Monthly Archives: September 2015

Prompt: No Returns Policy

This is inspired by my own dismal failure this week.

A character, any character, is excited to buy something. They go through the whole process ecstatic for the result, fantasizing about what it’ll be like when it finally gets there.

And then it does. And it is nothing like how they expected.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing, and how do they react?

-The Novice Wordsmith

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NaNope

I think I had already mentioned that April’s Camp NaNoWriMo was less than thrilling for me. It went “well” but I was having the same problem I had in November. Stuck. Taking too long. Adding more than I needed to. I think I’ve mostly fixed it by now, but I can’t be certain. And that only makes me more worried for November.

This November, which has been creeping up on me and reminding me over and over again that it’s right effing there. That I keep forgetting about. That I feel like I don’t have enough time for anymore. That I’m realizing is a whole hell of a lot closer than I thought it was.

I’m at least more decisive this time. I have two ideas, a thriller and an erotica, both of which I haven’t done before. One is set in Antarctica and the other is another tribal village setup. I started out strong with the erotica, but the thriller’s getting a little bit of my attention. Another’s come up, earlier, inspiration from a History show my dad was watching about the Wild West criminals. Steampunk Wild West, actiony. It lost steam after the erotica showed up in my head.

Anyway, I’m still more worried, despite what I’ve got here, all my inspiration. I want to finish something. I want to get a strong start and forge ahead. I don’t want to fall behind and lose interest. Again.

I’ve found myself wanting to re-write the last year’s NaNo novel though, almost completely from what I made it to be. I remembered that I had wanted it to be a-romantic but because it was easier for me, I went the romance route to try and get better at working on it.

I’m really hoping I have my head straight on my neck this time and that I can give my first win a run for it’s money. But I’m worried that maybe I’m holding myself back because of that win. That I’m making that my sort of end-all be-all without meaning to.

Also, I have a full time job. Having eight hours cut out of five days out of the week is going to hurt my numbers, I think, because I won’t be able to write at work unless I bring a notebook with me and do things on my break. I’ll have to write as much as I can while I have the time, and what if I don’t have the inspiration or the go or the ability or care to really write when I have that in front of me?

It’s a lot of what ifs and maybes and I’m just hoping I can move past it. There’s been a lot of change in the past month and it’s shaking up my routine. Being in unknown territory can unsteady my balance, and I just want to make sure I don’t fall flat on my damn face.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to do 92k words again, but at least I’ll get some serious writing done. That’s what NaNoWriMo is about anyway, right?

-The Novice Wordsmith

I see Tropish People

About a month ago, I got a new job. It’s about ten times more exciting, stressful, and emotional than the one I had before. I also cannot write at that one, I’m too busy getting people checked in, checked out, and reuniting people with their pets.

There is a lot more traffic at this place, an animal hospital that I’ve been wanting to work at for years, now.

Whereas before, I used to see inspiration every so often in a few people who came or went, or in the people who lived at the facility, it’s about ten fold now. When traffic is higher, when there’s more going on, there’s more to see and notice and understand.

And I freaking love it!

People watching, as I’ve said before in so many other journals, is one of my favorite past times. It’s how I make new characters, come up with odd new conflicts or find a new novel angle. To see tropes played out in person has a wild effect, a fun one, one that makes me want to write them into a story somehow.

One of my first days was one of my favorites. Big man, with a police chief’s badge on his breast pocket. Frowning, he seemed unapproachable.

Except there was a small bichon frise puppy in his arms and he was making kissy faces at it, wiggling his fingers in front of its nose and teasing it to bite him. He mentioned it was his wife’s dog, but you could tell how attached he was to it.

Then there was the upset businessman who had a conference call at 3 pm and this is why he picked a 2 pm vet visit, so he could make that call. He left in a huff just five minutes to 3.

Or the blue collar couple who came in with their little yorkie, calling her a diva. Small woman with a big attitude, probably a waitress– though she was nice the entire visit– and her husband, the larger, quieter manual worker.

That was just within the first week. I’ve met countless others. It turns my head into a storytelling wonderland. I come up with backgrounds for people I don’t know, little maybes or what ifs depending on their attitude or their language, bodily or verbal. I see the tropes everywhere, and it isn’t hard to imagine what’s behind the front, the same thing you see in every movie or show or novel, but what may be is something wildly different than the norm.

This is definitely a good job for me. Even though the emotions and tensions run high, I really enjoy it. The people, the puppies, the kittens, and the staff all make it worth while.

-The Novice Wordsmith

Putting Pen to Paper…

But not Just Any Pen or Any Paper. This is a lovely article that Friend pointed me in the direction of months ago that I meant to share.

It’s the same message that Natalie Goldberg writes about in Writing Down the Bones, within one of the first chapters. To write anywhere, in any format, with any pen or pencil, is to expand how you write in a unique way. It helps build uniqueness, character, experience. To fill notebooks and journals and anything you find in any way, with scribbles or notes, thoughts, or full stories, because you can, because it’s a way to write.

The message isn’t hard for me to take to heart, and I find myself wondering about buying a new journal to fill, giving myself that challenge, but I have a few already that I’ve been trying to do that with…

I will say that it’s incredibly satisfying to finish a journal from front to back. I am, unfortunately, one of those people who stacks journals, but I don’t fill them very often.

Whether you fill it or not, though, and whether it’s a single page or a stack of them bound together, all adds to the experience.

-The Novice Wordsmith

Guest Post: A House of Prose, and Don’t be The Lauren

Everyone’s a critic.

When you ask for an opinion from someone on something you’ve done, what you’re secretly asking is ‘do you like this?’ And you secretly want them to like what you’re showing them. It’s the author’s curse; we want to be published, but we need to write something that people can relate to enough to want to buy.

The underpinnings of our society dictate that we have to ‘get along’, ‘be liked’, and ‘hold approval.’ Popular people are who we hear about; unpopular people are spoken about derisively or with hatred sometimes.

Books and writing our expressions of our writer’s soul. It is the innermost child (..or occasional lurking adult) seeking the light of day and the likes of others.

We pick our genre, the one we feel the most at home with, and we decorate the house of our novel home with the things that belong there. A family of characters, or a single person looking out the windows. A bunch of good-natured or mean neighbors to challenge the family. And then there are the things that try and burn the house down or break in and steal their stuff.

I say it’s a house here because the analogy is apt to me; we ‘live’ in the space of our novel when it’s going good, and then when it’s done, we do our best to spruce it up and invite guests to come visit.

I’ve lived in a few places over the years; that first moment when someone new sees my new place they always look around. Form impressions. Some of them look at the things I have on the walls, some of them look at my knickknacks, some of them look at my furniture, and a few of them poke their head in the bedroom.

“Nice place.” they say. Whether they’re being polite or not, I don’t know. But then again, I live in a rental, so it’s not a house I can do a lot of decoration with. I’ve been in a few houses that I’ve said, ‘this is a gorgeous place.’ I have things that I want in my house, so when I see one of those things, I appreciate it.

Now apply that idea back to books again.

Some folks can write an amazing epic tale that grabs you from the get go; some folks write a ramshackle tale that barely holds itself together; you can see the holes in the plot like you notice crayon marks or holes in the walls.

It is not a reflection on the owner/author; it is all about the _everything_ in the house/novel, rather than the bits that you notice that stick out to you.

I’ve got a friend that I’ll call Lauren. She wanted to be a writer, because I was one. She participated in the NaNoWriMo, because I did, and people really liked my first novel.

When she read it, the first thing she asked was, “Is this about you? Is that character there me?”

(The answer was no and no. Because I am not a six foot tall efficiency expert who drives a convertible.)

Then she started poking holes in the novel. Pointing out typos, a half-finished sentence here and there, that sort of thing.

“I know.’ I said, defensively. “It’s a first draft. Thanks.”

When she won NaNo for the first time, she gave me her first effort at writing a full length novel. Asked me what I thought.

It was a pretty good tale, but she got lost in the weeds when she hit Week 3 and there were two very similar characters that I kept getting mixed up, and there was another point where she was missing parts of the description because she was in what I call ‘fugue state’ — you can see the action in your head, and it’s rushing fast, but she didn’t put it all down on the page.

“Did you want me to make edits or did you just want an opinion?”

“Just an opinion. I know my writing sucks.”

“I liked it. It had some good suspense elements, and your heroine is genuinely likable. Your supernatural elements are solid, too. And your writing does not suck.”

“Do you think I could get it published?”

“I think it needs some work before you can get there. There are some elements that need more details, and your ending is a bit rushed. I’d like to see more of the world, too.”

“You hate it.” she said.

“No, I don’t hate it. It’s good! It’s a first draft and I like what I see here. That’s the nature of the Nano — nobody ever produces a perfect first draft, but the Nano makes you actually finish that first draft. If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t have finished it.”

Later, I heard she’d shared it with some of her other friends, with the additional rider comment that she felt I didn’t like it, because I didn’t think it was good enough to get published. Of course, she was giving it to friends who liked her as a person, and since she had predetermined for them that she was looking for praise, not critique, by way of ‘Friend didn’t like it, I’m hoping you will’ — she was told what she wanted to hear, rather than the truth. And when one of her friends, who is usually bluntly honest, said that it was ‘scattered and disorganized’, Lauren was done showing people. The manuscript went somewhere dark and never saw the light of another person’s eyes again, for fear of disapproval.

She tried her hand at writing the sequel the next year, because like many first time successful novelists, they still have a story left to tell. And it’s easier to work within an existing world than it is to spin up a brand new one.

But she got sick the first week, and stopped writing, and because she was a week behind, she gave up. This was the same year I wrote 100K words in the month.

She hasn’t attempted the Nano since.

For me, the NaNoWriMo is one of my life’s passions. I’ve done it every year for the past twelve. I talk about it a lot. Whenever I’m with friends or family, and I bring up the idea of Nano and they like the idea and are impressed with someone who can write that much in that little time, none of them really ask, ‘Yes, but are they good novels?’ If they do, or they ask when I’m getting published, I just grin and say, “I’m still working on that part. It’s a first draft, and a story that needs to be told, and one of these years I’ll like something enough to edit it and try and get it published. But it’s great practice and a grand adventure that I willingly take every year.”

They are invariably encouraging.

Lauren, if she’s also present, frequently jumps into the conversation with the “Hey, I wrote for the Nano too…” (Subtext: I want some of the positive attention you’re getting.)

“Oh cool!” is the response. “What are you writing this year?”

“Oh, I’m not likely to. I did it once about six years ago.” she says. “I have a bunch of good ideas, but I don’t have the time.”

Predictably, that means the focus goes back to me shortly after, because I have Ideas and Advice and Encouragement That You Should Play This Year. Nano is my passion, and I believe everyone should play at least once — if not more than once — because everyone has that lurking story in the back of their heads, triumphs, troubles,tasks, thoughts, tribulations, trout that traversed the trawler’s tail temporarily, those things. Tall tales. Truth, too.

At the end of one of those days, Lauren asked, “How come they never acknowledge me as an author like they do you? Do I suck that badly?”

“You didn’t show them your work.” I said. “You can’t know that they won’t like it until you show them, and the people you showed all liked it.”

“You didn’t like it.” she said.

“I did. I’m sorry you don’t think I liked it because I offered constructive criticism.”

“Well, I’m not a writer anyway.” she said.

Don’t be the Lauren, ladies and gentlemen. Write because you want to. Write because you have an amazing idea that’s half-baked — and understand that it’s okay to write a story that goes awry in the first chapter, as long as you follow the prose wherever it goes.

Don’t write because you need to be loved vicariously through your writing. I’ve written some of my best work when I was miserable, because pain is a crazy good resource to write out of sometimes.

Do write because you have a world you want to share, no matter how big or how small the space is. Do write because you want to finish the story, or at least take it for a spin around the block. Or the galaxy.

You never publish what you never write.

Nobody will ever see the house that you’re afraid to invite them over to visit. And when you decorate the walls with your art, be it imitations of the Masters or kid macaroni art, when you get your furniture of gleaming chrome and exquisite silks, stuff you, personally, might never be able to afford, but your characters can?

Don’t expect everyone who visits to want to move in. It’s your house of prose. You wrote it. You made the installment payments of 50,000 words or more (or occasionally less). Maybe the back rooms aren’t done. Maybe the roof has leaks that you didn’t see. Maybe the patio door is hung upside down. But it’s your home, the home of the tale you had to build from the ground up, and you ought to be proud of it.

You can always redecorate later, but you’ve got to turn the key in the lock and drag the readers in, first.

Build your first story, and you have the beginnings of a homeworld that is uniquely yours.