Friday, February 27, 2015

Snow No More

After several days of ice and snow, it's mostly melted now. Nothing left but a few patches in the yard. Boohoo. It was great fun while it lasted, though. Mini wasn't jazzed about returning to school today at all, but I managed to get him dressed and out the door without too much whining and carrying on. I admit I loved the snow break, too. I stayed busy reading and writing and making a list of the things I need to do before Oldest gets home. He's back in the states and will be home with us in a few weeks. What he decides to do from that point forward, we'll have to wait and see.

Yesterday I managed to get roughly 2800 words written. My weekly total is sitting at just over 11k. I'm very happy with those numbers, and I'm looking to add to that amount after lunch. The main thing is to keep the story moving forward. So far, so good.

That's it for now. I should know in about an hour if Hubby has maxed out his work time for the week. If he has, he'll be home a bit early. I hope he has. We'll get to kick off the weekend early. ☺

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Tracking Expedition

CharlieCat has the right idea.
A Sunday snoozefest. ☺
Last night I worked on my novel for a couple of hours. I wrote about a thousand words and took a ton of notes for future scenes - scene sketches, basically. I have a total crush on my main character. It's been a while since that has happened for me!  A good sign, for sure.☺

Today's order of business: I have a couple of scenes I want to add in with what's already there, but I think I'm going to have to use a spreadsheet to keep track of where everyone is at what moment. I've never had to do that before, so I'm kind of browsing around the internet for suggestions. Easy suggestions, nothing too complicated. Nothing complicated like a plotting system. Just a way to keep track of my characters while I'm writing.

In the meantime, I'm moving on with this thing. My characters have hit their stride. •

Friday, February 20, 2015

Writing Study: Difficult Characters

Silhouette by mzacha.
"Michal Zacharzewski, SXC"
I had a great writing day yesterday: 3600 words. Even better than that, I uncovered the personal history of an important character I've been struggling with. Exciting stuff!

Up until now, I just couldn't nail this guy down. He was basically a roughly sketched stage player, although absolutely necessary to the story. I have written a lot of material about him, but I have always ended up scrapping it. Without "knowing him", I couldn't seem to get the story to come together.

I kept trying to foist a persona on him, but it never worked. Nothing fit right. Each time I'd try a new history on him, it was like trying to pose and repose a statue - impossible. So I just wrote along, letting him be a stick figure if that's all he wanted to be...then suddenly, yesterday, some of his inner demons slipped out. Uh-oh. Too bad for him. You can't stuff the inner demons back in once they escape. No hoping I won't see 'em either, tough guy. They're like glitter, or confetti - once it pops, it goes everywhere. There's no hiding it. Everyone can see it. It gets on everything, and you can't shake it off. Just when people think they've got rid of all of it, two weeks later, they're still finding glitter in their hair.

When I'm reading, I'm always most interested in the characters who are a little closed off, but who reveal more and more personality and history details as the story develops.You pick up on all of these little detail until suddenly in a later chapter....boom! Something triggers the character, usually something to do with a sensitive area of his personal history, and all his skeletons fall out of the closet. As a reader, you see this and shout "ah-ha!" because now the reason he was acting like this or that in chapter four makes perfect sense.

For example, there's a nice guy, Bert, at the local pub. He's good looking, does standard nice guy stuff - opens doors for folks, buys a round once a week, drives the local drunks home when they get too toasted to walk it off. Then one night, he has one too many, and under the influence, he talks about how he'd like to take everyone of those little teenage shits that hang out on the corner of Colorado Street and gut them - going into graphic detail of how he'd do it. Then he says he'd take what's left of them and hang them from the massive oak tree in Midtown Park. The bartender looks at Bert, "Why would you say something like that?" Bert shrugs, looks into his glass before drinking the last swallow of scotch. "For all those years of hassling me." Hassling him? How?

Imagine yourself at the end of the bar and you hear this exchange. It doesn't matter if Burt means it or not, or if it's just the alcohol talking. The probable reaction would be, 'Whoa! I didn't know that about Bert. He seemed like such a normal, average guy. A real nice fellow, but I didn't know he had such a violent streak." It totally changes your perception of Bert. Doesn't it? You begin to wonder if he has a criminal history. Is his nice guy routine just that - an act?

Once a character spills details like that, once they show you (inadvertently or otherwise) what's going on in their minds and how they think, you can't put that rabbit back in the hat. There's something going on with that character. You know it, even if you don't know what it is or where it comes from. His personal truth is out there, so as a writer you might as well grasp onto it and run with it. Later on, months down the road, when you run into a character who actually knows Bert, and knows him well, you recount what happened that night he went on a bender. The listening character responds rather sympathetically, "Oh, well, you know some teenagers attacked his wife, Harriet, sixteen years ago. She died from her injuries. Bert never really got over it."

Suddenly you get it. It makes sense now. You understand who Bert is, and why he said what he did that night. It also becomes so much easier to imagine a whole line of backstory about him, just from uncovering that one small piece of his personal history.

So yeah, that character I've been working on...he had a tough shell. Probably the toughest I have ever worked with. But I finally cracked it. The confetti is officially everywhere. Once I discovered his personal history, the story took off at a gallop. It also made my character richer, adding more facets to who he is. Also, in the last chapter I wrote, by knowing where the character was coming from, I was able to add all these little mysterious nuances on his behalf. I can also better predict how he's going to act in the next scene when the crap hits the fan.

Sometimes the character's history comes easily; sometimes characters don't seem to want to reveal a single detail about themselves. The importance of personal history is that it takes characters beyond flat descriptions of hair and eye color, and gives writers a character "context" to work from. Who is this person?  Why do they do what they do? Without that context, we simply pose and repose a figure, a statue on the stage of our story, instead of letting the character act according to who he or she is as a person.

Anyway, I'm really glad I didn't give up on this guy. There were many, many times I wanted to. When a character isn't revealing anything, if they have nothing to share or contribute to the story other than walking around pretending to be breathing, I know it's best to let them go. But this time I just couldn't. I felt like this guy had something. That spark. I just couldn't see it. I had to keep searching. I'm glad I stuck with him, because I'm very happy with the payoff. What a fascinating person he is under that cool, unshakable surface. I can hardly wait to dig deeper. ◙

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

All Aboard The Creativity Train

My writing productivity has gone down considerably in the past five years, and I never really could figure out why. I mean, what's causing it? The desire to write is still very much there. I've always figured it had something to do with living the mom life (and schedule), or it's the obligations, the endless stream of weekly errands, etc. Whatever the case, not knowing the exact why has been driving me bonkers, especially lately. I want to find the problem and fix it, so I can get my writing mojo back.

It's been a very frustrating soul search to say the least. Years ago, before I ever attempted publishing, I'd write at least a novel a year and tuck it into a special box under the bed. Why don't I do that anymore? Why can't I do that anymore? I can put in hours at the computer and still feel like nothing gets accomplished. Nothing publishable, anyway.

In January, I started looking at how my writing and process has changed over the years. I've been looking at everything from where I've been writing, to what I was using to write with (originally a Smith Corona electric typewriter - that was in 1993.) It recently occurred to me that it wasn't until a couple of years after I had Mini Beast that my productivity dropped off a steep cliff never to be recovered again. It didn't happen when he was an infant, though. Why is that? One would think it would only be natural for one's writing productivity to take a nosedive with an infant in the house. However, I wrote a lot of material - three published novellas, and two full novels - with him swaddled against me in a baby sling. I'd set music playing in my office, (Boulevard of Broken Dreams by Green Day was a favorite then), and while he fussed, or slept, or just rested against me, I'd write.

So when did things change? When did I lose that productive spark?  I had to really think about this, but I'm pretty sure it was when Mini got too big for me to hold and write at the same time. I deliberately and completely upended my old writing schedule to do the mama thing. I would rock him in the recliner til he fell asleep. Most of the time, I fell asleep too. *fond memories* I wouldn't give up those times for anything; they're very precious to me. In terms of writing, however, this was when my writing productivity took a swift downward curve.

My old schedule was to write from around nine at night to about four in the morning. Those were my peak hours. I'm not entirely sure why those are my peak hours, but I think it has something to do with not many friends being online, no stores in my area being open aside from the Circle K, and if there's a problem bothering me, there's really nothing I can do about it at that hour anyway. So, free from distractions and worry, I can write. Of course, this just an uneducated guess.

I obviously couldn't keep my old schedule with a kid in high school and a toddler at home, so I tried to taper my schedule around my family. That has never worked very well for various reasons, but mostly because my best ideas have always come to me at night. That's when my characters are chattiest. I can't count the number of times I've had to climb out of bed and run to my office to jot down an idea before it could slip my mind.

Last year, my hubby bought me a Kindle Fire HD. I love it. Seriously, love. Before the Fire, I used a second generation Kindle with a grayscale screen and actual page scroll buttons. I have to admit I didn't use it as often as I use the Fire. I didn't like that the old Kindle wasn't back lit. The page scrolling was clunky feeling. I couldn't read it in bed at night without leaving the lamp on.

After I got the Fire, I joined Kindle Unlimited, and I go through quite a few ebooks per week. Three or four on average. Now I'm starting to use the Fire for other things - checking emails, surfing the web, homework help, research, etc. I'm also using more apps. There are two writerly apps that work on the Kindle Fire that I really like: Polaris Office, and Notebooks Pro. Polaris has more features (you can import word documents, etc), while Notebooks Pro has an easy to use, bookshelf-style document storage system that I really like. At any rate, both are simple writing applications that allow you to write in-app and share your work via email. These programs have done wonders for my writing productivity.

Anyway, for the past couple of nights I've had major writing binges, reaping between 2-4 k words each session. I can't even begin to tell you how excited I am about this. I haven't had writing binges like this in years. So this morning, I had to ask myself what's different. What's the change?  Why are the words suddenly flowing again? As much as I love my Fire, I don't believe for an instant that it's the device. I've had an iPod Touch for a long time, It's backlit. I have several writing apps on it that I've used here and there. I could've used that for writing in bed at night if it was just about having a handy device.

This morning while going over some of the words I wrote last night (over 2k, I'm thrilled to report) it finally dawned on me what has changed - my writing schedule. That's what's different. I'm writing at night again, during my peak hours. What can I say?  It's no secret that some writers are morning writers, some are evening writers, etc. etc. My muse (my characters' voices) has always preferred to show up between midnight and four a.m... I simply haven't been meeting up with her for conversation and coffee like I used to do. I haven't been showing up on time to catch the creativity train.

So I get it now. For years, I've been standing around on the writing platform all day long waiting for the creativity train to show up, not realizing my brain's natural schedule has the train arriving at midnight. That's the reality of it. I've tried other schedules, and they simply don't work for me. What a simple fix. I'm not sure why it's taken me so long to grasp this.

Even as a small child, I was a night owl. (My poor mother!) And ever since I was in middle school, I've had terrible insomnia. What's worse is that when I'm not writing at night, I lie awake in bed and toss and turn. I can't turn my thoughts off in order to rest.  I think it's because my body clock knows. I don't know why or how, it just does. It knows when I could...or maybe should... be writing.

I'm a night writer. I've stopped fighting it, and now I'm writing again - actual, good, usable words. It's really freeing to just accept it, do it, and charge full speed ahead. My productivity is way up simply by changing my writing schedule to what feels natural for me. At midnight, when I settle in at my computer or with my Kindle Fire, it's as if my characters are already there on the platform, waiting to ride out those peak writing hours with me. ♥♥♥

Friday, February 13, 2015

Words to Burn

So where was I?  I go away for a while to take care of things; then, I come back to the blog and I can't remember what was the latest, most interesting thing to happen to me.

Well, I'll kick it off right where I'm standing, I guess, and go backward from there.

I'm presently in the middle of revision hell. It's one of those stories I don't know whether I want to go on with it, or kill it with fire. And, yes, I do mean kill the whole idea and everything. I like the idea, but the execution needs work. A hell of a lot of work. For the moment, I'm sticking with it because I have nothing else in hand. Besides, the novel is about 65k, and that's a lot of work to scrap on a whim.

Speaking of scrapping a ton of desktop computer, which I've used for the past three or four years, finally bit the dust. It happened rather unexpectedly. The hard drive up and died on me, and I can't tell you what kind of a nightmarish pain that's been. From the moment I took that machine out of the box, it would choke whenever I tried to back it up. It never once successfully completed a backup. It also supposedly came with wifi, but no amount of detection or file hunting could find the drivers. I tried to find downloadable drivers from Acer, but I simply never could get that comp to connect wirelessly without an external adapter...and I burned through two of them. The Acer was never a perfect piece of machinery, but I maintained it well and fully expected it to last far longer than it did. For instance, my original Inspirion notebook from 2008 still works. The screen scrambles from time to time (ribbon issues), but it's a clean machine and will still boot up for games and such.

So, yes, as you can imagine, I lost a ridiculous amount of data in the Acer's hard drive crash. Old manuscripts, current manuscripts, pictures, book covers, just a shit ton of stuff I wanted to keep. I've completely unplugged the tower, and later this year, I'm going to attempt a data recovery. In the meantime, I'm working from print outs and scraps that I saved on my phone. I've written a good chunk of my last two stories directly on my phone, and I'm glad of it now. I emailed those pieces to myself, so after the crash, they were still sitting in my inbox. I've since downloaded them. I've also mined my Dropbox for bits and pieces. Sadly, I didn't have a lot of writerly things saved there. Dropbox really saved me when it came to pictures, though. Covers and manuscripts, not so much.

Anyway, I was without a comp for a few days after the crash, but I've since bought an HP 15 laptop. Flyer red. It was a cheap laptop, but so far I am loving it. HP has managed to impress me with this little machine. It had hardly any bloatware for starters. That was a big plus for me. It also came with a short time McAfee coverage right out of the box, so there was no gap between start up and coverage. I managed to get my Office 2013 subscription activated with no trouble, and the machine has a stock re-writable DVD drive. (I probably won't use that much.) Windows 8 took a little getting used to, but it's not as intimidating as I expected it to be. The laptop also came with 15 gbs of lifetime cloud storage, which is where I'll be saving my manuscripts from now on. I've already set up most of the necessary software for bookmaking, but I'm going to have to re-download Gimp and before I can do any covers, memes, or artwork.

Along with computer and writing issues, I've also had a few health issues crop up. I'm still waiting for test results from the doctor. I went in on Wednesday because I have a swollen lymph node, and while there, the doctor told me he suspects I have an autoimmune disease. The most likely candidate is Sjogren's Syndrome. He said if it's not that, then it's probably one of two other candidates. I can't remember the names he mentioned. At any rate, none of those options are appealing. I should know for sure in a couple of days. Wondering and worrying about it has made it hard to focus, so instead of doing what I need to do, I've been gaming far too much on Facebook. If you play Gala Stories, send me a request. We can spam each other with showdown notifications.

That's all for now. I'm about to take my laptop into the bedroom so I can toss my papers around all over the bed. Does anyone else do that, I wonder? Take all your printed pages and lay them out all over the bed and swap them around? The bed is my favorite place in the house to work. Make of that what you will.☺ Until next time, happy wishes!☺

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The 40k Threshold

Last night I crossed the 40k threshold for the novel I'm working on, and today, after a few hours writing, I'm pushing closer to 45k. This is major progress for me. I've been creatively stoppered for months.

I'm pleased with the current word count. Forty thousand: that's my happy zone number. Stories that hit that mark tend to run the full mile to completion. Such is my experience anyway.

I don't really have a set goal in mind in terms of length for this particular story, but I'm guessing it will end up in the 60-70k range.

The story still has quite a bit of expanding to do. I have a couple of plot holes left to fill...although the main hole I was worried about patched itself in early this morning. That happened after I stopped trying to control the story, and just let it flow naturally through the characters. Some epiphany, eh? That worked so well I'm going to let the story go where it wants to go until it hits "the end." I'm going to do the same with the characters. Pour some motivation on them and let them run around like windup toys until they either run down or die off.

There are areas that need more fleshing out, and that's a good thing. That means I'll eventually go back in and add more words there. Overall, I really hope the story runs long. It's so much easier to cut things out, than to cut things out and then have to patch new things back in just to create length.

At this point I can only guess what the draft will look like after it's finished. Probably a mess, but I'll deal with that when the time comes. For now I'm happy with the progress, and the direction of the story. It feels like that final missing piece has clicked in place. It's flowing a lot more easily now. Thank you: plot bunnies, story gnomes, book faeries. It'll take it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A Writer's Quest

There are some days I don't know what I'm doing. On other days, I don't know why I'm doing what I'm doing. These days, it seems like I'm going through a mix of both.

I've been feeling like something's missing. No, not from my relationships. I'm talking about my writing. I've written and published a few things in the past year, but it's like I'm hanging on by a thread. What happened to my creative spark?

I used to stay up all hours of the night writing, writing, writing. I couldn't write fast enough. Words would come pouring out before I could catch them all on paper. Even now I still have a lot of ideas, a lot of notes, but when I settle in and start working I can barely force out two pages. Even worse, once it's done, once I've written a page or two and wrap up for the day, I dread getting up the next day and going back to the computer to write. Where did that come from?

Yesterday, after a productive writing session of about 1400 words, the dread started in again. I finally acknowledged to myself that something's wrong. Houston, we have a problem. I shouldn't dread writing. I have always loved writing. Normally, I swear I'd go crazy if I were cut off from writing. But now? I'm finding myself asking different questions these days, namely: Why am I doing this to myself? What happened to the joy I used to get out of writing?

That's it. That's what missing. Joy. Contentment. The satisfaction I used to get from discovering interesting characters as I wrote about them. Learning their quirks while going along with them on their journeys. The thing is, I'm not sure when the joy escaped the building. I also can't figure out how to lure the joy back in.

During all the New Year celebrations a few weeks ago, when I said I was going to reevaluate myself this year, I had no idea that I'd be going this deep with it. I set my intentions back in October of 2014, and I've stuck by them so far. As a result, I've been stressing less, cutting out negativity when and wherever I can. Whenever I start to feel anxious, I walk away until I'm calm. It's really helped me to relax more, which was the goal. I'm also sleeping better, which is practically a miracle. All that just from making a few changes.

Last night, I took a notebook and pen to bed with me. I lounged across the mattress to watch some TV on the set in the master bedroom, and I started looking at what's going on with my writing. To kick things off, I jotted down a list of writing problems. I'm not as productive as I used to be. That's a major issue I want to fix. But then there's the dread.

My procrastination is a symptom of dread. I know it is. So, then, what's the cause?  Writer's fear?  I'm not entirely sold on that idea. I'm talking about the desire to avoid writing altogether. After some consideration, I've guessed that maybe I'm not really writing my true interests, or that maybe I'm not choosing characters who are interesting enough to keep me motivated. I mean, if I find my characters super interesting, their stories should flow, right?

All day long I've been trying to think of ways to work around the creative constipation and get my writing mojo back. Still, it's there, that something bothering me. That feeling that something's missing and I need to fix it.

Around noon today I was fiddling with my tarot collection, and I drew the 8 of cups from one of the decks. I've been getting this card a lot since 2012. It shows up in just about every other reading for me, whether I'm doing the reading or receiving one. A friend of mine once had that happen with the Queen of Swords. That card followed her around for several years. Similarly, the 8 of Cups has become my shadow.

While meditating over the card, it didn't take me long to figure out that it had something to do with my writing. The man or woman in the card is leaving behind eight stacked cups to find the one that's missing. At least, that's one interpretation. Ever since I started writing professionally, I'd go on one journey after another to build new skills, cup by cup: mastering plotting, understanding how to write three dimensional characters, learning to build theme, or conflict, etc. Now that I have those basic "cups", those basic skills, what do I do?  There's still a gap there. So what's missing?  What do I need to find to make the effort complete?

I've been struggling with this question for far longer than I care to admit, but at least now I know what the answer is: My love of writing. My joy. That's what's missing. That's the ninth cup. It isn't a skill or a process I need to find. It's that writerly state of mind. The love of writing and creating, the joy that keeps us going everyday, that keeps us coming back to the desk to write more words. I need to find that again. I think that is also partly where my fear comes from. Loss of that spark. The loss of love. I've been avoiding the truth for so long that anxiety and fear have taken root where the passion used to be.

Anyway, I'm writing this because as of today I'm on a quest. I want to recapture the joy of writing. I want to bring back that excitement, joy, and feeling of contentment I used to have when plugging away at the keyboard. On the surface level, it seems like it would be simple to do, but I really have no idea yet how I'm going to make it happen. It's kind of a scary prospect. What if I fail?  At this point, that just doesn't seem like an option for me. There can be no failure. I won't allow it. I know I love writing. I will simply keep walking the trail until I find the ninth cup.

Quests are never easy. They're full of danger, false starts, wrong turns, doubt, and hidden traps. Oh, and let's not forget life lessons. But no matter how lengthy or dangerous a quest turns out to be, the reward for sticking it out is always worth it in the end. So that's what I plan to do: stick it out, keep writing, and make a conscious effort to find that missing cup.