Monday, January 26, 2015

You Got This

There are times, I believe, that we all think, "Why am I doing this?"

Besides the fact that I love to write stories, writing isn't always fun storytelling and creating. It's rewriting, revising, and killing your darlings. It's going back after rewriting the entire novel four times and rewriting it again because it's not good enough yet.

Recently, I received some rejections on my first YA fantasy. I was bummed so I shelved it until I can get a fresh perspective. I switched gears and have honed my focus on last year's NaNo novel. BUT. Doubtful feelings still creep up when I read a spectacular book. I think, "I can never write a book this good." And I'm probably right.

I couldn't have written that beautiful book because someone else already did.

My writing won't be the same as anyone else's. It will be mine.

This weekend I went to one of my family's favorite parks and saw something new. Something that encouraged me to stick with what I love. To never give up. To keep pressing the boundaries of words and stories.

A wonderful, creative Canadian sculptor, Eric Lapointe is featured right here in Texas! These are a couple of the sculptures featured on the park trails near my house. Super cool, right?

It's a... 

My son getting a glimpse of...
Neuschwanstein Castle!

This was such a lovely treat for me and my kids. When I got home, I googled Eric and truly enjoyed his artistic profession quote:

"Through my work, I rebel against the evidence that clouds our ability to question our habits. I try to give things perspective, to take my subjects out of their ordinary aspect in order to reveal their hidden reality."

So be encouraged writer of tales and artist of words! Look beyond your current perspective like so many other writers have in our past and press on! 

You got this.

Please share your thoughts with us! Have you sunk low after a rejection? How did you cope? What has encouraged you to keep on writing?

Sunday, January 18, 2015

4 Tips To Get Your Story Back On Track

Every choice your character makes leads to whatever is going to happen next. As an author—the evil mustache-twirling mastermind behind the story – figuring out what that thing is will undoubtedly fall somewhere between semi-perplexing and bang head against the wall until your eyes cross. And it will happen over and over and over again, because what are stories if not a constant string of What Comes Nexts?

So how do we wade through the murky territory of story decisions without turning into Artax in the Swamp of Sadness—overwhelmed and despairing that we’ll never come up with a kick ass plot?

I won’t tell you that I know the 7 words that will make a woman love you* how to eradicate Swamp of Sadness Syndrome, but I can share a few tips that may help you out if your story gets stuck.

1)      Goals & Motivation.

In the current scene, what does your character want and why do they want it? This is the first thing I look at when my characters start bumbling around and the plot feels like it’s going nowhere. A good amount of the time, I’ve lost sight of what the characters want and why any of it matters. Making sure this is clear on the page and focusing your scene around it will go a long, long way toward getting things back on track.
2)      Conflict.

If you have lost sight of your characters goals and motivations, chances are there’s not a lot of conflict going on either. Things can’t really oppose your characters in a meaningful way if they aren’t actively working toward something. Once you’ve reacquainted yourself (and the story) to # 1, it’s a lot easier to find inherent conflicts to torture your characters with.

3)      Stakes.

Your characters can have a goal and firm motivations for achieving it. Things can stand in their way — even big scary things with lots of sharp teeth – but if your characters have nothing to lose if they fail, any conflict you establish will feel contrived. The reader won’t care whether the characters achieve the scene goal. So, if  you don’t a ton of work setting up Goals, Motivation, and Conflict but you feel like your scene is still falling flat, it might be time to reexamine what your characters have at stake if they fail and make sure that it’s coming across on the page.

4)      Putting it all together.

In my opinion, this can be the hardest part because on the scene level, there might be several options goals, motivations, conflicts, and stakes. If I’m going to get really, truly stuck, there is where and when it happens.

So how do you decide THE BEST course of action? If you’re anything like me, it’s right about now that you:

* stare at the screen
* write a few words
* stare anxiously at what you wrote
* pound the delete key
* gorge self on *insert favorite snack and/or wine here*
* wash, rinse, repeat, and/or decide that you totally suck at life and go watch TV instead
* sink into the Swamp of Sadness

Here’s what I’ve figured out, though. Your stuckness (yeah, I know stuckness isn’t a real word) isn’t for lack of NOT know what comes next. Which, is actually a pretty awesome problem to have, because nine times out of ten there are bunches of possibilities floating around in your head. I call this brain freeze. It’s a state of being overwhelmed by too many potential story paths, and the only solution is to sit down and sort it all out.  

This is when I bust out the pen and paper and move away from the computer. Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s time for the What If list.

I don’t why, but I have to write “What if…” before every idea I have, like a promise to myself that whatever I come up with is only a suggestion that I’m in no way obligated to run with. Now I’m ready to put it all down, bullet point style. What if character makes X decision? Then I note the possible outcomes. Or what about if she makes X decision instead? Then I note those outcomes. I do this for all the possible choices I can think up.

Next, I pick the most intriguing options and bullet point their consequences, conflicts, and what my character stands to gain or lose from making that choice. Eventually, I find myself with one or two options that really take off. Connections between what I’ve already written and what I’ve outlined for future chapters are made.

If, by the end of this process, there’s still more than one really good choice, I evaluate each based on steps 1, 2, & 3 in relation to the current scene and also the story as a whole. Which path aligns itself more closely to the direction I want the plot to take?  99.9% of the time, I’ve not only worked out what I need to happen next, but I can’t wait to start writing it!

*Bonus points if you get the reference and say so in the comments. J


Monday, January 12, 2015

Recharging the Creative Brain: TV and Movies

I will sing the praises of Netflix forever, and ever, and ever. Just meet a deadline? Binging on your favorite show is the perfect reward. In the middle of a deadline and your brain’s locked up and if you stare at that screen one more minute YOU WILL SCREAM? Please, just turn on Netflix. Please.

But. Is it possible that watching TV or movies is actually good for your creativity? I’m in the “yes” camp. As writers, reading refills the creativity well in an irreplaceable way (in my opinion). But actually seeing a story play out on screen brings its own form of magic. And it’s not always about the actual plot or premise of the show—sometimes it’s the relationships, or the settings, or the pacing, or the style of storytelling.

Examples, you ask? Gladly.

How to Get Away with Murder (ABC) quickly became one of my favorite new shows this past fall. The show used a unique style of storytelling, weaving flashbacks with present day events in order to keep us in suspense, while also building up to the big Whodunit reveal.

Supernatural is about demons and angels and monsters under the bed (literally), but what drew me into an auto-obsession was the relationship between Sam and Dean. The show also does an amazing job at showing that family isn’t always about blood.

And that brings me to Friday Night Lights. If you’ve ever asked me for a show recommendation, there’s a solid chance I mentioned this one. FNL is my go-to when I’m working on a Lewis Creek book, because it showcases so many things I hope to accomplish: the friends who become family. The teammates who always have your back. The mom who sits on the floor with her daughter, who's crying after her boyfriend leaves town. The beauty, and sometimes-ugly-side of small town life. And if you’re looking for parental inspiration for your YA family, Coach and Tami Taylor are quite possibly my favorite couple in TV history.

(“Will you take me to Philadelphia with you, please?” <-- This line. Watch the show and wait for this line. Trust me.)

Those are just a few of my favorites. Are there any shows or movies that recharge your creativity? Let us know!

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Resolution of Routine

Hi, January! Nice to see ya. I'm not really sure what happened to November and December. I vaguely remember NaNoWriMo writing sessions, wrapping presents, a few holiday parties, and now I'm sitting here with new slippers on my feet so I must have survived.

I don't think it's possible to approach the new year and not think about Future Self: our goals, obligations, and, maybe more uncomfortablea few moments of reflection. Free from the sparkly haze of the holiday season, I see all of my future obligations staring at me. They are waiting, eyebrows raised and tapping their feet. 

I feel the need for a little more structure. I think I’m ready to start implementing a routine.
I've never considered myself a very regimented person. Somehow just going with the flow seemed to work. But the duties of a parent-writer-person can, at times, multiply like rabbits. Yet the number of hours in the day remains the same. 

This year I'm embracing the planner. Not just weekly, I'm thinking daily. With two little kids and going back to work full time, I need the clarity/relief/sanity of seeing my day in black-and-white, outlined and ready to roll.

Not only will maintaining a planner help keep me organized, I think there's something motivating about seeing your goals written out. All those little jobs I keep pushing back until "later in the week", well, now I can see if I've accidentally planned seven things for Thursday AM before the kids get up. Because that's not happening. I need to delegate time for my WIP, for beta reading, blog writing, and of course, READING.

I also know myself, and I know the occasional deviations are going to happen. Some nights I will accidentally start binge watching Supernatural. Or one of my kids may need extra cuddle time after a lousy day.  But just attempting to get little more firm with my time will be a big change for this free-wheeling family. 

They say art reflects life, right? When I think about it, I was a total pantser while writing my first novel. Now working on its sequel, I've got most of that book outlined. So, here's to rolling with the times! As long as they're scheduled.  

Monday, December 22, 2014

Group Hug

If you've been following my posts, you already know that I quit querying my last project so I could focus on my WIP. A few weeks ago, something prompted me to send out a few more queries. I was pleasantly surprised when I received a full request. It's been a great few weeks of 'What Ifs' and 'Maybes', but alas, this morning I received a polite pass.

I had a blog I began a few days ago that I was supposed to post today. But after receiving the 'we didn't feel strongly enough about your project to take it on at this time' message, I kind of cracked. I don't know, I could blame hormones or 'Tis the Season. Regardless, I immediately posted my Woe is Me Message to my fellow RWers. Even during this crazy busy time of the year, they immediately responded with words of encouragement and support. I seriously wished I could reach through the screen and give each of them a giant hug.

So, instead of blogging about writing today, I instead decided to thank my AMAZING critique groups the Revision Warriors and the OWLS (Osceola County SCBWI). I LOVE you guys so much. Thank you for believing in me and for inspiring me each and every day.

If you are not a part of a critique group, I strongly recommend you join one. If you write children's books and are a part of SCBWI, contact your local branch for information on a critique group within your area. You won't regret it.

photo credit: JeremyHall via photopin cc

Monday, December 15, 2014

Staying Committed

Snowflake via Alexey Kljatov

The HOLIDAYS are upon us! With all that goes on with kids and their schools, work parties, friend parties, traveling, vacations, and the shopping, it's hard to stay focused and committed to writing and editing. Since NaNo, I've made many lofty goals for revising only to be waylaid by sickness, surprise family emergencies, and doctor visits. My goals have basically been dashed to pieces. Just looking at my to-do lists make me want to pull all my hair out.

Here are some helpful tips if you are experiencing the same kind of busy life and insane scheduling:

  •  Keep breathing. This helps a LOT. 
  • Count your blessings and remember that good things can happen! This makes a smile appear on my face. 
  • Divide and conquer! Instead of revising 10 chapters in a week, cut it half, and then maybe cut it in half again if need be. Stress is not a writer's BFF, unless it is. Procrastinators unite! 
  • Prioritize. Drop the extra baggage whenever and wherever possible. If it can wait, sneak 20 minutes of writing in! 
  • Practice focusing. As a mom, this can be difficult for me. I have noodle-brain syndrome and think of a million things at once. Try honing in on that ms by making a playlist or reread the previous couple of paragraphs to get your mind set on the words.
  • Ask for help! You'd be surprised how many people want you to succeed in your endeavors! Let them be a part of it by wrapping some gifts or picking up some stocking stuffers for you. Or ask for a night or two of peace and quiet as your holiday gift! 
  • Don't fret. Eventually, things get done. You'd be surprised how often I feel like I'm barely keeping my head above water and then it's New Years! We can do this! I believe in you!

So, dare I ask what your goals are during the holidays? Please share!

Happy Holidays!!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Winning NaNo (even when you fail)

For the first time in many years, I participated in NaNoWriMo, and in doing so I learned a little something. 

Let me start by saying that I had stayed away from NaNo in years past because every time I tried to reach my 50K word goal, I failed. And even though I knew that 50K in a month was a giant task, (and one year my town lost power for eleven days after a major Halloween snowstorm) it stung to not meet the goals I had set for myself, especially when so many others seemed to cruise right through to the end. 

I didn’t just fail. I felt like a failure.

Even though I didn’t really think about it in these terms, feeling like a failure is what kept me from trying NaNo again. And thus, I broke up with NaNo in a very it’s not you, it’s me fashion.

Fast forward a few years to NaNo 2014. I’m about 20K into a new WIP that I’m pretty excited about, and I decide that I want to give NaNo another try. Maybe it would be just the thing I needed to finish that all important first draft so I could start fresh with revisions in 2015. 

Of course, the first thing I do is tell my CPs. Apparently, the stars were aligned just right that day as I found out that all of us intended to participate this year. Yippee!! We all vowed to support and cheer for each other. We talked about our goals and how we planned on accomplishing them. This had me super excited and shot my motivation bar up to 11. 

Next, I made a plan.  I knew myself much better than I did during NaNo’s past, and so I came up with a plan that would give me the best possible chance to win. Monday through Friday, I was going to go to bed at 7:00 pm and wake up at 4:00 am every morning. That would give me two hours to write before I had to get ready for The Day Job. 

It was going to be AWESOME.

And awesome it was. For a time. However, November is a notoriously busy month for my family. As November flew by, I fell behind.  And behind. Aaaaand behind. That old familiar feeling crept it’s way into my consciousness. Despite my best efforts, I’m failing. Then, I’m a failure.

However, this year, a bigger part of my brain squashed that train of thinking immediately. Maybe I won’t write 50K new words, but I HAD written new words. Quite a few of them actually, and I was damn proud of those words. I also realized that not meeting a goal in a certain time frame was NOT synonymous with failure. It’s not even close. NaNo (as well as most other things) is not about winning or losing, or judging your achievement by another person’s progress. 

When I used a different perspective to consider what I had accomplished -- I  wrote way more in November than I had any other month in 2014 – then in reality, I kicked NaNo’s a$$. I was a word producing machine! My NaNo 2014 was a major success. 50K or not, I could feel good about what I'd done and look forward to doing it again next year. 

Thinking this way is motivating instead of discouraging and demoralizing. If you don’t try, you can never succeed, so never beat yourself up for trying. 

So, I guess the point to my story is this – be proud of what you’ve done, not what you haven’t yet accomplished. Give yourself credit for trying. Learn from your experiences and, in the end, do the best you can and allow yourself to feel good about it.