Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Year and New Goals

2009 has been an interesting year. Stress, frustration, inspiration, victory and failure have each taken their turn this year, leaving me bound in confused knots. The trials, at least have taught me a few things, not merely about the world, but also about myself.

I've changed. Yeah, I know. Big surprise there. It happens to us all. The last time I delved into "me" issues I came up with a definite concept of self. Of course, at that time, I was a teenager. Reading and writing were part of the very essence of my self-made definition. But in the past decade, I have acquired more to "me." I do not need to rebel against society as strongly as I once did. Nor do I need to define myself as "creative" in order to separate from the "masses." Teendom is over.

What I have left is altering my writing. No, there is no stopping-- just changing.

I am a people person, now. I need time with people and by myself. Sounds pretty normal right? But I've determined that I need stability (financially at least) in order to write. Meaning: day job. At least, for now. Until my Guy gets a degree and job. But being without a day job has certainly messed with my head. I thought it'd be a test. The internal dialogue of self discovery kinda goes as follows:

Y'know: "Can I really write full time?"
Answer: "Not right now."
Q: "Why not?"
A: "See those two weeks that you did it?"
Q: "That was bliss! What's wrong with that?"
A: "You shut out the world, ran from other responsibilities. And the goal is balance. Balance. No tipping the seesaw to one extreme or the other."

And that's the kicker. Other responsibilities. Teens don't have to worry about them: Rent, keeping the house clean, keeping up with people important to me, writers' group stuff, relationship stuff, family stuff (which got complicated post teendom), ethnic confusion for awhile (loooonnngg story :( ) jobs, school, now post-college confusion ...

And in the mix, I have a new character haunting me. My research indicates that this story *could* be more marketable, but I drag my heels about it. I spent eight years as an undergrad because I'm stubborn. Now the maturing practrical side is trying to get me to take a break on the story I've been working on for six years and the younger, impetuous stobborn side is rooting heels in the ground (and I wear heels, all the time, so this means my figurative self is literally planted :P) and crying "No! Hell no! You make me change and I won't budge!"

Voila. That's what I call writer's block.

So! New goals: give in to practicality. (So Lara can stop glaring at me from the back of my mind) ... but! still make time for Silver Mask. Being slow, patient, and practical is A OK. Really. Gotta accept that.

Writing part-time is just fine. Trading off to make certain my life is how I want it in five to ten years... I waited eight/ten years to get to the point I'm at now ...and in the process I've learned the years are far shorter than I once assumed. With patience, I'll get there. There's nothing wrong with the small steps.

So that's my goal. Time management. Small steps. Accepting that the new me is not the person I thought I was, but to like this person anyway...accept that my needs have changed...and find the best way to meet them all.

I'm stubborn, so I will succeed. 2010 will be better.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Creating Community

Creating a writing community does not seem like it should be a difficult thing. But here in Sacramento where coffee shops, law firms and medical offices dominate our down town, politics defines the mud through which we must wade. But rising from it, we define ourselves. Talking to artists and musicians I hear some of the same complaints I, as a writer, voice.

Musicians face issues of permitting. Where do you put on a show when half of the venues can no longer afford the permits required?

For critique groups, it's a matter of finding a place to meet that is quiet enough for concentration and discussion. I have met in groups at cafes all over the city. To no avail. In time, each group must move, due to expansion or noise or even the change of seasons, members moving, etc.

So SWS is trying to generate a network of critique groups in order to combat these issues. We hope to be centered around a Writers' Reference Library which will provide a physical focal point for meetings, and place people can go to learn about us.

Currently we have four successful groups going, and are looking to start more. The more people, the more knowledge, the better the whole.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Kindle on the PC?

Ok. I think this is big news. Yes,tons of information on e-readers and the like has been floating about the various blogs and articles and such, but this beats all.

Going to work/school, my significant other packs: iPod touch, cell-phone, PSP, netbook, portable hard drive, and four key chain flash drives. Sometimes he takes his camera or camcorder, depending on plans (likely plans for after work/school day). That's a lot of electronics. The next phase we are waiting for is the consolidation of these various electronics into one system. There is a reason girls' fashion has come to amount to a bottom and a top (roughly), much unlike the to the Victorian era. Simplicity. We like simplicity. Our electronics need to become more like our clothes.

As much as I am fascinated by the e-book phenomenon, I would love not to buy yet-another-device that relies on wifi and whatnot when I already have my computer. If I have a laptop and desktop, why do I need specialty devices? Give me a tablet netbook of approximately the size of a hardback book that will run e-books, let me read my blogs, take notes with a stylus and by typing, play flash-based content- in short, condense all my needs into one device so I'm not reliant on twenty when the technology is there for one.

Amazon seems to have taken a step in the right direction. Now if there is e-book software I can install on the computer to imitate the ink-paper ratio I am accustomed to ... well, then you have me.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Quality and Audience in Writing

First novels often take years. Sometimes decades. Mine is no different, but in the long years of revisions and critique groups one question always seems to come to the fore. Balance. How do we balance quality and audience? Where is the line? Are these two the same thing or not?

I tend to think that quality is something we writers judge ourselves and each other on. Quality writing, semantically, holds a different meaning for the readership as a whole. If this weren't the case all bestsellers would also win literary awards. In shaping the novel, initially, creativity reigns. Then comes revisions in which the focus is fine tuning. Making plot and characters and world all work in just the right way. Important emphasis is placed on cohesion, building (character and plot), and the sense of taking the reader for a ride. Entertainment and quality ... straying the line between the two is essential to success and yet a personal choice. This is not something with a quantity, there is no solid answer other writers can grant. Where and how to define both are up to each writer, between them and their work. Later, perhaps, editors and agents are involved in this decision, with their expertise lighting the way. But bottom line is the writer's choice in approaching their own work in a way that is at once meaningful and rewarding for him/herself. No one wants to sign their name on something their ashamed of (not to say what doesn't shame a person this year won't embarrass them in twenty years).

Just a few thoughts.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Attitude, Literary Fiction & Genre Fiction, Networking

Writing is a solitary activity. Or so we would assume, as it generally involves a person planted in front of a screen or notepad typing/scrawling ideas on a page. But this is always only the first step in the writing process. Revisions are best done after the draft is seen by multiple eyes. The more solid a group of people you have to look at your work, the better. This doesn't mean you need a lot of people, but certainly a group of individuals you can trust.

I happen to believe that all writers deserve not only a group (either in the form of a critique group or a collection of independent readers/critique-rs) but a network of other writers from which to gain support. The wider network is for access to knowledge, encouragement and inspiration. Sometimes, I think this is half of the reason for conventions and conferences. While writers learn about the process at these events, we also gain acquaintances.

For this reason, networks like Facebook are very useful. Whenever I meet another writer -- even if their subject matter is not similar to mine -- I reach out to them. If people respond with snappy phrasing, they are electing to sever the potential networking opportunity. It is really easy to get into semantic debates online, and as writers I think we should be more flexible with our interpretations of words.

For instance, the definitions between "Literary and Genre Fiction." While the industry likes to pretend these are definite labels, their use indicates otherwise.

Literary Fiction has subgroups: Historical Fiction, Magical Realism, Fairytales, Psychological --mind, I don't spend a lot of time on these books as they don't tend to hold my interest, but I'm sure you can see that some of these are certainly pretending at a literariness because the author's agent/editor has seen the ability to market them so. I'll bet the individual writing "modern fairytale" owns a lot of the same non-fiction and mythology tests I have at home.

These are marketing terms. We have appropriated them both as writers and readers in order to define and describe our likes. It has become a sort of jargon, but jargon and semantics allow for the embedding of meaning that can divide groups. So we lump "genre fiction" together, despite its diversity and create a loaded term.

Loaded terms and semantics can lead writers of either end of the debate to think that their writing is more applicable to the world at large than is another. I would think that neither would be right. The difference is not content, but audience. Who do you speak too?

A lack of understanding in this regard allows people to sever themselves off from community. That might not be the intent, but it is the result of having a poor attitude.

All writers in your community are worthy of respect. Everyone is equally imaginative, but their manifestations differ. Our processes, like our minds, and interests are diverse. But and all forms of writing have literary value, at least as their most essential idea. The ability of the writer is to convince the audience of the impossible, experience the different, or gain a new perspective. Any of these goals rely on skill and communication, and can coexist.

So as wordsmiths we should be wary of the meanings of words and know that when we touch on loaded terms, our interpretation of an individual's intent and perspective are not necessarily accurate. We should be aware of the ability of a word to inspire an emotional reaction, and be conscious of that reaction. If possible, we should not take insult where insult may not be meant if semantic difference can be acknowledged.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Critique Groups

I like people. Yes, I know that might be a rare sentiment, but it's true. So naturally I feel the need to work with others on projects and utilize group critiques to improve my writing, but I have been a part of good groups and not-so-wonderful groups. I don't think that there is a strict line dividing these two, but that what works for one individual might not for another. Personally, I want my critique group to be near enough my audience as to be able to give me feedback close enough to the responses I could expect from readers. Other groups I've been in have focused on what editors want and what is "good and bad" as defined by the writer pursuing the art of writing for the art's sake.

There are positives and negatives in each of these options, and I think the true value of each is only realized by the individual to whom the structure is best suited. Likewise is every group affected by the personalities composing it, the dynamic can develop either a creative or destructive atmosphere for its members based on their relationship. I am still working out how this happens, as I have had one group that worked for most of its members but seriously discouraged me and am currently a part of a group that grants me just what I need at some points and major discouragement during other sessions.

Small is a necessity for a serious critique group. That is the first and only ingredient I can identify. Everything else I consider after that point is ambiguous and subjective. There is a balance between just enough and too much negative feedback, and between positive and negative critiques. How a group manages to maintain this balance seems based on the dynamic, however, rather than the rules governing the group.

My most successful critique group consisted of myself (naturally) and three others. Melissa is the Grammar-nut and at the group's inception did not hesitate to dress down any and every story presented to her. Erica, on the other hand, told us what we did well. Roy, who still thinks he can't critique, tells us where to go into more detail, whether something was confusing, rushed or all-out info dump. I watch out for structure. I'm a big-picture gal, and want well-developed worlds, and so am always asking for more in that regard. All together, the group has just the right balance of skill-sets to be of great help to its members.

Currently the group has gotten larger, and we have been trying to create new groups. There is a workshop group and a critique group. The workshop can be composed of however many members need it, and is in no way worrisome. Creating a self-sustaining and rewarding critique group for these new members is much more challenging.

I think some people might wonder why I'm trying to help others set up a critique group, and the answer is that I am trying to establish a network of critique groups. My city has little support for writing, or the arts, and so I have been trying to create that base of support. It is essential that this new critique group can sustain and reward its members. I am currently obsessing with how to make this work. What dynamic works for the individuals I am considering?

Next step, of course, is talking to them. See? I like people. How crazy is that?

Monday, August 3, 2009

Starting Out

This is it for me -- the world after college. I made myself promises, and now while I trudge through online lists and job search sites that try to pigeon-hole my diverse abilities into "hospitality," the call of my own writing grows louder.

For anyone unfamiliar with the process, characters do talk to you. No, I'm not crazy - well, not lock-me-up crazy. But if you foster your imagination you get all the perks (story ideas come easily) and all the downsides (characters do not leave you alone). I've been on a seesaw the passed three years after transferring from a community college to a university. The need to pay rent and get the research paper done cut into my writing time. Only, I'd already been writing so long, that as the time dedicated to it temporarily deteriorated, my characters would startle me with the abruptness of their presence in my mind. It is as if the subconscious mind suddenly screams "I'm here! Don't ignore me!" and then, "Now! Write Now! And if
you don't -!!!"

There is no empty threat in that. For me, if I have enough of this random urgent need to cement myself in front of my computer and no time to actually do it, guilt builds.

So I graduated. So I'm looking for a job. There are no excuses left. I am on the path I will be walking for the rest of my life, so I had better make certain it is the single fulfilling future I have wanted.

Eight years of school in two cities was hard work. This will be too, and here I will discuss precisely how and why I get myself to whatever point it is I am headed towards.

This week I am writing short stories. I'll admit I feel a little out of the practice. I haven't written any since Community College. I have been so enmeshed in revision of one novel the past four years, that the practical steps I need to make while progressing on said novel were ignored.

So here I go!