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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Writing Dance

Are you kidding me balance?  Moderation? 
I'm pretty sure my dieting habits have challenged your wisdom before.

Ramen noodle lunches and dinners didn't make me gain too much weight in college, but I'm pretty sure I have early onset osteoporosis...  Not literally, though I'm sure there is some health effect on a diet of nutritionally absent foods.

There is some kind of dance to be played with word count and description.  Right now I'm in the 'two left feet' phase. 

I'm a sort of lumbering dancer as it is.  My writing is following the same awkward manner.  I'll get an idea- it's smashing!  Click out some basic storyline- two step, church dance level.  Basically hands on shoulders and slowly spinning in a circle. 

I look up and see fellow authors flipping their story partner over a shoulder and through their legs- doing the 'Dirty Dancing' swan pose and some kind of gymnastic-hip-hop hybrid move...  What the?!?  Your story can already accomplish that?

My story is avoiding eye contact...
As a matter of fact I think my story idea just made googley eyes at a different author- it wants to jump ship! 
I try to throw in a fancy step, but trip on my own feet.  I swear my story just rolled it's eyes at me.  All my effort to make it look better, sound better, and ultimately show more through actions and character development seem to keep the story from faking a twisted ankle in a desperate attempt to escape my clutches, but that's about the best I can conjure right now.

I keep pruning away the "he said..."s  and "this happened"s.  I am attempting to add more character traits and habits that will give life to the individuals.  So far it all sounds desperate.  I'm trying to write a simple story for children who are barely learning to read and starting to feel like I need to enroll in fourth grade in order to learn to write...

The balance of too many words that don't actually provide imagery and fewer words that can paint an idea solidly in a child's mind seems out of reach.

I did go to the library and check out seven different books in the genre/age range I'm aiming for. 
This activity is like attending a professional acne performance and then going home and trying to copy the entire show in front of a half mirror.  At least that's how I feel right now.

I haven't kept up on my drill and practice much this week either.  Research has me baffled.  I swear the stories for this age range are bland- blank- and almost too educational.
When I was a kid I didn't want to read to learn for pleasure.  It seems like an oxy moron. 

I'm aiming for leisure reading early grades, these poor kids are better off reading strictly picture books for entertainment.  The popular chapter book options are pushing social studies and sciences too obviously.  I will refrain from saying too much myself right here, I know the series I'm thinking of specifically is beloved by many...  But, oh my BOREDOM!

I can't aim for that.  I want to attempt that crazy hip-hop-gymno-dance move with my story by finding some kind of balance between word count and imagery.

Right now I have to get my story at least interested in conversation so we can communicate about the complicated steps involved in continuing story development.  Basic dance steps aren't cutting it, I have to up my awkward efforts-

It's gonna be weird and distracting for those who know what they're doing and happen to see my efforts out of the corner of their eye. 


Tuesday, October 22, 2013


My husband and I read The Legend of Sleepy Hallow with our kids every October.  This year as we were reading and discussing the character descriptions with out four and five year old I realized something.  I have crappy descriptions in my writing! Not just characters either.  I may only write as a hobby, but that's no reason to be so crappy at it.

Luckily I have wise friends with degrees in writing. 
I brought some samples to go over knowing well enough it wasn't praiseworthy literature. 
We went over areas in need of imagery on the first two pages- oh man, there was a lot of red on that poor paper.  We basically took shot holes in all the descriptive absence.  I'm pretty sure I would have been devastated and maybe drown my sorrows in some full body Pepsi- not the diet nonsense- if my friend weren't so wise and insightful.

Instead of leaving me with my war battered pages she gave me some suggestions. 
Practice dummy!
It was one of those, "oh yeah" moments.  Where you realize there is more you can do to improve your ability in the moment.  It's probably common sense to any true writer, but I don't have an editor, publisher, agent, or teacher from whom to seek guidance.

I'm literally just tapping at a screen determined to improve with the resources I can scrounge up.  Why you wonder?  Because I currently do not have the skill or ability to garner attention from an agent, editor, or publisher.  And I live in a tiny little valley without face to face teaching access.  I could take an online course, but I don't want to pay for it.  I'm a frugal mother of three kids under five years old.  It shouldn't shock anyone that I choose not to foot the bill for writing seminars and classes when I go through 144 diapers a month.  I love reading other people's blogs with insights, advice, and inspiration though.

Back to the point.  It occurred to me in that moment that practicing was different than typing project efforts into my hard drive.  Still, my thick intuition prevented me from figuring out what qualified for good writing practice.  I'm pretty sure my friend was wondering if I was suffering an absentee seizure at this point.  I hadn't moved for a full two minutes while processing the idea of practice.

She suggested any of three quick writing drills. 
1.  Describe a setting. 
You don't have to be too flowery, simply set the scene in a real location that you know.  You can make this exercise more difficult by refraining from using any common explinations, such as 'there is a lamp on the table next to the chair."  Find a more captivating method to explain the same thing.

2.   Five Senses Object. 
Pretty straight forward.  Take a small object and describe it using all five senses.  It doesn't all have to fit in one sentence.  Be as imaginative as you can in comparisons.

3.  Metaphors and Similes
Take an object or setting and describe it using only metaphors or similes.  You cannot use any words indicative of what the object really is.  For instance, if you have a blue pen you can't say 'it's a blue pen'

I'm also a reader.  Not voracious, but I read when I get a chance.  If there's a series I really love, I might neglect cleaning some bathrooms or folding laundry in order to finish the book.  My friend suggested that instead of consuming the story and getting lost in it, I mentally process the writing style, technique and imagery. 

That is difficult.  When the writing is good, I just get lost in the story- I completely forget I'm reading- so it's difficult to remain aware of the writing process.  When the writing is less good I notie the process and think to myself, 'why are they telling me that?  I want to discover it through the actions of the characters and developing plotline!  Does the author think I'm too stupid to figure this out without spoon feeding me this information?"
I'm looping from aiming for the story distracting me from the writing and the crappy writing distracting me from the story. 


So I've been practicing.
I was thinking 2 a days.  Two rounds of practice every day.  Or maybe 3 a days when I don't have to work... 
Realistically I have only managed 1 a day.  My first mistake might have been in phrasing my writing goals similar to my workout goals.  I have only managed 2 a week workouts with a 1 a day goal...

Even though my practice hasn't been as frequent as I had hoped, at least I'm still working on something to improve my skill. 
I've also been reading some of my beloved authors.  Unfortunately I'm sucked into the events already and now have to go back and pick it apart better...

Drill and Practice. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Surrounding myself with Talented People:

I've been blessed with very talented people in my life.  Not just other writers either.
As a matter of fact I would say the majority of my successes in life have come as a realization of the talents of others.

I have that awesome aspiration to imitate those who inspire me.  I've been lucky to have inspiring people all around me at every step.
My father returned to complete his education when he had three kids and was dealing with a failed business venture.  I remember him working nights and going to school all day.  He even took me and let me color in a book while his professors lectured about the mental state of man (he has a Ph.D. in psychology now).  Guess where I aspired to attend my post High School years?  The same University.  I had to transfer after two years at a community college to finally get accepted, but it happened.

My husband's family are astounding singers.  All of them!  Singing is something I'm terrible at.  I can't remember lyrics and staying on beat as well as in tune are beyond my understanding.  I don't know how his family all managed such skill, but they don't hold my lack of skill against me.  No matter the song filled environment they have always smiled and nodded at my efforts to follow along.  I haven't signed up for any choirs or public performances, but I have made an effort to be less concerned about my inability.  No idea if I've actually improved- because again- I'm pretty much tone-deaf (and beat deaf if there is such a thing) where singing is involved.  Still, the talented people around me have inspired me to not give up.

Writing:  My first effort at following through on a story idea came from a local man who did just that.  He wrote and illustrated a children's book, found a company to print it out for him, and asked some local stores to carry it for a percentage of the sales.  Wow!  I thought.  That's something a real person did.  A real person from a nowhere town and with no substantial writing connections, just like me! 

I started doing some research and put a community outreach class on writing I had taken years back to use.  At the time of taking the class I felt I learned a lot about method of writing, but nothing about the practicality of what you do after you write something.  The 'what now?' aspect when you want to try to make your hobby legitimate. 

My effort happened to be a children's book.  Nice, simple...  Crud, I can't draw worth beans! 
Once again I was inspired by other talented people.  My sister had once won an elementary school contest for a picture she created out of fabric.  Since I am a terrible seamstress and happen to have tons of fabric scraps due to failed sewing projects I called my sister.  She graciously permitted me to rip off her award winning illustrating idea.  I made a template out of cardstock and cut out zillions of little hippo pieces.  I stuck the images to paper and scanned the effort into my computer. 
Result:  Not what I had imagined when the idea first popped into my head...  But, it seemed 'good enough' for my first try.  I never claimed to be a perfectionist.  As a matter of fact, if I suffered from perfectionism I doubt I would ever accomplish anything- there isn't one thing in my home that is done to perfection.

More research came next.  And more talented people.  They are everywhere!  People skilled at layout, cover design, and industry standards.  Actually they make a profession out of knowing these things.  They may come at a cost, but their lives are dedicated to the industry of literature.  I was happy for their guidance, since I was stuck at that point anyway- and they came with credentials and references.  Phew!  No one said surrounding yourself with talented people didn't include professionals. 

First project done!  But, marketing is not a strength of mine either.  I'm working on building from other's marketing examples.  I even pedaled my book to local stores!  It hasn't sold much, but how many people are really looking for a book about a high spirited hippo "O. Potamus" in a town with a population of 1800 while in the middle of a recession? 

I'm actually impressed with myself for not giving up at any of the sticking points. 
There aren't many people in my life's experience that let hiccups hold them back.  I consider that a talent to glean from once again. 

I'm working on additional projects.  There seems to be endless sticking points.  Editing is my biggest hurdle.  Illustrations are still a challenge.  The smooth prose that come naturally to others seem to be a nasty afterthought in my writing.  My brain seems unable to realize not everyone has the imagery I am conjuring already set in their mind. 

I am continuing to draw from the talented examples that surround me to improve and if nothing else keep trying.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

I'm calling today Tangent Tuesday. 
It's not different than most of my writing efforts- being distracted by way too many ideas and an inability to follow through on the one thing I have been devoted to for weeks.
The only difference today is that I gave into my tangents.

It's been fantastic to allow my brain free reign of ideas and not feel badly about ignoring my hobbling main manuscript.
This is usually a terrible idea for me.  it signals the end of the project in most accounts.

However, since I he just waded through my five year olds fifth surgery thanks to awesome genetics I graciously shared with her, I'm not too worried about whether or not I stick to my goals this week.  I have every intention of getting back to them.

I have managed to stack a notebook with outlines and follow up on a few things I had previously started and stalled.
Mainly my families camp side tales of Joe and Moe the Inter-Galactic Space Explorers have a short tale on my hard drive.  They usually only venture out under the stars of our little family's summer overnight campfires.  Today they managed to get one short adventure written out.  It's simple and something my kids love.   

It has been a productive 'non-productive' day.  And I feel satisfied.  If all my tangent could be so satisfying I think I'd devote all my efforts to being distracted at all times.

If I could only illustrate!  I could actually finish some of these side projects...
Little Rhino could find claim his ISBN for one thing.

Still plunking along at my own pace. 
One way or another I'm determined to have that pace work for me, I'm working on it.