Monday, January 18, 2016

Pick A Project. Now Focus.



Instead of  trying to take on a lot of small projects this year, I've decided to focus on one novel length project. By doing it this way, I'm hoping to get to the root cause of why my last three projects have all turned out so horribly broken. Why can't I seem to fix them?  Better yet, how do I fix them? Whatever the problem is, I'm seeking to solve it, even if it means taking a solid year to repeatedly workshop one single book.

My last three novels - yes, three full-length completed novels (or rather, three complete messes) - are so broken that I can't seem to dig my way through the revisions. One of the novels, a contemporary cowboy romance, has been rewritten four times. It still sucks. There's no other word for it. It reads like a first draft, even after four drafts, and I can't seem to fix it. In fact, until recently, I wasn't even able to figure out what the heck is wrong with it. How can I hope to cure the problem if I can't properly diagnose the terminal issue killing my novel in the first place?

I took a workshop recently, and in the middle of one of the lectures, I had an epiphany about the cowboy romance and why it wasn't working. It all goes back to the planning stages of the book, properly setting up the conflicts, and building the characters. I looked at the notes I'd taken during the workshop, and instantly knew I would have to go back to the beginning and start over again. I said to myself: Really? Really, Cora?  [self loathing intensifies] Sigh. Yes, really.

I'm not diving back into the cowboy story again just yet. It frustrates me just to look at it, so I'm setting it aside to work on something fresh. I've made some notes on ways the cowboy story can possibly be fixed...things I picked up from that workshop. In the meantime, I'm brainstorming a new project and taking the advice of the writing teacher. I'm taking my time, digging deeper into who the characters are, and focusing on building the conflicts before I start writing. Should I hit a snag somewhere, I'll be heading off to the nearest workshop to try to figure out where my project derailed and why. Then, back to working on it. Rinse and repeat. We'll see how that works out. ♥

Thursday, January 07, 2016

2016: Be Loyal To Yourself

Dear 2016, please be kind. That's all I ask you to be. My wish can be summed up by quoting Reinhold Neibur:

"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, The courage to change the things I can, And the wisdom to know the difference."

The only person I can change is me. A hard lesson to learn, but perhaps absorbed more easily after bringing two headstrong boys into the world. With that in mind, the one resolution I made for the New Year was to make changes in my life so there is less stress. The emotional turmoil I've been through over the past two years just isn't worth it. I can't let it continue. It's slowly killing me. To help combat some of the negativity, I've been meditating more, praying more, and walking away more.

Starting way back in mid-December, I deleted several social media accounts, and since then I've trimmed my Facebook list by half. The trimming continues. In every corner of my life, I'm making it a point to weed out those who aren't worthy of my trust, my energy, my support, or my loyalty.

That last one is a big deal for me. I'm loyal to a fault, and I know this. I tend to give people I love - both friends and family - chances, then more chances, then still more, even after people have made it plain and clear they wouldn't do the same for me. And I usually know I shouldn't give "one more chance" when something bad happens, but like the sucker I am, I do it anyway...out of guilt, or something like that. I don't know why I do it, really. I wish I knew, because then maybe it would be easier for me to stop doing it. Know what I mean?

Anyway, I have a set of oracle cards called The Wisdom of Avalon by Collete Baron Reid, and one of the cards in the deck is the dog. That card is about loyalty and sincerity. The thing that resonates most with me about that card is that it tells us to love sincerely and without conditions, like the dog. Also, the card teaches that if someone is being insincere, move on because that person isn't meant to be in your pack.

I've been letting go of people who have made it clear in one way or another that I am not a part of their pack. I can't tell you how freeing that is. Especially when it comes to the fair weather friends, quasi-friends, and the ones who know they can use you because they know you're loyal to them, then they drop you like a hot potato when they get what they want.

I'm so over it. I've been over it a while, but there is something about deleting someone, whether from real life friendships or online friendships, that is so hard to do. It feels so risky and personal. I don't like to hurt other people. I have frequently made myself uncomfortable in order to make concessions for others, and I can tell you first hand that if you make a habit of it, people close to you eventually being to expect it.

While making concessions can be a good thing in and of itself, taken to an extreme - which I tend to do - it isn't healthy. I know this, and over the Christmas holidays I realized that I have to start looking out for me, too. After all, if someone only comes around when they want something, that's not really a friendship, is it?

After reading back through all of the above (I went to get tea and lost my place), I realized there's more than one simple step when it comes to my "stress less" plan for the year. Stressing less is going to require letting go of toxic people and relationships, and learning to value myself more. It makes me anxious just thinking about it, but I know it's time.

Here's to 2016, and moving forward without regret. ♥

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Get Reddy to Go Heaux (Just kidding! Sort of...)

Two days after Christmas and all through the house...I went to my corner and was quiet as a mouse. Actually, the guys went to see the new Star Wars yesterday. It was supposed to be a Hubz and me date sort of thing, since we agreed not to buy each other gifts this year, but at the last minute, somehow the movie date morphed into an outing for the entire family.

I decided to stay home. Not because I dislike my family, or because I was trying to be a rude bitch to the guys, or anything like that. I just know that if I had gone with the guys, I would've ended up being the group babysitter so everyone else could watch the film and have a good time. My nerves have been too on edge lately to deal with that.

Instead, I had a quiet day at home. I spared no hot water while bathing that morning, I ate the last of the cheesecake for breakfast, cleaned my office, worked on a writing project, and chillaxed with the dogs. It was nice. A rare day where I was alone in the house and didn't have to fix, find, wash, or cook something for someone else. That probably sounds incredibly selfish to say that, but there it is. I regret nothing.

The guys had a good time, too, although they had to deal with a long wait at the theater and poor seating. They loved the movie. Hubz said he wouldn't even mind seeing it a second time. I'm sure he'll rack up plenty of views when it comes out on DVD. Anyway, I won't let them tell me anything about the movie. I'll watch it later.

Another thing I did yesterday that I haven't done in a while... I made a cosmetics order. Two actually. I want to color my hair, but my favorite semi-permanent orange-red dye (Clairol Natural Instints Spiced Tea) has been discontinued/reformulated, so that's a no go. I couldn't find another semi-permanent product similar in color, so I went to Manic Panic's website and ordered a jar of Inferno, and a jar of Wildfire. I'm going to mix them and put it on unbleached hair. Crossing my fingers I get a sheer red-orange tone out of it. We'll have to wait and see.

Also, I ordered a couple of lipsticks from Mac. I bought Enchanter Creamsheen Glass, a Mac Velvetease lip pencil in Reddy to Go, and the 2.0 version of Heaux from the permanent collection. I already have the Heaux retro matte from the RiRi Hearts Mac collection. The 2.0 version is an amplified cream, and I've heard there's a slight color variation because of the different formulation. We'll see. It's my favorite berry red lipstick, so it was worth buying again just to have a spare.

That's what's what for now. I'm working on writerly things, but it's super slow going. It's been hard to concentrate lately what with the holidays and the family drama. In 2016 I've got to do better. I need to actually finish something. Hmm. At least now I know where to start my New Year's resolution. ♥

Clip art courtesy of GDJ at OpenClipArt.com.  

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Christmas 2015 :: Dreams and Visitations


Dropping in to say Merry Christmas on my blog before the holiday rush. I've hit a sort of post-NaNo writerly dry spell, so instead of punishing myself over it, I've been reading and doing other things. 

I've also been thinking about my Grandma Rose a lot lately. She died in the early 1990s, not long after Oldest boy was born. Christmas was Ma'am Maw's favorite time of year. She would bake homemade fruitcake, listen to Christmas songs on the radio every morning, and throughout the season she'd buy copious amounts of creme drops and chocolate covered cherries because we both loved them. 

I went to bed the other night thinking about her and the Christmas of 1983, which stands out in my mind as the best Christmas ever (I got a Cabbage Patch Kid that year. I was 9. A very special holiday.) That year, Grandma won this drawing at the Dixie Dandy in Ruston for an eight foot tall Christmas stocking. The manager had it hanging above the automatic doors of the grocery store. It was packed full of food, candy, and toys. Grandma, my mom, and the aunts picked it up from the store and they divided it up for all of us grandkids. (Except for the groceries, of course. Would be kind of weird to get a can of creamed corn in your stocking Christmas morning, am I right?) Anyway, Christmas morning was a candy and toy bonanza for all of us. Good times. Like I said, best Christmas ever. 

So I was thinking about that Christmas the other night right before I fell asleep, and I ended up dreaming I was back at Grandma's old house. In the dream, I was the age I am now, no longer a kiddo, but I was staying in my old bedroom from back in the day. The same year of the best Christmas ever, my parents and I briefly lived with my grandparents. We had justed moved back to Ruston from out of state, and we lived with them until we found a new house. 

I dreamed I had a suitcase open on the bed, and I was getting ready to leave. I suppose we were only there visiting, Hubz and me. While packing my clothes, out of the blue, I remembered that there was something important I needed to do. I dropped everything and set off through the house to find my grandparents. I walked through the house, peeked in the den, then went out through the kitchen into the laundry room. I ended up going outside via the open air garage. When I initially stepped into the garage, I realized someone had torn down the lattice facing the street side. The concrete leading up to the garage had been jackhammered into square patterns, and between the blocks, someone had been planting trees with purple blooms on them. 

I walked into the yard to check out what else was under construction, and that's when I saw my grandparents parked in a truck out front, far across the yard, just off the slab of driveway.

I walked out there to talk to them, and to ask them for a ride home for me and Hubz. Pawpaw and Ma'am Maw were both sitting in the truck, which was a black 1963s Chevy C10 stepside, like what my Uncle David used to drive. The truck looked fresh off the showroom floor. Both my grandparents were dressed up in their Sunday best, and I realized as I reached the driver's side door that I had left my clothes in the house. Yes, really, it was an 'I'm naked' dream. Go figure. 

While I talked to them, I was trying to cover myself with my hands, and my hair (which is very long in waking life). Apparently my grandparents had been waiting for me out there. They didn't live in the house anymore. They had arrived to take me and Hubz to the new place, the one that they had prepared for the family. 

Pawpaw opened the door and climbed out of the truck to shake hands with Hubz, then they told me to go inside for my clothes. As I was walking back to the house, past the construction and new floral trees (which were kind of like purple crepe myrtles), I called back over my shoulder for them to wait for me. I didn't want them to leave while I was indoors getting dressed. Immediately after calling out to them, I woke up. 

I've been told before that dreams like that are really a visitation. I like that idea. I also like the idea that there is a place where my grandparents have gone on before me, and that it's a place where I'll be reunited with them one day. It was a good dream, a little sad, but reaffirming. I miss them dearly, and it was good to see them again, even if only in a dream. That's all I really had to say. To remember is to dream while waking.

PS. Before I go, some notable news from yesterday... Brooke McCarter from The Lost Boys passed away. He was only 52. How very sad. I had such a huge crush on him back when the movie first came out. RIP, guy.   

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

The Takeaway: Post-NaNoWriMo Thoughts

I did it. I survived another NaNoWriMo. I've been participating since about 2008, but this is only the second event I've actually followed through and finished, so yay for long blustery word binges.

Well, actually, now that I think about it, I probably got more done by writing in 15 minutes bursts, leaving off for a while, and then coming back to write another 15 minutes a short time later. Out of necessity, that's pretty much how I handled the second half of the book. Through half of the event, I had both kids and hubby home for Thanksgiving, so there was always someone needing me for something. I don't like shutting my office door during the holidays, so I stuck to shorter writing sprints. That's one thing I took away from this year's NaNo. I write more words when I write in shorter bursts. Probably because I have a short attention span. Heh.

Since I don't have a NaNoWriMo hub within comfortable driving distance, I decided to join in a couple of the online write-in sessions. The write-ins are fun and helped me feel more connected to the NaNoWriMo community, but they didn't help me much in terms of boosting my word count. For one thing, the write-ins I attended were themed. I'm used to doing timed writings with other writers, where we decide on an amount of time we're going to write, set a timer, and work on our own projects. When the timer goes off, we tell everyone how many words we managed to pull off. And that's about the gist of it.

I've always found timed writings like that helpful, but in the NaNo write-ins, we would be given a prompt and a time frame, then the clock would start. Next round, a new prompt, and then the clock would start. We'd write for anywhere between five to fifteen minutes, then stop and check our word count. Some would share what they wrote, which was pretty fun. I had a good time there, but the prompts weren't useful for me. I ended up doing my own thing.

Throughout NaNoWriMo, I posted semi-regular writing updates on twitter, and by doing that, I found several new followers (that I followed back.) To be honest, I got more out of using twitter for NaNoWriMo than I did using the website forums. I made one or two posts over at the NaNo HQ forums, and never got a reply. Then again, I'm socially awkward, and I didn't know how to meet other people over there, so that's probably just me. Another con was that, the posts over at HQ weren't in real time, obviously, so I had to keep checking back to see if I'd gotten a response.

So, twitter worked better for my motivation overall. It was easier to find other NaNo-ers that way. I was able to start typing in #NaNoWriMo in the search box, and several hashtag suggestions would autofill, giving me options to find other NaNo tags, which was kinda groovy. I'll definitely do that again the next time I join a NaNo event.

On either November 28th or 29th (the days all blend), I hit the 50k mark and validated my novel on the site. Of course, what I've written is a flaming hot mess, and it probably needs another 10-20k added to it for it to be submittable to the publisher I have in mind for it. But it's a good start.

My project is a story that's been bouncing around in my head for a couple of years, now, and until this year's NaNo, every time I've tried to write it, I'd stall out a few scenes in to it, and end up shelving it for later. This is probably the fifth time I've started writing this story from scratch, and once again, about half way through it, I almost put it away. I hit the very same stuck point as before. Instead of allowing myself to dig deeper into the mire, I stopped trying to write about the story and focused on writing about the characters, their wants, and life histories. I just kept free writing and rambling about the characters and eventually the story worked its way out of the mire and in an entirely new direction that allowed me to continue on to the end. Or rather, on to 50k. I'll probably have to cut a lot of that during revisions, but I know my characters better for the effort, so it was worth it. That's another tactic I'd definitely use again.

One crucial thing I believe helped me cross the 50k finish line is that I only worked with the characters who were interesting to me. That should be a given, right? Well not exactly. Have you ever been writing, and you knew a critical event had to take place, but it was boring for some reason, or it felt like slogging through a swamp to make the plot connections? Yeah, I nipped that in the bud.

Even if I thought I "needed' someone to step on stage in order to connect two scenes, if I was too bored with that character to fill the gap, if I dreaded working with them, or felt like I was slogging through swamp water to get to a good scene, I scrapped it - the scene and the character. I held fast to the "kill your darlings" rule. If a character didn't perform as I'd hoped, or they started to lose their lustre, I cut them out of the scene, merge them with another character, or killed them off entirely. It was better to do that than allow a deadwood character to stall my story. Bye-bye dead weight. So, another important thing I learned this NaNoWriMo: allow no free rides for characters in your novel. If they're too slow to perform, uninteresting, make you dread writing about them...give 'em the boot.

Another thing that probably allowed me to reach the 50k mark on time is that I let the book be what it wanted to be instead of trying to box it squarely into one genre. When I began working on this story, I had specific mood, tone, and atmosphere, in mind. I was hoping to write a quiet, suspenseful horror story, but I was always cognizant it would probably morph into a romance novel somewhere along the line. Most of my writing does. Instead of trying to push the story into a mold it may or may not fit, I let go, and let the characters take the book where they needed it to go to reach the ending. I stopped trying to push characters around, I stopped trying to force everything into deep POV, and approached writing with the frame of mind to simply "tell a story". Novel idea, right? To tell a story when writing a book.

Basically I threw out the advice to write my book like an transcript with plot points and added description, and instead opted for a more fluid storyteller approach, which doesn't shy away from paragraphs of straight up narrative. I did that, and I surprised myself this time. The story stayed on track. It didn't go full romance, either, although there is still a romantic thread that runs through it. The only downside I can see so far is that I'll have to trim and fluff it out when I do the rewrites.

Overall, I paid a lot more attention to my process this time, and I think more insight into my own process is probably one of the most valuable things I took away from NaNoWriMo 2015. I plan to join the revision leg of the NaNo journey, which opens in January, and I hope for a similar result when analyzing my revision process.

As for the story I was working on, if I'm honest with myself, I think all the times I started writing it before but didn't finish it was because I didn't know my characters well enough. But more so than that, I don't think I quite knew how to pull off that type of story at the time. The pieces weren't coming together as they should. The idea needed more gestation time.

So there you have it, my final thoughts about NaNoWriMo 2015. If you participated this year, I hope you finished strong and learned a lot about how you write. Until next time, happy revising and happy wishes. ☮

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Lessons Learned: Really Important Opinions™


http://www.freeimages.com/photo/no-dumping-sign-1548797
Good morning, everyone! I hope you've had a lovely Thanksgiving holiday. I'm about 2k away from reaching the NaNoWriMo 50k finish line, and I just wanted to stop and share a little nugget of wisdom with you (recently learned by my own trial and error method of living life, of course). Tin foil hat recommended, but not required.

The lesson I've recently learned is...people will argue with you, or at least attemp to draw you into an argument, over the most ridiculous, juvenile shit you would never have thought, not in a million years, was important enough to get anyone's panties in a twist over.

Sometimes a topic of disagreement is so out there, just so completely wtf, you have to stop and wonder if the other person is high or mentally unstable. Or maybe that's just how I process it. I don't know. What I do know is that this sort of thing isn't locked into one geographical location. Oh, no. This isn't just an American thing. It's a worldwide, shared epidemic of insanity, and when it happens to you, it's about as much fun as a case of surprise diarrhea.

However, the inherent value in this kind of scratch-pop argument is that if you have ever, even for a moment, believed that your voice - your opinion - doesn't really matter, woo hoo little sister, do I have news for you!  Words have atomic weight. They matter. If you care to test this theory, I challenge you to say something risque or even controversial on the internet. Say it wrong, land it without proper padding to spare everyone's delicate feelings, and it will go nuclear.

But wait! You don't even have to dance into controversial territory. Be playful and friendly. Start out small. Misquote some song lyrics. On purpose. Throw some hashtags in for seasoning. That's what I did. Ka-boom! Or, you could talk about a book you read and liked, the last movie you watched and hated, or go for broke and tell the world what your favorite flavor of coffee is...and yes, you're allowed to read it off the menu at Starbucks, because who the heck bothers to memorize a menu, anyway? (Personally, I'm too lazy for that. Sorry, not sorry.)

It doesn't really matter what topic you decide to talk about. If you're passionate enough about it, or even if you're only briefly Heylook! sparkly-shiny! kind of passionate about it, some rat bastard you don't know, who you've never heard of, and who you wouldn't bother to get to know if you met them face to face, is guaranteed to crawl off their garbage heap of Really Important Opinions™ to let you know just how wrong you are...and inadvertently, just how powerful your benign little voice really is.

Never take that for granted. Your voice matters. Your story matters. The way you tell it matters. Since the dawn of time, people have fought and died on the garbage heaps of other people's Really Important Opinions ™. Think about that for a while.

Marriages, lives, and careers have been made and destroyed on numerous battlefields built from incompatible opinions. There are people out there who are so apt at this kind of warfare, they can scent the blood of someone who doesn't agree with them from half a world away, and they will rush in like berzerkers armed for the kill, completely drunk on the power of their own opinion...the option of minding their own fucking business be damned.

If you ever felt unimportant, or like no one is listening and that what you say matters to no one, think again. You probably just haven't shared a passionate opinion, yet. Oh, but you will, darling. You will. And when you inevitably get good at it, you'll begin to amass your own garbage heap of Really Important Opinions™  to share with others...to which I say, bravo, and also, guard it wisely.

Just one more important thing to know. When you're about to share a particularly special opinion, you know, one of those that stink a whole lot more than all the others because they have a much heavier atomic weight than most opinions, be very careful. Those opinions are known to cause dangerous chain reactions if combined with incompatible opinions.

Politics, current news events, religion; race, gender and social issues; oh, and the sharing of misquoted song lyrics, can cause a nuclear winter scenario with irrevocable damage to your reputation, career, peaceful living environment, the quality of your drinking water, and can even lead to death threats. So word to the wise on that: know before you blow.

In general when it comes to any opinion, it's a really good idea to do your research and thoroughly vet your opinion with facts from credible sources before you crawl off of your personal garbage heap to wage battle shove it down the throat of others offer it politely to someone else.

I know...I know... [hands up]. While sharing is the kind and neighborly thing to do, the fact remains that not everyone wants to hear what you think. They like their garbage heap just the way it is, thank you very much. A few people out there may genuinely not care, or they may welcome your opinion, but it's a good rule of thumb to think before you speak. Or type. Or email.  Because no matter how wrong you know the other person is, not every greasy garbage heap is worth dying on.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

NaNo-ing Character Arcs...and a Pep Talk

To read the full Stephanie Perkins pep talk at NaNoWriMo's website, go here.

Since today is Veterans Day, I've decided to kick off this post by saying "Thank You" to all the veterans out there. There are no classes today, so MiniBeast is home with me. I rolled out of bed a little early to get a head start on motherly and household things, as well as writing, so here it goes.

I crossed the 13k threshold on my NaNoWriMo project last night. Or was it this morning? It depends on which side of midnight it was before I hit the bed. I can't remember exactly. While writing last night, I got to a stuck point, didn't know how to proceed, and thereafter in the flurry of post-it note that followed, I lost track of time. 

To break out of the stuck point, and to generate some usable words, I took out some sticky notes in different colors and began breaking down the story in my head by mapping everyone's character arc. 

Lemme just say that I didn't realize at first how many characters are in the book. Another thing I didn't realize was just how many words this would generate. About 2k so far, just for the arcs once I transferred all of it to my story file. 

I still need to map two more main characters, which I plan to do today. I'm going to get those out of the way first thing since those characters are the main reason I'm stuck.

In the process of jotting down all the character arcs, I managed to come up with a suitable ending for the novel, and there are a lot of other little detail oriented bits I was able to elaborate on and connect to other characters arcs. It was a little like playing connect the dots, I guess, only with multiple character scenarios. 

Another thing while breaking the book down by individual arcs, I was also able to look at every character's core purpose for being in the story, both the main players and the tertiary folks, to better justify why each person is being included in the book. If someone's reason for being there is/was looking kind of thin, I could easily beef it up and knit in more connections to the other characters. I've beefed up two characters so far, and both times, doing so added another layer of complexity to the story. Cool beans. I'll take it. 

So that's what cooking over here. Today's meme blog graphic thing comes from yesterday's NaNoWriMo pep talk. I loved it so much I had to share the good news. To read the Stephanie Perkins pep talk in full, you can find it right here on the NaNoWriMo website.

That's all for now. I'll post again when things get interesting. In the meantime, keep writing...and happy wishes! ♥