Does the word “research” give you the shivers? Dark memories of term papers or visions of endless numbers and figures? Well, it’s the first Friday of June (already!), and A Drift of Quills is here to show you what research means to fiction writers!
“My name is Robin and I am a member of Researchers Anonymous…”
I blame it on my mother. I read a lot when I was a little girl. When I’d come across a word I didn’t know, I’d ask Mom what it meant. She invariably sent me to the dictionary.
A hundred years later (okay, not quite a hundred…) I find myself somewhat suspicious of her motivations. Did she actually (sometimes) not know the definition? Or was that just her way of making me an independent, curious wordie?
A Drift of Quills is back on this beautiful First Friday! This month we’re talking about tough writing challenges we’ve faced, and how we’ve resolved them. And—we’ve got a guest! We’re so pleased to welcome P.S. Broaddus, who has recently released his debut middle-grade fantasy novel.
My partners in this month’s endeavor will probably not be glad that I’ve procrastinated writing this until the last minute (I have a laundry list of excuses reasons!), but it’s given me the opportunity to get a sneak peak at what they’ve chosen to write about.
My calendar says a book review is supposed to go in this spot. Oops?
I’m reading a book! Actually, I’m reading three. Chronologically, the first one I started is not holding my attention very well, which is why #2 happened. However, the offer a free ARC leaped into my lap (You might have seen it in my Teaser Tuesday posts here and here…). It came with a “read by” date, so it elbowed #1 and #2 aside.
Aaaand I haven’t finished it. It is hovering on the brink of landing in my DNF pile.
In the meantime, there’s been Spring. (Yay! Warmth! Buds! Birds! RAIN!)
There’s been a (feeble) attempt to organize some of the messes I’ve collected.
And there’s been writing.
Yes, it’s true. I know it’s hard to believe at this point, but I am plugging along like a veritable herd of turtles.
I finished the first draft of Book 1. I dove into Book 2.
What Do You Mean, “Epic”?
I’ve contemplating turning the whole thing into one book, and I swivel back and forth crazily on the final decision. In the meantime, since Book 2 is so intimately connected to Book 1, I’m writing it separately.
The entire story is long.
I like long books! My friends like long books! The names of a few epic fantasy authors immediately leap to mind—And if we each made a list we’d probably get at least one duplicate!
“So it seems that I’m far from being the only Epic Fantasy writer struggling with a high word count.”
I want the “epic” part of my novel to be about its awesomeness, not its awesome size, so I still need to carve out the fat.
In that same article, Ms. Castellan gives a great example of how it really is possible to put your book on a diet that will make it shine like a star:
“YA Epic Fantasy author Sarah J. Maas did just that with her 240k-word novel Throne of Glass back in 2008. And guess what? She got rejected. She did eventually get an agent with her manuscript at 145k words. And guess what? She got rejected by editors. Throne of Glass was finally published in August 2012, with a final word count of… a little over 100K words.” (Read the entire article here)
I feel encouraged!
Bookending for the Wordy
I was recently reading some things online about story structure, and one of the authors talked about how the beginning and the end must serve as bookends for the middle. The beginning inevitably leads to the end. They nest each other. (Sorry, I do not remember who to give the credit to! Link me up if you have the answer!)
This reinforced other advice I’ve read. My beginning was good (but not great). I’d written the end—and it’s very pretty, but it’s very soft. Not at all what I’d like out of it. Ugh.
So I mulled that over as I was going to sleep one night. (BEST thinking time—if I can remember my great ideas in the morning. Yes, I know, I need something to write on by the bed, but I’m lazy, and Hubby would not appreciate me turning on the light twenty-seven times in a row as he’s trying to fall asleep.)
Much to my delight, I remembered what I’d been thinking. I ran to my computer first thing the next morning and banged out the New and Improved Chapter One, and scribbled notes for the New and Improved Ending Chapter (the poor, sad thing has no number yet).
My writing partner says, “I like it! A lot better than the previous opening, actually. Surprisingly, because I liked that, too. It’s tight, serves the purpose of introduction well and gets rid of the distractions.”
It also whittled long three scenes down to one shorter one and took a chunk out of the scene that follows.
Just the other day I wrote here on the blog about writer’s block, and it just so happens that I penned a short tale about that very subject a few years ago. I was poking through my files today when I ran across it and I thought, “Aha! Serendipity!”
I hope you enjoy! If you like it, I would love to hear your feedback. Just leave a comment below, email me, or comment via Twitter or Facebook.
BY ROBIN LYTHGOE
Such a small whisper couldn’t even begin to penetrate the weighted air holding the room in thrall. Dust motes made timid forays into the single, narrow beam of light sidling in through a clerestory window. Books—beautiful, enchanting, influential, fabulous books—crammed the shelves from floor to ceiling. They teetered in stacks on chairs and on the floor. They balanced along the window ledge. Every one of them had assumed the tight-lipped silence of a group of curmudgeons. Traitors they, refusing to offer even the slightest, most fragile means of escape. Even the glorious maps of places far and near, real and imagined, curled away from their duties. Mute. Contrary. Continue reading Deliver Me: A Short Story→
Writer’s block… Cue the soundtrack for ruination and doom! The very phrase conjures dread, and it’s the rare writer who hasn’t experienced it. Days, weeks, months—even years of being unable to think of something to write or being unable to finish a work already in progress.
I can’t say I’ve never struggled to write, but rather than thinking of it as a disease I’ve been struck with or the desertion of my muse, I’ve come to the conclusion that “writer’s block” is all in my head.
Writer’s Block: It’s Attitude
I still laugh at the source of the revelation: Richard Castle. (You know, the guy from the television show “Castle”! Nathan Fillion, anyone?) It’s become my number one way to deal with uncooperative words:
I don’t believe in writer’s block. I believe in writer’s embarrassment. That’s when you’re so embarrassed by the horrendous drivel you’re writing that you can’t bear to see it on the page. After all, you can always write something. I’ve discovered that giving yourself permission to write poorly is the gateway to writing well. It may not be good, it may not make sense, but that’s okay. After enough pages of meaningless drivel, your brain will uncover something interesting, and before you know it, you’re off and writing again.
I’ve also discovered that writing about why you can’t write allows you to discover what’s holding you back. Once you know what’s holding you back, you can face the problem and solve it.
So if I’m struggling with What Comes Next in whatever I’m working on, I just write STUFF. I write about feeling uninspired, uncreative, and un-secure (yes, it’s supposed to be “insecure,” but that doesn’t match the other UNs). And after I have myself a little rant, I branch off into writing about the story situation. What’s the main character doing? What’s he supposed to be doing? How is he stuck and what are some ways he could get un-stuck? How’s the antagonist viewing the circumstances? What does he want at the moment, and why?
That’s usually enough to get my brain in gear again, but sometimes my creativity needs to be rejuvenated rather than given a jump start.
You know how the ubiquitous “they” say that variety is the spice of life? It’s true.
Sure, I can scribble some drivel, then dive into the real work of writing, but I’ve discovered that I write better—more words, stronger images, finer sentences—if I exercise my creativity in another direction.
Just like physical exercise, you can’t just constantly focus on one part of the body without wearing it out, making it tired, or otherwise giving it stress.
So what do I do?
I read (Four or five books, at least!)
I create images in Photoshop (Let’s call that “doing artwork”)
I clean things
I went on vacation once, but then I had to recover… Heh. I like vacations, but they tend to derail my writing rather than infusing it with interesting stuff. Weird, I know…
My go-to de-stressers are easily available. They engage my brain in different ways. Or, in the case of cleaning, they leave me free to let my imagination wander. Whichever one I pick, I stick with it until I’m bored or until that magical moment when I have to get back to my story.
Then I put everything else away and write like a crazy woman!
The key for me is to keep it simple.
Don’t stress about not doing any actual word-count collecting writing. Stressing makes it worse.
Enjoy the side view. A writer is always writing, even when she’s not sitting in front of the computer typing.
“A writer is always writing, seeing everything through a thin mist of words..always noticing.” ~Shirley Jackson
Your characters are always there in the back of your mind. You’re always listening to conversations or watching reactions. You’re always looking at things—perfectly normal things!—and sliding them into your story. The news, gossip, or a line from a show can become the perfect solution (or obstacle) for a scene.
It’s okay to leave the story for a minute or an hour—or however long it takes to slough off the blahs. Caveat: Plan to come back to the story. Don’t let your road trip move you into a completely new state.
Writing is simple—but it’s not always easy. There are some days when the sheer number of details crash over me like an ocean wave and take me down. Those are the days when I need the advice of authors who’ve been on this journey themselves; when I need to remember the horizon and not just the minutiae of dealing with adverbs, word counts, voice, grammar and punctuation, filter words, and seemingly endless literary jellyfish.
On the wall right across from my desk I have two tall shelves stuffed with books. I like books, so it pleases me just to see them sitting there, old friends and new. But on those days those books stand as a testimony. Somebody wrote these. I can write, too…
Welcome! It’s the first-Friday-of-the-month again! A Drift of Quills is talking about what makes us write — and we’ve got a guest today. We are so pleased to welcome H.M. Clarke, author of a variety of books ranging from fantasy (yay!) to sci-fi, to paranormal. She writes a lot, and now we’re going to find out why!
H.M. Clarke Author of The Way to Freedom series, The Kalarthri, and Winter’s Magic Haley’s website
What makes me write?
Oh, that’s easy. The little blue imp with the electric cattle prod makes me.
Well, not really, but that is what it feels like sometimes. Especially when you are not in the mood to put pen to paper, but then your conscience digs at you to move your butt and get writing or else.
But seriously, I would dearly like to give a flowery response that will be made into a Twitter/Facebook graphic and get posted everywhere for the next twenty years… But I can’t. What I have to say is not really inspirational or mind-blowingly philosophical. It is in fact quite the opposite.
What makes me write is determination, lots of hard work and the bull-headedness to think – ‘There, I’m doing it and I don’t care what people think about it.’ (Well, actually that’s not true. I’m a writer after all, with a writer’s ego. Please tell me you like my work…)
What makes me, and many other writers write, is the need to get stories that I actually want to read and get involved with down on paper. That is really the crux of it. What keeps me writing is the determination and hard work that I mentioned before. Determination and will power is what drags writers out from the immense pool of wannabe authors and makes then actually dry off and finish something.
Writers write; the rest talk about it.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
My Two Cents
What makes me write? There should be an easy answer for that question. Something uncomplicated. “Because I must” is woefully inadequate. It only prompts more questions. I write because… I grew up surrounded by stories, immersed in stories. I dreamed them by night and played them out by day. They penetrated my blood. And I embraced them. I cannot even begin to imagine my life without writing. I am head-over-heels, passionately in love with writing. With the symphony of words, the tangle of emotions, the twist of action and reaction, the incredible possibilities of creation.
But, like any other occupation/obsession, it is not always easy.
Some days I am grateful to manage a word count of a couple hundred. On others, I fly on the wings of thousands. Some days I search my mind, heart and soul for the right words, the ones that mean something; because they are not merely words, they are articulations of hope, fear, excitement, pain, despair, love… It is exulting. It is exhausting. There is, for me, no middle ground. It would be boring if there were.
Like anything worth doing, it takes (as Hayley pointed out) dedication and will-power to make writing work. To get all the way to the end of a book — and keep going. This is not an easy path to take, but oh, how rewarding it can be…
My reason for writing today differs from what it was when I set out to write my first book, Oathtaker. Although I’d done a fair amount of creative writing back in the day, it had been some time since I’d taken pen to hand (or fingers to keyboard, as the case may be), to tell a tale. My “day job” requires that I write on a constant basis, and I’ve been at that for . . . quite some while. But legal writing is altogether different from creative writing. So, what was the impetus at the outset of my journey? Quite simply, I had to see if I could do it.
This is Rockin’ Robin, coming at you live from — um — Well, I’ve been happily busy in the land of Tairenth, writing my fingers to the nubs. So … I’m late getting this post written because I completely forgot about it!
I have a pretty good excuse. Really! In fact, I have a few of them:
I’ve been hard at work revising The Sharpness of the Knife, Book One of Journeys of the Sira Na. I am making steady progress, but it feels slow. I want to say it’ll be out before Christmas, but I wouldn’t advise any breath-holding. Feel free, though, to do some cheering, sending of good vibes, or whatever other practices you believe might speed things along. Chocolate in my mailbox is also quite acceptable.
The revising job doesn’t produce words in bulk. I am in two group challenges that require (you guessed it) a certain word count. The Fantasy Sci-Fi Network only requires 100 words a day, and I can usually manage that while editing in spite of all the subtraction I’m doing at the same time. My 500 Words is obviously a little more demanding. So when my numbers are looking particularly dim, I hop over to Book Two of the Journeys and whip out a few paragraphs for The Mage’s Blade. Woohoo! More progress!
I’m also working on polishing up and preparing a new FREE short story for my fabulous fans. It should be available within the next week. Stay tuned!
I’m tidying up my website. Shortly after I returned from Hawaii I managed to completely break the WordPress side of things. My back-up plug-in didn’t back anything useful up. The folder I exported was empty. That was fun. (Not!) Older posts are still looking a little ragged, but I’m still plugging away at the task. I would much rather work on my book, so the website tidying happens when I feel like it (which is irregular at best)!
And that’s enough about me.
For you writers out there (or for you readers that like to see what your favorite authors are doing and how looooong until they’re done with their next book), there is a great little WordPress plugin campaign bumping around over at Kickstarter. It’s called “MyBookProgress,” by Author Media, and it — Well, go take a look at it. It’s fantastic. I’ll wait.
Are you back now? Great!
Isn’t it cool? There’s only one week left to fund it. I hope you’ll think about chipping in or passing the information on to the authors you stalk follow. Tweet it, FaceBook it, Reddit it, Instagram it, Google+ it — you get the idea.
So there I was, innocently typing along — and monkey wrenches started flying!
I grumbled when I put up my dukes, but I didn’t flinch. No, sirree, Bob! STUFF happens, and sometimes a body just needs to knuckle down and buckle down and do it.
Then one of the wrenches hit me in the head. Ouch!
Let’s back up a little bit. Before I went to Hawaii (I won’t say how long, but it was a while…), WordPress decided it would only publish some of the new pages I wanted to add and it would look the other way for the others. There they were, sitting in my list as pretty as you please, but every time I tried to actually go to it, the site would wave an error page in my face and giggle like mad. All the Googling in the world didn’t turn up a solution that would work, and I tried all but one. Well, two, but who’s counting?
After the vacation, I buckled up and prepared to get down to business. I tried The One.
It broke my website.
But only the WordPress part, so that was something positive. I’d installed a backup plugin, so everything would be shiny in a minute. I even used the plugin to back up my posts. Yay!
Only … the folders with my posts in them were all empty as could be. Ranting and raving didn’t fix a thing, but scrapping WP entirely and re-uploading it did. (That was solution #2.) And hey! WP and my preferred (default) theme were upgraded to boot! Woohoo!
No, it was boohoo. I still had the same problem with adding new pages. So I paid a visit to the WP help department at my website host. The tech couldn’t fix it. Neither could the next tech up the chain. So they created a ticket so they could work on it without me watching over their virtual shoulders and promised to email me when they’d worked the problem out.
That was on Tuesday. I visit the site now and then and see it in various stages of Crazy Sauce. I apologize for that, but STUFF HAPPENS! Funny thing — I chose one of the default themes because I imagined (silly me) that I’d have less trouble with it in the long run. One can dream, right?
In the meantime, I’m letting the good folks at GoDaddy take the ulcer medicine. And me?
I’m goin’ with the flow, man. I’m not fiddling, fixing, improving, plugging things in, taking things out, or any other much-needed site maintenance. In fact, I’m hopping back and forth between editing Sharpness and writing book two. So fun!
Good news! The first draft of the first book of my new fantasy series is done! I finished a few days ago; you may have heard me whooping with glee. Nicholas Sparks says that “Writing the last page of the first draft is the most enjoyable moment in writing.” It is pretty marvelous. But then we have Ernest Hemingway proclaiming, “The first draft of anything is $#@%,” and I have to laugh, because in this case that’s true, too. My manuscript is peppered with comments and notations I must edit. Some of them are easy fixes (NameThisGuy), and some of them are going to require research or brainstorming. Fun, right? My sister says, “To edit is to right.” Ha! Love the play on words!
More good news — I’ve started working on the second book in the series. Interestingly, doing that has exposed some things in Book #1 that need to be tweaked, but hey — it’s in the rewriting-slash-editing stage, so this is a good thing.
So does this series have a name? Why, yes it does! Journeys of the Sira Na.
Do the books have names? Amazingly, they do. The first is The Sharpness of the Knife and the second is TheMage’s Blade. Both of them star a fellow named Sherakai, who I’ve mentioned before. In the world of second-guessing myself, I spent five minutes (okay, maybe 30 altogether) deciding to trash Sharpness and skip Blade altogether in favor of starting the story later in Sherakai’s life. Then I pinched myself (Ow!) and got back to business.
I know I’ve said this (or similar) recently, but it’s good to be excited about writing again!