Tuesday, October 26, 2010

My journey to Life, Health, and Confidence.

Rachelle Gardner wrote a wonderful blog post about needing to take care of your body’s needs concerning rest, exercise and nutrition, to function at your highest level. It struck a cord with me because I changed just those aspects of my life about a year ago. It got me thinking about the hows and the whys that made me change, and the results, which I'm very happy about.

(Be warned: this is going to get a tad spiritual. ;-))

I believe that we are souls first, and human beings second. To me, the body is the vessel for the soul to experience life. Ergo, if the body and its energies are restricted, so are our experiences. Why then should I limit my body wantonly and willingly with too little sleep, a modicum of exercise and an unhealthy diet? I’ve found that the healthier and fitter I am, the more I can enjoy the things I do, no matter what that might be.

Of course, this didn’t all happen in one day. It was a gradual process of change, one I didn’t realize was taking place at first – which makes me even happier and more appreciative about it now.

Until about a year ago, I used to be the little grey mouse, the wallflower that spoke only when spoken to, or voiced her opinion only when asked. I never thought much of myself, never saw myself as equal to most people. To my mind, everybody was always better than me in anything and everything. I never even allowed myself to believe in me. In my dreams, because others told me or might possibly tell me that they were unachievable.

It started with me finding a sport I really enjoy: rock climbing. There’s a small indoor rock climbing facility and a climbing group at my university, free for students. We meet up twice a week and burn ourselves out to our heart’s content. The thing with rock climbing is, that it’s not just about strength or agility (though that does play a big role) – it’s all about your mind set; about courage, grit, and imitating that little engine that thought it could. Or, as Yoda so perfectly put it: “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

I’ve never experienced anything in my life that is so dependent on my faith in myself and my abilities than rock climbing. If I stand at the bottom of a difficult route I’ve managed to get to the top of before, and say “I’m so tired today, this is going to be hard”, then guess what? It is hard, and ninety-nine out of a hundred times, I’ll fall. If, on the other hand, I say to myself (and feel it, just saying it is not enough when you feel the opposite) ”I’m so tired today, but I know I can do this” then I make it. I might grit my teeth and grunt with every move, but I will not even think about giving up and letting go until I’m at the top. That thought will never cross my mind. There is no place or time for doubt. Honestly. It does work like that. Took me twenty-four years to realize, to understand, to comprehend, that what my parents were always telling me about optimism and belief is a thousand percent true. And I think that now I understand it better than they ever did.

Of course, the regular twice-to-three-times-a-week rock climbing also made me fitter. I have more strength, more stamina, and no more back aches. When I have to run to the train, I’m not winded; when I lift heavy things, I don’t worry about back spasms.

This is also aided by more sleep (at least seven hours a night, not just six or even five-and-a-half) and healthier food. Not so much a healthier diet (I still couldn't live without a daily chocolate-fix, cheese, the occasional burger and fries, butter, cheese, white bread, meat, and did I mention cheese?!), but really the food. I buy mostly organically grown/produced foods. These are more expensive than ‘normal’ food, and I’m a student living on a student’s budget, so I had to prioritize. But what it boils down to is the choice between spending a few hours every weekend at a loud and crowded club, and eating food that won’t build up chemicals in my body that will haunt me in later years. For me, once I felt this to be true, the decision was a no-brainer. (Not that giving up going to the clubs regularly was much of a sacrifice for me. ;-))

The results are very noticeable. I've lost about 12 pounds of weight. My hair isn't as greasy, I have no more acne. I don't feel tired and overwhelmed all the time. Heat or cold don’t bother me as much.

All this has also helped me a lot with my confidence when dealing with other people. Today, I know that others can only belittle me if I belittle myself. That I am equal to all. That I’m allowed to believe in my dreams. That I won’t fall off the face of the Earth if I don’t listen to other peoples’ well-meant but not-fitting-for-me advice.

Now I like who I am. I can run. I can leap. I can dance. I can try new things. I can enjoy life; because it is mine, not somebody else’s opinionated version of what it should be.

I like what I can do, because I know I can accomplish whatever I set my mind to.

I don’t try.
I do.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Pilot Handwriting

This is cool: PilotHandwriting lets you capture (your) handwriting, so you can use it to write emails. 
Not mine, but my sentiments exactly. :-)

Really, it took five minutes, if that. (Showing a screenshot of my own handwriting in my blog is one step beyond my abilities, though. Sorry. *rolls eyes*)

Now, if only this could be used in MS-Word, it'd be even more fun. 

Of course, a real handwritten letter is still the most special mode of communication, IMO.  They've become as rare as the quills they used to be written with, which makes receiving one a happy and good-mood occasion. As romantic as candlelight, sunsets and red wine. 

On the other hand, as a writer, I'm really thankful for computers and the corresponding advances in writing methods - I type a LOT faster than I write by hand. If I wrote all my stories by hand, I wouldn't have half as much done by now, and it'd be a gallimaufry of unreadable scribbles. 

Friday, October 22, 2010

NaNoWriMo, getting started, comparing writing methods

The countdown is on: November’s ‘Thirty Days and Nights of Literary Abandon’ that are NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), are only eight days away. In 2008, while unemployed, I took part and was victorious, writing over 70.000 words, although the story wasn’t quite finished. Another 10k, and it should be. Some day I might dig it up, revise and end it.

With that novel, I just sat down and began to write. I had a basic idea of characters, and the conflicts between them, which by itself carried me through. Yielding to the old adage ‘write what you know’, there were horses in it, and I loved writing about them, which also made it easy.

This year, I plan on taking part again. I’ve been working on the plot outline of a new idea, writing down detailed notes on characters, settings, and even jotting down a few scenes in my notebook. I think it’s got a lot of potential, and I’m eager to start this project, though I’m not sure I’ll make 50.000 words in thirty days, seeing as I have a lot of other stuff to do. But it’ll get me started, and it’ll be an incentive to keep at it, to get through 2000 words every day.

I usually don’t start a story with a detailed plot outline and characters. I get an idea in my head and let the ‘flow’ take me where it may, for as long as it will. Then I start to think about where it’s headed, what development I want my characters to make, and how that might be achieved. I never have a clear ending in mind when I start out.

This time, I do. In some respects, this makes it easier. I know who the baddies are, their motives, how they’re hiding or covering up their evil intentions. I know how my protagonist is going to muddle along, trying to figure out what’s happening.

On the other hand, I’ve already limited myself, imagination-wise. The ‘flow’, my zen, might be harder to get into, if I’m always heading down a clear path, instead of letting my imagination explore its own infinite reaches.

It’ll be interesting to compare and contrast, at the end of November. Maybe then I can tell for sure which way suits me better.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Your mileage may vary - Libba Bray

Wow. Just… wow. What a beautiful post by Libba Bray on making the most of YOUR life.

Thank you! It's additional proof for me that I'm doing the right thing.

New Idea(s)

Cool. I already have a new story idea... actually, it's been sloshing around my mind for a while, but now I made some notes about it, which helped nail down a few things and opened up a whole new slew of opportunities. 

Coincidentally, Allison Winn Scott published a post on her blog just today called The Big Idea, in which she outlines how she comes up with her ideas. Its very similar to what I do; I have a main theme in mind, something that f.e. defines the world setting, which will make me think of the ramifications on the people living in this world - who might be problem maker/s (i.e. the baddie/s) and who the problem solver/s (i.e. the hero/es). Then I write the first chapter(s). 

I know if it's got potential to be more than just another beginning saved up on my computer, when my fingers can't keep up with the ideas, and the first two to three chapters more or less write themselves. I don't know yet if that's the case with this idea, but it's been nudging at me to be explored for a while now, so I'm going to give it a whirl and see where it takes me. 

In other news, Ilona Andrews crack me up! They love their readers, which shows in blog-post-tidbits such as this. I read this in the wee hours of this morning, and woke up my flatmates with my laughing donkey-impressions - they think I've finally gone bye-bye.

At the moment I'm waiting for our landlord and the heater-guy to arrive and make a cost estimation, so that hopefully our heating will be working again by the end of this week. It's 15°C in here now, and ever dropping.

Freezing your butt off...

Monday, October 18, 2010

Behold, my shiny novel!

This weekend, circumstances outside my control demonstrated the dedication I have to my craft.

We’re not allowed to use gas-heater in the flat I share with two other students, because it’s old, in desperate need of repair and in imminent danger of exploding. Yep, I’m serious.

Our landlord promised to take care of it this week. But all the promises in the world won’t warm up an apartment when it’s only 5°C outside. None of us has a thermometer, with which we could have measured the actual temperature inside, but it felt like 12° max.

I could have gone to my parents over the weekend, where I would have been toasty warm, fantastically fed, and famously entertained. But I wanted to finish my book. I love my baby, but I’m ready to move on, to start something new. It was either finish it this weekend or drag myself through it another week, since the weekends are the only times when I can sit down and write for more than two hours straight. I’ve found that two hours fly by, when you’re self-editing. You’re working on the third paragraph, and poof, time’s up.

So, I chose to brave the cold to commit a hundred percent to the finish-line. In an attempt to keep warm, I wore three pairs of socks, leggings underneath my sweatpants, turtleneck covered with a fleece jacket topped by a wool overcoat. Fingerless wool gloves completed the ensemble.

And, no, I don’t have photographic evidence of me looking like a bum.

I do have proof of my success. Said proof is a new and shiny manuscript, pared down to approximately 97.500 words.

I did it! I finished it. Victory! Fini, finis, finito. I weathered (ha!) the chill and typed like it would save my life. It probably did save my sanity.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Making the Novel shine - Addition

Georgia McBride's blog Newbie writers: Watch out for these big writing no-no's is a great summary of what rookie authors need to be aware of. 

While polishing my novel over the last half year, I've noticed I fell prey to several of them, especially numbers 4, 9, and to some extent 11. I'm almost through what I'm going to make the last edit for now (at some point, it has to stop. I need to move on, or I'll go insane), and I believe I got a good handle on those mistakes. My only worry is that my style isn't witty or original enough... I love witty prose along the lines of Ilona Andrews, but find it hard to do myself. Of course, wit isn't everything. It wasn't even mentioned in Mrs. McBride's post, only the originality. 

So I'm going to compartmentalize my worries about my wit, finish this novel and then send it out into the world again. Every baby leaves the mother's protective grasp at some point. I'm about ready to push this baby out the door with a kick in the butt. Guess I'm not feeling protective anymore. At some point, baby has to speak for itself. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Form letters

Well. You learn something new every day.

Today I received rejection # 5. And realized only now what is meant with a ‘form letter’ (I feel so DOH-worthy – only the smack to the head’s missing). Namely the same pre-written letter sent out to all rejected authors.

Which is fine, except it got me thinking about the other rejections I’ve received. The ones I blogged about in a previous post. I’m wondering if those particular ones were form letters, too?

They were only rejections to queries, of course, so no way for the agent to be specific. But the way they were worded led me to believe that those agents didn’t just send me a form letter. Now I’m not so sure.

Not that it really matters. When/if I start receiving form letter rejections as a response to my manuscript, then I’ll start worrying. At least now I might be able to tell the difference.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Making the Novel shine, part 3: Run-on Sentences

From what I’ve heard, lots of writers fall into the trap of run-on sentences. I always knew I had a penchant for them, though I thought I’d been fairly rigorous in keeping them on a tight rein in my manuscript. This weekend I polished like a maniac, putting in at least fifteen hours and getting only about half-way through. Now, I’ve been over this manuscript at least three times from front to back – but I never before saw so many unnecessary ‘ands’, ‘buts’, ‘whiles’ and commas jump out at me, ushering me along marathon-sentences until I was out of breath. The longest sentence I found went over six lines.


I must have deleted five-hundred ‘ands’, four-hundred ‘buts’ and one-hundred ‘whiles’, most of them usually accompanied by a comma. Those were substituted by a period in most cases. Sometimes it took some copy-and-pasting to keep both sense and flow intact (because, of course, too choppy sentences aren’t good, either).

 An example: Suddenly the security chain rattled on the other side, just as I reached out to bang on the door, which flew open with a clatter and a screech before I had touched it.

This one isn’t even all that long, but ugh! Get me a chainsaw.
(Don’t even get me started on my overuse of ‘suddenly’, ‘so’ and ‘probably’. Or even ‘even’.)

The security chain rattled on the other side, just as I reached out to bang on the door. It flew open with a clatter and a screech before I had even touched it.

Also, I’d gotten into the habit of adding ‘I realized that such-and-such’ or ‘I saw this-and-that happen’ at the beginning of many sentences. The story is written in first person. With these add-ons, I tried to express that my protagonist was thinking what I was writing – does that make sense?

Another example: Behind it was XXXX who had powers of his own; surprisingly well-developed powers that involved the awareness, or spirit, of others. I realized that this had to be him in my head, not YYYY.

The ‘I realized that’ is as unnecessary as pointing out there are sweets in a candy store. Of course she realizes it at this moment. The ‘had to be’ implies this enough. Much better to let the reader realize that she realizes it in this moment: This had to be him in my head, not YYYY.

Current word count, after going through half the manuscript: ca. 103.000

Sure, I took quite a few scenes out for reasons not pertaining to the above. But still.


The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.  ~Mark Twain

Thursday, October 7, 2010

This is so me right about now... *amused sigh*

Found in tweet by Rachelle Gardner

Synopsis Saga Part 1

There are several agents I plan to send more queries to as soon as I’ve gone through my manuscript once more – and written a synopsis. These are agents who want to be pitched with a synopsis along with the query and the first pages or chapters. I put them on the backburner until I wrote a good synopsis – a process a lot more difficult and time-consuming than I originally thought possible. But after receiving another rejection – the first to make me feel the discouragement blues, even though it was very nicely formulated – I know I have to tackle that witch with a B.

In essentials, a synopsis is a summary of your book, varying in length from two to five pages, depending on what the agent wants. Like the query, it should arouse interest, be clear as to the characters’ ambitions, and the conflicts they must deal with. Like the query, the synopsis is best kept simple. I personally found this easier to do in the query, because it pitches only the idea, and the major plot points and conflicts – the synopsis must be far more detailed and even include how the story ends, while at the same time keeping it so simple that the reader doesn’t have to back up every second paragraph because s/he is confused by run-on sentences or half-explained events.

Nathaniel Hawthorne was spot-on in saying, “easy reading is damn hard writing”. True, even for a synopsis.

It might seem a little hasty, writing the synopsis now when I’m considering some fairly big revisions. But I have a feeling that writing the synopsis will actually help me with those revisions, since some of them aren’t fully formed yet. Writing a summary will help un-muddle some jumbled ideas before I sit down to rewrite, which could save me a lot of time.

As soon as it’s finished, I’m sending the synopsis to my beta-readers, including people who haven’t read the novel yet. They’ll hopefully be able to tell me where it gets confusing so that I can smooth those parts out.

Author Anne Mini has several great blog posts on the synopsis subject.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Making the novel shine Part 2: The Crux of Deus-ex-Machinas

So, back to the subject of word count and polishing, since sitting idly while my query is standing in the long and hopeful but unpromising line to be torn to bits by the Query Shark won’t make my book more presentable. Which is crucial for when my query does at one point arouse an agent’s interest, in which case no writer seeking representation should be unprepared.

I’m at 109k right now. Still too long. In the query I sent to the Query Shark I fibbed a little, stating it was 105k – but I imagine she’ll still comment on it being too long, if she posts my query. I know I can make it to 105k, which is why I declared it to be so. But getting below 105… that’ll be a tough nut. I have a feeling major rewrites will be on the agenda, but I’m wary of that idea. I really like the plot as it is, and it’s not like it ever gets boring. In my opinion, anyway.

I’m still finding whole paragraphs that don’t need to be in there anymore; they were more of a crutch for me as a writer to lean on to understand my characters better, or things that were meant to lead up to events that were never written. Cutting those paragraphs out is easy, but it won’t be enough on its own.

So it’s the hang-man’s noose for another character. She’s a very likable one, but it makes sense to take her out, since her existence was a bit of a contradiction to the main character’s personal views. I can also easily rewrite the one time this character is actually important to the plot, which will in turn get rid of a somewhat deus-ex-machina element that never really gets explained and which even now I have no explanation for. My guess is an editor would label this as a clear candidate for snipping.

Deus-ex-machinas are considered to be poor storytelling technique, and as a reader I whole-heartedly concur. ‘Deus-ex-machina’ is latin for ‘god out of the machine’; it’s a plot device with which a seemingly inextricable problem is suddenly and abruptly solved with the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new character, ability or object. It implies poor creativity on the author’s part and often undermines the story’s internal logic.

For the writer, the use of a deus-ex-machina is of course the easiest way to get his/her character out of an irresolvable pickle. But for the reader it can be very anticlimactic; like seeing the dish of a beautifully arranged gourmet dinner, but, after taking a bite, realizing the food tastes bland. No reader wants to be confronted with unrealistic, out-of-the-blue solutions.

There’s another passage in my book that has a touch of deus-ex-machina-ism to it. I think I have an easy way to solve it. What I’m not sure about is how the new version will fit in with the plot. There’s a slight chance I can even use it to shorten the story. Maybe. Hopefully…

The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction.  By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is you really want to say.  ~Mark Twain

Monday, October 4, 2010

An example of THE CALL

Well, this post on Rachelle Gardner's blog just gave me deliciously warm goosebumps all over.

Great questions asked by New Author, who had obviously done her homework.

Not sure I could keep my cool until I thought the phone was hung up. But staying professional is probably as important as The Call is squee-inducing. 

Hoping the Query Shark will bite

Over the weekend, I once again revised my query. I found an awesome blog, QueryShark, on which literary agent Janet Reid posts and comments on queries she receives.

That she will actually choose mine to publically critique is a long shot; in the blog, she states that it’s harder to get your query posted on QueryShark than to get a request for a full manuscript. The numbers speak for themselves: 200 fulls requested vs. 151 queries posted on QueryShark over the course of a year. But, as she also says, “the value of QueryShark is seeing what OTHER people have done and applying it to your work”.

This weekend, I did just that, and learned a lot. The main thing is that a query should convey the main character’s motives, the troubles they get into, and the choices they have to face to fix them. The last query I’d written up definitely didn’t do that; it was too short, too generic, there was no reason to get involved with the characters it described. I think I did a better job with the new one, even though it’s over 300 words long.

It’d be nice to know, though. I hope Mrs. Reid posts my query, even if she does rip it to teensy-tiny shreds on account of gobbledygookness. No matter how good a book is, if the query sucks, no agent will even catch a glimpse of it. An agent receives dozens of queries a day, so mine must stand out. It must entice, or better yet enthrall, an agent.

So please chow down, Madame Shark, if that will throw me in the path of intrigued dolphins.  

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Writing-Relationship Analogy, or: How to recognize an awesome Idea

I just read an interesting post on Storytellers Unplugged by Carole Lanham, about where writers get their ideas from and it got me thinking about my own creativity.

Just as Mrs. Lanham says, I never have just one idea to write about; there are always dozens rolling around in my head, some of them only once for a short time, some of them tend to resurface frequently, and some just stick like glue, consistently poking my mind because they want to be told. On very rare occasions, an idea will drop-kick me right between the eyes, and I won’t be able to get my hands on the little notebook and pen I carry around with me at all times fast enough – not that the loudest ideas are always the best.

Separating the ‘meh’ ideas from the awesome ones that won’t have you running out of steam by page twenty is the trick. I have so many story beginnings filed away on my laptop that just peeter out after several chapters, because there’s nothing more interesting to tell, or they become ridiculous, or I lose interest because a shiny new idea comes along and lures me away. Most of the times, none of these ideas seem compatible; they can’t be fused into one story. Sometimes it happens, and for me that can be a point where I’ll say ‘okay, let’s give it a whirl and see how far it goes’, because then I have the feeling that there’s enough meat to the idea(s).

As with my Zen-Zone, I’m still trying to figure out a sure-fire way to recognize ideas with the potential to grow and morph into something fun into which I’ll like to invest time and effort. In that respect, writing a novel is like being in a relationship. You have great times together, spend every minute in each other’s company; but there are also times you’re sick of each other, when you fight or don’t speak at all, and moments of struggle to work through your differences to keep going, to restore the fun you had together. When you find it’s not worth it, you go your separate ways.

So far, this sure-fire way is a myth to me – to stay with the relationship-analogy, it’s like love at first sight; a nice thought in theory, but usually nothing that has much of a future. Attraction – the Spark – is the key to getting things started, be it between two people, or a writer and her work. The only way to know whether the Spark can turn into a blaze is to spend time together. 

Which is why I write down all ideas that tend to nibble and resurface or knock me over the head. They’re friends and acquaintances, somebody I enjoy hanging out with every now and again, or someone who plays a vital role in my life. At that moment of contact, they interest me enough to find out more about them, talk to them, have fun or exchange serious thoughts with them.

The really intriguing thing to me is: there’s always the possibility of a life-long friendship. Or maybe even love. That’s when I’m willing to sit through all the highs and lows, the dragging parts, the writer’s blocks. Because at some point, you realize there’s a future there; a great twist in the plot, a cool character just around the corner, a story thread that suddenly falls into place. And as long as there’s a future in sight, it’s worth going through thick and thin together.