Sunday, October 31, 2010

Tomorrow is the big day!

Tomorrow is the first day of November and, more importantly, the first day of NaNoWriMo. I have an outline. I've changed it so radically that, twice, I simply began a new document rather than try and edit what I had. I believe it's been better with every version. I have the shiny new Scrivener Beta. I love it. I know it's a beta and it's crashed a few times and not everything is working yet. But it is wonderful for plotting. It has a nifty board for notecards that I can drag and drop into the proper place, adding ideas and research as I go. That act of looking at the cards and rearranging them gave me such clarity. My NaNo book is an old idea I've been kicking around for months, but it never felt right. Now, I've fixed the huge plot holes large enough to drive my minivan through and I at least have a plan come tomorrow morning.

In the spirit of NaNo and writing even if you aren't sure what you'll end up with, here's a post from the Deadline Dames on not being discouraged, even if what you wrote yesterday doesn't seem that great.

And for the times when even that seems hard to believe: something pretty and silly

Happy November!!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Kate Walker has a great post up on the pivotal moments of the Final Four in the New Voices contest. I'll say some of the choices surprised (not in a bad way) me. And hats off to the author of Blood Roses. I was genuinely worried how she would handle the last two entries with a much shorter word count than her competitors.

With just days to go until NaNo begins, I have been busy doing research and polishing my outline. I have been tempted to pick up the outline of another half-finished book, but I have resisted. I really want to win; it's my first time and I've never written so many words in such a short time. I'm not sure if I'll really be able to finish in time. It's a bit like the contest: exciting and a little bit scary.

In preparation, I've downloaded the Beta for Scrivener. I adore it. Yes, it has crashed a couple of times and not all of the features are working. But, oh my goodness, it's shiny! I can forgive a fair number of tech issues for something that instantly made visible to me where the weak points in my plot were going to be. It has this little corkboard thingy. And there for me to see, are scene after scene of my characters talking and thinking right around the middle. *headdesk* Why I couldn't see it before, I have no idea. But now, I can; so they're going to have to do something; maybe I'll blow something up.



Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Someone forwarded to me Jessica Hart's blog post on increasing emotional intensity in writing. It's a great post but it's her post from Moday that really resonated with me. The post is all about the ways to trick yourself into the right frame of mind to write. It's got some good ideas but what I've been thinking about this week is how people have reacted to the New Voices competition. What surprised me most of all is my own reaction. I have never been much of an optimist, yet I have certainly come away from the competition with that attitude and I wondered how I've changed that much.

The answer is my kids ballet dancing. Or to be more frank, my absolute refusal to allow my daughters into the jealousy and bitterness that some of their peers indulged in. Seems an odd thing, but preprofessional dance training is much like any other athletic endeavor. Some dancers excel from an early age, only to be overtaken by a late bloomer. Some kids just don't have the body or aptitude to ever be able compete with other kids their age. And some kids just have everything they need; they are just better without trying as hard. And at every casting for a ballet or recital it is a question of not only what did I get, but what did the other girls get. Who's better than me? Who am I better than?

Let me tell you, you take a bunch of young teenaged girls and give them something to compete for and it can be a recipe for disaster. If they do well, they forget that it might not always be that way. They forget that if they do poorly as well. And then they all have to go and stand next to each other at barre. And dance for two and half hours. Things are said. Teachers, and other dancers, criticisms and compliments take on a disproportionate weight. That burden can weigh on a child. And so I have spent years now teaching my kids to be gracious and kind (even if you're sure the other girl doesn't deserve it) when things are going your way, to be patient and determined when they aren't. The girls who are able to put all of that aside, both the good and the bad, and refocus on their classes those are the kids who survive.

Neither of them are dancing this year. The mental toughness they gained from all those years of training remains. They both have had more academic challenges this year than ever before, but they never gave up. They both have thrown themselves into new pursuits with the same passion they had for ballet. So should I be tempted to sit in front of my computer screen and question my goals or be tempted by frustration to give in to despair, I just whip out one of my well worn little pep talks and try it out on myself.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Casting My Vote

I finally did it. I voted for a second chapter. I won't say I voted for my favorite chapter. Obviously, I liked it, but it was so hard to choose (and, no I won't say who; the voting continues). I knew it must have been hard for the editors to narrow it down, but, boy, was it difficult. The range of the final 10 was great and that just made choosing only one that much more of a puzzle. There are more than four I'd like to see go on to the next round, but of course that won't be possible. Honestly, I wouldn't mind reading the next chapter of any of them.

 In the end I didn't do any fancy scoring of the entries on their technical and artistic merits, although I think that would be interesting to see if that matched up with the handful I preferred. I didn't read through the entries as a writer at all. No, in the end I just voted for the one I most wanted to keep reading. It seems such a nebulous test for how I could spend my single vote. The flaw in that is that  it might well have been a different title on a different day when I was in a different frame of mind. And I am something of a moody reader. I'll pick up a title and like everything about it, but still find it too silly, too intense, too contrived or too something for whatever sort of day I'm having. So, I'll set the book aside and a week later (or a month, or a couple of years) pick it up again and read it in a single day, loving every minute of it.

As fun as reading all of the entries has been, I'm grateful I don't have to do this for a living.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


I heard a writing speaker once say of a critique partner that she was a lovely writer but she didn't think she'd ever get published. Her partner had a creative job and as long as so much of her creativity was spent on the job she loved, there wasn't enough left over to pursue writing seriously.

I've been thinking a lot about this since I entered the New Voices competition. Until this summer, I had a job that, I think, used up not just much of my time, but all of the cleverness I need to be able to write. A job or project that drains me mentally might leave time for writing, but it makes it difficult to write anything I want to keep. And when I wouyld sit down to write, there would be other problems tickling the back of my mind, intruding on my thoughts until I moved on to take care of them.

Something the competition did for me was give me the permission to take myself seriously as a writer. While I was writing the entry and, later, commenting on other writers' work, I did something I'd never done before: I put my writing first. I defrosted something for dinner. I put off laundry and avoided housework. I told my daughters to save their stories until I had finished what I was doing. And they did. It seems such a small thing but it was a revelation. I certainly don't consider myself a model housewife, but much of what I do everyday is not as obligatory as I like to think. This week, I made my daughter's study group Halloween cupcakes.

From a boxed mix.

 Everyone ate them anyway.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The start of a story

After having read a good number of the first chapters at the New Voices competition ,both those I liked and those I didn't, I feel like I have learned a lot. Some of the entries that I enjoy start out in a sort of meandering way. It's usually well written, with likable characters, but it doesn't have that spark.

 What's missing? Conflict. How do you get conflict on the first few pages without dropping your heroine in the middle of a battlefield? I mean, that's a great way to do it, if you're writing paranormal or suspense, but I'm not.

I think for me, the answer is to keep the story, the thread of conflict in mind. Most importantly at the beginning. I'm glad I took the advice to begin  a new work for the competition. It's true my chapter would have benefited from some editing, but the process of building these characters and their story has enabled me to look at the other entries with a more discerning eye. To notice and most importantly, be able to articulate why an entry works for me.

I think all of the top ten, even the genres I don't prefer, have a strong conflict from the outset. This makes the reader wonder about what will happen next. The worrying  a reader does about the characters is what makes those characters matter. Then, even if they aren't saving the world, their problems carry more weight and that makes one read on.