Thoughts on NaNoWriMo

I promised a WriMo post, so here it is.

I’m currently at 45,479 words. All signs point toward me finishing, and I’m feeling like a champion. I put a lot of things on hold so I could participate in NaNoWriMo (like homework, TV shows, and . . . yeah, that’s pretty much all that’s going on in my life right now, which is probably why I’ll be able to get to 50,000 words—so I guess there really isn’t a lot going on in my life, but still).

The point is that even if I didn’t make it, NaNoWriMo encouraged me to write 45,479 words that I normally would not have written. And this is important for all writers to keep in mind regardless of whether or not they reach the 50k. So thank you for that, WriMo.

But still I have to say I’m a little disappointed in WriMo. While it did encourage me to write, I’ve decided that it’s simply not for me. I like being able to take more time when I write so that I can better plan the flow of the story and so that the words I spit out aren’t quite so awful the first time around. I think that WriMo actually makes it so that I have more work to do because I’m going to have to rework everything I just wrote. But that’s okay. Now I know it’s not for me. And I’m so glad that it’s worked as a motivation for so many writers. Sometimes everyone needs a good kick in the pants.

Tangent time.

Want to know a secret?

Finishing a book is like having our birthday. For some reason we expect to feel different when we’re a year older, but we don’t. Being 19 is exactly like being 18. Being 25 is exactly like being 24. And the real disappointment: being 21 is exactly like being 20. Likewise we expect to feel different when we finish writing a book, but we don’t. We feel exactly as we did when we were struggling, first-time writers.

But don’t fret, those of you trying to finish your first book. Because what we don’t realize is how we’ve grown during that year or during the time it took to write that book. We’ve learned new lessons, we’ve discovered what is and isn’t working for us, we’ve (hopefully) figured out what we are and aren’t good at, we’ve discovered new likes and dislikes. And in the end, we can decide that we are better off because of that year of growth. Now we can set new goals for improvement.

So it doesn’t matter how much we’ve written or how old we are. It’s what we’ve learned. Me? I learned that WriMo isn’t for me. Others may have discovered a new subplot, a new character, a new writing formula, a new genre, whatever.

Now it’s getting time to revise and make that book shine. Don’t stop just because November is over. We all have a lot of work still to do. Set a goal for finishing that story (if it’s longer than 50k) or for finishing your first round of revisions. Motivate yourself now that WriMo soon won’t be there. Create writing challenges with your friends to encourage you to keep at it.

Whatever you do, don’t stop.

 

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Do What You Love

Okay boys and girls, it’s story time.

So Thanksgiving was last week and because it’s a very family-oriented holiday, it’s usually a time when you spend lots of time with family. I didn’t, but that’s because my family lives several thousand miles away, but that’s not what this story is about. This story is about a friend of mine who, like me, loves to write and wants to eventually publish one day. This friend messaged me last week while she was spending time with her family, distraught because they were marching out the old “Stop writing. Go study. Go on dates. Writing will never get you anywhere” speech.

Now personally, I have never been the recipient of that particular speech. I consider myself very blessed that my parents are very supportive of me and my writing (which I think I can largely chalk up to the fact that my dad is a poet–check out his book here–and his dad gave him that speech, which made him go to law school, which my dad generally regards as a poor life choice) and this isn’t to say that my friend’s parents are awful people who don’t support her or love her–because even while she was complaining about them, she mentioned that they’re the very best parents for her.

But their diatribe upset her. It made her feel like she was being foolish because it upset her and it made her feel like her family didn’t understand why writing was so important to her.

And as someone who DOES understand why writing is important to her–because it’s equally important to me–my heart kind of bled for her.

Because having people you care about and whose opinions you value tell you that the things you find important aren’t important kind of sucks.

So I am here to tell you all to do what you love. Making money and having a place to live is important and all that, but so is being happy. And if you guys are anything like me, then writing makes you happy. And it doesn’t just have to be writing–it can be anything (though in this case I am mostly talking about creative endeavors). I have a sister who graduated from college with a BFA in acting, as did her husband. That’s right–two acting majors got married, graduated, and are now trying to find a place in the world. Most people would assume that either she or her husband would give up on their dreams and abandon their talents–and they do have talent–to get a “real” job and become “real” adults. But they haven’t–and I don’t think they will.

My sister and I were both raised to believe that creative endeavors are just as important as anything else we could be doing with our lives (again, I attribute this mostly to my father the poet. Did I mention you could get his book here?) and we were raised to think that doing what you love is more important than making oodles of money.

Because here’s a fact: even if I never publish a single book in my entire life, even it turns out that I’m really an awful writer and people would rather wash their eyes out with peroxide than read anything I write, I’m still going to write stories and books. And I’m going to do it because it makes me happy. It’s a way for me to process my life and it’s a way for me to de-stress from everything I am supposed to be doing. It’s therapeutic. And on days when I feel like poo and everything feels wrong, being able to escape for an hour into my fiction helps me recharge and regroup. First and foremost, I write for me–and no one can really take that away from me.

I’m closing with a video, because it pretty much says everything I want to say right now only it says it better:

 

Also, because I feel bad plugging my dad’s book without plugging the book that my mom wrote, you buy her book here.

In Which I Compare Publishing to an Inept Bakery

I have something I want to say to publishers, and I’ve wanted to say it for a long time.

(Editors: I love what you do. This isn’t directed your way.)

Please, please, please give the authors enough time to write their books properly.

My fear is that I sound naïve saying this. I’m sure there are reasons for the publishing schedule. I mean, it makes sense, even to my math-challenged mind, that the more you produce the more profit you make. I get that. It’s a business. And readers, at least according to Goodreads reviews on unpublished sequels, sometimes proclaim their outrage that they have to wait a whole year (gasp! whine!) for the next installment of their favorite series. And I get that too. BUT.

Writing books is also an art and a craft. There’s a tension here with the business side of publishing, because it’s not like books are produced on an assembly line. There is no way to regulate the creation of books. Each author’s process and timetable to write a book is different, and even the same author might have a different process from one book to the next. And whereas they might have needed only a year between all the rest of their books, there may come that one pain in the butt manuscript that needs six more months to mature.

And this is the tension: consistent production or consistent product?

I’d say consistent product. Why do I say this? Why am I even thinking about this?

I read a book recently from one of my favorite authors, whom I don’t want to name because even the thought of being disloyal to one of her books fills me with shame (I am nothing if not loyal).

And while it was good, I thought—KNEW—that it could have been so much better than it was. I estimated that she needed another six months with that sucker to bring it up to the same level of artistry as its predecessor. But deadlines, man. They got to her. It was still a good book, even a great one, but the structure and plot at times seemed wild and unfocused.

It’s a bit like cooking when you think about it.

When I came home from Italy with pages and pages of recipes (except for not really. Italians don’t use recipes. What I brought home were scribblings and ingredient lists), I went on a cooking spree for my family. One night I made a red sauce with sausages and my older sister,who is an excellent cook,  was hungry, so she kept telling me to put a lid on my sauce so it would cook faster. I refused, despite the fact that she’s a better cook than me, because those dear Italians who taught me to cook showed me how important the details are. I had to leave the lid off and cook it on the lowest heat, which gave the sauce time to reduce and slow cook to perfection. And even though it took longer, everyone in my family agreed that the result was worth the wait (it soooo is. That sauce is NOM NOM NOM).

And while I’m thinking about it: more food analogies! Sometimes publishing schedules remind me of an inept bakery that bakes cookies, cakes, pies, breads, etc., all in the same oven, at the same temperature, and for the same amount of time, all while expecting that the cookies, cakes, pies, breads, etc., will turn out as they should. Except—they won’t. Each item has specific baking requirement for it to turn out. If I bake a batch of cookies in the same oven as a loaf of bread, either the cookies will burn or the bread will be doughy.

And maybe I’m in a minority of readers who would rather wait longer to have a better product, but somehow I doubt that’s the case. I bet a lot of readers would agree with me. Do you?

The Host

Megan was kind enough to share the following trailer with me after I had failed to find it:

It looks so much better than I could have possibly imagined. It literally gave me goosebumps. For those of you who aren’t giving this movie a second thought because you have negative feelings toward Stephenie Meyer after Twilight, please do not bite off my head for defending this woman. Just hear me out.

In the dedication of The Host, Stephenie Meyer writes, “To my mother, Candy, who taught me that love is the best part of any story.”

This is why I still love Stephenie Meyer’s books, despite the extreme persecution. The thing is that some people have issues with vampires. Some have issues with Stephenie Meyer’s writing. Some believe that Bella is a flat character. Blah, blah, blah. Think what you will about Stephenie Meyer and her books, but the fact remains that the woman knows how to write an excellent love story. In fact, her love story is so well done, that millions of readers are willing to overlook all of the other counts against her. And that is really what constitutes as a good book: one in which readers are willing to overlook its flaws because there’s something about it that’s just so good.

Now back to The Host. The Host is no Twilight. It’s so much more complex, with so many more characters, an original plot (okay, maybe aliens aren’t original, but they are a unique kind of aliens just like she did a unique species of vampires), a love square (yeah, not a triangle, but a square), the setting is more intriguing (though I do love the northwest setting of Twilight because that’s home to me), the stakes are higher—basically everything is just so much more intense.

The point, my fellow writers, movie watchers, and readers, is that The Host is full of awesomeness. Twilight was Stephenie’s debut, and The Host is her masterpiece. It’s one of my favorite love stories, perhaps only second to Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy. And the other elements of The Host—the near end of the human race, the fight-for-your-life action sequences, the unique and round characters, the witty banter, the hot men—they just make it that much better.

It’s often pitched as a science fiction book for people who don’t normally like science fiction. This is so true. And if you are a sucker for a romance like myself and many of my colleagues, then you too may find that you enjoy The Host. It’s coming to theaters March 29th, and you can bet I will be one of those people waiting in line for hours to see the midnight showing. Because that’s part of being a writer. We’re allowed to geek out like that.

Also, let me just add that I’m super excited for the actors they’ve cast for Ian and Jared. You may recognize them from The Lightning Thief and Red Riding Hood, respectively.

Word Sprints

Today’s post might be of particular interest to the NaNo-ers among us. I know you’re out there. You probably haven’t slept more than six hours a night in the last two weeks and, if you’re like me, there are a lot of undone items on your To Do lists, but hopefully you’re all still alive and hopefully this post might help that general state of living-ness continue.

So, onto the topic at hand: Writing.

Sometimes writing is honest-to-goodness the greatest thing in the world. It is better than chocolate, it is better than curling up with a good book while the world is blizzarding outside, it is better than steak (and I love me some steak). But other times, writing feels like a chore. It’s just one more thing that needs to get crossed off your To Do list, which is already about a mile and a half long. It’s that thing that needs to get done before your mom will let you go  play on a Saturday afternoon.  It’s not fun–in fact, it is about as much fun as going to the dentist.

For me, the writing is a chore feeling usually comes along when I’m already tired and stressed out and my story is broken and all I really want to do is watch another Big Bang Theory rerun. But I’ve found that (especially during high-stakes months like NaNo November) if I skip writing one day, I am more likely to skip the next day. And the day after that. And the day after that one…ad nauseam.

And the only way to get out of this cycle of suck is to sit down and stop whining and actually write something. But this hard, which is why I have taken up the sport of word sprints.

The basic premise behind word sprints is you set a timer (I usually set mine for a half hour) and you do nothing during that half hour but bust your butt writing.  No checking facebook, no responding to that text message. The internet will still be there when you are done–this is a solid block of time that is just for writing.

And the goal is to write as much as you possibly can. I like going into my word sprints with a certain word count in mind. I like having a goal–and then I like utterly wasting that goal. Other writers like to do word sprints in the form of word wars. You and your writing buddy sit down and you each try to write more than the other. This fosters a friendly (or not so friendly, depending on the competitiveness of both you and your writing buddy) spirit of competition, which can be a great motivator.

And really, that’s all word sprints or word wars are. They are means of motivating yourself to get something done.  Because it’s really easy to say to yourself, “Self, for the next [insert block of time] we are going to nothing but breathe and write. And I promise that once [block of time] is up, we can go back to watching Big Bang Theory instead of studying for that test/writing that paper/cleaning the house/walking the cat etc.” Knowing that you only have to sit and focus for a little amount of time makes the writing seem way more obtainable and a lot less scary and intimidating. It’s a small step towards completing your goal.

Of course, you need to keep in mind that what you write during a word sprint is most likely going to be crap. It’s a natural consequence. Going back to the chore metaphor, word sprints are the equivalent of shoving everything under your bed, wiping off the visible dust,  spraying the room with air freshener, and declaring your room “clean.” It’s a shoddy job and definitely not a permanent fix, but it gets the job done.

Because sometimes you just need to get the words on paper. Sometimes you just need to write through whatever problems you’re having with your story. Because you know what? Once it’s written, you can fix it. It’s not going to get fixed as some amorphous blob in your head.

So next time you hit a roadblock in your writing, turn off your wifi, set a timer, and get sprinting.

Teen Boy Squad

After grading two large stacks of junior high creative writing exercises today, I had an epiphany. About teenagers. Be impressed, because it only took me six hours to come to this conclusion. Are you ready?

Teenagers (both male and female) are intensely interested in the opposite sex.

No duh, Sherlock.

The stereotype of boy-crazy teenage girls held (mostly) true, but the same could also have been said for the boys. About half or more of the boys’ submissions included a love interest, and obtaining that love interest seemed to be either the character’s sole motivation or part of their character arc.

I know it seems obvious, but SERIOUSLY. These kids are obsessed with “getting the boy” and “getting the girl.” I think that it may be what’s keeping their hearts beating and probably what makes the world turn and the sun come up each morning. Save the teenager, save the world.

I want to be clear: I’m not making fun of teenagers. In fact, even though it was a “duh” moment, it’s still something of an important revelation for me, since I write for teenagers and read the same books they read.

I’ve heard it expressed (I’m keeping it intentionally passive here, no need to name names!) that boys aren’t as in touch with their emotions as girls. I’ve seen boy characters criticized for being emotional or for *gasp* thinking intuitively (a boy wouldn’t notice the color of his love interest’s shirt!). But if what I saw today is true, the teenage boy is also pretty in touch with certain emotions. Not all boys, and not all in the same way. But as writers, we would be doing boys and teenagers a disservice to say that they aren’t emotional and they aren’t thoughtful.

Each character will be unique. For example, a writer I know is currently working on a boy character who works in a very feminine industry. I support this character wholeheartedly (I am his #1 Fangirl). His profession fits in with the circumstances of his life, which helps him seem real to me. People hardly ever fit in a box, and I don’t think characters should either.

And I know another writer who has a girl character in a traditionally masculine profession. I also wholeheartedly support this character. It’s almost funny to me that it’s a talking point in literary circles when a character bucks a stereotype, when in real life it happens all the time. I mean, we’ve stopped gawking at male nurses by now (or we gawk at them for different, more pleasant reasons).

And maybe, though this wasn’t the point of the post, that’s why I like the Hunger Games so much. I like that Peeta is the romantic and that Katniss is the stoic. I like it because I like that Peeta is a person, not just a “boy,” and the same goes for Katniss. I think teenage boys can be romantics. I think that teenage girls can be tough as nails. And I think that YA is the best genre because more and more it’s embracing a spectrum of characters in a variety of circumstances. So let’s write like it.

If you’d like to hear more about some of the creative writing gems I found today, message me.

Being an Advanced Nerd and Being Happy

In my room, I have the following Venn diagram on my wall:

I love it so much because it’s so true. In theory, we all try to be Jedis. But I personally find it hard to focus on more than two of these at once.

So during my freshmen and sophomore years, I would have proudly proclaimed myself as being a nerd. I did well in my classes (which didn’t start until 11:00 AM every day. Score!), and I was able to sleep in every morning to get the rest I needed. My junior year, I was more of a bum. I decided, “Hey, people are out there mingling, and I’m in here studying. This is stupid. I want to mingle too.” So I did. I still did well in my classes, but maybe not as well as I could have done, but who cares, I was now a mingler (made up word of the day, which is to be defined as “one who mingles”).

Now I’m heading toward the second half of my senior year, which in my opinion should be all about fun. What does that mean? Easy classes. No tests. Lots of mingling with fun people. Twelve hours of sleep every night.

But in reality, the classes are harder and much more boring. I barely find time to mingle with fun people (most of whom are also participants on this blog). I’m lucky if I get eight hours of sleep. I have tests every week.

But what am I actually spending all my time on?

Netflix.

Just kidding. Actually, I’m doing a variety of things. I’m focusing on my internship, reading (what feels like) dozens of manuscripts at a time, I’m doing NaNoWriMo (which on most days leaves me feeling like there is a little man inside my head beating against my skull with a hammer), I’m trying to go to more author events (like signings and conventions). I guess basically what I’m doing is focusing on what I actually want my future career to be like. The problem is that I have to do these things while also going to school full time, and when school already drains you for the day, doing adult stuff nearly kills you.

So this extra stuff that I’m working on doesn’t really classify under any of the three main categories: study, social life, or sleep. It’s more like work and sleep. So I guess that makes me an advanced nerd. Is there a word for that? Pause while I go do a little research. (Interruption—I just looked up nerd on dictionary.com and it gave me two definitions: 1) a stupid, irritating, ineffectual, or unattractive person; 2) an intelligent but single-minded person obsessed with a nonsocial hobby or pursuit. Um, aren’t those opposites? Whatever. Back to my research.) Okay I’ve decided to just go with advanced nerd; it has a nice ring to it (when you look at definition number 2, that is).

So through all of this, I often have to remind myself to just BE HAPPY. Don’t get caught up in what you have to do. Focus on why you are doing it. Most days it’s the end goal that keeps me going. Why am I going to school? So I can graduate and get a job. Why am I doing NaNoWriMo? So I can finish another book and try to get it published so I don’t have to get said job.

These thoughts make me happy. The little moments are what make me happy right now. Like when I could laugh at myself the other day. The little man was pounding away at my skull, and I had been writing for over two hours, trying to reach my daily word count. Then I tried to make “swimmed” a word. Yeah, it took my brain a whole ten seconds to figure out why Microsoft Word had a problem with that. The word is “swam,” Tricia. Yesterday I also tried to make “payed” a word (paid). The little man is starting to drive me insane. But I will be happy, dang it!

In other news, I have finally updated my about page. Go check it out.