writing

All posts tagged writing

Read for Where You Wanna Be (Practical Advice)

Published June 29, 2018 by admin

So, we’ve gone over the importance of reading before – you can’t appreciate the genres you write in, can’t know what’s out there, unless you’re surrounding yourself with stuff. Alright? Alright.

Well, welcome to my TED Talk 2.0. One of the things I’ve learned this year (hey, I’m still learning, too), is another one of those obvious but correct things. Read where you want to be.

For me, that means sorting through my giant TBR pile and putting some happy comfort reading on the back burner while I look at what popular genre titles are out this year or recently. I’ve burned through a lot lately: The Cruel Prince, Robots vs. Fairies, The Ritual, Borne, Space Opera, etc, and have things like Children of Blood and Bone, The Last Days of Magic, American Hippo, and Dread Nation on my stack.

I’m upping my game, as it were. And I’m not reading these to copy, but to see how people are doing things, what plot elements are working for me, how they’re using language, how they’re using genre. And I’ve discovered some amazing stuff.

Yeah, to anyone who says there’s nothing good being published by traditional publishing anymore, you’re kidding yourself. Completely. Please divest your ego and go use your library card.

I’ve also been binge reading a lot of magazines like Uncanny, Apex, Lightspeed, The Dark, Shimmer, etc, as well. You know how in every guidelines ever there’s that piece of info that says to read some issues before submitting?

Yeah, I’ve ignored that, too. To my detriment. At the very least, I’m finding so much fantastic stuff to enjoy as a reader. As a writer, I’m really seeing what people are looking for, looking for similarities in pieces, learning how to up my game. And with Kindle, it does admittedly make things a lot easier.

I think sometimes there’s a fear of breaking out of our comfort zones, or reading things by the places that have turned us down in the past. It’s like watching an ex be out with someone else, but honestly, in reality, we’re only hurting ourselves. As writers, we need to know what’s going on now, not to try to write to market, but to keep up and improve ourselves.

There’s always room to improve ourselves. Always.

I’m not saying everything by trad publishing is golden, or not to read indie titles – but like everything else, read to find what you like about things and what you don’t. Don’t *just* read in your comfort zone or where you are now or to promote those around you or whatever. I get it, I do, I’ve been there. This has been something I’ve had to swallow and accept – I need to improve, and to do that, I need to read stuff that makes me examine what I’m doing. It’s how I read as a writer. I’m not doing this to game the system. I’m doing this to improve myself.

What I don’t do is entirely cut off an avenue that’s an eventual dream of mine, or that houses writers who I admire and are doing the things I want to do. It’s so easy to say ‘oh that could be me if life was fair’ or ‘people just don’t get my work’ or ‘everyone knows such and such circumstances screw you over anyway.’

It’s life. You’re going to get screwed over. That’s a whole other post.

If you back away from an entire road, though, you may end up hiking through the mountains when you could have had a much easier time if you’d have bought a map.

So read. Read everything, but read what’s new and current, read where you want to be, read where you want to submit. You might be surprised where that map will get you.

Plus, you’ll find some really amazing stories.

SJ Reads: The Artist’s Way

Published November 27, 2017 by admin

This is another of those so obvious I probably shouldn’t include it, but it’s well-known for a reason.

artist's way

 

Confession: I haven’t made it all the way through this one. I’ve had to take it in spurts, and that seems to be the case for most people I know who own it. It’s definitely one you’ll probably want to buy (I recommend giving it a flip through at the library first to make sure it’s your speed), because it is involved and detailed. However, if you’re looking for something to jumpstart your artistic practice, this is definitely the book for it.

The thing is, this book is incredibly interactive. It gives you some initial basic practices and things to consider, and then you work through chapter by chapter. It’s kind of up to you how to interpret some of it, and while it’s geared to all types of artists, most of these exercises involve writing, so I feel it really rings true for writers in a special way. This book has really helped me look at my relationship through people where my artistic practices are involved, as well as my views on myself and my own practice, in general.

One of the biggest takeaways that seems to be universal is the morning pages. Whether you use it for journaling, brain dumping, writing whatever comes to mind – the thought process is to wake up and get three pages down to clear your head and get your thoughts together.

Admittedly, not being a morning person, this is not the easiest thing for me. I’ve played with it here and there, and I will say that I’m usually better off when I do it. It also helped me put a lot in perspective during a time when my thoughts about my writing were fairly tangled. For that takeaway, alone, I’m grateful to this title.

It’s one that deserves to be read the whole way through, but you can also skim or focus on the chapters that you think will serve you. As with anything else like this, of course there are corresponding workbooks and such, but really, the main title is all you need.

Get it here!

 

 

Caturday Critique Club: NanoWriMo Edition

Published November 25, 2017 by admin

Guess where I went the other day?

 

nanocats2

kittehs!

 

Yep, along with Nano, I decided I needed to get back to my critique club. Which, if you know me, means I hang out at the cat cafe in a lame attempt to write while I really commune with felines. Or something. Anywho, let’s see what this crew thinks of my latest work in progress!

nanocat1

Obviously hanging on my every word – I must be doing something right and it isn’t because of the bribery treats at all.

nanocats3

Uh, yeah. Yeah, I’ve definitely gotten that look from editors before, I know what that means. Moving on…

nanocats4

I’m gonna say he was thinking about it. That’s not a no, I’m going to say that’s definitely not a no and more majestically looking off into the distance. Or that’s what I keep telling myself.

See what I mean about how everyone needs to edit?

 

 

Where I’ve Been: or the moment Nano finally won me over.

Published November 22, 2017 by admin

So, I had hoped to pre-write content for this month like I usually do, but things obviously have gotten the better of me a bit, and then….Nano happened.

Yep.

I don’t think I’ve discussed this on here before, but around my other media I’ve been known as not being a huge fan of Nanowrimo for various reasons – mainly because 50k can be not a real word count to hit for most genres, killing yourself for a book may work for some but freak out others, and it focuses so much on the writing, some people tend to forget how important editing is (just ask any submissions editor around January or so how they feel).

However.

I will fully admit I have had a sizeable block for various reasons for the past year and a half or so. I got talked into doing this after I managed to start working on some shorts (that I still need to finish), and I figured it was as good a time as any to figure out if I can still do this word slinging thing.

At the moment I’m hovering a little over 40k, so I’d say I can. Granted, I have no idea how long this book is going to be (definitely over 50k), it is going to take an insane amount of edits to get this presentable, and I really have no effing clue where I’m going with half of this.

And I’m okay with that. I have other things that are outlined to hell and back, my sweet spot tends to be somewhere in between, but this has been an awesome exercise to remind me that I’m actually capable of doing this, and to get me into a routine of slamming words on paper. I was also half afraid that I would get caught up in the numbers or get way competitive, but so far I’ve been able to keep myself okay with whatever I end up writing any given day (and the few days I don’t get to write at all). It’s made me show up more, though, so I’m definitely going to try to keep that feeling going once it’s over. I’ve also been amazed at the friendships I’ve picked up (mostly through other media and not the website for the event, itself), and how encouraging people have been. It’s also interesting to see how everyone is different and has their own process. So all in all, it’s helped me chill out a little and get back to it.

And if I get a new book out of it, hey, win-win!

Though seriously guys, this thing is weird, even for me.

SJ Reads: On Writing

Published November 20, 2017 by admin

I feel like this is such a typical book to recommend, I shouldn’t put it on the list, but truthfully, it’s damn good. I have mixed feelings on Stephen King as a whole, but no one can argue with his career and output, and this is truly a really unique, interesting way to illustrate a writing career.

on writing

 

Part memoir, part resource on the craft, this title digs deep. You really get a sense of why King writes the themes he does, how he developed his craft, and how it relates to him as a person. He especially relates a lot to his accident (I think this may have been written recently after), and it really shows how much a cellular part of him writing is.

The back half of the book is his suggestions on writing mechanics, a reading list, and even an example of how he edits his work. It’s definitely worth it for that alone, and together the sections really make this a powerhouse of a title. I’ve read it, I’ve listened to it on audio, and I keep coming back to it. Every time I go through my books, this always ends up in the keep pile, and for good reason.

Granted, after reading his fiction off and on for years part of me feels he breaks some of his own rules, and a few things come off a little heavy handed in the back section to me, but then again he’s Stephen King and I’m not. It’s definitely worth a cursory read, as a writer at probably any level will find some sort of takeaway, even if it’s just a reminder of things to keep an eye out for. This is especially good for the new writer or one who feels stuck. It’s no coincidence that so many writing books also pull from the author’s personal experience, and King does this especially well in the first section of the book. His casual and commiserating tone definitely make this book more approachable than some of the more technique-oriented books out there.

Get it here!

SJ Reads: Steal Like an Artist/Show Your Work

Published November 6, 2017 by admin

Since so many people are doing Nanowrimo, I thought it might be interesting to focus SJ Reads this month on books about writing and creating. I know, way to get original, amirite?

Anywho, let’s start with something light and easy.

I’d had the books of Austin Kleon recommended to me before, but because I am a stubborn beast, I put off reading them. Which I shouldn’t have, because they’re really easy to get through. Deceptively so. They’re the type of books that you can read in a sitting, then immediately have to reread so you can get the full effect.

steal like an artist

 

I really like how empowering this book is, plus his unique approach to his own art and writing is really fun to look at. Kleon discusses how he came upon his technique, plus he walks people through what it really means to be an artist with the obvious experience of someone who’s been there. There are some nuts and bolts things, but there’s also a lot of positivity and encouragement, something that artists of all types just don’t always get enough of. Based on an address to college students, this book is filled with great material that a reader can go back to over and over again. The words are also the graphics, so there’s a lot to take in visually from an actual artistic perspective, as well. This is something that’s really nice for people who are starting to get into their career, or who may need a pick-me-up.  It’s nothing to do with specific technique so much as it is helping you lay out your journey and not feel so alone. Get it here!

show your work

This one is more about marketing (though it’s not really based around that concept). This leads with the idea that generosity and using a network trump networking. Admittedly, this one has been harder to stay with, not because I necessarily disagree with it, but either I haven’t been in the right frame of mind each time I go to read it, or it just doesn’t flow as well as the first book. It does feel like there’s a little more nitty gritty to this one, so it’s a title I plan on going back to. Definitely worth a look, as well. Get it here!

 

 

 

 

The Dread is in the Details

Published October 12, 2017 by admin

There are a lot of things that make horror horror: certain tropes and cliches, different archetype/stock characters, playing up emotional reactions, gore, playing up the action and danger, writing what some people might call at least dangerous or sometimes taboo…

Those are all part of it. But let’s not forget the role of environment and description, hrm?

Admittedly, I love immersive fiction. I want to lose myself in a story, whether it’s something more or less happy like Little House on the Prarie (depending on which book you read), or something more along the lines of Clive Barker. A good book is a good book, and will put you right in the world.

And if it’s horror, it will make you want to run away from that world and hope you can escape before you can remember to just close the stinkin’ book.

Not that I have any experience with that. Ahem.

I’m not sure if it puts me back into a childlike mindset where everything is big and huge and intense, or if it’s just the mark of good writing preying on my human weaknesses, but either way, I dig it. I love that Neil Gaiman really goes into overdrive describing his Midwest settings and people in American Gods. Part of what makes Hellbound Heart and other Clive Barker titles sing is that he really digs in and describes the grotesque in almost loving detail. Part of Stephen King’s genius is really making sure you know all about the town of Derry in It – it’s history, geography, mythology. Plus, he makes sure every character is a full person – to an almost painful degree. That’s the only way we can really feel terrified for them, because if he wrote something to the extent of ‘So then the clown turned into a werewolf and chased after the kids on the bike..” Yeah, no. Granted, that summarizes a good few pages, but it really doesn’t convey the intensity of that scene, or the personal stakes.

When I have the wordcount, I really try to play certain sequences in my head. If I can see them, then translate that into words, I have a much better chance of getting my readers to feel the tension I’m feeling. Mooner more or less takes place in one room, but I made myself really go through that story bit by bit. Everything effects the mood: character description, dialogue and word choice, the phyiscal description of the title character, the emotions conveyed in the motivations for the final reveal…I want my readers to feel the freezing, barren winter, to really get a sense of how dangerous that time period was. Little things really mattered and sometimes made the difference between life and death back then, and it was important to bring as much attention to that as possible, so that when things do go down, the reader gets just what all is at stake.

Although Olde School is technically a mix of genres, I really wanted the scene where Paddlelump discovers dangerous things happening in his woods to be extremely vivid. The reveals just keep coming, so I mentally walked that path with him over and over and over, paying attention to what would be around him, under him, above him, and the thoughts that were going on inside him. You have to be somewhat hyper aware of setting and character and marry those together into something cohesive that also isn’t too bogged down by detail. Every leaf, every crunching footstep, every odd, dripping substance plays into winding up for the rest of the scene, and I picked and chose what to include through how they made me feel when I married to the action of the sequence.

It’s like how the cab of a roller coaster is slowly, slowly pulled up to the top of the first hill – that’s, essentially, what really good description does in horror – it gets you ready to have the bottom dropped out from underneath you and launches you onward through all the crazy stuff. You need the slow tug and pull to prepare you for what comes next. You need that description so you’re submersed enough that the horror elements do what they’re supposed to.

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Wanna see for yourself? Check out my 1800’s-era vampire story, Mooner, to see how details build a bigger picture.

If you’re more fantasy minded (or like some dark elements with your fantasy), then definitely check out Olde School.