Tag Archives: development

Camp in July: Motivation Stops Here

Camp Nanowrimo has famously been difficult for me, except for a couple of times. I do this to myself, of course, over and over, because I must be a masochist. Really, I’m just ambitious. After finding my groove with an older story again, wanting to finish and spurred on by my great energy with the revision of my erotica in April, I picked up where I left off.

And got firmly stuck in the mud, days later.

This has had to be my worst month. I didn’t really keep track of wordcount. I could barely get myself to write every day. I was avoiding the camp website. It was sticky and awful and kind of depressing, to be honest.

I was also having the hardest time trying to figure out why it was so hard for me. When I know there’s a goal in sight, I’m usually steadfast toward it, and make great strides and bounds. This time it was like my neck was craned back, staring up at a billboard that I thought was too high to climb, with a ladder right in front of me.

I refused to think it was motivation. I’ve wanted to write and finish this novel so badly. Inspiration was all there, I knew how to tap into more, how to get my mind going.

But there it was, at the eye of the storm. I wanted to write but I didn’t want to. Were my ideas good enough, was I making enough sense? Had I really read through the more crucial chapters again and actually gotten a feel for what was going on, so I knew the tone to start off with? How was my pacing?

Every question just came at me. I didn’t want to accept it, but I couldn’t deny it, either.

More commonly known as Writer’s Block, it sucks. And sometimes there’s really nothing you can do about it but let it pass and relax and not worry until it leaves you the hell alone. Trying to force it away may or may not do something for you.

Even now, I’m having a hard time getting through this. I question my credibility and my ability and whether or not I’m getting off topic or staying on track. Everything is questioned, because I don’t know if I should trust myself or not just by plowing through something. Quieting those questions can be harder because there’s always a nag at the back of your head wondering if you’re doing it right, and that you don’t want to have to overhaul it completely…

It’s the Hot Mess Express, and I’m the conductor, apparently.

But it makes sense, when I think about it boiling down to trust. Trusting myself and what I do and how I do it makes me less likely to move forward. Friend has been having a particularly nasty case of writer’s block as well, where he’s very uncertain of himself. Along the same lines, where he wants it to look good and be a long, great read, but it’s a lot of pressure. It’s a lot for him to live up to with every piece and he’s not trusting himself to simply write and come up with something, at all, that’s readable.

The big hurdle here is to let go of all of those insecurities and just do it. Forget everything holding you down and just go. But that is much easier said than done.

Hopefully my NaNoWriMo experience won’t be this terrible. I’m looking to do just as well as last year, if not better. I just have to find a story I want to write…

-The Novice Wordsmith

 

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Guest Post: Dare to be Stupid

(…with apologies to Weird Al)

One of the things I noticed the other day in a conversation with Wordsmith was that I tend not to write stupid characters. My protagonists are invariably clever, brainy, wisecracking, wise, and have things to teach the secondary characters. On the Hero’s Journey, I am the wizard.

It’s not that I’m afraid to write characters who don’t know a lot, or who lack intelligence, it’s just that I don’t live in that headspace. I learned to read and write when I was three, and I was testing in at 12th grade reading levels in fourth grade — by the time I was nine. I’ve been called a geek and a nerd for decades, and it wouldn’t be far off, considering my love for science fiction, fantasy, and all the shades of worlds between.

When I write mystery novels, the detective always solves the crime at the end. (Can you imagine a mystery novel where the detective -doesn’t- solve the crime at the end?) The point of a mystery novel is that the mystery is solved and the villain (usually) is caught, or at least their crimes are foiled and justice prevails. Otherwise the reader is left without a sense of fulfillment for taking the journey of discovery with the detective.

The ending _has_ to make sense.

…orrrrr…. does it?

At one point in my writing training I took a class writing for children. One of the things they said was to observe children in their natural headspace — and you discover pretty quickly that Kid Logic Doesn’t Make Sense All the Time.

At one point in my comedic improv training we had a workshop where we were encouraged to let our grips on what Reality Was slip, in order improve our improv skills — to act like kids again, turning the ordinary into extraordinary. Where a bus wasn’t a bus anymore, but a spaceship. And nobody questions you if they’re playing along, but the adults are quick to deny your reality substitution (hat tip to Adam Savage).

Wordsmith and I had the privilege of keeping company to someone’s six year old, who blithely ignored the conversation of the adults around them playing their own alternate reality game (Ingress) to talk about her plans to build a Cheetah Machine, so she could go fast in some sort of race she was participating in. That sparked an idea for a story about her kid characters (which originated from a prompt I gave her: ‘show me your main character’s childhood favorite TV show and cereal….’). “Build a Cheetah Machine” is now one of our inside jokes.

“Stupid” is a stigma. We live in a literary society, where the lack of the ability to read and write is a barrier to communication, something to be embarrassed about. And yet we all started out without that ability at one point in our lives — and many of us are still ignorant of foreign languages, written and spoken. No matter how much I claim to be a writer and speaker, airdrop me in Russia and I am mute and unable to read street signs.

We should never, therefore, consider someone’s lack of ability to communicate on our level to be ‘stupid’ — but rather simply unable to meet us on our literary landscape.

And that brings me around to the front of this article — I’ve gotten too used to operating on my own level when it comes to building ‘my’ character in my universes. It’s my strong voice, yes. But expanding my palette of personae ought to mean getting out of my comfort zone. Creating a believable Luddite or similar without being trope-ish or cliche’ — those are caricatures of people rather than real people.

In reality, _all_ characters who grow are ‘stupid’ in their own way — not for lack of intelligence, but for lack of knowledge of needed skills or understanding to prevail against obstacles. Even our vaunted hero, be he or she a superscientist with PhDs or a celebrated crime detective, comes into the story with no specific truths defined save what they bring in with them. We follow them as they make false assumptions, or did not bring the right tools to address an obstacle, and we see them fail, not once, but multiple times. We see them struggle with their lack of actionable intelligence and learn from the experience in order to win the day. Their insights and deductions do not pay off on page 1, 2, or 3, but more like 201, 252, or 303, when they are (by the author’s decree) now smart enough to put all the pieces together to solve the puzzle.

No matter how outwardly smart a character may be, they are just as clueless as the people around them — the difference is that they step up to the head of the class first. But the wizard may be there ahead of them, giving them that added Cliffs Notes study guide to get off the ground, or redirect them when they fall off the rails.

So this one is for me; the next character I write? Will have no clue. I can be the Moon Moon if I want to be. I do not need to know how to Cat at the front of the tale. I do not Need To Be The Smartest Person in the Room, because when I was in school, I rarely was. And it was fine then, and it can be fine now.

It’s a worthy challenge, and I plan to play dumb and feel it out. We were all clueless once, and it’s been awhile since I remembered how. My head is full of trivia, and I got a swelled head because of it, when people react, ‘How do you _know_ that?” — the older I get the more I remember, and so it’s been tough to pretend not to know things.

You should all play with me. We’ll build our Cheetah Machines together and have a race.

Diversity

I like to think I have a wide variety of characters. I have military personnel, a woman who has a psychosis, a guarded air force pilot who’s strong willed and hard up front, a politician, a struggling artist, aliens who come from a different world into another to try and make their lives in a less hostile place, space faring dinosaurs that want nothing but to gnaw on all the mammals in the universe, though some of them are more peacekeepers than warlords.

Last year, I found out my dentist actually writes novels, and crazy, wild, awesome ones. Erotica, body farming, time travel. It was incredible to me to find this out, someone I’d been going to for years and I just found this out.

It made me stop to look back at myself, what I was doing, how I was doing it. It made me see the space opera I was writing and wonder how it compared, see how tame or crazy it was.

What I didn’t do was look at the dynamic, and look at the details and pieces that haven’t been done much or at all. The childless 42 year old female leader who wanted to forge ahead in her career first. The elderly couple who still enjoys having sex. The equality that is so marked in every chapter. The naval officer who is filled with a sense of dread every time he thinks of his child wanting to sign up for the military like he did. Things you just don’t hear about. Sex drives and fear in places where honor should be and courage in people you wouldn’t expect, and the hardened, all-or-nothing attitudes from women.

I’m not saying no one else has done it. I didn’t get the idea because of my own pure genius, but because I was affected by something similar.

But looking at that, I see that I have another list. People and topics and character dynamics and details to fit in that I haven’t done before. Transgender characters don’t come to me immediately for the same reason mothers and fathers don’t unless they’re for established characters. I’m not one. It’s not because I don’t like them, it’s just that it isn’t in my arsenal of what I know yet, but that’s easy to fix by at least making an effort to make one or several.

I still need to write a same-sex romance with men, I’ve done several with women. I need a transgender character, I need mothers, fathers, I need aunts and uncles and close knit, bigger families, I need aromantic people, I need genderless people, I need color and I need spice, I need more, to really push myself, to test my limits.

And looking at this post right now, it looks a lot like I’m saying, “I NEED to do all these things for equality in every way!” But the nature of the writer is to dig in deep on unknown territory and just go. If I don’t give myself that chance, I have an unexplored avenue that I might actually know how to do some justice, like the short story I wrote about a polyamorous triad starting a family. It had quirks and bits and pieces that made it more unique.

Tropes are tropes are tropes. They aren’t ever going to be something else, but ‘trope’ isn’t a bad word if you give it your own personal spin, if you know how to cover it in your own spice and put it out on your stage and tell it exactly what to do.

What really matters is letting yourself explore, because keeping yourself in a box isn’t challenging yourself, it’s not forcing you to think critically and research and reach out and wonder, and I think that’s what I love.

You will always have something, a character, a genre, a setting, that you’re strongest with, that is your best bet to do the best justice possible, but let yourself learn, too. Familiar is only so good to you for so long before it tends to get a little worn. When there’s a whole wide world of knowledge and creativity and color out there, choose not to stand in place.

The Novice Wordsmith

Developing a Better Psychic Detective

Psychic detectives occupy their own niche in the mystery novel genre.  They bend the rules of solving crimes because their deductive methods are not grounded in forensics by default.

A typical mystery requires _evidence_, _motive_, and _opportunity_.  It is the failure on the part of the perpetrator to cover his or her tracks completely that gives the detective the ability to pick up the hidden trail of clues.
An ordinary detective might find vestigial physical clues, notice things out of the ordinary, or find a credible eyewitness that would start them on the journey.
For a psychic detective, a new set of tools becomes available.  Maybe it’s the spirit world, with the ghost of the deceased still lurking about; maybe it’s the psychometry expert who handles an item and relates its history even though it and its owner are parted.  Or maybe it’s the premonitionist, who sees future events and appears at the crime scene as if drawn to it.
A psychic detective novel provides its own obstacles in the form of the detective themselves;  because forensics is science and psychic phenomena is paranormal, there will always be skeptics as to whether psychic findings are valid in a forensics-based court of law.   Sometimes the psychic leads the authorities to a vital forensic clue; other times their unerring (in)sight causes the suspect to confess.   It really depends on how accurate their powers are, and whether they, like tarot cards, are subject to a broad interpretation.
Consider the five senses; these are what normal detectives use.  Now layer on top of that the sixth sense — what form does the psychic detective’s ‘talents’ take? How do they work?  Do they cause problems to use, or can they be used at will?
The scientific method is about forming hypotheses based on available evidence.  The psychic method, in parallel, is about forming hypotheses based on available psychic input.
The cousin to both of these, lying somewhere in between, is the mystic detective.  Someone who uses Otherworldly abilities to turn up clues that normal, mortal forensics might have covered up.  The ‘magic leaves traces’ idea, similar to the psychic impressions, allows for the mage detective to pick up leads that the ordinary police (the traditional foil to the lone wolf detective) miss.
But remove the labels, and the tools of the detective have a common baseline: it’s all about Discovery versus Obfuscation, narrowing versus red herrings, and separating the truth from the lies and misleading conclusions.
Your detective, whether mortal outcast, gifted psychic, or trained magician, operates outside the circle of normal investigations; picking up the pieces where the police have left off.  A crime procedural perhaps goes down the wrong trail, accusing the wrong person; it is up to the detective to find the evidence that disproves the police’s suspect.
On the other hand, if this is a police/constabulary buddy tale, one officer might be the psychic/mage, the other the diad opposite who is grounded in the normal, mundane methods world.  The Holmes and Watson concept; the superlative detective and the skeptic that creates the framework for the empowered investigator to showcase his or her unique talents despite the partner’s assertion that ‘it shouldn’t work that way.’
It is, in a lot of ways, a well-worn trope of a plot idea, and so it is up to how well you create your character of the detective, powers, flaws, and obstacles, that makes your story stand apart from the others on the shelf.

Developed

I have an infamously naive and youthful character, who I’ve been writing for years now, a little over five. In all of that time, she’s found out lies about her past, her family, what was expected of her and how she was conceived. She’s gotten closer to some family and further from others. The demise of the one who wrought ill on her may have only been suggested, but because we never got to finish that story.

I’ve put her through her paces in all of this time. I threw her in a huge storm in the middle of the ocean and watched her spiral into an unknown, uncharted island, to get herself back to the world she came from with the help of other stranded strangers.

She fell in and out of love. She was introduced to people/things that could help her in her journey, has unlocked a lot of power and potential, and has even surpassed the strength of her father. She isn’t a stranger to sex, or trauma, or extremes. Time and again, when she’s forced to stand up, she doesn’t hesitate.

What I expected in all of this time was for her youthfulness to transform. To watch her go from this giggling, excitable young girl to a seasoned woman who knew how to push through and show up for what was right. Instead, she’s persevered, and held on to that brightness, that light of hers that shines when she smiles and even when she doesn’t.

I never really considered that the change was a little deeper for her. On the outside, I still see her and write her and feel like she is the same excitable, impossibly optimistic young woman who strives for the best. On a deeper level, under the surface, I see that she knows what must be done in some situations, she knows right from wrong and has a strong sense of morality. What was shaped in the roughness she was thrown into was her ability to adapt to situations and protect those she cared for at any cost.

I’d had other characters get put through their paces and turn out jaded and cynical and unkind for it. What I expected was much of the same, but that’s just not who she is.

Development comes in all shapes and sizes, I realize, after some consideration on this particular character. It doesn’t all have to be extreme, some are more resilient than others. It can be light, it can be heavy, but in the end, whatever it is will be true to who that character really is.

In other words, the surface isn’t the only place to look for a change. Sometimes you have to dig into the cushions.

It adds a whole new dimension to things, to the story, and to the character herself. And I kinda like it that way.

The Novice Wordsmith

Return

Last year, in January and onward, I was working on a piece that would turn into a project I’d pick up in April and try to work on for the Camp Nanowrimo of that month. I was sluggish and it was difficult to maneuver through it; though I had a general idea of what I was doing, that was pretty much all I had.

I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, when I’m about to close out the front of it after doing something of an overhaul on it.

I find it kind of funny, really. I’d sort of been on autopilot with it after camp, and then I just kind of faded and stopped working on it. In August, I found new momentum with it. Parts of the whole story that had once been difficult to tell and sculpt together were coming together with ease. I knew how the story got started, I had villains, I was making a stronger novel out of it. A proper one.

A year after going into it somewhat blindly, with only some interest to back me up, I finally found out how to run with it.

It’s sort of odd in its own way. Usually when I find myself interested in writing something, I actually manage to turn out a decent story. Now I wonder if I just plainly wasn’t ready to write this one at the time. It’s a new experience, to deal with this, seeing myself flounder at first and now flying through it with renewed fervor.

Partially, it reminds me of the ideas we have when we’re young. Our first ideas, the less developed ones we’re rapt with in the beginning and then they fade off, and we pick them up and then they fade off until eventually we get our fingers around them again and don’t let go, to the point we finally finish and have a product we’re immensely proud of and were excited to finish in the first place.

I have yet to get to that part, the forever-with-me idea from my youth, turning it into something, but I’ll get there eventually. It being a supernatural story in essence, I fear it’s been done to death.

But other than the undead story that off and on held my attention, I seem to always come back to one genre. I think we all do, really, we have that go-to that speaks to us and finds us better than the others, because we enjoy writing in it and we’re confident with our knowledge.

My go-to genres seem to be sci-fi, but not action, and not horror or thriller or crime (though I have a space opera waiting to be worked on some more), no. It’s drama. The nitty gritty of social gossip and class warfare in the name of romance. Maybe not so much class warfare, but I think you get the idea.

And for having all of these incredible actiony ideas and blow-you-away profoundness, I feel like it makes me come off as frivolous or silly. But I’ve always loved love. Writing erotica this November was like breathing. Nothing felt challenging about it part from working out pace and flow and how it ended and when things were figured out, so nothing to do with the genre. Writing romance is just my passive skillset, I think, and I love it.

One guess as to what this story is from last April that I’m bounding through now. Yeah. No surprise, right?

Which is why I mention coming back to that genre. You always have something you return to, something that feels comfortable, something you know you can push through with ease. And you’re so good at it because it interests you so much, it gets you thinking, it pulls you in and doesn’t let go.

And no matter what it is that brings you back, over and over, don’t ever feel bad about it. Embrace it.

The Novice Wordsmith

PS- One last little mention. Speaking of Camp NaNoWriMo, it is coming up this April and in June of this year as well. It is unlike NaNoWriMo because you can set your own goal, even if it is just revisions. Give it a look-see over at campnanowrimo.org.

Crossing the Finish Line

First of all: Holy shit. I just finished my first novel ever.

This past November had rough parts, but overall it has turned out to be not only my most productive, but my most successful as well. I wrote the epilogue and final words to the novel this morning at 4:30 am.

After pushing myself through with the mantra of, “Just get it done, edit later, don’t worry about anything but getting through the chapter, you know what you want to happen,” I reached the finish line, almost a whole month later.

I kept meaning to post about NaNo during Nano, but it never happened. I mean to do so many things for this month that I didn’t get to on the blog. I wanted to keep encouraging everyone and give progress updates and say awesome things and show off things I’d found through the Facebook group for my Wrimo region, there was so much on my mind, but I had just kept diving into the novel further.

Which is the right thing for me to have done anyway, but again I find myself looking back at how I push myself and causing undue stress because of my ambition.

Either way, I muscled my way through to a finished first draft and I couldn’t be happier. I only hit 85k at the end of the month, 5k off from my personal best, but overall this was a much more successful time than any others.

I’m ecstatic that I finally finished something. That I had finally forced myself to stay on task and get through to the finish line like I had written about so many months before. It is an incredible feeling to know you can finish something, like reading a huge book and looking back and saying, “you know what? I did that.”

And I did. And all it takes is to push through. Shove away the thoughts that it’s not good enough. You’ll get to it later, there’s always the chance that you can go back and fix it when the time comes, but what’s most important, always, is to get to the end. Find a first draft. Make mistakes. Screw up. Make epiphanies to new hooks and ideas and go back and work on them later, but do it, at all.

The hardest part will always be getting through the initial stages. Do not work for perfection, just work. Think about the ideas and get to them. “Just so many more chapters or words until I get to this,” and keep setting goals, mini goals, things you can reach for.

It is so satisfying to look back at what I wrote and to know that I managed to get all of my ideas and visuals out on a document.

I remember getting discouraged about Friend pushing past me in a blaze of glory last year and the year before. “I should be hitting 100k too,” or “I should be at what you’re at,” and his response was the same: “I’ve been doing this far longer than you have.”

You aren’t going to get it on the first try, but that does not mean that you are not going to get it at all. It takes crap attempts and bad months and really shitty drafts, but you’ll eventually find what makes it through to the end.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that an erotica was the first thing I finished. It was the first time I had written a novel for that genre, and I enjoyed writing every word of it. Well, almost, some were more boring than others, but it was still an incredibly fun experience for me. Something new and it turned out to be the spark to a fire I hadn’t discovered yet.

But everything takes time. It’ll take time to hone your skills and get better at writing and developing a style. It takes time to learn how you work and how you build characters. You have to figure out how you work and then find something that works with how you do.

Still, I know it’s not as easy as saying just that, but seeing someone say it helps. If you’re like me, not being the best can be discouraging. Just remember to keep your chin up and worry about what’s on your screen, not anyone else’s, and eventually, you’ll get where you need or want to be.

-The Novice Wordsmith

Stubbornness vs. Rightness

In the past couple of months, I’ve been working a full time job at a very busy veterinary hospital. And when I say hospital, I mean it: it’s 24 hours, there’s urgent care staff on ’round the clock, they have an operating room, they book several surgeries a day ranging from simple (spay, neuter) to complex (mass removals, etc), and they have as many as 20 doctors employed.

It had been a job I wanted for years, literally. When I was unemployed, I applied twice, interviewed twice, and was rejected twice. I loved the idea of being up front and helping people, and being able to reach out and be part of the help they were seeking for their pet.

The problem was, despite the fact that they were so intensely, crushingly busy, and I never reacted well to that, I still took it up eagerly. It was a very quick process that left my head spinning, and my first day there was disastrous, but I was determined to stick with it. And so the second day was better, and the third, and I kept learning and getting better at what I was doing until I was turned loose as an independent part of the system.

And it got worse from there.

It is really hard for me to admit that I am absolutely bad at being under pressure in a constant cycle. I can do it when it happens every so often, I’ve found ways to handle it before, but when it springs up unexpectedly and often, it gets to me. It’s hard to handle, and I make more mistakes because I’m just trying to get through things.

I was not going to let that get in the way. I felt like it was just circumstance, and I’d get better. Even though I would come home, feeling the lack of communication with certain close friends and the huge cut in free time I had, considering moving on to a different job, I stuck it through.

Shit, I even pined for the old job I had some days, but I figured I would be fine. No big deal. It was just me having a bad day.

And then I lost the job.

On top of feeling depressed about the outcome, I felt relieved. I kept finding reasons to be okay with it. I mean, I was still flabbergasted at how out of the blue it was, the final day of my probationary period, and I was getting axed because they could do that still, but part of me was glad for it.

And it came to me yesterday, that the job really wasn’t for me. I came home from the interview (which was a simple observation for two hours) feeling the emotional drain and knowing it might be a bit much for me. The first day was nightmarish. I had been considering not saying yes to it in the beginning, but I went with it anyway because it was an opportunity, it was what I wanted.

But you have to realize that sometimes, what you think you want isn’t always going to be what fits you.

I wanted to write this to impart this wisdom on everyone, as it applies to writing and challenging yourself to genres you aren’t used to or characters you don’t do so well with, or really anything, whether it’s someone else’s suggestion for you and your wish to see it out, or your own thinking that you should be able to do something.

It is 100% okay to not be cut out for something, no matter what it is. 

Just that the hard part is convincing yourself of that, if you’re as stubborn as I am.

If something becomes too much, or it isn’t enough, or it’s just overwhelming, you reserve the right to tell it no and move on to something that feels better. Do not worry.

This pertains as much to NaNo as possible, too, considering you may be trying something new out. If it doesn’t work, find something else and jump on. Shift gears. Get comfy somehow else. You’re allowed to. It’s all part of the learning process, isn’t it?

-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