On Motivation

June 3, 2010 at 8:16 am (drafting, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

I’d be the first to admit that I sometimes don’t write every day. In fact, I can go for weeks at times without writing. But then I’ll suddenly start and the words will flow and stopping becomes quite difficult. Even when I’m superbly busy and should be doing other things.

Those spaces in between aren’t procrastination. Merely a different part of my process. I am planning, thinking, wondering. I am turning ideas around inside my head and waiting to know which one is worth pursuing. And once I know, I begin and I write with certainty.

What keeps me writing? I love it. It is a part of me. Every word given life upon the page and worked over and over again.

Yes, it is tiring. Yes, it is distracting from all the other things I could be doing. Yes, sometimes it keeps me away from things I want to do. But clearly I don’t want sleep or to do any of those other things as much as writing. And for as long as that is true, I will write.

Right now, I haven’t had the time to write properly (without distraction) for two days. My MC was left hanging underneath a rock ledge, fighting for grip on slippery rock in a scene that will undoubtably be cut from the next draft. I am currently pursuing a random thought that crossed my mind earlier in the week and I shoved the MC over the edge just to see what would happen. It is entertaining but really unhelpful to the plot so in the next rewrite she might be saved the effort of rescuing herself.

If I don’t write, she’ll hang there forever. I’ll always wonder what she would have done next. I’ll never see the story through and I’ll never get to the rewrite where I remove the useless scene (or find a use for it). Maybe that isn’t such a bad thing. It isn’t as if this story that I’m working on will ever change the world. But I want to write it.

That is my motivation.

What is yours?

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Critical, critical

June 2, 2010 at 10:14 am (Editing, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I’m going to admit it. I’m becoming very critical.

I’ve always been critical – particularly of myself – but lately I’ve been really critical of a lot of things.

Today I was given a short story to read. The purpose of the story was to demonstrate how to use descriptive language to create an emotional affect in the reader. Possibly it succeeded in that but the only emotional affect it had on me was the desire to grab a red pen and have at it – I managed to resist the urge but barely.

So what was wrong with the story?

Every single person or thing in the story was described by at least two adjectives in almost every single instance. Every single time. I’m sorry. The person is whistling. Sure, you can tell us how they are whistling and what it sounds like but the next time you feel the need to mention it you could just say whistling. You don’t then need to come up with two new adjectives (or an adverb and an adjective) to describe how the whistling is happening.

Objects were appearing ‘out of nowhere’. Umm, no. Unless they were tearing through interdimensional portals I’m pretty sure they came from somewhere. Maybe it wasn’t an important somewhere but to explicitly state they came from out of nowhere just leads the reader to wonder how that is even possible.

Characters were behaving out of character – which in a short story is really distracting because you don’t even have the benefit of later explaining the out of characterness (I know that isn’t a word).

I’ll admit it. I’m awful and I’m tearing this story to threads. And it lead me to realise some of the weaknesses I still have in my own writing. I like adjectives (not to this extent but I over use them to be sure). I may not have things appearing out of nowhere but I’m sure I suddenly have people in scenes where they shouldn’t be and have no logical reason to be and I’m sure I need to work on it. I need to turn this critical eye away from things I’m reading and apply it to things I’m writing and I need to look at what I could be doing instead.

Plenty of areas here for me to work on. What are you working on improving?

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Stuck In My Head

June 1, 2010 at 6:27 am (Author Info) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

So I’ve read pieces of more texts than I can remember today and one of them has gotten stuck in my head. I’ve read essays and reports and narratives and this and that and every other kind of text imaginable and do you know what got stuck in my head? An analytical exposition on the Raiders March (from Indiana Jones).

Okay, I’m at this conference learning about different text types and literacies and I’m actually finding it really interesting, when not being overwhelmed with content. What I need is a good month to sit down and digest everything because a lot of it is a rehash of stuff I already know but being told to me in new ways and mixed in there is new content and some of that is really, really important but is going to get lost somewhere inside my head if  I don’t have the time to sort it out. However at the moment my real problem is I’ve got this John Williams song bouncing around inside my head.

The problem being that I studied this particular song when I was at school and also wrote an analytical exposition on the text so even though I only read three paragraphs about it today in the midst of six hundred other things (slight use of hyperbole) it is just stuck there and I’m remembering watching the movie, making notes, replay the scene, make notes, replay the scene make notes, watch the whole movie, make notes. It is one of those songs that I could recognise from two notes I’ve heard it that many times.

Other than that – why is this song stuck in my head? Because it is brilliant. It is the perfect song to create character and mood and it is used brilliantly within the movie. Why do we remember things? Usually because they are really incredible, really terrible or really weird.

Anyway – just a quick post because  I really have a lot of reading to do for tomorrow and I do still want to do some writing this week (though I’m definitely not going to get much done as far as writing). I’m glad I’ve got some internet access and am able to check out some blogs this week because so far I’ve read some really interesting posts that I probably would have missed out on.

Hope everyone is having a great week. What songs are you getting stuck in your heads?

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5 Reasons for Reading Outside of Your Genre

May 24, 2010 at 6:41 am (Genre, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , )

It is advice that you hear all the time.  Writers should read widely.  They should read outside of their preferred genre.  Some people even go so far as to give you a specific list of books you must read (I always worry when someone tells me I must read something – it usually leads to me spending many weeks turning one page at a time and finding multiple other things to do).

I do however think it is good advice to read anything and everything you have the time to read – even things you know you are going to hate before you begin them. Here are my 5 reasons why:

1.  It is less likely you will end up emulating one particular author or group or authors if you have read widely. Having seen language used so many different ways it is unlikely you will latch onto any one person’s style and so you have more chance to find your own voice.

2.  Very few books fall into only one genre. Most have elements of many genres mixed together. Fantasy for instance usually has adventure, mystery, coming of age, romance, drama, horror and a range of other genres interlaced.  It helps to have read a wide range of genres so that you can develop these ideas within your own genre.

3.  Sometimes you discover something amazing. As I said, I usually worry when someone gives me a book and tells me I have to read it. I tend to have images of high school going through my brain and trying to read the class novel and not fall asleep and then remember enough of the story to write about it afterward. But sometimes, you discover a real gem. Something that just works for you.

4.  Even reading something you don’t like can improve your writing. If you critically analyse what it is you don’t like about what you are reading it will make you more critical of your own writing and how the reader will receive it.

5.  Particularly if you are write what you know kind of author, more experiences are better. Reading outside your genre, you never know what you might learn.

What do you think? Do you read outside your genre or do you stick with what you know?

Also, what is the worst book you’ve ever had to read because someone has requested you read it?

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Is it a fashion statement?

May 22, 2010 at 5:01 am (Character, Setting) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

I usually have a lot of fun dressing my various characters.  Mostly because I have such a strong mental image of the character and few of them ever dress for what they end up doing – plus I set them in fantasy worlds and so I don’t really worry about whether people dressed like that in any particular era or not.

That said, the protagonist in my latest WIP is giving me all kinds of trouble. I have a strong mental image of her but the clothes keep changing and they are always very practical, clothes. Lots of leather and denim and most of it torn and patched, which given the hostile nature of the world I’m building makes perfect sense. But it isn’t all that fun to write about. Still, every time I try to dress her differently I just think, there is no way she’s going to wear that skirt and she certainly isn’t going to wear bright colours and try to attract a lot of attention.

I did destroy her denim jacket though. Which lead to the very touching boy lending her his brown vinyl jacket scene which wasn’t really an improvement on her look but was an interesting interaction between the two characters.

Dressing your characters? Fashion statement or practical? Or both? Love to hear your views.

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Small Spaces and Long Drives

May 19, 2010 at 6:17 am (Author Info, Planning, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , )

I spent the weekend in a small car hurtling along a road that I suppose should be called a highway (it was certainly named so on the map).  I will point out that the only thing holding the road together was the roadkill and the only good thing about it being a highway was that you were travelling fast enough that you never really had to look at what you were driving over – eww.

What do you do on long car rides?

I can’t read in the car.  I can’t watch movies or play games or do anything that might stop me from becoming mind-numbingly bored because as soon as I do I get dreadfully sick.  So when I wasn’t behind the wheel and wishing that I didn’t have to focus on the small lumps smearing the road ahead what was there to do? (Conversation is of course out of the question given the driver doesn’t want to be distracted and the other passengers were trying to sleep.)

Well, I ended up doing what I always do when stuck somewhere with nothing to do.  I planned.

Before I left on the trip I had just started a new scene for my current WIP and was unhappy with how it had begun.  While I was staring out the window at the brown grass spreading in every direction, I played the scene through in my head.  Then I reversed and added a different beginning.  That didn’t really work, so I tweaked something else.  I continued to play with the scene in my head until I finally played it through and realised it was perfect. All of the issues I’d been having were resolved.

And only six hours to go until I could find a pen to write it all down in a notebook so that when I got home I could try to fix the scene for real.

What do you end up doing on long car rides?

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I have my reasons…

May 14, 2010 at 6:40 am (Character, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , )

…and my characters should have their reasons.

It is really quite difficult to like a character, or even respect them, if they have no real reason for their actions.  We may laugh at the cliche of an actor asking what their motivation is, but without it, things become pretty pointless, pretty quickly.

I recently started reading a book (it doesn’t really matter which one). Within two chapters I was incredibly frustrated with the protagonist.  Mostly because they had wandered randomly through rooms and observed really strange things but hadn’t reacted to anything and had just made the decision to leave the building – though why they were there in the first place had yet to be established. The whole time, as a reader, I was wanting the protagonist to turn and figure out why something was in a certain place or doing something.  I wanted to know why they were there, why they were so indifferent to the bizarre surroundings.  I wanted to know what was going on inside their head so that I could figure out whether they were just really composed on the outside but freaking out on the inside.

Needless to say, I didn’t get much further into the story. I made the decision that whether or not the author ever explained what the protagonist was doing and why, I wasn’t going to continue reading it.

This is kind of an extreme case and there is every possibility that within the next chapter all may have been explained.

More commonly we find villains who are bad because, well, the protagonist needed someone in their way.

We find sidekicks who help because… They’re a sidekick.  That’s their job.

We have hench men who hench but have no apparent personality or individual drive for anything and as a consequence fade into obscurity.

And the unforgivable – heroes who are good because they are.

How imporant do you think character motivation is?  Better yet – have you got an example of a protagonist who drove you crazy because they seemed to have no motivation?

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Response to Writing Blind

May 11, 2010 at 7:39 am (Planning, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I ran across a post by Kyle on his blog “Exercise in Futility” called Writing Blind and really started thinking.  Kyle asks:

How much should I know about my story before sitting down to start on a draft?  Should I have the entire plot mapped out, with all the main plot points, or should I just go with it, and write whatever comes to mind?

And really, we all ask that question from time to time. We get an idea, get really excited and maybe want to leap straight into writing, and some people have to start writing straight away or they lose that spark, that fire, whatever it is that drives them to write the idea down. Others know from experience that they have to have at least an outline, while others still won’t consider drafting without detailed chapter by chapter break downs and six hundred colour coded notes on each character.

I’ve come to understand my own writing pattern fairly well and ever I still wonder whether I could do it better. I don’t plan too much. Mostly because I don’t look at any of my notes once I start writing the first draft. I just don’t. I close my eyes and type and when I feel my fingers slowing I read what I’ve written and sometimes start writing again and sometimes read blogs or tweets or go watch television or do some other work until I feel ready to write again.

However I never start a draft without having written out an outline and character profiles and concept maps. I have a notebook with all of these things in it. I just don’t use them once I’m writing.

My theory is it is a safety net. It’s like when I used to play the clarinet. I would practise a piece over and over again. I could play it perfectly. It could play it without ever actually looking at the music and I knew this because half the time I would forget to turn the page of the music. However, if someone took the music away I suddenly would freeze and wouldn’t be able to tell you what the first note was. The music was my safety net. I didn’t need it, but it made me feel like I knew what I was doing and so I was fine.

My note book with my plans is my safety net. If I get really, really stuck on something and I desperately want to finish it (though usually when I’m that stuck it is because what I’m working on is rubbish) I can go back and see where I was meant to be going and where I’ve gone wrong. That and I usually remember most of what I’ve written down in the book anyway and so I’m following the plan and just adding bits to it and tweaking it as I go.

And that works for me.

The advice I read many time, given to me by many of the bloggers out there, when I first started trying to write for something more than my own enjoyment was that every writer has to find what works for them. Read what others do and then try some of the different suggestions but don’t feel like there is some ‘right’ way to accomplish the task.

Incidentally, I would love to hear what is working for other people at the moment because I’m always looking for new ideas.

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Been Tagged

May 10, 2010 at 8:16 am (Author Info, Feature) (, , , , , , , )

I was tagged by Alex J. Cavanaugh

For a “Tag” you answer 5 questions 5 times to share a bit about yourself. So here goes.

Question 1 – Where were you five years ago?

I was at university.

I sold donuts and coffee.

I was five years younger.

My favourite anime was still Sailor Moon (which is incredible but is no longer my favourite).

I spent nearly ten hours a week on trains.
Question 2 – Where would you like to be in five years?

Still teaching.

Still writing.

I want to have travelled to at least three countries (hopefully Japan and Canada feature in those).

Have read a lot more books.

Finally learnt to reverse park?

Question 3 – What is on your to-do list today?

Watch the morning news.

Work.

Hot chocolate.

Hopefully write something.

Work some more really.
Question 4 – What snacks do you enjoy?
Chocolate biscuits.

Chocolate bars.

Chocolate cake.

Chocolate drinks.

Anything chocolate.
Question 5 – What five things would you do if you were a billionaire?


Build a library and fill it with books that I would enjoy reading.

Build my own cinema complex and watch all the movies I love.

Try to fund a program that would help others – though I’ve never really thought about it because I’m unlikely to ever have the money to do it.

Shoes – a pair of boots for every occasion.

Travel, lots.
The rules are that I get to pass the Tag along to 5 Bloggers I admire….

Stephen Tremp

Elizabeth Spann Craig

Eric – from Working my Muse

Little Scribbler

Barb – from Creative Barb Wire

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One Method That Isn’t For Me

May 9, 2010 at 8:57 am (Character, fantasy, Setting) (, , , , , , , , )

I recently considered the plight of some of my characters and the fact that I put them through so many things I’ve never experienced. This is a small dilemma because I am often left wondering whether the character is actually responding realistically to the situation. I am not the character and I am not going through what they are. All I can do is imagine if I was that person, how would I feel.

That, and read other accounts of similar experiences and research how people have responded to certain events and read psychological discussions etc, etc. Does that enable me to actually understand how my character will feel? Maybe, maybe not. I hope it does enough that I don’t horribly offend any one with a lack of sensitivity.

Considering this, I momentarily wondered if maybe I should actually try to experience some of what my characters go through. Obviously I wouldn’t want to experience most of what I put them through (I would hate to be one of my characters in most of their situations) but it wouldn’t hurt to move a bit closer to understanding them.

The example is one I was playing around with earlier today.

I have a character who is hiding in a tree over night and is trying to sleep. Sleeping in a tree doesn’t strike me as being a fantastically comfortable experience and to be perfectly honest I’m not certain you could brace yourself appropriately and actually sleep.

I started looking at various trees and considering the possibilities.

Finally, I found a fantastic tree that had nice wide, reasonably flat branches, close together and with enough cross branches that you could conceivably brace yourself in the midst of them all and not plummet to your death.

I looked up at them. I wondered what it would feel like to be up there.

Then common sense kicked in.

I am not about to scale a really smooth trunk of a tree to reach branches that may or may not be sturdy enough to support my weight and then attempt to fully relax and hope that somehow I don’t fall sideways and crash to the ground, almost certainly breaking bones. How do you explain that to the ambulance attendant? By the way, I was just checking if a fictional character could sleep in a tree?

I think I’ll just imagine what it would be like and continue to try to put myself in the place of the character and hope I don’t go too far beyond the realm of possibility. Though given it is a made up tree in the story, I think I’ll go out of my way to design it so that it seems slightly more plausible that she didn’t roll out in the middle of the night and crash to her death.

How about you? Do you ever wonder what it would be like to be your character?

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