Wednesday, June 29, 2011

I'm Back...

Posted by Jennifer B. at The Writing Cocoon

I finally made it home last night, a little before nine o'clock.  It was an exhausting trip home, but it is over. Now I just have to reset my body to GMT and get myself back into my routine.

I'd like to say that I got a lot of writing done over the last ten days, but it didn't happen. A few times I wrote down some notes and ideas, but I wasn't in the mood to really write. Well, that's not entirely true. I didn't have the down time, the space, and the time alone I needed to get in the flow of writing. I didn't make it happen.

Despite getting to bed at the normal (for England) hour last night, I woke up with a fuzzy head and the will to do very little. Hoping to clear my mind, I took a walk around the park. It didn't help. Now I'm fighting off sleepiness, and it isn't even dinner time. 

So, I'm a little disappointed that I didn't manage to prioritize my writing time while I was away, and now I'm faced with the task of rebuilding my routine once again. Maybe I'm making a mountain of a mole hill, but a whole week off feels like a set-back. The routine is important to me, and life keeps getting in the way.

I think I went wrong when I didn't set myself specific writing tasks for my travel time. Perhaps I knew this trip would be too difficult. The jet-lag will steal some time, too, now that I'm back.  My goal was to have the first draft of this novel finished before July 7, and with that in mind, tomorrow's goal is to write at least five hundred words.

Something else I'm contemplating - joining this writing challenge here. Do I have the nerve? I was thinking about starting to submit next January, but why wait? This challenge might give me the extra support/push I need.

I'm also trying to finish a novel for The Women of Fantasy book club. Yes, it's true, I couldn't even finish reading a novel. I managed to sleep on the planes and trains, and very little reading took place. We'll see how many pages I get through tonight before my eyes start to cross. Two days left to read this month's book!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Snapshot Saturday - Belgium

Bruges, Belgium. (Photo: The Writing Cocoon)
These are photos taken from a spring-time trip to Belgium.  It was just before Easter, so lots of amazing chocolate displays and tulips.

The above photo was off of an interesting fountain just off the main market square in Bruges.
 I just thought it was an unusual fountain and meant to get around to looking up the symbols, but I never did. I really love this photo, though. 

Mannekin Pis: Brussels, Belgium. (Photo: The Writing Cocoon)
 Quite a boisterous crowd around the tiny little man.  They were singing a song - if I remember correctly, the school song from their university.

Chocolates: Brussels, Belgium (Photo: The Writing Cocoon)

Belgian Beer: Brussels, Belgium (Photo: The Writing Cocoon)
My husband loves beer - this is some sort of traditional stein. 

Easter Chocolate Display: Bruges, Belgium. (Photo: The Writing Cocoon)

Tulips: Brussels, Belgium. (Photo: The Writing Cocoon)

To participate in Snapshot Saturday, just follow the rules from Alyce's blog:

To participate in the Saturday Snapshot meme post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken... Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don't post random photos that you find online. 

Posted by Jennifer B. at The Writing Cocoon

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Traveling this Week

My luggage and a cranky cat. (Photo: The Writing Cocoon)

I'm on the road for the next ten days. So, posting may be a bit sporadic, but I'll do my best to post at least a few times while I'm gone.

This trip, I'm lugging around my laptop and a thumbdrive with my novel. The trip isn't the site-seeing sort - I'm visiting friends and family back in the US. I've really been working hard to establish some sort of routine with my writing, and this trip is coming smack dab in the middle of a good writing streak. I just hate the idea of losing momentum. Therefore, into the carry-on goes the laptop and a ridiculous number of cords and plugs.

Am I kidding myself? Will I be dragging this machine around for no good reason? Will I really sit down and write on the road? This will be a bit of an experiment. 

What about you? How do you handle these interruptions to your writing routine? Has your laptop become a permanent extension of your self?

Posted by Jennifer B. at The Writing Cocoon

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Writing My First Fight Scenes

Posted by Jennifer B. at The Writing Cocoon

I wrote my first fight scene a while back.  I’ve never been in a real fight, not like the one in my story. I didn't realize how difficult it would be, and I felt like I was taking a stab in the dark (sorry- couldn’t resist). Reading fight scenes in a novel or watching a movie with fighting is not the same as having first hand knowledge or experience. For this scene, I tried to visualize the fight and each movement, and that is what I wrote down.

Fortunately, most of the fighting in my novel involves magic (or will, once I write it all). I can create the rules, to some degree, about what is possible and plausible. However, there are still things I have to attend to. How many people can one person (magic or no) fight at once? How do groups fight? How many blows to the face and head can a person really take before toppling over?

I’ve always found movie fight scenes ridiculous. Men in movie bar fights land punch after punch to the head and torso and their enemy doesn’t fall down and they don’t seem to tire. Now, sometimes this is all part of the hyperbole of the story, like in the “Kill Bill” films, for instance. That’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m trying to create a fantasy world that feels real to my readers, so I don’t want my heroine taking down hordes without breaking a sweat. 

Over at, I found an article titled “Writing Fight Scenes.” It gives some good basic advice on sentence length and flow. You know: don’t write super long, detailed sentences; vary the length; keep the action flowing; and leave some movement to the reader’s imagination. I’m going to use these tips and others from the article in my first draft revising.

Even though I said that I thought that the magic element made it easier for me to write the action on the one hand (because I’m making up how the magic works), it presents its own challenge on the other. I’m realizing that I haven’t thought through my magic properly, yet. Not only do I need to really think about and document precisely how the magic works, I need to figure out how to describe it.  I think I did a passable job in this scene, but I want to think it through more so that the descriptions will be consistent throughout the book.

Finally, there is a third element of this scene I want to discuss: my character behaved in a way that shocked me. I’m thinking about changing her history so that she has known all along about her secret identity. The fight scene has shown me that, not only has she known exactly who she was all along, but she has had some training. And she can kick some serious ass if she needs to. The violence of the scene has shocked me a bit. I didn’t know she would be capable of such things, but she was, very. This changes everything. Again. The tone of the book, the character, her history - there is a different color to it all now. The book started out a little too cutesy and now it has taken a turn to some serious adult violence. I don’t know if it was excessive, though, given the situation. I feel like I need to take this all in and have it inform my re-drawing of her character. 

My MC did what she had to do to survive, but she did it with lethal precision. There was no wounding and getting away. Also, I don’t think she’s ever killed anyone before and now she’s killed two people. Maybe I need to reevaluate the level of violence and decide whether or not to tone it down.  How does this affect her? I read this article by a SF writer, Simon Morden. In it, he muses about writing violence in general, but offers some good points about when and why to use it in a novel. Lots to think about.

All I know is, this is going to be one hell of a re-write process. This first draft is turning into one long note taking session. Everything is going to change. Should be interesting to see how it all comes out.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Jelly Donuts - Good Middles

"Which way to the end?" (Lake District, England. Photo: The Writing Cocoon)

Still in the middle of my novel.  I suppose I shouldn’t write that as if it were news. The fact is, I’m going to be here for a while, so we all might as well get used to it. We’re deep in the woods, this novel and I. Remember how I struggle with beginnings in life? Well, middles may be trickier when it comes to novel writing.

At this point in my fledgling writing career, I’ve not developed a real working rhythm. Do I work on one project at a time? Mix in short story writing with novel and blog writing? Write two novels at once?

New story ideas keep popping into my head and not story ideas for this novel, but for the next novel. Then there are my multiple, in-progress short stories.   Should I take some time off from the novel and get them ready for contest or publication submission? Oh, and I’ve become more and more obsessed with the idea of flash fiction. Do I play around with ultra-short story telling for a while?

I’ve come to a place where a hard truth- that I thought I knew, but now realize I didn’t truly understand- is hitting home: writing is damned hard work. Writing may seem magical and cool, but there is no getting around it, writing is creating. And creating can be: difficult, emotional, exhausting, and flat out work. Add to that the fact that I’m not getting paid, lingering self-doubt, and a fear of failure, and I’ve got a mountain to climb in bringing forth my book. Just like every other writer. This is where the focus tends to wander for me.

Part of me wants to close this manuscript document, and click on that ever-so-alluring “New Project” option. Ah, a delicious new beginning to savor, mmm. It is the lure of the blank screen, where dangling plot threads aren’t blowing in the breeze and difficult choices don’t have to be made (I’ve decided a favorite character has to die, but I just can’t bring myself to pull the trigger).

The other part of me wants to go back to the beginning, ‘cause let’s face it, this novel is rough right now, like 24-grit sandpaper, like my heels after a summer in sandals, like a two day hangover, like a - well, you get the point. I am itching to abandon my place in the middle of the novel and go back to the beginning and rewrite. I was happy in the beginning, and now I can make it even better. I’ve learned so much already about myself and my characters and their stories. Plus, I have to re-write anyway, so why not start now?

Maybe I should go back to the beginning or start a new novel, but I’m not going to and here’s why: I need to finish the story. First, there is that whole accomplishment thing. I know it will help me to actually finish the damned thing, get it all out, have a complete project for a change. I’m trying to foster and feed this silly, fragile writing ego I’ve hatched, and accomplishments are its main food source.

Second, I really need to see what happens in my novel. I read somewhere that you have to know the end to write the beginning. With every scene I write, I learn more about my story and characters. I need to see the full circle, I think, in order to make a good revision.  Sure, a lot of what I’ve written/am writing will be cut or revised, but it might be easier to see my plot once I’ve finished the first draft. Things keep happening to my characters that I never anticipated. Who knows what else I might “discover” in writing through to the end?

Third, I don’t want to become a writer with a drawer full of half finished manuscripts. I think I’m realistic enough to know that once I let a half finished manuscript gather dust and move on to something new, it might not ever see the light of day again. This story deserves better than that.

I have written a little over 1,600 words today, in spite of my current lukewarm feelings toward the middle. Slowly I am getting somewhere in the storyline, even if it is only a few words at a time. I can almost see the end. Maybe something will just *click* and the rest will become clear.

How do you get through the middle?

Posted by Jennifer B. at The Writing Cocoon

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Stuck in the Middle

Posted by Jennifer B. at The Writing Cocoon

I’m working on my first novel, a fantasy epic set in another world.  The beginning was easy, I could scarcely keep up with the flow of ideas and scenes in my head. I would type for an entire afternoon, only stopping when interrupted by my husband returning home from work. Beginning a new story is a little like entering into a new romance, everything is new and exciting. Anything can happen and optimism is high.

That was seven months ago. The shiny has rubbed off. Excitement over new discoveries has given way to plot holes and sagging middles. I’ve seen this story at 4am.  The honeymoon is definitely over.

For starters, the first half is entirely too long while missing key story elements. The  characters are thinly sketched, the world building needs work and consistency, and I’m sure I’ve lost a sup-plot. In fact, I’m not certain that I’ve set the beginning properly at all. At around sixty-four thousand words, somehow the beginning had shifted.  Those first few chapters seemed extraneous, the beginning action was now in chapter three - or maybe even four. Those first chapters need to be cut.  In general, writing needs to be tighter.  I’m going to have to go back and add content, but cull word volume.

I didn’t start out with an outline. This is a story that has taken up space in my head for many years. In preparing for NaNoWriMo (last year's NaNo being the beginning of this novel), I pulled up some old notes and beginnings of character sketches, but I had no plot outline. I dove in and went for it. Shlepping through the middle, I’m finding that I’m going through this part of the story blind. 

How do I get to the end, and better yet, what the hell is the end? This may be my problem. I really am not sure where I’m going and neither are my characters. They are meandering about the blank screen. No wonder the writing is feeling a bit dull.

In an earlier post, I wrote about using some tricks for writing out of a bad patch (or slow patch). I could use some of those ideas again to get through this place in the novel, but it feels like it is time to sit down and work out the ending of this novel and the story arc. Not only has the beginning shifted, but I think the main story plot has changed, too.

Woa - the novel is an unwieldy beast!

Friday, June 10, 2011

On being comfortable with beginnings...

Posted by Jennifer B. at The Writing Cocoon

A sort-of continuation on yesterday’s post - I actually wrote most of this a week ago, but it feels like it relates to Dr. Pinkola-Estes’ note, too.

Beginnings. I used to love them. I remember August of every year being such a magical time when I was a child: selecting shiny new packets of pens and pencils; laying out stiff, new school clothes and snipping off their tags with fingernail clippers; and picking out a new lunchbox, its matching thermos brightly painted.  Everything was fresh and anything was possible at the beginning of a new school year. The beginning was my favorite part, for it held the promise of malleability and hope.

Something changed for me between the worlds of school days and work days.  Now, the start of something new fills me with fear and dread. My only thought is: when will the beginning be over and the middle, or better yet, the end come?  The anxiety of the great unknown stretching out before me is a crushing weight.

I’m finding it the same with beginning to write. The beginning feels like I’m drowning.  There is so much to learn, so much to do, and so far to go that I can’t even begin to imagine the end result.  I have to fight the urge to shut down completely.  This is before I’ve faced my first re-write, criticism, or rejection letter.

When did I stop being adventurous and become so frightened by every shadow? The fear gobbles up every last bit of joy. It is a ridiculous and pathetic way to live, so how do I reverse this creeping tide of terror?

Maybe it is something about being an adult, or my particular shift to adulthood and my personal reaction to that shift.  One too many things went catastrophically wrong, and I lost my faith in “everything’s going to be okay in the end.” Let’s face it, life doesn’t always work out for the best. The problem is, I can’t really be in that mindset and be creative. For me, creating is an act of faith: in myself, in life, in others. Somewhere along the line I let my world get too small, the walls closed in, and I just stopped living life. I existed, but that was about it. It was my defense. Not a good way to live.

Writing feels like being open to the world again, and that’s why I loved Dr. Pinkola-Estes’ note so much.  At its core, being creative isn’t about perfect grammar or perfect writing or a dream publishing deal. These external things are not trivial, but I can’t imagine them being a sufficient motivation for writing. I also have to find a way to be open to that passion and creative drive, which means being open to life.

I’m trying to concentrate on the creating, the joy in imagining my characters and their worlds, to focus on today’s task alone, and to accept that feeling of free fall and just go along for the ride. Today I don’t have to be a great writer, I just have to write. I can’t help but wonder: if there is no joy in the process, what is the point? This is a hard lesson for me at the moment, but it feels critical to my success. I suppose there is something in all this about patience and perseverance, too, things that don’t come easily to me.

Here is one of my very favorite poems, “Housing Shortage,” by Naomi Replansky. It fits with what I'm trying to express, but she says it all so eloquently and succinctly.

Tomorrow - some content about my WIP!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Does nail polish make you type faster?

I’m back from holiday, where I spent my time eating, drinking, and soaking up sun.  One thing I didn't do - I didn’t write a word on any of my projects. It wasn't my intention.  I took a notepad and pen, but only managed to note down a handful of recipes for some of the local dishes we ate.

Back home and sat in front of my computer, I’m trying to get right back into the flow of writing on my first novel. I’ve been trying to start all morning. Unenthusiastically pecking at the keyboard, I noticed how my nails - which had grown out over the holiday - were click-clacking on my keyboard, a sensation I find annoying and a hindrance.

On to the nail polish! If the offending long nails are clipped and filed, wouldn’t a shiny new coat of OPI polish make the hard working fingers a more attractive and delightful tool? Anything to put off starting on today’s scheduled two hours of writing. But why do I want to put it off? I’ve already missed a week of work.

There is this wall I have to break through, every time I sit down to write. The wall is made up of all of these elements that induce timorousness: self doubt, lack of experience, perfectionism, and a million and one writing do's and don't's.

A few weeks ago, a friend handed me a printed out Facebook note written by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola-Estes (of Women Who Run with the Wolves fame): “Dear Brave Souls: About Writing. There is No Right or Wrong Way, Only Your Way.” In it she writes about the creative impulse and stresses that we shouldn’t get so caught up in the criticism, judgement, should-do’s, and ought-to’s that we allow to stifle our creative voice.

I certainly do that and found myself nodding in agreement as I read through the article. There was something about the note that seemed to strip away a lot of the layers of garbage that we writers and would-be writers heap on this work, leaving bare the essential reason we strive to put pen to paper (or unpolished nails to keyboard): we yearn to tell a story.

I find that refreshingly basic and invigorating. I find it inspirational to step away from thinking about plot holes, grammar, the publishing merry-go-round,  and artistic angst - to think about the joy in telling a story.

Check it out, read the note. Did it resonate with you? What do you think?

Posted by Jennifer B. at The Writing Cocoon.