Category Archives: Writing Life

Writer’s Snow Day: A One-Act Play

The Scene, Outside: 

Thick snow is falling fast, 5 inches already on the ground and 4 more inches predicted.  Wind is blowing hard, sending the temperature nose-diving below zero.

 

The Scene, Inside:

A one bedroom apartment, bookshelves lining the walls and the hum of the furnace running in the background.  A young woman sits curled up on the sofa, slipper-clad feet peeking out from beneath the blanket she’s wrapped in.  On her lap is a small laptop computer; on the table beside her is a steaming mug of hot chocolate.  A stack of paper, just scraps with hastily scribbled notes, rest within reach on the sofa cushion.

 

The Writer:

She smiles to herself and places her hands on the keyboard, typing a handful of words so fast that her fingers on the keys sound like machine gun fire, only to stop abruptly.  She frowns, sips from her cup, and frowns again.

            She places one finger on the delete button and presses until she erases all she just wrote.

            She begins again, and the process repeats itself a dozen times, her frown gradually deepening and the pressing of the delete key morphing into slamming.

“SON OF A BITCH!”

            She jumps up, nearly knocking over her hot chocolate, and stomps out of the room to take a nap instead.

 

            Focus on the computer screen where the cursor blinks on the blank page.  Lights fade to black.

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The Year of Wordsmithing

            Success depends on more than just acknowledging a goal with a glass of champagne in one’s hand at 11:59 p.m. on December 31st.  Resolutions—shed some pounds, kick the cigarettes, drink less caffeine, avoid speeding tickets, go 365 days without being arrested, etc.—are easily made and even easier to cast aside.  One can’t just spit out a resolution; one must also have the ambition and obsession to achieve.

            Let’s define these:

 

            Resolution:  the act determining upon an action or course of action, often made at the beginning of a new year and abandoned two weeks later.

            Ambition:  an earnest desire for achievement and the willingness to strive for its attainment, an element often missing from New Year’s resolutions.

            Obsession:  the domination of one’s thoughts or feelings by a persistent idea or desire, the presence of which elevates resolution to ambition and gives one a chance at success.

 

            Okay, I might have tweaked those definitions but they’re still solid.  2014 is probably not the year I’m going to give up nicotine or caffeine, although I do plan on maintaining my “never been arrested” status and keeping a sharper eye out for radar-running cops than I did during 2013.  I do, however, have plans for myself.

            Not resolutions.  Plans.  Ambition + obsession > resolutions.

            All word-based.  Words require attention, sometimes hyper focus.  Words are beautiful, the love of my life, but they don’t come easily.  One must keep ambition foremost and feed the obsession that leads to success.

            So here are my writing, reading, and word-focused goals for 2014…

 

1. Read 80 Books.
            GoodReads promotes a yearly reading challenge, where members set their own “I’m going to read [#] of books in 2014” goals.  Setting the bar too high would be doomed to failure—I have the real life, adult world responsibilities like everybody else.  But setting the bar too low would be shameful because books are awesome and I have a massive stack of unread books waiting their turn.  So in 2014 I will read 80 books.

 

2a. Complete My Work-in-Progress.
            I began writing The O’Shaughnessy Reputation:  Put on Your War Paint as part of National Novel Writing Month.  I finished about half by the end of November and have kept putting fingers to keyboard since then (occasionally for frustrated keyboard-mashing).  When I wrote the first part in this series (You’re Gonna Go Far, Kid), I started in 2011 and didn’t finish until early 2013, and I won’t allow that to happen again:  I will finish this WIP at all costs.

 

2b. Complete an Edit of My Soon-to-be-Finished WIP.
            I will not only finish this novel, I will do at least a first pass, rough edit on it before November 1st.  I can’t start Kiss the Ring, part three of this series, for NaNoWriMo ‘14 until the events in part two have been smoothed into something resembling a coherent story.

 

Speaking of NaNoWriMo…

3.  Participate in National Novel Writing Months, including Original Flavor NaNoWriMo (November) and both Camp NaNoWriMo sessions (April & July).
            Providing concrete goals, a fast-approaching deadline, an active community of writers, and a nifty progress graph, NaNoWriMo has been one of the best things to ever happen to my writing life.  It’s a kick in the ass, a kick so hard I’ll put said ass in a chair to avoid the hit.  And half of writing is, after all, simply sitting your ass down to do it.

 

4.  Begin Work on Charm of the Pavement.
            The idea for this novel has been haunting me, bouncing around in my head for at least six months but doing little more than mocking my attempts to wrangle it into a coherent story.  No more avoiding the pen, you brat; the time has come. 

 

5.  Increase My Writer Circle
            The most successful writers seem to be those with a solid, expansive community of writers they consider friends.  The interaction acts like an injection of word-adrenaline, promoting creativity and keeping a writer focused.  I know several writers, a couple of whom are quite serious about it, and I’m determined to welcome more into my life.  Because writers are awesome…and other writers are the only ones who share my special brand of ‘not quite right’.

 

I have my pen.

I have my vices—coffee, booze, cigarettes.

I have my ‘Write Drunk, Edit Sober’ mug.

I’m ready.  Let’s fucking do this.

 

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Ménage à Trois: The Temptation of Multiple Works-in-Progress

Writer brain suffers.  Writer brain hurts.  Writer brain throws hissy fits because it wants to write ALL the words and I won’t allow it.  Writer brain does not understand, and writer brain hates me for it.

Can writers write two separate projects simultaneously?  Absolutely.

Can writers write two separate projects simultaneously and get at least one of them finished?  That, my friends, is where the danger lurks.

I’m wrestling with the temptation to do this right now:  begin a new novel while still writing my work-in-progress.  My work-in-progress is going well, moving along rather smoothly, I just need to put the words down on paper.  (Ha!  I say ‘just’ as if it’s that easy.)  But there’s this other story waiting to be written, an idea that’s been in my head for months and has finally started to coalesce into something actually resembling a narrative.  More scenes, more coherent lines, more defined character voices…and the feeling is there, the one that makes it resonate with me and starts my fingers tingling with the urge to write it down.

And my God, diving into that story would feel amazing.  But…

…if I give into the urge to jump into the deep end, I run the risk of never finishing the work-in-progress.  Even worse, I run the risk of not finishing either project because I’m spreading myself too thin.

But I want to, damn it!  I want to have my cake (WIP) and eat it too (new novel).  I’m greedy, and I’ve never been known for my patience.

I’m trying to hold myself back.  I’ve written multiple stories at the same time before, that’s all I did throughout my teenage years and early twenties, and I don’t have a damn thing novel-wise to show for it.  I never finished any of them.  Granted, none of them were particularly noteworthy, most were downright bad, but the point is that I attempted, failed, and left them to rot.

I know of writers—both published well-known names and plenty of people like me, toiling away because it’s fun and not because anyone is necessarily reading their words—who juggle more than one project.  I’m in awe of and more than a little jealous of that ability because they write, they write well, and they get things completed.  They get to type the end (or just sign and date it, such as is my preference) on both and sit back, all justifiably smug and pleased with themselves before immersing themselves in something brand new.  I hate them because I want to be them.

Making it even more difficult to resist is that both of these stories have a similar gritty feel, something that induces my brain to slide back and forth from one to the other without any difficulty.  Saving me from crumbling and giving into the urge to write more is the key difference between them, aside from wildly different plots:  one is gritty and dangerous while the other is gritty, much more emotional, and full of that painful yearning sensation that hits everyone now and again and rips the breath from the lungs.  That wouldn’t overlap well, and it’s the most rational reason, based in technical writing common sense, the thing that’s helping hold me back.

But I want to, damn it!

Are you one of those people who can handle two+ projects at once and get at least something finished?  And not just juggle them but smoothly transition back and forth?  If so please gift me with your wisdom, tell me how the hell you manage to do it.

Because I’ve got a hitman of the non-human variety demanding all of my time while a trio of half-wild fae whisper glamour in my ear.

A little help here?


Surviving the Holidays: A Writer’s Guide

Ah, the holidays:  a time for family, friends, cliché pilgrim hats and bright strings of lights, pine needles stabbing your feet, leftover Turkey that sits in your fridge until you remember to throw it out sometime after New Year’s, carolers and midnight mass, and eating way more than your stomach can actually hold.  Some people love the holidays, some people hate them, and some people drink it all away no matter whether they love them (celebratory drinking) or hate them (relieve the pain drinking), but there’s one thing nobody can deny:

The holidays are a social time.  Very social.

And for many writers, this massive amount of social interaction poses a problem, mainly because we’re not really the ‘very social’ type.  We’re more the ‘hide under the blankets’ type.

Point is that the holidays can be a very draining time, especially for writers and other artsy types who value spending time alone with words.  There just never seems to be enough downtime to replenish the energy you’ve expended.

Note I said ‘expended,’ not wasted.  The family meals, the parties with friends, taking a few (or many) moments to be thankful, cursing when you step on those pine needles from the Christmas in the middle of the night again:  none of those things waste energy, only use it.  Those things are important.

But for writers, artists, and other introverts, the only way to survive the emotional energy suck that is this time of year is to go into it with a game plan, specific ways on how to muddle your way through without tossing yourself off a cliff by New Year’s Eve.  (Of note:  the holiday season is not, despite popular opinion, the time of year when suicide rates are the highest.  That would be springtime.)  And so my friends step away from the mistletoe, put on your gloves and ear warmers, and let me present to you a few tips that I’ve learned for handling this season of joy and resulting exhaustion:

  1. Do not simply skip any and/or all family functions.  Like I said, family is important, so put in some effort to show you care about and value those related to you.  And always keep in mind that the resulting lectures from mom and the guilt trips from grandma will suck up more energy than simply going to that family gathering in the first place.  (Trust me, I know these things.)
  2. Find that one friend you can occasionally go out to dinner with for the express purpose of commiserating.  They’re suffering just like you, and there’s nothing better than a small support group.  This is social so you can count it towards your socializing quota for the year, but if you select the right friend then you won’t be drained afterwards.  You might even find yourself with a bit more energy.
  3. Wine.  Lots of wine.  (If you don’t drink, I support and admire you.  However, I do not have a substitute option to offer.)  My family tends to divide itself into two groups:  the wine drinkers and the beer drinkers.  Both are acceptable.  Key here is moderation, because too much alcohol results in disputes or knockdown, drag out fight that will carry over into the New Year.  While amusing to watch, they’re embarrassing to be involved in and tiresome for everyone present.
  4. Do not start a family dispute.  Again:  tiresome.
  5. If an argument does erupt through no fault of your own, then remained uninvolved.  I highly suggest sitting back and enjoying the fireworks, because hell, why not?  A form of entertainment and if anyone questions it, just point out that you’re using it as a character study.
  6. Observe the people and activities around you.  You’re a writer; observation is always good for your art.  Watch, take notes, and learn more about human interactions and personality traits, the little quirks that people have.  This is particularly easy for me, for while I’ve never been able to decide if I have a large family or just a medium-sized family consisting solely of large personalities, there’s plenty of material to be gleaned either way.
  7. Watch the weather reports.  Dealing with snow and ice during a drive to your host’s place will only add additional stress.  (Also enough snow and ice are a perfectly good excuse to stay home, especially if you live thirty miles or so away like I do.  But with respect to Tip #1, a few snowflakes are not a snowstorm and should not be used as a justification for avoidance.)
  8. Plan ‘You Time’.  The holiday season can get crazy with family celebrations, parties, office functions, visiting friends, preparations, etc.  Making time for yourself—write it in your day planner or set an alarm on your phone—is key.  Use this time to recuperate and regain some of that limited energy so you can make it through the next one.  Do whatever it is you like to do that makes you relaxed and happy:  read, write, sleep, whatever it is.  Delve into your art.  No matter what, make sure you take time for you.  (I highly recommend sleep.)
  9. Write.  Keep writing, no matter what.  Write the words during your ‘you time,’ take a notebook with you to family dinners so you can scribble when you need a break (perfectly acceptable to hide out in the bathroom for this one), write on your lunch break during work, write whenever you have even a minute’s chance.  You write because you love it, so don’t stop.  Let the words help you.
  10. Post-Holiday Boozing.  I say boozing because that’s what I do, but you can replace that with anything your heart desires, like a quiet dinner or a particularly energetic session at the gym (weirdo).  I’ve actually made this a tradition over the last several years.  Depending on how the final holiday falls, I go out either the night after or the weekend after Christmas and have a few drinks with the calmer of my friends, usually no more than one or two.  Yes, this seems counterintuitive:  after all, you’ve just used up your finite energy supply on all those other holiday functions.  Hear me out, though.  This planned night of drinking is something to look forward to, something to get you through those holiday celebrations, a way of celebrating the fact that those celebrations are all over for another year.  I’ve done this every year since I was 22, and my God has it helped me keep my sanity.

There you have it, folks:  my suggestions for writers or any other introverts trying to survive the season.  Feel free to add your own, I’m sure I’ve missed some, and when you get close to the point of ‘fuck this,’ take a nap.  Naps always help.  And maybe eat some pie.  Pie is delicious.

 


NaNoWriMo Chronicles: Week Two

Week Two, widely known as the most difficult stretch:  the adrenaline high has worn off, initial bursts of inspiration are spent, and nagging little story issues are making themselves known, like that rattling noise in your car that you can hear quite clearly but can never quite pinpoint where it’s coming from.  This week sees a sharp decline in numbers as participants drop out and word counts lag even as the quota increases; there is a corresponding rise in hair pulling and caffeine consumption.  Things start getting weird right about now as story arcs do very un-arc-like things such as make sharp turns and characters do things like wander off without so much as a ‘by your leave’, chapters start popping up between other chapters where they don’t belong in the outline, and your brain goes a bit squiggly every time you think about 50,000 and how it seems forever and ever away, all the words away.  Yeah.  It’s like that.

A dear friend and fellow WriMo has hit upon an approach that works for him:  the boxed wine and words and more boxed wine system.  It shames me to admit that I lack his hardy constitution and, having no wish to dance on my own table in an inebriated manner (although anyone else’s table is a-okay), I’ve been simply plodding along, puttering and poking at the keyboard and mumbling to myself, occasionally cursing in a way to make sailors blush.  Allow me to present unto you, my dear friends, week two:

week2a

I do my research like a good little girl, only to twist it, warp it, and cover it in dirt for story purposes. Facts: I use them to make shit up.

week2b

Beware the Writer’s New Groove.

week2c

One of Jesse O’Shaughnessy’s Rules to Live By.

week2d

Edit reminders: because no one gets it right on the first try, not even someone as awesome as me.

week2e

Real life interferes and makes story time difficult. My god awful memory doesn’t help much, either. (But seriously: YAY! No cavities!)

week2f

One incident of ‘nearly forgetting the laptop on the way to the write-in’, a free food extravaganza distraction, and a strange, seconds-long interaction with a bum. An interesting evening, all in all.

week2g

Unfortunately, some days you really are just too sad (for no apparent reason) to write. Even more unfortunate is when those days happen during NaNoWriMo, when ass in chair writing words every day is the only way to make the Graph of Progress happy.

week2h

A little story snippet, because it frames Jesse’s state of mind quite well. (Of note: he was enraged that I had the nerve to shoot him. I pointed out that another character whom he happened to be trying to kill at that time was actually the one to shoot him, but my logic stood no chance against his anger. What a wuss.)

week2i

An actual bit of dialogue from the book. Jesse’s vocabulary is not for the faint of heart, easily offended, or those of delicate sensibilities.

week2j

Jesse’s line of work lands him in the ER quite a bit, and Polly is the nurse/administrator who oversees his many, many trips. Both are stubborn, both are caustic, and both are now engaged in a decade-long battle of wills. (This is one battle where Jesse’s chances of victory aren’t good.)

And lo, the end of Week Two!  I’m still in the game, word count is exactly where it should be, and although all might not be going amazingly, things are at least going.  Up and running, even.  *goes back to scribbling*


NaNoWriMo Chronicles: Week One

Posting my notes for Week One a bit late (considering it is now the start of Week Three), but damn it, don’t judge me!  I’ve been busy with that whole “writing” thing, which is the whole point of this month, no?  After a rough start I’ve been (just barely) staying current on word count, all while still managing to accomplish a handful of things that real adults do on a regular basis.  Grocery shopping, taking the trash out, maintaining that whole “gainful employment” thing, and I even did the laundry!  (Please don’t ask if I folded it.  Leaving it in a nice, clean mountain is folding, right?)  There have been good days, there have been bad days, there have been write-ins, there have been nights alone in a darkened room, there have been good words and bad words, there have been a few angry naps and a handful of victory dances.  Shall we get to the scans, then?  Yes, let’s get to the scanned pages from my work-in-progress NaNoWriMo ’13 chronicle.

week1a

For goodness sake, I’m writing the sequel to my NaNoWriMo ’11 novel, so starting this one should not have been so freakin’ difficult! I know the story ‘Verse (yep, that reference is for Firefly fans, hi y’all!), I know the character better than I know myself, and the plot, subplots, even the damn themes are all in my head and ready to go. But the words…the words did not cooperate. There was much frustrated screaming and pulling of hair; my neighbors think I’m crazier than ever.

week1b

Day 2 much the same as Day 1, but Day 3…oh, blessed, blessed Day 3! I’d like to say that I drove to Barnes & Noble to write and then, if I wrote enough words, I would buy myself a book as a reward. That is what most people do; that is not what I did. No, I bought the book first. Because I’m greedy and prefer instant gratification. And yet I stayed in the cafe and successfully wrote a large chunk of the story, which is all that matters.

week1c

Fact: for some unknown reason, small children love me. Perhaps it’s because I’m small and non-threatening; perhaps they sense that maturity-wise, I’m on their level. No matter the reason, small children I’ve never before met will smile and run up to me and give me things, just like subjects to their queen. And there’s nothing quite like the moment when you realize you’re writing about a sociopath carrying out a contract killing while pausing to accept gifts of toy dinosaurs and plastic tea cups and occasionally reading books like “Just Like My Mommy” out loud. One cannot describe the ‘WTF’-ness of that moment, for the appropriate words do not exist. (Trust me on that. After all, I AM a writer.)

week1d

Every Tuesday in November I drag myself away from nap time and drive the 30 minutes to my mother’s house. Why? Because as a fellow WriMo, she likes to attend the weekly write-in only a few blocks from where she lives, and as it’s hosted by a pizza place, I can clock some mother/daughter bonding time that doesn’t require much talking AND get free dinner because my mother’s nice like that sometimes. Also: words get written. A bunch of people sitting around, stuffing their faces with pizza as they hunch over laptops and type like the wind. It’s excellent and, as proven by the word count scrawled across the bottom of this page, quite productive.

week1e

Maybe, maybe not, but my main character really will be the first snowflake that refuses to melt in hell.
And why procrastinate with Project Runway Australia? Simple: because American Project Runway isn’t on youtube.

week1f

The O’Shaughnessy Reputation: Put On Your War Paint is NOT a love story. However, the love between a man and his car deserves a thousand words (maybe even more, but I needed to move on), and honestly, this was far more than a little autobiographical, although I now have an awesome car as opposed to a battered PoS. No matter what, my car + me = LOVE.

There you have it, folks!  Week One of NaNoWriMo complete, word count hanging in there on par, all set to cross the 50,000 word finish line on November 30th.  With a little luck and a lot of effort, I should make it there, even if I have to drag myself on my belly across the ground with fingertips bloodied from excessive typing.  And the dragging.


Brain-Eating Amoeba

There’s nothing worse than a story that just won’t come together.

I’ve got main characters, I’ve got secondary and tertiary characters, I’ve got backstory, I’ve got plot threads, I’ve got dark and gritty, I’ve got humorous and light, I’ve got a beginning and an end, and hell, I’ve even got a theme.  (And clearly I also have a list.)  The spark of inspiration came from a couple pieces of artwork (see below) that I’ve printed up and now have hanging on my wall, and I’m aching to get to work on this novel.

But I can’t.

So what’s the problem?  Am I out of pens?  Out of paper?  Has my keyboard blown up?  Do I have no blood with which to write on the walls like Geoffrey Rush in the movie Quills?

No.  No, no, and no.

The problem is that no matter what I do, the damn thing won’t gel.  The story won’t crystalize into something substantial, something that can be put on the page, something that can be told with any coherency.

Damn it.

I’ve brainstormed.  I’ve scribbled down notes about scenes and put them in order.  I’ve got a massive Evernote ‘notebook’ full of reminders and ideas and notations.  I’ve begged, I’ve pleaded, I’ve kicked things, I’ve taken naps, I’ve banged my head into walls, and I’ve collapsed from frustration.  (And I apparently made another list:  Cari’s Recommended Process for Story Development.)

Because if a piece won’t come together, if it’s refusing to work, then there’s something wrong.

I’ve learned that.  I’m not published or well-known (or known at all, not even a little bit), but I’ve been doing this writing thing long enough to know that if I’m having this much trouble, a fundamental aspect is amiss.  Is it something I can fix, or is it something that will force me to scrap it for parts?

There’s no way at this point of knowing if I can make it right, not until I’ve put the work in to figure out just what element is wrong.  And that’s a lot of work that might be all for naught if I have to send it to the recycle bin.

But I’ll still do the work.  Time and effort and aggravation and tears—I’ll go through all of it, all for the chance of satisfaction at the end.  Disappointment if the story is no good; exhilaration if I’m victorious.

(Somewhere my mother is wishing I’d put even a fraction of this determination into things like ‘homework’ or ‘cleaning the house’ when I was younger.  I’m not sorry.)

Because writing is work.  Writing is hard.  It’s not my job, so I don’t technically have to do it.  But I love it.  That satisfaction when I get an idea to come together.  The pleasure of putting my own words down.  The triumph when I sign and date the finished work.  That’s why I do this.

Assuming, of course, I can manhandle this into some sort of coherent, engaging narrative instead of the murky amoeba it currently is.  If I succeed, then my tale gets told.  If I fail, then the amoeba eats my brain.

Worth the risk.

Girl in Window

Shirtles Boy

(Artwork by Zak Smith)


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