or a work meeting you could follow all the characters up and down stairs, across courtyards, through fields, etc., making up new stories and events for them.

The Setting is the playground of the book. If you have a clear idea of your setting, and fully understand the different elements in it, then you could take your book in any direction you wanted. You might go off in several direction before you actually decide on one, all because it’s so easy to think up new scenarios for your characters.

In the Antebellum series, I have very clear, very vivid ideas about the homes and cities of my characters. It’s not hard at all to go there in my mind and hang out with my characters, watching them go about their daily lives. I could lead them into any situation I wanted, and I know exactly where they would stand and what objects would be around them. It’s like a computer game, but for your mind.

I feel very confidently that you can move about the rooms of your favorite books with the same amount of ease. I am also sure that you, like me, run into serious problems when you can’t envision exactly where your characters are.

The realization of the importance of setting came to me very recently as I was working on what I hope will become my newest novel. It involves time travel, and primarily five settings: two houses, an apartment, and two towns. My problem is that I have no idea what any of these places look like. It’s not a matter of research, it’s a matter of orienting myself to their world. What direction do these houses face? When you come through the front door, are you greeted with a staircase, a kitchen, or a reception area? What floor is the apartment on? Is it near a library, a supermarket, or the ghetto, or all three?

Until I figure out the world through my characters’ eyes, I cannot connect with them. I feel lost when I write them; it’s the same feeling as when you take your already-well-known characters and move them into a new setting. You’ll notice it with books sometimes; for just a scene the author will move their characters into a setting completely different than those we visit in the rest of the novel. If the author doesn’t have a clear idea of what that setting looks like, it comes across in their writing, and one of my senses goes dark. I can’t see what the characters are doing anymore. I can hear them, yes, and feel what they’re touching, but my sight is gone until they return to areas I’m more familiar with.

Even though I signed up for NaNoWriMo last month, as soon as I realized my setting predicament I stopped working on the story. I refuse to go back to my novel until I know exactly how to move about the rooms and worlds of my characters. Otherwise I’ll just be stuck in the same spot, flailing around in the dark, offering description and movement but no insight. I can’t make my plot develop if I don’t know what direction my characters are heading next.

Realizing the importance of setting explained for me why some earlier attempts at novels never went anywhere; I had one room, or one piece of scenery, cast out into the void like an island.

How do you pick a setting? Some stories you work on might not come with their settings magically imprinted into your head. Sometimes you might have to work at it, and in that case, I find it helpful to have something to base your setting off of. I recommend the following sources for finding settings:

Continue reading this article at Let The Words Flow

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Sudden Novel Death Syndrome

Hey new friends,

My article entitled ‘Sudden Novel Death Syndrome’ is up at Let The Words Flow.

Excerpt:

I have them and you have them: failed projects. No matter how exciting the initial burst of inspiration, no matter how striking and significant the initial chapters, something causes the story to descend into a frustrating nothing, subsequent chapters diluting themselves into a boring parody of that first, promising beginning. As a writer, your excitement turns to hesitation, then panic, then disgust, and your project gets shelved and locked into the back files of your computer, never to be developed further (except for those occasional, guilty tweakings).

Why does this happen? What, if anything, can be done to prevent it? I’ve compiled a list of reasons—and solutions—to this stagnation, and I hope it’s a help to you:

1. The first rule of writing is: Don’t talk about your novel.

2. The second rule of writing is: Do NOT. TALK. ABOUT. YOUR. NOVEL.

Discussing ideas with your friend or audience seems to be a sure-fire way to kill a project from the very beginning. There’s just something about debating possible plot options that effectively stops production in its tracks. My theory is that it turns your project into an attempt to please everyone at once. Others suggest it distracts you from the delicate process of actually working on the project; you become the type of writer who is always talking about his/her book without ever actually writing it.

This phenomenon has been noticed by other writers as well. Consider the following quotes:

Sleep on your writing; take a walk over it; scrutinize it of a morning; review it of an afternoon; digest it after a meal; let it sleep in your drawer a twelvemonth; never venture a whisper about it to your friend, if he be an author especially. ~A. Bronson Alcott

I think it’s bad to talk about one’s present work, for it spoils something at the root of the creative act. It discharges the tension. ~Norman Mailer

Solution: Don’t talk about your project! Don’t you dare let anyone encroach upon the amazing process that belongs only to you and your writing. Your friends can’t write it for you, and they can’t be there in your head when you’re working out all the details, so why would you involve them at all? Let them read the finished product, not influence a work in progress. Rule of thumb: Consider it bad luck to discuss the details of a project until it is finished. Bring out your novel or story like it is Athena emerging from your head: fully-formed and beautiful.

One last quote to pound the point home:

Writing is a product of silence. ~Carrie Latet

Read about three more problems and their solutions at Let The Words Flow!