Becoming a Better Writer: LARP

Sorry for the lack of postings in the last couple of weeks. I have been busy moving in and settling down in my new house with my fiance- which turned into a bigger, messier ordeal than originally planned. With that and the Easter holiday out of the way, I have more time to get back to focusing on my writing. Which is something I tend to say anytime a big change happens, isn’t it? And those happen a lot, it seems. I’ve come to terms with this reality: I can plan for all the little things I want, and that doesn’t mean I’m going to be capable of following through. But that doesn’t mean I have to give up, either. So here we are, blogging again, promising again to get back on track and plug through. All I can give you there is the promise to try, try again. And sometimes, that’s all we can do.

Something else that has been taking up my time recently is LARP. For the un-nerdy readers I have, that stands for Live Action Role Play. The game I am involved in lies in the World of Darkness: Changeling setting, and is more character-and-story based than the sword-battles-in-the-field stereotype of LARPing would have you believe.

And as much as me and my fiance’s new commitment to LARPing twice every month, and doing the writing work for the downtimes in between sessions has definitely taken out some of my free time (that could be editing or marketing time), it’s been immensely helpful in my writing. It’s not just the making characters and the writing scenarios, either. It’s the coming up against other people’s characters, and their writing. It’s the figuring out how a character would react versus how I would react. It’s the realizing what kind of choices other people enjoy or few as feasible in a character arc, as compared to what I view as entertaining or a good plot twist.

As an author, there’s this huge temptation to turn inward. To reject criticism, to protect one’s projects like you would a small infant, to edit and perfect according to one’s own taste. To a point, that’s good. You want your writing to be yours, not anyone else’s, and you don’t want outside influences to tame your unique vision for your work. At the same time, any writing that is published is a cooperative between the author and the reader- and, in writing that coop, it is more effective to have that in mind than to write for an empty room. That’s not changing your vision to fit the whims of other people- that’s allowing yourself the space to learn and take value from others. To honor their time and their sensibilities.

My LARP experience has forced me to really recognize that. But you could find the same thing in a writing group, online or in person. You could do paragraph roleplaying on an online forum. You could swap critiques with an author you admire. Find the way that fits you best- and let that change your writing for the better.

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Becoming a Better Writer: Making Time for Reading

It’s easy for me to be hard on myself for not making enough time for writing new material, or for editing material that needs a ton of workshopping. With a busy lifestyle, it’s easy to let my ‘personal’ work fall by the wayside while I get distracted by other things. But I’m good at reminding myself that I am behind on my writing. I’m good at punishing myself for it by doing twice as much work the next day, and I usually only get behind by a couple of weeks at the maximum. It’s more of a healthy cycle of slowing down so that I have more energy to pick things up again than it is me falling off the wagon.

Reading on the other hand? It’s hard to keep at it. Which, it shouldn’t be. I love reading. It’s one of the major reasons why I got into writing in the first place. I should be devouring new novels at a chapter an hour, lovingly pouring over each one and cataloging all of the useful plot devices and characterizations that I can use to strengthen my own writing in the future.

I don’t, though. I go to the bookstore and get discouraged because it’s either a new book or a bag of treats for my puppy, I choose to watch k-dramas with my little sister instead of getting through more chapters, I do a couple of Irish lessons on Duolingo instead of going forward, I do the laundry instead of going out to get more books, etc. And it’s easier to convince myself that it doesn’t matter. Reading someone else’s work isn’t as important as adding another paragraph to my own manuscripts, right? Besides, I’ll have plenty of time to continue reading later.

A good writer is a good reader. When I’m 10 novels behind on my Goodreads challenge for the year, I’ve starved myself of a valuable resource. I’ve denied myself 10 new perspectives, 10 new opportunities to support new authors, or marginalized authors, 10 new ways to see how plots can come together, how characters can relate, how different cultures, religions, time periods, etc. can interact with each other.

As a writer, I must be an intentional reader. I’ve talked before about how that means being intentional about what I read. Lately it’s dawned on me that this also means I must be intentional about reading in the first place. I need to save time nearly every day to read. It can be an hour, it can be twenty minutes. The dedication is what is important, and keeps me out of ruts. When I’m low on funds, I need to allot time to visit the library, or the local thrift store. (If I can’t support other authors with my money, I can at least support them with word-of-mouth recommendations!) I’ve been picking up the slack lately, and hopefully I’ll get better at this.

How about you? How will you become a more intentional reader? Or, if you’ve always been one, how do you stay encouraged?

Becoming a Better Writer: Nerding Out

I feel like it might almost be a given that if you are an author, you’re probably a nerd of some sort. I think some of my favorite author interviews or posts are of authors geeking out about all these different kinds of fandoms: sci-fi, music, anime, pop culture, classic lit, etc. I’ve always seen that as an author’s passion just leaking out into everything. Authors love to absorb, they love to experience, they love to try out new perspectives and make themselves uncomfortable.

I would definitely call myself a nerd. Proudly, I call myself a nerd. I’m a huge fan of Sailor Moon, Harley Quinn, shipping Rogue and Gambit, Alice in Wonderland, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series. I have prints all over my rooms, collectors books all up in my shelves, t-shirts and bags and shoes all splattered crazy with their faces and logos and quotes. I know stupid amounts of obscure trivia and I don’t find that weird. I love to talk to other nerds, to dress up with other nerds and congregate with other nerds to celebrate the awesomeness that is a shared love of  imagination and creativity.

So, of course, this past week I went back to Denver Comic Con. This was my third con, and it was also the second time I got to meet one of my favorite authors, Frank Beddor, of The Looking Glass Wars series. If you remember my last post about Frank, I cannot begin to explain what he has meant to me as an author. Pratchett may have made me love stories, and make me want to write, but Beddor taught me what a person could do with fairy-tale re-tells. With female warriors who weren’t part of a satirical world. He got me legitimately interested in trying out my own stories, knowing that it had been done. Could be done.

nerding

And this time, I didn’t nearly pass out on him (If you remember, last time I didn’t recognize him and so humiliated myself by fangirling about the series right to his face before almost breaking into hysterics and making a crying face at the camera). I was able to thank him, properly. I got another two(!) signatures and a picture to add to my little Wonderland wall (which is the featured image, also has a bunch of framed Kevin Eslinger art along with it, and the Alyss and Redd from Beddor’s series). Without him, ‘Once Upon a Reality’ wouldn’t have happened. And after seeing him again, and enjoying all of the amazing artists at DCC’15, I’m even more fired up about my upcoming projects.

I can’t wait to make some reader, someday, as excited to see me as I was excited to meet Beddor. That’s my new goal, going forward. Wish me luck!

Becoming a Better Writer: Being Charitable

Charity tends to be one of those things that people think of as an ‘extra’ thing. Something one does after they’ve accumulated x amount of money or paid off y amount of debt; one of those extracurriculars for the holiday that makes you feel better about spending just a little more on you and yours. Especially with those in my age group, young professionals in their twenties and thirties, charity is something to do after marriage, after a mortgage, after kids… There are a lot of reasons, but they all tend to be ‘afters’.

In my opinion, this outlook doesn’t ever lead to genuine charity. The biggest lie we tell ourselves is the lie of tomorrow- that we will have one, that it will go as planned. When we get in the habit of putting off charity for ‘after’, we give ourselves that permission to continue building after upon after until we’ve wasted decades being hard of heart and uncharitable. Decades that could have changed the lives of innumerable people, blessed the days of those who needed it most and left the world in its broken state, complaining of it at the same time that we didn’t lift a finger to change anything.

‘But I don’t make much!’ Neither do I. I’m a twenty two year old young woman who writes novels and poetry, working fifty some hours a week as a full time nanny to pay off a car and save for a house as I live with my parents.

I used to have the mentality, back in high school, that I would begin to donate my money when I got a job. I didn’t. Then I told myself I would donate when I got in college. I didn’t. I went on the occasional mission trip, dropped a dollar in the red buckets at Christmas… But that was an afterthought, not charity. That was throwing money and time that I saw as mine, the smallest amount possible, at the first thing I saw to try to make myself feel like a good person.

Becoming a nanny and a published author has changed my perspective on a lot of things- my idea of charity, namely. When I was published, I decided that I would donate 10% (the amount of a ‘tithe’ in the words of my religion) to coo responding charities. I was filled with dreams of donating thousands of dollars right off the bat, doing good while getting mine at the same time.

Well, first royalty check came around and let’s just say it wasn’t exactly up to par. My excitement at the fact that anyone would read my work was soon eclipsed by the realization that donating 10% would mean donating only a couple dollars- which made me feel pretty bad. I ended up donating more than I earned that period. And I was glad for it.

My idea of charity changed from that point on. I didn’t just pledge 10% of my royalties- I now donate a half-tithe to my home parish every month from my paycheck. I volunteer my time every week as a mentor at my friends’ church for the high school youth. I came to the realization that once I looked at myself with the eyes of charity that I had so much more to give than I had ever imagined- love, time, resources, experience, patience… I keep waiting for the list to end but it really doesn’t.

When you stop thinking in terms of ‘after’, your whole world changes. I’ve become less attached to my things, more open to people. I’ve become more vulnerable concerning the places where I am suffering, more willing to ask for help, and better prepared to muscle through. I’m learning to prioritize, to feel a strong sense of justice and to nurture love within myself for all those I encounter.

And as I have always held, the better I become as a person, the more I become authentically ‘me’, the better I will be as an author.

How do you nurture your own sense of charity? How does it make you a better reader or writer?

Becoming a Better Writer: Pushing Through

Something that I have realized in the past year is that I am not the kind of writer who would be writing only when the muse hits. I’m not responsible enough for that. I started writing The Thing About Apples back in the spring during my ‘off’ semester. Then I took time off because of a move, then more time off because of switching families (for nannying), then more time off for relationship issues, then more time off for the holidays…. instead of actually writing when the muse hit, I ended up making excuses for not writing. I would push things off to the next day, truly and completely believing that I’d have time tomorrow. But tomorrow would come and I’d be stressed, or the new Dragon Age game would come out, or my family would want to go see Annie, and all that time from yesterday when I should have been writing was already gone.

There are definitely writers out there who can write when the muse hits, I don’t want to deny that they exist. And that I am exceedingly jealous of them. I also know, however, that there are other writers out there like me: the ones who say that we like to write when the muse hits, when really we are just looking for excuses not to write. We’re afraid what we’ll do on a schedule won’t be good enough, we don’t think the idea we have right now is the best one, we don’t want to face some of the plot holes and walls of bad character development that we’ve written ourselves into. We think that maybe, just maybe, if we wait for a better day that these problems will resolve themselves.

In my experience, they don’t. Those problems continue to sit there, and they actually get worse as time goes on and the freshness of the story begins to fade. I forget where I was even going with the plot, or with certain characters, and I spend a lot of my time backtracking just to push forward instead of leaving that to the editing process later, as I most likely should.

So this year, to become a better writer myself, I’m dedicated to writing on a schedule. I won’t beat myself up if I make word count every day, but I’m going to start taking it seriously when I miss a weeks’ worth of writing, as I did in 2014. I’m going to push past my fear of that not-quite perfect first draft that doesn’t exist and allow myself to write badly in order to write often. I’m going to shoulder aside my distaste for a long editing process. I’m going to push myself out of that realm of ‘hobby’ writer, and in to the ranks of professional writers. I’m going to treat my novels-in-progress the same way I would a career project, instead of like pets or children. I’m going to push myself to my limits, and hopefully come out the better for it.

What kind of excuses have you made, currently or in the past, that keep you from writing as you should?

Becoming a Better Writer: Taking Breaks

I’m the kind of person that likes to go go go. When writing, I prefer to power straight through projects rather than do it little by little. For the most part, this works out for me. I write a little each day, force myself to at least get through a good chunk of setting or dialouge on days that I just have no desire to write, and edit in any downtime. The rest of my time is then divided up into day-job work, sleeping when necessary, a scheduled amount of social time, then plenty of reading and promoting my current works. I like to be busy. I take pride in being busy.

Even then, it’s good for me to take little breaks now and again. For me, a break period never goes beyond a month if I really need a breather. More often it tends to be a period of about two to three weeks. With the exception of jotting down a couple notes so I don’t forget about crucial brain-babies, I refuse to pick up a pen for creative writing. I put my manuscript notebooks up on a high shelf so I don’t even look at them. I stall on printing out the manuscript that needs editing. The only thing I have access to are my poetry book and my notes- both of which I will not open without a really good reason.

Since I’m the kind of person who needs to force herself to go on breaks, I still have to be productive somehow. I focus more on completing small, fun things. This can be powering through my book list and taking out more books from the library. This can be making a commitment to seeing one old friend a week, or having more get-togethers or girl’s nights for a couple weeks. At the moment, my break has taken the form of busting through all three Mass Effect games (happened to get a deal at GameStop where I got all three for fifteen bucks, whoo hoo, currently halfway through the second). I re-route my energy into these new goals so that I am capable of taking a break without neglecting my own mental health. Might not sound like the most common way to go about keeping myself at my mental peak, but I know how my own mind works. It needs to be constantly spinning or it begins to panic. When I take a break, I specifically do things that let my mind spin- but instead of having it spin on full speed, the way it does when I am actively creating something, I let it spin against itself, through accomplishing easier, pre-set tasks or re-acquainting myself with people I’m already familiar with. Accomplishments without too much challenge or with a much lower level of stress attached.

And yes, I think all these mental hoops are worth jumping through. No matter how you get to them, breaks are beneficial. Even if the point of the break isn’t being restful or really even slowing down the pace of general productivity. When I take breaks, I take a huge step back from my current projects. I don’t let myself think about the projects I want to be working on (sometimes can’t be helped, but at least I try). I think about other things. I consume the works of others. I pick up on points of views that the people I haven’t seen in awhile have picked up in their own life journeys. I allow myself to enjoy the little, usually even pointless, achievements and train myself to be content with all those little things. This helps me to recenter my own perspective, as well as recharging my sense of purpose and happiness with my choice of career.

So even for the super productive, going-all-the-time people like me, breaks are important. Whether it comes naturally or you have to schedule them, whether it entails lounging on a couch and marathoning Teen Wolf or getting out of the house and going dancing with your friends, they are crucial for your mental well-being, and thus beneficial for your dreams and aspirations. Make sure you’re taking them!

 

How do you like to take your breaks, readers?

Becoming a Better Writer: Writing by Hand

For me, it’s too easy to get distracted and bogged down to be able to pull together the attention span necessary to finish an entire novel. Especially when I’m tip-tapping away at my computer. Why add another paragraph when I can update all my websites, check my Facebook, play my Sims, chat online, or make new graphics for my short stories for the umpteenth time? By the time I even get to thinking about the title, I’m whisked away by another article suggested by LinkedIn about how to ‘get a truckload of reviews on Amazon’ or ‘better reach out to your audience’ or ‘avoid those tropes you just put into your story less than five seconds ago’. 

Just a handful of my current notebooks

Just a handful of my current notebooks

I also am useless at newer technology. My phone is a calls-and-text-only flip phone, and I have the same iPod touch that was brand spanking new back when I was still in high school. Since I tend to use a method that involves typing up my chapters and uploading them to be beta read one at a time, I don’t have any files that I could just put up in that Cloud thing that I still don’t understand, it’d be a bit of a reach to be able to get writing done when I’m not in my house, glued to my monster of a laptop.

So my solution to all this and more? I hand-write the first drafts of all my manuscripts, from short stories to the small novels all the way to the honking 100k plus projects that tend to take up more than four individual notebooks. (Thank goodness the Dollar Store sells these things, or I might be a bit in the hole with my material costs). I take my notebooks with me everywhere- when I’m out visiting my mum, when I go over to Monkey’s for the weekend, when I’m tanning out on my back porch, when I’m with the girls I nanny. The girls want to take a nap? Out comes the pen. Monkey needs to finish a project at work? Lucky me, so do I. Mum goes to get groceries? That’s enough time for a page, right? Note that I say ‘notebooks’ as well- I have the one notebook that has the current manuscript-in-progress, as well as the smaller planning journal that contains character notes, look sheets, world-mythology and family trees, and three or four loose leaf pages of broad outlines that keep me on track with the goal of each chapter, as well as serving as my bookmark for where I currently am in the project. 

This first handwritten manuscript is full of strike-throughs, name-changes, notations to add details or new plot twists in the next version, small sketches and random people’s phone numbers/addresses. It’s messy to the point that sometimes I can’t read my own handwriting and I’ll soon have to pay for my fast-dying pens in blood in order to keep up with myself. With the amount of writing I do a day, it’s much more likely that I’ll develop some kind of carpal tunnel and if I lose my online files I will undoubtedly have to type up all of these chapters all over again (typing a chapter can take anywhere from 30min to a full hour depending on the length and how distracted I get). 

For all that, I’ve found that writing my manuscripts by hand has done worlds for knocking out my occasional periods of writer’s block. It also gives me something tangible to hold on to while I’m writing, which can be better for my thought process when I’m looking to go back and edit a certain section or change something entirely. It gives me an extra edit- when I type these chapters up, I’m technically already moved on to a second draft. Typing something up from hand-written ensures that I read through the chapters themselves as a cohesive unit, which allows me to better focus on continuity and errors such as too many questions or the same word used too many times. That way, by the time I’m getting to the edits stage I’m capable of moving on to the bigger thematic edits- does this story element work, would that character really do that, what details need to be added, which ones needs to be tightened, etc.- so that by the time that I have a third draft I’m capable of moving straight into the nit-picky details and polishing the entire thing. I prefer only having to do two drafts through the typed method- in that way, I only have to print once or twice, rather than three or four times. Considering my manuscripts are pretty hefty, and I am no longer of capable of sacrificing my university printer bucks to print them out, economizing the process is pretty important. 

So, readers: what do you prefer? Do you hand-write, then type? Do you type on a typical word processor like Microsoft Word? Do you use a specialized program like Scrivener? An online-posting community like Webook or Wattpad? (I myself use Webook for beta reads). How many drafts do you kick out?