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Venessa

BackSpacing: Pulling myself up by my bra straps

Life Stuff, Writing

No Tool Time Tuesday this week. We’ll get back into it next week!

BackSpacing posts will be personal posts, just as a warning. Consider it me going, “Whoa. Backspace. Let’s figure some stuff out.”

I have been very bad about writing lately. I keep putting it off or finding other things to do that are “more important.” They’re not really more important, of course. They’re just a convenient excuse. But this is also why the blog has gotten off track.

Last year, I spent most of the year in a different state being one of the primary caregivers for my grandmother, who’d broken her neck the November before. Being a caregiver is a lot harder than you realize when you sign up. Not necessarily physically harder (though sometimes that), but definitely psychologically harder.

I spent two to three weeks of every month with her. I wouldn’t change that decision if I had to do it again. I would make the exact same choice. It was absolutely worth it. But the consequence of being away that long is that much of my life at home fell away. Drifted. My relationship with my husband is rock solid, so it wasn’t that. But it was more that my socialness suffered while I was away. And my ability to be social, the energy it takes for me to do that, suffered.

Generally, I’m a very outgoing and social person. But after last year, I found I had fewer spoons for socialness. (If you’re unfamiliar with Spoon Theory, check it out. It’s a very clever way of explaining energy.) My grandmother passed away just before Christmas and so this year has been about rebuilding my life here at home.

What does this have to do with my writing? Well, I’ve found that in times of high stress, I have a lot of trouble focusing on getting words on the page. I have little motivation to do it. And that makes getting anything done very difficult.

National Novel Writing Month is coming up. (We’re prepping at The Writing Tribe, if you want to join us!) So I need to get my crap together. This year I’ve decided that I’m going to be doing short stories, rather than a novel. My reasoning is that I need some quick wins. I have a number of novel projects in varying stages of completeness; I don’t need another novel right now.

What I do need is something that gives me a sense of accomplishment. Writing a series of short stories totally 50,000 words will also give me several pieces that I can submit to markets right away. I can get some wins under my belt. Because forward progress always creates motivation. I am in dire need of both right now.

So I’m planning my stories for NaNo and hoping for a few wins! How are you getting ready for Nano?

Okay, I lied! One quick post…

Writing

I know I said I wasn’t going to post til next week, but I just wanted to take a second to mention NaNoWriMo prep! If you’re going to be participating in National Novel Writing Month this year, come join us at The Writing Tribe for NaNo prep!

We just got started today. We’re talking about figuring out what we’re going to be writing and there will be a bunch of prep exercises in the coming weeks to get us poised to win NaNo in November.

So come join your tribe! 🙂

Blog break! But gearing up for National Novel Writing Month!

Blog news

I’m gonna take a bit of a break from the blog for about two weeks. I’ll get back to posting on October 9th and we’ll have a new Tool Time Tuesday that week as well!

I’m still around on social media, in general. I’m on Twitter: @troilee.

Also, if you haven’t yet checked out The Writing Tribe group on Facebook, now’s your chance. I’ll be posting Gear Up for Nano posts all through October and we can get Nano prep done together! It’s 100% free, so come on out and join your Tribe!

 

 

 

Unless attributed otherwise, all images are CC0 licensed.

Tool Time Tuesday: Merriam Webster

Tool Time Tuesday

Every other Tuesday, we talk about the different tools available for writers to make life easier (theoretically 😉 ).

Today’s Tool: Merriam Webster

Platform: browser, Android, iOS

Cost: FREE

What it does:

You likely know Merriam Webster as a dictionary. As a writer, you should know Merriam Webster as a dictionary!

Words have meanings and MW can give you those meanings. It’s important for writers of all kinds to have a good working vocabulary and an extended writing vocabulary. Now, this doesn’t mean you should use a $50 word every time you could use a ten cent word. But we, as writers, should use the most correct word that will be understood in order to convey the idea we want the reader to have.

So having access to a dictionary is a no-brainer. And Merriam Webster is one of the longest-lived dictionaries in the US, having been around for almost 200 years.

Now, if you haven’t been to Merriam Webster’s website yet, you might be surprised. It’s for more than just looking up words!

You can see trending words that are being looked up, as well as the Word of the Day (as I write this, it’s “hebetude;” if you want to know what that means, I encourage you to look it up 😉 ). You can watch videos about different word-related topics. These are short, interesting little snippets of knowledge about English as a language, as well as grammar and correct word usage. Again, as I write this, the video for today is Words of the Year: 1066, which I also encourage you to watch!

Not only does MW offer lots of knowledge and word education, but there are word games available, such as the Time Traveler Quiz: Which Came First? and Typeshift, a mashup of anagrams and word searches. These and other games can help you burn a couple minutes of your day when you need a break and have the added benefit of making you smarter 🙂

As a writer, all of these tools can be beneficial to me. It’s not just about looking things up!

Where to get it: You can go to their website, or go to your mobile store and download the Android app or the iPhone app!

Do you have a writing tool that you absolutely can’t live without? Drop a line to me down below and tell me about it!

 

Keep writing!

 

 

 

Unless attributed otherwise, all images are CC0 licensed.

My Top 5 Most Useful Books About Fiction Writing

Craft of Writing, Writing

Let’s face it, writing a good story is hard. It’s entirely different from telling your best friend the story about what happened Friday night. Face to face stories are easier, because you have tone of voice and inflections, as well as body language, to help convey your meaning. With a novel or short story, you only have the words.

I am an addict. I admit it. I have more books on the craft of writing than my local library does, I’d bet. I use these books for my writing, of course, but also for when I’m editing or teaching other writers. I learn a lot from reading the stories of authors, but there’s also a place for an educational slant — for having an explanation of why something works.

To that end, I’m listing my Top 5 craft of fiction writing books. These books sit on the shelf right beside my desk. They’re always right there.

Now, these are the top 5, but they’re not in any specific order. You can’t really say that a book about creating character is better (or worse) than a book about writing a synopsis. They’re about different things. So while this is a Top 5 post, it’s not a ranked top 5.

Also, a while back, I wrote a post about my two favorite books on revision. Since I’ve already mentioned those, I’m not going to include them here.

And with all that said, here we go!

Writing the Breakout Novel

by Donald Maass

I got this book relatively early on in my fiction writing journey and it really opened my eyes to the idea that a book can be planned. Not in an outlining sort of way (which it can, of course, and which I was highly resistant to doing at the time), but in a larger-scale sort of way. From a 30,000 foot view, so to speak.

The purpose of the book is to write a novel that pushes past the mid-list and becomes a breakout seller. Think Harry Potter, The Martian, 50 Shades of Grey. A book that captures the minds of millions of people, rather than thousands or hundreds.

Donald Maass, who is a very successful agent who owns his own agency, identifies the things that he observes as pillars of a breakout novel. With section headings like Premise, Stakes, Time and Place, Characters, etc, this is a high-level view of story creation that every author can benefit from.

Beginnings, Middles & Ends

by Nancy Kress

What author hasn’t struggling with slogging through the middle of their novel? We’ve lost the bright, shiny feeling of the beginning and we’re not yet at the exciting, climactic end. There’s a reason many novels are abandoned in the middle. Fiction writing isn’t always easy.

Nancy Kress addresses all these things — the bright, shiny, the exciting, climactic, and the slogging — in her book. She gives authors tools on how to stay on track in their fiction writing, especially in the middle, which is arguably the longest part of a novel.

Each chapter ends with exercises designed to give writers practice in implementing the author’s suggestions. Some of the exercises involve reading and identifying things she’s discussed (such as reader expectations after the beginning), some involve writing, both new and assessment of current writing.

If you have trouble finishing your stories, you might find this book especially helpful.

Writing the Fiction Synopsis: A step by step approach

by Pam McCutcheon

If you’ve ever struggled with creating a synopsis, this book will be your savior! There are actually very few books on writing a good synopsis (compared to other writing topics). Mostly, writers are just expected to figure it out, maybe from talking to other writers, maybe by osmosis. In recent years, there have been a few more books (but only a few), yet this one, written almost twenty years ago and for most of that time the only book on synopsis writing, is still the gold standard.

McCutcheon takes you through the steps of writing a synopsis using three relatively well-known movies as her test subjects. She provides a number of worksheets to help you along, but that are also useful in the writing process, as well. She focuses not just on what should be in the synopsis, but also on tone and voice, as well.

This book also has exercises at the end of each chapter, but the result, if you do them all, is that you’ll have a synopsis by the time you’ve finished the book.

Characters & Viewpoint

by Orson Scott Card

This is probably one of my most recommended books. A lot of newer writers don’t understand the difference between omniscient point of view and 3rd person limited point of view, and so I often see a lot of what is called head-hopping: jumping from different points of view within the same scene, paragraph, or even sentence. This book explains those points of view very clearly, using a camera lens as illustration. I’ve seen more than one writer have an “Ah-ha!” moment after reading the section on viewpoint.


The guidance about character creation is also valuable, especially in conjunction with the character creation advice in the other books on this page. Card gives information about where characters come from and what makes for a good fictional characters. And then goes into more in-depth things, such as how the reader should feel about the character, what the stakes are for the character within the story, and transformations.

This is one of those books that I believe should be on every writer’s shelf!

Many Genres, One Craft: Lessons in Writing Popular Fiction

edited by Michael A. Arnzen & Heidi Ruby Miller

I’m a bit biased about this book, I admit, because I have an article in it called, “Demystifying What Editors Want.” However, even if I didn’t have work in it, I would still have this book by my desk.


It’s a collection of over eighty essays about everything about writing popular fiction, from craft topics to life balance topics to promoting and marketing. Contributors include authors from all over the genre spectrum, from smaller published authors to mid-list authors to heavy hitters like David Morrell (First Blood [Rambo] and others), Tom Monteleone (Borderland Books), Nancy Kress (her name should look familiar 😉 ), and Tess Gerritson (Harvest and others). I’ll sometimes pick it up and just choose an essay to read when I’ve got 5 minutes. There’s always something to learn.

I often joke that this is my MFA program in a $30 book (the Kindle version is only $10!). 🙂 This is a really comprehensive collection of experiences and advice from authors and editors working within the commercial fiction publishing industry.

Okay, so those are my Top 5 books for fiction writing. I’ve tried to choose books that run the gamut of information that authors need to know about, from character creation, to doing the writing, to stuff needed to get published.

What fiction writing books do you find indispensable? Drop a line down in the comments!

Keep writing!

Quick Edits: Pronouns

Craft of Writing, Quick Edits, Writing

Quick Edits is a short feature where I give quick editing advice on how to handle common problems in fiction writing.

Pronouns

If you have two or more people of the same gender in the same scene, it’s easy to use pronouns in a confusing way. (I’ll be using male/female pronouns in these examples, but neutral and non-gendered pronouns are also subject to this issue.)

Say Tina enters a room and sees her sister, Marcy, who has been missing since the day before.

She ran over and gripped her in a bear hug, and her bag fell onto the floor.

We might assume that the subject (she) is Tina herself. And that the first “her” is Marcy. But think for a moment. Couldn’t the subject (she) also be Marcy? The sentence works that way too. And then the first “her” would be Tina. And we have no idea, either way, which of them dropped their bag. See how that can be confusing?

I generally advise, at the very least on the sentence level, but it’s probably even more effective on the paragraph level, to choose one character for whom you’ll substitute pronouns.

So pick either Tina or Marcy as being the one that can have the pronouns. And the other, you’ll use her name. This doesn’t mean you can only use pronouns for that character.  You can still use the pronoun character’s name. Just don’t use pronouns for the non-pronoun character.

So the sentence could be changed to look something like this:

Marcy ran over and gripped her in a bear hug, and Tina’s bag fell onto the floor.

Or this:

Tina ran over and gripped her in a bear hug, and Tina’s bag fell onto the floor.

Or this:

Tina ran over and gripped her in a bear hug, and Marcy’s bag fell onto the floor.

See how the same sentence with ambiguous pronouns could be clarified to mean a lot of different things? We should shoot for clarity in our writing, and this is one that is really easy to flub up! But it’s a pretty simple fix, as you can see.

Are there any editing issues you run into that you’d like covered in the Quick Edits series? Drop a comment below!

Keep writing,

Tool Time Tuesday: Writing Inspiration: Old Pics Archive

Tool Time Tuesday

Every other Tuesday, we talk about the different tools available for writers to make life easier (theoretically 😉 ). Today’s a special Writing Inspiration version!

Today’s Tool: Old Pics Archive

Platform: browser

Cost: Free!

What it does: Old Pics Archive is a website with collections of historical photos divided by topic or subject matter. For instance, you can find a gallery of photos from Woodstock, the musical event, or famous people, such as Brigitte Bardot or Sofia Loren. There are photos from everyday life in Nazi Germany, behind the scenes photos from movies, and cool aerial photos of cities and people.

You can also find vintage art and vintage commercial art, as well as photos of life in cities, such as Moscow, London, Damascus, and NYC.

I’ll sometimes go to this site and look through the “life in…” photos and find interesting looking people. Sometimes I’ll think up a story about the people or the situation in the photo. Sometimes I’ll use photos of these people to help in my character creation process. There are all sorts of ways for a writer to get inspiration from this site!

Here’s a freebie: Can you imagine what amazing things might happen in this library?

The Klementinum Library, Prague ~~ Courtesy: Old Pics Archive

Where to get it: The Internet! Just head to their website!

Do you have a writing tool that you absolutely can’t live without? Drop a line to me down below and tell me about it!

 

Stay awesome!

 

 

 

Unless attributed otherwise, all images are CC0 licensed.

Ready for Dragon Con? Surviving A Convention (and More!)

Conferences

Dragon Con is coming up this weekend in Atlanta. It’s a huge science fiction/fantasy/horror fan convention; they’re estimating 82,000 people in attendance this year. That’s a lot of people.

All the things you’d expect to happen with that many people in a two mile square area happen: traffic is crazy; restaurant wait times are off the chain; and don’t forget something in your room, because it’ll take you an hour to get up there and back again. And some things you might not think to expect: don’t bother with your cell phone, as the towers are so jammed, you can’t hold a phone call; texts too. They’ll go through, but on their own time, so if you’re trying to plan something for NOW, smoke signals might be better.

I have a monthly column over at Speculative Chic. Over the last year, I’ve written a number of posts on convention life. I thought it’d be a good idea to curate them all into a list in one post. So here it is!

Conventions 101: What Are They and How Do You Survive Them?

Here’s your intro to conventions. If you don’t have any idea what to expect; if you’re not sure whether they’re right for you; if you have no idea how to even find one or choose one, then this is the post for you!

In deciding what convention to attend, take into consideration your purpose in going. Are you looking to land an agent? Hobnob with actors? Reinvigorate your writing? Your why will help you to decide which conventions you want to invest your time and money in.


 

I wrote two posts especially for those of us who are not independently wealthy, about doing con season on a budget. It’s all about volunteering.

Con Season on a Budget: How to Volunteer at Your Favorite Convention

In this post, I give some pretty detailed steps about how to go about figuring out what you want to do for a convention and how to land the volunteer spot, including how to interact in a face to face meeting with a track director and the wording if you’re contacting them via e-mail instead.

Before you reach out to throw yourself into the volunteering fray, figure out what areas you’d enjoy working in or which could utilize your strengths.

Con Season on a Budget: Being a Great Volunteer

And we keep going with the volunteering theme. In this one, I talk about what to do and what not to do, so that the conventions you work with will want you to come back year after year. Since conventions usually offer free or discounted admission to volunteers, this can save you some nice cash that you can instead spend in the vendor rooms!

And on the topic of guests — people who are on panels or giving classes — you might be in contact with celebrities. It can be a little overwhelming and you might be tempted to fangirl/boy all over your favorite author/actor/artist. Don’t do it.


 

There are a lot of “C” words associated with conventions. I didn’t really notice it until I did this series 😉

Convention Life: Con Prep, Con Crud, Con Drop

If you haven’t done many cons, you may not have heard these terms. But it’s good to be familiar with them so you can guard against things that need to be guarded against and deal with things that need to be dealt with.

You don’t want to be in the middle of getting dressed, then realize you left your pants at home (I say this from experience!).

Convention Life: The Other “Con” — Consent

Consent has come to the forefront of conversations about fan conventions in recent years and I’m really glad that it has. Consent is something we don’t talk about enough in our culture anyway, and conventions are places where having someone’s consent to do anything — from taking a photo to touching them — is of the greatest importance.

Anyone has the ability to violate consent. It happens much more to women by men than vice versa, but it can happen both ways. The only hope in combating this is to make us all more aware.

It’s everyone’s responsibility to police our own actions.

 

So there you go! Lots of stuff about attending conventions, working conventions, and surviving conventions!

Any additional suggestions about conventions? Please let me know in the comments!

 

 

Featured image courtesy of Dragon Con. Unless attributed otherwise, all other images are CC0 licensed.

No, Virginia, There’s No Such Thing as Writer’s Block

Craft of Writing, Writing

Ten years ago, I’d have fought you if you’d told me writer’s block didn’t exist. I would have told you that you were crazy, that of course it existed! Because I experienced it and how dare you tell me I’m a literary hypochondriac!

Now, I realize that people who told me that then — and lit fires of guilt in my heart — were right. Writer’s block doesn’t exist. Now, that isn’t to say that a writer won’t have trouble getting words on a page. Of course, some days are worse (sometimes a lot worse) than others. But there is no real block. There’s not some outside force that is taking away our ability to write. It’s not like there is poison on our keyboards that will kill us when we sit down to type.

I’ve found that “block” is generally one of two things: avoidance or apathy. They can show up together, but it’s usually at least one or the other.

Avoidance

I find that this usually happens when I feel pressured or when I feel guilty or sometimes when I’m afraid I’m going to write crap.

Often the pressure and the guilt are tied together and both relate to when I’ve slacked off or dropped the ball on my writing goals. I feel pressure, mostly internally, but sometimes a perceived external pressure too, because I’m “behind.” It’s like I feel that other people are judging me for being a writer who doesn’t write.

And then there’s the overcompensating for the guilt: I didn’t write yesterday, for whatever reason, and now I have to write twice as much today to get “caught up.”

And, of course, then I feel crappy, because obviously I’m failing as a writer, so guilt starts really eating at me.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I handle guilt and procrastination pressure in the most efficient way.

I stop doing everything.

Because I’ve found that helps with “feeling behind.” *nods* Really. It does. *cough*

As I’m sure you know, it doesn’t help at all. But that stopping is the writer’s block. It’s the avoidance of doing what I need to be doing because of emotions — guilt, fear, pressure.

Apathy

Apathy often goes hand-in-hand with avoidance, but rather than being about my emotions, this one is about the work itself.

Apathy happens when I have absolutely no interest in or excitement for what I’m writing. Have you had that happen? You just put off doing your writing because you’re just not that into it. “It’s not you,” I tell the story. “It’s me. I’m just not that into you.”

Apathy can also happen as a result of outside things. Perhaps you got a rejection letter, or someone close to you gave you bad criticism on something you wrote, an idea you had, or even just the thought that you could possibly be a writer (I hate it when writers have people like this in their families 🙁 ).

So it becomes infinitely easier to not write.

How to get out of the “writer’s block” rut

We all hate this answer, but the best way to get out of the rut is to write. Even if you just open a screen and start writing about how you don’t feel like writing or about how you feel you have writer’s block. The act of actually writing will get you going. Eventually, you’ll be able to shift to something you’re supposed to be working on. But even if you don’t shift today, getting into the habit of doing the writing is a good portion of the writer’s block battle in itself.

Here’s the other important bit here: When you’re writing, give yourself permission to suck.

Go into the writing with the idea that whatever comes out at the other end could very well be the most awful, horrendous, gross piece of writing to ever exist in the history of humanity.

And that that’s perfectly okay.

I find that once I’ve given myself permission not to write the Great American Novel in the first draft, my words come much more easily.

When you're #amwriting, give yourself permission to suck. #writetip #writerslife Click To Tweet

Strike apathy out by throwing a curve ball

Basically, be mean to your characters. Here are two questions that are great at getting you out of a boring story:

What is the worst thing that can happen to your character, from their perspective?

And I mean the worst, barring death (unless that’s a thing that characters can come back from in your story 🙂 ). Is it the death of their partner? Is it losing their job? Is it finding that the treasure at the end of their quest is really just a stone?

Whatever it is, from the character’s persepective, that is the worst thing that can happen, make it happen. Then see how exciting the story becomes!

What is something that your character would never do or want to do?

Perhaps betraying their best friend is something they’d never want to do. Maybe stealing or lying is outside their moral code. Maybe it’s something as simple as going on an adventure that’s completely outside of the character’s normal mindset.

Once you’ve got the thing they’d most likely never do, figure out a way to make them have to do it. Put them between a rock and a hard place such that they must choose to do that thing that is abhorrent to them. You’ll be amazed at how more interested in your story you’ll be (and, of course, you’re reader will be once it’s published!).

In the end, I’ve discovered that writer’s block is really the act of avoiding writing. Writing is simply putting words on paper (or a screen). And I don’t need a muse or brilliant words in order to do that. It’s okay if I write utter tripe. So instead of just staring at the screen or, worse, avoiding the screen altogether, I’ll put tripe on the screen.

Remember: You can fix anything you write. But you can’t fix a blank page.

Remember: You can fix anything you write. But you can't fix a blank page. #amwriting Click To Tweet

How do you handle the urge to avoid your screen? Any tips on battling that thing that people call “writer’s block”? Drop them in the comments below!

 

 

 

Unless attributed otherwise, all images are CC0 licensed.

Tool Time Tuesday: Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS)

Tool Time Tuesday

Every other Tuesday, we talk about the different tools available for writers to make life easier (theoretically 😉 ).

Today’s Tool: The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS)

Platform: browser (and paper!)

Cost: Online: $39/yr ; Book: $60-70

What it does: CMOS is the style bible for fiction (though it’s not all about fiction). Most publishing houses use CMOS rules as part of their house style.

As a writer, knowing the rules and guidelines of writing lets you write stronger prose. It also allows you to decide when it’s appropriate to break those rules and guidelines to their most effective use.

The online version is really simple to use too. It allows you to search within the entire CMOS for whatever it is you’re trying to find. It covers everything from basic grammar and punctuation to citing online sources. In it, you’ll learn that Dumpster should be capitalized, since it’s a trade name (like Kleenex), not a generic name. Didn’t know that, did ya? 😉

But if you’d rather have an in-your-hands version, they also put out a hardcover edition. The 17th edition of CMOS will be published on September 5, 2017, and can currently be pre-ordered either on the publisher’s site or Amazon (links below). If you’re not married to being completely current in your style, you can find the 16th edition for cheaper. The 17th ed comes in at a whopping 1184 pages, so make sure wherever you order it from, you’re getting free shipping!

The online version is currently the 16th and 15th editions (you can choose when you search), but I suspect they’ll update to 17th not long after the hard cover comes out.

Also, here’s something kinda cool. Interested in seeing what the very first edition of CMOS looked like? They’ve got a pdf available for you to check out!

Where to get it: Online Subscription or Paper – 17th edition (Amazon)

Do you use CMOS?

Do you have a writing tool that you absolutely can’t live without? Drop a line to me down below and tell me about it!

Keep writing!

 

 

 

All images courtesy of Chicago Manual of Style.