Monday, February 29, 2016

300 Words for 30 Days and Ways To Get Through A First Draft

  To light a fire under my bottom in composing the first draft of my next WIP, I've decided to sign up for the 300 Words in 30 Days challenge over at Go Teen Writers. Basically it is an event taking place through the month of March (which will be upon us just tomorrow already, wowzers!) where participants write 300 words every day for 30 days. Pretty straightforward, eh? I think so.

  According to my calculations (which can be totally off because among the many things I suck at, math is one of them), I could come out of this with about 9,000 words written up for my work in progress. This would be HUGE, since I don't plan this book to be very big at all.

  In any case, I signed up because a little accountability goes a long way for me. I do have a certain (small) amount of self-discipline, which I used to help me finish my 100,000 + word fantasy novel last summer. But it took me two long, slow years and I would like to get through some other first drafts a little speedier. So I would like to work on 'Faithless' this March, my WIP which you can read about under my "About My Writing" page. I got the idea for the story from a weird dream I had and have been pretty intrigued by it since. So tomorrow, March 1st, I am going to get started with it.

  Completing a first draft is never an easy thing to do, it takes a lot of hard work and perseverance to produce a whole story onto a page. And that doesn't even mark the end of the process! There's second, third, fourth, fifth, etc drafts to get through after that. Then the querying, publishing, marketing...writing a book is hard, guys. :P

  But obviously, the first step is the first draft. In all honesty, there isn't much more satisfying than having that work of your own finally completed and in front of you in all its glory. The ways to get to this place are as varied as the writers themselves and there are dozens of different methods that work for dozens of different people.

  Today I've decided to share a few of my own methods for getting through a first draft, the ways that have worked for me and some of my tips and tricks. I mean, you gotta have some sort of plan to get through sixty chapters of complicated fantasy plot.

  So, without further ado, here are Five of Emily's Ways to Get Through a First Draft...

1. Self-imposed Deadlines

  I have found this to be the best way to get through the first draft of a manuscript. I don't have a lot of self-discipline, but I do have enough to manage this. While I was working on my fantasy novel, The Awakening, I made myself complete one chapter per week. For this story, it was a fantastic method. My chapters were just long and difficult enough to need that whole week's worth of attention and I generally met my deadline every time (so long as I didn't have a camp job or something to do). I have used this method of writing in various ways, from completing a novella for my boyfriend by Valentine's Day, or finishing a novel for a Christmas present. With a little motivation and determination, a self-imposed deadline is not unreachable. 

2. Deadlines Enforced By Others

  Sometimes though, you need the extra kick in the pants that a deadline imposed by someone else can give. Such as the 300 in 30 challenge I described above. The accountability of an outside source can really encourage and motivate you beyond what you thought you were capable of. It's not fun to fail, but it's even less fun when people know you did. So let some people into your life to watch over you. Let them know what you are working on, what your goals are, what you hope to accomplish. Open up your writing life so that others can ask, prod, encourage, reprimand, all those good things. You can do this by having a critique partner, submitting some of your manuscript to a writing club, signing up for challenges like the 300 in 30 and many, many more ways. The possibilities are endless.

3. Setting a Writing Time

  Setting aside time to write is critical to the task of writing. I mean, you kind of need to be writing to actually finish your writing, ya know? While I was writing my fantasy novel I found what worked best for me was waking up an hour before the rest of my family, logging onto our big home computer rather than my laptop, and just writing for an hour there. Not letting myself be distracted by other things but simply focusing on the words before me and in me. I got a lot done in that time. Now I use my laptop and write whenever I have the time since I am a lot busier now and don't have a set manuscript in progress at the moment. But I definitely got some of my best writing done while working early in the morning alone. Of course not everyone will be able to write in the morning, for some it might work better to write in the evening, or the afternoon, or the middle of the night. Find what works for you and make it your time. Your book's time. If your novel is important to you then you owe it that much. If you're serious about writing, don't neglect it! Just do it!

4. Know Where You Are Going

  Nothing kills a story faster than not actually knowing where to go next. Trust me, been there, done that. Not cool. It really helps a lot to give yourself some direction with your story. You need a little more than an idea once you get into the writing. You need to know where you are going and where you *hope* to end up. I say that lightly, because I know that stories are changeable and adaptable. They rarely, if ever, follow strictly the path you lay out at the beginning of your drafting. However, if you have absolutely no clue about what to do past chapter one, you are probably going to run into some problems. Even if you end up totally veering away from your outline, at least you had something to get you going, right?

  And, on that note, I encourage people to plot out their stories before writing. Give yourself a little bit of help, you'll be thankful you did.

5. Be Consistent

  Going hand-in-hand with the previous point, consistency is key. I know that - for me at least - the moment I lose momentum in my writing life and begin to falter in my commitment is when I start losing. I cannot stress how important it really is to remain loyal and determined in your writing, and how easy it is to stumble. How many great stories do you think never have seen the light of day or even their own end because a writer lost their desire to keep fighting for the finish line? Probably a lot. And that's pretty sad. 

  Don't give up! Be consistent! Persevere! You can do it! 

  So, there you have it, friends. Five ways to persevere through your first draft. What are some of your methods and what have you personally found to work best in your own writing life? Let me know in the comments! Cheers!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Collecting Stories

Collecting stories…a term I am using to define half of my job, my passion, of writing. Fifty percent of writing is being a collector of tales, a collector of words, ideas, people, places, things, societies, etc. It’s storing all those things inside your head and then pulling them out and weaving them together one-by-one in your own way and your own words. Quite a beautiful notion, isn’t it?

For a very long time I’ve been uber-focused on the two different ideas I have for fiction series. The first and most consuming project is a fantasy story I’m looking to tell over the span of about ten books. I’ve completed one so far and am a little ways into the next. The second project is a shorter series that is sort of a thriller, inspired by the plights of child-soldiers and the thought of how they would be used in western society. For most of my short writing career these two projects have been my focus and my goal, and I think that is all good and fine. It’s good to have goal and focus, especially in writing.

However, I think that in my “uber-focus” I’ve neglected that other fifty percent piece; the importance of collecting stories. Instead, I’d allowed myself to be content with a collection of two, and ideas that flowed into me only flowed into those two stories rather than out into other things, into their own worlds and characters. A side effect of this is the bloating of my two main projects. They simply cannot sustain every notion and concept that pops into my head. No one story ever could.

But another and I believe much more harmful side effect of this lack of collecting is that I have foregone so many opportunities for other stories. For creating other places and spaces and characters. I’ve missed out on years of crafting other things, too busy over-molding what I already had.

Luckily for me, that’s shifted a lot the past year or so. I’ve been bombarded with a wide array of new and exciting ideas for novels, novellas, short stories and even poetry, something I never dabbled in before, and my inspiration is absolutely everywhere.

Don’t believe me? I can give you tons of examples. Just tonight I was listening to my 82 year old grandmother and her brother and his wife discussing various aspects of their lives and of the people they knew growing up. In that hour, two hour long conversation dozens of colorful characters were shoved in my face. From a chronic alcoholic father who hated people who drank, to a kindly rich woman without daughters of her own who fawned over my dirt-poor, farm-raised grandma and her sisters. From even those two people alone, my brain was flowing with story possibilities.

Last night I was hanging out with two of my oldest friends. We were looking up the definitions of our names to get a full translation. Mine being Emily Diane Mundell, basically meant ‘diligent goddess of a small Scottish town.’ It reminded me of the Painted Lady episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and from that my story signal was flashing bright.

I had a dream the other night in which my boyfriend had grown up to become a sociopath who enjoyed tormenting people with bombs (yes, I have weird dreams). In the dream I was very upset and trying to get him to repent and change his ways. It brought on me the inspiration for a story called “Faithless”. A novel set in an alternate sort of universe in which a nation is torn into strife by a resistance movement which is battling the nationalist army. A female army soldier, Saagar Remus, finds herself sitting down to question one of their prisoners of war, only to realize he is the husband she forsook when he became part of the Resistance. After my dream I was keen to explore how love would work without trust, and the story was born.

I could offer many, many more examples, for me, inspiration is in the very air I breathe. I’d just forgotten to tap into it.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the point I would like to make. If you are a writer, you are a story collector, and it is your job to observe the world, comb it over, for all these little things that might make a good story. It is a grand task, but a wonderful one. Never forget that fifty percent of writing. It might just be the most important percentage…

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

So I've Finished A Second Novel...

  It feels a little surreal to be able to say that. I've written two books. Two whole books, penned completely by mine own hand, are here on this computer, waiting to be shared with the world. What a scary thought.

  And both in the span of seven months, after years of work I get to see my writing begin to pay off with my goals being met. What a wonderful and weird thing.

  So where do I go now? I mean, obviously it's time to edit - as much as I am dreading wading back through all the spewed words and hastily thrown together plot points and gaping plot holes. But after that job is complete, what am I going to do with these stories I have created?

  Well, my first complete novel, the first of a fantasy series titled, 'The Awakening', I hope someday to publish traditionally along with the other books I am planning to write with it. Though it is large and complex, spanning an entire world and covering the lives of dozens of characters, at its core it concerns three separate family households contending for the throne of Bayalaa and often moves into darker, more mature themes. It is a for sure a labor of love and blood and sweat and tears, and I have worked on it for so long that to have it finished and complete is a little weird and hard to deal with. Like, what do I do without this story I am pressed to write? Continue on with the sequel I suppose... But still, that's like moving onto a new child, letting one grow up and move on while you raise up another. Not entirely pleasant.

  My second completed manuscript is less a novel and more a novella. It is called 'The Sorceress and the Squid' and is a fairy tale story set in a fictional kingdom called Perth where the Old Kingdom and the New are at odds. In this fantasy universe a sorceress by the name of Estrella picks a fight with human warrior, Jalen, and ends up transforming him into a squid. Though she does not know how to restore his human form, she takes pity on him and promises to travel west towards the Sea to take him to her master, the Wizard on his island. They encounter various colorful characters and perils along the way and learn to work together despite their initial and intense dislike for one another. It is a bit of a silly story, much more light-hearted in tone (very unlike it's predecessor), and a bit of a self-insert written so the characters reflect people I know in very mild ways. In that, it is probably the most "chill" thing I have ever written, though it sobers itself up some towards the end. I really immensely enjoyed writing it and am looking into self-publishing it, likely with Amazon. I have hired a concept artist friend to do some neat illustrations and would be willing to hire a proof-reader as well to double-check my editing. This one I hope to bring to the world in a more short order, if at all possible.

So, there you have it. My completed projects in a nutshell. Do either of these stories catch your eye? Please let me know! If you're a writer, what have been some of your completed projects? I'd love to hear about them!

Monday, February 1, 2016

A Damaging Gender Role?

The other day as I was feeding the cows I got to thinking about the little novella that I’m writing. And by “got to thinking” I mean I was bored out of my skull and when that happens I usually start pretending to be interviewed about my books-that-have-yet-to-be-published and inevitably slipping into a British accent in the process. Don’t lie other writers out there, you know you do it too. In fact I’m pretty sure most people in general do it, just for different things.

Anyways, the novella I’m referring to is a fairy-tale story about the divided kingdom of Perth and the Fae sorceress named Estrella who antagonizes a human warrior training academy. After this little act of terrorism she is hunted by warrior Jalen. The skirmish between them leads to Jalen being turned into a squid and Estrella, having some measure of sympathy, deciding to take him to the Wizard to be restored to his original self, since she does not have the power to return him. It’s a bit of a silly, light-hearted story that I’ve written more as a self-insert and insert of those around me, not any work of serious or epic fiction at all.

Being that it’s self-insert, the character of Estrella is based somewhat off of myself, and the character of Jalen is inspired by the young man who helped me create the entire concept for the story in the first place; The I’m writing the story for. So while I was doing my mind-numbing farmwork last week I was considering all of this (through my pretend interviewing). Specifically, I realized that Estrella has a significantly higher amount of character development than Jalen does, and he is more or less the one who develops her character over the story. Thinking about it more I noticed how in many stories for the couple-type characters, this is the other way around, where the girl is the foil to the guy in the relationship and the story. She is the sweet, kindhearted, all-knowing soul who changes his rebellious, wayward, bad-boy ways for the better and gives him a focus, a direction. The fact that this is quite a pervasive cliche, one that even makes its way from the pages into the real world, is a little worrisome to say the least.

This character trope handed mainly to females in stories is, to put it bluntly, quite stupid. And even, I might go so far to say, damaging.

See, when females are only ever presented as foils to a male’s character, encouraged to be someone who cultivates and develops a boy’s morality and personality and traits, they are squished into quite the tiny box. It is a small and fixed role that allows no flexibility, no real emerging of their own person, none of their own growth. Certainly one can grow through the mentoring and encouragement of working with another, but not in the same way. And when that is all that is expected of you, well. Suffice to say that’s setting the bar pretty low for females in fiction and the real world.

Not to mention their relationships.

As I thought about this more and more I realized that this is definitely not a problem belonging only to fiction, but it extends beyond that into reality. When a girl is taught to be the “developer” of a guy in a relationship, not only does that fix her in a restrictive role, but it keeps her from seeing how it can and will work both ways, with the boy sometimes “developing” her character as well. I can see and know from my personal life that with this pervasive mindset of the girl being the boy’s caretaker that it can have negative impact on their relationship and the roles that are there to be filled. Relationships of any sort are certainly a two-way street and to deny that and tell a girl only that she should be crafting away at the “flawed” personality of the boy can be nothing but harmful. For both of them. It is supposed to work both ways, with male and female assisting in the development of each other’s character for the better. To stuff a female solely into that role and that role only as many fiction writers are guilty of is to severely crush a very beautiful aspect of relationships. The working together.

As this revelation began to dawn on me further and further I realized that I too am guilty of this, not only in my writing but in my life. Too often I consider myself the one to be doing the developing in my relationship and forget that he is supposed to develop me too. And he has done much more with me than I have him if we’re being honest. I came to the conclusion that I had cultivated a gross amount of pride in thinking I was here to “fix” the boy in my life and forgetting that he could do some “fixing” of me too.

What a foolish pride it was, to be so convinced of this that I was willing to place myself in this damaging box, fit myself into this stupid role. And what a foolish thing it is for me to do as a writer as well.

Though my fairy tale about a sorceress and a squid does sort of turn the cliche on its head by doing the opposite, I have written multiple other characters who fall victim to this silly trope. In this coming year of 2016 and beyond I would like not only to do my female and male characters a service by broadening their roles further than that little box, but also striving to remember what I learned doing chores and talking to myself. And in remembering, apply it soundly to my own life as well.

So what do you guys think? Are there other restrictive/damaging roles females can get fixed into that people have never really noticed? What are some of your thoughts on this topic? Do you guys have any experience with it in your own lives of writing? Let me know in the comments!