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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Sometimes time gets in the way

At the end of June, I quit my job.  I walked into work as a Career Advisor for unemployed people in northern Cook County, handed in my resignation, and less than two weeks later I was breathing sweet, fresh, free air.

I left because I wasn’t happy there.  There were a lot of reasons why I wasn’t happy there and I’ll spare you the pages and pages of rants I have in my journal.  Let’s just say, I loved working with the clients, but the “system” had its… quirks.

So, now joining the ranks of those unemployed shmucks, I decided to have myself a good old fashioned summer vacation.  My husband is awesome and decided to support me as I job searched and focused on something I’ve never focused on before – writing.  Out of nowhere I had hours and hours available to me where I could sit, write, figure out my story and create something wonderful and beautiful.

However, have you ever had a lot of time on your hands?  Ever noticed thinking you have “all day” to do something is exactly when you never get it done? I’ve been thinking this whole time about how much time a month is, how I am so motivated during November and I’ve pounded out novels around college and jobs and just life in general.

But, not halfway through July, I’ve only “completed” about 3/4 of Viva Las Vegas… and that’s just with my own editing. I’ve had one other set of eyes on it for suggestions and only for the first 1/4 of the chapters.  Still, I’ve made good strides and can honestly say I’ve worked on my story almost every day.

Yet, you know what’s worse?  Reaching that halfway point and all of a sudden having what’s left of your time disintegrate before your eyes.  When I quit, I told myself I wouldn’t start work again until August.  My husband and I have a road trip planned for a friend’s wedding and I thought it would work out well if I just didn’t work until after that.  But I’ve already turned down one offer to keep looking and I just got another one in today – and they want me in July.  I haven’t decided anything yet but it looks like my dreams to write, and to have a legit summer vacation, and finally over.

Crapola.  Why did I waste the first half of July?  PS – did I mention this job offer would require me to go back to school again for my graduate degree?  And it’s an hour and a half commute? Which means my husband and I will need to move up our plans to move closer to the city? Oh yeah, getting published will be totally easy with that on my plate.

Then again, if I’ve learned anything from NaNo – less time, more productivity.

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Step One: Writing

This may not seem like such an astonishing fact, but the first step to getting published is to write – or so I’ve been told.  So that’s what I’ve been doing recently, actually that’s what I’ve been doing my whole life.

I’m one of those born writing individuals.  I still have my notebook with my first story, “The Spooky Man.” It’s about a ghost-like man who somehow owns his own house down the block and gets his jollies by kidnapping children.  You can expect it on the big screen soon.

The first landmark of my progression from casual to more structured writing was the discovery of Reading.com (now, Writing.com).  It’s a wonderful site that promoted the sharing and critique of writing through an online community.  I’m still involved on that site and sport a portfolio that dates all the way back to 2001.  The vast majority of what I have on there is total crap but the website has served as a touchstone for me, a way to get back into a writing community whenever I feel the urge.  I owe a lot of my progression as a writer to the website and recommend it highly.  I’ve learned so much about writing but even more about critiques, self promotion, and thick skin.  Put your stuff on the internet and you’ll learn a lot.

The next, and most significant step in my writing process, has been NaNoWriMo (If you don’t know what this is, discover it. Now. NaNoWriMo.org). My extremely good friend, at the time just an online acquaintance, persuaded me to join in on NaNo four days into November when I was in 8th grade.  It was unreasonably exciting.  I threw myself into writing a story that was miles longer than anything I had ever before created.  What came out I still treasure, horrific as it may be (just to give you an idea, I didn’t yet understand the necessity for quotation marks or paragraphs).  I completed the required 50,000 words on November 28th – plenty of time to spare.

NaNoWriMo, for me, has been a requirement for writing.  This year will be my 13th year dong NaNo and I’ve won every year but one.  I don’t have the problem a lot of other writers seem to, I can actually sit down and write.  I don’t correct myself I don’t get writer’s block, and I am not consumed with the idea of good vs. bad.

I think this it the most crucial step for anyone who wants to get publish.  You aren’t going to get anything sold if you don’t put it on paper first.  A good idea means nothing if you can’t share it.  You’ll hear it time and again from people who are published and love writing – Chris Baty, Natalie Goldberg, Julia Cameron, Jerry Cleaver, and so many more.

So, I’ve been writing.  On my crusade to get published I’ve chosen my most recent NaNo novel, titled Viva Las Vegas.  It’s a light, chick lit book with hot men and sexy ladies. It was meant to be fluff but I ended up really enjoying it and now it’s evolved into something that, while still full of sexy people, had a bit more heart to it. When I stopped writing it in November I had more or less completed the story.  The last few chapters were more mismatched scenes than a true series of events culminating in a story.  Over the past two weeks I’ve buckled down and gotten serious.  In what has been simultaneously an editing and new writing extravaganza I’ve spent many hours at Starbucks and I’m seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

But, before I can even think about what’s happening next, I need to concentrate on this first, huge step. I need to write something to be published.

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Writing is like riding a bike

Even if you aren’t in the mood
once you’re going it just feels write
the more you practice the better you are
hills suck
but the downward slopes are worth it
sometimes people get in the way
keep shifting gears
it’s hard to gain back lost momentum
forget about breaks and brakes

Breathing helps.

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Phonies

Phonies

I read this on postsecret.com today.

It’s hard to dedicate yourself to an idea. For me, writing has already been a tide in my life – there have been times that I had written every day. I’ve also gone 11 months straight without sketching a single word outside of my journal. I’ve made it a habit to put writing aside to my life.

I keep coming to the word “failure” as a point of inspiration. I can’t let the mountain of daunting tasks (finishing my novel, editing my novel to the point of “completion,” marketing my novel, etc) deter me from trying. I’ve decided to make it happen. I’m going to use July to make it happen.

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