IWSG: Happy July!

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Summer is here and so is IWSG Day! The first Wednesday of the month and the official day for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group to post about what’s going on in our writerly lives.
The optional question of the month for July asks us: What is one valuable lesson you’ve learned since you started writing?
Even though it’s not a lesson per se, the first thing that comes to mind is how many interesting and varied people there are in the writing world. As a  young person, I had a picture in my mind of the writer as serious, intense, brooding and in another world entirely from the one where the rest of us live. I am always fascinated to discover how normal – and how strange – writers can be, the different lives of the people who write, their different styles and ways of going about it. There is no one-size-fits-all. I am especially humbled by the many successful writers who continue to stick around with us “aspiring” writers to give us tips and advice. I am always surprised by how much fun writing can be. Infuriating at times, maybe, but mostly fun.
What about you? If you’re a writer, what valuable lessons have you learned?

IWSG: Truth or Dare?

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This is my June  post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, where on the first Wednesday of every month, like-minded writers come together and share advice, good news, and more.
This month, I have a question: What constitutes good storytelling? Is it more important to be factual or is it more important to have a really great narrative?
In the context of fantasy writing in particular, I am thinking of some of my favorite authors like McCaffery and Lackey, who both wrote in universes with magic systems designed with D&D like precision, where you could meaningfully turn it all into charts and numbers if you wanted to. It’s all very simple, all very clear-cut, and sometimes that bugs me – because real life isn’t always simple or clear-cut. In fact, it usually isn’t. In the real world, the good guys don’t always win in predictable ways in keeping with set formulas.
I do like stories to be unrealistic, to have beginnings, middles, and ends – despite the fact that my rational self is rebelling against this – like life doesn’t work that way! I privately can’t stand the kind of story I always seem to find myself writing where everything gets so deep and reflective and existential and is any of this even real? I’ve read Moby Dick for example, prone to existential tangents AND *all* of the research you could want on whales. (I think it’s an awesome book by the way – if you skim a few chapters here and there.)
I can think of several stories where the narrative got really strange and wacky – and how glad I am that they did. And others where I’ve thought – sheesh – couldn’t the writer have maybe cracked a book about life in the northeastern United States before writing that? I believe research and realism is important at service to the narrative, but the narrative is always the boss, but I’m having a hard time convincing my brain of this. What do you think? What makes a great story? What makes great storytelling?

IWSG: Happy May!

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This post is for the Insecure Writers Support Group where once a month, on the first Wednesday, we come together to share our hopes, dreams, fears, and various reassurances. This month’s optional question is: What is the weirdest/coolest thing you ever had to research for your story?

That’s tough, like what’s your favorite book/movie tough. The last cool/weird thing I researched is for a fantasy story. I wanted to know how it was possible for a habitable planet to orbit a binary star system, and if so, how that would work. Yes, by the way, it is possible according to the wise Wikipedia . This is weird research to me, because this novel is *fantasy* not sci-fi, but I had to know.

The weirdest things I can remember aren’t in books or online, though. One time, I was writing a novel set in Minneapolis MN, and because I was living in St. Louis at the time (about 4 hours away), I decided to drive up. Along the way, I kept seeing signs for Avenue of the Saints. The signs seemed to be following me wherever I went, even though the roads changed from time to time. And this really started to weird me out. (Was this some kind of church thing? If so, what church? Bear in mind there’s not a whole lot out there.)

Later, I looked it up and found out, yes, there is a continuous, four-lane route (including older roads, upgraded as necessary) between St. Louis and St. Paul / Minneapolis. Hence the name.

Avenue_of_the_Saints_logo

Later, I decided to use both that route and the Mississippi River as magical routes between the two cities, because it sounds so magical. (So is the Mississippi River, but it has the downside of gossipy water nymphs who my MC would rather avoid.)

What about you? What is some fun research you’ve done? Happy May!

IWSG: All of This Has Happened Before and It Will Happen Again

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March is here and I feel like it is going to be an interesting March. This is my post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, where once a month we come together to inspire and be inspired, to vent and share our trials too. Once again, this month’s post is my first time checking in on WordPress. I’m just getting to be terrible with social media.

This month, I’m going to go with the (optional) question of the month again

March 1 Question: Have you ever pulled out a really old story and reworked it? Did it work out?

I keep thinking of the Battlestar Galactica quote: All of This Has Happened Before and It Will Happen Again. If we do not learn from the past, we are doomed to repeat it.

Has anyone else ever heard this advice: Don’t try to unearth and edit things you wrote before. Start over. You’ve changed too much, and it’s too frustrating.

The first story I sold in recent times was, “Do You Believe in Ghosts?” – a short story with a funny history as something I originally wrote as pure contemporary fiction, shortly after graduating with a B.A. in English with a prof who (I’ve mentioned this before) told me to stop writing fantasy. Years later, I came back to it and rewrote the story as paranormal romance mostly just because.

The short answer is yes, I have. The longer answer is something along the lines of – and why not? I think of famous authors (like Tolkien) who spent years off-and-on working on their projects. Maybe I’ll never get there, but I do have projects that I’ve been working on for years and sometimes it feels like – okay, I really need to let this one go, but … someday I’ll be able to do it justice. And those projects are the ones that captivate me most.

What about you? What do you think?

IWSG: A Writer’s Many Hats

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Hard to believe that February is here. This year the first falls on a Wednesday, which means IWSG Day is here super early! True confessions, I was planning to skip this month due to working several personal deadlines and being busy and stressed. Then I saw this month’s question and thought I can write something real quick on that which also speaks to what’s taking up a lot of my time. Namely, reading. Lots of reading.

This month’s question is “How has being a writer changed your experience as a reader?”

As a writer, I read a lot. I read to discover different genres, to see what is going on with my chosen genres, to research. I read books about writing,  including a fascinating little treatise called Letters to a Young Novelist, where writing is called a parasitic infection.

We’re like people walking around with this bug inside us, feeding on our life experiences. For example, I know this is true, I can be across the world in a gorgeous, once-in-a-lifetime historical locale. And I’ll basically think okay here’s why I’m really here: how could I use this in a story? And after a heated, door-slamming argument, I’ll be telling myself well, that’s food for writing drama.

When I read, no matter what I read, but especially works in my chosen genre, there is always a part of me that’s thinking things like – hm, interesting stylistic device, that could help me with that problem I was having. Occasionally, I feel like  I’m actually reading as a reader would – but then again wait – I’m thinking *like a writer* that I’m actually reading as a reader. And how meta is that?

Okay, enough of that.

What about you? If you’re a writer, does this affect your reading? What do you think about the analogy between writing and a parasitic infection? Does it “bug”  you? 😉

IWSG: Advice Is a Form of Nostalgia

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First of all, Happy New Year! And Happy IWSG Day!

Yes, 2017 is upon us. Maybe that’s why this month’s question of the month is making me think of nostalgia and the (in)famous quote that “advice is form of nostalgia.” Then again, maybe “bad advice” is a form of nostalgia.

The question of the month is “What writing rule do you wish you’d never heard?”

My answer is none, or none I can remember. I mean, it’s all part of the learning experience. When I think of memorably bad advice I’ve gotten, it all comes down to stories. And, I love stories.

Like the time I was told to self-publish now and not later, by someone who’d done the same and then proceeded to hawk his book to friends and family. This guy was in charge of the local writer’s group and a real character. I’m never going to do that again, but I’ll never forget the kick in the pants he gave us.

Then there’s the writing prof in college who basically told me not to bother with fantasy, because it doesn’t sell, which is more or less true. But, she did push me to think out of the fantasy box, and she did convince me I was a good writer, deep down, maybe.

A third story, I remember talking to someone I know about bad writing advice I’d gotten, which I honestly don’t even remember, because it was bad. My friend was saying how art groups are just failed artists exchanging the same bad advice, and it can be like that, but I still think it’s better to have people you can talk to. On a related note, last I heard, years later, this person is still waiting for “inspiration”.

Long story short, in my opinion, it’s better to make mistakes than to be frozen in place waiting for the stars to align so you can get to work. Maybe the only truly bad advice is the advice not to write at all, to wait for inspiration, to wait until I “feel like it.” And yes, there are people who actually tell me things like that – because to them it’s just a hobby.

What about you? What’s one piece of writing advice you wish you never heard?

IWSG: Choices, Choices

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It’s the first Wednesday, and that means it’s time to post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. I know I’ve definitely neglected my blog when the last post I see is also Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a month ago. This group is a great place to share encouragement, tips, and yes insecurities related to being a writer. Lately, I’ve noticed that most of the posts seem to concentrate more on the first two things.

This month, the IWSG question for the month has to do with our 5-year-plan. Where do we see ourselves in 5 years and what do we plan to do in order to make that dream a reality, what concrete steps?

Wow, what a bracing question, right? I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and to be honest like many I’ve dreamed about seeing my name on a newstand preferably with the words New York Times Bestselling Author in tiny print above it. I’d still like to see that one day, and I’d also like to win the lottery and meet Stephen King and J.K. face to face.

To be honest, though, in 5 years I’d really just like to see myself making a decent living, having fun, growing in the craft. To that end, I really need to start branching out more, forcing myself to grind through the jobs I know will pay me a decent hourly wage and also having the courage to take a chance on the work I love.

Most nights, sometimes I forget, I hand-write my goals for the next day, because I’ve found when I put pen to paper it sticks firmer in my mind than when I type them up. Most of the goals are repeats. For daily goals, I put down intermediate, achievable goals like today I will spend 3 hours business writing, 2 hours on romance, and 2 hours editing (novel title here). See how that works, refine for the next day, and so on. For broader spans of time, I say this week I want to edit three chapters of my novel, this month I want to finish a second a draft, complete a short story, get that submission into that publisher.

I definitely agree that definite goals are a good thing. They are also hard. Maybe it’s my generation, but I hate to be “tied down.” I was speaking to an older friend this past week about how all the options make it so much more difficult to choose one. I have every song in the world in my Android phone, and yet I find that I don’t enjoy them as much as when I have a single burn CD. All my time and energy gets taken up trying to decide what to listen to, and by the time I have this song I love playing it’s just not as fun to listen.

Have you ever had that experience? There’s something comforting and better about limitation. We might think we want the world. We might think we want to live a life with no plans, every moment coming as it will. I for one definitely believe that about myself. That’s probably why it came as such a shock to me, this silly little question of playlists that mostly came up because of a wonderful camping trip in Yellowstone National Forest this summer where I had almost nothing and it actually made me appreciate those few things I had all the more.

Spontaneity is awesome, but plans are good, and I for one really need to be reminded/reinforced in that again. Yet again, another awesome IWSG question.