Monday, November 7, 2016

NaNoWriMo Journal- November 7, 2016

Hey, everyone!

As you know, I took yesterday (Sunday) off from writing, as I will every Sunday for the remainder of the month. It was a little hard to get cracking on my writing today after having a day off, but with the help of some Word Sprints, I have now written nigh upon 3,000 words in the last hour and a half. Yay! I am currently at 18,092 words, and I think I will hit 20,000 words tonight!

Why tonight? Because I am hosting a little write-in, of course!

Here are the details: Me, a writing buddy IRL and a writing buddy across the world via the internet are getting together tonight to write into the wee hours. We have stocked up on soda pop, on candy and other edible goodies, and we are raring to go with our novels. These word counts better look out, because we are about to blow them out of the water!

If you would like to get in on this awesome Writerly action, all you have to do is make a pledge to yourself that you are going to write X amount of words tonight before you go to sleep. Get your playlists, your comfy pajamas, the beverage of your choice, and the writing fuel (i.e. Candy) ready, and get writing! This is going to be night to get way ahead for those of you slogging through your daily word counts, and a night for all of you who've fallen behind to power through to get back on track. Have 7,000 words to write? 10,000? 11,666? Don't worry, don't throw in the towel, and don't give up! Get in on this write in tonight, and write to your heart's content. Or word count's content, whichever comes first.

That's all I have for you now, but I will write more later.

Keep up the good work, Writerverse.

Happy Writing!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

NaNoWriMo Journal- November 5, 2016

So, everyone, I am sitting in the car on the way back from my lovely weekend in the mountains. I have been able to write lots here, and came to a cool place—drum roll, please—I hit 15,000 words today! I've kind of been on a roll this week; I got way ahead on the first day, and have stayed ahead all week. So, yay!

Tomorrow is Sunday, and if you were with me last year, you know that I always take Sundays off, for multiple reasons that I will not go into here. But I am ahead enough to get me through to Monday, and on Monday, I am going to write lots and stay ahead all month long. Well, that's the plan, anyway. *smiles

Today I hiked back to the summit again, right after lunch. Bad plan. I got so close, but my heart was pounding, and my muscles were burning and I actually considered just falling over in the pine needles until I could hear my own thoughts over the thundering of my heart. But, of course, once I was up there, once I looked around at the beautiful views, I knew once more that it was all worth it.

I have gotten a lot written on this trip, more than I thought I would if I am honest with myself. I wasn't sure exactly how well I would do when the thrall of the mountains surrounded me, but I'm quite proud of myself. Hooray for NaNoWriMo!

I did several self-challenging word sprints, which were lots of fun. Ten minutes was my standard, and the most I got written in that time was 316 words. I want to get that number up some more over the rest of the month. But word sprints are great! They really helped me when I had just come from a mountainesque activity and wasn't in the writing zone. They helped me to get buckled down and focused and ready to bang out some words for this novel.

Anyway, the trip home has been great, but it's time for me to go now; I have some words in me yet!

Keep at it, and as always,

Happy Writing!

Friday, November 4, 2016

NaNoWriMo Journal- November 3-4, 2016

Well, everyone. I am in the mountains, as I told you. It is absolutely gorgeous up here. And it's still so warm, so I have been enjoying writing outside. It's quite wonderful.

Okay, so you remember how I was saying that I wasn't really feelin' it this year? Well, that has passed. Really, as soon as I hit 10,000 (I hit 10,000 words yesterday, guys! On day 3! Woot woot!) I got super excited. I am really doing this. I will win. I will have another completed novel before next year is out.

Outside of my cabin is a little table and some chairs. It's lovely weather, with a sky so vibrant it brings the world to life. I have been writing out here for a while. I'm really loving it. Maybe I should come to the mountains every November for NaNoWriMo. If it helps my word count so much, that might be the best thing to do!

But write is not all I have done. I've been hiking, climbed a water tower (yes, like I did last year. Except I didn't almost die this time, so that's good.), I pet some donkeys for the first time. The views here where I'm staying are just incredible. I got to ride a golf cart to the summit today. My thighs are burning because I am not in shape, but hey, I'm a writer, not a hiker.

It's been a great, relaxing, refreshing weekend away from home so far. And, on top of that, I am writing like crazy, and getting some more life experiences under my belt! What more could I ask for?

My word count is to 12,169 right now, and though I know this book will need a lot of revision, I know what it is I am getting into this time around. That makes it a whole lot less daunting.

The sun is shining on the porch where I'm sitting, and there is a light breeze making the trees sway and dance. The colors are breathtaking. Of all the places I've ever written, this may well be my favorite.

What's your favorite writing space?

Anyway, I hope that all of you are having an absolutely swell NaNoWriMo 2016!

And, as always,

Happy Writing!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

NaNoWriMo Journal- November 2, 2016

Hello, Writerverse!

I hope that all of you are having a great first week of NaNoWriMo! I myself am having a pretty good time of it. I've written 2,521 words so far, and am getting my second wind. Hitting 5,000 this morning felt pretty good, I've gotta say.

In other news, I am heading to the mountains tomorrow and staying until Saturday. It's going to be loads of fun to be able to write in the mornings and hike in the afternoons. I will try to keep you all updated with what's going on as I try to keep up my word count and enjoy my time in the mountains, too!

So, if I am totally honest with all of you, I have to say that I have not been feeling the excitement of NaNoWriMo as much as I did last year. Maybe it's just because I haven't really been in my writing rhythm (ha, see the alliteration?). Maybe it's because the rest of my life is so crazy. Hoping it'll pass, and that I'll be pumped and ready when week two hits!

It's amazing how much I have forgotten, guys. I've forgotten about the temptations to revise as I go, forgotten how good it feels to create something new. To open up a new, blank document and make something great (or that will one day be great. Hopefully.). It's a feeling that nothing is comparable to.

That's all I've got for you guys. Let me know how your stories are coming in the comments below!

Happy Writing!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

NaNoWriMo Journal- November 1, 2016

It has begun.

How in the world is it already here again? NaNoWriMo 2016 is well underway, and I am loving it. Looking forward to see what this year will hold for me.

So, I stayed up last night, watching the NaNoCountdown clock tick away the minutes to NaNoWriMo, and as soon as midnight struck, I opened my word processor and began.

Guys, I am so much better prepared this year. I wrote about 1,100 words last night before passing out. I slept through my alarm, so my writing day (with the sun up, that is) didn't actually begin until about 8:30 am, but I am going to get back into the swing of early mornings again, I promise you. And myself.

I have just made a decision. I am going to finish not only my 50,000 words this November, but my whole novel. I did it last year, but that was a smaller story, it seems. Maybe I'm just crazy (I am), but I think that this year's novel is going to be longer and bigger than last years. Here's hoping. I'd kind of like to write 60K this year, but that may not happen. Just a thought.

Unlike last year, I wasn't scared about beginning this year. I didn't have to start at my blinking cursor for five solid minutes before getting the courage to write. And so this morning, steaming tea in hand, I was able to start working again on my story, with a foundation to stand on that I wrote at midnight. I like this whole midnight thing; the anticipation was fun, it was cool to make my story begin right as the clock struck twelve, but I don't know if I'll do it every year. We'll see, then, won't we?

I am currently 2,350 words in and feeling pretty good. The only oopsie! moment that I had was this morning. I was trying to write the book in third person, but just couldn't get to feeling it, to hearing my protagonist's voice, so I changed it to first person. That took some time away from my writing, but it was okay. It was worth it, because the words are flowing much more easily now. I hope to hit 3,000 words today.

That's all I have for now. I hope that you are all having a wonderful first day of NaNoWriMo 2016!

Happy Writing!

Monday, October 31, 2016

NaNoWriMo Is Tomorrow...


NaNoWriMo is tomorrow! As of this very moment, we are a mere 13 hours away from the starting line. How has it come so fast? How is it already here?

Are you ready?

As for me, I have had my outline ready to go since December 2015, during my downtime between the frenzy of writing my first draft in NaNoWriMo 2015, and getting down to the nitty-gritty in revision. I reworked the beginning a final time last night, and because I was so into it, reading and posting on the forums, contacting old writing buddies, planning the final little story bits and making a checklist of things for myself to do before NaNo (which means, today), when I went to sleep late last night, I dreamed about NaNo. When I woke up, tons of lines for my book came soaring at me, rapid-fire. That's how I know I'm ready to write; when, all of a sudden, I am getting lines upon lines of prose and dialogue and other various others, it's time. So I think it's fitting that I am ready the day before, don't you?

However, if you are on the fence about NaNoWriMo, you aren't sure if you should try it, you don't know if you can write that much in a month, you don't have an outline... Whatever the excuse, I can assure you that it's lame. You've never written before? J.K Rowling wasn't born writing. You don't have an outline? Stephen King is an avid pantser, too. You don't think your good enough? You may not be, but you're sure not getting any better by sitting around wishing you were better.

So what are you waiting for? Time's a-burnin'! Get out there, get writing!

For those of you who, like me, have been ready for November to be here for months now, I say take a break. Go see a movie. Get your nails done. Have lunch with a friend. Go on a leisurely walk. But by all means, do not get sucked into doing nothing but story-stuff for the rest of the day! Goodness knows you'll have plenty of that in the coming weeks and months! Enjoy your last day as a writer not enslaved to your beautiful project.

And when tomorrow comes, I hope that you will slay that word count, and that you will get your story told. Only you can.

Until Tomorrow, then,
Happy Writing!

NaNoWriMo Survival Kit- 2016 Edition

We are 1 day from the opening writing frenzy of NaNoWriMo, and as the time is so near, it is time for we WriMoians to begin hoarding candy, creating playlists, buying Starbucks gift cards and stashing emergency pencils and other office supplies. But what exactly do you need to have on hand to survive the insane month to come?

Let me help you with that.

Last year, we had the following on our Survival Kit lists:

  • Chocolate
  • Other Assorted Candies
  • A Handy Idea Notebook
  • Pencils (Mechanical or otherwise)
  • Water Bottle
  • Post-It Notes
  • A Good Book
  • Laptop
This year comes a few more additions.

1. The Chilled Beverage of your choice

I found last year that I was more often than not reaching for my cold drinks rather than the hot ones. I had my hot coffee or tea in the mornings, but after that? Cold, all the way.

I will be making some infused water to keep in my refrigerator at all times throughout this coming month. If you'd like to have my super easy Inspirational Infused Water recipe, leave your comment below!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                2. An Awesome Playlist (or two)
                                                                                                             You may be rocking to some awesome oldies, or maybe classical is more your style; but whatever the case, you will need some music playing to help set the mood for your writing life.

I would suggest making several playlists (that you could shuffle all together sometimes). One full of intense, fast music for fight scenes, or climaxes. One with sad, soulful, sorrowful music for when someone dies, or someone is having a hard day. One with super upbeat, happy-go-lucky kind of music for when things are great. And then for the regular times, shuffle them all together so that you have a mix of everything. This way, you will really be in the mood to write what you need to write, and you can just get down to it.

3. A New Notebook
Because it wouldn't be NaNoWriMo without a new notebook. That's just how it works.

What will be in your NaNoWriMo 2016 Survival Kit?                                                                                                                                                                                                                               
Happy Writing, all!                          




Saturday, September 24, 2016

Guys, NaNoWriMo is Just Around the Corner!

August is gone.

September is nearly over.

October is almost here.

What does that mean for we writers and WriMos? It means that it is time to start hoarding candy. It is time to buy an empty notebook (or two. Or three. That decision rests in your hands, my friend.). It is time to gear up for a month of NaNo Prep, which is to say, it's time to gear up to gear up for NaNoWriMo 2016!

Now, if you are a regular follower of this blog, then you know by now that NaNoWriMo is the one writing event that I look forward to every year. That this will only be my second NaNoWriMo means nothing. The fact of the matter is, folks, that it is now, and ever will be, a part of my year. My plan is to write a novel a year for five years, and then up my game to two novels a year. It's totally doable, and I will do it. But I need to get some more words out first.

So, what should you be doing right about now? I'll tell you (or at least advise you; you'll do what you want, regardless of what I say).

If You're a Planner: It's time to get to planning. Pull out your notebooks. Open up a fresh document. Line up your pens, pencils, highlighters and whatever else you use to plan. If you have an idea, work on that. If you have no idea, work on that, too. The point is, just because it's not November doesn't mean that you shouldn't be ready. It will be here before you know it. And if you are truly a planner, you should be getting ready to slay the Dragons of Writerly Despondence. They are flying swift and low, and they have fire in their bellies. Will you be ready for them? Will you battle them with firm determination? Or will you cower and let them scorch your wonderful ideas to nothingness? Rally, I pray you, and plan! Finish that outline! Write that description! Make that playlist and hoard that candy! Grab that floating idea and nail it down! You can and you will give that Dragon the wallop of a lifetime. You will be ready for November, come what may.

If You're a Pantser: Now is the time to read. Read as much as you can. Read everything, from fact to fiction, novel to newspaper. Read widely. Read the types of book you want to write, and read the type you don't want to emulate. Find what you like and what you don't. Soak it all in. And when inspiration strikes, be ready. It could have been months ago; it could be now, tomorrow, or on November 1st. You can't know, so you must always be ready. And enjoy your time off. Come November, and you will be in a writing frenzy. After all, you won't have anything planned. So, buy some more coffee, take extra trips to your local library. Give lots of nurturing care to your writing brain, and be ready. NaNoWriMo will be here before you know it.

It's thirty-seven days until November 1st. Will you be ready?

Until then, Happy Writing, and Happy Planning!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Some News, and the Answers to Your 3 Inevitable Questions--


It has been a long journey, full of ups and downs and all-arounds, but after nearly eleven months of late nights, stressful days, crazy schedules, slow beta readers, painful edits; after six drafts, over 13,000 words, (and probably even more cups of coffee than that), I did it.

I told my story. I wrote my book. My word, I finished my novel. It's done. Finished. Complete. It is in PDF format, and never again will I meddle with the live file.

GUYS, I FINISHED MY NOVEL! Can I get a whoop-whoop??

So, first question that you have asked: How do you feel? And the only answer I can come up with is, Um, I don't know. Normal? A little crazy? Nostalgic? Yeah, all of that, mixed with a twinge of sadness.

I know, I know. You're thinking, "She's crazy. Why would she be sad, of all things? She finished her novel!" But I am, in the deepest (and smallest) part of my heart, sad. I poured time and energy, hours of my life that I'll never get back into this novel. And you know what? I don't regret a second of it. I am so, so, so happy. I did it. I am proud of my accomplishment. I did what so few other aspiring writers do. I started something, and through it all, I finished it.

So to all you doubters, HA. I did it, despite all of your snide remarks and uncertain glances.

All you supporters, Thank You! You have all made this journey all the more memorable. You all totally rock my socks, and I want to give a shout out to you, with a big, stupid grin on my face. You are the best.

Now, the Question #2 is: Are you publishing? If so, will you go the traditional route, or try self-publishing? My answer: Sigh. This is the dreaded question. And the dreaded answer is, no, I don't think I will pursue publishing this story. Why? Because I am not confident that it is marketable in today's society.

I mean, let's be real for a second. Publishers are looking for book that are new, exciting, original. And although I know that my book is original in it's own right, I don't know that publishers are looking at what I have to offer right now. Someday, when I have made a name for myself, maybe. But right now, I'm not going to send my MS off and wait with bated breath only to get a rejection slip. And I don't plan on self-publishing because I do not have the means to do so now.

Really, this book, though I love it, though I would not have not written it for anything in the world, is just not marketable in today's society. I knew that when I started this project. That may change in the near future, but, as I said, I haven't set my sights too high. But you never know.

I may (or may not) send a query off to a couple agents, but I'm not expecting to become a New York Times Bestseller. And that's fine by me. (For now, at least.)

And finally, the last question: What now?

What, indeed. Well, I continue writing. In November, I will be participating in NaNoWriMo again, and I will bang out a rough draft for my next novel. And then the process begins all over again. But for now, I take a deep breath, maybe write a short story or two, and I wait. I deserve a little break, I think. (But it can't be too long, because I am feeling a bit stir-crazy already.) I have been enjoying doing a bit more reading than I did in these past crazy months. And I will finish planning for my next novel. I have an outline, but I'd like to review it (I wrote it back in December), maybe make it better. It's waaaay easier to fix things in the planning phase, rather than several drafts in. Trust me, I know.

It's kind of crazy to think that I don't have an open novel right now. I have just gone from novel to nothing. But now is where it gets exciting, and maybe a little bit scary. Because one chapter of my writing life has closed.

But another has just begun.

Happy Writing.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Spring/Summer 2016 Book Haul-

Hello, everyone!

So, it has been a while since I have done a book haul post, and I have so many new books. Eager to share with you, and recommend. Let's get to it!

*Please note that the following books are in no particular order.

 Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card

Ender's Game is a book that has recently gotten quite a bit of hype. From the recent re-release of yet another edition, to the movie by the same title starring Asa Butterfield, this is back on peoples radars. And rightly so.

I first read Ender's Game back in 2008, and fell in love with it. The politics, the aliens, the bullies, the schools... it all felt real, like something that could happen. This is a book that will make you think, that's for sure. And you will lie awake in bed night after night, even when you've finished it, just thinking it all over. It's as entertaining as it is thought provoking. There are several children with potty mouths, though, so keep an eye out for younger readers.

Do I recommend it? Totally. Go to your local library and give this a  read. And then buy a copy and make your friends read it.
Learn more here.

I Am Number Four, by Pittacus Lore

This is a book I only recently finished. As I neared the end, I just had to get the next book from my local public library. Honestly, it made me cry. It made me laugh. It made me gasp. It's a fast paced, action packed book with a relatable hero. It's not a book that I'd say is a perfect classic, bound to stay in my heart forever, but I liked it.

(You know, I have never thought of myself as someone who's into the whole sci-fi scene; but look, here are two in a row. Strange.) ,

The protagonist is Number Four, or, as we know him, John Smith. He came to Earth with others from the planet Lorien when a race called the Mogadorians invaded his homeland. But the Mogadorians have infiltrated Earth and have found three of his former companions. As the title states, he is number four.

Would I recommend this book? Yes. Do I like it? Quite a bit. So if you see it in your local bookstore, you could do worse. Learn more here.

The Thief Lord, by Cornelia Funke

A book I have not read. But it has been recommended to me thousands of times. I'll tell you what I know.

The Thief Lord follows the story of two orphaned boys (brothers) who run away from their cruel uncle. Somehow they get tangled up in a band of children in London who steal for a living. Their leader is, you guessed it, the Thief Lord.

This book is aimed at older children, in the 12-15 range, I would guess. I am older than that, but that won't stop me from reading it! I love books, of all genres and for all audiences.

As with I Am Number Four, sadly, I cannot yet recommend this book, as I have not yet read it. But if, when browsing titles at some thrift store, you pick it up, give it a read and let me know your thoughts. I'm curious. Learn more here.

The Lunar Chronicles, by Marissa Meyer

Ah, the wonderful Lunar Chronicles. In this series, there are four novels: Cinder, Scarlet, Cress and Winter. They are futuristic retellings of classic fairy tales, set in a dystopic world. All in all, this is one of my favorite book series of all time. And you wanna know something cool? Meyer wrote the first drafts to three of these books during one NaNoWriMo. She's awesome, I love her, get her books, read them, love them. Learn more here.

Just Listen, by Sarah Dessen

Stop! You know the saying don't judge a book by its cover? Well, take that to heart, will you, and here me out on this one.

Just Listen follows the story of a teenage girl who used to have it all. But when tragedy strikes, she has no one to speak to, no one to listen. Or maybe she has people that will listen, but she's too afraid to speak up. That's for you to decide.

This book will make you think about how you perceive people. That neighbor with the infuriatingly perfect lawn? Maybe he's depressed and has to keep busy. Or maybe it's a friend or teacher or teammate. But no one is perfect, and no one has it all.

So go on a journey with Annabel, girl with it all, and learn what it means to speak, to listen, to hear and to be heard. Learn more here. 

  This Lullaby, by Sarah Dessen

Yes, this is another Sarah Dessen book. And it is no less poignant in its honest portrayal of people as they really are, and of the daily struggles we all face.

Remy, our protagonist, doesn't believe that relationships last, both romantic and familial. She hasn't seen the fruits of true love, or anything that resembles such. So she's skeptical when a boy from "around" tells her that they're destined for one another. But as her feelings for him begin to change, she begins to wonder. Maybe this whole love thing isn't the garbage she's always believed it to be.

For those who don't believe in love, give it a read. For those who do, give it a read. Learn more here.

Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver

From the author of Delirium, Before I Fall is the story of a girl who lives one day and is dead the next. However, the last day of her life, she gets to relive. Again and again, until she gets it right.

I'll be honest with you: I didn't like this book. I read Delirium about a year ago, and liked it well enough. So, naturally, when I saw this book on the shelves sporting Oliver's name, I thought I'd give it a try (and it was two bucks; I couldn't pass it up even if I'd wanted to.) I read it in about, oh, probably a day. It was well-written, and there was some very beautiful language in it. The storyline was intriguing enough, and that coupled with the fact that I had plenty of time in bed (I was sick), I managed to scarf it down. But it didn't bode well. The ending left me thinking, Whaaaaat? And not in such a good way.

If you want to read it, I won't stop you. I just won't recommend it, per se. But you can learn more here.

Lion Heart, by A.C. Gaughen

As the close to a powerhouse trilogy, this book is a great adventure. It hits all the right marks, from a writers standpoint just as much as a readers. It is wonderful, from first to last.

If you have not read (or, *gasp!* heard of) the novel Scarlet, let me enlighten you. King Richard is away and the cats are at play. (Namely, Prince John is at play.) Nottingham is oppressed by an evil Sheriff, and Sherwood Forest is run by outlaws. Robin Hood, Allan A Dale, Much, Friar Tuck, and Little John are keeping the people fed, aided by the mysterious Will Scarlet. Sounds like a classic Robin Hood story we all know.

The twist? Will Scarlet, is actually Scarlet, a young woman plagued by fears of her past and worries of the future. Handy with a knife, Scarlet has won the hearts of the people of Nottingham, the fear of the Sheriff, and the love of Rob. But things are never that easy.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely! I love this whole trilogy; I love the way the characters are all so developed, how relationships morph and change, how the bad guys are really bad, and how both true to the classic tale and yet fiercely original this trilogy is. Learn more here, here, and here.

Well, those are the only ones I can think of that are new to me this year. However, do keep your eyes peeled for the next book haul, for Fall 2016.

Until then, Happy Reading!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

My Writing Journey-

I have been asked by several people on several different occasions to write a post on this, so here you go. Get your pillows and be ready to experience some serious boredom; I am no J.K. Rowling with a great sob-slash-victory story that will inspire you for decades to come. You have been warned.

First off, what does it mean to be a writer? In a world where all it takes is an online degree and fancy plaque on the wall to be anything that you want to be, how do we define writer?

The same way as anything else. Say I tell you that I am a runner. (Or a knitter.) You are going to assume that I have at least run, I don't know, a 5K, or something. (Or that I knitted a scarf one Christmas by the fire.) But if I tell you that all I have is the ability to run (or knit), but don't actually practice it, you are going to look at me funny, and ask me if I forgot to take my medicine. I am saying that just because you have the ability to write by no means makes you a writer. Even if you wrote all those essays in high school, or maybe even took some writing courses in college. That doesn't make you a writer. So what does?

Writing, that's what.

As for my story, here it is in a nutshell.

I was born loving stories. I have one memory, now distant, of when I was wee. I was in some kind of nursery, and I remember sitting in someone's lap and being read to. I was watching the other kids play, but I remember feeling this sleepy contentment, like nothing could be better.

As I got older, I began loving stories in any shape and form. At about, oh, probably five or so, I fell in love with Old Time Radio dramas, like Suspense, The Shadow, The Whistler, and others. (I still love these to this day.) Due to my love for Radio Dramas, my father wrote me a story. It was about a princess who had to rid the land of the evil elf Erx, his bees that plagued the land. That was huge for me. Though still a child, the idea that I could create my own stories was a milestone for me. (My father has since written me numerous poems and two more books, both of which are novels, each one longer and meant for an older audience. I love all of them.)

At about six, I wrote my first chapter book. It was only about six pages long, about a sick man who couldn't help his family. Of course it had a happy ending, and was terribly written (I didn't understand the comma in those days, and thought they had to be used in between words that were written too close together), but that was only the beginning.

After both kindergarten and the first grade, I began reading more. I was the weird kid who read books three grades above her level, who wore glasses, and didn't play sports. This never bothered me, however, because I liked what I liked, and if you didn't like that, that was your problem.

As the years went on, my writing went in stages. I would either be writing a ton and super excited, thinking I may actually be good at this, or I would not have written anything for months, convinced I sucked and would never be good at anything. But my reading has always been a constant. Never do I go anywhere without a book in my bag, ready to read at all times. I remember one summer in particular (I think I was twelve or so) when I made a reading list for myself. It was a whopper, with 27 novels on it. I read every single one of them. Some I liked, some I didn't, but I was determined to read them, so I did. (I will be happy to recommend books to you whenever; just ask in the comments, and a list will be published shortly!) I think that, more than almost anything, reading is what has spurred my writing on.

It was around that time that I sat down at my mom's laptop one day and began pantsing a novel. I had no plan, no idea where the story was headed, but I wanted to tell a story. I worked tirelessly on that "novel" for months. I had ups and downs, but in the end, some eight months later, I came out with a rough draft. It was the first long-form book that I had ever finished. Woo hoo!

Looking back on that, I know that what I wrote that year was the worst piece of fiction ever to be jotted down, but that wasn't the point. The point was, I wrote a book. It was hardly original, barely worthy to be called a book at 12,252 words. But that was a real writing journey for me. I had made up my mind to write, and I wrote. I shudder each time I read my sad attempts at prose, but that never takes away from the fact that writing that book was the most momentous leap my writing has taken. It was that first leap that took me from the realm of those who want to write, and those who write. 

I remember I even sent that book off to Beta Readers (shudder) in its unrevised state. But after that, I really put that story away and it has not resurfaced since. That's just the way it goes.

After the writing of the horrible fantasy book, I began dabbling in other genres, trying to see where I best fit. I have written a story in every genre now, and learned that horror/thriller/sci-fi are not my strongest points. But that is okay with me. Here's a tip: if you don't like reading it, you won't like writing it. File that one away for the future, okay?

I began pumping out ideas. I was a story-idea generator in those days (none of the ideas were very good, but you know; I was twelve). My writing still fluctuated; good weeks, bad weeks. Lots of writing, no writing. But overall, it was no longer morphing greatly.

That is, until my fifteenth summer.

I had this idea. It was a great one. Maybe even the greatest I'd yet had. I was sure that I could do something awesome with this idea. I had to. So, I sat down to write. About three weeks and thirty pages later, I realized that there was a problem. I had been at this story for almost a month, and yet I was only thirty pages in? They were good pages, to be sure, but they were few in number, and my story had barely begun. What was my problem?


I was editing as I wrote. I would write a scene one day, and the next day go back and "fix" it. My prose was good, but what I was beginning to realize is that you have to have something to work with before you can begin that work. I had to get my story out. I had to just vomit words on a page, as it were, and then go back, and then make it eloquent and moving.

Easier said than done.

I would do really well for a while, and then I'd fall write back in the old habits. (And you ought to know by now that the puns are intended.) As they say, old habits die hard. And don't I know it. I would push and try, but always it was a losing battle. I wrote, and I re-wrote, and I tried not to re-write, but I always ended up rewriting.

Enter NaNoWriMo.

It was sometime last summer when I first heard about NaNoWriMo. I had been in one of my common writing-slouches, and was feeling sorry for myself about it. I wanted to be writing, I wanted to have fun writing, and I wanted to actually finish something. There is something about finishing that is do rewarding, wouldn't you agree?

Anyway, I was surfing the net, doing nothing really, when I stumbled upon a video on YouTube by Kristina Horner. She filmed everyday of November during one NaNoWriMo, and as soon as I watched that video, I signed up. I was so pumped at first, but November was still seven months away. In all that time, my list of story ideas grew, but my actual output was minimal, save one short story.

But midway through October, I remembered that little video I had seen, and my excitement for NaNoWriMo grew. I was ready to write. All I had to do was settle on a story to tell. So, out of all the 20+ ideas I had floating around, I chose a new idea. One that was cooked up just days before the start of NaNo. I rushed through the outlining stages, and before I knew it, NaNoWriMo 2015 had begun.

The month was a blur. I wrote in the early mornings, while the world was still drowsy, and afterwards, I always had time to do whatever it was that I needed to do. The best thing about it was that it pushed me to finish, and if I was striving to get to that end goal, then I was less concerned with the editing. I knew that it would come, and that was good enough for me. And the rest, they say, is history. I finished my book, and in January began the rewrite. I have since done four drafts and hammered out about three new outlines.

NaNoWriMo is what challenged me to put into action what I had been learning through the reading on books on writing, and just reading for pleasure. It challenged me to go beyond what I thought I could do, to push harder, and to finish something.

After all these years, after all the reading I have done, and after all the times I have tried, I have finally done it. I have written a novel. It's not perfect yet, and it may never be. But I have done it, and I will continue to write for the rest of my life. I know now that no matter what, writing is forever a part of myself and my life, and it always will be.

So, it is with many more stories on the way that I write this. And I would like to challenge you, whoever you are, whatever your dreams are, pursue those dreams. It may come to naught, It might turn out that you don't like it anyway. But something beautiful may come of it. You might be forever changed. Just maybe.

Are you willing to take that risk?

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Reasons to Write-

“If you wish to be a writer, write.”

Those words are so easy to say, and yet the idea terrifies so many. Why? Because to write is to do something. And in a world where we can get anything we want at the touch of a button, doing something is radical. But if we do nothing, then what are we left with? A few ideas and an empty notebook? Bills piling up on the kitchen table? What is worse: to do nothing on the chance that it may crash and burn, or to do something despite the risks?

For writing is risking. And perhaps that is what scares people most of all. There are so many reasons to be afraid of putting pen to paper, but there are even more reasons not to be afraid.

Writing is risking; you risk your day job, you risk your misconceptions of self. When you write, you have to set aside anything that would ordinarily hold you back, you have to cross boundaries, overcome barriers. You have to be bold, be brave. Otherwise all you will write is a mere shadow, a trifling whisper of your thoughts which portrays nothing of human emotion, nothing that is real.

Writing is making yourself vulnerable. When you write, when you set aside the normal boundaries that would constrict you, you are laying yourself open. You pull out the innermost thoughts and feelings of your heart, and your characters become an extension of yourself. In them, we see you. And in the world you create, be it a fantasy realm or New York City, we get to see through your eyes. We see the world as you see it, and for a time, we are inside you. The reader is you. And when you lay yourself bare like that, it is not like a journal where all is private; no, it is meant to be read. It is meant to be critiqued and thought on. And I don't know about you, but that is a terrifying prospect.

Writing is also work. Books don't just fall out of the air and onto the page. No, they have to be thought out, planned, written, re-written, revised, re-revised, re-re-revised, read by others, revised again, sent to agents and publishing houses, yet another revision, and then, on that blessed day, printed, bound, and sent to bookstores. And each of those steps requires time (lots and lots of time), effort (yeah, you have to mean it when you say you want to write a book), and a smidgen of talent. Blend together, along with some blood, sweat and tears, and voila! You have a book! Yeah. It's that much work. Really.

But is it scarier to write, or not to? Would it be better to live inside of a bubble, to see the world, but never touch it? Would you like to be burdened your whole life with the two haunting words: What If? So what if it's scary? The things worth doing in life often are. So what if it's hard? If you're going to work (and you are) why not work on something that so many others can enjoy? Why not work on something that you can enjoy?

Something everyone wants to avoid is regret. And will you regret writing? No. You may decide that it's not your forte, and move on to something else, but if you don't do it, you could be forever plagued with doubt. You may always be second guessing yourself, and wondering what if I had... where would I be now? 

So take a deep breath, pull out your notebook, open your laptop, and get to work. Write that novel. Compile those original poems. Submit that short story. There are a million reasons to write. So what's holding you back?

As always,
Happy Writing!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016


When I got up this morning, there was an unusual desire within me to bake something. What, I didn't know, but I had to bake something from scratch. So, one trip to the grocery store and a quick Google search later, I learned how to make homemade banana bread. Now the scents of the baking bread permeate the air, and I have settled down at my kitchen table to write for the day. (Or, at least, for the beginning of the day. You never no when inspiration may strike, after all. *Smiles coyly.)

This is just a reminder that though you are a writer, that is not all you are. This morning I proved that I am a baking writer. I am a bread-baking, violin-playing, book-reading, blog-creating, food-cooking, flower-arranging, picture-doodling, people-loving writer. Writing is not who I am. It is just something that I do. Something that I love to do, for sure, but at the end of the day, if I was told I could never write again, it would not be the end of the world.

So I just want to challenge you to think about who you are. You are not just a writer, not just a reader, though those things are certainly a part of you. There is so much more to being a person than just the things we do. What about the things you think? Or the things you say? Don't those have something to do with you, at the core?

Don't fall into the monotonous rhythm of "writing," so that it becomes nothing more than lugging yourself out of bed in the morning and punching the keys of your laptop just so you can finish you book and start another one. Do other things. Discover new things, meet new people, learn something that interests you. You are not just a writer. 

After all, some mornings you just need to learn how to bake banana bread.

Happy Writing.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

An Update-

Hello, everyone!

So, I know it has been a long time (almost a month!) but I think life is calming down enough for me to begin writing here again. I have been so busy, I had to decide: write in my novel, or write on my blog? I chose the novel.

So, a super-quick writing update: I finished the fourth draft of my NaNoWriMo novel, and sent it off to my wonderful team of Beta Readers. I did that a little over a month ago, and plan on giving my readers who have not responded yet another week or so (to get to the six week mark) before shooting them emails to ask if they have read it/are reading it, if they need more time, etc. So far I have gotten three of my ten readers' responses. Two more have been reported to be in my hands by early next week. As for the others, I remain in the dark.

Good news, though! The responses I have gotten back have all been positive! Even the people I don't know very well (and are therefore unbiased or only minimally biased) have been helpfully critical, but very positive. This is encouraging like nothing else has been.

When you write a novel, it is like a part of yourself. You know it has flaws, but you can't always see them. You think about it, work on it, grow to love it, and the characters become your best friends for a time, because you know everything about them, and they know all about you. The story, even if it is fantasy or sci-fi, is a little window of words that allows people inside you, to see how you see the world and what you think of. When you give that up to people to read, to critique (which, let's be honest, is just a nice word for judge), it is like opening yourself up and letting people poke around. You have to make yourself vulnerable. And to do that well, you have to admit to yourself first that you are really not all that and a bag of chips. You're not the greatest writer ever to grace the earth, and that's okay. You don't have to be.

One of the most exciting things about the whole Beta Reader process is that these characters that have lived inside of you for so long now live in other people's minds. Some of them may even take root in that person's heart and stay there. Talking to some of my readers about my book, characters in particular, makes me giddy. All the little quirks I thought I would be the only person to recognize are lauded as endearing, likable, and real. The conversations I slaved over and still felt weren't quite there have done the job, and my story is told. Not perfect; I still have another (and possibly one more) draft before I put this book on the shelf, but the story is told regardless. I may have some typos, some choppy passages, some unclear, verbose, imperfect sections, but in the end, my story is told, people get it and relate to it and even like it. (Something else that makes me giddy: my book has made three people cry, and one person come close. *Smiles*)

Okay, so, now to what I planned on writing here: why have I not written here, where have I been, what have I been doing?? Let me enlighten you.

Where I've been...

In  August  of  last  year,  we  began  planning  a  trip  to  Peru  to  help  a  local  church  there.   And  in  late  May,  we  went.  This  is  where  I've  been  and  what  I've  done.

An "average" view in Peru
I, with a team of about fifteen others, went to a small town in Peru. We were there for eight days, working at a constructions site to build a church, and also spending time with some local children. It was my first time out of the country (I know, I know, I'm a noobie), and it was everything I hoped it would be and more.

Once the jet lag wore off, we were up and ready to go. We all worked everyday, and though most of our work consisted of passing buckets full of dirt up a treacherous hill, we made a difference. And the next team that goes will have less work to do, and the next and the next until it is complete.

In the afternoons, I and several others went to a public basketball/soccer court where we met about thirty or so kids. We played with them, had a story/lesson time, made crafts, sang songs, and gave out snacks. It was by far my favorite thing we did in Peru, even above sightseeing and souvenir shopping! I fell in love with a few of the children, and I'm afraid I left part of my heart there. I just have to go back someday; I have to.

Turn all the way around; this is everywhere.
I would like to share with you all a bit from my journal in Peru. It is not perfect writing, but I think this excerpt will pretty much tell you how I felt every night as I sat on the roof of the house I stayed in.

"A light breeze blows, billowing my friend's blond curls. I sit perched on the ledge of a roof, three stories high, watching the casual goings-on down below. I love how the mountains rise up, seemingly from the many buildings that make up the city.
   A burst of sweetness floods my mouth; I've always loved SweeTarts. As I watch the streets below, I count: one, two, three street lamps buzzing to life. Dogs bark, horns blare, a couple laughs in the distance.
   The smell of diesel and roasting meat permeates the air, making it all real to me. I am here. I am so, so alive.
   A cloud is moving lazily toward us, and a boy starts wailing somewhere below. The trees of the park glow yellow in the dusky light of the street lamps.
   I smile.
   This is Cajamarca."

The work site on Day 1
 Some of our team members got sick while we were there, but I was happy enough to not be one of them. With how much we worked everyday, it's a wonder we didn't just keel over from exhaustion and exertion. But we didn't, and we all made it home in one piece.

Let's see, what other things of interest did I do?I played Pato, Pato, Gonzo with Peruvian children. (Pato, Pato, Gonzo translates to Duck Duck, Turkey.) I ate cuy (guinea pig), a Peruvian delicacy. It was a lot of work for a little meat, and it was very salty. Glad I tried it (I mean, when in Peru, right?), but I probably will not have it again when I go back. (And I will go back.) I learned how to haggle in the markets, and in a language I don't even speak, too. (That was fun.) I bought a pair of Peruvian pantalones, which are kind of like pajama pants, but it's acceptable to wear them in public, and they have great pockets, and, heck, they're Peruvian pants, why not? I wear them all the time now.

I learned a lot while in Peru; a lot about the world, about myself and those around me, and about airport rip-off prices. I wish that everyone I know (and you, too!) could go on this sort of trip. It really opened my eyes to all that I have, and all that most of the world doesn't have (microwaves, dishwashers, washers & dryers, Chick-fil-A... to name a few), and it taught me to be grateful for what I have. Which is more than enough.

I also made great friends with so many of the wonderful people there. When it came time to leave, there was not a dry eye in the tiny airport. Goodbyes were lingering, and I felt I had lost something precious when our plane was in the air. But when I returned to the US, I realized I had not lost anything, but gained oh, so much.

Now that I am back in the States, I have been trying to put into practice some of the many things that I learned in Peru. I love thinking back on my time there, though I am sad that I now have to think back on that time. And I look forward to when I can go back there again. I'm ready to start the planning! Let's do this; get there, do work, stay longer, and soak up every single second of it. It's all worth it (yes, even the six hour layovers).

Kids playing Pato, Pato, Gonzo
But why have I dedicated most of this over-long post to my travels abroad (I mean, other than because I loved it and want to talk about it)? And what has this all to do with writing?


And everything.

I am happy to say that when I was in Peru, I barely thought about my writings once (save my journal, which went everywhere with me). I was not at all thinking, oh, this would make a good scene opener for such-and-such book. Character development was far from my mind, and my thoughts never dwelt upon things like theme or plot. Honestly, it was nice to take a step away, almost to another world. So, in that sense, all of this has nothing to do with writing. But that is only the first part.

My rooftop view 
While I may not have consciously been thinking of my writing, I learned a lot on this trip. I grew as a person, and had new, exotic experiences. I felt things I had never felt before, tried things I hadn't yet tried. And who's to say that none of these things will come in handy one fine writing morning? Although I do not think that you should limit yourself to "writing what you know," I also don't pretend to think that experience isn't helpful or useful. Why is the clever six-year-old not so good a writer as, say, a sixty-year-old? Because the sixty-year-old has more life experiences that he can draw on than the kid who's six. I'm not saying you can't write if your young, but it's a darn lot easier if you know a couple things about life and the world first.

So, if you go on a trip this summer, even if it's just to the beach an hour away, keep your eyes open, and soak it all in. You never know when inspiration will strike.

Until the next time then (which will be soon, I promise!),

Happy Writing!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Synopsis vs. Summary

So, you have a novel you'd like to write? You have a story to tell? Or maybe you have already written a book (novel or otherwise), but are drawing a blank on how to hook your readers. You do that with the all-important synopsis. Shall we begin?

Imagine that someone asks you, "Why should I read your book?" or, "What makes your book worth my time?" What answer would you give? Do you have an answer? If you do, that's great. But I wouldn't call that a synopsis. What you would tell someone about your book is probably more a summary. Which is okay; good, really. So let's draw the distinction: 

Synopsis = What goes on the back (or inner-flap) of your book cover. What people will read to see if this book is word the twenty bucks they have to spend on it. 

Summary = What you have as an answer when people ask you what your story is about. 

Why do they have to be different? Well, they don't, not technically. But imagine you and I bumped into each other at the market, and you asked me, "Hey, Zara, what's your story about?" I could answer with my synopsis, saying:

"Princess Zara Chriselda Valdus-filla has it all. She's strong, independent, beautiful and wealthy. There has never been anything that she could not handle on her own and, in her mind, there never will be. But when faced with a changing prophecy, Zara much embark on a harrowing journey to preserve Endoria from dire evil. Along the way, she begins to question everything: including herself. Why would someone like her ever need help? And if she does, will she realize it to late?" 

Okay, so I could say that. But that would make me sound, er, pretentious to say the least. And who has time to memorize their whole synopsis, right? So I won't go that route. Most likely, if you ran into me in the market and asked what my story was about, I would answer along the lines of:

"The independent princess of Endoria must go on a journey to stop some creatures called Water Sprites from poisoning the water before the kingdom goes to ruin."

Much shorter, and it leaves the asker with questions. I wouldn't be embarrassed to say that much to you. And it's just a hook. It leaves you with questions like: Why are these Water Sprites poisoning the water? Why must this princess go? Couldn't someone else do it? Is her independence important?" To which I, the authoress, would smile and tell you to read the book to find out. 

So, you need both synopsis and summary. But where to start?

I would start with a summary. After all, a synopsis is really just a fancy, dramatic, longer-form summary. So, boil your story down to one (maybe two) sentences, with only the essentials. And don't be afraid to keep some important things out of it. For instance, in the above example of one of my own stories, I mention nothing of the prophecy in my summary, only in the synopsis. I also say nothing of what much be done to get to the Water Sprites, or who, if anyone, goes with my protagonist on her journey. I leave out quite a few important things, but that is the point. It is a hook, meant to draw readers in; it's not supposed to give away all your books secrets.

A synopsis should give a sense of setting. In mine, when it says, "Princess Zara Chriselda Valdus-filla," that gives you that sense that either a.) it's set in the past, or b.) it's set in a fantasy world. But judging from the later mention of Endoria, it is made clear that this is a fantasy realm.

Also, a synopsis should give you a sense of the type of story it is. For instance, if you are writing a sci-fi romance, you should tell something of the sci-fi nature, and mention something of the romantic aspect. You don't want to mislead your readers.

You will want to introduce the main conflict of your story. Otherwise, it will seem boring.

And lastly, you want to give your readers a sense of your protagonist. I do this in my synopsis just by stating her full name-- it add a sense of her pretentious nature. You can do that in a number of ways.

Honestly, the best way to learn how to write a good synopsis is by trial and error. Start with your summary, make it dramatic, and go from there. Let me know in the comments below how it goes, and also what else you'd like me to write about to help you along your Writerly Journey.

Until then, Happy Writing!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Book Review: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King

On Writing by Stephen King has been lauded as one of the greatest books on writing out there. So when I got it for Christmas, I thought I may as well give it shot. I worked my way through it slowly, and, having started it on New Year's Eve, I just finished it a few weeks ago. Now I have had some time to think over it, and it is only now that I have decided to write the review I knew would come.

The first half of the book is in autobiographical form, as Mr. King gives his history, not just about writing, but everything. He tells, in often painful frankness, about his childhood mishaps and his adult struggles. It is a fun read, if only for his distinct voice. I read this half of it fairly quickly, enjoying the anecdotes and tales he spun with the deftness of an accomplished author.

Then comes the section on writing. He gives it all in an all-up-front manner, and he leaves no room for doubt about what he means in your mind. (I guess writers have the freedom to do that when they've written 56 novels and 200 short stories.) Mr. King is brutally honest about the life of a writer, what it takes to be one, and how to get there. He doesn't sugar-coat it, and he doesn't try to make it sound more glamorous than it is. He tells it like he sees it, and he tells that he's going to do that right up front. I respected that about this book almost more than anything else.

This book isn't so renowned because a wanna-be writer puts it down and proceeds to churn out one-draft greatness. This books treasure is in the small, single sentences that are tucked away. I found several of these, and I  read over it, got to the next paragraph, paused, and looked at that sentence again before scrambling for a note book or some sticky notes to jot it down. I now have about a million quotable lines nearly memorized from this book. Never have I found so many great, helpful, stand-alone quotes in the space of 120 pages.

Now, I realize that book reviews are often wholly subjective, but I have tried to keep all subjectivity out of those three paragraphs above. Allow me my voice now.

Did I like this book? Yes. Absolutely. It brought some things to my attention that I had never thought of before. It made me think in ways that hadn't occurred to me before, and I liked the challenge. I read it slowly, reading a chapter a night, mulling it over, chewing on it, sleeping on it. Then when I sat down to write the next day, I tried to put one thing that I learned into practice. Some days were trickier than others, but in the end, I think that I am a better writer for it. Not only because of what he said, but also because of what I did.

Reading this book made me more conscious of my own writing, my own stories. It made me more excited to write (is that possible?) and it challenged me to be better every time I sat in front of my laptop, fingers poised over the keyboard. I think that often a writer will sit down (or stand up, whatever floats your boat) to write, and he does it like a mummy, a zombie who types words in quick succession, unsure a paragraph later what it was he just wrote. But after reading this book, I am more aware of what I am writing, why, and what could make it better.

Another thing I really liked about this book was it's tone. It felt like Mr. King was having a conversation with me, and I don't know about you, but I like that. It made it easier for me to connect with it, to relate, and to understand what he was trying to convey. He seemed to me like the kind of guy that wouldn't mind if you called him up with a question, the kind of guy who would be willing to help you out in a crisis. Now, I don't know if he is that kind of a person, but it felt like it in the book.

So, on to the downsides. I didn't like his flippant use of foul language. Before you who have read it start citing the book, I know that Mr. King was being honest with his readers, writing in his work like he would speak in real life, and to a certain extent I even respect that. But I had a hard time quoting him without making the sailors blush. That is a bit of a let down, to be honest. I feel like I can't recommend this book to high schoolers, even though it is one of the most practical books on writing that I have read. That saddens me.

Honestly though, that is my only complaint. And in the grand scheme of things, that is not much at all.

So, would I recommend this book? Yes. For sure. (But would always warn you of the language before handing it over.) I think that this a very practical book, useful and insightful.

Rating: Four and a half Stars.

Great Quote: "If you don't have the time to read, you don't have the time (or tools) to write." -Stephen King, On Writing; A Memoir of the Craft

Give the book a try, and learn something new. Write often, read much.

And, as always, Happy Reading!

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Writing Tips: The Beta Reader

Writing can be a great experience. It can leave you breathless and excited, it can leave you heartsick and quiet; it can take you on all the ups and downs of life. That's what makes it so beautiful.

But at some point, this beautiful experience will have to be shared. You cannot stay forever in The Cave of Writerly Isolation. You'll have to come out of it, and when you do, you'll have to share what you have to show for all the time you were away in that that Cave. Chances are, you already have a list of the people you want to see your manuscript first (people we writers like to call Beta Readers). But, on the off chance you haven't thought about it, or have and can't find anyone you think would give you unbiased criticism, I am here to help. That's what I do, right?

Let's get started.

When thinking about who to add to your beta reader list (between 5-10 people, optimally), you generally go through the people closest to you that you want to have read your work, be it your mom, friend, coach, co-worker. And any of these are fine, but I want you to ask yourself, honestly, Will these people give me an unbiased opinion? Will I profit from handing my baby over to them? If the answer is not immediately a resounding Yes! or even a convicted Probably, then I would say go for it. Give your novel over to that person and let them have a go at it.

But how (and who?) do you choose your beta readers? It's a hard choice, sometimes, but one that, if done well, will service you in ways you cannot yet imagine. So let's get down to it and ask the question you're all thinking: How do I pick readers?? 

First off, don't be embarrassed if you really don't think your best friend would be a good reader; sometimes it's like that. And it's okay, too, if your mom can't give you the most unbiased opinion. She's your mom; she's paid to be biased when it comes to your work. And what if both your friends and family are not good fits? Well, think about it: just because your friends don't write a lot doesn't mean they don't read a lot. And you are not looking for beta writers, but beta readers. So, think: do you have a friend that likes to read? Even if he/she is not public about it, does he/she have a stuffed bookshelf at home? A tattered, well-used library card? A good vocabulary? All of these are good signs that your friend is a reader. And that's what we're going for.

You don't need someone who can tell you what to do; you need someone to tell you where there are problems, so that you can turn creative and fix them.

Also, if you stress to your friends that what they say will not hurt your feelings in any way (particularly if you are a female), and tell them that it's okay to be wild with their suggestions, comments and tips, more often than not, I think you would be surprised by what they have to say.

What about family? Okay, let me disappoint some of you-- family may not be the best way to go on your first round of betas. That's not to say that they can never be beta readers for you, but maybe you should wait until the second round to let them in on the loop. Why? Family tends to being more biased than even your family. You are more likely to hear the dreaded phrase: It was a nice story. That is not what you are going for. Does it help? No. Will it make you a better writer? No. Will it make you a worse writer? Maybe. And why would you spend the fifteen bucks to print your manuscript for someone who will do you no good whatsoever?

This isn't to say that there are no exceptions to this rule; there most certainly are. I'm just saying, choose your readers wisely, especially if they are in your family. For instance, I have an aunt who will always give healthy criticism, and I have no qualms about giving her my books to read. However, my grandmother is not the same. She would probably smile as she read all the choppy, badly written places thinking, My granddaughter, whose diapers I once changed, wrote this. She grew up and became a writer! This, as you know, is less than ideal. Extremely unhelpful, it is a waste of time, energy and resources. So, seek out those in your family (if you must) who will benefit you the most. Those who are not afraid to tell you just what's wrong with your story are the most helpful.

So, some of you are probably thinking, I have the one family member and one friend. But didn't you suggest five to ten people for optimal results? To which I answer, Yes. yes I did. Now you may ask, Well, where will I find the other eight? These two are all I've got! First, don't panic. Sometimes two is more than enough. But before you stop looking for others, let me tell you of the phenomenon that is the Internet.

There are online beta reader communities for those of us who may or may not have a sufficient amount of IRL readers. There is a Goodreads Community, for one, and one on Pub-Hub, too. There's a world of options. How do you find them? Well, you can start by Googling Online Beta Reader Communities, for one. Find what you can find, see what you can see. The net can be a marvelous thing, if put to good use.

Also, if you are (or have been) part of the NaNoWriMo (Camp or regular) community, or some other form of an online Writing commune, there is a whole network of beta readers for you right there. Make some writing buddies, and do what writing buddies do best: Buddy up to Write. Two of my writing buddies from November will be reading for me in May, and I think that they will give me some of the best feedback.

In closing, I would like to say this: the most important thing about using beta readers is that you never do everything they say. I'm sure that, had your favorite author given you your favorite book and asked you to beta read it, you would have suggested some change to it that is not there. Does that stop you from loving it? By no means! Everyone will give you some entirely subjective suggestions, and that is all they are: suggestions. You use them or you don't, it's your story. If many of them all agree on the same things, you should consider it, but after that? It's your story, not theirs. So write it.

Be sure not to take it personally, either, if they suggest you kill your darlings. After all, it's about the story, not you.

Now, I need to stop writing about writing and actually start writing. And maybe you should stop reading about writing and do what you need to do: Write. 

As always, Happy Writing!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Some Musings on the Origins of Stories--

Imagine this scene: You are sitting at an outdoor table at some quaint and charming cafe, and you clutch a warm, frothy beverage of your choice. You squint in the warm sun beams, and a person walks by on the street. This person has a purple wig, green nail polish, and a sad looking pup in her purse. Now you tell me: what's her story?

Now imagine this: You are in an airplane, traveling out of the country. As you take off, the thrill in your stomach crashes down on you, making you want to jump out of your skin. And then you wonder: can someone jump out of their skin? 

Now, before you start calling me crazy (which I am, I thought we already discussed this), think on this: this is where stories come from. They don't come from some sudden realization, from some Magic Story Muse. They come from you, from what you observe, what you think, what you imagine. Stories don't just fall into your lap willy-nilly. You have to work for them, to discover them.

I've said it before, I'll say it again: When you open a blank document, when all the nerves of starting a new book, a new novel, a new story, don't think of it as blank; rather think of it as full, bursting with possibilities and ideas. It's simply your job to find your story among it all and tell it. Only you can.

Happy Writing.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Hope for the Three Stages of Writerly Hardships--

Writing is hard. Or rather, it can be hard. That's the thing about writing: it can be an exhilarating ride that sweeps you up in it and carries you away to other worlds, or it can be something that you do to pay the bills, get the desired grade, or just to be able to say you did it.

I will try to help the three main stages of writerly hardships here. That is, the person who just wants to write, the person who's flailing in the depths of their rough draft, and the person who has finished the rough draft but wondering where the heck to go from here. Chances are, you're in one of these categories right now.

Let me stop right there and say this: if you find yourself sitting at the keyboard day after day after day, doggedly punching those keys and making words form sentences, if it is a drudgery for you, then this is probably not for you. BUT: if you have been on a Writerly Roller Coaster, loving the excellent highs, struggling not to lose your lunch as you plummet into the unimaginable depths of writer lowness, then stick around and see what you can see.

That said, let's get on with it.

For The Person Who Just Wants to Write: So. You want to write. Congratulations! You have now joined the 87% of other Americans who want to do the same. But why should you stay with majority, when you can be the person who actually writes?

How do you do that? Simple. You write. 

Now, I know what you're thinking: It's not that simple, because [Enter Lame Excuse Here]! But I am here to tell you, it is that simple. You are a newbie writer; don't expect greatness. You are not J.K. Rowling, you're not Charles Dickens. You're just not. At least, not yet. I might even go so far as to say don't expect mediocrity. Let me regale you for a second.

I wrote my first complete novel (really it was more a novella, but even that is a stretch.) when I was twelve. When I was writing it, I was swept up in this grand adventure, sure that someday this would be a bestseller. I mean, it felt so awesome to put the words on to the paper, to watch the stack of lined paper grow and grow (yes, I used to write everything longhand). I just knew I could do this! And then I put it away and began my next story. That story (which I named Shattered) is such utter garbage that I have trouble reading it now. It's full of writing no-nos and author faux pas that I can't even stomach the darned thing. But do I regret it? Of course not. I learned so so so much when writing this crappy little story written on mini legal pads in my nearly illegible handwriting.

I went on to write several more stories, each a little longer and a little better. By the time I was fourteen, I had begun my first series. (Though I only ever wrote the first book of it.) I read as much as I wrote, if not more, and I was always improving. Now, I'm still not the greatest author in the world, but I have learned so much from those first years, and each year brings something new to my writerly mind. I'm always learning, and you can too. So get out there, get reading, and just write. And if it's crappy, oh well. At least you did something. And if you keep at it, maybe someday your own books will be in print.

So, all that summed up? Don't be afraid to do badly. It's going to happen. So just read everything you can, and write just as much as you read. You'll get there, one word at a time.

For The Person Flailing Around in the First Draft: You have this idea, and it's burning in your mind, itching to come out, to be this wonderful, splendid, beautifully crafted story that will be utterly gripping and intoxicatingly exciting. But when you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), it all started to crash and burn.

Nothing is coming out the way you wanted it to, you're not as wonderful as you hoped, and with each page you write, you just want to get up. Your story is going nowhere.

Let me stop you write there (yes, pun intended). And let me share a quote with you from Stephen King's book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft: "Here's something else-- if no one says to you: "Oh, Sam (or Amy)! This is wonderful!," you are a lot less apt to slack off or to start concentrating on the wrong thing... being wonderful, for instance, instead of telling the darn story."

There is a reason that the first draft of a story is also called a rough draft. Because it's rough. All it'll be is words on the page, or, as I've said before, a hunk of clay on the table. It's not going to come out as your ornate clay chalice on the first go. But you have to start somewhere, and you have to start with something, so stop whining and get to work. Don't worry if your prose is less than ideal, or if your dialogue is unbelievable. Just get down to it and tell the darn story. That is your main job. Cleaning it up and making it smell nice comes later, once you have your words on a page. But you can't fix it if there's nothing to fix, so keep at it, tell the story, and then move on to the next step-- revision. 

You can do it-- I know you can, and I also know that you know you can. So what are you waiting for?

For The Person Struggling With Revision: You have gotten over the fear of writing, and you have written your rough draft. You have picked up that hunk of clay and moved it to your work table. And now your are trying to turn this blob of words into something readable, something that is intriguing and believable and original. But you don't know the first thing about sculpting words on a page. You're losing steam, and fast. If you keep this up, soon you'll have no more momentum at all. So you scream at the top of your lungs, Help! 

Well, help is here.

Revision can be the most challenging part of writing a piece of fiction, or even non-fiction for that matter. You have a story, you have the clay, you have to tools, but you don't know what to do first, or how to keep going. Let me encourage you: You are not alone. Revision is universally acknowledged as the hardest part. Why? Because you can't just write at break-neck speed anymore and ignore the typos. You can't just close the door and have alone time with your novel. And that is difficult. You have entered a new stage in your relationship with that novel of yours. You have gone from creator to editor.

So, what should you do?

The first thing to do is to sit down and read your novel. I would recommend reading it in one sitting if you can, as to get the feel of the whole thing and pick up on inconsistencies more easily. Go ahead and fix the misspellings and grammatical errors. And take notes on the storyline: what's clear and what's not, what need's cleaning up, and what needs to go. Then sit back and pat yourself on the back: you have just finished another draft.

After that, you move on, notes in hand. Look at each scene closely, determining whether or not it is necessary to the story. If it's not, cut it, if it is, look at it again to clean it up. Take out as many adverbs as you can (they're really not necessary), and see what you can do to make it pick up pace. When you have done that, move on to the next scene and do the same.

Now, some of you are pulling out your hair because you are stuck in the revision process, and the tunnel is long and dark, you're tired of stumbling around, and you just can't see the light at the end. I understand. I was there myself not too long ago. So let me give you some advice: this is when you get crafty. You become editor-turned-creative. You're in a dark tunnel? Well, look-a-there, you just found some shiny crystals hanging from the ceiling that glow. You have light! You may not be able to see the end of the tunnel, but who says you can't see that bit that's just in front of you? And if you can see that, then you can move forward, inch by inch, until the end is nigh.

Be creative, let your imagination go wild, and tell your story. Don't let dialogue or description or prose or anything else get in the way of what is most important: Story.

And then, bearing that in mind, with fresh eyes and renewed hearts, remind yourself why you are telling this story. Why you decided to write this one. Why did you fall a little bit in love with these characters? Why should the world have this story?

Only you can tell.

So get out there, get writing, and tell your story.

And, as always, Happy Writing!