Monthly Archives: January 2019

Writing all the wrong things

I’ve actually been writing a lot this week, just not at all for my story.

I’ve whipped up two book review blogs and scheduled them (not crucial, but I like to write them as close to finishing the book as possible, so it’s all still fresh in my mind), and I’ve been writing quite a few personal little biography-type pieces as part of a bigger project of discovering what I want to do with my life.

I’m using Richard Bolles’ “What Color is Your Parachute” to map my skills, traits, passions, and more to uncover what my ideal job would look like, and from there where to look for it. It’s funny that, while mapping this, writing has cropped up several times, both as a passion and a skill. And yet, when it comes down to it, when it’s not part of my job, I’m terrible at giving it priority as a passion.

I talked a little bit before, I think, about how it can be difficult to feel up to creating your own world when you’re run down in reality. It’s so much easier to slip into a world of someone else’s making through reading, and I’ve been facing a good deal of that lately. I’m tired and worn down, and it’s easier to let someone else take me on an adventure instead of trying to construct one of my own. But, I am working on it. So long as I don’t let a whole week slide past without at least a few minutes writing, I’m not ready to write it off as a complete failure. I started. And if every week I make a point to start, I’ll get somewhere, eventually.

One of the hardest parts of writing, and one I haven’t quite ironed out yet, is figuring out where to put on the breaks. I’ve heard and tried various techniques, and I usually run into one of two problems.

First, I write until I’ve reached a stopping point. Things are wrapped up for the moment, I’ve finished a chapter, or I’ve run out of immediate ideas. The trouble here is that then, next time I go to write, I’ve got to find somewhere to start, something to motivate me to dive back in. I fall into this a lot. And you’d think that I’d eventually stop myself where I’ve got room to keep going, but I don’t.

Which leads us to the second, almost worse issue, in my opinion. I stop in the middle of a good scene, I know where it’s going from here, and it’s going to be so easy to dive back into the story tomorrow. Except that, by tomorrow, my good idea has fled, and I can’t quite remember where it was going. I know, it seems obvious. Just write myself a little note outlining where I’m going. But, it just never turns out as good as I thought it was going to. That’s not to say it’s good when I zoom through and write it all in one go, but at least the passion was there and I don’t have to second guess it until I get to editing (so, potentially never).

I’ve taken to making middle-ground detailed outlines for my stories, at least for several chapters ahead of where I am. This helps, to a degree, because if I get to a dead end, I can just start the next chapter. But, then I catch myself worrying about how long or short the chapter is. “Only two single spaced pages? That’s barely even a chapter! There should be more!”

So, it all circles back to grace, like I talked about before. Grace for the crappy writing, grace for the not writing, and now grace for the different writing. Grace for just thinking about writing, and then blogging about it, as though I actually did any significant writing. Which I suppose is fine. Only like five people read my blogs anyway, so, who’s really going to call me out on it? Certainly not my mom or grandma.

Sometimes, you just don’t feel up to creating. And sometimes, you need to focus on creating something a little more tangible for the moment. And that’s what I’ve been doing this week. Instead of mapping a story, I’ve been mapping myself, with the hope that soon I will reach a place where my writing can be a passion again, one I have both time and energy for. Until then, a couple short sessions a week (or even just one) will have to be a success for me. At least I showed up this week.

The Count of Monte Christo

The first time I read this book, it landed high on my list of favorite books. Full of action, romance, intrigue, and moral dilemmas, it’s a book that engages your mind and makes you think, and leaves you to consider what’s right or wrong.

The story opens with the return of Edmund Dantes from his latest sea voyage, excited to marry the woman he loves. But three men, who he thought were friends, betray him and cause him to be arrested. He spends 14 years in prison before finally escaping and returning to society not as himself, but as someone new, a rich, enigmatic man.

Dedicated to revenge, Dantes goes about it in unique ways, ingratiating himself with the families of the men who betrayed him. He carefully plots the downfall of each man, but during the course of his quest, Dantes realizes perhaps he isn’t the hand of God, and perhaps he could have used his life for more.

Dumas is one of my favorite authors, and this book is my favorite of his. There is so much going on in the story, but it all ties together and isn’t particularly difficult to follow.

The characters also have depth to them, good and bad is evident in most of them. Dantes’ character especially, you see him wrestle a time or two with how far he’s gone and was it too far. Dantes destroys the lives of the men who imprisoned him, but he also saves the lives of others, literally, and and saves their happiness.

The Count of Monte Cristo is a commitment. It’s not light reading by any means. But it’s worth it.

Finding grace in the plot holes

Have you ever read a story and been left with questions, questions about why something happened or why a character did something?

As a writer, uncovering these questions early is bittersweet. I’ve got time to correct them and fill the plot holes, but, sometimes it can hinder the writing process. I’ve run into just that issue very early on in my latest project (only a few hundred words in, in fact).

My story opens with a scavenging team going into an abandoned city. But, seeing as how this team is part of a society that lives off the land and shuns most technology and advancement, it begs the question what they are scavenging for, and why?

I’ve also been mulling over the question of why those who live in virtual reality are so hated by the society that lives off the land. In theory, they would have no contact at all, so why the animosity? Maybe it’s just because they have different views, that would be human enough.

I often allow myself to use these outstanding questions as an excuse not to write. I don’t want to get so far into the story with unresolved issues that will present themselves in significant ways later. It’s something I’m working on, letting go of the idea of immediate perfection. It’s not how things work in life, it’s not how things work in creating, either.

I got used to near-perfect first drafts in college, and I confess it’s been a hard habit to break, letting go of the way I first write things and allowing myself the freedom to make changes. It’s difficult, as well, to allow myself to freedom to admit that there’s room for improvement.

If there’s nothing else I accomplish this year in my writing, this freedom to embrace bad writing and to embrace improvement are the two things, inextricably linked as they are, that I’m anxious to cultivate this year, and not just in writing. I want to reach a point where I’m able to extend grace to myself. Most people don’t expect perfection from me (except when I’m at work, I suppose. I think I must have a quota of mistakes I’m allowed.), so I don’t need to demand it from myself.

There’s no need for shame at not being perfect, or even good, at something the first time. That’s the beauty of growth and the beauty of grace. And even while I work to build my self-discipline to write on a regular basis, I’ll work to build my outflow of grace and not beat myself up over my crappy writing or my lack of energy or inspiration. I’ll challenge myself to write, and be gracious with myself when I’m not able to.

The Lost Girls of Paris

When I saw the advanced copy of Pam Jenoff’s upcoming book, I was hooked as soon as I read the synopsis.

World War II has recently ended, and Grace is living in New York when she comes across an abandoned suitcase. Inside she finds a series of photographs, and a split-second decision to tuck them into her purse turns into an obsession in finding out who they are.

Grace finds out the women were British operatives who disappeared right before the allied invasion. Now, Grace feels compelled to find out what happened to them, to return the photos to whoever they belong to.

The synopsis sounded so interesting. And while it was a good story, it was a little trite, with the quick and classic love story and success for the heroine. For me, the story could have been so much more.

I did enjoy the varying perspectives to tell the whole scope of the story, as well as the way Jenoff tells the story to keep you guessing at the truth.

What bothered me most was the number of errors throughout the book. I realize it’s an advanced copy and will go through more copy editing before the final publication (I hope, anyway), I don’t think I’ve ever read an advanced copy that was so full of easily-spotted errors. It distracts from the story and makes the whole seem sloppy.

All in all, it was a good book, and I would certainly read more of Jenoff’s work. It wasn’t the historic thriller I thought it might be, but it was an enjoyable historical fiction story. When it hits the shelves in February, I’ll be recommending it a lot. And hopefully it’s been given another once over.

Entering a new world

Lately I’ve been working on doing only one thing at a time. For example, if I’m watching TV, I’m trying not to be on my phone, or checking my phone while reading. And while I’ve only just started writing again, I’m definitely going to carve out specific time for it, without other distractions.

Most of last week was spent working on the beginnings of an outline for my newest project. It’s only partial, and not overly detailed, but it’s enough to start from.

Set in a dystopian world (which, I always thought I didn’t like, but, turns out it’s just specific kinds of dystopian stories I don’t like. Usually the predictable and boring ones.), society is broken into two groups: those who live in the cities, connected to technology through, essentially, virtual reality, and the fringe society who lives outside the cities, living off the land and as much without technology as possible. This fringe society generally believes themselves to be better than the city folk, who spend all their time creating fake worlds and fake identities to live in.

Aliyah (I think I’ve chosen this as her name. It’s what I’ve begun using, anyway) is part of the fringe society, and while she recognizes some truth in what her leaders say, she also finds herself discontent with the way they live, turning their backs on most advancements and help, because it isn’t done with a person’s own two hands.

She’s on the verge of being ostracized because of her love for books, and it’s this same love for books that causes her to cross paths with a city girl during a scavenging mission. This city girl (name unknown, at the moment) is also discontent (surprise!), finding it hard to have meaningful and genuine relationships in a virtual world where a person can recreate themselves at will. It’s impossible to know who anyone truly is. The two determine to find a middle ground, and try to make both halves of society recognize the benefits of the other, while also seeing the flaws in themselves.

 

When I started writing the first chapter, I was surprised at how much I wanted to lose myself in the world and in my writing (though it was hard because other stuff was going on in the background). I only wrote a couple paragraphs, but it was enough to help me remember what it feels like to get lost in creativity.

I know that as the days and weeks go on, it’ll be a challenge to make myself set aside specific time for just writing. It’ll be tempting to turn on the TV and pretend that I can watch something and write at the same time (I can’t, and I’ve always known I can’t. That’s why I used to pretend to study with the TV on during finals, because I felt obligated to study, but I knew I didn’t really need it.). But, as long as I keep making it a priority, even just 15 minutes in a day, I’ll hang on to that feeling of getting lost in this new world of my own creation. And that’s exactly what I’ve been missing lately. I’m glad to have that joy back.

Learning to Fly

Do you ever read a book that makes you want to absolutely uproot your life and go chase an outlandish dream? That’s how I feel when I read Steph Davis’ books.

A well-known climber and skydiver/base jumper, Steph Davis lives the adventurer’s dream, going wherever she wants, attacking whatever project catches her fancy, and not weighed down by the mundane everyday trivialities of a job (at least not for very long, only until she’s boosted her bank account enough to afford getting back out into nature).

In Learning to Fly, her second book, Davis opens with honesty, sharing a pretty raw look at what her life looked like when she hit rock bottom. With no where to go but up, Davis went about as high as one can–channeling her emotion into a single-minded dedications learning and mastering first skydiving then BASE jumping.

Davis takes readers along in her journey of healing, wrestling with fear and learning to stretch in new ways. Davis’ second memoir is an emotional roller coaster, full of inspiring moments of overcoming, as well as moments of despair and sorrow. I wasn’t quite prepared for it, when I dove into the book. But Davis’ honesty within her writing strikes a nerve, and I think even people who aren’t into outdoor adventures can relate to the emotions Davis shares in her book.

Each time I’ve read a book by Davis, it’s made me want to quit my job and go live out of my car, exploring nature and climbing anything and everything I can. This book in particular struck a cord, Davis’ journey to rediscover herself and her purpose feeling extremely relatable right now. Not gonna lie, part of me feels like I might find myself if I look 14,000 feet in the sky. But, I’m not sure taking up skydiving is the answer right now, no matter how fun it might be.

I’ve got the adventure bug something awful now, thanks to Davis’ book. And more than that, I know how being outside allows the simplicity and beauty of nature to put the rest of life into perspective. Coming into a fresh new year, that’s exactly what I’m looking for.

New year, new projects

I’ve never really been one for New Year’s Resolutions, but I can’t deny that the start of a new year makes the perfect time to think about what I want to accomplish in the coming year, and to set some goals, even if I refuse to call them by the same name everyone else does.

Last year felt like I wrote the least I’ve even written in my life. I struggled to get motivated with projects, I skipped NaNo, and even though I did get a short story published, that little burst of motivation and pride lasted only a week or two.

I journaled semi-regularly to try to help quiet my mind and my anxiety before bed, but even that felt like a chore some times.

Overall, last year was just hard. It was full of ups and downs, my husband putting out job applications, waiting, hoping, being let down, and waiting some more. Last year, everything felt draining. I just wanted to lose myself in worlds of someone else’s making whenever I had free time. I watched a lot of tv and I read a lot of books (62, to be exact).

This year, I feel better. I’m getting to a better mental place, slowly, and I’m recognizing my creativity as a necessary part of that process. Last year felt like I wasn’t passionate about anything. But, I’m ready to pursue my passions again. I’m ready to set goals, to have dreams (small ones to start with), and to start achieving things again.

I know that I’m starry-eyed right now, forgetting (ignoring) the fact that writing is hard work, and that I’ll want to quit a lot. But, I’ve got a few ideas I’m excited about. And if I make a point to work just a little bit a few times a week, it’s a starting point.

I’ve already started fleshing out my first idea, and I intend to at least start a detailed outline this week, if not dive right in to the writing. I love seeing the worlds other people create, but I’m ready to start creating my own again.

Several people will be excited to know that I’ve got an idea on how to make my published short story, Hope Unchained, into something longer and more detailed. It’s only in early stages of plotting, but the general idea is there. We’ll see if it can live up to your expectations.

The Fork, The Witch and the Worm

When I heard Christopher Paolini was returning to the world of Alagaësia, I was really excited, though I didn’t quite know what to expect. Now that I’ve read The Fork, the Witch and the Worm, I think there’s a couple things to know before you pick it up.

While I knew from the beginning that this wasn’t simply a continuation of Eragon’s story, part d me still assumed it was, I think.

Instead, we get a brief look at Eragon holed up in the Easter Reaches, little snapshots before being shown three different little stories. The first is a glimpse of what Murtagh is up to, just enough to make you wish you had a full story on him post-Inheritance.

The second little story is a scattered bit of biography by Angela the herbalist (written by Paolini’s sister, the inspiration behind the character). And while I think many of us would also enjoy a full story of Angela’s, I personally felt this section was largely nonsense, neither giving insight to the character, nor really furthering any part of the story or series.

The final story was an Urgal legend, and it was probably the best bit, though maybe a little longer than it needed to be. It was the story of a young urgal and her long-standing vendetta against the dragon who wreaked havoc on her village. Of all the stories in this anthology, this one made sense to have among the brief glimpses of Eragon’s new life, as we see him learning a lesson from the story and recognizing that there will always be some challenge to face, even after you’ve defeated one.

All in all, I think it wasn’t the book we wanted. It wasn’t quite a book of histories or legends, which would have been interesting (thinking Tolkien’s works relating to the Lord of the Rings), but it wasn’t really a story about Eragon and the world we grew up with and loved. It comes across as a collection of tidbits that didn’t find their way into the series.

I’m indifferent about it, to be honest. It’s a short book and a quick read, and if you love the world, I’d say read it. But at the same time, it’s not crucial, nor a must read for all fans of the series. I think it could have been more, even without being a full continuation of the story. And that’s a hardest part, I think. I was excited for something new from a world I loved, but change a few words and terms, and the stories could have been pieces of any fantasy story. It wasn’t fleshed out enough to really feel like Alagaësia.