Monday, August 30, 2010

Chasing Trends

I read this post today, and it had a wonderful quote that I wanted to share:

“Write only what you want to write . . . Especially don’t listen to people . . . who think that you need to write what readers say they want. Readers don’t always know what they want. I don’t know what I want to read until I go into a bookshop and look around at the books other people have written, and the books I enjoy reading most are books I would never in a million years have thought of myself. So the only thing you need to do is forget about pleasing other people, and aim to please yourself alone.” ~ Philip Pullman

I 100% agree that readers don't always know what they want. I certainly don't always know what I'm going to like, and I can be VERY opinionated about books. I have picked up some of the most unlikely books considering my tastes, and found myself loving them--fanatically, passionately loving them.

For instance, how many people discovered they liked vampire fiction after reading Twilight? Or YA, for that matter? How many people don't like dystopias or sci fi but loved The Hunger Games?

I know of more than a few, I can tell you that.

So I urge you, fellow writers, keep writing what you love, whether you think it will fit the current trends/readership tastes or not.

Remember, trends come and go. Fantastic storytelling and compelling, fascinating characters will always be hot.

Now, I'm not advocating that you shouldn't seek to understand trends or follow publishing news and advice. That would be arrogant and probably stupid too. I'm saying don't go out and write a mermaid novel just because a bunch of agents said mermaids were the new vampires even though you want to write historical fiction and frankly you hate urban fantasy. Just don't do it. Don't let yourself fall into the trap of chasing trends. Don't give up just because your book isn't at the top of the "it" list of genres right now.

Besides, how do you think those genres got to be at the top of the "it" list? Somebody wrote an awesome book that helped spark a trend. And it could happen again :-)

Write what you love and create characters and a world you're passionate about and that readers can be passionate about too, because that's what I want to read when I pick up a book, WHATEVER the genre or subject matter may be.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Interview on the QQQE!

If you haven't done so already, check out my interview with Matthew Rush on the QQQE!

Many thanks to Matthew and his readers for such lovely comments and helpful advice!


~ Katie

Thursday, August 26, 2010

My Day Today ...

THIS ...



Ice cream cake!!

Irritable kitty

I finished Mockingjay. Wow. Did anybody else read it? What did you think?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Work In Progress Wednesday

Well, I'm a fan of disorganized structure.
"The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say." ~Anaïs Nin

I am a great fan of structure (probably because I impose very little upon myself in everyday life). So I am attempting to give this blog some structure. So I’m declaring Wednesdays to be focused on my WIPs, whatever they may be at the moment. If you follow me on Twitter you might have seen some of my whining about the 5 WIPs I have been working on lately. I know. Bad idea. Don’t do it, kids!!

At any rate, I’ve gone back to just one for now because I JUST CAN’T LIVE THAT WAY. But the single MS I’ve chosen to focus on is giving me fits. FITS.

It occurs to me—the subtitle of this post really ought to be In Which I Moan About This Book I’m Writing. Cuz that’s what I’m going to do.

Writing is hard even when you know exactly what you’re doing. But right now, trying to write this particular story feels like trying to select the perfect mother’s day gift at a jewelry store in complete and utter darkness while wearing boxing gloves and trying to hold an agitated howler monkey under one arm.

 In other words, darn near impossible.

"I want to write books that unlock the traffic jam in everybody's head." ~John Updike

Me too, John, but first I need to figure out the snarl in my own.

I guess this is part of the process. And also, to some degree, I feel like I never learn. If any of you haven’t read Hyberbole and a Half’s amazing post on this subject, do so now.

Anyway, I say I never learn because I’ve been here before. The last MS I completed, which is currently in a stalled state of revision (hey, DaVinci hardly ever finished anything either!), gave me the same sort of trouble.

Ultimately my biggest problem wasn’t plot (I figured that out partly on the fly and partly through an agonizing process of outlining).

It wasn’t the matter of writing itself, although you know my thoughts on that subject (I’m looking at you, dead elephant carcass).

It was the characters.                                                           

I have a whole blog post cooking on this subject (maybe I’ll post it soon). But basically the characters weren’t coming together right. It was mostly a matter of motivation. What was driving them? What were they trying to do? I didn’t have it figured out at the time, and until I knew what I was doing I was just spinning my proverbial wheels in the mud.

“Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.” ~ Kurt Vonnegut

So I guess that’s what I’m doing now. I sit and I write a little bit and then I read it and grimace and then I eat ice cream cake. It’s a deadly spiral, folks. So right now I’m mulling the story over. I’m thinking about the characters and their wants and needs. What is driving them? What needs to be driving them?  I’m on a quest to figure out exactly who my MC Shana is, and exactly what she wants. Some of this I will discover as I write the book, and some of it I already have.

I was going to post a small bit of the current MS since this is WIP Wednesday and I want to do more than just complain about it, but I can’t find a single segment that doesn’t need hefty editing.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Motivating Yourself to WRITE ~ 5 Suggestions

I'm having some trouble motivating myself to write lately. It's summer, and the sticky Georgia heat is sapping my creative energy. I'm busy with a new job, and the stress is chipping at my drive to tell stories. My cat is demanding more of my attention. Et cetera.

Summer makes me lazy as a cat.

Excuses. I'm not saying they aren't legitimate, but the problem remains. Either you aren't writing, or you aren't writing very quickly. What can you do to help yourself stay focused and write more than a sentence or two when you just aren't feeling motivated? I've been having this problem all month. Here are some of my suggestions for myself, and anyone else who might be feeling the lack of creative fervor the summer can bring.

1. Plan

I've mentioned this before. It is SOOOOOO helpful to know where you're going. If you've ever been driving down the road behind a car that isn't quite sure where/when to turn, you know how speed can be affected by uncertainty. When you're trying to stall for time to think up where you want your plot to go, this can affect your writing.

2. Leave some mystery regarding the plot

What's in the box? Write the story to find out ...
This might seem to contradict the above advice, but I'm just advising a blend of the two. Plan, yes, know your major plot points and movements and where you're heading, but leave some things to be discovered. Don't literally write out a bullet by bullet "he said, she said" for your book, unless that sort of thing helps you. (I'll wager it doesn't). For myself, if I don't want to discover what happens with a story, then I'm NOT going to be interested enough to spend the massive amounts of time and energy and sweat and blood and tears to write it down in order to find out.

So, that mystery of wanting to discover what happens to my characters can really keep me going.

3. Make yourself write

Sometimes you just have to shut the door, turn off the cellphone, log off twitter/facebook/youtube/etc. and just write.

I know. I KNOW. Sometimes writing is easy. The words practically spurt from your pen onto the page (or more likely through your fingers into the Word document) and you're rushing just to record the deluge of thoughts and ideas that won't stop churning in your mind. You're driven to write by a whip-wielding muse, but it's exhilarating and you love it even while you hate it.

And then sometimes writing feels like slogging through wet cement dragging the dead carcass of a gutted elephant. Writing can be AWFUL. It HURTS. It BLEEDS THE SOUL. I know. Bless your heart. You would rather clean bathrooms. You would rather scrub floors. You would rather get a root canal. But guess what? Not writing is just going to produce ... you guessed it. Nothing.

My advice? Just get in the zone and buckle down and force yourself to write something until you're there. Usually forced writing, for me, is crappy writing, but crappy writing can be REVISED. A blank page cannot. Something else that helps me keep writing is going back and rereading a few passages of what I've already written, parts I like or parts that capture the emotional elements of the story. This helps me get into the mood to write more.

4. Leave something to write tomorrow

Carrots = YUM
Never write until your brain is dry of ideas. Always leave a germ of something in there to mull over and think about between writing sessions. I especially like to leave a scene for later that I'm looking forward to writing, so when I sit down to do the hard stuff it dangles before me like a carrot. This strategy keeps me pushing forward when the elephant-carcass-wet-cement mentality is upon me.

5. Fall in love with your story/ write what you love

If you don't love what you're writing, how can you expect other people to like it? I've made this mistake before--I've written stuff I didn't really care about, and it was dull and dry. Of course, there are always exceptions (Sherlock Holmes springs to mind--Sir Arthur Conan Doyle apparently loathed writing it, but it paid the bills). However, generally speaking, if you aren't enthusiastic about your project then your subconscious might be telling you something. If you don't care about it, why not? What's missing?

Here's a helpful question I like to ask. What is driving your characters--what do YOU (and hopefully, the reader) desperately want to see them achieve? 

If you have a sympathetic character with strong motivations, you might write faster to see those motivations realized.

I hope these suggestions are helpful!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

It's More Fun With Ice Cream

I know some days writing is about as rewarding as using a crap plastic spoon to chip servings out of a frozen gallon tub of ice cream. But keep at it! It’s like savings—put away a little bit each day/month/year, and over time you’ll be amazed at how much you’ve amassed.

And in keeping with the first metaphor—if you let the ice cream soften a little, it’s a lot easier to use that crappy little spoon to scoop it out.

This is not a tub of ice cream, but delicious ice cream cake. However, it still needs to soften.
I like to mull over ideas a bit before sitting down to write. Usually I have a playlist I listen to (typically it is music that either #1 embodies the themes and emotions of the work or #2 I heard a lot while I was writing and therefore it became associated in my mind with the piece, even if the song and the written bit have NOTHING that links them--#2 is the more common reason). Listening to music that I’ve associated with the WIP, or reading some of my favorite bits of the WIP, or even just reading a bit of a story that helped get my creative juices flowing in the first place—all of these things help me soften myself up creatively before writing.

I don’t always take my own advice. (Lazy writer!) But when I do, it seriously helps the words and ideas flow.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Rejection (or in other words): Why Every Writer Needs a Cat

This is not the face of compassion
I have a cat. Her name is Sansa.

She is not always the kindest animal in the world.

Now, dear readers, I probably don't have to tell you that the world out there is not a nice one. Agents, editors, readers, heck, even fellow writers can and probably will crush your dreams a couple of times on the road to publication and beyond. . . basically, you're going to have to deal with rejection.

Cats know all about rejection. Cats are little purring machines of malicious spite. They thrive on it. In fact, the word for "cat" in Farsi means "cruel unfeeling beast."

Okay, I made up that last bit.

But anyway, rejection. As a writer, you'll get it. As a cat owner, you'll get it. See where I'm going with this?

To illustrate, I give you:

An essay in picture form

It's important to learn to deal with rejection.


Sometimes I think maybe I need a dog.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Birth of a Story

The Beginning

So you want to write a book. Maybe you have the spark of an idea, or characters are talking up a storm in your head, or you can see a specific scene as clear as a movie in your mind's eye.

Okay, so what next?

Today I thought I'd ruminate a bit on the idea of having a plan. But first, a disclaimer!! As writing is a highly creative process, everybody DOES IT DIFFERENTLY. Nobody can ultimately tell you how you ought to foster this creative process. You have to discover what works for you. Now I am going to tell you what works for me, since that's really the only thing I can speak authoritatively about.

To Plot or Not to Plot?

First, my personal experience. I have always loved coming up with story ideas. Since I was about 6 years old, I've been making up characters and situations and scribbling down rough outlines about what happened. I didn't actually start trying to write this stuff out in book form until age 8, and I didn't actually successfully write anything more than a few chapters until age 19. I wrote and finished my first full-length novel at age 21, and that was a huge milestone for me (it was a terrible book, but a milestone nonetheless).

After I'd proved to myself that I could actually write a book without it killing me (I'd had my doubts), I started writing in earnest.

Several years have passed since I finished my first book. I've learned a lot about writing, about myself, and how the two intersect. How do I get from point A, a flash of inspiration, to point B, a finished and hopefully somewhat coherent book with sufficient story arc, dynamic characters, and plot resolution?

Here's How:

Basically, I need to have a plan.

I'll illustrate the point . . .

Learn to get beyond the beginning...
When I was a kid, my book ideas looked something like this:

Guy and girl are orphans, raised by aliens on a strange planet in total darkness. They both have super powers. One day they meet and they form a plan to escape. They escape. There's some kind of cool plot twist, but I haven't figured it out yet. Anyway, um . . . chaos ensues?

And that's sort of it. I never had an end planned. I never really knew where my characters were going, or how their journey would finish, and as a result, I usually got frustrated with the story and quit writing. I enjoyed coming up with situations and characters and I loved writing first chapters, but somehow that was as far as I ever got. I didn't understand it at the time. But I needed a plan, a goal, a destination.

In Short...

Writing is hard. Writing without any sort of plan is really hard. If you are the kind of person who gets easily discouraged or derailed creatively, I think you might benefit from plotting ahead of time.

What I Learned

I have learned to start with the end. Who are these people, and what ultimately happens to them? What is their journey? If I know how I'm going to end, it is a whole lot easier to know how to start, and where to go from that start in order to get to the end.

Since I began putting this idea into practice, it has cut book-writing time in half. Now that I know my destination, I can head straight for it without writing in circles and complaining of writer's block while I bang my head against the keyboard.


If you want to remain somewhat flexible (and I encourage this), think of your plot points as islands, and your spur-the-moment creativity as you write as the bridges connecting the islands.

Final Thoughts

Now, I realize some people just don't like to plot. But for me, it's proven to be much less stressful as far as the writing itself is concerned. Allow a small analogy-- which is the more frustrating scenario?

1) following carefully plotted directions to your destination

2) driving around aimlessly, hoping you'll eventually stumble upon your destination? Or not even knowing your destination in the first place?

I would like to note that there are some very successful writers who never plot and who write the story to "find out what happens." This is a legitimate way of approaching writing. Furthermore, over-plotting could possibly kill the creative drive. And anything that keeps you from actually writing the book is obviously not a good strategy. Find what works for you and do that. Don't let me or anybody else tell you otherwise.

Monday, August 9, 2010

First Post!!

Hello! Welcome to Southern Scrawl*, my new blog for all things pertaining to writing and the publishing process. My name is Katie, and I write books.

Lots and lots of books.
Lots of books. But not pretty published ones, not yet...

In fact, I think it's safe to say more books are being written than dishes are being washed, or carpets vacuumed, or weeds pulled.  And in GA, there are lots of weeds.

(Hopefully, one day, I will be publishing said books. Then I can hire a cleaning service.)

In the meantime . . .

This is my blog. I hope to document my process as I continue to write and query and rewrite and re-query. I'm living and learning. Maybe I can share some things that will help others.

~ Katie

* I briefly considered having a standard greeting, like "Hey ya'll!" to go with the whole southern drawl thing. But then I remembered how much I hate that word, even if I am a Girl Raised In The South. So ... um no.


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