Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Week 48 - Cracked but Not Scrambled

25 Nov - 1 Dec:

No eggs were harmed in the production
of this post. Okay, maybe one.

Thank all the King's horses and all the King's men that's over.
This is how I feel, and probably look, after writing like a crazy person for the last four weeks.

But, of course, it's far from over. The end of NaNoWriMo is just the beginning.

Now it's time to refocus.

There has been a great deal of discussion lately on 'other works.' What we consider good writing and good stories, bad writing but good stories, bad writing considered by critics to be good writing, bad writing and bad stories considered by the masses to be good stories... and so on.

I use good and bad to represent the assortment of subjective terms that can be applied to our opinions. What is mediocre? What is a ripping good yarn? What is literary brilliance? What is spirit-sucking, brain-numbing drivel?

And the big question at the bottom (or perhaps at the top): What sells?

But, is this the overriding question?

My 2012: Year of Learning to Write is drawing to a close, (though the learning never will). I have honoured my objectives, even if I have not yet met them all. So, for 2013, I'm asking myself: What am I trying to achieve?

Back in January, I asked: Why Do I Write? During December, I'm asking: Why Am I Writing That?

Before I hit 2013: Year of ..., I intend to write Mission Statements for all the pieces important to me.

Do I want to fill others with the same pleasure of reading that I get? (Definitely)

Do I want to tell a great story? (Of course)
Do I want to send a message? (Maybe)
Do I want to educate? (Perhaps)
Do I want to inspire? (Possibly) If so, who?
Do I want to tell that story that's burning inside me? (I doubt it)
Do I want others to read it, so I feel like I'm not wasting my time? (I don't think so) 
Do I want literary awards and critical acclaim? (Am I even capable?)
Do I just want to be published and make money, preferably lots of it? (It would be nice)
I'm thinking that honest answers to each of these questions will affect how I invest my timewhat I chose to invest my time writing about, and what I do with the results.

Which takes me back to all those good and bad scenarios. In ten years, what would I like all those future writer-bloggers to say about my stories?

How about you? Through your writing, what would you like to be known for?

Exercise 93. Review the results of NaNoWriMo and write a Mission Statement about what you are trying to achieve through this particular story. Does it matter whether it's marketable or not?

Exercise 94. Are your objectives consistent? (Sell, sell, sell.) Or does each story serve its own purpose? Think about your writing priorities (e.g., 1. blog legend, 2. aspiring novelist, 3. paid magazine contributor) and decide whether your time allocation reflects the priorities in your mind.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Week 47 - Showing Up

18 Nov - 24 Nov:
Eighty percent of success is showing up.
Woody Allen
I am 35,000 words through November and feeling the strain. My prompt notes are thinning, my brain is getting mooshy, and my pencils are breaking - and we all know that writing with a broken pencil is pointless.

And so I turn to some of my favourite inspirational quotes to push me over the NaNoWriMo finish line.

The first one by Woody Allen reminds me that persistence and productivity are everything.

How many novels do we read that make us think, Man, this writing is ordinary? I can think of three books by best-selling authors I have read recently that prompted this reaction. I am not so disrespectful that I will mention names because I know how easy it is to sit on the side-line and criticize, and how difficult it is to write a book (and they are hugely successful authors making gazillions of dollars, and I am not).

And good writers or not, the three authors I am thinking of have produced over 100 novels between them, and they are still writing. And the books I have seen or read are generally not short either.

100 novels x 100,000 words = 10,000,000 words or over 3,000,000 words each.

That's three million words for those who get scared by lots of zeros.

And here I am struggling to squeeze out 50 thou'.

Whether the authors I'm speaking of are 'good' or not, they all have two things in common.
1. They write ripping good yarns, and,
2. They show up,
and again
and again
and again.
 And even if their work isn't brilliant, it's obviously extremely popular.

Now, I don't expect to be pumping out a novel a year for the rest of my life (but then again, I might), but I won't be too thrilled with myself if I give up before I have completed my piddly effort of 50,000 words.

So with a swift kick in the pants, I'm reminding myself that, unlike clich├ęs, this book isn't going to write itself.

Success isn't a result of spontaneous combustion. You must set yourself on fire.
Arnold H. Glasow
Brainy Quote


Monday, November 12, 2012

Week 46 - Learning by Writing

11 Nov - 17 Nov: Toughing out NaNoWriMo... and on track for completion.

The 'How-To' books are taking a well-earned rest. The excellent websites and blogs full of wonderful advice can wait. I have reached 25,000 words of my creative memoir, and am on the downhill run, with time to spare for edits (and lots of them).

And I am learning... heaps. Here are a few things I have observed about the writing process and my own working habits:

1. Subject Matter: During Week 44, I decided to keep my 30-day novel simple. My memory-driven story, with healthy doses of embellishment, was a good strategy for 'keeping me writing' if nothing else. If it's boring, I can add the flesh to my bones later.
2. Point-of-View: First person narrative is easy to maintain and can not be beat for a quick, intimate story. After an initial struggle between present and past tense, I naturally fell into past tense, and so it is so.
3. Outline: I began with obvious scene or chapter headings, and am able to pick and chose which ones to tackle on a given day. I commit myself to finishing the scene, and then, depending on the word count and energy levels, I move to the next heading, or guiltlessly call it a day.
4. Word Count: 50,000 words divided by 20 headings equals 2,500 words each. When I started, my scenes fell well below this mark, and panic set in. But the more I write, the richer my scenes become, and the word count is picking up.
5. Long-hand: I have always preferred to start things off in long-hand. During NaNoWriMo, I have become very particular about this. I have one exercise book next to my bed, and one floating round the living room, and a bunch of yellow, 2HB pencils scattered everywhere. About 90 per cent of my first draft has been written in long-hand first, and then typed into the computer. Not only do I get that buzz that comes from fingers flying across the keyboard, but when I stumble across a hand-written passage that I forgot to type up, it's like finding twenty bucks in the pocket of an old jacket. Ka-chow word count!
6. Just Writing: It's true, the more you write, the easy it becomes. And I would like to think the quality picks up, too. (Well, here's hoping.)

And for those lexophiles amongst us, instead of writing exercises, here are some other things I have learnt that are a bit more silly:
I plotted NaNoWriMo on my calendar to remind me that its days are numbered.
If a writer backs up to his electric pencil sharpener, he may get a little behind in his work.

 Writing with a broken pencil is pointless.
Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like the soggy banana left-over from a midnight snack.
 A backward poet writes inverse.
 The depressed writer who threw herself into an upholstery machine is now fully recovered.
And lastly, but most importantly:
A boiled egg is hard to beat.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Week 45 - Hierarchy of Needs

4 Nov - 10 Nov:

Our characters need goals, right? Things that drive a plot forward, and make characters behave in certain ways?

In Breathing Life Into Your Characters, Rachel Ballon, Ph.D. stresses the importance of motivating our characters, and includes a hierarchy of needs as proposed by behavioural scientist Abraham Maslow.

Simply put, this means that us humans will strive for things in a certain order. When one level is satisfied, we move on to the next one. This is worth noting when we devise plot and drive characters.

1. Physiological Needs: water, food, clothing, shelter. Humans will go to great lengths to sustain life. Many tension-filled stories are based on this highest level of need (e.g., The Hunger Games, Lord of the Flies, The Mosquito Coast).
2. Safety and Security Needs: This follows closely from the first need. Humans want to feel safe. A difference exists between feeling safe and being safe, of course. The perception of threat can be a powerful character motivator (and result in more people owning guns, but that is another issue).
3. Affiliation Needs: This is the highest sociological need, that is, the need to be accepted, loved, physically close to others. This is a common character motivator for young adult and children's stories.
4. Esteem Needs: Once our affiliation needs are satisfied, we begin to look for recognition that we are exceptional for some reason. We want parents, peers, and other significant groups to see that we are special. Fame and fortune are popular character motivators for some authors.
5. Self-Actualization Needs: To get to here, we will be fed, safe, accepted, and feeling good about ourselves. The 'self' need includes those things that make us feel like we are achieving something, or realizing our potential, or doing what we, in our hearts, want to do (like writing?).

It's my guess that Mr. Maslow knows what he is talking about. A man lost in the desert is unlikely to be worried about the writing course he's always wanted to attend; a woman living the good-life is unlikely to eat her dog because she is hungry - crazy perhaps, but not hungry.

The moral of the story here is simple: we, as writers, need to motivate our characters in accordance with the basic laws of human nature, or risk losing our readers through lack of believability.

And what do we do when our character's goals are in order, and we've shown our readers we understand human nature (a little)? Why, we up the stakes, of course.... (See Week 33 for how to mess around with our character's goals to build suspense.)

Exercise 91. Ballon advocates building characters from the inside out, and to use the writer's experiences to give life to characters. Recall a specific time as a child when you felt driven by one of the needs proposed by Maslow. Free-write on the memory, using all senses. Try to incorporate what you wanted to do, or did do, to satisfy the need? Lend your memories to one of your characters.

Exercise 92. Make up one or more simple scenarios based on the basic needs. Now list the possible reactions of different personalities striving to meet that need. For example, a woman has a young child and little money. She may; a) borrow from family, b) work low-paying but respectable jobs, c) work high-paying illegal jobs, c) steal, d) beg, e) contrive to hook a wealthy man, d) place her child in foster care... and the possibilities go on. What would your characters do?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

My Blogness. Me?!

This is a quick note before I move onto Week 45.

I know it has taken me a while, but thanks to Julie Luek for passing on the Leibster Award to me.

My face reddens and a shy smile curls my lips. (Okay, maybe I could drop the 'showing' in this instance and just admit that I'm pretty happy about it.)

Unfortunately, I am very slack at following blogs, even though I have visited so many wonderful sites, but I will hold on to the privilege of passing on the award in the future, if that's okay.

I've done a few searches on the award, as you do, and whether it's German for 'I like your blog' or not, who cares? It's nice to feel worthy.

Here are Julie's excellent questions answered, excellently or not.

1. Who is your favorite author and why?
Agatha Christie. Such wit and precision.

2. The ideal writing retreat would be....?
Almost anywhere warm, as long as I was alone with plenty of time.

3. What is(are) your current writing project(s)?
NaNoWriMo creative memoir if such a thing exists; an older YA novel.

4. What is the philosophy or mission of your blog?
Read, learn, share.

5. You get an all-expense paid week to do anything you want-- what would that be?
Learn to fly a plane. Sorry, the writing can wait.

6. If you could sit down and have coffee n' chat with anyone, past or present, who would it be and why?
My father when he was a young man, because I think he would have been a hoot, and for other more serious reasons, of course.

7. A maitre-de comes to your table and lifts the silver lid off the plate of the most exquisite meal, what is it?
New Zealand lamb shanks with baby carrots, mashed potato and gravy, served just the way that place in Queenstown served it... but with a silver lid.

8. One item from your bucket list is...?
Learn a different language. How slack am I not to have done that already?

9. What is your favorite place in your house to read a book?
Boring, I know, but it really is in bed.

10. What song are you most likely to be caught singing in the shower?
'Oooo, I bet you're wondering how I knew, 'bout your plans to make me blue....'

11. What talent, besides writing, do you possess?
I can sketch a mean giraffe.

Okay, for the future recipients of the Leibster Award (you'll know it when you get it), or anyone who wants to answer them - it could be the start of a great story - here are my questions:

1. Would you rather be a cabbage or a rose?
2. What do you read most (fiction genre, news, cookbooks etc)?
3. What is one of your earliest memories?
4. What era (pre or post civilisation) would you like to visit for one week and why?
5. In 25 words or less, describe the best story you think you've written so far.
6. If you could talk to one of your inanimate possessions and have them talk back, what would you talk to and what would you talk about?
7. What is the weirdest thing you have ever eaten (and keep it clean, please).
8. What is one of your favourite inspirational sayings?
9. Do you have a plan for the rest of your life or are you winging it?
10. Besides the bible, what book would you love to have written and why?

Back to the NaNaWriMo challenge.

For a break, I might do these exercises.

Exercise 89. List, what you feel are, your strengths and weaknesses (otherwise know as 'areas to improve') as a writer.

Exercise 90. Write a page of pursuasive prose explaining why you would rather be a cabbage or a rose. Use strong, passionate words to make your audience really believe your argument.