Friday, December 30, 2011

Officially, my goals for 2012

Since this is the last Friday of the year, I thought I'd handle the New Year's admin now. If you want to see how I fared with the 2011 "guidelines", you're more than welcome to go check out my other blog, Taking Charge of My Life.

Without further ado, my goals for 2012:


I want to finish Doorways before 30 June.

I will query Doorways on 1 July.

I want to finish the WiP2 rewrite by 30 September.

I want to finish the Don't Look Back draft by 31 December.

I want to finish at least one draft of the musical libretto by 31 December.

I might want to look at Guardian again.


I want to read more (crit partners' manuscripts don't count).

I want to read Shakespeare, Austen and Martin.


Auditions, auditions, auditions.

I want to master at least intermediate cooking.

I want to spend more time designing.

I want to brush up on my French and Mandarin (at least one of the two) and take another language.

I want to take classes in a musical instrument. Either piano or guitar.

I also want to get out more next year. Cabin fever never did suit me.

Since I achieved four goals in 2011, I want to achieve six in 2012.

So that's me for the year. I hope you enjoyed my blog as much as I enjoyed all of yours.

Before I sign off, I just want to say cheers.

2011 was more than a little bumpy, but your support made it much easier to get through the year. Here's to 2012. If it's the last one, know I wouldn't want to spend it without you. If it isn't, thank goodness, because then I'll see you for 2013.

See you on the other side. ;-)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Back Home

After spending about two thirds of the 27th mourning the loss of my drafts, I decided that the term my self-imposed exile from home was over.

I ran straight to the arms of my beloved characters and immersed myself in the world of my creation.

It was like a balm to my soul.

Sure, the loss hurt, but it could have been so much worse. I could have lost more than I did. As it is, I still have all of my Doorways edits, so that's what I'm going to do until I get over the worst of my pain at losing WiP2.

Now that I'm back with my first love, I almost can't believe how long I've stayed away from it. Even though I enjoy everything else that I write, I miss my characters from Doorways every moment that I'm not with them.

Sad, but true.

Anyway, I feel happier now. More at peace with what happened. Soon I will be able to look at my WiP2 rough draft without thinking of the huge space that looms after it. Then I will be able to start again, excited to know that I will be improving on what I have written.

But right now, Doorways is exactly what I need.

Do you have a story and/or characters that you love more than any others?

Thank you all very much for your sympathy and support! That's what made me able to get back to Doorways so soon.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

How spectacularly the wheels came off...

So... last night sucked.

Well, last night and this morning, since I spent four hours trying to recover my lost manuscripts.

Yes. Lost.

They can't be active undeleted. That can't be system restored. They can't be called up out of the hundreds of back-ups made, because according to the writing program I used, they never existed.

So I can't open my Doorways rough rewrite, but I have a copy of it to Word, if I decline all edits I made.

Half of the original opening for Don't Look Back is missing, but at least I hand-wrote it over to my notebook for NaNoWriMo.

Guardian seems to open and refuse at random, but I've managed to copy/paste it to Word.

No. My problem lies with Eden's Son I.E. WiP2. The entire rewrite is gone. Poof. Up into the ether. All of the back-ups only read up to before I started it. There are no Word versions because I didn't send it to anyone to read. I didn't copy/paste because a) it's freaking tedious and b) it's safe as long as I back up? Right?

Turns out no. Turns out backing up manually to create an extra copy obliterated months worth of work in less than a second.

So lesson number 1: NEVER use freeware. It's worth as much as you paid for it.
Number 2: NEVER assume that programmers think further than the tips of their noses. They don't. So that thing that seems obvious to do because it's what is supposed to happen? Don't do it before going to help and making doubly sure that that isn't the one that in his own words "DO NOT DO UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES."

But now I have to wonder: If I risk losing my work if I don't back-up and if I do? What action should I take? Print every page every freaking time? Because apparently it means bullshit to people that you spent most of a year on the work you lost, because apparently: "It can't vanish." is a satisfactory reply.

But like I said. I spent four hours last night looking for the data. My mother spent two this morning. It isn't there.

I am starting to accept this. Slowly, but it's hard, because now I know that my end of January goal for WiP2 is screwed. In fact, I downloaded the trial for Scrivener last night with the plan to buy the program in a month, but you know what? I don't want to write. I don't want to even look at my rough draft. Because all that I can see is the end of the document that's supposed to be followed by 26 chapters or thirty five thousand hard-fought words.

And then I want to kill something.

But on the flip-side, I've never thought I could lose over a hundred thousand words of everything and survive, but here I am.

So... what's your record loss? Got any horror stories to share? How did you recover?
Any Scrivener users out there? Is the program any good?
Any other drafting programs that I can look at?

Monday, December 26, 2011

Others have said... Keep a low profile, but miss nothing.

An author in his book must be like God in the universe, present everywhere and visible nowhere.
Gustave Flaubert

When a reader starts a book, he/she is drawn into the story for many reasons. When the book is a piece of fiction, odds are that one of reasons for being drawn in is because it isn't part of/about the reader. It's an escape. A way to live in another place, to see another life. To hear another voice.

It's a wonderful thing, our power to draw people into the stories we write, our ability to help them escape because of their willingness to suspend disbelief for just long enought to drift into our imaginary landscapes. At the same time, it's a challenge, because once that link is made, it's fragile. So fragile that the smallest error could break it.

I call this break the "Hey wait" moment, after the reaction that I have when something stretches my suspension of disbelief too far. As in: "Hey wait, why the hell would the character do this?"
or... "Hey wait, the solution to this apparently insurmountable problem is simple and provided for in the rules of the universe."

Broadly speaking, "Hey wait" moments happen because of two reasons:

Firstly, because the author didn't pay attention or due regard to all of the important details in his/her story. A good example of this would be when the author forces the character into doing something that's clearly against his/her nature. Another one would be plot holes.

The second cause of a "Hey wait" would be the author showing him/herself. This one's a bit more difficult for a writer to catch, because it has nothing to do with the story, plot or characters. It's something a bit more subtle. It's when the story's voice is wrong, e.g. rich florid prose when the view point character is no nonsense or a stark narration when the character's supposed to be a fun loving kid. It's when the dialogue is forced, especially when it's forced to reveal backstory. In other words: the "As you know" dialogues. Those are my pet hates. They truly make me want to tear a book apart.

Another way that a writer can show him/herself is by writing all stories to the exact same formula. I'm not talking about the preference of certain types of characters or themes. I'm talking about telling different stories according to a single pattern. One that if figured out, will ruin any future story by the author. There's a bestselling author who wrote some great stories that I loved, until I worked out how he wrote them. How did I figure it out? Because each one of them is written in a certain way. And I see that way as cheating.

So the moral here: if you want to cheat, go ahead, just don't keep doing it and assume that no one will notice. Unless you don't care.

Repetition of words and/or sentence structures highlight a writer like nothing else on earth.

So when you get around to edits, add some variety, tripple check for realism and plausibility and do anything in your power to camouflage your presence.  

Your reader will thank you for it.

What triggers a "Hey wait" reaction when you read? How do you avoid/fix that trigger when you write?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Oh Christmas Tree

I wanted to put this post up last night, but because of the nature of the Christmas holidays, I wasn't able to, but I just have to show off this year's tree.

I admit that it looks a little bare in daylight...

But at night, it is magical:

Before I sign off, I want to ask that you please think of/pray for my friend Helen, who lost her husband in a car accident yesterday. She's about to enter a massive battle, as the accident has triggered a serious illness that she had when she was younger.

This really got me thinking, as we forget how fortunate we are to have everyone who is sharing Christmas with us. So if you haven't yet, go hug them and tell them you love them.


I love you.

Merry Christmas. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011


During my forced time off from my rewrite, something occurred to me about a moment in my WiP2 that's going to be a bit problematic. It's one of those watershed moments where a character makes a choice that will determine the course his life will take. So it makes for excellent story.
Only... the motivation was off. Or more accurately, the perception of the motivation was off.

To my mind, characterization is the reason why a character is who he is. Motivation is the reason why a character does what he does.

Actually, it's more the reason behind the reason. For example, commitment phobia might be a reason why a guy won't marry, but the reaction that caused the phobia as a result of something in the past is the motivation. In the case above, distrust as a result of his wife cheating on him with his best man would be his motivation.

Characters can have more than one motivation, but most importantly, each motivation will have a significant effect on how the character reacts to others or on how he lives and sees life. For example, Mr. Commitment-Phobe might start distrusting women in general, and then struggle with the idea of marriage as he falls in love. But then, since he was betrayed, he'll also very likely struggle to trust his love-interest around his friends or vice versa. 

It's vitally important that the motivation is carried through the character as far as it can conceivably go, because if it doesn't go all the way, the motivation will be seen as weak and it will impact on the story. If I stumbled over the above example in the story, I would think that his phobia was on over-reaction if he didn't show at least some indication of it when his love interest is talking with his best friend. If this didn't happen, it cheapens the situation and takes the depth out of the story.

Another important factor to consider: perception vs reality. What I mean with this is the reader's perception based on the character's actions vs. the actual reason behind the action as known to the author. It's not that common that a character's motivation is kept from the reader until the end of the story, since the conflict that comes as a result of character motivations can make for some wonderful story, because the journey of discovery of the character's motivation makes for good reading. But not if the reader leaps to the wrong conclusion as to what motivates a character.

If the reader decides that a reader won't marry because he's selfish in some way, there's a problem. Because whether or not this conclusion was wrong, it will affect how the reader will perceive the story's events, as well as whether he/she will be able to stick through the story all the way to the big reveal.

The reader can be kept on the right track, though, through leaving clues to the motivation or by showing that the opposite of the wrong conclusion is true. For example, if there's a chance of a reader thinking that Mr. Commitment-Phobe is nothing but a selfish bastard, show him at his most generous. Maybe let him take a kid under his wing. Something like that. Something that shows that not only is the guy generous, he's only worried about committing to a woman. 

What about you? How do you handle motivation - especially for difficult characters?   

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

My Goals for 2012 (Yes, I know it's early, but I couldn't think of anything else to write about)

Today was cleaning day, as family and friends will be arriving for my mother's birthday tomorrow. So after baking the cakes and delicious things, the rest of the day was pretty much spent washing floors.

It's not my most favorite thing in the world, but I at least got some time and mindless activity that allowed me to think about my June 30 goal.

I still need to finish the WiP2 rewrite before I start Doorways edits, since I won't have time for it later. So that means that the WiP2 rewrite has to be done by about 31 January. I'm about a quarter of the way through it, but since I did most of it in ten days, I don't think my goal is all that impossible.

That way, once I am finished with Doorways, I have another story to edit and one to finish drafting, whichever I feel like doing first.

In the long run, I always want a project in the mail somewhere. For that to happen, I have to lay the foundation now.

Then I want to finish Don't Look Back before the end of 2012. Hopefully I'll be on the Doorways sequel by 2013? We'll have to wait and see.

What about you? Have you set yourself any deadlines for next year? Let's hear them.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

An important announcement

Yesterday, I was thinking about my writing life so far.

As I was pondering, it occurred to me that next year, I will have been working on Doorways for five years.

That's half a decade of writing and tweaking.

I don't think that it's healthy to continue sitting on it, so next year, come hell or high water, I will start querying it. If no one's interested, I will start preparing it for publication.

Either way, I'm not going to be thinking about this again this time next year.

In fact, I should probably put up a date by which I want to get the edits done, so I'm going to say... 30 June 2012.

That gives me six months to polish it to a shine.

Maybe that makes me insane, but I have to try. The longer I wait, the more I will postpone on taking action.

So... anyone else tried to edit on a deadline before? Any advice for me?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Let's talk about the dark side

It is necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily by. How else, indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment? For the moment passes, it is forgotten; the mood is gone; life itself is gone. That is where the writer scores over his fellows: he catches the changes of his mind on the hop. 

Vita Sackville-West


I've been thinking about this for the past few days, but I'm wondering what you all think of it. I wonder if you even think about it at all.  

I'm talking about the dark side. You know, that bit about writing that's there, but that doesn't get mentioned all that often.

Like the fact that it's more of an addiction than a passion. Or else it's a damn near all-consuming passion. One that makes me euphoric when I'm doing it, but leaves me suffering from withdrawal when I'm not. The more we write, the more we want to write. This is good in that few people are lucky enough to find something as constructive to be addicted to. Still, we're stuck in our minds half of the time. The other half is spent with at least a small part of us wishing that we were stuck in our minds and writing. This can (and has) led to some aggravation, embarrassment and tension in the past. Fact is, it's really difficult to maintain a balance when it comes to writing. If I stop paying attention for a few weeks, I spend most of my time bashing out words. And when I say most, I mean at least three quarters of my available time. And it's not like I don't have other things to do. I'm not saying that I just lie down and forget to live my life. I'm saying that part of me is always fighting the urge to write at the expense at some badly neglected part of my life.

Another thing: We're more sensitive than people think. In fact, I'd say we're more sensitive than we'd like to believe. Think about it. If something happens, normal people gloss over it and move on, or store it away to look at once in a while. We don't do that. We put everything away for later. And then when we go poking at those things so that we can get the right words and emotions onto the page. So not only do we feel everything, but we feel them for a long time. Writing is a good way to get those feelings out, but I know from own experience how much it hurts to call up certain memories, but I can't just avoid them, because they'll crop up in my writing whether I want them to or not. So if I don't willingly face something, writing will eventually force me to.

We go digging in the darkest corners of our psyche to find what we need when we're writing. Think about it... those thoughts and emotions that you're giving to the most evil villain that you can imagine? It comes from you. Your own fears. Your own prejudices. All of that comes from the dark places of your own soul. At the same time, all that is good in the story comes from you too. But the fact is, writing puts all of it out there. And most of us hope that our writing will be publicly consumed. I think that if we really think about how much of us goes into what we write, a lot of us would consider giving up. (Except for the fact that our writing addictions would run us ragged.) It opens us to a new and very special world of pain. Especially when it comes to rejection.  

The last point I want to mention is one that got me thinking on these lines in the first place: We're self-aware - sometimes painfully so. When we dig about in our psyches, we discover things that take most people forever to even become aware of. We explore those things, so we get know ourselves better than most people. Think I'm kidding? Find someone you trust and if your conversation turns serious, start talking about who you are. You'll find you're far more aware of what's going on inside of you than your friend about him/herself. Good? Most of the time. Until you find out something that you might not have wanted to know. I recently figured out a big motivation in my life, and it wasn't what I thought. It's actually quite twisted and after I discovered this part of myself, I took weeks to settle into this new awareness. Hell, I'm still not really comfortable and I know that I was doing just fine until I made this discovery. I can't help thinking that I wouldn't even have thought along the lines that lead to my discovery if I hadn't been a writer. 

So was Vita Sackville-West right? Does writing help me "score above my fellows"? I'd say yes, but sometimes there's a cost involved. A high cost? Possibly, but then nothing that's worthwhile comes for free. And right now, there's nothing that feels as worth while as creating and if used correctly and constructively, even the dark side to writing can be to our benefit...

What say you? Thoughts?

Any other dark aspects to add? What gets to you sometimes?

Friday, December 16, 2011

What I did today

Today was spent making one Christmas present (and about four attempts of a quarter of another one). Fun, until the second present started annihilating my right hand. This took seven hours.

My mom and I decorated our Christmas tree. Looks cool, but isn't finished until I finish the presents. Sigh.

And we did all of this listening to carols. Awesome in the beginning, but by hour four it started to grate. Still, I can say that for about three hours I was pretty dang cheerful. Maybe it was that second bookmark that ruined it.

So needless to say, I didn't even look at any of my writing. I'm thinking that a few hours of this mind-numbing repetitive motion might just be good for my writing, but darn, I'm starting to feel the stirrings of frustration now, because I haven't written nearly enough.

Does it happen to you at all that you do something that has to be done, that's food for you because you're taking a break, and all you feel is annoyed?  

Thursday, December 15, 2011

You can teach me to plot? Thanks, but...

I always wonder why people think that there's only one way to write.

Just today I read a tweet about how one can learn how to plot.

But then... why would I?

I mean, I do just fine pantsing (at two finished drafts and a third in progress). No one's going to drop dead when I pants.

Why do people always think that plotting is better? The only thing that plotting does for me is give me an excuse to procrastinate while I write down what I already knew what was supposed to happen. Otherwise it discouraged me because I didn't know every detail before I started writing.

You know what? It doesn't matter not having all the details. That's what the first draft is for: to find out what the heck is going on in the story.

Because there's a big difference between what you think is happening and what happens when you write it down.

Still, I will never go as far as to say that pantsing is superior to plotting in any way. Pantsing has its own drawbacks, the main one being "painting yourself into a corner". Then there's also the blocks that happen because you don't know how to start what happens next. Or the gaping plot holes. And so on and so forth.

But here's the kicker: I enjoy fighting myself out of my self-created corner situations. I like not knowing too much about the story when I start. It gives me my sense of adventure. I enjoy the mental gymnastics involved in solving the plot holes once I get to them.

And no matter what, there's one big reason why I don't plot. I used to plot all of my stories. Every single one. Seven of them in total. How many did I finish? Zip. How many did I get half way? Zero. How many did I get quarter way: Two (I think) before I dumped them because they had no soul.

So I have no reason why I'd want to plot. Not even the smallest of reasons. The only thing approaching plotting that I do is making a point of knowing how the story ends.

So if you're a plotter. Kudos to you. Especially if you're good at it.

If you're not. So what? As long as you get your stories done, that's fine. And if you're new to this writing business, don't ever believe it when someone says it's better to plot.

Unless you've pantsed for years and through many stories and failed to finish one.

What do you think? Is there really a better way to write a novel?

Are you a plotter or a pantser? What about your preferred style makes it suit you?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Ann Carbine Best on Self Publishing

Hi all! Today I welcome Ann Carbine Best to My First Book. She's definitely one of my favorite bloggers out there, a lady worth listening to and one who I look up to. So please head over to her blog to say hi.

Thanks, Misha, for hosting me today and letting me talk about my two stories that I recently self-published: how it worked out for me and if I would self-publish again. 

My debut memoir In the Mirror: A Memoir of Shattered Secrets was published by a small press, and they did a great job with my story. It’s still selling, especially for the Kindle, and has garnered excellent reviews. But I’m seventy-one years old with not a lot of time left to wait for responses to queries. And if I did land an acceptance for my next novel-length memoir in progress, I would be in the queue with other authors, our manuscripts waiting for attention on a sometimes overworked editor’s desk.

So, for these reasons, and because the reading public, as several blogger followers have recently affirmed, don’t have the time to read long books; and because I had two stories in my files that I thought might be interesting to others, stories that I have reworked over the years (An Ozark Memory was a prize-winning story); and because I’ve always enjoyed a challenge, I decided to self-publish them.

So I took a deep breath….and meticulously followed Mark Coker’s marvelous style guide (free) for Smashwords. I had no problems with this. Kindle Direct Publishing on Amazon wasn’t as easy, but I finally figured it out . . . after many very long hours of trials and errors!

Things to think about before you decide to self-publish:

You’re on your own with cover art, formatting, and trailers. Roland Yeomans recently left this comment on my blog: “John Locke says 99 cents is the way to go to attract readers. Having to pay for my cover art, formatting, and trailers led me to charge 2.99 or 1.99 for most of mine, though I have 3 99 cent-er’s.”

I was fortunate to have a friend who wouldn’t have charged me but she’s a young woman recently divorced with three young children, and so I paid her. Formatting: I did this myself. Trailers: I didn’t do any and don’t intend to. Thus, not much up front for these details.

You have control over financial details. I did put up my novelette-length story Imprisoned for $2.99 then changed it to $.99. This is something you can easily do as a self-published author. I think this is a plus. You can also go into Smashwords’ author dashboard and Amazon’s KDP author bookshelf and make changes if you find errors in your text after publication. I finally discovered how easy this is to do, although it does take longer on Amazon but less than twelve hours (they say it can take up to 24 hours, but it never did for me) for the changes to be finalized.

I also didn’t have to pay for a proofreader because I was confident I could do this myself. I’ve worked as a professional proofreader, and also as a college teacher of grammar, and did an editing intern when I was working on my bachelor’s degree in English. I also have a great critique partner who looked for problems with structure and content. 

After I published the stories, I downloaded each one to my Kindle and Nook to make certain I had caught all the errors. Next time around - if I self-publish again - it won’t be so stressful because I now know how to do it!

It’s a bit scary. You alone have to put out a product that’s free of mechanical errors. Such errors as well as formatting problems are the two most criticized areas of self-published works. I know because I’ve seen them in some of the self-published books I’ve read. Not all, but some. More and more I find self-publishing authors putting out excellent products, and I wanted to be one of them. So I sent my stories to two readers, and kept re-reading them also in several different formats, including a printout.

And you have to do your own promotion. I’m a rather shy person, but I’ve become more outgoing after sixteen months of blogging and promoting my debut memoir. You pretty much have to do most of the promotion yourself even if you go the traditional route.

What do you think? For me it’s being able to say, “I did it.” Now it’s up to my readers to decide if I did it well.

Thanks so much for this interesting post, Ann. You mentioned some things that I really have to think about when I have to decide how I'm going to get my works in progress out there.

Now for those of you interested in checking out Ann's books or to read more about Ann, you can go to Amazon, Smashwords, or to her blog.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Yes... I am still alive.

This picture pretty much sums up how I've felt for the past two weeks. The week before, that, I didn't write because of a string of interviews for a job.

Didn't get it. No matter.

I just had to take a few breaths, get back to writing and...

Oh yeah. The day of the last interview, me, my gran and my mother returned home to find the power off. My puzzled mom (who had paid the usual amount to our real estate agent) phoned the municipality to find out what happened to our electricity.

She was referred to accounts and was told that the power was cut because of the fact that my mother owed them R12000. Ahem...

That's *cough* six times our monthly consumption.

It's also more than what an average worker earns in a month. About three times as much in fact.

So... two weeks in the dark was spent with me stewing in my own juices.

Still, it was somewhat fun, but by yesterday the novelty of boiling water on a gas stove (which we had waiting around in the kitchen), the silence and the time spent with the family (after sunset we played cards to keep ourselves busy) was gone.

Now I'm back, but the ramifications of those two lost weeks only hit me now. I was supposed to finish a significant portion of my rewrites in that time. I was supposed to start editing Doorways again.

And here I am, staring at the computer because I don't know which one I should focus on first.

Still, I'm glad to be back and more than a little glad to be.

Anything interesting happen while I was gone?