Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Spousal Rhythms

or My Post for the Early Bird Thanksgiving Blogfest

It’s that time of year where we not only eat, drink, and be merry but also contemplate what we are thankful for.

I have a wonderful life. I ask my husband what we are going to eat, not how. I worry about the logistics of traveling home for the holidays, not the financing. All of Maslow’s basic needs are covered. I have my health, a wonderful family, supportive friends, and more and more confidence each day that all this writing stuff is going somewhere. And I am thankful for all of these things.

But if I had to choose one thing I am most thankful for this year, it is my husband’s support. It is his job, his abilities, his willingness to let me explore, that has given me the opportunity to write fulltime. There are no guarantees anything will come of it – we both know that – but he supports me just the same.

I get most of my writing and reading done while he is away at work during weekdays. Nights and weekends are our time, whether it’s making dinner, doing dishes, or running errands. But because he’s a researcher, sometimes personal life gets pushed aside in favor of deadlines for proposals, conferences, and journal articles. It is during these crunch times that I simply reach for another book or tinker with another WIP afterhours. I get more work done when my husband’s workload increases.

It’s kinda funny, but I also think it’s a time when we both understand the most about each other’s work. When he’s writing proposals or articles, he gets so frustrated when the words don’t come. Or when the writing sucks hard but he knows he just has to get it down in order to fix it later. Sound familiar?

On weekend mornings, we’ll go to coffee shops and hunker down at a table for two hours – he’ll be typing away on his computer or highlighting an academic paper, while I’ll be scribbling in my notebook or red-lining a printout of my latest story. Sometimes we’ll both catch each other staring off into space, thinking about our next words, or working out a new idea, or simply taking a break from all the mental exertion that goes on at our little table. We’ll smile, maybe make a joke, discuss our new idea or where we got stuck, and eventually start working again.

It’s a nice arrangement – how his working rhythms dovetail with mine. It’s not something I expected, but now that I have it, I can’t imagine going without. How do spousal rhythms influence your writing? Do they cheer you on? Work with you side-by-side? Or give you the time and space to do your thing?

I am thankful my husband gives me a little bit of everything.

This post was written for the Early Bird Thanksgiving Blogfest, spearheaded by Jeffrey Beesler. You can find a list of other participants at Jeffrey Beesler’s World of the Scribe.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Ends and Writing Short

I write big.

When I come up with a story, my mind usually fills in the blanks until I have a novel’s worth of content. Setting, characters, plot, and sub-plots. This means the hard part is just forcing myself to write the first draft. It may not be pretty when it’s done, but everything’s there. And so far, I haven’t had to worry about padding my story to meet target words counts. If anything, I work on tightening things up and deciding what to cut out (research, in the case of my historical romances; worldbuilding in my speculative works).

And with my novel-length works, I always know where I’m going to end up. It may change a bit as the first draft progresses, but that’s ok and usually makes the ending stronger.

I also have some shorter projects in the works. Short stories and the like. But I keep running into problems when I write short: I don’t know how to end them.

Actually, it’s probably more accurate to say I don’t know how to end them in a satisfying way. They just kinda stop.

I suspect my difficulties with The Ends in short stories has to do with (1) what I choose to focus my story on, (2) how I structure my stories, and (3) my level of exposure to short stories that are currently being published.

Story Focus – Some of my short stories end up being sketches of a potentially larger narrative that feel rushed and unsatisfying because they deserve a larger treatment. Then can I go in the opposite direction and write a story that captures one moment in time, a mood even, and I don’t know how to finish it off because it’s more atmospheric than a complete story

Structure – My choice of story focus obviously affects structure. For my novels-in-short-story-clothing, I struggle to reduce the traditional three-act structure into a shorter format. For my moments-in-time stories, I’m not sure if there's even a way structure can inform how to tie things off. I know that you should focus on one thing in a short story and each word should contribute to the overall effect, but I just can’t seem to do it.

Exposure – I read. A lot. But mostly I read novels. Not short stories. I read them when I was in school of course, but they were the classics, not the short fiction of today. I have a bunch of collections in my TBR pile, and requested a couple of literary magazine subscriptions for Christmas, so I hope to widen my exposure and in turn strengthen my craft.

But right now, I’m wracking my brain as to how I’m going to end two short pieces I’ve been working on off and on for the past few months. So I finally asked the google gods to help me out with how to end a short story, and here’s what I found:

Short Stories: 10 Tips for Creative Writers - Describes different types of short story endings and provides examples.

Ten Short Story Endings to Avoid - Just what it sounds like. Luckily I haven’t employed any of these!

Writing Short Stories with a Twist Ending - Describes different types of twist endings and points to examples.

Short Story Project: Beware the Twilight Zone Ending - Explains why you should avoid twist endings in your stories.

Short Story Endings Podcast from the Writing Show - An hour-long discussion with short story writers Randall Brown and Melissa Palladino.

I know I can always throw down the gauntlet and decide to only write book-length stories and never look back. But that means I’ve given up all hope of writing short. And in today’s industry, versatility is a writer’s best friend.

How do you go from writing big to small? Small to big?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

When is Close, Too Close?

Last night, my critique group resumed its monthly meeting. Nerd that I am, I was excited to reconnect with my writing friends that I hadn’t seen since the middle of the summer. I sent out my work a week ahead of time and was looking forward to getting some feedback on the first chapter of one of my speculative fiction projects.

Then, buzzkill.

One of the group members got kinda twitchy about my story because they also had a project in the works with similar characters and issues, set in a similar futuristic world, that they were also planning to share with the group. At our meeting, that member talked about all the similarities and the fact they couldn’t even read my chapter without worrying about how such synchronicity would affect the development of our different projects.

I said I would be happy to not share this particular story with the group in the future to allay such concerns, but the person kept bringing the issue up until I had no other choice but to think that they were concerned about something more insidious: plagiarism. That they feared we'd unwittingly steal each other’s ideas if we went ahead and critiqued each other’s work. By the end of the night I was pissed off. I said in no uncertain terms that they didn’t have to worry about me stealing their ideas. I bid them a polite goodnight and left.

A flurry of emails later –– That’s not what I meant/Well, that’s how it sounded to You’re awesome/No, you’re awesome/No, we're both awesome –– we’ve come to a tenuous accord, and are moving forward since the similarities are, after all, only surface ones and the intent of our work is very different. Crisis solved, right?

I’m still left scratching my head. This was a critique group with members writing in all sorts of genres, including literary fiction and poetry, so until now, having similar pieces crop up hasn’t been an issue. When I found out I was writing in the same area as this other critique group member, I thought it was a great opportunity to have someone well-versed in speculative fiction critique my stuff as opposed to just the casual readers who can provide valuable insights, but often get hung up on genre-specific aspects. I was swiftly disabused of that notion.

While my critique group disbanded for a few months, I toyed with the idea of joining the local chapter of Romance Writers of America to not only get involved with a group of professional writers I could count on, but to also receive feedback from qualified readers and writers of my genre. But now I’m left wondering how incestuous such organizations can be when everyone is working on a romance novel with similar elements. How much influence can we have on each other’s work? Where is the line?

People say you must be well-versed in your genre so you know how to stand out, so you know how to avoid tired takes on old plots. People also say the critique process is essential not only because of the feedback you get, but the feedback you provide to others. But both of these activities can be at cross-purposes if the subject matter strikes too close to home.

I’m curious if any of you have ever run into this issue before, especially in groups centered on a particular style or genre of writing. How do you protect your intellectual property? How do you contribute to another’s WIP without eroding the ideas and effort you put into your own work? I’d love to hear your comments.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Resource Roundup – NaNoWriMo Edition

In case you've been living under a rock, November is National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo or simply NaNo for short. 50,000 words in 30 days (1,667 words/day). Whether you are sailing along or have already found yourself in troubled waters, consider this your one-stop-shop for NaNoWriMo resources when the going gets tough.

As with previous Resource Roundups (Finding the Right Word, Conjuring Up Titles, and Crafting Dialogue), I focused on online resources. There were a ton of posts out there, which I’ve gone through and evaluated for their usefulness. But if you’ve come across other valuable resources, please tell me about them in the comments, and I’ll include them when I add this to my Resource Roundup page on the sidebar.

Post Series: 

Write Anything's NaNoWriMo Workshop by contributor Karen covers planning your NaNo project in addition to specific aspects of craft so crucial to storytelling. She pulls the best bits from numerous books on craft and technique to give NaNo participants a helping hand.

Find, and Flush Out, an Idea
Setting It Up
Point of View
Constructing Scenes

NaNoWriMo Boot Camp courtesy of Agent Nathan Bransford is a must read, if only because Bransford condescended to write about NaNo in the first place. Besides, you should be reading his posts on craft and publishing anyway. He has 4,660 Goggle followers (and counting) for a reason.

Choosing the Right Idea
Goals and Obstacles
Editing As You Go

Countdown to NaNoWriMo by Paulo Campos at yingle yangle gives you tried and true advice from a NaNoWriMo veteran. When you hit the wall, Campos's posts provide options for moving forward.

Part 1: Winding Up Your Writing Clock
Part 2: Why Outlining Your Novel Is Essential
Part 3: Outlining A Novel Worth Reading
Part 4: Your Outline Will Fail
Part 5: Making the Most Out of A NaNoWriMo Crisis
Part 6: Making A Mess of A NaNoWriMo Crisis
Part 7: Why NaNoWriMo Naysayers Should Please Shut Up
Part 8: So Your NaNoWriMo Novel Sucked

Stand Alone Posts:

The Pros and Cons of NaNoWriMo - Gives a great overview of the benefits of participating and the trade-offs you'll make when you lock yourself away to reach the goal.

NaNoReaMo - Author Natalie Whipple decides she's going to spend November reading instead of writing.

Putting the NANO in NaNoWriMo - An alternative take on what "NaNo" really means.

NaNo Checklist - The title says it all. Make sure you haven't forgotten anything.

6 Golden Rules of NaNoWriMo -When you start questioning where your story's headed, read this for a reality check, courtesy of editor Victoria Mixon.

9 Ways to Prepare for National Novel Writing Month - Another post from Write Anything to make sure you're ready for NaNo.

Other NaNoWriMo resources from those who know:

***Please let me know in the comments if you've found a NaNoWriMo resource that should also be included. Thanks!
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