Tag Archives: books

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.

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Read Until Your Eyes Stop Working

I have been on a binge recently. After reading Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians, the realization dawned on me once again that I can devour books quickly if I really want to. It was read in about two days, most of one being spent inside while it rained.

I picked up the sequel, which is what made me want to read the first. An article featured on NPR had come up and I got interested immediately. He does an incredible job writing and being humorous as well as captivating the whole way through. Then again, it’s my kind of book, I love the social and scandalous when it’s done well.

After the first book, I had picked up another, just on a whim. “I can read a lot, I’m going to find all the books I was interested in.” Not to mention that I already, obviously, have a stack waiting for me to get through at home. Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre that I’ve been meaning to read, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, Dune, Beautiful Ruins, Ancillary Justice (and the next two books in those series, solely because it’s scifi, awarded, AND the author lives within five miles of me), The Glass Magician, Starship Troopers, The Secret Garden, The Giver…

The list goes on, and on… I want to get through them all, but I’ve picked up even more books from the library to read through by the time the date’s up. My reading list looks a lot like my writing prompt list: So many to keep me busy and yet it keeps growing faster than I can knock any off.

And I’ve been diving into articles online left and right like I haven’t before. I’ve spent hours just poring over long texts.

Of course, I mind none of this. But while I’ve been engaging myself in all sorts of things, time after time, week after week, I’ve been neglecting wordpress and those I follow on here.

I can commend myself for being a prolific reader in the recent days, but I keep meaning to keep up with people here, and it always slips my mind. Even if I do mail notifications for those I enjoy most, I’ve famously been bad at it regardless. Not just with these blogs, but also namely with the roleplay blogs that I had mentioned before. I’m even guilty of friends sending me stories and not reading them for days or weeks.

I am terrible. If I don’t see something, I’m not reminded of it, but even then, I can tend to be flaky for other reasons. Interest or a lack thereof, time constraints, or my head simply not being in the place for it.

With ease, I can dive into text and language. I can mosey around and find things. I like a lot of what I see with those I follow here, but a lot of my attention, especially in the beginning, was focused on putting out content and not really forging networks or connections with anyone else. Or doing so, but not strongly.

But, as my reading has encouraged and inspired me to read more books and more articles and engage myself more frequently, it’s also inspired me to work on other aspects, like the careless negligence of my followers, who are all parts lovely!

It has been nice, having the time and ability to indulge so often and so deeply. I must say that I love going back and forth between writing all day and reading all day. When I can lose myself in a universe, whether it’s self-made or someone else’s, I know it’s been a great day. I always end those days feeling productive, and my mind continues in a whirring daze until it shuts off.

Here’s hoping it’ll last me a while!

-The Novice Wordsmith

Journal-ism

One of my favorite, writing-centric gifts I ever got was a journal. I’d gotten so many before, but this one was special, because it came with a prompt: “Write, on the first of every month, about everything that happened in the last one.”

Simple as it was, it was perfect for where I was with my writing. I wanted to get into the groove of daily writing, but hadn’t quite had the motivation for it. Having something monthly to do and look forward to not only helped me figure out what I was going to write, but how I was going to write it. I had a tool that would stoke my creativity in a way that was different from my typical fiction writing, but it helped no less.

Writing about yourself and how you feel might be some of the easiest writing you do. It comes from your heart and your head and requires no other effort than to figure out how you’re going to word it. Most of all, it’s a great place to start if you want to work on writing more!

Blogs are great things for this reason. They encourage you to share as well as to keep writing. It gives you an outlet, and a place to let go of whatever’s been cluttering your head, and in some cases, it helps you reach out to others when you need it.

I’ve always had a fondness for journals. There’s a kind of magic to them, open, blank, and ready for your words. It’s a literary canvas, waiting for the paint, eager for it. Use a pencil to write in and erase and keep writing until you’ve filled up every inch of every page. One of my happiest little achievements will always be filling up that journal that I was given. I ran out of space for November, even!

The second year I got a journal, I didn’t write in it as much. I’ve written December and January,  but the rest remains untouched. Part of me feels guilty about it, but the other part sees it as growth.

I’ve gone from sometimes struggling to write monthly to writing daily, at least 500+ words, and sometimes more, depending.

On the other hand, journaling can, in some ways, help your quality of life. When you can’t speak to someone, or when you’re afraid of what they’ll say, having that outlet at all is a great step forward. Get out the thoughts that you don’t like or can’t keep silent about. Personal, intimate things need to be said, too, and writing them out is sometimes the best way for that.

Keeping a journal, whether it’s physical or online, intimate or general, is a good place to start if you’re having trouble writing daily. Make a commitment to do it weekly, or monthly, or however you’re comfortable, and see where it takes you.

The beauty of keeping a personal journal is that it’s yours. There’s no one to worry about pleasing, it’s you and your thoughts alone in a book or a blog tailored to you. Your creation, your writing, your whatever. You can doodle in the margins, get some drawing practice with font designs, or use it as a scratch pad for when you get inspired on the run or anywhere.

I should have called this post ‘back to basics,’ thinking about it: the versatility and simplicity of a bound book of blank pages has been a go-to since the beginning for anyone with ideas. And on the other hand, the filled book, be it a novel or a finished notebook, has just as much magic in it, both for its potential, and for the effort put into it.

-The Novice Wordsmith

All or Nothing

When I start to read a book that I’d bought only seconds prior, there’s this sort of charged electricity of excitement that passes through me, and when I pick up the book, I cannot put it down. This has happened to me so many times. With Little Women, with Starship Troopers, with Hunger Games… Now, with The Paper Magician.

When I put the book down instead of diving right in, that magic is lost. I am not as interested and I don’t get as hooked onto it so quickly. I can forget about it for days.

New Book Syndrome. I like this, but so very infrequently am I able to really take advantage of it. I become enraptured with the style of the author, wordchoice, the characters in the book, the way it’s written, the new, interesting idea of it or the things I have yet to read. It’s like being in the middle of a library with so many options and choices to read and learn something new, and if ignored, it’ll die down and go unnoticed completely.

But now I’m indulging. I’m pushing through this book easily and I don’t want to stop.

I think about how I want readers to feel when they look at what I write. I want to engage that kind of reaction out of them, I want to be able to pull them in and not let go with my words and imagery, I want to create something so profound that that feeling is so overwhelming that there’s no way they can ignore it.

But some stories just click with you, and others don’t. And then what happens when the new-book-magic is fizzled out, in the morning after or later in the day? When it’s all gone, are you still just as excited about the book? More often what happens is that you start to see things in it that you didn’t before, you critique it, you wonder, you speculate and prod more than you learn and explore.

Whether it lasts or not, that “SHINY!” feeling is still one hell of a ride. One that I love and live for and don’t feel often enough. Time to fix that, methinks.

-The Novice Wordsmith

“The Sequel Always Sucks”

I don’t know how many times I’ve said it, but I know I’ve thought about it a lot, and the phrase itself bothers me for a few reasons, one of which is personal.

When people say that the sequel sucks, often times they mean movies. At least, that’s been the most I’ve heard it with. The reason that is, I think, is because those movies are driven more by a need for money, ratings, profit, than a desire to be a storyteller in their own way, to create. It’s especially seen in situations where the sequel had never been pre-determined when creating the first; they just saw the ratings go through the roof and went, “ooh! We should try that again.”

When it’s a cohesive story, say, Hunger Games or Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, to name a few favorites, it’s a different situation. It’s about telling a story, then, to the best of their ability, and if the sequel sucks in that series/trilogy, it’s blamed more on the story not being as great or capturing as the first movie/book.

The personal side comes from writing a trilogy on my own and thinking, “Oh crap. I really hope I don’t screw this up.” Then again, movie making and writing are two very different avenues, with many different audiences. Though, the phrase about sequels doesn’t come between books and movies, it comes more between whether it’s an extension to the story, or if it was already part of the story from the beginning. So maybe I’m safe after all.