Counting My Blessings

While I’ve neglected this blog, I have been a busy little writer bee lately. I hit thirty pages for the new version of my ongoing novel project (I lost track of how many versions there’s been so far). On top of that, a freelance gig assigned me new blog posts that are longer than the ones I previously wrote for them. All good things, but between that and recovering from my knee surgery, I haven’t had much motivation left for this blog.

As usual my recovery has been the standard roller-coaster of emotions. My knee is a lot less stiff than the other one was because the surgeon completed this procedure in half the time. On the other hand, I had much more trouble walking this time around. Before I wasn’t so concerned about walking correctly because I still had one knee left to do. When trying to “be good” over the past month, I could barely out-shamble a zombie and couldn’t for the life of me figure out why. Thank God for the hospital’s physical therapist, who I saw for my belated four-week appointment on Saturday. Apparently I should be leading with the surgery knee instead of the recovered knee (wouldn’t you think it was the other way around??). The therapist made sure I had the technique down pat and showed me exercises to make sure my “muscles fired.”

I’m so grateful to be on the right track again. On Saturday night I went to my aunt’s house, my first social outing since the surgery (though I’ve had visitors every week). I’m still struggling a bit but I’ve improved more these last few days than I have the entire month. I’m also glad I didn’t miss dinner at my aunt and uncle’s house because I got to see my cousin and her new husband after their destination wedding last week. Although, watching their wedding video made me wish I could’ve gone to Jamaica! At least I wasn’t the only relative who couldn’t make the trip.

I’ve had a more positive outlook these past few months. Instead of cursing my misfortune of needing two consecutive surgeries, I’ve been grateful to have the opportunity to fix knees that have bothered me my whole life. Still living at home at my age turned into a blessing because I didn’t have to worry about giving up an apartment and moving back home post-surgery. I’m grateful for my two best friends who have visited me every weekend in the last month. I’m even feeling optimistic about my writing again. While I still doubt I’ll make a living selling books, I’m hopeful about eventually publishing my current work-in-progress.

That said, I still dread getting back behind the wheel of my car in a month or so. I just have to remind myself of all those hours I wasted taking public transportation.

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 How I Get Ideas

I often use terms like “brainstorm” when talking about the writing process. Putting words to computer screen only happens if there’s a crapload of activity swarming around in your brain. Whether you’re a pantser or a planner, there needs to be something going on up there before you open a text document. Thinking about your future best-seller is just as important as the physical act of writing it.

So how does an aspiring writer* get the proverbial juices flowing? Where do great ideas come from? (*IMO, the phrase “aspiring writer” is a misnomer. If you create a story, you’re a writer. People should say “aspiring author” in reference to someone who wishes to be published.)

In my limited experience, there are two parts to this answer.

Inspiration

Inspiration can be a good angel or a bad angel. It’s a good angel when you’re really stuck and have no clue what the hell to write. It’s a bad angel when you’re midway through a novel and a shiny new story idea distracts you from a project you’ve been working on for months. We’ll address the positive aspects of inspiration here.

You can harvest ideas from literally anywhere, and I do mean literally. The trick is opening your mind to them. While you’re out in the world, working at your day job, spending time with friends or family, listen to what’s going on around you. The same applies when you read a book or watch TV. My own novel-in-progress combines elements of shows I’ve loved over the years. (Mostly Disney Channel’s So Weird, a show with a permanent place in my heart. There’s also some of the dynamic from  ABC’s Castle, and the premise will probably make people think of X-Files.)

So when you’re not writing, grab on to anything interesting and expand on it in your thoughts. Add a plot line, characters, settings, themes. I picture the process as a Rubik’s Cube, where you have to move all the pieces around until they finally click together. When a scene takes shape (any scene, not necessarily the first one) you’re off and running.

Playing Twenty-Or-More Questions (Or, How to Drag Yourself Out of Writer’s Bock)

This is a technique I use when my surroundings don’t feel particularly inspiring. I’m the type to ask myself the tough questions when things aren’t going right, so I apply this to my writing. It’s also a great way to pull a story idea from thin air.

For starters I’ll ask myself these types of questions:

What do I want to write about? (Can mean anything – person, place, theme.)

What story line would fit that topic?

Which characters would best demonstrate what I want to say?

Am I in the mood to write something light or dark in tone?

Which genre appeals to me right now?

Answering those questions always gets the ball rolling. When I inevitably hit a wall after the first few chapters, the questions become a little more difficult.

Why am I stuck?

If I don’t want to write the next scene, why is that? 

What can I change?

Does this story suck and I haven’t realized it yet? (Ignore that one.)

Where do I want the story to go?

Keep playing the game until something breaks loose. The only way to defeat “writer’s block” is to think long and hard about why you’re not writing.

When All the Simplistic Writing Advice Makes Sense

I hate those catchphrases for writers. You know the ones I’m talking about – “write every day,” “show don’t tell,” etc. No one ever explains how to apply them. What if they don’t work for me? Am I a bad person if I can’t write every day? Which part of the story is “showing,” and which is “telling”?

Over time these pieces of advice make more and more sense. I’ve experienced “eureka!” moments, when a nugget of wisdom finally clicks into place. The onset of NaNoWriMo got me thinking about my writing practice and how I’ve come to understand these common phrases. (I’m not doing it this year but support those who are.) Hopefully my interpretations save you years of frustration.

“Write Every Day”

Writing every day is not realistic for most people. They have jobs and social lives (so I’m told), or they just don’t feel up to putting words on the page that day. Here’s a secret:

It’s fine. You’re not a bad person.

I believe this advice refers to keeping up a regular writing practice. You’re only a bad person if it’s been six months and you haven’t even opened a text document. It’s happened to me before. After a week or even two, I’ll feel antsy about neglecting my writing. Either I need to fix my Work-In-Progress, start a new one, or pick out a book to read. Speaking of which…

“Read”

I talked about this in another post, so I’ll just tack on an addition. Read bad books along with good ones. I don’t mean you should seek out a book and hope it’s bad. All I’m saying is, if you start a book and roll your eyes at the writing style, don’t put it down right away. Ask yourself why you’re rolling your eyes. Why does this story turn you off? Is it the passive voice, the slow plot? Are the characters one-dimensional? I’ve read a lot of bad books this summer and have no regrets about sticking with them. Noticing writing “don’ts” in someone else’s novel teaches me what to avoid in my own. This leads me to…

“Show, Don’t Tell”

I’ve always despised this “advice” in particular. What the hell does it mean? For the love of God, what’s “show” and what’s “tell”? Aren’t you “telling” the reader the whole freaking story? Can’t a character’s stream of consciousness “show” the readers more of their personality?

Reading bad books helped me see the light. “Telling” instead of “showing” doesn’t ruin the book completely, but the story becomes a chore to slog through. Make sure the character’s internal reactions add to the reader’s understanding of recent actions, and that’s it. I’m also not a fan of the main character making judgments like “he’s so sweet” or “he annoyed me.” It’s okay once or twice, but you need actions to back up the character’s assessments. The last book I read drove me up a wall by repeating the same exact thought every other paragraph.

It makes me think of TV shows. Doesn’t it bug you when the writers say one thing in dialogue and show another through a character’s actions?

Fix this by adding consequences or new actions that support/replace what you wanted to “tell.” I’ve always been a character-and-dialogue person myself so I understand how difficult it can be to build up a plot line.

“Use Action Verbs/Active Voice”

I confess to this crime too. Sometimes you can’t avoid “was” or “had” no matter how you rework a sentence. Sometimes a sentence makes more sense when you use passive verbs. I never liked this advice either, because using active voice all the time feels daunting when you’re not used to it.

I’ve accepted this as a bad habit we all need to break. Too many instances of “was” or “had” grates on the nerves, there’s no way around it.

“Write What You Know”

This one confused me for the longest time. “So I’m only supposed to write about experiences I’ve had? I’m not that interesting!” Now I get it. The expression refers to writing about topics that appeal to you on a personal level. Don’t choose your novel idea based on a trend. If you can’t do what your characters do in your story, at least you’ll have enough interest to research the hell out of it.

Also, whenever possible, base your characters’ actions/choices on what you’ve done or seen others do. Characters should be relatable whether they’re dealing with school drama or using their magical powers to save the world.

Okay, all that’s out of my system. I feel better now.

Getting My Groove Back

I consider myself a big-picture person, but there are times when even I can’t see the forest through the trees. It’s easy to get wrapped up in daily challenges. Lately, I’ve felt frustrated with both my writing and physical therapy process, overwhelmed by apparent lack of progress in both areas. My knee had loosened up after being stiff for well over a month, and the new sensation of being able to move it freaked me out – even though that’s what was supposed to happen. I couldn’t help associating it with pre-operation fears, despite knowing that the problem had been fixed.

On top of that, I’d hit a wall with my writing. The idea of writing everything I had planned, then editing it all, then doing something with it…it seems like too much. Then I have to hope that people will actually read it. I got a little depressed thinking of the future, realizing a career in fiction is probably not going to happen, and wondering what else I want to do with my life if not that. I even freaked at the thought of applying to publishing houses. The possibility has always been in the back of my mind, but then I think about the interview. An earlier post here explained why I haven’t read many classics. While it sounds perfectly reasonable on my blog, I doubt a hiring manager will agree.

Confidence in my knee has since improved. I’m getting around better without the walker again, and from here on it’s just a matter of practice. I often have to remind myself that it depends on my state of mind. My knee has been fixed, so it’s all on me to believe I can walk on my own.

I can’t say the same for  a writing career. While I still don’t think I’ll ever make a living from selling my books, but there could be a niche writing/media/communications-related job out there for me in the future. It’s frustrating though because I have no idea where I will eventually end up. Without knowing what kind of writing job I want, I can’t work towards it now. I’m more lost than ever before and I don’t know what to do with myself.

Hoping inspiration will strike soon. Hell, these days I’ll be happy if I decide which book to read or TV show to watch.

I feel like I’ve been on a mental vacation for the last week or so. After not seeing some relatives since before the surgery, I finally stayed with my aunt and cousin for the weekend. I looked forward to it like I was going to Florida or something because I’m not going on any “real” vacations this year (they live in Staten Island, an hour away for me). Then I had a follow-up with my surgeon on Tuesday. All good news and I don’t have to go back for three months, but still no writing Tuesday night.

This is partly because of Scribophile. While grateful for feedback on Define Reality (and a short story I posted), it made me realize how much writing and editing I still have to do. Readers enjoyed the characters and had some encouraging words, but underneath that, they helped me realize the story structure needs a lot of work. I have ideas on how to fix it but I also want to finish the entire anthology first. So my plan right now is to write the rest of the novellas in the anthology, figure out how I want to fix the story line, then edit thoroughly (or possibly rewrite).

Writing and editing the first draft will take months, maybe over a year. And that’s if I don’t get sidetracked. Acknowledging this made me…frustrated, to say the least. I’ve been writing since middle school, and after more than fifteen years of this, I still have a long way to go.

My past lack of – or misguided – ambition is the main cause of this, I think. It goes back to high school when I didn’t take creative writing seriously and signed up for the newspaper because “it’s writing.” I carried that philosophy into college, where I majored in journalism even though I had no intention of being a real reporter. “It’s writing so I’ll like it,” I convinced myself. “You can be an editor while working on your own stories.” After The Intro to Creative Writing Class Incident, I gave up on original work for years and played around with fanfiction. Then after college I wasted a few years thinking I could actually become a TV writer. I even wrote specs and entered contests/fellowships. Does it surprise anyone that I never won anything?

I finally found my stride a few years ago when I finished the first draft of a novel. It all clicked for the first time ever, and I saw why I could never finish past stories. Unfortunately this only happened after wasting years in between on projects that weren’t going to lead anywhere. I guess you could say The Lost Years led to this point, but I would be much further ahead if I just took some helpful creative writing courses in college or even high school. These days I’m too jaded to listen to one random novelist/”professor” who may or may not know how to teach.

So while Scribophile will be beneficial to my writing, I’ve realized once again that publication is much further away than I thought. Maybe I’ll find a job related to editing/media/communications and only write stories for myself.

This tweet I retweeted a while back sums it up nicely:

 

I’ve Discovered a New Obsession

For the record, this is not an advertisement for Scribophile.com. I’m just having so much fun with it that I had to share.

So, a few days ago I was driving myself crazy (as usual) trying to decide what to do with my writing next. I’m still going to enter contests. After some web surfing, I actually found two novella contests with upcoming deadlines. The entry fee will probably be wasted money, but considering I can’t think of other options, this seems like the most accessible way to gain recognition for my work.

Then I thought about online writing classes. I still don’t want to take one. A Facebook group had a list of recommendations, but I don’t want to deal with one professor who might not be a good fit for me or my work. I’m no longer in a mindset where I can take one person’s opinion as gospel. If anything I would consider a knowledgeable critique group that can offer different but equally respectable opinions.

This was my train of thought when I randomly came across the link to Scribophile. I’ve tried other critique websites before. Writing.com was fun once upon a time, but after taking a break from it for a few years, I couldn’t get the hang of it again. No one bothered with my posts and I couldn’t find anything interesting to read. I did have my full novella on Wattpad just recently, but I decided to take it down because a) I wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep it posted when I entered contests, and b) I barely got any views. Same as Writing.com, I never got too involved with the community, so my work sat there unread.

Scribophile feels like a brand new world for me. First of all, I like that members have to be 18 or older. There’s a distinct difference in the quality level of critiques and even forum posts. Second, the reward system is much stricter. You actually can’t post work until you’ve earned enough “karma points” by reviewing other people. So unlike other websites, I can’t “put off” finding a story to read after posting my own. The site practically forces you to get involved by reviewing and posting in the forums. I can’t say I mind this because I’ve already found some nice people and interesting stories.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been up to the last week. If anyone wants to look me up on Scribophile, here’s my profile. (Yes I used my real name. I thought it was like Facebook that way and didn’t realize many people made up fake ones.)

 

This Week’s Theme is “Perseverance”

I’ve had a rough week. It started with frustrated tears after my doctor’s appointment, continued with more frustrated tears due to my sudden inability to use crutches, then ended with overwhelming relief when I realized I could get around fine on a walker. Several days of my body rebelling against this new work-out schedule  put me through the emotional wringer. As someone who had no muscles at all pre-surgery, I faced the conclusion that using crutches for more than a few steps requires strength and coordination I don’t yet possess. Switching to the walker seemed like a failure at first, but now all I care about is being able to get around my house on my own.

Meanwhile, I finished my novella this week. I’m in that weird limbo where I’ve finished a project and don’t know what to do next, despite my earlier post about entering contests. Believe it or not I feel like editing my novella. In the past I would always write, but then never look at the project again because it would never be good enough for anyone else to read. I would move on to my next creation instead of editing a story I worked on for months. Now, I miss projects and want to go back. A writing career encompasses more than churning out a first draft, so maybe this is a sign that I’m finally ready for one.

Recovery is Fun and All…

…but I’m ready to make some money now. While it’s great that I’ve been saving for years, I still cringe at every new medical expense. Not to mention, once this is over, I get to do it again with the next knee. (…if the surgeon agrees to do a second surgery with this complication I’ve been having. I don’t want to talk about it.) A few weeks ago I looked into freelancing and I got nowhere because I couldn’t make a single decision. Do I go with this website, that website, maybe write a post with a bigger blog in mind? Never had a clue. There were so many potential pitfalls that I let it go until after surgery.

Well, surgery was about three weeks ago. I’m sick of spending money that I won’t be able to replace in the near future. Personally I love working on my creative writing projects, like the novella I just finished, but that’s not going to help any time soon either. I want to write and see results now, preferably in my bank account.

I know. Don’t we all?

When tweeting today I came across this beautiful list of writing contests. They even list the contests according to the nearest due date! There’s no guarantee, but it’s something. I plan to fire up the ‘ole imagination and churn out as many short stories as possible, maybe even fix up the only novel I’ve managed to finish. At least it’s something to focus on besides physical therapy.

Fresh Air

The crankiness has passed. My birthday was a surprisingly good day even though I never left the house (and I’m 28 now…). This morning I woke up wanting to move, so I walked with my crutches on my own and even sat outside for a few minutes. It was my first time out of the house since getting home from the hospital last Friday.

I’m also writing. For the past few months I’ve been working on a novella, but it’s really the current incarnation of a concept that’s existed for two years already. (I don’t want to admit that, but yeah, the earliest document was from 2014. I wrote it as a script then but put the idea on the back burner for a year while I wrote my first novel. Yes, the completed first draft of a novel written by me exists, but I doubt it will ever see the light of day again.) I went back to this concept since I was looking for a “new” project. My original goal was to turn it into a series of short stories, but that didn’t work so I landed on the novella format.

So I don’t know exactly what I’ll do with this. I love the characters and this particular world I’ve created, but I don’t love the idea of stretching this into a novel. It works just fine as a novella based on the script I wrote two years ago. I also have more ideas for these characters that would work perfectly as novellas. (Since it started as a drama pilot I’m still thinking in “episodes.”) I plan to put each novella on Wattpad, but I’m not sure what to do beyond that. Individual ebooks seem like a logical choice if I want to publish them separately.

Another option is to consider each story part of a larger novel. Authors divide novels into Part I, Part II, etc. all the time. If I want to go the route of traditional publishing, this might be the best tactic.

Getting Things Done

I am at the mercy of doctors’ offices and insurance companies. “You can’t get clearance earlier than two weeks,” they said. Okay. So I went to my primary doctor last Monday and went to the soonest cardiologist appointment available, which was Thursday. The holiday weekend probably screwed me up but here we are, two days before my surgery is supposed to happen, and my surgeon’s office still doesn’t have clearance from these offices. Not only that, but after contacting my insurance company, I found out the surgeon’s office hasn’t put in for the authorization yet. Oh, and by the way, the Continuous Passive Motion machine my surgeon ordered isn’t covered by my insurance at all.

No, I’m not panicking. Why do you ask?

It’s one thing to feel nervous about the surgery and want to postpone it, knowing I won’t really reschedule. It’s another to worry about actually postponing it because of medical industry crap. Bright side? I’m focusing more on getting clearance in order than the procedure itself.

On the other hand, my novella is on track to be finished…soon, if not by Friday. It will definitely be a novella because I’m at 15.7K words and the story is almost done. I think this is a good format for me. Writing-wise, my biggest problem has always been finishing the story. I can get inspiration from anywhere and churn out the first ten thousand words just fine, but after that I hit a wall. Very rarely do I go past that mark. You’d think after a while I would stick to short stories, but I always get ideas for novels. I didn’t finish the first draft of one until last year when I’ve been writing since middle school. It is easier for me to finish a fanfiction story, but even then, many multi-chapter ones have been abandoned. Maybe it’s because the fanfictions I do finish are really novella length.

With novellas I can write a piece longer than a short story, then move on before I lose interest. My plan right now is to write a series of novellas for this particular world I’ve created. Maybe I’ll try to get it published as an anthology, maybe I’ll make them into separate ebooks…who knows? Right now it’s just nice to reach the end of a story and still want to write about the characters.