Monday, May 12, 2014

Taking a Step Back

You know you haven't bothered to update - or even look - at your blog in a long time when you can't even remember the name of the damn thing when you go to log in.  Oy, vey.

So yeah.  Nine months.  It's not the worst hiatus ever taken, but it still feels like a long time.  Unfortunately, I don't have much to report on from the writing front as far as progress goes.  In fact, I feel like I've regressed.  My goal for 2013 was to finish the first draft of my current project, The Good Doctor, by the end of the year, but as December went on I realized that that just wasn't going to happen as the plot started to unravel around me.  At that time, I thought the only thing I could do to salvage the story was to start from the beginning, but the more I tried to plot out its new course the more I realized I really didn't have a plot at all.  To make matters worse, I also started to realize that although I had ideas aplenty for other stories to work on while I worked through a writer's block for another, I couldn't conjure the will and motivation I needed to actually really work on anything.  For the first time in years, I was not actively writing anything at all.  From there, everything just started going downhill.

It didn't help that work became insane around this time, and combine that with being short-staffed because someone was on medical leave, it was a downright nightmare for a good eight to nine weeks.  I had to put in a ton of overtime just to keep up with the incoming workload, which meant a lot of weekend hours on top of that, so the creative process was taken down to almost nothing as I had the energy to do little more than come home, eat dinner, mindlessly surf the Internet for a few hours, then go to bed.

Oh, and if you want to add getting pregnant to the list of "Things That Occupy My Time," I guess you can do that too.

Needless to say, there was a lot of high emotions and crying going on during that time.  A lot of crying.  And not having the outlet that writing usually gave me just made it so much worse.

Things are starting to get a little better.  I was finally able to dig myself out of the mountains of files I had piling on my desk, so I'm not as stressed as I have been, which means I can return my focus to more important matters once I clock out (on time) at the end of day.  I'm still not where I'd like to be with writing since I still feel like I've been more or less creatively crippled by having too many ideas and no plots to put them to, which is almost worse than writer's block.  For the time being, I decided to dust off Deus Ex Machina and get it nice and polished up so I can look into getting it an agent again, or, if that doesn't work, to publish it myself.  It just feels ridiculous to have a finished manuscript lying around, plus knowing exactly what's going to take place in the next two installments, and do nothing with it.  At the same time I'm trying my hand at a fantasy romance/erotica I'll be putting out under another penname, though I'm still debating on whether I want to see it through or not.  The worst part is that out of all the half-formed ideas I have in my head, this one's the most developed.  Dammit.

So that's pretty much the recap of the last few months: lots of work, lots of stress, not enough writing.  And again, the pregnancy thing (which probably warrants a post of its own, since growing a human being is a big deal for most people).  I hope that stepping back will help, but right now I'm ready to take everything back down to ground zero if it means it will help.  I hate not writing - it makes me feel incomplete.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Universal Truths

A writer's block that occurs because you can't find the next words to use is by far more infuriating than a writer's block spawned from being stuck on bridging a scene or figuring out what's supposed to happen next in the plot.

Currently Working on: Surface

Listening to: "Bless the Child" by Nightwish

Reading: Cinder by Marissa Meyer and Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters

Watching: Saw V

Drinking: Blue Moon Agave Nectar Ale

Friday, August 2, 2013

Reading Log - July 2013

Much like last month, I really felt like I was slacking in reading during July.  I only was able to finish three books, and of those three, two of them I read before.  That does not mean that reading them again made them any less enjoyable; it just means my "to-read" list grew impossibly longer.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

So completes my quest to re-read all the Harry Potter books in order.  Oh, Mrs. Rowling... What can I say to you other than this series is perfection?  And Deathly Hallows is by far the best of the seven.  The emotion, the relationships between the characters, the buildup to the final confrontation between Harry and Voldermort... you couldn't ask for a better ending to a phenomenal series.  Reading through all the books at once - from the time Harry receives his letter to the final battle of Hogwarts - is an experience that all Potterheads need to experience again, and I know that no matter how many times I read this series I will never grow tired of it.  I can't wait for the day when I get to read it to my own halflings.

Airborn by Kenneth Oppel

Airborn is the only book I read this month I have not read before.  It's a quick- easy read about a young cabin boy and an adventurous girl trying to break away from the shackles of high society set in a lightly-themed steampunk world filled with airships, pirates, mysterious creatures, as well as lots of action sequences and well-written dialogue and characterizations.  The best way I can describe this book is that it's like a Hayao Miyazaki movie, and anyone who's seen and enjoyed Castle in the Sky, Howl's Moving Castle or any of his other movies will absolutely devour this book.

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

I'm cheating a little bit with Ender's Game because I didn't actually finish it before the end of July, but I'm posting now because I already read it years before.  Although I read Fahrenheit 451 and Brave New World in high school, I still consider Ender's Game my real introduction to sci-fi.  I enjoyed the book when I was eighteen, and with the announcement of the movie I knew I had to read it again.  The second read-through was just as good as the first, if not better, since I know that I had little interest in science fiction and even less with politics when I was a teenager (I'm certain there were lots of parts I probably glossed over at the time).  It's a surprisingly fast read too, focusing more on the characters and human nature instead of being bogged down with a bunch of science and tech jargon that most people outside a physics classroom will probably never understand.  I don't read a lot of science fiction, but the first book of its genre I'd recommend to anyone who asked.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Woes of the First Draft

There are times when I truly forget how to first draft.

Writing the first draft of a novel is equal parts the most exhilarating part of writing and the most frustrating.  To me, there's nothing more thrilling than diving into a new story concept, regardless of how many I have going before it, to explore new themes, characters, and plots that my brain can conjure at any time from any source of inspiration.  First drafting comes in two different forms for me, and at both the best and worst of times the methods in which they manifest seems counterintuitive and, more often than not, counterproductive.

Give me a fledgling theme with a half-hashed plot and a couple of rudimentary characters who might not even have names yet?  I'll dive head-first into that puppy and have the first chapter churned out in a mere couple of weeks.

Give me a theme with a beginning, middle, and end-game to the plot with a cast of reasonably fleshed-out characters?  I totally freeze up.  There are times when I think pulling teeth out of my own jaw would be easier than coming up with the next sequential sentence.  I will sometimes struggle for days, maybe even weeks, thinking of the perfect wording for what needs to be said next even though I know *exactly* what's going to happen, only to start the cycle all over again as soon as the ink dries.

Like I said, counterintuitive and counterproductive.  Logically, wouldn't make sense that it would be the other way around?  That I should be able to jump gung-ho into the story that's much more well-developed since it's essentially all there, a convenient road already paved and sparkling before me, while taking the time to feel out the lesser ideas and let them grow in stages until they're ready to stand on their own?

Apparently not.

It's not a huge mystery to why this is.  Instead of first drafting like I should - just write down everything and anything comes to mind, then go back and do some major pruning during the first major edit - I get way too hung up on making it sound as well-thought out as the overall thought does in my head, which completely defeats the purpose of the writing process.  The most frustrating part about the whole thing is that I can feel the ocean of words behind the dam I build up in my own mind, waiting for that first perfect sentence to be constructed that will open the floodgates and really allow me to get crackin'.  Ironically enough, that magical moment almost never comes to me when I'm trying to think of it when I have my notebook and pen in hand, but usually when I'm right smack in the middle of something else and don't have anything to write with, such as when I'm at work, in the car, or - my personal favorite - when I'm getting ready to fall asleep.

I really wonder how many writer's blocks I'd break through sooner and how grief I'd save myself from if I actually sacrificed those ten minutes of sleep to drag my sorry ass out of bed to write even that one sentence down.  Sleep can come later; moments of inspiration are much more fleeting and don't keep to a regular schedule.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Reading Log - June 2013

It shouldn't come as a surprise that as an amature author, I read.  A lot.  When I'm not first-drafting or editing, I try to be reading.  And I try to not just read genres that I'm partial to when I'm writing; my general rule of thumb the last few years is that it doesn't matter what the content or the genre is: As long as it sounds interesting and is well-written, I'll read it.

Ever since I graduated college in 2009 I've been keeping a log of how many books I read in a year, from June to June.  So far my count has been 30 books a year, which I'm always trying to break.  I didn't get off to a very good start this year as I only finished two in the month of June, but I'm hoping to amend real quick.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

East of Eden was one of my bucket list books - a book that needed to be read sometime in my lifetime.  My mom was the one who first suggested it to me, and considering that I enjoyed Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath (I'm probably the only one in my whole junior English class who did), I knew that Steinbeck and I got along pretty well and gave it a go.  The book might not have blown me away like I was expecting it to, but I did enjoy it; it's a great window into the past, and it takes place in an area of the country that I'm familiar with and can picture easily.  It was also very easy to read, so I felt like I moved through its 600+ page bulk at a pretty decent pace.  The characters were incredibly well-written, from world-wise Samuel Hamilton, to philosophical Lee (my favorite character), to the Devil-in-the-flesh Cathy/Kate.  It's a great introspect to the true nature of Good and Evil and the ending is both heartbreaking and uplifting.  This is one of those books that I wish I could have studied while in college; you could easily discuss this book with a group of fellow literary nerds for hours and never repeat the same idea twice.

This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers

It's like The Breakfast Club meets Night of the Living Dead, though I mean that in the best way possible.  Yes, this book is about the end of the world and the collapse or civilization and yes, it does have zombies, but that's not what the story is about.  It's really a story about human nature when confronted with the breakdown of order and society.  Sloan, the story's protagonist, is almost qualified to be an invisible narrator; her tragic situation at her home even before the zombie apocalypse starts gives the readers a raw, honest look at the other characters through her eyes without a "woe is me" veil to obscure it.  There were times where it was not an easy book to read, as it's very angsty and it was hard to like any of the characters for a long period of time, but I think that was the author was going for and in that case, it was very well executed.  It was also creepy as shit to boot.  I can watch a million zombie movies and not be phased, but after reading chunks (no pun intended) of this book at a time there would be some nights when I didn't want to go near the open windows, much less look outside them and see something sinister lurking across the street.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Tools of the Trade

Like any craft, there is a certain amount of trial and error that goes into the writing process.  I'm not just talking about finding your voice or establishing a style; I'm talking about the mechanics of it; what each individual author needs - and I don't mean what they like or prefer, absolutely needs in order to work - before the words start to flow.  Here's a small list my own needs.

1) Notebooks.
Try as I might, I cannot first draft on the computer.  It seems counter-productive, since the whole purpose of a first draft is to just get the idea out, to write anything and everything that comes to mind, even if that means that 75% of it ends up being garbage and is jettisoned in later drafts.  However, I've discovered over the years that I actually benefit from being slowed down.  Hand-writing my first drafts allows me to funnel my thoughts and helps give me a clearer idea of where the story is eventually going.  It's hard to explain, but hand-writing the first draft sort of opens up two channels of thoughts in my head: the "what-I'm-writing-now," and the "where-is-this-going-to-go," which has made the plotting of my novels easier and more efficient.  When I try to do the same thing typing, my thoughts just sort of trip over themselves and get hopelessly tangled in the process, and I end up getting nothing accomplished.

When I first-draft now, I do so in a Mead or 5-Star multi-subject notebook (college ruled, of course).  Each new story idea is started in a new subject of a notebook, and if I'm able to fill up that section of the book (roughly 75 pages), then that story graduates to get its own single-subject notebook that continues the plot.  The only drawback to this method is that I've accumulated a lot of notebooks, which becomes cumbersome when I want to write anywhere that's not my house, such as at my favorite coffee shop or when traveling.  Then I have to decide which notebooks I need to bring (it's also reaching the point where I'm beginning to get them mixed up and grab the wrong one, and working on a story outside of its designated notebook is unthinkable), but I couldn't have it any other way.

2) The pen.
To me, having the right kind of pen is essential.  My tool of choice is a Pilot Precise V5 RT free-flowing ink pen.  If I don't have that specific type of pen, or one very close to it, then I don't write. When the closest grocery store stopped carrying them for about a year, I would make special trips to the Target store across town just to pick up a pack.  They're that important.

3) Music
If I don't have my music, I might as well not even bother.  Listening to music while writing has become as essential to me as the pen and paper.  Without music, the creative flow just sort of congeals until it stops altogether.  Almost all of my stories have their own playlist I composed on iTunes, made up from artists, bands, and musical scores and soundtracks, and, unsurprisingly, those tend to be my first choice playlists depending on whatever I'm currently working on.  And if I don't necessarily feel like listening to those, there's always my go-to albums (right now the Akira soundtrack and Florence + the Machine do quite nicely).  And when those don't work, I just put my entire library on shuffle and let my iPod choose for me.

(My other go-to is Halloween sound effects and music.  I can't explain why.  If I'm stuck on a particularly troublesome scene, Night in a Haunted House and Night in a Graveyard does wonders to dislodge it.  It just works.)

There are lots of other factors that help the process as well.  A good cup of tea or a glass of wine is always appreciated by the muse.  And while I always have my headphones on, I more often than not have some terrible horror movie playing in the background while I'm at home.  I think it's because they take 0% concentration while watching.

And, of course, I wouldn't be able to write without my writing buddy by my side.

Even if he does snore.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

This is How the Story Ends

I really wanted to start off this blog with some sort of bang.  I guess you can say it's in my genes as a writer to open with something that will snare the reader's attention and hold it to my mercy, making them hang on every word and finish with a "thank you sir, may I have another?"

Unfortunately, I've come up with nothing.  So instead I'm dedicating my first post to an insightful article I saw on Tumblr about one of the struggles a woman author has to contend with in an already insanely difficult industry to get a foot into.  Writing prowess should not be determined by the bits you possess, but by skill, talent, and what you have to offer to the reader.

"If you are a female author, you are much more likely to get a package that suggests the book is of a lower perceived quality. We’re the high fructose corn syrup of literature, even when our products are the same." ~ Maureen Johnson

The Gender Coverup, by Maureen Johnson