Wednesday, October 31, 2012

National Novel Writing Month

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) starts tomorrow.

The goal is to complete a 50,000 word novel in one month, which works out to writing approximately 1666.66 words each day (or a little more if you take weekends off). It's wild, it's crazy, you get to watch your progress - as well as that of your writing buddies, and more people are joining each year.

Here is their website:

If you're interested, check it out.

If you're wondering who in the world would be loco enough to do this, check it out.

If you always wanted to write a book and are feeling a sugar high or Halloween mania, drink some spider cider and sign up. You never know what might happen - maybe you'll get your happy ending . . .

And for everyone who is doing it this month, here's a shout out for you!

Go! Go! Go!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Why You Should Never Think You're Going To Be Rich And Famous

A friend of mine sent me this video recently. Maybe you've seen it:

RSA Animate-Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us from The RSA on Vimeo.

The basic idea is that when you offer a really big monetary reward for completing a difficult mental task, people get stupid. They can't do creative, high-level thinking very well. The stress and excitement probably interferes with their brain. We've all seen this. While we're sitting, relaxing in our living rooms and watching a game show we can remember all the answers to the million dollar questions. Why can't that idiot contestant do it? Well, it's because a million dollars is at stake. 

How does this apply to writing?

Unfortunately, there's a natural tendency to assume that writers become rich and famous because most of the writers we hear about are the rich and famous ones. Of course anyone who knows anything about the business knows that's not true, but the impression is still there because the writers we hear about most often are the ones who are rich and famous. Sorry, that's the way it is. It's the same way with people who win the lottery. The losers are never on the billboards, only the winners, so we get this impression that winning isn't so unusual. This "all authors are rich and famous" effect is even bigger for people who don't know much about writing. When my friends hear I'm working on a novel for children, they say, "Oh, so you're going to be like J.K. Rowling."

You wish.

So dig down deep inside and tear out any old, left-over roots of the idea that your brilliant masterpiece of a book is going to make your rich and famous. Not because that's impossible, but because if you're thinking it in the back of your mind, you won't do your best work.

This goes for ANYTHING you see as a big reward. Is your fat, juicy carrot a literary agent? A publishing contract? Ten thousand sales on Amazon? According to the research, carrots just get in your way when you're doing high-level creative work. Forget about your carrot. Tell yourself it doesn't matter. That's not really why you're doing this.

As Daniel Pink explains in his little video presentation, there are three things that people really want, three things they will do creative, high-level brain work for. The first is to be in charge of ourselves. We want the freedom to choose. Next, we want skills. We'll work hard to gain higher levels of expertise in anything that interests us. This is probably why I practice the harp for an hour a day so I can play with an Irish band that performs only four or five times a year for free at churches and libraries. What do I get out of it? Besides hanging out with friends, I'm getting good at something. Third, people want a sense of purpose. We want to be part of a greater cause, we want to make a difference in the world. This is probably why I spend all that time sorting and rinsing containers for recycling. It isn't exactly fun, but I feel like I'm part of a greater purpose.

So is this why I write?

I've certainly got a lot of freedom. At this stage of my career I can write whatever I want. As for skills, there is so much to learn about writing, so much to gain from constant practice, it's kept me happy for half a life-time and I expect it to do the same throughout my remaining years. Do I have a sense of purpose? I think back to the eleven-year-old girl I once was, who was constantly searching the library for a really good book, and the delight I felt every time I found and read one. I write because I want to make children happy. Well, happy, and sad, and angry, and worried, and scared, but then happy again at the end. Children need emotional exercise. I build emotional playground equipment called books.

So what's the external carrot that's tripping you up? Change your focus to the freedom you enjoy as a writer, the skills you're developing, and your sense of purpose. Those are things no one can give you or take away.

Monday, October 15, 2012

FNR or "Full Novel Review"

If you like to write, as I do, you may have at one point, participated in a Full Novel Review (FNR). A FNR is fun! If you haven't participated in a FNR, you must! Of course, you'll need some key ingredients for it to work well. Here's the recipe!

4-6 serious writers
1/2 - 1 WIP per writer
2-3 months to prepare
2-4 weeks to read
1 great setting to meet

Gather 4-6 serious writers. It works best if you are all part of the same critique group. And by serious, I mean serious about the craft, not necessarily "serious." Each writer must have a WIP that is at least far enough along to be completed in a couple to three months. Please note that a polished completion is not necessary. It can be rough!

Let writers simmer for 2-3 months so their WIPs can be ready MS. Spread WIPs around so all writers have a copy. Let bake for 2-4 weeks so all writers can read each MS. Each writer should prepare at least a 1 page critique for each MS.

Take critique pages and writers, and let cool in a nice setting. A cabin or condo in the mountains sounds nice! But even at someone's house. Bring real food.

Have each writer say good things and then talk about things that are issues to them in the MS. Spend 30-45 minutes on each MS.

I have gotten great feedback at the FNRs I've been to.

I highly recommend them!


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Battlefield Casualties, Hair, and Books

Leisha here.

Okay, so I was supposed to post last week. Ahem. Yes, I'm just a tad behind, but my week blew up.


What was left? Only all my good intentions strewn from Monday to Saturday like battlefield casualties. It was messy. Gory even. I tried to do triage, but a few good intentions died a tragic death. Sob.

So, here I am trying to make up for eviscerated intentions. In doing so I will talk about hair. Yes, hair.

I have hair. Pretty decent hair, even. But here's the thing, I'm kind of a competitive person. Not beat-you-up-if-you-win-at-Pictionary kind of competitive, mind you, just the I-want-to-win kind. Normally this isn't a problem unless I play Risk with my hubby. (That has only happened twice in twenty years for a VERY good reason. It was not pretty. Either time.) But I digress. Hair.

The other day my cousin and I were talking about her daughter's hair. Apparently it is thick and luxurious. I'm ashamed to admit I had hair envy. Mine is long and thick-ish, but, strangely and quite suddenly, I wanted my hair to be more thick and more luxurious and take bigger elastics to hold it back in a pony tail than my cousin's daughter's. See? Hair envy and competitiveness galore. And, yes, I may need therapy. Sigh.

Anywho, I, being a grown-up person, took a deep breath and admitted--out loud--that my hair wasn't as thick as my cousin's daughter's.

My cousin, who probably didn't know that I had been struck by competitive hair envy, went on with the conversation like nothing astounding had happened. BUT something astounding had happened.

"What?" I hear you say as you lean closer to your computer screen in eager anticipation.

This happened: My admission set me free.


From hair envy.

Go figure.

I,  strangely and quite suddenly, no longer needed to have better hair. I remembered I was very fond of my hair. I liked how it grew out of my head. I liked the color. I liked the thickness. I liked how long it was. I even liked to twirl it around my finger looking for dead ends in church when the speaker was boring.

I liked it just how it was.

Then an even more astounding thing happened, which my cousin probably didn't know about either. I realized I had book envy.

I wanted my book(s) to be better and thicker and yummier than every other book in the whole freaking world. I wanted it to appeal to everyone. In every genre. I wanted it to be loved by every age group. I wanted every agent to weep when they read it. I wanted editors to hear angelic trumpets when it landed in their in box. I wanted it to be the best book ever. And I even wanted all those other books to know it.

Competitive book envy.

Now, hair envy is dangerous. It can lead to all kinds of craziness, like wigs and baldness, but book envy is worse.  It can lead to dead ends, unfinished drafts, and traumatized critique groups. It can lead right to battlefield casualties of the literary kind. It can paralyze you, the writer, and keep you from writing your truth. It can keep you from seeing your book for what it is.

My book will never be the Great American Novel. It will never be Leo Tolstoy or Shakespeare. It won't ever be Brandon Sanderson, Brandon Mull, or Megan Whalen Turner. It will never be so many things because it was never meant to be those things. It was meant to be mine. My own. And I like it for what it is, even with all its flaws, and especially for all its potential.

Admitting that somehow set me free.

How about you? Have you been emancipated? Do you ever suffer from competitive book envy? Or hair envy? Or battlefield casualties?

How do you cope? What sets you free?