Friday, August 26, 2011

When things fall apart...

Posted by Jennifer B. at The Writing Cocoon.  

I don’t know how to explain the last three weeks succinctly, and I have to start with a bit of an explanation, but I’ll give it a go.

 In my self-destructive late twenties, I gave up a lot of things, for various reasons, that were important to me. Most significantly, I gave up running and writing. It was a fairly soul-crushing period of my life.
Four years ago I gave up my well-paying corporate career to move to a new country and start a new life. Like a fool, I honestly believed that would be enough for everything to fall into place and that it would be easy to figure out a direction for my life. Not even remotely true. I waffled about for a good two years, unable to break free of my fears and doubts.

 Two years ago, I laced up my old running shoes and started to run again. It felt good. It felt like a new beginning, and it felt like a return to home, a return to me. One year ago, I opened up a Word doc and started writing for the first time in years, and I ended up writing a book.

Then, the hurdles came. Yeah, I should have seen it coming - should have known better. I mean, that’s life, right? Parents and grandparents died, injuries mounted, family pressures skyrocketed, and doubt kept knocking at my door. But, for the first time in over a decade, after each setback, I would regroup and forge ahead. I started to make progress.

I finished a first draft of a novel and my running steadily improved. I signed up for a half-marathon, my first race since 2005. I began to plan for the rewrite of my first draft. They were both supposed to happen in September.

The parallels in my running and writing seemed natural and logical to me. I was on a journey and both paths led back to me being true to myself. Both made me stronger and gave me energy. I built up this symbolic relationship between the two things. It may seem hokey - I’m finding it hard not to laugh at myself- but when I was running, I thought to myself, if I can make it through this mile, then I can do anything or once I finish this mile, I will never have to run it again, there will be a new mile. It seemed to reflect what was happening in my writing.

Then I threw out my sacroiliac joint handling heavy luggage on vacation - the same dysfunctional joint that ended my running in the first place. This time, though, things were different - worse. I could barely walk. Weeks went by and I improved enough to try out first, a few short runs, then a long run. But, that didn’t last long and disaster struck after a 3 mile run - I couldn’t walk the next day. Then came the ruling from my PT - no running for at least 3 months, maybe 6. That meant no Great North Run. I was devastated.

Now, I’ve tried to keep things in perspective, really I have. I’ve been watching my sister struggle through a permanent, debilitating injury. I will recover…some day. It isn’t the end of the world. If you are a runner, you will suffer injuries. But 6 months? Really? I’m going to have to go through that crappy beginning running faze again? It felt like the Universe was slapping me in the face.

To make it worse, I had done something truly stupid. I had promised myself that, after the successful completion of my first race in years, I would finally face making a giant decision in my personal life. No pressure, eh?

The real and symbolic losses wrapped up in my inability to continue my running hit me hard - and at a time when I was facing the next big step in my writing. I became a little weepy. Then I became a lot weepy. And did I drown myself in my writing work? Well, for a little while, but then I sort of overdid it right before my 6 month rest prognosis, and when the final blow was struck with that unwelcomed news, I couldn’t face the uphill climb of a rewrite. I couldn’t face my computer screen at all. A kind of mental fatigue set in at the thought of all of the hard work before me. I just logged out and didn’t log back in until…today.

This week has been a little better. I’ve resigned myself to my new, non-impact cardio, extreme-rehab exercise routine. I’m going to get back to running, it just isn’t going to be in the time frame I want.

As for writing, the schedule is being reworked, again, and I’m incorporating more non-writing types of creative work in my day. I’ve dusted off my sewing machine and finished a few languishing quilt projects. Yesterday, I picked up a brochure on drawing lessons. I read somewhere a while back that it was important to have non-writing creative outlets, and now I believe it to be true. It has been nice to accomplish something creative, while giving my brain a break from words.

Today I return to my rewrite prep. I’ve got to finish a few exercises from the Plot Whisperer’s PlotWriMo, then I will start the edit of the first draft. Next week I hope to rejoin the flash fiction writing challenges over at the AW Writing Cooler, something I had been enjoying immensely.

That’s where I’m at. One step forward, two steps back. I know this dance well.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Linkage - The Monday Edition

Posted by Jennifer Baylor at The Writing Cocoon.  
Filed under "The Sunday Paper: SFF Links"

I meant to post this yesterday, but wasn't feeling too well. I think too much time spent staring at the computer is overloading my eyeballs as I've been hit with some pretty serious headaches the last three days. Anyway, here is my weekly round-up of news posts, with a small twist. Instead of giving you links to general book-ish articles and posts, I'm going to stick to the ones I find specifically on sf&f related news.
Space travel:  It's what we all dream of, right? Here's an article from the LA Times about DARPA's quest to find those who will pave the way to Interstellar travel. So, if you've figured it out, time to put in for your seed money for the R&D.

Genre- Don't label me:  Now that the Booker list is out, this article from The Independent gives us a look at the list's genre composition and how the genre labels can limit our experience in reading. We humans sure like our labels.

Science Fiction Movie: I've seen a few articles on this film, and now I want to see it. Looks like something I'd really like and I've been feeling a bit SciFi starved of late. Here's a review of the film from Pegasus News.

Gaming: If you’re behind on your Final Fantasy gaming (like me), a new reason to finish prior editions: Square Enix has confirmed the release timeline for FFXIII-2. The problem is, if I allow myself to plug in the PS3, no writing will get done.

Kindle Fantasy & SciFi Magazine:  Confusion over Amazon’s new SciFi magazine, cleared up here. Amazon has made available a free science fiction magazine for Kindle. You can subscribe to a free digest edition or pay for a subscription to the full edition.

Vote for your favorite Science Fiction & Fantasy novels:  I did, and it was difficult to choose. You can vote for your top choices or just peruse the finalist list of 100 novels to update your reading list. This list will help you fill any gaps in your classic sf&f reading.

For fun:  Rainn Wilson, actor and “science fiction and fantasy nerd,” gives us his top ten sf&f - complete with nice pictures of the front and back covers from his bookshelf. The covers are awesome.

Undressing a Victorian Lady:  Okay, so this isn't sf&f, but I linked it, anyway.  Never know when you're going to write a Victorian space opera, right? How to Undress A Victorian Lady from the Wall Street Journal.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Snapshot Saturday

London: Hyde Park

It is Snapshot Saturday! This week I thought I'd post a few pictures of sculptures from around London. I love sculptures, but there is something about seeing them in public places, or outside of museums in general, that makes me very happy. Of course, the sculptures were commissioned for specific places and purposes, but I still think that seeing the pieces in their "natural" settings like this makes them so much more...spectacular, personal, moving, thought provoking, etc. I guess I'm a bit of a romantic.

Kensington Gardens, London: The Albert Memorial
 Looking at Alyce's pictures of Hawaii reminded me of my husband (Hawaii is where he proposed). That, in turn, reminded me of Prince Albert's memorial in London and the romance between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. What a great story about love and marriage (granted, I may be romanticizing again!).

London: William of Orange
 I just love this statue of William of Orange. His clothing is fantastic and something about the way he's posed - I just loved the way the statue brought to life another era.

London: British Museum, Greek Sculptures
The British Museum is a favorite of mine. I've been many times, and I'm sure I'll be back.

This is Alyce's Snapshot Saturday. To participate in the Saturday Snapshot meme post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post in the Mister Linky at Alyce's blog. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online.

Posted by Jennifer B. at The Writing Cocoon.  

Liebster Blog Award

I started this blog with the idea that it would be a fun way to explore this secret dream of mine - my dream of being a writer. It was meant to be a journal to record the process and my thoughts. I also thought it was a good first step toward putting my writing out there, into the Universe, and making it seem real. After a few posts and finding blogs by other writers, another possibility opened up for the blog: it could be a way to connect with other writers.

That's all well and good, but after two-and-a-half months of posting, you do start to wonder  does my blogging resonate with anyone out there? Then something really nice happens! You stumble out of bed and shuffle to the computer with a cup of coffee on a gray Saturday morning to find a new comment on your blog bestowing upon you, your first blog award. Or, at least, that's what's happened to me today.

JeffO over at The Doubting Writer has very kindly nominated me for my first blog award. JeffO started his blog about the same time as I started mine.  I first found him over at the AW Water Cooler. I read some of his forum threads and his first blog posts, and I knew I'd found someone at a similar stage in this journey. His was the first blog I followed and he the first follower here.

The goal of the Liebster is to showcase up and coming bloggers who have less than 200 followers. The rules:

  1. Thank the giver and link back to the blogger who bestowed the award on you
  2. Reveal your top five picks and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog
  3. Copy and paste the award on your blog
  4. Have faith that your followers will spread the love
  5. Have bloggity-blog fun!

Now, I'm with Jeff in feeling a bit shy about joining in on blog tags, and this is my first, but it did make me smile, so it wasn't all that painful, after all. 

I have three picks to pass on the Liebster award and here they are:

Starving Novelist - A blog by Sara Burr, a fellow writer and science fiction fan. She's been blogging for less than a year, but I love the quality and insight of her posts. There is a lot of good information, analysis of writing craft and tips, delivered in a clear, conversational style.

Carolyn Arnold - Carolyn is another writer who started her blog this year. She's a very busy woman; she's written seven novels in four years! She writes about many things "writing", including the path to becoming a writer and its pitfalls. She is also very active in supporting fellow writers, spotlighting self-published writers in her Independent Voice posts.

Beckah-Rah - Becky Regalado is a horror and fantasy writer with a blog less than a year old. She blogs on a variety of topics, but with her own (entertainingly sartirical) slant. A funny read, she keeps you rooting for her (and you're own writing dreams) with her honest posts about writing and publishing. I also enjoyed reading the short fiction she's written (linked on her blog) and look forward to more.

Go check out these three blogs!

Posted by Jennifer B. at The Writing Cocoon.  

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Preparing to Revise

Revising: Not all fun
To prepare for the revision of my first draft, I’ve been following these steps, from the blog Plot Whisperer for Writers and Readers. The steps are from PlotWriMo -  Martha's answer to the question, what the hell do I do with my NaNoWriMo manuscript? I found the blog via Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers (which you have to sign up to their newsletter to access).

Anyway, I've been following the steps, and they've forced me to work through the structure of my story’s plot and complete an analysis. Fun, right?

I can’t say this is the easiest, least painful part of the novel writing process thus far (even for someone with an inner-planning-freak-Virgo-who-likes-charts), but there have been some exciting moments. Following the daily tasks from last December’s posts, I’ve come to a better understanding of my characters and their motivations and found better scene ideas to reinforce theme. I even have a color-coded plot diagram (with subplots and themes). The diagram gives me the high-level view of my novel’s inner workings, tells me if it the story energy is rising and falling as it should, and points out where the big rewrites need to happen. For example, I now know that I have to write an entirely different beginning.

I thought I’d share a few bits of the process with you. This is part of an exercise in character development. (I probably should have started off with stuff like this figured out.)

Character Emotional Development Plot-line
    Flaw:    Rejects who and what she is.
    Strength:    Compassion.
    Hates:    That she is not human.
    Loves:    Her friends. 
    Fears:    Her power & her inability to control it. Her true self. Being discovered.
    Dream:    To be reunited with her human father and live as a human.
    Secret:    She is the last of her kind. She has been secretly searching for her father.

This is just part of the exercise, and I completed one for each of the major characters (MC), including the antagonist. I think I made it more difficult than it was supposed to be. I really struggled with her flaw, trying to make it something grand. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was the story around the flaw that should be bold, and that the flaw itself was just the vehicle for one of the themes in my story.

I’m still not happy 100% happy with her character profile, but I’m getting close. I’ve been reading The Character Therapist’s blog to give me ideas about fleshing out my character’s mental inner-workings, and one post that resonated with me was the one on survival guilt. My MC is the last of her kind, the survivor of a genocide of sorts, and I’m interested in how survival guilt will play out in her decisions.
So, yeah, lots to work on still.

The PlotWriMo steps gave me a process for analyzing the structure of my novel. Once I've started the rewrite, I can better answer the question how does this process improve the writing (in every way, being the probable answer, but I'll give a full accounting at the end).

Sometimes the structured process calms the constant, low-level panic that threatens to make me run from this novel; sometimes it doesn’t. Robert Frost said “the only way out is through.” Not a comforting thought for me, but it does help still my instinct to avoid the scary bits.

Posted by Jennifer B. at The Writing Cocoon.  

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Writer's Desk: Making Plans, Changing Plans

Yesterday I went on an odyssey to create a writing schedule. Oh, I’d written a couple of schedules over the last ten months or so, but after grinding out the nicely formatted Word or Excel document and saving it to my writing folder, they've languished, never to be referred to again.

However, after spending a great deal of time wasting time this weekend, it occurred to me that, while my compass may be set, the navigation is still a bit rough. I’m not sure exactly how I’m going to get there - “there” being a published story of some sort. Thinking on this, I began to feel this tightness in my solar plexus and tingling in my legs. Maybe I was having some sort of fit, but it felt an awful lot like I needed to take action.

I’m not entirely sure where this came from. Why now, and what would be different with this schedule scheme? Can’t say for sure, but I have a hunch. I’ve been swinging widely around this new writer identity (in case you haven’t read my first few posts), but the motion is slowing, the arc is shortening, and I’m feeling more focused every day. Maybe I just wasn’t ready before, or more likely, the small daily victories, the experiences of butte-in-chair (BIC) have allowed that tiny spark of a dream to crystallize into a conviction. Who knows? Probably I’m over-thinking the whole thing. I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if you were to accuse me of such.

Meh, back to schedules.

I went through the wondrous Internet and found some links on creating a schedule, even links specific to a writer’s schedule. After gathering some tips, wrestling with Word tables, and a few cups of coffee, I emerged from my office with a new schedule. Three shiny, new schedules, actually. One, a weekly schedule, breaks down my day into one-hour blocks and allows me to pencil in everything. The second is a novel planner. I don’t know if anyone else does this, but I put the next eight-teen months as column headers and each row is a work-in-progress (WIP). I guess I wanted to see how I would work on a couple of novels at the same time and how long it would take to finish my projects. The third is a high-level look at all of my projects (short stories, flash fiction, blogging, contest writing, etc.), by month, for the rest of this year. What can I say? I am a Virgo, and I’m very good at it.

A few tips from the Internet and my own brain:
  • Be realistic. Can you really write, edit, rewrite and submit an entire novel in a month? "Be realistic" is advice I’ve been given many times over, ignored at my own peril, and learned for myself-the hard way. I’m stubborn.
  • Measurable goals. I think every link I visited gave this advice. Don’t have “I wanna be a writer” as your goal, but rather “I want to write a short story a week”, for example.
  • Print your schedule and refer to it often. Mine is on my desk, right in front of my computer. Sometimes I can be taught.
  • Be flexible. I’ve only written one novel to completion -and that is only a complete first draft- so, I have no idea how long it will take me to get a novel to submission. I’ve made some wild guesses, and I’ll adjust my plan as I learn more about my process and how long it takes. It’s an experiment as much as a plan.
  • Schedule free time. It makes the schedule less daunting when there is a reassuring coffee/sanity break or two. Schedule early afternoons on Friday or a morning to sleep in. 

If nothing else, a clearly defined schedule or plan will bring you clarity. After scheduling out my three WIPs in my novel planner, I decided that I was out of my mind. I had this idea that I could write one novel to a certain stage (i.e., first draft, second draft, out-to-betas, etc.) and then start the next stage of the second. When I let it play out in a schedule, it was a complete nightmare. It would take forever to get any one novel to submission-to-market stage, and at one point, I had myself juggling three novels and was about to add a fourth.
Go ahead, laugh. I do get ahead of myself, then run off through the streets, madly screaming, “Look, I’m going to write four novels at once! I have a schedule.” Thankfully, I realized that my novel planner doc had become pure BS and thought better of it. I scrapped the whole damned thing. And I changed my plans.

About face! Good-bye sparkly, new novel project, I am no longer working on WIP2. Two-and-a-half weeks from today (which will be six weeks exactly since I finished writing it), I start the edit of my WIP1 first draft.

In case you suspect that you are yourself mad (or you find yourself wondering how time gets away from you and your writing) and want to make a plan, here are a few links I found useful:

  •  5 Tips for Creating a Writing Schedule. Another blog that isn't frequently updated, but it has some nice posts on writing. This article is short and gives you succinct advice on creating a schedule. 

  • Master Class: How to Schedule Your Writing Like a Professional Writer. This was written by a student, for students trying to build better study habits. The student found interviews from ten professional writers, extracted the bits where they talked about their writing habits, and did an analysis to glean a few tips. Unfortunately, the links to her charts (where she graphs their responses) are no longer valid, but it was a fun read and insightful. Guess it was my day to find links from 2008.

As for creating the plan itself, if you use Office, there are loads of useful, eye-catching templates on-line. I make my own, but you can save yourself some time and heartache using someone else’s pre-made design.

Posted by Jennifer B. at The Writing Cocoon.