Monday, November 30, 2015

Just Not Feeling It

I've been pondering what to write for a blog post for over an hour now. I have a few started but they aren't working for me today. Basically, I'm just not feeling it today. And with that thought, the light bulb goes on and I have a blog post.

We all go through these times, where we aren't into it. It could be anything from writing to our paying jobs to exercising...basically anything. There are days that we want to skip to the end of the day because we aren't into it. It's not laziness, more of a disconnect.

And that's okay!

It can be annoying because you want to do an activity, but for some reason it's not flowing. It could be just an off day, maybe you're overtired, maybe you're bored, maybe the planets are out of alignment...who knows. Things just aren't flowing.

As writers we often hear that it's important to write every day no matter what. After all, we still have to show up at our paying jobs even if we don't feel like it.
So what's a writer to do when she's just not feeling it?

1) Remember that it will pass. You could just be in a down cycle and maybe tomorrow you'll feel better, or maybe not. Eventually, the cycle will end.

2) Work on another project. Sometimes it helps to work on something that you have set aside. Maybe some editing, maybe a blog post.

3) Show up and do the work anyway. Sit down and pound out some words. Sometimes all you need to do is get started.

4) Read. When I feel drained from writing or editing, I'll grab a book and read. Sometimes what I'm reading will reignite the spark. At worst, I got to relax and read a book.

5) Veg out. Sit down and catch up on the shows that you've been missing because you're so busy writing. Let your subconscious work things out while you turn the rest of your brain off with a good TV show.

6) Do something physical. Get some of that neglected housework done, go for a walk, exercise, dance...just get moving. There have been times when a little physical activity has gotten me out of my down cycle and prompted new ideas.

7) If I don't feel like writing but want to do something related, I'll sit down with my character profiles to fill them in a little more or work on my world building files. That way I at least feel like my writing is moving forward, even if I'm not working on my manuscript.

Is there anything you do when you're in a down cycle to get out?

Monday, November 23, 2015

Armageddon Rules - A Book Review

During my recent outing in Toronto, where I saw Chris Cornell (you can read about that here), I wanted something to read while waiting for the concert to start. My husband and I wandered into the huge Indigo bookstore at the Eaton's Centre. As I drooled over browsed the books, I found an author I'd seen around Twitter, J.C. Nelson. I'd watched his interview on Whisky, Wine, and Writing and he'd been a mentor in Pitch Wars, which I'd hoped to enter but didn't. Because I'd seen him around and thought his books sounded interesting, I picked up Armageddon Rules.

This is the second book in the Grimm Agency series. No, I haven't read the first book (Free Agent). As mentioned in previous book reviews, I'm doing writer research by picking books mid-series.

In Armageddon Rules, Marissa Locks has a hard time catching a break. As an agent for the Fairy Godfather, Grimm, she runs from issue to issue solving magical problems. She is also trying to help her best friend, Princess Ari, get through school and learn magic, solve a curse put on her boyfriend, Liam, and train a new piper to deal with deadly poodles.

When a queen tries to take revenge on Marissa, Ari ends up trapped in a sleeping spell and Grimm becomes frozen, unable to communicate and help her. Marissa accidentally signs an ironclad agreement with a demon to start the apocalypse.

When I told my husband about this book, I described it as a fairy tale on crack. That's not a bad thing. Overall I found Armageddon Rules a fast-paced story with vivid characters and a unique fantasy world.

There is lots of action in the book to keep the pace up though it took a while to get to the real story. The story didn't drag, but I found myself wanting it to get the point faster. Once the story picked up, I had a hard time putting the book down.

I found the characters well written, especially the women. There are lots of strong women in this story, without them coming off as flighty or needy, which can be a problem in some books. Marissa uses her head, especially when dealing with the Four Horsemen of the apocalypse. She's also not a know it all. It's a fine balance to strike and Nelson did it well. I especially enjoyed Marissa's wit and sarcasm.

One of the biggest things for fantasy is the world. J.C. Nelson has created a rich, unique world using the basis of fairy tales. There is a divide between Kingdom, the fairy tale world, and our world. For the most part, humans have no idea this other world exists. There are all manner of fairy tale characters, some Marissa interacts with, others we are just told about. I was a little disappointed that I didn't get to see Low Kingdom, I'd like to see what it's like--maybe in the first book since it was alluded to that Marissa did go there at one point.

Marissa's boyfriend, Liam, is gone for much of the book. Since I didn't read the first book, I didn't have the luxury of already knowing their dynamic. Though he's not present for a good portion, I sensed their connection and believed that they loved each other. Though at times I found that Marissa pined for him a little too often. Then again, if my best friend was in a sleeping curse and my boss was unable to communicate with me, I'd probably want my boyfriend around too for comfort and help.

Most importantly, J.C. Nelson made me cry. Oh, yes, he did. I'm not going to spoil it. But I was invested enough in the story and Marissa and Liam's relationship that I got quite teary at one point near the end.

I wasn't big on the killer poodles. I get why J.C. Nelson did it. Taking something cute and usually unassuming (though are dogs ever really unassuming) and turning it into something deadly. I'm also not usually a big fan of demons, though in Armageddon Rules, it didn't bother me at all.

If you're looking for a fast-paced urban fantasy read, I recommend picking up J.C. Nelson's Grimm Agency series.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Just Do It!

I don't believe in wasted writing. Connecting with other writers has taught me that we all suffer from the same affliction...major self-doubt when putting words on the page. If you let it, it can keep you from writing. The best thing to do, is push through and put words on the page.

When I write, there are times when I'm in the middle of a scene that I know will be scrapped later but I follow through. Why? Often the writing helps with character and/or story exploration, especially since I'm a pantser (a person who doesn't pre-plot before putting words on the page). Sometimes I cut the scene during revisions and put it in my folder of deleted/original scenes only to find that I can use it later, usually in an altered form. Or sometimes, it's just a discarded scene. I never think I wasted my time writing that scene. It could have showed me something about the character or story, or I may have only discovered something that wasn't going to work.

Remember, things don't have to be perfect the first time around. That is one of the hardest things about writing, wanting to get the story right in your first draft. It won't happen. I leave myself many comments during my first drafts stating that I don't like the word choice or the sentence is really bad or that I need to make the scene better. This is what the joys of revision are for. At least  have something down.

There comes a time during the writing process where I feel like I'm spinning my wheels and not getting anywhere with the story. I often reach out to the #amwriting thread on twitter. Usually someone else is experiencing the same issue or I see a post reminding me to keep going. Often one of my followers tweets me some encouraging words, which really means a lot. A critique partner (CP) comes in handy during these times too. I have a wonderful CP, who is now a friend, that is willing to bounce ideas around with me. As with revisions, often that other perspective can help unlock ideas or help me see something I missed.

Despite the self-doubt that I experience while writing, when I go back later to reread the passages that I thought were so horrible they should be burned on sight, most are workable. By pushing through, I've given myself a starting point. I'm not saying they are ready to be seen by other people, far from it, but I can mold them into something that is worth sharing.

I used this analogy in another blog post but, for me, it helps keep the process in perspective. I view writing like sculpting. I have a giant piece of stone that I want to form into something. To get that sculpture, I need words on the page, a first draft. Once I have that, I can chip away to turn it into something I'm happy with and hopefully proud of.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Inspriation Is Everywhere, Though Not Always Easy To Find

I love the look some people give me when I tell them about the stories I write. When they stare blankly, it makes me smile. I have a tendency to write strange and dark things. The novel manuscripts I've written so far have been paranormal and urban fantasy. When I tell people about them, many asked how I come up with the ideas. I think this goes for most writers.

My ideas can come from anywhere. Sometimes they pop into my head, but usually they are prompted by something.

For my latest urban fantasy manuscript, the idea came from the title of another book called, Bringing Back The Recently Deceased. I thought it sounded cool and was disappointed to find out that it was a non-fiction book. So I wrote the book I thought it could have been.

There have been lines in books that spark ideas that have nothing to do with the book I'm reading. A few times a song has inspired a story. When I listened to Godsmack's "Turning To Stone", an image popped into my head that I'm working on turning into a short story.

Inspiration can come from anywhere if you're open to it. There have been real situations or people I know that have prompted story ideas. Sometimes something I see in a TV show launches an idea that is unrelated to the show.

I knew I wanted to write a sequel to my current urban fantasy manuscript but wasn't sure what the story would be. I have a plots that will run through the whole series but I needed a plot for this book. To get ideas I started looking through mythology and monster books and websites. Sure enough, something struck me.

Ideas often take a little--okay a lot of--toying with to work. There are times the idea doesn't go anywhere so I tuck it away. Maybe someday it will develop into a story...or not. That's why it's a good idea to keep a pen and notebook handy. You never know when an idea will come to you.

It's not always easy to find inspiration, but it is there. Writer's block happens and it sucks. I'm starting to ponder what I want to write next. I have some ideas but nothing that's sticking. I hope when I take time to look around something will jump up and say "Write me!".

Where do you find your inspiration or story ideas?

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Editing Cave

Every writer wishes that first drafts were perfect, heck, we'd even settle for passable sometimes. For me as a pantser (a person who doesn't plot or outline before hand), the first draft is exploratory. Once there's something on the page, then the real work starts.

I compare editing to creating a sculpture out of stone. You have a huge chunk of material that you need to form into a work of art. The only way to start is by chipping away what you don't need. It's not easy and it's often messy, but in the end you can have something to be proud of.

My latest urban fantasy novel took me about a month to write the first draft. I have been editing it for about five months. There are eight drafts, each one has been read and worked on a minimum of three times. I have printed it out about three times and read it on my tablet twice. There are days where I'm so sick of reading it that I want to burn it. I keep leaving offerings for the editing elves to finish it off, but they haven't come yet.

Critique partners and beta readers are a huge part of the process. They give you a fresh perspective on your work because after you've read it twenty times there's no way to objectively look at it. They often see things that you overlooked. What I love is the different reactions they have as well.

I have a love-hate relationship with editing. I love working on the story to make it shine. During editing is where you can fill in the finer details and bring out the aspects of your characters to make them come alive.

It's also a long, drawn out stage that feels never ending. I get frustrated because sometimes it seems like I'm not getting anywhere. When I'm writing, there's progress that I can see. During editing, you're analyzing everything to death. It takes many passes to get a novel to where it needs to be because with each pass you're often looking at different things. One pass could be character arcs, another world building, another sub-plots.

There are times when you think you are done. Maybe you start querying the manuscript, maybe you've passed it onto someone else to read. Then you realize your not done, there's more work to do. Back to the editing cave you go.

No work is ever perfect. It can be hard to know when it's time to stop editing. There comes a time where a writer is just changing things for the sake of changing things. This is when it's time to pass it on to someone else (a beta reader or critique partner) or send it into the world, whether querying, to your agent/editor, or publish.

I'm feeling good about my latest round of edits. My urban fantasy manuscript is almost ready to fly.