Thursday, May 29, 2008

The First Time

[X-posted over at the Tri Mu Blog.]

The first time is always memorable. No, not THAT first time (get your head out of the gutter.) I'm talking about the first manuscript. The first time a writer decides she is going write a book, and she does. Day after day she returns to the keyboard to pound out the next word, the next scene, the next chapter, until she hits those two magical words 'the end.'

For some writers, this process may take only a few weeks, but for others it takes years. Some will attempt it many times, but for various reasons, not reach those two words on a novel length project. For me, the journey took years, and during that time I acquired a graveyard full of false starts and half finished stories that never went anywhere. Some of these stories were worked on only a short amount of time before being abandoned, others were labored over for three or more years before I finally gave up on them.

After years and years, the first book I finished took only three months to write. (first draft, of course.) Since that first manuscript, three to four months is typically how long it takes for me to write 'the end' on any given novel length project.

You might be wondering what changed. Did I finally find the perfect writing guide? No, but goodness knows I looked. In fact, I searched high and low, reading all the writing books I could get my hands on from the time I was twelve on, and every time I read a new guide, I learned something new, something I'd been doing wrong. That of course, meant I had to go back and edit the 20k or so words I'd already written. After all, how could I go on when I'd made mistakes? As I only wrote when the muse struck, this led to a lot of very polished beginnings to books that never went anywhere.

This ugly cycle is why most authors I've spoken to advise new writers to "write the first book in a void". What does 'the void' mean? It means you don't join a critique group, read lots of guide books, or join writers loops before the book is finished. Why? Because all of these things make you want to edit, and editing doesn't help finish the book. (**NOTE: This is just what I've learned and may not be true for everyone.) There will be plenty of time to fix a manuscript's flaws once the first draft is done, so write it first, and then edit. (Sure wish some of the guidebooks I read would have told me that.)

The other big secret I learned, and this one is arguably even more important, is that if you want to write, you have to write. Okay, yes that seems obvious, but did you see where I said for years I wrote only when the muse struck me? Meaning I wrote only when I was inspired, and when I was dry...well, lets just say I avoided the keyboard. When I finally got serious about writing and realized that sitting in front of my keyboard once a month wasn't going to get me where I wanted to go, I made a point to make writing a habit.

The first couple days were great. I had a new idea and enjoyed running with it. But inevitably, the dreaded writers block hit. Then I had to drag myself in front of the keyboard. Everyday (or at least most days out of the week) I forced myself in front of the keyboard. There were days I wondered why I was torturing myself, but you know what? It got better. The block broke, and I wrote like a madwoman, almost giddy with it. Of course, over the three months it took me to finish that first draft, I got blocked several times, and I learned I had to write my way out of it. Even if I only wrote a couple sentences, it was something, and eventually I would find my muse again. At the end of it, when I finally wrote "the end" for the very first time, I laughed out loud and then called my husband (who worked nights then) to let him know. It was a rush, and every moment I fought with words or characters--totally worth it.

Those of you who are writers with finished manuscripts, what was it like the first time you wrote 'the end'? What type of process took you to that point?

Happy Thursday everyone. I hope you've enjoyed this look into my writing past!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Because you have to love it

[Be warned, this turned into a very long post.]

If there is one benefit to being unpublished, it is the lack of a deadline. This frees a writer to experiment a little--to take chances she might not have time to take later in her career. (Not that time is ever overly abundant.)

This year (all five months of it thus far) has been full of exploration for me. The Tri Mu has had writing challenges most months which have ranged from writing in different genres to including very specific elements in scenes/short stories. Besides these short challenges, I've been working off and on a literary YA, but I haven't managed to really sink my teeth into the story for an extended amount of time. This project is an interesting one, and a big stretch for be because the story includes neither fantasy nor mystery elements, the two genres I'm most familiar and comfortable with. But, I was urged to write it by a non-writer who is very important to me, so I gave it a shot, and it will probably continue to come out in disconnected scenes.

I also took on another project which I thought would be tough but not a huge stretch. Tori, a fellow Tri Mu, challenged me to write a short story targeted at a certain romance line. No problem, right? I write UF and all the books I’ve completed contain romance subplots. How hard can it be to make that subplot the main plot?

I've struggled through a draft and a half of the story, and it has been a battle. Not because on any lack of ideas, but because while writing I felt confined. The story kept heading off in really fun directions, but I'd have to pull it back in line and remind the muse what we were writing (or trying to write.) All in all, it was a frustrating and exhausting experience.

Framing this struggle is the full length novel I’ve been working on. I finished the first draft of GW in March and began editing in May. Now I’m not going to say everything was rainbows and sunshine while I wrote the draft, or that there haven’t been days I dragged myself to the keyboard and then bashed my head against the scene after scene, but I’ll admit, GW has some sort of magic to it that the other challenges lacked.

What is that magic? Well, quite frankly, the fact I love this story.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m editing right now and some days I declare it the worst drudge ever committed to the page—and thank goodness for critique partners willing to help talk out the icks—but most days, I know this story is what I want to be writing.

The other projects I’ve been dabbling in have/had points of attraction, but I entered them halfheartedly. They weren’t the types of stories I love to read, and I knew starting out, they weren’t what I really wanted to write.

I was at a workshop recently given by Madeline Hunter called “The Romance that Writes Itself” and at the time I was still in the throws of battle with Tori’s romance challenge. I’d already tossed the first draft because I realized it had several glaring errors that made it a ‘sickly excuse for a romance’. I had started the second, and was getting closer, but as Tori and I sat there, listening and jotting notes on the worksheet, I finally looked at her and whispered “I know what’s wrong…I’m still not writing a romance.” Oh, I had a heavy romance plot in there, but the adventure plot was still the forefront.

This was a frustrating realization. After all, I read romance. I’m a member of RWA. I’ve been to dozens of romance workshops. Shouldn’t I be able to write one simple romance short story?

During the question and answer, Madeline said something that really stuck with me. Someone asked her which of her books was her favorite and she said “All of them. If I didn’t absolute love each and every one of them, I wouldn’t have been able to write them.”

I think she was dead on. It takes a lot of love to sit in front of the keyboard day after day. It also takes a lot of time, so you might as well be working on something you really love, really believe in.

By the end of the workshop (about 4 hours) I’d decided I loved my characters, I loved my world, and I loved my plot. I hated putting it in a romance box. So, this November (if not sooner) I’ll be recycling all I love about that story into an Urban Fantasy. It won’t be all that big a change, it kept trying to break in that direction anyway.

There is no wasted time in writing, because I honestly believe every word you write makes you a stronger writer, but I probably haven’t been the most productive. At the same time, I’ve learned a lot about myself and what I want to write. I’m glad I had the time to dabble in other things, and there are a couple other stories I’d like to try my hand at while I still have time. But I’ve learned something really important. Writing is just too hard (or really too easy to not do) to not love what you are working on. You won’t love every word and some days nothing will work, but its important to find the subject/genre/characters you love, and hang on for the ride.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Should it end?

I read a lot of series in several genres, and many have hit double digits in number of books. I love series--particularly ones with the same main character in each book--because every time I pick one up it's like seeing old friends again. That said, I'm starting to wonder if series should end at a point.

Several of the series I read today, I first picked up when I was a teenager. Over the years, some have changed drastically, some not so much. Both these extremes have their own issues. The series that change drastically tend to push character growth and as the character reaches a peek, something new has to level them back out (lets not talk about paranormal sides where the MC ends up godlike because s/he keeps gaining new powers each book.) The series that don't change much, have much less character growth, and you can usually pick up the later ones in any order and and only miss some minor references. The middle ground is a little fuzzy and harder to find as each new book in a series comes out, in my personal opinion.

Of course, there is always a demand for the next book in a series. People like seeing the next adventure of their favorite characters. (And publishers love the reader loyalty) Harry Potter had a clear end, but people are still begging for a new book (to use one of the more famous examples.) So what do you think? When a writer starts a series, should she hope it gets picked up as a never ending series, or would you prefer her to have at least a vague idea of a series ending? Something she lays tiny stings down for throughout so it all ties up in the last book.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

U can has Laughs 4 UR Grammar

Admit it. You've been there. I can has cheezburger or a Caterday site. You've looked at the cute little animals with clever little captions because well, they make you laugh. (And if you haven't looked, you should, laughing is good for you.)

The problem becomes apparent when you think about the fact most people know grammar intrinsically, not factually. Things sound right to the ear. But if enough people use words/phrases incorrectly, they start sounding 'right' and are eventually adopted as slang, and after enough time, slang is adopted as an evolution of the English language. That's what a living language does--it evolves.

Since the advent of instant messenger, English teachers around the states have reported a rapid degradation of proper grammar. I occasionally have to remind myself that smiley faces ^_^ and *emotes* have no place in professional correspondences. That doesn't mean I don't receive them from other 'professionals' at work sometimes.

Caterday pictures take 'net lingo to a new level. The images are cute and funny, but if you read the forums, they are practically in another language--lolcats. In large chunks, this stuff is worse than l33t, or at least on par. But hey, for the most part, it's easy to ignore. Until you find yourself repeating it.

It starts out innocent enough. A joke among those in the know. When my husband is teasing me, I often look at him and say "But...I loves you!" (I couldn't find this particular LoLcat, but take my word for it, it's cute.)Or to tease him, I'll point to something and say "I can has that?". All good fun. Until someone outside 'the know' hears you. In the office the other day, the printer ran out of paper and one of the computer guys and I were verbally messing around. About the time I announced "You can no has paper" the chair of the department walked into the room. Oh yeah, he didn't get it.

So, tread carefully as you laugh. Grammar no iz good trade 4 lols.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Announcement: Tri Mu Blog

I have a very special announcement, the Modern Myth Makers blog has now officially launched. *pulls out the launch party-hats*

We are just doing introductions right now, but please stop over and learn about the other girls in my writing group. In the future we plan to do lots of writing related posts as well pass the plot challenges (where one writes a section of a story and then another has to pick up where she left off) and other fun little things. So, go on, visit, and don't forget to bookmark us. ^_^