Ernest Hemingway:

As Ernest Hemingway once said...
'All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.'

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

falling in love

So it finally happened.  I fell in love.  It's not the first time...just the latest.  And I've been waiting, hoping, for it to happen for a while.

It's with my new work-in-progress.  I say new, but the idea's been brewing for a while, even the starts of character profiles and an outline.

Maybe it happened today because I officially handed over my last manuscript to my adoring fans extremely tolerant beta readers.  So it's done.  I'm sad to let it go, disappointed I won't be reading it again - not because I don't want to but because it's time to move on, one way or another.

So today.  My new WIP.  Not only did a revised and updated outline flow out fast, and the story click, but I've begun to fall in love with my characters.  All day they've haunted me, begged me to develop them further, to lock personalities and looks in place.  I thought about the next few chapters in the car, while at lunch, in the shower, even while using the bathroom (and I drink a lot of water).  I'm drowning in the planning, and loving every minute of it.

I put it aside a few months back to revise the last one - a great decision, by the way - and honestly, because I got 3/4 of the way through the outline and couldn't go any further.  I know it's a great idea.  It's going to allow me to experiment with first person (again), and also to write from a male perspective, something I love.  Today, I was able to break past the block.  The story is making sense.

I joined BuNoWriMo, and I'm going to write a lot in June, but I'm not going to set my goals at 50K in one month.  It might happen.  Probably not.  Mostly, I don't want to have that number hovering over my head - I'd rather focus on the story, the characters, the flow.  We'll see.  I'm going to pay attention to it, not bind myself by it.

All I know is I've got the itch.  The almost shaking need to be behind a computer, creating.  The story is waiting.  I've got one hand around its neck.  And I couldn't be happier.

Anyone else feeling that creative pull?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

saving your work

So, I'm kind of anal.  Sometimes maybe a little more than 'kind of'.  But when it comes to saving my writing, it's borderline manic.

Not only do I save everything on a flash drive that is carried on my person at all times, but I back it up on an external hard drive connected to my home computer.  Sometimes I even email myself WIPs so I can store them in my in-box and can get to them from anywhere.

But that's just the physical storage aspect.  On the flash drive are lists of folders, subdivided, subdivided again, and you guessed it, more subdivisions.  Everything I've ever written is on there (well everything since the dawn of the computer...yes, I've been writing since before personal computers really existed - not counting the Apple IIC).  I even wrote on a typewriter.  Oh, the good ol' days.

I rarely write over anything.  Or delete anything.  Which means some WIPs have in excess of ten drafts.  Some queries have twenty-five plus versions.  Sometimes only a word or two is different.  Some WIPs versions are saved with appropriate song placement in the margin notes (yes, I already have the soundtracks for the movie versions planned out - did I mention I'm anal?).  My current WIP has eighteen versions.  Eighteen.  I've been working on it for five plus years, on and off.  Some are written in past tense.  Some in present.  Some in first person, some in third.  There have been four different working titles, and twenty-one query versions (only because at least twelve of the manuscripts were done before I even knew what a query was (ah, the good ol' days)).

Poems, songs, short stories, essays, notes, how-to guides (my own), old writers' group exercises, notes from classes, my bio, a list of ideas, reviews I've given to others, not to mention novels and all that goes along with them (synopsis-es?  or i?, character outlines, story outlines, covers), it's all on there.  I mean if that thing crashes I'm lost.  Which is why it's backed up on an external drive close to the front door so in case of a fire I can grab it and run.  And then go back in for my husband and child.

My point is this.  Never do I want to get to a place where I wish I'd saved something, because in addition to being anal, I'm also very quick to act without thinking it through.  So my new project has also gone through a a couple of changes, and now that my finished manuscript is ready for readers, I'm ready to attack it.  But one glance at the writing confirmed it sucked.  So, instead of picking at it, I decided to trash it and start over.  Dumb.  You'd think I'd have learned by now.  So even though it was only 3000 words, I'm wishing I hadn't done that.  It's not a disaster.  Far from it.  But still, suck.

Are you anal about saving too?  Or more a by-the-seat-of-your-pantser?

Monday, May 21, 2012


"Why don't you just self-publish?"

I can't begin to count the number of times I've been asked this question.  Mostly it's from industry outsiders.  I get it.  After all, it can be done with the click of a button (plus some time spent formatting).  And, it seems everyone is doing it.

If everyone else is doing it, I might as well too, right?  Wrong.  You saw that coming though, didn't you?

Here's the thing.  Of course I've thought about self-publishing.  I might even do it, in the future.  But not my first novel.  Here's why:
  1. Just because something is easy doesn't mean it should be done.  Take talking, for example.  For most of us, talking is super easy.  But as I've learned the hard way a time or two (or a thousand), there's a time and a place for everything.  Same with self-publishing.
  2. I freak out just giving my novel to readers, or sending out a query, or submitting online.  Actually uploading my baby and putting it out there for the world to see?  Might be the end of my existence via explode heart.  And finding an error after putting it out there?  Soul-crushing.
  3. I'm thinking about my first finished novel right now.  And trying to control the squirrel running around in my midsection.  It's so terrible that I'm embarrassed about sharing it with only a select few (apologies to them).  But when I finished it?  I thought it was the best thing ever written.  Certainly it was going to sell and make me famous.  To think that I might have self-published it and that it might still be out there somewhere for anyone to see is horrifying.
  4. Here's the thing though.  I've thought that about every novel (there are currently five finished on my flash drive now - finished, not ready).  Good for me, right?  I clearly have faith in myself.  At the same time, I clearly possess no expertise in when a novel is ready to go, as I've yet to sell one (the reason for this is not lost on me - they're terrible, and need a ton of work).  And this leads directly into the reason I will not self publish my first novel.
Because there are people out there - industry professionals - who do this for a living.  Until I sell a novel (which will happen this year - goals, folks) - I'm going to leave it up to them to decide, whether it be an agent or a publishing house.  With every major breakthrough (this happens like once a month - no joke) I think I'm ready, only to learn with the next breakthrough that I'm so not.

I've learned more from submitting to houses and agents and receiving feedback than from anything else - how-to books, critiquing, how-to blogs, or reading in general.  So I'll keep doing it.  Because that's the only way I'm going to get better.  One of these days someone will give in and take me on, if for no other reason than I've just plain worn them down.  That's not true though.  I'm very careful about submissions and not doing it too often.  But it will happen, I have faith.

Until then, I'll keep trucking along - and learning, and revising, and breaking through - in the privacy of my own head and computer.  And with the help of a few unsuspecting beta readers.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


I will freely admit to the world (or at least those who are reading) that I love revising. I love the whole process. I've always been one to read and re-read books, but I always assumed it was because I read fast and retain very little. But I wonder if it's more than that.

Maybe when I find a story I love I want to read it over and over, want to crawl into that warm and fuzzy place and let good characters or a good story surround me. It's the same thing with music. When I fall in love with a band, I fall hard. It might be the only thing I listen to for days, even weeks on end. It's the feeling I get when something clicks, when something makes sense, when it becomes as much a part of me as the blood running through my veins. It's an addiction, definitely. And I'm prone to addiction.

Anyway, I love my stories. Love them so much that when it comes time for revision, I want to just curl up on the couch and read them over and over (with a red pen at the ready, of course). I love chopping them up and putting them back together, love finding new words or phrasing, love tightening it up. Maybe I should have been an editor. I've always had an eye for grammar. In addition, I'm a fast writer - I choose to get ideas out quickly as opposed to lingering on a sentence or word even, trying to perfect it. Since I know lots of changes are inevitable, I save the lingering for revisions.

That said, I thought maybe it would be helpful to share some of my revision tips. These are the things I do before my last read, which happens right before I push it out to my faithful readers. All of the lingering and massaging has been done by this point.

Tips for Revision:
  • Using the find function, search for the following words and if used more than say fifty times (this is for novels, folks), figure out how you can creatively nix/replace them:
    • Suddenly (shouldn't be used at all, except in dialogue, maybe)
    • Then (also shouldn't be used - replace with 'and')
    • Groan
    • Smirk (okay to use, just not in place of smile or grin - it's not either)
    • Smile
    • Laugh
    • Giggle
    • Grin
    • Look
    • Eyed
    • Sigh
    • Thought
    • Wondered
    • Considered
    • Hoped
    • Afterward(s) (usually clunky - I try to never use)
    • Realize (can be a filter - it's the author telling the reader what the character is thinking - psychic distance. Go straight into the action. For example: She realized tears were streaming down her face. Change to: Tears streamed down her face. It puts us right in the action without the filter.
  • Only use two 'ly' words per printed page
  • Only use two dialogue tags per printed page (always 'said' - if distinction is needed in dialogue, for example if three or more people are talking, use actions, not tags)
  • Check for past perfect - be mindful of switching from past tense to past perfect tense. For example: A lump was rising in Anne's throat. This is past perfect. Past tense would be A lump rose in Anne's throat. Using 'was' and 'had' is okay when you need to distinguish it from current action (for example 'he had already started reading' implies he started a while ago while 'he started reading' means it just happened), but it takes us out of the action when used improperly.
Okay, so that's my list.  I'd love to add to it - always looking for ways to improve.

Monday, May 14, 2012


Recently I've been doing some research on fanfiction.  It all started when I found out Fifty Shades of Grey started out as Twilight fanfiction.  I have to admit, I'm fascinated by it.  And still reeling a bit about the fact that up until a few weeks ago I knew nothing about it, not by choice - but because I had no idea it even existed.

I'm fascinated because I thought I was hip and cool and up on all of the workings of the interwebs.  I mean, I've got a twitter account and everything, and have at least a vague understanding of how it works, though at first it was a bit like learning a new language.  So for this to exist in such a big way right under my nose, well, how is that possible?

I think it's so interesting, reading about the debate over E L James.  Did she violate an unspoken rule by publishing what is essentially her fanfiction (some comparison sites state her published novels are 89% the same as Master of the Universe, her fanfiction).  Apparently this is a very touchy subject amongst those in the fanfiction world.  How would I feel if someone used my characters for profit, essentially only changing their names?  And not just some paltry book sales.  We're talking a multi-million movie deal.  It's intriguing.  Of course, I guess I'd have to have characters out there for someone to step at a time, right?

Mostly though, I'm fascinated at how many writers got their start by writing fanfiction.  I saw a list of published books that stared out as Twilight fanfiction - it was an extensive list.  Honestly, I'm floored by this.  But not because I don't think it's a fine way to start a novel - I'm sure it is.  Obviously it worked for those published authors.

It's because I've never even so much as considered the thought of writing a novel (or short story, or anything else, for that matter) using characters, or ideas, or themes from already published or produced works.  I mean sure, I've had the occasional fantasy involving Jax from Sons of Anarchy (who can resist a hot man on a motorcycle?  Not this girl) or Michael Fassbender.  But they all involve me.  Why would I want to fantasize about them with other women?  And come on, once they met me no way could they resist, right?

Now that I think about it though, perhaps my way isn't all that different.  Because all of my novels stem from fantasies in some way.  But the fantasy (be it based on an actor, or musician, or whatever) always exists in my head.  Sometimes on multiple occasions, and in various forms.  When I stumble on an idea that just has to be written down, before even one word hits paper I've worked out how the characters aren't going to be me and the actor/musician, and also how they aren't going to be characters I've used already. I change looks, careers, settings, goals, priorities, you name it, it's different.  Because though I think I'm fascinating, no one else wants to know about my life, values, morals, etc.

So maybe my way isn't all that different - I just skip the step where my fantasy appears on paper (or on a screen, or whatever).  I've done it.  It wasn't a good idea.  I think it's a novice mistake to go directly from fantasy to paper, and then to allow others to read it.  Not that all fanfiction is fantasy.  Or that fantasies only appear in fanfiction.  And maybe that's why writing fanfiction can obviously be a good exercise, a good learning experience.  Again, not that there isn't some fantastic fanfiction out there - I'm sure there is.

See, as a novice, I thought that's what writing was.  Putting my story, my fantasy, down on paper.  THANK GOODNESS my first few attempts were never published.  Because I thought they were the best things ever written.  Seriously, it makes my insides all squirrely to think that those first few things might exist out there for anyone to see.  Oh man.  Scary stuff.  Also one of the reasons I'm against self-publishing a first novel (though that's a post for another day).

For me, making my characters as different from me and my life as possible is the best course of action.  I think using characters that someone else devoted years to creating and changing names is cheap, and it robs the author from the chance and necessary experience of creating her own characters.  Maybe others feel differently.  I'd be curious to hear other viewpoints.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

my inner disgust

I'm halfway through 'Fifty Shades of Grey'.  I'm going to throw out a disclaimer - I went into this knowing full well it wasn't classic literature.  It had been described to me as 'mommy porn'.  I didn't know much more than that, other than the enormous buzz out there about the trilogy.  And, I've read some crap.  I'll put up with a lot.

This is what I know about the main character, Ana (possibly some spoilers):
  • She's 22 (or 21, or whatever)
  • She's gorgeous and smart
  • She hasn't ever really been drunk
  • She wears Converse and drives an old beat-up bug (Bella, anyone???)
Sounds pretty good, right?  Hang on though, it gets weird/unbelievable:
  • Her best friend/roommate is rich AND the valedictorian!
  • She's never had sex, really been kissed, or even touched herself
  • So despite never having an orgasm, she has one vaginally the very first time she has sex
  • And magically she's an expert at blow jobs
  • Her 'inner goddess' often times talks to her subconscious (which, by the way, is sub the conscious, which means we aren't aware of it)
  • She rarely eats, and in fact, seems to have an aversion to it
So what, right?  Suspend your disbelief, Jen.  Sheesh.  But wait.  It gets better.  Or worse?
  • She rarely talks; instead, she growls, murmurs, whispers, muses, breathes (as a mode of talking, not surviving), mutters, and gushes
  • She often gasps, even when it's not remotely warrented
  • She blushes all the time; I'm talking multiple times per page
Seriously?  I'm willing to overlook the fact that the author laughs in the face of cardinal writing rules (I don't really think she laughs in their face, maybe she just hasn't been told?  But it's for effect, people).  But if any one of us met this person in real life we'd stare, dumbfounded.  She'd be the girl at the table in the corner of the cafeteria making weird noises and talking to herself.  How can I think of her as anything else?

Forget the fact that I unfortunately now know this started out as Twilight fan fiction (can I go back in time and un-learn that fan fiction exists, please?), and can only imagine Ana as Kristen Stewart, possibly the last person I want to imagine having wild bondage sex.

The worst part?  Just as I get into a scene (ahem) Ana has to go and do something stupid like murmur, or think oh my, or tell us her inner goddess is smiling or cheering.  Cut scene.  It's over.  Curtain down.

I'm going to finish the first book in the hopes that something redeeming happens (even though at this point a hundie bill would have to fall out from between the last pages to even start the process) and be thankful I didn't pay for it.  And try to keep my petty in check.  You mean to tell me this got published?  She just got multi-million dollar movie deal?  Where were the editors?  Are American women so unhappy in bed that they have to resort to this?

Oops.  Fail.  Okay, it's back in check.  To be continued...

(PS - 'inner goddess'?  I can't say it without sighing in disgust.  I think it's physically impossible for me to like a character who has an inner goddess.)

Monday, May 07, 2012


Writing is all about making choices.  I guess everything in life is.  Maybe I never cared about anything as much as writing though, and that makes the choices that much more important.

Take vernacular.  My WIP is about a twenty-eight year old girl.  She's not married.  She has no kids.  She hangs out with other people around her age, also without kids.  They drink.  Sometimes they curse.  They talk about hot guys.  They speak using language that fun twenty-eight-year-olds might use.  Is that weird?  I write about real people with real problems living in the real world.  It's not a timeless romance.

The choice is how much to include, and how much to tone down.  Do I write what I want, what feels right, without taking the audience into account?  Or do I write for a broad audience?  My mom read my WIP.  She loved it.  And she's a Danielle Steel and Nicholas Sparks kind of gal.  Then again, she's my mom.  She kind of has to like it.  But she didn't bat an eye at the alcohol use, cursing, and gay strip club scene.  And she has commented in the past when language seems out of place.

I guess if I leave it and save the integrity of my characters I risk losing some readers.  Am I okay with that?  I think I am.  Of course I want to be a bestselling writer, want to make piles and piles of money.  I'm also a realist, and I don't expect that to happen.  More than anything, I want my writing to be true to my heart, so even though it has some racy parts and a bit of foul language, and yeah, maybe the characters are immature (I mean if you're young and don't have kids being obsessed with love and men makes sense, right?), but I never want to tell my daughter that I compromised in order to make money and please a wide audience.  I want to look back and know I wrote what I wanted, what I believed, no matter how much it appeals to others.

Okay.  Rant over.  Just trying to work through some things in my head.  I've gotten some great advice from critique sites, no doubt.  And even if it's not so great, at least it makes me think.  Which is always good.  And dangerous.