Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Help Innsmouth Free Press Live


I should have covered this a bit earlier, but better late than never. I rarely speak of money. I do not like to have it on my tongue as a word [though more often than not manages to appear in so many conversations] and I also do not speak of donations, because I do not feel comfortable advocating people give, when I am not in a position to give myself. 

BUT initial discomfort aside, Innsmouth Free Press needs your altruism. It's a fantastic place dedicated to the dark and the macabre and Cthulhu [who doesn't love Cthulhu?], so help it survive the Internet. 

Kaz Camp: Update 1


It's Wednesday, which is not Tuesday, which means that I am late for the regular check-in at Kaz Camp. However, considering how this is one day behind and the same week, I am not so beaten up about the missed deadline. I am just happy I remembered at all. Somehow my mind deletes information, even if I write it down [hence why I am unreliable even with a schedule].

On the writing front, let's see. I have done some. "Cosmic Love" has been transcribed and even a bit nibbled at as far as editing goes [I hate the process, hence why I am stalling]. "Drumming" has reached the dreaded 50% and so far there is no 'Houston, we have a problem' stage I have with middles. On the side I have a flash story, which will most likely air on Friday as part of Friday Flash.

That's about it. Not exactly happy, but I am at least getting into the swing of things.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Knowledge: Chainsaw or Straitjacket?


I've been thinking about knowledge. To be honest, I've always had an ongoing discussion with myself on knowledge, it's use, it's blessings and it's shortcomings. As a reviewer, I suffer from the minority complex that I have not read enough and therefore I am far from entitled to an opinion. Because I lack knowledge, can't compare or know the classics I've the idea that I can't be a constructive contributor to the conversations, which take place at different blogs.

Of course, as far as reviewing goes, knowledge is useful, but more often than not a set of fresh eyes are needed to see a certain book without filters and discover a new element or a new interpretation. However, reading with an intent to review differs from reading in order to write. For this reason, intimate knowledge of past books serves a solely different function.

Damien G. Walter says in his post Should new writers know their SF history?: "But is knowing the history of SF [speculative fiction, just to clarify, because I personally confuse it with science fiction sometimes] essential to becoming a writer in the genre? On the one hand SF can be considered as an ongoing conversation spanning decades. It you enter that conversation without knowing what has already been said, you are not liable to say much of interest to people who have been following the arguments unfold for decades."

It's logical to assume this. Without the backlog information, say, a rookie writer wouldn't know whether or not his bad-ass gore-filled fantasy story about a band of mercenaries out to hunt down some baddies is fresh or overdone. If said rookie has only read Tolkien, then to him that idea is 100% certified bestseller material. Point proven, moving on, now. The writing world backs up this idea [me as well] with the advice to always read, read and then read some more. Plus, any skill is developed only when the foundation is laid and in order to come up with something brand-spanking new, the writer needs to keep an inventory list of the fantastic ideas already done.

Knowledge prevents the writer from looking foolish, but can it also have a side effect that may not be as desired.

More from the same post: "But on the other hand if SF is a genre that seeks to find meaning in modern life, raw responses to that life might be mire interesting than viewpoints filtered through the mirror shaded gaze of the SF genre."

And a few quotes written by Susie Nott-Bower on her post A WALK ON THE WILD SIDE: "Then we begin to learn. And the process of learning, whilst necessary for improvement, may also run the risk of becoming a process of domestication, or, more precisely, institutionalisation. As we learn ‘how’ to write, we become - quite rightly - aware of the parameters set by the industry we’re aiming to write for. [...] However, too much focus on such parameters can cause them to mutate into walls, then bars - and these can, over time, cause us to shrink, to wither into something a little less than we are. [...] Our writerly eyes become dull with the effort of ‘fitting in’, of doing it right. Our roars become muted. Our coats become dry and matted as the rejections drop through the letterbox."

Which I have also considered the case with knowledge in excess can be and as we writers are ushered to read, learn and encompass as much as possible, do we not raise barriers? Do we not set rules? Draw lines? Learn what is wanted and strangle our creativity, much like donning a corset, in order to please and produce what is expected, what is wanted and what is SOLD.

Because, let's not kid ourselves, we all want our work to be sold. Some want stardom, but most want a career and acceptance. The traditional publishing model [which still tops writers' wish-lists as a venue] has tastes, which have to be met.

So is knowledge a chainsaw or a straitjacket? Empowering or constricting?

It's both. It's never that simple. It's never either or. Knowledge can aid or it can cripple, all depending on who the writer is and whether he/she knows what he/she wants. I read to know how SF has reached the state, in which it is, but try to never accept it as rules set in stone, because otherwise the genre will never evolve.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Weekend Music

I simply cannot stop listening to this song. It's perhaps better than the original, which had a funky and playful vibe. Florence Welch added seduction and emotional depth, I had no idea the lyrics could harbor. Which proves once and for all that it's not what you say, but how you say it and I see an interesting post about how that correlates to writing.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Beyond the Wordcount: What is writing?


I’ve been contemplating a lot about writing REALLY is. Of course, this fevered inner debate sprang to me during my unproductive month, but the seed was sown after reading a short post by Karen Mahoney on her decision to stop using word meters, because they were not the ideal measurement for progress. Her point was that certain days she may feel the need to edit words she has written yesterday or perhaps work on some plotting, outline scenes, research etc.

Along with the Series Bibles posts I have been reading [the topic seemed to overlap on a few place] posed the question: What is writing? Yes, the most obvious answer is putting words down on paper [typing words on the screen], chaining them until you reach the end and that is that. This is the first school of thought, also the one, which is most commonly understood and widely spread. I will call it the expansive school, because success and progress is measured by the very tangible word count. In this school belongs the advice “write every day”, the New Year’s Resolutions to write more and the clever quotas writers set for the month or for the year. The industry operates with it. This way writing is tangle. It can be broken to bits, it can be counted and slotted. Every business needs clarity and stability, which makes it a lot easier for both writers and publishers.

However, writing is not the physical act alone. Because the fingers are not programmed with the words they type the moment we sit down on the keyboard, nor does the wrist have a battle plan, when the writer picks up the pen and scribbles away. Yes, there are times, when we all feel like the words are pouring out as if we are receiving a fax from the Creative Department above. In these instances, reaching our quotas seems easy breezy. However, writing is always about finding the right words, creating the right mood, establishing a firm logic that binds the characters and story in a homogenous work. There is so much to be done that has nothing to do with the wordcount. It’s related to writing, inseparable from the process, but beyond the physical. Beyond the wordcount.

I’m inclined to define writing, along with the measurement of progress, as a storm inside the writer’s head. Chaos that the writer channels primarily into the body of the work, but which also leaks out in the series bibles, the character sheets, the worldbuilding concepts. It’s in the impulse to delete what the writer deems inferior, to retrace his steps, alter the story and edit in order to enhance an idea. Writing includes the editing, the revisions and the subsequent work on a piece in order to make it work. It’s a mental process as much as it is physical. I call this the intensive school, because quantity is not the sole factor, determining progress. Here it’s important whether the writer does the idea justice or not, whether he utilizes his own faculties to their utmost potential or not. In this sense, word meters aren’t accurate, because when the writer is not producing new words [aka being unproductive], he may be doing something to aid his story. And this cannot be caught, because writing is perceived as meeting quotas.

Yes, perhaps I’m nitpicking at semantics. People can argue prep work, editing and revisions to be related processes, which accompany writing. But they require a different state of mind to perform them, so they cannot be writing per se. Writing is writing. End of discussion.

I’d like to ask: What’s the point of writing so many new words, when they are the wrong ones or the weak ones? Or when the writer never really knows whether they won’t be deleted, because during revisions the story takes a different route? Or when they need to be altered, because the writer got the facts wrong? For me, that’s wasted effort.*

But let’s get to the point. Yes, there is one: Writing is a lot more complex to simplify and sum up in numbers.

Tell me: What do YOU think writing is?

* Which may or may not be rooted in our competitive nature. You have to admit that seeing someone rock 3,000 words a day will kick you into competition with them. But that is and entirely different point.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

How did I do this again?


It's very interesting how the mind functions. A slight detour first, though. Today was supposed to be a post on my Summer Camp check-in, but I have not written a single word on a project since June the 4th. However you look at it, this has been unproductive. Yes, I outlined and filtered ideas, but nothing has been put down on paper. 

Yes, the frequent night shifts, unstable sleping regime [lack of coffee in the house] and studying have contributed to using only rudimentary language [reserved for complaining]. However, I know my limits and I know, when opportunities to exploit time within my boundaries arise. And I should have popped back in shape after the 15th. But sitting down to write after the heavy duty schedule I have been keeping felt like sitting down to write for the first time. I knew what I wanted to write, but I had no clue how/where to start, how to work the setting, tune to a certain style, evoke the state of mind the protagonists should have been in. On my good days, I am fully capable of performing these tasks. 

But these days I want to crash down, glue my eyes to the screen and watch It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, until I lapse into a coma. I guess that I am detoxing my brain with TV to erase the patterns it worked with, while I was studying. It's rewiring for me to get all writerly again. SO, here is for TV dumbing down the scholar in me and bringing back the writer.

Anyway, how do you guys back after a stressful period in your lives? Does creativity simply snap back into your fingers or what?     

Sunday, June 20, 2010

5 Tips to Help You Schedule Your Day


I have been preaching [bragging as well] how scheduling and ruling your social commitments with an iron fist, divine omniscience and calculative prowess will make your existence easier. Chaos is inviting. It seems like you have all the time in the world and as is the case with me, I am prone to slacking off and wasting valuable time. So, if you are like me, new to Order [and yes, the capitalization is intentional] then this is a learning curve. June proved to be a time table small-scale apocalypse. I had a day job, finals, writing and my special online persona, so my scheduling skills were put to the test.

The results:

- Something had to give… Because no matter how well you fill your time, your body doesn’t do long hours with no benefits. In my case, I endured mini-comas.

- I had no masterful scheduling skills. But I learned valuable lessons, which I am presenting you as easy to swallow tips.

1. Write it down.

The moment you agree to do something and utter/mumble/scream YES, write the task along with the deadline on whichever material is closest. As long as you have the piece of paper or skin along for you to properly add to your schedule, then you are almost safe. Just never ever rely on your memory even for ten seconds, because the backstabber will have you recall a week after your deadline was due [yes, this happened to me]. This is especially important, when you are play the initiator and offer to do something [also the same case with me].

2. Prioritize.

Don’t start with the fun tasks that you know you will enjoy. Never start with the shorter tasks either, simply because you will brag to friends how productive you have been. Take a nice, long look at the calendar. Then give your to-do list the same stare. Take a calculator. Do the math and prioritize according to urgency. I need to underline how tricking the dates seems. The 4th of June may seem far away in the future, when it’s only the 26th of May. The date is in a different month, you’d say [I had said so many times], but that is a little over a week and if you have several guest posts or a review on a 400/500 paged book [you have not yet read], then my friends, you are screwed [like I was screwed].

3. Never stop.

Once you develop the system, you better stick to it and not allow for circumstances to screw it over for chaos. Obviously, this is not possible, because things happen. You can be stuck in the middle of a clown convention that decided to hit the streets or maybe extraterrestrial donkeys are taking over the world. Survival cannot be scheduled and yes, I am using these outrageous examples to not involve the grim reality. The point here is mostly to have in mind that once the heated situation is over you need to bounce back in the scheduling shape or you will have lost of trouble organizing things back.

4. Say NO.

This one is easy. Until at least 1/3 of the longer commitments have been ticked off the to-do list, I advise you to reconsider agreeing to more. Now, this was for normal people. For those who know that NO is not an option: we all know you that you will say YES, despite the fact that even 48 hours in the day won’t help you. I am one of you and head banging has become a daily routine after I engage in whatever comes my way. To you I can say to accept more short term projects with less work required. Make sure you do not agree to be a regular at too many places [*clears throat*] and just strive towards moderation. Diminishing the level of business will simplify the whole organizational process.

5. Go digital.

I have a very personal relationship with paper and end up planning most of my activity on it. I have folders with neatly charted sheets, spiral bound notebooks and long range to-do lists based on the type of activity. However, this is the real world and not Disney, so paper won’t come alive and shove the pending deadline in your face. This is why, if you have not gone digital, set up a digital calendar with regular e-mail notifications. It’s human to forget to check what’s on the paper schedule and the e-mail notifications are invaluable in such situations [if I am to assume, you refresh your inbox every twenty seconds].

Friday, June 18, 2010

Back to Regular Programming...

I have returned from the depths of that which lurks offline. I still have one more exam and the desire to simply hybernate dominates my urges, but I am more than fit to return to a frequent and steady posting schedule. 

Before I start with the content, I offer you a snippet from my first ever review at Innsmouth Free Press: "A Book of Tongues" by Gemma Files

A Book of Tongues can be best described as “haunting”. The prose is lyrical. It coils, sedates and is addictive as opium fumes. It’s much an enchantment as it is a snare, which snaps around the reader and drowns him in the book’s stark vividness. The story reads like a fevered, fragmentary dance, divided into three books, which roughly equate to exposition, build-up and resolution.

Take a peek. 

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Summer Camp 2010

Yes, the most recent idea is to attend Karen Mahoney's Summer Camp for Writers. I am doing it more or less for networking rather than keeping writing in check. As far as writing goes, the big schedule I am keeping takes care of the writing. I have put in the commitment and even though I am not entirely active [scariest exam creeps in, you know] at the moment, I have it covered. But this is an extra chance to add structure to my writing and have the opportunity to network with other writers.

What's your opinion? Do you find these sort of events helpful or do you take on the lone wolf mentality?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Time, time, time [Was I in a coma?]


Yes, dear June has hauled my ass into overdrive and I am overly busy these days. The firs few exams collide close to each other [five days apart], which wouldn't be a big deal, if my night shifts weren't as crowded together during these days. I can't honestly say I have been miticulously studying all the time, but time hasn't been plenty and I need at least an hour to come up with a post. So this is me running out of time. Have fun, here have yourself a murder mistery [I suspect there was a fork involved]:

When I come back I will talk about the power of NO!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Series vs. Standalones


Since I started the topic of discussing writing goals and knowing what you want from your imagination, it’s smart to coordinate those goals with a good business sense and aim them so that you can expect a career from this in the end. It seems like I know what I’m talking about, but I can assure you that this is a brand new epiphany, sparked by my last post.

Because I’m obsessive compulsive and enjoy accomplishing things in the far future, I tried to picture what I’d be wrestling in January 2011 as far as novels went. The slot was blank and I had a few minutes to make a decision. I could poke at a brand new idea or I could just jump on a sequel. I knew that wonder writer C.E. Murphy juggled several series simultaneously before she landed her publishing contract. Her career is a product of her belief in her series and persistence in her pursuits. But this is what’s tricky with series. If the first novel is not good enough to be published, than all the time spent on the series is wasted. Though it can be argued whether honing your craft can be called wasting time. If the first novel in the series is also the very first novel the writer has ever written, then chances are that novel will not fair so well during submission stages. It’s how statistics roll, sadly.

This brings me to the other option, standalones. I know that most successes recommend that rough talents start with a standalone. The one time I ever got the balls to write to a big name author [it was the mighty Holy Lisle – Ed.] I received the reply that betting on the standalone would be wiser. You work on one novel, which is considerately less time spent than writing several installments in a series. This also makes it easier to accept rejection and that it will not sell. If it does get published and the writer gets his name out, then who says he can’t start the series he always wanted.

But SFF writers have the natural predisposition to create in installments. Be it modest duologies, cannon trilogies or the epic twelve part behemoths, when the SFF writer commits to a world, he takes his time exploring it.

And the question remains: Standalones or Series?

As a non-published person, I’ll stray away from the know-it-all tone. Instead, I’ll discuss what I intend to adopt as a writing model. Because I’m equally torn between three series [all exceed six books – Ed.] and standalone novels, my decision would set my priorities straight. I want to do all. I want to work with the intentions to get published and I also want to work on whatever I want to despite what is being advised [not delving into series, until a contract occurs – Ed.], so I’ll work on a new novel every time. After drafting and editing the first novel in a series, I plan to outline and develop a 20,000 word skeleton for the sequel, but leave the sequel at that. Then it’s on to the next novel. So on and so on, until, you know, I get published.

If I happen to sell a series, I will have a good starting point for the sequel. Once I settle in the swing of it, I imagine it being relatively easy to continue the series [given that you take notes and such beforehand – Ed.].

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Knowing What to Write Next


And no... I am not talking about Sudoku. I am talking about scheduling, people. You know time management. Knowing what you will be doing in the future. A variation of divination, in which you sort of know, but can't expect to turn out quite the way you want it. In December I made a vow to never let time slip between my fingers. I wanted to mine it, hone my craft with it, spread myself over all the world [as far as the Internet allows, that is - Ed.] and since then I am fixated with keeping schedules: daily ones, weekly ones, blog themed ones, social event ones, reading ones and of course writing ones. Now, I am not going to talk about the importance of managing time in regards to writing. If you are not published and have several contracts on your head, then you can probably slouch a bit.

Instead, here is what I plan to do month by month in the remainder of 2010:

June: Work on "Lungs" collection.
July - September [incl.]: Draft "Wind Whispers" & edit "Crimson Cacophony"
October: Work on "Lungs" collection. Leave "Crimson Cacophony" with alphas/betas.
November: Work on "Lungs" collection. Final edits for "Crimson Cacophony", if alpha is ready. Otherwise jump on the two month edit on "Wind Whispers".
December: So far this last month is tricky. Most likely I will be editing a novel and hopefully will have finished with the "Lungs" collection. No novel length to start at the time. I plan on plotting a sequel for "Crimson Cacophony" called "Devised in Debris" and tackle some undone shorts.

Yes, I know that this is back breaking load of work and since I have not ever edited a novel, I am not sure whether I will be slow or puzzled as to how to tackle things. Nobody knows what else can pop up, but I prefer to have goals. Even if I achieve the half of this I would be happy. I also need to know what I will be writing, because I have poor memory and too many ideas written as series. Not ideal, when you have limited time and are not sure whether you can sell anything to begin with. And I am not C.E. Murphy to work on four series simultaneously.

What about you? Do you choke your creativity in these restraints?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Creativity from beyond the schedule...


Initially, I wanted to post to you my writing schedule, but as time is sparse to polish on what I plan to spend the rest of 2010, here is a small snippet I wrote in my Accounting text book, while I was supposed to be studying. For the record, this will not be featured in the upcoming July project, which still remains unnamed. This comes far later, when the main character has gained the arsenal to actually sound threatening, saying these words:

"I speak in thunder. The winds are my infantry. Lightning my artillery. Clouds my fortress. And they line every horizon. They hear every breath. Threaten me all you want, but if you act, the sky will nuke you."