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The Organized Writer

I’ve resorted to spreadsheets!

I’m cringing at the idea of this. Not because I don’t plan out my novels, because I do, but it’s a loose informal thing that changes often. The spreadsheet is supposed to help me organize my thoughts. I hope.

This summer was supposed to be a focused effort on finishing my MS. And I did–sort of. I finished it, I read it, I revised (majorly), wrote some more, and now at the end of summer, I’ve decided on some pretty major changes. Which means I’m not done. Now, I’m disappointed and trying not to beat myself up over it. Hence, the spreadsheet.

If you’re curious, you can find the one I’m using here. Thee are a few of them on this site, so take a look!

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Inspired

I’ve gotten lazy. Not the type of lazy that warrants sitting on the couch all day though. I’ve been creatively lazy. I didn’t even realize it happening at first. My mornings always felt rushed and afternoons were spent at work. I spent evenings making dinner and cataloging a crazy amount of time watching Breaking Bad, American Horror Story, and Peaky Blinders. I gazed at Pinterest boards and read blogs. I designed pretty To-Do lists and calendars. On the weekends, I gardened and cleaned.

This last week, I sort of snapped. I started to feel myself becoming the person I didn’t like. I was grouchy and moody. I was mean. I didn’t know what to do. I felt the pent up energy bursting to be free and had no outlet for it. I tried running and went to a yoga class everyday this week to find some sort of balance. It helped. Like a band-aid on a gushing wound, it helped a little.

Then, a writing buddy asked if I could beta read for her. I figured since I wasn’t doing much writing of my own, I might as well carve a space of time to help her out. At first, it felt like a chore. But, the more I edited the hell out of her manuscript, the better I started to feel. It may not have been my work, but it was the outlet I needed. I needed to see the words, to shape them into something, to help them breathe life into a character. It was awesome!

I picked up Only the Dead (my current manuscript) and started to read, and soon I’ll start to write again.

The burden of being a creative person is the necessity to keep doing it. So keep doing it people and never stop.

On Writing Horror…do characters matter?

I grew up on reading horror novels by authors like Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and a few others that wrote one scary as hell novel and then disappeared forever. I remember feeling scared and shaken enough to make sure the windows were locked and the area under my bed was clear. I remember thinking about these stories the next day and hoping IT could never happen to me or in my town. It’s funny how some stories stick with you and some don’t. Why is that? Is it the story itself? Is it the characters?

I’ve read three novels in the last couple of weeks that claim to part of the horror genre (I’ll talk about these three books in another post). None of them were particularly memorable. All were written well. They had the right amount of eeriness, the plot moved forward at a heart-pounding pace, and in some instances I felt scared. A little bit. What did they lack? Characters. Oh, they were in there all right, but they felt so flat and one-dimensional that I forgot about them the moment I stopped reading and I never really cared if they lived or died. The stakes change a little when you don’t care what happens.

You see, as a writer, I read books for entertainment and to learn from. Lately, I’ve been choosing books to learn a little something. Unfortunately, I’m learning that horror novels don’t care about character development, and they should.

Now, I can’t say that ALL horror novels fail at this, they obviously don’t, but the three I read hoping to educate myself in the genre, sure did.

Planned Creativity

Being creative is hard work. It takes time and motivation. Did I mention how much time it takes? Seriously, I never really thought about how difficult it is when you are so out of practice. Sometimes I need to stare off into space for a bit just to get started. And there’s nothing worse than staring at a white screen/paper/whatever with nothing to put on it. It’s been months since I’ve drawn, photographed, or written anything. All my creative energy is getting sucked out by the classes I teach. By the time I get home, I’m either drained or all my time is accounted for by my kids. Sometime around 8:30 I plop myself in front of the computer and expect a miracle to happen. I’m still waiting for the miracle to happen…

But I have some plans up my sleeve. I’ve decided that maybe I need to embrace the fact that I teach photography and have all these resources at my disposal that I never really take advantage of. And, I’ve been super into creepy horror books/TV/movies. Hence, a creepy photo series that I really want to attempt and maybe even a few short stories that accompany them.

Anyways, the point is that none of this will happen without some serious planning on my part. This goes back to my Filling the Well post. I got myself a new notebook (I sort of think I like the new notebook part of the planning the most), some pens and highlighters, and a new Pinterest board. I really wish I would have started this before my Winter vacation started, so I could actually see my progress. Then, I am (I really will this time) setting aside two hours every other day that are mine. In those two hours, I can either write, take pictures, or blog. I can’t search the internet, read email, or get stuck on Pinterest boards–that’s all couch time when I’m too tired to do much else. I’m also setting a goal. In two weeks, I will post my first photos AND a short story. Ok, you all get to hold me to it!

What do you want to do? Make a plan. Set a schedule. Tell us about it in the comments and we’ll hold you to it too.

Filling the Well

Well, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? It’s no surprise I go on these little blogging hiatuses whenever life gets a bit too cumbersome. But this has been a long one I think. So, what have I been doing you ask…let me tell you all.

My fearless daughter broke her wrist while trying to follow the big kids on their bikes over what she thought was a hill–a nice, rolling hill that deposited you safely on the other side of it. This was no such hill. It was a dirt jump with a sheer cliff on the opposite side that immediately propelled the rider into a hole. Sounds menacing doesn’t it. Anyway, her bike tumbled over the edge and a day later we learned that she broke her wrist while doing it all. That pretty much killed our summer. My big plans of “Try New Things” quickly became lots of “Not-So-New-Things.” Eight weeks later and we are firmly in soccer season with all my time sucked up with practices and games that conveniently never happen on the same fields and with times that often overlap each other. Whew!

Needless to say, some things have taken the backseat for a bit. So, what am I going to do since I really don’t have much time to write or blog or anything that requires thinking in large gaps of time? I’m FILLING THE WELL. This is something I’ve often told my students is a necessary part of the creative process, yet I’ve never really done it myself. Wow, I’m such a hypocrite. Filling the Well is simple really. It requires a sketchbook or a notebook or anything you can collage and write into. It requires books. Lots and lots of books. Good books, bad books, whatever. Music. Art. Photography. It requires finding inspiration and putting it someplace you’ll remember it. And it needs to be tactile–I need to be able to tuck this notebook under my arm and carry it with me wherever I go because inspiration and ideas happen in the strangest places.

An example: I went to a farmer’s market over the weekend and while there, a woman with long brown hair and mismatched clothes stood in a corner and sang. She had bells on her ankles that jingled when she moved and a man beside her that played a sitar. Her voice was hypnotic. She was also Romanian, which is the ancestry of one of my characters. I never could fully picture this character in my head and she always felt a little forced. Then, I saw this singer and it all came together. Since I had my notebook and a pencil, I quickly began sketching little things I noticed about her. I also took some pictures.

Filling the Well is such a simple concept that we often forget how important it is. There are so many ways to stay motivated, to be creative. What do you do?

Monday Musings

Ok, I know it’s not exactly Monday anymore, but I was getting so good at posting every week and I didn’t want to let it just pass. Let’s see then, what am I up to this week??

What I’m reading? I am still plugging away on Killing Lincoln by Bill O’Reilly. I’m not used to a book taking this long for me to finish. I can finish a book in less than a week. I like it that way. I don’t even think I’m at the half way mark on this one and I’m getting dangerously close to setting it aside. I feel like I’m reading a history book. There’s isn’t any dialogue, but there is a whole lot of play-by-play battle tactics. Yesterday, I found myself talking to my husband about Stonewall Jackson and the saying “stonewalling someone.” He had this look on his face like he was talking to a stranger. He was definitely amused. This book feels like some sort of weird conquest for me. 

What I’m doing? Well, it’s officially summer in the Becker house, so I’ve got two kids, two dogs, and two chickens to contend with. The kids are in swim lessons for four days a week with gymnastics sprinkled in on one of those days. I can already tell that I will have to be utterly creative to keep the kids off the computer on all the time in between.

I’m also still plotting away on my most recent project. I’ve given myself three days to get this done. Today is Day #2. The beginning is well plotted, and the middle/end have the key points in place, but I still need to connect it all together. The characters are developing nicely too. I’ve been really dissecting the books I like this last year and trying to figure what it is that makes a story memorable…it’s the characters. Books with good characters stay with me forever. If a book has flat characters, but a great plot, I’ll love the story, but I’ll never read it again and it’s gone from my memory in a week. So more than anything, I’m spending time on these characters. I want to love them and I really think I will.

What I’m listening to? Jack White’s newest album, Lazaretto. 

Monday Musings

ImageWhat I’m Reading: Killing Lincoln by Bill O’Reilly. Can you guess what it’s about? It’s the fourteen or so days leading up to Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.

Ok, so this is another book that is out of my comfort zone. I’m reading it because I think it’s good to be put out of that comfort zone. Like I’ve said before, I don’t generally read non-fiction and I certainly don’t read history books. This book is a double whammy. I’m doing this because I’ve noticed that certain genres are very formulaic and I want to see other “formulas.”

The first sentence: The man with six weeks to live is anxious.

What a great first line! The opening paragraph is equally great. It hooked me instantly…but, it doesn’t hold me there. Don’t get me wrong this really is a good book, but it’s going to be a struggle for me to finish it in a week.

What I’m doing: I’m plugging away on my next book. Enough said about that because it’s quite a process for me to wrap my head around a story and get to writing. Maybe I’ll post what my notebooks look like while I’m doing this!

ImageWhat I’m listening to: Ben Howard’s Every Kingdom album. This is one of my favorite albums right now. If you want some music to get you ready for summer or just something to relax to–then this is it!

Monday’s Musings

Screen Shot 2014-06-02 at 6.26.04 PMWhat I’m reading: The Film Club: A Memoir by David Gilmour. It’s about a dad who, as a last resort, pulls his failing 16-year-old son out of school on one condition–he has to watch 3 movies a week. There are some caveats to this: the kid can’t do drugs, but he can sleep all day if he wants, he doesn’t have to work, and he can pretty much do anything he wants.

My first impression is that I like it. Mostly. I don’t usually read non-fiction. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it or anything, it’s just not really my thing. I like the Film Club, I can get into it, but it’s not a book that I put down and have to pick right back up again. I’m about half way through it already, so I’ve discovered things that I like and things that I don’t like. I like the fact that David Gilmour did something unconventional with a kid that didn’t fit into the typical school system. Jesse, his son, gets on my nerves a bit. He’s sixteen and has this childhood entitlement thing happening–he drinks and smokes (sometimes with his dad), has sex with his girlfriend (with dad upstairs), and basically lives a teenagers dream. I get the let-your-kid-do-what-he-wants-as-long-as-he-talks-to-me situation, but…well, read it and let me know what you think in the comments below.

What I’m working on: I’m going slow on the querying process. I don’t want to send a million out just yet, so I sent out a few and am now waiting on a response. I’ve also decided to go with the YA magical realism story. I need a little bit of fantasy in my life and definitely in the stories I like to write. This one is pretty low-key.

What I’m listening to: Bon Iver Screen Shot 2014-06-02 at 6.40.02 PM

Weekly Mashup

ImageWhat I’m reading: Pride and Prejudice. I can’t believe I’ve never read this one. I’m roughly 50 pages in and can’t put it down. So far Mr. Darcy is a bit of an ass, but I think I really like him.

What I’m working on: Plotting, plotting, plotting. And then I need to decide between the three possible projects and start writing. It’s between a YA magical realism story about a boy looking for a “wishing tree” to change the course of a past event OR a YA contemporary story about a girl in rehab who is forced to write a letter to every person she wronged in the course of her addiction OR an Adult (grown up) contemporary about a woman who upon learning her mother is headed towards her third divorce vows to never divorce herself–and then her husband cheats on her and she is thrown back into the dating scene at age 35.

Oh yeah, I’m also querying THE BODY THIEF! Yay!

What I’m listening to: Arctic Monkeys (I’m a little bit obsessed with them right now).

Image

Where does the time go?

I am the worst blogger ever. It’s true. I come up with these absolutely wonderful ideas (in my opinion) and a blogging schedule (that I never look at) and I have no idea why I don’t follow through. I have excuses, I really do. But I won’t tell them to you, because they’re really not excuses at all. It’s life and it’s the nature of my life. I need to make it a priority. Maybe once a week or twice a month, but something. Or maybe no schedule at all?

I don’t know the answer, but I am here now. The school year is in its last four weeks, I’m anxiously waiting for my final round of beta readers to get back to me with all of their fabulous notes, and I am busily scheduling out my summer.

My school’s annual art show ended last night and it is such a relief. The planning and energy and physical work involved is crazy. I am so proud of my students and can’t believe I am lucky enough to teach them, but wow…sometimes, I just want to slap them silly. The typical teenager can’t think for themselves. They lie often. And they are almost physically incapable of doing anything without the promise of a reward at the end. It is the select few that make it worthwhile.

By the way, the first 5 pages of THE BODY THIEF are up for critique at Adventures in Young Adult Publishing. Feel free to take a look and let me know what you think.

Anyway, thanks for reading!

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