Accountability Tuesdays – Week 29

Before I get on with the accountability today, I want to mention a couple of things.

First, a huge hug to the new followers I’ve been getting on this blog and on Twitter. I’m not sure exactly what I’ve been doing lately that suddenly has people sneaking in out of the shadows toward my sites, but I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. Welcome, thanks for coming, and I hope you stick around! 🙂

Second, on a whim I recently tried Googling myself, and I was quite amused to find that the first three results were actually me. I rather don’t need my 9gag profile popping up on Google, but I was happy to see that the second result was this blog and the third was my 750Words.com account. It’s a good sign when your real persona pops up on Google, right?

Third: a call out for info and/or advice. I’ve Googled this problem many times but I can never seem to find anything that quite matches my issue. I’ve been having trouble sleeping again (it seems to happen for several weeks at a time, a few times a year), and the issue as far as I can describe it is that I spend an inordinate amount of time in dream sleep (REM sleep), meaning that my rest isn’t, well…restful. I’m waking up feeling like hell even when I sleep 9 or more hours, and it’s very wearing. I’ve consulted my doctor before and his only suggestion was to try antidepressants, which I thought was a little silly and insulting since I’m pretty damn confident that I’m not depressed. So since I can’t seem to find any information on my own, I thought I’d ask here on the off-chance someone may know something or suffer from similar. Help?

Okay, on to the accountability.

Health and Body Image Goal

If I’m totally honest, I’ve plummeted miserably on this one. I’ve been doing no form of exercise and have been eating rather terribly. It doesn’t help that I’m experiencing sleep issues, as mentioned above. I keep trying to convince myself to get up a little early in the mornings (before it’s scorching hot out) and do my zombie runs, but I haven’t been able to manage it because I’m so damn tired. I need some motivation, terribly, and that’s a fact.

Editing Goal

It’s been a surprisingly busy week so I haven’t managed to sit down at my laptop for very long periods of time, but I’m still (slowly) plugging away at my supernatural romance. Really, really looking forward to finishing so I can submit it to a publisher and move on to my zombie apocalypse.

1,000,000 Word Goal

It hasn’t been a great week, but I did manage to get a few words in. Between blogging and a return to 750Words, I managed to get in 4802 words this week. I’m hoping to ramp it up this week through a series of ideas I’ve compiled, one of which is to use 750Words.com in the mornings to empty my brain of the dreams I’m plagued with every night. It might be a pro-bono situation…I get extra words, and maybe writing down the dreams will make them go the hell away. Starting this Sunday, as well, I plan to start reading The Artist’s Way and work my way through the 12-week process, so look forward to that.

29 weeks down, 23 to go. Here’s hoping the remaining 23 start to look up a little!

The Golden Internet Rule

Yesterday on her blog Kristen Lamb spoke about the “three NEVERs” of social media. Without going into too much detail (you can check out her post if you really want to know…it’s a good one!), what the “three NEVERs” basically break down to are “don’t be a jerk to people on the internet because it could come back to bite you in the ass”.

It’s a good point, one that I thought could bear repeating, because so many people are so very, very bad for this. A lot of times it’s unintentional – people say terrible things in the heat of the moment, and social media makes it possible to express those terrible things immediately and to millions of people – but many and more times it’s just people being flat-out jackasses.

The anonymity of the internet gives people a false sense of security in being able to act like a jerk without consequences, but what most people fail to realize is that the internet isn’t as anonymous as it appears. If people really want to, they will track you down, and most of the time we make it very, very easy. How many of us have Facebook accounts, linked to Twitter accounts, linked to personal websites, linked to forum usernames, and so on and so on? And once something is on the internet, it’s pretty much there to stay. Just ask the plethora of celebrities that have tried to have unflattering images cleansed from the world wide web, only to have a billion and one more copies pop up in the blink of an eye.

As kids (I’m looking at you, know-it-all-teens) we can be forgiven a bit of stupidity…we think we know better, and later on we find out we’re wrong and (hopefully) smarten up a bit. But as adults, and professionals, this kind of bad behavior is unforgivable and just plain idiotic.

Recently an old schoolmate of mine posted a status update on Facebook. She’d done an interview on a prospective new hire for her employer, and afterwards went on Facebook to look up the interviewee, as many companies are wont to do these days. What she found was a scathing remark about how the prospective hire had apparently had to dumb down everything he said so the “moron” doing his interview could understand him. What do you think…did she hire him?

It’s a sad truth that people simply don’t think when posting their every thought and whim on the internet. They don’t take two seconds to think about the possible consequences of what they’re about to say. Everyone is guilty of this, even me, but some offenses are much worse than others.

I’ll give a personal example. Though I haven’t been the victim of many trolls or cruel internet japes in my day, I did come across one particular individual during the time I spent at the Critique Circle. This individual seemed to take a deep pleasure in writing scathing critiques of everything he came across. Nothing he read was good enough for him; everything was drivel, pretentious, blatent wish-fulfillment, and so on and so on. Nothing he said was constructive, he simply enjoyed telling everybody he came across how absolutely terrible their writing was in every way. The result? Very simple: no one would critique any of his work. On a site where the entire point is to upload your work and have people beta-read it, he’d ostrasized himself so that no one would touch anything he wrote with a (digital) fifty foot pole.

It all boils down to this: when you’re about to write a Facebook status update, Tweet something, or make a comment on someone’s blog or website, consider for a moment the impression you’re creating and the possible consequences you might incur. You wouldn’t tell an interviewer to their face that you think they’re a drooling moron, so why would you say it online where that same person could easily find it? You wouldn’t tell your editor or publisher that you think everything they do is crap, so why would you say the same thing to people who are supposed to be helping you become a better writer for free?

I’ve heard it said a million times, but rarely do most people seem to listen. None-the-less, I’ll say it again because it needs to be said:

If there’s someone you wouldn’t want reading it, don’t post it on the internet.

Have you ever said or done anything stupid on the internet that you later regretted? Have you ever been in a position to “reward” someone for being stupid on the internet? What are your thoughts on this lovely digital trend of ours? Please share!

Accountability Tuesdays – Week 23

Would you look at that? Spring actually exists in Nova Scotia! I was really starting to wonder, but Mother Nature has proven my suspicions wrong again, and in one day she managed to sunburn me. You’re a horrible witch, Mother Nature. That’s why I hide inside like a vampire.

Okay, enough foolishness, let’s get down to it:

Health and Body Image Goal

As per tradition, I’ve been eating pretty poorly while I’ve been home, thought it’s been less because of the abundance of awesome food and more because I’ve been extremely busy. Cleaning and cooking are one thing, but having our niece over for a night…those 36 hours may have taken a year off my life. o.O

That said, I’m not feeling too shabby. I gave myself almost a full week off to let my legs heal (running in cheap, Walmart sneakers is not advisable…I ended up with major shin splints and a very achy knee), and then I went out running with my new Saucony sneakers. I know nothing about running shoes, but I thought I’d give these a shot since they were rated well and happened to be on sale, and I’m pretty happy. They give me a little bounce and definitely cushion the impact of hitting the ground. I think I will do well with these.

As an additional note, I hopped on the scale yesterday to see if maybe I was lucky enough to finally drop a pound or two, and found that I’d dropped almost five! Huzzah! A specific amount of weight loss is not my primary goal, but I definitely have some to lose, so it’s good that it’s going. Sometime soon I’ll track down a measuring tape and see what my measurements are looking like as well. I’d like to lose some belly fat, as I’m constantly reading about the dangers of it.

Editing Goal

This is a bit of an odd week that I’m not sure how to report. You see, I technically have been doing some editing…just not on what I’m supposed to be working on. It’s going to take me a while to finish editing Nowhere to Hide, and it occurred to me that the less I have to think about, the easier it will be to find the time and energy to work on it. So I’ve set it aside (for a very short time, I swear) in order to instead edit a short supernatural romance I’ve had done for a while. I know I can whip through this one pretty quickly (I’m already finished two of the ten chapters), and when it’s done I can submit it to the publishers I have in mind and then not worry about it for a while. So, I guess you can say I’ve made progress in that sense, right? 🙂

1,000,000 Word Goal

While focusing on everything else, the actual writing tends to slow down, but I’m happy to report that I managed to squeak out 6867 words over the past week, amongst a number of different things. Currently my yearly total sits at about 125k, which is nowhere where I wanted it to be, but still very good for me. In the coming weeks (particularly if I get laid off soon, which is very likely) I plan to delve into a few books on writing that I hope will help my productivity, amongst other areas. In particular I think I’d like to try out The Artist’s Way. I’m a bit put off by the word “spiritual” in the sub-title, because that word always makes me think of religion, but fellow blogger thelivingnotebook has been talking about the book lately and he makes it sound very interesting, so I’ll give it a shot. 🙂

Now, unfortunately, I have to pull myself out of my cave so I can walk my daughter to playgroup. And you can be damn sure I’ll be covered in sunscreen this time.

Contesting Your Writing

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

99. Writing Contests

To be perfectly honest, it hasn’t been such a long time since I first discovered that the world of writing contests actually existed. Mind you, I knew of the concept of writing contests, but I didn’t realize it was such big business, so to speak. Do a quick search on Google and you will find sites upon sites upon sites toting contests for those brave enough to submit a piece of work. There are contests for short stories, contests for poems, contests for drabbles, contests for every type of genre. There are fun contests amongst fellow writers and serious contests with prizes and/or publication on the line. There really is no way any one writer could even consider them all, never mind enter them all.

Personally I haven’t been able to pluck up the courage to enter any such contests yet, but for those who might be interested I offer this little nugget of advice: research the contest first. Anything with prizes, in particular, is likely to have a laundry list of rules, terms and conditions, and possible sneaky ways to bite you in the ass. A contest from a publisher, for example, may have a clause hidden in the terms and conditions that states that the publisher retains legal rights to reprint your submission without compensation. I’ve heard a few horror stories about things like this, so I urge you, do your homework before submitting to a contest.

And if I ever do pluck up the courage to enter one myself, I promise you will all be the first ones to know!

Going Beyond Your Depths

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

90. Adding depth to your writing

Oh man, this post could go in so many different directions depending on how we think about the word “depth”. My brain is beginning to hurt just thinking about it. Couple that with the fact that I’ve never so much as submitted a manuscript to an editor, agent, or publisher, and I find myself wondering if I’m really one to talk. But as with several of the other posts I’ve written in response to the 101 Blog Post Ideas, I’ll go ahead and give you my thoughts and opinions, and you can take them for what they are. For additional info, I suggest wandering over to Kristen Lamb’s Blog. She’s written advice on almost every aspect of writing and she’s about as close to an expert as I’ve ever come across.

So…depth. There’s no doubt about it, you want your writing to have depth, but that’s a fairly broad term. Are we talking about emotional depth, depth in the plot line, or depth within our characters? Are there other forms of depth we could be considering? Probably, but these three are the ones that come to mind right now, so let’s talk about those.

First of all, emotional depth and character depth, which actually go hand-in-hand. Maybe this isn’t an important aspect to all readers, but for me it’s an absolute necessity. If I, at some point during the reading of the story, do not feel emotionally attached to a character (not necessarily the main character) then I feel like the author has not done his or her job. If the book in question is part of a series, failing to make me feel emotionally invested in a character will result in my failing to continue on to the second book in the series. That’s not to say that every character has to have an elaborate back story that endears me to them, but someone in the story has to make me care about them. Otherwise why do I care what happens to them? This sort of depth is best achieved, in my opinion, by finding reasons for your readers to bond with your characters. Harry Potter gains our empathy because he’s an orphan and we feel sorry for him for having to grow up with his awful relatives. Eddard Stark gains our approval because he’s an honorable man who cares deeply for his family and finds himself in a difficult situation that pulls him from them. Frodo Baggins has us rooting for him because he’s clearly the underdog with no discernible skills or abilities. Your characters have to have both upsides and downsides, merits and faults. The main reason that so many people hate the character Bella Swan is because she’s too goddamn perfect. Even her “faults” are played off as things that make her more adorable and endearing to the other characters. It pulls the reader away because you find yourself wanting to see her fail just to prove that she’s capable of failure, and that’s not a great way to think about the character who is meant to be your hero. Your characters have to be human (even when they technically aren’t) or else your readers can’t get inside their heads and feel for them, become them, and find themselves desperate to see them succeed.

As for depth of the plot, this is something that will vary from book to book, genre to genre, but the basic element remains the same. You do not want your story to be predictable. Now obviously a psychological thriller is going to have a lot more plot depth than a supernatural romance, but the point is that you have to occasionally give your reader something surprising or upsetting. If your reader is constantly thinking “this is what’s going to happen next” or “this is totally the big reveal” and it turns out that they’re right, that’s not a good thing. Sure, some level of predictability is to be expected, and there are always going to be those readers who somehow always seem to know what the author was thinking while writing the story, but most readers crave some kind of mystery to their books. You don’t want to be able to figure out exactly what is going to happen because otherwise you could just write the story yourself. One of the reasons the A Song of Ice and Fire series is so interesting is because it constantly has you guessing. You’re never quite sure who is a good guy or a bad guy, or what might happen next, or what just happened ten pages ago for that matter. You don’t have to create a labyrinth of mystery, confusion, and intrigue, but you have to give your readers something worth looking forward to. Reveal a good guy to actually be a bad guy or vice versa. Throw in something magical or otherwise supernatural just because it would be surprising and interesting. Kill off a character that the reader would have thought was important or had become attached to (this one doubles for emotional depth). Keep your readers guessing, basically, because that’s what keeps them moving on to the next page, and the next, and the next. Why do you think so many television shows end on a cliffhanger every single freakin’ episode?

In general, when writing your book, think about what it was you liked about the books you’ve read. Think about the types of things that made you like the characters, what events made you gasp or cringe or cry, what about the story made it impossible for you to put the book down. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and that all the different types of books have already been written, and any truly good author will tell you that part of being a writer is stealing from other writers. Use those concepts to figure out what is good about other books, and to imbue your own stories with those successful elements. Build depth by learning to recognize it in the writing of others. And when in doubt, remember what I always try to remember: if my writing doesn’t affect me, emotionally and mentally, then how can I possibly expect it to affect others?

Settling In

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

75. Choosing a setting

For me, this has never been a particularly difficult issue because for the most part my settings have been determined by the type of story I was writing. I spent most of my youth writing fantasy-based stories that, naturally, would occur in otherworldly settings, which isn’t so difficult because you get to make it up as you go along. As long as the setting makes sense for the scene you’re writing, all is well and good.

Strangely enough, the first time I had a little difficulty with setting was the first time I wrote a story that takes place in the real world. My zombie apocalypse novel takes place on modern-day Earth, which you would think would be simple enough to write, but it was surprisingly difficult. For one thing I didn’t want to anchor my characters to a specific area because, to be blunt, I didn’t want to have to deal with the research that would be involved in making sure I had that setting accurate enough. I wouldn’t want to eventually get the novel published and have readers from that particular area start wailing at me that I’d gotten their hometown all wrong. And I didn’t want to use my own home area because, to put it simply, that would be too easy. I live right by the Atlantic Ocean, in an area that is rife with fishing and recreational boating. If my characters didn’t immediately hop on a boat to avoid the undead hoard my readers would spend the rest of the book thinking, “These people are absolute morons.”

So I decided to go a little vague. My main character never outright says where she lives, and the only time a town name ever comes into play it’s a very generic-sounding town that could exist pretty much anywhere in North America. But then I got into another sticky situation. See, I didn’t want my characters to spend the entire novel in this one particular area. I wanted to show how the apocalypse was affecting different areas and different people, so I had to play around a bit. The story starts in a large city, but there are also smaller towns involved, as well as a back-woods kind of area that is very secluded. It was a bit strange to write, since I’m used to having myself firmly planted in a single important setting, but it was also fun and rewarding to get to play around with all these different places.

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.

Caution: Avoid At All Costs

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

43. Mistakes to avoid in manuscripts

My three answers to this prompt are based on personal experience with what I’ve seen people do when submitting excerpts to be critiqued on Critique Circle. If you’re a writer and you’re reading this, feel free to add suggestions of your own in the comments.

– One major thing I notice is that tons of people (at least when they’re looking for critiques) pass along pieces of their work that are drowning in spelling, grammatical, and punctuation errors. This is a huge turnoff for anyone who is reading the piece, whether it be for critique, editing, or publishing purposes. I know that no one is perfect, definitely not myself, and that mistakes will be made, but when you’re reading a piece and you find ten spelling errors in the first half a dozen sentences, you begin to wonder if the piece was submitted to you by a five-year-old. Additionally, I’m sorry, but if you don’t have a half-decent grasp on grammar and punctuation, you might have to reconsider your field. Again, I know no one is perfect – I myself often feel that I’m putting in way too many commas while also feeling that every single one is justified – but if the person reading your piece is finding at least one mistake in every single sentence, you are absolutely not going to be taken seriously.

– Word abuse is a complaint I’ve come across many times, and I can definitely understand why. Have you ever read a book in which the author seemed obsessed with a few particular words or phrases and used them constantly to the point that it was both noticeable and annoying? I definitely have. It’s not something that any writer does on purpose (at least I don’t believe so), but sometimes there is just a word you enjoy and so it weasels its way into your work over and over again. I myself have a tendency to overuse the word “incredulous”. I don’t know why, but it seems to come up constantly and makes editing a nightmare as I struggle for different words to use to break up the bad habit.

– The dreaded Mary-Sue Effect, or more recently known as the Bella Swan Conundrum. If you’ve never heard of a Mary Sue, it’s a name given to characters who are unnaturally perfect, with no discernible flaws to speak of. These characters are written to be the ideal person, loved by everyone, someone who never makes mistakes and is naturally perfect at everything that matters. These types of characters have existed for a long time, but one of the new pop-culture-reference examples is Bella Swan from the Twilight Saga. Bella is not special in any way, other than for the fact that the psychic vampire Edward Cullen cannot read her mind. And yet, despite her decidedly common nature, she is portrayed as (to put it bluntly) the Center of the Universe. All the male characters love her, except for the ones who think her important enough to want to kill. She is constantly surrounded by danger, drama, and conflict, and she always comes out of it completely unscathed. She succeeds in everything she tries. This is not how a main character should be. Some readers love this kind of character because they like to imagine that they are that character…this is called wish fulfillment, and while it can serve it’s purpose, it is not good literature. Good characters should have flaws. They should make stupid mistakes and suffer for them. They should have to struggle for their successes, and they should have to deal with all the same issues that life throws at all of us. If you want to make a good character, make them real, not ideal.

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.