Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Liquid Story Binder and Other Briefness

I had last week off, but now I feel like crap, so this will be a brief note before I succumb to some sort of medicated coma. I've started playing with Liquid Story Binder lately. Loving the automatic word count and the storyboard, hating having to figure out a new software package, but I think it'll be worth it. So far I'm still using the free version, which is the full version but with a time limit. Cool idea. I'm planning on using it for NaNoWriMo, but right now I'm testing it out with a new short story. Did a basic storyboard, used a sequence as a place for character thumbnails, and was able to sit down on my lunch break and pound out 250 words of first draft, and another 250 words after work before The Husband picked me up. Not bad at all. Maybe if I feel better later I'll get a little more done, but for now my head is killing me.

BTW, if you're in the Madison WI area and/or a fan of Harlan Ellison, today is the last day to get the cheaper tickets for MadCon 2010, which is supposedly Ellison's last convention appearance.

Friday, August 27, 2010

100 Words About: Ideas

Ideas are cheap. No young writer likes to hear this, but it's true. No one is going to steal your idea, because most of us have so many ideas already floating around in our heads that we just don't have time for yours, thank you.

Of course, even if we did, the story we'd write would be totally different from the story you'd write anyway. But even so, what's far more likely is that your idea would give us an idea, which would probably go off in a completely new direction and might eventually become quite unrecognizable, as far as your original idea went.

Still, it's hard not to get protective of your ideas and want to keep them to yourself. I'm not sure if that's because we're really truly worried about "theft," or if it's more that we're afraid the idea won't sound as good outside our heads as it does inside. Because of course the idea in your head is full of nuances and images and backstory, far more than you can hope to convey with a short description that probably sounds kinda lame. And who wants to work on a lame story? I think what we're really worried about is stealing our own thunder.

Image: Bright Idea by Zaldy icaonapo

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Tuesday Tip: Make Time to Write

You can't do it all. Trust me, I've tried. If you really want to make a go of writing, but just "don't have time," then in reality you aren't making time. See if there's anything on the list below that you'd be willing to cut down on, or cut out altogether, in order to make some writing time.


This is both the easiest and the hardest. Easiest, because the average American spends two to three hours a day watching TV. Hardest, because people who watch TV tend to be fiercely addicted to their favorite shows. Can you cut out (or rearrange) one hour of TV watching a day from your schedule?

Computer Games

Much like television, computer games can suck up a lot of time, especially MMORPGs. I used to be in a big raiding guild in EverQuest 2, and that was like having a second job. When I decided to start writing seriously I'd already switched to World of Warcraft, and the more serious I got about writing, the less time I had for WoW. I haven't played in probably three years now. The twitching stops pretty quickly, I promise.

Even worse than MMOs are solo games. Come on, I know they can be fun, but is getting to the next save point (or, gods forbid, the next level in Farmville) really worth more to you than writing?

Surfing the Web

This is possibly the worst culprit, because it so often masquerades as research. If you spend an hour or more a day online for leisure, see if you can cut that in half. Limit yourself to half an hour of browse time, and when that half hour is up, start writing. Bookmarks and Favorites exist for a reason, people. That webpage will still be there tomorrow.

Lunch Breaks

Can you eat while you type? Can you eat at your desk? If so, consider your lunch break as possible writing time. Bring a notebook or a laptop to the breakroom, or head down to the local coffee shop if you don't want your coworkers looking over your shoulder.

Other Hobbies

Do you do arts and crafts, or fly-fish, or volunteer? Consider heavily what time commitments you already have and whether or not they are more important to you than your writing. Some hobbies bring in money, some are important social outlets, some are good healthy exercise, and some are just plain too rewarding to give up. Those are good uses of your time. Hobbies that are less productive are possible fodder for your writing career.

Of course, there are lots of things that you shouldn't give up, like household chores or time with your family or your day job. But most of us don't use our true leisure time as productively as we could, and yet we still argue that we "don't have time." If it's important to you, make time. If that rerun of Doctor Who is really more important to you than writing, maybe you should stop telling yourself that you're going to finish that novel one of these days. At least you'll have a little less stress.

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Friday, August 20, 2010

100 Words About: Libraries

I love my library system. Maybe you'd think a writer wouldn't be so hot on libraries, since we want people to buy books, but hey, I sure as hell can't afford to buy all my research books! And honestly, I want people reading my stuff. Buying is great too, but if they can read it for free they might try it where they wouldn't have if they had to buy it. And if they like it, they might tell a friend.

Not that any of any of the anthologies I'm in are in the library yet, as far as I know. I honestly don't know if they have erotica books. But someday. Maybe even Hungry For Your Love. That would be damn cool.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Tuesday Tip: Detox Intelligently

This first Tuesday Tip in awhile was inspired by events from last week. I recently had to do a stint at a sort of expo/convention booth, answering questions and talking to random people. I hate this sort of thing. I'm shy by nature and not very confident when it comes to speaking. (I think that's part of why I like writing. I can think things out and move the words around for maximum effect.)

I'd been stressing pretty hard over the event in the days leading up to it. That morning I also had to drive an hour and a half to get there. Or at least, it's normally an hour and a half drive, but I'd never tried driving it during rush hour, and I had never driven to the place I was going before, AND The Husband insisted it would take longer than I thought, so I left two and a half hours before the booth was to open.

Of course, I got there an hour early.

Well, at least I'm not late, I thought. I can't stand being late. But I can't get into the hall at all for another half an hour. So even though I knew I would be on my feet all day, I started wandering around. Most of the place was still closed up, but there were a few eateries open. I stopped at one and got a bite to eat, and hung out and listened to the guy who was performing there, voice and guitar, until the hall opened. It was a really nice way to blow a half an hour, and I was relaxed and happy when I went to go set up the booth.

The point of this is to demonstrate how important a little detox can be.

My old job used to stress the hell out of me. I liked the people I worked with, and I loved the industry, but as a whole I hated my job. I was always stressed out because I had too much to do. This meant I was still stressed out when I got home from work.

It is very hard to write when you're stressed out. It's not impossible, of course—I wrote my first contracted work in the months leading up to my eventual lay-off—but stress drains your emotional energy and distracts you, making an already difficult task even harder.

Of course, my favorite way to relax and clear my head is to take a nice hot bath and read a book. But while this works great as far as relaxing goes, it does not make me detox in a way that means I will be productive later. Reading in the tub is at least a half-hour time commitment, usually longer, and most often leaves me wanting to slack for the rest of the evening.

What worked about my detox before the booth stint was that I couldn't do anything, and I knew I had to be productive later. I couldn't read, I didn't have my notebook with me (and planning stuff out in my head doesn't work that well for me); I just had to sit there and relax and let my brain veg out. It was awesome. I don't normally give myself permission to do that—I have to be doing something! All the time! I have too much to do to waste time like that!

So the trick is to find ways to detox that a) leave you ready to be productive at the end and b) don't take up so much time that you won't let yourself do them and c) won't stress you out and will actually let you relax. For example, if you find walking your dog to be a detoxing activity, great! If you look at walking your dog as a chore, it will not de-stress you. Find something else (or learn to look at the activity differently, if you can). Checking your favorite blogs might detox you, but if it sucks up an hour of your time then you aren't being productive.

Find some way to de-stress and clear your mind before you write. Maybe journaling works for you. Or you might try staring at a candle flame and doing deep breathing exercises for a few minutes. Play with your Tibetan Singing Bowl for 30 seconds. Short rituals can train your subconscious to set aside all that other stuff and get down to business, but only if you're consistent. I find that just coming into the conference room after work and setting up my netbook helps center me: I've been doing it long enough that my brain has learned "I'm about to start writing. Time to switch gears."

Give yourself a few minutes to transition from daily life into writing time. Stress takes up the space that your muse needs to talk to you. Get rid of the stress, and the muse will have the room she needs to work.

Friday, August 13, 2010

100 Words About: Obsession

I was just reading through some of my early 100 Words About posts, and boy, I was a lot more poetic back then. So today we're harkening back to the "writing exercise" intentions I had when I first started this series of posts. As always, please feel free to leave a comment with your 100 Words!

Today's topic: obsession.

If every writer has a favorite theme, obsession is mine. There is something about it that's just so seductive, so delightfully naughty, so dangerous. I love exploring the darker sides of human nature, and obsession is definitely that. What is it about us that makes us fixate on one thing to the exclusion of all others, even when that fixation is detrimental to ourselves? What makes us reach out a to touch that candle flame again, when we've already been burned once?

I guess exploring obsession in my writing is a way for me to play with the candle without getting burned. I get to feel all the emotions as my characters feel them, but without the life-altering side effects, and hopefully provide a little safe-but-illicit cathartic thrill for my readers as well.

My poetry escapes me on this topic. I think about someone being subsumed by their desire, losing the will to fight it, wanting to give up control to this feeling that’s destroying them, and I just get all giddy inside. Literally hugging-myself-and-giggling giddy.

I am soooo looking forward to NaNoWriMo this year. (Hug. Giggle.)

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Parentheses Are My New Best Friends

Last week I was working on 1794, trying to add in a new chapter. I sort of knew what I wanted to happen, but I was getting bogged down in the description. And then I had a breakthrough.

Those of you who follow this blog probably know by now that I hate editing. I hate it sooooo much. I pride myself on having fairly clean first drafts so that I can keep editing time to a minimum. Yes, I know first drafts are allowed to suck; I just don't want to have to clean them up later. So quite often I will spend a good amount of time thinking about exactly how I want to word the next section before I start typing.

I also have a problem with getting started each time I sit down. I'll open up the file, read over the last bit to see where I was at, and then sit there thinking for ten or fifteen minutes. When I have hours ahead of me this isn't much of an issue, but when I only have 40 minutes, as I do after work waiting for The Husband to come pick me up, it severely cuts into my productivity.

So last week I was staring at where I'd left off, trying desperately to get started up again. I was heading into a section of serious description—lots of inner turmoil and wasted energy for my main character, but I just couldn't pick up the thread. I'd been staring at this section for three days straight with almost no progress.

Suddenly I said "screw it, I don't want to write this section right now, and I don't have to, this is a first draft of this chapter."

I started a new paragraph, capped it with an open parenthesis, and started summarizing. This was totally freeform, including thoughts about what other characters not in the scene might be doing and how that would affect things, notes about character motivation, and even things like (T says something clever. Probably innuendo…T goes to (official's) house. There was a wiff of magic about the place. Ok, maybe not that, but something cool.)

I was able to drop in and out of the narrative as I chose, and after only a few minutes I knew where the scene was going, how it was going to tie into the next chapter (which was already written), plus I had come up with some cool subtext that needed to be worked into the preceding chapter. And once I had that down, I'd already been writing for awhile and was able to jump back to the descriptive bit that had derailed me originally and start pounding that out.

I think the reason this worked for me, when all other attempts to "outline" usually fail, is that I was working within my draft, within the story, but what I was writing wasn't actually first draft. My first drafts are not allowed to be throw-offs…but this? This wasn't even draft. It was just summary. It didn't even have to be coherent, which is good because it jumped around quite a bit, including sentences that stopped in the middle because I was done with that thought now. And typing it, as opposed to thinking about it, kept me on task and focused on one thought at a time. Normally when I "outline" in my head my thoughts tend to wander and not accomplish much.

The key for me seems to be not overthinking it. Write until I get stuck and then stream-of-consciousness for a bit until I know where I'm going again. And absolutely no editing the stream-of-consciousness. Bad grammar? Fine. Bad spelling? Not a problem. Don't have a name for that minor character yet? Skip it and use a placeholder. Overusing certain words? Who cares? It's all going to get deleted once I've written out that bit anyway. When I got to a place where I had an idea for what I actually wanted to say, I could just cap off the summary with an end parenthesis and start writing the narrative until I got hung up again. Then new open parenthesis and start summarizing again. I never had to stop typing, and as long as I'm typing I'm being productive.

Image: renjith krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Friday, August 6, 2010

100 Words About: NaNoWriMo

I first heard about National Novel Writing Month last year, when Victoria Wilson asked me if I would be participating. After hearing that one needed to paste one's work into the NaNoWriMo website to be counted I vehemently declined. None of my work goes on the internet anywhere until I'm ready to give it away for free. Besides, I had just started my new job, and that was enough to deal with.

This year I think I'll attempt it. After all, why not? I have a story I really want to write but which I don't think will be commercially viable in traditional markets, but what's one month? Ok, if I actually manage to get 50,000 words down on it I'll be working on it longer than a month…but I don't see a downside there either. Maybe I'll make a podiobook out of it.

I'm still not pasting it in anyone else's website though, even if it does supposedly get erased immediately with no one seeing it. I'll copy however-many-words I get done out of some Wiki articles and put my count up that way.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Time Management or Neurosis?

Writers do a lot. It seems like most successful writers you hear about are insanely busy people. On top of families and day jobs and writing (and marketing and researching and doing publicity) they tend to balance hobbies like bee keeping (Neil Gaiman) or playing in a band (Stephen King, Dave Barry, etc). Of course, it's possible that there are successful writers that don't do these things, that barely manage to squeeze their writing in and who therefore probably don't have time for things like interviews which would display the fact they don't home-brew or whatever. But it did make me wonder whether writers just have to be better at time management in order to carve out that writing time, or if we're just neurotic? I mean, what kind of people sacrifice hours of their time every week in order to create a work which will probably garner soul-crushing rejection after soul-crushing rejection, and which, should we manage to finally get published, may never and probably won't pay an hourly wage higher than working at McDonald's?

Case in point...

I had a four-day weekend this last weekend, a much looked-forward-to and needed vacation. The first three days we spent either slacking or being social. (Apart from some time on Sunday where The Husband got called in by two different friends to help them with their computers.) We had planned on spending Monday at home, giving The Dog some much-needed people time and hanging around the house in general.

Monday is my chores day.

Now, Monday is my chores day with good reason. Normally at work Monday is my day to field the office voicemail, something that I hate doing, and if one really needs any extra reasons to not like a day, you might as well pile them all on one day so you can enjoy the rest of your week. Tuesday is also trash day, so I have to get the trash out the night before, and I also need to get my Tuesday blog post done on Monday, so it all dovetails nicely. I've also started doing the checkbook once a week on Mondays, and balancing the checkbook against the bank statement on the first Monday of the month. PLUS the first Monday is when you have to have any brush out to the curb that you want the city to pick up that month.

So when I had a whole Monday at home, well, I got down to it. We walked the dog, and then I took care of my flowerbeds. Then we wrangled the rest of the giant tree limb that had fallen into our yard two months ago and got it cut up sufficiently to get down to the curb. Then The Husband mowed the lawn while I got laundry going. Upon making lunch, he discovered we were low on a lot of our spices so we went shopping. We got back and ate lunch on the couch in front of the TV with the dog keeping us company. When I went to get the mail I discovered a rejection letter, so I sat down and sent the story out again, and while I was there I started doing the checkbook, with every intention of then balancing the statement and then setting up the monthly electronic payments and possibly making up a budget spreadsheet like I've been thinking about before starting on my blog post.

I was still working on the checkbook when The Husband came over. "I thought we were going to slack and watch movies today."

I glanced over my shoulder at the TV. "Go ahead, I can hear it."

Poke. "This isn't slacking."

"But it's Monday," I said, as if that should make sense.

"You're on vacation. I was willing to forgive the laundry…"

"I'm out of socks, and you need work shirts for tomorrow. And the branch had to go out today, and so does the trash, and you saw how big the pile of checkcard slips was last time I let it go, it took me two hours to go through…"

He leaned down, nose-to-nose, and said very seriously, "Those are all things your mother would say."

"She's a wise woman," I replied, but couldn't keep a straight face. I love her dearly, but my mom is a dyed-in-the-wool workaholic. Still, sometimes you're going to sound like your mother. Own it.

As you can see from yesterday's post, The Husband did prevail. (He's awfully persuasive when he wants to be.) And I am left wondering...do writers actually manage their time better, or are we just neurotics with a goal and some focus?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Slight Delay

Today's blog post will be posted tomorrow, since The Husband wants me to stop doing chore-like things and come watch movies with him on our day off. :) See you tomorrow!