Friday, December 9, 2011

Friday Obsessions: Soundtracking, TVD, TJ's Holiday Candy

My lovely critique partner, Leigh Ann, does a feature on her blog called Friday Obsessions. I always love to see what's caught her eye, so today I'm stealing her idea and letting you in on a few of the things I've been obsessed with this week!

1. Soundtracking
I soundtrack my writing. (I also collage pictures that *feel* like the story, I cast the characters, I find pictures of their clothes. I sometimes even play around on Google Earth and see where they live. Eh hem.)
Music, though, is the most important. When I'm stuck on a scene, finding a new soundtrack song can un-stick me. Recently, I've been listening to a whole lot of this one:
No Easy Way, by Digital Daggers


2. The Vampire Diaries
This is not exactly a new obsession, but some other writing friends and I have recently convinced Chessie to watch TVD. I think every YA writer should watch it. The writing is that good. The characters, the setup and payoff, the PACING! Those writers really have it down. 
And Andrew recently bought me Season 2 on DVD...I know what I'll be doing this weekend!
[via
3. Trader Joe's Holiday Yumminess
After Dinner Mint Thins so amazing that (though I probably shouldn't admit to this) I dropped the box on the floor yesterday and they all spilled...and I dusted them off and ate them anyway.
TJ's version of a Dark Chocolate Orange that you smack on the table to break apart before you eat the slices.
And especially, Trader Joe's Sipping Chocolate. I've never found anything like this anywhere else. It's hot chocolate...kind of. Hot chocolate in the European sense. More like a melted chocolate bar than like the warm chocolate milk we think of as hot chocolate. It's so rich you can only drink about an ounce of it at a time--maybe it's a good thing it's only available over the holidays. 

What have you been obsessed with this week? 

Friday, November 4, 2011

Literary Crushes...oh, hello Jack!

My awesome critique partner Leigh Ann has a guest vlog up today on my other awesome CP Gina's blog and it is...(you guessed it) awesome! Check out Leigh Ann's literary crushes here!

And I was excited to hear that the love interest in my very own book, The Elite, was one of her literary crushes...meet Jack!


Yet another awesome CP, Chessie, *drew* Jack, and can you tell I love him?? (His eyes! His dimple! His tight t-shirt!)

Turns out Jack is SO good-looking that my main character feels shy around him now. It's like...This guy? This guy likes...ME? Um. 

Mmmm, extra romantic tension. Thanks, Chessie!


Monday, October 24, 2011

Anti-Procrastination Live Blog





I am a procrastinator.


There, I said it. And as is the case for lots of writers, the internet is my arch-nemesis when it comes to procrastinating. And I want to do something about it.

I've been (procrastinating by) watching Stephanie Perkins and Beth Revis live-blog their goals the past few days, and it's hilarious and awesome, not least because I love seeing that Real Writers stare at their computers and take snack breaks and curse their lack of motivation as much as the rest of us.

And so I thought it would be fun and maybe informative to keep track of my day. How much time do I really waste when I'm trying to write? How boring and mundane is most of my day, really?

Background: I work from home, and I work for my husband. I am not a full-time writer by any means, but the combo of these two things means that some days I have more time on my hands than someone with a normal 9-5 job, and that if I can get my work for the day done fast, I have some free time. For this I am incredibly grateful and I know that I'm lucky, so I'm constantly trying to figure out how to focus and use my time better.

Today is a good day to try this, because I don't have a ton of work-work today (did a good deal over the weekend--one of the things that makes working from home a double-edged sword. You can find a lot of free time, but you're also *never* not-working like you would be in a 9-5. Hubby and I are often work-working on say, Sunday nights, or Saturday mornings, or all weekend. But then that means I have some time on Monday to write. It works out.) :)

So today, I have a small-ish amount of work-work, a few other things, and lots of writing to do. Let's see how much I procrastinate!

###

7 am - Up at a normal time. I'm a relative night owl, so am usually grumpy before 6:30 or 7. Breakfast, coffee, morning discussions with husband about how our smallest cat has apparently just discovered that the bathroom counter exists, because the past few days she's been pushing toothbrushes, tweezers, bobby pins, and whatever else we leave out onto the floor at 6 am and then batting them around until we get up. And about how Payton Manning must've played defense and special teams for the Colts too, because this is a monumental collapse.

7:30-11 am - Work-work, interspersed with giggling at Twitter comments from CPs who get up earlier than me, email to different CPs, little bit of blog-checking, and inappropriate Twitter convos with Leigh Ann Kopans.

11 am - Snack. Even though breakfast was not that long ago.

11:05 - Trying to write. Stare at MS for a minute. Decide to go for a run instead.

11:15 - Out the door.

11:16 - Remember how much I hate running. Do it anyway because it's a pretty day outside, but not for very long because I HATE RUNNING.

11:35 - Back home. It is warm enough out that I was wearing shorts, but still had on a baggy sweatshirt. Only realized once home that when the shorts hike up a little, it looks from the back like I'm running without pants. This explains the honking from truck full of construction workers.

11:45 - More inappropriate but hilarious Twitter with Leigh Ann, Gina, and Chessie, and realize I should actually publish this blog and update it through the day rather than just having it saved. Read some articles online instead, like this one about last lines, because my last line sucks.

noon - Good lord. I have wasted a lot of time already. Gotten nothing done the past hour besides a feeble attempt at running.

12:20 -  Finally post blog after trying for 10 min to figure out why trying to put a space between paragraphs put a zillion spaces between paragraphs. 

12:22 - Realize that in order to attempt to meet goals, should probably define goals. 
Goals: Get through page 120 on printed MS line-edits and type in the next few chapters before this evening. 

12:40 - Still staring at MS. Shower. Wander around house wondering if I should re-arrange the furniture. 

1:10 - Actually sit down with MS. MS is currently open to a kissing scene. This is dangerous. Am constantly tempted to just work on kissing scenes and not the rest of the MS. Self 1: But people like kissing scenes! Making this kissing scene hotter would totally make the book better. Self 2: If all you ever do is make the kissing scenes hotter, the rest of the book is going to suck and then no one will even get to the kissing scenes. Self 1: Sigh. (Adds a couple new lines anyway.)

2:30 - Have somehow managed to stay off internet, and am...11% finished with daily goal. Dammit. That is not very good. 
Hubby comes home for lunch and some more work-work stuff.

3:30 - Chessie's query! Other people's stuff is SO much more fun to think about than my own.

3:45 - Housesitting for the in-laws and they have a really, really old cat that we are afraid is going to die while they're gone. Checking on the cat. 

4 - Cat is not dead! In-laws usually feed him special wet food like, 8 times a day. We're sticking with 3, but this is the first time I've given him the wet food today, so I stay and pet him for a while to make up for it. 

4:30 - Must get away from the house. Still only 11% done with goal. Run a few more errands and end up at Barnes and Noble cafe, because I love writing surrounded by books. I miss the Borders cafe. 

4:45 - Should get straight to writing, but am worried about my first page and wondering if I can find another book that starts in the Normal World and gives good hints of coming conflict. Spend ten minutes browsing first pages in the YA section. #research

4:55 - "Hi." I glance over and a teenage boy with a backpack is standing next to me in the YA section. I give him a little smile and look around to see who he's talking to. Almost laugh out loud when I realize he's talking to me. He starts asking me about Twilight, because his sister has read them, and he wants to know what my favorites are, and he's trying really hard to flirt with me and it is OH SO CUTE and really very brave--good job, kiddo! Trying to be polite and trying not to laugh while subtley waving my wedding ring around before this gets REALLY awkward for everyone and he realizes that I am an old person. It doesn't work, and I finally just have to do the, "Okay, um, bye," thing, and leave, and he looks kind of put out, and I feel sort of bad.

5:10 - I am FINALLY sitting down and am about to write. Seriously. Just as soon as I look at Chessie's query again.

...and as soon as I look around some news sites a little. Go to MSN. Something huge and important might have happened in the past couple hours, and I would need to read about it. Must keep up with current events. 
HELLO people, yes Jessica Simpson has been obviously pregnant for some time now. If she had just happened to gain 15 pounds straight to her stomach, do you think she'd be wearing tight tops like this? No. Jeez. I wonder if Suri Cruise has anything to say about this...and she does! 

5:25 - I am going to edit two pages in the next ten minutes. Two pages. Easy enough. 

5:31 - There is a really pretty girl sitting across from me wearing the most awful shoes. Why?! It makes me sad, and distracted. 

5:36 - Crap.

6:15 - Have done one more page. NOT GOOD. The only thing that made me do that was that I keep staring out the window, and guy sitting in front of the window keeps smiling at me, and I realized that he thinks I'm staring at him. #notcool. Eyes on paper.

8 - Go home. 30% done. Am SO not meeting today's goal (though, to be fair, I think it was an overly ambitious goal). Looking at Chessie's query has inspired me to work on my query. Spend way too much time looking through Amazon listings at flap copy with phrases like, "a terrifying mystery," "the future of mankind may depend on," and "secret societies, ancient coverups, and savage vengeance." 

9:30 - Hubby home. Too late for dinner-I'm having wine for dinner.

10:30 - New version of query. At least I've gotten something done today, though who knows how it'll end up looking in the light of tomorrow morning.

Midnight - I'm tired. Still only about 40% done. Should set a more realistic goal tomorrow. :)

12:45 - I am now playing that game with myself where I pretend I can still do anything productive even though I'm really tired, and all I end up doing is looking at the internet. (ooh, look! 12-year-olds in Russia discover they were switched at birth!) The next day, I always wish I'd just gone to bed. So...I'm going to bed. Thanks for hanging out with me!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Plot Lessons are Everywhere



...like in the TV show Nikita
Have you ever heard the idea that you should first throw small rocks at your characters, then strand them up a tree, and throw bigger and bigger rocks at them? Not to advocate physical violence, but because a character who has it easy is a boring character? Well, this episode did that perfectly.
Nikita had to do something hard, then the writers made it worse. Then they made it way, way worse:
Nikita (the protagonist) and Michael (the other protag/sometime love interest) are on a mission to kill some terrorist dude who killed Michael’s family years ago. This is already going to be very, very difficult, and the whole episode probably could have been about this. 
But then, Division (who Nikita has escaped from and who wants her dead) figures out that Nikita is there, and sends someone to kill her. Complication!
While they are lying in wait for the terrorist dude they have to kill, Nikita goes off to shoot him, but Michael sees Division coming after Nikita. But! Nikita’s earpiece has fallen out so he can’t tell her! Complication! 
So he has to go stop them himself, even though he works for them! And while he’s down there, terrorist dude’s cronies shoot him like a hundred times, but he’s wearing a bulletproof vest, so they kidnap him! And now Nikita is going to have to go save him! Complications everywhere!
See what they do? Make it hard, then make it way worse. Sorry, characters. :(

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Epiphany


Lots of my ideas come to me in the middle of the night. I keep a notebook beside the bed just for occasions like this, and it’s always fun in the morning to see what I scribbled by the light of my cell phone at 3 am. Sometimes, the ideas are brilliant–the solution to a problem I’d been having comes to me in a flash as I try to fall asleep, or I wake up with an idea for a great new scene.
Sometimes, though, the idea seemed a lot better while I was half asleep, or worse, it’s nothing more than a bunch of words strung together that mean absolutely nothing. 
The other day, I had one that I’m not sure about. It’s either the stupidest thought I’ve ever had, or the most brilliant.
I woke up in the middle of the night sure that I’d solved any problem I’d ever had with my writing. My book was now going to be so much better. All I had to do?
Make the awesome parts of the book awesomer, and get rid of all the parts that aren’t awesome.
Right.
On one hand, um, DUH. But on the other hand, this is such good advice. That chapter where my MC is in the library looking at family history books–the chapter I never want to work on because I find it kind of boring? Stop working on it. Just get rid of it. It’s not awesome, and not getting that much awesomer. And if I combine the chapter with the pretty-awesome relationship-building with the pretty-awesome action in the next chapter? Way MORE awesome. 
So actually, I think that sleep-idea was brilliant after all. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Cheating

Yes, I've moved a few posts over from my old (woefully under-blogged-on) Wordpress blog so this one wouldn't look quite so bare. Yes, I'm cheating. :)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Writing is Funny


I swear, there is a point to this picture. Kind of.


The other day I cut my thumb while I was making dinner. It wasn’t anything serious, but I still probably should have put on a band-aid so I didn’t bleed all over our salad. Instead, the first thing I did was grab my notebook and make extensive notes about how the blood ran down my thumb, how it stung when I rinsed off the cut, how long it took to stop bleeding…
Writing is weird. 
I noticed this when I was starting to learn to paint, too. Suddenly, trees weren’t green. They were a million different colors. It makes you see the world just a little differently.
The whole world is like that when you’re a writer. The sound of the wind isn’t necessarily “howling,” like you automatically think. It’s a whisper one day, and it might be a scream the next. There are so many nuances that you just…hadn’t noticed before.
And besides this, doesn’t writing just make you do strange things? Like I realized that my last two Google searches were “Paris to Istanbul flight time” and “Paul Wesley shirtless.” (Research, people. Research. It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it.) 
And then there’s when I’m writing at Starbucks and the person at the table next to me gives me a funny look. I realize that I have my notebook open to a page entitled, “Possible ways to kill people.” In the context of my book, makes sense. In real life, not so much. 
Or sometimes I’ll find myself having conversations with my husband that start off like, “So, Jack needs to have his shirt off in this scene. What logical way can I get him to take his shirt off?” Or to do some research of my own, I have to put on a miniskirt and try to climb on some furniture to determine just how difficult Avery’s escape is going to be in this scene. 
Or my favorite: out at happy hour with some friends the other night, I realized that I had “hung out” with my characters far, far more than I had hung out with these real people recently. 
What weird writing things have you done recently?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Curing Writer's Block


Writer’s block sucks. But I think—I think!—it’s curable, with a little hard work. (And yes, it’s absolutely easier said than done.)
For me, the good news is that writer’s block seems to always have a cause, even if it’s hard to pinpoint at first. For me, it’s usually one of two things: either I’m just overwhelmed, or there is something seriously wrong with my story.
The latter can be especially bad if I don’t know exactly what is wrong, just that something is. This is what happened to me with a recent bad round of writer’s block. The story. Just. Wasn’t. Right. But I didn’t know why.
My solution this time around? Actually allow myself to see what was there. Finally, I realized that I kind of did know what was wrong—I just didn’t want to admit it, because it required a lot of changes [eh hem, less time spent trying to find excuses to have the boys be shirtless, more time solving the main story goal. Easy mistake to make]. Admitting it, though, was the first step. (No, there are not necessarily twelve steps here.) :) Once I admitted to myself that the story really did need that much work, I was able to go forward. And you know what? It didn’t turn out to be as much work as I’d built it up in my head to be.
When I’m just feeling overwhelmed is a different—but similar—story. Like with the big changes I mentioned above, sometimes there’s just SO much to do that it seems insurmountable. And that sucks, and it’s easy to get bogged down in feeling sorry for yourself and feeling like the story will never be finished. This tends to be where I fall into the “this is the worst story ever written” pit of despair.
But there is a way out. My steps?
1. Stop panicking.
2. Break down the work into small bits. For instance, “I need to revise and make my main character better” is a really huge goal. “I need to change my MC’s reactions in scenes 4, 7, and 13 to make her more likable” feels much more do-able.
And if all else fails? Drink a lot of wine and just write. :)
What are your cures for writer’s block?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

On Strong YA Heroines


It feels silly calling strong characters a trend, but making your female MC “strong” is one of those things that everyone says they’re looking for in YA these days. Of course—who wants to read about a weak character?—but on further inspection, it’s not as obvious as you’d think. What does it really mean? What is a strong character? And how does it change in YA?
These are all questions I’ve been asking myself recently as I’ve been revising. My MC is by far the hardest character for me to write. She’s killing me, and what’s killing me more is making her come across as lovely as she is in my head.
In my experience with her, and with quite a few of the YA heroines I’ve read recently, I’ve found that many (though of course not all!) YA girls tend to fall on one of two sides: the blank slate, who’s not much more than a wish fulfillment vehicle that any teen girl could insert herself into because she has so little of her own personality (understandable in some cases, I suppose, but oh-so-boring to read about) OR the uber-tough “Strong” girl. And sometimes it seems like there has been a Guide to Strong YA Heroines distributed, so now, these “strong” girls fall mostly into two categories:
1. The sarcastic girl. She always has a witty comeback, and she’ll never show weakness. Her snark can be a lot of fun, but can border on annoying or even bitchy, depending on how far she takes it.
2. The kickass girl. This chick is so good at everything it’s scary. If someone annoys her, she’ll probably just punch them, because she’s a Strong Woman and Strong Women don’t put up with that crap. Though she is probably gorgeous, she likely won’t lower herself to the level of liking girly things like dresses and makeup. As capable as she is, her flaw tends to be that she’s emotionally unavailable. In short, if overdone, she is essentially a stereotypical alpha-male character in a girl’s body.
Notice how these two are kind of the same girl, except one fends people off with words, and one with her fists? These are both very defensive characters, like the only way to be strong is to be angry. Is it possible for a YA girl to be open, vulnerable, still trying to figure herself out, adventurous but still nervous—and even (dare I say it) kind of girlie—and still be considered strong because of how she goes through life?
I hope so, or I’m screwed. :)
What do you think? Who are some great YA heroines who are relatable and admirable for more than their left hook or their sharp tongue?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

On Writer's Block


I thought I’d experienced writer’s block, but after a recent experience, I realize that I had never really felt it until now. You know in caper movies, when the criminals are about to escape with the art/money/priceless antiquities, but then the alarm sounds and WHOMP! the impenetrable metal gate falls across the room and they’re trapped?
Recently, this is what happened in my brain every time I tried to think about my book.
I’d be going about my business, and think that it might be okay to try to work on a scene, and WHOMP. Metal gate slams closed on the brain. Trapped with nowhere to go.
And then, to add insult to injury, for some time after that the mental block would spread to everything else I tried to do, even if it had nothing to do with my MS. It’s like (to completely mix metaphors) the beach ball of death had come to my brain. It was still technically ON, but nothin’ was happenin’.
[BBoD, the bane of every Mac user's existence]
Some people say that writer’s block doesn’t exist. Why do writers get a special excuse to not do their work? Plumbers don’t get plumber’s block!
But here’s the thing. I’m sure plumbers do have times when they feel less than good about their jobs. Doesn’t everyone? Like when you would rather poke your eyes out than go to work? When it seems like your brain has run off with your motivation and they’re vacationing in Tahiti without you? But when plumbers go to work feeling crappy about it and not on their A-game, they still weld pipe A to fitting B and the sink still stops leaking, just as it would on their best day.
Not so for creative pursuits. Even on my worst day, I could force words down on the page, but they are going to be awful. Horribly crap-tastic. When writers, or anyone in a creative job, isn’t feeling it, the work truly suffers.
Luckily, I figured out the cause of my writer’s block. This is the key. I do firmly believe that it’s not an incurable disease. Once you figure out the cause, you can figure out the cure. And next time: what that cure turned out to be.
What do you think? Does writer’s block really exist?