Oh, the cruelty…

Had to make a post to share this submission I saw on FML.com today:

“Today, I came home to find two letters from a publishing house that I’d submitted my manuscript to. The first was congratulatory, stating that my book had been accepted for publishing. The second was apologetic, stating that the first letter had been intended for someone else.”

Tell me that’s not, like, a writer’s worst nightmare right there. Usually FMLs make me laugh, but this one genuinely made me cringe.

What’s in a Name?

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

50. Character names

Choosing the name for a character can be one of the difficult parts of planning a story. Some people love choosing their character names, while others (like myself) find it a grueling, miserable process. You can’t choose just any name that strikes your fancy; you have to think about who the character is, what they are, and what they represent. You want your readers to picture your character using the information you give them and be able to say, “Yeah, he/she definitely seems like a _____.”

Think about it for a moment. Would Eddard Stark seem so noble and admirable a character if he had been named Bob Smith? Would Harry Potter elicit the same feelings of familiarity and empathy if Rowling had named him Stan Tanner? Hell, would Christian Grey get so many crazy women’s motors running if he were named Walter Fitzgerald?

So we (presumably, unless we are naturally talented in this particular art) labor long and hard while working out what our characters names will be. I myself always have a hard time with this. When I was young and foolish I would always name my main characters after myself. I’ve used my real name, my nicknames, and my usernames in the past. Of course this is not an accepted practice in the real world of writing and is generally looked upon as a red light for wish fulfillment fantasies. These days I try to picture my characters and imagine names that suit them, the same way you might see a person walking down the street and guess what their name might be based only on their physical appearance. Sometimes I meet with success – the main character in my zombie apocalypse manuscript is Nancy King, and I can’t imagine her having any other name. Other times I have hiccups that won’t go away – the main character of my fantasy epic has had her name changed no fewer than four times and it still doesn’t sound right.

I think it’s almost like a game that you have to win before your story can be whole, and certain stories crank the difficulty of the game up to “Author Must Die” mode. But this is just another hurdle we must leap on the way to creating wonderful stories.

Internally Inspirational

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

40. Where to find inspiration

Ah, inspiration…that elusive elixir of writer-juice. Did I seriously just say “writer-juice”? That is a lack of inspiration right there, if ever there was one.

If there’s one thing that’s as hard to get a grasp on as motivation, it’s inspiration. How many times has a writer sat down in front of a blank piece of paper or an unsullied word processor file and just stared, dumbstruck, unable to produce words? I’d be willing to stake my reputation (such as it is) that for every word that made it on to the page, a hundred went unwritten simply because the writer couldn’t grasp the inspiration required to create.

There’s an old adage that one should “write what you know”. On one hand, I disagree with this concept. If we all only wrote what we “know”, the world of literature would be a pretty boring place, since everything would have to be based on facts and the physical reality of this world. We would never have books about magic and dragons, alien worlds and alternate realities, creatures of the night and immortal gods of the universe. If we write only what we “know” we find ourselves trapped in reality, and while that is fine for some books, it cuts our possibilities by a vast, positively immense number.

On the other hand, writing what we “know” can be excellent inspiration. Look at the world around you. Some of the people we see every day can make excellent characters for our books if we just tweak them a little bit. Look at their habits and mannerisms, their quirks and unique personalities. Some of my favorite characters are based on people I know in real life, and many popular, successful authors have admitted to doing the same.

Similarly, sometimes we only have to look as far as our own pasts to find nuggets of inspiration for our stories. Two years ago for NaNoWriMo I decided to write a supernatural romance (don’t judge me) and was having a difficult time with the setting. I already had an idea of who my characters were going to be and I knew I wanted them to get trapped together, but I was having a hard time with how they would meet and why they would get trapped there. I wanted my idea to be at least marginally original, since much of my story was likely to follow along the lines of the ever-expending world of soft-core vampire porn (what did I say about judging me?!). I thought about it for a while before I came up with a great idea. My female character would work in a paper mill. It was a great idea for several reasons. One: I worked in a paper mill, so I could describe it realistically. Two: I know what it’s like to be a woman in a male-dominated field, so I could express my character realistically. Three: it gave a believable explanation  for my characters to be trapped there together…see, my male character was a werewolf being hunted by other werewolves, and since a paper mill is rife with the smells of steam, pulp, and chemicals, it’s reasonable to believe that the other werewolves wouldn’t be able to track his scent from there.

Of course, inspiration can come from many other sources: dreams, other forms of media (remember, nothing is truly original anymore), world experience such as traveling, and not to mention good old fashioned research. Inspiration can really be found anywhere if you’re just willing to look for it. But I do truly believe that most of the time all we have to do is look at ourselves, our own lives and experiences, the people and places we’ve known or seen, the things that interest and amuse us. Sit back and think for a minute, and then…write.

Identity Crisis

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

39. Pseudonyms

Pseudonyms are something that have always amused me. For anyone who might not know, a pseudonym is an alternate name or identity. For the purposes of writers, a pseudonym would be a pen name…a name that you would publish something under if you didn’t want to use your real name.

Pseudonyms amuse me because on the one hand, it’s almost like a game, picking a new name. Choosing a name is almost like creating a whole new identity; it’s like role-playing in the real world. You can be whoever you want! On the other hand, I’ve considered that I would want anything I publish to have my real name attached to it…wouldn’t I? It’s a bit of a loaded debate, actually. For instance, what if I decide to write a Harlequin Romance? There’s certainly nothing wrong with Harlequin Romances, but they do have a bit of a stigma attached to them. There’s the possibility of future publishers not taking me seriously if I’m a published “women’s porn” author. Not to mention there can be an embarrassment factor: who wants their parents or grandparents, for example, to find out that they’ve been writing smut for a living?

As an unpublished author, I currently have no pseudonyms, but I’ve considered a few in case I do end up deciding to use them in the future. I would prefer to use my real, legal name for anything I publish, but there are definitely certain publication situations where I might be a bit skittish to have my real life associated with it. As I am currently nowhere close to becoming published, it’s not a major concern for me right now, and the manuscript I’m working toward getting published is definitely one I’d want my real name on, so that pushes the concern back even further. But be aware that there is the possibility that in the future you may read something with one of my pseudonyms attached to it, and I’ll be quietly chuckling from a dark corner like the weirdo that I am.

I totally forgot to title this post

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

38. How the books you read as a teenager affected you

This one is a little harder than the one about books I read as a child because, although I’ve always been a reader, I read significantly less during my teenage years (which I choose to think of as “high school age”). Let me explain why.

As a younger child and a preteen, I was fairly awkward. I was smart, a little shy, and easily embarrassed. I got along perfectly well with pretty much everyone, and I had a tight-knit group of close friends, but I was not a social child, and I don’t believe I came off as someone who wanted to be social. I was the kind of kid the other kids thought of as a nerd. I wasn’t the kind of kid that got invited to parties and events (unless it was a birthday party of the type where you invite your entire class just because), and as we got a little older I was not the kind of girl who got attention from boys. But as we moved on to the teenage years of high school, I started to blossom a little. I somehow mustered up the courage to ask the boy I liked to a school dance, and from that came my first real romantic relationship. That relationship opened up my world a lot. I became exposed to things that other kids my age already had sussed out. My boyfriend introduced me to things like sports, fishing, and non-campsite camping, and I gained a bit more of a social circle which lead to parties, hanging out, and all those things that teenagers are supposed to do even though they’re not technically supposed to (*cough*booze*cough*).

The picture I’m trying to paint here is of a nerdy girl who had suddenly realized that there was other stuff to life than being nerdy. During those years things that had always been an important part of me, like reading and writing, took a bit of a back burner to all the new and exciting stuff I was experiencing.
For that reason, it’s hard for me to talk about the books that affected me as a teenager, because I find myself thinking, “What frickin’ books did I read as a teenager?”

But I wanted to be able to write a proper response to this prompt, so I thought long and hard. And then I remembered something that happened in my second year of high school. My best friend and I were taking a Sociology course, and I was in the first seat of the first row closest to the door, right up against the wall. On that wall, right next to my head, was a photocopy that our teacher had made of a newspaper article. Obviously I can’t remember the exact details of the article, but the basic idea was a story about how a bunch of “good Christian” mothers had gotten together to protest the availability of the new Harry Potter book in public schools. They scoffed at the book and called it satanistic, claiming that the author was attempting to lead their “good Christian” children away from God and into the arms of witches and devil-worshipers.

I remember reading that article during a particularly boring part of our teacher’s lecture, and the first thought that popped into my mind was, well…to be honest, the first thought that popped into my mind was that these “good Christian” moms were well and truly gone in the head. But the second thought that popped into my mind was that I totally had to read these Harry Potter books. There were three or four of them published by that point, but I’d avoided them for the dual reasons of everything I mentioned above, and the fact that the looked like kiddy books. But after having read that foolish article about closed-minded moms on an embarrassing crusade, I decided that I had to read them, and did as soon as possible. To say the least, I fell in love with them, and I absolutely struggled through the next few years as I constantly waited for the next one to be released.

If one book (or series of books, I suppose) can be attributed for bringing me back into the world of reading and writing, it would definitely be the Harry Potter series. Though I never got back into reading as much as I had before until I was well into my young adult years, Harry Potter definitely set the wheels in motion, and for that it is probably the book (or books) that most affected me during my teenage years.

Epic Fail

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

37. What to do if you’ve failed at the goals you set

Have you ever heard the phrase, “You’ve just gotta get back on the horse”? If you have, you should understand what I’m about to talk about. If you haven’t, what rock have you been living under for the past hundred years?

Everyone fails at goals. Maybe not all the time, maybe some more often than others, but everyone at some point in time fails at a goal they’ve set for themselves. It’s the nature of the situation that even if we have all the best of intentions, things will go wrong, other issues will intrude, and any number of problems will arise to keep us from reaching the end of the line. Maybe it’s something we can’t control, like the fact that our new job requires us to work 70-hour weeks and we can’t work on our goal if we want to be able to eat and sleep as well. Maybe it’s something absolutely controllable, like being just plain lazy. It doesn’t really matter what the reason is. It doesn’t make you a better or worse failure. Failure is failure.

But failure is also just a chance to start over again. Failure shows us what we’ve done wrong, which issues we failed to take into consideration, and what we have to change to do better next time. If you’re a really optimistic type, failure might even be motivation to try harder. If you’re the pessimistic type, things might be a little more difficult, but the same points still apply.

And excellent example of failure and moving on from it is rejection in writing. An author can put their heart and soul – and a ridiculous number of work-hours – into a manuscript, only to have it rejected by the publisher…and then rejected by another…and another…and another. Regardless of how good a manuscript may be, it is almost certain that the author will receive multiple rejections before (hopefully) receiving a publication offer. This situation really defines the whole “get back on the horse” thing because if these authors were to just give up, where would we be? Were you aware that J.K. Rowling received 12 rejections for the first Harry Potter book before finally getting published? We all know now that the Harry Potter books are well-written, well-loved, and have ultimately sold bucketloads. So why did she receive so many rejection letters? There are any number of reasons, but the point is that she had a goal set (to publish that damn book!) and she didn’t let failure upon failure stop her from continuing to try and try, getting back on the horse again and again.

It’s definitely hard sometimes…humans are naturally depressive and easily-discouraged creatures…but if the goal you’ve set for yourself is something that’s important to you, something that you know you’re not going to be happy just giving up on, then you have to press on. If you’ve done something wrong, figure out what it is. If outside issues are holding you back, figure out a way around them. And if the problem is just timing, situation, or reliance on others to react the way you need them to, you just have to keep trying, trying, trying, until all the puzzle pieces fall into place. In the end you’ll be better off for having to have worked for it, and the end of the line will be that much more beautiful when you reach it.

At least that’s what I keep telling myself, and I hope you’re able to hold on to that hope as well. 🙂

Back to Basics

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

33. Reviews of your favorite office supplies

A few years ago I probably could have made this post long enough that no one in their right mind would have bothered to read it all. Traditionally, I love writing in a notebook with a really nice pen, so I have a bit of an unhealthy relationship with office supplies. As I’m typing this there is an entire shelf on one of my bookshelves devoted to my notebooks, and about a third of them are almost completely empty…I bought them because I fell in love with them at the time, but only wrote a few pages before getting distracted and/or moving on to something else.

These days, as previously mentioned, I do the overwhelming majority of my writing on my laptop. It’s just quicker that way. That said, I do still have a couple of favorite manual writing supplies that I can say a couple of words about, for the sake of this post:

1. Cambridge City Vinyl Notebooks
I’ve used a lot of different notebooks, but this one has to be my favorite. The vinyl front and back covers feel almost like a supple leather, and the spiral binding is very tough and stiff so you don’t end up with those annoying bent spirals that constantly get your pages all caught up. The pages themselves are beautifully ruled, as beautiful as ruling can be anyway, and all in all the notebooks are a pleasure to write in.

2. PaperMate Capped Ballpoint Pens, Fine, Blue
You might think I’m kidding about this one because these are quite possibly the cheapest pens on the planet, but I’m totally serious. I’m a bit of a pen nut, and these ones remain, to this day, my absolute favorites. They write smoothly, they’re comfortable in the hand, and as previously mentioned, they’re quite possibly the cheapest pens on the planet. What’s not to love?

Critique Coping

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

20. How to cope with a substantial critique or edit

Reading critiques or edit suggestions must be the worst part of being a writer. I don’t care who you are, no one enjoys being told that there’s something wrong with the thing they’ve spent so much of their time and effort creating. Your initial reaction is always going to be one of defense: “This idiot doesn’t know what they’re talking about! I’m right and they’re wrong, end of discussion!” Even if you’re mature and composed enough to realize that the person giving you the critique has a very good point, part of you will still want to argue, to fight and say that there’s nothing wrong with the way you wrote it.

For myself, the way to deal with a critique is by taking a deep breath, reading it through a couple of times, and trying to see what the reader didn’t say. That is, I put a lot of effort into trying to decide whether the reader is being harsh because they really want to help, or if they’re just being intentionally cruel; whether their ideas have merit, or if they’re letting personal opinions get in the way of sense; whether they genuinely want to help you make the story better, or if they’re just shooting out some generic nonsense to mask the fact that they barely read the story.

The sad fact is that while you can’t have the knee-jerk defensive reaction to critiques, you also can’t accept them as gospel. One thing I learned while hanging out at Critique Circle is that, yes, some readers are knowledgeable people who truly want to help you make your story be the best that it can be, while other people are just going to force their opinions on you under the guise of giving you “advice”. That’s why it’s a good idea to have multiple proof-readers. For example, there is a scene near the beginning of the action in “Nowhere to Hide” in which the main character strips off her pajama top and wraps it around her fist so that she doesn’t hurt herself while breaking a window. When I posted this scene for critique, one reader told me that the whole scene was pointless and “smacked of fetish”. I was hurt and confused when I read that because I didn’t feel that way at all, and I thought the scene made a lot of sense given the situation. I was just beginning to wonder if maybe I was being a little sensitive when half a dozen other critiques came in and almost all of them mentioned how much they loved that particular scene. If I hadn’t gotten those other critiques I may have changed the scene based on one person’s opinion, which would have been foolish.

So in conclusion, take critiques seriously, but not always to heart.

Damn right, dragons!

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

8. Describe your dream writing space

If I had the time, ability, and financial stability to actually make writing my whole career, I would dedicate a whole room to it, a study if you will. I’d paint the walls a nice, warm, chocolate brown, and I’d have big heavy curtains on the window in case I felt like I needed to be in the dark. I’d have a handsome desk – not your average computer desk, but one of those big writing desks that the authors in movies always seem to have, with notes scattered all over the place, a lamp or two, and a laptop or typewriter plunked in the middle. But besides the desk (which would presumably come with an ergonomically correct chair), I’d also have a big, cushy armchair so I could just curl up with a pen and some paper if I wanted. Finally, the walls would be lined with bookshelves, filled with all my favorite books and my dragon figures (because, hey, dragons!).

I Write Like…

A while ago I stumbled upon this website, I Write Like, and just recently a fellow blogger linked to it and brought it back to my attention again. The idea, basically, is that you copy and paste an excerpt of your writing to the webpage and it analyzes it and tells you which author you write like. It analyzes based on word choices and writing style (which I’m assuming refers to sentence structure or some such); I can’t imagine that it’s terribly accurate, but it’s still interesting to see who you get. 🙂

For my zombie novel, Nowhere to Hide, I got Charles Dickens, even when I had the site analyze super-creepy and/or gory scenes. It has me very interested to actually read some Charles Dickens that isn’t Oliver Twist. o.o

For my Final Fantasy fanfic, I got Edgar Allan Poe, which just fathoms me. I could imagine getting Poe for my horror novel, but for a video game fan fiction? Wuh?

For my supernatural romance, tentatively titled Moonlight, I got David Foster Wallace. I have no idea who this is, so I’m going to have to do my research, but if his writing is anything like mine in this particular piece, I’m very interested already. lol

I analyzed several different scenes from my fantasy epic novel because it’s been written and re-written so many times that nothing fits together properly anymore. I got Jonathan Swift and Ursula K. Le Guin for two of the scenes, neither of whom I’ve heard of so again I must do my research. For another of the scenes I got Stephanie Meyer, which has prompted me to re-analzye my own writing stat.

The bits and pieces of what will someday be a space fantasy gave me Anne Rice. I know Anne Rice, of course, but I’ll have to read some more of her work to actually get an idea of whether this is accurate.

And finally, my Chrono Trigger fanfic gave me…J.R.R. Tolkien. o.O I, uh…totally can’t see it, but thanks for the compliment, I Write Like! lol

The thing that really amused me about this was that – with the exception of the aforementioned fantasy epic – I tried multiple scenes of each work and got the same results regardless, so there must be something there that the site is seeing. Very interesting. Now if only I could glean some of the success of these famous authors! lol