Readers and Writers

Writers are readers. We can’t help it – what draws us to words is love. Sometimes I end up thinking about the writing side and neglecting the reading side, but not this week.

This week I went to a book club. It’s called Dagobah, and they focus on science fiction books. At least, I think they do. It’s a small group and they meet once a month to discuss the books they read. It’s different from what I often think about for a book club, where you choose one book and everyone reads and discusses it. 

[I know a friend currently trying to force herself to the end of her book club’s selection, and I hope she makes it. I also hope nobody has to do that with one of my books!]

The cool part about sharing books this way is that I get to hear about books I might not have chosen and I get to share books I love. It’s also a great way to keep me reading, because with limited time sometimes that is what falls by the wayside. 

It shouldn’t be, I know. It’s hard to keep up with a genre when so many books are published (traditional and indie). 

One thing I thought interesting: most of the people seemed to read older novels. It might just have been this month. And I can’t say much for myself, I’ve been listening to the BBC production of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

For the future: watch for news of The Art of Science ebook!

With the Nose

One of my weaknesses, writing-wise, is food. I know it seems like such an odd thing, because it isn’t like I forget to eat regularly. Actually, maybe that would help…

No, seriously, I won’t starve myself. I know one of my handicaps as a person is that I cannot smell many of the things that other people take for granted. When I was pregnant with my daughter, I called my friend to remark about how I could finally smell the laundry aisle at the store, because it was the first time I could remember having that sensation. At first she remarked, duh, but then we talked about how I was in the sixth or seventh month of pregnancy, and that it took that much to get me to smell those scents. My nose is more sensitive to certain kinds of aromas, and others I miss completely.

Unfortunately, I can smell diapers. I could smell the mulch outside my daughter’s preschool this week. But I can only vaguely remember what the flowers smelled like during my pregnancy. I’ve never smelled most of them on my own, but not for lack of trying. My husband (before we were married) would bring me flowers. I would bury my nose in them and inhale deeply. It isn’t because I can smell the roses – I literally can’t – but it is one of those automatic gestures I do when I receive flowers.

When I started editing Don’t Tell Your Mother, I have several places where the characters have food or it is cooking. My critique partners underlined them, asking what they were eating, what they smelled at that point, or something else along those lines. Sometimes, I just can’t even imagine what I’m supposed to put in there. Even when I can describe the actual food, whether there are cherries in the dessert or rosemary in the pot roast, I don’t always know if those things give off enough of a smell for most people to identify them.

[Yes, I’m still editing Don’t Tell Your Mother. I’m still struggling over some of these food descriptions.]

I started asking other writers about food in stories. A few of them find it brings out their experience to have these things described. To bring them into focus even though the food itself is not dragging the plot forward, in most cases.

The other problem with that novel is that it takes place on a farm, where the smells are different than they are in the city. Livestock is kept on the farm, and there are certain smells that I’m sure I haven’t delved into the descriptions nearly enough for people who have never visited one. Thinking of that makes me want to print off another copy and highlight all the places where I might have missed some smells or other sensory perception that would aid in creating my setting.

What is it you look for in a scene where food is present? Scent is supposed to be linked strongly with memory, so do you find it more interesting when there are smells, tastes, and textures along with the sights and sounds? It’s definitely part of the “show, don’t tell” advice to bring in all the senses to bear when using description. Or does all of that just get in the way of the narrative when you’re reading?

Writing-

Always writing. It’s one way I know I am a writer, because I can’t stop. [See December, when I tried to take a break.]

750 Words is a site where I write privately. I’ve blogged about it before. Today they went to a subscription service to help pay for the site for new members, and asking older ones to donate when they can. I have donated this year, and if I have extra I will again soon.

As of today, I have been a member at 750 Words for 2 years. I have written on 675 days (of 731 total). I have written as few as 750 words and as many as 6827. I am currently on a 57 day streak. That break last December didn’t just break my habit, it made it very hard to resume. My average number of words per day came out to 994.

I find it much more satisfying to say I’ve written 671,196 words. It also makes me want to go add four more to today’s total. I’m quirky that way. It’s not even all the words I’ve written, between rewrites in the current draft and blog posts and a few other things that didn’t get captured in on the site because I wrote them without internet access. I’ve even done my 750 on my phone once because we weren’t connected to the internet any other way. With that much dedication I ought to have a longer streak than 57 days, but I will be patient and I’ll get there again.

It’s silly how much harder I try to do something like that when they tell me stats and give me little badges because I’m on a streak of so many days or I completed 500,000 words.

I think I need to do something special when I hit 1,000,000 words. Just because I can keep track of them now, not because I haven’t written that many in the past. I wish I knew when I hit that first million words, but it might have been before I ever joined 750 Words.  

Resistance

I don’t generally give myself enough time to find excuses to not work on something. However, I have noticed that I’m working on a lot of things that are not the one with the deadline that’s about to whoosh by. 

The deadline is of my own choosing, so it isn’t like I’ll be in too much trouble if and when it whooshes past. I just want to work on something else, something different, something new (read: shiny). 

The last few days I notice a lot of shiny ideas around me. They are taking over my brain space and making it difficult to concentrate on the editing. I feel like I’m really close to being done. But it isn’t quite there, and that’s difficult to force my head around. There have also been a lot of distractions from spring break: My daughter doesn’t have preschool, but instead the museum has interesting traveling exhibits like the Insect Zoo and Instrument Petting Zoo.

Maybe that doesn’t seem like a big distraction. I remembered my daughter loved bugs, but I didn’t realize that would be over four hours of my week devoted to large creepy-crawly creatures. This is me holding my son and a Vietnamese Walking Stick and my darling daughter standing close, who couldn’t get enough of the bugs. Image

 

I’ll be working with the resistance. I still want to finish this novel by Sunday (the darling girl’s birthday), but it might slip a few days. Whatever else happens, the time with the bugs was well spent. (And a big thank-you to the “bug lady” Ginny Morgal for taking this picture and explaining so many wonderful things about her bugs.)

Speaking of bugs, remember I love science fiction and fantasy? Those lovely creatures sparked even more shiny ideas that threaten to keep me from that last bit of editing! 

The what-ifs are piling in my notebooks, and they need to wait. I have a novel to finish! If you have any great ideas (or even just good ones) for tackling resistance to the project, I’d love to hear them.

Did I forget to mention I am a writer?

Sometimes I struggle with this in my day to day activities. People who have known me for a long time have seen me shift from one kind of career to another, but a lot of my new friends and acquaintances only see me as mom running my kids around. Funny, huh?

All right, I’ll say it out loud. I’m a writer. It doesn’t mean I don’t do a hundred other things a day. It doesn’t mean I don’t have other career paths. However, this is what I love to do and what you can find me doing when I have any spare time at all.

Spare time? That’s another funny concept. Time doesn’t create itself in moments that can be considered empty or spare. I make choices about how to spend my time. Every time the little darlings go to sleep, I go to work.

I know a lot of people who get ideas. Some of them try writing from time to time. Others are writers like me. There is a difference between the ones who write occasionally and those who are writers. The writers I know have to work through the tough parts. They take each piece and examine it thoroughly. They never stop pursuing those pieces of story until they’re polished.

So I have worked other places, doing many other things. I get that faraway look in my eye when an idea comes to me and try to remember it long enough to write it down. I try to only choose things that are fun. And all of it, from that Scentsy party  to the towers we build at the Family Museum to the random tidbits I read, contributes to my writing.

Flowing Words

Some days they do; some days they don’t. I’m excited to say I’m coming up on 300 days of writing in a row at 750words.com. At a minimum daily count, that’d be over 222k words.

I’ve written more than that.

I actually joined that site a year ago yesterday. In the 367 days, I missed 12. My streak as of yesterday was 297 days. Yes, somehow I managed that through moving (Thanks, Mom!) and having a baby (always with the technical gadgets when he slept) and figured how I could do that minimum through my phone if I had to.

My fastest entry took 7 minutes to reach the goal, over 100 wpm. My 355 completed days have accumulated 344,110 words. The most I ever accomplished in a day was 4944 and makes me wonder why I didn’t push to the 5k mark. [Personal best writing day is over 8k – before I ever had children or found 750words.]

The site also tries to give insights into my writing, whether I’m feeling affectionate or thinking about death or if I use present tense verbs or what sense (read: vision) I’m using for description.

But that isn’t the information I turn to when I want to understand my writing better. Besides the words themselves, and there are a couple budding novels in there if I’m not careful – or maybe if I am. Some days it’s hard to tell. The information I gather lends more to understanding the process.

I learned I can type off the top of my head and still send words flying out of my fingers over 100 wpm. When I say they’re on fire, that’s pretty close. I learned I can type over 3000 words in an hour. That might seem like a modest 50ish wpm, but keeping it up for an hour or more is daunting.

My best time of day is the morning, but I can’t type in the morning because I’m busy with kids. So I almost always do my writing during afternoon naps. When I have to do it in the evening it takes longer, especially if there are distractions like the TV or my husband. [I told you I was writing. Go do something else until I’m done!] Longer often means five times as long, slowing me down to the average at this site, somewhere around 13 wpm when averaged with the distractions.

When I get warmed up and set a timer, I can shut out pretty much everything else. It’s really fun to just sit there and commune with the characters while they’re doing weird things.

So now I’m working on figuring out how to do that all the time. Because every now and then I end up with random brain dumps that, while helpful, aren’t exactly fueling my fiction word count. Except they do by getting the other stuff out of the way. It’s amazing how full the brain can get just going about your daily business.

I keep working to refine what I write, to learn more from this tool, to pursue more goals in my writing. It’s an ingrained habit for me, and whatever else it teaches me, that alone has been good enough to keep me at it.

Now what I need is a tool that makes me sit there and edit things on a daily basis. Because having the rough draft out only gets you so far. My drafts are improving, which means some of them are not complete dreck when I spew them out.

And today, when I sit down to write my words again, I’ll be figuring out something else to take time and make my words count. It doesn’t always have to be a race for speed. It’s about what I need to get out in order to do the writing I want to complete.

What tools do you use to keep your habits going for writing, editing, publishing, social media, other writer-type habits I’ve forgotten? Please share.

About the Eyes

I’ve been reading several books about children’s development, which makes sense since I have a 3 year old and a 3 month old. One of those books called attention to how adults and children may have different ideas about objects, with one reason being adults are much more likely to take in a visual aspect while children might be more inclined to taste or smell or touch or listen to it.

Actually, when you think about kids this just makes sense. Who knows what taste there might be on a pine cone? I bet a child would tell me. Probably also explains why so many parents are always screaming “Get that out of your MOUTH!”

But how does that translate into what we write? The majority of authors (especially in brick and mortar stores) are adults. We would then use a lot of visual description when we want it to be real to the readers.

I have a group of characters living on some far-off planet who don’t use their eyes. These nearly blind people can sense movement but not much else. It was such a difficult thing for me to describe things using their noses and ears as the primary senses and the visual as a distant fourth (behind touch). While I haven’t yet decided to have them put everything in their mouths to taste, I can’t promise anything about their futures.

What do you do to distinguish between characters? Do they all use their eyes as a primary sense?

I think if I were to catalog all the descriptive words in my current novel, most of them would be geared toward the visual. Makes me think I should look at that while rewriting. Yay! Just one more thing to edit and polish. I will finish it eventually, I swear. Though it might help to find less things I want to fix.

What Color Was That?

I started thinking about this as a friend of mine used a color to describe some different kind of person in his story. Jim Butcher had white, red, and black vampires in his Dresden Files. Jacqueline Carey used a deep blood red called sanguine for her character Phedre and to represent her distinguishing feature of being an anguisette. Vulcans from Star Trek have green blood. (Though doesn’t that make you wonder about a half-Vulcan half-Human – shouldn’t he not have either red or green blood? or both? I’m sure that’s another topic for another day…)

As long as we’re doing colors, why isn’t it cerise instead of just red or cerulean instead of just blue? I rarely hear anyone talking about aubergine. Is it the one syllable quality of red and blue and green that make them so common? Yellow simply doesn’t have the same impact. Yet it can’t simply be about the name, because pink will never have the impact of a neon orange – and that never rolled easily off anyone’s tongue.

When I ask someone’s favorite color, often I get a generic blue or purple or brown. The aforementioned aubergine ranks for one friend of mine, and another told me burgundy. It made me think about my own response, which is much more vague since I am fond of too many colors to pick just one. It’s very dependent on what it is for (a car or a purse or the walls of my bedroom)  and my particular mood.

How does color affect how you write? Do you search for a specific shade like chartreuse or will bright green work? Do you work to figure out the perfect color for everything or do you leave a few to the reader’s imagination?

Does having all that information conflict with your own ideas when reading? I’d love to know!

Character Introductions

How do you introduce characters? What is the important part about the introduction of a character, and what do you decide to say when to bring them in?

It’s always difficult to know. You want to introduce your protagonist among the very first, many times the very first character to show to your reader. Readers like to know what’s going on and care about someone who comes up. [Yes, there are several people who get away with doing it another way, but we’re going to stick with the mainstream for the moment. Pretend I’m not George R.R. Martin, ok?]

So if you have your protagonist firmly in mind, you want to introduce her to your reader. You choose something that shows who this is and why she is different and important and worthy of the reader’s time and attention.

Then you start the trouble and change things up for the poor protagonist until she can’t help but follow along with the plot.

But what about the others? How do you decide to put the other characters in? What about people who walk in and out for a little bit? It’s always good to think about that a while. Sometimes there’s an organic way to do it. A way to sprinkle the other characters in while the protagonist goes along with her story.

I have two characters that are giving me a little trouble. I introduce them early because they’re important. However, one of my critiquers thought I shouldn’t introduce one so early, and then another thought I should introduce the other earlier to show her importance.

I end up chewing over that kind of advance planning for the beginning. It seemed to make sense how I introduced them, but it’s possible it’s not quite in order. So I’m curious how other writers do it – do you decide to introduce them in a certain order or just when they come up? How do you decide in the rewrite if you’ve done it well enough? And does it matter if it’s a thousand words here or there to keep them flowing through?

Next time I might look closer at how they come through the story. This one is set in a fairly good order except for the two I mentioned. The two characters are important, though neither is the most important throughout the plot. It can all be put together in good time and I’ll have it figured out within the week.

It does give me a great deal to think about. There might be a million ways to introduce a few characters and I’m not sure I always give it as much thought as i could to make sure it’s done the right way and for the right reasons in the plot.

This kind of thought process has slowed my editing progress. I need to jump into a different chapter and stop worrying about those introductions for a little bit. How do you deal with it?

Stretching for Goals

I read Yoga Journal, and I found this quote:  “Failing is a part of success. To make goals effective, you have to fail at them 50 percent of the time, or they didn’t stretch you far enough.” Chip Wilson, courtesy of an article by Ella Lawrence called Set Your Course.

While I make goals and I keep track of them, I must not be stretching myself enough according to that standard. I often choose smaller goals and see if I can do more than just the minimum. I also realize that it isn’t possible to do everything I want to and have interest to attempt. Not even close. But I do prioritize and make an effort on the things that matter to me – though it is often something I know I can do if  I put a reminder in front of me.

So what is the change if I allow myself to fail at a goal here and there? It opens up a lot of possibilities. I can call it a work-in-progress and remind myself that there is wiggle room. Yet it’s also good to remember I only have a couple hours a day when I am doing things for me and not my children.

Writing takes up a lot of that time. I won’t apologize for it, because it’s what I love to do.

I’ve been struggling to get back to my daily yoga practice post-baby. Part of this is because I don’t have somewhere to go do it yet, and my toddler takes it as an invitation to use me as a jungle gym. It greatly increases the difficulty of a pose like Warrior I when you have a small child standing on your back leg.

My challenges this month are to go back to yoga every day and to edit a novel and to keep up my writing streak and prep another novel. Those are big goals considering my newborn is 7 weeks old. He just slept a little over 6 hours, which is called “through the night” by the professionals… and I woke before he did. Somehow I was wide awake and starving at 3:30 in the morning.

If this keeps up, I’ll have plenty of time to practice yoga when my children are sleeping. And edit my novel. Probably a bunch of other things, too, but six hours isn’t really enough sleep for me on a regular basis. While I can dream of things like bottling time, liquid sleep, cloning, and delegating roles to an army of bored people who procrastinate their time away, I know that we’re all given the same time and it’s what we do with it that sets us apart from the rest.

I don’t have time to be bored. If I finish those novel edits, I’m going to dive back into writing that novella I think I have a handle on completing. There’s always another project that I’d like to tackle – even if it’s just knitting another rug for the bathroom floor.

What do you do for your goals? How do you know you’re successful? What do you think of the 50 percent and stretching quote from Chip Wilson?