Monday, March 28, 2011

What's Your Writing Style?

Happy Monday, everyone!

We've probably all heard descriptions of writing styles. In my writing classes in college, I was taught sprinter, plodder, and bleeder. Basically, fast, slow, reeeeally slow. (Being a bleeder sounds terrible, btw.)

Probably a sprinter. Look at that smug smile.
And you've probably also engaged in a number of discussions about the merits of being a plotter vs. a pantser, or some hybrid combination of the two.

But last week I stumbled across this blog post that laid out 4 different descriptions of writer types, complete with famous examples. Reading this post changed the way I look at myself creatively. No joke.

The post describes four types:

The Metronomes - freakish (kidding!) writers who steadily hack away at their word counts, day in and day out. Clearly, based on my post last week about how patience has helped me be a better writer (or really, helped me be a writer, period), this isn't my thing AT ALL.

The Seat-Time Nazis - these writers simply force themselves to write every day. I do this, but it is a torture akin to waterboarding.

The Inspirationalists - These writers need to "let their fields lie fallow" between creative projects.

The Tank Fillers - Mark Twain actually coined this term. Writers like this will be merrily working on their novel, and then become completely stuck. They leave the project, work on something else, and later return and discover they have the answer because their creative "tank" had filled up again over time.

Now the tank filler is unquestionably my style of writing, and until I read this description I've only thought of this way of creating as my own fickleness or something. Basically I have a great idea, I write about 15-20k, and then BAM. I'm stuck. I can't move another inch forward. I fret and fume and plot and pace, and finally I leave it and work on something else (feeling like a quitter the whole time). Then a few days or weeks or months later, I'll return to the project, have a flash of inspiration, and dive back in.

Tank Fillers work best on multiple projects simultaneously, because they draw inspiration and motivation from multiple creative outlets, because trust me, if you aren't working on 5-6 novels at a time, finishing one is going to take FOREVER. I've read dozens of times that you shouldn't spread yourself too thin, you shouldn't be scatter-brained, that you should work on one thing at a time, etc etc. So I feel relief to find I'm not the only writer out there who finds this the optimal way to create (well, I still wish I was a metronome).

Lately I'm learning more and more that nobody can tell you the best way to create. You're going to have to figure out your own rhythms and then work with them. I've been trying to force myself to be some combination metronome/time-seat nazi, and while I'm not giving up on the latter yet, I am coming to terms with the fact that I'm probably always going to be a bit of a scatter-brain when it comes to writing books.

And that's okay, I guess.

What's your writing style?

PS ~ Don't forget to enter to win a free copy of WITHER here!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Becoming a Better Writer ... Without Writing

Folks, we know that in order to improve your writing you have to practice. You have to read and write. You have to suck before you can be good. Etc. Absolutely this is true. Read, read some more, write, write some more, find a crit group, find beta readers, learn to edit, learn to plot, learn to write write by writing and writing and writing some more.


You can also become a better writer through things that are completely unrelated to writing itself.

For me personally, for example, these things are patience and endurance.

Where I learned them:

Patience I've learned (and am learning) everywhere. At work, at home. From my husband. From my family. From life in general. As I've become more patient I've also become a better writer, because let's face it. Good writing rarely happens overnight. A good book rarely happens in one draft. You have to stick with it for a long time.

Impatient people who can't stick with a project may never even finish it.

Endurance is similar, but I like to think of patience as passive and endurance as active. Patience keeps me from throwing my laptop across the room in frustration, and endurance keeps me opening up that word document every morning to write. I learned endurance when I finished my college degree long-distance. I learned it from my mental disorder. I learned (and am learning) it from working part-time, frustrating, menial jobs.

You know, life.

So these life skills aren't writing related per se, but trust me, without them I probably wouldn't be writing today. If I hadn't become a more patient person, I certainly wouldn't have multiple completed novels and short stories under my belt. Heck, I probably wouldn't be writing at all. Before doing college long distance, I didn't have a lot of endurance unless someone was nagging me to do stuff all the time. And I probably wouldn't have learned to stick with a novel for months at a time without that experience, either.

I like to think about stuff like this because it helps me when I am at work, not doing anything writing-related, and I'm feeling frustrated that I'm wasting time and not improving myself. Wait a second, I tell myself. I am becoming a better writer. Right here, right now while I deal with another hyperactive child for the tenth time in the last ten minutes.

And this encourages me, because sometimes I fall victim to the whole feel-guilty-if-I'm-not-writing-every-second mentality. Because I have GOALS. And I have TIME CONSTRAINTS. And other stressful things.

I'm still learning about the process and improving myself, even when I'm not typing on my laptop or reading a book about craft.

What non-writing skills have helped you be a better writer?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Rejection Feels Like . . .

So yesterday I got a rejection that really, really sucked.

I'd written this short story that I had really high hopes for, one I thought was actually quite good. I definitely don't think that about most of my short stories, but this one was my very favorite and I felt pretty confident about it. I send it to a sort of prestigious magazine (that would totally score me membership points for SFWA) and I got a response from one of the editors saying she loved it and that it was getting passed on to the second level of consideration for the next issue. I was very excited, and I waited several weeks for a response, my anticipation getting higher with each day that went by without a response (they say not hearing back is a good thing when it's a fast turn-around market like this one was, because you're being seriously considered the longer you wait ).

Then yesterday I got some really upsetting news by the way of family. Not a death or illness or anything like that, but definitely something huge and something that I think is pretty awful. I was very upset about it. I went home and logged onto my email to tell my brother about it since I doubted he'd heard yet, and waiting for me was an email about the short story.

I clicked on it, and a tiny bit of hope fluttered inside me, but (I swear, sometimes I think I'm psychic) I really knew already somehow. And yeah, it was a rejection. A form rejection, no less, which is always tough after a very nice, very personal note from an editor from the same magazine.

So it sort of sucked. I think it felt like, to borrow an analogy from this, that I was opening a box on Christmas morning and I thought it was something I'd been hoping and dreaming for, and instead my pet hamster was inside. Dead.

NOW. I'm not trying to whine about this. Am I sounding whiny? I know agents often go off about whiny authors on their blogs, and believe me, I get that rejection is part of the business. I totally get that, and to be honest it has gotten a lot easier for me too. I didn't cry. I sort of shrugged my shoulders and moved on. The family thing was definitely bringing me down much more than the rejection. But combined they were sort of a rough set of disappointments, you know?

Instead of whining, I'm trying to sort of cheer myself up. Sometimes I have a darker sense of humor. So tell me. What does rejection feel like to you? Be colorful.

I say rejection feels like getting sat on by an elephant. While you're also on fire. On your birthday. Oh, and he totally squashed your ice cream cone with his foot, too.

See? I feel better already!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Write the Caption

I love my family and friends dearly, but there is a reason why I don't usually advertise the fact that I'm a writer trying to become published (at least in non-internet places). At certain times when the going is very tough, when you've gotten another rejection letter, when you're completely stumped over a plot snarl in the middle section of your book--innocent, well-meaning comments feel like a slap to the face.

What's one of the most frustrating things you get told as a writer/hopeful querier/trying-to-become-published person?

Leave your caption to the picture in the comments!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Making Your Own Book Covers

Sometimes I fall into what I consider the "daydream trap."

I start thinking about what Amazon reviews I'd get for a MS I'm working on, or I imagine what the perfect cover would look like. I pretend the book is on my shelf, and I dream up scenarios where people I knew in school who looked down on me randomly run into me, gush about this "amazing book" they read, and I'm like, "Yeah, I wrote that book." I concoct imaginary scenes in bookstores where I am recognized and approached. You know, silly stuff.

But sometimes it IS fun to do more than just write. I love everything about books--where you get them (bookstores, libraries), what's on the cover . . . I like to dream. And I like to dabble.

And if I could do one thing besides write the book, I'd want to design the covers. See, I have this thing about book covers--I love looking at them, I love finding pretty new ones, and I love imaging what mine will look like some day.

So yesterday I indulged the daydream a bit and made a mock cover for one of my finished books that I'm hoping to query one of these days (whenever I finish editing it!) ... I don't have money lying around to buy stock photos, and I'm very OCD* about stealing images or "borrowing" them so I just used a photo I'd taken of my sister a few months ago. It's not exactly my first choice for the book cover, but it works. I really like the parasol, which is a leftover accessory from my wedding a few years back. The title is also a working title. But, ah well. I think it turned out rather well. I played with the colors a bit in an editing program, threw some text down, and voila.

What do you think?

Now, I'm no expert at making covers, and as such I can't see all the ugly problems that I'm sure it has. I've never had a single class in cover art or graphic design, so I'm sure there are a lot of flaws in this. I DID try to limit myself to 2 fonts, haha. I know that much. And I'm not 100% satisfied with it either--I fussed with where to place "A Novel" for FOREVER, for instance, and I'm still not sold on the place I picked in the end. Also I feel like my pseudonym should be more readable. Maybe I'd add a little colored bar at the bottom to fix that. Or something. And like i said, the picture is far from perfect, but it was something I had on hand and it was the best one I had that didn't show my sister's face (she is only 14, so I am OCD about posting her all over the internet too--yes, I'm one of those paranoid people) ... but I like it.

It makes me feel all tingly inside to look at it.

It makes the story feel more ... real.

Does anybody else ever dream up covers for their stuff?

* For real

PS ~ I'll confess I also spend way way way too much time on stock photo sites, picking out hypothetical images for hypothetical covers. It's a sad addiction.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Brain Storm

About half of my writing is subconscious, I think. Whenever I'm doing some heavy plotting, or if I've mulling over a particularly puzzling or tricky aspect of the story--even when I'm not actively thinking about the story--my head feels like it's full of rain-saturated storm clouds. Flashes of insight or inspiration skitter across my thoughts like lightning, and occasionally I experience a rumble of exasperation like thunder. But mostly I just feel heavy, full of rain, anxious to drop down words onto the page but not ready quite yet to do so.

It definitely feels like a brain storm.

This might explain, at least in part, why I am so prone to staring off into space and dropping the conversational ball at times. Brain storms. 

Thursday, March 3, 2011

How Do I Deal With It?

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

I’ve always thought that quote could be best attributed to being in love with someone who doesn’t know you exist. Well, it can also be applied to writing. Because that’s exactly how I feel right now.

I have so many fantastic ideas (well, I like ‘em). I am head over heels in love with about 8 novel ideas right now, and they are in various stages of completion from 10k to 20k to 50k. And more crop up all the time! These are commonly called “plot bunnies,” and that’s very cute, but mine are more like “plot monsters.”

My problem? I don’t have the time, energy, and sanity to juggle that many books in my head. But what do I do? I can’t forget about them. They whine and prowl around the edges of my conscious like hungry cats. They plague me while I try to sleep. They demand my attention during important moments, like family dinners, church, and conversations with my husband.

And there are So. Many. Of. Them. This is all well and good, I mean, the more the merrier! Except … all these ideas are making it difficult for me to work on any one idea. They all want to be TOLD. They all want to be FINISHED. And they’re driving me crazy in the meantime.

I wish I knew the answer to this problem. Right now I’m trying to just plug away steadily, one book at a time. Once a story is out of my head and on the paper it leaves me alone. Until then that world full of characters and events and climaxes and emotions adds its voice to the howling. The only way to shut them up is to write them. (Hence the very apt statement you see: write or die. It’s only kidding on the square for people like me).

So I ask—does anybody else have this problem, and what do you do about it? Please share!

I am in search of an answer.


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