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There are a lot of new books being released today, but of the pile I brought home from my local independent bookstore, this one seems the most fitting to share today since it was inspired by the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford.

I have only read the book summary, but I love the idea of being able to transform and take flight … literally. Dragons have fascinated me for years. Looking around the room where I am typing this post, I can see five dragons. My current favorite is Scribbles.

As you can see, he carries a pencil. Scribbles is one of my writing buddies, and I have been doing a lot of writing lately. He’s not the best conversationalist or beta reader, but he’s a good listener.

Writing is good for me in these crazy times, and I am tackling a big writing project, so for the time being I am going to be a writing dragon.

Find your own dragon.

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May Day.

Beltane.

The first of May.

It’s a brand new month starting on a Sunday, and the day practically felt like summer.

I ended up with approximately 56,000 words in my 130-page Came NaNoWriMo project. While I didn’t really stick to my original plan, I am pleased with the accomplishment. Even better, I have a plan for the next step, which I have never taken with a NaNoWriMo project before: review and revision. In the past, I get to the end, breathe a sigh of relief, and pretty much walk away.

This time, I am going to read through everything I wrote during the month of April and expand on it. And I am going to do it longhand. I printed out the document and pulled out a notebook. Actually, I built a notebook. A few years ago I came across something called a disc-bound notebook. Pages and covers were held together by plastic discs along one edge. The advantage is that you can add, remove, and rearrange pages. Since I am not sure how many pages I will need for the project, being able to adjust the number means that I won’t end up with too many or too few. Being able to rearrange the pages means that I can pull an idea out, expand on it, and put it in a separate section.

The original content will be written in black ink, and any additions or revisions will be written in whatever other color strikes my fancy. I am starting with purple.

It’s a daunting task, but I think that it is going to be an excellent writing exercise. I haven’t set a deadline. I am just going to see how it goes and work on it in small chunks.

Some of my other ongoing projects did not fare as well in April. I finished reading one book instead of two, and I only cast of one pair of socks (although I think I am still on track for my goal of 25 pairs in a year) and made very little progress on sweater knitting. My regular journal doesn’t have any entries for about the last half of April because I used all of those words toward my Camp project, which is fine because my real writing goal is to write every day, and that daily discipline is still intact.

With the start of a new month, I can pick up the projects which got put down for a while and even start some new projects. This is an unfamiliar feeling. Usually when I don’t meet a goal, I have a sense of failure. Now I have a feeling of excitement about being able to get back to projects which were interrupted.

I am quite certain that this new mindset and outlook is due to tackling projects in smaller increments and to successfully working on those projects every day for a while. If I have done a small bit of something every day for several months and then I miss a day or two or even a week, I know that all I have to do is the next increment, and I will be back to making progress.

It turns out that the compounding effect of incremental change actually gives you some cushion so that there isn’t a feeling of regressing. The progress you have made so far is still there, so all you need to do is take the next step forward, and you are back on track. Who knew?

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Hello and welcome, new followers! (I am so never going to get tired of being able to say that from time to time.)

Also (and I realize that this is a random aside), I just learned that if you start a post one day and don’t finish and post it for a few days, the post shows up dated the day you started it rather than the day you posted it. That behavior irks me somewhat as it makes it looks like I broke my streak, and I didn’t. Harumph. Should you wish to read a few thoughts about Lego blocks being used in curses, just scroll back to April 16th.

With those housekeeping items out of the way, let’s talk about Paris, shall we?

I finished reading Lost and Found in Paris by Lian Dolan, and it was for the most part delightful. It is not as frothy as I think that the cover and title suggest. There are certainly lighthearted moments and nice variety of romantic relationships, but there is serious appreciation of Paris, art, Joan of Arc, the genius and demons of artists, and the complexities of blood and chosen family in this novel. It is worth reading for all of those things.

Once again, I found the third act a little bit disappointing. The plot twist which brought things together wasn’t too far-fetched, convenient, or unbelievable. There were a few surprising revelations, but they were fitting. What did not work so well for me was how and why the theft had been planned. I read the explanation, and I watched the characters go along with it after varying degrees of suspicion, anger, and resistance, but I wasn’t completely sold. And then the story got tied up in a bow pretty quickly as if the author had run out of words or had to meet a deadline. When that happens, stories fall a little flat for me and sometimes feel rushed. Now, I am writing this post less than an hour after finishing the book. I may feel differently after I sit with it for a while.

Maybe it’s me because conclusions and endings are something with which I struggle. Even writing these posts, I tend to get to the end or run out of things to say and click publish. Most of the time I know that I could have done better, that it could be smoother. It is one of the parts of my writing which I hope improves with practice (and revision). I figure that at some point, I will have a post that ends with a real conclusion that is not abrupt. The process will click, and I will have an example that I can reapply and reproduce.

Until then, I will keep reading more third act examples, learning from them, and critiquing them.

If anyone has and recommendations of books with third acts that really do justice to all of the prep work done in acts one and two, I would love to hear them.

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Many writers, myself included, are drawn to writing tools, advice, and inspiration. Do they have to potential to make us better, more productive, and happier writers? Yes. Is at least half their appeal the opportunity for distraction and procrastination? Assuredly.

(Knitters have the same sort of relationship with the website ravelry.com. Is it a fabulous resource for patterns, techniques, and support? Yes. Do we fall down rabbit holes looking at patterns and posting in discussion groups and admiring projects when we could be spending that time actually knitting? Without a doubt.)

Today’s distraction, er, tool comes to you courtesy of the amazing story collective The Moth. Stories shared during Moth events are told by a person standing on a stage in front of hundreds of people. It is not recitation or speechmaking. There are no notes, and there is no memorization. It is an organic, ancient, and undoubtedly nerve-wracking process, but it is not without preparation. These spoken stories involve as much craft and revision as anything written.

Over the last 25 years, The Moth has developed a program to help people tell their stories, to take an idea and learn how to not only share it but bring the audience into it. On April 26th, aspiring storytellers will be able to get their hands on How to Tell a Story: The Essential Guide to Memorable Storytelling from The Moth.

Have I read the online excerpt on the Random Penguin website? Yes, I have. Have I read the sample on the website of the largest online bookseller? Yes, I have. Am I tempted to preorder it from my local independent bookseller so that I can get a pre-order bonus? Most certainly. (Do I have unread books about the craft and skill of writing on my bookshelves? Indeed, I do. Is that an impediment or a deterrent? No, not really.)

Based on what I have read so far, this book is not only for writers and performers. It is for anyone who wants to share a story with anyone else, to build connection and community. Isn’t that connection something we need in these wild and crazy times? I think so.

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Or maybe I love it when order starts to emerge out of chaos. I sort of had a plan for Camp NaNoWriMo, and then in the face of having rather a lot of things on my plate, it went a bit off the rails. I could call it project scope creep. I could say that I incorporated multiple goals or disciplines into one so that I wasn’t really giving up any of them, but the focus had shifted.

Then I read about a brainstorming exercise which is brilliantly perfect for writing. Maybe I am the last to know and everyone, or at least lots of people, writes this way, but it is completely liberating in the sense that it allows you to jump around between different ideas and don’t have to try to follow a linear plot or outline.

Let me see if I can explain.

I am about halfway through Lost and Found in Paris (and loving it). I will try to keep spoilers to a minimum, but I need to provide a little bit of context, most of which can be found in the book summary.

Our heroine Joan flies to Paris with some obscure but valuable sketches for a potential buyer. The sketches are stolen. The thief leaves behind a clue which includes a poem\riddle\invitation and a copy of a page from one of her father’s notebooks. She figures out the first message, and when she arrives at the appropriate location, a security guard hands her a second envelope.

Nate, her romantic interest who is trying to help her recover the stolen sketches stops her from opening the envelope right away. He asks her to tell him what she thinks is in the envelope. What might be the next piece or pieces of information based on what they already know? Joan is skeptical.

He explains the exercise this way: “My sister leads the brain-storming sessions.  She went to business school, so there’s a method to her madness.  It works.  It gets your brain pumping before you have to zero in one the question at hand.  When we’re trying to anticipate what might go wrong or right with a project, it opens us up to other avenues of inquiry when we think about all possible scenarios.” (pg 139)

They proceed to brainstorm possibilities, following different avenues of thought, looking for connections.

The concept didn’t make any sense to Joan at first, but it totally clicked for me.

I don’t have to write a linear story, even if I want to eventually end up with one. I don’t have to stress about picking a direction. I can start with an idea, a scene. I can set up the scene in different ways, and then I can tell the same story different ways or create different stories altogether. I can follow each thread from each starting point, or I can mix and match later on, keeping what works together and setting the other parts aside.

Instead of having to know what “really” happens and committing myself to one narrative, I can try out a whole bunch of different scenarios — no matter how ludicrous — follow each one as far as a I care to, branching this way and that as I go, and then backtracking to a certain point and starting a new branch or thread. (Yes, I am just going with the mixed metaphor.)

I tried it out with one of the ideas in my Camp NaNoWriMo project, which I decided to use as a month-long brainstorming session to just get ideas out of my head and into a document, so I think that I was pretty close to this newly-discovered process already. The problem is that I was letting myself get stuck on not knowing where to take a story or how to explore an idea for fear of not getting it right (even though I know it is not about getting it right the first time).

Now I can ask myself, “What are the things that can go right with this storyline or scenario? What are the things that can go wrong?” Do a little preliminary troubleshooting and then start trying out the possibilities.

The more I write out this idea, the more obvious it feels, but it was a complete watershed moment for me this afternoon. Maybe it’s the magic that starts to happen about halfway through a NaNoWriMo project. Whatever the case, I am feeling inspired, creative, and energized! I look forward to a weekend of writing.

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The fine folks at NaNoWriMo are forever suggesting fun and interesting tools for writers, and I think that the Hero’s Journal is my favorite, perhaps because I have been doing more journaling lately. (I have to say that I am not a big fan of journal as a verb, although in this case it is a gerund, so the verb gets to work as a noun. I am not sure if that usage is better or worse.) The phrase “the exhaustion of toxic productivity” resonated with me.

I will note that if you have serious issues with either Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, these journals might not be for you. If you enjoy epic fantasy, quests, and magic, then these journals look like a fun writing exercise to help you build your writing confidence, cultivating a daily practice, or working through a writing slump — to name just a few options. It is designed for anyone — from kids to adults — who has a goal, and the goal doesn’t even have to be writing related. The journals turn that goal into an adventure.

The physical journals are a bit pricey, but there is a PDF version which you can use on a computer or print to paper. Even better, you can try before you buy with a generous 71-page free sample of each journal. Just enter your e-mail address.

If you like extras, there are side quest decks to enhance your experience, and according to the Instagram feed there have and will be other goodies like stickers and pins. There is a newsletter, too, which I would image also provides announcements about such things, but the Instagram feed has news as well as pretty pictures. The FAQ page has more details and tips for using the journals.

I have downloaded both samples and look forward to trying them, although I will probably wait until after Camp NaNoWriMo is finished. Watch this space for a report on my findings.

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When I searched the web for a graphic of 200, I found this cute and appropriate illustration. I checked out the website, too, and I have to say that I am definitely a fan of the idea of teaching math as a life skill rather than just a course.

Why did I need a graphic of the number 200, you ask? Well, I was preparing to bemoan my inability to manufacture time and wanted to reread my post about increments in a day to remind myself what I had already bemoaned. When I pulled up the list of posts, the number at the top was 201.

I have written two hundred posts to this blog! Very sporadically and over many years, but 200 all the same.

After numerous false starts (most likely due to unrealistic expectations), I am finally having fun. I haven’t quite found a groove yet, and the site needs a thorough facelift, but those things will happen in due time. The persistence will continue to pay off.

In the meantime, thank you to everyone who has read and followed so far!!

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It’s Monday, and my brain is kind of full of work-related learning, so this will be a short post which mostly says, “Watch this video if you are interested in hearing about, among other things, Janci Patterson’s thoughts on co-writing.”

Brandon Sanderson has written several books of a series set in the Cytoverse (as opposed to in the Cosmere, which is where the Stormlight and Mistborn series are set). The fourth book is a collection of novellas which he wrote with Janci Patterson. The video is of a conversation they had about the new book. They talk about writing together, and Patterson talks about other co-written projects she has done as well as different aspects of her writing process.

I found it fascinating and entertaining, so I am sharing. You don’t have to know anything about either author or their books to enjoy the writing part of the discussion (which is most of it).

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One of the suggestions (nominations?) I received for female mad scientist was the inimitable and indomitable Edna Mode.

My first instinct was to defend Edna. She is NOT a mad scientist … except that she totally is.  I was thinking her as more of an eccentric, but she has powers of her own.  She is trusted by the supers.  She knows who they all are.  She knows what their powers are and how they work, and she designs their suits accordingly.

Thankfully for all involved, she uses her powers for good rather than evil.

My favorite Edna moment:

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As I spend Camp NaNoWriMo brainstorming writing and story ideas, I am still thinking about cooking and baking robots, so I started doing a little research.

Nautilus magazine has become one of my favorite science resources. The description on the website says, “Our stories take you into the depths of science and spotlight its ripples in our lives and cultures.”

There have been several articles about robots recently, so I have added them to my reading list.

Somehow my brain segued into the idea of writing a story with a female mad scientist — brilliant STEM ladies using their powers for, well, not necessarily evil, but definitely not for selfless good — and I tried to come up with ideas for reference. I came up empty other than possibly Harley Quinn, but somehow mad psychiatrist wasn’t working for me. I remembered correctly that Poison Ivy is a scientist who is labeled as an eco-terrorist. Possible. Possible. Closer to what I had in mind at any rate.

I posed the question to my small social media circle and was rewarded with a list of possibilities. Several were from video games and anime, so they will expand my horizons. The most perfect example I got was Screenslaver from Incredibles 2. She is so perfect that she borders on cliche. There is also a character from my current favorite book who qualifies.

Now that I have a starting point, I know a little better what I am looking for as I sift through books I have read and movies I have watched.

Then I can start writing my own.

MWA-HA-HA!

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