Sunday, July 31, 2011

Dialogue Development

Before beginning this blog post, I'd like to thank all of those who've given me kind and encouraging words during what has been and continues to be the worst time of my life.  I always knew I had awesome friends, family and followers, but your thoughtfulness has cemented that fact in stone.  My dad is doing better than we expected and I'm hopeful that he'll be with us for longer than his doctors previously anticipated.

In returning back to my usual blog posts, I'd like to focus on dialogue.  Great dialogue moves a book along making the pages fly by so fast that the reader barely has time to notice.  In some cases, it can enhance a so-so plot and so-so story telling.  For me this was particularly true in the book Something Borrowed.  Overall, I wasn't too fond of the actual story, but the dialogue was pure genius.  Without it, I wouldn't have been able to finish the book.

Dialogue can spark wars and end them.  It can break hearts and mend fences; it can give hope and take it away. Speech is the most essential tool we as humans possess and should be represented accordingly in literature. Compelling literary dialogue should be able to move the same mountains for fictional characters as it does for living, breathing characters.

There is a trick to writing dialogue that grips the reader (and believe me, I'm still trying to find it).  However, there are some definite dos that I've both stumbled upon and hold true for writing dialogue and I believe that following some of these important tips can help even the most chronic of dialogue stumblers.

Listen to others talk--It's been said that the best way to write dialogue is to listen to how people talk.  To me, this can be both beneficial and a tad bit frightening (especially if you've ever caught the tail end of a conversation taking place at a bar, Walmart, while walking down the street behind a pack of teenagers, or occasionally even in your own home).  Real people don't normally use words in casual conversation that us average people have to grab a dictionary to understand.  This is especially true when it comes to adolescent characters and it irks me to no end when I read a teenager using the philosophical language of a forty year old. 

In casual conversation, a lot of nonessential information is often included that does nothing to move ahead to the point the conversation revolves around.  Although you want to have variation in your dialogue, rambling may be off putting to may readers reminding them of their battle to get off the phone each time Aunt Milly calls for a "brief" chat.  Keep your dialogue, short, simple, real and as a tool to progress the plot along.

Profanity, stereotypes, and slang--Anyone who knows me, knows I have a tendency to swear like a sailor.  It's not a habit that I'm particularly proud of but one that I attribute to working with attorneys all day.  Seriously, you'd be amazed how much you swear after receiving a law degree. Despite my mouth, I still don't like reading gratuitous foul language in books.  Granted, I know a mobster, inmate, or all around hooligan is not going to substitute frickin' in place of the less savory option, but like all things it should be done in moderation. 

The same can be said about slang and stereotyping.  Whether the characters are white, black, purple, or from Planet Zoltor; young,old or immortal, not everyone speaks a certain way.  I know grandparents who speak like teenagers, children with a better vocabulary than some adults, and Asians with a southern accent.  Just because visually a person fits every preconceived notion you've ever had doesn't mean they were cut from the same cloth.  In writing, I believe it's important not to play up stereotypes as not only are they played out, but some may even find them offensive.  Unless you are doing a period piece where some aspects of them may be unavoidable, use them sparingly, or in a humorous matter

Flow seamlessly--Dialogue should transition from one topic to another.  If your characters are talking about how their children's temper tantrums are driving them crazy in one sentence, it makes absolutely no sense to start spouting off about astronomy in another sentence unless there's some sort of transition between the two: 



Mary:  "Jill's tenacity is driving me crazy," Mary said.  "She just won't quit."
Holly:  "I know the feeling," Holly said.  "Henry is just as bad."
Mary:  "Have you heard how the shuttle launch went?"


Mary:  "Jill's tenacity is driving me crazy," Mary said.  "She just won't quit."
Holly:  "I know the feeling," Holly said.  "Henry is just as bad.  I'm about ready to ship him to the moon."
Mary:  "Speaking of the moon, did you hear how the shuttle launch went?"

Use action--In my opinion, the best dialogue is made while pouring a cup of tea, fighting an evil villain, or taking a walk in the park on a summer's day.  When two people are speaking, they're not always sitting side by side staring at the wall, they're doing something while they're in the midst of conversation.  Whether that something is a remedial task or a more complex physical feat, I believe a little action with dialogue goes a long way.

Don't provide too much info--Being overly wordy--especially in dialogue--and saying more than you really need to to get the point across in order to advance the plot is never a good idea. No one likes Chatty Cathy's or those people who give too much unnecessary details away (or the ending for that matter).  Keep conversations light, efficient, meaningful, and as a tool to advance the plot without giving too much away.

Dialogue tags--I've read varying opinions on the use of dialogue tags.  Many people like them as they leave no doubt about who is commanding the conversation while others prefer the use of gestures or actions as indicators of those speaking. 

Ex:  Sally gestured to the book on Harry's coffee table entitled Here's the Situation:  A Guide to Creeping on Chicks, Avoiding Grenades and Getting in Your GTL on the Jersey Shore with a disgusted look overcoming her face, "You know the world is going down the tubes when even The Situation can land a book deal."

One of the more resounding concurrences I've read surrounds the use of primarily the words "said" and "ask" for dialogue tags.  This is not something I personally agree with as I'm one of those people who hates to see one word used several times on a page.  But I can certainly see how using a variety of tags can make your dialogue unnecessarily hard to follow and a tad redundant.  It's been said that if a writer writes well enough that the reader won't even notice the use of  "said" and "ask" over an over again,  but in my opinion if you can use other tags sparingly, then I believe you should.

Real people have issues vocalizing what they're saying--If you're like me, you do your best speaking through the written word rather than the vocal.  Those who are quick on their feet with retorts or witty remarks have always been the subjects of my envy.  With that in mind, why should writing differ from real life?  Granted, you're going to have those characters who speak differently from others, especially if these characters are smartasses, but in real life people don't talk like characters from The Big Bang Theory (as much as I love that show).  In order to be realistic, some of your characters should stumble through dialogue in certain situations or they should be rendered nearly speechless.  Not all of us are rocket scientists and we all respond differently when confronted with different situations.  If your characters speak too perfectly, you may lose your readers as they'll start to see the story as fake and lose their ability to identify with the characters.

Exclamations and um uh--One of the biggest no-nos in writing is the use of an exorbitant amount of exclamation marks (some people say you shouldn't use them at all, some say you should use no more than one or two throughout your entire novel).  Although I've used them--a God awful lot in my earlier works--I tend to side with the whole staying away from them opinion.  Unless the exclamation mark adds something to the story or if the urgency of the situation wouldn't come across otherwise (which is a sign that you need to revise) then I believe the surprise, shock or emergency can be conveyed through the use of normal punctuation. 

With "ums" and "uhs", a little goes a long way.  Even though many, many people speak this way, their overuse is enough to make me want to pull my hair out.  If this type of speech is true to the character you've created, then I would say it's fine to use them, just keep track of how much you're using them.  Reread their dialogue out loud.  If you find yourself becoming annoyed by them, it's a good bet your readers will too.

Unexpected--One of the things I hate the most (whether it's in books or in movies) is predictable dialogue.  Recently, I was watching a movie I'd never seen before but found myself being miraculously able to  recite what the characters were going to say in a particular scene.  Why?  Because the writer went for the obvious  retorts instead of coming up with something new or original. As writers, originality on top of creativity is essential.  Going with the obvious or jokes that were around in 1920 is going to do nothing for your readers. This is why it's essential to test your work with beta readers or those people you know will not be afraid to exercise absolute honesty with you.  Have them review your dialogue, if they can predict where it's going, then perhaps change is necessary.

Now it's your turn.  In your opinion, what makes for compelling character dialogue?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Next Few Weeks

I honestly believe writing to be one of the most therapeutic of mechanisms used for coping with all of the curve balls life tends to throw at a person.  In the past I've used it as a tool for dealing with everything from a broken heart, a sorely ended friendship, mother/daughter angst, and the usual injustices of life.  In all, my life was pretty average.  The only issues I ever had to deal with were superficial and pretty easy to handle with a little time and my keyboard or a pen and paper.  In fact, I've always considered myself fortunate enough to never have had anything incredibly tragic in my life of which I've had to cope with in one way or another. That all changed in the last few days.

I've always been much, much closer to my dad than my mom--a fact of which has annoyed her.  It's not because I favored my dad over my mom, but because my dad has always stood by me.  When my mom and others in my life turned their backs on me, my dad was there. He never judged me nor did he chide me for making stupid mistakes.  Instead, I lived my life and when I failed, he was there to pick me back up and help me fix what I'd royally screwed up without so much as a complaint.  In my head, I always knew that if something--anything--happened in my life, my dad was there to get my back. 

As he (and I) grew older, his mortality became present in the back of my mind.  Even though he never (up until just under a week ago) stopped working 50-60 hour work weeks, there was a definite weakness in him that wasn't there before.  For two months, he'd been experiencing intense pain in his abdomen.  After a litany of tests were conducted, doctors found an abnormal amount of fluid around his stomach.  More tests were ordered and all the terrifying diagnoses were ruled out from those tests...or so we thought.  As it turns out, even though a certain test sounds promising and final in its determination, it really isn't. 

My dad's worsening condition prompted immediate exploratory surgery.  As a result, instead of harmless gallstones and an unexplained accumulation of abdominal fluid (which can happen), my family has been informed that my dad has terminal cancer and has only weeks (3 to 4, to be exact) to live.  I don't think I have to say how horrifically shocked we all are.  After delivering the devastating diagnosis and saying he was sorry, Dr. Doom immediately put the kabosh on any hope of chemotherapy being of any actual help to my dad and told us that we will just have to do our best to make him comfortable at home.  Thus, these past few days have been the worst days of my and my family's lives.

However, through all of this, there has been one ray of hope in that we've encountered one doctor who believes chemotherapy may actually be of some benefit.  It won't cure my dad, but it may add months (possibly up to a year) to his life.  This hasn't been confirmed by an oncologist as of yet and we're all on pins and needles awaiting the doctor's assessment.  All of us that is, except my dad.  Instead of lying in bed comatose (as I would be), he's been joking with the nurses and taking it all in stride.  Inside, I suspect it's a different story, but the way he's been handling everything exhibits nothing less than the strength he's personified throughout his entire life.  Truly, my dad is my hero.

I've left the hospital for now, but anticipate spending many days there (if we are fortunate enough to have chemotherapy even be an option) and am turning to the one thing that has managed to heal all the superficial problems of my past.  My posts for the next few weeks are going to be sparse, but I will continue writing to maintain my sanity. 

Not to be construed as a public service announcement:  For those of you who are holding grudges or are just plain peeved at your parents, siblings, friends, dogs, or whoever may be irking you, it isn't worth it.  Just a week ago I though I had years left with my dad, now I've been told that I only have weeks.  Assess why you're mad at that person or why you no longer speak to them and ask yourself how you'll feel if they pass before you've had a chance to make amends. Chances are, it's more petty than you think it is.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

What Makes a Writer a Writer?


What makes a writer a writer?  Is it the amount of hours a person spends writing; how long they've been writing; or how successful they are?  Is it having a million story ideas or just one insanely good one?  Or is anyone who simply calls themselves a writer in fact a writer? I believe there is no one characteristic that is able to define all writers; and that the list of what comprises a writer varies depending upon who you ask.  To me, the term "writer" carries no clear definition and should be left up to the beholder to define as I feel no one is going to be able to definitively state that it means this or that and have the majority agree with them--other than stating the obvious by saying a writer is a person who puts pen to paper or finger to key.  

In reality, being a writer encompasses so many spectrums.  It is both an emotional and physical act; a hobby and a way of life; a source for release and a contributor to frustration. In essence, writing is a walking contradiction which holds the writer a willing hostage until their work is complete--if it ever truly is complete.  All of us have our own thoughts on writing and being a writer and those definitions we choose to attach to those words define who we believe we are and how we go about accomplishing things in life.  Some people write, but don't consider themselves writers; while others think of themselves as a writer the second they pen their first short story or line of poetry.

What makes a writer?  Is there such a thing as a true writer vs. a person who just writes?  Here are some of my thoughts:

Show me the money:  Some writers (those who've most likely have received their first paychecks from writing) define being a writer by the amount of money their words bring in.  To me, this is completely ridiculous. In fact, I believe the opposite to be true.  Sure, getting paid to write is nice--and I'm sure we'd all like to receive payment for it some day--but that shouldn't be the driving force behind our writing.  In my opinion, I think the more a writer is paid and pressured to pump out work for those paychecks, the more their quality of work deteriorates (take James Patterson for example).  This is why my blog is so high quality <insert sound of crickets chirping here>.

Most writers write just to be read and to share their voice with the public--the money is just the icing on the cake.  I know that I'm more than happy just to share my work (whether people like it or not) for free as, to me, payment comes in the form of their interest and not how much money they're willing to shovel out of their wallets for it.

See improvement as a constant goal: A writer is a writer when they realize that improvement is a must and performing in a straight line isn't going to get them anywhere but lost. The act of writing requires growth and a willingness to recognize your mistakes and turn them around.  It requires constant research, practice, and the ability to take the criticisms of others to improve upon yourself.  Possessing an ability to recognize this and the understanding that most roads--at least the good ones anyway--twist and turn their way to the desired destination diverting from a straight path is something every writer should quickly grasp.

Patience and Perseverance--My mother always said, "Patience is a virtue".  It wasn't until I was an adult that I understood the weight this phrase carried.  To be a writer, you must possess patience; a crap ton of serious patience.  Patience when you're encumbered by the block; patience during the editing process; patience during the querying process.  In general, a vast amount of writing is all about patience and those who don't understand that are doomed for failure. 

Along with patience, perseverance is the next essential aspect of writing.  If you're one of those people who gives up after one person turns you down, then how are you going to manage yourself after five, fifteen, or even twenty rejections?  In writing, the competition is stiff and quite extensive.  I'm still floored by the sheer amount of people who write.  As with pretty much anything in life, only the strong survive and those who can persevere through the rough patches are the ones who will succeed.

New ideas=Exciting:  When I find myself thinking of a new concept for a story, I get excited to the point where I have to physically restrain myself from bouncing off the walls.  And from what I've been gathering by reading blog posts and tweets from other writers, this is pretty much a universal truth.  Ideas are our muses planting a seed in our minds for us to care for and cultivate into a story. Writers thrive on this, usually taking the ball and running with it no matter where it may lead them.  It's an adventure for us; a chance to explore a part of ourselves we never knew existed. 

That isn't to say though that all writers must have a million ideas going through their heads in order to be writers.  Whether a person writes a hundred books or just one; a writer is a writer.  Take J.D. Salinger, for example.  Although he wrote numerous short stories and novellas, it was his one novel that he's known for the most.  Now, does the fact that Mr. Salinger may have only had one idea for a novel or just simply didn't put all of his ideas into other novels make him any less of a writer?  I don't think so.

Recognizing that it's a way of life and loving it--Although I firmly believe that you can be a writer and NOT write everyday (contrary to what Mr. Stephen King may say), writing must be seen as a way of life and done as regularly as washing the dishes, doing laundry and mowing the lawn.  Everyone has responsibilities in their lives that don't revolve around writing.  However, a writer knows how to work around their schedules to make writing fit into their lives and make it seem as natural as making dinner and packing lunches. They realize that writing is not a chore and step back from it if they begin to consider it one.  Like raising a child, it's fun, challenging, and something in your life that you absolutely love doing,

Knows publishing may not happen, but keeps trying anyway--To be a writer, I believe that you need to accept the fact that publishing--at least by traditional means--may never happen.  This may in no way be a reflection on your writing and can lie solely with what traditional publishing companies view as marketable. A writer should stay true to themselves and true to their writing and keep persevering.  Just because you're not accepted by one of the big publishing houses, doesn't mean you won't see success through other means.

Researching and sharing knowledge--Yes, I'm a nerd.  I thoroughly enjoy learning about new things.  And  maybe my being partial to this is why I believe that a writer should care about sharing concepts and ideas in their work. Whether it's something trivial like a statistic or detailing the inner workings of an 1800's railroad system, I believe a writer should give their readers something they can take away from their books and perhaps wouldn't have known had they not read them.

A belief in yourself--Above all, in order for a person to be able to call themselves a writer, they need to possess a belief in both them and their abilities. Why should anyone else care about you or your work if you don't?  It's imperative for a writer to develop a hard skin and take all the bullets that are shot their way in stride.  Hurt feelings breed counterproductivity and you won't get anywhere if you're not being productive.

Okay readers and followers, what are your definitions of a writer?

I'm smack dab in the middle of Ascend, the final book in Amanda Hocking's Trylle Trilogy. I'd mentioned in my previous blog post that I was going to do a review of Switched and Torn, but since Ascend is moving fast, I'm going to wait until I complete it and just do a review of the entire trilogy in an upcoming post.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sex and the Novel

If the sex scene doesn't make you want to do it - whatever it is they're doing - it hasn't been written right. --Sloan Wilson

Sex; we all love it. In fact, it's the reason why we're even here at all (yes, like it or not, your parents had sex at one point in time). With that fact being evident, why is it still that some writers are so hesitant to go down a road we're all pretty much familiar with? I believe the reason lies behind the fact that sex is one of the hardest of human interactions to capture as far as believability is concerned. Writing about sex is difficult in that it's hard not to make it sound hokey. Everyone has their own definition of intimacy and what they believe is sensual or just plain sadistic. For some people, even the simple act of kissing in public is seen as completely taboo, while others think nothing of climbing all over each other in plain sight. Like most things in life, the key to writing a sex scene that successfully falls somewhere between ho-hum and whips and chains lies with balance. There's a fine line between being too raunchy and incorporating a necessary amount of detail to make the scene believable without completely turning your readers off (no pun intended).

For me, writing about sex is still one those areas that makes me blush. Although I'm getting better at it and am currently outlining/working on a book that is going to pretty much require the insertion (these unintended puns are writing themselves) of these scenes of intimacy, I still can't help but think to myself, what if my parents, siblings, pastor, 7th grade math teacher, neighbor, friend's dog, monkey's uncle, read this? If you're like me and this crosses your mind when you're writing, the best thing to do is just tune out that little prude inside your head and realize that you're an adult and all of those aforementioned individuals are no strangers to the topic of sex (no matter how much you wish to God they were). Turn off all your inhibitions and listen to the muse who guided you to write the story to begin with. After all, creativity shouldn't be marred by restrictions and just because you're writing about a shameless hussy, doesn't mean you too are one.

I think we can all--or mostly--agree on what makes for a good sex scene.  But what makes for a bad one?  What turns a scene from believably romantic to utterly vomit or laugh-inducing?  The following examples are my 6 don'ts to writing sex scenes in novels:

Avoid the cutesy body part names and adjectives: Trust me, unless your readers haven't matured above the age of twelve they aren't going to find descriptors such as man meant, one-eyed willie, junk, lady flower, passion rod, oyster, clitosaurus rex, lady pocket, love portal (my personal favorite), the promised land, or adjectives such as glistening, throbbing, heaving, moist, wet, suckle, lick, slobber, graze, or pant the least bit appealing ( I apologize if this portion of the post offended anyone--trust me, these were the tame ones).

Delaying or avoiding them altogether--One of the worst things a novel can do is hint at an attraction, go one step before the deed is a done deal, and then completely avoid it altogether. I think we've all read those novels where we find ourselves really pulling for the protagonist and their love interest. In my case, I know there have been numerous times where I've chanted in my head "Kiss her, kiss her dammit; oh for the love of God, just go for it." Or, on the flip-side, "Just do it now and get it over with." The latter of these statements is obviously not something you want your reader to think as it can mean the story isn't flowing as nicely as you intended. Sure, a measurable amount of tension should exist between the characters, but that tension shouldn't drag on through the entire book. Granted, your characters shouldn't immediately jump into bed together, but there's only so long your readers will allow the teasing to continue before they begin to feel played.

Less porn, more romance--Just because you're writing a sex scene doesn't mean you need to take notes from "Letters to Penthouse" to make it more effective--however, if you want a good laugh they're great material (or so I hear). Real passion comes from the heart and should be captured with equal amounts of grace and dignity in your writing. It isn't staged and it most certainly isn't vulgar. A true love scene is best written effortlessly without a lot of thought or interruption in flow. In essence, it should come to the writer naturally without having to resort to the usage of methods of contortion or colorful dialogue.

Does it move the plot--Like every other scene in a book, the purpose of any love scene should be to move the plot along and better the story. This is where outlining comes in handy. Are you writing the sex scene for the right reasons or is it just to entice the reader? Does it make sense with the story that these two characters are now bumping uglies or was it just an afterthought conceived by you as a means of adding a little zing to the plot? If you honestly can't answer these questions in the affirmative, then you may want to reconsider including the scene entirely as it may stick out for all the wrong reasons.

Sex isn't boring--There's a trick to finding that point between classy and just plain boring. Just because you aren't resorting to bondage and "Who's your daddy," verbiage, doesn't mean the sex has to be boring. To the contrary, a well-written love scene can be exciting.  It will leave you wanting for more from these characters; what they're future will be and if they'll end up together when everything is said and done. Get inside your character's heads. What are they thinking? Are they into it or are they pondering other things during the act--like whether the sky blue or teal drapes would go better with the decor in the living room, or whether they should make McDonald's or Pizza Hut for dinner. Capture your character's feelings and raw emotions and run with it. After all, if your characters aren't into the scene then you can hardly expect your readers to be either.

Is it a story about sex or story about love--There's a clear delineation between love and sex whereas sex does not equate love. To me, it's imperative to separate the two when writing. What are you trying to convey with your story? Is it a romance or are the sex scenes present specifically to illustrate promiscuity, destructive behavior or desperation/  If you're writing a love story, then the sex--in my opinion--shouldn't be prevalent as I believe too much in that type of situation can be somewhat of an overkill. For example, I adore The Time Traveler's Wife. It's incredibly well-written and a wonderful illustration of love conquering an incredible amount of pain and turmoil. But, with that said, after a while I began thinking to myself, Enough already. There are other ways to illustrate love and, although sex is one of the more entertaining ways, your characters should really explore alternate routes to take to prove their feelings for each other.

Because I believe seeing examples of what to and what not to do to be beneficial, I've included links to sites featuring novels that reflect love scenes done beautifully and those done so very, very wrong (lets just say I was slightly traumatized when I read those excerpts dubbed the recipients of the Bad Sex Award). Believe me, if you have any doubt at all about your writing abilities, those excerpts will give your ego a slight boost.

Sex scenes done oh so wrong

Bad Sex Award

Literary Sex is Such a Turn-Off

Sex scenes done so write

NY Journal of Books 101 Best Sex Scenes Ever Written

Blog: Jessica Barksdale Inclan

As always, feel free to shoot me a comment as to your thoughts on this topic. We all have our own points of view and I always appreciate reading yours.

A while ago I joined Goodreads (and by "joining" I mean I made an account and pretty much abandoned it).  However, I do plan on picking it back up and will hopefully have a review of Switched (and possibly Torn, as my Kindle is telling me that I'm 90% of the way through it) from the Trylle Trilogy by Amanda Hocking for my next post.

Monday, July 4, 2011

A Day in the Life of an Aspiring Author
Happy Independence Day to all my readers/followers from the USA!  It's been a rather exciting week for me (details coming in future blog posts if all goes well).  I hope you all had a safe, outstanding, and productive holiday weekend.

For this post I decided to deviate from my norm and go with a more tongue-in-cheek example of a typical day in the life of an aspiring author. Although, I'm using examples from my own life (albeit they aren't entirely literal examples as I'm not really writing about ninja robots, my daughter doesn't cause me to become that exasperated, I like my job more than I let on, and I don't swear like a sailor).  Still, I feel some of these little writerly quirks of mine may be relatable to some of you and I invite you to comment with typical days of your own (or blog about it if you want).

6:30 a.m.--Your rat bastard alarm clock goes off rousing you from your dreams of "the next big thing".  Sparkly vampires are out; ninja robots are the next big draw.  Annoyed, you hit the snooze button in the hopes of learning more about these butt-kicking androids so that you may commence work on the series that will launch your career. Hey, it worked for Stephenie Meyer, why can't it for you too?

6:40 a.m.--That damn alarm clock goes off again.  Thank God for snooze buttons.  Bring on the robot ninjas, you think as you fall back asleep to the smell of fresh ink drying on your epic publishing contract.

6:50 a.m.--Ten to seven! With only thirty minutes now to get yourself out the door, you curse that traitor of an alarm clock for allowing you to oversleep while promising yourself that you'll go to bed earlier and take a break from the WIP you've been working on since it magically popped into your head while driving (causing you to narrowly avoid hitting a lamp post).

7:10 a.m.--You hurriedly stumble around the house, nearly tripping over a stack of notes and research materials you've been referencing to ensure your work is historically accurate.  Promising yourself that you'll buy a folder to organize your notes more thoroughly, you make your way to your daughter's room to ready her for preschool.  While getting her dressed, you contemplate a major revision in the plot you put together for your ninja robot saga which you think is sorely needed and inadvertently put her shirt on backwards.  Assuring her it's good to go against the grain every once in a while, you go back to mentally envisioning your new plot twist and how to make it gel with the rest of your novel and whether you should put your old WIP on the back burner.

7:30 a.m.--Finally, you're on your way to your day job with barely enough time to spare.  Had you had the luxury of being a full-time writer, you'd already be at work right now.  Promising yourself that this time next year things will be different and you'll have that all-important book deal inked, you begrudgingly pull into the parking lot to start a new day.

8:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.--Between taking calls from clients, dealing with office drama (a/k/a awesome writing material), and meeting deadlines, you find your desk papered with post-it notes depicting strokes of genius in dialogue, quotes, writing resources, agents' names and addresses, ideas for future projects and the last shreds of your dignity. With as much typing/handwriting that you've done today, you can't help but think that this whole writing thing better pan out before you're diagnosed with carpal tunnel and are forced to strike keys with a straw in your mouth.

12:00 p.m.-1:00 p.m.--Lunch.  The one solace available to you during the day.  Thankfully, you've brought your laptop and can retreat into your writing.  Too bad your coworkers don't feel the same way.  Instead of making headway, you find yourself bombarded with questions:  "What's your story about?"  "Why robot ninjas?"  "How did you come up with that idea?" "When can we buy your book?"  "When you sell it, are you going to quit your job and buy a mansion?"  Answering politely, but secretly thinking to yourself, shoot me now, you finish lunch with your word count two words higher from before lunch began.

1:00 p.m.-5:00 p.m.--Rewarding yourself for being ahead of schedule, you take a "mental health" break from work and surf the web.  After checking out the blogs of other writers and excerpts from their work, you get a pit in your stomach.  When comparing your work to theirs you realize that you have a much longer way to go than you think. Your mood switches from one of utter confidence to one of utter despair and then to one nothing short of pure annoyance as your coworker comes into your office to chitchat about the cute thing her cat did last night.

5:30 p.m.- 9:00 p.m.--You're home; time for writing...After your make dinner, do a load of laundry, give your kid a bath, feed your flatulent dog, spend quality time with your family, shower, iron your work clothes, clean up after dinner, take a call from your mother, explain to your husband why you won't hit it big by next week, fold and put away the laundry, get some exercise in to get rid of that roll you mysteriously acquired over the last month, and feed every living animal in the house including Gary, the snail, who you believe croaked about two weeks ago but don't have the heart to tell our daughter.

9:01 p.m.:  With the kid in bed and the husband passed out, it's go time.  Let's get it on!

9:10 p.m.--You hear your daughter's bedroom door squeak open.  Here we go again, you think to yourself .  Your daughter's footsteps draw nearer as she saunters into the living room and states that she can't go to bed without a glass of water.  Putting your laptop down, you oblige hoping that the water will somehow keep her confined in her room, but knowing that you're not that lucky.

9:25 p.m.--Just as you're in the throes of a ninja robot/werewolf android battle scene that hit you on your way home, you hear the familiar squeak and prepare yourself for the next set of demands from the munchkin.  As it turns out, she spilled her water all over herself...and her sheets.  Starring longingly at your screen, you force yourself up from your laptop with visions of werewolf android disembowelment dancing through your head.

9:34 p.m.--The sheets have been changed and your mini me is now tucked away in a dry bed.  While changing her sheets an epiphany struck you:  Werewolf androids are so 2010.  Your new antagonist will be of a zombie variety.  Thump, thump, thump.  Here she comes again.  Since she ended up wearing most of the first glass of water you got for her, another one is requested.  Rummaging through your cabinet, you find a sippy cup and consider it a foolproof plan.  Back to the zombies.

9:47 p.m.--"What now?" you bellow to yourself.  "Mommy, look what I can do," your daughter proclaims a la Stuart from MADtv.  You begin to wonder if Adam Mansbach was secretly spying on you for his inspiration when he wrote his brilliant bedtime story Go The F*ck To Sleep.

9:48 p.m.-10:30 p.m.--All is quiet on the Western front. Now that you finally have time to yourself, you return to your harrowing battle scene that--in your humble opinion--makes those in the Matrix look like nothing more than slap fights.  About a half-hour into it, you're noticing that you're making good pace and begin referring to yourself as the Carl Lewis of typing.  Of course, just as you start to get cocky, you find yourself smashing into a brick wall.  For the next twelve minutes, you find yourself starring into space contemplating whether or not certain words you just typed are even real words.  Really, what the hell kind of word is obligingly?

10:31 p.m.--After a quick Google search and dictionary entry, you find out that obligingly is in fact a word and you're not losing it after all.

10:32 p.m.-1:00 a.m.--With roughly 1,015 words into your breakthrough novel, you break the cardinal rule of first drafts by rereading and editing the holy hell out of it.  After you've hacked/slashed/and mentally burned paragraphs, sentences, conjunctions and adjectives--including "obligingly"--you have now ended up with 274 "good" words for the night and one killer migraine.

1:01 a.m.--Looking at the clock for the first time in three hours, you realize that you now have just over five hours of available sleep time left before you have to get up for work in the morning.  Reluctantly, you shut down the laptop, pull yourself up from the couch (where a permanent indentation of your keister remains) and go to bed. You're going to pay for this in the morning.  But hey, at least your alarm clock has a snooze button.

My next post will feature a return to the norm:  The please don'ts of writing sex scenes.  I hope to see you there.

*For those of you interested, I've been thinking about doing author/aspiring author interviews and posting one per month (unless I find the interest to be higher than that) on my blog.  If you're interested, shoot me an email at

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Writer's Guilt: Finding That Perfect Balance

I decided to do a post devoted to writer’s guilt partly because it’s been eating away at me for quite some time and partly because I’m curious if any of you authors and aspiring authors have ever felt the same way.

What is writer’s guilt? Well, I’m happy you asked. See, I believe writer’s guilt means different things to different writers as we are all individuals with varying circumstances in life of which to feel guilty about.  Whether it be the sheer amount of time writing consumes, interference with our day jobs, personal lives, families, or guilt because we just aren’t writing, I believe we’ve all been in the same boat a time or twelve. For me, all of the foregoing have applied--and still do apply at times.

In essence, it's a constant battle between being the mom, the wife, the nine-to-fiver, and the writer.  It's a battle that is seemingly endless, but yet can be won with the right amount of balance, perseverance, and identifying the reasons behind your guilt and the most probable solutions.

Writer's Guilt and Families

Writers with families have a whole slew of guilt to contend with.  Along with the demands of our dreams, we must also try to keep up with the demands of a household which is no easy feat.  With my husband and daughter at home, I have a relatively small family compared to other writers. However, even though they’re small in numbers, my family’s needs are no where near small. There’s a fine balance between family and work and, in the end, no matter how big my dreams are, my family’s are always going to come first (which is one of the reasons why I don’t/can’t post or write as often as I’d like to).

Still, when I do squeak out "me time" and write, the guilt over taking the time to do so, seriously cuts through my productivity.  I always feel as though I should be spending more time with my daughter--watching her grow, teaching her nuggets from my relatively small pool of knowledge, or ensuring my attention is completely undivided in case she performs the random acts of cuteness she's prone to doing.  Then, of course, there are our spouses--our biggest fans.  They support our schizophrenia; they embrace our dreams; and they complain relatively little about our coming to bed at all hours of the night.  Yet, the guilt overtakes us as we know their secret sacrifices are going to go unrewarded until something comes of us and our writing.  Even though they say, it's alright, there's still a little voice inside our heads that contests that response.

Writer's Guilt and Personal LivesWhen I was writing Enigma Black (which is now in the hands of some wonderful fellow Tweeps and beta readers, God help them), for weeks on end I put myself in the zone.  By doing so, I basically didn't have much of a life at all--unless you count developing fictional lives for multiple imaginary characters as having a social life.  Friends would call me and I would cut conversations short--I detest talking on the phone even when I'm not writing.  I would receive invitations to parties on Facebook (which I was rarely checking) and  it was pretty much a 50/50 shot whether or not I would attend them.  In all, despite the occasional e-mail, text message, or my husband dragging me kicking and screaming from the house, I was not a very involved friend to say the least. 

I count myself very lucky to have the friends I do.  Being the understanding individuals that they are, they knew what I was up to and, although they were beginning to suspect that I was turning into some crazy, secluded cat lady, they respected what I was doing.  Still, no matter how many "Oh that's okays" and "Maybe next times" I heard, there was still a voice inside my head telling me what bad a friend I was being.  That's when I decided that perhaps taking mini writing breaks were both healthy and necessary. 

As writers, we tend to isolate ourselves from those around us. This is bad enough for us married writers, but for those single individuals this could potentially be incredibly detrimental to their overall mental well-being.  Human contact is important and essential for everyone--unless you're J.D. Salinger.  Take time away from your writing to visit those people who've supported you and your head-scratching passion.  By spending only a couple hours a week reciprocating their friendship, you'll not only help to erase your guilt, but you may just discover that the quality of your writing improves with a clearer conscience.

Of course, we'll see how well I follow this suggestion now that I'm working on a short story and new novel...

My writing guilts
Don't laugh at my craptastic excuse of a pie chart
I'm a writer not a graphic artist
Writer's Guilt and Day Jobs
If you're like me and are not fortunate enough to be able to live off of your writing yet, then you know how pesky those day jobs really are.  Not only are they detrimental to your writing, but those who are in professions they find unsatisfying and far below what they actually want to do with their lives, may notice their morale and productivity faltering while daydreaming about which character's life to destroy, who's going to hook up with their beloved protagonist, and which book idea of theirs is going to sell millions of copies.

Of course, as this post deals with guilt, the guilt factor kicks in when I find myself working on non-work related writing projects while I'm still on the clock.  Granted, it doesn't happen that often, but when it does, a part of me feels as though I'm committing a cardinal sin.  After all, it's my day job that supplies me with the monetary means to pay for my Internet service, laptop, household bills, compulsive shopping, and those countless books on writing in my dust-encrusted shelves  Further exacerbating my guilt is the fact that I have a very rewarding job and the good fortune of having wonderful co-workers and supportive bosses.

But, be that as it may, there are still those days where the work I do gets to me and trying to appease the whims of others bores holes into my very being. When I find that happening, I take what I describe as "mental health breaks".  These breaks consist of taking roughly ten minutes--if there's nothing pressing on my plate--to surf the Internet for materials I'm researching, check e-mail, read fellow blogger's posts, or outline future writing projects.  By doing this, not only am I giving myself a breather, but I feel as though I'm still doing something somewhat beneficial and not so insubordinate.

Writer's Guilt and Lack of Writing

This is probably one of the most common of the guilts faced by any writer.  As writers, it's ingrained in us that we must write.  The mere act of writing to a writer is as vital as blood is to the body.  It's what recharges us, motivates us, gets us through our days.  For those of us with day jobs, aside from our families, it's the one thing we look forward to after dealing with the demands of others. Writing offers us an outlet to be our own boss (well aside from those voices in our heads that just won't shut up)  and creating those worlds and ideals we wished existed. 

When we start a project, especially one that we're particularly passionate about, we write and keep writing until we can no longer feel our fingers.  Then, real life kicks in sweeping the rug out from beneath our feet. Days, even weeks, go by unrelenting in their grip on us.  For some writers, depression may kick in.  Others may feel anxious or slightly irritated (just ask my husband) by their lack of writing.  Even more writers may begin to doubt their abilities as writers in general.  It's as if we're being forced to traverse a desert without so much as a glass of water.  As each minute passes, the thirst becomes more insatiable until we begin to feel as though our lives are being sucked from our very bodies with our only means of resuscitation being through crafting the written word--this may sound a bit on the dramatic side, but being as I just came back from vacation, I can honestly say it holds a grain of truth. 

Finding a Perfect Balance

Fortunately, the solution to most of those guilts plaguing writers lies within the ability to balance our lives.  As writers with restrictive schedules, it's up to us to be able to find ways to balance both our responsibilities as well as our dreams.  Though some days this is easier said than done, it's this delicate balancing act that can make all the difference in the world to our demeanors.  Take time and reflect on your schedule.  Is it honestly as full as you think it is?  Chances are you may be able to sneak some writing in on your lunch break, right after the kids are put to bed, during their various sporting event practices, or before your spouse gets home.  If you have plans immediately after work or throughout the weekend, work it in at night (if your body allows it).  The bottom line is that there are always ways to work writing into your schedule even if it's only for a couple minutes (sometimes my best material comes from my shortest writing times, while my worst comes from those days where I have literally hours to play with). 

Remember, EVERYONE takes breaks.  Just because you skip writing for a day doesn't mean you have any less potential than anybody else.  I know that there are those writers who say you must write something every single day, but to that I have to ask why? Taking a day off to focus on something else other than writing can be quite refreshing and can completely recharge your battery for the next day.  It's when you impose those further restrictions upon yourself and begin to fall behind on your expectations that guilt and defeat kick in.  Do what you can, go with the flow and know that with some keen planning and a little leniency, you'll be able to control the guilt from consuming you.

Okay, fellow writers, what are some of your biggest writing guilts?

My next post will be a little more on the fun/lighthearted side.  I hope to see you there!