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Well. I did not quite mean to take a six-month hiatus but school, NaNo, and more school combined kicked my blog off the back of the stove entirely. But, thanks to Nancy tagging me, I am BACK. What did I get tagged with? Talking about my writing process. Follow the link back to see what Nancy has on her brain at the moment. ‘Tis awesome, I promise.

What am I working on?

Ha. Haha. Currently, the light and love of my authorial life, the Skjulested trilogy, is on hiatus. When I came back to edit the first draft in January, I could not find the enthusiasm that sparked the trilogy back in 2010. Instead of trying to force myself to write/produce inferior work, I’m taking the chance to let some new plot bunnies grow and develop as I procrastinate on Latin take the time to read new material.

At the top of my brain are currently 4 character/plot bits who can’t decide how to slot together. There is a hapless library worker who finds himself stuck with a very annoying ghost-child; the tattoo artist who imbues her work with luck spells; a girl shoving her car off a cliff as she runs away (possibly onto an annoyed merman); and a granny mermaid.

How does my work differ from others in my genre?

Above all else, I write character. I prefer a protagonist who doesn’t fit the traditional “hero” mold for one reason or another and enjoy putting them in situations where they have to be a hero/leader/not themselves.

Why do I write what I do?

I cannot not write. I have ideas in my head and I’m very much of the “write the stories you want to read” persuasion. In my case, I want lots of magic smashed into the real world with plenty of mythology on the side and seeing how characters react and grow when shoved into a new role. Neil Gaiman, Melissa Marr, Naomi Novik, and Jessica Grey are all authors whose work I enjoy and look to for how to improve.

How does my writing process work?

1. Get a particularly persistent plot bunny.

2. Shove schoolwork to one side, write out scenes and tidbits to familiarize myself with the characters. A plot usually shows up at some point.

2a. Nag friends via text message and Twitter about character/plot elements/worldbuilding.

3. Write a NaNo draft during NaNoWriMo or Camp NaNo

4. Rewrite the NaNo draft into a first draft

5. Send off the draft to be lovingly shredded by beta-readers

6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 until I can think of nothing else to do

7. Publish!

(To be fair, I have yet to publish anything. My writing process is, itself, a work in progress.)

Tag, you’re it…:

Jill Marcotte

Tia Kalla

L.M. Murphy

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In the course of my work, I get to hear a lot of “Back in my day…” speeches. It’s not a bad thing, far from it. Most of the time it’s an idle comment attached to how the patron is a) not comfortable with all the fancy new technology that surrounds us, b) or amazed at what technology can do now, or c) convinced that technology is rotting our brains. I nod and agree with a smile but inwardly, I’m itching to sit down and discuss the subject further because I find it fascinating to look back into the  past and current day to see how different generations react to different things. (Technology, education, and the job market/economy are my favorites to compare.)

This applies to writing, in its own, odd way: Despite the advent of social media, the stereotype of a writer being a solitary person who crafts his or her work by his or her lonesome lingers. It’s been dispersed some with authors readily blogging about their writing process and sharing how the publishing industry works but it still lingers. However, I have a suspicion that within a generation or two, the stereotype will be well and truly finished.

I’m part of Generation Y AKA the Millennials. I grew up with a computer and Internet (Who else remembers using Netscape?) and adapt to new technology with ease. For me, technology is one of the biggest writing tools at my disposal.

Looking for research on this Viking weapon or that bike messenger fatality statistic? Let me dust off my Google-fu.

Do I need to sit and write? I get Twitter friends to yell at me and I write more when participating in word sprints where I write for a set amount of time and then share my word count and last sentence written.

Banging my head against the keyboard to try and make my characters cooperate? I shoot off texts or instant messages to three or four friends to see what they think and weigh their responses in the back of my mind.

I feel that last one is especially telling— Whenever I have a problem, my first reaction is to crowdsource or seek out others to help devise a solution. Between the increasing interconnectedness of the world and that tendency to reach out to others for help I think the image of the solitary writer, pounding away at his keyboard, will morph into something a little less isolated.

Last week, I was chatting with a friend and I mentioned that I was participating in Camp NaNoWriMo. I explained how I was taking the month to explore different story ideas and she asked where I find my ideas. It’s something every writer is asked and everyone has a different answer. Some writers are bursting at the mental seams while others have great droughts of inspiration. I’m somewhere in the middle. I can think of several story ideas in the course of the week but only if I’m actively working at it and not every idea is worth expanding into a full grown plot bunny. 

As far as where my ideas come from, it’s a combination of the media I’m consuming, observing people/places, and playing What-If while at work, relaxing with friends, or just letting my brain spin its wheels as I try to fall asleep. Real-life events occasionally inspire bunnies of their own and very rarely I get story ideas from dreams.

It’s a peculiar mindset that takes me a while to get into but when it happens, stories crop up on a semi-regular basis. The latest maybe-bunny came while I was helping a gentleman check out several issues of a hunting magazine, a gun bible, pregnancy books, and knitting patterns. He was probably picking up some materials for his wife/significant other but I played What-If. What if all the materials were for himself? What kind of man would read hunting magazines, be reading up on pregnancy, and checking out knitting patterns? It’s an interesting thought but not one I’m interested in exploring right now — I’m writing historical fiction this week, which means research and I’m still scrambling to figure out my new main character, Guinevere Hazel Thompson.

What about you? Where do your story ideas come from?

Last Thursday, I was lucid — I mean, lucky — enough to attend a presentation about self publishing with authors Nancy Kelley and Andy Bunch. They went over the process of self publishing and the various aspects an author has to consider such as cover design, print-on-demand services, and marketing. Throughout the talk, they discussed their own personal approaches: Andy prefers to do his sales in-person while Nancy sells most of her books online.

One  point that was reiterated in all aspects of the presentation was that a writer pays for self-publishing whether in time and energy or monetarily. One prominent example was cover design: An author can choose to photoshop her own book cover or pay a cover designer to do it. Despite having taken a photoshop class I have the feeling that I’ll be on the hunt for a cover designer when the times comes.

I took notes and had a lot to think about afterwards. I have a long way to go before publishing but it’s never too early to start planning. I added several self-publishing books to my GoodReads shelves and have started a planning document where I can put all my self-publishing ideas/notes.

As May rolls into June, I find myself with two out of three sets of beta notes. After my initial reaction of “Oh gods, I’m not ready, please don’t make me do this,” I cautiously opened the emails and poked through the notes they had given me. I was pleasantly surprised and not-so-secretly relieved that both my betas had liked the story and found plenty wrong with it– in a good way.

They were extremely helpful in different areas and the feedback was constructive criticism at its best. I’ve already figured out how I can restructure events in my novel, compressing events I had spread out over three years in-story into one action-packed beginning. (It was very much a “Oh. How did I not think of this before?” moment.) I also can go through and edit  several bad habits in my grammar that I was completely unaware of– The benefits of outside eyes!

In the meantime I’ve been going through and making my own superficial edits. This first draft was filled with horrible tense switches and far too much passive voice to my horror. The margins are filled with rewritten sentences and notes to myself along the lines of “Is this in-character/what I want the reader to pick up? Drop in more character/plotty bits here. Use this description way too much.” Here’s the first page of chapter three, hacked apart:

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Slowly but surely, my editing process marches on . . . and I’m loving every step of the way!

When I moved into my apartment last month, I knew furniture and boxes would be shifted around as I settled down and started to make the place a home. This has been especially true in my kitchen– I have a limited amount of counter space and several appliances. One of my most prized possessions is a bright red Kitchen Aid standing mixer that I received several years ago. 

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When I first moved in I didn’t have a microwave and my mixer was tucked against the wall of my island counter/dining table. Once I got a microwave however, things got interesting. How to keep everything close to hand without eating up counter space? First I tried placing it behind the microwave, facing out into my living room. No dice, it was too far from the fridge and oven. (Naturally I discovered this the first time I tried to bake.)

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Then I tried keeping it tucked against the wall with the microwave to the right. Nope! Way too cramped for mixing/baking ease. Ugh, I thought, where could I keep this? I had cookies to bake and a book to finish!

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As I hefted my mixer to the opposite side of my microwave, I had a moment of clarity: Moving my mixer around, getting settled into my apartment, was like editing. Both have absolute, can’t live without things surrounded by less vital items that still add to the whole. My apartment with it’s boxes and “Don’t know where this lives yet” piles and clutter is a real world example of my novel’s first draft. I’m expecting to receive my first set of notes from one of my beta readers this week and I can’t wait to see what he thinks could be moved around, tossed, or reworked. I’ve started my own edits, mostly comprised of scratching out and rewriting chunks of texts and taking notes about character traits I want to emphasize and plot points I need to drop earlier or remove but it’s going to take an outsider’s eye to see what my novel really needs. (Note to self: Get someone else to take a look at my apartment too…

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At the beginning of this month I sent the first draft of Matters of Magic off to my beta-readers. While this draft was infinitely better than the NaNo draft I still felt like I needed to apologize. I can recall one memorable Thursday at work, fretting about how my writing was normally so much better, more polished, more put together, oh my gods, my beta readers are going to hate it! Thankfully, Nancy was able to listen to my writing woes and talk me down off of the ledge. It went something like this:

“…and they’re going to think my book sucks, Nancy!”
“Of course it sucks, Liz. The first round of edits is going to deal with your story, not pacing or grammar issues or anything else. You need to have your story hammered out first before you can worry about anything else.”
“But– But– But–”
“No buts.”

She went on to explain that most of the editing I had learned in school previously was really copy-editing, focused on the nit-picky points of grammar and spelling and neatly stopped my worries in their tracks. I have written a lot. Editing? Not so much. At most I had gone over my own work for grammar and spelling, and internal consistency and never for something as large as a novel. So I finished my draft and sent it off to my beta-readers with a note of apology (it may have been a month late), a list of my concerns, and signed off with “happy shredding!”

I haven’t gotten their notes back and have found myself in an odd sort of limbo. What if they don’t like it? It’s one thing for me to like it, I have these characters in my head for three years but I want other people to like it. Should I go back and fix all the present/past tense errors I know I missed? Should I go back and rewrite that sorry excuse of a prologue? Should I have a prologue at all? Worry, worry, worry…I’m quite good at worrying.

Then I received a direct message from one of my betas on Twitter that stopped the worries dead in their tracks:

“Just finished my first read-through of Matters of Magic. I LOVE it!”

I’m pretty sure I floated through the rest of my day, grinning like an idiot. I know I have several months of work ahead of me but it’s going to be worth it. Someone else loves my story.

When asked to give advice to young/aspiring/novice writers, professional writers will almost give the same advice: Sit your butt down in the chair and write, everyday. My particular favorite rendition of this comes from the fantastic Neil Gaiman: 

“All writers have this vague hope that the elves will come in the night and finish any stories.” 

I can’t track down the rest of that quote but he continues to say that no, really, they don’t come and finish your book for you, you have to finish it. While I agree with Mr. Gaiman and the rest of the famous writers, I think that what young/aspiring/novice writers need first is passion.  No one who wrote anything, ever, woke up and thought “Gee, I’ll write a novel/short story/play/memoir today, just ‘cause.” You’re assigning yourself homework, another commitment that eats up your free time and energy and who does that?  

My current project can trace its roots back to June 2010, back to when I was thought it would be single novel. “I’ll write it for this year’s NaNoWriMo and get it done!” I thought. “Maybe I’ll publish it, maybe I won’t.” Silly me. Here I am, three years later and one novel has become three, with two potential prequels and side characters demanding their own books. My passion for the characters and their stories is what has kept me writing through my first two years of college, three moves, and my first official job. 

When you’re passionate about something, you make time for it and it’s that passion combined with discipline that makes you get up an hour before they have to get ready for work or tap out a few hundred words on your phone while riding the bus. It’s what keeps you going when your writing group critiques chapter five till it bleeds red ink. It’s what keeps you writing.

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