26 June 2013

The Birthday Goal

Sorry, no writing tips today. This one's all about me. I've had this idea floating in the back of my mind in order to crack down and get my first draft done. I'm not usually good with deadlines, since I'm quite the procrastinator. But lately my progress has completely plateaued. It's like all of my motivation disappeared. So I need to slap it awake.

I actually have three dates in my head for particular goals, but the first one is the most important: finishing the first draft. And my deadline is August 9. Why? Because it's my birthday! I don't know why I picked my birthday, really. I thought about giving myself the whole summer but that didn't seem like a strict enough goal. So it seemed like a good fit. Enough time to actually finish, but not too much so that I'll give up on the goal or take longer than necessary.

And the best part? I'm taking a vacation from work from July 6-14. There will be massive amounts of writing done in this time. I'm planning on getting the majority of the work done during that week, then using the following weeks to wrap it up.

Well, that's it really for today. My brain feels like a pile of mush. Hopefully I'll be making a birthday post about my fabulous first draft! But I'll be bothering you plenty of times until then...

24 June 2013

It's Ok to Obsess

Obsess is defined as: (verb) to dominate or preoccupy the thoughts, feelings, or desires of (a person); beset, trouble, or haunt persistently or abnormally.

I've read a lot of things that say you shouldn't fall in love with your writing—that getting overly attached can only lead to heartache. It should come as no surprise that I completely disagree. And not just because I obsess over my own writing. Look at the definition again. Doesn't it describe the writing process perfectly? When you're working on a story, it certainly preoccupies your thoughts, probably your feelings and desires to an extent as well (you desire to write more than anything, right?). And I've certainly been haunted by a story idea before. So obsession is really just a natural occurrence when it comes to writing. And you should embrace it. 

I've been an obsessive person since I was at least 14 years old (probably before that, too, I just can't quite remember). I can't help it, really. Usually it's music, Broadway musicals, or (of course) my own writing. I think it's fun. Sure, there are several things that I like, but only a few things that I obsess over. It's a deeper level of liking something. You develop a personal relationship with that certain thing—you know everything about it. If you meet someone who likes it, too, it's like finding a soul mate. And usually, at least for me, obsessions never die. They may fade a bit, but they're always somewhere in the back of your mind waiting to be dug up and obsessed over again. 

So why should you obsess over your own writing? Well, it's not really that you should, it's that you're going to. If you're not, then your heart may not be in it. Of course, your level of obsession is up to you—there's mild obsession and insane obsession (I won't say which one I have...). You need to like what you're writing—if there's too much distance between you and your work, then the reader will probably notice. It could seem stale and void of emotion. If you want your characters to have passion, then you should have some passion for them. You want your reader to feel the same attachment to your characters that you felt when you wrote the story. 

More than anything, obsession will help you to just get your work done, because you never want to be away from it. So don't fight the obsession—embrace it! 

21 June 2013

Over Thinking Your First Draft

Writing the first draft can be the best part of writing. It's when you're exploring the ideas and letting them run wild onto the page. At least, that's what should be happening. But occasionally you may start to worry as you're writing. What if a certain part doesn't work? What if the whole story doesn't work? If you let these thoughts creep into your mind before you even finish your first draft, it can really mess you up.

The whole purpose of the first draft is to just get it all out. Every possible thought that you could have for this story should be on the page. It might not all work, but it's too early to know that yet. Even if you've outlined the entire plot before you started writing, you're still not going to know if every single thing is going to work. You'll need to have some retrospect--get the whole story down and then look back to see how every part fits together. The second draft should be for going back, cutting things out, adding things in--really seeing how the story works as a whole.

This is definitely a case of "do as I say, not as I do." I was thinking about this subject because I couldn't quite figure out why my first draft was taking me so long. Yes, I have a sporadic work schedule and a life to fit in, but those can't be the only reasons. Sometimes when I sit down to write, it's hard to get the words down. I try to tell myself that it's ok for it to suck, just get it out, but I still can't do it. I realized it's because I've been over thinking the whole thing.

I think I have some sort of adapting-a-short-story-into-a-novel-itis, where this is the first draft of the novel, but not of the story itself. I'm trying too hard to fix things as I write them, and not after, like I should. I'm treating the novel too much like a second draft. So I'm constantly doubting myself along the way--trying to write the middle of the book and figure out the ending at the same time, thinking about all of the things I need to change in the first few chapters before I even finish. It's just too much.

It's important to take things one step at a time. If you think of things that need to be fixed, make a note of it then set it aside. You don't need to fix anything until you have a complete draft in your hands. Let yourself get caught up in the whirlwind of first draft writing. This part is the most fun, so enjoy it, and don't over think it.

14 June 2013

The Almost Sex Scene

I’ve talked about writing sex scenes before and my issues with vulgarity, but today I’d like to focus on the sex scene’s annoying younger brother, the ALMOST sex scene. Have you ever read a book or watched a TV show and two characters are starting to go at it, and then somebody walks in, or they have a change of heart, or break an aquarium (New Girl, anyone??), and for whatever reason, they don’t have sex? Well this is the scene that I’m talking about, and in some ways, it can be trickier than the sex scene. You don’t want to throw this scene just anywhere in the plot, and there needs to be a reason for it.

I have written so many of these that it’s almost painful. But there always seems to be a reason for it. In my fantasy YA novel, both of my characters are in love with each other and just aren’t saying it, and in a moment of extreme vulnerability they start to get physical, only for one to realize that it would be wrong and they stop. I don’t think I had them stop just because it was a YA novel and I wanted to keep it tame—I think the moment brought the characters to a breaking point where they had to admit their feelings or they couldn’t move forward. With my current WIP, the reasoning is a lot easier—it’s illegal for my characters to have sex. But that doesn’t mean that the scene itself is just thrown in there. Yes, you need a reason for them to stop, but you also need a reason for the scene to exist in the first place.

So why would you want to include this sort of scene? Why have your characters start to get intimate and then get interrupted or decide not to?

I think the main goal in any scene like this is frustration—for the characters and the readers. It’s pretty obvious why your characters will be frustrated. You may be thinking that you never want to frustrate your readers—but in this case, a little bit is ok. Frustration can build suspense when it’s not overdone. If you tease the reader, then when the sex scene actually happens it will be more satisfying than if it had happened already. They will be on the edge of their seats waiting for it to finally happen. But it can be so easy to overdo it.

I used to watch soap operas. I know, I can hardly believe it either. But I bring this up because I remember a couple on one who kept almost doing the deed, over and over again, but it never actually happened. And the tension was fine at first—you know, the will they, won’t they? I would be very disappointed if these characters weren’t in an episode. But after a while it just got silly. The tension fizzled out. I didn’t care anymore. Then one of them died and the show was cancelled two episodes later (I’m not kidding). And they never did it! Forget about frustration, it just didn’t even seem realistic.

So I have a rule for the almost sex scene—you can only have one. That’s it. Just one. What’s that? You want two? Well, you can’t. Why? Because you want your readers to care.

I think one scene is all that your readers are going to put up with. That’s not to say you can’t have several scenes with sexual tension—that’s absolutely a must if you want your readers to believe that your characters are attracted to each other. But if they actually make a decision to get into bed and it doesn’t happen, the reader will be disappointed. A little disappointment is ok—if the book was perfect and happy then it wouldn’t be very interesting, would it? But if you offer the same exact disappointment twice, the reader won’t trust you anymore. They might skip ahead to find the juicy part, or, God forbid, stop reading altogether.

So if your characters are interrupted or change their minds, if they end up in this situation again, they’d better go through with it. You can only string along the reader for so long before the suspense becomes disappointment. 

10 June 2013

How Do You Get in the Mood to Write?

When I was fifteen, I had a surefire way to cure writer's block. First I'd have to braid my hair. Not like one big braid or a french braid, but a bunch of tiny little ones all over my head so that I looked ridiculous and had a very hard time sleeping that night. BUT! The next day I would have perfect crinkly, wavy hair. Then I would dress completely in black and make pancakes. And sure enough, I would be able to write. It worked every single time.

Right now you're probably thinking that I was completely insane. Well, you're at least somewhat right, but there are reasons why my psychotic routine worked. I like to get into the mindset of my characters before I write. I feel I can write better if I'm connecting with them and understanding how they feel before I even begin. I like to get into their shoes, so to speak. Or actually, their hair. At the time, the main character in the book I was writing had long, wavy hair. All of my characters wore black (seems silly now, but that's how it was), and there was a scene where one character made pancakes. So everything I did to get in the mood to write had something to do with the characters. I like to think of it as appeasing the muse, so that he/she will feel generous enough to inspire you.

There's no right or wrong way to get in the mood to write. You just have to know what works for you. At one point I had a routine where I would drink coffee late at night and then do yoga before I started writing. Sort of a blend of staying awake but relaxing at the same time. For some reason I find I have more creative energy late at night. If I can stay awake, that is.

So what's my routine nowadays? I wouldn't say that I have one, exactly, but I do have a few little quirks. I like to listen to music before I start writing--it helps me to get ideas going and I figure it has something to do with the fact that my muse is a musician. I usually listen to something that helps me get into the mood for the specific thing I'm writing (like my playlist!). And if I have a day off to write, I'll wear something gray because I associate that color with Jordan--I'm sure thematically it has something to do with moral ambiguity, but really that's just what I always picture him wearing (Do you ever think about your characters wearing different outfits? They're like cartoon characters in my mind--always wearing the same thing.). I find it isn't some huge thing that gets me in the mood to write, but a bunch of silly, little things.

So how do you get in the mood to write? What do you do before you even try to get the words out?

Also, don't forget to check out my Muse Mondays page and join the blog hop!

07 June 2013

Do You Need an Antagonist?

I’ve been overthinking things lately, and it’s sending me into a literary panic attack. I can’t figure out who or what the antagonist is in my WIP. I’ve been fluctuating between thoughts of “pssh, I don’t need no stinkin’ antagonist,” and “well, doesn’t every story have one?” Not to mention thoughts that there has to be one in there. But I can’t figure it out. Well, I’ve got my protagonist, of course—that much is clear. His love interest certainly doesn’t feel like an opposing force, at least once I get past the “we are absolutely not getting together” phase. His mom? Well, she’s not around enough and when she is, certainly doesn’t care enough to be disrupting things. Is my antagonist even a person? Is there something hiding beneath the surface that I’m not seeing? But wait! My protagonist is really an antihero at best—does that make him his own antagonist? Is that possible?

See the panic? But my crazy thoughts have got me thinking on a broader scale. Does every story have an antagonist? Do you always need one?

Some people automatically assume that an antagonist is a villain. While this certainly can be the case, it isn’t always true. A villain is usually obvious—some mustache twirling fiend bent on world domination. A bad guy. Usually the hero is trying to stop him. I’ve certainly written villains before—my fantasy stories always had one. But not every story needs a villain. And an antagonist isn’t always going to be one. An antagonist is defined as someone being opposed or struggling against an opponent. This doesn’t necessarily make them evil. Say you’re writing about a student running for class president, and they have an opponent. That person is an antagonist—they want the same thing the protagonist does and only one of them can get it. Now, if that other student resorts to sabotaging the campaign of the other in order to win, that makes them a villain.

So, ok, my story doesn’t have a villain. Not every story needs one. Well, what if your protagonist isn’t exactly a hero? Roles can be reversed. Sometimes the protagonist can be the villain, and the antagonist is the person trying to stop them. Who you’re rooting for depends on how the author spins it. Just because someone is the main character doesn’t mean they have to be perfect and morally upstanding. Take Macbeth, for example. Obviously Macbeth is the main character in the play, but he certainly isn’t perfect. He commits murder to become king, and continues to have people killed in order to stay in power. Sometimes having a good guy be the main character isn’t always the way to go. What if the student in our election story is a good person, but decides that she can’t win and has to destroy the reputation of her opponent? It can be more interesting to watch a hero descend into wrongdoing than just despair at something bad happening to them.

So yes, I think my protagonist is an antihero. He purposely corrupts someone else in order to gain things for himself. But I still don’t know who my antagonist is. I guess I’ve created a situation where both main characters can be seen as a victim depending on how you look at it. But there’s no opposing force that’s clear to me. I’ve read things about how your antagonist doesn’t even need to be a person. Is society my antagonist? Well, maybe a bit. I’d feel stronger about this if my characters were desperately in love and the legality related to their age difference was the only thing keeping them apart. But that’s not the story I’m writing. So then is my protagonist battling himself? Is there an aspect of himself that is actually the antagonist? Well, that doesn’t seem to fit, either. He’s not struggling with his sexuality, and he doesn’t feel guilty about manipulating other people. He’s only concerned with getting what he wants.

Have I totally screwed things up by not having an antagonist? Or is there one there that I’m just not seeing? I feel like every character has a little evil in them, but that doesn’t necessarily make them a villain. It just makes them human. I’ll probably be pondering my antagonist (or lack thereof) until I figure it out, or decide I don’t need one.

05 June 2013

The Greatest/Worst Book Ever Written

It's a busy blog hopping week for me! Aside from starting my own, I've joined one as well: the Insecure Writer's Support Group. It seemed like the perfect fit for me, you know, since I'm just chock full of insecurity. Visit Alex J. Cavanaugh's blog if you'd like to join, too! 

First Wed of Every Month

So what I'd like to talk about are the ups and downs of writing a novel. The feeling you have one day that this is the best idea anyone's ever come up with in the history of forever, and then the feeling you have the next day that you've written absolute crap that will never amount to anything. Which thought process is right? How do you deal with this roller coaster of insecurity?

I have this problem all of the time. When I first wrote my WIP as a short story, I thought it was the greatest thing I'd ever written. I gave it out to friends, handed it in for a college workshop. I thought I was brilliant. Now I can't even stand to read a sentence of it. The fact that so many other people have read it still bothers me. The novel version has the same characters and same basic plot--but still, it feels light years away from the original. But how can something be perfect one day and then horrible the next?

I think it has a lot to do with creative energy. When you're first getting your ideas down, it's exciting; it's like a purge of all of the ideas in your head. There's nothing quite like it. You'll come up with a sentence in your head and think, "Oh, that's brilliant!" and getting it down onto paper or the computer and actually seeing it before your eyes is thrilling. But once that sentence sits around for a while, you might not find it so brilliant anymore. You might see several ways to rewrite it, or you may want to scrap it altogether.

But when are you right? When you started and thought you were a genius? Or when you look back and see how horrible it is?

If you only listen to your pessimistic side, then you'd probably want to give up every other day and not bother writing at all because you're so horrible at it. If you only listen to the optimistic side, though, once you start trying to get published, you may become overly frustrated because you can't understand how these agents or publishers just aren't getting your genius! See the problem? Neither side is right, but neither is wrong. You need both to balance each other out. You need to have confidence in yourself and your writing. But you also need some self-doubt in there, too. How will you ever be able to edit if you can't see any flaws in your work? You need part of yourself to tell you that something isn't working, but you also need that part to tell you when you get it right.

The way I like to think about it (especially as I'm only writing my first draft), is that I know that something isn't right, but I just don't know how to fix it yet. Make a note of all the things you want to fix, but don't get too frustrated or give up just because it seems like a lot of work. And give yourself some credit. Highlight those sentences that really do work and try to see why they are so perfect. It just might help you figure out the rest.

03 June 2013

Jordan Takes Over: See What I Did There?

I’m back, bitches! Every first Monday of the month, I get to take over. And today, I’m going to tell you why I’m awesome.

But let’s get business out of the way first. Look up! See something new? That’s the Muse Mondays page, where you can sign up and join all the festivities. Why would you want to join? Because I said so!

All right, now that’s over, back to the real reason why you’re here: me! I’m kidding, I’m kidding. Geez. Well, sort of. I’m actually gonna talk about why your muse is perfect and why you should always listen to him/her.

We’re fickle creatures, really. I mean, I certainly don’t stay put for very long. I’ve got quite the short attention span. But that doesn’t mean I’m not ever helpful. I just have a lot of shit to do, you know? I’m distracted by shiny objects. And cute boys. And snacks. But whatever. I’m a creative person. I get it. There are days where you sit around hoping that inspiration strikes, and then there are days where you say to yourself, “fuck it, if I want to write, then I’m gonna write!” Easier said than done, right? It’s those times that you force yourself that it feels off—the fact that you weren’t really feeling it shows up in your writing. It’s because you need your inspiration—you need your muse. And sometimes we’re just not around.

Anyway, I said something about your muse being perfect, right? Right. Well, that’s because they are. Perfect for you. And, please, do not get it into your head that you created us or chose us or whatever bullshit reason you have come up with. We exist just fine on our own, and we chose you. Sometimes you’ve got a good story, but you can’t tell it on your own. You need somebody to help. That’s where you come in. It’s the perfect relationship, don’t you think? We need a person with fingers to type and words in their head and you need somebody to inspire you and give you ideas.

But I guess the main thing I’m trying to say here is that you need to trust your muse. Even if it doesn’t make sense. If you get struck with an idea and you don’t think it’s going to work, try it anyway. Trust me, there’s a reason for it. What’s the worst that could happen? If you finish it and you know it doesn’t work, so you lose a few minutes. You probably would have spent more time wondering about it if you didn’t write it. Things don’t always work out. I mean, we’ve written some horrible shit that seemed perfect at the time. But, you know, things change. If you let ideas build up inside your head then, well, you’re just gonna explode. And nobody wants that (I mean, brain explosions. Others are just fine *wink wink*).  

How many times have you written something that seemed insignificant but then you looked back and saw just how perfect it was? Or you somehow worked some genius symbolism that you didn’t even notice? Yeah, well, you’re welcome. You know when they say, trust your gut? Well, in writing that just means trust your muse. Because we know what the fuck we’re doing, all right?

All right, I’m done rambling. I’ll see all you losers in a month.