Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Sorry For the Pause

So the last month I have spent many hours huddled under the blankets on the couch. The heater has been out, and the overdue rains finally came. The house was cold, so cold I couldn't get myself to move unless I had the prospect of leaving the house.

There were some days that it was colder in the house than outside. Many evenings, watching some show with my guy, something would make me laugh and my breath would be visible in front of my face. I have gone through tea, cocoa, and ramen just because they were warm.

Meanwhile, I have been applying for more work, frustrated by the effort to make ends meet. I'm not here to complain--but it would be a lie to say everything is all right.

I'm trying to make the best of it, but when the resumes go in and nothing comes out of it, 3 years running and the few instances where jobs seem on the horizon, small business owners change their minds as to what they want from their business and leave me hanging...I am at a loss. I don't even know what to make of my situation.

I just keep plugging on, plunging on. But seriously--the definition of craziness is repeating the same action expecting a different result, right? So I switch up my style, and try to tote my abilities more. I approach it like fiction, so that my writing can become less self-conscious. I fiddle with word choice and sentence structure and form, daring a level of boldness the two-years-ago-me would have been appalled by.

Daily worries overtake me again, and writing, reading, blogging, intellect begin to pale in comparison to just finding a way to subsist another month.

But the landlord finally had the repair people replace the heater today. Here's hoping my attitude improves with my ability to move around the house again, and the warmth inside our tiny abode makes life and overcoming present circumstances seem possible once more.

Until Tomorrow-- hanging in there.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Critiques & Process V: Beta Readers & the Small Stuff--

These are my writer friends, my beta readers. I am debating with myself when Silver Mask is done if I’m going to have 1 or 2 Beta groups.

This is because there is middling stuff and grammatical stuff. Some writers I know can look chapter-by-chapter at a story and give structure, setting, and character with a closer examination than I would expect from my alpha readers.

But the very last things I want to address is grammar, punctuation, word choice, sentence structure/ sentence clarity.

This because I want to focus on the story first. I need the fixing of the tiny details to be the sign to myself that the work is done. My temptation would be to meddle with my own story for the rest of my life--but that serves no good. It is important for me to tell myself “no more” and the pickiest details are the best way to do this.


To complete making grammatical alterations to a manuscript, I don’t have to wrestle with any big concepts. I go through the problem places systematically and I won’t need to reread my story. If I reread, I change. That’s just what I do. Nothing is ever done.

So the final changes need to be the brainless ones, and then, I go to the next step.

My grammarian writer friends will see the WIP here because their plentiful feedback will be just what I need. I won't have to give them a checklist, just a note and they'll know how to take it from there. Likely this will be very important because I'll be shifting to a new project at this point, partially to keep up momentum and partially to distance myself from the WIP currently changing hands.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Critiques and Process IV: What Do You Need in Alpha Readers?

Everyone swears that the best critiques come from other writers. For most part this is a truism, with some exceptions.

To determine what you need in Alpha readers (the people who read your roughest draft) you need to determine what you are looking for, and how you work. You have to be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses in writing. Then you have to know your pace and what you are better at fixing first.

I take a top-down approach because it’s easiest to fix the big stuff first and then the small stuff. This means separating my alpha and beta groups and asking them to look for different things.

Since this passage is about Alpha Readers, I’ll focus on what I need from this first group.

The Top:

This is the big stuff: plot, character, setting.

I need people to look for the big stuff, and ignore the little stuff. My experience with the majority of writer-feedback is that my groups have always been very good at the little stuff, but not so keen on the big picture things. Sometimes, this is because writers spend a lot of time on their ideas, and some can be uncomfortable critiquing the stuff they know you’ve spent ages developing. So they stick to grammar, sentence structure, word choice, scene clarity, what passages may or may not be needed for the sake of the chapter.

All of these things are fairly picky. They are very useful, but they are not The Top Stuff.

Some of my questions for the very top are these:

Are there any spots where there is so much back story you want to skip a paragraph or are bored by it?

Are there any spots where the characters do things that you feel is “unlike them” and if so where?

Are there any spots where the dialogue feels forced and if so where?

Are there any redundant scenes, discussions, descriptions?

Are you led into the story and the characters in a way that makes you feel that you develop an understanding of the world? & are there any spots where particular descriptions, characters, scenes could be expanded upon to give you a better idea of what is going on? Where are these passages?

Then I give a list of key concepts and terms that I need to get across and ask the reader to define them. This is so I know that I have built the world in a manner the reader can identify with and understand.

So my Alpha Readers by this requirement, should be readers. I need people who can disregard typos (as you can probably notice from this blog that I am prone to mistakes) and concentrate on the big picture stuff.

I am still creating the checklist.

Benefits to being able to have writers do this for you is that you probably won’t have to create a checklist to “teach” your readers how to critique. However, that depends on who you have around you, what their critiquing skills and weaknesses are. I love my writer friends and colleagues, but they happen to be better with the small stuff causing me to look elsewhere for my alpha readers.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Critiques & Process III: Determining Relevancy

This is the hard one for me. I obsess over the critiques that I disagree with the most until I start to think that maybe, just maybe, they were right after all. This way of thinking is likely why I have found myself embroiled in endless drafts of novels, hovering around completeness without quite passing the finish line.

I have learned to work with this handicap, by addressing my own insecurities.

The first part of this is determining what I want to achieve with my writing. it’s like writing a mission statement for my novel, and my writing career as a whole. The purpose of this is to keep myself focused on what I consider the most important aspects of my own writing.

The statement of intent here is not for anyone else’s eyes. Rather, it is for me to use before reading critiques, to keep me from over-analyzing the feedback.

Next, I set up an order and a checklist. Being very business-like about the revision process helps to quite the more temperamental writer/artsy side that want to react to the feedback, and gives more precedence to the negative responses than the positive.

My checklist breaks down the responses into the following categories:


Description/ Scene/ Redundancy/Omission

Punctuation/Grammar/Word Choice/Formatting

Then I address them in order.

Currently this is written down, but I’m thinking of entering it into a spreadsheet for when the latest draft is done. The best way to turn the critiques objective are to make them seem less personal, and focus on the number of people who--having never met one another--agree on the same passage.

And yes, that means for me the group-form is mostly off. I need to keep the critiques non-emotional, so they can’t be personal to me or anyone else. So even if I know the people well, distance between my readers is better. Then I know if two people, uninfluenced by someone else’s critiquing method see the same thing wrong, then I should change it.

Because my writing style is more immersive, so too is my rewriting phases. So I need to be able to make and implement decisions quickly to keep up momentum. I need the momentum to be as continual as possible (allowing for life) but qualitative as well. That means I need to be able to identify problems objectively, quickly, and make changes. Groups tend to operate slowly. The slower I go, the more I second-guess, tweak and obsess. Slow inspires me to react emotionally because I don't react instantly, I'm more of a simmerer--something hits me a little off at first, it doesn't really bug me but if it goes unaddressed for any length of time it gathers importance and I get more upset and worked up.

There is no room for emotion when revising, and there is no room for me to react when working at top speed. Hence the need to know myself, how and what i react to in order to work around my own flaws to give my stories precisely what they require to reach their potential without me obsessing for years.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Critiques & Process II

So what are the bazillion options out there?

I have received critiques via email, in person, in Google Docs. I have shared scenes on this blog and received feedback. I have posted to forums, and I have listened to critiques over the phone. Different people critique at different rates, so it’s best to know your style of writing and critiquing in order to pick the best mode of feedback.

When I’m writing, I am generally very immersed. I tend to focus and produce a lot, rapidly. Every time that I have tried to revise slowly I have failed to complete a revision. I get board, distracted, or move on. I take it this means that I need to be as immersed in the revision as in the writing. The few times that I have done that, the results have been much better.

I need critiques from people who can look at completed drafts and make comments on the whole thing. I need to take a break in between the completion and the revision, but not so long that my brain decides to go in a new direction with the story -- which it will and has done 4 times in the past 7 years. With one story. So I need to work fast. Take short breaks, write shorter pieces, but never let the pace slacken.

When I am done applying changes, according to a per-decided schedule, I need to be done. I will tweak something forever. I will always see my pieces as unfinished works. Again, that is something that the years of reworking stories has taught me a bout myself.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Critiques & Process

The years that I have been “dry” have been the initial editing/revising years. I did not realize when I launched into this process that there is such variety in ways in which you can receive critiques.

My mother had a writers’ group when I was in elementary school, it was focused on poetry and affiliated with the Sacramento Poetry Society. I came to believe that a critique group was the natural second step for completing a novel.

So when I thought I was ready to start putting my novel into shape for submission to agents, editors and the like, I found a group to join.

The group I joined raised issues that I had not foreseen, and in the process I began to realize that critiquing and evaluating a critique could take a whole new skill set that I hadn’t anticipated. A lot of articles I had read had made the process of evaluating critiques seen so very easy.

But we as people--we are flawed and we have things we are self conscious about. I was 21 at the time and there was plenty I was self-conscious about. So it took no time for me to plunge into a reactionary rewrite.

Those are bad. Very bad. They take you into the territory set up as “good” by your group, oftentimes, and away from the trajectory you wished for your project to follow.

Perhaps I was then a bit too impressionable, but you never know these things until plunge on in.

One advantage that I received from that first group was my first 2 conventions. At Baycon 2005, I had the opportunity to meet other writers and I learned that some authors used Alpha and Beta Readers instead of critique groups. This was my first introduction to the idea that there are about as many ways to have your work reviewed and critiqued as there are processes by which writers produce books.

In a roundabout way, I suppose, I have spent the last 5-6 years trying to find what my method was. Have you found what works best for you? where do you receive the best critiques for your fiction?

Sunday, January 8, 2012

On Completing the Novel

I have written 4 novels beginning to end. 1 is shelved. 1 is undergoing a massive revision and turning into 3 novels. 2 more are collecting dust until I get to them.

What happened?

Between 7 and 10 years ago, I wrote 3 novels. Back to back, it took me 3 years-ish. And then I thought “I need to get the first one critiqued.” The group made me think I had left too much out.

I underwent a massive rewrite. I had a falling out with the group. 2 years later I founded a new group. They told me lots of wonderful things. I made superficial changes.

Then I reread it with a critical eye.

The whole thing did not seem to be what I wanted it to be! My characters, the plot, the world--it needed help. And the characters were still there, nagging me. So back to the drawing board I went.

They say once you finish the first it is easiest to write another. But sometimes life tosses a wrench in those plans. For me, as many of my posts illustrate--life is about finding balance--and that balance is as important for my revised drafts as my rough.

This time, I know what foot I’m starting on and I know how to answer the even harder question--

What do you do when you finish that rough draft?

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Words & Overuse -- What’s your crutch?

Reviewing my not exactly half-finished project I realized that I overused the word “illicitly.”

Of all the words to be a crutch! I have no idea why this one reared its head. However, it did. So I find myself sifting through my rough work, wracking my brain for appropriate synonyms that don’t sound too out-of-place.

I have never found a word used this frequently, however from project to project I have favored and purged different words. The interesting thing is that each project seem to have it’s own group of crutch words. I wonder if it’s because the stories are so different or because of some mental zone I’m in while approaching any of these projects.

Nonetheless, they go on. And while crutch words are present--they aren’t the end all be-all.

So while I’m thinking about what I could use instead, I haven’t changed not one of them. The plan is not to alter anything in any seriousness until the entire project is done. Completion is important.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Class in Fantasy

If this gets a little political--forgive me. This post is part of my perspective, and you don't have to agree with me :) But even if you don't--I think this is an interesting thing to think about. We (SFF fandom at large) have discussed sexism, we've discussed racism, and we've mentioned class vaguely when discussing hero-cliches but here are some of my thought:
I’m guilty of making most of my characters important. But we have a serious Cinderella pattern in Fantasy. No matter where a main character was born on a socio-economic ladder they inevitably find that they either are truly titled somewhere, or that they have world-altering knowledge, ability, or destiny.

It’s a trope, and I think the association with class and wealth is particularly telling. I’m not saying to completely dismantle the pattern--it certainly has enough versatility to stand up.

But I am an ardent follower of Occupy-Movement news, for all the protests’ flaws--and I like that they are drawing public attention to the fact that we have some deep-seeded resistance to actually discussing “class” in this nation. Yet, for a society that doesn’t like to think in terms of class we sure like to write about characters who find themselves waking up wealthy and important someday.

For that matter we like to read about them too. I would say that this fantasy is tied to the American dream. Once the American dream was to have a house, land and family. Now, I think it is merely to be in a better position in the future than one is now.

Inherent in that is the idea of transcending class. It is part of our worldview. No matter how we like to think of the issue, we want to believe that we won’t always be where we are. Time will improve our lot.

This is a fantasy, though, and not a reality. There is a class at the community college I attended once upon a time that deals with the “psychology of class.” There is more to class than how much is in your bank. It’s also how you respond to circumstances, to obtaining income, and beyond. As my parents used to tell me, “It’s not what you make, it’s what you do with it.”

So the Buy-Buy-Buy mentality and planned obsolescence have worked together to keep the cost of living higher than the average American needs to comfortably sustain oneself. So it becomes what one is comfortable living without, in order to find a way to get even a little bit ahead.

No wonder we have a Cinderella-complex in our fiction.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Changes in My Head

I started the rewrite of Silver Mask about a year ago. It was taking a dramatically different path than I expected. Then I stalled. Not for lack of ideas, but mostly due to life.

And this stalling hasn’t been bad. I know that sounds weird, but I have mentioned the importance of prewriting in my previous posts. The ideas have kicked around, rolled around and somewhere along the line they grew up.

I think life has had an affect. I have gone through a very dark period the last two years, with this last year being the absolute darkest. This reality has altered how I treat my characters. As a response, the setting and plot and every little bit has changed.

Oh, and the change is for the better! I am no longer afraid to torture my characters. As I have fought depression, anger, and bitterness and been forced to accept these things in me it ha become all right for my characters to have the same flaws and others as well.

They may have been flawed before, but I think I over-romanticized them. That leaves the world feeling a little too sanitary. It’s bright colored and clean in the mind’s eye rather than dark, dirty and gritty.

As reality lies somewhere between those two extremes, so do my characters need to be between the extremes, rather than standing nearer one end. This means that I can allow my characters to mature and let their emotions determine plot as much as the inevitable outcome I know the story will take. The tale becomes a lot more character driven.

I must say, too, that going through a darker period seriously informs one’s idea of how to torture characters, and how they react to adversity. There are things that have happened in the “prewriting” that are about to come out on the computer screen that I never would have considered. I would never have exploited my main female character’s naivete because, perhaps, I didn’t want her to be naive. It makes sense to have her be more trusting at the story’s beginning and through her trials the stuff that I was “telling” in previous drafts is shown instead and in a way that couldn’t happen before.


Landscape: Pinterest

City: sharbuck.tumblr.com

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


When I first encountered advice to writers telling them they needed to be “selfish” in order to realize their projects, I understood it intrinsically. I understood that with dedication comes sacrifice.

I had no problem sacrificing my High School GPA or spending 8 years in college in order to take classes outside what I needed for transfer to a university, because those classes inspired and informed my creativity.

But with graduation, I found “selfishness” hard. Part of it was that I never actually understood the psychological impact of having no job. I didn’t move out of the parents’ house until my guy and I had a decent financial cushion. I worked, wrote and went to school for the 3 years of my upper division coursework at California State University, Sacramento.

When I lost my job, I tried to focus on searching and writing. Soon, writing was going all right, but the job hunt was hitting dead ends. I started to juggle odd jobs, just enough to slow our downward trajectory. It took two years before serious help was needed, but by that time picking up a book or writing was starting to make me feel guilty.

The stuff that was for me, and me alone, seemed to be more selfish than anything. It wasn’t about to make money quickly. We weren’t about to become secure, not like we were when I was in college and we were saving money, and socking it away.

With savings dedicated to food, bills and more I have had to change my perspective. My writing is for me. The escape, the “me time” is needed so that I can keep a clear head throughout the day. There are hard decisions ahead, and I am employing my belief in self-sufficiency in order to better my quality of life, but keep it affordable.

I am selling off the excesses of a better time, beginning sewing projects, and returning to jewelry making. Planning to sell what I can. Meanwhile I am tutoring English, and giving myself time to read, think and write.

While it is hard to be selfish when you are working toward a future with someone else, in a partnership, if you can’t take care of yourself then you can’t help anyone else either. That is something that I knew, but have had a hard time putting into practice recently. So with my mind set, dedicated to what I need to do, I hope 2012 will be better.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Measures to Mature My Process

Pacing is not a good idea with roommates. I mean, I felt crazy enough when I used to live with the parents and my mom would tell me to stop because she could “feel the energy.” Lol.

My guy is the only one who has encouraged it. But due to realities of our modern economy, we have had 3 roommates since the start of ‘09. Thankfully our current roomie is an absolute dear, and I wouldn’t know what to do without her.

But I like her. And I don’t need her to know exactly how crazy I am. Because, well, I guess I still get a bit self-conscious about this whole thing. So I have adjusted my pacing to walking.

Source: google.com via Drea on Pinterest

I turn on Pandora on the cellphone, plug in the earbuds and head for the least car-filled route near my home. And then I zone in and if the world sees me walking, crazy-eyed and talking to myself---

Well, they can deal. I still need to think. I have to get my thoughts together before I write. I have done best, written fastest, and completed projects better the more pre-writing time I dedicate to it. So this is what I have to do.

And I have to listen to me.

Image: via viva institute

Monday, January 2, 2012


So I mentioned that I “zone-in.” When I’m writing, this pattern gets down-right eccentric. I used to be completely self conscious of how my thoughts affected me. Most writers seem capable of sitting and dreaming. Quiet contemplation and organizing thoughts seem to be what people expect. I guess I’m not too good at doing what I’m supposed to. My imagination has always made me … move.

Writing is a very good way for me to lose weight, by the way. In my most “zoned-in” summer right after graduation I survived on berries with yogurt in the morning, iced coffee, and a small dinner. And when I zone-in, I have to move. I pace. Like a caged animal. I can’t help it, and dance beats help--and stuff in other languages or where I can’t quite hear the words, or if the words help with to punctuate the beat. When my thoughts get loud enough, I have to move.

Source: artinfo.com via Drea on Pinterest

I can zone-in so much that nothing else exists, but thoughts and my feet on the floor, and the music. I can’t feel hunger, I can’t feel my aching neck--which hurts more often then not--and in a sense I don’t exist. This is the best feeling ever.

When I write, I do something similar. I can fall into the page, into the words and everything outside the keyboard and my fingers dancing among the letters just...doesn’t exist. Then the story is, and becomes all that is. Even my fingertips cease to register. It’s a version of going on automatic, I think.

Source: google.com via Drea on Pinterest

*Sources For Pics: Found on Pinterest

Focus: dreamstime.com

Dancer: artinfo.org

Baby on Computer: google.com

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2011, Good Bye!

2011 was a bad year. I think I started 2011 saying 2010 was a bad year. Let’s suffice to say that I have spent the time since graduating college in ‘09 trying to find myself again. Who am I without school? Who am I without reliable employment?

I have had trouble writing while worried about making rent and eating. So I tried to write about the stuff I was exploring: cooking and fashion.

In that regard 2011 was a fail, too. Mostly because I seem to be out of practice taking pictures. My fingers just don’t itch for the camera. When I cook, like when I write or plunge into a crafty-project, I zone-in. I focus on what I’m doing to such a degree, everything else just...goes away.

So that works well for getting stuff done when I put my mind to it, but it doesn’t always go well with pretty or detailed posts.

But I am now arranging for posts to post way ahead of time, and as long as I write fairly regularly and make sure the posts are cued--with luck, I'll be sticking with it.

Another big change that may be making this possible is: I have a job! A real job! something with a future! So, that changes my attitude towards all the stuff I "want" in my life--like my writing. I return to it because, well, I have other things handled.

That feels about this good: