Loisanne's Blog

The meandering path of my life

Writing Rant: The Lost Works of…

 

Have you ever lost some of your writing? Something you were working on…in a computer file, a notebook, a scrap of paper…and suddenly it was gone? Forever? If you’ve been writing for while, I’m sure your answer is an aggravated “YES”.

Don’t you just hate that? All that work…gone.

Well, as you might have already guessed, that happened to me a week or so ago. It was a notebook. The notebook I was taking with me to work every day and spending my lunch hour writing in. And let me tell you, things were going good. I was writing some awesome outline, figuring out plot points, character development, working my way to the brilliant ending, when it happened. I lost it. No, I have no idea where I left it. To tell the truth, I guess it could possibly be somewhere here in the house still. I haven’t checked under the bed or couches. It’s not a likely spot though.

Anyway, I was kinda bummed out…for a few minutes. Yep, surprised me too. I thought I would have been much more upset. I’m not though. I just got one of my other notebooks and started over. Oh, it’s not as detailed in places as the first one was, but the general idea is the same. Actually though, some ideas have been altered slightly. I find I like the alterations better than the original. It just helps to validate my belief that everything happens for a reason. Maybe losing that notebook was a good thing…?

So, with the way this has turned out, it makes me wonder…what sort of things might I come up with if I had to write other parts of the outline over? Hmmm. Maybe it’s a good thing to go back and re-write things without looking at your notes. Who knows what your subconcious might come up with at a different time?

I could compare it to hacking a trail through the jungle, looking for a destination. Your path might twist and turn all the way, and while you finally reach your destination, if you travelled that path again, you might find a better way to get there now that you know where you’re going.

Another analogy might be…watching a movie. Some movies, take Sixth Sense for example, are wonderful to watch the first time. But when you see it the second time, or third, you see things you didn’t see the first time. The complexity and meaning grows and astounds you.

I think losing my notebook was a blessing for me. It not only forced to me “try again”, it made me realize that maybe just because I come up with an idea to move my story forward, it doesn’t mean that has to be the way it happens. It’s just the idea that I came up with at that time. Maybe my subconcious will come up with a better idea later. I have to give it the chance though. That’s where going back over old (front of the book) material could benefit the story.

I’m really excited to have discovered this concept. I hope I remember it and put it to good use…without having to lose anything else…LOL.

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April 4, 2010 Posted by | Weekly Rant, Writing | , , | Leave a comment

Weekly Writing Rant: Finding Time To Write

These days it seems like everyone has such busy schedules. Between work, kids, social activities and keeping things up at home, it’s hard for a person to find time to write. I mean, come on, until you’re a multi-published author, selling books worldwide, you’re probably not going to be able to afford to quit your day job. There are other obstacles that get in the way of writing as well. Lack of peace and quiet, motivation and procrastination factor in when it comes to creating that perfect piece of work.

So, what to do?

Well, there are many aspects to writing. I’ve broken them down into: Reasearching, Brainstorming, Outlining and Writing. Each one of these aspects take a different approach. It’s a good thing. You can almost always find time to fit at least one of these into your busy schedule.

Researching: If you’re like me, you use the internet to do most of your research. With three people and one computer, it can be difficult to spend much time researching. I’m lucky that what I write doesn’t require research so much as imagination. Still, I must do it from time to time. I usually multi-task while I’m checking email and Facebook. If you have children, you could intice them to help you look up research topics and send you the links. Most children have library cards. Get them to help out by checking out books for you. Character development is a form of research. I have a character questionnaire in a previous post that is helpful.

Brainstorming: This one doesn’t take up too much time. But if you’re like me, you need some peace and quiet to do it. All this takes is thinking about your project. I can’t tell you how many lunch hours I spent alone, sitting sideways in a booth with my back against the wall, eyes shut, thinking about my story. Many times I’ve pondered plot ideas and asked myself questions. Stories are like logic puzzles. They require a lot of thought. You can think anywhere though. Sometimes I think while I’m driving to work. Sometimes it’s when I lay down at night. I even think about my story while I’m working…but don’t tell my boss. No matter where I am though, I have my notebook with me. After all, what’s the sense of thinking about your story if you don’t have a notebook to record your epiphanies?

Outlining: This step is a MUST for me. I know some people don’t write outlines, preferring to write where their fancy takes them. I can’t do that. I need a map to tell me where my story is going and how it will end (for more information, check out a previous post on writing an outline) If you’re like me and need to have an outline, this can be one of the easiest things to fit into a busy schedule, especially if you use the mind-mapping technique. All you need is a pen and paper. Whether you’re outlining your whole story or just a chapter, it can easily be done in stages. Most of my story outline was written while I was at work, during breaks or lunch hours. I’ve even written while waiting on my son at basketball practice. Sometimes it’s only a few lines, but it’s a few lines more than I had before.

Writing: This can be the most challenging step. I know for me, I have to be able to fully immerse myself in my story and shut away the outside world. It can be difficult at times. And even when all the conditions are right, the motivation might not be there. For this stage, I have to shut myself away and tell the kids not to bother me (and not kill each other) while my door is shut. I usually put a time limit on it. It’s usually a half hour, sometimes an hour. I can generally count on my kids maintaining some semblance of peace and quiet for a 30 minute session. An hour is usually pushing it. I have to give them a time limit. Just saying “a while” or “some time” doesn’t work for my youngest son. He needs to know how long so he can tell when the time is up. I don’t use one, but a kitchen timer might work for you. You can set it and forget it. You won’t have to think about how long you’ve got, the timer will do it for you.

When it comes to time, the above ideas can be great helpers. But when you find that time, what if the motivation isn’t there? What if you’re muse has abandoned you?

Our sub-concious is our best tool. It’s where our creativity comes from. Sometimes when I write, I feel like the words and ideas are whispered to me by my sub-concious and I merely write them down. I think of the sub-conious as a big pot. All of what we see, hear, feel, taste, smell, think…all of it goes in that pot. It gets mixed up and combined in ways that make us who we are…and gives us our inspiration, our thoughts. I believe if you pose your sub-concious questions, ask it for advice, it will mix up a concoction to perfectly fit your needs. So, when you feel like your muse has abandoned you, talk to it. Tell it the problems you’re having with your story. Ask it for it’s help. Then wait. Work on something else. Be patient. Have faith. Your subconcious will come to your rescue.

These are all ideas that may or may not help you when it comes to finding time to work on your story. If you’re a procrastinator though, chances are “time” is not the real factor to you not writing. I’m not talking about the occasional putting off of some task. I’m talking about deliberately avoiding something. The real psychological disorder of “Procrastinating“. While researching this article, I found out that I, myself, have this disorder. Not when it comes to writing, but pertaining to another aspect of my personal life. It was an eye-opener for me. I truly believe that the first step to fixing a problem is knowing what the problem is. If you procrastinate with your writing, search inside yourself to find the underlying reasons why you do it and bring them into the light. I think most people’s reason why they procrastinate when it comes to writing is fear. Fear of not being good enough. Fear of rejection. Even fear of success. I hope that this will help someone discover their fear and overcome it.
This article has been a difficult one for me to write. Because of my own busy schedule, the holiday season and the subject matter, it’s taken me two weeks to finish this. It has been one of the most personally enlightening articles I’ve ever written though. Once again, I have to say, even if no one else ever reads these articles or gets any helpful ideas from them at all, they are still worth it because they have helped me. I have learned so much from researching these articles. This blog has been one of the most enriching things I’ve added to my life this last year. I can’t wait to see what this next year will bring.

January 3, 2010 Posted by | Weekly Rant | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Writing Rant : Rejection

Have you ever had your writing critiqued and received some “not so nice” comments? Maybe you’ve submitted something to an agent only to have them turn it down. No matter the importance or the seriousness of the work involved, rejection hurts.

Rejection is also a major part of a writer’s life. No matter how well you write, there are always going to be people who don’t like it. That’s a fact of life. We’re all different and have different likes and dislikes. Trust me, it’s a good thing.

As readers we all have our favorite genres that we gravitate to. That doesn’t mean other genres aren’t any good, we just have our preferences. In a way, we are rejecting the works of genres we don’t read. So you have to realize from the beginning that not everyone will like what you write. Nothing personal. It’s just a Universal Truth.

Knowing that “writer’s rejection” is nothing personal doesn’t make it hurt any less though. To us, it IS personal. It’s understandable to feel that way. As writers, we get our stories, our inspiration, our voice, from inside us. It doesn’t get much more personal than that. We pour our souls into our writing, finding the perfect words, creating the perfect characters, describing the perfect scenes and action only to hear that no one else thinks they are “perfect”. We feel like we’ve done our best only to find out that our best isn’t good enough. We get crushed. We wonder what ever made us feel like we could write. We’re not sure if we should continue.

Sound about right?

It’s human nature to feel that way about rejection. So, how do we deal with it? The first thing is to realize that’s it’s normal to feel upset. I don’t think we ever get completely desensitized to the pain of rejection. I do believe it gets easier the further along the writing path you go. Sounds crazy, but I have to compare it to my “day job” of cake decorating. As a new decorator, I felt awful when someone wasn’t happy with their cake. I took it personal. I’ve been decorating many years now and I have a lot more confidence in my work. I know I’m good. I’m not perfect, but I’m damn good. That’s why it doesn’t bother me when some old man walks by and sneers at something I made saying, “I don’t know why someone would buy that gaudy colored cake”. I don’t care that he doesn’t like it. There’s someone out there that will think it’s the most beautiful cake they ever saw. Trust me, it’s happened.

Cake decorating is an art. Writing is an art. You can’t please everyone with it so…

You have to please yourself. That’s who you’re writing for anyway, right?

So how do we get past being upset and continue on? Try stepping back and taking a look at the bigger picture. Does it really matter what this person thinks? If it’s a friend, classmate, coworker…chances are no, it doesn’t REALLY matter. If it’s a professional opinion of a teacher, agent, editor…then yes, it probably does matter. To a point. After the pain has subsided a little, maybe in a day or two, go back and see if they had any valid points that could actually help your work. Use it as a learning experience.

A year ago I joined a local writing group. The first piece of my story that I submitted met with mixed reviews. Some people didn’t like my main characters. I based those two characters on my own children. They thought my boys were awful. On the other hand, there were members who loved them and could identify with them as they had children of their own and my characters seemed very real to them. All this from one small group of people. I loved my characters, so I trashed the opinions of the ones that didn’t like them and kept the praise of the ones who did.

There was only one critique that I got that lacked any constructive criticism and that one bothered me the most. Probably because of the very fact that it lacked anything constructive. It was a comment stating that they didn’t know if a publisher would be interested in what I wrote. I didn’t see the point of that comment. This person was not a publisher and had not had any of their own work published, so I wondered where this opinion came from.

This brings me to discuss the subject of how to ease the sting of rejection when it comes to critiquing others’ work. We want to give an honest interpretation of how we see their work without hurting their feelings. Sometimes I think that’s like trying to mix oil and water. There is no easy way to point out flaws without hurting someone’s feelings or even making them mad.

Case in point, same writing group. Some members of the group received especially critical critiques from one member, causing hurt feelings and anger. There became a rift between certain members. It ended with the upset members quitting the group.

No one (hopefully) wants to be responsible for making another human being feel that way. So, we need to be careful about how we critique others’ work. Find at least one thing about the piece that you can say something positive about. Don’t say you didn’t like it…even if you didn’t. If you have grammatical issues with it, point them out AND correct them. Most likely, the person needs the advice. The same goes for comments about all errors. If you see a problem, make a suggestion about how to fix it. Don’t make negative comments that have no constructive advice to them. That’s not helpful, that’s hurtful. Writers, especially new ones, have fragile egos and need to nurtured, not neutered.

We, as writers, also need to realize that no matter what other people say, we can’t give up our writing. We can’t let others take away our passion. We have to grow a callous. We can’t give up. One of my most favorite quotes is:

For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest of these, ‘It might have been’.” by John Greenleaf Whittier.

We all want to share our work with others. We all want it to be accepted and praised. We want it to bring out emotions, to make people think, to change the world. We want it to matter. It can. It’s possible. But only if we don’t give up, no matter what anyone says.

December 14, 2009 Posted by | Weekly Rant | 4 Comments

Writing Rant: Spread Your Wings

Today I’m going to talk about trying new things. Since I started taking my writing more seriously and began learning more about the craft, I’ve discovered that different things work for different people. There is much diversity in how and what we write. Some people write better in the morning, some at night. Some people prefer to write fantasy, full of creatures and magic, while others like to take you back in history with their beautiful prose.

It’s all good.

What I want to focus on today though, is the medium you use to get your ideas to the public. I am currently working on a young adult novel. Almost every writer I know writes books. I have met a couple that write magazine/newspaper articles and a couple that write screenplays. Why do we choose the medium we work with?

I chose to write a book because I like to read. I would imagine personal preference plays the biggest role in how we choose our medium. What if another medium better suits a persons talent though? How would you know if you didn’t spread your creative wings and give something else a try?

I recently came across an article that piqued my interest in screenplays. I decided to look up “how to write a screenplay” and found some wonderful information on that process. I also found out that writing a screenplay consists mostly of dialogue. I love writing dialogue. I decided that I needed to try that out some day and see if I liked using that medium. It was a very exciting discovery.

I wonder what other things I will discover about my writing? Maybe I’ll write a magazine article. Maybe I’ll submit a story to the newspaper. Maybe I’ll even write a speech for someone. Every medium has it’s own format and caters to different individual talents. The point is, we need to be willing to try different, new things in order to find talents that may be hidden inside us. We need to be open to all the possible pathways our writing can take us.

Don’t ask “why?”, ask “why not?”. What have you got to lose?

December 7, 2009 Posted by | Weekly Rant, Writing | Leave a comment

Weekly Rant – The Importance of an Outline

Sorry I’m late with this weeks rant, but it snuck up on me and before I knew it, it was Monday again and I hadn’t even thought about a subject.

So, since I’ve recently finished the outline to my own story (book 1), and it gave me such a wonderful sense of completing something, I decided that “outlines” would be a good topic.

How important is a story outline?

It all depends on who you ask. Personally, I think a story outline is very important. It’s something I definitely need in order to write. It’s like a road map to me. I have to know where I’m going if I’m ever going to get to my destination, which is the end of my book.

I know several people who say they can’t write an outline, they just write where their imagination takes them. If that works for them, or you, that’s great. I’m not like that though. I have to have some sort of structure, some framework, that tells me where I’m going and what to write next. I also like to know what I’m writing towards, my goal, my ending.

I did not start writing an outline at first. I just started with an idea and started writing. My muse must have liked my idea because it joined in and started adding more ideas. My story was growing in complexity and detail. I needed some way of keeping it all straight and figuring out how it was all going to fit together.

I needed an outline.

Not knowing anything about the format for writing an outline, I started writing a vague description of what my story was about. I didn’t break it down by chapters. I just wrote scenes. I took my notebook with me everywhere. Whenever an idea came to me, I wrote it down somewhere in that notebook. My greatest inspiration usually came to me when I was at lunch. I had a whole hour to sit and think and ponder the possibilities.

Now that I’ve finished my outline, I’m in the process of typing it into the computer, where I will add in more detail and find a place for all those notes in the margins. Now would be a great time to have a little more structure, a better format.

I decided to look around online and see if I could find out some information on writing an outline. I found a plethora of links and spent a lot of time sifting through them, weeding out the useless ones with a sigh of disgust. Honestly, I think most of the people out there trying to tell you how to write an outline have just copied and pasted something out of an encyclopedia. I wasn’t looking for technical advice so much as personal advice.

I did find a couple of places that “spoke” to me. I came across an online magazine called “suite101.com”. People write and submit articles on every subject imaginable, but my interest was in the writing and publishing section. It was amazing. I read a few articles on writing an outline and saved the link for future reference.

Another article I found (I can’t remember where) talked about “mind mapping”. I was curious so did a search on it and found a whole different way of making an outline. It intrigued me. The concept was to start with writing your main idea in the middle of your page and like spokes on a wheel, writing your chapter ideas around it. It was a minimalist way of doing it, using single words or short phrases to convey ideas. It reminded me of a sort of “family tree”. I liked the idea so much that I found a free version of the mind mapping software from “freemind”. I downloaded it. I haven’t had the opportunity to use the application yet, so I can’t tell you much about it, but I’m excited to try it out.

I know everyone is different and we all have different ways of writing and creating. I hope the information in here has been useful to you. I know it has been to me. I started writing these “rants” in order to share any information I may have that might help someone in their own writing, but it has really helped me out too. It has motivated me to research ideas and learn more about writing than I did before. So, if the only person this blog helps is me…it’s worth it. If it helps out someone else, that’s just icing on the cake.

December 1, 2009 Posted by | Weekly Rant, Writing | 1 Comment

Weekly Rant – Character Questionnaire

Have you ever had a hard time making a character real? Maybe you’re having difficulty in creating depth to characters? I know the feeling. In the story I’m currently writing, I use my children as the main characters. Ok, they are not exact copies of mychildren, but I use a lot of their characteristics. It’s pretty much a no-brainer. When it came to the villian though, I was having a hard time defining him. I did not want him to be evil incarnate. I wanted him to seem likeable at first glance and only when being opposed and under stress would he show his unstable, evil qualities. I was really having a hard time getting to know him.

It was time to start asking him some questions.

From what little I knew about my character, I had a good idea of what I wanted him to look like. Matthew McConaughey. I wanted him to be beautiful and charming on the outside. I needed to know more about the inside though.

So, what questions to ask?

The writing group I’m a part of had a discussion about it and we all came up with some ideas. I will list them below. I think we did a good job of it but I’m sure there are lots of questions we missed. This is a good start though.

1. What is your favorite color?
2. What sort of music do you listen to? Favorite song?
3. Are you religious? What religion?
4. What are your political views, if any?
5. What is your favorite food?
6. What is your favorite beverage?
7. What is your favorite dessert?
8. Do you have any phobias/fears?
9. Do you have any siblings?
10. Are your parents alive?
11. Were you raised by your parents? Both, just one, niether?
12. What is your most embarassing moment?
13. What is your favorite childhood memory?
14. Do you have a pet? What kind?
15. Do you have a best friend?
16. Gay, straight, bi, celibate?
17. What sort of education do you have?
18. What sort of work do you do? Past jobs?
19. Are you social or do you prefer to be alone?
20. Are you quick -tempered or calm natured?
21. Are you confidant or insecure?
22. Do you have any bad habits?
23. Do you have any physical flaws?
24. What are your life goals?
25. Do you have any hobbies?
26. Do you have any pet-peeves?
27. Do you frequently remember your dreams? Are they good or bad?
28. What is your astrilogical sign?
29. What is one thing you would give your life for?
30. Have you ever been in love?
31. Do you have any children?
32. What is your greatest weakness? Strength?
33. Have you ever done something you regret? Explain.
34. Have you ever hurt someone just for fun?
35. Do you have a sense of humor?
36. Do you follow fashion trends?
37. Have you ever killed someone? Explain.
38. Would you define yourself and a hero or villian? (remember this is your characters definition of himself)
39. What is one thing that you’ve always wanted to do?
40. Do you believe in destiny?

I think these questions cover the basics. Of course, not every character will need to answer every question and some characters will require you to come up with new, off the wall questions.

I have not put my main characters through this questionnaire since I know them so well, but even so, while composing this list, it reminded me that my youngest son loves coffee. He drinks it every morning. He drinks it hot, cold or in a frozen smoothie. He’s crazy about coffee. He’s 11. It’s a bit unusual for someone so young to like coffee so much. At least, I think so. Point is, it’s something about him that I am going to use in my story. It’s something that will define him better…set him aside from the other characters.

It makes me wonder if there is anything I’ve missed about my other son. I may have to run them both through the list and see what I come up with. Fortunately for me, they are real people and I can have them answer instead of myself doing it for them.

That gives me an interesting thought. What about asking people I know to fill out this questionnaire? Some of the answers I get could be things I would never think of. It might be so intriguing that I would want to create a character after them. What an awesome idea! I think I’ll do that.

Anyway, I hope this helps someone in some way. I just thought the idea of a character questionnaire was such a good idea that I wanted to share it with the world. I’ve learned so much from others that I want to give something back.

November 23, 2009 Posted by | Weekly Rant | 1 Comment

Weekly Rant – Those Wretched Rules of Writing

FreeCat 

Rules of writing.

 

Just the thought of that phrase scares me. I don’t know about you, but English wasn’t one of my favorite classes in school. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the literature part, but all the rules of writing made my head spin. I didn’t want to know all that. I just wanted to read. I wanted to get so lost in the pages of a good book that I wasn’t even aware of reading the words, much less whether all the rules of writing were followed.

 

Those very same writing rules are what makes a good story so good though. Yeah, you have to start with a good story, but if you have to work at reading it, if everything didn’t fit and flow, it wouldn’t be as much fun. Taking a leisurely walk down a forest trail wouldn’t be as enjoyable if you kept tripping over tree roots and branches.

 

So, what to do?

 

If you’re expecting this post to give a brief, concise synopsis of writing rules, I’m afraid you’re mistaken. If I knew them, I wouldn’t be concerned about them and therefore the need for this post would be non-existent. What I am going to talk about is my own concerns and fears about my lack of writing education and what I could possibly do to remedy my ignorance.

 

 

Am I Good Enough?

 

I ask myself that question a lot. Not, am I smart enough…I’m not stupid. Not, can I come up with a killer story…I’ve got an imagination that kicks ass. I just wonder sometimes if I know enough about the rules of writing to make my killer story a good read. Will I be able to make readers lose themselves in the adventure of my tale?

 

I have no formal education in the writing process. I read a lot, but I must confess, I am too busy bringing the story to life in my head to pay attention to sentence structure and punctuation.

 

Will I even be able to spot my errors? I’ve read over some of my work and found several errors that I’d previously missed. How many of them still remain though? You have to know what you’re looking for to find it. That’s what worries me most. I’m afraid that when I finally get my manuscript finished and start the editing/re-writing process, I won’t be able to see everything that needs fixing.

 

That’s what editors are for, right?

 

I’ve had people tell me that. I’ve also had people tell me that you can’t be a writer if you don’t know the rules of writing. No one is perfect though. Editors have that job for a reason, every manuscript needs editing. If we were perfect writers, they’d be out of a job. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try and write the best I can though. I wouldn’t want my story to be rejected simply because of my lack of writing skills.

 

So, once again, what to do?

For starters, I joined a writing group. I found mine on Meetup. In my area, there are 4 or 5 writing groups you can join. I am a member of 3 but I usually only have time for meetings with one group. All 3 are full of very nice people who are supportive and helpful. If you can find a writing group that meets in person in your area, I suggest you give it a try. There are also tons of writing groups online. Find one that fits. There are plenty to choose from. I belong to one on AOL that has meetings several times a week.

 

If you can’t find any groups you feel comfortable with, you might try contacting an English teacher at a local High School or College. If they aren’t able to help you, chances are, they will be able to direct you to someone who can, like a college student majoring in writing.

 

If all else fails, there’s always the library. There are lots of books on writing. I have several myself, although as of yet, none of them that focus on grammar (as you can probably tell from my writing). We’re all a “work in progress” though, right?

November 16, 2009 Posted by | Weekly Rant | | Leave a comment