V is for Victory

When I decided to do the A-to-Z April blog challenge, I knew I was asking a lot of myself.  I am hardly the poster child for regular blogging.  Plus, I had a major conference, a kid’s birthday party, and an upcoming trip in May to plan for.  So, I set my goal as 75% completion.  As of today, the 30th, I have done A through V.  That’s 85%, by my calculations, and that’s pretty darn good.

I won’t be able to finish the rest of the letters within the month of April, most likely, but with only 4 to go and a few good ideas left, I am going to finish.

So V is for my personal victory, in biting off more than I could chew but knowing choking was a possibility the whole time.  I chewed slowly, took a little longer than the rules explicitly stated, but I did pretty good, so I’ll take it.

In other news, V is also for Vacation.

I has one.

On Thursday, I’m jetting off to the beautiful island of Kauai for 4 days 5 nights, and I could not be more excited.  So now I close with an image to keep me going through all the last-minute chores:

Pretty nice, right?

U is for Unmotivated

We’ve all had those days.  You know the ones when you just can’t seem to get anything done.  You let yourself get distracted by Facebook, you pin 300 new things to Pinterest, you research how much air it really would take to kill someone with a syringe…just me?

So how are you supposed to break through the distractions, and get down to the work of writing?  Usually, lack of motivation means something isn’t working in the story, which can be so frustrating. It can make the lack of motivation even worse.

Here are a couple of things that work for me when I’ve got the Don’t-Wannas.

  1. #1k1hr on Twitter.  You can’t always find someone game, but those times are rare.  If you use the hashtag, you’ll usually find someone willing to go head-to-head with you.  You write for a solid hour, then report back on Twitter to compare word count.  The goal setting, competition, and companionship is usually more than enough to kickstart me.
  2. Ask your crit partner or beta reader to read your latest chapter or even a few paragraphs and ask them to tell you what they think.  Sometimes, I find my CP has just the right questions and ideas to get me moving again.
  3. Walk away from the computer.  The minute I stop trying, I feel more relaxed.  And usually, letting my mind wander leads me to a solution.
  4. Listen to music, especially if you’re a playlister like me.  I have to have a handful of songs that are meaningful for my current project.  Listening to them usually gets me excited about what I’m working on.
  5. Write an outtake.  Sometimes, it’s fun to just play with your characters in a scene that doesn’t have anything to do with the plot.  Or even a scene you think might fit later.
  6. Fix the problem.  Usually, when I’m unmotivated to keep going, it’s because I’ve made a mistake a while back.  I need to go back and get rid of whatever has led me to this point in the plot that is now stalled out.  Even if it means deleting thousands of words, it might be the only solution.
  7. Set a deadline.  There have been a few projects in my life that were a real bear to finish.  I just set myself an arbitrary date to get them done and force marched my way there.  It’s not romantic, or even fun sometimes, but to me there is no better feeling than putting THE END on something that’s been taking up my mental space.

T is for Television

I love TV.  I can’t even make it sound more dignified than that.  I love it.  I watch it a lot.  Probably more than I should, but I don’t care.

Maybe it’s an only child thing.  I spent a lot of time with Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers as a kid.  (For the record, I don’t think it turned my brain into mush, and it definitely didn’t make me fat and lazy.  I spent a lot of time wiggling, dancing, and playing in front front of the TV, not just lounging on the couch.)

Just like I used to feel bad about my love of reading and writing, I used to feel like a loser if I said I really like TV.  Like I was less intelligent, or had bad taste.

It took me a while to figure out what I liked about TV, and why I still like it:  I like stories.  Tell me a story and I am your slave.  Television is a veritable buffet of stories, and best of all, I can absorb those stories passively while I do other things.

Because as any devoted reader will tell you, one of the drawbacks of reading is that you can’t do it everywhere.  Can’t do it walking, can’t do it while you cook, or brush your teeth (though I’ve figured out a few workarounds on that last one).  With TV, I even got to take in stories while I did my homework–I know, I know, my work habits suck.  I do not apologize.  It works for me and you’re not my mom.  Unless you are, in which case, thanks for letting me watch TV while I did my homework, Mom!

My taste in TV shows is totally informed by story.  I hate the news, I don’t like sports, I wrinkle my nose at most reality TV shows.  But give me a sit-com populated by characters I can really get behind, and I’m sold.  A drama that doesn’t push into ridiculous soap-opera proportions?  Sure!  A sci-fi series with fantastic world-building?  I am in!  Even my taste in children’s shows favors story.  My absolute favorite of my son’s go-to shows is Backyardigans, because not only do they have repeated characters with distinct personalities, they tell a new story in every episode.  Perfect!

So, maybe you think less of me now, but I just can’t care.  I will sit at my flatscreen’s knee and ask for more stories as long as it’s willing to provide them.

S is for Storytelling

I have a love affair with Netflix On-demand.  With my trusty steed Apple TV, I ride through the wilds of cancelled TV shows and movies I love to watch again and again (speaking of which, they added The Cutting Edge recently–insert SQUEE here).  It’s also given me the opportunity to watch a lot of Independent Films I wouldn’t normally know exist, much less get a chance to see.

Sometimes, I luck out.  I’ve seen some gems.  But other times…yeah, I think the reason some of these movies are independent is that no one in Hollywood wanted to make them.  Now, I’m fully aware that I may be lacking whatever gene it is that allows film students and literary critics to find artistic integrity in things that seem just plain boring to me.  So, if you’re a film snob and you’ve come here to tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about, save your breath.  I’m already fully aware that I don’t know what I’m talking about when it comes to film.  My tastes are very mainstream, and I’m totally okay with that.

What I do have half a clue about, though, is storytelling.  And it’s important, damn it!

Storytelling is one of the oldest forms of human civilization.  Before we had writing, we had oral traditions, passed down through generations.  Every culture on the planet has stories.  About its origins, its important, about love, and heroism, and what happens when we leave this place.  Stories help us make sense of a very strange world.

And all around the world, through all time periods, humans have been drawn to the same basic shape of storytelling.  It speaks to us on a primal level, and when a story doesn’t meet our expectations, it’s disappointing.

I’m certainly not the first person to say this.  There have been dozens of books dedicated to it, from all disciplines.  Here’s a few of the best-known:

I think there is a lot of value in reading a good book about story structure, or taking a class.  RWA offers on-line courses frequently through some of its subchapters, like YARWA (where we say it like pirate!).  As a still-recovering pantser, I know how easy it is to get caught up in character and trying to come up with some kind of hook, or some twist on the traditional to make your story stand out.  And those things are great, but here’s the thing:  If you fail to meet the audience’s innate expectations about what a story is, they’re going to be disappointed, no matter how great your concept is, how original your hook, or how lovable your characters.

Which brings me back to independent films.  I watched one earlier this week–which I’m not going to name, because I have a (fairly) strict no trashing policy ’round these here parts–that left me SO FRUSTRATED.  It was an interesting idea, and decently acted, but in the end, I felt like the protagonist had gone no where.  Worse yet, I had no clue what might happen next.  Maybe it was supposed to be irony (in the Albert Camus sense), but I don’t think so.  I think it was just good old-fashioned BAD STORYTELLING.  The writer didn’t give me any structure to the story.  There was no journey (metaphorical or otherwise).  Things just went from kind of crappy to ambiguously unpleasant.  Loose ends dangled all over the screen.  I didn’t care about anyone in the story.

BAD STORYTELLING.

You don’t have to make any of these books your Bible, but I promise you, if you learn a little something about storytelling, you’ll start to see where the holes are in your own story, and maybe, if you’re lucky, even figure out how to plug those holes.

R is for Reading

I loved reading before I loved writing.  I still do.  As a kid, and even as an adult when I have to list my “interests” (Hello, Facebook, I’m talking to you), I always put reading and writing.  And for a long time, I didn’t really feel like that was enough.  Like somehow, I would be more like a real girl if I also said I was into hang-gliding and scrapbooking.

But you know what?  It’s a bunch of crap.  Reading is awesome.  Everyone should do more of it.

A couple years ago, I started keeping track of all the books I read every year, and two years ago, I added the books I read to my son at bedtime.  He’s old enough now to read them himself, but he still prefers when I read to him.  Frankly, I’m glad, because I’m getting to read so many wonderful children’s books.  Some old favorites, and some new.

I’m actually really excited to read even more of my old favorites with him as he gets older.  If you’re looking for a great list of essentials to read with the kids in your life, may I humbly suggest the list compiled by the GeekDad community at Wired?  It’s great stuff.

Read.  Read widely.  Read non-fiction, and fiction of all genres.  I can’t recommend audiobooks highly enough.  I’ve written before about my love of Audible.com, if you’re an audiobook person at all.  I find myself more willing to take on unusual books and non-fiction when it’s being read to me.  And there are some readers who perform their books so brilliantly it’s better than any voice I could create in my head.

If you would be a writer, you just have to read.  Imagine if a musician said “Oh, I don’t really listen to other music, I just like to play my own.”  I’m pretty sure their music wouldn’t be that great, not to mention what an insufferable douche they’d be.

Besides, who wouldn’t want to read?  I mean…BOOKS, am I right?  They even smell good.  They’re so pretty, and they don’t make any noise.  They’re like the best pets EVER.  And you look so much classier with one in your purse than a chihuahua.  Let’s make reading the newest fad.  Go get a book and we’ll all go hang out somewhere chic and read.  It’ll be great.

Who’s with me?!

Q is for Quitting

Writing is not something I’ve ever wanted to quit.  Even on my hair-pullingest days.  Even when my patience is worn as thin as a single coat of paint.  I always figure, this is something I’m likely to do even if I never see a dime for it, so I might as well try to get a few dimes from it.  Maybe if I leave my dimes in a dark room with some Barry White playing, I’ll have more dimes in the future!  (That’s how it works, right?)

And believe me, I’m no stranger to quitting.

Quite frankly, I am a bit of a spoiled softie.  If I don’t want to do something, I’m likely not to do it.  Or stop doing it.  This is not to say I have no follow-through.  Things that have to be done get done.  But optional things that are also unpleasant?  Um, yeah, I have about 2 million things I can think of to do instead.

HOWEVER, I know there are writers out there who just aren’t up for the publication part of the process.  And that is OKAY.  That is completely okay.  If you want to write a million stories and use the print-outs to line your bird cage that is totally your prerogative (for the record, prerogative is one of those words I have NEVER learned to spell–thank you Spell Check.)

If there comes a point in your writing life where you are miserably unhappy and you can’t stand another minute of the querying/editing/copyediting/promotion process, there is power in quitting.  Now, for legal reasons, I strongly recommend you meet the remaining terms of any contracts you might have in the world, but after that, feel free to walk away.

Even more powerful than the actual walking away, however, is giving yourself the permission to do it.  A writer I know, who shall remain nameless, has to, from time-to-time, decide she doesn’t want to do this anymore and give herself permission to stop.  And it can’t just be in her head.  She has to say the words out loud, or write them in an email.

The thing is, every time she writes the words or says them–the pressure goes away.  And almost without fail, the next day, she feels renewed energy to write.  New ideas, enthusiasm, brainstorms, and energy for blog posts, promotion, and the like.  She just has to know that she’s not trapped.

And she’s not.  Trapped, I mean.  And neither are you.  If you want to write, write.  But if you don’t want to, that’s okay to.  Writing is okay at any level of the game.  In fact, I wish more people would write just for the sake of it.  Believe me, there are plenty of words I’ve assembled into various formats that will never see the light of day–*cough, cough* Crappy Poety! *cough, cough*–and that’s okay with me.

I’ve lost some control of this post, I can see that now.  But my point is:  Writing shouldn’t make you miserable.  There are times that it will, of course, but if there aren’t times in between that make you ecstatic–there are easier ways to make a living.

As for me, I can’t seem to stop the words from climbing out of my brain and running out my fingertips so I’ll do my best to wrangle them (it’s worse than cat wrangling at times), and I’ll keep on trying.

Unless it makes me miserable.

Then all bets are off.

P is for Patience

Do I even need to explain this one?

There is no end to the waiting in the publishing game.  I don’t care if you’re self-published, traditionally published, or just putting things up on a display site.  The fact is, once you put your baby out into the world, you’re going to spend a lot of time waiting to hear from other people on it.  That’s the nature of writing.  We create, but we cannot create the audience.

At every stage of the game, you will be waiting for something.  In one of my son’s favorite Dr. Seuss books, Oh the Places You’ll Go, the great man himself wrote all about waiting:

You can get so confused
that you’ll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place. 

The Waiting Place… 

…for people just waiting. 

Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or a No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting. 

Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting. 

NO!
That’s not for you! 

Somehow you’ll escape
all that waiting and staying.
You’ll find the bright places
where Boom Bands are playing.
With banner flip-flapping,
once more you’ll ride high!
Ready for anything under the sky.
Ready because you’re that kind of a guy!

So, how do you cope with all that waiting?  I am not the first person to say this, nor will I be the last.  It will sound simplistic if you haven’t heard it before, but I am telling you, it is the one and only thing under your control:

WRITE YOUR NEXT BOOK.

Don’t wait around for answers to your queries, don’t think about what people will think of what you’ve already written, or what you’ll write in the future.  Just…

WRITE YOUR NEXT BOOK.

Do it.  Do it now.  No excuses.

What are you still doing here?  Go WRITE IT ALREADY!!!

O is for Overheard at RT

As I’ve mentioned a couple of times now, I spent five days in Chicago last week for the Romantic Times Convention (RT).  It is the most intense conference I’ve ever been to.  It’s long, I’m not going to lie, but it’s pretty darn fun, too.  There’s a complete schedule of YA-focused events, and more authors than you can shake a stick at.  Seriously, I tried, but the entire ballroom was full of authors for the book fair at one point, and no matter how hard I shook my stick, I just could not encompass all of them.

I returned with spoils of war.  Books, swag, new friends, and memories.

I also returned with a collection of quotes.  Things Overheard at RT.  Some of it is great writing advice, some of it is probably only funny if you were there, and some of it is downright inappropriate.  For that reason, I’m not giving attributions to any of them.  No infringement intended to the fabulous authors who shared their time and wisdom with us.  If you really want you name put next to your quote, please let me know.  Otherwise, all will remain anonymous to protect the not-so-innocent.  You know who you are.

The Good

“Set out to write the worst book you possibly can.”

“You’re going to have to edit it, like, a million times until you wanna throw up.”

Q: “What’s your greatest strength as a writer?”
A:  “It’s really so hard to pick just one, but I’d have to say my incredible beauty.”

“A hundred pages and all they did was go down the road.”

“You have to be willing to sacrifice anything for the good of the story.”

“Your character in Act 1 should not be ready for the events of Act 3.”

“My feelings on the editorial letter can best be summed up by the two-word Bible verse, ‘Jesus wept.'”

[On procrastination] “I let it overwhelm me until my guilt becomes unbearable.”

“The only thing worse than being a writer for me is not being a writer.”

“You must put your butt in the chair and sweat.”

“If you’re meant to be a writer, you’ll make it happen.  If you’re not, you’ll make excuses.”

1:  “In YA, you characters don’t have to stay together forever.”
2:  “Mine do.”

[On the age difference between immortal men and the teen girls who love them in YA] “It is in inherently creepy.”

The Random

“I’m off like a crazy sloth.”

“It’s no spoiler that I kill.”

“Did he just say bag of weed?”

“We’re way more immature than any of the teens here.”

“You kiss like a Barbie doll.”

“There’s something very soothing about chopping things up.”

“I strongly recommend a snorkle.”

“I have a lot of nightmares…and I cherish everyone of them.”

“You could have worn a costume, like, Steampunk…or Scottish with squirrels.”

1: “I should have had you get me one.”
2: “What?  A squirrel?”

“Maybe we should run away.”

“That depends.  How badly you want to play Spoons and eat candy?”

“When you’re on your deathbed, you’ll be thinking, ‘Damn, I wish I would have danced with Cole–and now I’m dying!'”

“Is that a squirrel in your pants or are you just happy to see us?”

“If you can’t work Poor Dead Mr. Pamuk into your next manuscript, you’re just not trying.”

“Could you maybe get one picture of yourself somewhere other than at that bar?”

“I think I have to run some of the alcohol out of my system.”

“I want to tell her I like her costume, but I’m afraid it’s not a costume.”

“Are you Russian?  You look Russian.”

“I told you I married a tycoon.”


“Come find us. We’re breaking into parties and stealing booze.”

The Naughty

“Five penises in the hand is worth…oh, it would be bad if I finished that!”

“Heh-heh.  You said moist.”

“I will not grope myself in public.”

“If it’s coming out of your panties, you keep it.”

“Sometimes, I open my mouth, and bad things come out.”

“I like the Butt Game.”

“No boob dollars.”

“Hmm, I don’t understand this pony play thing, perhaps I will in another year when I am nine.”

“I read Flowers in the Attic and so far, my feelings toward my brothers have not changed.”

N is for Nothing

Okay, I’ll be honest.  I’m mostly posting this because I want to be caught up again.  Don’t worry, I have a great post for the letter O, just you wait.

On the other hand, I do believe in the power of nothing.  As writers it’s easy to work ourselves into a froth.  If you’re working a full-time job, you have to force time for writing into your schedule.  If you write full-time, you’ve got deadlines to meet.  If you’ve got kids…well, I don’t even have to finish that statement, do I?  If you’ve sent something off to your agent or editor, it’s almost impossible to stop yourself from refreshing your inbox into oblivion and stalking them on Twitter.

But there is great power in doing nothing.  Give yourself permission not to be writer sometimes.  Be frivolous and watch TV.  Play outside with your kids.  Pay attention to your significant other, your family, your friends.  You know…those pesky two-dimensional people in your life that require actual human interaction and love to survive.

Nothing recharges your batteries like nothing.  It’s in the moments when my mind is most clear that I tend to get brainstorms anyway, so it’s not like the nothing lasts very long.  Still, the point is, it’s valuable.

So, get to it.  Go do some nothing.

M is for Maps

Maybe it’s because I write contemporary, so my stories are set in the real world, but I spend a lot of time looking at maps.  I like to browse the neighborhoods where I imagine my stories taking place.  I route out travel times between sites, so I don’t make my journeys too short or too long.

It could be that realism matters to me, or it could be that I’ve come up with a great way to procrastinate.  Either way I say upon you:

Hail, Google Maps!


And now a map for your viewing pleasure: