Category Archives: Mixing it Up

Couch Potato Time For Health and Profit

Finishing a novel is a HUGE achievement (and I’m not just talking about word count). It doesn’t matter if it’s your first or your fiftieth, it’s still a huge weight off your shoulders knowing that the first draft is done. Well, at least it is until you remember that now you have to do revisions and edits.

In my experience, starting all that tough, nit-picky work so soon after finishing the draft isn’t good for you. If I dive back in so soon I get sick of my own work, and sometimes even resent it for depriving me of the time to watch the backlog of shows on my DVR or the cool new thing on Netflix. The last thing I want to happen, is for me to hate my own work for something so petty — especially after all the hard work I put into it. That’s why I treat myself to two things after the completion of the first draft. The first is a tangible treat that somehow ties in to something I love about that particular story. Sometimes it’s a piece of inexpensive jewelry, and sometimes it’s a piece of clothing or art. What’s the second thing?

Nothing.

That’s right. Nothing.

After finishing the first draft I give myself permission to not write or do any other work on that draft for one week. During that week I can veg on the couch and watch as many shows and movies as I want. I can also read as many books in my bedside stack as I want. The obvious reason for this is that I can’t resent my work for keeping me from watching the new season of Forged in Fire if I’ve already watched it. I can’t be tempted by the new lovely in my reading stack if I’ve already read it. Plus the growing backlog of episodes, and the growing stack of awesome books, become the carrots that are dangled before me while I’m working on that initial draft.

The less obvious reason is that it allows the creative side of my brain to rest and renew while the more studious side of my brain can pick apart the plots of the shows and books I’m partaking of. It’s hard, especially after taking one of Dave Wolverton’s writing courses, to turn my brain completely off when taking in a story. It doesn’t matter if the medium is visual, audio, or printed. I can’t stop myself from poking a metaphorical finger at other people’s plot holes, or admiring some great pacing and then reviewing that section over and over to figure out exactly how they did it. So my vacation suddenly becomes an educational experience that can improve my own writing. Yay!

Okay. I realize that it probably looks like a cheat to be studying someone else’s writing when I’m taking a break from writing. Well, it’s not. The break is from my own writing. Besides, heaven forbid I resent my vacation from writing for keeping me from doing the writerly things that I love. If the studious side of my writer brain is busy looking for tropes and Chekov’s arsenal, the rest of me can enjoy the break without conflict.

I also find that one week is the perfect length of time. I can make a noticeable dent in the backlog of stories to partake of, but it’s not so long a break that my readers start to wonder if I’ll ever truly finish my next book.

It can be a tricky balance to maintain — sacrificing for your work without hating the necessity of making sacrifices — but it can be maintained. For me this is one of the small ways I can maintain that balance while preventing burn out. In the spirit of Your Miles May Vary, a shorter or longer interval may work better for you. Instead of TV it may be gaming that you need the break for. I know authors who write short stories between drafting and editing as their break/treat. Whatever works best for you. Burn out and self-resentment are terrible things that have destroyed too many writing careers. It’s important to know what treat you respond best to and to use that to maintain a healthy balance that will keep you engaged and interested in the work now and in the years to come.

Flash Fiction-It’s Not About Barry Allen

I’ve always admired people who can write short stories. Packing everything needed for a good narrative into less than 10k words is a skill that I struggle with. Besides some success I’ve had with horror short stories, short fiction is not my forte. Plus, I always want to put a silly surprise at the end, which a lot of editors don’t love.

Last year I went to a conference and heard a couple of people talk about Flash Fiction.

Flash Fiction is a story in 1,000 words or less.

Yes, you read that correctly, 1,000 words or less.

During a session at the conference, the presenter gave us some randomly generated story parts (character, setting, genre) and then gave us twenty or so minutes to write a flash fiction story about it.

Can I just say that I loved it? It was liberating staring at a blank page, typing my “parts” at the top, and then trying to put them into a cohesive story that would only last 1,000 words.

I don’t usually struggle with commitment, but I tell you what, these little things are commitment free, and highly addictive. I was hooked after one, wrote a horror flash fiction for an anthology the next day, and then decided I would adopt the platform of Flash Fiction on my website.

Now I kind of stole the randomly-ish generated theme, genre, character…idea from the presenter. I came up with my own five categories, and filled them up. I then dig into my husband’s D&D dice bag and I see what fate has in store for me this week.

Voila, Flash Fiction Friday!

The great thing about it, is things have to connect, but not everything has to be explained. You don’t have time to go into a great deal of background, so to say the character is an angry mobster bent on revenge is enough. And the narrative is so short that it almost has to be a snap shot—a moment where something changes. Or when something should change, but it doesn’t. Get in, tell the story and get out all in less than two pages, single spaced in Word.

If you’re interested in writing, try it. If you’re having trouble with writer’s block, try it. If you’re looking for something new, try it. It’s like a cookie verses an entire cake. Take a bite and walk away.

Game on! Making writing fun 

It’s NaNoWriMo time.

As I said last month, I’m not really a NaNoWriMo participant. I do watch from the sidelines though. It’s interesting to watch writers push themselves to achieve word count goals. I do believe that the hardest part of writing is finishing a story, and anything that gets people to complete a project is probably a good thing.

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But I do worry about people putting ridiculous amounts of pressure on themselves to complete a project. Creating an artificial pressure-packed environment can make writing a chore, and that can give writers a bad taste in their mouths which can lead to less motivation, not more.

So how do you keep writing fun when the pressure is on?

Honestly, that’s a very hard question to answer. Sometimes writing really can be a chore. And if you’re trying to make a living at it, then it’s a chore that you have to do, just as much as if you were a pastry chef getting up at 4am for the umpteenth time and dragging yourself into work.

Here are a few things that might take the drudgery out of your writing as you try to maintain that 1,500 words per day goal that will get you close to a NaNoWriMo success.

  • Remove a significant character, and replace them with a completely different one. You don’t have to go all George R. R. Martin here, you don’t have to kill them. Maybe they just had to move away. Maybe your protagonist got into an argument with them, and they decided it was time to move on. Whatever the cause, this will force you to think about your characters’ personalities and give you a chance to explore how your protagonist deals with adversity.
  • Introduce some weather into your narrative. I can’t even think of the number of books I’ve read where it apparently never even rains, much less storms. Let nature become an obstacle to your characters’ goals. This is a great opportunity to paint a memorable scene.
  • It is apparently very difficult in a novel to get sick. Nobody ever seems to. I’ve read eight book series and the main characters never even get the sniffles. Your macho he-man hero type may be able to stare down a raging fire-breathing dragon, but how well does he handle a migraine?
  • Throw a party. In real life people go to parties all the time. Unless a party is part of the plot, characters in novels never seem to be invited to do anything. I’m writing this the day after Halloween. Maybe your main characters get invited to a costume party. What would they dress as? What would that reveal about their personalities that might not come out otherwise?

These are all things that can reveal new and interesting things about your character, while giving you something interesting and new to write. That’s when your mind is open to new ideas, and when your story can take interesting twists and turns that you didn’t anticipate. And if you didn’t anticipate them, it’s a good bet that your readers won’t either.

My What?

So…when someone asks you what your “special sauce” is it’s hard to know exactly what to say. Do they want my katsu sauce recipe? Do they want the password to the secret underground culinary fight club? Are they coming on to me? Who knows.

I bet he knows.

But if the question is what makes my stories sound like me…well that’s a difficult question to answer. I’d like to think that my nerdy and off the wall humor is my signature thing but not all of my stories are humorous — my poetry definitely isn’t. Plus I’m not the only author who tells those kinds of jokes so I still couldn’t claim that it’s mine and only mine.

So what is my signature bit? Well…the best way I can think to describe it is to say that it’s like Doctor Who. Every Doctor has their own thing. Sometimes it’s as simple as a signature outfit, sometimes it’s a catchphrase like allonsy or Geronimo, and sometimes it’s jokes about eyebrows that can be used as bottle openers. While other times it’s a story line that makes you think. It’s that last one that I think if anything is my “special sauce” it’s that. When I write my stories, whether it’s a novel or a short story, I try to put in something that’s going to make the reader think and ask themselves if they would have done the same in that situation…followed by a pithy break the tension. Just kidding. I do it two pages later…and only on Saturday nights.

But of course this is all conjecture since only Mr. Shooty McBangbang knows what the question really is.