Writing

Blog Revival!

Sorry for the long hiatus folks.  I could write a long essay full of excuses or I could just give one – I produced a spawn and he’s destroying my life force.

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Kidding, kind of.

Anyway, I want to get back on the horse here but I’m changing tactics.  I’ve decided I don’t enjoy writing lengthy reviews and they are a bit boring to read.  Instead I want do to book lists, ie: 10 books to read on a beach, 5 books that take place on the beach, 7 books with beaches on the cover.

I need a beach vacation.

I’m taking submissions for suggested list topics – post in the comments with your ideas (and if you have books to match those lists!)

Thanks!

-Ashley

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A Life of Novels – NaNoWriMo and Me

Oh, hi, friends.

I don’t do the “typical” blog entry here much anymore – and for good reason.  I don’t think you visit my website to know more about me, I think you want to get a good idea of what to, and not to, read.  I hope I’ve been able to provide that so far.

Still, I think this month deserves a bit of a step away from that set-up.  If you know anything about the reading and writing community, you’ve probably heard about NaNoWriMo.  If you know anything about me at all, you probably know that I love NaNoWriMo.

Love is an understatement, actually.  NaNoWriMo has defined me, created me, caused me to grow.  The month of November, for me, is one of challenge and immense satisfaction.  I own my entire self and one of my best friends to NaNoWriMo.  I know it sounds dramatic, but I am who I am because of Chris Baty and his challenge to himself that he decided to share with his friends.

This is my 13th year of NaNoWriMo.  I wrote my first 50,000 word novel in a green three-subject spiral notebook when I was in 8th grade.  I went through two pens. This was before I understood the importance of paragraph breaks.  It was a fantasy novel that quite blatantly stole plot line details from LOTR.  I still love that story. Now I am querying for traditional publication of my 12th novel, the chick lit story called Viva Las Vegas.  In between I have written sci fi, literary, mystery, and plenty of romance.  I’ve loved and hated my novels. I’ve stayed up late, flown to San Francisco, yelled at my husband, lost my work, found my muse, written on pen and paper, written on many computers. I’ve grown each and every time.

There are a lot of haters about NaNoWriMo out there.  I think they hate the hype (I do, too, in a way).  They argue against why someone should purposely write poorly, why they should rush a process, why they should ever encourage “everyone” to write a novel.  Haters gonna hate.  Which is worse – the person who spends 10 years hemming and hawing over a novel that turns out to still be crap, or the person who spurts it out in 30 days, out of breath, cheeks flushed, hands in the air and cheering?  Do we frown and tsk at the person who comes in last during a marathon?  What’s the point of running if you’re not going to be first?  It’s the action of it, the emotion of it, it’s about YOU not the consumer.  This is what NaNoWriMo is.

If Chris Baty had never challenged me to write a novel, would I ever had done it?  Maybe.

Would I have written 13 novels before the age of 25? No.

Would I have 12 instances of pure elation, that feeling of accomplishment, realization of my own power and ability and dedication when I crossed that finish line?  Absolutely not.

Would I ever have had the confidence to work and on a novel for a year and be prepared to publish it?  Maybe someday.

NaNoWriMo provides an escape.  It releases us from a life of confinement.  It tells us that for a while, just for 30 days, we can change our priorities.  Kids, work, partners, grocery shopping ,whatever – it can take a back seat.  For 30 days, if only for 30 days, we can say, “I want to do this for me.”  And it’s a goal that hard, really hard for some (it gets easier, by the way).  It’s a goal that’s achievable.  It’s a goal that is so much better because there is no prize.  There’s no competition against others, only yourself.  It’s beautiful and wonderful and sometimes we even get a beautiful story out of it – which is just icing on the cake.

This month, I’ve been ramping up my duties at work and I’ve been in the height of the process of buying a house. I’m querying a novel, writing in this blog, and spending two hours a day commuting by train (where I don’t write due to usually having to stand).  It’s been hard for me to write, and it has been such a wonderful challenge.  It never once crossed my mind not to participate in NaNoWriMo.  I will do it each and every year.  It’s a part of who I am.  Some years I may not make it – I didn’t in 2004, after all – but I will do it for the rest of my life because without it I wouldn’t be who I am. And you don’t just throw that kind of commitment away.

Now, that being said, I have protagonist who needs to join a reggae band.

11,334/50,000

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Book Review: How Not To Write A Novel by Howard Middlemark

How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them–A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide by Howard Mittelmark

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My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book, a book about writing, had me laughing aloud on the commuter train. Yup, I was that person going to crazy-town, the kind of person you aren’t sure you want to sit next to (though, I’m starting to realize that can be a good thing for others to think… it can mean a seat all to myself!) Back on subject now – this is a gem of comedy. At one point there is a quiz to help you identify just how stereotypical your characters are and there’s a part about “grandma” and, well, I don’t want to spoil it. Just trust it’s good. Comedy in of itself is a good reason for this book to be part of your life. Add that to the fact that it gives some lovely advice and you have a truly excellent piece of work.

This is a quick read. It’s laid out in a number of quirky little essays that give you a blunder (which, occasionally, made me cringe as I remembered these mistakes being my own) and then tell you just why this is a problem and why you should do to avoid it. Usually the advice was just not to do it. If the solution wasn’t that simple then it gave a couple more examples, all remaining tongue in cheek. It’s a brilliant and easy to read book that is a good reminder of some novel best practices.

Still, this didn’t quite earn top marks just because I hold writing books to a high standard. I want the book to be hard to get through because I’m constantly setting it down to fix something or compose something new. While this book did get me to jot down a couple notes to improve my current work, it didn’t draw me away enough. In fact, to a certain extend, the book was a distraction because it was so darn funny.

What a paradox! It’s a strange thing to downgrade a book for, but there it is. I think all kinds of people, even the casual writer, will benefit from the easy suggestions of the book. More importantly, everyone can value a good chuckle on the train, even my slightly weirded out seat-mate.

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Switching Gears

Mmm, yes, sorry about the delay here, folks.  I didn’t forget about the blog, believe me, it’s something I have been thinking about a LOT.

There’s been some time off from writing – my husband and I took a road trip out to Montana for a friend’s wedding.  That is 24 hours of driving one way from Chicagoland.  Oof.   Unfortunately, on the drive we saw a lot of this.

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We had an audiobook, though, so it’s cool.  Plus, when we got there, we saw some awesome things, like this.

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So, I’m not complaining.

Anyway, just before I left for Montana I sent off my manuscript to a few of my awesome friends for their feedback.  I had hoped the 8 or so days would be enough time for them to at least give me a decent idea on their thoughts but, for the most part, that time was far too short.  So, since then, I’ve been more or less twiddling my thumbs, a bit antsy after having spent every day writing so suddenly sit down with nothing.

That being said, it didn’t take me long to get busy. Last Monday I started my new job as an Associate Recruiter at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.  To sum it up in one word: amazing.  I love it there already. It’s even worth the 2+ hour commute every day.

So, this week past, I decided to get back on track with writing.  I’ve been researching query letter techniques, reviewing the need for agents, etc.  Then I came upon Chuck Sambuchino’s blog, and his book about a writing platform.  I honestly hadn’t even really thought about the idea and decided to pick up his book from the library.  I finished reading today and I’ve decided to take a whole new strategy to my online presence.

Basically, Sambuchino’s book, Create Your Writer Platform, recommends that authors have a media presence.  At first I felt inspired, after all, I already had this blog, but then I started to realize how amateur this blog is.  I’d like to provide insight to people and, yes, while there might be people who are interested in following my path, I think I can dedicate my energy toward something more productive.

Therefore, this blog is going to get a make-over.  I’ve already turned it more into an author website than a stand-alone blog.  But the most important revamp has to do with the content itself. I’m adjusting this blog to be it’s original intention – The Roaming Reader, not The Roaming Writer. I’m going to hone in on my book review skills and present a blog with feedback on books I’ve read.  I want to take time to read and review debut authors, help them get their own level of publicity, in addition to reading some of the bigger name titles out there.

It won’t be the only novel review site out there, but it’s something I’m good at.  Stay tuned folks, it’ll be fun.

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Step Two: Editing

While most people find writing, step one, to be the biggest hurdle, for me it’s always been editing.

(Though now as I write that I realize, as I’ve never been past step two, it’s hard to say if that’s really the “hardest” step for me.  But no matter.)

Editing is essentially what I have been doing, non-stop, for the past month.  For me, editing means I need to turn my draft from something likely fun and haphazard, into something cohesive.  In the past this hasn’t interested me much.  Mostly because when I get the jist of my novel down, I feel fulfilled. I’ve more or less described and created something and that is my main joy.  Editing takes that joy and qualifies it, which isn’t always a pretty picture.

Still, this story in particular seemed to me both fun and valuable. I felt like I had something entertaining and, potentially, meaningful to say.  For the most part, too, I had done a pretty good job of getting it all down correctly.  For a NaNoWriMo novel it flowed pretty well.

So, over the last month I have been spending, on most days, at least a couple hours at my computer methodically going chapter by chapter.  Reading and re-reading.  I made slight edits such as taking out extra adverbs (so easy to write with during NaNo but often useless) to changing certain plot points entirely.  It’s resulted in a re-write of chapter one at least a dozen times.  But now, finally, I’m down to my last 30 pages.

If you saw my blog entry from a couple days ago you’ll know I “finished.” I filled in that last hole, I wrote that last word that, for me, qualified a whole story.  It wasn’t done in that I was never going to change anything again, but it was done in that I had finally made something wholly cohesive.

Since those last couple of days I have re-read my story at a higher level, more like a true reader, catching any last glaring errors. This will be my last solely me evaluation.  I know this because tonight I put the call out to my facebook friends – who wants to read what I wrote?

I’m leaving on vacation on Tuesday.  My goal tomorrow is to have my last 30 pages edited by me so I can say my novel is now as complete as I can get it without outside voices. I’ll give three or four people my novel to read over the next two weeks.  Then, at their suggestions, I’ll edit again.

Rinse and repeat!

Man, I like this part.

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It’s just the difference of one more word

But is there a better feeling out there than writing that last word and thinking.

“It’s done”

?

(of course, there’s always more to do but, right now, it’s done… and it feels good.)

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Exercise

Today, I went lap swimming. I had never done it before, nervous because I had never learned “true” swimming. Unlike many peers I had growing up, I never learned to swim via a team or lessons at the local pool.  My mother, a former lifeguard, taught me all I know at Devil’s Lake – a gorgeous spring fed lake in southern Wisconsin known for its towering bluffs with excellent trails and rampant swimmers itch in the early summer.  I grew up lake swimming which makes the concept of lap swimming intimidating – I don’t know if I had ever swam in a straight line before.

Still, I was determined to get myself to move today.  I don’t know what is about exercise, but for me it comes in fits. I love it, I truly do.  I’ve worked out daily, from classes to outdoor bike riding, and I feel damn awesome. I love that sore, overworked feeling.  And yet, when I miss a day, I find I miss two. Then I miss three.  The next thing I know I haven’t truly worked out in ages and I’m feeling lumpy and ornery.

Yesterday, I didn’t move at all and I had no excuse. The day was beautiful, I had no distractions, I could have done any number of great activities.  I also didn’t write.  I found myself playing games, reading, watching movies, dabbling on facebook, doing everything I really didn’t even want to do.

So, today, I forced myself to exercise.  But not only that, I forced myself to do something new, to get a little risk, the added oomph to make it good. I swam laps.  I did every number of absurd strokes but I did for 30 minutes.  When I left, I felt amazing.  I guarantee I will be back tomorrow.

Now, I’m at Starbucks and I’m hunkering down to do some serious writing.  So what’s my point?  We need to practice, we need to exercise. What I said about exercising I do the same for writing – if I skip a day, I skip a week. It takes a routine to make it feel truly natural.  You’ll read it everywhere -writers try to write everyday.  You need the habit to truly make it a part of your life.

And you want to know the best part?  With the routine, with the exercise, you can’t help but get better at it.  And that feels damn good.

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Change your venue

As an unpublished writer I hesitate giving out writing advice. Still, I consider myself a writing veteran from the sheer amount of words I’ve put on a page/web page (I should really count those up some day… 12 NaNos plus 24 years of journals?) and I can tell you one thing that’s always worked for me.

Change your venue.  Go write… somewhere.  I have my hot spots – the Union Terrace in Madison, the local Starbucks (though that’s more a lack of small coffee shops than choice), even my couch.  Still, I do it different with some common elements. I have my computer and my music.  But my scenery changes. I can watch people, I can look at the sky, the trees.  Sometimes I take in a lot of caffeine or, today, a couple of beers.

Whatever you do, get a feel for your writing from different angles.  It’s the best shot you have at seeing it from someone else’s eyes.

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