Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Odd Woman Out (and Blogging Anniversary!)

I’m the youngest member in my prompt-based writing group. I knew that going into it. Younger writers have come and gone, but I’m the one who stuck. Usually this isn’t an issue. We’re all adults, we’re all writers, and that’s all there is to it. Except when it’s not.

Our group meets just about every Monday. And you may recall how Valentine’s Day fell on Monday this year. My husband made dinner reservations and I sent my regrets to the group.

This past weekend, I ran into one of the women from the writing group who told me, yes, they still met despite the holiday. She informed me I was the only one young enough to still enjoy such things. And that they had a few jokes at my expense.

Now, I know this is all light-hearted teasing. As the youngest by two decades (at least), I have to expect some ribbing.

But it does make me wonder sometimes. Because I’m the youngest, do they treat me differently? Are they less critical about my work so they don’t discourage me?

The group is comprised mostly of hobbyists and those who turned to writing later in life, some after they retired from an unrelated career. Then there’s me, someone who also turned to writing later in life, but a few years after grad school, not decades. I often lament the fact that I didn’t do it sooner – say when I was still in school and in a position to take creative writing classes. And now, everyday, there’s more rampant speculation about ebooks and the state of the industry, of writers younger and older than me getting book deals.

I’ve heard if you don’t publish by 30, you won’t make it. Like any piece of writing advice, you can take it or leave it. But as someone who’s barely clinging to what’s left of my twenties, statements like these strike fear in my heart.

Then I think about the people in my group. They write, regardless of the odds, regardless of the fact some whippersnapper like me is snapping at their heels. They simply write. And so must I.

In other news, today marks the one-year anniversary of The Bluestocking Blog. This time last year, I posted my Declaration of Intent. And it’s been a crazy fun ride (and a lot of work) ever since.

Thank you to all who have commented, followed, tweeted, shared, and otherwise welcomed me to the Writing Blogosphere. I am humbled. And I am looking forward to another year!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Review – The Mortal Instruments Books 1-3 by Cassandra Clare

When I first heard the Mortal Instruments series was a cross between Buffy the Vampire Slayer (I’m a huge fan of all things Whedon – I even watched all of the fascinating but flawed Dollhouse) and Twilight (which I did read – the things I do to stay up with the industry) my ears perked up. I bought the boxed set (at Borders, no less, doing my part) and dug in, reading a book a day.

The series then became my February selection for the Speculative Fiction Reading Challenge I signed up for through the book review blog Floor to Ceiling Books.

The first three books - City of Bones, City of Ashes, City of Glass – focus on protagonist Clary who gets drawn into the world of angels and demons when her mother mysteriously disappears. She and her comrades (three Shadowhunters, a werewolf, and her high school bff cum vampire) are pitted against Clary’s estranged father Valentine, a powerful ex-Shadowhunter who seeks to rid the world of demonkind.

One of the most enjoyable aspects was the dialogue since that was the most BtVS-worthy aspect of the stories. The worldbuidling effectively evoked the demonic underbelly of New York City, but Clare includes a lot of borrowed tropes, which help to keep the emphasis of the story where it belongs: on the characters.

Clare gets credit for trying to make the big-bad more multi-dimensional then other fantasy villains striving for the purity of the race (Voldemort anyone?) with bits of backstory and scenes intended to explain his view on things, but most of Valentine’s choices are tough to stomach. I also liked how all the different characters have their own role to play in the story – also reminiscent of the Scooby gang’s division of labor in BtVS.

And then there’s Jace. Apparently he’s up there with both Edward and Jacob from Twilight. While it’s obvious that Jace and Clary would end up together – even with best friend Simon thrown into the mix – it was still fun figuring out how and when with all the ups and downs in between.

Maybe I’m used to a more intimate third person POV in the books I read (and the ones I’m trying to write) but I found the books’ POV to have a bit more narrative distance than I’m used to. It took me a long time to get into Clary’s character and really care. As I read, I was interested in what happened because there is a lot of action, but not terribly involved.

Book Three (City of Glass) leaves us with a happy ending and most narrative threads tied up nicely. I was somewhat surprised to learn three more books were in the works, with Book Four (City of Fallen Angels) to come out later this year. It is supposedly focused more on best friend Simon’s transformation into a vampire, but it sounds (to me) as a way to bank on the success of the first three books and push the property as far as it goes. I hope I’m wrong.

In any case, the first three books are a fun read, with a bit more action and substance to them than Twilight.

To read more of this month's book reviews for the Speculative Reading challenge, go HERE.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Spring Is In the Air

I almost didn’t write a post for today. Why not? Because I had other things to do. And I did not want to make the time, especially when we had a week of sunshine with temperatures in the upper fifties. Spring is close.

The days are getting longer. They warm up faster. I can run outside now, without having to wear all my thermal gear that protects me from the elements. I rode my bike for the first time this year on Monday. To the coffee shop no less.

The daily rhythms of my life are changing as hints of spring are easier to discern. I have to adapt, but I’m not quite there yet.

This means instead of driving to the coffee shop or library, I ride my bike. It means I’ll have to relearn how to write despite the sweat that gathers at the small of my back or the chill I’ll feel once I cool down from the exercise. I ride at times where I’ll avoid the bulk of traffic – rush hour, lunchtime, the end of the school day. I’ll be getting up earlier in order to fit a run in before my day begins. Writing, so often an afternoon activity in the winter, will start creeping into my mornings now. Theoretically I’ll be more productive.

Do the shifting seasons affect your writing patterns? Or am I just a SAD person? And apologies to those of you without any weather breakthroughs just yet.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

(In)Flexibility and the Writing Process

I like to think when I first started writing, I was a lot more inflexible than I am now. I was so concerned with getting the characters and events in my mind on the page that everything had to be just so. Think description dumps and overly choreographed scenes. As flawed as they were, I loved those scenes because I was writing for myself.

When I reached the point where I wanted to write for other people too, I had to make tough decisions how to recast those early attempts into something people would pay money to read. Kill your darlings and all that.

It's a difficult process, especially early on. For a long time, my only argument for why things happened the way it did in my manuscript was “That’s just how it is.” A brilliant rationale, don’t you think? Any changes, even sound ones, that didn’t mesh with the mental image of my work were rejected. I was too inflexible, too unwilling to consider other possibilities.

It wasn’t until I realized I couldn’t get from point A to point B in my story without making dramatic changes that I finally eased up on what I thought the story should be and what it needed to be. I finished the draft, revised, and was inordinately proud of what I’d accomplished. Once I started workshopping the piece with critique partners, members in my writing groups, and garnered feedback from editors and agents I realized that I still had a long way to go. My work simply wasn’t where it needed to be. And I decided then that, although I love my story, above all, I want to make it work.

This doesn’t mean I’m going to compromise all my ideas and story elements in a bid to be published. But I will have to ensure I have achieved an acceptable level of proficiency in my craft, sophistication in my plot, and depth in my characters. It means if three people flag the same word for being out of place, I change it. If people have difficulty understanding my character’s motivation, I make it more pronounced. If my opening isn’t cutting it, I revise it until it shines. Every change I make is one less thing someone can reject me for.

So I've become more flexible. I'm more open to change. I want to make my work as strong as it can be. If that means letting go of words, phrases, wholesale scenes that hold my story back, so be it. At the end of the day it is still my story, and better for it.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Snap Out of It

We all get into writing funks – those days where that pesky voice in your head starts saying things like “What do you think you’re doing?” or “You’re never going to make it” or “Why don’t you just give up now and save us all the hassle.”

Usually I just power through these moments by drafting a new story, reading a book, or working on some revisions I’ve been looking forward to tackling.

But sometimes that negative inner voice is bolstered by undisputed fact: the latest form rejection or, less frequently, the personalized but brief “thanks but no thanks.” That’s when the inner voices goes from being annoying to down right debilitating.
At that point, it’s way too easy to give into feelings of unworthiness, of self-loathing, of the unavoidable rejectionitus. If you are like me, you can’t bear the thought of working on your stories or even thinking about them – it’s too painful. But if you don’t write, you don’t get better. If you don’t get better, how can you expect to be published? It’s a downward spiral of negativity.

And I was dangerously close to falling into that cycle. Over the holidays, I finally heard back from Editor X about my historical romance novel. Instead of the glowing praise I dreamed about, I got a dead-on critique. I had another partial request from an agent, which netted me another personal rejection. I started to question whether I knew what I was doing, whether I was truly ready. Every section of my story I sent off to my critique partner resulted in more issues I needed to address. Soon enough I didn’t even want to look at my story anymore. I focused on all the negative feedback and became paralyzed by it.

But then I realized something. Sure, there were problems, but at least I now had a roadmap of what needed to be done to make my story shine. I had finally amassed enough feedback that I could see my way out of my funk.

The good:
  • I have a strong logline and query (hence the requests).
  • My story has an exciting beginning.
  • My story has a strong second half.
  • I have strong worldbuilding and interesting characters.
The bad:
  • I have a saggy middle.
  • Some characters behave inconsistently.
  • I still need to work on incorporating historical detail and backstory effectively.
  • My writing is not yet “there,” especially with regards to showing, not telling, and narrative distance.
I used to think because my story had an exciting beginning and ending, the middle didn’t matter so much. I used to think my writing was awesome, regardless of whether I had adverbs, saidisms, and lots of telling that suggested otherwise. I used to think my story was good enough. I used to think I was special, that I was the exception to the rule, that I didn't have to put in my time.

That’s obviously not the case anymore. But instead of wallowing in the rejection blues, I've forced myself to analyze my feedback and plan out a way to make my story stronger.

It took effort to snap myself out of my funk and it will take even more effort to make the changes to my story that are needed, but it will be worth it.

How do you snap yourself out of writing funks? What keeps you motivated when the going gets tough?

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