Sunday, April 19, 2015

You might have noticed that I'm a bit behind...

It's Sunday night and about 8:30 PM. And I was going to write my first post in an attempt to start catching up.

The thing is... Right now, I don't feel all that light-hearted, which makes my attempts at writing fun, light-hearted posts fall flat. More than that, they jar me. The same thing for my other posts where I'm looking for the positive spin in everything.

Don't worry. This isn't one of those letters that warns people to frantically start calling, texting, send mailer pigeons and all that stuff.

Really, the thing is... I'm tired. Not of writing. I've only really gotten back to it in December. Emotionally. See at the moment, I'm putting a lot into getting another new business off the ground. And while my new business is still in a very crucial place where I'm trying to create trust and to make money...

My Internet.
Keeps.
Disconnecting.
Or slows.
To a crawl.

Which is a problem when my office is in a place with zero reception and the phone works through the Internet too.

Oh, and when my Internet connection is "online" it's not, because I live in a country where our government runs the power company and their solution to not being able to generate enough power for its economy and population is:

"When it's cold. Please burn fires instead of turning your heaters on. Turn off unnecessary appliances in peak times and HOLY CRAP. WE DIDN'T MAINTAIN SO SOMETHING BROKE, SO ALTHOUGH IT'S DURING BUSINESS HOURS, EVERYONE MUST TAKE TURNS OF BETWEEN ONE AND THREE HOURS A DAY WHERE WE TURN THE POWER OFF. SORRY ECONOMY."

Seriously. If you ever wondered: State run utilities are dinosaurs that should be extinct. The sooner the government puts it out of its misery and brings in private suppliers with no price regulation, the better. This is basic economics and the sooner the people in power (See what I did there?) get with the damned program, the sooner everyone else (and the economy) can move on.

On the plus side, my company exports goods, so all these screw ups are technically good for me because they push the exchange rate in the right direction to increase my profits. Would just be very very nice if I could stay connected long enough to do the freaking business. (From my mouth/fingertips to God's ears/eyes.)

Because how exactly am I supposed to get anything done when I can't even send as much as a text?

This week has been rough, ya'll.

Tuesday knocked me onto my ass. Wednesday had me recovering a bit but waiting for Friday. Now this weekend's over and I'm rested, but I'm just not in the mood.

And you know, even now as I'm writing this, I know I'm still in a good place. Next week should see the business done and things going better again. A lot of people don't even have a hope of that. I know this.

So anyway... Right now I'm deciding if I should decide to call it quits for the A to Z Challenge this year. Honestly, it's been days since I've been able to visit anyone and just posting without visiting isn't really in the spirit of this challenge. I feel terrible about it. I just don't know if I can do anything about it while my Internet continues to be an ass.

That said, it's night, and I might still be a bit tired, so I'll sleep on it and see. Let me know if you have any advice/encouragement, though.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

A to Z Challenge: Life Happens

Sigh. This year's Challenge just seems marred with troubles for me. I'm now two days behind, but hey, it's all good, because the reason for my absence ties in quite nicely with the post I have to write at the moment. (And I will find a way to catch up.)



This thing writers must know about writing is especially important if you're goal driven. I know, because I am. (For proof, see right at the top of my blog. The title and the bit under it (sorry, can't remember what it's called because I haven't had a lot of peaceful sleep these past two days. (And while you're being forgiving, please forgive my overuse of parentheses (You know... brackets. (Lots of them.)))))

*counts brackets, then shakes head* Where was I? Oh yes. Goals. If you're new to my blog, you probably don't know how big my goals get. To give you an idea, my goal for April is to finish two A to Z Challenges, to write 50k words for Camp NaNoWriMo and to spend 30 hours this month editing. (Or some sort of combination of that.) WHILE getting my own business back off the ground.

You'd think that by now, I'd be on that great big hamster wheel called panic. I'm not. In fact, yesterday and the day before, I took two whole days off from all my literary projects. The reason is simple:

Goals are excellent ways to keep up some forward momentum, but they often don't take life into account.

And the thing with life is that it happens, whether we like it or not. Two days ago, I was so stressed that I couldn't focus on my writing. Yesterday, things turned around so fast that I almost got whiplash. But then I was so busy riding the wave that I couldn't focus on my writing.

There's nothing wrong with taking a break and falling short on goals. (Unless you're, say, contractually bound to a deadline.) Sometimes we need it. Sometimes, those things in life that really suck gives us the emotional depth we need to write our next story. Life is, in the end, what inspires out writing. Even if you got your idea from reading someone else's book. Life is what let you read that book in the first place.

So don't begrudge yourself your life just because you're falling short on some goals. Make new goals. Adapt to them. Don't give up on them. Just keep going and keep calm.

Because upsetting yourself more because you're struggling to write amid all the chaos around you does not help. Finding a way to get at least something done even if it falls short of your expectations does. Trust me. Even ten words once a week eventually might add up to a book before you die.

So don't sweat. Set goals, but just aim to fall somewhere inside the ballpark every time.

Any other goal freaks out there? No? What is your relationship between writing goals and your life? 

Monday, April 13, 2015

A to Z Challenge: Kinks



Don't worry. I'm not going all 50 Shades on you today. Honestly, I guess I could have called this something else, but I had a shortage of relevant words starting with K, so deal with it.

It is, however, a very important thing that all writers should know about writing.

Namely:

You can do what you want. You can plan. You can decide on your road to the end of the story. You can decide how fast you write or how a small thing in your story will have a huge impact in the end.

Your characters (if they're at all well constructed) will invariably screw it up.

No really. To most of us (or at least I think so), our characters are real people. And no matter how good an idea you think you have, if they disagree, your story ain't going anywhere.

So, no matter how straight a line you're setting out on when you start to write a story, there will always be some unexpected kinks to it. (See what I did there?)

It's not all doom and gloom, though. Often, those kinks actually make the story much better than what you'd set out to do in the first place. Especially if what you wanted would have negated your character's motivation, personality etc.

So go with it. See where it goes. If it doesn't work out, you can always go back and wangle things to make them work the way you'd planned. Don't do that right off though, because characters like to believe they're really the ones in control.

Failing that, try bribing characters. They like bribes.

Anyone else have characters who like to have their own way? How do you deal with it? 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

A to Z Challenge: Junk



If you're a new kid, this thing you need to know about writing will probably take you by surprise. Unless you've been hanging with us old hands for a while, you're probably buying into one of two myths. Or, if you're really warped, both.

The first myth:

Really good writers only ever write one draft. 

The second myth:

My words are perfect and anyone who tries to say otherwise is just plain wrong. 

Warped version:

Really good writers only ever write one draft. I'm a good writer, therefore my words are perfect and anyone who says otherwise is just plain wrong. 

I can see the old hands nodding. We all know the guy.

DO NOT BE THAT GUY. 

Oh, you are that guy? Sit down, kid, or your plot bunnies get it.

Yes, dear, I love your plot bunnies with some fava beans and a nice Chianti. *makes slurping sounds*

Ahem.

So here's the truth:

Your first draft will be junk. Your second draft will suck a little bit less. Once you've revised, your manuscript will look better. And it will keep looking better with every successive round of edits you put it through.

And then, when you've polished it until you're proud of your baby and you can see your reflection in it, you'll publish it.

And you, or someone else, will find a typo somewhere. 

In other words: You're human, and therefore, nothing you create will ever be completely perfect. If you think your story is, you're either delusional, or you've been editing so many times that you're no longer seeing your own errors.

This holds true for all writers. I know some people like to brag about how pretty they write and how easy it is, but this is like (to borrow from an interview I heard, but I can't remember the writer's name) the stunning looking Hollywood starlet who's prancing before the cameras and saying: "Oh... this? I just threw it on."

Or maybe, it's the fact that there are very few people who really can remember pain.

Really. I'm one of the lucky ones. I like editing. You might feel like it's stabbing yourself in the heart every time you have to delete something. In fact, if you're that guy it'll definitely feel that way.

Which is really the reason I'm telling you not to be that guy. Yes, they're annoying as hell. Especially when they ask old hands to critique but really only expect praise. But all and all, not being that guy is better for your emotional welfare.

So repeat after me:

Right now, I'm writing junk so I can edit it better later. It's all part of the process. 

And keep repeating it every time you open your rough draft. You'll thank me for it later. For so many more reasons than I can tell you here tonight.

Are you that guy? Were you that guy? What made you realize the truth? 

Friday, April 10, 2015

A to Z Challenge: Ideas



Usually, the whole writing journey starts with a single idea. You're probably going to get that new idea while you're innocently reading a book or watching a movie. 

Maybe you already have the first beginnings of an idea forming in your mind. That stirring in your soul when you close the book. That thought about: This can't be the end. What about so-and-so? What will happen to them if something or the other happens? 

And then, the next thing you know, you have an idea. Some people dismiss that idea and open a new book. Some of us, though, are consumed by that idea until we just want to write a few pages to get it out. 

But a few pages isn't enough. So you write a few more. 

You fall in love with the idea. With the characters. With the sheer joy of exploring your newly created scenario. With the joy of pure creation. 

At this point, my friend, you're screwed. 

The muse has you hooked, and she's a cruel cruel mistress. You'll be grumpy and agitated when you don't write. And often wracked by fears and doubts as you do. And yet somehow, you're still simply not happy unless you're writing. 

And then, as you settle into the routine (you know, the way people who ride a roller coaster again and again eventually can sleep on it.), things become complicated. 

Because while you adore the story you're working on, a new idea comes to you. 

Now suddenly you have a choice. Most new kids (me included when I was there) let my inspiration and ideas carry me from project to project. But the thing is, it's a real risk that you'll end up getting lost in your million new ideas. So lost that you won't know which one to pick up and which one to let lie. 

That's when the new kids start crying something along the line of: "Oh I just can't finish projects!" 

Well... no. You haven't taught yourself how to see anything through. Trust me on this: your muse is a terrible enabler. She will give you five new ideas for every single one you start. And five for each of those. And so on. 

It's your job to say: "Thanks muse, but can we please finish this story first?" 

It's always a choice you're making, even if you don't realize it yet. But if you ever want to get done, you need to commit to finishing one thing. Then the next. And the next. 

Or, you might be like me and you'll learn how to actually work on seven projects at any given time and still finish all of them in a year. 

But that's a skill I learned first by learning how to finish one book, and then two. So focus on that first. Focus on finishing your stories, or your ideas will remain ideas only. 

Where did your first idea strike you? How soon after that did the second idea hit? 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

A to Z Challenge: Help



This is probably one of the more important things that writers should know about writing. We all need help at some point.

This can possibly taking the form of getting your spouse to do the dishes so you can steal some writing time. Other times, it's when you're stuck writing and the only person who can help will be another writer.

When I started out, (long before I started blogging) I was lucky enough to have a published writer in the house. However, I started moving over to the spec fic dark side and my Gran just isn't all that interested in it (she writes poetry and romance.) Also, she publishes exclusively in South Africa and I focused more on foreign markets, so it just meant that... well... I needed a lot of help from foreign writers.

Sometimes, that makes for... interesting... dinner conversation.

Back to the point (I'm afraid I'm REALLY good at digressing.)

Sometimes, you might simply need to have someone who knows read your story and tell you it doesn't suck. And if it does suck, to tell you what's wrong.

Sometimes, you will be so tired of looking at your own story while editing it that you can't see your own mistakes anymore. Or you'll need someone to read your query. Or to say "There there" when you got your hundredth rejection (trust me. Non-writers don't EVER get it).

No writer is an island. At some point, we all need some advice or a helping hand. So get yourself involved in the writing community.

Just remember: Be the friend you need. 

You want to be helped down the line? MAKE SURE YOU HELP OTHER WRITERS RIGHT NOW. 

What do you usually need help with? 

A to Z Challenge: Guts and Glory



So you've decided to write a novel. Congratulations! You have more guts than you've ever imagined. Oh, you don't know it yet, which is why I'm informing you of this.

If you're going to be vocal about you writing aspirations, you're going to meet with people (who I will be writing about later if my Internet holds) who are going to tell you that it isn't a big deal.

They're wrong.

It's a very big deal.

Huge.

Because the one thing that characterizes those vocal masses is that they've probably never even written anything themselves. And therefore, they have NO clue about what it takes to actually write anything.

They don't understand the fear of failure, the insecurities, the doubts, the wondering if your idea actually sucks and no one's telling you, the feeling that you *might* be a fraud and everyone but you is sure of it.

When it comes to the trials and triumphs of being a writer, they don't know jack squat.

So just ignore them and write that dang thing. And know right now that it's a great thing that you have guts enough to start, because it's going to take guts to keep writing.

You've (hopefully) written my other posts. You know by now that writing isn't a cake-walk. So you'll probably have figured out that writing takes guts. Lots and lots of guts.

And for some of us, there will be glory. Lots of it. But you need guts to get there.

Do you have it? 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

A to Z Challenge: Failed Drafts

Isn't it just wonderful how life just screws over our best-laid plans? Almost exactly five minutes after I updated the first round of posts, my Internet Connection failed completely, and I was stuck without it all day.

So I'm still a day behind, which is sort of a theme for me at the moment. I'm also a day behind (give or take a few hundred words) for Camp NaNoWriMo. That said, I've written 12k words and edited half a book in a week, so I've got nothing to complain about.

Hopefully today, if the Internet holds, I'll catch up with the A to Z Challenge. I should be caught up with Camp NaNo by tomorrow.

Now, I'm going to pretend this isn't a bit of a non-sequitur and say:



Speaking of writing and NaNo, do you realize how many rough drafts you won't finish before you finish one? 

My number is seven. Yep, I tried - and failed - to write a rough draft seven times before I managed to get through one.

I think all writers have at least one "failed" draft.

Ah. You picked up on the quotes there. Let me explain them.

See, the same people who think that writing is a journey filled with bunnies and unicorns also think that it's incredibly easy to finish a rough draft.

Most of those people haven't tried writing as much as a short-story. Never mind a novel.

NEW TANGENT! Not saying a short story is in any way inferior to a novel. Once you get past the how-the-heck-do-I-fit-this-in-less-than-10k-words jitters, it's a significant amount easier to finish than a 50k, 60k, 80k, 120k draft. If only for the reason that 10k is so much faster to write. Fewer odds of your muse or anything else distracting you, for example. Or the what-the-hell-am-I-doing-I-can't-write-shit jitters to hit home, for that matter. It's for this reason that I usually recommend that new writers who don't have a particular idea for a novel try their hands at various length short stories first and work their way up. It's a wonderful way to get into the habit of putting thoughts into words without the word count intimidating them.

TANGENT TO THE TANGENT: I omit the truth that I find short stories devilishly difficult to write as well. No use scaring the minions before converting them to the dark side. MUHAHAHAHA!

Ahem. Enough digressing for now.

The point I'm trying to make is that if you've never even tried writing any sort of fiction, you don't know how fiendish it is to actually write it.

So when you're new and haven't any idea about what it takes to finish  a story, you're going to have a few (or quite a few) unfinished drafts and possibly a significant chunk of your ego as collateral damage. This, my friend, is not failure.

It's part of the process. No amount of me or any other writer telling you how to write will teach you how to finish a draft. You learn by trial and error. This naturally means that you're going to make mistakes, and those mistakes will mean that you won't be able to finish a particular draft just yet.

Oh, you noticed the "just yet" too. Sharp. You're very sharp. See sometimes, you're going to realize that your idea just isn't panning out. So you shove that draft into a drawer (or some forgotten place on your hard drive) and move on to the next idea.

...

You better be moving on or all your plot bunnies will meet with some unfortunate accident. 

You'll keep putting away unfinished ideas, but all is not lost. First, you're learning, and you're probably going to take what you did like from one unfinished draft to the next story you try to write. This way, your skills keep evolving until one day, you write "The End."

Then, after you've celebrated. Or after another "failed" draft, you'll get some insight into what will make that one draft in your drawer work. Then you'll start that one again and actually finish that. (Or it might take ten or so further lessons, but hey, you're still learning.)

In other words. There are finished drafts or unfinished ones.

NO FAILURES. 

The sooner you learn this, the more fun you'll have.

Veteran writers: How many unfinished drafts did you have before finishing your first? New kids: You are moving on, right? 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

A to Z Challenge: Examine Your Motives


Well this is annoying. Yesterday I was stuck without Internet yet again. The problem this time being that I now don't have an open day in which to catch up. I guess I could just be a day behind on Sunday, but suddenly, I just don't trust my Internet to be there on the weekend.

So instead, I'll be doing (or trying to) two posts today. One now, and one later. (And the same on my other blog. Yeah no. I'm nothing if not determined.)

For this post's thing writers should know about being writers:

Why do you write?

This might sound like a silly enough question, but really it's incredibly important. As you might have gathered from my previous posts, writing is almost never just smooth sailing.

In fact, it might probably be the most challenging thing you've ever tried in your life. I think that quite a few people who've been reading my more recent posts will have wondered why I even put myself through the process of writing.

It's a good question. A fair one, I suppose. And one I need to return to every now and then like a touch-stone that keeps me on course.

Like when my publishing house and I split ways. (Not going there, but let's just say it wasn't a nice break-up.) Like when I queried over two hundred agents and got way more nos than I got eh... maybes. Or like when my book gets published and it simply doesn't seem to reach its readers. Or it does, and the readers don't like it like you'd thought they would (which actually implies they weren't your readers after all.)

When these sorts of things happen, the question actually pops up all on its own. Why am I putting myself through all this crap?

And if you're doing it to become rich or famous or infamous, or to show everyone around you how good you are at writing... You better hope you get it right the first time around, because if not, being a writer will make you a miserable person. In fact, if you've reached this stage and you're still writing, I applaud your determination.

Simply put: I wouldn't be able to go through all this if I didn't love writing. Not the moment I get a "yes" from an agent or publisher. Not the moment when someone lets me know that the read and loved my book. Not the moment when the first monies start rolling in. Not the moment Oprah (or whoever it is these days that makes a book "matter") lets the whole world know she likes my book.

Don't get me wrong. Those other things are awesome.

They're just not the reason I write. And that's a good thing, because I can't count on any of those things to actually happen to me when I'm busy with a story.

My love for my story, for losing myself in worlds of my own creation. For actually creating a story that's my own instead of experiencing someone else's creation...

That's constant. 

Maybe your reasons will differ a bit from mine. Many people use writing as a catharsis. Many people just love to escape. But all of us enjoy at least most of the process of creating our stories.

The rest of it, is (and should be) secondary.

So why do you write?