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Last Week’s Lesson–Row 80 Check-in

Last week was kind of hectic for me. I’m a bit rebellious by nature. And while I love the structure that comes with setting goals, I have to be flexible in the way I pursue them. I read a lot of books on self-discipline and productivity last summer.  They were helpful in many ways, but they also drilled into me this rigid way of doing things. Being rigid, I’ve learned, leaves me railing against guidelines that were put in place to help me. The week’s theatrics have left me with this lesson–

This is my path; I get to make the decisions.

With all the writing advice out there, sometimes it’s hard not to wobble to and fro trying to keep up with it all. It is absolutely exhausting trying to read every blog or book that’s recommended. Or trying to match my way of doing things up with some successful author validated routine. I have been making myself crazy.

I found myself on Amazon the other day looking through books that were recommended to me and discovered that I was completely unmotivated to read them let alone buy them. They’d just become more shoulds on a list that I’m already working to shorten. I’m choosing to spend more time doing the activities that I want to do and the ones that I feel will benefit my writing the most. I am officially in charge.

On to goals:

The writing is still going well. I haven’t missed a day. I’m thinking that 250 will probably become my permanent test mile number. It seems that I can bang out that number no matter what. I’ve tried 500 words before and found that I tend to miss a few days. I used to write 250 word articles for a website. I think that I’m so used to that word count that it is second nature at this point.

I haven’t done any novel analyzing work since Wednesday, and I’m okay with that. Of all the goals I’ve set for myself, it is the one that gives me the most grief. And to cut down on that angst, I’m letting go of the time frame I set for myself. I’m not adjusting it. I’m scrapping it altogether. The funny thing is I’ll probably get it done faster because I’ve stopped pressuring myself.

Story Engineering is getting it’s due. I’m not a fast reader in general, but craft books, especially the good ones, tend to be slower reading for me. Still loving it though.

And I’ve picked up Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind which is another hulking fantasy book. I’d been putting off reading it trying not to take too much time from (you guessed it) novel analyzing. I start to get weird when I’m not reading fiction, weirder when it’s because of some self-inflicted torture. Sooo…

I hope all is well with you guys. Happy ROWing! Until Wednesday.

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The Power of the Reread

I’ve never really been one to reread books,even when I LOVE them. There are copies of books that have been sitting on my shelves for years. I look at their spines, and the memories of reading them make me smile: Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, too many others to name. I’ve just never had the urge to crack the covers of these books again.

This week I found myself rereading a book I read fairly recently, Laurell K. Hamilton’s A Kiss of Shadows. I’d checked it out for my roomie, but she never got to it. I don’t know if it was the looming deadline or the fact that I don’t own the book  that made me go there. But I did. Two days before it was due back at the library, I found myself sucked back into Merry Gentry’s world. It was almost as if I hadn’t been there before. The juicy parts were still juicy. The funny parts were still funny. And my mouth still fell open at the jaw-dropping parts. Good times.

Still, there were quite a few new experiences as well. I was able to give the book a much closer reading. Of course, there were things that I completely missed the first time. But I was more intrigued by looking at the writing from a technical standpoint. I got a much better grasp on how LKH weaves description and backstory into her work. I became aware of the subtle, but effective foreshadowing that was lost during the first read. And then there was steady building of characters without slowing the pace of the story. All good lessons. Hmm, I’m thinking I should break open some other oldie-but-goodies and see what I can learn.

The Greyhound Goldmine

Last week, I traveled from Atlanta to Savannah to visit my family. It was a lovely visit, but what’s fresh on my mind is how I got there and back. I rode the Greyhound for the first time in my life. When my mom first suggested it, I was not happy at all. Ugh. I was very resistant indeed, but I knew it was the best way to travel under the current circumstances. So, I decided to suck it up and do it. I’m glad I did.

The Atlanta bus station was well, a bit dingy. I got there at nine in the morning and it was already packed wall to wall with people. I could barely move from one spot to another without sidestepping a person or their belongings. After picking up my ticket and checking my bag, I found myself a spot. Of course, no seats were available. I crammed myself into a standing space as close to my departure gate as possible. Then, I watched. And listened.

The round trip produced all kinds people. So many stories. So many character traits to use. I saw a woman in her pajamas shuffling two kids and three bags. A gay couple cuddled in seats across from me. Both men wore acrylic nails with faux diamonds on the tips. One had braids so old that the natural chevron pattern of the interwoven  hair had worn smooth. An older Australian couple had toured Savannah and took the bus to Atl to catch a plane. Another group discussed their probation officers and gave each other tips on how to avoid them. A trio of barely legal guys traded stories of sexual conquests from MILFS to threesomes, all of which sounded highly embellished.

All in all, the trip was more than entertaining. It was productive. I realize that the more I limit my own experiences, the more I limit my writing. You have to go out and interact with society. I am a natural introvert in many ways, and I am comfortable being at home. And though I’m not interested in riding the Greyhound on a regular basis, I am willing to open myself up to new experiences. You just never know when you’ll find that detail you’ve been looking for to make a character or story.

Angry Motivation

I was alone in the kitchen, standing over a sink full of dishes. My hands moved automatically as I washed away the remnants of that night’s dinner. Then the shrieking started. My name called over and over. I ran down the hall into my roommate’s room. I found my bestie sitting on her bed with a book in her lap, Undead and Unwed by Mary Janice Davidson. She did not look happy.

“Let me read you something,” she said, spastically waving the paperback at me. I agreed and sat down on the floor next to the foot of her bed. She proceeded to read me a few pages. When she finished, she folded her arms and waited with an expectant look on her face.

She seethed, but I couldn’t tell what caused such a reaction. I had read three pages of the book in question myself, five or six if  you include the ones she’d just read to me. Admittedly, I find the main character vapid and utterly annoying, but nothing that pushed my buttons to that point. She was through waiting. “What do you think about that?”

The passage included a section that could be construed as racist . But neither one of us tend to respond to such things that way. So, I just asked what upset her so much. She harped on a particular sentence , one that she felt was a disclaimer of sorts.  She went on and on about the author inserting herself into the story. The rant ended with “This is crap! I can do better.”

And that was the bottom line. My bestie is a writer too. She was pissed to see something in print that was less than what she believes she could produce herself. She was completely fired up about it. In fact, I hadn’t seen her believe in her own writing so strongly before.

I just smiled. I had a similar moment a few years ago with Twilight of all books. I watched the movie and was left feeling a bit underwhelmed. So, I decided to read the books under the delusion that they would be better. Ha! I didn’t even make it halfway through the first one. I also tried to read Stephanie Meyer’s The Host just to make sure it wasn’t the storyline of the series that I was reacting to. Yeah, well, didn’t get very far into that book either.

It was Meyer’s writing. I hate it. But I will be forever grateful to the woman. If someone who writes like that can build such a humongous readership, then there’s nothing to stop me from doing it too. If someone like that can get published in the first place, then I need to start cranking out manuscripts. No disrespect to Stephanie or the Twihards of the world. It’s just not for me.

However,  Meyer’s work made me realize that I needed to get out of my own way. I had to stop talking about it and start writing. I let the anger I felt morph itself into drive. It became motivation to learn craft, motivation to work hard, and trust that I could it.  I hope that my bestie channels that fervor and new-found belief in her own ability into some great stories.

Two Weeks In

It’s been two weeks since I’ve committed myself to daily writing. And I actually have written every day. Writing time has ranged from five minutes to an hour and a half. I’m not so focused on how much time I’m spending just yet. For now, it’s just important that I get used to committing at least some time to writing on a daily basis. If it really only takes twenty-eight days to create a new habit, then I’m half way there. That’s promising. Once that first twenty-eight days is over, I’ll focus more on the amount of time.

Also, I finished off the Merry Gentry series this week, at least until the next book is released. I believe that’s scheduled some time this year. So, it’s on to Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings. That book is a thousand and one pages. I’ve checked it out twice and the librarian has stared at me uncomprehendingly both times. Yes, yes, it’s a lot of reading. And while I can appreciate the book, I can’t see myself writing something that length. Nevertheless, I read it because it’s good. I read it because Brandon Sanderson is a master world builder and strong in craft. I read it to see how it’s done. I guess I could have told her all that, but I didn’t see the point.

Jack of All Trades or Master of One

“Third person isn’t my thing. I like first person narration.” Laurell K. Hamilton

Since I’ve been enamored with all things Laurell K. Hamilton lately, I decided to watch some videos of her on youtube. In one, she gave the statement above. It kind of implied that she sticks with what she likes best and that got me to thinking. Most of the writing teachers I’ve encountered, books I’ve read, even other writers I talk with all recommend the same thing. That is, work hard, learn every aspect of craft. But here’s a highly successful, talented author who doesn’t bother with what doesn’t ring her bell. Now I’m sure LKH could crank out excellent work in third person if she wanted, but the point is she doesn’t want to.

Some writers are just better at certain things than others. One of my friends writes the best descriptions that involve all the senses. They aren’t flowery, but they are thorough in way that just feels forced when I try to write that way. My writing is much stronger in pacing and clarity than hers. I know that its important to push yourself and to keep as many tricks of the trade at your disposal as possible. But I’m  starting to see that finding your voice is also about playing to your strong suits as well. Maybe mastering the tools you are most proficient at is a better strategy than taking on ones that don’t feel as natural for the sake knowing it all. Note to self: Be less serious, have more fun.

Discipline isn’t a dirty word

Here’s the realization: I’ve never truly developed the writing habit. 

Though  I’ve been writing  for nearly my entire  life, it was something I did when the mood hit me or when I had a deadline. When I took my first creative writing course in college, my professor, bless his heart, was adamant about writing every day. I think this is the case with most writing teachers. We read Wild Mind by Natalie Goldberg. He wanted us to listen to Mozart, to write in the same place every day at the same time, and to increase the length of the sessions over time.  And I tried hard to accommodate him during that semester, but the process never stuck, especially the Mozart.

Of course, I saw the wisdom in developing a practice back then, as I do now. There’s no way I’m going to write a novel or build a writing career without one. I’d hoped NaNoWriMo would help me build that practice. Now I’m thinking not having that practice already established may have been what ultimately killed my NaNoWriMo in the first place.

I have a tendency to rush things, to get way ahead of myself, and then get surprised when I find myself overwhelmed. It’s a surefire setup for failure.  I envy people who figured out what they wanted to do early in life, and started honing those skills while still very young.  And I envy people who can see the finish line and honor the journey it takes to get there. I see where I want to be and try everything but the straight, and seemingly lengthy, path to it.  The time has come for me to embrace  the ever slow, yet productive baby step.

So, my first toddler step is to just sit my ass down and write (gasp) EVERY day. Excuses are already running through my mind. I can feel a big ball of rebellion turning in my stomach. But the sooner I stop slacking off and letting myself off the hook, the sooner I can reach my goals. Discipline doesn’t have to be a dirty word. It isn’t.

The Merry Gentry Series

So, my bestie and I were roaming around our local library looking for new reads. I’d found a couple of things in the stacks that looked fairly promising. As I walked over to the lounge section to sit with my gal pal, I noticed a book called Divine Misdemeanors. I read the synopsis, then passed the book  to my friend. We like fairies. We like detectives. Sounds like a go. There were two copies, and we each checked out one. We are our own little book club after all.

Got the book home and read chapter one. Looked up the series, realized I had book eight of eight,  and promptly put it down. Put book one on hold, and boy was I glad I did.  A Kiss of Shadows was quite the cracky experience, highly addictive.

If you’re put off by sex or violence, then this is not the series for you. There is more than a fair share of both. I didn’t even realize that it was categorized as erotica until I had already lovingly dubbed the series “fairy porn.”  Of course there is much more to it than that, but you’ve just got to love a girl with a harem. Sigh.

Laurell K. Hamilton does a good job of totally immersing the reader into a new culture. It’s fast paced and thoroughly detailed at the same time. It’s lovely and imaginative. You add politics, prejudice, and novelty to the sex and violence , and well, it’s just hard to put down. I’ve read the first three books in a about a week and a half. Picked up book four, A Stroke of Midnight, today. I’m sure I’ll be done before the weekend is out.

Writing in the New Year

We have reached the resolution season, and while I don’t usually make resolutions per se, I do tend to use this time of year to take stock of where I am in my life. Am I doing the things that make me happy? Am I living in a way that supports my dreams? What can I do differently to make shifts in my life? Then I use the answers to recommit to living my life on purpose.

Last year I made a vision board of what I want to accomplish in my thirties. Looking at it every day keeps me focused. So, writing is always at the forefront of my mind. In the last year, I’ve read a ton of books on craft. I’ve got notebooks full of notes. And I’ve continued to read, read, read all the fiction I could get my hands on. Some of it I loved, and some of it, not so much. Nevertheless, it all came from the commitment to learn what I wasn’t learning in graduate school.

This year’s commitment is to apply what I’ve learned. My new mantra is “Write, write, write.” My New Year’s Eve was exactly what I needed it to be. Instead of going to Peach Drop or to a party, watching tv, or meditating, I sat down and wrote. No countdown. No fireworks. Just the stroke of keys at stroke of midnight. Oh yeah, and a glass of champagne. Happy New Year!

And since the post a week 2011 challenge serves my new commitment so well, I’ll be doing that too.