Writing, Offline

It’s hard to believe how long I have been missing in action from a blog that I love as much as this one. The fact is, not only was this the best blog I’ve ever had (number four!) but I had the best subject matter (seriously – it’s hard to name anything I like writing about more than, well, writing) and obviously, I had the best readers ever, namely, you guys!

Thank you for everything. Though I have not even visited this blog in more than two years, it has been in my mind and heart.

The last two years have been insane. I moved four times, once over 4000 miles away, once 1500 miles, the other two barely worth mentioning by comparison. (If you’re moving, call me. I’ll help you pack. I’m an expert.) Just prior to all this, my fiancé left me. More recently, I lost one of my closest friends, a truly wonderful though troubled soul who gave me the gift of introducing me to a number of fantastic people.

Happily, and most importantly, I HAVE BEEN WRITING! Fiction has taken a back seat, because when you’re living this much drama, who needs to write it? I had no internet access most of the time which limited me to writing offline.

I have changed. My writing has changed. Hell, name me one thing that hasn’t changed in the past two years.. but regardless. I still write, every day. I am blogging again. I still help others, and I still believe we can support and encourage each other so we can all be successful writers. I hope you’ll stick with me, because I know the best is yet to come.

I’ve discovered a new obsession – photography. I would like to invite you to visit my new website, Salmon Apple Pie – as a matter of fact, I would be very grateful if you would take a look! I plan for Salmon Apple Pie to become the new, updated, and expanded version of From the Desk of KH. I would like to support my fellow photographers as well as writers.

By the way, KH no longer exists. I have divorced my pseudonym. I have decided that anyone who doesn’t like what I’m writing -or photographing- can fuck off. I am me, and I AM A WRITER AND A PHOTOGRAPHER.

Some day, I hope I will even have my quirky and spastic blogging style back.

As always, thank you for reading my blog.

 

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Bad Writing Days

First, a big apology – this should have posted yesterday, but I somehow managed to schedule the post for a completely different date. I blame NaNoWriMo – and by the way, my NaNo Novel is at 51,600 words as of yesterday!

Bad Writing Days. These are the ones where you find yourself in front of the computer at 3PM in food-stained pajamas with a bottle of scotch and no glass. Your characters flatly refuse to do what you tell them to, which is totally not fair because if it weren’t for you, those characters would still be dancing around in the dark cobwebbed recesses of your brain and not taking on the strange reality of being a character in a novel.

Just thinking about Bad Writing Days gives me chills. Or maybe that’s just the draft from the window by my desk.

Sometimes on Bad Writing Days, you write a lot, but it all sucks so much that you delete it later. I’m not a big fan of this approach. I prefer to believe you can always edit and revise shitty writing, but you can’t fix a blank page. So maybe you save one word out of ten, and that word was “the” but it’s still one more word added to your work in process and your complete body of work.

Bad Writing Days are hard to fix, with you mopping your tears with toilet paper (because you ran out of Kleenex two days ago) and all. But it can be done. First, put away the bottle of scotch. Second, shut off your computer.

Take a walk or a nap. If you’re having a Really Bad Writing Day, do both.

Find a book that you detest because it’s poorly written. My personal pet peeve is a “floating” point of view where you’re never quite sure who is thinking the thoughts the author put on the page. Open it at random and read a bit. Pissed off yet? Good.

Rewrite the scene that you just read until you believe from the bottom of your heart it’s better than what was written by the bestselling author of the original version.

Now, take the sense of satisfaction you gained because you now believe you’re a better writer than (insert bestselling author’s name here) and go back to your writing.

Feel better?

Protect Your Writing Time

I can now say from experience that as soon as you call yourself a freelance writer, everything will encroach on your writing time. Your drama queen friend will have a crisis, someone will tell you you’re not really working, and before you know it, your productive day has devolved into playing Plants vs. Zombies while talking to six different people on the phone. Or maybe that only happens to me.

The good news is there are many ways that we can take back our writing time. And this will work for the full-time freelancer just as well as the full-time employee who wants to write a novel or my fellow crazy people who will be completing NaNoWriMo next month. Here’s the plan:

Create writing hours – It doesn’t matter if your office is the kitchen table or the back booth at the local truck stop diner. As of now, writing time may only be compromised if it involves blood, a fire, or possibly a zombie apocalypse. Decide on your writing time. Tell everyone that you will be writing during that time. For the record, it doesn’t have to be hours – it can be twenty minutes or as much time as you want.

Make sure you write – This may be the hardest part. Sometimes it’s a lot easier and more fun to check Facebook and Twitter, and then remember you need to go on the pharmacy’s website and order prescription refills. By that time you have email, so you click over to check your message. Then the phone rings…

Turn off the phone – If you can’t actually shut off the phone, at least screen your calls. You don’t have to answer the phone just because it rings, especially when you’re supposed to be writing.

Avoid doing research (during writing hours) – I have recently discovered that I am more productive when I do research and then write. I can go back and check facts after my project is completed. I don’t stop writing to look up a fact. Instead, I mark it with the highlight feature in Word and keep going. Checking my work is what revisions are for. Press on.

If you’re really tempted – Software is available to help us focus. MacFreedom (also available for PC, don’t be fooled by the name) blocks internet access for a specified amount of time. This company also makes Anti-Social, which, you guessed correctly, blocks social media sites. Write or Die punishes the tendency to stop writing with a pop up, an annoying sound or it starts slowly deleting what you have written if you stop typing for too long.

My biggest motivator is that I have told everyone I know that I am a freelance writer. So if I slink back to corporate America after making that announcement… Well, let’s just say my friends aren’t the type to let that pass unmentioned. So I have to write, for fear of complete public humiliation. As a bonus, this puts the fear of having my writing rejected into its proper place.

Writing Classes

Last Thursday, I signed up for a writing class. It’s my first formal writing class, not counting high school and college (I went to college for accounting, and writing is low priority). There are a lot of classes I would like to take to improve my fiction writing skills, and I’ll get to those some day. What I signed up for was Breaking into Copywriting.

The experience has made me think about writing classes in general. Not everyone wants to get an MFA and not all of us can afford grad school. Some of us just don’t have time between work and family and trying to write that novel. Fortunately, there are lot of other choices. Classes are offered in various locations, online or in person, and at many different price levels.

Know what you are looking for – Do you want to brush up specific skills? Or get an overview of a new style of writing? I have signed up for the copywriting class because I am interested in alternative markets for freelance writing work. Taking the class should give me a better idea of the work rather than just going online to find a copywriting job and figuring out I have no clue what I am doing.

Writer’s associations – Sandra, a friend of mine, is a member of the local chapter of Romance Writers of America, and she tells me that they offer a number of workshops and presentations locally as well as national conferences. The local workshops are open to everyone although nonmembers will pay a larger fee to attend.

Local college or continuing education programs – I recently signed up for two one-night writing classes at my local high school – “The Five Elements of Dramatic Writing” and “Creating Characters that Breathe.” Both were 2-hour presentations, given by a published romance author, freelance writer and former professor of screenwriting. One of my local colleges also offers writing workshops, but the cost is much higher. Tuition for the summer session is over $2000.  In contrast, the classes I took at the high school were $11 each.

The local chamber of commerce here maintains a website of things to do in the area, and I have also seen writing workshops listed. These may be the workshops offered by the local chapters of writing organizations, I can’t say for sure.

Online Classes – There are many available, and a Google search for “online fiction writing classes” will give you many results. I like Writer’s Digest University. As a matter of fact, that’s where I’m taking my Copywriting class.

Books – There are tons of craft books that offer detailed information on some aspect of writing. Many of the books cover a specific aspect of the craft.  I am particularly fond of Dynamic Characters by Nancy Kress, Showing and Telling by Laurie Alberts, and Revision and Self-Editing for Publication by James Scott Bell.

Reading – The best thing for writers to do. I have always been a voracious reader. I read everything from category romance to biography, nonfiction to fantasy. I find that the more I learn about writing, the more I see what other writers have done well. And there are those few books I have thrown across the room in frustration because they were that bad. Recognizing what works and what doesn’t in books we read will help us find what works in the books we write.

I really think that reading is just as important as writing when you’re trying to be a writer. Because it’s the only apprenticeship we have. It’s the only way of learning now to write a story.

-John Green

How Crochet Makes Me A Better Writer

I rarely compare my two favorite activities – writing and crochet. Recently, while working on a particularly difficult crochet design, I realized how much crochet has in common with writing. Crochet and writing are time consuming hobbies – I say hobbies because it can be difficult to make money doing either. Both require ideas, patience, and revisions and both are incredibly rewarding.

All projects start with an idea. In crochet, I begin designing a pattern by having an image in my head of the bookmark, afghan, or pot holder that I want to make. From there, I have to figure out the stitches that will create the image in my mind. It’s the equivalent of an outline – an idea of where you want to go and how you want to get there.

All projects require patience. When I design crochet patterns, I will be halfway through making something when I realize that it’s too big or too small or just not what I had in  mind. This is like writing the rough draft. It’s time to get all the words on paper and see what happens.

All projects require revision. Sometimes I crochet a large portion of a new design and discover mistakes. That usually means I have added or missed stitches. Once that happens, I have to unravel the portion of the project until I can correct the mistake. Revisions are like this. In writing, revisions are a time to get rid of what isn’t working and keep what is.

My favorite thing about writing and crochet is that at the end, you have something tangible to show for your effort. All the time you have put into learning the craft is now visible in your work. You have something to show for all of those hours – maybe an afghan or a sweater, maybe a novel or a collection of poems.

Setting a Project Aside

Every writer I know has faced this decision. When is it time to put a project aside? Sometimes the project has become a long, hard uphill climb with no end in sight. Or maybe a new project popped up and demanded attention. So, when should we put a project aside?

I am about 46,000 words into a novel. I have the ending mapped out. I know where the story is going. I know more or less how my characters are going to get to the ending. I estimated another 30,000 words to wrap this thing up. Then I started writing a “short story” that is now over 15,000 words and is demanding a promotion from short story to novel. My goal was to complete the novel before NaNoWriMo. But that was before I made the decision to switch my focus to the new project.

What happened here is I lost my enthusiasm for the project because I was so excited about the new story. This new project demanded my attention. At other times,  I get bored with a project. I have to be careful of this because laziness sometimes feels an awful lot like boredom. Maybe there’s an issue with the plot or my characters that I need to fix. I’m being lazy about solving the problem, so I convince myself I’m bored with the project as an excuse to move on to something new and different. In other words, when the going gets tough, am I just looking for something else to do?

I have also put projects aside because it had become such a huge, hot, smelly mess. All those tangled plot threads, and I couldn’t hack my way out with a machete. These are the projects that look a lot better with a little time and space.

I never delete my work, even the stuff I have deemed irreversibly crappy. No matter how bad it seems, if I just let the project hibernate for a while and focus on something else, I can come back at a later time with renewed energy and fresh eyes. Sometimes I scrap most of it, while keeping the best bits for use somewhere else. More often, I am able to revise my way out of the word-jungle and I’m back on track.

For me, the decision to put a project aside can’t be made lightly. I fight an ongoing war against my own laziness, tendency to procrastinate, and chronic inability to finish things (I have ADD, which doesn’t help). I have to honestly evaluate why I want to set the project aside. And if I do, I have to write myself detailed notes about why I stopped working on the project. I also have to leave myself at least a partial outline of what I see happening for the rest of the story. To be completely honest, sometimes doing this work to put a project into hibernation revs up my enthusiasm for the project again.

Letting a project hibernate for a while can be very useful. The first draft of my recently completed novel sat on my computer for more than a year before I got back to it. During that time, I did some work on a number of other projects. When I returned to this novel, I was able to fix plot holes, strengthen my characters, and finish the story.

Before you set a project aside, consider why you want to do that. If you think the story is crap, give it to a trusted reader to get some feedback. If you’re bored, what do you want to do instead? If the project is a big hot mess, what do you have to do to fix it? If you have another project demanding attention, is that project worth setting aside considerable work?