Editing . . . Groan

I've decided I hate editing.
This is something I've been dealing with for the past five months. I've avoided editing like the plague; ignored the suffering prose of my novel and tuned out the incessant cries of uncompleted school papers.
But now, of course, with a deadline of tomorrow for my Vision Forum short story, I can no longer avoid editing. Yesterday, I took my laptop and sat on my bed for an hour, managing to (somewhat) painlessly cut out the 52 extra words, plus another 16. 
This made me very happy.

Yet, after this minor victory, I remembered that  I now have to deal with content. Clarity. Keeping  my audience in mind.

And it's even more difficult with a limit of 1,200 words.
Though I can act OCD sometimes, I feel like it would be wrong for me to send in a story with exactly 1,200 words. I would feel like I 'barely made it'. I feel so guilty stretching the word-count.

Editing is annoying, but with a word-count is even worse. The way your stomach sinks when you finally find the perfect way of phrasing that troublesome sentence, and then you glance down . . . and the Word Count stares back up at you: 1,208 words.
I hate editing. And, of course, I'm using this blog post as an excuse for not editing.
I feel antsy and restless whenever I think about going back to that Microsoft Word Page full of text, words I don't want to change. 

I always forget. Writing is work. Now to push through the grudge-y, un-fun part of it. Oh joy.
But oh, how I love it!



This was the cover I based my story on
About a month ago I mentioned that I was writing a short story for the Vision Forum Family Catalog contest. The instructions were to write the most compelling story which artfully tells the tale of the individuals depicted on the cover in the context of the theme "Women and Children First"

When I read about it, I was ecstatic, of course.

But I procrastinated, as is the nature of me.

So here I am, over a month later, three days before the deadline, and I am finally done.

In need of editing, yes (considering it's 52 words over the limit). But finished.

My story is titled 'Redeemed'. Here is an excerpt:
I tore my eyes away and stepped toward Murdoch.
“Were all the lifeboats full?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know, Captain. I was following your orders. Women and children first.”
I clenched my jaw. “And were the lifeboats full of women and children, Murdoch?”
He was silent.
I turned and left the wheelhouse.

Now, to edit . . .


Pushing Yourself

It's always hard, after the excitement of Christmas, to throw yourself back into your "groove" with writing. 

That is, if you had a groove before the holidays. But I didn't.

So now, to start a new groove! As much as I hate forcing myself to write (it all feels stinted that way) I realize that the stintedness is part of being a writer. And though I feel as if I've said it over and over, I can't call myself a writer if I don't write.

Part of me is nervous that, after writing Enslaved  I became so exhausted that I convinced myself the best thing to do was to distance myself from prose, and fiction, and writing anything that felt even remotely close to the genre of my novel. I was so tired of pushing myself through the stintedness that I didn't even want to think about my manuscript. All writing came to feel stinted, and thus I shunned all of it (except poetry, which is quick to write and fun to read).

And yet, through all of this, I felt as though I was abandoning a part of myself. I wasn't just taking a break. I was throwing in the towel. Telling myself that "I can't go on any longer". "I can't look at that story anymore". I began to question if I was meant to write at all.

But none of this felt right. Even though I was discouraged, giving up didn't just feel lazy. It felt uncharacteristic. Words have always been my friend. Fiction and prose have always been a part of me. To try to convince myself that "I couldn't go on any longer" - just because I was tired - felt as though I was forgetting part of who I was.

Writing is like a workout. You start off a little tired. Then you get a rhythm going, and you throw your heart and soul into it.  But after a while, your muscles start to ache, all your 'umph' is gone, and you want to just lay down and go to sleep.
But the only way to get stronger is to push yourself through the aches and pains! Find that buzz of adrenaline in the back of your brain, exhale, and finish with everything you've got.

So here's a toast to New Years Resolutions before the new year begins! I don't know how many times I'm going to have to say it to myself before I listen to me: but I must force myself to write, or else forfeit part of who I am.

And that would be quite unfortunate.

Does anyone else feel as though they have lost their "groove"? Are there any other authors out there making New Years Resolutions to devote themselves more eagerly to their writing? 
Let's hope that new life is born in our words as the new year begins!

Keep pressing on . . .


Even More Poems In December

Still, it hasn't snowed yet. That's a good sign I suppose. Maybe we'll have a mild winter, and January and February won't be quite as depressing.

Here's a poem I wrote a couple years ago, in the middle of the night. I love those moments. Yes, writing can be difficult sometimes, but, fortunately, we get those moments of sudden, inexplicable inspiration, too.

One more thing. Keep your eye out in the coming months - I'm planning to hold a contest after the holidays connected with poetry and imitation. The prizes will consist of full-color illustrations of your protagonist. So keep checking - contests will be coming soon! 

Hope in Shadow

Shick, Shack, watch your back,
The twisted dreams are turning black,
The drum of all the swirling shadows,
Come to meet us in the shallows,
                            When the world is quiet.

Trin, Trun, time to run,
The shadows come when there's no sun,
The shouting of all the wicked sins,
Cannot be heard over their din,
                            I cannot hide from it.

Bim Boom, in my room,
Hiding from the impending doom,
My sadness compels me to ask how,
My tears my only comfort now,
                            Darkness uninvited.

Hoop, Hope, prayers like soap,
Washing, tying, my dreams like rope,
They lift me from the treacherous ground,
They urge me on, I'm lost, I'm found,
                             I will turn and face it,
                             My weapon vanquish it,
                     With HOPE I can win.


More Poems in December

Ah, yes. It's getting colder. And any studying I have to do is getting more and more annoying. The holidays are creeping up. And poems keep coming. . .

Stay Out Here
Winter skies
Tired eyes
Pink and blue
Cold and true
Old regrets
Wash away
For today
As the sky
Says good-bye
To the sun
Winter chill
Christmas thrill
Glow inside
Old yuletide
Carols sing
New bells ring
Lets stay here
Finding cheer
In the skies
And good-byes
Winter tears
Freezing fears
New-found joys
Life enjoys
Carols sung
Stockings hung
Winter skies
Tired eyes
Go to sleep
Winter deep.

I can't sleep
Winter deep.


Poems in December

I've been writing a lot of poetry lately. I guess I find December to be a poetic month. Not in the way that you would think of spring or fall being poetic - more in it's own, unique sort of anticipation.

Here's one poem, which I'm sure many authors could identify with. I will be back with more shortly.

This Paper

New journeys, new ventures, new things to behold:
Stories upon stories that nobody’s told,
Hearts are laid barren upon wasted slate.
Words, they pour forth, but they all come too late.
Too many times, as I wander here
I have felt the cursed claws of fate.

They dig and scratch and hold me back,
The passions of ambition crack.
Yearning to live, to help create -
I am the one who I berate.
Life’s far away, once felt so near -
Myself that I’ve begun to hate.

What happened, when I used to write?
The words that fall like stars tonight
And burn until I separate
From the world I infuriate.
My breath too shallow now to hear -
My paper I incinerate.

This paper I incinerate.


Author's Secrets

I don't know about you, but I don't like to feel as if someone is hiding something from me.

Now, I don't mind secrets. Secrets are fun. Secrets are meant to be kept. But secrets are also told. They are whispered here and there, and I can grasp snippets of the truth, even if I'm kept guessing.

But I hate it when someone hides something from me.

Do you know the feeling? When you're in the middle of a really great novel, disasters popping up left and right, slowly destroying the hero's world . . .

And yet you can't escape the nagging feeling that something is being hidden from you.

It's an odd feeling, one that's hard to describe. If I could pick one word for it, I'd say 'contrived'. Or maybe even 'distanced'. You feel as though every character is held ten feet away from you - even the hero - so that none of their reactions feel genuine or real. You're never quite sure what's going on inside their heads . . . but it's not because they are reclusive characters. The characters aren't keeping secrets. The characters themselves are secrets. It's almost as if they want to tell their story, but someone on the outside isn't letting them.

These sorts secrets are the fault of the author, not the character.  It's a nagging tendency, when I'm  caught up in a really interesting idea, or an in-depth plot, or a fast-paced action scene, to loose the reality of the characters. I get too fixated on the story and so I refuse to let the story's characters be themselves. But, if I neglect to do that, then the story isn't really a story at all.

Actually, though we say "a story's characters" - if you think about it, the characters don't belong to the story. The story belongs to the characters. The events of the story are all contingent on what they decide to do, not what the author decides should happen. Without them, there would be no story. So it's best to let them do what they will, I think.

So, from now on, I'll be saying "the character's story", and I won't make them keep any secrets! 


The First Few Words

Fun little things often come to me in snippets of prose that never go anywhere. Beginnings of stories. Things that I'm not quite sure where they're running off to.

Like this, for instance:

The intricacy of her soul intrigued her.
She sat, the bank of the river rising and falling beneath her as if it were a living beast. Or was the just the beating of her heart?
She turned around.
Five sentences. Beginning of a character novel, I think. But who is the character? What does she want? What is she dreaming about? I don't know either. But, for some reason, lines like this pull at my heart. I want to know more about her. And the only way to do that is to write about her.

I know I'm shrugging. And sighing. And saying to myself "This will probably go nowhere." Hmm. But it might be nice going nowhere for a little while.
. . . 


Where a Story Begins . . .

In my junior year of high school I used a program called One Year Adventure Novel to help me plug through my first novel. The finished result: 350 pages, 66,134 words of non-stop action. It's not called an adventure novel for nothing.

Death. Captivity. Revolution. Betrayal.

One girl, enslaved to herself, trying to free her world from the twisted snares of her uncle.

I love my manuscript, raw and real as it is. I would love to see it cradled by a loving hardcover binding.

But I had to remind myself where this novel came from. It was an un-formed idea floating around in my head until I learned how to set it down in an orderly way. Chapter by chapter, character by character, disaster by disaster, dilemma by dilemma, plot twist by plot twist . . . I learned how to tell as story.

But now I have to remind myself where a story really begins! Since finishing my novel, every time I've gotten inspired by a new idea, I've found myself falling into the rigidity of a step-by-step process.
That process was brilliant to help me learn, to help me plug through, to help me finish. But now I have to remember - a story begins as a free-form idea. The rest has to flow from there. Keep the structure that you learned in the back of your mind to guide you, but let your ideas take their own course, instead of trying to shove them into an ordered list of steps.

Am I alone in this "need" for a step by step? Does anyone else ever feel that they rely too much on an ordered structure to write? Has anyone else had their inspiration sucked out by a step-by-step structure, or lost their love for writing because they constrict themselves?

I am in the midst of brainstorming for The Vision Forum Family Catalog 2012 short story contest. I refuse to let myself become constricted by a structure! Let the story come as it may come.



I get distracted very easily.

Not to say that I'm scatterbrained or anything. I focus very hard, on everything I do, for extended periods of time, and even multi-task occasionally. 

Or, at least, I seem to focus very hard. But, more often than not, my head is not in what I am doing.

It happens so much when I write, and that's the frustrating thing. Smack-dab in the middle of a well-formed, well-thought out paragraph, my mind will wander.
Now you could never tell to read the paragraph. My paragraph stays on track. But my head isn't in it anymore - my heart isn't in it anymore.

Oh, how I wish I could totally immerse myself in my writing, without my mind wandering! But the list that I always tuck away on the back shelf of my brain starts getting longer and longer...I should be studying, I should be responding to emails, I should be cleaning my room, I should be cooking, I should be making Christmas presents, I should be practicing my audition song, I should be going over my dance steps, I should be editing my manuscript, I should be writing that paper...

And, of course, while I'm sitting there writing, my brain decides that it's the perfect time to start reading this list out loud to me.

I want my list to stop growing. I want my brain to shut up.

Yet of course it doesn't. It never does.

But anyway, back to getting distracted. I think, somehow, over the course of the last few posts, I have written a lot about the art of writing, about writing as a craft, a skill to be honed, a journey to be taken. And it's true - that's what it is. But, though I've been writing about that journey, I haven't been taking that journey myself.

It's time to crawl back to my laptop and pull out my dusty manuscript that I've tried to forget about. It's time to get this journey started. It's time to forget about that stupid list. It's time to immerse myself in writing.

Because that's what writers do. They write.


Poetry According to Poe

I've said before that imitation is the first step to greatness.


I didn't?

Well it is. It's also the highest form of flattery. And I'm sure Edgar Allen Poe would be flattered to know how many poets have imitated his Raven. He did give us a guide, after all.

His essay, published in 1846, entitled The Philosophy of Composition.

In his own words: "I have [no] difficulty in recalling to mind the progressive steps of any of my compositions; and, since the interest of an analysis, or reconstruction, such as I have considered a desideratum, is quite independant of any real or fancied intrest in the thing analyzed, it will not be regarded as a breach of decorum on my part to show the modus operandi by which some one of my works was put together."

What a gift for us poets!

"I select The Raven as the most generally known. It is my design to render it manifest that no one point in its composition is referrible either to accident or intuition - that the work proceeded, step by step, to its completion with the precision and rigid consequence of a mathematical problem."

The 'step-by-step process' is as follows:

1.       Determine the length that you wish your poem to be. The length will be based on what you wish to convey with your poem, whether it is one, unified message, or several messages in one story. However, Poe says, "there is a distinct limit, as regards length, to all works of literary art - the limit of a single sitting." For "a poem is such only inasmuch as it intensely excites, by elevating the soul; and all intense excitements are, through a psychal necessity, brief.
2.       Choose the impression, or effect, you want your poem to have. Poe says that he always chooses the effect first, and then proceeds through the rest of the poem with this overall effect in mind.  What is your theme? Beauty? Love? Honor? And who is your audience? Is this a universal poem? Or is it a poem directed at lovers, searchers, thinkers? Those who are lonely, empty, hopeful?
3.       Consider the tone of the poem. Even if your theme has been touched upon before, there are various ways to touch upon it. Beauty, written about with a tone of sadness, becomes something different. The message itself changes, becomes unique.
4.       Decide upon meter, etc.
5.       Identify key words in the poem, such as Poe’s "Nevermore" in The Raven. Poe calls this a 'refrain'. Though not all poems need one, a certain amount of repetition is crucial for the overall effect and the "intense excitement" of the poem. Also identify key characters, such as the Raven Poe picked to intone his refrain.
6.       Now combine the tone and the theme. Think of your tone, and things related to it. If your tone is melancholy, the first things that come to mind are death, despair, and loss. Then think of your theme, and how your desired tone could be made to relate to this theme. Beauty even in death? Loss of beauty?
7.       Combine your key words with this combined theme-and-tone.
8.       Envision the climax of your poem and compose it. Thus you will also establish your poem's meter, etc.
9.       Brainstorm the poem’s location and order of events.
10.   At this point, it would seem that the poem is ready to be written. However, Poe digs even deeper. "In subjects so handled," he says, "however skilfully, or with however vivid an array of incident, there is always a certain hardness or nakedness which repels the artistical eye." The bare events of the poem, written in meter, is not enough to evoke the intensity needed to make the poem a work of art. Two things, Poe says, are required: Complexity of the plot and personalities, and some amount of suggestiveness, some "undercurrent" as Poe calls it, through ulterior motives/hidden messages. Thus layers upon layers are added to the poem, giving it depth and reality.
These guidelines always make me smile when I read them.
I guess they encourage me...but I think they excite me more then anything else. I can't wait to grab a pencil and start writing - delve in deep to the complexities; grab hold of an old theme and twist it a new way; find my own Raven, above my own chamber door, quothing my own 'Nevermore'. 

And how could I go wrong, with Poe himself to lead me through the dark tangles of Poe-try?



Inspiration comes in many forms.

I was recently listening to  National Public Radio, and they had a short program where they talked to Neil Gaiman (author of Coraline, bestseller) about the inspiration for his recent publication, The Graveyard Book. He said that, about 25 years ago, when his son was 2 years old, they lived in a very tall, spindly house with no yard. His son's favorite toy was his tricycle, but he couldn't ride it around outside (there was no room) or around inside (the house was mostly stairs) - so Mr. Gaiman would often take his son across the street to play in the old churchyard there.

Watching his son play, Neil Gaiman said, he was suddenly struck by the thought, "You know, I could write a story about this ... a little boy who grows up in a graveyard. Kinda like The Jungle Book, where a little boy grows up to learn the ways of animals - it could be The Graveyard Book, where a little boy grows up to learn the ways of dead people."

And so the inspiration came.

But it all started with one image: a young boy riding his tricycle around the gravestones.

C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe all started with one image he got from a dream - a fawn, in a snowy wood, carrying parcels and a snow umbrella.

So these two images - one from the author's son, one from the author's dream. Both sparked an idea that lead to a story.

(Actually, as a funny side-note, Neil Gaiman got many of his inspirations for his characters' names, and other little epitaphs, from the gravestones in the graveyards he visited while writing his book. I just might use that technique sometime ...)

Just  at the very beginning of this month I had the indescribable joy of watching my baby brother, Luke, be born. Over the past month I have been too busy sucking up his few, limited weeks of newborn-ness to do anything else (those of you with babies or newborn siblings know exactly what I mean - they're only that tiny for so long).

There is not much that I can say about the experience - as aforesaid, it was indescribable - but it is not difficult to say that it was inspiring.

Who knows, as I look down at the peaceful, innocent face of my sleeping newborn brother, what inspiration might come?


My Memory and My Writing

Having a good memory is a curse.

My Mom was blessed with a not-as-good-memory. She often tells me how she wishes she could remember stuff the I can: phone numbers, song lyrics, birthdays, people's names...

But as a writer, I'd prefer to not remember a thing.

They it takes about two days for your mind to fully detach from a piece of writing - to forget what was written - so that the writer might look upon it with fresh eyes. But, with a good memory, this time is doubled if not tripled.

I memorize what I write as I write it; the rhythm of the words, everything.

I would much rather forget.

Once I had finished my book (Enslaved) the program I had used to help me write it suggested that I wait about a week to detach my mind from the story, thus editing it more objectively. They pushed for three weeks (I didn't have the time - the deadline was in two); but they said one week should be fine.

But, for me, it wasn't.

I was shocked at myself as I went back to read over my novel. 350 pages, and I had it all practically memorized.

Not good.

How this hurt me during the editing process, I don't know. I haven't read my novel since then - have hardly looked at it. Hopefully, with time, I'll forget most of what I wrote, and be able to bare the sight of my words.

Does this happen to anyone else? Or am I the only writer who prays for a bad memory, when it comes to my writing?

Though, I suppose, if I had a bad memory, I might forget to write at all.


Excitement: The Story

I remember when I first started writing my story.

I say "my story", not meaning the book I actually wrote. I worked on my "story" for years, but of course it was not the story I ended up writing. (It wasn't until years of painstaking revision, rewriting, 3 different versions,  over 300 pages of writing all told,  that I eventually came up with a completely new story - new characters, plot-line, point of view, concept, EVERYTHING - and actually finished a book.)

No, I say "my story" meaning the goofy little novel that I slaved over for the first 5 years of my life as an aspiring writer. The novel that went through three title changes, three main characters, three plot-lines, three writing styles, all centered around one immature, contrived idea. The novel that grew with my aspirations,  improved with my writing, developed with my personality. The novel that shaped me into the writer I am today.

It was the story that excited me the most.

I can still remember the thrill I felt, at nine years old - still remember the fervor with which I wrote, the hours I would spend on the computer ... the joy I would feel when I would finish a chapter, the excitement I had for sharing it. Yes, I still get tastes of that excitement now, usually when I've written a line of prose or poetry that seemed appear on the white paper unbidden. But I hardly feel it the way I did at nine years old, writing that silly novel, begging to be allowed five more minutes so I could frantically pen the paragraphs of prose that were streaming into my head at rapid speeds. 

The excitement ... the thrill!

How I wish I had that excitement whenever I write now! How I wish that those lines of prose would flow so quickly and easily out of me, and bring me that thrill! Then being an writer would be so easy.

It need to find that excitement again - all people who write must find it. Writing is inseparable from excitement. Excitement is contagious. And excitement for writing gives life to the story.

When you are excited to write, that excitement will become contagious.


Why Writers Fear Writing

   Writing is a curious thing.

   It's like talking, but it's not. Sometimes it's more personal than that...other times it's as flat as an old pile rug with all the yarn plucked out.  It's a communicative, open, free-flowing line of prose; it's a cold, dry, cryptic, closed off word - 'Beware!'
   Writing is personal. It is individual - singular to each person - like their way of speaking, their voice, their mannerisms - yet often these mannerisms, this voice, is hidden.
   We hide it through imitation of other writing. This imitation, of course, is all well and good if you are using it to expand as a writer. But so often imitation is used as a mask, a veil, to hide behind. That way, when others read your writing, it is not you who is up for scrutiny. It is someone else. And so you stay safe.
   But writing is not safe. You cannot approach writing as if it were something safe. It will not be long before you realize how grievously wrong you are.
   Your writing is a part of who you are, even if you are not the greatest writer. It is still your voice, your thoughts. And the thought of expressing them, on paper ... where they can't be taken back ... is scary.
   This is what makes writing so different from speaking. Speaking is a sound, moving so fast on its vibrations in the air that is literally is here one fraction of a second and gone the next. Speech - generally speaking - does not last (unless it is written down) and is only heard by the few who hear it - not by generations to come.
   But writing lasts forever. Just look at the writing of the ancients for proof of that. Over 2000 years later and we are still privy to their thoughts - long after their speech has faded away.

   Would Homer have picked the Iliad to be his one epic to survive 2000 years?

   Writing is solid, immovable, even more so today than it was 2000 years ago. (I highly doubt that this blog post is going anywhere anytime soon.) Once you writing something, it is hard to take it back - even the best erasers don't fully smudge out the marks left on the paper.
   Besides that, when you write, your audience is not limited to just the people around you. Anyone can read it ... even people who you might wish would not have had that glimpse into your soul.

   Sound scary yet?

   But we cannot let that stop us! We must grab this bull by the horns, wrestle, and wrestle hard, even if our bright red capes get trampled in the process. Why? Because only we have our voice. And it's a thing too precious to be lost because of fear.

   The same principle that applied 1978 years ago applies today:
"Be not afraid."
                                        ~ John 14:27


On Writers and Motivation

     New journeys. Swashbuckling Adventures. Old myths. Relationships. They all have to start somewhere, and yet so often we are not the brave-hearted heroes who step out of the pages of our novels. How do these heroes manage to get past that gut wrenching hesitation which comes with starting new things? That bone-chilling fear which comes with adventure?
     Pressure. Lots of it. And a couple blood-thirsty monsters besides.
     But what about us, on the outside? So often we - especially writers - loose our motivation! What about we ordinary, everyday people, stuck on the outside of the leather binding, not blessed with the pressure of life or death situations to propel us forward into new things?
     We must rely on ourselves.
     All our motivation must come from within; all of our drive, purpose, and pressure must be derived from our own internal, self-inflicted bloodthirsty monsters. But, as I've found in my experience as a writer, those monsters are not always all bad. Sometimes, they're not really blood-thirsty at all ... once you get to know them.
     What follows are 6 simple guidelines for self motivation - whether in your writing, exercise, education, or day-to-day life - to help you to get acquainted with the blood-thirsty monster within.

1) Identify what you want.
  • So often, when we start new things, we end up not finishing them because we get to the middle and realize that we never really wanted it in the first place. This merely adds to the fear of starting new things: we are afraid that we will change our minds half-way in . Save yourself a lot of time and ask yourself "Is this what I really want?"
2) Figure out why you want it.
  • Another reason why we so often loose our drive is because we don't know why we want what we want. Sometimes, when we reach this step, we cannot come up with any good, strong reason why we want something, and we realize that we didn't really want it at all.
3) Make a game-plan.
  • Know what it is that  you need to do in oder to get what you want. So often our dream - our 'new adventure', gets lost in a sea of wishes. Make your dream more concrete and attainable by creating a list of what must be done in order to make it happen.
4) List the consequences of laziness.
  • Often, after looking at the list in #3, we become so daunted by the amount of work involved that we want to throw in the towel. This is where our self-motivation must really  kick in. Treat yourself to a little healthy fear by making another list - this time of all the things that will happen if you are lazy about following List 1.
5) Visualize your reward.
  • After the fear and pressure begins to set in, it can seem as though this "new adventure" thing is a long, dark tunnel with no light at the other end. Encourage yourself by lighting a happy fire beneathe your feet, and invision all the good things that will come through your hard work. Remind yourself of Step #2.
  • Perhaps the most daunting step of any new adventure. And, of course, the most crucial. YOU MUST START. No excuses. Often, you'll find, when you push yourself an inch, you'll go a mile.

     The monster doesn't seem quite as scary anymore, does he? Once we have identified our purpose, the pressure becomes our best friend. Now, obviously our purpose in life is more than what we create for ourselves. But the drive, the motivation, behind our actions - whether we are writers, artists, mothers, college students, actors, or postmen - must come from within us.