Epiphany!

It can mean revelation, inspiration, insight – that moment when you realize what’s going on.  For Christians, it has another meaning.  It’s the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi.  Today is when we celebrate Epiphany – also called Three Kings Day or Twelfth Night (the twelfth night after Christmas) or Little Christmas.

Some people mark the day by having the Three Kings (or other entities) visit and leave presents for the kids.  Other people have house blessings or perform baptisms.  There are a host of other things associated with Epiphany.  However… it’s basically the end of the Christmas season – Epiphany season begins.

My socks this Friday were a Christmas gift from my brother.  They’re bright and colorful, so I felt that they were fitting for such a day.

Fun Sock Friday

I can’t even remember now exactly when it started. However, I do know how it started. I was watching an episode of Bones and someone mentioned to Booth that he wears socks that are neither plain white nor plain blue/black because it’s his little way of rebelling against the regulated, regimented life he leads as an FBI agents.

It gave me this idea… I wore plain socks and dressed professionally for work. Friday was the unofficial start of the weekend. So, each Friday, I began wearing “fun socks”. I’d wear seasonal socks or just crazy socks that made me smile. Then, every time I thought of my socks, I remembered that it was nearly the weekend and I would smile.

So… now years later, I still wear fun socks each Friday. I’ve also gotten my sister and my best friend started doing it. The socks that I wore today were a Christmas gift from my older brother. They have little black cats on them – I have a little black cat that I live with named Samwise.

Distractions

Those Pesky Flies – Distractions
We all have them, whether they are living, mandatory, optional or fun. How do you work around your distractions? Do you separate time out or do you let the distractions come as they may? Are you one of the lucky ones that can shut it all out and write for as long as you’d like?

There are many and various distractions that keep me from writing.  First and foremost is, of course, my paying job.  I can’t really spend the entire day writing.  I’m work for a living.  Outside of work, there are other things.  I love to knit and crochet.  I enjoy drawing and I’d like to keep a journal.

The thing I’ve found that has worked for me is this: look at what I want to get done and what I need to get done… then two can fit together.  Early on, I decided that my commute was the best time to do some crafting.  The drive to and from work, the time I spend waiting in the evening for the rest of the carpoolers to arrive… It gives me two hours every day to work on my craft projects – time that would normally be spent doing nothing.

I have come to realize that I can write about 500 words in fifteen minutes.  So, my work breaks are enough time for me to write 1000 words.  If I write during lunch, I can get in another 500 words.  I set my word goal at 1000 words and… wow, look: it’s already done and I haven’t even gotten home from work!

Of course, all of that goes out the window on weekends.  There are the other distractions.  Family and friends… you can’t do very much about them.  They don’t like being ignored.  I’ve got these people demanding chunks of my time.  I treat them like I would “work”.  I set my crafting and writing aside and focus my attention on them.  However, my family is great in that, I can look at them and say, “We’ve been here for four hours and I have to get some writing done.  I love you, good-bye.”  Fun events: craft fairs, festivals, etc.  I do the same thing.  I say, “I’m going to go and have fun.”  However, I bring my Dana with me and write when I get a chance.  I bring my yarn with me and craft when I get a chance.

The only distraction I have in my life that really tends to interfere in things is… my cats.  I love them, but those furbabies don’t listen to reason.  If they’ve decided they want my attention, they will stop at nothing to get it.  You know what I do: I give it to them.  If figure… I have this wonderful furry child in my home for twenty years, if we’re lucky.  I’m going to treasure every moment I have with them.  I’ve found that it usually works to my benefit to give them what they want anyway.  They steal twenty minutes and then… they lie down and go to sleep and I can write for hours.  To me, it’s worth twenty minutes of my time.

So, distractions are always going to be there.  We have to accept that.  By budgeting my time, I can deal with those distractions and still get my writing done.

BOYB – Boxes are Confining…

Breaking Outta Your Box – A Challenge and a Topic
Every year, WriYe has the Breaking Outta Your Box challenge. Its intentions are to get every writer to try something new and see what they can learn from writing in a genre they’re not used to at all. I know some of you bloggers have done it so give me some feedback this month. Did you manage to break the box? Did it help you in any way? What did you learn?

 

I’ve done the Breaking Outta Your Box challenge a few times.  One year, I wanted to write realistic fiction.  Most everything I do is in the realm of speculative fiction, so it was a fun challenge to keep things so firmly rooted to what can happen in the real world.

Another year, I attempted to write an epistolary novel.  Although I finished the novel, I was never quite sure that I actually achieved what I was going for.  It’s something that I may try again another time.  I think it would be great to try writing such a novel with another author.  It would push me towards the actual letter writing format that was so lacking in my attempt.

This year, I’m working on a western novel.  Although I love to watch Westerns, I’ve never managed to write one.  I have been really enjoying working my way through the building of the universe and I think that I am going to not only get the story written, but actually achieve the ultimate goal of breaking out of my spec-fic box for the year.

Each of these attempts was a challenge of one kind or another.  I think attempting to write stories that are outside of my normal comfort zone helps me grow as a writer.  Even when I don’t quite get what I want, I find that I’ve learned something.  It also helps me appreciate and enjoy novels that are outside of what I normally read and write.

The Dreaded Purple Passages of Writing

The Most Flowery of Language – Purple Prose
Okay, so what do you consider to be purple prose? What is it? Give us an example. Do you love it? Hate it? Find it tolerable or small doses? Or do you think all shades of violet wording should be destroyed?

 

Purple prose is one of those things that I hear about and almost fear in my own writing.  It is applied to descriptions in stories that are so ornate and extravagant that they either call attention to themselves or break the flow of the story.

Trying to write an example is a bit tough for me, since I have trouble describing anything at all in my writing.  Basically, instead of simply saying that tears stood in someone’s eyes, in a passage of purple prose, the writer would linger on the color of the person’s eyes, the quiver of her lip, the soft sniffle, as she struggled to regain her composure.  It would be something that would take what should just be a moment in time and turn it into something that goes on for what would feel to the reader, far too long.

I’ve honestly seldom encountered something that was at the level that it could actually be called “purple prose” in my reading experience.  Some writing styles are just really descriptive.  Romance novels can be very descriptive at times.  However, in that case, it’s almost part of the appeal of romance novels as a genre.

The speculative fiction genre is another place where descriptions can get a bit wordy.  It’s difficult to create an entire world and make it seem both real and different from the real world without going into long descriptions of that world.

Honestly, I’ve heard so often how horrible purple prose is that I have started going the other way.  I seldom describe anything at all.  It’s something that I’ve struggled with.  Whenever I ask how to describe things better, I’m told that I don’t need to describe things.  Well… if the reader is expected to know anything about the setting, I have to describe some things.  Description, itself, isn’t such a bad thing.  It’s only when the description gets in the way of the story that it’s a problem.

That said, I like it when the writer waxes a bit poetic about some things in a story.  The only time verbose descriptions have ever bothered me was when it slowed down the action of the story.  There’s a time and place for description.  Like everything else in writing.  It’s about finding the right balance.  It’s something I’m still working at.

The Importance of Finishing

Last month, I wrote a little about finishing what I’d started. One of the things I didn’t mention was that one of my goals for this year is to clean out my folder of works in progress. Ever since January, I have been picking two stories each month and working on them, with the goal of getting them finished.

It hasn’t always been easy. Sometimes, I’ll look at a story and just have no idea where I was going with that idea. Other time, I’ve made things easier for myself by having written an outline – however rough – so that I had an idea of what I was thinking when I started the story.

One of the things that has helped me tremendously was the fact that I actually took the time to list each story I started last year. This year, I went one more step and added what universe each story was in. That makes it easier to find the story in the many folders on my memory stick.

Do you have a story that is sitting somewhere, half-finished? Why don’t you try reading it over and seeing if it’s ready for you to work some more on it?

Pre-Editing (aka Finishing)

The prompt was as follows:
We all know that March is NaNoEdMo, but there’s an important step that must be done before reaching for your editing goals: finishing that novel. How hard is it for you to finish a novel? Does it leave you with a sense of closure or a yearning for more? Do you finish as many novels as you start?

Certain parts of the writing process can be tough for some authors. Some people have a tough time getting out the first hundred words or so. Others have trouble getting the middle of the story written. For me, the toughest part has always been writing the climax.

I think part of my problem comes from the fact that, the end comes very soon after the climax. While the ultimate goal of any novel is to reach the end, I also know it means… I will soon be leaving the characters behind. I enjoy the process of writing so much that, sometimes, getting to the end is sort of like preparing to go on a trip that I know I’ll never return from or watching the last episode of a television series. I’ve enjoyed “meeting” the characters, so I don’t want to say goodbye to them.

At the same time… I really enjoy the feeling I get when I can write those last few words and I’ve reached the end of a story. It gives me a sense of satisfaction. It also leaves me eager to start the next story. Sometimes, I write more with the characters I’ve just finished using. Other times, I find new characters to play with.

I also seem to have more stories started than finished and that’s definitely true of novels. When I set out to write a novel for one of the month long challenges – like November Novel Writing Month or one of the Camp NaNo events – part of my goal is to end the month with a complete story. The reason for that is… if I don’t finish the novel during that big push, it’s often months – sometimes years – before I actually make myself do it.

Writing is fun, though. The stories I have inside me are bursting to get out. So, I force myself to finish my novels – if not the shorter stories – so that I can move on to the next story and meet the next group of characters. For me, that’s what writing is all about.

A Review of On Writing by Stephen King

On Writing: A Memoir of the CraftOn Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am seriously considering finding some of his short stories to read. I quite enjoyed the book.

I don’t normally read autobiographies – or any biographies, actually. In fact, the last time I read one, it was for school – because the teacher made me. I also don’t normally read books that try to tell you how to write.

I’d heard of this book for years. The first time was right after I did NaNo for the first time and was in a writing circle. One of the members had read it and… well, he treated with as much reverence as some people do the Bible. Every time he’d critique something he’d say, “In On Writing, Stephen King says…” It annoyed me, more because I wanted this person’s opinion of my writing, not Stephen King’s (if I’d wanted Stephen King’s opinion, I would have written him and asked for it).

My brother was a huge Stephen King fan when I was growing up. He read nearly all the books – watched nearly all the movies. Stephen King is just not my type of writer. I’ve got nothing against horror. I’ve seen people call it “horror shit”. Really, I’m not that elitist person who thinks you have to write literary stuff in order to really know about writing. I write fantasy. I, generally, hate literary stuff.

All of that is to say this: I read this book because it was part of the “required” reading for a group I’m in. It was our book of the month and one of my goals is to read more this year, so I said, “I’ll start with this. It’s short.”

I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it quite a bit. I was cringing at parts of the biographical section. As I said when I’d read about his ear infections, I can see why he writes horror. He’s been through some pretty terrible stuff – which would, I’m sure, give him some great ideas for stories. I found it really interesting that he was into alcohol and drugs, because I’d never heard that about him before. I found that section fascinating as well.

Then, I got into the section that was actually about writing. Some of this stuff I’d heard for years: adverbs are ebil, passive voice is weak, use said as your only dialogue tag… These are things I can agree with to some degree, but I don’t think you can ever totally banish an entire part of speech from writing and there are times when there’s a valid reason to use the passive voice.

Just when I was getting to the point where I was afraid that I’d spend the rest of the book arguing with Mr. King, I got to the section about plotting. I really, really enjoyed that part. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed that part! I’ve been hearing practically since I started writing that I need to plot, plot and plot some more. Then, I read this book. He’s the first author to tell me that, basically, the way I’ve always written is all right!

I don’t have to plot out the entire story before I can write it. I can think of the scenario, throw in the characters and see what happens. Glory be! I actually got something right! King compares a story to a fossil (with my paleo background, I loved the metaphor). Plot is like a jackhammer. It’ll get the story out of the ground, but not without damaging it.

I know – I KNOW – there are people that will disagree with him on this. However, to me, this was great to read. I totally agree with him. I can pull out the jackhammer of the plotting outline and get my story out of the ground. That will definitely do it. Alternatively, I can pull out my little picks and brushes and coax that story out of the ground – the way I would a fossil.

It’s important to note this: this is just how he is saying we should write. He’s not saying that the story is ready for publication after that. That’s where the whole, “Write with the door closed, edit with the door open” thing comes in. Once you’ve lovingly coaxed that story out of the ground, show it to people, so they can tell you what parts need to be polished and when that’s not a horn on the dinosaurs nose, it’s his thumb.

I also enjoyed the sections on dialogue and characterization. I found myself agreeing with most of what he said regarding both. I read the sample dialogue, with tags, and finally saw what he meant about using only “said”. For the first time ever, I found myself agreeing with this idea. The word has always seemed terribly repetitive to me. I’ve heard it said that it becomes invisible after a while. Well… not when you read out loud – and I read out loud quite often. So, seeing how it “should” be done was a big help for me.

Overall, I’d say that On Writing is a good guide for people who are looking into writing their own stories or novels. I’m not going to go as far as saying that everyone should read it. I found it helpful and encouraging, because my writing method is similar to King’s. For someone who has a more structured writing style, this book might not be so helpful.

View all my reviews

On Rhythm

February: Rhythm
Poetry has an obvious rhythm, but so does prose. Writing can be as musical as, well, music writing (as those doing FAWM may know!). What type of cadence do you find in your own writing? Are you short and choppy? Long and lyrical? And why is your way better than anyone else?

Rhythm is usually applied to music or poetry – though not all poetry has rhythm. However, it’s also something that’s important to remember in writing prose. When you’re writing a story, one thing that determines the pacing of the story is the rhythm of the writing.

An action scene tends to work better with shorter sentences. On the other hand, a romance or an introspective piece might work better with longer phrases. Even knowing that, my sentences tend to be long. I like words. I like linking ideas– stringing them together like a bunch of Christmas lights.

There is a definitely rhythm in my writing. I think part of that comes from the fact that I am as much a poet as I am a prose writer. My poetry tends to be brief. The sentences are short. I put the thoughts out there as succinctly as I can.

My prose is different. Part of that is due to the characters I enjoy writing. I tend to write at least one character into each story that enjoys the sound of their own voice. That means their dialogue tends to be wordy. When that character is also the narrator or viewpoint character, that wordiness flows right into the narration.

It’s better… well, it’s better for me because it’s how I write. Those long, lyrical phrases strung together with ellipses or dashes are part of my natural voice. If I tried to write in any other way, it would sound like a different writer’s work.

In a world where everything that could be written probably already has one of the thing that separates one story from another is the writer’s individual voice.

On Inspiration

January: Inspiration
Where do you get your initial spark of inspiration? Is it from anything important? What else about inspiration intrigues you? What is your advice to other people to kick start their inspiration?

Inspiration is defined as the stimulation to do creative work. I do quite a bit of creative work. I draw. I crochet and knit. I do some embroidery. I write poetry and scripts and novels and short stories.

Where does that initial spark of inspiration come from? Well, for me, it depends.
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