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  • Fear Of Writing

    Writer: n. Someone living in a constant state of wtf by choice. ~Eric Andrew Satchwill

    Lately, I’ve been reading Page Fright: Foibles and Fetishes of Famous Writers by Harry Bruce. At one point, he quotes a number of authors talking about the abject terror they feel when they sit down to write, and it got me thinking about my own attitude towards writing.

    I don’t approach writing with fear so much as complete and utter bewilderment. I’m far too stubborn to not be writing, and compared with the fear involved in shifting one’s identity as I have, the fear of a blank page is laughable. Even so, when I stop and think about what it is I’m doing as I writer, I can’t help but be overwhelmed by the sheer audacity of it.

    You see, I’m not just putting down words, I’m creating worlds. I’m picking up human failings and fleshing them out into living, breathing people, and I’m putting them in some of the most absurd situations I can imagine. I take these situations and play them out to their logical conclusions until I suddenly find myself to be the custodian of several worlds, numerous diverse people, and the engineer of no less than three wars between them.

    And I had thought that all I would be doing was following one character through an ordinary day in his life.

    It’s not only the large scale, ‘I wasn’t planning on starting another war but apparently I am’ realizations that so thoroughly bemuse me while writing, it’s the details. It’s realizing that while the situation makes perfect sense based on the chain of events and the worldbuilding, the fact that I have a gay daemon and his lesbian slave trying to find a misplaced closet is completely and utterly ridiculous. It’s these sorts of things that make me stop, blink for several seconds, then burst out laughing. I can’t quite explain how it happened, but it did, and it works.

    And you know what? I love every absurd, bewildering, and downright ridiculous moment of it. I love knowing that I am tackling something that no sane person would try and that without me, none of these situations could play out quite the way they have. This is who I am. This is my calling.

    Whether I chose this vocation or it chose me, I am a writer and I am not afraid.

     

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  • What’s In A Name?

    Every once in a while I take a step back and just think about the names of the characters in my book. Sometimes they seem to name themselves and sometimes I have to dig and search for just the right one, but it’s always something unique to the character and the story.

    In my current novel, I’ve noticed that I have a lot of fairly traditional names. Lisa. Michael. Felicity. Justin. Cecilia. Deirdre. Barnaby, even. Most of them are actually more traditional than you’d expect from their ages.

    But then something unusual pops up. Isabell; not ‘Isabel’ or ‘Isabelle’ as is more typical, but ‘Isabell’. Tristianne, who incidentally has ensured that I will never pronounce the name ‘Tristan’ correctly in my head ever again, and Timoth, who was my first answer to the add-Tim-to-your-novel challenge. (The second was Timeus and yes, they are both still active in my story two books in.)

    And that’s just my human or nearly so character names. Don’t even get me started on the faeries; most of them defy categorizing, which is just so typical of them.



  • Characters Are Messy

    Much like with people in real life, character dynamics can get… messy. Especially when we’re suddenly forced to look at them through the eyes of an outsider.

    I ran into this in the scene I’m currently writing for the second book in the series. I’ve spent more than an entire book with my core cast by this point; I know their quirks and foibles, I know how they feel about themselves and each other, and I know what brought them to this point in the story. I love them and understand them as rich, complex people.

    And then I bring a new character in, and she’s seeing their household for the first time. Suddenly, I’m seeing my beloved characters through the eyes of a stranger, and I see a middle-aged man living in a one-bedroom apartment with a much younger man, and a woman half his age who wears a collar and calls him Master. And it feels awkward when I put it that way.

    On the other hand, if life were straight-forward and simple, our stories would be, too. But our stories are complex, messy, and more than a little awkward because that’s what life is like, and we tell stories as a way of making sense of life.

    So I will continue to write my beloved characters in all their messy complexity. I will do everything in my power to make them as real to my readers as they are to me so that they will see past the awkward exterior to the (hopefully) inspiring story beneath.



  • Believing Your Writing

    They say writers are liars.

    They also say that to be able to hold two contradictory beliefs simultaneously is a mark of genius.

    I say genius writers believe their own lies while simultaneously knowing them to be fiction.

    In a prime demonstration of the third point, today I managed to scare the living daylights out of myself with one of my own characters. I know he’s fictitious, and logically, I know that I’m the ultimate decider of his actions, and yet I also know that given half a chance he will murder me in my sleep. Without a second thought, and without remorse.

    Today I believed my own lies, and tonight I will sleep with one eye open. And if you see a red-eyed man who looks like a marble statue in a casual suit and a T-shirt: run.



  • Meaningful Post Deferred

    I was going to write a meaningful post about my faith and coming into Christianity as an adult rather than being raised as such, but I am far too tired to make any sense on that front whatsoever. So I’m going to defer that post until another day and say: I love writing, I’m rocking NaNoWriMo, and because of this I have fictional serial killers on the brain. My life is paradox, and I’m okay with that. Good night!



  • Writing for Fun and Frustration

    or

    Why Am I Wrestling An Octopus Into A Mayonnaise Jar Again?

    “Writing a novel… is like wrestling an octopus into a mayonnaise jar.” –Attributed to Patti Hill.

    I think this quote describes the writing process perfectly (thank you @BA_Matthews for bringing it to my attention). It’s not impossible to wrestle an octopus into a mayonnaise jar. They’re squishy and can squeeze into small places easily. But they’re also slippery and will wriggle out of your grasp, especially if they’ve decided they don’t want to be in mayonnaise jars, thank you very  much. And we invariably come to a point where we wonder why we decided to try wrestling octopuses into mayonnaise jars in the first place (but are too stubborn to give up because now that we’ve started we’re going to damn well finish the job).

    I’m not sure what possesses us to write. I can’t quite say why, after two years, I’m still beating my manuscript into submission, but I am. What I do know is that I couldn’t stop if I tried. I can’t imagine not having half-edited chapters strewn across the house, not tapping furiously away on my computer, and not yelling at my characters for refusing to reveal some all-important element until part way through the third draft. I can’t imagine not living in this constant state of joyful exasperation.

    And perhaps that’s the point. The joyful exasperation. All the frustrations, hair-pulling, and setbacks come with visible progress, excitement, and growth as we learn our craft and our art. For us, the process of writing is at least as important as the finished product. We complain, we moan, we gnash our teeth… and we love every minute of it. In the end, when our octopus is firmly in its jar and sitting on the shelf, we’ll look at it and remember what an insane, wonderful time we had putting it there.

    That, is why we write.



  • And Now For Something Completely Different

    We all have our writing routines. Some are more strict than others, some involve a particular setting or music, and some include what we’re reading when we’re not working. Sometimes we need these routines–and sometimes we need to abandon them for something completely different.

    My routine typically involves listening to no music whatsoever while working, and reading a similar genre to my own during leisure times to keep in the proper mindset. Recently, however, I hit a bit of a snag. The novel I’m up to the eyeballs editing and rewriting, Fallen Things, is urban fantasy (though I wonder sometimes if it isn’t more contemporary fantasy), so I’ve been reading a lot of urban fantasy. A good idea usually, but it wasn’t working this time.

    Whenever I sat down to work, I was annoyed with what I was writing. Whenever I went to relax with a book, I was annoyed with what I was reading. Whatever I was doing, I was annoyed, and I realized that I just wasn’t getting a break from anything, which wasn’t helpful. Something needed to change.

    A couple of things happened at once here: the first was that I was looking for some music that related to the character I was working on. While I usually find listening to music while writing distracting, I relate certain songs to certain characters and listen to those when I’m doing other things. This one, however, was being tricky. Nothing seemed to fit–until I abandoned the lyric-filled pop and rock music for Beethoven. It fit him so perfectly, and since I wasn’t trying to sing along with it, I could listen to it while I worked.

    The second thing was finding a selection of classic literature on sale three for ten dollars. Having two versions of the song Wuthering Heights, (Kate Bush and Pat Benatar), I thought I ought to actually read the book sometime. This was a complete departure from what I had been reading, and I loved it. For the first time in a while, it actually felt like I was giving my brain a break from the work I’d given it. I didn’t have to compare things like style and point of view because they weren’t  meant to follow the same guidelines.

    I still spend a good deal of editing time glaring at the screen. That’s a natural part of the process. But the task doesn’t seem so impossible any more, and my leisure time, filled with Emily Brontë and Beethoven, actually feels like leisure time again. I can actually relax.

    Sometimes our writing routines help us to be more productive, but sometimes we need to know when to put aside old practices and shake things up a bit. Sometimes we need something completely different.



  • There’s No Such Thing as a Minor Change

    As you can probably guess, I’m deep in the middle of the editing process on my novel. I’ve been through the whole story at least once–some parts many, many more times than that–and now I’m making all those minor adjustments needed for the story to flow and make sense.

    Except that there are no minor adjustments. Not really.

    One of my characters originally had a cat. After some deliberation, I realized that the cat was a ‘darling’, something lovely and oh-so-precious but ultimately a detriment to the story, and had to be ‘killed’. Of course, since I had performed incredible contortionist feats to accommodate the stupid cat in the first place, I now find myself having to delete any mention of it in the first quarter of the book, at least. This means rearranging dialogue, description, action… the beast had gotten his paws into all sorts of things.

    In another instance, I realized that I should maybe introduce a particular minor character who plays a major role sometime before his appearance in the final act. It should be easy enough to just have him passing through a particular scene early on, right? Wrong. The fact that he’s even there in that early scene reverberates through the rest of the novel, affecting how many other scenes play out. Some of it will be in the background where the reader won’t necessarily see it, but some of it happens right out there on the page. Let’s face it, I can’t really introduce a character as occupying a particular setting and then ignore his presence whenever it becomes inconvenient.

    Every time I make a tiny change, it seems to snowball, affecting something two, three, twenty scenes down the line. Sometimes it means having to make notes later (or sometimes earlier) in the draft to make sure I account for that change where it matters. It can become a lot of work, especially since it’s never just one minor change. But you know what? All that work? It’s worth it. One of the amazing things about making these changes is seeing how much better my story is becoming.

    Because just as one minor change leads to a string of other changes, it can also snap a string of events into focus. Suddenly, one character’s behaviour makes a lot more sense, and another’s motivation becomes clearer. Everything becomes tighter, everything becomes richer, and everything hangs in a better balance. And the best part? Through all these changes, I’m still discovering new things about my characters as they do things I hadn’t anticipated, things that say so much more about about their personalities than what was there before.

    If you happen to be in the same boat as I am with your writing process, don’t worry. All that hard work and all those ‘minor’ adjustments are worth it in the end, bringing your story to a stronger, more cohesive place.



  • A Good Writing Group Is A Great Thing To Have

    As writers, we tend to be solitary creatures. It’s the nature of our work. Sitting in the dark pounding away at a keyboard for hours upon hours doesn’t really lend itself to rich and varied social life. Add the fact that most ‘normal’ people don’t want to hear how our characters hijacked our story yet again, and it looks like we’re doomed to be hermits, doesn’t it? So we can’t be allowed around the general public. But what about… other writers?

    Other writers? They get us. We can vent about our character troubles or share an exciting yet disturbing epiphany about our plot and rather than backing away slowly, a fellow writer will say, “I know, right?” Suddenly, we are not alone. Gather one or two more, and we become a writing group. And a writing group is something we want to be a part of for many reasons:

    A Writing Group Provides Support

    Having a writing group means having people we can go to when we’re stuck or frustrated or feel like giving up. These are the people who can offer workable suggestions for our stories, and even if we don’t use those suggestions, they get us thinking about why giving the MC a pet alligator isn’t going to work which can lead us to an idea that will. They remind us why we wanted to write in the first place even as they commiserate with us. They encourage us as we battle through word count and edits, and they celebrate with us when our hard work pays off. And we do the same thing for them.

    A Writing Group Pushes Us To Improve

    A good writing group is never satisfied with simply writing; a good writing group wants us to write better. This includes critiques and writing challenges, sharing resources we’ve found, and coming up with new ways to work on our craft together. A writing group gives us structure, which as much as we hate to admit it, is something we all need. One day we look up and realize that we’re sitting with a group of friends, analysing something we half-killed ourselves to write, and that we’re doing this voluntarily. That is when we know we’re in a good group.

    A Writing Group Forces Us To Finish What We Started

    In order to discuss each others work, we have to have something written to discuss. A good writing group won’t let us off the hook with a half-finished story; they will make us finish it even if it means shunning us over dinner while we pound out the penultimate battle and final confrontation. And when we finally submit our masterpiece, they will still give us brutally honest feedback, because that’s what friends are for.

    A Writing Group Is An Idea Factory

    Put writers in a room together, and we will feed off each other’s insanity. Our conversations are wild, and often wildly inappropriate (just ask any server who’s waited a table of writers.) The littlest thing will spark an idea. A joke becomes canon, a ‘what if’ becomes a story, a ‘we should’ becomes a reality. A critique group spawns short story challenges, and a short story spawns a forum where our multitudes of characters can interact, just to see how someone from one person’s universe interacts with someone from another’s.

    We make each other work hard, but we also play hard, having so much fun that it’s hard to tell where the ‘work’ left off and the ‘play’ began. We leave each other energized and ready to dive back into the editing we’ve been struggling with or start that story we’ve been meaning to get around to. A good writing group helps us do what we love, and helps us feel less alone while we do it.

    And now for an announcement!

    FELT TIPS – The World’s Greatest Charity Anthology of Office-Supply-Related Erotica is coming out December 12, 2012. It includes What Is It, Suzie? by yours truly, as well as many other exciting stories by authors I am proud to be featured along side of. Check out the ‘Coming Soon!‘ tab above for more information and updates.



  • When Bad Writing Sparks Good Ideas

    Growing as a writer, learning the finer points of character and storytelling, can really change the way we watch TV. Because we can now see what works–and what really, really doesn’t–it can be hard to just sit back and enjoy something. There’s always that part of us critiquing the show and thinking about how we could have done it better.

    Case in point: ABC’s Once Upon A Time. Don’t get me wrong, I love that show. It’s my guilty pleasure, and I really do hope they go on for a second season. I liked the concept and some of the characters, Regina and Mr. Gold/Rumplestiltskin specifically, were interesting and engaging. I enjoyed some of the ways they took old fairy tales and turned them around… but sometimes it didn’t quite work out. Sad to say, but Once Upon A Time suffered from clumsy writing.

    It irritated me to no end that (ignoring for today the incredibly dense Emma Swan) the fate of Storybrook depended on the relationship between the two most oblivious, flaky, and emotionally cowardly characters in town. At one point I didn’t care if the curse never got broken so long as I didn’t have to hear one more word about their ‘tragic love story’.

    Then, during one of the fairy tale flashbacks, it dawned on me: Snow White was the real villain. It was the only thing that made sense. After all, her every move was precisely calculated to cause the most damage while still appearing innocent or in the moral right. And this would have been great–if the writers had meant for it to come off that way, which I don’t think they did.

    If they were trying to make Snow the villain and Regina the heroine, then they failed at establishing the protagonist. (Yes, I know the heroine was supposed to be Emma, but we’re ignoring her, remember?) More likely they were trying to make Regina more sympathetic and make Snow more active and self-reliant, but it backfired. I ended up with far more sympathy for Regina than any of the ‘good’ characters, and quite frankly, Snow came off as a sociopath.

    Which brings us back to ‘how I could do this better’.

    Maybe I’m not tackling the whole concept of the show, but Snow as the villain? That I can sink my teeth into. In fact, it sparked a Shiny New Idea so strong that despite the mountain of editing needed for Fallen Things, I started scribbling out the beginning of a new story in my Moleskine. It’s an idea that sits somewhere between fan-fiction and ‘derivative work from a common source’. The MC’s name is still Regina and her back story has some similar elements with the show, but there are some things that I already know will be done differently. The mirror, for instance, and I probably won’t be trying to wedge every possible fairy tale character into this story.

    Will I ever try to get this story published? Who knows. For now, it’s just a fresh, easy thing to give my mind a break while I tackle larger projects. It should be interesting to see where it takes me.

    How about you? Have you ever watched or read something that sparked an idea that could not be ignored? Have you ever thought, “I can do that better,” and made good on it? Please, feel free to share in the comments.