Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Five Things I've Learned from my Work-in-Progress

1. It's hard to find a setting without some form of modern technology.

2. Mom was right -- those blue berries on the plants we saw on nature walks when I was a kid? Not edible.

3. Telling a story from the point of view of 2 characters (alternating chapters)  puts constraints on the plot that I didn't expect.

4. I need to come up with more creative ways to show the passage of time.

5. There are not enough synonyms for the word "look".

Have you learned anything from your current project?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

My 20th Great Read

20. Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata

Although I don't always like reading historical novels, I really enjoyed this book. As well as opening up my mind to a part of history I'm not all that familiar with (I love learning new things from books!), I admired the writing style, and the way the author conveys so much information and emotion with a few carefully chosen words.

It reminds me once again how complex the challenge of writing a really good book can be, as I struggle to fill in a gap in the plot of my own novel, and think longingly of the day when I reach the point of obsessing over choosing just the right word.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Confidence to Take Risks

With the second draft of my third novel moving along so well -- I'm on Chapter 10 and plan to finish it by the end of February -- I'm feeling more and more confident about myself as a writer. Part of it is that I've learned so much through writing and reading. Another part is that I belong to a really great critique group. We've never met each other, but we support each other through highs and lows, and hearing about their acccomplishments inspires me do to more.

One of the things my group has inspired me to do is to take more risks. For me, this includes actually sending out some queries about my completed novels, and to push myself to write about something that is a little bit outside my comfort zone. What risks are you taking in your writing?

By the way, Marcia Hoehne, a published author and ICL instructor, is having a free critique giveaway! Today is your last day to enter.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Sorting Out Tangles or Stuck on Knots?

16. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

17. Leap Day by Wendy Mass

18. The Mealworm Diaries by Anna Kerz

When I read a good book, the story flows seamlessly, without any hint of whether the writer struggled, as I often do, with how much to put into the story. If I start off with a simple idea, it doesn't seem like enough to sustain a whole story. But if I try to put in a couple more ideas or another level of depth, especially at the beginning, the story quickly grows into a challenging mess of loose ends and tangled threads. In Leap Day, these other threads were expanded on in chapters between the main POV of the reader, telling bits of what happened from the points of view of other characters. An interesting approach.

In my current work-in-progress, I have more characters than I usually do, and that adds complexity during the writing process. Part of my excitement with writing is sorting out the tangled threads and figuring out how to make them all fit together into something smooth and interesting. But when you're right in the middle, it sometimes seems that all you have is knots.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Loved This Book!

15. Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande

Wow - this is a book that really stands out in a crowd. Exactly the kind of story I like to read, with a little thinking required, written without any excess words and a good sense of humor.

Paying attention to what I read is making me more aware of themes that resonate with me, as well as the styles of writing that I prefer. I'm a bit of a "no nonsense" reader, and I don't like to read a lot of excess description. I suppose that's one of the reasons why I enjoy reading MG and YA books.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

More Great Reading

13. The Revealers by Doug Wilhelm

14. Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

Both of these books tackle pretty serious topics. The Revealers was clever; a book I didn't like much at the beginning, but it developed into an interesting story. It includes technology though, and I wonder what middle grade readers think of it, since it was published in 2003, before the huge popularity of Facebook, etc. 

Where do you hear about great books? I find out about many of them at my local library, where one of the librarians writes short recommendations and clips them onto the covers of the books. I also find books through my writing group, blog mentions and newspaper/media reviews.

Monday, February 8, 2010

One Draft Down, ?? To Go!

Yesterday, I did it. I finished the first draft of my work-in-progress!

It's definitely a thrill to know that I've finally gotten to the end of the thing that's been keeping me chained to my desk for the last few days. This is the first time I've written a novel draft where I didn't keep backtracking, revising all the previous pages before I went on to write the next part (see my MiG Writer's post for more on this). At one point, I even skipped writing a couple of chapters and moved ahead to write the next section out of order. How's that for writing dangerously? 

After my feet came back to the ground, I realized that a lot of what I've written is garbage. I know there is a lot of revision ahead of me before I get to a place where I'd even consider showing this story to my critique group. But I definitely have some clear directions in mind for the changes I need to make. And did I mention, I finished my first draft?

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Living in the Moment

12. Carpe Diem by Autumn Cornwell

On the advice of friends in my writing group, I recently read Carpe Diem by Autumn Cornwell. Quite entertaining, especially the humor and unexpected plot twists.

It reminded me that to be creative, sometimes you need to explore wild ideas and see where they lead. This week, Ive been doing a little of that in my own writing, and it's led me to a much better ending for my work-in-progress. The challenge is to present the wild idea in a way that makes it seem perfectly logical within the story.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Moral Dilemmas and Romance

11. Graceling by Kristi Cashore

When I started reading this book, I didn't think I would finish it. Although the idea of a special killing ability was intriguing, I felt like a foreigner in a territory where I didn't belong. The fantasy world was complex. There seemed to be so many characters. But my local librarian had assured me this was a great book, so I persevered. Was I glad I did! By the time I got towards the middle, I just didn't want to put it down. You have to admire a writer who can so completely create a different world, down to the smallest of details. And I loved the moral dilemmas that the main character, Katsa, had to face because of her ability and her feelings for Prince Po.

When I read great books like this, I sometimes wonder if my own writing will ever reach a point where the reader will escape into it so completely. I think that's my ultimate goal as a writer.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Alternative Realities

Found this on Betsy Lerner’s blog:

I want to understand how it is that being by myself with my keyboard is when I feel least alone. Not connected to others, per se. I’ve never understood writers who say they write to help other people. I write to hurt them. Just kidding, sort of. I write to feel normal.

I don’t know about feeling normal – what is normal, anyway? But writing does take me to another place and, if a writing session is very intense, it’s sometimes hard to leave it and come back to reality. I think all forms of art do that – my Mom is a visual artist and she experiences the same thing. It’s quite a different space from the “real world”.

When I finish a writing session, it can take time to turn down my writing mode and let everyday things fill my brain again. It's the same thing when I read a great book. I'm there, in that other world. But then, it’s a matter of balance. The real world is pretty great too.