Merry Christmas – Time to Prepare for 2012

I have the song “And so this is Christmas” by John Lennon in my head, which is particularly irksome since it’s a Christmas song I particularly despise. But, the line “… and so this is Christmas, what have we done? Another year over, and a new one just begun …” does seem particularly apt.

Already 2011 has whizzed past. Perhaps it has crawled for you, as some years are wont. I confess I’ve been putting off writing this entry because I try to be upbeat and positive about the new year, and firmly believe that even when we feel like we’ve accomplished nothing (usually because we feel we’ve failed at achieving our largest and potentially loftiest goals), what we HAVE accomplished is still worthy of recognition.

So, what have I done this year?

– added a first child to our family

– survived the first year with said infant and I still alive and healthy

– completed first draft of a new novel

– queried quite a lot, with mixed results

– kept up my blogs (mostly)

 

Okay, so that’s my main summary. And the part that gets me down all the time is the stuff I haven’t accomplished. The logical part of me knows how mad that is – after all, if all we ever focused on was what we haven’t accomplished in our lives, wouldn’t we be frozen in regret? I think it comes down to the same idea of gratefulness, which we often tend to forget a lot of the year save for Thanksgiving. We must appreciate and value what we have accomplished, what we have achieved, what we do have, instead of always bemoaning the absence of other things. Thus, as I prepare for Christmas and  a new year, I remind myself that I’m probably pretty fortunate to have been able to write that one terrible first draft, since after all, I’m also learning to balance being the primary caregiver for my child with my own goals and ambitions. A part of myself feels like I’m just making excuses, but perhaps I’m just too hard on myself sometimes.

What about you? Are you celebrating a year well-done, or are you worried about what you haven’t yet accomplished? If we’re constantly chasing after what we can’t have – because one knows that just because I achieve one goal means I’ll set a new one that I may or may not achieve the following year – can we ever truly be happy? Indeed, set your goals, fight for them, fight for your dreams, but remember to live in gratitude for what you have achieved and give it equal worth.

Anyway, short and sweet this week, I suppose, as I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Be gentle on yourselves and your loved ones, and I’ll be back to the blog in 2012 – thanks for reading.

What Do You Write Best? Is that What You Should be Focusing on?

In our writing, we all have strengths and weaknesses. Some of us are terrific at description. For others, dialogue, or maybe action. Sometimes we can become so good at one thing or another that we end up helping others with it, and placing a heavier emphasis on it in our writing and works in progress.

On the other hand, what areas do you avoid? What kind of scenes do you dread writing because they never turn out right? Do you avoid putting them in your writing whatsoever, just so you can avoid them?

If we want our writing to resonate with readers, it needs to be balanced, and that means even if we’re not good at one kind writing or another, we have to keep working at it. I know description has never been my strongest suit, and it’s something I need to remain keenly aware of, even if it means I flesh out the description during revisions so my reader can understand my world better.

The thing is, focusing on something you’re not good at, or that you’ve somehow decided you’re not good at, can be really exciting and add a new element to your writing. What if you write a scene without dialogue? How do characters communicate? What can still be communicated just with description alone? How can you make a scene with dialogue more lively or intriguing with action and description? The best part of trying to explore things you’re not good at is play. And your writing is always better in play. No, maybe not in the first draft, but overall, since it makes you a more versatile writer, it keeps you learning and exploring, stretching and expanding your talents instead of stagnating with what you’re “good at.”

So, have you found yourself avoiding some types of writing? Some kinds of scenes? First, you identify your strengths and weaknesses. Next, you’re going to work on your weaknesses, and I have a few exercises I hope might help with description, dialogue, and action scenes.

  • If your weakness is description (like mine):

Pause, or go back in revisions, and try to experience the scene through your character, using all five senses. Not only what does it look like, consider smell, taste, feel, temperature, sounds. Another suggestion I’ve found is use your character’s eyes like a quick video pan-over, which helps to situate both the character and scene, but also your reader.

  • If your weakness is dialogue:

Take a bus ride. Visit the mall. Go somewhere filled with people talking. Your job here is to eavesdrop (politely, of course) on conversations. How do people talk? Not just the patterns of speech (using contractions, incomplete clauses, sentence fragments, speech “twitches”, etc), but how does their body language impact on the conversation and convey meaning? Next, go back to your own writing and read your dialogue aloud. Are you tripping over wordiness? Are you getting bored? Does this seem like a way people would talk? What does it convey about plot, character – that is, what is the purpose of this dialogue? Dialogue can be fantastic, helping to convey character, plot, description, so much, if used well. But it can also be stilted, confusing, and over-used, especially boring conversation which is best left out of the scene.

  • If your weakness is action:

Watch a movie or something very exhilarating and tense, like a car chase, a fight, etc. Now try to write out that scene yourself – or a version thereof – and try not to lose any of the excitement. Sentences are often short. Choppy. They let you jump from one action to the next with no break, leaving the reader breathless. In this kind of scene, you’ll need to pull in skill with dialogue and description too. After you’re done, re-read, and decide if you’ve lost some of the excitement. Have someone else read it. If they weren’t as excited, find out what slows it down – sometimes excessive description and dialogue, long wordy sentences.

For much more interesting exercises than my own, I highly recommend checking out:

What if? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter

What if? was one of my first writing books, and is a help in keeping your skills sharp, and making you think about your writing and your style, and hoe you can continue to keep learning and evolving. There are exercises on different story elements, dialogue, characterization, mechanics, etc. It helps to remind you to keep the playful question “what if” in all of your writing. (click on the title for a link to the HarperCollins page and their description.)

Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass

A lot newer than the other, Maass’ book includes sections on Character Development, Plot Development, and General Story Techniques that specifically let you work through troublesome scenes of your novel. As well as suggestions, it likewise includes includes exercises and as mentioned earlier, is a lot like a workshop in a book. (link is to Donald Maass agency page where they talk about the books.)

Well, that’s all for this week. What do you write best? Why do you think so? What do you need to work on? Thanks for reading, and have a great week.

Are You a Writer? Who is that?

I confess I hold a very negative stereotype in my mind about the artist as a kind of froufrou nutball in a beret who does ‘art for art’s sake,’ but can’t particularly be bothered about real life, other people, or existence outside of the art. It’s part of why it’s taken me a long time to finally accept that I am an artist, both with my writing and other art projects that I create. A silly stereotype held me back and sometimes made me doubt my art because I didn’t want to be “like that.”

But stereotypes – even if we don’t consciously consider them – can likewise creep into what we believe a writer is, and therefore what we think we need to become or be. What do you think a writer is? Who is he or she? What kind of life do they lead? How will you need to adjust who you are to become that writer person? Will you?

William Faulkner said: “Don’t be a writer. Be writing.”

It could lead to questions about what or who he thought the writer was. Or maybe he was just getting at the fact that to write, we don’t need to fit some bizarre or caricature we’ve created. The actual writing is what’s important, nothing else.

I think we can also invest too much time and effort into becoming an idea of something because that’s also how we think we can gain success. Have you met your favorite author? Have you heard someone talk about the “writer’s identity” or “writer suit” you have to create? “Author branding” perhaps?

Even as I think that I just focus on the writing, I know that isn’t always true, and I doubt it is for a lot of other writers too. Consciously or unconsciously I think we in some ways emulate those we admire or what we want to become, hoping to likewise emulate their success and other attributes we admire. As we study marketing and the ideas of author branding, we know we need to consider our attire when in public like at conferences, our website, presentation of everything that goes out about us so make a good impression, to sell ourselves as a successful “writer” image.

The part that sometimes seems to go the wayside is the writing part. No matter how slick the outside package, what difference does it make if the writing just isn’t there? If you don’t write, can you still be a writer? Writing is an act of doing and being: you need both, don’t you? Why is it that you write anyway?

Are you a writer? Who is that? I think whoever you think it is will become and be who you will be as a writer, who you are as a writer. But I think we also need to be cautious of forming a very concrete, definite idea of who or what a writer is. Mostly, we probably can’t worry about it too much – especially if that distracts us from our writing. Because the thing is, if you and I are both writers, it doesn’t mean we’re the same. Perhaps we write different genres, have different publication routes or plans, different regimens, all sorts of differences that are cemented in who we are as people, not just writers, if we can even separate the two. What has to stay foremost is the writing, however we do it, whenever we do it, we just need to keep doing it, we just have to keep writing, come lousy first drafts, oodles of revisions, early success or late.

So, put on your beret if that’s who you are as a writer, or maybe you prefer a clown’s wig, or maybe comfy pajamas. But whatever the case, just get to writing too, hmm?

Who do you think a writer is? Who are you as a writer? Thanks for reading, and have a great week.