Monthly Archives: April 2014

Z – Zzzzz…. Sleep And Writing

It’s so nice to get one of those waves of inspiration.  Not too long ago, I had a great one, and lucky me, it just kept going.  The night it hit, I was writing from 12 o’clock to 4:30 – in the morning.

We don’t plan for these things to happen.  We can’t schedule our creativity to spring at an opportune time.  It just pops up when it pops up, and sometimes that means a very long night.  I call it “writer’s insomnia” – a sleep disturbance that develops because the mind won’t stop writing your story.  You put your pen down, or get up from your computer, but your brain is still writing.  You try to fall asleep, but in your head you continue to hear the words describing a scene that plays before you when you shut your eyes.  Unfortunately, there’s not a pill you can take to make this go away.  Well, there may, but generally I have a feeling that type of pill would also take the story with it.  The only real way to combat it, is to go write it down until you can’t write anymore.  I’ve known some people to keep a tape recorder (or whatever new technological replacement is available) on the nightstand to record whatever they think of in the middle of the night.  My own fix to writer’s insomnia is to try to keep as much of the story in my head as possible.  Just like reading a book in bed, I will let the words of my own story lull me to sleep, and just hope that in the morning I will remember at least a little.

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Y – “You”, Another Pronoun

“You”

So, I spent sometime on the pronoun “one”. Now, for “you”. For this, I would like to present a challenge.

When we write, what POV do we usually choose? As a general rule, a writer will pick either first or third person. A first person narrator is almost always an active character in the story, but not necessarily the protagonist. He/she can sometimes be an outside character with information on the story and characters within, but will generally be fairly limited in his/her knowledge. In rare cases, such as The Book Thief (in which the narrator is Death) or The Lovely Bones (in which the narrator is a young girl who has been killed), the narrator may be omniscient, but usually first person operates on a limited amount of knowledge that can be reasonably known by the character who is narrating. A third person narrator has a few options that make it an “easier” POV to work within. There is the subjective narrator who can describe feelings and/or thoughts of one or more characters, or the objective narrator who focuses only on action of the characters. Alongside this element there is the knowledge of the narrator, being either omniscient – an all knowing narrator with knowledge of all times, people, places, and events including characters’ thoughts; or limited – usually focused on one character’s experience and feelings and thoughts. But the second person narrator is extremely rare in fiction, and difficult to pull off well. According to a Wikipedia article on Narrative Modes, a good example of this form is Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney. (I have not read this, but it is now officially on my list, if for no other reason but that I want to see how he does this.) It is also employed by writers of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books that were popular in the 80s and which I love and miss. (Every time you read it, you can make it a different story – two, three, four, or more books in one!) As this POV is so rarely used, and very difficult, I wonder how many readers may take advantage of the challenge to write your second person story. The nice thing about reading this type of story is the reader is immediately required to submit as an active participant in the story. If written well, I suspect this type of narration can be highly engaging to readers as they are literally pulled into the story from the beginning. If you choose to take part in this challenge, please share in the comments what you learn from it and your successes with your story. We are interested to hear how your experiment turns out!

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X – “X”, The Unknown

Today, I’d like to fill you in on a little secret of mine.  I think I’ve mentioned how important it is to do your research – when you’re writing historical fiction, when you’re writing about something with which you do not have personal experience, when you’re writing an essay of any kind, and especially when you are referencing published and well-known books on your blog (nope, still haven’t forgiven myself for that).

I think I have also mentioned the dangerous trap that this can put a writer in – namely, me, as I do this all the time.  Since research can be so daunting, and one may not know where even to begin, sometimes research can put a great idea on hold indefinitely.  Like I said, this happens to me all the time.

The advice that I keep being given in these situations, and the advice that I keep giving all my readers (hypocrite that I am) is “Just write”, but if you don’t know what you’re writing it can be intimidating.  I never want to get anything wrong, and editing is hard enough without having to change whole paragraphs or chapters to be historically (or otherwise) accurate.  Many of my projects have been stunted or completely stopped by this problem.

However, lately I have found a great fix for this.  While writing a scene in a hospital the other day, I had  a doctor ordering tests for my MC.  Now, I’m not a doctor, and I have no idea what tests a doctor would run when faced with the unique ailment I’ve given my MC.  I could have put down my notebook, and waited until I could speak to a real doctor about it, but I was on a roll.  I didn’t want to stop.  So instead I wrote, “Nurse, I want to do a few neurological tests.  Order a X, X, X, and an MRI”.  (They always order an MRI.)  I used the letter “X” in the same way it’s used in Algebra – to mark the unknown variable.  It works as a place holder.  I know that eventually I’ll fill it up with some learned medical jargon, but at least for now I can move on.  And the great thing is, “X” by itself rarely shows up in any text, so once I have the necessary information, all I have to do is use Microsoft’s (or any other word processor’s) search/find feature and replace my “Xs” with my new knowledge.  Gone are the days when lack of information kept me from finishing a project.  I hope this tidbit can help you too.

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W – Work In Progress: The Bane of my Existence, or The Love of my Life

Because let’s face it, your current project can make you crazy, or it can cheer you through the day.  Perhaps I shouldn’t, but I assume that most of you readers out there are also actively writing, and that many of you are probably working on a long piece: a novel, a memoir, maybe even a thesis.  And if you are, you’ve had those days.  You know those days; when you sit down to your computer or whatever your writing machine is, and stare at it waiting for something to come to you, when suddenly it’s bed time and you have nothing new.  On the other hand, there are the other days, when you knock out 25 or more pages in a few hours, and you think, “Yes!  This is it.  This is where I’m supposed to be!”

Oh, if all the days were like that latter one.

 

The trouble with a WIP is that it’s not done yet.  And, worse, you can’t necessarily see a light at the end of the tunnel.  But I’d like to offer a few tips that may help you get closer to the finish line.

1.  Despite how tempting it is, I recommend not editing as you go.  Sure, you may be rethinking that chapter you wrote yesterday, and it’s really tempting to go back and fix what you don’t like.  Maybe you’ve changed your mind and would prefer to have Timmy stuck in a cave, because a well is just so cliche.  (I don’t know what you’re writing.  At least that example made you laugh!)  Don’t go back.  Just move forward.  You can rewrite individual scenes when you’re finished with your first draft, but if you keep writing the same scene over and over, your WIP will always be in progress.

2.  Save everything.  Not just on your computer and your backup drive.  Have a backup for your backup, and maybe even some hard copies.  Because the worst thing that can happen is to be 107 pages in, and your hard drive crashes.  (This happened to me while I was writing my MS.  I got the blue screen of death, and could not remember when I had last backed up.  Luckily, I had hard copies of everything, which I found after a long panic attack and a lot of tears.)  But save everything for fun too.  One of my favorite activities is to go back and read old work.  It cracks me up, because most of mine is bad.  But every now and then, you find a gem that you may want to revisit.

3.  Don’t give up.  Make writing a habit.  Do it everyday.  You don’t necessarily have to work on your WIP, but you probably at least want to give it a little thought.  One of my favorite things about journaling is putting my thoughts about my work down, taking notes, and working through problems.  It really helps.  If you’re suffering from writer’s block (hey, it happens to everyone) just sitting down, and writing out your frustration can help.  Where are you stuck?  What’s happening in your story that you can’t get out of?  What ideas are you putting in your thesis that have got you thinking you’re talking in circles?  Write your way out of it.  I promise it helps.

 

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V – Voice: Who Said That!?!

As I was reading, I started thinking about how hard it is for me to differentiate my characters’ voices.  It has been a consistent comment in notes on my MS and some other work I’ve done.  To practice, I decided to try an exercise based on my WIP.  Give this a try if you find the same difficulty in your work.

Write a “Point/ Counter-Point” of sorts from the POVs of two of your characters who have experienced the same event.   Would they see things differently? -Put more emphasis or importance on one event versus another?  How would their use of language differ?  Focus on really getting into the head of the character you are writing and see it from his/ her POV.

As a former actress (READ: local community and high school theater circuit), I can’t believe it has taken me so long to get the idea of adapting an old performance exercise into a writing exercise.  If I think of anymore, I will certainly share them, but the only one that is popping in my head at present doesn’t really translate to writing; unless of course you want to increase your typing speed.  Annunciation practice for writers!

Red leather, yellow letter, copper kettle, brittle brattle, skidaddily dee, skidaddily doo.

 

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U – Utopia: The Fight For Equal Time

In recent years, there have been a surge in dystopian fiction, especially in Young Adult (YA) fiction.  Books like The Hunger Games and Divergent seem to be popping up constantly.  Dystopia is a nice plot device in that it automatically sets up an atmosphere of survival and conflict, allowing the protagonist the opportunity to become a hero.

But something we do not see as often are Utopian novels.  Granted, a state of perfection does not necessarily set up conflict, however, a clever writer could see the possibility for conflict in any setting.  For instance, the idea of perfection being too perfect.  Might a protagonist feel the wool is being pulled over his eyes, or feel threatened by an outside force that could ruin such a state?  I think of films, like Pleasantville and The Truman Show, in which the perfect world became the enemy either for being too close-minded or being a false world.   It seems to me, for all the terrible worlds we make for ourselves, could we not have a counterpoint of perfection, and find what struggles that may create?

 

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T – Time: It’s Never Too Late, Or Too Early

Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of commercials revolving around retirement.  It stands to reason.  The Baby Boomer Generation is not really getting younger, and if you can believe it (as a member, I can’t) the earliest Generation Xers are  beginning to reach their 50s.  Of course, like a good little capitalist nation, a range of companies are banking on this, and getting us hyped up to retire.  (They do seem to be overlooking the fact that the majority of us will not be able to experience the retirement of previous generations, but I think there was really only one generation that did that anyway, so I guess it’s not that big a deal.)

But if you get to retire in the traditional sense, what will you do with it?  Are you one of those who has thought, “I can’t wait to retire!  I can finally write that book – that Great American Novel – that I’ve wanted to write all these years”.  Will you be Bilbo in a hole, writing all about your adventures long past?  If you’re retired now, does any of this sound like how you spent the day today?

I don’t think there is anything wrong with waiting until the time is right, or the inspiration hits.  Some may say, “If you want to write, Write!  Why wait?”, and I do agree with that.  But, if you’ve been waiting for the “right time”, I don’t see anything wrong with that either.  The fact is, as long as we are living, all we have is time.  We have time to raise our families, make friends, work hard, and participate in activities we enjoy.  And we always have time to write.

So, if you’ve saved up all your creative juice for retirement, now’s the time to use it.  And if you’re not quite to retirement age (or financial ability), now is still the time to use that creative juice.  Let it flow out of your pen, and onto the page.  Because, no matter what anyone else thinks, putting your thoughts, your story, and your heart down on paper is never a waste of time.

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