Becoming a Better Writer: Model Homes

One of the things that I love to do in my free time is go visit model homes. My parents live in a bit of an upscale neighborhood that is constantly going through more and more development, so model homes are virtually everywhere around here. I actually just went to three different groups of model homes yesterday with one of my housemates- one group were homes based on the Japanese/Swedish model of space conservation and maximizing utility, another were Italian-style townhomes built in a circle rather than side by side, and the last were common ranch homes.

The thing that I enjoy most about going to model homes is the way that they make me a better writer. Each model home has been painstakingly set up by an interior designer in every room. Some have a feel of a kid-centric home. Some focus on the study on the first floor, and the incoming-baby room on the second. Some emphasize the entertainment rooms. Each of them do so with an overarching, coherent theme. They tell the story of a family who, while having their own personalities in the confines of their own spaces, also have their place among each other once you venture out into the more communal spaces of the home.

When I go to visit the model homes, I go with a specific goal in mind. Whether I do this in my head or say it out loud, I focus on what each room would be used for. What kind of situations would suit this kind of room. What kind of family would have set up this kind of house. Who bought the different accents? Are they heirlooms or something new picked out by a design-happy husband?

Sometimes, I all out turn this into a challenge. I go into a model home with a writing friend or two and take just one room, within which I must write a short story with the room in question being a main part of the story. I’ve always been a much more action and dialogue centric kind of writer- in my head, I’m much more fascinated with the way that people act and react than I ever have been with the surroundings of the people in question. It’s hard for me to completely construct out of my head different living spaces for different characters. Being able to go into model homes and get a much more grounded look at all the different ways in which fictional people can live gives me a much more extensive catalouge to choose from in my settings. Hopefully, it will help me create a much richer story-world for my reader to enter into in the novels to come.

How do you create settings? How do you visualize settings? How important is the scene setting to you, either as a reader or a writer? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments.

Becoming a Better Writer: Multitasking Smarter, Not Harder

When people find out that I’m a writer, at some point the conversation always turns to the ‘how do you do it?’. My favorite is when people ask me how I manage to write full novels while double-majoring in college and working (one of my jobs awarded me the ‘best time management’ award for the year for this). Most of the time, I answer that I’m not really managing well at all, which is partially true. Fitting in time to finish up the latest chapter when I have to code a whole new page of my school’s online newspaper and have a ten-pager due in Lib Theo class in two days is not always ‘fun’. A lot of the time I end up compromising- the coding gets half done, the paper isn’t as good as I’m used to doing, or I rush the chapter with the intention of editing later-and I’ll end up kicking myself for it later.

Still, I seem to be managing better than I think I do. My grade point average is still a high 3.8, I got rave end-of-the-year reviews at my job (which I retained to the next year), and the manuscript for my second novel is in the hands of a couple of beta readers getting read through and edited in preparation for then next draft. How do I do it?

When I was young, my mother taught me something invaluable. In high school, when I was first really introduced to the idea of having too much to feasibly do, she taught me how to multi-task the right way. Instead of piling things up one on top of the other, she taught me that there was always a way to pair certain activities so that I could end up knocking out three different objectives at once, without really even breaking a sweat. She taught me how to make even my most mundane tasks, like working out, into effortless moments of productivity that changed my outlook both on the exercise and the work that I was doing.

I’ve taken this mantra into my writing career: taking on ways to make myself a better writer that are complementary to what I already do, or already love to do, to keep my stress level as low as humanly possible. One of the first things that I read when starting out with this whole writing business is  that it is important to establish routines to keep oneself on track. In my experience, that meant building in one or two more components to already existing routines, or replacing small bits of existing routines to make them more productive.

On my poetry blog, I’ve started a series of posts called ‘Things I Do to Stay Sane’; periodic posts that detail some of the little routines that I’ve developed that I believe have made me a better poet and a better person. I’m hoping to do that here with a new post series for ‘Becoming a Better Writer’- recounting some of those routines that have been specifically geared at helping with my fiction writing (get ready for posts on model homes, late-night partying and slacking off in classes). It is my hopes that through sharing my own routines, from the relatively normal to the bizarre, that I could help other writers just a little bit in getting out of their ruts!

Feel fee to comment below this post or under any of the ‘Becoming a Better Writer’ posts if you have specific questions that you would want answered in this post, or would like me to share a story about any specific obstacle that you yourself as a writer have encountered (or readers, any specific obstacle you would imagine that writers face!). I look forward to sharing this all with you.

Perks of Being An Author: Being with Kids

Yesterday, I was asked to come into a fifth grade classroom to talk about my experience of being a young author and poet. I got dressed up more than I do than when I’m going out to a fancy dinner, I was so nervous. I’ve talked to groups of people from elders to teens, but this was my first time talking to that age group that’s just so full of imagination and wonder that they’re almost irreversibly fragile. I wondered if I would say enough to them. If I would say something wrong and crush someone’s dreams, or give false hope. If I would make writing sound more like a back-breaking job (which is is) than a life-giving work (which it also is). I didn’t even really know what to say for the first couple of minutes. I just introduced myself, introduced the works that I have been writing (vaguely… these were children, after all), and then opened the floor for questions just to catch my breath. The questions streamed- and I had prepared for none of them. ‘What’s in your contract?’, ‘What would violate copyright law?’, ‘I like to write non-fiction narratives, how hard is it to get that published?’, ‘Why are there different guidelines for getting stuff published?’, ‘How many rejections do you get a month?’, ‘How do you deal with rejection?’, ‘If your book were to be made into a movie, would you be happy or would you be afraid that they would ruin it?’.

They asked questions up until the bell rang, when we all took a group picture and then I gave my autograph to a few very shy girls. It surprised me when, at this point, a couple of them specifically wanted me to give them a list of resources, aka journals and presses that accept the work of children/pre-teens/teens (which I have found a couple in my searches). I had been expecting to come into this experience being this authority, this person who was going to introduce them to this wonderful world of writing and what can be done with it. These kids were already past that point however. Those who didn’t like writing were critical, and wanted to be proven that there was some value in it. The ones who did wanted to write were itching to get started building their own portfolios and skills, and while English classes had given them a great outlet to practice their writing, no one would talk to them about publishing (which they were most interested in). That was amazing, to me. When I was in fifth grade, I assumed writing was something that happened to other people. Here, these kids were already pawing at the gates. What I wouldn’t give to make sure that someone was there to keep stoking that fire up until their big breaks! It makes me wonder why we don’t have more resources for young writers to be taught how to make it in the writing world. Why parents will spend hundreds of dollars each year to send their children to soccer camp, but not to an after school writing class that would focus on those who really wish to make writing their career. It’s not like there’s any better chance in being a professional soccer player as there is being a professional writer- and with the advances in publishing technology  the industry is changing in the author’s favor.

In general, the world’s view of what a writer is, does, and can do for the world at large needs to change. Children like this who are hungry for chances don’t need to be taught to form themselves to standardized testing- they need to be taught how to critically analyze the work of others so that they can write their own works, and then learn how to write simple things like cover letters, proposals, and queries- which are much more helpful. Not that I have any authority to be saying these things- I’m no instructor or educator.  Just my reflection on going into a fifth-grade classroom.

Progress Update: Long Overdue!

What with the recent release of my first poetry collection early this November, it seems like I’ve all but forgotten about ‘Till the Last Petal Falls in the whirl of the book launch, preparation, and promotion. I promise you, that’s not the case! Even amidst all the nerve-wracking, and yet wonderfully fulfilling readings and appearances, I’m constantly working on ‘Till the Last Petal falls and the rest of the Once Upon a Reality series.

After touching base with my editor, Regina, today I now know that she has finished the last round of edits and will be getting it back to me to work on in the next week or so (just in time for my holiday break!). So in that respect we are just that much closer to publication!

Along with that, we are also tweaking and perfecting the YouTube video advertisment that will be released for the book. It looks great as it is, however I requested a couple of image changes to protect the rights of one of my favorite, personal fan-artists! And Regina is in conversation with a new printer, making it easier and cheaper to get as many copies of ‘Till the Last Petal Falls to readers when it the time comes as possible.

 

After losing my hand-written manuscript copy of the second novel of the series, currently titled ‘To Dwell in Dreams’, for about a week, I have also dove back into the draft and made some good headway in writing it. At this point, I am about halfway through this first draft- when I get a moment to breathe, I’ll be typing up what I have in preparation of the big print (where I print out the typed up second draft and go through it for initial, cursory edits). I’ve also been churning out fresh ideas left and right for the remaining book of the series- including one version that will focus on the story from the point of view of the villanness! It’s always fun when I map out how each of the stories will relate to each other. I’m getting more and more pumped up for this as I go along!

So there you have it! I have not been sitting on my thumbs, even if I have seemed a little silent regarding personal progress lately.

(And I might have a little holiday gift planned for you! Shhh! 😉 )