Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Odd Job to Nut Job

            Writers Digest’s website has published an article entitled ‘The Oddest Odd Jobs of 10 Literary Greats’. The article, while a fun look into the earlier years of some of our favorite authors, also made me think about my own odd jobs.
            I have worked as a: sales girl (clothes, music, movies, books, jewelry, house wares, pet supplies, garden equipment, craft supplies); residential and commercial space planner; food server (ice cream/yogurt, candy, smoothies, ballpark foods); party planner; nanny (various ages); administrative legal support team member (secretary, clerk, and assistant). And those are only the jobs I can remember.
            How do we draw upon what we know? This is an often taught lesson that I think many tend to glaze over in their writing. Writing books often tell budding authors to write what they know as they have the best chance of being factually correct in your writing—and thus the story being more believable and relatable. But, how do we do that when we, maybe, didn’t enjoy the odd jobs we’re being told to draw upon? Let’s face it—I’d rather not go back to my days scooping ice cream if I can help it.
            Disliking a job or not wanting to emotionally return to that place doesn’t mean that you can’t draw upon your experiences and turn the situation around for yourself. In order to do this, you must first ask yourself why you don’t want to go back there.
            For me, it was my bosses. The owners of the small, independent shop I worked at owned the business as a side investment—only it wasn’t doing real well at the time—and neither one had been competent enough to effectively run the place. When things didn’t go the way they had imagined, their first instinct was to point the finger at someone else. Surely, their staff who hadn’t been trained, had no previous work history, and were left alone for hours at a time to make impactful decisions for the business they were unqualified to make, were the reason the business suffered.
            Can you tell that I’m not terribly fond of these folks?
            Well, that right there is the reason I should incorporate my personal experience into my work. Discontent can be a wonderful springboard for a fantastic side story. What better way to get revenge on a pair of inept bosses who made my life a real pain than to write them into a fantasy scenario they may or may not survive? Really, as writers we have the opportunity to kill off people we don’t like. In any other profession, killing people would get you 5 to 10 in maximum security; so why not take advantage of this unique perk to the job?
            Not only does writing about our sometimes colorful work history add an element of realism to whatever you’re writing, it can also make a bland storyline a little quirky. All too often I pick up a book about a doctor or a lawyer and the author just glazes over the profession entirely? They’re popular picks in literature and relatively easy to write about, if you’re writing a gloss piece. But who wants to hear their readers say: “Yeah, it was good. No detail though”? Nobody.
What makes Tess Gerritsen so successful is that she was a practicing physician for many years. When she writes medical jargon it isn’t just fancy crap pulled from a textbook. It feels real and genuine because it is. The same can be said for John Grisham and many other writers. Just because they write what they know doesn’t mean it’s boring or that they can’t branch out and stretch their base of knowledge. You never know when the knowledge you acquire from any of life’s experiences is going to be the very thing that grabs readers in your work.

Friday, November 4, 2011

So, You Want To Write? It’s A Horrible Career. No, Really.

            Being a writer means that I’m fairly isolated from the rest of the world when I’m working. Sure, in my “off” time, I engage in social activities. But between holding down a full-time job, taking classes, and trying not to fail at this whole being a writer thing; I don’t have a ton of time for a social life. And that’s alright, because I’ve chosen this path.
            Lack of social life aside, the act of writing can be strenuous. Everything from choosing point of view to making sure the final draft is clean and error-free. Once in a while I need advice, or maybe just a little encouragement to get it right. I’m a writer, not a genius, and my knowledge of the written word and the English language are largely a work-in-progress. And I’m no fan of self-help books—in any form—so taking the leap to opening up a book on writing is a challenge for me. But then, even worse, when I do open up a book on writing, inevitably one of the first things I read about is how difficult being a writer is.
            Well, for starters—duh!
            And to add to that—you freaking think?
            Sarcasm aside (for now), I may not know everything there is to know about being a writer, but I do think I have some small clue. I haven’t finished my first book yet, so that should give you some hint at what the process of actually writing is like. It may be rewarding, but it certainly is no picnic. I have spent hundreds of hours working on this single body of work. I can only imagine how grueling the editing process will be; and I really don’t want to think about what will come of trying to get an agent and eventually a publisher.
            There are days, many days, where I have a moment when I ask myself “why”. I don’t ask myself why I choose to write. I ask myself why I feel compelled to write. I highly doubt the accountants of the world have the above issues and fears. And that’s not a knock at those who either don’t consider themselves creative spirits or really like numbers. In fact, I envy them in a way.
            So, when I open up book after book on creative writing and I continue to read other authors tell me how this career choice will break me, I get a little pissed off. Perhaps they feel that forewarned is forearmed. And yeah, I understand that point. But at what point does forewarning a budding author become overkill? I’d say around November.
            NaNoWriMo is hard enough without essentially being told that you can’t do it. When I first started writing I was under the impression that all of us writers were on one team; but there are days where I’m not so sure anymore. Does it make people feel better to tell someone else how hard they’re going to have it? Does it make those who are published more accomplished?
            I don’t think anyone who writes a book on writing is actively trying to dissuade anyone else from pursuing a career in writing… they’re just being honest. I guess, at the end of the day, honesty just really freaking sucks.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Nanowrimo 2011: Official Kickoff

          I woke up this morning, and there was nothing special about it. Reluctantly, I rolled out of bed, then showered and dressed and walked to the train station. And there was nothing special about that, either. I sat on the train and carried on a conversation with a good friend on my beloved Crackberry. I arrived at work and walked the tightrope that is my job all the while delicately balancing slaving away for my boss and slaving away for my novel. And there was nothing special about any of it. And that is how my life goes every day.
            For millions around the world, today is not just Halloween—a day of witches and warlocks and candy (lots and lots of candy!)—today marks the end of something terrifying and the beginning of something amazing.
            For Wrimos around the globe, we have had a 336 day respite from the insanity that was the 2010 National Novel Writing Month. Many went into hiding for a good month while many others were brave enough to break out the red pen; surely turning their poor manuscript into something akin to the Faulkner classic As I Lay Dying. Much like As I Lay Dying, Nanowrimo first drafts are typically rough in nature, oftentimes riddled with curious prose, run-on sentences, and they don’t make more than a lick of sense. Unfortunately for Wrimos everywhere, the general writing population is subject to rules that apparently Faulkner was not.
            But I digress.
            Perhaps this no longer makes sense.
            Faulkner is legendary. I have yet to finish my first novel. Yada yada yada. I will now retreat to my rightful place in my tiny, unassuming corner. The point is that we’ve had 336 days to prepare for tonight. I know—I’m wordy. Brevity never was my strong suit.
            So, in just a few hours—at the stroke of midnight when it officially becomes November—writers far and wide will leave behind the ordinary and set out to achieve the extraordinary: 50,000 words in 30 days.
            What I learned from last year’s epic fail was that 50k in 30 days is hard. Life gets in the way, problems come up that cannot be ignored, and then there’s that holiday at the end of the month. And whether you give up four days in like I did (I know, I am embarrassed!), or you make it all the way through to the end, it’s an experience one isn’t likely to forget.
            What makes Nanowrimo so extraordinary is that it pushes every one of us to try something new and scary. It pushes us to dig deep into our creative little souls and tell the stories we have long since been putting off. But more than that, Nanowrimo pushes us to stop putting limitations on our capabilities.
            So, when I left work today, the commute was nothing special. And nothing special happened during my shower, or when I sat down to write this blog post.
            But the moment I open up that word doc at midnight, something very special will happen. Along with millions of others around the world (and a few of my closest friends), I will slip into that land of make-believe where witches and warlocks don’t only exist on Halloween, where anything is possible if only you believe, and miracles can and do happen on every page.
            Happy Nanowrimo 2011 everybody!
                        See ya later,

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

This is Sparta!

            Here I sit at my modest work station in preparation to work. Work is a curious word for what I’m about to do. I’m about to write.
            For the daughter of an office manager and a handy man who was raised with little more than was necessary to get by; the idea that writing is work is a rather new thought in this house. For some family members, it’s still a bit of a myth.
            They see me at the computer—whether there be a smile on my face or a frown—and they assume that I’m playing around. And truthfully, there’s a good chance I am. But what the family doesn’t seem to understand about the work of writing is that it is more than simply typing as many words into a document as possible.
            So, anyhow—like I said—I’m sitting here preparing to write and I fall victim to the stupid television. But you should give me a break because 300 is on and I mean, come on, Gerard Butler + loin cloth + never-ending abs? Yes, I’m a serious writer. No, I’m not a monk. Are there even lady monks?
                Moving on.
            This is what my evenings consist of—a delicate dance where I flip from typing at hyper speed and hoping that when I look at what I’ve written a week later that it won’t suck the big one; and then television. Or Google searching mermaid reproduction because it’s a matter of extreme importance. You see? I have serious work to do.
            And even though I’m not writing about mermaids, that search was valuable. As a writer, every search, every book, every TV show has the potential to teach me something. Or sometimes, for some strange reason, inspiration can strike. Whether it be an example of something that worked in a show or something that didn’t in a book; I’m always learning.
            There are times where sitting on the sofa, remote in hand, really is just a waste of time. And certainly not every fishing expedition on the reproductive aspects of the Merworld is helpful. Sometimes, I really am just looking up random crap. But then there are the times that I happen upon something that strikes a bit of genius in my heart and mind; and my stories are forever the better for it.
            I’m not sure how it’s happened that I can consider watching a film about a rogue Spartan King that looks like a comic book come to life work, but I have. And isn’t that what being a writer is—a curious amalgamation which somehow turns everyday tasks into inspiration which however unfathomably turns into words on a page which eventually become your book.
            Never have I set out on a stranger or more rewarding experience as I have in attempting to write a book or to call myself a writer. And hopefully one day, the family will get it. And maybe not.

                        See ya later,

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Price of Technology

            So, I’ve been busy. Obviously, my “post a day” idea tanked. I’m not real sad about it because I’ve been off the computer and out living. I’ve been exploring local nature trails and going to the beach, spending a day in the city, and even reading actual books. You know what I’m talking about: the kind that you don’t have to read on your screen. It’s been nice to join the land of the living again; but I also recognize that I won’t ever finish this book if I don’t sit down and write it. So, I need to start focusing on the book and this blog again. So, I’m letting go of the “post a day” idea.
Oh well. I’m full of ideas. I’m not exactly crying over it. What I was crying over yesterday, though, was super lame.
            My Blackberry was down for the count.
            There’s a reason it’s called a Crackberry, folks.
            You see, my Blackberry has been my lifeline for the past year+ and until yesterday I didn’t think it was a problem. I use my phone for everything: gchat; web browsing; Word document editing; PDF viewing and editing; and about once a week I even write a chapter from my phone. It has a bunch of other features, too, which I don’t really use. Then of course, there’s the biggest thing—instant e-mail access. I’ve been known to check and respond to e-mail at 3am. No matter how deep asleep I was.
            So, yesterday I was freaking out. I had known for about a week that my phone was having some serious issues; so I brought it into the service center where they determined it’s a software issue and they’re sending me a refurbished one sometime this week. But after all that, my phone wouldn’t even charge. I was at the end of my rope.
            I’m not a heart surgeon or a solider; so really, I can miss a call, ya know? My e-mail isn’t life or death and yet, I sure was acting like it yesterday. My phone has since charged and is working well for now. When I got the stupid thing to finally charge and then turn on, you know what I found?
Absolutely nothing.
So, what was my fit about?
For now my phone is being replaced with the same model and that’s fine; but I’m going to have to do some thinking about what I should get this upcoming march when I’m eligible for an upgrade. Part of me wants a fancy new device and another part of me really doesn’t. What value does being able to check my e-mail at 3am hold for me?
There are obvious perks to having a smart phone. I can’t even tell you how many times being able to do a Google search has saved my hide; and I love being able to gchat with my friends when I’m bored; and having a full keyboard to type out a chapter is fabulous. But when do I just stop and smell the roses? When do I have a chance to just do nothing?
I can’t even remember the last time I just did nothing.
What is that anyway?
I feel like I’m constantly straddling two worlds: one where I want to be able to be “on” all the time and I push myself to the limit every day; and another where I can slow down and just enough a simpler life. There is definite value in being productive. And there’s inherent value in the simple things. And I think now more than ever, finding the balance that best suits you is tough. Sure, technology can make life easier; but then it also ties you down. We become dependent on the immediateness of it all.
I know that I have to find a way to simplify my life because the uber-connected rat race is not for me; but I still want the ease of access that a smart phone has to offer. I guess we’ll just have to see what I can do about finding a way to manage this.
And I do recognize what today is. I’ve chosen not to write about it. Maybe another day. It’s not that I think it’s time to move on or that I’m not thinking about it. The simple fact of the matter is that despite not being “personally” affected, this is still a tough day for me. So I’ll leave you with this—my heart goes out to everyone around the world who is still affected by the events that occurred ten years ago today; and a huge thank you to those who have dedicated their lives to defending our freedom.
Thank you.
                        See ya later,

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Book... By Hand?

            Back in 2007, I was a student at a California Community College near San Francisco. I had a straight B-average courtesy of working just hard enough to get decent grades, but not hard enough to truly be impressive. That’s kind of how I do just about everything. Anyway. I was looking to transfer to a University the following year. I had a few choices. I could have transferred to a state school in California, or I could transfer to a school in New Orleans. Yeah, you heard that right, New Orleans, Louisiana. I had been fantasizing about visiting New Orleans for years, but it had never panned out until that October in 2007.
            During my visit there, I fell in love. The school thing didn’t work out after a semester for a few reasons, but something even more important happened after I took a leave of absence from school.
It was early 2009. I had been living in the city for a little over a year at this point. I was driving through uptown, admiring the beautiful homes than line The Avenue, and letting my mind wander. As with every other story I’ve thought up, I can’t tell you what exactly sparked the birth of the book; but I can say that I ran home and wrote down as much as I could. And from there an idea grew into a multi-book supernatural YA series.
This book, Anomaly, has been my pride and joy as well as the red-headed stepchild in my life as it is less than half done. Yeah, do the math—it’s been over two years since its inception and we’re not even mostly through it yet! Mock away. I have had many (many!) conversations with my friend, Brenda, about this book and my lack of progress in writing the damn thing. She, too, has been struggling in wrapping up a book that she began last year. However, she has some fifty thousand words written and is just a few chapters shy of completion. Brenda and I have mulled over this a hundred times, if not more; but neither of us can figure out why we just can’t finish our books. After a major outline reconstruction back in March, I hadn’t touched Anomaly in months. And then something happened.
I was at work the other day, and had a little downtime. I pulled out my spiral notebook and began writing a random chapter of Anomaly. I have since written two more chapters and going strong! I’ll be the first to admit that they’re very rough, and oftentimes written in shorthand. Sometimes I even write [DESCRIBE GARDEN HERE] in place of handwriting it all out; but I’m making progress!
So, I wonder, has the computer possibly gotten in the way of our creative spirits? While it’s great for networking; and who can really argue the efficiency of typing over handwriting large bodies of text—I worry that there is a cost. With spell check and grammar guides built into your everyday word processor, does the emphasis on “getting it right” effect a writer’s efficiency?
Don’t get me wrong, I love my computer and would truly be lost without it; but for now, I’m going to try going at this thing the old-fashioned way and we’ll see how it goes.
                        See ya tomorrow,

Friday, July 15, 2011

Failure by Design

            Today’s blog post is about failure. When I started racking my brain for a topic for today’s post, it seemed like a no-brainer to talk about failure; especially considering that just a few days ago I made a post promising myself and my followers a blog post and a thousand words a day.
            And have any of you seen a post since then?
            So, failure is a rather appropriate topic, wouldn’t you say?
            There are two sides to failure. One side of failure is obvious—it means that you didn’t reach a goal, you were proved unsuccessful. And, well, that always sucks, doesn’t it? Not necessarily. Sometimes, failure can be a good thing. Without experiencing failure, how are we to learn persistence and humility? Of course, most people don’t set out to fail, and that’s how it should be; but make no mistake about it: failure has value.
            As writers, we fail all the time. Failure is something that you have to get comfortable with if you’re a writer and you’re seeking publication. As successful as they are now, even Stephen King and Anne Rice were rejected by agents and publishers; and surely each have had a number of days where they failed to meet their own standards, much less someone else’s. Such is life.
            If I want to look back at why I haven’t always succeeded, I’m sure I’d be able to come up with a decent enough excuse; but the truth is that failure is a part of life—and nobody comes out unscathed. What matters is not how many times you’ve failed to meet your own standards or someone else’s, but where you go from there.
            No matter the issue at hand, I always look at my failures and try to figure out what went wrong and how to avoid it in the future. Some would say that I spend too much energy on this particular area; to the point that it’s actually a detriment to my success. They could be right. Self-criticism is important; just don’t let it become destructive. As for failure… well, if you find yourself failing often, then maybe you need to ask yourself if your expectations are too high?
            Not everybody can be Stephen King or Anne Rice. Not every mediocre writer can have such incredible luck to wind up on the Best Seller list of The New York Times ala Stephenie Meyer. And some days, I just don’t have the time or energy to write up a blog post. But this is a goal, so I’m going to keep trying. As for the “1k a day” goal… well, I need to go work on that now.
            See ya tomorrow,

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Post a Day

I have goals like any other somewhat competent adult out there. Unfortunately, like all too many, I’m also a slacker. So, as the days go on and my already lengthy to-do list gets longer; I find myself wondering why I’m such a slacker. Is it a matter of honestly being lazy or is there something else going on?
Let me begin by saying that I am not a fan of excuses. Regardless of what is going on in your daily life, if you want to be a writer, then you’ll do it—you’ll write. It sounds simple, and yet, for so many, it is an awfully challenging feat they have yet to accomplish. So, when I begin to examine my motives, or lack thereof, and I find myself making excuses for my lack of progress; I feel really hypocritical. And I don’t like being a hypocrite.
So, I have a goal. But I don’t like the word goal because that infers that it is something to reach toward—that it is something that requires great effort to achieve. Perhaps goal is not the right word; or, perhaps so. I’m not terribly inclined to pull out my thesaurus in an attempt to sound smart by using a more appropriate and far less common term. I’m content with being of average intelligence.
And how things usually go, this blog post has lost its point. Thankfully, I’m much more coherent and far less distracted in my fiction writing, or pursuing this career would be a bit of a joke. Not a very funny one, but a joke nonetheless.
From today forward, I will make one blog post and I will write at least a thousand words of something (other than the aforementioned blog post) a day. I will strive for good, settle for decent, and will remember the spirit behind this promise to myself. Writers write and the most successful ones never stop working on their craft.
Do you think this will work? Think I’m crazy or wanna join me in my little adventure of literary enrichment? Let me know what you’re thinking, and who knows, we may be able to help one another toward the ultimate goal—actually finishing something.

To Blog or not to Blog

            This is the question that I think most people who spend even a miniscule amount of time online asks themselves: to blog or not to blog. Entire families have blogs for each member and they all network by sharing their photos and daily lives with one another. And while I see many blogs that are wonderful and informative, I wonder whether or not I have anything to say that isn’t completely irreverent.
            So… to blog or not to blog?
            Well, Writer’s Digest recommends that budding authors try to establish a web presence. The idea is that if you have already proven that at least some people care what you’re saying and have interest in what you’re writing, that you’ll be marketable and that your built-in audience will likely grow. In short, web presence equals interest which equals sales. So, I figure, why not? I mean, it can’t really hurt, can it? And if it does, we’ll just add this to the long list of “oops” moments in my life.
            Here’s hoping that I don’t royally embarrass myself with this blog and who knows, maybe gain some friends along the way.