Tuesday, August 30, 2011

On the Campaign to overcome my greatest writing weakness

Welcome Campaigners! I love Rachel Harrie's idea for connecting writers together with other writers, and helping us build each others' platforms at the same time. I've had quite a few of you stop by already, and I'll be out visiting everyone in my three groups this week and next.

Yes, three groups!: YA/MG (all genres), Science Fiction, and Historical. My first novel was an MG fantasy, my second was women's fiction (didn't see a group for that), my third was a historical, and my fourth will be YA science fiction  (getting ready to start that one in November for NaNoWriMo).

I'm officially all over the place. I hope I don't have to write a novel in every genre before I finally settle down and find my niche! Does anyone else have this genre-hopping problem? I hope someday it will reveal itself as a strength, instead of a weakness - I'll inadvertently create my own new genre via cross-fertilization. (One can dream, right?).

I love this time of year when I officially give myself permission to start brainstorming ideas for a new novel, getting to know my characters and playing with outlines. One marathon month of writing the first draft in November is exhausting, but at the same time a thrill and a rush like no other.

In December I set aside my new novel for a month to let it marinate and catch up on my life and enjoy Christmas.

Then comes January 1st, with the requisite New Years Resolutions, usually one having to do with getting New Novel revised and polished. And then the long haul through our endless high altitude winter which lingers into May. And during this long winter I'm wrestling with demons, as one of my favorite writing quotes illustrates:

Revision is like wrestling with a demon, for almost anyone can write; but only writers know how to rewrite. It is this ability alone that turns the amateur into a professional  ~ William Knott

Now, if it isn't evidence enough that I'm an amateur by my genre-jumping, then my tendency to burn out with revisions after a few months definitely confirms this.

My biggest writing weakness isn't revision - once I get into it, I actually really like it. My biggest weakness is procrastinating the revisions. (The blog Procrastinating Writers sometimes helps, but sometimes I procrastinate reading Procrastinating Writers. It's a vicious cycle.)

I just kinda jokingly named this post "On the Campaign to overcome my greatest writing weakness" - because I wanted to talk about the Campaign and share a little bit about myself with fellow Campaigners and why not be just brutally honest up front and admit all my weaknesses? (Not sure if that's wise, but oh well).

At least once or twice a month I read a really amazing post on how to overcome procrastination and get motivated and stay motivated and productive. It's really puzzling that I never remember any of these tricks when I really need them - when I'm procrastinating. What works for me during NaNoWriMo is seeing my writing buddies' progress bars steadily moving. I don't want to get left behind, so I start to write, and at first it's brutally painful, but eventually the idea muscle gets back in shape, and then I get a rush (or writer's high) (reference to my running days when I'd get a runner's high when I really pushed myself).

So what are your tricks to keep procrastination at bay? Please share! Then I can re-read the comments on this post whenever I'm procrastinating.

Leaving you with a quote about the idea muscle that I linked to above, credit to the fascinating Altucher Confidential blog (delightfully and dangerously subtitled "Ideas for a world out of balance").

Every day I write down ideas. I write down so many ideas that it hurts my head to come up with one more. Then I try to write down five more. The other day I tried to write 100 alternatives kids can do other than go to college. I wrote down eight, which I wrote about here. I couldn’t come up with anymore. Then the next day I came up with another 40. It definitely stretched my head.... Need ideas for lists of ideas? Come up with 30 separate chapters for an “autobiography”. Try to think of 10 businesses you can start from home (and be realistic how you can execute them)? Give me 10 ideas of directions this blog can go in.  Think of 20 ways Obama can improve the country. List every productive thing you did yesterday (this improves memory also and gives you ideas for today).

The “idea muscle” atrophies within days if you don’t use it. Just like walking. If you don’t use your legs for a week, they atrophy. You need to exercise the idea muscle. It takes about 3-6 months to build up once it atrophies. Trust me on this.

p.s. I only post once a week and I only visit blogs for 1/2 hour a day now, because wow!!! the Internet is a great tool for procrastination. TV isn't a temptation, but good books certainly are. I've trimmed back my reading to 2 books a month.  I do have a almost full-time job, and oh yeah five kids to take care of (my stepdaughter is a recent addition - she decided to live with us for a year). But when they are all in bed by 8:30 (or at least contained in their rooms), technically I still have about an hour and half to recover procrastinate WRITE! 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Don't play it safe

I have two people that I love very much that are struggling with breast cancer right now. And I'm scared for them, but then right after I stumble over some trite comforting words while one of them is half-sobbing on the phone and I'll tell them I'll pray for them, I go the refrigerator and think about what I want for breakfast and what I should write for my blog post today, and life goes on. I REALLY do care. But so often habit trumps action. I hate that I'm compassionate, but not really. That my heart breaks for a minute, and then my stomach rumbles and the daily routine beckons. 

So one of my commenters, Chitrader, directed me to this jolting list of 33 unusual writing tips last week (from the Altucher Confidential blog), and there are a few things in this list that sort of shook me up and have stayed in my mind all week.
Be Honest. Tell people the stuff they all think but nobody ever says.
So I tried that, in the first paragraph.
Don’t be afraid of what people think. For each single person you worry about, deduct 1% in quality from your writing. Everyone has deductions.
As soon as I wrote that first paragraph, I started worrying. What if nobody else thinks like this? What if I'm really just a selfish, self-focused hypocrite and everyone is going to point fingers at me?
Relate to people. The past decade has totally sucked. For everyone. The country has been in post-traumatic stress syndrome since 9/11 and 2008 only made it worse. I’ve gone broke a few times during the decade, had a divorce, lost friendships, and have only survived (barely) by being persistent and knowing I had two kids to take care of, and loneliness to fight. Nobody’s perfect. We’re all trying. Show people how you are trying and struggling. Nobody expects you to be a superhero.
My husband's business went bankrupt in 2010 and he's working for about $15 an hour right now and that really hurts his pride, but at the same time we are both just thankful we have jobs. I love to write, but I hate to re-write, and re-writing is like 80 or 90% of writing, and I feel like a failure when I keep putting it off. I'm not strong enough to strive after my dreams. I just limp along, too worn about by the essential requirements of each day to really pursue my writing dreams.  But, I'm still thankful. My family is healthy, and we apologize and forgive each other after we fight.
Risk. Notice that almost all of these rules are about where the boundaries are. Most people play it too safe. When you are really risking something and the reader senses that (and they WILL sense it), then you know you are in good territory. If you aren’t risking something, then your readers are moving on.
 I have a hard time taking risks. I usually play it safe and put on a pleasant front. I'm really scared to press Publish on a post like this. Be brave with me - what are you afraid to press Publish on?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Star Trek As We Know It Blogfest

Science Officer Garrett is hosting this voyage of the Starship Blogfest, its mission:

To explore strange character choices, to seek out favourite episodes and incredible films, to boldly go where no blogger has gone before . . .

As a long time Star Trek fan, it is my great pleasure to share my top 5 favorite characters and top five episode/movies, and then read about all of yours and kick myself for forgetting the gems I am sure you will remind me of!

My Top Five Characters

I know I'm supposed to limit myself to the top five, but I couldn't help these three bonuses that slipped in:

8. Sisko
7. Riker
6. Worf

5.  Jadzia Dax - I'm a sucker for dual personalities, and I loved that Jadzia was a 20-something science officer (with cool spots!) symbiotically joined with Dax, who is hundreds of years old and has had 6 previous hosts. This allows for all sorts of fascinating tidbits of her past "lives" to come back and haunt her. Bonus: she marries Worf, the conflicted Klingon. Sadness: she died a tragic death in the series in order to jump ship to another TV series.

4. B'Elanna Torres - another example of my fascination with the dual personalities - half human, half Klingon. One of my favorite episodes of Voyager is when a Vidiian scientist extracts the Klingon DNA from Torres, splicing her into two separate people: one human, one Klingon. The concept of being split into two separate persons - but still the same person - is the classic example of mind-bending SF that makes me love Star Trek.

3. Q - how could one not love a smart-ass omnipotent being who just begs to be put in his place?

Q: I know human beings. They're all sopping over with compassion and forgiveness. They can't wait to absolve almost any offense. It's an inherent weakness of the breed.

Picard: On the contrary, it is a strength.

Q. You call it what you will. But I think you'll protect me, even though I've tormented you now and again.

Riker: Fighting off all the species which you've insulted would be a full-time mission. That's not the one I signed up for.

2. Spock
The original was great. The new guy: wow.

Spock:  Captain, what are you doing?

Kirk: showing them compassion might go a long way to promoting peace between us and the Romulans. It's logic, I thought you'd like that

Spock: No, not really. Not this time.

1. Picard
Classy. So classy. Not that I don't love Kirk with his rebellious streak, but Picard is a great leader and humble at the same time. "...the heart of an explorer, and the soul of a poet." Tasha Yar speaking of Picard.

 Love this holodeck picture of him as Dixon Hill.

My Top Five movies/episodes

5. The Voyage Home. I was a little too young to fully appreciate the original Star Trek series, but this film definitely won me over. I loved the time travel, and I liked the break from the Enterprise to a Klingon Warbird. An interesting fact: it was the first Star Trek film shown in the Soviet Union. Attending the screening with Nimoy, co-director Bennett was amazed the film proved as entertaining to the Russians as it did with American audiences; he said "the single most rewarding moment of my Star Trek life" was when the Moscow audience applauded at McCoy's line, "The bureaucratic mentality is the only constant in the universe. We'll get a freighter." Bennett believed it was a clear "messenger of what was to come."

4. Indiscretion (Deep Space Nine season 4). I'll be thrilled if anyone else loved this one too, because it's one of the more obscure episodes. It's where Gul Dukat (aka Cardassian crime king) plans to find and kill his half-Bajoran daughter in order to save his reputation. Instead, he ends up saving the girl. A great example of an antagonist showing a compassionate side, marking him as a truly memorable antogonist.

3. Déjà Q.   The 61st episode of The Next Generation, in which Q gets what's coming to him - he's stripped of his powers and turned into a human. There are so many good quotes from this episode!

Data: "An irony. It means that you have achieved in disgrace what I have always aspired to be."


Q: "Oh, very clever, Worf. Eat any good books lately?"


Riker: "I don't need your fantasy women."
Q (peevishly): "Oh, you're so stolid! You weren't like that before the beard."

2. Generations
This was the first really hi-tech Star Trek movies, (by 1994 standards!) and I was especially impressed by the crash-landing scene, the Enterprise mowing down what felt like half a planet's worth of forest.

Starfleet uniforms get a little bland after a while, so I was also very much impressed with Picard and Riker in sea-captain attire (and the whole Beverly Crusher gets dunked scene).

But my favorite part: the wickedly fun Klingon Duras sisters, first tricking everyone on the Enterprise, and then getting themselves most excellently tricked back.

1. Star Trek 2009
As I mentioned earlier, I was a little too young to appreciate the original Star Trek series, but I knew enough about the characters to be immediately impressed by the new cast of characters for James Kirk, Spock, Uhura (go Zoe!), McCoy, Scotty, Sulu and Chekov.

A good time-travel-twister always hooks me, and this movie also packed a big emotional punch with Spock and the Vulcan disaster, and George Kirk's new fate. (By the way, the guy who played George Kirk? Kind of hard to believe he also played Thor).

Another very quotable show. Spock's comment to Kirk: "I would cite regulation, but I know you will simply ignore it."

And when the new Spock met the old Spock, who tells his young self:  "Since my customary farewell [live long and prosper] would appear oddly self-serving, I shall simply say... [Shows Vulcan hand salute] Good luck.

This movie left me breathless for the next installment, due out in 2012.

And a bit of news: sign-up for Rachael Harrie's Platform Campaigners (new name for the Crusaders) starts today.  I met the greatest group of bloggers in the last round, most of whom I still correspond with weekly. This is a great opportunity - I highly recommend it!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Three ways maps relate to writing

I had to do it. It was a stretch, but I finally found 3 ways to relate maps to writing. My sidebar says "I love history, faith, maps and mythical creatures." While I've talked plenty about mythical creatures (and you will surely hear more) (please don't take that as a threat) I haven't mentioned the others much.

So: maps. I'm crazy about maps. The book I'm most eagerly anticipating right now? Maphead: Charting the Wide, Wierd World of Geography Wonks by Ken Jennings (famous as a Jeopardy! game show champion). The book doesn't release until Sept 20 - I can barely stand it! Many future blog posts will be written about it! (please don't take that as a threat).

Okay, I know not all of you can relate to my map-fascination (ahem, reminding myself that the focus of this blog is writing. Mostly.)  But maps can relate to writing in at least three ways:

 1. Maps can help you with setting details. This doesn't necessarily mean creating a complex fantasy map like Tolkien's famous maps of Middle Earth. You don't even have to create a map at all. Even if your book is set in your home town or some other familiar place, take a moment to look at a map of it. The map may jog your memory, as in, "oh! - I forgot about that park with the miniature fortress, what a great setting for one of my scenes." And if you do like the idea of actually creating your own map, the process may take you in fascinating new directions. Check out this Map of an Englishman; it will give you a whole new perspective on maps.

2. Mind-mapping is a great brainstorming tool for writing. A mind-map starts with a central idea, then branches off into related topics using mental associations. At first your ideas and associations may be cliche, but as you keep expanding your map, your brain starts jumping to unusual spots and new creative directions. Here's the best article I've found so far on using mind-mapping for fiction writing.

3. Maps are great for revealing patterns - both in your writing, and in your life. This post, Map of your Mind, explains it a lot better than I can (this is a different sort of mind-mapping than mentioned above) (bonus: it includes a picture of an awesome scary mullet).

Have you ever come across a map that was striking to you in some way? This map geek would love to hear about it!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

How bookstores might survive

So I just read literary agent Rachelle Gardner's post on why she is the reason why Borders closed (grin). She went in to Borders, saw two books she absolutely had to have, but she didn't want to have to carry around the hardcovers, so she went outside the store and sat on a bench and ordered them from a Kindle. And a week later, Borders closed. (I'd have a complex about that too).

 But, I could totally relate. I'm just like Rachelle and I'm guessing like a lot of others - I still love to hold books - I love their covers, the feel of the paper, plus I love to share them after I'm done (I just gave away seven new releases - see the winners here).

But there are times when I'd rather buy the e-version too (and that will increase more and more as the different e-reader companies sort out their sharing/loaning policies). I love that the e-books are searchable so I can find that favorite sentence again, or even better, highlight and save notes and even share my notes with other readers.

I really hate to see bookstores close. So this is just a random idea that popped into my head, I haven't really thought it through, so I'm curious to see if ya'll think this might work or if there are flaws in the philosophy. But here's what would make me excited to keep buying from bookstores:

You walk into a bookstore, and you see several displays - one for each different genre - and each display features ten or so books, some new releases, some best-sellers, some debut authors. Each display also has sitting smack in the middle of it an e-reader - a Nook or Kindle or a Sony - whatever brand the bookstore has made a deal with; or maybe they could make a deal with multiple brands.

And they've also made a deal with the publishers on of the books on the display so that YOU COULD BUY A BUNDLED PACKAGE OF BOOKS ALONG WITH AN E-READER. If you already have an e-reader, you get a discount on the bundle of books (e-versions). If don't yet have an e-reader, you get a discount on the e-reader because the publishers would subsidize the e-reader in order to get you to buy a bundle of their books.

Kind of a similar concept to how Amazon has those 4 for 3 deals on books. So, hypothetical case: I'm reluctant to invest in an e-reader, but if I walked into a Barnes and Noble and  I could buy a Nook with, say, 10 books on it for a bundled deal of say, $125 (a discount subsidized by both B & N and the publishers - don't know if it's realistic) -- I'd buy that puppy right away.

Actually, I'd check out some other bookstores to see what sort of bundled offers they might have with other e-readers first.

But I'd be sure to come back in a few months to see what sort of deal I could get on another bundle of books for my new e-reader.

You could also opt to buy the paper versions of the book-bundle, too.

Anyway, just a thought. I'm a voracious reader, so the idea of book-bundles really appeals to me, but I realize your average citizen doesn't read as much. I'm certainly no business model expert.What think ye? 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Winners of books

I'm having internet access problems - I had grand plans for a detailed post today but I'm at McDonalds to use their wireless and my kids are getting restless (our town is too small to have a McDonalds with a play place!).

So this will short and sweet. Here's how we picked the winners - modifying StoryQueen's idea (Shelly Moore), I had my ten-year-old daughter toss a lucky stone from her horse onto a map of the United States seven times. (I am geographer and a map addict. No talking GPS giving me driving directions, thank you very much!) Her stone landed on:

International Falls, Minnesota
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Memphis, Tennesee
Lander, Wyoming
somewhere in the ocean off New Jersey
Sterling, Colorado
somewhere off the coast of Oregon

So my original plan was to award the winners based on the description of your road trip - if any place you named was closest to one of the above locations, you win. But lots of people described cross country road trips that were all over the place - and several people described fantastic international road trips. So what I ended up doing was generating a random number between 1-50 for each person who left a comment, and the winners were the ones with numbers closest to an alphabetical listing of the fify states, where Colorado is #6 and Wyoming was #50.

And the winners are (I had to do some more random number picking because several winners wanted Bestest. Ramadan. Ever. And I only have one copy).

Jess Lawson at Falling Leaflets - Across the Universe by Beth Revis
Zareen - Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow by Nathan Bransford
Sophia Richardson at My Fleet-Footed Self - Falling Under by Gwen Hayes
Tanyev - Forever by Maggie Stiefvator
Lynn Kelley - Timeless by Alexandra Monir
Andrea Mack - Bestest. Ramadan.  Ever by Medeia Sharif
Victoria Dixon - The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Send me your address (my email is berendsen70 at yahoo dot com) so I can send you happy reading!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

If you love animals and want to write about them...

When you group up reading all the classical animal books - Black Beauty, Where the Red Fern Grows, Bambi - and you live in a big city without much access to real life animal adventures, two things are likely to result:

First you start writing your own animal adventures.

Then when you are old enough, you start living the dream... we currently have one dog, three cats, six horses and twenty cows. Trust me, adventures abound. Disasters, too.

And in some cases, you still love the outrageous adventures you wrote about as a kid, and you wonder. You dig out the old notebooks, laugh at your childish writing, take a stab a re-writing, fall in love with it all over again.

You take your new manuscript to a writer's conference to get it critiqued and find out about publishing.

Painful revelations are in store. Like, "why did you submit this in the young adult division? Any story focusing on animals is middle grade. And this is much too long."

This happened to me 9 years ago. (Before there were writing blogs to help me figure this stuff out. Bummer. The good writing books I'd picked up - Bird by Bird, the Marshall Plan for Novel Writing - didn't cover these facts, and I'd been oblivious to which section of the library/bookstore I was picking my books out of).

I re-wrote my epic animal adventure (Refuge: about a hidden refuge for unicorns; unicorns being an extension of my horse adventures) to middle grade specifications, but last year I put it away in a drawer. For a while. I needed to stretch out and write some new stories. Get past that "first book fixation". Was drawn back to writing for the young adult level, where animals are almost non-existent, except (cough) in the paranomal genre. Werewolves, anyone? Draki? other shapeshifters? Apparently they are okay for YA. (How about... human by day, unicorn at night... too far-fetched?)

The great blog Adventures in Children's Publishing always highlights new releases for children and young adult books, and last month they had a little blurb about The A Circuit - a young adult book. About the horse show circuit. Lots of horses in it. There are at least a hundred such books in the middle grade realm, but this was the first one I'd ever seen marketed for YA.

Marketing for MG horse books is along the lines of "girl rescues horse" or "horse rescues girl" or "girl and horse overcome odds to win big horse show".

Marketing for a YA book? Pitched completely differently:

"Readers who enjoy peeking into the elite world of Gossip Girl or The A-List will feel right at home in this new series with its friendships, drama, and privilege set against the backdrop of competitive horseback riding."

Apparently, even the title, The A Circuit, is a play on another popular title, "The A-List."  It also helps that the book was written by socialite Georgina Bloomberg, and the book purportedly dishes some hints of life of the fabulously rich Bloombergs, most famous of whom is her father, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The lengths one most go to get animals out of the middle grade genre! (grin)

Just for fun, because I'm still crazy about horses and also a proud mama, here's some pics of my girls and our horses.(Also, my daughters will be randomly picking winners of my seven-new-releases-giveaway from horseback. Still time to enter - ends at midnight August 4).

What's your favorite fictional animal/story?
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