Habits and Revisions (and Some Heartfelt Advice)

 

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My day job.  I love it and everything about it, but it’s the reason I am not so good at the computer thing.

Habits are a strange concept.  You want to break the “bad” habits, and start the “good” habits, and that’s a lot to expect from something our brains designed to help us get through each day so we can conserve energy for the big things.

 

I’ve been trying–and failing A LOT–to start the habit of daily drawing.  Inktober really opened my eyes to my need to create art, and I already knew that I think in pictures. Novel writing is the process of me learning to slow the pictures enough to describe them to a reader, so why not put in the pictures, too?  Life keeps putting great stories in front of me that are drawn very… Well, you don’t have to be Bilal, Serpieri, or “Moebius” to tell a story with pictures.  (I mean, have you seen “The Walking Dead” original comic? Clean and clear, but simple.)

But, FIRST you have to give yourself permission to do the creative thing, the fulfilling thing, even if it’s not one of the official “important things.”  I’ve bought a few high quality art supplies, but they sat, unused.  I found my old art supplies, packed up for probably a decade or more, but they continue to sit, unused.  So, I bought some really cheap art supplies, but they have also sat for three weeks, unused.  The few times I’ve drawn in the past month are just pencil sketches. I can’t seem to give myself permission to play.  Where is this block coming from?

So, for now, I’m researching habits, and how to start them.  Maybe more pencil sketches will relax me enough to reach for the charcoal pencils, or even–gasp!–the charcoal sticks!  (I’m already wiping my hands in reflex.)

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Revisions for my Sci-fi Romance are going very well.  I’ve had some real “Eureka!” moments.  For those who don’t know, I come from a family of serious DIY people.  “Good homeowners just do it themselves,” is the family motto, even when you’re renting.  Need to tile a bathroom?  Fix a leaky pipe?  Put up drywall?  Read a book, find a video, figure it out yourself.  The DIY lifestyle also applies to cars, jobs, health–mental and physical–and pretty much everything else that life can throw at you.  Just do it yourself.  Surprisingly, this attitude has mostly worked for us, both as a unit and individuals.

So, for various reasons, I’ve brought that attitude to my writing, and there is PLENTY of writing advice out there.  I’ve recently come across a couple of books that seem to have expanded and refined my sense of storytelling, and I’m excited to share them with you in my “Low-Budget Writing Program.” I’ll have the newest post up as soon as I can get it organized.  I hope it will help those of you who are DIY writers, whether you are shooting for self-publication or trying to improve enough for acceptances from agents or editors.

Of course, the increased perception has caused a reaction of “OMG, I’m a horrible writer,” but that is expected and will be worked through.  Focused practice and skill progression will calm the panic.  This ‘aint my first time in the saddle.

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On a last note, if you have not cultivated a few trusted beta readers then you NEED to work on that.   Not only will you understand storytelling better when you have to explain to someone what they have missed, but an outsider’s eye on your own work is priceless.  Well, not priceless, since editors will have a rate to charge you, but I think you understand what I mean.

I have a few people I have exchanged work with and they have saved my bacon this month.  I spied an anthology that would be a good fit for one of my developing short stories, so I rushed through a readable rough draft.  BUT, without a chance to let it get “cold” any objective revision would be difficult.  I begged for help.  Everyone came back with notes early, so I have time to revise before I submit.  I’ll let you know how that goes.

Be well, my friends, and Happy Writing!

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Writers Shaming Writers

 

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Ya’ll made me get out my angry eyes!

Are we really still doing this?  Are we really still shaming other writers for writing Erotica?  Or for exploring erotic themes in another genre? Horror or romance?  Sci-fi or Fantasy?  Mainstream or Lit?  For putting sex in all the genres?  Really?

 

Yes, there is “trash” out there.  Yes, a lot of it is self-published, but not all of it.  Yes, bestsellers usually have an 8th grade reading level.  Yes, there are writers who publish monthly in their chosen genre, and some who slave over a manuscript for ten or more years before putting it out there.  Most of us fall somewhere in between.

But, considering modern culture, that we are all living through, are we really shaming other writers for including sex in their books?  In the era of #metoo, Times Up, and actual consequences for sexual predators in high places?  When I am following at least two writer friends who are undergoing transitions?  When I know tons of writers expanding and challenging what the changing sexuality, gender roles, and relationships mean to them, personally, and in our wider society?

Writers and artists are the natural mirror to the world they live in.  Unless you are deliberately turning a blind eye to it, our society is undergoing a deep transition.

You complain about the rise in sales of Romance and Erotica, but don’t wonder why it’s happening? You complain about so many writers, across every genre, now including sexual relationships in their books, and don’t make the connection?  You complain about the surge of fan fiction using established characters to tell the missing stories in our culture, and you don’t realize we tell ourselves the stories we need, in whatever way feels safe? Are you kidding me?

We all know the scapegoats in this little campaign of suppression, and the memes are shared ad nauseam.  Some patently false, if you had bothered to read the books in question.  Don’t pretend it’s about the quality of writing, when so many other books are just as bad and they escape the vitriol heaped upon stories aimed at women.

You aren’t interested in sex?  Gender roles?  Relationships? That is a valid opinion!  Plenty of books don’t contain any, so enjoy your reading time.  Do you also hate dragons, make a point to shame other writers for using them, and then work to malign any book containing them? Of course not!  Because that is your opinion, and you are adult enough to understand the world isn’t based around your opinions. (Also, because dragons are cool, and sex is, too!)

If you pay attention to the culture of writers, you know being an asshole to another writer can hurt your reputation and sales.  Maybe nobody called you out, when you shamed another writer, or book, or entire genre, but we take notice.  Writers notice everything.

I’m sure it was just a joke, right?  I’m sure we deserved it, right?  Maybe we shouldn’t be so sensitive?  Right?

(Where have I heard that before?)

Don’t shame other writers.

 

 

“Ping!”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile I was patting myself on the back last week for having a Good Excuse ™ for not writing, and the resulting blog post hid the fact that I was a bit panicky about not writing, I was unaware my brain had sifted into a different mode.

Yes, I was right in the middle of a fight scene.  Yes, it was THAT fight scene: the one with the inappropriately erotic words snuck into it.  I was also working on the second draft of another short story, where I tackle the nearly illegible pen and paper scribbles and try to type them into a coherent story.  Both are highly creative forms of writing, at least for me.

And they fell flat.  Just gone, and hardly missed in the crazy prep for an anime con.  When they didn’t come back on my first normal day for writing, I panicked a bit.  Truthfully, a LOT.

I could feel them fizzing, or burbling, like a  warm pot on the back burner of a stove, waiting for the right time to have a last-minute ingredient added.  I’ve felt this sensation before, so I was soothed, because it comes back, the creative side of writing, when it is ready, and not a damn minute before.  But that still left me stuck in front of blank pages…

Until I realized I had done something unusual to the novel that I laughingly refer to as my Work-In-Progress, despite the fact that I haven’t been able to stand the sight of it in nearly a year.  I had been re-reading it in the evenings, to unwind, instead of my to-read pile.

And it’s rough, and I have made my usual mistakes, and I’ve made eighteen pages of notes for changes over the past year, but I still love the story, and I’m ready to work on it.

You know, being a writer would be a lot easier if we got some kind of notice when our brains sifted to another mode.  I didn’t realize I was IN editing/revision.  There should be some kind of “ping,” or spider-sense, or notice hammered to our front door.  Instead we are suddenly swimming against the current, and struggling.

I’m better prepared for the task, this time, due to research and time spent working on smaller projects.  It seems a less insurmountable mountain, shrouded in thick clouds.  I can at least SEE what I need to achieve.  My intention is to have a ready manuscript for either agent shopping or self publishing by the end of the year, if not sooner.  Time will tell if I am up to the task.

Happy writing, editing, revision, or whatever!

 

The Low-Budget Writing Program: Part 4 When the Manuscript Goes in the Garbage…

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When the manuscript is going to the garbage can, what do you save?

I’ve been lucky enough to have writer friends who will loan me books they think will be helpful to me. It’s amazing how timely these incidents can be. My observations of synchronicity in my own life make me more aware when my instincts tell me to do things–random things–even when I don’t know why.  Even if I will never know why.

So, I am going to insert a passage from a book I’ve just read, and I’m not going to tell you who the author is, or what the title is, yet.  Just play along, as if it’s your manuscript…

On impulse, I held up her manuscript.  “Okay,” I said.  “We both know there’s a problem and we don’t know how to fix it.  Let’s pretend for a minute that I’m going to throw this manuscript into the garbage.”

She leaned forward in her seat, hands gripping the arms of her chair.  I dropped the manuscript onto the floor beside me.

“It’s gone.  Into the garbage.  You’re never going to be able to write it now.  You’ll never see the characters again.  I want you to think about that.”

I could feel her thinking.

“If you could reach in and pick out just one part of that story, just one thing you don’t want to let go of, what would it be?”

Did you come up with anything?  Instinctually, did you grab for something in your own WIP?  I sure did. Hold on to that thought.

The book I got that from?  “Writing Romance” (Self-Counsel Press, Bellingham, WA 1997) by Vanessa Grant.  It’s written in the workbook style and full of helpful information, and I have found it far more useful than I thought I should.  Since it is nearly twenty years old some of the information is outdated because publishing and the internet has changed, but the Romance genre still has a lot of the same expectations.  Vanessa Grant has a soothing but insightful way of picking apart what makes a good, satisfying story.  She cautions, throughout her book, that anything not working for the entire story must be cut.  (My Sci-fi Romance has some issues I can’t afford to ignore.)

But tucked into that genre specific writing book was THAT little gem.  The Vanessa Grant Garbage Can Test.  Brilliant.   There is a formal exercise included in the book, but I found the narrative  of the original incident far more helpful.  Since my blog is geared for newer writers, like myself, I couldn’t help but pass on that little bit of insight.

WHY are you writing your particular story?  You need to know.  If you lose what is important to you, how can you hope to make it important to a reader?  Anything that doesn’t serve the core of the story will be cut out (and filed away for another story).

Anyway, my own copy of this book will go into the permanent collection of my after-the-rough-draft revision guides.  The rest of the books in that helpful collection are in this article, safely tucked next to the rescued manuscripts that took part in the above nerve-wracking photo shoot.

Back to my revisions.  Good luck with your own WIP.

The Low-Budget Writing Program:

  1. Butt in Chair
  2. The Monster in My Manuscript
  3. Take Over the Literary World!
  4. When the Manuscript Goes in the Garbage…
  5. Fear is the Mind-Killer
  6. Grammar and Punctuation and Bears! Oh, My!

“What if?” Genre and the Storyteller

“What if?”

“What if dragons existed?”  If you are a writer, you have probably written Fantasy.  “What if we could genetically engineer dragons?” Now you’re edging to Sci-Fi.  “What if someone was secretly making dragons?” Sounds like a Mystery.  “What if they killed to protect that secret?” Ok, a Murder Mystery. “What if that dragon was also part human?”  Paranormal.  “What if the chip implanted in the dragon’s brain controlled the change?” Cyberpunk.  “What if it was funny how it was always the worst timing?”  Humor.  “What if I fell in love with that dragon-human?”  Romance.  “What if the sex was…”  Ok, now were looking at Erotica.  (Somehow, I always end up there.)

“What if?”  The great question every writer has the urge to answer.  I think most people have that question on their mind at times, but it is the storyteller who picks at it, explores it, turns it inside out and upside down. The medium may change; keyboard, paintbrush, instrument, or something completely different.  My current medium is words, and I am still learning the feel of them.  What words will help the reader understand the questions I am asking.

“What if?” is the question.  The only question.  Genre is just the flavoring; an easy handle to sort it, and to quickly find potential readers.  Genre is slippery, and constantly changing, from moment to moment, and person to person.  The words to describe stories have changed their meaning.  You can look them up in the Dictionary (and I have), but the battle to define genres is hot and messy and confusing.  Sub-genres have bread more sub-genres, like bacteria dividing. (How does that song go?)

“What if?” is the catalyst.  The Hero never leaves home without it.  It is the constant companion.  It is the writer’s companion, too.  The part of the mind that can’t resist banging things together to see what happens.  Did you make a hole, a mess, an ending?  Or did you make something new: an idea, an element, or start a brand new person?  “What if it was both?”  The results can be unexpected.  Proceed at your own risk.

“What if?” I could express my worldview in my writing?  It’s joys and sorrows, pain and pleasure, hope and despair.

“What if?”

Genre in Fiction: A Writer’s Search for Clarity

Genre is on my mind a lot lately.  I have to make some hard decisions about my manuscript, and decide what path to take in the revision.  The decisions I make now will directly affect the promotion of the book when it is ready to self-publish.  I have to choose carefully so my  future readers will be able to find me, and so I don’t give potential readers the wrong impression about my book.  Lets take a walk through my mind…

Some genres have to do with the setting, like Science Fiction, Fantasy, Modern, and Historical.  Add the more recent sub-genres like Alternative History, Dystopian Future, Paranormal, Steampunk, Cyberpunk, & and you end up with a place for the story to take place.

Other genres have to do with the plot, like Mystery, Romance, Horror, and Adventure.  These can be subdivided into other genres like Crime or Epic, although Epic could have more to do with length than plot. This is the path the story takes, and each genre has certain expectations placed on it by the readers.

Still other genres seem to be about the voice or tone of the story, like Literary, Young Adult, or Erotica.  There are also descriptors that are less of a genre and more of a flavor, like Gritty, Hard, Military, Sport, Steamy, Cozy, or Warm Hearted.

These lists are by no means complete, just off the top of my head and hopefully enough for you to get my point.  Humans like to slot things into categories, but the single word genre is often woefully inadequate to describe most books.  So we play mix and match, and get things like Cozy Mystery, Paranormal Romance, and Young Adult Fantasy.  But we also get Gritty Fantasy, Steampunk Romance, and Literary Adventure; which could work, or be a total disaster, depending on the writer, and the reader.  (Has anyone tried Cozy Horror?)

My opinion of my own manuscript’s genre has shifted as I’ve written it, from Science Fiction Romance to Erotic Science Fiction Romance, simply because I can’t seem to ‘look’ away from the sex scenes.  It interests me, how the two characters navigate a new relationship, including the time they spend in bed, whether it’s talking, making love, exploring some aspect of their sexuality, or contrasting the way that their cultures and species are different.  They spend time outside of bed, of course.  They both have friends, family, and jobs.

To get a better handle on the expectations of the readers of Erotica, so I could mesh it with the other genres I’m using, I did research.  What I found was a lot of people equating Erotica with porn. I keep hearing “Erotica doesn’t need a plot,” or “Erotica is just sex,” or “I don’t read Erotica, it’s trash.”  And a lot of handcuffs, but not enough feathers.  I’ve been very confused, since I didn’t realize there was such a negative perception to the word Erotic.

Maybe it’s just me, but I thought erotic meant engaging the senses related to romantic desire and sexual love.  That’s what the dictionary says. I read things in most books that I consider erotic.  The description of a first kiss, depending on the author, could be erotic, along with the feeling of lying on a blanket with your love interest while stargazing.

So I look down at my 179,194 word manuscript, trying to figure out if I can cut the sex scenes, and revise the character arcs into less racy words, but that…

Makes me want to chunk the whole thing in the trash and go back into fiber arts.

I haven’t yet, but I’ve come close.  Then I look over at the notebooks full of my other stories, waiting their turn to be developed.  They have themes and words in common with my current project.  If I take out the intimacy, I lose interest in telling the story.  This issue isn’t going to go away for me, unless I give up on crafting stories out of words.  I don’t want to give up.  Writing has become my choice of hobby, vice, and meditation.

So, I’m back to figuring out my genre.  Steamy would be misleading about the graphic words I use.  Is there such a thing as Cozy Erotica, or Spiritual Erotica? Am I really going to try to market under “Warm Hearted Hard Core Erotica Science Fiction Romance”?  Shall I add “Strong Female Lead”? How about “Don’t Read This Because It’s Confusing and Mislabled”.

That Damn trash can is laughing at me.

Writer Lost…

 

I finished the beta readers draft of my manuscript about 24 hours ago…

I know what is next, a little tweaking and polishing, fixing the misspelled words that even spellcheck shrugged at, and a half dozen alien slang words.  Then, let it go, into the hands of my trusted beta readers, to tell me what trees I missed while in the forest.  I know, and have been warned, to not cling, to not fiddle it to death.

I feel odd.  Empty and full.  Happy and sad.  Confused and confident.

Word count is 176,427.  Looking at the log, it took 82 non-consecutive days.  Most of the missed days were holidays; even while sick I could put aside some time for it.  The log says I started the rewrite on Oct 9th.  I don’t remember, it just seems like I was always writing it.

My brain feels like it’s a different shape, somehow, even more than when I finished the longhand first draft.  I’m wondering if it could ever go back to the original shape.  Would I want it to?  Will I feel this way after every re-write?  Every future book?

While I’m in this odd state, not ready to edit, not ready to move on to another project, I’m working on the character list/bio and a slang glossary.  May be I’ll look at the synopsis, press blurb, and jacket teaser, too.  One way or another, I will rough edit it and hand it over in a week.  That is my new goal.

Coming soon, the epic Sci-fi Romance, ‘The Contract.’

I hope…