Thursday, December 13, 2012

Writing In-Between

It's been a while.

I've been busy, too. Mostly doing freelance work. Work that pays the bills, so I can't really knock it.

But it's been so incredibly difficult to find the time to even read, let alone write.

On the plus side, I've transcribed my novel to date. Now I have to re-read it and see where I am on my outline. As for word count, I'm roughly one-quarter of the way to my goal. Which works out well, since I would estimate that I'm roughly a quarter of the way through my outline. So at least something is working!

The way my process works, generally, is that I will get on a roll, and I will keep writing (and as I've mentioned before I prefer to write longhand in a blank book) as long as I can keep the momentum going.

Eventually, though, I hit a wall.

For some writers I've known, their "wall" is generally the point they get to when they have little or no idea where to go from where they are. I guess not everyone uses outlines (or some form thereof). Fortunately for me, that's not the thing I usually call my "wall." For me, sometimes a wall is that dead-stop, where I can't figure out where to go or how to get back on track, and I suppose that happens to every writer at some point. But more frequently than not, it's a place I get to when I can no longer recall what I've written to date. It means it's time for me to stop and reread everything.

Obviously this inability to remember what I've written thus far is a result of my memory issues from that thwack I got on the head in my accident. But I'm not actually sure about this. I have a writer-friend who never had a head injury, and yet still has trouble when writing novels, because she can't keep her characters straight. Which, while it might be a result of her characters not being well-defined in a less-experienced, less-accomplished writer, is not the case here. In this instance, it's because she tends to write the kind of sweeping, multi-generational sagas that take me weeks, if not months to savor my way through. I am soooo not a fast reader (but more on that at a later time).  Since my own work isn't along those lines, however, I can't make a direct comparison.

At any rate, that's generally what I think of as my wall. When I get there, it's time to pause, reread, check where I am in the outline, make adjustments, and once I'm pretty sure I know where I need to go from there, I can get back to writing.

But now there is a new element tossed into the mix: this is the first major project I've undertaken while also doing freelance writing at the same time.

While I'm sure I'm not the only one who has trouble fitting writing time into a work schedule, I'm curious as to how other writers who do freelance work manage it. It's one thing when you have a regular, 9-5 job to pay the bills. When I was doing that, whatever I did at the office stayed in the office. For the most part, I'd leave work and not think about it again until I was back at work.

But this is different.

When your home office is where you do the work that pays your bills as well as where you work on that Great American Novel, the separation is entirely in your mind.

And right now my mind is having a little trouble with that.

How do you stop one project in the middle (especially if you're on a roll!) and set to work on the other, simply because it's time to? Right now I'm having trouble going back and forth.

For reasons I won't go into, besides the fact that this blog isn't about that, I won't be talking about my freelance work itself. Just suffice it to say that about half of it is as boring as any job; it doesn't challenge my skills so much as challenge me to not pull my hair out and scream a good portion of the time. And though the work is something I'm suited to, it makes it that much harder to tear myself away from my novel to do when it's dull work.

And even on a week like this one, when I'm waiting for work that I know is coming, it's still difficult to get started on my own writing. Firstly, if I go and reread what I have so far, and then the work—which could be ready for me to work on next Wednesday, or the day after tomorrow, I have no way to know—shows up, I would probably have to read it yet again when I get done that work and go back to my novel. Or, if I finish rereading and am still waiting for the work, and I start working on my novel, I could get torn away from that at any minute. All of this makes me hesitant to even start. I'm just not sure how to handle this.

This is where I am now.

And turning to work on a long-overdue blog entry is probably an avoidance strategy.

So I suppose it's time to get cracking, huh?

                                * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

On a totally unrelated note, if you are looking for a holiday gift for someone who's hard to shop for, or really doesn't want or need anything, I present the following link for your consideration. 

I can't afford to donate at the moment, but I certainly wouldn't mind having donations made in my honor if I were that hard-to-shop-for person, and this is a great way to make a direct, tangible impact on some children's lives. I particularly like the tuition program for girls. And since I would like to help, but can't—at least not until I'm caught up on bills!—I will hope that by passing this information on, someone who otherwise may never have heard of this will donate.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Don't Be Predictable!

The first episode of The X-Files I ever saw was called “Deep Throat.” It was a rerun of what turned out to be the second episode, and it was the one that got me hooked. Why? Because it “got” me. And by “got” I mean to say that it surprised me.

See, usually, I can watch any TV show, whether I've seen it before and am familiar with the characters or not, and there will come a point where I will say aloud what's going to happen next. “Well, they'll find him dead,” I might say. Or, “and she's listening to the conversation from the next room,” and suchlike.

I don't know if it's just that I've been reading and watching TV so long that it's ingrained in me, or it was all the writing and scriptwriting classes I took at university. But regardless, I find this extremely disappointing. When I read a novel, or especially when I'm watching TV, I get very annoyed at this. (The one exception is if I'm watching something because it's so bad it's good, but that's not what I'm talking about here.)

Every show has less-well-done episodes, though, so I'm willing to overlook the occasional predictability if I like the show enough or it has some redeeming quality, like great characters or actors, for instance.

The point is that I want to be “got.” I look forward to any show (or novel), where the writer has also realized that we as the reader/audience have probably got enough brains to see the big act-ending revelation coming since the previous act, or even the teaser, and changed it up a bit to surprise us. Or better yet, to use our expectations as a red-herring and switch things around so we never see it coming.

Since I hate when I know what's coming, be it TV script or novel, I am trying the best I can to avoid the predictability in my own writing that would drive me nuts if I were the reader/viewer.

There are certain cliche's you can see right off, and therefore are to be avoided (unless you are into particularly complex use of red-herrings that can be pulled off by skilled writers under limited circumstances). I'll use TV shows as an example, because there are so many more novels out there it's harder to find an example that most people are familiar with. Think about how many times you have watched a detective show and you know pretty early on that the spouse was the murderer. Then think of a well-written show – take Law & Order as an example – when they start out suspecting the spouse, and then find information that would appear to exonerate said spouse, only to eventually poke holes in the seemingly exculpatory evidence, and we're back to the spouse as perpetrator at the end. That's not easy to do, but when done well it can surprise even the most jaded viewer. I'm not saying, “don't try this at home.” I'm just saying you should pretty damn sure of your writing skills.

Then there's one that applies to TV only: the biggest-name guest star did it. Again, taking Law & Order (in this case, “Special Victims Unit”) as an example. In an episode called “Scourge,” we all know that Richard Thomas did it. The only reason this could work is that the story was not about whodunnit, but why he did it.

Let's get back to that episode of The X-Files. What “got” me there were my expectations of the ending, based on the stereotypes I've been so used to seeing since I can remember. To set it up for anyone who hasn't watched the series (and if you haven't, get to NetFlix, ASAP!), Mulder, the Believer (in things paranormal, conspiracies, and FBI cases generally disregarded as nonsense, i.e. the cases dubbed “X-Files”) goes after evidence, though for our purposes, the “of what” isn't really important. Scully, the Skeptic (with a capital “S”), out of fear for their jobs as well as loyalty to the partner she'd been saddled with, goes after him. Mulder is being held in a top-secret facility, where she goes to retrieve him, finding him beat up and drugged. A hostage exchange takes place, and they're in the car. Now, the first time I saw this, all I could think was that they'd never get out of this place. Someone would surely stop them, and Mulder would have to pull it together and become Hero Guy (see any episode of Star Trek [the original series], in which Kirk, through his willpower alone, had overcome any number of obstacles that had taken out lesser men – and of course a mere woman could not overcome such things as alien spores, the temptation of dictatorial power, and mind-control, just to name the things that come to mind at the moment).

Remember, this was the second episode of The X-Files, and not only had the characters not been established yet, but in my umpteen years of watching television, studying television, and writing scripts, this is the way it should have happened. The woman rarely, if ever, rescued the man. I hated that, but that was the way it had always been, with rare exceptions (none of which I can think of at the moment).

So what “got” me enough to hook me on watching the series? Well, they got away. Not because Mulder was somehow superhuman in his will to survive and continue his Cause. Not because of his strength, but because of Scully's. Seeing this tiny woman come riding in and saving the day, not to mention the guy, was fantastic. It was at this point that I realized that, though Mulder was easy enough on the eyes and adorable in a wounded-puppy-dog-face way, it was clear from this that it would be Scully, the scientist (geek!) who would probably be the heavy-lifter in this partnership.

Yep, they “got” me. I never saw that coming.

When I'm plotting out a project, I generally know how it ends. But what I think about when I'm doing so is that I don't want my reader or viewer to know, as well. I think of Mulder and Scully, and all the twists that Law & Order takes. And then I think, “what would I, as a reader or viewer, think was going to happen next?” And whatever that is, I avoid it like Christmas Eve sales and 5:00 traffic.

Suggested viewing:

Firefly: “Our Mrs. Reynolds”
Picket Fences: “The Dancing Bandit”

Saturday, July 7, 2012


Yes, it's been longer than usual for an update. But to be fair, for a good portion of that time, my blog was down. It got pulled as, “spam,” by the Powers That Be. So instead of checking it first, deciding whether or not it actually was spam, and then deciding if they should take it down, naturally that process was reversed: guilty until proven innocent.

At any rate, I've been having a blast on Twitter in the meantime. (I'm still trying to get a, “follow me on Twitter” gadget onto this blog, but the only one I found seems to be broken.) I've been reading tweets from celebs and from my home town, from other writers, and from people who just seem interesting.

But the most useful thing I've found on Twitter thus far has definitely been what is known as a “#writingsprint.” For the uninitiated (something I was a mere few weeks ago, so I'll slow down and explain), that pound-sign on Twitter is called a hashtag, and it allows you to key in on words or expressions of particular interest.

When you sign up for Twitter, it asks you to follow something like a minimum of 15 people, just so you get a sufficient number of tweets that interest you. I guess it “noticed” that I was following writers, and one of the recommendations it made for me to follow was Jane Espenson, a writer-producer currently working on Once Upon a Time. I recognized her name due to a mutual acquaintance and also the fact that I have admired her writing for years. You'd probably know her work if you've ever seen Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Battlestar Galactica, Dollhouse, or Caprica, and a bunch of other stuff I never even realized she wrote for (including two of my all-time favorite series, the brilliant Nowhere Man and Firefly).

After watching and seeing how Twitter worked for a bit, I jumped right on in. I saw Jane doing something she called a “#writingsprint” one day, explained as an hour of writing time during which you concentrate on writing only: no phone calls, no tweets, no Facebook or Google Plus . . . no distractions. I liked the idea, and though her #writingsprints always seem to come around too late in my day (I am a nightowl trying desperately not to be) for me to take part, I haven't let that stop me. Following Jane's example, I've started doing my own #writingsprints. I found a few other writers who have joined me, and we write together. Er, well, together, separately . . . just at the same time. But that doesn't matter. It's not even like a contest, it's just a good motivator to know there are others somewhere out there working on their own WiPs, just like me.

Since I've started this habit, I don't know how much writing I've gotten done, but I know I've been writing pretty regularly. I'm trying a new schedule to see how it works. But just the idea that there are people out there who are looking for me, to see if I'm writing, somehow gets me going, regardless of when I do my writing.

I have absolutely no idea if Jane (@JaneEspenson) was the originator of the #writingsprint, or if it's been around for as long as Twitter has had writers. But in my case, I will give Jane the credit, since she initiated the first one I saw. So thank you, Jane! You may not know it, but you've really helped keep the words flowing!


P.S. If you want to join a #writingsprint, follow me: @AnikoTevvit and it won't be long 'til you see one coming up!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Are You Lying to Yourself?

Let's face it: some days just suck.

Not that they're a disaster or anything. I've had really, really bad days. Days when things happen that are entirely beyond my control, and I can barely get through the day, let alone write. Some days truly are disasters. If you have a car accident, or get really bad news, for example.

Sometimes I just get distracted. Okay, maybe often.

And sometimes I wonder if I'm just using something that happened as an excuse to not write that day.

I'm pretty sure that all writers have days when they simply don't feel like writing. Whether they don't feel well, or they're upset, or, like me, yesterday I just had a really bad allergy day (we had strong winds the day before, which always sets my eyes into teary-smeary mode). These are all very real things, and depending upon the severity of the situation, you might not write that day, or even that week.

There are other reasons writers don't write: your in-laws are coming and you need to clean, your children need help with their science project, your spouse is clamoring for attention, the dog keeps getting sick on your carpet and you really should take him to the vet, and so on, and so forth. Then there are writing-related reasons: you don't know where your story's going, you're having plot issues and there's something you have to research, you can't seem to hear your characters' voices today, and so on and so forth.

But how do you know if you're just using an excuse not to write, or it's just one of those days when you probably shouldn't? (And there are likely days for every writer when they probably shouldn't.)

If you're serious about writing, though, you treat it as the profession it is (I could probably write an essay, if not a book, on the lack of respect often shown to writers, but we'll save that for another day). You make the time. You find a way. At least on most days. I don't know about anyone else, but I generally don't write for eight hours a day, like a regular job. After all, most of us have regular jobs. I have . . . well, an irregular job, so I can put in a couple hours a day, and if I'm on a roll, I can usually rearrange things so I can keep writing. But I try to get in an hour or two at least five days a week. It's something regular, it's reasonable, and in the end, it adds up.

But on days that I don't write, when I'm feeling guilty, I often ask myself if I really should just get down to it, never mind the distractions and apartment maintenance.

I don't think there's any correct answer to the question of whether you really ought to write on this day or that regardless of what else is going on in your life. Every writer has to decide that for themselves.

But I do think it's important to ask yourself why you're not writing today. After all, aren't you writing your novel (short story, script, whatever) because, when it all comes down to it, you love to write? Rather than asking ourselves if our reasons for not writing are legit, isn't it more important to figure out what's stopping you, so you can overcome it and get back to doing what you love? Rather than either making an excuse to yourself for why you're not writing, or, conversely, why you're forcing yourself to write in a futile exercise of sheer willpower, wouldn't it be better to figure out why?

If you know, then you can figure out how to attack the problem. Or how to just go around it. If I'm stuck because I don't know what the next scene should be, maybe I'll just go off and write another scene that's coming to me just then. After all, one of the great things about working on a large project is that you don't have to write it in order. Maybe I need to get out my index cards (or the electronic equivalent) and see if I need to shuffle them around a bit. Maybe a plot-point doesn't work and needs to be re-thought. Whatever it is, isn't it just better to figure out what it is, so you can move on?

Yesterday I got up and walked the dog. Then I got my morning caffeine and went out on the porch. My eyes felt like I had small boulders in them, and I kept having to squirt saline solution into them to soothe them (a great trick from my contact-lens-wearing days). I don't know if I'll be able to read it very well when eventually I transcribe what I have handwritten in my blank book, but I wrote. I have no idea how much of what I wrote yesterday (or any other day, for that matter) will eventually wind up in the novel, or how much will get cut. But I wrote.

And in the end, that's what we do, right?

If you keep making excuses for not writing, I have to wonder if you really want to write. Are there things you need to do to make it easier for you to write? If that's why you're not writing, then go do those things, so you can write. If not, then maybe you need to ask yourself a more fundamental question.

And in the end, I know my own answer, and that's what matters.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Feeling Guilty

I'm curious if anyone else feels guilty when they don't write for a day.  Or two.

For reasons having to do with my apartment maintenance, my writing schedule has been thrown off for two days running.  And I feel, well . . . guilty.

You see, since I started this WiP, I've been getting up earlier than usual every morning, waking my little guy (he's 12 pounds with a body full of curly apricot hair, and sleeps on the foot of my bed) – which is harder than you might think, as he doesn't like to get up early – and we go for our morning walk.  Once he's had his breakfast, I go off to the porch to write for a couple of hours.  Every day without fail.  Except Sundays (not because I'm religious or anything, it's just the day I spend watching movies or TV with a friend). 

Until yesterday, when we had a scheduled maintenance appointment . . . scheduled in as much as they gave us an 8-hour window.  Now, since the last time I let someone into my apartment to fix anything and they caused a flood that took weeks to recuperate from, I don't allow any maintenance to take place unless I'm home.  At any rate, I got up early, walked my puppy, and hopped in for a quick shower so I could let the guy in.  Now, they didn't take all day to show up, as they normally do, but they threw me off schedule, nevertheless.  And I never got any writing done. 

Today they had an “inspection.”  Again, the whole thing threw me off enough that I never got to the writing.  I mean, the reason I don't do anything before I get in some writing time is because I have less chance of getting sidetracked that way.  The only reason I even take the little guy out is because if I don't I'll have to clean it up.  Okay, that, and he's my baby.  Besides, he's doing his job by seeing to it that I walk enough to keep my knees from jolting me out of a dead sleep in pain (yes, I know it's counter-intuitive, but keeping moving really does help keep arthritis from being more painful than it otherwise would be).

So there it is: two days, no writing.  (Well, okay, no working on the novel.  I mean, I'm writing this.  This counts as writing, doesn't it?)

I feel incredibly guilty for not having worked on the novel in two days' time. 

I will be very relieved when I get back to it tomorrow morning.  I have some places I have to go later in the day, errands and such.  But if I get some writing done in the morning, I feel like I've actually accomplished something. 

Also, I'm a little afraid.  I think I'm afraid that if I leave it too long, my characters won't be speaking to me anymore.

Anyone else afraid their characters will be mad at them because they feel neglected?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Tools of the Trade: Wherein I Pose a Question. . . . (Okay, Several)

How do you write? 

Do you do everything, right from the first draft, on a PC?  A Mac? An IBM Selectric?

Do you have a favorite software package?  Do you work in Word, or Scrivener? Something basic?  Or more elaborate?

Do you make your notes on legal pads?  Do you have a white board?  Do you have many?  Do you have tack boards all over your office with index cards stuck to them?

Speaking of which, do you have an office?  Do you write at home?  At Starbucks?  The park?  Where?

I'm just curious to see the range of . . . stuff . . . of, "things and supplies" (I'm wondering how many will get the reference . . . if anyone:) that other writers use.  Or maybe there isn't a range, just variations on a theme.

If you've read my profile, or this blog for that matter, you know I have a thing for fountain pens.  I occasionally wonder if I'm the only writer who enjoys the tactile sensation of pen gliding over paper.  And then I think, if I am, then Levenger would be out of business. (I love Levenger.  Anyone wants to send me a gift, you can send me a Levenger gift card.:)

I hope you'll comment!


Sunday, June 10, 2012

The First Step: A Plot

Okay, show of hands of any writers reading this: how many of you have had pages, if not chapters of inspired writing come out as easily as spending money at a mall, only to realize later on that you had no idea where it was all going?  Only to stop and stare at it, wondering why you'd spent all that time on it?  Only to wish that somewhere in all that writing, you'd stumbled upon a plot?

Who amongst us hasn't heard a conversation in our mind's ear . . . two interesting characters speaking?  Or thought what if . . . I put someone in the middle of the desert, and they come to and have to figure out why they're there?  Or overheard a conversation and knew you could write at least ten pages of dialogue from that bouncing-off point?

But it all amounts to nothing if you haven't got a plot.

Such is how a lot of my writing goes.  Sometimes the plot turns up screaming at me to take notes.  And sometimes it runs away and hides.

I do much of my writing in a blank book with a fountain pen.  To me it's great to use a PC for everything else, but often a first draft just comes out better that way, or maybe faster . . . or perhaps I should just be happy that it does.  As a result of this, I have boxes of blank books (I won't even go into the index cards and sticky-notes) in my closet.  There are blank books in my nightstand drawers, in my desk, in my filing cabinet.  And every now and then, I pull one out and see something I wrote . . . however long ago it was. 

Sometimes I find where I'd been trying to work out a plot, writing notes and questions to myself (sometimes I even answered them).  Sometimes I have several story ideas, or character bios, in one book.

But I'll also find a book with the beginning of a story in it.  And I'll look at the first few lines, not really remembering it, so I'll find someplace comfortable and read it, as if for the first time.  As if I weren't the one who had written it.  And I'll get to the end of what I had written and think, "Well?  What happens now?" 

I'd like to think that that's a pretty good sign . . . that if I don't recall writing it, but I want to know what happens, it might actually be interesting; who really knows?

This is what happened to me about two weeks ago. 

But there was no plot attached to this three-year-old story-beginning, no notes, no nothing.  So I finished reading it and then went on to do other things.

A couple of days later, while in the shower, I had an epiphany.  (I get a lot of writing epiphanies in the shower.  They're excellent for that.)  I had also started another story, maybe even older than that one, but this one I couldn't find notes for.  However, I recalled it well enough to realize that it would mesh nicely with this story-beginning.

And more importantly, I actually had a plot!  I scribbled a rough, skeleton of an outline onto the back of an index card, lest I forget.  That card joined the others with possible character names clipped to the first page of the blank book. (I won't go into names here, but I'm sure I'll get to them eventually.) 

Voila!  A basic structure for my novel! 

Well, I've got a main character and a few others.  Basic plot outline: check.  Antagonist?  Yep.  Resolution: accounted for.

That's not a bad start.

Well, at least I hope so.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The First Step of the Journey

I've been working full-speed ahead on a new – well, sort of new (but more on that later) – writing project, and I've also been looking on and off for a writing group in my area.  I've tried to contact a couple of the larger ones, but one didn't even reply, and another was too big . . . I know, I know . . . I sound like a fairy tale.  But suffice it to say, none of the ones I've found were, "just right."  I mean, I don't really care about big groups and guest speakers (well, they're great and everything, but that's not really the kind of group I had in mind).  I'm looking for a few writers that want to get together, either physically or virtually, and critique each other's work. 

And so the thought occurred to me, why not do a writing blog?  Perhaps some likeminded writers will find it and three or four of us will have enough interests and writing goals in common, and we'll form our own group. 

Besides, I don't think of any writing as wasted; I think of it as a masterpiece-in-the-making at best (okay, that sounded a little more optimistic than I actually am), or some good practice at the worst. 

I know there are a lot of would-be writers, aspiring writers, and someday writers on the 'Net.  There are people who are out there living, doing their, "regular jobs," which may be exciting to others, and they think, "Someday I'll write a book about what I do."  There are others who dream of a glamorous career as a writer. 

Well, I know enough writers who do it for a living to know that this is by no means a glamorous career.  (Okay, except for those writing friends and acquaintances who get to go to the Emmys, but how often does that happen?) 

But all you have to do to be a writer . . . is to write.  (Yes, I know it's a famous quote, by the ROM in my brain is failing me at the moment, as is Google and WikiQuotes.) 

So I do it.  I write. 

And I hope like hell someone will read what I've written and find something worthy in it.  Or at least check my blog and click through on a couple of advertisements.

I'm starting this blog in the hopes of hooking up with others who call themselves writers, or those who would like to, or even those who just enjoy reading and would like to know what goes on before they download that book to their Kindle.  I hope some of you will choose to ask questions, have discussions, or even contact me if you're interested in that writers' group.  As I've said, I've got a WiP (Work in Progress), so maybe there are others who are also writing and we can exchange experiences. 

And I . . . will keep writing.