RSS

Monthly Archives: July 2012

Guest Post: Take a Walk…On a Tightrope: One Writer’s Journey

Guest post by Brian Taylor

If you regularly follow this blog, you may recognize me from my countless comments here.  As Jani put it, “I’m part of the furniture around here.”  So I jumped at the chance to submit a guest post for this months writing journey theme.

As I inch along my tightrope toward publication, I’d like to say I was one of those writers who knew early on they wanted to write.  The simple truth is I wasn’t.  I’ve always been a creative person.  I paint, draw, compose/play music, and even dabbled in creative writing growing up.  I wanted to start a band and write songs.  I taught myself to play the guitar and wrote a ton of songs, complete with lyrics.  I had a whole album layed out, still have the recordings on cassette tape, but I never believed in myself enough to pursue it.  And before you ask, no, you can’t hear my songs.

You see, I grew up in a less than ideal environment.  We weren’t encouraged to explore our interests and become something great.  We were supposed to get good grades and stay out of trouble.  Nothing more and nothing less.  My parents started a countdown to our eighteenth birthday since the day we were born.  On that day, we were expected to leave.

My eighteenth birthday came and I did leave.  I was the only one out of five children who made it that long.  The circumstances are still painful.  My relationship with my mother has never been the same.

I wandered through life working dead-end jobs in order to support the one person who really loved me, my sister and her newborn son.  After a short time, my sister, whom I love very much, kicked me to the curb.  She chose a boyfriend over her brother.  With nowhere left to go, I enlisted in the military.  The guy left my sister soon after.  She found herself pregnant and I found myself in the Air Force.  I never told her how much she hurt me.  I don’t think I ever will.  Deep down she knows.

I excelled in the military, just like everything else I put my mind behind.  It was during my third year in the Air Force when I realized I wanted to write.  One of my superiors wrote me up for disobeying a direct order which he never gave.  I won’t go into specifics, but I will say I wrote a four page rebuttal complete with quotes from president Eisenhower, and general MacArthur.  I showed the rebuttal to another of my superiors who promptly smiled and shook his head in disbelief.  He said, “Remind me to never get on your bad side.”  Needless to say, the paperwork all disappeared after a closed-door meeting.

Something changed inside me.  I discovered my words had power.  My inner writer was born.

About a year after, I sought out one of my favorite authors, Jeff Long.  He wrote one of my all time favorite books titled THE DESCENT.  On his website he shares stories of fans approaching him with great ideas for books.  His response is always the same.  He encourages them to grab a notebook, a pen, and sit at the kitchen table to write the stories themselves.  Mr. Long believes we are all storytellers at heart.

Lightning struck.  Mr. Long’s words coursed through every cell in my body.  I was going to write a book.

That was 2004.  As we all know, life often gets in the way of our dreams.  That creative spark has never left me.  I suspect it’s here to stay.

The very first idea I had for a book was a war between angels and vampires for control of heaven and Earth.  Between military life and two deployments, I kept that idea tucked away and began writing a different story.  There was something about that first idea that nagged at me.  It wouldn’t let go.  Many years later that idea has become my first manuscript.

I’ve learned so much about writing, and life since then.  Much of it the hard way.  In all honesty, I wouldn’t have it any other way.  All of the pain and scars remind me what I’m fighting for.  My whole life I’ve done everything for everyone else.  This time I’m doing it for me, because I want to.  Writing is a part of me.  It’s who I am.

So I’ll continue to inch along my tightrope and eventually I’ll reach the other side.  When the time is right.  When I’m strong enough.  And it will be the most glorious thing to ever happen to me.

For the time being, I’m right where I belong.  Here, with all of you and I’m extremely grateful.  I’d like to thank this blog and community for having me, and liking me enough to let me hang around.  It means the world to me.

I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence.”–Frederick Douglass

Brian Taylor is a former soldier turned writer with a soft spot for the horror genre and black Labs.  He grew up watching movies like The Evil Dead with his grandmother, which naturally led him to seek out horror in literature.  It was then that he stumbled upon Dean Koontz, and he never looked back.  Brian is currently hard at work polishing his first manuscript, but always has time to help a fellow writer.  You can find him and Buck, his black Lab, at http://descentintoslushland.wordpress.com/

Advertisements
 

Giving and Getting the Most Out of Critiques

Best critique partner ever — Sebastian

There are so many awesome blog posts out there about critiquing, and I encourage you to read all of these posts–you won’t be disappointed. Earlier in the week, Jamie posted about Being Emotionally Prepared for Critiques. I also have a wonderful friend, and fellow YA author, Sarah Ockler, who has written a few posts on critique groups: Evaluating Critique Groups: Six Crucial Questions, and Are you an Ideal Critique Partner?. Brian, from Descent into Slushland, wrote a post How do you Find Critique Partners, and I told him he inspired me to write a post about critiquing, so here goes.

Critiquing — it can be terrifying and exhilarating all at once. I love my partners like they are my own family. I’ve gotten to know them and know about their life, and the friendships I’ve made are everlasting. But no matter how much you love you partner(s) or critique group, it can still be stressful.

When critiquing, there are some things that are helpful, while others simply…aren’t. Writers are full of passion. Yes, you know you are. That passion is crucial to the creative process, but we oftentimes need to keep that passion in check when critiquing for others.

  • Keep it constructive. Sometimes we may not necessarily like a sentence, or maybe a character isn’t working…for YOU. Ask yourself, “Why isn’t this working for me?” Is it simply because you would have written it a different way? Is there a problem with character motivation? Does the wording read awkward? The sentence not tight enough? What kind of image does it bring to mind? Is it the image you think the author is trying to convey? Don’t just tell someone you don’t like something and not tell them why. That isn’t constructive. That is YOU giving a personal opinion.
  • Try to keep the word I out of the critique. Sentences like, “I hate this. I don’t like this character.” Don’t belong in a critique. A critique is serious business. You have to instill and generate a tremendous amount of trust in someone before you can take them seriously. The moment you stop being constructive, the moment the defenses go up.
  • Help diagnose the problem, don’t fix it. It is so easy to want to write someone else’s work for them, because, well, it’s not your work, and we can fix someone else’s work better than we can fix our own. That isn’t your job as a critique partner. If you think the author could say something better (and it isn’t working for you…don’t offer suggestions to something that is working for you), write something like, “Maybe you could try something like this…” Give a suggestion, and then tell them why you’re giving them the suggestion. Sometimes editors and critique partners are good at diagnosing an issue, but we may not have the best solution for fixing it.
  • Ask yourself, “Does this really need to be fixed, or is this just not how I would write it?” This is big. Sometimes we want to rewrite words/sentences/paragraphs/pages when they don’t necessarily need to be rewritten. Everyone has a different writing style–if we didn’t, then no one would read because reading would be boring if everything was similar. It can be easy to try and rewrite things because you think you could write it better. Again, not your job as a critique partner. Just because you would write something one way doesn’t mean it needs to be rewritten at all.
  • Take all feedback into consideration. Not all feedback will be useful. You’re the writer, it’s your story. Sometimes we read something from our critique partner(s) that we disagree with–and that’s normal. You have to have confidence in your work to know what feedback to use and what not to use. BUT, consider all feedback. Even if you’re not going to use it, think about it. Sometimes a comment can spark a thought that leads to an epiphany with your work. Maybe you never would have had the epiphany if you wouldn’t have read the feedback.
  • When two or more. Some people have one critique partner, some have more. Personally (notice I said personally, this isn’t what everyone does, but I’ll tell you why I feel it’s important), I have three (sometimes more–I’m fortunate to have some amazing ladies who read my work) people who read my work for me. Here’s why–when two or more people identify that something isn’t working for them, chances are, you need to go back over that particular thing and rework it. This ties in to taking in all feedback–if one person says something isn’t working for them, but the other two don’t have a problem with it, I still consider it, but I’m not as focused on it as I would be if two or more have a problem with it.
  • Keep a schedule. This is crucial to the success of your work and the relationship with your critique partner(s). Hold one another accountable. If you say you’re going to submit so many pages by a certain date, then make sure you do that. Next, make sure you both agree on when you’ll have them back to the other. Make a schedule that works best for everyone, and keep it.
  • Goals. It’s important to find someone who has the same goals as you. How can you expect someone you’re working with to take your writing serious if they don’t take their own writing serious? If you find someone who is also actively trying to seek publication, and you are actively seeking publication, you can do wonders for each other. You can motivate, encourage, and help the other prepare.
  • Be happy for each other. This is a touchy subject, and I know none of us do this intentionally, but keep that green monster in check. Chances are, you and your critique partner(s) will be at different stages in your writing. One may be further ahead than the other (in terms of being ready to query, not skill level or anything). Encourage them, be happy for them. Querying is a nightmare. There are rejections, second guesses, and lots of emotions to deal with. This is your biggest dream for crying out loud. Be supportive of one another. Offer a shoulder or an ear. Don’t bask in someone else’s misery because you aren’t ready to query yet. Be genuine. It makes a difference.
  • If you have an issue with a critique partner(s), talk it out. Don’t let something fester. If someone says something that hurt your feelings, tell them. They probably didn’t do it intentionally. You have to open up to one another in order for the relationship to be effective. It is a relationship. A big one. Just like any other relationship, you have to put some work into maintaining it. You’ll only grow closer when you do this.

Loki — Sleeping and critiquing

There are a million other things one could write about critiquing, finding critique groups, and being an effective critiquer, but I’ll stop here. What are some things you look for in a critique partner?

 

Sharing is Caring

Photography by Photo Extremist on Flickr

Photo Extremist on Flicker

I don’t know why, but I’m constantly amazed by the writing community. I’ve never seen so many people belonging to a certain way of life being so supportive of one another, and it does a lot to for that whole ‘faith in humanity’ thing, doesn’t it?

When one writer falls, no less than four will be there to help them up, no questions ask. And that alone makes me so very proud to call myself a writer. Every now and then I tweet that writers are the best people I know, and I’m reminded of it every single day.

By now you’ve all read Roni Loren’s story about being sued for using a certain photo in one or her posts, and the consequences. I’m not here to remind you guys what that’s about, you all know by now that it’s a no-no. We cannot claim ignorance anymore. It has happened before, the news just wasn’t that prominent.

A lot of people in the writing community have been deleting all the images from their blog posts and replacing them it others. Which brings me to the reason for this post and the awesomeness that is our writing community.

As soon as the news hit the airwaves/Twitter feeds/readers etc, the ever awesome Leigh Ann Kopans created a Pinterest board with photos she’s personally taken and made them available for anybody to use for blog posts etc. For free. Then another friend of mine, made some of her photography available for use as well. And then I heard of somebody else offering images to bloggers. Somebody else tweeted a link to free images, others blogged about advice and more links. And so it went. Everybody stepped forward to contribute whatever they could and it will continue.

Isn’t that the most wonderful thing ever!?!

The internet is such a dangerous place when it comes to copyrighted material, and it’s sometimes hard to find and use the right image, the one that represents your thoughts the best, without getting into potential trouble. With the sites that do offer cc images, I’ve found that I have to sign up to get access to some of them, and I’m somewhat annoyed by this sometimes because I don’t want more things filling up my inbox. So having easy access to boards like Leigh Ann and Jenny’s is super useful. Earlier this week I tweet a link to a post written by Leigh Ann and somebody I don’t follow and who doesn’t follow me, saw the RT somehow and replied with a link to more free images.

Photo by Jenny Kaczorowski

Most of you probably already have your go-to sites for free images, but I thought I’d share the ones I’ve found lately and give you a wider variety. If you have any you want to share with the rest of us, please leave a link in the comment section, we’ll all appreciate it.

CC Images via Leigh Ann Kopans

Wikimedia Commons

CC Images from Jenny Kaczorowski

Creative Commons Images for Open Blog Use

WANA Commons

Anything you want to share?

 
11 Comments

Posted by on July 25, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Tags:

Being Emotionally Prepared for Critiques

Yesterday I went to my first meeting with my new critique group. I used the term “group” loosely since right now it’s just me and one other writer. But we have plans to expand. It’s always interesting to meet other writers for the first time since you don’t know how they write, if they’ll like your writing, if you’re all at a level that will benefit each other, etc.

The scariest part, of course, is opening up your work to critical feedback.

I always have a hard time giving feedback. In general, I’m a people pleaser. It’s one of my fatal flaws. The one thing I could never stand doing is discouraging a writer the way I’ve been discouraged in the past. On the other hand, it doesn’t help the other writer if I offer nothing constructive, and it’s a waste of both of our time. Understanding the difficulties of giving critiques makes me want to be especially prepared and considerate when it come to receiving them.

I sought this critique group meeting because I knew I was ready for it. I already wrote “Draft Zero” of my novel during National Novel Writing Month 2010, then spent months trying to understand my characters and create a new outline. I’m settled in my new home and ready to get to work. Physically and mentally, I was prepared. But how do I prepare emotionally?

Really, it comes down to one thing: I want critical feedback. I want suggestions. I want to know the truth. Now that I have nothing distracting me (except my 2 wild monkeys, of course), I’m driving full speed ahead toward my publishing career and I know I’ll never make it without the help of others. I want to tear it apart and piece it back together more than anyone. Because I want to be a better writer. I want my story to be the best it can be, even if my story never crosses an agent’s desk.

To be emotionally prepared for a critique, tell yourself this: your story and your writing career are bigger than any comment from anyone. You have a dream and a vision for this story that can’t be broken. And, when it comes to any changes, down to the placement of a single comma, you always make the final call.

How do you prepare for receiving critiques? What about giving them?

Photo by La Grande Farmers’ Market

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

Ride the Dragon

“Buy the ticket, take the ride.”

~ Hunter S. Thompson

” If we had to say what writing is, we would have to define it essentially as an act of courage.”

—Cynthia Ozick

Last month, I shared with you my perspective about fear and finding ways to tame it. I tried, really hard, to present something else for today’s post. As you can see I lost that struggle.

I’m facing a whole new set of fears as I prepare my baby to venture out in the new world. I mean, complete strangers, not to mention family and friends, will have the opportunity to read it. Will they cry where I cried as I wrote it, and even now as I make it something better? Will it inspire? When the last page has been turned, will the reader be reluctant to put it down and re-enter the real world?

My dragon’s eyes glitter from the shadows, hungry. I hear its chains clink,feel the warm drafts as it flutters its wings. My dragon is restless.

No one is fearless. Even the most heroic characters in books have fears, if the writing’s good. As I muse on this subject, it occurs to me that the most inspiring and crazy people who I love, admire, and hope to emulate, went beyond taming their fears and relegating them to stay put and behave themselves.

No, they ride that baby and it’s beautiful.

Why would they do such a thing? It’s dizzy, up there in the sky. And I think of Eragon’s first ride on Saphira. Her scales cut his hands and legs so that they resembled nothing more than overcooked spaghetti. He didn’t quit after that. No, he loved it and knew it needed to be done. Not only that, his wise old friend made him a proper saddle and riding gear.

What does it take to ride the dragon?

1. Love/Need.

If you’re here, this is no doubt inherent to who you are as a writer. If I go to bed at night without writing a solitary word or complete a few pages of edits, I can’t sleep. Being a chronic insomniac anyway, that means I’m up at two in the morning banging my head on my laptop. It goes beyond passion, it’s something I need to do to prosper as a fully integrated writer and human being. I may not save the world, but I save my sanity, and that’s good news for my family.

2. Proper Gear

This goes beyond safety requirements, like learning the craft and putting your butt in the chair/saddle everyday. Knowledge of the right tools to use is as important as the chaps Eragon wore to protect his thighs. We are creatives, we must have vision. We need to see the exotic lands in the distance, navigate the currents, be prepared for occasional cloud cover.

Passion, invention, intuition, and risk-taking are not just the preemptives to far- sightedness, but a kaleidoscope that can turn our stories on their heads.

Why would we want to use our fear to take flight, admire its wingspan, and perhaps perform the occasional barrel roll?

When we take Mr. Thompson’s advice, we find release. Catharsis is a beautiful thing. Our imaginations disclose unmarked territories and crazy, fun stories that mean something. The dragon won’t let us tell anything but the truth and can be counted on to expose our soft underbelly.

As a reader, I know when the author has achieved this. You know, too. The story stays with you and brightens some untold corner of the psyche, like a talisman. As a writer, we dissect the characters, dialogue, setting, etc. It’s more elusive than that. It’s the courage it took to tell that particular tale.

There will be scars, but like the stretch marks on a mother’s belly, they’re battle wounds we can be proud of.

I have the opportunity to take the ride of my life, one of many, I hope. I’m going to do this, that’s my promise to you. As I put the shine on my debut novel, I commit myself to courage. I’m no hero, but I see the mountains and the pitfalls in the distance. The price is well worth the opportunity to gaze upon my dreams and invite others to take the ride.

Are you coming with me? I sure would love the company.

*image by Ruth Tay via inheritance.wikia.com

 
10 Comments

Posted by on July 20, 2012 in Inspiration, Publishing

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

Written In The Stars

Starsby *Gwathiell

“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.”
― William Shakespeare

My love of words started like most writers I know. It started with a story. In this case, the stories came from the imagination of my great-aunt, Delia. She weaved magical tales to send me to sleep. She wasn’t a writer, she never wrote any of her stories on paper, and she read to me too, but I loved her stories best. Neither of us knew she was giving me the greatest gift of all, the gift of storytelling. I wish she were alive to see the impact she had on me and I often wonder what she would think about me being a published author.

In truth, I think my family knew I was going to grow up to be a writer before I did.  I’m lucky, really. A lot of writers talk about how their friends and family would roll their eyes and tell them to stop dreaming, to think about getting a real job. In my family, dreaming was encouraged. I guess, in that way, it helped having an artist for a mother, someone who understood and promoted creativity. I have to thank my dad too, though. His scientific nature taught me to ask questions, instilled the value of hard work, and although he supported my creative side, he often reminded me that dreams wouldn’t make themselves and that you had to work to achieve your goals.

I remember at the age of four writing my first picture book. My mother still has it. I bound it with staples and my mother helped me draw the pictures and spell the words I didn’t know how to spell myself. My grandfather would buy me books and even bought me a subscription to writer’s digest. Let me be clear that they never pushed me to write, but their subtle acts of encouragement built my confidence. The fact that my family took the time to recognize a natural passion and talent in me is something I will always be grateful for.

Our house was always filled with books. We were readers, spending countless hours in libraries and bookstores devouring stories. At the age of eleven I started my first novel. (No, you can’t read it. It’s buried in a deep dark hole somewhere in the Tasmanian Outback and guarded by a three-headed dingo.) I told my parents I wanted to be published by the age of sixteen. I also told them I wanted to be Wonder Woman, a Dallas Cowboy cheerleader, and an archaeologist. Those dreams faded. I never did get that invisible jet, and a new dream emerged. I was going to be an actress. I studied theatre and music from an early age and went on to major in Musical Theatre with the dream of moving to London and performing on a West End stage. I never stopped writing, but it became a hobby, a private way of dealing with stress but not something I thought of ever publishing. That dream had faded along with the rest.

Then something happened. My junior year of college, I became ill and started suffering fatigue, headaches, and dizziness. I became depressed. I slept all day, missed classes, and was put on probation. I suffered from shingles and anxiety attacks and managed to catch every virus and bug I came in contact with. Everything I touched turned to ash. The confident, carefree, fun loving girl was gone and an empty shell took her place. My mind was poisoned with dark thoughts. I decided to leave school and move home. I was treated for depression but that wasn’t the root cause. After two years of tests I was finally diagnosed with hypothyroidism. One little pill a day changed my life and slowly brought me back to myself physically, but my mind had been damaged, my confidence shot, and my goals devoured.

During those years of illness and depression, writing became my lifeline. I threw myself into other worlds, using stories as a cathartic tool. The idea for Pretty Dark Nothing was born from those dark days. As I helped Quinn battled her demons, she helped me learn to battle mine and it was in that moment that I knew everything happens for a reason. My path wasn’t the stage, it was the written page. My focus changed and I threw myself wholly into my true passion, the one I had been denying for years, and never looked back. I am a writer. I can’t deny the very core of what makes me who I am. I’m blessed to have achieved my goal for publication, but for me, writing isn’t really about a book deal. Don’t get me wrong, I want to be a published author and to be able to make a living doing what I love, but at the core, writing is not about making money. It’s about the foundation of my soul, my life blood. I write because I can’t imagine a life without it, it’s my chosen destiny.

What about you? Can you imagine life without writing? Have you dreamed of being something other than a writer? Do you think destiny is something you choose or is your path written in the stars?

 

A World of Ideas

 

People ask where writers get their ideas. It seems to be a topic of fascination among writers and non-writers alike. There are ideas everywhere. Sometimes they come easily and other times, they have to be wrangled into being. I’m going to share a few tips I’ve learned along the way.

1.Play games

“What if you slept? And what if, in your sleep, you went to heaven and there plucked a strange and beautiful flower? And what if,when you awoke,you had the flower in your hand? Ah, what then?”
― Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Yes, it’s my favorite game, “what if?” When I first read the suggestion of looking at people, places, and things and asking “what if?”- it sounded so simple. Simply look at something and ask yourself what possibilities are there. It took a while, but eventually it clicked. It was a matter of finding the right questions to ask. Instead of saying, “What if my mc went left instead of right?” I changed it to, “what would happen if instead of going left or right, my mc took the stairs?” I know, probably seems like a silly question, but it works for me. Sometimes we write ourselves into a corner and can only see the most obvious options. “What if?” is about learning to see the millions of possibilities out there.

2. Look at things from a different angle

This picture is pretty cool, isn’t it? I took it a few weeks ago. It was on our front porch, perched near the ceiling. I grabbed my camera, because this was the coolest moth I’d ever seen. It had a giant giraffe-like head and neck. I could even see the little eyeballs on the top. It had furry legs and feet too. I’d never seen a moth’s foot before. Its wings were amazing. I’d never seen anything like it before – a dragon moth. In my head were images of me naming this newfound creature for the scientific community. My hopes were dashed though when I looked at the wings again. They were on backward. That would make it a little difficult to fly. That led me to Google and the already named Spotted Apatelodes. I was looking at it from the rear, not the face. My excitement diminished a bit, because in my head I’d already formed an army of these moths. However, they may make an appearance in a story somewhere, because they’re awesome.

When you’re stuck and need an idea, try looking at something from a different angle – literally. I think you’d be surprised at how quickly the familiar becomes very unfamiliar. Take for example a vacuum cleaner. Add one sweater on a coat hanger to the handle of the vacuum. In the light, it’s a reminder that I have to hang up the sweater, but in the dark it looks like a child, standing there waiting for me, full of evil and malevolence. That never fails to send a shot of adrenaline right to my toes. It’s all in how we see things.

3. Read, watch movies, listen to people, look at pictures.

A few months ago, I was with my mom and she was talking on the phone to her brother. He asked her about a phone number. She said it was in her old phone book where the names and numbers were disappearing. I immediately made a note. She was talking in reference to her age group dying off, but in my mind, an idea formed. What if there were a special phonebook where the names and numbers changed according to the needs of the user? I stuck that on my idea board and left it. It may have a story someday and it may not.

Stories always give ideas, so read your heart out.

Movies. I don’t have a lot of interest in most movies. They bore me because they’re so predictable, but I do have a few favorites. There are times when an idea is presented in the movie and it’s something that catches my interest. My son and I watched “Clash of the Titans” for the first time last night. One of the characters, Io, was cursed with agelessness because she spurned the advances of a god. She was something halfway between a god and a human. I think I spent half the movie thinking about what kind of story I could make out of that information.

Ideas are all around you, just waiting to be plucked. The more open you are to pouncing on them when they appear, the easier they come. I don’t speak for everyone, these are just a few of the things that work for me and I hope they help you too

 
8 Comments

Posted by on July 16, 2012 in Inspiration

 

Tags: , ,