Monday, January 30, 2012

Living as a Writer for Dummies

Is there a manual for that?
While I may sneer at the work of some writers, saying its too pulpy or poorly written, the truth of it is they are swimming in the money while I am clutching the caboose of the money train by my fingernails. My life long dream has always been to make a living as a writer, but that is easier said than done. You see the success of those writers on the bestseller list and it boggles the mind, BOGGLES. How did they get there, did they live in near poverty and slum housing trying to make ends meet? How many of them stared at 20 bucks in the bank account to get them through week even though they worked a full time job and supported two kids? Some writers are complete rags to riches stories, but some never rise out of the trenches.

We can't all be Kings and Rowlings.

I'd be happy to make enough off my writing to quit my day job, I don't need a castle.
Which brings up point number two. Until I am successful, if ever, writing the material I want to, is there any avenue of writing I can pursue to help garner funds?
I've thought about going into business with a cohort to do a biographies business.
I've also though about the very lucrative enterprise of smut. All I need to do is teach myself to write a decent sex scene.
Exercise for this week: come up with some outlines and characters for a smut novel! Go!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

I did it, Adrian!!!!

After an intensely paced final inning, today I officially completed the first draft of The Blue Zone.
This book has been three years in the making, from its humble whimsical beginnings on Three Knaves, transforming under the eyes of writing peers in a graduate studies program, to being the only solace I had in a hellish year.
And the best part of it is I have already started the outline for book two.

For now, I'm giving the book some space, letting it breath like a glass of wine. I need to come back to it with some fresh perspective and rested eyes.
I'm looking to tackle it sometime in the next week or two, and begin the grueling process of editing.

And then I'll need readers....

Monday, January 23, 2012

Life as I know it

This is life right now.

The New Year has brought many changes to my life, most I hope for the better.

Some things haven't changed, still struggling to make ends meet, still trying to keep my head on my shoulders, still fighting numerous bouts of depression.

But there are a lot of things worth fighting for.
I have a new baby, born in November, I have more motivations, more dreams, more plans. I have a job, thats always a blessing in times like these, it's kept the roof over our heads. Hubby is finally in school after much niggling on my part, thank you very much. But what's really got me psyched is I've been finding more and more motivation to write.

Don't know how many writers go through funks like these. It's not really an artist temperment per se so much as flagging during the race of life. Sometimes I feel how much debt we have to dig ourselves out of and it gets hard to breathe. Worst of it is, compared to some, we actually aren't that bad off. Despite that fact, it still feels bad, it's a feeling I have to push through every time I sit down at the computer to write. Some days I can't.
Somehow though, after having another child, it gets easier to fight that feeling, not because it's lessened but because I have gotten stronger, realizing I can handle more than I thought I could.

The motto is revitalized: Keep on truckin'.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Finding the Beat

In Stephen King’s memoir, King used a toolbox metaphor to explain the basics of writing. The first level of the toolbox, vocabulary and grammar, two things many writers I know fumble over. I know I am guilty of not trusting my gut when it comes to word choice, so many teachers have told me not to repeat the same word in sequential sentences it raises a red flag when ever I do. But Steinbeck did it, are they calling him out? I think not.

The next layer of the toolbox is the equally important paragraph. As King explains, you can learn a great deal from a text just by looking at the length and number of paragraphs on a page. Pages of short quick paragraphs could denote action sequences or dialogue between characters, where long paragraphs set up a scene. Paragraphs can serve as stage directions, they tell you where the story pauses for breath. Once you achieve the basics of vocabulary and grammar, the next step is to establish the rhythm of your story. This is something I personally struggle with because you are trained to obey the laws of grammar and acceptable structure all through school, but sometimes your story wants you to break a few rules. Proper writing is not always fiction. Fiction is more flexible, more lenient.

Fragments are allowed. Expected, even.

King compared a writer’s story to Frankenstein’s monster, once you have breathed that spark of life into it, it takes on a will of its own. I might sit down with a set idea in my head, but once I’ve dropped into the rhythm of a piece, all bets are off. The story changes, shrugs off dead skin. It is a living breathing thing, the clack of the keys become a heartbeat, at times slow, taking a breath while I see what my characters will do next. Or fast, my fingers racing to keep up with the words pouring forth, slamming down the keys in the excitement of the moment. The action stops, my protagonist rests, the rhythm changes.

It is all a matter of keeping my fingers on the pulse.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Lovingly Killing the Adverb

I have a problem. A bad habit, really, of using adverbs. It’s not the worst literary offense I could commit.

If Plagiarism is the writing equivalent of committing murder, over using adverbs is a bit like defacing public property. Like drawing on your desk when you’re bored. Like all painless crimes, its easy to commit, relatively guilt free, you don’t even think about it until you are sitting at that same desk again and come face to face with your crime.

You don’t catch the overindulgence of adverbs when writing your first draft, you catch it in editing, and cringe at how many times you say the character “whispered quietly.” How redundantly redundant.

Every creative writing professor I have ever had has warned of the dangers of adverbs, it is far worse to use too many adverbs than too many adjectives. Here is another metaphor. If words were a food pyramid, Nouns are the bottom tier, Verbs and Adjectives would be next, like proteins and vegetables, and Adverbs would be at the top, they are the literary fat, use sparingly. More often than I would like to admit I am guilty of criminally, liberally using Adverbs.

You can train yourself not to use them, even when writing your first draft, you can try your best to you strong, direct language. There are times and places where adverbs are acceptable, where they enrich your text rather than diminish it, but it is a fine line to walk. It also makes editing painful, I agonize if an adverb is necessary, or at least allowable, or if it chokes up the flow of the sentence. The best method I have found for line editing out unnecessary adverbs is reading out loud. Nothing raises the red flag better than hearing the sentence spoken. The beauty in editing is cleaning up your text, a chance to wash the graffiti off your desk.

Friday, January 20, 2012

When the Hell Did I Write That?

Motherhood has done funny things to my brain.

I remember in college I thought I did my best work slugging caffeine on an all night bender, hunched over a key broad until the crack of dawn. Now I have kids, not just any kids, two boys, a new born and a toddler, two of the trickiest ages to maneuver. I have discovered what actual sleep deprivation is and how it affects what I write drooling on the keyboard at 11 o’clock at night having finally gotten both kids down.

It does funny things to my writing too.

In college, the words I wrote in the wee hours of the morning tended toward the flowery side. I’ve gone back to some of the writing I did at three in the morning and I’m surprised the story didn’t drown itself in all those unnecessary adverbs. This writing was fueled by caffeine and academic rage.

These days any writing done past ten pm is a miracle of will power. Even as I cringe at the looming prospect of waking up early to get ready for work, I feel I am accomplishing something, even if its typing out a few paragraphs instead of the pages and pages I used to string out in the old days. Unfortunately I have also discovered that if I am writing in the fog of exhaustion, it tends to be offal.

Arianna Huffington, as in the founder of the Huffington post, says the secret to her success as a writer/ media tycoon is SLEEP. Nothing else, just a good nights sleep has created the power house that is Huffington.

Well hell if it was that easy we would all do it. Still, two kids later, I am a big believer in the healing powers of sleep. Nothing drags on your body, mind, and soul like lack of sleep. I look like crap when I don’t sleep, same with my writing. I cannot express how many times I gone back and read what I wrote the night before only to realize half of it isn’t even legible.

The found of R.E.M sleep, Dr. Dement says the leading cause of fatal accidents is lack of sleep. Not alcohol, not drugs, lack of sleep kills more people. He has a mantra of “Drowsiness is a red alrert!” If you are drowsy in a car, you need to stop and pull over, take a nap. I firmly believe this applies to writing as well. Unless you want a plot fatality, pull the laptop over and get a good nights rest! Or at least a good refreshing nap before you attempt story construction. It could save a character.

I don’t even want to think about how many papers I wrote as an undergrad in the wee hours of the morning. I shudder to think what is on those pages, I really do.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Too Big for My Britches

It was about when I hit chapter 14 when I realized this book was rapidly spinning itself into a Moby Dick. This is my personal term for when a story I thought would simply reach an end within a couple hundred pages was inflating itself up to be thick enough to clobber a burglar with, aka 1000 pages chasing a white whale. This has happened to me before with past attempts of writing a book where I’m a good hundred or so pages in and realize I have created a monster of a plot that will not end quietly. This is also why I have never been a successful short story writer.

I begin with one idea and weave it into a vast tapestry, create a whole world around it, populate with characters I want to keep writing about. I have tons and tons of ideas, but I also have a hard time completing pieces because I reach a sticking point. How long is too long, when is a natural cut off point for a first book in a series or trilogy. What if you have enough material for more than one book but not enough for three. Do you just squander paper with filler? What is considered filler? Has the text been exciting enough to keep the reader wanting more, or not enough action up this point? These are the sort of questions that send me screeching to a halt. Even now, I can feel there is enough material set up to do more than one book in the universe of the Blue Zone, now it’s a matter of finding a natural conclusion for this first book. There are goals to meet with this one: Leaving enough mystery to string the reader along but answering enough questions to keep them involved. Creating a solid ending, not just a cheap cliff hanger. Most important to me is transitioning my main character from one stage of growth to another. In this book she is essentially a child, she is ignorant of her role in this world, she is protected, sheltered, and mentally unprepared for what she is facing but the ground work is there for the strong woman she will become.

Coming of age is a relative term in YA fiction, it can either be a physical transition or a mental one. With the Blue Zone I am aiming for the latter, Mina will probably not age so much in the course of the story, but mentally she will begin the journey into adulthood.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Dragging a good name through the mud

Characters have a peculiar way of invading your subconscious and changing the rules on you when you least expect it. At least this is how it works in my head. At the onset of this novel, I knew the character of Julian, the White Mage was a bastard. No dancing around the issue, he was a cold, calculating jerk and he would be the villain of the piece.

But then a little niggling sensation began. This character seemed to protest the role he had been cast into and decided to mutiny. I suddenly found myself with a bruising brick wall of character development crashing down on my head. My villain wasn’t my villain after all. How did this happen? What was I going to do with him now.

As I continued to write, the Julian I had pictured in my head grew five new faces. No longer was he a straight out killer, a villain, now he was a scapegoat, a victim, a lover, a best friend and eventually a hero. He also became a gem of misdirection. From his earlier character development I knew he would pull a reader in the direction of viewing him as the straightforward, but through his actions and reactions his true character would begin to emerge and allow me to build up the mystery of who the real villain, or The Master was. In literary terms Julian would be my personal equivalent to a character like Severus Snape, the character whose team you aren’t certain of, whose motivations are vague, who true heroism is not revealed until after the critical moments have passed. Of all the characters I have created writing this book, Julian will be the most difficult to pull off.