Writing? I’m Feeling the Good

Charles Stross discusses whether writing is a lifestyle or a job. Stross is pretty cranky about the whole thing. I agree with the writer who asks why he’s still doing it. If it comes to that, why am I still doing it? Because I’m not particularly cranky about writing, although I am sometimes dissatisfied.

I have adult students who carve out time to come to class. They spend their weekends on homework and spend money on baby sitters. Even though, clearly, it costs them to come to class in terms of their work, cash and personal life, they see the opportunity to improve themselves and get an education as something worth doing.

My writing time is valuable to me because I have to find time to do it. Whether my writing time cooperates with my hunger to crank out words or not, the point is I’m making the effort. I want to do it. Why should I hate it? I chose to write, and I value the time I spend at it.

Stross battles the misconceptions about writing lifestyle fairly and effectively, and there are myths to be dissolved. Every once in a while the question stirs up in me: what’s the difference between being an author and a writer? Some would say the difference is whether or not publication and payment are a factor. I think a little differently.

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Juicy Scenes First?

It is that time of the semester. That’s why this post comes to you later in the day.

Yesterday, Tiffany Trent posted this entry about finding her way back to a story and writing out of sequence.

There is a great deal of merit in writing the scenes that excite you.

Writers, I know, are of different schools of thought on this. Uncle Jim MacDonald says he writes the ending first, sees who’s there, and works his way toward that. My friend Catrina Horsfield wrote a lot of the scenes of her WIP out of order because they were more interesting to her. It’s not a bad idea to be where the moment of inspiration is.

Inevitably, there’s the middle that must connect all those scenes at the fine beginning and the sparkly end, and the climax scenes. Is it best to slog through those chronologically? Different writers go different ways.

You might wonder what have done on, say, my latest project. I ascribe to the adage that each novel is different. The troll novel has been one stubborn cuss. I started it, and beach combed the first 3-4 chapters. After Viable Paradise, I wrote the ending. Then I started connecting the two ends, sort of like building the railroad in the U.S. in the 19th century. In the middle of that process, the plot outline hit.

This version is about emotional overlay, and revamping pieces of the plot that need to be told from a different POV. I’m also culling parts that sound silly to me now. Has this novel been written out of order? Yes, yes it has. Have I written some of the more inspiring scenes first? Yes, I have.

Whatever works works. If one doesn’t work, try the other. You never know. Hulk Hercules was a linear little guy. Twelve tasks, twelve stories, you know the drill.

Tiffany also talks about looking at how similar writers have delved into the same or a similar story as the one you’re writing. She finds it inspiring.

Jim Hines had a different take. Jim Hines lets it be known that the reason he wrote his princess series was that, well, he didn’t like the way Shrek handled its fairy tale princesses. I think that his goblin books also have a similar riff.

Using myself as an example again, the troll book doesn’t have one originating source, but I have to say that I wanted to write a different kind of faerie story than the ones I’d been seeing. I’d been Sidhe’d out, and so we ended up here. Reactionary is also a reason to write, I guess. If it’s good enough for Jim, it’s good enough for me.

Take a look at Tiffany’s post. She says all this so much more eloquently than me.

I’ll be heading back to my story. I have brothers to build tension between, and troll-on-troll crush action to insert. No, not between the brothers. So not happening.


A Prayer for Revision

Oh book gods, be kind to me.

Let the emotional worth of my characters shine on the page and intrigue my readers.

Let my plot spritely flow and my twists entice.

Let my inner editor supervise but not over take my creative muse.

Let me remember that revision is not only work, but is also pleasure.

Guide my words to be exact and precise.

Give me the confidence to craft a book that satisfies the standards of self, agent, and editor.

And deliver me from times when I am sure the book is worthless.

Help me to continue to improve my abilities and to be restless enough about my writing to strive for improvement.

For publishing is fate, but it is more hard work and practice and inspiration and preparedness.


(revisions of draft 3 begin today. See you later.)

Hulk Hercules: Professional Pictures

Sonya has Hulk Hercules as an actual book. Nice. I’d like to thank Sonya for all the hard work that she’s put in. It looks like all that effort’s paid off.

The information from Ingram’s Catalog:

General Title Information
Publisher: CatsCurious Press
Imprint: CatsCurious Press
ISBN/SKU: 0979088976
ISBN Complete: 978-0-9790889-7-1
Title: Hulk Hercules Professional Wrestler
Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump
Publication Date: 6/1/2010
Language: English
Retail: $7.99
Pages: 196

Even though the publication date says June 1st, it’ll probably be at Amazon before that.

More information at Sonya’s livejournal. I’m really tickled by the lion-headed Hercules that introduces chapter one, and you can be too if you click on that picture for a larger view.


Surrounding Yourself with Creativity

More feedback on the troll book. Looks like I’ve constructed another promising mess. Soooo typical. Writer, know thyself!


While I am not about to advocate ritualizing writing, I find myself reflecting on ways that I can stimulate my creativity to make for better writing. Right now the times I write at my best are out of the home and (obviously) away from the workplace. I tend to write better when I have a chance to get a run at it. I plan to make an effort to schedule more blocks of time for writing like my Tuesdays and Thursdays.

I also find that I have more energy when I eat well and exercise, as I have been lately. That feeds directly into my energy to write and having some umph to do it. ‘Nuff said on that.

Besides these physical things I can take care of, I find that when I surround myself with things that stimulate my creativity I am more likely to write and write well. Many writers know the trick of creating soundtracks for their manuscripts. I like reading books and watching films that stimulate my imagination and make me ask what if questions. I like paying attention to what gives me satisfaction as a reader and viewer, and I try to insert these things into my own work.

We do emphasize the hard work aspect of writing frequently. It *is* hard work. It’s truly important for us to find ways to stimulate our imagination, and make ourselves excited about the work we’re doing.

What makes you excited about your own writing? How do you get fired up?


Poised, or What Terry Pratchett is Teaching Me About Real Characterization

Rest assured, I’m not going to make the content of the professional writing blog all emo all the time, even though that always seems to get me the highest numbers. Which I find interesting, and ties into today’s subject.

Bryon and I are about finished with reading all of Terry Pratchett’s Disc World fiction. We have his three science books on tap, but we’re under 100 pages away from the end of Unseen Academicals. Pratchett’s genius is that he can take a fantasy world and fantasy characters, and create a more accurate portrayal of the “real” world than many authors who base their fiction in every day life.

I have appreciated this ability in many of his books. While Unseen Academicals isn’t one of my favorite books, it is the best book for portraying real characters that I’ve read in a very long time. From it, I am gaining a feeling of what I need to do for the emotional overlay of my current manuscript. Here are some lessons about characterization that UA is bringing home.

1. In spite of how cool your characters are to you, they also need to have flaws. As an author, I tend to romanticize my characters. The first things I think of aren’t the problems my characters has, but what neat-o things make me want to write about them. All of the characters in UA have good and bad sides. I am more interested in how they will resolve the issues with their flaws, rather than the plot manipulations Pratchett puts them through.

2. Characters need to feel, sound, and look real. The main characters in UA are far from specimens of perfection. Glenda is fat, plain, bossy, and presumptive. Where she comes from, this makes perfect sense. Of course, she is also loyal, intelligent, insightful, and skillful. She is well-rounded and multi-faceted. I find that a lot of novels make the mistake of having the super cool or super handsome character, when maybe a better choice is super real.

3. Characters need to be dynamic. Those perfect characters you begin with in your manuscript don’t need superficial flaws you have to change, but they really do need to change their mind, or find out something new. Pratchett’s characters in UA do both.

4. A reader needs to care about your character. Different novelists do this in different ways. I find that Pratchett’s characters in UA are not only emotionally dynamic, but I do care how they cope in the world, and how they grow.

5. A character needs to surprise me. I love it when there’s a twist I don’t seem coming, especially from a hidden depth of the character. Unless my character is three dimensional, the chance of that surprise surfacing is slim.

Yes, I know this is not news to most of you who have studied writing and characterization. However, reading textbook advice is not as valuable as seeing it done in a story, at least for this student. I’ve seen books where characters are moved like pieces in a chess game, and this reader usually puts those books down. Give me a book where the characters grow, change, and surprise me, and I’ll stick with it to the end.

Which should be my take-home standard for my own writing.

Next week, lots of character work. Close character scrutiny. How well do you know your own characters?

And yes, I do recommend Unseen Academicals.


Second Draft

All of you seem to read more on the days I get personal. First of all, thank you all for the support you send. Coping with such a rough past is tough, but at the same time, as long as we’re healing and moving forward, that’s the important thing.

I’ve finished my second draft. Chapters 8 and 9 are a bit too sketchy for my liking. I’ll toy with them a bit more before sending them out to readers. I’ve decided to leave chapter 10 alone for the moment. It’s the wrap up, and a lot can change in the third draft, which I’ll be getting medieval all over.

My final writing task for the day is to began slaying the POV hydra. I’m going to settle on two, possibly three characters POV max. I have to assign events to these POV.

As I begin draft 3, I will focus on really expanding the book with emotional viewpoints, and ramping up the language style and word choices. This will be hard, slow, painstaking work.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Okay, that’s a lie. I’d have it be easy, if I could have it my way. But it’s not going to be easy, so I might as well do the right thing by my characters.

When I get this book into a shape I’m satisfied with, I’ll be ready to celebrate.


ps We think we have all the wrestling (no pun intended) about finished with the Hulk Hercules manuscript. There have been issues, but Sonya tells me they’re almost all hammered out.

pps Also, Aric has molded around 50 Morty Moose tokens out of plastic. I’ll be needing to polish and trim them, but they’re ready. If all goes well, I’ll have both books and coins at Wiscon.

The Mechanics of Estrangement

It finally happened. I stopped interacting with my mother about a year and a half ago, and she’s finally noticed it.

I hate the idea of not talking to my family. When you tell people you are estranged, they usually think in terms of your pettiness and lack of ability to forgive. I used to have an idea that if people communicated, all problems could be solved. But, of course, no. Finally, to get healthy, I’ve cut my ties. It’s never been easy.

Twenty-five years ago I struck out, a brave young woman on my way to college and independence. Distance from my family helped me understand how dysfunctional we were. I rolled up my sleeves, and in the tradition of all Type A people, I figured I could change things.

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