Monthly Archives: April 2008

Training Your Muse to Come

Have you ever taken a face-to-face writing class and felt like you were the only person in attendance who didn’t have a clue?

I have, *shudder* and it’s not an experience I’m keen to repeat.

I vividly recall the first writing class I took after I realized that the novel I’d written—a true work of unblemished genius—would never sell. Talk about feeling lost and humiliated! The teacher, a published writer, clapped her hands a said, “Well…that’s enough talk for now! Let’s write. Everyone free-write for 20 minutes, and then we’ll read a few of your passages.”

OMG! I totally panicked. Write for 20 minutes? About what?

Now, you have to understand, I’ve always been a straight A student, a true Hermione Grainger type. Not do an assignment? Not understand what a teacher wanted? Totally freaked me out!

I think I finally managed to eke out two sentences. Needless to say, I didn’t volunteer to read. Another pubbed writer in the group was asked to read his passage. Eric had nearly completed a flash fiction piece in that twenty minutes!

Even the teacher was astounded. Eric had his laptop along—me, who never writes by hand unless forced, was sitting there with a notebook and pen—so she asked him for a word count. As I recall he’d written a little over 1400 words in the time it had taken me to dither over two sentences!

Eric (who became my first real mentor) was quick to point out that his ability hadn’t come easily; he’d worked hard to train his muse to come on command. When I chatted with him during the break, he recommended a random word exercise. His point was not that I’d get lots of publishable stories, but that I’d train my subconscious to work for me, instead of me waiting for “inspiration.”

Everything and anything becomes inspiration once you train your muse to come when called.

Mind you, my muse and I are still in training…

BUT, if you’d like to try it, here’s the exercise I use:

Create a list of 3-word sets. Totally random, unrelated words. (examples: army-tiger-ring; brother-aesthetic-muddle; zebra-skeleton-barbell)

Each day copy one set from the list to a blank page. Set a timer for 15 minutes and write until it goes off. Your goal is to use all three words in a meaningful way before the timer beeps.

That’s it. Just 15 minutes per day.

Don’t expect brilliance from these timed-writes. Expect to panic and wail, “I can’t possibly use all three of those words in 15 minutes! They don’t have any correlation!”

Exactly. Write for 15 minutes anyway. Don’t think about it; do it. Make your fingers fly and work each of the words in. You don’t have to show these exercises to anyone, you just have to do them…and your muse must answer your call and supply the inspiration. Make her sweat.

Most days, you’ll get drivel, but every now and then a story seed will appear. When that happens, rejoice. But remember, that’s not why you’re doing the exercise. The story seeds are pure serendipity.

You’re doing the exercise to accomplish two things: to discipline yourself to a daily writing habit, and to train your muse to come when you place your hands on the keyboard.

Don’t you think those items are worth 15 minutes a day?

Happy writing!!

—Debbie

P.S. – My first ever Podcast interview was just released at Freya’s Bower! Want to hear me chat about writing? Check it out here.

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Housecleaning & names too

Friday night, my amazing CP and I took turns going through our Ws-IP folder and cleaning house. I threw out a premise, how long ago I’d worked on it, how I felt about it at that point, and she gave the Keep It, Delete It verdict. I returned the favor. Have you done this recently? It’s so refreshing – like a good, thorough spring cleaning, windows washed and cobwebs out of the corners.

Now that the dangling projects, the projects I was determined to finish even though I hated them, the everything-else-uninteresting projects are gone (gone!) I’m free to start fresh. I’ve been trying to get to this Clean Slate stage for ages.

If only I could make up my mind about some names. And settings. And whether I really want to keep the flower-print skort I bought last week.

Listen, question: With this new project o’ mine, a paranormal, the paranormal elements are based upon Russian folklore and the paranormal society heirarchy is modeled after the Russian royal lineup of princes and princesses. Would you as a reader be annoyed by the stylized Russian names? Or would they make sense to you? I (surprise surprise) can’t decide.

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Filed under Emily, writing

Name this baby

I seem to be not that good at naming things.  I have two children and naming them was a hideous experience on the part of both my husband and myself.  One that involved a lot of lists and arguments.  Naming my books seems to be basically the same for me.  It’s a hideous experience that involves a lot of lists and arguing with myself.  I have a lot of friends who say it doesn’t matter what you name your book because the publisher will change it anyway.  But that knowledge doesn’t seem to matter to me.  I just have to come up with a name that works for me.

Most of you know that I just finalled in an RWA chapter contest with a book named Awaken the Devil.  Naming that book was hideous too.  For years I just called it Chandler, the heroes name.  Then after much pain, bleeding, sweat and deliberation I decided on the name Dance With the Devil which was an incredibly perfect name because it has to do with a man refered to as the devil of Broadway and dancing.  Dang I’m good.  Then I discovered that gosh darn Sherrilyn Kenyon has a NYT best seller of the same name and I would have to change it.  It took me another six months to come up with a new name.  I’m just not good at that.

And, to be frank, I’m not a heck of a lot better when it comes to naming characters.  I usually do a random crap shoot of names and use whatever comes out unless it makes me want to vomit.  I know that I myself will not read a book with a hero or heroine who has a funky a## name and I wouldn’t expect anyone else to either.  Unless I need a name that means something specific I’ll just use the first thing that comes along.  If I need something specific I use baby name books.  Like once I needed a Russian name that meant protector so I used my World of Baby Names book.  (Grigory by the way, if you’re interested.)

Last night Emily Ryan-Davis linked us to a website called the Baby Name Wizard.  This is a very cool site.  It could help you name your characters but its also really fun to play with and put in your own names and those of your children and friends.

http://babynamewizard.com/namevoyager/lnv0105.html

Try it.  Even if it doesn’t help you name anything its pretty fun.

AJ

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Anticipation

One of my favorite authors has a book due out in October. Friggin October! Do you know how far away that is? Try five whole months. I ask, how is an avid reader who is loyal to an author to wait like this. It’s cruel and unusual punishment.

Perhaps not as bad as all that but seriously, I really can’t wait for this book to be released.

So, in honor of anticipating this author’s book, I present you with a list of things you can do while waiting.

  1. Reread all of said author’s books for the millionth time.
  2. Visit her blog/message board every day hoping for a new excerpt.
  3. Buy the author’s entire book collection (again), so the old copies get a much needed rest.
  4. Enter all contests that promise ARCs.
  5. Create family trees for all the author’s characters.
  6. One word: Fanfic
  7. Track the author down at all her book signings. Umm, keeping in mind to avoid stalker charges.
  8. Nag the author endlessly until she either files stalker charges or gives you an ARC. (I don’t really recommend this one hehe)
  9. Move to her city and try to be hired on as her assistant.
  10. Write a story with your own characters and plot and have readers eventually anticipating your next release.

Well, this is all I could come up with. Anyone else have ideas on what you can do to pass the time? Oh and in case you’re wondering what book I’m waiting on: It Happened One Night, a novella including Candice Hern.

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Stepping Outside The Box

A few months back, I toyed with the idea of using a secondary character to continue the series I’m working on. I was going to take the current heroine’s nemesis from book 1 and transition her into a ex-nemesis, now friend and eventually business partner. I even had couple of story seeds germinating for her books. After thinking this over for several weeks, I decided not to do it for several reasons. 

I replotted the remainder of the story and the ex-nemesis, now best friend angle wouldn’t work anymore. Plus, they make better enemies than they friends. Then I had a mini aha moment and realized that no other character in my character catalogue could make this premise work like the heroine does. This is her story and she’s the only one who can tell it.

The last reason, and the one I agonized over the most had to do with not being comfortable making the secondary character the lead in the spin-off series. What made me uncomfortable? Honestly, her race. She’s Caucasian.

I wasn’t concerned about not being able to flesh her out and shape her into a well-rounded and identifiable character. Or leery of offending some folks by writing outside of my racial box. Or any other reason that keeps me from exploring and understanding cultures outside of my own.

My concern stemmed from a belief that I would be “selling out”’ undercutting one of the reasons I started writing seriously, which is to create heroines who look like me and don’t conform to societal stereotypes. I felt (and still feel) I wouldn’t be fulfilling the purpose I set forth for myself as a writer if I made this secondary character the female lead in the spin-off series.

This isn’t to say that I won’t write a story with a co-heroine who doesn’t look like me. I have a story on my To Write list like this and I’m looking forward to writing it because I plan to deal with some interesting issues.

So why don’t or haven’t you written main characters outside of your racial box? And if you have written outside your racial box, I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences.

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Kimberly, writing

Why I Love to Read Romance

Reading romance has been part of my life for as long as I can remember.  I started reading them so young, but I think I was ready for them.  Other than typical children’s fare, some of the first romances I can remember reading were by Janice Young Brooks and Lucia St. Clair Robson.  They weren’t typical romance, but boy were they good.

The love affair has continued all these years and I can’t imagine life without a great book to read.  For me, reading is an escape.  It gives me the ability to put my own life aside and read about someone else’s.  I don’t have anyone special in my life, so maybe it allows me to live vicariously through characters who do.

For years I’ve wondered what it is about romancs that pull at me.  I think I’ve figured it out.  It’s knowing that there’s almost a 100% guarantee that the characters are going to have a happily ever after.  And if that’s not a reason for reading, I don’t know what is.

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Sarcasm? Me?

This has been on my mind lately. Run with me, okay?

I am a sarcastic witch. Seriously, I know this. In no way, shape or form have I deluded myself. This tongue is not only sharp, but witty and somewhat silvered. It’s a gift, really.

I LIKE my sarcasm. Yep. It is like my earlobes, part of me. I could no sooner NOT write with a sarcastic edge as I could grow a male appendage. (Although, if I could manage THAT feat, I would spend way more time in the bathroom than writing. *wink*)

See? I am not even trying. It just slips out. It’s a talent I have had from an early age and yes, sometimes it has gotten me in trouble.

EXAMPLE: In High school, I was one of two students from my home state selected to go to DC to join kids from every other state. Sounds cool? It was. Until Mr. California asked me, in all seriousness, If it was true that in WV we did not have to wear shoes to school. GRRR. Not missing a beat, I replied that shoes were mandatory but that panties were optional. My advisor was not amused.

Example number two: I met my husband in a Burger King drive thru. (true story, swear). So I replied to a friend at our wedding that he got a whopper and a wife, and yes he got a shake with those fries. His 90 year old grandmother nearly swallowed her teeth. You should see the pictures.

Of course, my characters whip out sarcastic one liners. In order to translate it into a story, the words have to ring true to the character. You can’t have a mousy librarian spout a great one liner once. It is either in her or it isn’t. And not all characters are able to pull it off. When those chosen few do, it is wonderful. And I love it.

I am not so thrilled when my children do the same, however. At dinner one night, my 4 year old son was whining. His twin snaps around and says point blank “Good lord AJ, want some cheese with your whine?”

Ooops.

And my 10 year old daughter? Lawd help me now because she is going to have me beat in no time.

Sarcasm is an art form. Not everyone can do it. I take my art seriously. And with mayo and pickle.

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Filed under Inez, writing