Tag: writing about writing

#NaNoWriMo WhyNoMeNo

It’s November, which means that thousands upon thousands of people are sitting down to write a 50,000 word novel as part of NaNoWriMo.

It also means that thousands upon thousands of people are sitting in front of their computers, eying their word counts, and thinking, “Crap, it’s only day seven and I’m how far behind?”

I’m in that second group.

I started off strong. I went to a local write-in on the first day. I sat at a table where a fellow writer took away another NaNo’er’s phone to minimize distractions and may have threatened to disconnect my internet connection. I hit my word count. Days 2, 3, and 4, I hit my word count.

But then on day 5, I came home from my evening class with a migraine/mild diabetic reaction to too much flan, and a bug bite that I had an allergic reaction too (funny story; it’s called Skeeter Syndrome, and it means bites swell up into itchy 3″ in diameter welts). I tried to write, but ended up just going to bed, at 9:00, and sleeping it all off. I planned to catch up today, but between an unexpected trip to the mechanic’s (headlight went out this morning) and my son’s 7th birthday party tonight, I didn’t have time for it.

I’m hoping to catch up soon, but this weekend I’m headed out of town, which means not much writing will get done Friday, Saturday, and possibly Sunday.

And then I have a 20-page policy analysis paper due in a couple weeks, followed by an 8-page paper on my family’s ethnic integration in America. And a book launch in less than a month.

It’s not going to be pretty this month.

If you’re doing NaNo, how’s your progress coming along?

FREE Writing Feedback During the WHW Amazing Race

Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi at Writers Helping Writers (formerly The Bookshelf Muse) have added two more books to their Descriptive Thesaurus Collection: The Positive Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Attributes and The Negative Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Flaws. To celebrate, they are hosting a race, and not just any old race, either. It’s the…

Writing is hard, isn’t it? Create the perfect hook. Make your first page compelling. Craft an amazing 25 word pitch. Knock out a query that will blow an agent’s mind. On and on it goes. And sometimes, well, you just wish someone would help.


From October 21st until October 27th, Writers Helping Writers is posting an OPEN CALL for writers. Fill out a form to request help with critiques, book visibility, social media sharing, blog diagnostics, advice, and more.

An army of Amazing Racers are standing by (me included), waiting to help with your submissions. How many people can we help in a week? Let’s find out! Did I mention there are Celebrity Racers too–amazing authors and editors who know their way around a first page. Maybe one of them will pick your submission to help with!

Each day this week, there’s an AMAZING giveaway, too. So stop in at Angela & Becca’s new Writers Helping Writers website and find out how to take advantage of this unique, pay-it-forward event for writers.

Review: Structuring Your Novel by K.M. Weiland

As an aside – one of the great things about networking with other authors is that they often give you free ARCs (advanced reader copies) of their upcoming books to review. I’ll be looking for some ARC readers in late October for my novel, The Lone Wolf, due out in December. If you’re interested, please sign up for my mailing list (link on the left) for details.

Author K.M. Weiland does a bit of everything – writing fantasy and speculative fiction, mentoring new writers, and blogging helpful tips about the writing process. Her new book, Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story, is a must-read for anyone writing a novel, no matter what stage she’s at in the process.

The book is a companion to her Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success. Part one walks writers through the basic structure of a 3-act story, from writing a strong opening hook, setting the tone and defining the setting, to writing an ending that readers will love.

Part two focuses on scene development. She delves into Randy Ingermanson‘s scene/sequel (action/reaction) idea, expanding on it with ideas for scene disasters, conflicts, dilemmas, and decisions, as well as variations that still work in the context of a structured scene.

Part three is about structuring your sentence – about what makes prose good. This for me was the most helpful section and what I’d be most likely to refer to other writers. She covers participles and parallelism (a huge thing for me), run-ons and fragments, as well as how to get rid of stuff you don’t need, like modifiers and filter words.

Throughout the book, Weiland gives detailed examples from movies and books, as well as coming back to the same four in every chapter: Pride and Prejudice, It’s a Wonderful Life, Ender’s Game, and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. It’s her examples that really make this book useful; it’s one thing to tell us about a concept, but much better to show us through real-life examples.

Overall, this is probably one of the most helpful writing books I’ve read, and one I definitely want on my shelf.

Chupacabras; or, how I get my story ideas

Several times in the past month, I’ve been asked how I get my story ideas.

As my official bio says, “I draw on my experiences to tell the stories of those around me, with a generous heaping of ‘what if’ thrown in.” 

For example, one night I was driving home and this big thing ran across the road in front of me. It was probably a dog or a coyote, but…what if it were a chupacabra? What if chupacabras are coming out of some kind of dimensional rift, part of some plot by evil satyrs to take over the world? What if I’m the only one who can see them and have to figure out a way to stop them? Yeah, that’s how I get my story ideas.

I found this in a dinosaur museum. I’m pretty sure it’s a prehistoric chupacabra.

Watch a little kid play sometime. He makes up fantastic stories, about monsters and battles and princesses and moms and dads and little kids and airplanes and god knows what. I did it as a kid; you did too. But as a kid grows, he stops voicing those stories. Maybe he writes them down for school assignments, but by the time he’s an adult, he doesn’t articulate them, and eventually that creativity is abandoned and rusty from lack of use.

With practice, everyone could find something to write about, but most don’t because they don’t think they can.

I refuse to let my creative voice get rusty.

The good and the bad

row of cement faces at the local writing center

Sometimes I get comments on my works-in-progress that “it reads like a Lifetime made-for-TV movie.”

And other times, when I’m working on a story and know it’s not there yet, I get this:

“speaks to the souls of those who wish to know the human condition, and leaves us with all the possibilities of life – achievement, happiness, risk, disappointment, humor, devastation.”


“beautifully written — *sigh* why can’t I have such a grasp and command of the English language?”

And I think to myself, I’m not there yet but maybe I’m closer than I think.

What encourages you to keep going?

Postmodernism and the unreliable narrator

In my Human Behavior in the Social Environment class, we recently had a great discussion about what paradigm we agree with most:

  • positivism – using a rational approach, we can figure out the cause and effect of everything (if I promote my book on Twitter, I’ll increase sales)
  • post-positivism – using a rational approach, we can figure out correlations; there are too many variables to be definite about anything (I had increased sales after promoting my book on Twitter, but I also promoted it on a Saturday night when more people were home and online, and several people retweeted my posts who normally don’t, and…)
  • postmodern – everyone’s experience is unique and therefore no conclusions can be drawn (I had increased sales after promoting my book on Twitter, but you may not)

Most of us seemed to fall between post-positivism and postmodernism – we think it’s useful to have categories for people in order to identify them (posting about your book on Twitter vs not posting, maintaining a blog vs not having a webpage), but you need to take into account personal differences (having 100 real people following you on Twitter vs 10,000 bots, blogging consistently for 5 years vs not updating it, etc).

Just because I had a good (or bad) experience with Twitter doesn’t mean you will, but that doesn’t make what happened for me any less valid than what happened to you.

Or does it?

This is where the unreliable narrator comes in. What if that narrator’s experience is completely invalid? Just because he perceived something one way, doesn’t mean that’s how it really is.

I think of the male MC in my upcoming novel, The Lone Wolf (out December 2nd from Evolved Publishing). Andrew is every bit the unreliable narrator; he views the world through a very narrow lens, shaped by an abusive childhood. Everyone in his life needs protection, whether they want it or not. Everyone is either a saint on a pedestal, or a fallen hero; there’s no middle ground for him, no shades of gray – including how he sees himself.

As a writer, it’s my job to portray the story through Andrew’s eyes, while subtly letting the reader know his POV is flawed.

What’s your view on postmodernism? Is everyone’s POV just as valid as the next, or do we as readers and writers need to be aware that the way someone sees the world is wrong? Do you prefer reliable or unreliable narrators – and is there even really such a thing as a reliable narrator, when no one truly knows what’s going on in everyone else’s heads?

Genre hopping

One of the hardest things for me as a writer is to stay within the same genre. Many authors have no problem with this – they write all sci-fi, or thrillers, or romance. Me, I’m all over the place. My novel due out in December 2013, The Lone Wolf, is women’s fiction. My next one, A Handful of Wishes (tentatively scheduled to be released in December 2014), is magical realism. The one I wrote for NaNo last year, On the Other Side (aiming for December 2015), is steampunk. A short story collection I want to publish in the next year or so, Between Light and Dark, is a mix of horror and romance. The collection I hope to have out soon, The Futility of Loving a Soldier, is contemporary.

Fortunately my publisher, Evolved Publishing, is okay with my eclectic stories and novels. And I know many writers use a pen name when branching out to something new.

Part of the problem, however, is marketing to the right audience. If someone enjoys my horror stories like “Tim and Sara,” there’s no guarantee they’ll like my women’s fiction novel. Steampunk fans might not enjoy contemporary stories.

If you write in multiple genres, how do you deal with this? And as a reader, how do you feel about a writer hopping through different genres?

May Story-A-Day roundup

Every month seems to be a new writing challenge of some sort, and for May it’s Story-A-Day. Simply write a story – any length, any prompt – each day for thirty-one days.

I participated last year (both in May and again in September), and I’m able to say I did better this time than I have in the past.

And like the previous two times, the reasons I didn’t make it come down to just a few things:

  • Not enough time to write. I work full-time and am searching for a different job. I’m in grad school, which requires a lot of reading. I have a kid who appreciates my attention. I have a bit of a social life. Ideally I would just write write write, but I have a lot of people and things needing my time.
  • Procrastination. Quite often when I sit down to write, I find myself distracted by the internet: blogs, forums, Facebook and Twitter, and whatever rabbit’s hole I go down whenever I watch a video on YouTube. There were several days this month where I went to my favorite writing spot and accomplished quite a bit, just because there’s no internet there (although I can easily find distractions with my phone).
  • A night-owl muse. I’m most creative between 10 pm and 2 am, which kinda sucks. Most nights I’ll get started writing about midnight, but after awhile I’m so tired from the four hours of sleep I got because of staying up late writing the night before, that I have to stop and go to bed.

Nonetheless, I’m relatively proud of this year’s Story-A-Day. It’s not great but it’s not bad, and sometimes that’s good enough.

A non-writer’s perspective on writing

Last week in class, we discussed David Foster Wallace’s “This Is Water” graduation speech about choices – choosing to feel that everything happens to make your day bad, or choosing to realize that other people are living their own lives independent of your wishes.

I remarked that I actually enjoy waiting in line because it gives me a chance to observe people and try to figure out their back stories and motivations – something I’m guessing most writers do as well. Every situation becomes a potential plot, every person a potential character.

Tonight in class we had to come up with a word for the professor to associate with our names: “an instrument you play, a place you’ve lived, something about you like writing.” When it was my turn, I said, “I guess I’ll be the writer.” The professor asked me what I wrote. “I’ve had about twenty short stories published, and last week I signed a contract for a novel.” Gasps of amazement and exclamations of “oh, wow” ensued, as well as a round of congratulations.

After class, the professor asked me about my novel; he’d always wanted to write one. Another classmate admitted it was on her bucket list too. She’d taken a writing class at one point, but couldn’t imagine actually writing – and editing – a whole novel.

For these people, as well as coworkers and friends I’ve talked to, it doesn’t matter that I don’t have an agent or a contract with a Big 6/5 publisher. What matters is that I wrote a novel. I finished it, polished it, and found a publisher who wants to help me share it with the world.

So if you want to write a novel, or learn Urdu, or fly a plane, do it. Don’t worry about finding a publisher, or getting to India, or solo circumnavigation of the Earth. Don’t worry about the people telling you that you can’t do it, or it’ll suck, or what’s the point?

Take pride in your accomplishment, in something you’ve done that 90% or more of people will never do despite wanting to.

What’s something you want to do but never have, and what’s stopping you from doing it?

The Next Big Thing — Blog Hop

Author George Wells has tagged me to answer some questions about my Next Big Thing, which is a collection of short stories I’m releasing at the end of May.

1. What is the working title of your story?

The collection is called The Futility of Loving a Soldier, with eleven stories in it.

2. Where did the idea for the story come from?

Like most stories I write, I look at the people around me, at their experiences, and try to guess their thoughts and motivation. One of these stories came from a conversation I had with a homeless veteran; 5 of the stories are connected and are roughly based on the military history of five generations in my family.

3. What genre does your story come under?

I aim for literary fiction, as I focus more on character development than fast-paced plot, but probably just general fiction.

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Since they’re all short stories, I haven’t thought about it. It would be wonderful though if someone made them into short films.

5. What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

The physical and psychological effects of war on both those who serve and those back home who love them.

6. Will your story be self-published, published by an independent publisher or represented by an agency?

A couple of the stories have already been published in various webzines and sites. The book will be self-published, but if my novel gets picked up by a publisher I might look into having them reissue this as well.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I’ve been working on these stories for a couple years, with each one taking anywhere from a day to several months to write.

8. What other books would you compare your story to within your genre?

Probably Stephen King’s Hearts in Atlantis, which is a collection of shorts and novellas with connected characters and themes. In addition to the military theme of my stories, two are about the same characters at different places in their life, and five show the effects of the military on five generations in a family. So, lots of connections.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this story?

As a writer with a psychology background, I’m fascinated with people’s stories and motivation for how they live their lives. And it seems like everywhere you turn, you run into people who are connected to the military, each with a story to tell: a fellow teacher whose son was killed in Afghanistan; a classmate who was a nurse at Landstuhl, the US military hospital in Germany; as well as coworkers, friends, and relatives who’ve served.

So many veterans come back and say they’re ignored. I wanted to try to tell their stories because so often I think civilians take for granted the sacrifices service men and women and their families have made, sacrifices that affect them for the rest of their lives.

10. What else about your story might pique the reader’s interest?

Even if you’ve never been in the military or been close to someone who’s served, chances are you’re connected somehow. These are stories everyone can relate to.

11. What has been the hardest part about writing this story?

Getting the details right. I have no military experience, so all my knowledge comes from books I’ve read, movies and documentaries I’ve seen, and people I’ve talked to. Fortunately I have quite a few people I’ve been able to go to for questions and they’ve been more than happy to explain everything to me, as well as add their own insights. To that end, however, I’ve decided not to write about actual combat because I don’t want to mess anything up.

12. What has been the most fun?

Hearing from readers that I perfectly captured an experience they had or could relate to, especially veterans.

13. Has writing this story illuminated any of your own strengths or weaknesses for you?

Yes, that if I pay attention to details, to what someone isn’t saying when they talk about their experiences as well as what they do say, I can pick up on their motivation well enough to tell their story accurately.

And that I procrastinate way too much; I’ve been working on finishing these stories right up until the deadline, rather than making myself work on them sooner.

14. What misconceptions do people have about your genre, and do you think your story addresses them?

My mom once asked me what kind of stories I wrote: horror, sci-fi, etc. I told her contemporary fiction, about everyday people and events, and she responded, “Who’d want to read that?”  A lot of people read for the escapism value, and that’s missing in stories about ordinary life.

However, I think that reading contemporary stories is extremely important because they give insight into the lives and experiences of the people around us, people who often aren’t willing or able to share with us, but whose stories are no less valid.

People don’t exist in a vacuum; at more than one point in your life you’re going to have to deal with people who aren’t like you. And you’re going to have a much better outcome if you can get inside their head, which is something I think contemporary fiction can help with.

15. What is your favorite scene you’ve written for this story?

Scenes don’t really apply, so I’ll comment on the stories instead. Two of them are about a pair of friends, Abby and Eli; the first, “Burger Run,” is set during the summer after they graduate high school, and the second, “A Wedding,” is ten years later, when they’ve come back to their hometown.  They’ve been best friends since they were babies, so they have this powerful bond between them that they’re not really consciously aware of.  I love how it gradually dawns on them when they need each other most.

So that’s my Next Big Thing. There are so many authors that read my blog, rather than tag anyone in particular, I tag whoever’s reading this. So you. Yes, you! What’s your Next Big Thing?

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