Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The joys of flying by the seat of your pants when writing

I have tried and tried and tried, but plot, I cannot. I guess it's partly due to the fact that my beast of a novel refuses to be limited to the constraints of a formal plot outline.

I know this because I tried to create a plot outline before I started to write the book. After about two pages of it with no end in sight, I threw my hands into the air and put the planning aside. I guess that makes it sound like I'm doing a trilogy. If you thought that, you're not far wrong. I suspect that this will be a series of four books though. But..

The plotting I did was for the first book only. The thing about it that it is a great story that has subdivisions. Some things happen at the same time, some don't. Some things trigger events in the other story-lines. So it turned out that just writing the damn book is easier that trying to plot it out. I do make an effort to keep major plot points in mind so that I don't end up wandering around, but those points are fluid. They can change whenever something huge happens as the story progresses. But unless that event is massive, the points don't change.

Writing like this does have its disadvantages. The big one is that I block. A lot. For long periods of time. Sure I have the big plot points to write towards, but sometimes I draw a complete blank when it comes to writing the small stuff that happens in between.

Then there's my other personal favourite: I'm happily writing along when I get this sudden flash of inspiration. Usually it's like a video clip that's looping through my mind. Sometimes it's a phrase, word or sentence that keeps echoing. Wonderful? Ugh... not if it's not from the current book.

Blame my paranoia for this, but I rarely write any ideas down, since it's difficult to keep track of my notes. So I can't just write down and describe the mental image or words. No. My mind and creativity gets snarled up in trying to figure out how the story gets to that point in the distant future. Sometimes it takes me weeks to work things out well enough for me to get back to writing. 

Am I complaining? Well... not really. Those flashes of inspiration, for all of their tendencies to come at bad times, really are brilliant. I'm talking about gasp for your breath and grab onto something solid brilliant. These are the kind of things I would never have been able to create if I thought about it. My subconscious just takes in everything - my characters, my story, the circumstances, events etc. - and makes a huge leap to a future point in the natural progression of the story.

I can't really give examples, since these are huge spoilers. Spoilers of the scope that if I was reading the book and my friend mentioned this, I'd maim his or her reading experience of another book as revenge. (I hate people telling me what happens after the point where I'm reading) But let me just say that someone is going to get the mother of harsh wake-up calls while someone else is going to get a lot worse before he gets better. I just hope I can pull it off before the readers absolutely hate the latter person.

I'm curious about plotters though. How do you work out your plots? What are the best and worst parts of plotting?

And the other pantsers, what are your writing experiences like?

I'm dying to find out about other people's writing experiences...

Monday, August 30, 2010


Stares, stairs. To, two, too. Their, there, they're. Who's, whose.
Architecture. Dilemma. Procrastination...These are a few of my least favourite words.

Why? Because I know their spellings. I know how, where and when they are used, but for reason I can't begin to imagine, I have a fifty-fifty chance of getting them when I write.

It drives the perfectionistic side of me up the walls. Surely I'm smart enough to get the difference? When I read what I have written, I tend to catch the mistake immediately. But not while I'm writing...

I've been thinking of reasons for this phenomenon and so far I only have a good reason for the first group. In a word: Homophones.

Basically to me, writing is the reverse of reading. When I read, I see the words, "hear" them in my head and form a mental picture. When I write, I see a picture, "hear" the words describing them and write them down. I think that when I write fast, I just write the first thing I hear without paying attention to the meaning of the word. So... picking between two or three words that sound the same might be a problem.

You may think I'm exaggerating, but the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. Sometimes I "listen" and write so fast that my eyes have to play catch-up. So it feels like I'm reading instead of writing. Weird/sad but true.

That may or may not mean that I am insane... Which is a good reason why the other group of words is a challenge. But... on pondering this in the post, I think I hit on the other reason: I don't pay attention. I get so absorbed in what I'm writing that spelling something correctly becomes insignificant.

I'm wondering if anyone else has problems with certain words...

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

I didn't really feel the need to post anything else. So... I, going to list a brief summery about what's on my mind...

The Good:

  • After months of tense expectation, I finally got a car again. It's wonderful! And... It's economic on fuel. My bank account is practically crying with gratitude after my using my mom's gas guzzling merc.
  • I now have six members! Four of them never met me, so I feel like I'm starting to get somewhere blogwise. Thank you all very much for supporting the blog and welcome.
  • I have finally decided what I am going to do next year...
The Bad:

  • What I'm going to do next year involves a lot of running, sit-ups, push-ups and seasickness. For those of you wondering, I'm planning to join the South African Navy.
  • I started retyping my fantasy for purposes of being critiqued and realized that I started to far from the main story, but can't change the intro. That one I'll worry about when the first draft is done.
The Ugly:

  • Last week a taxi drove past a line of cars, swerved to the wrong side of the road to pass a closed boom.
  • Right on time to be hit by a speeding train.
  • And killing ten children who were on their way to school.
What's on your mind today?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Violence in Books...

The topic alone makes me feel violent. With the release of Mockingjay, a debate seems to be raging about whether there should be a line drawn about the level of violence in YA books. This is my opinion about it, but I would love to hear what you have to say...

To me, the line is drawn at gratuitous violence. I've lived in a area where gratuitous violence was rife for seventeen years. I can safely say that I've had enough of it.

The problem is that people seem to have this idea that their darling little angels should be shielded from violence at all costs...

No problem... Just don't buy their angel the damn book.  Actually I think that whether or not their kids read responsibly represented violence would make very little difference to whether or not the child is violent.

If the child is already torturing little animals, reading the violent book won't be what triggers him to do greater and more evil things.

Parents should take responsibility for their children's development. They should be there to guide them and to help them build a frame of reference about what is right or wrong. That way when children are exposed to things, they have a chance of coming to the right decision. Violence in books, if well used, can be such a tool. Read the book with the child. Put the tricky bits into context. Explain to them that although violence is OK in books, it's rarely the best option. If the main character is torn up about hurting or killing someone, even better to explain, no?

Yes, I know that parents these days are very busy providing for the young ones. I know that some parents think that teachers are responsible for raising and educating their children. Parents feel overwhelmed and that they absolutely cannot spend the amount of time I'm thinking of with their children. That's OK. I am not here to judge parenting skills. After all, I'm commenting from the view of a child that has been raised in the way I described above. If I say so myself, I turned out quite nicely, despite having read Kathy Reichs novels and Jeffrey Deaver and various violent children's stories since I was thirteen.

Point is... If children act out violently, for the love of all that is holy STOP BLAMING MEDIA VIOLENCE!

The problem as I see it lies in the fact that children and Young Adult readers don't have solid moral and ethical foundations. We as writers - although I doubt that most think of this - work under the assumption that the readers have a concept of what is or isn't acceptable in reality. Therefore, who is wrong here? The writer that assumed that children know the difference between right and wrong? Or the parents that didn't teach them the difference in the first place?

Shielding children from things don't work. How many children find ways to experience exactly what you are shielding them from?

The second general complaint is that the use of  violence is market driven. That violence sells...

I don't know about any other writers out there, but I include violence into my book because that's what moves my story along. But why does it have to be what moves the story along? Because I write about war. I write about repression and revolution. And... given the way my characters work, a revolt a la Gandhi isn't going to cut it. Excuse the pun. Market demand didn't come into my thoughts at any stage of the formation of my story. I think it is the same for most other writers. They write the story that takes over and rules their mind... If it sells in the market, great. If it doesn't? That I can't say, since I am yet to come to the selling stage.

But once again... that market is a free one. No one is forcing them to buy that book. But that also implies that people selling that book should be allowed to sell anything they want.

This brings me to my last point. Call me an idealist but writers function as chroniclers of our times. It's or job to call attention to the things that society would rather turn a blind eye to. Violence is one of those things. I believe that censorship is another. In South Africa, people are reacting in horror to what amounts to a governmental gag order on what journalists may or may not publish. Doesn't people insisting that writers only include certain things to their writing amount to the same thing? 

 Please comment, I really want to see whether I'm off base...

Friday, August 27, 2010

What a beautiful day... looking around you for inspiration

The morning seems to have covered the world in bright silver light. The sun isn't technically shining, but the clouds are just translucent enough to allow us to look through them at the blue above. Today, the air  smells fresh and all feels well. Days like this just make me feel happy.

Of course, part of the reason lies in the fact that I won't be leaving my apartment until noon, so there's very little that can go wrong until then, barring (touch wood) burst water pipes, messing tomato sauce on my flatmate's expensive beige carpet etc.

Don't morning like this just inspire you to write something?

When something like is different about nature, I try to stare at it often and for long periods of time. I want to remember what it was like, because it will never be like that again, unless I somehow manage to awaken it in the reader's imagination.

Sadly I can't really spend too much words explaining why the morning just before sunrise is particularly pretty. If you want to know, I seriously suggest you wake up early and see. If you're the kind of person that stops to smell the flowers, it will blow your mind.

Which neatly brings me to my point. If you want to write, you have to learn how to notice the small things around you. To me the reasons are rather complex.

Like I said, noticing mother nature can help you to explain how she looks and works. If, and that's a big if, you notice her and think about what you noticed. That's what I did at the beginning of my post. Those were the words that were running around my mind since I looked out the window. They might seem sparse, but they are enough. I'll remember the feeling the morning gave me, how it looked, and I will be able to write about it later.

Then, the people around you are mines of inspiration for your characters. Firstly, you can look at them physically. How do they walk? What do they look like? I've stolen one character's mop of dark hair from a passer by. I also inserted the wicked sparkle in his eyes.

Of greater use to me is looking at people from a writer's perspective. In other words, as if they are the characters in a (your?) book. How do they talk? How do they interact with friends? People they don't know? People below their social standing? People above their social standing? What do they say?

I mean, what are they really saying? I was friends with someone that shared my passion for books and movies and the friendship grew despite our many differences. All of my friends know that I tend to have a dark, somewhat bitter and a very snarky wit. Because of this, I don't mind if people turn similar wit on me. In fact I relish sharp senses of humour. Anyway, I eventually moved into this friend's building and we became neighbors.

Something began to niggle, so I turned my author-like attention onto her personality. I inspected her interactions with others. I inspected her interaction with me.

I found the fundamental difference between us. My wit is used to laugh with people, sometimes about their and especially my own faults. Most of the time we just snark about what one of us said and it turns into a session of verbal sparring. I love it. It keeps me on my toes and my feet on the ground. 

On the other hand, she was using her wit to laugh at people. She was essentially breaking people down and disguising it under a veil of humour. On inspection, I couldn't even say she did it per accident because she crossed the line without knowing it. She knew exactly what she was doing. I particularly noticed that she targeted me in front of people. Kind of makes you think of school, right?

To sum it up, she was trying to hurt my confidence in order to make her look and feel good in front of others. Big mistake. I have been born with boundless confidence. Or maybe it was my mom telling me I'm special all the time. But I don't tolerate bullies. I also don't deal well with stupidity.

People trying to bully me are stupid... and therefore deserve any and all retaliation I send their way. Don't worry, I didn't go down to her level. I beat her simply by outmatching her wit at every turn.

I eventually moved out due to problems with my landlord. She actually asked whether it was because she hurt my feelings. I burst out laughing and stated categorically that she couldn't get to my confidence if she tried. I smiled sweetly and walked away from her. The friendship faded away after that.

I included this anecdote for two reasons. One is to illustrate what I meant. People say things. And then they say things. Authors that master that in dialogue are light years ahead.

The other is to serve as a warning. If you doubt that your friendships will survive closer inspection and if you care for those friendships, DO NOT ANALYSE YOUR FRIENDS!!! Along with all the good things about the person, you'll pick up on the dark undercurrents to them as well. It's natural. All people have a dark side. I clearly showed part of my dark side to you. I can be incredibly ruthless, if I want to be.

I just don't want to be. Even with the friend from above, I stayed reasonably nice, because I don't want to be that person. That doesn't mean that Misha the ruthless puppet master doesn't exist or that she doesn't appear sometimes. I keep her muzzled. Firmly. But she's there. And I'm sure that anyone looking for her will find her. Just so all people have their personality faults.

In away that is what makes us interesting people. If we didn't have the dark side, we would have been bland. The difference between people who are fundamentally nice-ish and those that aren't is merely the choice they make as to whether they'll embrace the dark side of their personality. (Insert scary Darth Vader breathing here)

Grr... basically what I'm saying is this: If you dig for the bad stuff, you will find it. Why? Because it is always there. Scarily enough, it's not even deeply hidden. Why? Because most people you interact with don't bother to look.

But looking at people this way can alter how you perceive them for the rest of your life. Sometimes it's for the better. Other times it's for the worse. And it's your job as the person doing the inspection to make sure that you are willing to put the relationship on the line. If you are not, don't do it. End of story.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

My tiny dilemma(s).

Well, except for trying to remember how to spell the word dilemma.

Last time, I announced my decision that I was out on the hunt for a crit partner. One of the big reasons for this is that I am well on my way now, but I've been feeling this tiny nag of uncertainty in the back of my mind. It has to do with my plot.

See I have five main characters along with a cast of supporters. Fine. The thing comes in where the story is told from two perspectives. The book is largely about two stories.

To me, this isn't large, since I keep track of the goings on, but then, I did create the stories. I let my gran read the first portion and she said that the story is good, but that she's worried about the readers being confused.

Problem here is two-fold. One, she absolutely doesn't want to hurt my feelings and two, she was taught never to write with more that two or three main characters. She never read or wrote a fantasy novel. 

I can't give it to my three best friends. One will soften the crit, and the other understands the convoluted workings of my mind too well. So Theresa will say I make perfect sense, because she knows how I think (Although the deal with helping me edit stands :-)). As scary as the thought is, I think that creatively, she thinks like me. Waldo is well read on fantasy, blunt to a fault and being a guy, never quite grasps my thinking, but... he's doing a Masters in Engineering. I just can't be cruel enough to make him read through what is sure to be a reasonably sized beast of an epic - in rough draft form - again and again.

So I need someone to read my work, that doesn't know me, but understands Fantasy as a genre.

Which brings me to the troubling part(s). Firstly, there is the matter of trusting a complete stranger with my brainchild. I don't know if I'm being overly dramatic, but it feels like I'm toeing the abyss with my eyes closed. It's just that, I think that this is such a good concept for a book. Really, it's very very good. If I can pull it off... So I have to check, but what if this person I choose to trust decides he or she likes my idea more than their own?

Then there's the logistics of the deal. I'm currently writing the Fantasy with pen and paper. So, to get it to a CP involves me rewriting the parts I've written, while I'm writing the rest of the book. I don't want to stop dead, since I'm on a roll. Also, if I get input early on, it might mean a smaller scale rewrite later... 

Anyone have any advice about this?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Wish I could be more creative with my titles.

Really I do. I guess that is one of my greatest weaknesses when it comes to writing.

I'm sure that you have noticed that I refer to my Works in Progress as the Fantasy and the Western. Why? Because I haven't figured out titles for them.

I have most of my story lines down. I have my characters about as figured out as they'll let me. Both books are in a stage of rapid movement towards the climax (although far from it), but I have no idea what to call them.

It's a problem that has haunted me from my childhood. I write good stories (I hope), but thinking of a suitable title is always difficult. So usually I finish the story and pick a name related to some aspect of it. The thing is that my Fantasy novel has quite a few aspects, so picking one is going to be tricky. Still, I'll cross that bridge when I get there.

At least today, it gave me something to start with. Brilliant eh?

On the topic of writing, I am much relieved to report that I have spent the past few hours writing my Fantasy. My head hurts like hell from the effort, but it's done and I'm happy. Why? Because I have thousands of ideas running in front of me. 

For once, those ideas involve events immediately after my last written sentences. So hopefully next time I won't have to wonder what I have to start with.

On a somewhat unrelated topic, I think it's time for me to let someone who doesn't know me read at least portions of my book. So... I'm searching for a crit partner. Now, I have never done this before, and I've heard many horror stories about mismatched personalities, so I'll have to wait and see. I will keep you posted...

Right, so enough about me. What about you? Have you ever had to do with a CP? How did it work out? Any advice for the rookie?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

hmmm... why I shouldn't blog soon after waking up

I just reread my blog from this morning and decided I should always drink coffee before I touch the key board.

I do have half an excuse. When I cut into sleep time, I get so tired that I can't fall asleep. Sleep eventually comes, but my dreams are so vivid, that they take on an almost nightmarish intensity.

That happened to me last night and I woke up tired and very, very grouchy. I took myself waaaaaay too seriously. I apologize sincerely for any irritation caused.

As the sun rose and my thoughts cleared, I realized that part of me, the part that didn't feel lie writing is natural, knew that I didn't have to write for the next few days. My creative side is wrung out a little from my recent marathon writing stint. My mind is sapped of energy thanks to late nights, early mornings, huge imagination, investment management and 24.

Creative writing is not high on the agenda for today. And you know what? That's fine. So what if I can't be at least remotely as productive as last week? Like I tried to illustrate in the previous post, writing means a lot to me.

It means so much that I won't let myself lose my love for it by forcing myself to write. I write when I feel like it. Right now, the only thing I feel like writing at the moment is this post. My mind is working out what it wants me to write down next. When it's ready, I'll just hear my muse calling and start again.

Judging by that part of me that still wants to get down to getting on with the story, I don't doubt that this will happen within the next week.

It's a strange thing. The realization just hit me that right now that I don't crave to write. I crave the euphoria I experienced. This fact is actually an exciting prospect. If I'm so euphoric after a few chapters, imagine how it will be when I finish and/or publish a book... Can't wait.

I hate when this happens.

Ever have your muse drag you to a book and leave you staring at the blank pages? It's as if you want to write, but at the same time you don't, because it just doesn't feel natural.

I'm getting that torn feeling now, and it's especially bad after my awesome writing stint on Thursdays. I can't understand how a person can get lifted so high one day, and then be dropped a few days later.

Even as I sit here, I am wrestling to put the words down. Of course, this is further complicated by the fact that my k-key doesn't want to work. See? I'm threatening to go into the banalities because it feels like I have nothing to say.

Why then, am I burdening you with a post that says nothing? Because I know that that something is there. I just have to find it. The feeling reminds me of bumping into someone you recognize, but whose name you forgot. It's there, but you just can't make that connection.

I just wonder if I'm the only one that feels like this. After all, most writers love writing so much that I can't imagine that they would not want to write. Why do I get these bouts of conflict?

Luckily, I have the cure to this, even if I don't know the cause. I just keep writing. Eventually I get to a point where I have trouble with reining in my words, where I am almost saddened to leave the world of my book to get to the nitty gritty of investment management and economics. Then... the whole process starts over again. 

But that's OK, because writing is what makes me understand people. It helps me to explore myself and it lets me take flights of fancy to distant lands and different times. It's the keeper of my sanity. I won't let anything come in the way of writing - not even myself.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Interesting realizations

What happens when you keep blogging and only check if you get followers? You forget to check for comments. So... I sort of only replied to my comments today. Very very sorry.

But... that was far from my only realization since my last blog...

On checking with my gran (the author, for those that didn't read my earlier posts), that the generally accepted word count for a standard format novel is between forty and eighty thousand words. My western falls in that category. 

The reason why this is so profound is that I recently wrote nine thousand words of the western in one day. So the book that is my sideline and thing to do when my epic stalls might turn out to be the one that is submitted first. 

So, the reader may ask, how did that happen? 

In short: I have no damn idea. I just decided I needed to write that afternoon. The western called me more that my epic, so I decided to write one chapter. At the end of the chapter I wanted to see what happens next, so I wrote another. And another. And another. And... you get the point. 

It was such a productive and fun writing session that I'm almost scared to face the disappointment when I can't repeat it. Maybe I sound silly, but it's true. I spent eight hours non-stop typing (well except for sustenance and... you know... those breaks.). No discipline was involved, since I never felt like I had to force myself to write something.

Luckily I know that if I keep working at it, my muse will smile down on me and I will get to go through it again. 

Of course, there was this tiny detail that I was supposed to spend seven of those hours studying. 

My reaction to coming out of the story at midnight? Panic? Distress? Regret? None of the above. I grinned at my miraculous achievement, brushed my teeth and went to sleep. I haven't written anything except the blog since and that was OK, because my creative side was purring. It ended up creating extra time for me to study although it did cut into my sleep. And...

If I did badly, I got sixty percent, but I have this sneaking suspicion that I have a distinction coming my way. So Yay! 

So the biggest realization I leapt to was that life falls right regardless of whether you worry about it or not. Just don't forget to study ;-P

Friday, August 20, 2010

Procrasternation (sorry if my writing is odd, but I'm on my blackberry)

Ah, the writer's constant companion. I wonder why that is.

I completely understand if you delay something you hate to do. But what about writing?

I'm brilliant at not writing. If I do it right, I can not write for days.

I have heard it said that writers procrasternate due to fear of failing. Isn't that strange? After all, we don't get tested until submission and we have months to fix whatever we wrote badly before having to submit it. Still, it seems to be a common factor.

I fall in a totally different category. I'm afraid of starting. Can you believe it?

I hate when I have to start new passages, because usually I have no idea where to start. I spend hours contemplating this until I get fed up and write the first thing that occurs to me. Before I realize what's happening, words flood onto the page and I finish pages of writing (25 typed pages yesterday).

Productivity like that always makes me wonder why I struggled in the first place.

I also wonder how many people lose the will to write simply because they keep saying that they'll write tomorrow.

Maybe I am one of a lucky few that have an insistant muse that keep nagging until I write - today. Still, sometimes I ignore her so much that she just ups and leaves when I want to write.

Anyway, just wanted to share my thoughts on the issue. And now... I want have to catch up on the hours of study time I spent writing. Feel the burn...

Monday, August 16, 2010

Dreams and disappointments

Hmm... See what happens when I open my mind and write whatever is on my mind? Brrr... Scary. Deep, but scary.

Have you ever done something that is a big dream in your life? Only to have it hit home that you're disappointing someone that's supposed to support you, every damn time you mention it?

At the moment, that's happening with my mother, who I used to see as my one woman cheering squad.

That started to change when my dreams started to diverge from her expectations. See due to my vast intellect (established as being worth little when doing something that doesn't interest me), I've always been pushed into doing the "hard stuff", the stuff that very few other could do.

My principal pushed me to Actuarial Science. My parents pushed me to stay in commerce when I changed courses. They nearly flipped when I told them that my future lies in the humanities or arts.

Seriously, the fact that I have a keen "business mind" means nothing when I have kazillions of other things that I have a mind for, and more specifically when I have the heart for other things too.

But... my parents stand security for my study loans and I consider any degree better than none. So... a degree in commerce it is.

In reality, I want to talk about my Works in Progress. I want to write them and get at least the one published. But most of all, I want to tell my mom what I wrote about, and how it's going without having yet another "I wish you'd spend as much time studying as you do writing" thrown my way. My personality strikes again...

I am doing the bloody degree they wanted. I'm back to passing my subjects after my recent "I HATE WHAT I'M DOING!!!!!!!" breakdown. (At this stage I need to mention that the breakdown happened after I forced myself to stop writing for months.) I've postponed all my other extra-curricular activities except for writing. I postpone writing when approaching test and exam days until after the session. I am not going to kill my soul further by giving up writing again. I am not willing to sacrifice my dreams on the altar of other people's expectations. End of story.

Which brings me to what I wanted to say in the first place. I know it sucks to be going it alone. I know that those casual hints hurt like hell. But it is of the greatest importance that you follow your dream. You had it for a reason and you should never ever let the lack of support cause you to give up. 

We're stronger than we look. It's amazing how far we can go on our own. And....

When you're a raving success, everyone will brag in interviews that they were behind us all along ;-P

Saturday, August 14, 2010

I love Doc Holliday (He inspired a new book idea)

Really I do. It's something that's quite hard to explain to people.

But since I saw Tombstone (1993 Movie) I was intrigued by him. Or maybe it was the way that Val Kilmer portrayed him. I mean, here was a man that suffered from consumption for years and years, but mastered living every day of his life as if it was it was his last.

He was the one that everyone expected to die in a gun or knife fight with his boots on. Instead, he died in bed, reportedly staring at his bare feet and uttering: "My. This is funny."

I love characters like him. Deeply complicated and somewhat twisted. I love that someone like him really existed.

And... I love him since he got me thinking about my Western. Part of me is sort of upset, but not really. My muse got a sniff of a story and is quite happy to lead me back to the one that got away.

I even figured how I would get both books done. My fantasy novel is priority number one, so that's the one I write on every weekday. The western I'll get to on weekends. If I want to write fantasy instead, that's fine. As long as both keep moving. Incidentally, the western will be computer typed - with backups.

To be honest, leaving a project like the western unfinished has always irked me. When I mentioned it in my first blog, it bothered me even more. Doc just sort of reminded me that there's this little gun-slinger in the making that's waiting to be penned down. There are quite a few changes to the plot, characters and names, but all for the better. 

Since the Fantasy is my one and only first book, that's the one that most of the blog will be about, but I might not be able to resist mentioning the western on occasion.

I've been a little worried about cross-pollinating my characters, making the cast the same and putting them in different stories. I don't think that is likely, though, since the characters are very very far apart. Still, I want to hear some opinions. Have you ever worked on two books at the same time? Under what circumstances? How did it work out? How did you keep your casts of characters unique?

Friday, August 13, 2010

What I did on three hours' sleep.

So... I finished my essay before the deadline and it came out surprisingly well. Phew.

Unfortunately I finished my essay at two in the morning and had to wake up a five.

Up to now, I've packed my luggage without forgetting anything (but maybe I forgot that I forgot). I've driven in morning traffic without falling asleep or causing a crash. I've attended a class and didn't fall asleep. I almost did, but since I think sitting in class where the lecturer can see me and sleeping is rude. So... knowing that I wasn't getting anything out of it, I pretended to take notes and wrote an interesting if somewhat dark poem instead.

I must say that it surprised me when I reread it. All of by tethered cynicism seemed to break loose and ran wild on my page. Maybe the sleep deprivation muted my internal censor or something. Or perhaps the poem was my contemplation of what I would enter into the Notes from the Underground Contest, if i decided to write.

Who knows? But I have to wonder if I could do it again...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A non-poetic ode about Economics.

I generally enjoy economics, but there is one very good reason why I will never do it for an extended period of time:

I HATE ambiguously worded, but secretly limited topics and limited word counts. It's really that simple.

I hate when I do all of my research, read through all of it, formulate a shape for the essay and stumbling across this sparse piece of writing that makes all of my research null and void.

I hate that I discovered this on the day I was supposed to be writing said essay. More, I hate that I had to change topics due to the fact that there is no readily available information on the old one that isn't null and void.

Most of all, I hate that I will finish this post before I've downloaded all of the information needed to write the essay. Then I still need to write it...

Most Most of all... I hate that my planning is flushed down the toilet because the lecturer forgot to point out the significant difference between the financial crisis and the debt crisis. Maybe I should have seen it myself, but due to the fact that it was debt that triggered the former, the mistake seems logical.

Oh... did I mention that it's due tomorrow?

What happens when you start listening to advice...

Sometimes, other people's advice leads you astray, for example: "You should study actuarial science."

Still, I decided to go out on a limb and ask some more successful bloggers about what they did to make their blog work. These are the tips I got (in no particular order.)

  1. Make the text and background colours easy on the eye. (Which is why my background is now white and my text black, instead of vice versa)
  2. Follow lots of blogs
  3. Comment on lots of related blogs (something that I have to work on)
  4. Put the follow widgets at the top.
  5. Be yourself (can't help it). Use your own name for your blog address. (I decided against it due to known difficulties faced by people trying to spell my name and surname...)
  6. Be honest, but don't rant. (I'm rather opinionated, so I have to make sure to keep my tendencies in check.)
  7. ALWAYS think of your readers. Don't be self-serving or self-righteous, because then no one will like you. (Who me? *flutters innocent eyelashes* never...)
  8. Try to give your readers what they want.
  9. Keep things short and sweet. Apparently 300 words is a good cut off point. (Yipe! I'm always tempted to write books and books. But from now on I promise that I won't waffle. Or at least... I promise I'll try not to waffle.)
  10. Make time to blog. Set a regular schedule. If you have to deviate, let your readers know. Once a week is good, daily is better.
So there you have it. The top ten tips I learned to get my blog to work. Thank you to everyone that responded so quickly to my questions. You are awesome.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

My writer's block is gone.

That's right... gone.

I just got so fed up with not writing that I sat down, opened a word document and wrote: 'Porridge sticks to the roof of your mouth like peanut butter.'

Before I knew it, I had written an entire paragraph. That done, I simply opened my book and scribbled the paragraph again and kept writing. It was awesome!

When I started to realize that my creative gears weren't going to jam, my heart started beating fast with indescribable excitement. I felt the problems I saw with the conflict becoming insignificant in the face of the pure joy I experienced.

And you know what? The stuff I wrote was actually really good. I got to visit a character sooner and saw another side to James's life-long friend. By the time I stopped, I was grinning like the Cheshire cat. I know this due to the fact that I saw how many people walked past me, giving me a wiiiiiiide berth because of my maniacal smile.

It's actually amazing how people can create a writer's block for themselves without thinking about it. For example, in a writer's forum, there was a girl who asked for advice about a plot outline for her story. She didn't like another story in the same genre and ended up writing that maybe she shouldn't be writing the book because she hated that that book was so popular... My thoughts on said book aside, she got so hung up on what someone else wrote that she forgot completely to think about what she should write...

I think that, were I to think back a bit, there are very few blocks that I couldn't avoid. But now I also understand why the number one piece of advise you get when trying to crack writer's block is to not stop writing. I should have been able to work out my problem weeks ago, but didn't, simply because I was staring myself into a wall. A short term block became a long term block when I fell out of the habit of writing.

I really should bookmark this post for my own future reference. ;-P

PS a special thank you goes out to my bestest best friend Theresa for being my first follower. Love ya bud.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Nearly a week. and... nothing but soul searching

I'm starting to feel rather down now, but maybe it's just that I want to sleep.

I've been blogging for almost a week now and this is the impact I've made: five profile views. Absolutely no followers.

As much as I enjoy blogging, I never really enjoyed the idea of writing for myself. Not even my book. Since I was really small, everything I wrote was presented to someone to see. My mom (for honest crit) and my gran (full out support) were my favourite recipients. After I got the idea of short stories down, I wrote every assigned task with the idea that someone else is going to read this, namely my teacher.

I would ask, what am I supposed to do? What do you want to see on the blog... but... alas you are not here. So the empty house reverberations continue, leaving me to fight a slight sense of panic.

What if... the same happens with my book... What if... I write all of it and no one cares. Should I even care at this stage of the game? I think so... everything I write comes straight from my heart. Repeating this process again and again and again without anyone actually seeing this makes me feel... well... terribly lonely.

When people tell you that you should blog, they never warn you about the beginning days. The writing isn't hard. The honesty isn't hard. Sharing experiences isn't hard. But blogging to yourself is. It sucks. Big time... So much so that I'm wondering why I'm doing this to myself.

Generally, when the world turns its back on me, I want to turn my back on the world (that cynicism is acting up again). But... that's cowardice. That's me running at the first sign of resistance. I can't have that either. I mean, getting this book published will be filled with obstacles. If I don't learn to stick to something through the difficult parts, I might as well stop writing all together.

I guess, someone reading might think... jeesh, she's taking things way out of line, but then, there is something you should know about me. For most of my life, everything I ever tried my hand at, turned to at least moderate  success. I excelled academically for as long as I care about academics. I got distinctions for my ballroom. I had provincial colours at table tennis and I was, if I say so myself, a very good fencer. I maintained a 97% average for university level Mandarin - while spending less than twenty minutes of preparation per test. The thing is, I always have so many things that I want to do, that I can never do everything at the same time. So... when I get bored, which happens often enough, I move on to and excel at something else.

Conversely, if I don't enjoy something, for example my degree, nothing works to get me working on it... So... I am probably one of very few people with near genius IQ's that actually failed three subjects that they understand as if they wrote the textbook. This includes Actuarial Sciences. I try to do better, and last semester I did do better. But I just never live up to my family's expectations of my results.

I am very sorry about that, and I did a lot of soul searching about this. As I am writing this, I am coming to a realisation about myself that I have been looking for for years. This realisation scares me.

In high school, I was the smartest girl that anyone has ever met.  I'm not saying this to brag, it's just a sentiment that has been drilled into my mind by almost all of my acquaintances. I have been described as scary smart. Anyway... this smart girl never ever knew what she wanted to be when she grew up. Aptitude tests show that I could become anything I like. Whether I'm left or right brained seems to depend on my moods. So... I never had that thing where I thought: hmm... I'm good at math... I want to become a teacher... Instead I looked at what I enjoyed and that was... drama. A collective gasp rose from those nearest and dearest to me... My mind... wasted on drama... The genetic lottery gambled away... So... listening to the prodding of others, I set passion aside and chose to follow the smell of money.

In February 2007 I was one of the few that were selected for the Actuarial Science course. I had to March to adapt the degree. I didn't. And Misha Gericke, the girl who always had somewhere in mind, who excelled at everything she did, who never made a decision that didn't work to her benefit, made the biggest mistake in her entire life.

Oh... I know this now, of course, but there's this old adage: "Retrospect always comes too late." It took me six months to realize that I didn't really like the course. It took me another six to wonder whether the money I was going to earn on qualification would be worth my doing the work. Six months after that, I was scrambling to salvage the scraps of my soul. My decision to choose money over what I love nearly destroyed me. It took away the foundations of almost all of my dreams. It took away a large part of who I thought I was. It left me with a stranger.

In 2008 I remember spending quite a lot of time, wondering who I was. Sure, I was still a scary smart kid, but it was never something I wanted to be define me. The young, success orientated business minded ambitious woman on the edge of her dreams was gone. In stead there is a very lost little girl, scared of the day she's going to have to make a choice, because the last choice she made cost her nearly everything.

It's half way through 2010 and this is what I have:
  • If I could have anything in life... it would be a life on my terms, where my last words will be: "I lived."
  • I know that I'm smart, but to me, trying to use my mind to chase after money is unhealthy if not dangerous.
  • the only reason I got through the aftermath of the decision was because I reached to God instead of anything or anyone else.
  • I'm a very very very good leader.
  • I'm a very good public speaker (in fact I love speaking in front of crowds)
  • I am loyal, fair and very very complicated.
  • I will never be able to understand myself.
  • If I can't understand myself, I shouldn't expect others to understand me either.
  • I love writing. It makes me happy.
  • despite all my walls and strong personality, I have weaknesses too.
  • while writing this I realized the greatest weakness of them all. It's so big, it almost scares me to write it down. But realizing this has put a lot of things into perspective. I never really measured my success by money. I measured it by the recognition of others.
That explains why I can think of exactly one composition that wasn't intended to be read. It explains why I got so shit lost. I fell for the what would the others think nonsense. Even while somewhat annoyed by the fact that people seem to look at a single facet of who I am and think that it's all of me, I am perversely glad that at least that part of me is gaining recognition. Even if that part of me isn't good. That's why I hate when people don 't like me, even when I refuse to admit the fact to myself. That's why I hate when people compare me to someone else - especially when they're wrong. For heaven's sake, there's a part of me that measures the future choices of my life by what I will tell my future grand children.

It explains why I am in fact not living on my terms. Because I'm looking too much at what others are thinking of me.

And, armed with this piece of truth, I look around me in my minds eye, and find myself on the edge of a precipice. Writing for publishing is about recognition. Someone out there will have to recognize my skill as a writer. What if they don't? Will I be left eighteen months from now having to completely redefine myself after having picked up shattered pieces again?

I don't know. I guess I should try to measure my success by something else, but what if it's hardwired into who I am?

I guess that the only thing I can do is to just do my best to get followers for my blog and not get hit so hard by the apparent lack of interest. I'm sure that someone out there cares enough that he or she will stumble across my attempts and join me in the experience. Maybe it's just coincidence that they haven't stumbled across me already....

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Paranoia... Out of style?

How many times have I been told that I'm paranoid?

Ooooh... I lost count. Still I can't help smiling at the fact that the people complaining about this are those that tried to beat me at strategic games. "No one is out to get you," they say. "You need to learn to trust more..."

I guess that is true, but then, I'm usually the last one to be back stabbed, because I have checked out all the angles - especially my back. Some may say I have trust issues...  insist that I'm smart.

What does this have to do with writing and this blog?


Having heard the horror stories about the literary works of brilliant writers being stolen by friends and family, I am more than a little wary of sharing too much of my story line. So, if you have been wondering about my lack of storyline explanation, that's why.

It's not that I don't trust anyone. It's just that I attach more value to my book than any of my material things. I love this book. I can even risk being pompous and say that it is my favourite. When you have a favourite painting, you ensure it, right? For me it's the same with my book...

I checked out some copyright laws and and noticed two things:
  • Anything that I've written is protected by copyright. That includes any articles, prose, poetry, blog posts etc. So... technically it's safe to write portions of my story, say a chapter or excerpts.
  • However, ideas, characterisation and plans for the book are- as far as I understand- not. So, if I explained the planning in my book, or explained the ending, someone with enough smarts and skill can take the information and use it to create a book. According to me, they will be creating an alternate version of my book...
I'm not saying that anyone is as stupid as me, picking an epic of some complexity and trying to work it into a good book. I'm just making sure that I covered all the angles...

Which brings me to a useful little tool I stumbled across tonight... Any writer out there worried about what happens to their work after it has been written, I strongly suggest you check out Google Alerts. It's a free service that monitors the replication of words or phrases on the Internet after you wrote them and informs you by e-mail if it happens.

So... not only can I share some of my written compositions, knowing that I have copyright, but I'll know if someone infringed on that right - on the Internet, anyway. Still, it's better than nothing, so I might one day be convinced to write parts of my book...

The idea actually excites me, since I would love to receive some unbiased opinions about my work. Perhaps the time to share is near. In fact...

"Business trips... moving house... adopting siblings... Some things parents must at least mention to their children. Yet, James's parents have dropped the ball on all three..."

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Or... Not...

So... as it turns out, my writer's block is still going strong.

I was hoping that rebuilding the habit of writing every day would get me back to writing again. It has me writing, but not in my book, which is seriously annoying.

After this morning I thought I cracked the problem, but... no. Although I have this insight into James' psyche, it doesn't mean I can explore the conflict without boring and utterly annoying the reader. (Unlike here, where there are no readers to speak of... hint hint, nudge nudge) So I'm still stuck, pondering the same problem that has been there for two or three months.

How in the name of all that is holy, do I get James and Phipps to match wills constantly, while preventing repetition (a huge risk) and without letting James come off looking like a spoilt brat. Granted. He is a spoilt so and so, can be cruel and is somewhat self-centred, but he must also be at least tolerable to the reader so that they can have a vested interest in his personality improvement.

Also, there is this little matter of my book before this being set in stone until I have finished the entire first draft. So restructuring or rewriting is impossible.

Still, there is this fear that is starting to take hold now.  Did I write myself into a corner? Why won't the answer present itself to me like the others did. Should I maybe force myself to write and see where it goes? What if I do and I run myself into the dead-end of my creative maze? Do I have to stop months of work and start again? I don't want to. I really don't want to.

I ran across a quote from a published author, that said something to the effect of: real writers don't get writer's block. That they just keep going, because that's what they do for a living.

I read it, reread it and binned it for the bull it really is. Firstly, most of us don't have the time or money to write for a living. Secondly, if he wants to write crap thinking that he'll just delete it later, so be it, but for the rest of us mortals, having your creativity snarled by problems in the story, emotional issues and so on and so forth is a very likely occurence. I don't like it, but it doesn't mean that it isn't true. I wish people would stop spitting lines like that. They aren't helping, and it makes them appear arrogant...

Sorry for that, but I've been stewing on that quote for little over a day. Anyone knowing my disposition knows that that my patience lives dog years. A day is ages and ages for me to stew....

Interesting Wake-up Call

Interesting how we forget things. Even in my book. Recently I got so jammed up, wondering how I was going to start creating conflict between two of my characters, that I haven't been able to write anything.  I was investigating their relationship from every single perspective, but any idea that suggested itself to me seemed to be forced, repetitive and worst of all, over-used. Then something occurred to me...

Every morning, the first thing I do is to switch on my radio and the first thing I heard this morning was the release of the Lead SA initiative. Basically it's a call to start changing South Africa by remembering to respect others and rules, to practice what we preach etc. At first I just rolled my eyes and grumbled about it to my mother at the breakfast table. "Yes, it's all very good and well," I muttered, "but heaven forbid that people don't wear the armbands, because without it they'll never remember to be decent people." (For those of you that are wondering: yes, I am a closet cynic. I try not to be, but it's a constant battle.) 

To my defense, I believe that I am a fairly decent person and my belief is simply that people should stop being arrogant self-righteous pricks and just treat others the same as they want to be treated. Note: not as they are being treated. as they want to be treated.

Then, as I took the half an hour trip to university, it occurred to me that, sad as it is, an armband might just be what people need. After all. Years and years of people mistreating us in various big and little ways make us build thick walls around us for protection. It also makes us go automatically on the offensive. We attack without thinking, without even realising it and inflict damage on even more people. It becomes such a habit that we do need reminders that we need to be nice. I realized that even I forget. Especially me, with my walls built even thicker than most.

Generally, I am quite a nice person. Really I am. But I have this thing that I cultured in high school where I retaliate and with substantial force at the smallest of provocations. I'm not proud of this, but it's how I got through high school. I've been trying to kick this habit for four years. But in moments of anger I forget that walking away is an option. That a lot of times it should be my only option. So even I, with my high moral views, can be and was a self-righteous idiot when it came to this topic. (At this stage I am going to lie and say I'm not a good morning person.) I blame it on the fact that I'm not a good morning person.

I was feeling terrible rotten about this, when another thought started careening through my head. It went something like this: "That's the point! That is exactly the point."

I had lost perspective. I got so fixated on the conflict that I forgot what the biggest theme of the book is about. What happens if one day, someone actually did something? Basically, it's about how no problem ever vanishes until people start taking small steps to fix it. So, ironically, the moral of my book is exactly what had me rolling my eyes.

Also, this dilemma also explained one of the Conflict characters, James to me perfectly. Like me he had spent years building walls. And the conflict comes from his being challenged to stop hiding behind them.

Ladies and gentlemen: I can announce with a huge smile that my writer's block has been vanquished.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

How I discovered writing and the first lessons I learned from it

Let me get to the reason for this blogs existence: writing about writing.

I have to admit that I started the blog a little late, so I will have to bring you up to date, starting at the beginning.

As I said before, my gran is a published author, so I have been writing for as long as I could write. It started with little short sentences and later extended to imitating whatever my gran was writing. If she wrote a child's story, I wrote a child's story. But I was about ten when I started to become a writer.

Ok... before I continue, I have to explain what I think it means to be a writer. By my definition, a writer is a person who has come to the realization that they are not happy unless they have written something. It can be anything. Poetry (making you a poet), songs (lyricist), writing about your day, anything. I believe that all people can be writers, the difference being whether they just want to write or whether they actually do sit down and start something. Whether they finish it is another thing, but I'll get to that soon.

Anyway, back to my original line of thought. At aged ten, our family vacation took me to Namaqualand in the Northern Cape. While there, the technicolour carpets of millions and millions of flowers had me waxing lyrical for hours and hours. (Even as a child the strangest things fascinated me.) We drove past an orange and yellow field and I exclaimed that it looked as if the sun had fallen. My grandmother (the writer and my ever-patient sounding board, but by now very tired of my girlish exclamations) challenged me to do something with what I had seen. So I started stringing rhymes together and my gran, thinking that what I said was very cute, gave me a pen and paper. She explained the idea of separating ideas into stanzas and left me to it. Voila, I had written my first poem. Today, the snatches I remember aren't really that good, but it gave me my first taste of the joys of recreating what was on my mind. It also led me to my first attempt at writing a book: a poetry anthology about the places I had seen.

In the end I had written about six poems in total before other pursuits (such as playing with my cousin Rynerie and school) took over my attention. Still, my gran was encouraging me to write poems and entering them into competitions and I gave the bug to Rynie as well. Soon, when we couldn't play outside or got tired of our games, we'd write little stories and poems. One of our stories actually was adapted and used in a special church sermon and some of our poems won us prizes. Over the years, both of us won prizes that got us published in mixed anthologies and magazines etc. Where and how many though, I can't tell you, since I was too young to be bothered to keep track.

Aged thirteen, I was reading a Western when this gunslinger walked into my head and I started realizing that I had to write his entire family's story before I could get to his. This became the first book I ever tried to write. I had the entire series of thirteen books planned down to the characters' birthdays, their children's names and their birthdays. Sadly it was riddled with disasters. First, after I was past halfway through the first book, more than three quarters of what I had written was wiped. Luckily the notes survived. Seeing this as Providence, I decided to start it again. I was happy that I did, since the quality of my work was much better. I was about a quarter of the way when my gran's computer broke and my mom took out my mother board to replace it with my gran's. They didn't ask because they thought I had a backup copy. I didn't and hours of work is currently residing somewhere in our garage.

First lesson of being a serious writer: ALWAYS MAKE BACKUPS!!!

Demoralized by this set-back, I gave up and resumed with what I knew best, poetry. To be honest, poetry is a much better way to spend time when in school and at university, since it tends not to take up so much time. However, since it has been four years since I paid attention to this bit of advice, I shall promptly suggest you ignore me. Any way. Somewhere along the way I discovered fantasy and by the time I was sixteen, I was writing a book again. This one was a lot darker than anything else I have ever written. It still is, but I was hooked, making this my third attempt at a book. Unfortunately, I was and still am my worst critic. When I say this, I mean that I always find something wrong or to be inferior. So... twenty chapters in, in what I can only call a hissy-fit with myself, I deleted the entire book and started again, with planning, notes, drawings, the works. I had written about fourty chapters of the second version, when I came to a horrific realization: the book was far too dangerous to release on the unsuspecting minds of my young readers... I gave it to a friend of mine to read without explaining what I felt and she had the same opinion. So... I stopped the project dead in its tracks, deleting everything on my computer and burning anything on paper.

Lesson two: Never edit or censor yourself while writing.
Lesson three: Never start writing something you might not be completely comfortable with. If you can't justify your reasons for writing what you are, stop.

For an entire year, I didn't write anything, until one day, this bad-ass walks into my mind, grinning insolently as is saying: "Here I am, sweetheart. What are you going to do with me?" So, me being me, I started pondering him. Who was he? Who were his friends? Soon, I had an entire cast going. Each character with their own quirks, hopes and fears and I started planning and writing. It wasn't long after writing that I realized two things. Firstly that my characters and story were to complex to write in an explanatory way. The reader has to be led through the story. So... most of my planning flew out the window.

Lesson four: Don't get too stuck in planning, since it might get complicated....

 Secondly: my self-editing was getting worse to the point where the gears in my mind simply ceased up. Out of desperation I decided to buy myself a nice empty book and a pen. I started writing, forcing myself not to reread or strike through anything I wrote. This hand written attempt is now my sixth and current first book. It will be the one that I publish...

On the joys of being a new blogger

So... at the moment I'm still blogging to myself, which kind of feels strange. Almost like a new empty house. Everything I say reverberates in my mind and I wonder how I'm going to get this out there.

For now though, just building this blog is bringing up complications. For example, do I continue with the use of my dark but beautiful background or do I go lighter. Do I allow advertising to cover my blog? I suppose that I should be worrying about this later, but somehow I just can't help myself...

I will get over this overwhelming desire to put too much nonsense on my blog. I promise. This extends to my posts. Therefore... Thus closes this post.

Monday, August 2, 2010

A quick introduction...


Firstly just want to say welcome to my blog. It feels rather strange, sending this out there with no idea about whether people will actually read this...

Any way, I just thought to give a short idea of who I am:

My name is Misha Gericke and I am finishing my B.comm at the University of Stellenbosch. To be honest I'm only doing the degree to make my parents happy and having something to fall back on, so as of next year, I want to start living my life to the full. Who knows? Maybe I'll tell you about it in future.

My grandmother has written for a living for as long as I can remember, which I guess is why I think of writing as a viable career option. Still, I have never decided to write full time. Instead I retreat to my book and pen to save my sanity.

I must say that I become intolerable when I don't write often. I become more so when I suffer from writer's block. Be warned that I have been suffering for about two months now. So if I seem to be rampaging down Victoria Street, RUN!!!

I've always wanted to start blogging, but never had an idea what I would blog about. Eventually, the idea formed that I should start writing about my first really serious attempt to write with a view to publishing. I just thought that it might be a good idea, since there must be many aspiring writers out there that must feel as lost as I do some times.

Don't worry though... I won't spoil the book and maybe will leave only tasters to whet your appetite, since I absolutely hate people who spoil endings.

Hope I didn't bore you yet, since this might be a start of a beautiful readership...