Archive | January 2011

Newbie writers: Watch out for these big writing no-no’s (via Georgia McBride)

This isn’t a recent post, but it hits the proverbial nail on the head for major problems I see all the time, in my own work and the work of others. I’m going to use this as a guide in my next revision. I’m happy to say I’ve recognised some of these before without help, but having a list there should help me greatly. The plans for my next revision already line up with some of these. I have nothing intelligent to add. Georgia has said it all better than I ever could.

I read a lot of manuscripts–some partials, first chapters, first 250 words, fulls and everything in between. I don’t read nearly as much as agents and editors but the difference is that the ones I read are ones I’m asked to analyze and discern how to fix what may be wrong. I’ve noticed a pattern in what I’ve read to the point where I think it’s time for me to talk about the common mistakes I see new writers make–relative to writing young adult … Read More

via Georgia McBride

How I Killed My Block

Ages ago I wrote a post on writer’s block. While I stand by what I wrote there, I’ve recently experienced a weird kind of block that I can’t exactly put my finger on. I think it’s a combination of writing exhaustion, general exhaustion (school, I blame you) and perfectionism. Even then that list doesn’t feel quite apt. My lack of reading recently could also be a contributing factor, along with the stress of having homework that involves a disgusting amount of research, forcing me to sit at the computer and attempt to focus while I have distractions available right at my fingertips.

So what finally broke this block? I think it was a number of things.

First, I started reading again. I read two books that I absolutely adored, and I also read a bit of the Strunk and White version of The Elements of Style. I did much of that on the sly when my mother wasn’t checking up on my homework. I began to enjoy writing again when I tried doing other homework–reading for Literature class–and needed regular breaks from the book, which I am not going to name because the very thought of it makes me what to stab something. Reading the book also gave me license to step away from my computer. This gave me a more appropriate environment to handwrite my novel.

At this point I had also finished writing a section of new stuff for Coldfire that I was struggling with, due to the perfectionism problem. Once I’d done that I wrote another section that I hadn’t planned but loved all the same. I seem to have trouble with the sections that I have planned out well in advance, the ones that have been stewing around in my head for a while. They’re the ones that also never live up to my expectations.

So how to I describe this block? As a melting pot of various problems, each feeding each other.

My solution: take breaks, get through the section that’s giving you strife if you can, do something that requires a completely different mindset, step away from your computer, and read. I’m not sure if any of these solutions provided the vital tipping point, or whether they simply accumulated until things got better. Finishing the difficult section was possibly the most important part for me, as I write chronologically. For people who don’t, I guess the alternative would be to work on something you can do. Sometimes, however, a problem remains a problem and it won’t go away unless you address it.

So don’t shy away from difficult sections of writing, but don’t ignore the possible reasons for the struggle. Feed your mind with books and get it working different ways with other tasks unrelated to writing. Blocks are not permanent.

Random January News

I think I’ve finally broken through the long-running block that was preventing me from writing more than a few words a day. I’m not sure what did it. It could’ve been the brief respite from History homework I got from reading my Literature class text, though I’m not particularly fond of that book, or it could have just been the fact that I finished writing the really tricky part and I can now see the end of this draft. Or maybe it’s because I’ve finally reached the end of that huge section of new material I’ve added to the story.

Whatever it is, I’m hoping this second wind lasts for a while, since I’ve become disillusioned with classes already and I need something that I enjoy. Otherwise I will quite possibly go insane. Well, even more than I already am.

Writing aside, things are starting to pick up again in life. I can feel the holidays coming to an end. I’ll be back in school Friday week. Then the week after there’s school camp, so I might not be around much.

In other news, I recently read two novels: White Cat by Holly Black and The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff. Loved them both. Go read them. They both have male protagonists with awesome voices. And check out Hannah Moskowitz’s cover for her 2012 release Gone, Gone, Gone.

Why I’m Wary Of Self-Published Books

I don’t like self-published books. For the purposes of this post, I’m talking about fiction.

Don’t get me wrong. I want their authors to succeed, I really do, but I have yet to read a self-published book that I didn’t struggle to finish… if I even got that far. Often the ideas are good but when it comes to execution, something is lacking. Rambling beginnings, cardboard cutout characters (especially heroines), and listless prose are some of the ubiquitous problems I have found. I don’t mean to sound prejudiced here. I don’t want to sound like I expect all self-published authors to fail; I would love very much to fall in love with one of their books. However, this doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.

Some of these books have been professionally edited and I wonder if the authors really got their money’s worth. Perhaps they chose the editor unwisely or, if they chose well, the author might be at fault for not taking the editorial advice the way the editor had intended. Maybe the author did her best with the advice and talent she was given. Who knows?

(Edit: What I’m not saying here is to take every piece of advice as gospel, especially when it comes to suggested solutions. It also helps to get a second opinion, perhaps even more. If a number of readers pick up the same problem, then you should really consider fixing that part. However, keep in mind that if you have paid a professional editor, then you should carefully weigh his opinions and decide what is appropriate for your book. I hope that makes things clearer. In any case, if you choose to take the advice, it’s often better to rewrite the work yourself, rather than your editor. That way your voice and characters will remain intact.)

The problem with self-publishing is that the companies creating these books don’t take part in quality control and this means that a lot of crap gets through. The sad thing for many of these authors is this: some books are just not ready to be published. I’m sure that in the right hands self-publishing can be a powerful tool to showcase a skilled, formerly unknown author’s work and bring it directly to readers. I just have yet to see this.

So this is what I ask of authors intending to self-publish: get your work critiqued by other writers, pay an editor to help you improve your work (and do your damnedest to do the advice justice), don’t jump the gun and publish before your book is ready and PLEASE don’t become defensive when other writers are wary of your work. They have every right to be. For every decent self-published book out there, a sea of crap surrounds it. Don’t be part of that sea.

All of the above is my own opinion. I am an extremely difficult reader to please, with tastes that may be wildly different from most readers of adult fiction, especially regarding pace, writing style and character development. Do, however, keep in mind that other readers may be as critical as I am and you are competing with many other forms of entertainment that tug at a reader’s consciousness. Your book must be as good, if not better, than most traditionally published novels out there in order to have a shot.

You Might Not Suck, But Don’t Be An Ass

I just read a blog that I won’t bother linking to because the stance was so stupid and, frankly, insulting (and also an old post). This writer complains about the Absolute Write forums (which, for full disclosure, I do frequent), saying that they are backward. Why, you may ask? Because he interpreted their definition of a good writer (someone who can see the flaws in his work and doesn’t think the sun shines out of his own ass) as somebody who is afraid that her writing sucks to the point where she can’t even look at it herself. Furthermore, he misinterpreted the idea of a bad writer (someone who refuses to see flaws in his work and thinks the sun shines out of his ass) to mean someone who merely thinks his work is good. Um, no.

The sign of the good writer is the ability to spot flaws in one’s own work. And the ability to fix them without turning into a diva about it. A good writer has every right to think her work is good as long as this confidence doesn’t turn to arrogance. Bad writers, on the other hand, tend to have a much higher opinion of their work than the work warrants. They often shun valid advice and refuse to believe that their gems of writing require editing.

The blogging writer compared writers to surgeons. This is inaccurate. Writing is an art form, a craft, and as such doesn’t have the same “right and wrong” definitiveness that many other professions do. Good surgeons and bad surgeons may both think they do good work but it is up to the teacher, or the boss, to decide whether or not they are good enough. It’s cut and dry: you’re either a good surgeon or you’re not. There is very little subjectiveness in medicine, except perhaps in calculating possible consequences of new medical techniques, which is a different kettle of fish altogether and not the point of this argument.

Writing is not a science. Writing is a subjective thing. One writer’s “good” will be another’s recycle bin fodder. As such it can be difficult to gauge one’s ability. Confidence is good, but arrogance is not. Confidence is “I think this is good, but let’s see if there’s anything I can do to make it better.” Arrogance is “I AM A WRITING GOD NOBODY HAS ANY RIGHT TO TOUCH MY GENIUS NO IT IS PERFECT GET YOUR GRUBBY HANDS OFF MY ART.” See the difference? If you think your confidence may be mistaken as arrogance, particularly by others who are not as assured of their ability, tone it down a bit. It’s fine to like your work, but it is not fine to make others feel attacked or inferior.

And remember that on the internet you are little more than a collection of words; there are no facial expressions (excepting emoticons), body language or voice tone in order to help you reach your intended meaning. If something you are writing sounds like it could be misinterpreted, chances are it will be. So to summarize:

Confident writer: good.

Arrogant asshat: bad.

And that concludes today’s rant.

Love Lists (via Between Fact and Fiction)

Guest poster Stephanie Perkins (the author of “Anna and the French Kiss”, which is currently making waves) wrote about making lists about what she loves about her project.

Whenever I begin a new project, I also begin a list called “What I Love About This Story.” I start by writing down those first ideas that sparked the fires of my mind, and then I add more ideas to it as I discover them during my push through early drafts.

I use this love-list as a touchstone to remind myself during the hard times why my story is worthwhile. It’s easy to forget the GOOD STUFF when I’m wading through the muck, and the end is still months away, and it feels pointless and hopeless to continue.

I really want to try this with my next novel.

Book Piracy

Lilith Saint Crow regularly posts about the assumption writers are greedy if they want to be paid for their work. Her most recent post is here (here‘s the followup post) and there are olders ones here and here. She pretty much says it all a lot better than I could and I share her opinion. I believe that paying for a creator’s work means you enjoy what they do and want to help support them in continuing to create. Some writers, like Lilith, manage to make a living by writing full-time and I think that’s awesome that they can. Since after university I’m going to have to earn some kind of income, I would like to be able to write full-time, even though I doubt it will happen as full-time writers have become a rare beast these days. Gone are the days when a wealthy patron would finance the writer’s work as he churned out page after page of writing by the candlelight. These days, barring grants and supportive parents and spouses, we have to pay our own way.

The Danger of Darlings

This is an overdone topic, but one that bears repeating.

As writers we all have those sections of our writing that we just plain adore. Anybody who doesn’t is not human. Or lying. The problem with having these “darlings” is that often we become attached to a particular paragraph or turn of phrase that is within an otherwise pointless section of the novel that needs to be cut. Sometimes we find ourselves trying to manipulate the storyline or beef up the scene so it has a purpose. All because we want to keep that one good bit of writing.

Sometimes it’s not that the scene didn’t originally have a purpose. Sometimes information that is given in a particular scene can be more elegantly given elsewhere under different circumstances and sometimes different characters. Yet we don’t want to remove that piece of description because of that witty one-liner, despite the fact that the setting is introduced in another scene. That one happened to me. In the end I just removed the whole section, including the line I liked. It was easier that way. I might find another place to put it but I’m not going to bend over backwards to do so.

It sounds callous, but often that’s what we need to do. There’s no point distorting parts of a story just so you can give a home to one sentence or paragraph that you like. It’s much, much easier just to let it go. By all means, look for places where you could put it while you’re working on your novel but don’t go to extremes to save it. If it deserves to be dead, then let it be dead. We call this “killing your darlings.” It is effective and many a time it must be done.

Rejection Can Help Your Writing

I decided I wanted to write longer works when I was twelve, back when I wrote Harry Potter fanfiction. I looked around at fanfiction websites and found that most of them let almost anyone submit anything. I found one site that had specific guidelines and a rejection/acceptance system that worked for me. At this point in my life, I was a good speller but my grammar was atrocious. I was constantly rejected for this (and for making the characters behave out of character because I wasn’t intentionally writing them that way for comedic effect or as part of an alternate universe), particularly for my dreadful dialogue punctuation. Then one day one of the moderators actually decided to help me.

That’s how I learned to punctuate dialogue, pay more attention to character behaviour, structure paragraphs and create a smoother storyline that doesn’t involve jumping from viewpoint to viewpoint. My works started getting accepted while I was thirteen and for two years, until I turned fifteen almost to the day, I happily worked on a mammoth piece of fanfiction where I created Valora, the main love interest in the novel I’m currently working on, and a different magic system from the one in Harry Potter canon.

I never finished that story, but what I gained from it springboarded me into writing my own work. To this day I see many writers my age having trouble with the same things I did and I can’t help but be grateful for all the help I received when I was just starting out.

While it’s true that in professional writing, very few rejection letters come with advice, there’s a chance that the ones that do can really help your writing. I plan to finish and submit Coldfire to agents this year so I may have a chance to put my money where my mouth is. Fingers crossed that my perfectionism when it comes to my novel will pay off…

My New Years’ Resolutions

I had briefly forgotten about the tradition for New Years’ resolutions until I was on Twitter. I have never made resolutions before, except for ones when I was very young, which were abandoned a week later. This year I thought I’d try it, so here they are in order of when they came to me:

  • Finish “Coldfire” and submit to agents. (AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!)
  • Finish the first draft of the sequel… at least.
  • Write more short stories. I won’t set an exact number because I know I won’t stick to it.
  • Participate in NaNoWriMo, exam schedule permitting. I’m hoping with only four exams this year that it will be possible.
  • Finish year twelve (though admittedly this one is inevitable unless I fail all my subjects this year).
  • Audition for university music programs.
  • Get into a university on my preference list.

I think that’s all. I’ll update this post if more occur to me later.