Forcing words

I have been pretty quiet the last month. Aside from the blog, I haven’t been posting much on twitter or writing much on my novels. After the flood of inspired writing that took me to the end of “Patroness”, the waters slowed to a trickle and then stopped altogether.

In that past I have raged against this drought. I have cursed at the blinking cursor on the blank page. I have pushed and pushed to get a few words out that I know would ultimately be deleted.

Many writers find that if they keep pushing, they can get back into the sweet spot. Sometimes this has worked for me, but it seems there needs to at least be a little stream to splash around in on my way to the river. Right now there is nothing.

And that is okay.

Everyone has their own process, and mine is to write with furious motivation until the well is dry. But that doesn’t mean the work stops.

When the well runs dry, my job changes to doing what I can to replenish it. I read. Reading is something I have to schedule now that I am a mom. It doesn’t come as easily as it did before, but it is vital to my work.

I also pick away at edits. When I don’t have anything to give my own work, I still can critique other people’s work and I find the process to be extremely helpful in zeroing in on my own writing flaws.

So, I would like to apologize for not posting recently. But forcing words onto a page has proven to be an exercise in frustration. I hope that now that I am absorbing the work of other authors, my own words will start to flow more easily. Until then, there are always reblogs.

Change the way you look at pursuing a career in writing

Maybe you’re not like me. Maybe while you pursue publication of your novel you completely own it. Maybe the time and energy and hard work you put in without getting paid is something your friends and relatives and acquaintances completely accept as what must be done to reach your goal career. (if the last one is true, wow, good for you).

But while I admit I have support from many people in my life, the most important people in my life, I would say the majority of people who know what I do to attain my goal see me as a dreamer.

And while we, as a society, admire dreamers once they have achieved, on the path to their dream we collectively roll our eyes and nod slowly and tell them not to quit their day jobs for their little hobbies.

So, as writers, pursuing an actual job writing books, many of us tend to me a little more humble about our work. After all, we’ve yet to get the advances, the royalty checks, the writing engagements, the book on the shelf at the book store. What do we have to show for the hours we’ve put in, the years?

Would you ask someone who was going back to school to pursue an engineering degree why they were wasting their time chasing their dreams?

Knowledge. Refinement of our craft. Connections. Industry understanding. We writers collect all these necessary things as we pursue writing as a job, and most of us don’t wrack up 50 grand in debt doing it.

Writing books, editing books, participating crit groups, hiring editors, going to writing conference, submitting for publication, these are part of a real world classroom that is no less worthy than a college tuition for a “practical” job.

Publishing a novel, establishing a career takes time and work and energy. It doesn’t happen overnight any more than becoming a doctor does. You have to put in the work, and you have to acknowledge that, in doing so, you are preparing yourself for the career you want.

For some reason, many people think it’s a matter of writing a book, getting it published. They think the writing part is the hard part, and if you can get it done, that first book should sell if it’s worth anything and you will be on your way.

You know that’s not true. I know that’s not true. There is no reason to be humble about having to strive toward what you want.

Research to compliment your story, not to be your story

So if you missed the news, I finished another first draft. Woo hoo! This one was a bit different than my previous projects because it was based on actual mythology and history. Research was necessary. Tons and tons of research. As far as this subject goes (and I don’t want to give away too much on what that specific subject is because I’m shady like that) I think I may now be considered a bit of a scholar.

When I realized I was getting close to the end, however, there was a problem. There was so much more stuff I’d learned about that hadn’t gotten into the story yet. It was really cool information, but it just hadn’t found it’s place yet.

So maybe there’s a sequel in the future, but most likely that will still leave libraries worth of information that still has no home in my novels. I will have to accept that, no matter how cool  it might be.

There is a balance when it comes to research and too often writers ignore it. I certainly have. Regardless of the subject, you’re going to have to do some research but when the novel aims to inform, sometimes we are so anxious to do that we bury our story in information.

Research should be revealed in your story just like any other information, as it is relevant to the plot. If you are writing a book about a 15th century English peasant in the village Scarborough, you might learn all about the reign of Henry VII but it is unlikely that the contentious relationship between Elizabeth of York and Margaret Beaufort is going to come up in any way except as an info dump.

However,  day to day information like dress, local politics, plagues, hardships, food and occupations of a 15th century peasant will be woven into every part of your story.

Woven, not dumped.

Mary sewed a shift. Shifts were a standard item of clothing for peasants. They were typically worn beneath tunics and made of either wool or linen. Peasant women spent a great deal of their time spinning, weaving and sewing the clothing for their families. They would secure their tunics with broaches where they could hang useful items like keys.

or

Mary sewed the last stitch in the hem of the rough wool shift and flexed her aching fingers. She was getting better at the work and Tom would be pleased with the new garment.

One of these examples gives a lot more information about 15th century peasant dress and life. The other states the information as it is relevant to the story. In short bursts it might be easy to overlook, but imagine an entire story that keeps stopping to lecture the reader.

Don’t lecture your reader.

Patroness: DONE! I’m seeing a trend here

A little over a year ago, I posted This update on April 10th.

A year before that, on May 9th, I posted this.

Today I’m excited to announce my newest novel, Patroness, is complete in it’s first draft.

I have been pounding away at various works in progress since January, but when I returned to Patroness in April it took off. It had a strong start last year, after I finished Summer’s Circle, but life stepped in and put an abrupt halt to my creativity. Funny how that happens.

So now I am seeing a trend in the cycles of my writing. Spring time is writing time. I want to write, I am inspired to write, I am motivated to write and I do write. Even with great shows calling me on Netflix I find the time almost every night. Even when I come up against a roadblock in the work, I find ways to power through it.

If I had this kind of momentum all year I would be up to my neck in first drafts.

Which is probably why it is not the case.

I might power through a first draft, but editing is still a difficult process for me. I have a hard time discerning when I am truly done. I need alot of feedback.

I am currently back to editing The Silent Apocalypse and I haven’t even started hard edits on Summer’s Circle.

I used to get frustrated trying to force my way through a novel that didn’t want to be written. Many writers would caution against “waiting for inspiration to strike”. But, in my life, I am coming to find that there are seasons for different aspects of my work. They may change, but if I stay connected to what is calling me, I will be able to take advantage of when I am best suited for each task.

But let me tell you this, Creation season is awesome.

Second Blogiversary!

Hard to believe it’s been two years since I finally decided I was going to do this. Looking back, I am amazed at what I’ve been able to accomplish in two years, even as I have so much I’m still striving toward.

Pursuing writing is a challenging path and there have been plenty of times over the years that I have set it to the side to focus on more pressing aspects of life, but the truth is, aside from forming my family and raising my children, it is the most rewarding thing I’ve pursued.

I’m a day or two from completing the first draft of my newest novel, Patroness, a historical fantasy retelling, and I have to admit, I am so freaking excited about it. I started it last year before a health crisis took over my life and my creativity completely sputtered out. After a few false starts on other works in progress in 2017, I came back to Patroness and found it was waiting for me with a clear idea where it wanted to go.

Writing has never been without challenges though and while I don’t like to dwell on hardship, it is a good idea to look back on hurtles you’ve overcome.

So, in honor of completing my second year as a blogger, Here are the top ten challenges I’ve faced as a writer.

  1. Taking criticism. Going from “You just don’t get my work!” to “That’s helpful and something I haven’t considered before” is a big shift, but it’s had a massive impact on the quality of my work.
  2. Re-learning grammar. Don’t get me wrong, I know my grammar, but there are techniques I’ve adopted that haven’t been the norm and stylistic choices I’ve made that just don’t quite work. Correcting these in old work and changing the way I’ve done things for my entire writing life is difficult, but finally making progress.
  3. Getting to the end. Oh all my works in progress, languishing with no end in sight. I used to spend so much time tweaking and perfecting drafts as I wrote, adding and subtracting complexities that I never got to the end of the story. Now I power through and do not go back to revise unless it’s to delete what I just wrote to go in a different direction.
  4. Clearing out the telling. Granted I’m still working on this, but when I look back on my old work, I can see the progress that has been made. I used to tell everything and anything that was shown was so subtle that it was practically useless.
  5. Doing the editing work. Note to past Lindsey, you cannot half ass editing. You have to do the rewrites. You have to do the line edits. You have to print the whole damned thing out and slash it to bits with a red pen. Then you need to keep refining as feedback comes in.
  6. Making time to write. Unlike some writers, no matter how I schedule it, it’s not always easy for me to churn out X amount of words each day, year round. But when I am on a project, I need to give myself the time to work on it. When I used to work full time, I barely wrote. When I was home, I wanted to spend time with my husband, go out with my friends, veg in front of the TV. Now I set the time aside. As soon as the kids go to bed, I start to work. I write until i run out of steam and then I turn on the TV to binge watch whatever show is calling me, or pick up a book. Write first.
  7. Making space to write. Another thing that used to stop me? It was too damned hard to write without a quiet place to shut myself in, and in my home, there is no quiet place until everyone is in bed. My current office is the living room couch, with a sofa desk and while my husband watches TV, I put in headphones to drown out the news. Before I had this set up, the writing was sporadic and based on circumstance instead of necessity.
  8. Making writing a PRIORITY! Oh, hello mom guilt, wife guilt, homemaker guilt. I see you are all well, but I would like to introduce you to my friend, you did not write guilt. She’s new, but she’s a lot louder than you all now. She reminds me that dishes can be washed later, it’s okay to let my husband give the kids their baths, and I’d rather be tired tomorrow morning than miss out on this inspiration that is flowing through me tonight. No job should take precedence over family, but just like you might stay up late studying for an exam in law school, you may need to sacrifice a few hours of sleep to get those words down on that page.
  9. Every writer works different. I have a friend who can complete a first draft, have it edited himself a few weeks later and then has it sold or self published within a month. I think he might be superman. I do not work this way. I used to think I should, but should doesn’t do anyone any good. It’s okay to work the way you work. As long as you’re working.
  10. Having confidence in my work, even when it still needs work. This was the hardest thing for me to overcome. When I presented my writing to someone I wanted it to be flawless, but even if I perfect it for myself, it will never be flawless to everyone. To own being a writer is to own that you are working on your writing. Every new thing I write is better than the last, and not a single thing I’ve written is perfect. It’s okay because it all is awesome and I love it.

Share your thoughts! What are some challenges you have overcome as a writer?

A Lesson from my father.

When I was a child, I played chess with my dad and he smeared me all over the checkered board. I asked him one day, how he got to be so good and he told me something I will never forget.

I played with people who were better than me.

I played against them and I learned. I played against them until I started to beat them. Then I looked for a new opponent.

Most of us hate losing, and hate being the worst at something even more. So much so, that if we find ourselves surrounded by people who are more accomplished than us, more skilled, more knowledgeable, we do our best to duck quietly out of the room.

But being the big fish in the little pond means that we have no where to go.

As a writer, it is important to surround yourself with writers who are better than you. Read their books, learn their lessons, and strive toward their level. It is intimidating as hell, but it is also rewarding once you see you see the pay off in your own work.

 

Don’t try to write a perfect first draft

After I realized that what I first put on the page was not necessary my best writing (imagine my horror!) I concluded that I would save myself a lot of work and effort if I edited as I wrote.

And so it took me more than five years to write a first draft.

And it still sucked.

The end.

No, but in all seriousness, there is nothing wrong with skimming over your work and doing a little clean up here and there, adding something to clear up the part you are currently writing, adjusting the spelling of the name or including the character trait that revealed itself later. Especially if you are stuck in the scene you are writing.

Just don’t, don’t don’t think this will save you any work in the long run.

I am a person who takes great pride in working smarter and not harder and in many aspects of my life this has served me very well. As a designer I set up a template program that allowed me to drop the print designs into a layout that removed the element of human error while at the same time leaving the original art untouched for future work and cut set up time in half. (it’s okay if you didn’t understand that).

As a writer, however, I have yet to find the easy way around editing the entire manuscript, multiple times.

Ironically, avoiding edits until your first draft is done ends up being your time saver in the long run and there are several reasons for that.

  1. If you are riding on the writing train (writing non-stop) getting off to “fix things” even minor things, means you are getting off the train. Don’t get off the train! You may not be able to get back on!
  2. No matter how much you have plotted, outlined, and prepared, your story is going to take some unexpected twists. Characters will reveal something surprising, people will die, people will live, the ending could turn out very different than you expected. Wasting time on edits before you know how your story ends is wasteful.
  3. Most important. YOU ARE GOING TO HAVE TO EDIT THE HELL OUT OF THIS DRAFT ANYWAY! No matter how clean you have gotten your writing, no matter how much you have “fixed” you are in for the long haul with edits, IF YOU EVER FINISH THE BOOK.

I know! I know it’s hard to leave that glaring mistake right there in the open! I mean, it is so so so bad! But it is your first draft and no one is every going to see it but you.

There is a solution though, and one I recommend you take. Instead of editing while you write, keep a notebook or file with all the problems you see arising in your story. Plot holes, character changes, misinformation, ect. Make notes of the things you will need to fix WHEN you edit and then get back to writing.

I wrote a story where a girl referred to her prep school by a different name every time it was mentioned. At one point I found myself scrolling through the 237 pages I had already written trying to find every instance. (Geez,don’t I ever learn!?). I think i managed to fix one and waste an hour. Later, when I was reading the completed manuscript, being aware of this problem allowed me to mark and change every instance of this problem when it came up in the reading. Time saver for sure.

The most polished partial manuscript is completely useless.

The messiest finished manuscript has unlimited potential.

Is “said” really dead?

Once again, most of my creative energy is going into a new novel, so I will be reblogging older but still relevant posts. Keep writing, friends!

L.C.W. Allingham

When I went about getting really serious about improving my writing I ate up all the advice I could find. I pinned hundreds of articles and read all of them. I started to apply this to my work and I saw the quality of my writing increase for it.

But as it turns out, not all advice is good advice.

While cutting out passive voice and verbs cleaned up my work, relying on synonyms of “said” cluttered it up in a new way. There are many articles and lists on more action oriented ways to tag your dialogue, and I, being a writer who relies heavily on dialogue, used these replacements liberally.

Then one evening in my writing crit group, someone commented that “said” is nearly invisible to a reader, while “shouted” “cried” “snickered” “demanded” can start to disrupt an otherwise fluid set of dialogue.

Here is an example.

“I…

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Fostering a creative spirit

I was very lucky as a child. My mother was an art teacher and while she taught technique and medium, one of her greatest assets as a teacher was helping develop the confidence of young artists. Kids who were paralyzed to try, kids who’d been ridiculed by friends, parents, teachers, on purpose or accidentally. When she could bring these kids out of their fear, sometimes natural talents blossomed and sometimes they just worked hard and got better, but they all excelled, and not just in art.

If she had not been my mother, there are so many things I would have never done. I never would have formed a rock band and worked as a musician in my early twenties. I never would have competed in voice competitions in high school. I never would have sold my art at student shows.

I never would have let my writing out into the world. Never, ever.

I was lucky to have my mom, because the rest of the world seems to have no clue how to foster the creativity in children.

I see parents giggling about the little stories their kids wrote, in front of their kids. I see teachers tease students about art projects. And when you get to other kids, well they can be pretty merciless with their peers.

My son has been spending alot of time drawing recently. He brings me these insane creations, men with twenty legs and sharp teeth, cats making poops, a rock man who is (according to my son) two hundred feet high! They are all wonderful and that is what I tell him.

I know that today there is a conflict in opinion about children and whether we should “prepare them for the real world” or “foster their confidence”. Before you get your back up, I want to assure you that this has nothing to do with that.

This is about fostering creativity.

Do you remember being a child? Do you remember being proud of something you made and then having someone tear it down? Did it hurt you any less because you were a child? Are you grateful for that experience because it “taught you about the real world’?

There is a difference between teaching technique, teaching people to learn how to accept constructive criticism and teaching them that their creations are “dumb” “juvenile” “silly” and generally not worth the time it took to make it.

How many adults do you know that are terrified to write a story, draw a picture, sing a song, dancing in front of other people? I imagine you can come up with quite a few an I will bet you that their attempts to quell any creative urges comes from their childhood.

How awful is that?

Can you imagine laughing at the bar graph your co-worker presented in a budget meeting because it’s cute? Can you imagine writing a proposal and having the recipient roll their eyes at it and ignore it? Or read it out loud, giggling?

Why does anyone think it’s okay to do this to a child who has put their heart and soul into a story about vampire bats who live in the toilet or a picture of a two hundred foot rock man? Are these not the roots of the stories and movies and paintings and songs we crave?

Be the person to encourage creativity. Each project is the foundation for future greatness. Don’t deny the creator and don’t deny yourself.