Skateboarding and Writing Part II

One of my writing buddies, Jen Hayley, sent me a great blog post, which you can find here. It inspired me to return to my promised second installment of Skateboarding and Writing, so here we go:

For those of you catching up, at the ripe old age of 24 I decided to take up skating. Last post I addressed some parallels between learning to skate and writing. I’ve now been to the skatepark several more times and have even learned to drop in on a skate ramp. Can you believe it? I won’t lie, I’m super proud of myself because it was honest-to-goodness one of the scariest things ever. This brings me to my dual lesson for the day and the theme is Fear.

Fear is probably the number one most crippling, most debilitating, and most un-empowering emotion out there.

With skateboarding, it’s the fear of the concrete and I mean that’s a pretty…um…concrete obstacle. And well, to be honest, I’ve found out that fear is fairly well-founded, too.

But really, the fear in skateboarding is the fear of failure, right? Because you wouldn’t be fearful if you knew that you were going to ride off into the distance, would you? It’s the part where you picture your elbow slamming into the pavement that makes you want to wet your pants.

Same with writing. You wouldn’t be scared if you thought: Hey, once I get these words down I’m going to be a mega-hit. I’m going to be JK Rowling on wheels, would you? No, of course not. It’s the part where you picture sending that baby out and having it slapped down to the proverbial pavement by every publisher in town that truly starts you shaking in your boots.

So here’s the thing, in both cases you are envisioning the worst case scenario. And, to extend the analogy, you’re sitting up there at the top of the ramp, second guessing yourself to the point where (a) you won’t try or (b) you’ll fulfill your own prophesy and fall flat on your face. Neither are exactly what you’re going for, obviously.

The guy that’s teaching me to skate is always on me to look where I want to go. He’s always telling me to picture myself riding out, not to consider falling, to repeat that I’m going to land it no matter waht. And oh my goodness do I try. Yet there is always this little niggling feeling that crawls in my head reminding me of two times back when I smashed my wrist up or how much it hurt pretty darn badly when I burned the side of my leg on the ground. And I’d be lying if I didn’t say I felt stupid standing up there literally talking out loud to myself, “I will land it. I will land it.”

But it works.

I think right, I land right. Not easy, not as simple as it sounds, but true. And I have to believe that a lot of what gets in our way as writers is doubt. A whole heaping spoonful of doubt. Plus, what’s worse is the feedback isn’t nearly as instantaneous as on the skateboard. While you might think this would be a good thing, it actually makes it that much worse. You can go a whole manuscript just wondering if the entire thing sucks. So you just stand there, second-guessing, and getting more and more freaked out, letting that, rather than confidence, seep into the end performance.

So, here’s the thing. It may help you to read this blog post about how your agent really, truly does love your writing despite your doubt. Or you may have to find some other way of convincing yourself that you are actually awesome. This doesn’t mean that you don’t think through the basics. On a ramp, you need to think about leaning forward and about staying balanced at the bottom. What you don’t do is think about what might happen if you lean back. Same with writing. Don’t be arrogant. Remember the basics, remember to learn. Just don’t dwell on what might happen if you fail.

Finally, for your viewing pleasure, here are some videos of pro-skaters Rodney Mullen and Daewon Song falling hard, followed by some other random shots:

On the upside, you’re having a better day than that^

7 Tips To Writing High-Speed

 

I once thought I was a fast writer. That is until I met Jen Hayley and Shana Silver and about half a dozen other authors who put my daily wordcount to shame. Maybe I actually was a faster writer at one point. I think that’s a distinct possibility. Actually, I’ve been contemplating this some and I believe that once I learned how much faster some of these other authors churned out words I started to think of myself as a slow writer. Maybe it was self-actualization or a self-fulfilling prophesy–whatever self-help books are calling it these days–but I think my writing speed did, in fact, slow down. And by that I mean it straight up congealed.

Now, I know a lot of really awesome “slow” authors, too. There are a lot of positive adjectives that you could place on writers who produce at a more…ummm…measured pace. Meticulous. Painstaking. Careful. Fussy? And I have no doubt that many of these apply. I mean, I’ve seen some of these people’s prose and it is..well…meticulous and carefully wrought. So yeah, often I’m tempted to follow in the Orson Scott Card train of thought: slow down, get it right in the first draft.

But, with writing slowly comes the sometimes all-too-frequent desire to bash one’s head through a wall–or a desk– whichever is more convenient. Slow doesn’t feel like progress. Slow is not knowing where I’m going or not being happy with what’s on the page. Slow is often more procrastinating, less writing. More concern over the final product than focus on the present scene at hand. So what I’m trying to say is that there is certainly a place for fast.

Especially when deadlines start to roll around and real life demands a greater portion of your time than writing life. Slow just sometimes isn’t a great option for writers who hope to actually make a living. That’s what I’ve been working on. Figuring out some ways to produce more and write more efficiently with my time. Here is a very incomplete list of methods I’ve been toying around with:

1. Writing without word count. Lately I’ve been writing a bit in google docs where it doesn’t automatically count the words on the bottom of the screen. I can get really hung up on word count and it can take me out of the story, thus making me less productive. It’s been kind of freeing. You can still check your word count through the tools, but you aren’t watching the words tick up or down. Sort of nice.

2. Talking through it. It might be just me, but I find dialogue both easy and fun to write. Especially with my MC who is a pistol. So, for me that’s been an easy way to get a scene going. I write the entire scene in dialogue. I’ll do this through a few scenes. I get a lot done this way, but the real benefit is that in my next writing session I’ll fill in those scenes. So, I’m not stalling at the beginning of my writing session. I’ve had some time to let my sub-conscious mull over the action that should accompany. I’ve already pictured the whole thing once in my head and I have the dialogue as underpinnings. Add the actions, the scene setting, the reactions, the inner monologue and voila–words!

3. Writing out of order. I have mixed feelings about this one because I’ve gotten really mixed up by doing this in the past. But there are times when I feel it’s a pretty good idea. I mean why sit there and stare at a blank screen when you could get a chapter done in which you know what happens. Also, the sheer act of writing can often unclog your brain enough to get the ideas freely flowing once again. Plus, always good practice. I don’t know; jury is still out on this.

4. Outline. Although it pains me to say it I would guess that authors that outline *generally* get through drafts more quickly than authors that don’t. Of couse, there is some tradeoff given the fact that it took time to outline, but still. I absolutely do not have this one down, but whe I’m stuck or don’t feel like writing, I realize it is probably a good use of my “writing time” to jot down a few thoughts for next writing session. This sometimes kills my soul.

5. Write or Die. I know a bunch of fellow writers that love this program. You basically tell the website how many words you want to write in how long. Then you say how long it’s okay for you to “rest.” The program proceeds to yell at you if you fail. This stresses me out and given my stomach is already eating itself from the inside out I typically pass. But whatever works for you.

6. I do however try to use WriteChain some. It’s an iPhone app of the more mellow variety. You have to write a certain amount of words a day. You put it into your log. You say how many days you can skip (usually zero) without breaking the chain, then it will keep track of how many links you have. Very good if you are trying to Stephen-King-it. Simple, but I like it.

7. Write words that are bad. Maybe even really, really bad. It’s amazing the magic that can happen between first writing and a later reading. But even if, for some reason, your words don’t magically sound better the second time around, at least you have something on the page. At least you made progress and you can fix it. I promise.

Okay, so what about y’all? Any idea on how to write faster?

Guide in Links: Book Packaging and Work-for-Hire

Since I get a lot of questions about this, I thought I’d create a running list of places writers could look for work-for-hire and information on book packaging. I’ve done a lot of trolling for this one, so let me know if it’s helpful. I’m happy to answer any questions on packaging (assuming I know the answer) and would love to hear about any flings failed or not that you all have had with work-for-hire jobs.

Enjoy!

Where to find information on book packaging:

American Book Producers Association

What is Book Packaging? – from the Absolute Write Forum

Terry Whalin Article on Book Packagers

Book Packaging and Work-for-Hire Writing – A short overview and a little history on book packaging by Maya Reynolds

Class on writing for educational publishers

Book Packaging: Under-explored terrain for freelancers – Article by Jenna Glatzer

My Failed Fling with a Book Packager by John Barlow

More on Book Packagers – from Miss Snark

Writing Tips: Packagers – from Highlights

Where to find work:

Chelsea House – award-winning and curriculum-based nonfiction material for the school and library markets, includes books for young adults, middle grade and young readers grades 2-5

Stone Arch Books – middle grade

Delta Publishing – children’s books

Alloy Entertainment - work-for-hire teen fiction and now The Collaborative for original work

Working Partners – popular fiction series for young readers through young adult

Working Partners Two – new for adult fiction (fantasy, thriller, historical and paranormal romance)

Beacon Street Girls

Mirrorstone Books – publisher for young readers of series based on Dungeons and Dragons lore

Parachute Publishing – packager of Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen books, Goosebumps, Seventeen and more

Quirk Packaging and Publishing – Worst Case Scenario books, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, etc.

Students Across the Seven Seas from Penguin Group – an established series, not exactly sure how to submit to them, but you submit your own concept that would fit into the series, I believe

Bow Publications – nonfiction projects grade 3-12

Tangerine Designs – specializes in preschool titles

Plan B Book Packagers – children’s fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels (not sure how to submit here or how actively this company is operating)

Smart Kids Publishing – send ideas/manuscripts

Note: I’ll continue to  update so please share information in the comments and I’ll incorporate.

Step Away from the Thesaurus

 

This week we’re talking about writing in first person. So today, I’m going to do a quick post. A reminder or warning of sorts, I guess.

When writing in first person, for the most part, you need to step away from the thesaurus. 

There is a prevalent thought amongst non-writers, I think, that writer are constantly checking their thesaurus for different words, fancy words. I think most of us would say that’s not the case. 

Sure, I have a thesaurus on hand, ready to look up a synonym. But, I use it because I can’t think of a word I already know, that is in my vernacular and that I can’t recall. Not to look up some fancy-schmancy word I wouldn’t use in conversation in a bazillion years. 

So back to first person. Remember that a “real live” person is narrating this story. So, that needs to limit the number of four syllable words you use in the narrative, ok people? Sure, you might say that your narrator is super academic or what have you. Then, of course, there might be exceptions. However, even if you, as a person, are truly intellectual, when you are narrating things in your head for no one else to hear, the words probably come out a bit more raw and from a bit more within your comfort level, no? 

So, all I’m saying is that first person limits some of the flowery language you might be able to indulge in, if you chose to write in a different POV.

First Person Drawbacks

 

As cool as I think writing in first person is, there are, of course, some drawbacks. (Wow, a lot of commas there, huh?) So, before you get 30k into your brand spankin’ new WIP, let’s consider a few of our favorite POV’s shortcomings. 

 

1. Suspense killer. Usually, if the person is narrating the story, you know he or she is going to be alive on the other end. Now, there are creative ways to get around this. Carrie Ryan wrote Forest of Hands and Teeth in first person present. The narrative could have stopped any time, no problem with suspense there. Some writers might try alternating a POV if the MC died during the story. That is tricky, but can be done if handled with care. Jay Asher, in Thirteen Reasons Why, had alternating first person narrative. One of the narrators was Hannah Baker who the reader knew would be dead at the end of the story. [It's a story about her suicide. She's dead at the beginning of the book, too. Not a spoiler, people.] 

2. Claustrophobia. First person is the most restrictive point of view. It’s easy for a writer to feel boxed in. Especially when trying to lay clues and the groundwork for what is to come. How can you highlight clues that the narrator doesn’t catch? Again, this can be dealt with by having a very sleuthy MC who does pick up on the clues, but doesn’t piece them together. But the reader can’t know anything the narrator doesn’t. Very tricky…very tricky, indeed…

3. The almost-autobiography. There is a temptation, in writing first person, to inject yourself into the narrator and into the narrative. After all, you’re throwing around all these “I”s and “mine”s. It can be difficult to separate. But, as interesting as I’m sure you are, the story you’re trying to tell might be more so. Moreover, as I mentioned yesterday, the key to first person voice is consistency. If you’re randomly inserting your “in person” voice for the narrator’s you are going to be left with an inconsistent and artificial-sounding voice. 

4. Still have to show not tell. We know that the cardinal sin of writing is telling rather than showing. But, in writing first person it can be so easy to ignore because you think: how would my character describe how she is feeling right now? Oh, well she’d say she is tired. So you write on the page, “I felt exhausted.” Or some derivative thereof. But no! We still can’t do that. She has to feel like she has five-pound rocks dangling from her eyelashes, or blocks of dried cement around her feet. We need to feel the weight of her exhaustion even if the character really would just say in her own head “I’m exhausted.”

5. Varying sentence structure. In first person, it’s hard not to write “I [verb]. I [verb]. I [verb].” And so on. That is what is most natural for the writer. But, a book with that kind of repetitive sentence structure isn’t exactly going to be a feast for the discerning reader. So, while you might be used to different types of sentences flowing easily from your fingertips, expect to have to make the effort when writing from the perspective of your MC.

 

*If you’d like to check out yesterday’s post on building fenceposts for your first person narrative, click here.