Thursday, August 28, 2014

Deadlines: Writing Under Pressure

If you have any success in the writing business, especially along the lines of literary agent and book deal, then deadlines will become a certainty. Up until that point, most writers have had it pretty good. They wrote at their own pace, honed their craft, and eventually came up with a novel that someone thought would sell. Often, this process took years.

Once a writer is somewhat established, however, the luxury of free, no-pressure writing time disappears rapidly. There are revisions and copy edits. Deadlines for as-yet-unwritten books. Expectations of future books and/or book proposals. The pressure's on, baby!

Are Deadlines Good or Evil?

In many ways, a deadline can be a good thing. It forces you to buckle down and focus on writing, which usually means putting the kibosh on social media. Which, let's face it, a lot of us probably need to do. Deadlines also force us to prioritize tasks that we ordinarily refuse to prioritize. The most important writing activity becomes far more clear.

National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, has the benefit of a very clear deadline: November 30th, by which 50,000 words are due. When I first started participating more than 5 years ago, I learned an important lesson about writing deadlines: to meet them you literally have to drop everything. No hobbies, no social media, no social anything. No leisurely lunches. When you have to churn out 1,667 words every single day, something's gotta give.

Then again, deadlines also add to the stress and pull us forcibly away from some of the things we love best. They can also make writers look bad, if those deadlines aren't met.

How Do you Feel About it?

If you've read this far, you obviously have some feeling about deadlines and writing under pressure. You probably have some good ideas to share. So I'd like to ask you these two questions:

  1. Do you write better under pressure (with deadlines) or without? 
  2. When you are on a deadline, what strategies do you use to meet it?

Karlie: I don't work too well under a deadline. Just the knowledge of time running out, that looming due date creeping up on's enough to crush my creativity. 
When I am on a deadline, I like to write in small blocks - say twenty minutes at a time, with a small reward at the end. Like...check Twitter. Or eat chocolate. Or just kick back and relax for a few minutes. Then start the whole process all over again. It actually works pretty well for me!

Lisa: I don't fall apart or stare at deadlines like a deer in the headlights. They work for me. But I also do well without one. What I mean is, I'm disciplined enough (or passionate enough, depends on who you ask) about my projects that a deadline isn't necessary in order to keep me focused and writing. Sorry, Dan. Looks like I won't be offering anything enlightening this week...LOL, obviously I come up with profound things for the blog posts every week. JK.

Seriously, though, my stance on deadlines: I'm good with them and without them--whatever works for you. Probably my laid-back view on deadlines for my own work comes from my newspaper background where you have to be used daily, even hourly, cut-off times. Oh, wait. I actually do have a suggestion. Work or intern for a newspaper or magazine if deadlines freak you out. It's good experience for writing on the fly too.

Caitlin: I give myself deadlines, which I rarely stick to. :) However, if I didn't have the deadline of say, getting my book CP ready by May 1 ( a goal this year), it probably wouldn't have gone out to CPs later that month (which it did). Meaning, with no deadline I tend to wander, so even giving myself flexible deadlines is helpful.

I've actually found the hard set deadlines from an agent or editor to be easier to meet, not so much because I don't take my own deadlines seriously but because other people don't. Meaning, it's hard to say no to friends and family when what they want from you will hurt your personal deadlines, but it's a lot easier to say, "I wish I could meet up for happy hour but I owe my editor something and I have to work on it."

What I'm finding really difficult is just the general pressure that if you want to be a successful author you have to publish a lot. I'm amazed at these authors who publish a book every other month. (Some even publish every month!) I've given myself permission to realize I'm just never going to be that kind of writer, but that level of productivity does make me feel like I should at least be writing a book or two a year, which is definitely still a challenge for me.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Turn It Up Tuesday: Almost Lover

Hi, it's Karlie on the mic today!

Standing at the edge of an empty grave, Anne realizes in the end, things will always come full circle. Fate has a way of correcting itself, of continuing down the path it has set.

Even though his ring hangs around her neck, even though she had him for a time, Nolan will always be her almost lover. A ghost who tried to hold her - or maybe it was her, trying to hold him. And maybe that's why he's gone.

Almost Lover by A Fine Frenzy is my song.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The story you don't want to write

Might be the best story you have in you.

Hi there! It's Lisa again.

Has there ever been a story in you that you didn't want to write? A story that no other author could write better than you. I'm talking about a story that's part of you, so entwined in your past that writing it won't be fun. "Well, I'm not interested in writing a memoir, Lisa." Neither am I. I'm talking about giving a character a slice of your life, a small piece of a lifestyle or event you experienced. Then have them do something differently than you did or experience it in a different way. What if they'd had different parents than yours? If you were a boy instead of a girl? Still not making sense? I'll give you an example.
Multiple times, I lived in a trailer park in my youth. It's a lifestyle not comparable to anything else. I don't like recalling those times because it makes me feel less than. But that's the thing. I know how it feels. I know how small your life is while living there; I know the problems that are prevalent there. So, that's why a story set in a trailer park would be the perfect thing for me to do. I can create characters for this trailer park better than most writers. I can create story lines for this setting better than most writers. But I don't want to do it. I'm kicking and screaming the whole way. And I'm doing it.

Do you have a story in you that you don't want to write? Have you written it already? Are you ever?

Caitlin I think I write on some level in order to address those bad or unsavory feelings/issues with myself or my life. If there's something weird about me, I remind myself that if I was boring and "normal" then I wouldn't be a very interesting person or writer, now would I be. If something a little scary or bad happens to me, well, that's just more fodder in the memory bank come time to splay those emotions and experiences on the page.

Karlie: I agree with Caitlin here. I tend to channel those emotions, and usually the characters have it way worse than I did. It's cheap therapy, LOL.

Seriously, it tends to be certain characters I have trouble writing, rather than the story as a whole. I see bits of myself in all of my story people, and sometimes I have to step back from it. In the end, though, I feel better for having gotten it out. They dealt with it, and I did too.

Dan: I may not be as emotionally invested in the writing as you three, but then again, I'm a guy. Some of the characters and conversations I put into my fiction reflect my own experiences. Of course they do! But I'm not the kind of writer who explores his own emotions this way. I'd argue that, like many writers, I inject parts of myself into my characters. More accurately, I often write characters with traits that I aspire to. I make them into better versions of me.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

What happens when someone else's wish is bestowed upon you?

Charlotte (Charlie) always wanted out of the trailer park. It was a promise she made to herself at every one of her seventeen birthdays. Twin brother Johnny, on the other hand, never considered it. A life outside of the trailer park wasn't a possibility, so he never hoped or planned for more. So, when it seems like he picks the wrong walnut shell and receives the prize that should be his sister's, it doesn't make him feel as good as it should. This is why "It's a Wonderful Life" by Sparklehorse represents Johnny and Charlie's predicament so well. The lyrics for the most part are happy, as well as the tune. However, there's a contrasting sad undertone somehow, and it represents Johnny's surprise good fortune. There are two lines that portray his dilemma perfectly.

I'm the dog that ate
Your birthday cake

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Rolling Down The Proverbial Mountain (or, Writing By The Seat of Your Pants)

Karlie with you today!

Imagine this:

You're sitting at your keyboard, hunched over the computer, the light from the screen setting off those circles under your eyes. But you can't stop now! You're almost there, that elusive climax, the point you've been working toward since the beginning.

And then you realize the foreshadowing on page three has become completely irrelevant, and these characters are in the wrong part of the world for this amazing scene to happen, and you killed off  the one guy that could fix it.

Everything grinds to a halt.

Sound familiar? Then you're most likely Reckless Pantser - you jump into each manuscript with a whoop, picking up speed as you get closer and closer to the end. You might bounce off an unexpected tree or boulder along the way, but what a rush! You can always clean it up in draft two. And meanwhile what a ride! This is nothing like what you've set out to create, but you love it!

And then on the other hand...

You consult your notes one more time, read over your carefully planned outline, and type that final scene with euphoria and confidence. There you are - your perfect story, all lines tied up just right, everything exactly where it's supposed to be.
The thing is, you failed to be surprised by those delightful twists and turns that can only be uncovered in the heat of the moment. Is that a bad thing?

If you're nodding right now, then you fall under the category of Religious Outliner.

My question for today is - which are you?

Personally, I'm a Reckless Pantser. Outlines are my sworn nemesis - though believe me, I've tried to make peace more than once. Some days there are more boulders and trees than I want to deal with, and that can make for a very frustrating (and failed) attempt at writing.

But on the good days, it's incredibly rewarding. Not having a plan to stick to is liberating - you never know where you might end up next. Those loose ends can be a pain to deal with, but they can be dealt with.

And I have been known to plan ahead. :) I usually start out with a mental sketch of where I want to go, it's just subject to change at any moment.

Just remember, fellow Pantsers - feel free to jump outside the box; but don't forget to respect the box. It'll save you a lot of work later.

Lisa: I'm an outliner; however, I've been known to call my outline a guideline. It's there to show me the direction for the story that I've thought up, and it's there to keep me from going off on tangents and having to killing any darlings. I've written without an outline, and that novel has a very loose middle which I haven't fixed to this day because it has "darlings" that I'm hesitant to kill. In the next book, I wrote on outline and stuck to it like it was law, and the characters and novel fell flat. It's hard to explain what feels wrong with this particular story but here's the best I can do: it feels like it was built instead of created. Since then, I've learned to let my guideline guide me instead of stifle me. When a character no longer feels like he could make that decision or go in that direction that's listed in the outline, I don't make him. The characters are free to grow and I write away from the outline. Sometimes I'll change the outline to fit what I just changed, sometimes I don't. Perhaps when I don't go back and change it is when it's mostly likely the best decision. I'm too passionate about what's going on in the story right now to go back and worry about a silly outline. This, the novel, is what's important.

Of course you should let your characters grow but you also have to consider that you've grown, too, since writing that outline. Maybe you think of a better breakup scene, maybe you've matured as a writer and realize you've outlined a scene to unfold in a melodramatic way, or your decision to have your characters argue about a certain issue is more about you wanting to state your stance rather than simply tell a good story. Giving yourself permission to deviate from your outline curbs flat or uncreative writing. And, for me, having a guideline keeps me on track with plot-progressive scenes instead of wasting my time on tangents that I'm going to have to delete later. It hurts to have to delete those scenes and I try not to be a masochist.:) It's easy for me to go on tangents and write nonprogressive scenes if I don't have a guideline. Other writers have no such issue, and my hat goes off to you. Then again, there are writers that could benefit from outlining but pantsing fits their dream better.

I have one more reason to list then I'll shutup. Foreshadowing. It's so easy and it comes off so smoothly since I outline. That was another problem in my first book. I didn't know what exactly was going to happen, since I was pantsing it, so I didn't foreshadow any. When I went back and added foreshadowing, it was bumpy and stuck out.

Caitlin: I'm definitely an outliner but, like Lisa, I'm really flexible with it. I see it as more of a guideline. I honestly wouldn't even know how to pants a novel. (I've tried and stopped after writing 3-4 chapters...).  I also really like writing synopses before I get too far into a story. My writers group and my agent have indulged me and read many a synopsis for me, which is helpful because I can see the potential problems (both from story and marketing standpoints) before I decide to invest in writing the whole thing. But, for me, even with the outline, there's still tons to discover and create. The outline shifts several times over the course of the process and sometimes whole characters or plot lines are introduced that weren't there before.

Dan: I'm with Karlie on this: I'm a pantser for sure. Part of that stems from the event that first got me writing long-form fiction: National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. It's every November, and the idea is to write a 50,000 word novel during that time. That works out to 1,667 words a day. No time for outlining! Another reason I like to wing it is that I often have a big vision of the story's beginning and end, but no idea what will happen in the middle. I have to just write the characters and build momentum to get the job done.

A possible disadvantage of pantsing is that it often leads to more structural editing. I have to fix consistency/ordering problems and sometimes cut entire scenes or chapters. I'm OK with that, though, because I do what it takes to get the words out. For what it's worth, I know the advantages of outlining and I'm trying that for the as-yet-unwritten books in my planned series. Until the first book sells, I can't really spend time writing them, so outlining is the best I can do.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Horrible Writing Advice

You might have seen Anne Rice's Facebook post earlier this year on the worst writing advice she’s received.
I don’t necessarily agree with what she disagrees with. For example, I do think writing success has a lot more to do with hard work than talent. However, I think she’s completely right in the idea that you need to figure out what advice works for you and realize that some advice can actually hurt you. For me, thinking that I don’t have to have “talent,” I just need to work hard and keep improving, motivates me. Obviously, it didn’t help her, so it’s good she disregards it. 

One piece of advice that gnaws at me is the idea that you have to write every day. While I do something writing related every day (I can’t help myself! :) ) I don’t always create chunks of fresh new content. For example, two weekends ago, I spent most of the weekend editing one of my books. But I didn’t write a scrap of new material.

I feel really bad about this. I’m often stressed out about what it says about me as a writer and what it means about my future career. If I can’t even make myself sit down and write new words for ten minutes every day, what kind of writer am I!? 

But maybe that’s just destructive thinking? Maybe that pressure actually gets in the way. I think “you must write every day,” and it becomes a chore, which I then petulantly avoid. So, maybe I need to start ignoring that advice and let go a little.

What about you? Is there any writing advice that you’ve found just doesn’t work for you?

Dan: There is no gospel when it comes to writing. There are good practices, of course, but no right answer. I have mixed feelings on the idea that writers should write every day. On one hand, some elements of successful writing (like editing) aren't truly writing, but still need to get done. On the other hand, it's a slippery slope down to the point where you're always doing something related to writing, but never writing anything new. I know some aspiring authors who are career outliners. They haven't finished one novel yet, but they're confident that with this new outlining method, the writing part will be easy!

My other reaction on the topic of writing advice is this: not everything you hear will apply to you. This is especially true for advice you read from long-established bestselling authors. Are they successful? Yes. Have they ever written an e-query? Probably not, because they were querying 20 years ago. An established author with a big name is obviously doing something right, but he or she may be out of touch with the obstacles (like landing an agent) that a new writer faces today. In my opinion, it's important to learn from people who are ahead of you (in terms of career progress) but not too far ahead. Which is why I listen to Caitlin.

One of the worst bits of advice I've heard came from some long-established sci-fi author; I can't remember which one. He said that he never edits unless he's already sold a book or story, because he's not "being paid" for it. See what I mean about being out of touch?

Karlie: The worst piece of writing advice I've ever received...hmm. For me personally, it would have to be, "Don't edit the first draft at all. Just get it on paper. Don't look back, don't start over." I know this works for a lot of people. but I simply can't work that way. The one and only novel I followed this advice for is gathering dust on my hard drive, and it will never see the light of day again.

I need to feel my way along that story, start over a few times, go back and change, until finally a vision emerges. Often my first finished draft is the last one except for line edits and such.

I've been told this so much I tried really hard to do it that way...but it was impossible. The thing was, I began to look at it like a rule. And honestly? If you confine yourself to those hardcore "rules" then you might be slamming the door on your creativity. I'm not saying the experts don't know what they're talking about - they do, or they wouldn't be where they are now. But only you know what makes you don't be afraid to step out of the box.

Lisa: I'm with you on the editing as you write, Karlie. I don't see it as editing though; it's simply knowing the sentence/word you just wrote was wonky and reworking it right then instead of waiting until later and you have no idea what you were trying to say. (Yes, I realize that's a very long sentence, butIlikeit.)
So to answer your question, Caitlin, probably the worst advice was from my college professor who said that writing in present tense isn't proper. That advice is funny when you think of the advice my mother's English teacher gave her: fiction writing isn't "real" writing. I think the worst advice probably comes from generational close-mindedness.

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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Turn It Up Tuesday: Falling Slowly

Karlie's on the mic today, and my song is Falling Slowly, from the movie Once. 
It's a song about hope and choices you never knew you had.

Adam is a beast of his own making, monstrous in both appearance and personality. But when he is thrown into a sleeping curse that is not his, he meets a girl named Skye. 

And Adam learns he does have a choice, because for the first time someone looked past what he is, and saw what he can be. And that he and Skye aren't so different after all.

Loving anyone other than himself is a foreign emotion, but she looks at him with eyes that know him, and he finds himself painted black.
They might not have forever, but they still have time.