Old Dog; New Tricks; Any time Surprises

Kent District Library puts on writers conferences in Grand Rapids. I attended once before, spoke on marketing another time, and decided to go again this spring. Realizing the conference is mostly for newbie writers, and having nine books published, I wasn’t sure what I would get out of it. Then came the emails of the waiting list, and to let them know if we were unable to attend. I thought to give up my spot, but something compelled me to go, not for what I could get out of it, but what I could give to others.

The physical conference set-up was different from my other times. Attendees sat around tables, six per table. I sat with six strangers. Previously, we were packed in rows, where I only socialized with the persons on my right or left, and everyone was on their own for lunch. This time, all morning and during the provided lunch we six were able to get to know each other. One had never heard of critique groups. Connections and invites were made. Towards the end of lunch I finally confessed that I was published, but…and then I rambled a bit about the confusion between author Sandy Carlson (for my MG historical fictions) and author S. L. Carlson (for my YA fantasies). I gave them each my business card (I was the only one with any), but warned them my website needed some serious updating. From their feedback, I realized I ought to set up a separate website for S. L. Carlson. It meant additional research and work, but what an unexpected epiphany… coming from newbies! This old dog learned new tricks from young pups. I thank you! Woof.

The breakout session on podcasting was eye-opening-new to me as well. Yet another reason to attend writers conferences: to keep updated on the industry’s technology.

Keep on writing. Keep on learning. Woof-woof!

 

Be A Writing Example!

I’ve always been jealous of retired teachers who have taught in the same city for 30 to 40 years, and have former students come up to them, remembering them. We’ve moved around too much for that to have happened to me. But today there is the Internet. That changes the entire game. Or can.

A former student contacted me via Facebook. She asked if I was the Sandy Carlson who taught in her elementary school when she was in second grade. She was so impressed that I had a story published in Cricket Magazine that it inspired her to write. In high school, she finished her first novel. She has since finished college and has a job about 2000 miles from our school where we first met. And years ago, my husband and I moved about 1000 miles away from our school in a different direction.

Again, Yay for the Internet! And…boo for the Internet. Her message to me was buried for five years. (Shaking my bowed head in shame.) The good news is she is still interested in writing and still excited about her one particular book even after her one reject. 

I suggested some newbie-writer things to her, like attending a writers conference, joining a critique group, not fretting over a rejection, and then I asked if she wanted to exchange three chapters with me (as author equals), that I would be willing. She is. We will. 

I remember Moriah as an intelligent and observant child. I can’t wait to read her grownup chapters. Yay for the Internet. 

A Writer’s Obsession(s)

Whether a writer or not, we all have our obsessions. Here are my top three:

  1. Striving to be a better writer
  2. Giving self-rewards
  3. Balancing writing with “real life”

The ways to strive to become a better writer is first of all read; read within the genre you write and read without. You may also watch; while watching shows, dissect plot or character inconsistences so you won’t. Watch Korean dramas (e.g., W – Two Worlds, or Goblin) to catch unexpected plot twists and characters who pull you out of this world and straight into theirs.

There are writers conferences, books, courses, webinars, writer support organizations (like SCBWI, RWA, NaNoWriMo, etc.), and critique groups. Go to them, join them. Learn, grow, read, make connections.

Of course, to become a better writer, the absolutely top thing to do is to write. A lot.

Giving self-rewards works for many writers. You may write to a word count or within a time frame or have a goal by a certain date. When you reach major goals (e.g., finished with first draft, or ready to send to agent, etc.), treat yourself to a rare and special treat for this milestone.

Balancing writing with “real life” is the trickiest. There may be obligatory events, which you do want to attend, but which take you away from writing, like with school or church or work. There may be children or aging relatives to attend to. Or when the grass climbs to knee-high, you run out of clean dishes to eat off of, or your editor returns your manuscript for edits the night before your vacation, saying she needs it back within the week (true story for me)…you need balance, and wisdom. Prioritize, but do not ignore the most important things to you. (For me, family trumps all, even writing.

Become a better writer. Reach for your goals. Balance your writing with real life.

Writing in Spite of Everything

There are times when outside circumstances cause me to not want to write, and I’m not talking about winter coming, John Snow. They may be priorities of a family or relational crisis, or joys, or a visit. It may be work-related times, or trees flying through our house. A death. Or a celebration. Or even when I ponder our present political oddities. It is exactly in these times when I need to write. Writing gives me focus and sanity when the world around me swirls in confusion and insanity. Whenever I think, “Why bother?” I need to center in on the bigger picture, to see beyond all the confusions and conflicts which can so easily suck me down.

Perhaps your life or thoughts aren’t as twisty as above, but you are a writer who is still not writing for all the many other reasons you can list. Well, stop it! You can always journal. When you use the highly emotional trying or joyful times to jot a few words about that moment, they can someday be used in a story. When a childhood memory is stirred up, grab it, record it, remember with all your senses.

You cannot blame circumstances for not writing. You must not blame emotional times for not writing. Those are exactly the times when you need to be writing, even if it’s “just” journaling. Writing gives us focus and clears our minds of clutter.

And then there is NaNoWriMo coming up next month. I have not finished the revisions of my one story yet, which was my plan to have done so before NaNoWriMo starts. However, as it’s not the end of the month, and I have talked myself out of all the outside circumstances, my goal has not crashed. I encourage you to do the same. Write (or revise) in spite of everything.

Volunteering Your Writing Time

I feel like this old rug has been beat to threads.  But I have volunteered for my entire life, so not doing so just feels wrong. Am I volunteering for free author school visits? No, to that. I ought to be paid for those. Am I volunteering in our public library in November to run a NaNoWriMo Young Writers Workshop for six weeks? The answer to that latter one would be yes, for I will do anything I can to help kids (and adults) to write, and write better.

Okay. You may beat the rug if you like. What are your favorite volunteer activities? (As long as they do not interfere with your own writing, that is.)

Post-Post NaNoWriMo — Step One

Yes, it’s a busy time of year between the holidays, family time, and end-of-year necessities. But you still must be writing! Never give up the quest.

Hopefully, for those who wrote words during November’s NaNoWriMo, that was only the start of a long process which you will see to the end.

The first step is to look over what you wrote last month, and to dump/delete/trash all the unnecessary words, scenes, chapters, characters, and unrelated stuff. The first year I did this, I cut 47K of my 50K NaNo words. I confess. I am a NaNoWriMo babbler.  In my defense, by forcing myself to babble I often come up with some surprising to me things. One year, I gave my middle school characters an assignment by their teacher to write their autobiographies. Of course, none of those autobiographies made it into the final story, but it was a great writing exercise for this author to get to know her characters better.

Delete. Delete. Delete.

By getting rid of your babble (excess words), you will find that what’s left is a very nice skeleton of plot and character to soon start fleshing out.

Write Alone, but Don’t be Lonely (the purpose of a critique group)

This past spring, I was at a book signing with several other authors. The woman beside me was part of the local Writer’s Guild and tried to get other authors to join. I asked if they did critiques with one another. Her eyes lit up and drifted off to the left and up before looking back down at me. “Having someone else read over your story first? What a wonderful idea!”

She is self-published, and was popular with the locals who came to the event, but as sweet as this woman was, I couldn’t get myself to buy one of her books  — without an editor or even other writers giving their imput before publication. I could be wrong. She might be one of those rare gems who is truly a word-wizard, and I missed my chance. I actually met an elderly woman once who caused my jaw to drop with her on-the-spot writings, but she wasn’t at all interested in getting published. How sad for the world.

For those of us who write and rewrite and delete and toss and revise, and revise a few more times, often doing all this before presenting anything to our critique groups, writing is a struggle. It’s time-consuming and hard work. I simply cannot imagine doing this all on my own. I need my critique group. I value their eyes and their thoughts. For me, I see five main reasons to participate in a critique group:

1. Someone other than your mother or spouse can look over the manuscript for plot structure or story arch or clarification.

2. They can point out where the characters work or don’t work, where the author has the character say or do something, but isn’t in that character’s voice or POV.

3. They can show where you’ve repeated a single word four times in two paragraphs, or have a convoluted sentence structure, or have told, not shown, etc.

4. Struggling alongside others, and each wanting to improve your writing, you can do group studies on various books of writing craft, or of books in your genre, and share the insights and promote discussions and then apply what you’ve gleaned to your own writing.

5. Critique groups keep you producing, month after month.

I’ve been in several critique groups, one for over a dozen years. I’ve also had beta readers checking word for word errors. And I’ve had editors who point out things which none of the others mentioned, and who strive to make my writing absolutely shine.

Writing is a lone business, but it doesn’t have to be lonely.

NaNoWriMo? More Like NaNoBooHoo

I was going full steam that first week in November — way back four weeks ago. I not only reached my daily word counts, but exceeded them. Then big-time disaster struck. I needed to sub something to one of my critique groups. I know. I know. I should have just passed and given them the week off of critiquing so I could continue on with my on-fire-hot-word-count-writing. What I subbed to my crit group was chapter 11 of a 26-chapter book which was “finished.” Revising it to send to them, turned my mind totally on that piece of writing, so I revised it to the end. Of course, I felt it was dynamically written, so I started looking into editors and agents. That done, like having postpartum blues, I crashed. I started writing “NaNoHaHa” in emails. About the same time I’d accepted a school storytelling assignment. I explained I only had 1800’s outfits and 1800’s stories. My contact said it wasn’t a problem. They were just kindergarteners. But in my former teaching brain, I thought, “Kindergarteners who know the 200 year difference between a Pilgrim’s outfit and a Civil War outfit. So I started making a Pilgrim outfit and researching the era. Yes, this was indeed a bit distracting. Then there was leaving the state for the weekend, and this last week, company in from out of state for the week.

So I decided not to cheat on the NaNoWriMo word count, except for adding four revised chapters from “that other novel.” I uploaded what I had, but I still didn’t win. This year. It felt more like NaNoBooHoo than anything to do with a month of writing.

I just need to say, that for anyone else who didn’t make the 50,000 word count this month, no worries. It’s only a challenge, so don’t beat yourself up. There’s always next year. Be sure not to give up on your novel, either. Keep working on this year’s NaNo project until it’s completed, so by November of 2015, you’ll be excited and fresh and rearing to go on your next novel.

NaNoWriMo Writing Tips

Writers write alone, but we must not remain alone. We need each other. We need encouragement.

Here we are at the end of week one of this year’s NaNoWriMo — National Novel Writing Month. For my first six days, my word count was all about the story. Yesterday, I drifted. But I’m back on track again today. Here are some tips which I use to keep me going this month:

Tip #1 Bank your words. In other words, in the enthusiasm of the beginning of write more than the expected word count so you can later take off a day and not feel guilty about it.

Tip #2 Don’t write according to the 1,667 words per day, which is scary to think about, but write by scenes or chapters.

Tip #3 Use tools to keep you on task, like a timer set for 15 minutes during which you MUST write, or programs like Write or Die where your computer screen changes color, then blinks, then sounds off warning blares at you when your fingers aren’t typing away madly (http://writeordie.com/ ).

Tip #4 It’s okay to drift for a day or two. Take a writing break or better yet, write about something else. Give your brain a rest and then come back to your story.

Tip #5 Expect to write drek when you are attempting to pour out 1,167 words per day this month. Revisions come later. This is ONLY intended for the first awful draft.

Writing with a Lobotomy

Literature Blogs

Being on (anti) high cholesterol meds makes me feel like I’ve had a lobotomy. Not that I’ve ever actually had one. And with my strong reaction to drugs, I was only on said medicine for two weeks — a half-month lobotomy. During those horrid two weeks, I was unenthusiastic, uncaring, unfeeling, uncreative, un-me. I got things done, making a list each day and checking it off, but I couldn’t think to write, and didn’t have any desire to read. (Are you writers freaking out at this as much as I did?) I finally figured that I’m mortal, and was going to die sometime, whether I was on meds or not. So I’d try to be a good girl and mind my diet and exercise and then naturally bring down my bad cholesterol count.

Exploring this lobotomy feeling, I’ve realized that when I am stressed or have many things “on my plate,” that I don’t make the time or energy for writing lots, like I’d love to do. It’s like I have a lobotomy all over again. A stress-caused lobotomy. These are times when I wake to do things through the day, checking off things, not wanting to do any of them, but knowing they must be done.

So… How does one write during these lobotomy (no time or no enthusiasm periods)? You write, anyway. It’s not writer’s block where you stare at a blank screen. It’s not distraction time where you check your email or FaceBook page several times in a day. It’s writing in spite of everything. You write because you’re a writer. You’re a writer because you feel alive when you write. When you complete a scene, and tears streak your face, you’re a writer. When you look at said scene the next day and don’t feel any emotion and realize there are mega revisions or deletions ahead, you’re a writer.

We write through it all — drugs, storms, moves, deaths, depression, anger, sheer joy. So, you writer who is reading this, go write a scene (or verse) right now before you do anything else. Go on. What are you waiting for?