Monday, March 26, 2012

Rust and short stories

or "from the Amber that doesn't write too much"

I may share a name with our dear cabin girl, but I don't share her problem. Mine is that I have written very little in the past five months... or more like a year. Ever since last spring break, when I started to home educate my family.

Since that time, I get up every morning, stretch, and feel a slight creak. It's the rust. It creeps and spreads, chewing, gnawing, eating away at my writing implements. Ruining them! So when I finally get a free hour to write, I sit down and start oiling my tools with a little writing exercise, or I look over a tangle of partials, or write a (blog post), and before the tin man has said nary a word, something interrupts and the moment is gone.

And every day, it's a little bit worse.

Do you go through periods like this? Does the feeling resonate with you?

Well, I have found a satisfying way to keep my arsenal shiny and oiled: SHORT STORIES.


Yep. Now, I know short stories are not the enticing vixens that novels are. I have shied away from them in the past... it can be hard, particularly, to write a short story with a sci-fi/fantasy bend because you don't have much time for world creation. But short stories are great for exploring characters and situations. They give you a chance to create a satisfying arc, a cycle with a beginning and an end, something with emotional kick. All in just an hour or two!

Some of my shorts have been totally new ideas, a chance to test drive (before laying out 50k and finding out it stinks). Some have been shorts of longer partials I have laying around. Or self-contained scenes that don't fit in the main storyline. A short is a fantastic way of spotlighting a minor character that you love (or can't find a way to love) without letting them take over your novel manuscript.

So if you haven't written a short lately -- or ever -- here's your nudge. Write a complete short, say three thousand words, and see if it makes you feel just a bit more limber than before.

And then, if I didn't fear being called a hypocrite, I'd tell you to submit it! Or, at least, think about making it into a novel or screenplay.

Write on!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Honest Feedback

Crew-woman’s log: Week Nine in a Thirteen Week Writing contest

Ouch. My brain hurts. My pride hurts.

And I’m loving it.

This has been an interesting nine weeks.

On Mondays, we get our assignment – usually a 400-600 word scene in a specific genre. We’ve had dystopian, historical, mid-grade, romance, fairy tales – and even a paranormal haiku (think 5 words, 7 words, 5 words, zombies and no rhyming – so hard!), among others.

A few days later, we turn them in. On Thursdays, the entries are posted and the world gets to read them and vote.

That’s where the gold is. No, we don’t get to see the votes, but a few gloriously awesome people post comments.

To a writer, seeing what complete strangers think is GOLD. It’s honest feedback, because they’re judging purely on the merits of good writing.

I’ve been able to both read and vote on the other entries, and I love what I’m learning from everyone.

Each week, there are always several outstanding pieces. I get to analyze why they appeal to me. Yeah, it all basically comes down to setting, characterization, pacing, voice, and flow. A brilliant premise doesn’t hurt, either.

For me, writing a new specific piece week by week, knowing people will be reading and judging it, has convinced me to work hard. The times my entries are mentioned make all the hours and angst worth it. The times no one says anything, I get the message: my piece needs more elbow grease. Usually a lot more.

Bit by bit, I’m learning new skills in the finer areas of writing. Let’s face it; it takes a lot of effort to become (actually, to aspire to become) a J.K. Rowling or Suzanne Collins. But my weaknesses will remain and my potential won’t be reached without honest feedback.

The problem is that it hurts. Sometimes I’m fragile and don’t want to hurt. But then I hear my mother’s voice inside my head, shooing me out the door, making me go back to school to work for the ‘A’. (By the way, there’s no one more honest than your mother, right?)

So, mothers and writing contests aside, there are many ways to get honest feedback. I’d love to hear what you’ve done, and what you like best.

(Also, feel free to hop over to and click on Project Writeway to see the latest entries in this contest. I happen to know several crewmates here at the Cove have been participating - but we all use pen names, so have fun guessing.)

Friday, March 16, 2012

I Write Too Much

This is your cabin girl. It's my turn to post this week. It's actually a really good week for me to post. I just finished a first draft of my third novel-length manuscript. I've written all three in the past year and a half... of course I haven't edited any of them.

I don't know how long this one is because I wrote it in composition notebooks first, but I'm typing it up and it's over 100,000 words already. Longer than either of my other novel length stories.

Writing this story has really taught me a lot about myself as a writer. This is probably my best manuscript yet. It was also the hardest to write. It's the one I'm most self-conscious about, and part of me honestly didn't think I'd ever finish it.

I've been writing for four years now. And I'm still learning a lot. Here's some interesting things I learned about myself as a writer from this project.

Writing a novel in composition books definitely works for me. I was able to bring my writing everywhere and do it in my spare time during school.

I have a tendency to randomly kill off minor characters.

I should not leave my characters in impending peril they know about, then leave my notebook at home, then let them talk to me in my head.

I really have to be careful about letting other characters steal the show. Someone who wasn't my 'main character' ended up saving the day.

Sometimes, when I get stuck, I need my friends to suggest a random asteroid or a stampede of llamas.

I can definitely write creepy villains. I have one villain in this story who scares me, and I'm the one writing him.

Inventing another language and then having my characters speak in it is fun. But then it confuses my audience.

I never know when a story is going to work. Sometimes I think up a brilliant idea and expect to use it to write a whole novel, but then I only get a page or so. Sometimes I think up an idea, shove it in a closet, look at it again, shrug and say 'let's give this a try' and five months later, I have a 100,000 word novel. All the way through this story I expected to stop and never start again. I was shocked when I got to the end and I'd actually written the whole thing.

It is important to WRITE DOWN MY IDEAS! This story came from a combination of two dreams I had nine months apart. If I hadn't written the dreams down, I would not have remembered them, and I would not have written this story.

So yes, I'm proud of myself for finishing something this long. And it was a great learning experience. And I'm really excited to take it to a workshop this summer and see what other people who didn't already know me think about it.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Character Definition

When I first began to write stories, back in elementary school, I would always make up character sketches. I would jot down how old the characters were, how they looked, what their basic personality was. Favorite color, favorite flavor of ice cream, favorite animal, what their parents did, if they had any pets, siblings, or hobbies. It was part of the fun of creating the story.

As I got older I didn't like to do that anymore. It was too confining. A character is more than a list of traits! A character is a living, breathing, organic thing! Instead of creating character sketches, I would get to know my characters as I wrote. I would let them walk onto the stage and then I'd watch them to see what they'd do rather than starting out by making all the choices for them.

That method created a few really wonderful characters, ones that surprised and delighted me, but most of the characters that sprung up that way were living, breathing, organic balls of mush. They had no definition. I have one book I wrote, in first person, that I still haven't decided what the main character's hair and eye color ought to be. I spent a whole book with him, and I don't know if he's ever had any pets. It just never came up. But maybe it should have, and it would have if I'd known from the start.

So now I want to find a way to blend these two methods of character development. I love the crisp, sharp detail I get from knowing a list of traits, but I also want the characters to feel natural and to be able to change and adapt.

How do you create your characters?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A Visit from the PianoGuys

I'm really excited about my guest post on Mormon Mommy Writers about a chat session we had at BYU-Hawaii with the PianoGuys. And be sure and watch this video which they filmed while they were here on Oahu!

Amazing! How does that cello guy get his cello to sound like a ukulele?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Redefining Your Identity

This past weekend I dusted off the ol' printed portfolio, donned my grey crochet cliche beret and headed to a day-long SCBWI workshop.  Gulping down my fish-out-of-water trepidation, I sat reverently and listened as three successful illustrator and author professionals taught us how to be astonishing.  I'm not sure I'm ready to be astonishing just yet, but my mom-sabbatical is nearing an end.  I will soon only have one remaining child not in school all day, and I am at least ready to start gearing up for astonishing...-ness.

Among many great words of advice, there are two main things I thought I would share here as they will apply to you writers as well.  First of all, the great Will Terry spent a lot of time talking about the ways to take advantage of the technology we have today.  In particular, he focused on using social media.  He emphasized the importance of networking.  I'm a little loath to sacrifice my personal use of Facebook to my career, but he recommended that we do just that, using it as a forum for announcements, networking, and generating interest in your past, current, and upcoming projects.  He also said you've got to blog and do it faithfully.  If you don't post in a long time, you will lose your audience.  He also recommended doing how-to videos or interviews and post them on youtube.  Make yourself highly visible and searchable.  And absolutely have a website dedicated to your work.  As an illustrator, it's imperative that you have an online portfolio.  And slap your web address on everything.  You can even get one of those nifty scan codes that allow people with smart phones to go directly to your site.  Not sure where, but somewhere...

But the advice I loved best, because it is something I have long felt, was that we need to redefine ourselves as creators.  Don't pigeonhole yourself as an illustrator or an author or whatever it may be.  Think broader and include all aspects of your life and interests.  This will enrich your work and broaden your possibilities.  It will also keep you a more well-rounded person.

I first realized I needed to think of myself this way the first time I showed my future husband my art portfolio.  Up until that time, one of the first things I wanted people to know about me was that I was an artist.  I'm a little embarrassed to say that I even flaunted it.  But when my husband-to-be saw my art the first time, he didn't seem that impressed.  He flipped through the pages with nary a comment, and soon afterward we said goodnight.  I didn't know whether to rant or cry.  I felt like the attractiveness rug had been pulled out from under my feet.  If he didn't like me for my talents, how would I ever be able to keep him interested in me??  After some thought, though, I realized I didn't want to be loved for my talents.  I wanted to be loved for ME.  Which meant I needed to work on me even more than my art.  A wise friend once counseled my husband (who is a musician) to make sure that along with developing his talents he also develops his soul and character.  Otherwise his work will always be hollow, and it will be hard to hide that.

We are all creators.  In the words of Deiter F. Uchtdorf, "We each have an inherent wish to create something that did not exist before."  We all want to create a work of art that is great and memorable, but don't discount the many other ways you can create.  Some days it may be a casserole for your sick neighbor, and some days it may be a well ordered flower bed in your yard.  Some days it may simply be a smile, but don't ever feel like you are unfulfilled as a creator.  Just broaden your definition of who you are and what you are here to do.

And write or draw whenever you can.

Someone Else's Fairytale is FREE in Kindle format today!

Hello fellow pirates! (Actually, that may not be the best way to begin a post about a free ebook...) Someone Else's Fairytale is free today, March 1, 2012, on Amazon. This is all legal and legit. It's a promotion I'm running to celebrate the book making it into the top 1,000 Kindle books on Amazon, a very exciting moment for me this Monday.

So head on over and get yourself a copy. Send your friends on over. Don't hold back! As I type this, the book has just disappeared from its subcategory rankings - it was in the top 100 childrens books on Amazon, that includes both ebooks and paper books, and it was in the top 30 YA romances on Kindle. These listings apply only to paid books, though, so mine won't be eligible for them again until tomorrow. So it's a lonely little book without a ranking at the moment. Go help boost it up!