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.