Thursday, December 20, 2012

Happy Holidays!

In case the world ends tomorrow, I wanted to reach out to my readers one last time. Thank you for your interest in my ramblings on writing, for your comments and tweets, and for making this whole writing thing less lonely.

If the world doesn’t end tomorrow—and I’m planning on it sticking around a bit longer—then I hope you have a wonderful holiday season with you and yours, however you celebrate.


I’m taking a break for the rest of the month. See you in the New Year (fingers crossed)!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Assumptions, part deux


Last week, I talked about reader assumptions and how the writer can use them to their advantage in their stories. They’re great for worldbuilding shorthand and reveals and revelations, so long as you don’t thoroughly confuse your reader in the process. And I should also say, it can take time to get a bead on what readers think as they progress through a story. Experience will help guide your intuition, along with really awesome trusted readers.

But today, I want to talk about a different kind of assumption. The assumptions we writers make every time we sit down and, well, write.

Think back on when you first started writing. Did you think it would be easy? Did you think if your story had a beginning, middle, and end, it was bound to be good?

As you continued to write, did you assume that if you never stopped, that would somehow translate into success? What about if you wrote a good story/book and assumed it would sell even if there wasn’t a ready market for it? After all, we are told to write the book of our hearts, regardless of what the market demands… Did you ever assume you could get away with breaking the rules because you are you?

Alas, in writing there is no easy button.

Now, some of these assumptions may smack of naivetĂ© now, but I guarantee you those assumptions were helping you to do one of two things: 1) Stay motivated – those dreams of making it big fuel us all at one time or another, and 2) Finish the story – after all, if you don’t make it to the end, it doesn’t matter how well you can write.

In the post Different Stages, Different Questions awhile back, I talked about how writers operate at different stages of writing experience, and the questions that guide their efforts. I also think the assumptions we carry with us at different points in our lives also have a formative effect on our work.

After all, if you don’t know any better, those assumptions are all you have to navigate the writing process. And they can be useful, except when you reach a point where they stop being helpful and start being a hindrance.

I want to point you to a series of posts on The Cockeyed Caravan blog by screenwriter Matt Bird (and if you haven’t visited this blog, you are missing out). In the series, he talks about the more detrimental assumptions we writers make about process, craft, and careers, and discusses the actual reality we face. I know it’s a lot of links to click through, but I think you’ll agree that he’s spot on.



Happy writing! (And retooling your own assumptions about writing!)


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

You Know What Happens When You Assume Things…


Assumptions sometimes get a bad rap. A lot of times they make an ass out of you and me, but that’s often only in hindsight. In fact, I’d posit assumptions are essential to living, and, along with that, writing.

After all, an assumption is made based on the information you have on hand or experiences you’ve acquired and can extrapolate from. For example, deciding what to wear based on a glance out the window—I assume I won’t need a rain jacket because the sun is out. Or I assume I can make cream of cauliflower soup because I’ve made cream of broccoli soup in the past.

The assumptions we make are based on our accrued knowledge. So we accrue knowledge to survive, but that doesn’t mean that knowledge is always enough to navigate our world. Mistakes do happen, and that’s actually a good thing for writers.

As people read our stories and novels, they are interpreting our words and trying to make sense of the world we’ve presented them with. To do this, they must make assumptions. For example, if I don’t point out that the sky is green in my story and people get around by walking on their hands, my readers will assume the sky is blue and people walk like normal.

So if on page 30 I suddenly point out that the sky in my world is actually green, that forces the reader to stop and reevaluate what I’ve told them. This can be a bad thing when it throws the reader out of the story. But for some story elements, particularly reveals, this can be a neat trick and make your reader even more invested in figuring out your story as they try to fit the pieces together into a cohesive whole.

"But what does it all mean?"



I like to do this particularly at the opening of a story, where I’m trying to hook a reader’s interest by slowly dealing out world details. Readers will make assumptions based on what is mentioned and/or described, along with what isn’t. And depending on how those details complement one another or how they disrupt one another, my reader will make assumptions about the larger story world that can potentially make the worldbuilding easier on me.

As writers, we should all be relying on a reader’s assumption about genre conventions when crafting our stories except when those conventions interfere with the story we’re writing. In other words, we should be using these assumptions as world building shorthand except when they get in the way. Big deviations, ones that will just cause more confusion than not, however, should probably be addressed as soon as possible so you don’t disorient the reader.

But for me, I like to use reader assumptions and turn them on their head sometimes. As James Killick discusses in Reveals and Revelations,
If you break it down, there are only really two types of revelation that can be made within a story – revelations about the story and revelations about character. The differences should be fairly self-explanatory – a revelation about the story is when something is revealed outside of character – who the murderer is, who is sleeping with the heroine's husband. Character revelation is when something is revealed about character – a hidden trait, an unrealised dream, a hitherto misinterpreted desire.
And both of these (when successful) work because the author has leveraged the reader’s assumptions about the story. The trick is setting them up (which is another post entirely :P).

As readers, we make all kinds of assumptions based on what’s presented to us by the author, as well as unconsciously, based on our own personal and cultural biases. Remember the social media explosion when peoplewere surprised that Rue was black in the movie version of The Hunger Games? That was attributed to a tendency of assumed whiteness where readers assume literary characters are white unless told otherwise. In fact, as The Hunger Games demonstrated, those details stating otherwise can be easily overlooked in a culture of assumed whiteness (and it must be said, poor literacy skills).

So what does that mean for the writer? Well, I think in some ways it’s our duty to engage with these assumptions and draw attention to them by disrupting them in unique ways without sacrificing story. Particularly the more insidious ones related to gender and race and power (and Juliette Wade has a great post on this subject).

But ultimately playing with readers’ assumptions is just another tool in your toolbox. So use it wisely.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Rebuilding Momentum


I’ve been a bit of a slacker lately. At least as far as my blog goes. I haven’t been able to post for the last couple of weeks. In fact this place would be a ghost town if I didn’t have comments from spammers to keep me company. Thanks, guys. Or, umm, bots.

But although the blog may not show it, I’ve been rather busy this last couple of months. Lots of writing going on, and there’s also been an uptick in my critiquing responsibilities. Then I had family in town for Thanksgiving. I basically spent the week before the holiday cooking and cleaning like a madwoman and the week of trying to stay sane. I survived, but just barely.

And now? Now, it’s back to the writing routine and my much-abused blog. I’ll be dusting off the cobwebs so to speak these coming weeks, so please bear with me.

In the meantime, here are some helpful links to help you stay productive:
Happy writing, and see you next Wednesday!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Nano Fail

So I’m not doing NaNoWriMo this year. I can hear your collective gasps.


I am very aware of all the benefits to participating in National Novel Writing Month: the motivation to get words down, the camaraderie of knowing you and all your best writing buds are typing away, the assurance that it’s ok if your draft sucks since that’s what first drafts are for.

But the guilt of not making daily quotas and the inevitable burnout that always results from going full tilt don’t appeal to me, especially given the timing for me this year.

Word Count Guilt

For the past two years, I’ve participated in Nano. I’ve never “won,” but logged 20k the first year, closer to 30 the second. And I considered those victories. But the 1,700 words a day wasn’t sustainable. At least for me.

On a good day 2k is about my limit. On a really good day, 3.5k is possible. But that usually means I’m way over-caffeinated, my hand aches from writing so much, and my legs have fallen asleep from sitting so long. Not exactly the balance I seek in my writing life.

After a big writing day, I usually take a break. But during Nano, the pressure to “catch up” takes over. And while it might be good to understand just how far you can push yourself, to motivate you in the future, you eventually have to worry about…

Burnout

We’ve all heard the horror stories, related to Nano and other publishing deadlines. Burnout’s no fun. It can leave your brain a pile of goo and have you questioning your resolve. And as far as I’m concerned, anything that makes you doubt your decision to write is not a good thing.

Plus, with the projects I’m working on, the goals I want to reach with them, I really can’t afford the time off to manage burnout symptoms.  Besides, I believe you should be focused on writing everyday, not just once a year, as outlined in the NaNoWriMo No post from Writer Unboxed. Slow and steady, wins the race… (at least I hope!)

Timing

Despite my (lack of) progress in Nano’s past, I have used November as a good time to jumpstart a new project or restructure an old one. But this fall, I started another project, wrote a skeletal draft, and am now fine-tuning things. The WIP is not in typical Nano shape, and I’m in too deep to consider starting one that is. So the timing just didn’t work out this year. For me.

That doesn’t mean NaNoWriMo isn’t a worthy goal for those of you forging on. But I’m sitting this one out, and hopefully I’ll be able to join in next year!

Happy writing!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

How Do You Critique?

The last couple of weeks (and maybe into the next) I’ve been buried in critiques. Hence this slightly delayed post. I’m not complaining, mind you, but the volume recently—the result a confluence of chance—has forced me to evaluate my process in between all my edits, insertions, and comments.



Some observations:

I read everything. For me, critiquing is less about the genre or subject matter and more about supporting the writer behind the project.

I firmly believe there is a level of trust required for exchanging work. And that mutual respect means doing my best to evaluate the work I agree to critique, regardless of what it is, as I would hope others would do for me. It’s too early for me to be trapped in a particular genre, and I’m always eternally grateful that my CPs and trusted readers are usually game to crit whatever I send their way.

Part of this is because I’ve spent a lot of time in non-genre specific writing groups. In fact, one of the more successful groups I’ve been a part of has members writing in completely different genres—poetry, alt lit, women’s fiction, and then there’s me. All of us have good bs detectors and strong writing chops, which definitely helps. Plus having this exposure also keeps me from getting tunnel vision from the particular genre/style I’m writing in.

If a fellow writer thinks they’ll benefit from an honest reader reaction from me, I’m happy to support them. Karma is important, and I know I've benefited from the writer connections I've made. That’s not to say if they hand me a mystery I’ll be thrilled. But I’ll do my best to critique it, with the caveat that I’m not as well-versed in this genre as I am others.

I usually have to read a piece twice before I’m ready to critique.

This is time consuming, yes. That has become abundantly clear these last couple of weeks. BUT, it’s something I’ve made peace with. Mostly because my own standards of quality demand it.

Reading the piece the first time, I’m trying to get a general feel for the story, understand how all the different elements work as a whole. I might make some copy edits in the first round, but really I’m just reading for story.

This is a tremendous help when it comes time to offer my comments on the second pass. That’s when I decide what are real issues that need to be dealt with to support an author’s story intentions. I believe I have to understand the macro story elements into order to comment on the micro-level ones (outside of grammar).

My critique style has evolved as I’ve taken strides with my craft.

What this essentially means is that early on, I was overly focused with style and micro level issues. If someone wrote a line in a way I wouldn’t, I’d offer my suggestions for changing it. I was also overly concerned with "the rules" and more than happy to say "You're doing it wrong!" because the craft books said so. I won't say I was a Craft Nazi, one of the Writerly Types to Avoid, but it took time for me to digest all that advice so I could apply it in more constructive ways.

But after a number of critiques, after reading a variety of work, I’ve been exposed to a lot of different ways of doing things. And I've realized with all the do's and don'ts out there, all that matters is whether a particular technique is effective in a particular story context. That's it.

So I’ve adopted a more flexible live and let live policy. I’ll still point out awkward phrasings or unsuccessful techniques, but I’ve come to realize that just because someone doesn’t write something exactly the way I would doesn’t make it wrong. It just makes it different, and that’s ok. And that frees up more of my mental space for addressing more substantive story issues.

I rarely say no to requests to exchange work, but the time may be nigh to change that.

For so long, I was too scared to share my work. Then, when I got less scared, I had trouble finding people to share it with. I talked about this progression in my post The Critique Mindset a while back.

Over time, I’ve collected a formidable group of trusted writer friends: local writers, online writers, and my writer colleagues from Taos. For every person I can rely on for critiques, they must be able to rely on me. And as the last weeks have shown me, I’m near my limit, if I still want to be producing my own work at a pace that doesn’t make me cranky. (Hint, I'm cranky this week.)

So while I’m a huge proponent for exchanging work for critique, all things in moderation. And maybe it’s time to take my own advice.

***
Happy Nanoing for those participating! Happy writing for the rest of us! And only good thoughts for our friends on the east coast!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Interview with Fantasy Author L. Blankenship

Today, I’m pleased to bring you an interview with L. Blankenship, who is one of my valued critique partners. A graduate of Viable Paradise, L. writes gritty hard fantasy and science fiction. She also blogs for both Unicorn Bell and Science in my Fiction.

She’s celebrating the release of her book Disciple, Part I, which she is self-publishing after a successful Kickstarter campaign.

The saints favor her, else-wise a peasant girl like Kate Carpenter would never be apprenticed to the kingdom’s master healer. But her patron saint also marks her ready for the duty of tending to a mission that must cross the ice-bound mountains. Their little kingdom faces invasion by a vast empire and desperately needs allies; across the snow-filled pass, through the deathly thin air, is a country that’s held off the empire and may be willing to lend an army.

Kate knows about frostbite and the everyday injuries of wilderness travel. She can heal those.

She’s not ready for the attentions of a ne’er-do-well knight and the kingdom’s only prince, though.

And she isn’t ready for the monsters that harry them night and day, picking off their archers first, wearing the party to exhaustion, pushing Kate beyond the limits her healing abilities.

She must keep them alive, or her blood will be on the snow too.

This is part one of a six-part series. Why does the series start here?

The secret mission across the mountains provided a way to introduce my main characters without dropping the readers directly into a very complicated situation. There's a simplicity to being out on the road and away from all the trappings of everyday life – which my characters have a lot of. Having met them in Part I, it's easier for readers to slide into all that information in Part II. There's also the simple and vital boy-meets-girl aspect of Part I, which is always a good place to start story.

What was the most difficult aspect of writing Disciple, Part I?

The romance elements have been difficult. There's a reason people have kept writing about romance for thousands of years. It's a heavily layered thing – everything from careful, left-brain logic to delicate right-brain emotions to bulldozer-subtle hormones. Readers have strong opinions about shoulds and shouldn'ts, and maintaining sympathy with the characters while they make mistakes and argue isn't easy.

Where did the idea for the Disciple series come from?

The idea for the romance in Disciple came from an online conversation about Titanic. Someone asserted that the romance only worked because Rose was upper-class and Jack was lower-class. They further asserted that if those were reversed, Rose would be a gold-digger and Jack would be an asshole slumming for tail. Neither would be a sympathetic character for the audience.

Naturally, I set about devising a romance where the poor girl was not a gold-digger and the rich guy was not an asshole. That's what I set out to write, at least. Along the way, things got more complicated than that because I wanted a very down-to-earth story about real and serious problems. So a war got thrown in the mix, and then magic, and it wasn't just a romance anymore.

What do you see as the advantages to self-publishing this series?

It's an eclectic combination of advantages. It's about having control over my product; I've been a graphic designer and prepress tech for 15 years and I've been involved in small press publishing, so on the technical end of self-publishing, I know what I want to do. I don't need to give a publisher a cut of the profits to do it for me.

It's also about keeping all the rights to this intellectual property I've sunk so much into – when did Titanic come out? 15 years ago? All writers put a vast amount of energy into their stories, and I'm not saying I've done more than anyone else. But the entertainment industry can be quite cutthroat, and there's a long history of starry-eyed artists being taken advantage of. I don't want to be one of those.

What advice do you have for other writers wanting to go the same route?

I wrote a series of posts about self-publishing on the Unicorn Bell blog, and I indexed them here. I'm sure to say more about self-publishing, so stay tuned to my blog.

What has been the most rewarding part of this process?

Fellow bloggers have been so kind getting the word out that I'm overwhelmed. When I was putting Disciple together, I was thrilled every time my artists sent me new sketches. This has been an exciting, yet nerve-wracking, six months since I decided to self-publish!

What’s next for Kate and her companions?

I'd like to take this chance to premiere the back cover blurb for Disciple, Part II: (Yay!)
The prince first kissed Kate Carpenter for fear of missing the chance if they didn’t survive the journey home through the monster-prowled mountains.

Now that kiss seems like a fever dream. It’s back to work for her, back to the fellow physicians jealous of her talents and the sneers of an infirmary director who wants her shipped off to some tiny village. Kate means to be on the front lines to save lives. She’s worked too hard to overcome her past to let them deny her the chance to serve her homeland when the enemy’s army reaches their kingdom.

The grand jousting tournament is a chance to prove she can manage combat wounded, and at the royal Solstice banquet Kate means to prove she isn’t an ignorant peasant girl anymore.

But the prince’s kiss still haunts her. Their paths cross at the joust, at the banquet, and the easy familiarity they earned on the journey home is a welcome escape from their duties. It’s a small slip from chatting to kisses.

Kate knows it’s foolish; he’s doomed to a political marriage. As a knight, he will be on the battleground this spring. The kingdom needs every defender, every physician, focused on the war. The vast and powerful empire is coming to slaughter anyone standing between them and the kingdom’s magical fount.

Kate ought to break both their hearts, for duty’s sake.

Thanks so much, L.!

Be sure to check out L.’s blog and follow her on twitter: @lblankenship_sf.

And remember! Disciple: Part I is available now in print from Amazon and CreateSpace as well as in a variety of ebook formats.

It's wonderful story, full of action and romance in a vividly imagined world. And the best part is, this is just the start of Kate's adventures!
 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Next Big Thing Meme

I was recently tagged by Fran Wilde, a fellow writer and friend I met at Taos Toolbox, to talk about my current Work-in-Progress. Be sure to learn more about her WIP Bone Arrow, Glass Tooth, which I had the privilege of reading part of at the workshop.

1. What is the title of your Work in Progress?

Fireproof

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

Well, for starters, it wasn’t always a book. It started out as a short story. My response to a particularly bad season of wildfires—one actually got very close to my house. I wondered what it would be like to live under threat of fires all the time, how that would define you as a person and shape your culture. And the idea evolved from there.


Around that time, Wily Writers announced their YA post-apocalyptic theme, and I wanted to submit Fireproof. But I soon realized that wasn’t possible—my short stories are often novels in disguise, and Fireproof was one of them. So I set it aside and wrote Chicken Feet (which was accepted by Wily Writers and later reprinted in The Shining Cities anthology). I then returned to Fireproof with the new goal of fleshing it out as a novel.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

YA Science Fiction

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Let’s see if it gets picked up first.

5. What is a one-sentence synopsis of the book?

I hate writing these. How about a paragraph?
Tanwen’s father trained her to be a survivor, but the colony will train her to be a spy. When a rogue collective takes aim at the colony’s water supply, she’s ordered to infiltrate enemy territory. Away from her family and friends, Tanwen must come to terms with all she thought she knew about her life. And when her mission objective changes from recon to sabotage, she’ll learn what’s really worth saving.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Representation, I hope. One day. Fingers crossed!

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

The idea was kicking around in my head Spring/Summer of 2011. Starting in Fall 2011, I started treating it as a novel and had a full draft by late Spring 2012. It’s complete and polished and I’m largely pleased with it, but still making the occasional tweak.

8. What other books would you compare this story to in your genre?

The dreaded comparables question? I think this meme hates me ;)

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

See Q2. I also wanted to explore a couple different themes:
  • Sacrificing what you want for the good of the community
  • How specialized education/skillsets can lock you into unwanted trajectories
  • We don’t have to repeat the mistakes of our parents
  • Grief and all the different shapes it takes
  • And, of course, hope in the future

10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

The southwestern setting is a huge part of the story, despite its SF trappings. Many elements are rooted in the culture and the people who make the high desert their home—and some things were ripped straight from the headlines. Granted most readers won’t care about all that, but it was important for me to have that extra layer of authenticity.

I also wanted to present a possible, if not probable, apocalyptic scenario because so many other books gloss over what happens in the past. In Fireproof, the connections between what happened and its impact on the resulting society are tightly drawn, showing the messy transition from apocalyptic event to resulting post-apocalyptic society. One of my trusted readers called it a pre-post-apocalyptic story, which is awkward to say, but in some ways accurately captures my intention.

***

Thanks again to Fran Wilde for tagging me!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Cover Reveal and Giveaway for Disciple

Today, I'm happy to celebrate the cover reveal for L. Blankenship's Disciple Part 1- For Want of a Piglet!

A graduate of Viable Paradise, L. writes gritty hard fantasy and science fiction and blogs for both Unicorn Bell and Science in my Fiction.

I've had the good fortune of reading this story just over a year ago, and it's been an amazing to watch the journey from draft to book. And for a lucky entrant, you'll be able to get your hands on an early copy of the book before it releases on November 1, 2012. Just follow the Rafflecopter guidelines below.

About Disciple Part 1 - For Want of a Piglet:

The saints favor her, else-wise a peasant girl like Kate Carpenter would never be apprenticed to the kingdom’s master healer. But her patron saint also marks her ready for the duty of tending to a mission that must cross the ice-bound mountains. Their little kingdom faces invasion by a vast empire and desperately needs allies; across the snow-filled pass, through the deathly thin air, is a country that’s held off the empire and may be willing to lend an army.  

Kate knows about frostbite and the everyday injuries of wilderness travel. She can heal those.

She’s not ready for the attentions of a ne’er-do-well knight and the kingdom’s only prince, though. 

And she isn’t ready for the monsters that harry them night and day, picking off their archers first, wearing the party to exhaustion, pushing Kate beyond the limits her healing abilities. 

She must keep them alive, or her blood will be on the snow too.
***

To learn more about the Disciple series, check out Disciples of the Fount for updates and news about the other books in the series.

Follow the instructions below to enter the giveaway:

a Rafflecopter giveaway  

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Power of Story


I had a very productive writing session at the coffee shop yesterday. It was a nice day so I was able to ride my bike there—a good way to prime the mind. After settling in with my java, I wrote for about three hours. A new WIP. I’m still in the early this-story-is-awesome stage, where the words just pour forth. Always a great feeling.


Towards the middle of my session, after the noonday rush had emptied out and there were just a handful of people left in the cafĂ©, a woman approached me and said, “Look at you! Still working so hard. What are you studying?”

I kinda blinked up at her in confusion and said I was writing. I was so in the zone I couldn’t come up with anything else. After some awkward chitchat (I write fiction, yes I’m published, no you won’t find my name on a book’s cover) she went back to her table where she was studying for some kind of exam, nursing I think. She was very sweet, but I was unprepared for her questions and felt like an idiot talking to her.

This incident taught me a few things.

  1. I can apparently still pass for a college student.
  2. People project themselves onto others all the time. Because she was a young woman at a coffee shop studying, I must be too.
  3. Your average person equates writers to (printed) books. When I explained I had a couple short stories published, she got a confused look on her face then smiled politely and said “Oh.”
  4. Writing could be seen as a study of the human condition, of ourselves and the world around us, negotiated on the page.
I still got another hour of work done after our talk. That’s the power of a good story, to help you forget the world around you. I could ignore the fact that she didn’t understand all the work that went into my short stories, all the work that still goes into them and my novel projects.

I could just focus on my words, my world, my story. And it was good.

Happy writing! 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

New Story Live

Just a quick note to say my story "Daughters of Demeter" is now live at Eternal Haunted Summer.
 

The story is a re-imaging of the Persephone/Hades myth. I always thought Demeter's scorched earth policy when Persephone disappeared was a bit of an overreaction, which made me wonder just what else she would do to keep her daughter safe.

And if you enjoy mythology and other pagan themes, check out the rest of the Autumn Equinox issue.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Feedback: It Gets Easier


This is a post I couldn’t write a few years ago. Back then, I had just started sharing my work with others. Although I desperately needed feedback, sometimes it hurt. Sometimes the criticisms made me doubt. And sometimes those criticisms made me change my stories, for better and worse.

But it doesn’t change the fact that feedback is a necessary evil in writing.

That first project? You know the one. The story that started them all, the one you’ll see through the bitter end, and the one you fear will end up in the bottom of the desk drawer. That one—your baby.

Feedback on that story is always the hardest. There’s no way around that, unless you have a Teflon-coated ego (and if you have one of those maybe you shouldn’t writing). You put so much of yourself into that first book, your dreams and hopes that you’ll buck the trend and get on the NY Times bestseller list. Any critical feedback will seem like an indictment against all that labor and love.

But if you’re writing for publication, you’ll get over that eventually. You’ll have to. Along with revising and revising some more until it’s time to start the feedback cycle all over again. It’ll go easier the second time around. After all, you already understand how it works. You have a stronger sense of your story’s strengths and weaknesses, and perhaps more importantly, you’ll understand yourself better. Which means knowing when you are overreacting to a piece of criticism and knowing which suggestions you need to consider and which ones you need to ignore. This is a huge milestone, but it takes practice with the feedback cycle, and sometimes a strong understanding of the people reading your work.

It takes time to do this. But it’s time well spent, because you need to get all this out of your system in order to start on the next project, regardless of whether your baby sells.

With the next project, you’ve told yourself you’re not going to make the same mistakes as the first. And you won’t—you’ll just make different ones. And then the feedback circuit will give you time to fix them.

It’ll be even easier this time. You know why? Because you don’t have nearly the same emotional investment in this project as you did in the one before. I’m not saying you don’t care about this project—you most certainly do. But now you know that this project isn’t the be-all and end-all of your writing career. You have other stories in you. This new story proves it.

So feedback this time may still sting, but you’ll be better able to compartmentalize it and use it to fuel positive changes in your work. And this is hugely valuable when you’re faced with tough revision decisions like restructuring your novel, adding or subtracting characters, or simply gutting the story and starting all over again.

The hard work that maybe you weren’t strong enough to even consider with your baby. But now, when the hunger for getting published—getting out there—when you have enough confidence in your craft that it’s just a matter of the right story hitting at the right time? Yeah, that. That’s when the tough decisions get made.

(and if this sounds like a pep talk, it kinda is for me)

The takeaway is this:

The more you write, the more mistakes you get to learn from.
The more mistakes you learn from, the more viable stories you create.
The more viable stories, the easier it is to deal with feedback.

Why? Because you can be more objective about your work. Because you no longer have the one story to care about, you have other projects now. All that emotion, good and bad, gets distributed across them. The successes and failures of individual projects gets muted, which makes it easier to make objective decisions how to manage them.

It’s a good thing, I think. It’s just important stay engaged, move forward, and above all, keep writing.

 
In my experience, my objectivity is reduced the longer I spend working on something. Tunnel vision is inevitable—that’s why it’s so important to take a break from your projects every now and then to gain perspective. It’s also why you need other readers.

But at the very least, if you keep writing, the less likely you’ll fall into the trap you did when writing your baby.

*Time spent working on a project could be equated to length of project as well. For example, negative criticism on my shorter pieces doesn’t nearly affect me as much as for my novel-length stories. But your mileage may vary. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Delayed Miscellany

I forgot to post this Wednesday, but life and writing happened, so I’m not too repentant.

If you didn’t know, Gearing Up to Get an Agent (#GUTGAA) is going on right now, and I’ve been busy polishing my own pitch and critiquing others this week. And I got the good news this morning that I successfully entered the preliminary round for agent judging. Yay! Even if I don't move on to the next round, my pitch has already benefited from entering.

I was also bestowed the Very Inspiring Blogger Award by the wonderful Jen McConnel. If you haven’t checked her out, you need to as she blogs about the writing life and provides insightful book reviews.


As a Very Inspiring Blogger Award recipient, I need to post seven interesting things about myself. Since I’ve done variations on this before, I’ll stick to writing-related things this time around.

1.  My Wily Writers story "Chicken Feet" is being reprinted in Bibliotheca Alexandrina’s The Shining Cities: An Anthology of Pagan Science Fiction. "Chicken Feet" is about a young girl who makes chicken foot ornaments, an aspect of Hoodoo culture, to survive a post-apocalyptic world. So please check out the anthology and the other great stories it contains.


2.  I won a partial request in this month’s Secret Agent contest through Miss Snark’s First Victim. Here’s a hint—it was for my YA SF story I’ve been working on. Keep your fingers crossed for me. And get your logline ready for the Third Annual Baker's Dozen Agent Auction coming up later this year.

3.  I’m joining a new in-person writing group. I’m still keeping my current group of course, but this new group is comprised of members a little further along in their writing journey (think pro sales and book deals). I’m lucky to have been invited, and the first session is this weekend. Hopefully I’ll have more to share about this soon.

4.  I went to my first SF/F convention two weekends ago. And I lived to tell about it! It was a local convention, and much more focused on books and trends than fandom, which I appreciated. Worldcon didn’t make sense for me this year, but I’ll definitely be attending next year when it’s in San Antonio.

5.  I received my print of the cover illustration for the Fat Girl in a Strange Land Anthology – a reward I received for supporting their Kickstarter campaign to pay pro rates and bring back their magazine. I’m going to frame it and hang it along with the illustration for my story in the Memory Eater Anthology in my office. Cuz yeah I’m a dork like that—and I need all the inspiration and encouragement I can get sometimes.

6.  Elizabeth Craig will be interviewing me in an upcoming edition of the Writers Knowledge Database newsletter. If you haven’t signed up (which you can do here), you are missing out. The Writers Knowledge Database is a great way to find resources on craft, publishing trends, you name it.

Writer's Knowledge Base

7.  Finally, I picked up a copy of Wired for Story: The Writer's Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence after reading Janice Hardy’s interview with author Lisa Cron. This is the first craft book I’ve felt compelled to read in a long time. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Okay... That's it for me. Have a wonderful weekend and happy writing!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Pitfalls of Writing Tight

We are constantly told to write tight. No unnecessary words. Story as iceberg. Kill our darlings. Et cetera. You know, the Elmore Leonard school of writing.

And this is something I’ve taken to heart as I’ve tried to further my craft over the years. I like to think I’ve developed a spare style for myself. Which also may have evolved out of my experience writing flash fiction in one of my early writing groups. Still, I try to write tight, no matter what project I’m working on.

But sometimes this hurts me.

A long time ago, I wrote a post on how I have to write in layers, starting with a skeleton of action and dialogue and layering in all that other stuff that makes for a coherent and satisfying story.

Once I have a sense for my story, I’m eager to get it all down on the page and move on. I know what my characters need to do, when, and how. And then try to convey that as efficiently as possible.

There are a lot of reasons for this. Because I’ve already figured out what happens, there’s not always enough of an intellectual challenge to flesh the story out. Another reason is that there’s always another story jumping up and down in the back of my brain, waiting for its turn to be written. I have to take care to manage both of these impulses since I’m writing for publication, which requires a higher level of storytelling from me than if I were writing for my own entertainment.

Writing tight is great for controlling a story’s pacing. But if I’m too thin on the details, the character insights, the scene setting, and so on, I often rob my story of its full potential. So I have to spend a significant amount of time lingering over my scenes to ensure they are fully realized without slowing things down. And I often rely on my CPs and trusted readers to figure out what the right balance is.

Plot complications are another area I have to watch out for. After all, why delay the inevitable? I already know what happens in my stories, and complications just muck that up. But it’s also those complications that ratchet up tension and make the story’s climax awesome (or at least they should contribute).

There’s a reason I’ve stayed away from writing mysteries and suspense novels. So many of those stories rely on misinformation and red herrings to carry the story until the real plot is revealed at the three-quarters mark. And it’s hard for me to justify spending so much time developing irrelevant plot threads, when there’s a real story to cover. But I guess that’s just another writerly flaw of mine.

So while my craft has definitely benefited from learning to write tight, there are some pitfalls:

  • Write too sparely, and you risk confusing your reader. 
  • Write too lean, and you rob your story of its full emotional impact. 
  • Write too tight, and you could ruin the journey for the reader.

How do you strike that balance between tight writing and fully realized stories?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Routines are Made to Be Broken

Like many people, I am a creature of habit. I like things just so at just the right time. Otherwise, I tend to get cranky. And that can negatively impact my work.


I like routines, and I’m a firm believer in making writing time a priority on a regular basis. Quite frankly, there’s too much work involved for me not to. And the more you write, the better you get, the more likely you are to finish what you start, and hopefully, eventually, get faster at writing. Muscle memory and all that.

All this is well and good and has worked for me. But real life is messy, and sometimes routine suffers. Unexpected errands, surprise visits, emergencies…entropy is all around us and doesn’t really care that you planned to draft a new chapter or edit that short story today.

When routines are upended by life, what do you do? There will always be things that happen that you can’t work around. But for everything else, usually there’s some wiggle room to stay productive, even if it’s doing something you didn’t plan on doing.

For example, let’s say I planned to spend the afternoon writing at the coffee shop, but instead I must take my dog to the vet. I still want to stay productive, so maybe instead of writing (which requires a lot of focus), I’ll read something related to my project, like a comparison title or a nonfiction book to help me research a key component, while I’m hanging out in the waiting room. That way I’ll still be moving forward even if I’m not in my ideal work environment.

Usually when my routine is disrupted, it’s a matter of whether there’s time to implement a contingency plan. Sometimes there isn’t and that's ok. But if there’s a window where I can shift gears, then I try to tailor my writing activities to the new environment I’m required to be in. This is often a function of how much mental headspace I’ll have.

For me, I need a lot of headspace to draft something new. Slightly less to edit something. Less still to read fiction. Even less to read narrative non-fiction. So if I know I’m going to be going from a place with lots of headspace to one with hardly any, I’ll change up my work plans accordingly.

Time is also an important component. Some books are harder to get into than others, and therefore require larger chunks of time to read and absorb. Same with writing and the need to warm up before committing words to a page. Some people swear by 10-minute bursts a day, but I’m just grateful I don’t have to be one of them even if I don’t have an ideal writing schedule everyday.

So when life throw’s you a curve ball, disrupting your orderly life, remember to:

Forgive yourself – It’s ok to take a break every now and again and focus on another aspect of your life. Your writing project will be waiting for you and even benefit from the time you spent away from it.

Change it up – Don’t be afraid to change up your routine and try something new. Not only are you staying productive, but also your brain just might like the new stimuli.

Recharge your routine – Relish routine when you can, but don’t forget to incorporate new discoveries into your ensemble. Especially if it works.

Routines are wonderful, but make sure they are flexible enough to evolve as you do over the course of your writing journey. You never want to get to a point where you can't write because ideal conditions aren't met.

Happy writing!


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Different Stages, Different Questions

It’s funny how the questions you face as a writer shift and change at different stages.


Just starting out, I was preoccupied with things like:

How do I find story ideas?
How will I make time to write?
What even constitutes a story?

These are issues dealing with PROCESS – where I was still trying to figure out what to do. I’m to the point now where I’ve created a life around my writing (and I know how lucky I am to have the ability to do this). By making writing a priority, by owning it, these types of process questions have started to fade. Ideas come because I’m writing.

Then, for a very long time, different kinds of questions took over. Things like:

How do I show, not tell?
How do I layer description into story action?
How do I manage pacing?

And so on. These are questions of TECHNIQUE, as I’ve learned my craft in fits and starts. I’ve encountered different aspects of craft in each writing project I’ve attempted. Not every project will encompass every skill or technique we need to have in our bag of tricks. That’s why we’re told to write a little bit of everything—not only to see what we like, but also to expose ourselves to different aspects of craft and learn by doing.

Personally, I’ve found the gap narrowing between what I do and don’t know technique-wise. Doesn’t mean I’m awesome. But I’ve tried enough different kinds of writing that I’m much more comfortable when a trusted reader points something out that isn’t working than I was when I first started out. Because now I know things to try to fix it, where before it was more often than not a stab in the dark.

Doesn’t mean I’m right every time, but I have enough skills in my arsenal to get the job done. Eventually. I think ;)

But this iterative process can take a long time. At some point you start wondering why you didn’t come up with a sound story idea to being with, instead of one that needs so much fixing to get right. A different set of questions then:

What makes a compelling character?
What makes an exciting plot?
What makes a good story?

These questions about STORY are deceptively simplistic. After all, I’ve been writing a long time (it seems) and one of the questions I started out with is: “What constitutes a story?” In some ways that was the wrong question to ask. I eventually learned to write a story, but that didn’t automatically make it good. But until I got to where I am now, I didn’t realize how big a deal that was.

The difference between a story and a good story is the difference between unpublished and published, between newbie and pro. And that’s a huge difference.

And I’m still figuring that part out.

Have you found a similar pattern in how you approach your writing?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

New Story Rush

This week I’ve been fortunate enough to have two new story ideas take over.

One’s been percolating for awhile, and I finally got around to working on it this week. As I talked about in Story Stew, I find the longer I wait to write something, the better it is when I actually sit down and write. My unconscious mind has worked it over pretty good by then and at least in the case of this story, there’s a lot of territory to mine.

The other story was more spur of the moment. I read a recent article, and bam! Plot bunny.


And of course, this is all on top of the novel I’m revising and the other two short stories I’ve been tinkering with. Not to mention more projects in the queue.

It never ends. And that’s what makes being a writer awesome.

I’m sure my excitement with these two new stories will fade, but for now, I’m enjoying the rush.

Happy writing this week!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Managing Critique

I’m a firm believer in the benefits of critique—regardless of what shape they take.

Since getting serious about writing, I’ve experienced a wide range of critiquing styles and formats:

Reading Work Aloud – On one end of the spectrum, there’s things like open mic nights where tepid applause or catcalls tells you how well you did. I’ve done this once, and although I didn’t crash and burn, I don’t want to repeat the experience. On the other end, I’ve been in groups where you read a predetermined number of pages aloud and then discuss them. Great for problem scenes or seeing if your story or chapter opener hooks readers.

Exchanging Work – I’ve done where an agreed upon number of pages (up to 10 pages, up to 1 chapter, first 50 etc.) are exchanged in advanced and then discussed in small groups. Great for fostering local connections and looking at stories more in-depth. I’ve also exchanged full and partial manuscripts with critique partners and other trusted readers, marking up the text and making micro and macro level comments. It’s a lot of work but it allows you to evaluate a work as a whole, and as we all know, good readers are priceless.

Contests – There’s a wide variety of these for both short and long form work. Things like Miss Snark’s First Victim provide a forum for novel openers to see if readers are hooked. Query contests also abound on blogs. Plus there are a wide variety of contests sponsored through local and national writing organizations. Contests can provide you with feedback if you are in a place were you don’t have a trusted reader in your corner, but beware contest fees as not all contests are created equal.

Then there’s writing workshops like Taos Toolbox, where a lot of feedback comes your way all at once.

And that can be overwhelming. Strike that. It is overwhelming.


So how do you incorporate it all?

Well, when I have the opportunity to collect feedback from a variety of sources all at once, I like to focus on macro-level issues first.

These are general vibes my CPs and trusted readers get from my story or, in the case of the critiques from Taos, what stands out most in my mind as people went around the table and told me what was wrong with my stories.

Based on those things, I do a revision pass. That way I’m proactively working through what I perceive as problems with my story.

Only after I’ve done my initial revisions do I go back through the more detailed individual crits. That way I find I’m less reactive to individual comments that can often lead to changes in my story that serve the critiquer, not necessarily the manuscript as a whole.

Granted this process won’t work for every project, but I like to use this model whenever I can. Besides, by tackling the “big” issues first, because usually by the time you get to the smaller nits, many of them have already been fixed or eliminated.

There’s also some caveats to critiquing more generally.

As Kristine Kathryn Rusch pointed out in her post Perfection:
Critiquers get the manuscript for free and they’re asked to criticize it. Of course, they will find something wrong with it. In that circumstance, we all will.
So remember, just because someone says there is a problem with your story, figure out if it’s because they’ve been asked to find a problem or if there really is something wrong.

It’s also worth noting that not all critiquing advice is equal. Some people may not understand your vision for your story or be unable to divorce themselves from what they would do in your stead.

Fellow Toolboxer Catherine Scaff-Stump in Technique versus Vision explains:
If you ask me to give you feedback on a story, my job is to talk to you about your technique, but it is not to suggest you move in a different direction. I am not going to ask you to compromise your vision. You know what you want to do.

Worse, why would I pass judgment on your vision? I can say, "Your piece isn't very good." Unpacked, that should mean that you are vague, or your characters are underdeveloped. There should be things I can do to help you with technique. But I shouldn't be thinking that your piece isn't very good because I don't like it. Because it's not my thing. Because it's not my sub-genre. That's besides the point. I should be focusing on your technique, not telling you to like what I like.
Another great resource for figuring out how to incorporate feedback comes from How to Tackle Critique Notes from Writer Unboxed.

What other tips and tricks have you learned from your own critique experiences?

Happy writing!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Asking For More

What struck me most about my Taos Toolbox experience, I think, was how straightforward the lectures were. That’s not to say I didn’t learn more in-depth tricks or benefit from discussing different story elements over an intense two weeks—I did and it helped crystallize a lot of concepts for me.

But I do think you reach a certain point with craft, where there’s really nothing more to say. You either know it and use it, or you don’t. We all know we need that balance between character, plot, and emotion. And we have scenes and grammar to fashion our stories. But at a certain point, it simply comes down to doing.

At Taos, I learned that I’m doing many right things in my writing, at a high level. I also learned that I need to be doing more of it. At the individual story level and across stories. As I was told in my consultation at the end of the workshop (paraphrasing), “You can write. You need to stretch yourself and see what hits.” In other words, I know the basics, even beyond, and it’s time to stop being precious about my individual projects and start producing.

Wait, you want more from me?

As guest Daniel Abraham told us, “Publishing is a casino,” and you never hit the jackpot if you aren’t showing up everyday plugging quarters into the slots.

Time for the big girl pants.

That’s a scary thought. I feel a little like Dorothy in that I’ve realized I’ve been able to write all along. But if that were true, I’d like to think I’d be a bit further along in my writing journey. So there must be something else I’m missing, some missing piece of the puzzle.

I do think part of it comes back to output. I’m not a fast writer. I like to stew over my stories ideas and get lost in the different worlds. I’ve gotten faster at writing in the last year and a half, and I’ve been pushing myself to get there, but still other writers can write three short stories in the time it takes me to write one.

I also don’t move onto new projects quickly enough. I like to tinker, I like to figure out how to make my stories the best they can be, and sometimes that means I’m holding onto a sinking ship expecting to be rescued when really I should have taken that life raft and be onto something new. But if I don’t care about my work, how can I expect editors/agents/readers to?

Kristine Kathryn Rusch had a recent post on “Perfection” -- it’s worth a full read, but I want to focus on something she said:
Keep writing, keep learning, keep improving. But for god’s sake, don’t look backwards. Those books are done.

How do you know when a manuscript is done? That’s trickier. I think you should trust the process, fix the nits, and move to the next book. Writing is a subconscious art, not a conscious one. You heard your first story before you could speak, so your subconscious knows a lot more about writing than your conscious brain ever will.

Trust that.

Many writers don’t believe what I just wrote, and that’s fine. You need to define it for yourself. Set a limit on revisions, set a limit on drafts, set a time limit. (My book must be done in August, no matter what.) Then release your book on the unsuspecting public.

The book will never be perfect.
And that’s another hard thing for me. I want to write a perfect story. I want each of my stories to be perfect. And I work hard to revise them, chasing after some nebulous concept of perfection, when maybe I should be sending them out and moving on to the next story.

Of course, an exception to Rusch’s position is Andrew Porter, who wrote “Looking Back” for the latest Glimmer Train bulletin. An extensive revision of one of his older stories has gone onto being his most successful, wining him the Pushcart. He says:
I think most writers have a tendency to discount their early work, especially those pieces that were written when they were first starting out, when they were just figuring out how to write a short story in the first place.

In some cases, we're probably right to discount those early efforts. I know, for me, there's a certain cringe factor involved. Sometimes simply remembering the basic premise of one of those early stories is enough to make me shake my head and vow never to look back. Still, I've recently begun to wonder whether my own tendency to always look forward—to always believe that my best work lies before me, that the fiction I wrote five years ago isn't nearly as good as the fiction I'm writing today—doesn't prevent me from recognizing the potential value in some of those old unpublished stories that are just sitting there on my hard drive or collecting dust in a folder.
So writers should always be moving on to the next project, except when they shouldn’t. Hmm.

So what makes the difference? Fellow Toolboxer Catherine Scaff-Stump may have stumbled upon the answer in her post-workshop post on Technique versus Vision (also worth a full read). In it, she talks about how workshops can teach technique, but they can’t teach vision, and how the critique process can muddy the two.
I'm going to work my ass off regarding technique. And...so what if my vision is different? Different can be the next thing. If I find myself doubting my technique, I should. I can fix that. If I find myself doubting my vision, that's the end of the story. That's the death knoll for my writing, right there.
So maybe it’s not about writing lots just to write lots or revising things to death because you can’t bear to send something out less than perfect. Maybe it’s about finding your vision and finding ways to bring that vision to life. And if your older stories have solid vision, it’s about updating them craft-wise as your skills as a writer develop. That’s not stepping back; that’s bringing them to life.

I like to think I have vision with my stories. Now it’s just about making them come to life.

I guess no one ever said this whole writing thing was easy.

Happy writing!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Recursive Plotting with Guest L. Blankenship

Today I’m pleased to bring you a guest post from L. Blankenship of Notes from the Jovian Frontier. Not only is she an awesome critique partner, but she also contributes to Unicorn Bell and Science in my Fiction. Enjoy!

***
First, a thank-you to Bluestocking, my awesome CP, for letting me guest blog here to promote my Kickstarter project! Details for that at the bottom.

Recursive Plotting:
I've been working on a six-part, gritty fantasy romance for some time now. As popular as multi-volume fantasy stories are, they're not so easy to write. Some of that is because of plotting. A six-book series has all the same plotting problems that a one-shot book does -- only with the added size and weight of a lot more words.


There are many ways to break down plots into stages. Here's the one I use: inciting incident, first plot point, other plot points, climax, resolution. You can further group these into a three-act structure or apply other methods of plotting if you want. For now, I just want to focus on the inciting incident.

The inciting incident is that event which sets off the whole story. It sets things in motion. Some call it the point of no return -- because of this incident, something must be done. Something will happen. Because of the inciting incident, the first plot point happens. Because of that first plot point... and so on, building toward the climax.

The first part of my novel has an inciting incident: my protagonist, Kate, is given an early graduation into the duties of a physician and told to attend to a small party heading into the mountains on a mission that nobody seems to want to explain.

 Something must be done: the authority figures in her life have laid this on her, and being a bright young student she wants to live up to their expectations. The rest of the plot hinges on this one event happening, or Kate would have just stayed home and kept studying.

To step back, this is Part I out of six. and while each individual Part contains a plot structure of its own, the series as a whole also contains a plot structure. Writ large, as it were. The series has an inciting incident, first plot point, other plot points, a climax and a resolution.

Part I is, as a whole, the inciting incident for the other five parts. It sets a larger plot structure in motion and because of this, certain things must happen. Certain things must be resolved by these characters. Part II is, as a whole, the first plot point. This larger plot will build its way up to a climax and resolution in Part VI. Though, as I said, each Part will still contain all the plot stages to support what happens within that Part.

In short, plotting is recursive. (This makes my nerdy little heart smile.)

Shameless Plugging:

I'm running a Kickstarter project to fund the professional editing, proofreading, and cover artwork for my gritty fantasy romance, Disciple, Part I: For Want of a Piglet. There will be six parts in total, published over the course of the next few years.

I'm pre-selling e-books, paperbacks, offering promotional bookmarks, and more at various pledge levels (ranging from $1 - $100). Check out the project page for my book trailer, budget, and production schedule.

Kickstarter.com is a fundraising platform for all sorts of creative projects. Artists post a profile of their project and offer rewards in exchange for pledged money. The pledges are not collected unless the artist's funding goal is reached within a set period of time. If the goal is reached, the artist receives the money, carries out the project and distributes the rewards promised. It's a fascinating site and easy to lose time in!

***
I've had the privilege to read the first three parts of Disciple, and can't wait to see the rest of the series. If you like strong heroines, unique magic systems, and realistic medieval detail, both action and character, these books are for you. 

Be sure to check out the first chapter here

And please consider donating as a little as a dollar to help L. get these books into the world. Thanks, and happy writing!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Taos Toolbox Postmortem

I came. I survived. My head hurts.

I’m still processing much of my Taos Toolbox experience, but I’m feeling inspired, if overwhelmed, by all the information and feedback that was crammed into fourteen days as well as all the new writer comrades I made.


Every workday, we met in the common room at 10am for a morning lecture by Nancy Kress. That was followed by critiques of people’s work, which usually straddled lunchtime. Then there was an afternoon lecture by Walter Jon Williams. The rest of the day was reserved for critiquing, assignments, and drafting a new story for Week 2.

Critiques followed the Milford model, where the authors must remain silent as the rest of the writers take turns sharing their thoughts on the story. It was an intense process but ultimately very helpful as I start to contemplate revisions for the projects I shared at the workshop.

We also had a frank and informative guest lecture by Daniel Abraham on what it takes to have a successful career in SF/F. Hint: Multiple brands (ie, writing in different genres with associated pennames) to hedge against the quirks of the marketplace.


Weekends, I took every opportunity to hike in the Taos Ski Valley during the day and at night I drank my share of New Mexico made Gruet Blanc de Noirs champagne and discussed the writing life with my fellow participants. After all, this workshop was a celebration of sorts—rewarding how far I’ve come and acknowledging future opportunities, so long as I’m in a position to capitalize on them.

For some participants, this was not their first workshop, but there were others like me who had no preconceived ideas what this experience would be like. Though there was a range of experience levels, everyone was dead serious about perfecting their craft and learning what it takes to be a professional writer. And I’m proud my fellow attendees will be my publishing peers to come!

For more insights into the Taos Toolbox experience, check out fellow Toolboxer Catherine Schaff-Stump’s evolving collection of interviews and links of participant experiences.

Finally here are some tidbits I gleaned from the lectures over the last two weeks, which are hopefully as helpful to you as I found them:
  • Sometimes it’s more important to be interesting than clear when writing SF/F 
  • You can almost always cut “locomotion” writing that gets your characters two and from the real scenes 
  • Exposition works so long as you’ve earned it 
  • If scene(s) don’t build towards the explosion at the end of an act or the book’s finale, cut them 
  • The end of a sentence, paragraph, section, chapter, book is the power position 
  • If you get stuck, ask yourself what else can go wrong 
  • Attach emotions to observations
  •  A writer’s only job is to set reader’s expectations and then meet them 
  • Readers shouldn’t be worrying about what is happening in your story—they should be worried about what happens next.
Happy writing!
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