Check out my latest blog post on my group writers blog: Happy Authors Guild.
So, here we are: New Year’s Eve. The end is here. Well, the end of the year, that is… but also the death of my writing goals for this year. I’m planning to shut everything off and bang out a few thousand words before I have to give up the ghost.
However, another door opens with the new year. Almost everyone, myself included, thrives on the idea of a fresh start. New year, new you. Even if we failed ourselves sometimes, even if we fell short of our goals, we learned something from it. I learned that I have to focus on one project at a time and see it through. I learned editing is not a one stop shop for me. I learned that it’s okay if you don’t write every single day. I mean, sure, that’s the advice we hear so often, but I’ve found a lot of advice just doesn’t work for me. I’d rather write three days out of the year and absolutely love it than every day and delete half the shit anyway.
Writing is like a relationship for me. I have to nurture it, but sometimes I have to give it space. I have to grow with it and fall in love with it over and over again. Hold on loosely.
Forcing myself to write makes me loathe it. I hate what I write then I have to edit the hell out of it which I hate even more. When it becomes something I’m doing out of obligation then what am I doing in this relationship at all?
That’s the thing they never tell you. It’s not just about finding something that you love, it’s about staying in love with it. Each story, each day I learn more about my relationship. I learn what works and what doesn’t. I fully believe that every scraped story or red mark on the page makes us stronger. My goals for this new year will be more accessible.
New year, new us. Take your successes as well as your failures into the new year.
I flirted with the idea of a resolution list or a bucket list or something of that nature. I have so many goals right now that it’s almost discouraging to write them all down. So, I’m opting for one this year:
Finish a novel.
I don’t want to overwhelm myself with publication or anything else, I don’t want to restrain my creativity with which project yet. But I’m saying now, by the end of 2015 I will have a publication ready manuscript.
What will you do this year?
I hear authors talking about how their characters talk to them, even dictate their own stories. Don’t get me wrong, my characters become people I know, whether I like them or not, but I have to wonder what I’m doing wrong. My characters don’t tell me anything. They are more like a recipe I create: little nutmeg, dash of empathy, tbsp sarcasm: protagonist.
I start with a character idea or a plot idea and from there I figure out what the best platform is. For instance, in the novel I’m writing The Voodoo Queen, one of my MC’s is a murderess. In the beginning, that was all she was until I developed her backstory. I needed to explore why she was what she was. I also discovered that I wanted her to be more. I didn’t want just a face for evil, I wanted layers. Add an egg and a dash of salt, maybe some cayenne: antagonist.
The other MC in VQ is an RN, who I wanted to be MC1’s opposite. You know, MC1 murders, MC2 saves people. However, MC2 turned out kind of flat, one dimensional. Time for a little pepper.
The same way I build my stories from the ground up, I develop my characters. I discover what personality I want them to have. Then I work backwards, figuring why each characters has that personality. What shaped them? What made them who they are?
Ta da: Backstory.
I find that I don’t often use each backstory, but it helps me understand who my characters are, it helps me stay true to the person I want them to be. Set the heat to medium, add ingredients, bring to simmer.
This is something I’ve only recently discovered. I’ve let ghosts of characters lead me down rabbit hole after rabbit hole, getting me so lost I didn’t even know what or who the hell my story was about anymore. I’ve been 80,000 words deep with no clear concept of my plot. Rogue villains, contradictory heroes, one hit wonder character appearances.
I learned though, that I need some guidance. I’m not this literary genius from which a fount of mastery writing pours. I need a golidlocks amount of structure. I can go into a story with no ending, no plot, no setting, but the one thing that I absolutely cannot do is venture into the unknown without my character recipes.
I have to know who the journey is about to know where the journey is headed.
That is the question.
It seems like it should be simple. My default has always been third person past tense. I guess that was always the natural way for me to write. Then I started writing The Girl Without Hands and for the first time I really enjoyed writing in first person. Granted, my MC is Esther and she’s super spunky, which is probably the only reason I love it so much. In my other novels I keep it third person, and while I zoom in and out as warranted, it really is me expressing things for my character. I write their story.
With Esther, I get to be her for a few hours a day. Esther is inadvertently funny, clever, and brave. She has a foul mouth and an amazingly open heart. It also doesn’t hurt there is a sexy king making eyes at her at this part of the story. ❤ However, while I’ve been Esther-ing, I’ve asked myself more than once if past tense is the right tense for me…er… her. Ultimately, I decided that yes it was. And that only was minimally influenced by the fact that I was already 30,000 words in when I started questioning it.
However, the dilemma does not end there, my friends. On my plate right now, in addition to Esther, are two short stories that I’m writing. Both I have chosen to write in first person to best convey the tone of the story, but that same question has stalled me at my last scene (on story one).
I’ve done some reading, and a lot of people aren’t too keen on the present tense stuff. Personally, I think in high intensity stories, it adds an immediacy that can’t be matched by past tense. The story I’m writing is short, and honestly could benefit from that immediacy.
Then again, could I just be obsessed with my discovery? Does “He looks at me” sound more intense than “He looked at me”?
What helps you decide on past or present tense? Or is this a debate that rages solely in my head? And does the viewpoint make a difference to you when it comes to tenses? I never have this problem when I write third person. Active tense just doesn’t hold the same allure unless I’m in first person and I’m in the action myself.
Do you ever change it up? Or is there a one size fits all stories?
I’m writing a book. Well, I’m writing like seven, actually. Thing is, I haven’t actually finished any of them. And half written drafts just don’t count, ya know? So, I’ve been trying to figure myself out. What works best for me? Every time I think I know, I realize:
I have no freaking clue.
My strategy for a long time has been working on multiple projects at once. Obviously, that only works when I’m juggling short stories- which are the only things I’ve finished successfully and been published. I’ve considered this my method because I loathe when I force myself to write. I end up deleting most of it anyway.
Sometimes I think that everything I’ve learned about writing has taken me way too long to do it. However, the biggest lesson is my writing is best (needs less revision) if I write happy. Finding out what makes me write happy has been slightly painful. The pain being slow moving to stalled drafts.
Turns out, self imposed deadlines seem to switch my muse into rebel mode. No writing shall pass. Too bad it has taken me years to figure that out and get out of that cycle. I don’t do well juggling novel drafts, I have to focus on one and see it through. But you read all of this writing advice when you’re in the my dream is just to finish this fucking thing zone. A lot of it is really great, it improves your writing so drastically that editing isn’t that bad. Active tense, passive voice, first person vs third… Things I had never really considered, but can make or break your story when all is said and done.
Some advice sounds great, but just isn’t applicable for me. Like: I can’t revise, rewrite, and edit my first draft in one go. Sounds amazing though, right? Just get it all done at once, plug all the holes, iron out the plot, dress your manuscript up in pretty clothes. Maybe when I’m a better writer, I’ll be able to do this. Right now, the result is red ink and highlights and depression.
For me, my drafts are like skeletons- sometimes with some muscles, but generally just bones. I have to build the muscle (revise, plot bust, lean out or plump up), then I can slip the skin on (Edit, rewrite, iron out the kinks), and finally I can put some make up or something on it before I send it out to get rejected a couple hundred times.
I’ve only gotten to the muscle part with any one of my novels, so my conclusion is only that I have to focus on one project at a time and one step at a time. And if I get stuck, I can do the research that I avoid like my keyboard will suddenly become covered in poison.
I also started this blog, so that if anyone ever reads it, I’ll have some accountability. Or at least somewhere to air my troubles.
If you are reading this, my other timid tread into social media is I started a facebook.