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Archive for the ‘On Writing’ Category

Just for Variety…

Since I wrote last Saturday about how the creative muse drops off the face of my brain by 2pm (hah! I don’t even know how many mixed metaphors I got in there), I find it necessary to explain that there is a significant exception to that rule, and that is that on Wednesday evenings when I tag along with Matt to the church building while he helps run youth group, when I can hole myself up in the youth min office, I’ve had some of the more productive writing sessions of my writing career.

Given, most of the time I don’t write earlier in the day on Wednesdays, for one reason or another, but it is exceedingly odd.

Also, the car alarm has taken up its old hobby of going off for no discernible reason.  Excitement, excitement.  Actually, so far it’s been related to the almost dying in Kansas incident a year ago, but we thought we’d taken care of the last bit of problem back in June.  *sigh*

In other big news, our house is for sale.

No, we don’t own a house.

But we take lots of walks through nearby neighborhoods, and we have a few favorites, and the one we always walk past and say “yeah, if that one actually had a yard, we’d really really like it” is officially for sale.  And since we’re curious little buggers, we took a flyer from their box and it turns out there is actually a decent back yard.  Better than we thought there was, anyway, and all enclosed, which is nice in its own way.  Of course, we promptly looked it up on ReMax (I think this link should take you there) and found out that we have incredible taste.  It’s a bargain at only $910,000!  Hahaha.  Ah, but it’s fun to window shop.  I haven’t got a clue what I’d do with a house like that.  If I’m gonna have that much space, I want a real, old-fashioned farm house.

Anyway, still 300 words left to meet my daily word count goal (300? A trifle!) so it’s off to write, off to write…

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Early Morning

I have to say that I feel a little bit nuts for being awake at 6:40 on a Saturday morning – and I feel even crazier for having been awake for an hour already.

Ostensibly, there are three reasons for this.  The first is that throughout the summer my sleep schedule slipped farther and farther toward “bed at 1am, wake at 9”, which is lovely for late-night reading (nothing like finishing a book in the middle of the night and sneaking into bed) but horrible for my productivity.  My brain begins its shut-down process for creative endeavors at about noon, and by 2pm I’m usually toast if I’m trying to write.  If it’s a really good day I might last until 4.  This is regardless of what time I start working.  I’m not saying I can’t work on creative projects (like quilts or editing) after that time, but the designing or creating bug just goes to sleep.  I can continue projects in process, but have a hard time coming up with new material.

So if I wake up at 9, by the time I’ve eaten and dressed and done everything else that needs to get done before I get to work, I have maybe four or five hours of productive creative time.  That just doesn’t cut it.

Also, I have to be at my day job by 7:45am, which conflicts with sleeping until 9.  And I do best waking up at roughly the same time every morning.  It’s annoying, but I’ve tried all sorts of things and I just work best on a regular sleep schedule.  So.  Here I am at 6:45 on a Saturday morning, awake for my own good even though my body says “Please, please let me go back to sleep!”

Oh, and I missed the required SHU chat session on Tuesday night, so I’m waiting for 7am to log in this morning and talk to someone about something.  I’ve never actually done one of the make-up chats, so I have no idea how many people might be there.  Lucky east-coasters get to make up their chat at 9am, but that means 7am out here.  I’m betting pretty much none of the west coast people ever miss a Tuesday night chat, just so they don’t have to get up at 6am to make it up.

And since I’ve officially slipped into rambling, I think it’s time to go make me some breakfast and tea before the chat.

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Fickle Emotion

In perusing my Documents folder today, I came across a file with my thoughts from the middle of the night after a particularly horrible day last fall.  I’d almost forgotten about the incident(s) that this writing responded to – it was something too personal and interconnected with everything in my life to have been posted in an online journal, where it might have a chance of being let out into the open even if it was originally set so that only I could see it.  But I had so much spinning around in my head that night that I needed to get it out, put it down, and step back from it to see what was really going on.

It’s like my own personal pensieve, for all you HP fans.

The funny thing is, as I read through the two pages of writing, I really feel like I’ve fallen into the memory.  I can hear and see things that happened that day as if they were still fresh, and I feel all the emotions I felt then.  I was deeply hurt, from a direction that I’d never expected.  I catch myself worrying about how the other people involved in the incident view the issues at hand now.

I’m anxious and depressed, all because I read something written in the depth of depression and anxiety.

Now, of course, I have to snap out of it and get to work – but I’m amazed anew at the sheer power of words to evoke resonating feeling.

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I really enjoy getting the emails from my critique partners and my mentor every month with their thoughts about my writing.  No really.  I do.  Maybe it’s because the SHU program is geared so that we encourage one another rather than poking holes in perfectly good balloons, but I get excited about constructive feedback from a reader.

That’s not to say that I always agree with everything, or that I don’t have my moments of outrage or feeling like a total failure because I thought I’d conveyed something clearly and it becomes apparent that no one got it.  But I derive great enjoyment from little comments about how someone likes this turn of phrase or thinks that detail was well placed. I find myself challenged to improve rather than being cowed into dejection by the notice of an awkward phrase or – and Scott will haunt me with this forever – flights of whimsy that slipped past my usually ruthless editing cursor, of which I believe “horse thrall” will always be the prime example.

I’m not a goal-oriented person, which seems odd for someone who’s working on publishing novels.  I’m not a competitive person most of the time. I’ve found that it actively detracts from my healthy state of mind – and when my competitive streak does kick in, you’d better watch our because I draw blood.  Yeah, not so good for mental stability. Heck, as long as we’re talking about what kind of person I’m not, we’ll establish that I’m not a people person either.  Oh I talk a good game but when it comes down to the wire my gut reaction to large crowds, especially containing people I don’t know, is to run away screaming.

I’m more of an “I can do better than my last effort” kind of person.  I work well alone, or in a small group of people who I’m confident will all pull their weight as I pull mine.  But oddly enough I don’t often motivate myself to do better, which is why SHU critique groups are so perfect for me.  They give me the little extra kick in the pants I need to keep moving through this novel, improving all the time.

I’m willing and eager to show myself up – as long as someone else can watch me do it.

So, how strange am I?

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I finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows earlier this evening, and I have to say that although it isn’t the best book I’ve ever read (and I mean that in the nicest way possible), it was quite enjoyable. Like visiting old friends, if you will – and really, they are old friends, characters I’ve known and adventured with for five or six years. I haven’t even known my husband for that long, which seems strange to say. It’s always a comfort to see Hermione pulling completely ridiculous facts out of thin air, Ron bumbling his way through and coming out winningly in the end, and Harry wondering the whole time if he should be going on without them, to spare them the danger.

I still don’t get how the magic system works, because even within this book there are discrepancies and entirely new features, but oddly enough in the end it doesn’t bother me much. I feel like it ought to, since I’m trying to put together a coherent, consistent magical world of my own and should be offended that something this well-known doesn’t seem to have been entirely thought through in terms of magic use, but there you have it. It doesn’t matter.

That’s not to say, when I get around to putting all my thoughts down for my personal reference that all my comments will be glowing and positive – just that I am satisfied by the ending of a good story.

Oh, and as I was waiting in the store for my copy of HP I found a copy of Melissa Marr’s debut, Wicked Lovely, and picked it up. Finished it this evening after HP and was very impressed. But then, I’ve always liked stories about faeries, too.

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I’m far from the first to comment on this story, in which a frustrated British author recently sent chapters of various Jane Austen books to eighteen different publishers to see if she’d have more success than he, but I have a few comments to add.

First of all, sending a published author’s work in to see “whether the classics would do better than your book in today’s market” isn’t exactly a productive route to actually having your work published.  It might be mildly informative if you’re imitating that style, but I don’t recommend that anyway.  Better to spend your time and money writing and sending out your own work.

And then there’s this quote at the end, from the man who sent the frauds (and thus will likely never be published at all now, but that’s another discussion):

Getting a novel accepted is very difficult today unless you have an agent first. But I had no idea of the scale of rejection poor old Jane suffered.

If eighteen rejections represents a devastating “scale of rejection” then it’s no wonder this guy’s frustrated enough to plagiarize.  By my understanding, eighteen’s just warming up, whether submitting to agents or publishers.

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John Scalzi, who almost always has something interesting to say over on The Whatever, has posted some interesting thoughts on simplicity in writing today. People have left plenty of comments, and I feel the urge to add my thoughts on this particular section:

The point of all this is that I think simplicity, for want of a better term, is very often underrated relative to craftiness, which is to say when writers (be they songwriters or authors or playwrights or whomever) say things in a purposefully complex way to show off their skills to a relatively small group of people who will get the joke. That’s all fine and good if all you intend to do is to entertain that small group of people solely. If you’re planning to get your words out to a larger group, filled with people who don’t know your jokes, however, it presents, well, a problem.

Now, I have a friend who is a literature buff, and I mean that in the sense that she’s studied all the literary theories and criticisms and although we are good friends, half the time I just smile and nod when she talks about Literature. It’s intimidating, to a certain extent, and sometimes makes me wonder if I’m cut out for this whole “author” thing until I remember that I’m not aspiring to be that kind of writer. I don’t mind knowing the “jokes”, because I’m not catering to the people who know the punch lines.

My friend, whose name is Kristina, and I often wander through bookstores together, and I always find it interesting to take note of what each of us finds interesting in a book we might potentially read. At one point we were in the spec fic section, which is like a giant candy store for me. I was pointing at books saying “That one was good, ooh and I know that author, and this one’s supposed to be one of the best books out this year.” Kristina found one with a clever title (and no, I honestly don’t remember what it was, but I would have picked it up, and I might go back to that store and that shelf so I can find it again to read it at some point) and pulled it out. Me, I would have flipped to the back cover copy to see if the story looked interesting, but she opened to the first chapter and read the first paragraph. Then she commented on how it was very clever of the author to have used a variation of iambic pentameter for the phrasing, because it complemented the offbeat tone of the content.

I blinked. And, though I hadn’t heard of the author, I didn’t have the heart to tell her I very much doubted the writer had consciously thought, “Hey, I’ll play off of the reader’s expectations of iambic pentameter as I play off their expectations of what this sentence will say.”

This is not to say that fantasy or science fiction writers or even genre fiction writers in general don’t put thought into their craft. It is simply that in my experience, most of us are more concerned with entertaining a large group – to the point that we don’t even consider that smaller (more literary? I cringe to use the term…) groups might read their own “jokes”, as Scalzi puts it, into the material when it really wasn’t intended. The sentence was funny. Catchy. Very witty. Thoughts of what poetic meter it was or wasn’t didn’t even flit at the edges of my mind. Craftiness only registers with those who go around looking for it.

Which is all to say I still intend to pay pretty much no attention to things like literary theory, and if someone chooses to comment on my brilliant use of iambs when my work is finished, they’re welcome to do so. I just hope everyone else thinks it’s a good story.

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