Monday, April 30, 2012

W is for Wheaton's Law

Well, okay, it's probably more formally referred to as Wil Wheaton's First Rule of the Internet, but it counts for W either way, with it.

If you don't know who Wil Wheaton is, you have got some 'splainin' to do, Lucy.  Surely you remember this:

Or this:

Wil is not just a self-proclaimed nerd, he actually is one.  But the best kind.  I'd highly recommend following him on Twitter.

Wil's First Rule of the Internet applies not only to life on-line, but to life in general.  And it's not just writer-specific, it's good for everyone.

And so now, I bestow on you, some true words to live by.  Wil Wheaton's First Rule of the Internet:

Don't be a dick.

'Nuff said.

V is for Victory

When I decided to do the A-to-Z April blog challenge, I knew I was asking a lot of myself.  I am hardly the poster child for regular blogging.  Plus, I had a major conference, a kid's birthday party, and an upcoming trip in May to plan for.  So, I set my goal as 75% completion.  As of today, the 30th, I have done A through V.  That's 85%, by my calculations, and that's pretty darn good.

I won't be able to finish the rest of the letters within the month of April, most likely, but with only 4 to go and a few good ideas left, I am going to finish.

So V is for my personal victory, in biting off more than I could chew but knowing choking was a possibility the whole time.  I chewed slowly, took a little longer than the rules explicitly stated, but I did pretty good, so I'll take it.

In other news, V is also for Vacation.

I has one.

On Thursday, I'm jetting off to the beautiful island of Kauai for 4 days 5 nights, and I could not be more excited.  So now I close with an image to keep me going through all the last-minute chores:

Pretty nice, right?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

U is for Unmotivated

We've all had those days.  You know the ones when you just can't seem to get anything done.  You let yourself get distracted by Facebook, you pin 300 new things to Pinterest, you research how much air it really would take to kill someone with a syringe...just me?

So how are you supposed to break through the distractions, and get down to the work of writing?  Usually, lack of motivation means something isn't working in the story, which can be so frustrating. It can make the lack of motivation even worse.

Here are a couple of things that work for me when I've got the Don't-Wannas.

  1. #1k1hr on Twitter.  You can't always find someone game, but those times are rare.  If you use the hashtag, you'll usually find someone willing to go head-to-head with you.  You write for a solid hour, then report back on Twitter to compare word count.  The goal setting, competition, and companionship is usually more than enough to kickstart me.
  2. Ask your crit partner or beta reader to read your latest chapter or even a few paragraphs and ask them to tell you what they think.  Sometimes, I find my CP has just the right questions and ideas to get me moving again.
  3. Walk away from the computer.  The minute I stop trying, I feel more relaxed.  And usually, letting my mind wander leads me to a solution.
  4. Listen to music, especially if you're a playlister like me.  I have to have a handful of songs that are meaningful for my current project.  Listening to them usually gets me excited about what I'm working on.
  5. Write an outtake.  Sometimes, it's fun to just play with your characters in a scene that doesn't have anything to do with the plot.  Or even a scene you think might fit later.
  6. Fix the problem.  Usually, when I'm unmotivated to keep going, it's because I've made a mistake a while back.  I need to go back and get rid of whatever has led me to this point in the plot that is now stalled out.  Even if it means deleting thousands of words, it might be the only solution.
  7. Set a deadline.  There have been a few projects in my life that were a real bear to finish.  I just set myself an arbitrary date to get them done and force marched my way there.  It's not romantic, or even fun sometimes, but to me there is no better feeling than putting THE END on something that's been taking up my mental space.

Monday, April 23, 2012

T is for Television

I love TV.  I can't even make it sound more dignified than that.  I love it.  I watch it a lot.  Probably more than I should, but I don't care.

Maybe it's an only child thing.  I spent a lot of time with Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers as a kid.  (For the record, I don't think it turned my brain into mush, and it definitely didn't make me fat and lazy.  I spent a lot of time wiggling, dancing, and playing in front front of the TV, not just lounging on the couch.)

Just like I used to feel bad about my love of reading and writing, I used to feel like a loser if I said I really like TV.  Like I was less intelligent, or had bad taste.

It took me a while to figure out what I liked about TV, and why I still like it:  I like stories.  Tell me a story and I am your slave.  Television is a veritable buffet of stories, and best of all, I can absorb those stories passively while I do other things.

Because as any devoted reader will tell you, one of the drawbacks of reading is that you can't do it everywhere.  Can't do it walking, can't do it while you cook, or brush your teeth (though I've figured out a few workarounds on that last one).  With TV, I even got to take in stories while I did my homework--I know, I know, my work habits suck.  I do not apologize.  It works for me and you're not my mom.  Unless you are, in which case, thanks for letting me watch TV while I did my homework, Mom!

My taste in TV shows is totally informed by story.  I hate the news, I don't like sports, I wrinkle my nose at most reality TV shows.  But give me a sit-com populated by characters I can really get behind, and I'm sold.  A drama that doesn't push into ridiculous soap-opera proportions?  Sure!  A sci-fi series with fantastic world-building?  I am in!  Even my taste in children's shows favors story.  My absolute favorite of my son's go-to shows is Backyardigans, because not only do they have repeated characters with distinct personalities, they tell a new story in every episode.  Perfect!

So, maybe you think less of me now, but I just can't care.  I will sit at my flatscreen's knee and ask for more stories as long as it's willing to provide them.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

S is for Storytelling

I have a love affair with Netflix On-demand.  With my trusty steed Apple TV, I ride through the wilds of cancelled TV shows and movies I love to watch again and again (speaking of which, they added The Cutting Edge recently--insert SQUEE here).  It's also given me the opportunity to watch a lot of Independent Films I wouldn't normally know exist, much less get a chance to see.

Sometimes, I luck out.  I've seen some gems.  But other times...yeah, I think the reason some of these movies are independent is that no one in Hollywood wanted to make them.  Now, I'm fully aware that I may be lacking whatever gene it is that allows film students and literary critics to find artistic integrity in things that seem just plain boring to me.  So, if you're a film snob and you've come here to tell me I don't know what I'm talking about, save your breath.  I'm already fully aware that I don't know what I'm talking about when it comes to film.  My tastes are very mainstream, and I'm totally okay with that.

What I do have half a clue about, though, is storytelling.  And it's important, damn it!

Storytelling is one of the oldest forms of human civilization.  Before we had writing, we had oral traditions, passed down through generations.  Every culture on the planet has stories.  About its origins, its important, about love, and heroism, and what happens when we leave this place.  Stories help us make sense of a very strange world.

And all around the world, through all time periods, humans have been drawn to the same basic shape of storytelling.  It speaks to us on a primal level, and when a story doesn't meet our expectations, it's disappointing.

I'm certainly not the first person to say this.  There have been dozens of books dedicated to it, from all disciplines.  Here's a few of the best-known:

I think there is a lot of value in reading a good book about story structure, or taking a class.  RWA offers on-line courses frequently through some of its subchapters, like YARWA (where we say it like pirate!).  As a still-recovering pantser, I know how easy it is to get caught up in character and trying to come up with some kind of hook, or some twist on the traditional to make your story stand out.  And those things are great, but here's the thing:  If you fail to meet the audience's innate expectations about what a story is, they're going to be disappointed, no matter how great your concept is, how original your hook, or how lovable your characters.

Which brings me back to independent films.  I watched one earlier this week--which I'm not going to name, because I have a (fairly) strict no trashing policy 'round these here parts--that left me SO FRUSTRATED.  It was an interesting idea, and decently acted, but in the end, I felt like the protagonist had gone no where.  Worse yet, I had no clue what might happen next.  Maybe it was supposed to be irony (in the Albert Camus sense), but I don't think so.  I think it was just good old-fashioned BAD STORYTELLING.  The writer didn't give me any structure to the story.  There was no journey (metaphorical or otherwise).  Things just went from kind of crappy to ambiguously unpleasant.  Loose ends dangled all over the screen.  I didn't care about anyone in the story.


You don't have to make any of these books your Bible, but I promise you, if you learn a little something about storytelling, you'll start to see where the holes are in your own story, and maybe, if you're lucky, even figure out how to plug those holes.

R is for Reading

I loved reading before I loved writing.  I still do.  As a kid, and even as an adult when I have to list my "interests" (Hello, Facebook, I'm talking to you), I always put reading and writing.  And for a long time, I didn't really feel like that was enough.  Like somehow, I would be more like a real girl if I also said I was into hang-gliding and scrapbooking.

But you know what?  It's a bunch of crap.  Reading is awesome.  Everyone should do more of it.

A couple years ago, I started keeping track of all the books I read every year, and two years ago, I added the books I read to my son at bedtime.  He's old enough now to read them himself, but he still prefers when I read to him.  Frankly, I'm glad, because I'm getting to read so many wonderful children's books.  Some old favorites, and some new.

I'm actually really excited to read even more of my old favorites with him as he gets older.  If you're looking for a great list of essentials to read with the kids in your life, may I humbly suggest the list compiled by the GeekDad community at Wired?  It's great stuff.

Read.  Read widely.  Read non-fiction, and fiction of all genres.  I can't recommend audiobooks highly enough.  I've written before about my love of, if you're an audiobook person at all.  I find myself more willing to take on unusual books and non-fiction when it's being read to me.  And there are some readers who perform their books so brilliantly it's better than any voice I could create in my head.

If you would be a writer, you just have to read.  Imagine if a musician said "Oh, I don't really listen to other music, I just like to play my own."  I'm pretty sure their music wouldn't be that great, not to mention what an insufferable douche they'd be.

Besides, who wouldn't want to read?  I mean...BOOKS, am I right?  They even smell good.  They're so pretty, and they don't make any noise.  They're like the best pets EVER.  And you look so much classier with one in your purse than a chihuahua.  Let's make reading the newest fad.  Go get a book and we'll all go hang out somewhere chic and read.  It'll be great.

Who's with me?!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Q is for Quitting

Writing is not something I've ever wanted to quit.  Even on my hair-pullingest days.  Even when my patience is worn as thin as a single coat of paint.  I always figure, this is something I'm likely to do even if I never see a dime for it, so I might as well try to get a few dimes from it.  Maybe if I leave my dimes in a dark room with some Barry White playing, I'll have more dimes in the future!  (That's how it works, right?)

And believe me, I'm no stranger to quitting.

Quite frankly, I am a bit of a spoiled softie.  If I don't want to do something, I'm likely not to do it.  Or stop doing it.  This is not to say I have no follow-through.  Things that have to be done get done.  But optional things that are also unpleasant?  Um, yeah, I have about 2 million things I can think of to do instead.

HOWEVER, I know there are writers out there who just aren't up for the publication part of the process.  And that is OKAY.  That is completely okay.  If you want to write a million stories and use the print-outs to line your bird cage that is totally your prerogative (for the record, prerogative is one of those words I have NEVER learned to spell--thank you Spell Check.)

If there comes a point in your writing life where you are miserably unhappy and you can't stand another minute of the querying/editing/copyediting/promotion process, there is power in quitting.  Now, for legal reasons, I strongly recommend you meet the remaining terms of any contracts you might have in the world, but after that, feel free to walk away.

Even more powerful than the actual walking away, however, is giving yourself the permission to do it.  A writer I know, who shall remain nameless, has to, from time-to-time, decide she doesn't want to do this anymore and give herself permission to stop.  And it can't just be in her head.  She has to say the words out loud, or write them in an email.

The thing is, every time she writes the words or says them--the pressure goes away.  And almost without fail, the next day, she feels renewed energy to write.  New ideas, enthusiasm, brainstorms, and energy for blog posts, promotion, and the like.  She just has to know that she's not trapped.

And she's not.  Trapped, I mean.  And neither are you.  If you want to write, write.  But if you don't want to, that's okay to.  Writing is okay at any level of the game.  In fact, I wish more people would write just for the sake of it.  Believe me, there are plenty of words I've assembled into various formats that will never see the light of day--*cough, cough* Crappy Poety! *cough, cough*--and that's okay with me.

I've lost some control of this post, I can see that now.  But my point is:  Writing shouldn't make you miserable.  There are times that it will, of course, but if there aren't times in between that make you ecstatic--there are easier ways to make a living.

As for me, I can't seem to stop the words from climbing out of my brain and running out my fingertips so I'll do my best to wrangle them (it's worse than cat wrangling at times), and I'll keep on trying.

Unless it makes me miserable.

Then all bets are off.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

P is for Patience

Do I even need to explain this one?

There is no end to the waiting in the publishing game.  I don't care if you're self-published, traditionally published, or just putting things up on a display site.  The fact is, once you put your baby out into the world, you're going to spend a lot of time waiting to hear from other people on it.  That's the nature of writing.  We create, but we cannot create the audience.

At every stage of the game, you will be waiting for something.  In one of my son's favorite Dr. Seuss books, Oh the Places You'll Go, the great man himself wrote all about waiting:

You can get so confused
that you'll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place. 
The Waiting Place... 
...for people just waiting. 
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or a No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting. 
Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting. 
That's not for you! 
Somehow you'll escape
all that waiting and staying.
You'll find the bright places
where Boom Bands are playing.
With banner flip-flapping,
once more you'll ride high!
Ready for anything under the sky.
Ready because you're that kind of a guy!

So, how do you cope with all that waiting?  I am not the first person to say this, nor will I be the last.  It will sound simplistic if you haven't heard it before, but I am telling you, it is the one and only thing under your control:


Don't wait around for answers to your queries, don't think about what people will think of what you've already written, or what you'll write in the future.  Just...


Do it.  Do it now.  No excuses.

What are you still doing here?  Go WRITE IT ALREADY!!!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

O is for Overheard at RT

As I've mentioned a couple of times now, I spent five days in Chicago last week for the Romantic Times Convention (RT).  It is the most intense conference I've ever been to.  It's long, I'm not going to lie, but it's pretty darn fun, too.  There's a complete schedule of YA-focused events, and more authors than you can shake a stick at.  Seriously, I tried, but the entire ballroom was full of authors for the book fair at one point, and no matter how hard I shook my stick, I just could not encompass all of them.

I returned with spoils of war.  Books, swag, new friends, and memories.

I also returned with a collection of quotes.  Things Overheard at RT.  Some of it is great writing advice, some of it is probably only funny if you were there, and some of it is downright inappropriate.  For that reason, I'm not giving attributions to any of them.  No infringement intended to the fabulous authors who shared their time and wisdom with us.  If you really want you name put next to your quote, please let me know.  Otherwise, all will remain anonymous to protect the not-so-innocent.  You know who you are.

The Good

"Set out to write the worst book you possibly can."

"You're going to have to edit it, like, a million times until you wanna throw up."

Q: "What's your greatest strength as a writer?"
A:  "It's really so hard to pick just one, but I'd have to say my incredible beauty."

"A hundred pages and all they did was go down the road."

"You have to be willing to sacrifice anything for the good of the story."

"Your character in Act 1 should not be ready for the events of Act 3."

"My feelings on the editorial letter can best be summed up by the two-word Bible verse, 'Jesus wept.'"

[On procrastination] "I let it overwhelm me until my guilt becomes unbearable."

"The only thing worse than being a writer for me is not being a writer."

"You must put your butt in the chair and sweat."

"If you're meant to be a writer, you'll make it happen.  If you're not, you'll make excuses."

1:  "In YA, you characters don't have to stay together forever."
2:  "Mine do."

[On the age difference between immortal men and the teen girls who love them in YA] "It is in inherently creepy."

The Random

"I'm off like a crazy sloth."

"It's no spoiler that I kill."

"Did he just say bag of weed?"

"We're way more immature than any of the teens here."

"You kiss like a Barbie doll."

"There's something very soothing about chopping things up."

"I strongly recommend a snorkle."

"I have a lot of nightmares...and I cherish everyone of them."

"You could have worn a costume, like, Steampunk...or Scottish with squirrels."

1: "I should have had you get me one."
2: "What?  A squirrel?"

"Maybe we should run away."

"That depends.  How badly you want to play Spoons and eat candy?"

"When you're on your deathbed, you'll be thinking, 'Damn, I wish I would have danced with Cole--and now I'm dying!'"

"Is that a squirrel in your pants or are you just happy to see us?"

"If you can't work Poor Dead Mr. Pamuk into your next manuscript, you're just not trying."

"Could you maybe get one picture of yourself somewhere other than at that bar?"

"I think I have to run some of the alcohol out of my system."

"I want to tell her I like her costume, but I'm afraid it's not a costume."

"Are you Russian?  You look Russian."

"I told you I married a tycoon."

"Come find us. We're breaking into parties and stealing booze."

The Naughty

"Five penises in the hand is worth...oh, it would be bad if I finished that!"

"Heh-heh.  You said moist."

"I will not grope myself in public."

"If it's coming out of your panties, you keep it."

"Sometimes, I open my mouth, and bad things come out."

"I like the Butt Game."

"No boob dollars."

"Hmm, I don't understand this pony play thing, perhaps I will in another year when I am nine."

"I read Flowers in the Attic and so far, my feelings toward my brothers have not changed."

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

N is for Nothing

Okay, I'll be honest.  I'm mostly posting this because I want to be caught up again.  Don't worry, I have a great post for the letter O, just you wait.

On the other hand, I do believe in the power of nothing.  As writers it's easy to work ourselves into a froth.  If you're working a full-time job, you have to force time for writing into your schedule.  If you write full-time, you've got deadlines to meet.  If you've got kids...well, I don't even have to finish that statement, do I?  If you've sent something off to your agent or editor, it's almost impossible to stop yourself from refreshing your inbox into oblivion and stalking them on Twitter.

But there is great power in doing nothing.  Give yourself permission not to be writer sometimes.  Be frivolous and watch TV.  Play outside with your kids.  Pay attention to your significant other, your family, your friends.  You know...those pesky two-dimensional people in your life that require actual human interaction and love to survive.

Nothing recharges your batteries like nothing.  It's in the moments when my mind is most clear that I tend to get brainstorms anyway, so it's not like the nothing lasts very long.  Still, the point is, it's valuable.

So, get to it.  Go do some nothing.

Monday, April 16, 2012

M is for Maps

Maybe it's because I write contemporary, so my stories are set in the real world, but I spend a lot of time looking at maps.  I like to browse the neighborhoods where I imagine my stories taking place.  I route out travel times between sites, so I don't make my journeys too short or too long.

It could be that realism matters to me, or it could be that I've come up with a great way to procrastinate.  Either way I say upon you:

Hail, Google Maps!

And now a map for your viewing pleasure:

Saturday, April 14, 2012

L is for Likability

The indomnitable Chuck Wendig may have said it best: "The audience will do anything to spend time with a great character. We’re junkies for it. We’ll gnaw our own arms off to hang out once more with a killer character."  (By the way, you should definitely read the rest of his 25 Things You Should Know About Character post, though not if you're sensitive to profanity.)

I know a great character will make me hike through miles of an otherwise bleh landscape.  There is a certain long-running series which will remain nameless that I only stick with because of the main character.  It was great in the beginning, predictable in the middle, and now as it's gotten old enough to vote, it's almost painful.  Yet, there I am, year after year, looking forward to another romp with my old friend, the main character.

I may be kidding myself, but I hear tell I'm pretty good at creating a likable character.  I've spent some time trying to figure out what exactly makes certain characters leap off the page for me, and what it is that I do to create lovable characters myself.  My answers aren't perfect, or complete, but here's what I've got for your reading pleasure.

  1. Know who they are.  Even secondary characters deserve a bit of a backstory.  Most of it will never make it to the page, but it makes all the difference for me as a writer to know a little history on anyone who has more than a cameo role.  It informs how they speak, what their priorities are, how they dress, how they relate to others...everything.

  2. Know what they look like.  I am a firm believer in leaving as much description as possible OFF the page.  I like a reader to be able to construct whatever appearance they like for a character, assign any race, make them any size they like in their minds.  But when I write, I see scenes in my mind like a movie, so I need to know who's playing the parts.  It helps me imagine how a character moves through the world if I know what they look like.

  3. Bring some personality to the page.  I'm more than a little obsessed with people's speech and body tics.  Every professor I ever had in college had at least one verbal tic.  One was obsessed with adverbs.  By the end of the semester, I had a tally sheet for every time she said actually, really, definitely, probably, and so on. (In one three-hour lecture, she said actually 92 times.  NINETY-TWO!!!)  So, every one of my characters has some little habit that identifies them as a person.  One rubs her thumbnail on her lower lip, another can't keep his hands still when he's nervous, another is addicted to ice.  It makes them feel familiar and human.

  4. Speech patterns.  I'm not talking dialect here, but everyone has a unique way of speaking.  In writing, it's not always good practice to write truly natural dialogue, because the way people talk in real life is, frankly, dull.  But even with spicy, snappy dialogue that keeps the pace moving, you should be able to identify who is speaking most of the time.  Some characters make liberal use of profanity, others never use it.  Some speak formally, while others can barely stand to use a complete sentence.  And you know you've met at least one person who has exclamation points at the end of every sentence.  You never want to go overboard with a verbal tic, but if you know a character's backstory, and a little bit of their personality, you should be able to predict how they'd answer a question.

    Just for funsies, let's see how a few different characters I've created would answer a simple question.  (By the way, this is pretty much exactly what we're talking about when we talk about 'voice' in a story.)

    Question:  How did you math test go?

    Jack:  "Could have been better, I guess." (Maybe if I'd actually studied...)
    Gwen:  "Who cares?  I refuse to learn calculus on moral grounds."
    Mike:  "I made that test my bitch.  It actually cried a little when I was done with it."
    Levi:  Shrugs, looking down.  "Fine."
    Jemimah:  "It was fun!  What did you think of it?"
    Caine:  "If I told you, I'd have to kill you."
    Mariska:  "It's possible I just achieved the first negative score in the history of math."
    Sun:  "Shh.  We're not talking about that."

  5. Save some cats.  Blake Snyder's Save the Cat! book on screenwriting is invaluable if you want to learn about the mechanics of Hollywood storytelling.  I know there are others out there, but that's the one that really helped cement it for me, so naysayers can just keep their nays to themselves.  In it, he says that the key to making any character likable in the first few minutes of a movie is to give them a save the cat moment.  This is the time when a character, even one you shouldn't expect to root for (like the criminal hero of Ocean's Eleven, for example) shows their humanity, their heart of gold.  I'm not saying a boring, or two-dimensional character can be made workable by showing him rescuing orphans from a burning building in chapter one, but it certainly wouldn't hurt would it?  So give your characters an opportunity to do the right thing in some small way, even if they procede to be insufferable assholes for the rest of the story.  Even if it's simply being kind to the store clerk at the gun shop where he's restocking on ammo to go on a killing spree, you need to show us a touch of humanity to give us a glimmer of hope for this character's journey.
Okay, I think I've about worn out my soapbox on this issue, so I'm going to go ahead and dismount.  *curtsies*  Thank you for your attention.

Friday, April 13, 2012

K is for Kissing

YA writers are obsessed with kissing.  Seriously, ask any of them.

Last week at RT, I spent a lot of time with YA writers at all stages of their careers.  Some were multi-published, some were just getting started.  But we all love the kissing.

But why?

Some of it came home to me while sitting around with a group of those YA writers at conference.  One of them had been given a copy of an adult erotic romance at one of the events.  Demonstrating our usual level of maturity, we decided to do some dramatic readings of those scenes.  The reactions from the group were about on par with a group of 12 year-old girls.  Squealing, covering our ears, even a few "Ewwws!"

Now don't get me wrong.  I'm totally okay with the existence of erotic romance.  In fact, I know some really great people who write it.  But for a group of people who write about teenagers, it was all a bit much.  Too much anatomy.  And it was lacking in exactly the things we love about kissing scenes in YA.

Is there anything better than anticipation?  Not anxiety or fear, but anticipation.  Like when you're standing in line for a roller-coaster and your stomach is fluttering with nerves, but you want to get on that ride so bad.  Or the moment when a waiter sets your favorite dish in front of you and your mouth starts watering.

And is there any moment of anticipation better than that is-he-going-to-kiss-me? moment?  I submit there is not.  YA stories are filled with those moments.  No matter how intense a relationship gets between two characters, it's still relatively new when you're a teenager.  First kiss, first love, first lover (and yes, I am childish enough that the word lover makes me snicker).  It's all got that shiny, anticipation-filled, butterflies-in-the-stomach, sweaty-palms newness.

I love that.

Maybe at heart, all YA writers are adrenaline junkies.  I, for one, am glad that I'm able to find those feelings of wonder over and over again.  Cheap thrills, and natural highs.  What could be better?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

J is for Just Do It

I know, the title is tres lame.  But Nike was onto something when they wrote that slogan.  It's about bravery, and commitment, and follow-through.

Want to be a writer?  Just do it.
Want to finish your first book?  Just do it.
Want someone's autograph?  Just go up to them and ask.

I was supposed to post my entry for J on Wednesday last week, but here's what happened:  I WENT TO MY FIRST RT CONVENTION!  It was in Chicago, it was exhausting, and it was awesome.  And there were a lot of opportunities to just do it.

The first was even going.  It meant meeting my crit partner (Hi, Jessie!) in person for the first time.  Not just that, but sharing a room with her for four nights.  I was nervous, I'm not going to lie, but I did it, and we got along great, and I already miss her! (Hi again, Jessie!)

The next was being bold and introducing myself to as many people as I could.  Some I knew from Twitter; some I only knew from the covers of books.  As a typical writer introvert, it's not the easiest thing for me meeting new people, but I did it.  Now I have new friends all over the country and a ton of great memories.

As tempting as it was to hang back when I was in the presence of some of my favorite authors--especially after I got laryngitis on the second day--I decided to go for it and introduce myself.  I may have fangirled all over a few of them (*cough, cough* Stephanie Perkins, Franny Billingsley, Veronica Roth, Francine Pascal *cough, cough*) but they were all super nice.  Writers are the best.

So whatever fears are holding you back aren't worth it.  Put your butt in the chair and write.  Don't be afraid to suck, just get through the first draft.  Go to a conference.  Go to a book signing.  Introduce yourself to people.  Be brave.  Commit.  Follow through.

Just do it.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

I is for Inspiration

Inspiration strikes without warning.  Usually at the worst possible time when you can't do anything about it.  It used to hit me when I was still working in the hospital when I was helping a patient hold still for a procedure.  Talk about inconvenient.

The single best piece of advice I can give you about inspiration is to write it down.  As soon as humanly possible.  Find a scrap of paper, the back of a receipt, tell Siri to take a note.  Just get it done.  Because I guarantee you if you don't get it down somewhere YOU WILL FORGET IT.  I have lost many an idea that way.

Now, for a random list of things that have inspired me:

  • The song Mr. Brightsides by The Killers
  • A recycling center
  • A mustache drawn on a bus shelter poster
  • Mishearing something my son said
  • Being trapped in an MRI for 3 hours
  • iPhones
  • A darkroom
See what I mean?  I never saw any of that coming.

Monday, April 9, 2012

H is for Hyperbole

Because writers are the best exaggerators I know, and I love that about us.

Also, hyperbole always makes me think of Hyperbole and a Half.  And Allie knows a good grammar joke when she hears one.

So, just in case you're one of the few people on the Internet who has not been inducted into the wonder that is Hyperbole and a Half, I give you:

The Alot.

P.S.  I know this post is kind of cheating compared to what I've done so far, but I have a for realsies good reason for being a cheater today.  Maybe I'll even get to share it with you soon...  *mysterious look*

Saturday, April 7, 2012

G is for Good Posture

I just read a book about people who choose to live almost completely in a virtual world.  (It's an awesome book, by the way, and you should definitely read it as soon as possible:  Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.  Trust me, it's a geekalicious dream come true.)  The main character makes several reference to the brutal effects on the body that all that visor-time creates.

And as epic as the Oasis sounds in Ready Player One, and as much as I'd love to see it and hang out there, I did find myself wondering about what would happen to my body.  Lord knows my regular old laptop has it's own nasty effects.

As writers, we're all at risk for Repetitive Stress Injuries, from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, to potentially career-ending neck, back, and shoulder injuries.  Now, if you're anything like me, you're willing to put up with some minor aches and pains if it means you get to put words on the page, but I know that minor aches and pains can become much more serious over time.

So, I've started taking active steps to prevent those kinds of injuries.  One happy thing I learned recently is that reclining is one of the kinder postures for computer use, and I loves me some reclining.  In fact, if I could get paid to recline, I think I could go pro.

But it's not enough.  So I'm also using my husbands pull-up bar to do some standing rows every day.  I learned some wonderful, simple exercises for the neck and shoulders from a Physical Therapist.  I try (try, mind you) to stand up straight.

Theresa Walsh, at Writer Unboxed, wrote a fantastic post about ergonomics for writers.  I'm not doing enough, I know it, but it's better than doing nothing, right?  If you're serious about a career of this, I would definitely recommend looking into ergonomics.  Heck, if you're getting paid, you're going to need some write-offs anyway!

Friday, April 6, 2012

F is for Friends

For years, I was a recluse.  Not actually, of course.  I went to school, I worked, I had friends.  But I kept my writing to myself, never talked about it in fact.  Like it was a dirty secret.  Like, instead of making up stories, I was sitting in the dark making s'mores out of the dust bunnies and used chewing gum.

Even my husband didn't know I wrote.  At all.  And I've known him since I was 15 years old.  I don't remember exactly how many years it took me to tell him, but it was more than 5, I know that.  To be perfectly honest, I still get a little red-faced and heart-fluttery when I talk to people about my writing in real life.  

But I know that's not normal.  And it's not helpful.  Because writers need friends.  Writing friends.

Here's why:
  1. Writers are a special brand of crazy, and only other writers will completely understand that kind of crazy.  You NEED that writer friend who won't call a mental health professional when you admit you've checked your email 100 times in the last 90 minutes, or start talking about your characters like they are real people.
  2. Writing in a vacuum sucks.  (Ha! You see what I did there?)  If you never let anyone else see your work, you'll never know if it's any good.  You might never learn that you've been using the subjunctive wrong your whole life.
  3. When you get stuck, writer friends will help you brainstorm your way through to the next part of your story.  Sure, sometimes they suggest throwing a nuclear weapon into your contemporary romance, but usually something helpful comes out of a brainstorming session.  Even if it's just that your own creativity gets shaken loose.
  4. Only other writers know how utterly squeeful it is to type The End, or get that Shiny New Idea, or see your cover art for the first time, or get the word that the Really Famous Writer is going to blurb your book, or see your pre-order button appear at Amazon.
  5. Writers are some of the most supportive people I've ever met.  Sure, there are some baddies out there who like to cut newbies down, and there are people who will be jealous when you get an agent/win a contest/get a contract/win the cover lottery/etc.  But there will be ten times as many who are jumping up and down with excitement for you.
  6. Writers have good taste in books.  When you need a recommendation, these are the people to go to.  And let's face it, you started writing because you love to read.
  7. Two words:  Grammar jokes.  You need people in your life who will appreciate how hilarious they are.
So, don't be a crazy hermit like I used to be.  It's so much more fun with friends. 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

E is for Experiment

This was a lesson a long time in coming for me as a writer.  See, I write Contemporary, humorous YA, mostly romantic, and kinda girly.  It's my favorite thing to read, too.  And for a long time, I thought that was all I could do.  I was confident I couldn't write anything dark, that I couldn't be really mean to my characters.  Certainly, I could never write a male POV.

Then, I tried it.

When my humorous, romantic, girly YA wasn't selling, I thought, what if I tried to tell this story from the male POV?  And I didn't have anything to lose, so I went for it.  Turned out, diving into that male POV also tapped into my dark side.  I made some really terrible stuff happen to that kid.

And when I was finished with him, and another male character showed up in my head asking for attention, I did some even worse stuff to him.

Now?  Now, I've really gone off my rocker, because I've started a new project that can only be classified as magical realism.  What?!  Who am I?

I don't know yet, and that's the cool thing.  Experimenting has shown me sides of myself as a writer that I didn't know I had.  Let my mind stumble across ideas I didn't have access to before.  And it's exciting, and a little nerve-wracking.

Better writers than me have said this same thing.  Maureen Johnson crusades against the idea that writers are a "brand."  And the always hilarious Chuck Wendig likes to keep his fingers in as many pies as possible.

Try something new.  You might use your writerly chemistry set to make a stink bomb, but you might also invent Post-It notes.  You'll never know unless you step outside your comfort zone.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

D is for Disappointment

The first rule of Fight Club is you don't talk about Fight Club.

The first rule of writing is you don't talk about disappointment.  And there's a lot of it.

If you're just starting out, you probably know that.  Querying is a recipe for disappointment.  Sure, you refresh your inbox every 30 seconds, but you know you do it with as much fear as excitement.  Here's the secret, though:  it never goes away.

Justine Larbalestier said it more eloquently than I could ever hope to with her post I'll Know I've Made It As a Writer When...

And it's not just those milestones Justine put on her list.

It's the waiting...
the Twitter-stalking...
the waiting...
the low pageviews on your blog...
the waiting...
the news that your agent isn't sure about your latest manuscript...
the waiting...
the feeling that you've run out of ideas...
the waiting...

Did I mention the waiting?

So, why do it?  Because how can you not?  Because the worst day of writing is still better than most days doing anything else.

Because for all the disappointment, there's the elation.

When you get the new idea...
when your agent loves your latest manuscript...
when you get that so close rejection that asks what else you can show them...
when the words pour out of your fingertips like a flood...
when you type the words The End...

So, yeah, there's a lot of disappointment in writing.  It's hard sometimes.  It's pouring your heart into something only to find out you made mistakes.  Big mistakes and little ones.'s writing.  And I wouldn't trade it for the world.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

C is for Contest

One of my favorite shows of all time is So You Think You Can Dance.  In fact, when American Idol premiers in January, my only thought it:  When this is over, SYTYCD will be next!  It's like my personal version of March Madness.  I can't get enough.  I rewind and watch the best dances over and over again.  I make my husband watch some, even though he would rather watch paint dry.  Love. It.

On the show, during the regional auditions, one of the things the judges will occasionally say to dancers is that they are clearly "Competition Dancers."  Most of the time, the dancers readily agree.  Here's the thing, though--that's not really a compliment.

So what does it mean?  I means that they are usually technically skilled, and know how to put together moves in a pleasing order that goes well with their music.  They usually play to the audience and make sure their smiling faces can be seen at all the right moments.  Doesn't sound so bad, right?  It's not, necessarily.  But it does generally mean they don't have the so-called It Factor.  They're not going to win the whole enchilada.

Where am I going with this?  Well, I've entered a few writing contests in my day.  I've judged a number as well.  And I'm starting to think there is such a thing as a Competition Writer.  These are writers with solid technical skills, a decent story idea, and the ability to write an opening scene with a good balance of action and backstory, not info-dump, and not overwhelm the reader with a million characters.

But what I'm finding over and over is that missing It Factor.  And I don't know how to explain it.  How do you get someone to make their words leap off the page and seize control of a reader's brain so they can't stop until they read The End?  What makes some prose sparkle?  What makes a character so compelling she'll never be forgotten?

The short answer is, I don't know.  But I do know when I'm reading contest entries, and I'm following my judging guidelines, I sometimes find myself giving better scores than something really deserves, but it's all based on my gut.  Sure, technically, the grammar is flawless.  Sure, the dialogue is natural and appropriate for the time period.  The world-building may even be well handled, and the pace effective to keep my attention, but when the sample pages are over, I don't care.  I don't care if I get to read more.  So, this entry might get high marks based on the criteria provided, but that doesn't mean it's a hit.  That means it scored well based on the available marks.

That's a contest writer.

While judging a contest recently, I started to use the criteria to mentally evaluate some of the books I was reading that month.  Published books, that is.  And you know what?  Most of them wouldn't have scored well in this contest.  Some didn't tell me a thing about the plot in the first 10 pages.  Some did no world-building.  Some did "too much" world building.  Some didn't introduce the romantic interest at all.

But these books?  I can't even tell you.  I have been on a hot streak lately.  I've read some amazing, amazing books.  Books I've insisted others read immediately.  Books that will enter the canon of my Favorites of All Time.  Books that made me feel like a talentless hack.  Books that made me want to work harder, be better, think about things, cry, laugh...

In a contest, though?  They probably wouldn't even final.

So if you're just starting out, contests may be a wonderful way to get feedback.  Learn about creating an interesting hook.  Get help with grammar, sentence structure, description, characterization.  But if you're finalling over and over again, but agents and editors don't seem interested?  It's probably time to step away from the contests.  Because you have to know the rules to know how to break them.  And when it's time to break them, break them beautifully.  Knock their socks off with your rule breaking.

And don't worry if you never final again.

Monday, April 2, 2012

B is for Boys

At some point last week, Phoebe North wrote an excellent post on Complicated Girls over at YA Highway.  She made an interesting point that some of the less pretty, but typical adolescent behaviors are more "acceptable" in male characters.  These include, wall-punching, jealous rages, sulking, and rule-breaking.

Depending on the books you read, these traits are supposed to make a boy romantically protective, brooding and mysterious, or the sexy bad boy just begging to be reformed.

Personally, I go slightly berserk every time I come across that kind of characterization.

Just as Phoebe North would like to see a little more of that typical adolescent behavior injected into the too-often too-good girls of YA, I would like to see a bit more of the good girl behaviors injected into the boys of YA.

Bring me a complicated, original boy who loses his temper and maybe even punches a wall now and then, but also let him care what his parents think of him, and let him be afraid of the consequences for skipping school.  Let sex be intimidating, no matter how bad he wants it, or doesn't want it.  Let him be a bit of a geek, without slipping into cliched levels of nerd-dom.  Give him a dog who means the world to him.  Let him make bad decision--epically bad, too stupid to live decisions, and live with the consequences, and apologize for it.

I've read a few boys who fit the bill.  Or rather, don't fit it at all.  Boys who are complicated and unexpected, and deserve mention.

Bod from Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book makes terrible choices sometimes, and needs help, and tests his caregivers' limits, but he's a good boy at heart.

Joey Crouch from Rotters by Daniel Krauss is trampled on, abused, neglected, devoted, intelligent, a little bit geeky, but takes no flack, especially by the end.  Full of secrets, angst, bad choices, risk, redemption, salvation, and temptation--Joey runs the gamut.

Adam from Gayle Forman's If I Stay and Where She Went should by the stereotypical bad boy, but he's not.  He's brave and broken, smart and stupid, emotional and unavailable, kind and aloof...  Everything you need for a real human being.

St. Clair of Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins is another one.  Intelligent and funny, he makes bad choices and has to live with them.  He has issues with his father, but they don't rule his life, or impair his ability to make connections with others.

Who are some of your favorite, complex, real boys?

- Liz

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A is for About

Because I'm mildly insane, I've decided to try the Blogging from A to Z Challenge for April.  Thanks to Tossing It Out, I'll be (theoretically) blogging on a different topic for every letter of the alphabet, every day in April, except Sundays.

My theme is going to be What I've Learned About Writing, though I can't promise that every topic will be precisely that.

Today, of course, since it is April 1st (barely, but still, I made it for my time zone), my letter is A, which stands for

Eight months ago, I finished a lengthy audition process and began a new writing life as the Guide to Miscarriage and Pregnancy Loss on the consumer health information site,  It's actually the primary reason I haven't been blogging around here as much as I used to, or as much as I'd like to.  See, working for About requires a time commitment.  But, honestly?  That's been a good thing.

Here's what I've learned:

1.  I am still capable of writing in an academic style!  Sources and everything! *pats self on back, wonders where diplomas are*

2.  It is possible to write 4800 words a month on contract (plus 7 blogs and 4 newsletters) and still have time for my fiction writing.  It takes some discipline, and the near-demise of my evenings, but it is possible.

3.  Writing non-fiction at a demanding pace like that keeps my fingers primed for writing fiction.

4.  Ideas for fiction can come from the strangest places.  There is a seed of an idea germinating in my brain.  I suspect it will be a slow grower--like maybe woolly bear caterpillar slow--but it could be good.

5.  It feels really really good to answer the question, "And what do you do?" with the words, "I'm a writer," and know there's a paycheck to back it up.

6.  I'm starting to think I could handle some other freelance assignments.  The world is full of possibilities.

Thanks, About!

- Liz