Scrivener vs. The Inner Critic

And you thought you were rid of me for the whole month!
No such luck. Besides, I have something kinda cool to share.
I’ve been struggling with keeping track of multiple projects. It seems I like to jump around from project to project, a characteristic of the Muse I’ve come to love and accept. This does however lead to a very convoluted to-do list, especially because every time I change course I have to rearrange the list. Not only is it hard to measure progress spread across so many places, but it is also difficult to keep track of where I left off with each project. Worst of all, every time I take the top item off the list to replace it with something else my self-esteem takes a hit.
And my Inner Critic screams, “Failure!”
Just for fun, I opened a Scrivener document on my To-Do file and tried to list every single thing I want to work on in the next year or so: All the stories I want to write, the stories I want to revise, the works in progress, the chapters I want to post for critique, the books I want to read (and I like switch off between several at once; doesn’t everyone do that?) and even little projects like fixing up Ye Olde Blogge. Everything.Sigurd Decroos @ Stock.xchng
The list was twenty-one items long.
As I stared at it, I was struck by an idea.
How about treating each project as its own Scrivener document, turning it into an index card and keeping track of progress inside the document? And then how about color coding each one according to project?
The Muse loves colors!
CategoriesI decided blue would be good for The Tempest’s Serenade (my revised novel), yellow for The Dragon’s Milk Chronicles, red for my other first draft stories, purple for writing craft stuff, orange for reading.
It didn’t take long before I had a pretty cork board with everything I want to do spread out in neat color-coded rows. I’ve sorted them into the order I want to work on things, starting at the top left corner. First: Finish posting chapters of The Tempest’s Serenade at Critique Circle. After that: Finish the first draft of The Way of Wolves.
I can keep track of where I’m at on the document part of the card and I can add images or links there as well. Making a new project is easy too. When I decided that I really don’t want to work on something as epic as the third book of my trilogy for NaNoWriMo, and work on a lighthearted romantic comedy called Karma’s Dragon set in the real world instead, I just make a new card and slide it into the queue in the order I want to do it.
No failure here. Just a rearrangement of priorities.Scrivener Index Cards
How about you? How do you appease the Inner Critic? And do you read one book at a time, or switch off between several?

Colored hearts image courtesy of Sigurd Decroos @ Stock.xchng

The Adventure of Creation Anthology

With the official release of the How To Think Sideways Writers Anthology, I thought it might be interesting to explore the reason we are driven to create, and specifically why some of us are drawn to making pictures with words. Why is it that I sit down almost every day to write some words, even if sometimes my head hurts, or sometimes I’m so tired my Image courtesy of Clara Lam @ stock.xchngeyes are ready to fall closed, and write until my cat comes around to remind me that it’s time to eat? Why do I sacrifice overtime at work, turn off the telephone and the television, even put aside a book to write my own words? It didn’t take me long to figure out why, but I thought it might be fun to share my thoughts.

Why I write:

  • Writing enhances my experience of the world around me. Everything I see, hear, touch, smell and taste gains a new dimension as I fit words around it, trying to store as much as I can for future story reference. It’s a fun way to live!
  • I write to escape. Ah, the irony. Even though my experience of the world is deeper because I write, I still yearn to escape it? With words, though, I take the experiences I have and turn them into something completely new and different. I can live inside a world of my own creation if I choose. What could be more fun than that?
  • I write to make happy endings, or at least find some meaning in how our world works and why we’re here in it.
  • I write because I love words. Even though it makes me want to tear my hair out when the words come out crooked, once I get a sentence that sings there is peace in my universe.
  • I write to leave my mark upon the world—these are my cave paintings, this is me howling at the moon.

Adventure of Creation AnthologyHolly Lisle’s Adventure of Creation Anthology features thirty-five talented writers from her classrooms, each with their own story about creation leaving a mark upon the world, and it’s available today. I’m looking forward to checking it out!

Why do you write? What brings peace to your universe?

Journal image courtesy of Clara Lam @ stock.xchng

Of Feathers, Stars, and Melodies

Image courtesy of Steven Iodice @ stock.xchngWings, rain, dreams, starlight, footprints, silver and songs —these are some of the spices in my Muse’s cupboard, and with every story I brew up, I find the same flavors mixed up in different ways. A bit of moonshine, a dark melody, a flutter of wings and before I know it, my story sizzles with a different seasoning, but one that hints of previous endeavors.

In this latest WIP, I’ve just discovered the name of my male protagonist and one of my Muse’s favorite flavors, feathers and wings, once again played a role in its creation.

Intrigued, I decided to trace the history of our feathered friends through my storytelling evolution.

I guess you could say it started with my NaNoWriMo handle, which is Larkk. I needed the extra ‘k’ because, apparently, Lark is a popular handle amongst writers who try to write fifty thousand words in month!Screen shot 2013-06-27 at 7.51.35 PM

Then, as if pointing the way to future stories I would write, my very first novel draft ended with two birds flying into the darkness. Two revisions later, a dream the protagonist has about doves flying under the full moon led me to the place the story began. My second book seems to have escaped the feathers, (just wait until revision, I say!) but the heroine bears the nickname ‘Nightingale’ because she is the Muse of the protagonist’s dreams.

Birds played an important role in my third story, where the population of a distant world shares a psychic bond with the animal kingdom. The sorcerer overlords imprison all the birds inside their lair because if their subjects could see what birds see, the sorcerers’ secrets would be exposed and their dominion overthrown.

Have you ever flown in your dreams? In my fourth story, Constants, I propose a science fiction reason why all of humanity shares that common dream. The secret project to unearth this reason is named Nightingale. To further tie into the theme of flight, the main character in that story is an aerospace engineer who works at Boeing in Seattle. As you’ll see, I have a thing for rocket scientists.

In my fifth book, A Crown of Thorns, animatronic dragons fly between the moon and the earth, their flight courtesy of the future’s anti-gravity technology.Image courtesy of Asif Akbar @ stock.xchng

My most recent creation, The Whole of the Moon, the prequel to A Crown of Thorns, features another aerospace engineer, who eventually takes the name Swansong, and designs aircraft designed to protect the pilot at all costs. His wife is named Avery, which means Elf Ruler, but also sounds an awful lot like aviary.

Anyway, I suppose it was only a matter of time until the birds made their appearance in this new story. With a nod to Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon, and inspired by a favorite line from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, I give you: Falcon Cooper.

Do you find recurring themes in your writing? What spices are in your Muse’s cupboard?

Image courtesy of Zsuzsanna Kilian @ stock.xchng

Geese and moon image courtesy of Steven Iodice, falcon image courtesy of Asif Akbar, spices on spoons image courtesy of Zsuzsanna Kilian, all @ stock.xchng

What's In Your Bucket?

jamiebucketAwful quiet in here lately …

You might think I’m hibernating— but actually, I’ve been absorbed in revision, (more on that soon) reading fellow writers’ works-in-progress (you guys are awesome, all of you!) and, okay, sleeping.

But I’m back because one of my cyber-buddies, the lovely and super-talented Jamie Ayres, has a book release coming up! This week, on January 24, her debut novel, 18 Things comes out. Be sure to check it out!

Isn't this a lovely cover!
Isn’t this a lovely cover?

As a way to promote her release, she’s sponsoring a fabulous blog hop that poses the question:

What are 18 Things on your bucket list?

Since I love to ponder what I want to do with my life, I simply had to come out of my winter slumber and post mine. So, without further ado:

My Abridged Bucket List:

  1. Experience weightlessness or zero-g
  2. Visit the Louvre and see the Mona Lisa.
  3. Read the top 100 novels of all time (though opinions vary widely on what those are!)
  4. Work at an archaeological dig
  5. Learn to play all twenty-one of Chopin’s Nocturnes on the piano.
  6. Swim with dolphins
  7. See an opera
  8. Visit the Haleakala Observatories on Maui and look at the stars
  9. Go hang glidingImage courtesy of Dave Dyet @stock.xchng
  10. Ride an elephant
  11. Celebrate Midsummer Night in Sweden
  12. Live on a sailboat for a year
  13. Pay off my mortgage
  14. Drive a Porsche
  15. Walk a half-marathon
  16. See the Northern Lights
  17. Visit Australia
  18. Hold a real live copy of one of my books published in hardcover

Stephanie Syjuco @stock.xcngWhew, that’s a lot of things! Makes me want to take a nap just thinking about them all …

How about you? What are some things on your bucket list? And, can you tell I love astronomy?

Congrats, Jamie on your  upcoming release, 18 Things!

Images courtesy of Dave Dyet and Stephanie Syjuco @stock.xchng

IWSG: My Hook Needs a Tune-Up

 I did it! I’m in the final lap of revision number two of this blasted novel and am finally seeing some pieces fall nicely into place. My scenes are clicking right along, my characters are cooperating, and my critiques are complimentary. That’s great, right?

Wrong! I worry about every little thing, and that’s why I belong to one of the most prestigious writing outfits on the world-wide web, The Insecure Writer’s Support Group hosted by the fabulous Alex J. Cavanaugh. We hobnob on the first Wednesday of every month when we give each other big virtual group hug. If you want to join us, cruise on over to Alex’s blog hop on this here linky.

So what’s my hangup this month?

I’ve hit roadblock when I try to revise this all-important  opening scene.

They call it a hook. Those crucial five hundred, or three hundred, or even two hundred and fifty words, are supposed to hook my readers so firmly that their fingers are twitching to grab their credit cards and buy this fine story. These words need to impress an agent so much that she sends a corporate jet to pick up this manuscript before anybody else gets their hands on it.

Instead, I have this.

Would you want to take a ride in this beater? Would you trust it to get you to your final destination all in one piece, without making pit stops for tire changes and stopping to fill up the radiator?

I don’t think so!

But this is how the first few hundred words of my novel feel to me. All my clumsiness is on display for the world to see: clunky sentences, odd bits of dialogue, passive voice, awkward description, even an insidious info dump or two.

In contrast, consider the clean cool lines of an opening like this:

‘It was a pleasure to burn.’ ~ Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

Or check out the classic invitation to enter the world of Captain Ahab and his quest to confront the great white whale:

‘Call me Ishmael’ ~ Herman Melville, Moby Dick

How about the sheer fuel-injected horsepower of:

‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of good fortune must be in want of a wife.’  ~ Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Okay, so I’m not writing the next classic here, but I would rather the beginning of my novel be a sports car, sleek, trim and whizzing past like a bat out of hell. I want my readers to get behind the wheel and grab that stick, and not stop until they get to the end, wheezing and panting for more.

Something like the sinister invitation of:

‘“We should start back,” Gared urged as the woods began to grow dark around them. “The wildlings are dead.”

“Do the dead frighten you?” Ser Waymar Royce asked with just the hint of a smile.’  ~ George R.R. Martin,  A Game of Thrones

Or how about something more straightforward, but also a best-seller:

‘When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim’s warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress.’ ~ Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games 

The thing is, once you get into my jalopy, I think the novel picks up nicely. The engine runs smoothly; the seats are comfy, and it’s got a rockin’ stereo with a CD player.  I just seem to have trouble backing it out of the driveway and into the street.

I need my words to grab my readers by the throat and show them how great the rest of the story is going to be, and I have no idea how to fix this. Have I started in the wrong place? Do I need to polish my sentences? Is it bad to start a novel with dialogue? With the weather? With internal monologue? Or am I just making this all up to avoid getting on with the critiquing phase?

Where do I turn to get this novel opening a tune-up?

So, insecure and secure writers alike, I ask you, how might I tackle this revision debacle? How might I trade this clunker in for a modern, fuel-efficient, speedster?

Five Stars? Really?

I was going to post a light-hearted character interview today, but got sidetracked by a post on Holly Lisle’s blog about Amazon reviews. Apparently, good reviews can be bought and paid for, and in fact John Locke, who sold one million ebooks in five months, did just that to achieve his rockin’ sales figures. The thing is, I was chuckling when I read the New York Times article that Holly kindly linked to in her post. While reviews-for-hire don’t surprise me in the least, cynic that I am, it seemed to me that authors are slugging it out for something that many readers don’t give a hoot about.

Would you read something by a new author simply because it sported a slew of four and five-star reviews?

Coincidentally, I’m a reader myself, so maybe I’ll use my own reading habits as an example of why Amazon reviews mean diddly-squat to some readers.

First of all, as a literary omnivore—I read everything from romance to hard sci-fi to classics—and a slow reader to boot, it doesn’t take all that many good books to keep me out of trouble. I’m not likely to go trolling through Amazon looking for random books, since if one genre seems bare, I’ll just switch to another. Meanwhile, if I’m not careful, friends will ply me with books they’ve read, asking my opinion of them. I also read a lot of blogs, and after I begin to connect with some of my cyber-buddies, I trust their judgement in terms of what sings and what stinks. (If you want some really insightful reviews and recommendations, armchairauthor at ‘Ink’ has got you covered.) Of course, I can always turn to tried and true established authors. If a book has the name ‘Neil Gaiman’ on the cover, I don’t care what people say about it, I’m going to read it. Last but not least, I take advantage of the ‘Look Inside’ feature. It only takes a few pages for me to recognize beautiful, concise writing, and clean storytelling. If I’m slogging through prologue number three by the time the preview ends, it’s probably a sign this one is not going to be for me. Literary omnivore or not.

But for those who do let Amazon reviews influence their buying decisions, I hope readers and writers see this as a sign that we need to review responsibly, or we destroy the credibility of the source. If readers are trying to connect with books they like to read, is a one-star review with the comment, “Lame. Blech.” going to do that for them? We need reviewer that writes, “Unlikable characters, inconsistent plotting, and a ‘deus ex machina’ conclusion,” and expounds upon the reasons why. In other words, don’t underestimate your readers.

How about you? Do you use Amazon or Goodreads reviews to help you choose what books to read? Do you write reviews? If so, what prompts you to write a review, whether it’s good, bad, or indifferent?

And don’t worry, next week I’ll have that character interview for you!