Saturday, May 28, 2011

Write What You Know

Yesterday an agent tweeted, asking if writing what you know really is the route to take. Personally, I think it is. 

If you'd asked me years ago (when the movie Never Been Kissed came out), I would have said no, because I didn't understand the value of the statement. I thought it meant to write what you, what you learn in your algebra or physics class (or that time in my chemistry class when I got in a fight with my teacher walked out, threw my book across the hall and punched a wall)...I didn't understand at the time that writing what you know is writing what you've been able to experience.

I let myself off the hook a lot with my writing. Even when I have goals and deadlines I set for myself, if I miss them I don't mind all that much. Why? Because I'm out living my life and without these experiences, I wouldn't be able to articulate what some of my characters go through. In example, my main character right now is in the psych ward of a hospital...which I can speak about knowledgeably because of my experience there two years ago. From there I can build with characters I met there, things I wish would have happened, things that didn't happen, things that confused me, things that seemed so painfully obvious but weren't...things I really wanted to say or think. I can do this with my character because she's not me, she is having a completely different experience....but I know what it's like to be there. I know the anxiety, the fear, the want or need to get out when you've been committed against your will.

I can also talk about my best friend dying when she was only 17 years old, being cheated on, having a sister or two, having crushes, having a dog, being angry, having shitty parents, being hurt, being attacked by a friend's mom, going on adventures, kayaking, living, not wanting to live, being happy, crashing....these are all things I've been through, things I can talk about...and then I can fictionalize with my characters so their experiences aren't mine but I know the way they felt in certain situations because I know the way I felt in similar situations.  (This is part of that whole there is more truth in fiction than we'd like to believe, and more lies in memoir than we'd prefer to recognize. See THIS BLOG.)

My best advice to people is to write what you know. If you're writing fiction, don't write your memoir but build off of those experiences, you'll have insight to your character's life, it'll make your novel more believable. Be passionate, don't talk about something you don't know (unless, you know, you want to).

More of this blog is:
Don't feel bad when you don't have time to write, you're just doing research, gaining experience for your next novel or chatper :)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Speed Writing

I received an e-mail yesterday asking:
"Do you have any tips on writing fast?"

I've been thinking about this ever since. I wrote an entire novel in 20 days (wrote, not edited). My most recent novel is at 51,000 words in under 30 days. (I'm 6 days away from being at the 30 day mark). Some of my friends think I'm crazy or call me a writing maniac. Then this question was posed from another writer. Thus, I answer it to the best of my ability:

*Know your characters
For Igniting a Firestarter, I had already developed the characters in my head. I knew that Allison was a Firestarter, and the narrator was a Mirror. I knew what these things meant, what they were capable of. I knew they were friends. 
For Character Defects I knew the narrator was a lot like me, had a similar background...was basically a train wreck. I fictionalized a lot of my stories and changed the endings to produce this girl, and her interactions. 

*Know your direction
Do you have your plot line laid out? Usually by the time I'm midway through I have the ending already written. From there it's like a puzzle piece working backward and forward to fit the pieces together so they adequately flow together. Most people say that the ending is the hardest to write...but something will happen where I'm all "I KNOW THIS!!" and so I write a really rough draft. When I get to that spot, I start from the end and edit backward.

*Don't be afraid to write crappily 
Sometimes it's easy for me to write an entire section and realize....this sucks. But then there will be something that ties into the plot line and I'll keep the idea but delete the section. It helps give me a direction and an idea for what I'm doing. 

*Take breaks
I think one of the things that helps me the most is that I'm not afraid to play on twitter or Facebook. It gets tiring just writing, just getting lost in the story. Step back from it, go out to dinner, come back refreshed. Plus, when you're out living your life, you're kind of doing more research. I have things to write about because I've allowed myself to experience a lot of different things. 

*Think, constantly
Those "Walk a day in someone else's shoes". You know your character better than anyone else ever will. You know what he or she is thinking, what they want, what they like...Sometimes I get too involved with what I'm writing and think like my character...all day. Once, I wrote a story about a girl who just lied constantly...and I found myself doing the same. (I'm not kidding. Every time someone asked me a question, I'd lie and think to myself Wow, that wasn't true at all, where is this coming from? And I realized I had momentarily become the living version of my character. Oops.) Still, it gave me a lot to come back with because I understand her thought processes a little more. 

*Play with fonts
Sometimes when I get blocked, I play with the fonts (sizes, italisize) and see how it makes me feel, how it would make my character feel to talk like that. And then go back to writing.

When I start off writing for the day I re-read the last few pages to get a feel for where I left off. When I'm really blocked, I'll re-read 10-20 pages and see if I can fill things in anywhere along the way. It also helps with the consistency of the story. Once I start filling things in I'm able to start expanding on the ideas and getting back to the plot.

This is a device I use to further get inside my character's heads. When I'm really blocked and can't think of anything else they want to say, I consider what types of music the listen to and make a playlist. Or, I'll go through and re-read some of the novel and find songs that match the tone of that segment. It's a way for me to step away from the project while still being involved. 

In the end, you can think, you can take breaks, you can do whatever you want, but it doesn't mean anything if you aren't writing something. Even if it helps you to just be all, "This is what I'm thinking right now" some of my best projects have come from my random thoughts. 

Good luck! Hope this helps!

Saturday, May 21, 2011


I hear people tell you that if you want a job writing, to treat it like one now. Up until yesterday I'd spent full days writing (when I was creative enough to)...and now, I've picked up another job that will hinder my writing process. I stared at my computer last night for a solid half hour before anything came. It scares me...I'm just under 50,000 words....and there's a lot of ground to cover...

Outside of that, I'm also stressed about real life and having one of those "Is this really practical, will this actually happen?" moments or phases. I'm trying to keep my head up, and thankfully people who read my work push me to keep going...but there are times when all the rejections take their toll....I know, I know, rejection happens to everyone, it's part of the writing life...but I don't know, I'm feeling like I need some validation right now. That could just be because I'm tired.

What do you guys do to fight the writer's block?
Ever just feel like quitting? What keeps you going?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

My Muse...Sort Of

Most nights when I'm typing away at the computer my best friend, Baxter, has a tendency to stare at me, and my computer as though he'll eat one of us. All he wants is attention, constantly. When he just can't take it anymore, he likes to climb into my lap. This 130+ pound piece of dog climbs into the lap of his 120 pound owner. Usually at this point my writing looks something like this:
Followed by many back spaces.
I've had a lot of times where his head literally rests on the edge of my laptop while I type. When he gets tired, he'll lay by my feet, or on top of my legs but he's never too far from me.

His favorite toy is a little giraffe that he stole from my mom's JRT's, and sometimes when I'm not paying attention, he likes to just lay with it:

He's gone through a lot with me. Together we've lived in two bug infested houses, gone on many road trips (one to Massachusetts, then to North Carolina and back, and Michigan and back), watched sunrises, gone over to friend's houses. During the car ride, he usually looks something like this:

Overall, when I come home, I try to play with him as much as possible because he's been home for eight hours and I feel bad. But sometimes, due to things like writing, or arthritis, or any other distraction, I'm not able to give him as much attention as he deserves. I love him whole heartedly, and he makes up my entire life. Part of the reason why I'm trying to hard to get published is for him. (My last blog was about why I write...I forgot to add him to the list). Though I know it won't pay all of the bills, it may help to get his food upgraded, or maybe buy him some fancy toys and treats. Maybe a new leash..because he's peed on his...more than a few times (icky).

My best friend is my running buddy, my sleeping companion (who actually makes me cuddle him when we sleep. Don't worry, it's weird to me, too), my skateboarding buddy, my co-pilot. I love this little (big) man, more than I can ever express. But the reason I love him most of all:

Is because he has these big floppy ears that allow him to listen to me when I read my stories out loud when no one else wants to. And the best part is?

He always loves what I write.

So here's to you, Bax-Man. I love you :) Someday like I told you, we'll have a better life.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Why Do You Do It?

The publishing industry is a heartbreaking industry to get into. When you start, the only advice people will give you is, "Be prepared to be rejected." And unless luck smiles right in your face, you will get rejected, over, and over, and over. So why do it? Why do you set yourself up for this?

Personally, I write for me. I write because someone's voice gets stuck in my head and starts narrating and won't shut the fuck up. The only way I get silence him or her is to write their words, and so I do. And as I write, I get emotionally involved with these people. I fall in love with the protagonists, I hate the antagonists. I get hurt when they get hurt, I want to protect them. I write because I love those voices in my head, and I want their stories to be read by someone else.

So once the story is written, I usually send it to friends or to my sister. They find missing words I got too excited about and just skipped over, misspells, the incorrect use of barely vs barley. They find these things for me, I correct them. Sometimes, I'm blessed with messages like this:

"ok, so i finished it and only got 1 thing to say...EXCELLENT! lol"
"Ok, Steph... Your newest novel Firestarters is one that I want to buy asap... Please let me know when you get that published because after 116 pages last night I found it quite a book. It keeps me wanting to know what happens with everyone with every page. Was hard to stop reading actually. Thanks for the opportunity and I will surely finish it tonight."

The second message was corrected, and he did in fact finish the novel in one night. A novel aimed for Young Adults was read by a 25 (ish) year old male, who loved it. 
It's things like this (the people telling me they love my work, the people saying they want a printed version) that I push through all the rejections, I re-edit, and I don't give up. First, I write for me. Then I edit for my friends. And then, I submit to get published because my characters deserve to be heard. 

Thanks for listening.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Romance And YA

Last night on Twitter, there was the #yalitchat feed that went through and primarily discussed YA Romance and where its placement should be. People were asking questions like:

"If my main character is 14, is it weird if she's dating an 18 year old?"

"Do writers have an obligation to write healthy relationships verses crazy stalkerish, I'd die for you?" 

The questions and topics went round and round, but most stayed on, "What do you want out of YA romance?"

The question that really drew me into the topic was "What is the difference between YA romance and Adult?"

I answered the question saying that the biggest difference between teen love and adult love is the way we fall, or how willing we are to fall. I remember when I was 14-18 just falling all over myself for a boy. He could do no wrong. Even when my sisters told me he'd cheated on me, I refused to believe it (after all, how could he surpass me sexually if we'd never even gone that far?). Then the day before Valentine's Day, I found out the truth, and made him verbally tell me. I needed to hear it from him because he was the only person I would be willing to believe. (Stupid, right?)

Even after his admittance, we stayed together for another 2-3 years. It was hard and I was frequently angry and would pick fights, but I still loved him and believed that love could fix all things. I was so willing for some magic to happen the way it does for Disney, or in books....but real life is a little bit harder to deal with. Especially when you have outside pressures telling you how bad of a person he is, that you can never trust him...It wears on you, even if you try to fight it.

I graduated high school, and he was there taking pictures and giving me hugs and telling me he was proud of me. When I decided to attend a college 1,000 miles away, he was the one to pack me up and drive me out to Maine. At the time, I wasn't speaking to my sister, and he was the one to convince me to do so because "You don't know the next time you'll get to see her..."

He remained in Michigan and joined a fraternity, and pretty much cut off contact. Because I still had enormous trust issues with him, and let's face it, I'm needy and like attention, I couldn't deal with the distance. We officially ended between my freshmen and sophomore year of college (and strangely both graduated May of 2010. Keep in mind, he was a freshmen in college when I was a freshmen in high school). The final ending was really, really hard on me. 

The reason why I'm telling you all of this, is to kind of show how willing I was to just let love overrun my life. For a long time I considered staying in Michigan to be with him, and we talked about him moving out to Maine with me. I skipped classes to hang out with him, I brought him to school dances. For those years, he was my entire world. And at the time I was okay with that...

When the decision came, I realized that if I remained in Michigan (which would have been solely to stay with him), I wouldn't amount to anything. And so I took the risk and grew up (as all good protagonists do), and moved because in the end I realized that it was what was best for me. 

Here I am x-amount of years later without him, still stumbling around, much more hesitant to believe guys or trust them. But I'm making my way and growing on my own.

In the end, while relationship romance rocks in books, I really think the best love story, is the one where you learn to love yourself. (Which I am learning daily.)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Be Humble

I've been hanging out on Twitter a lot today, and finding that a lot of people are making fun of Nicholas Sparks, and while I've heard he's not a cool guy (I actually know someone who knows someone who punched his son in the face), I was wondering why. Personally, I don't know the guy. I read Three Weeks With My Brother and cried for like, days. It was sad and made me love Nick and his writing that much more.

But then I found this:


Now, obviously I like to talk about myself, after all, I have a blog. Even when you get your book published you are all, "My book! My book!" It's okay (or, at least I think it's okay) to talk about your book, how you got the idea, the obstacles in your way, your writing process...

However, I can't ever see me being that self involved as to just ramble about ME and not MY BOOK (okay, in all fairness, the talking about his dogs I can understand. I recently talked my friends' ears off about Baxter. Literally, for like two straight hours). I guess Sparks can get away with talking about him and things we don't know or want to know about him, as he's sold a million books, but even still...have some class.

This is a reminder to myself and fellow writers; be humble. The entire world does not revolve around you. Oh, and don't talk about how many words you can type per minute. Just don't. It's not interesting. 

Saturday, May 7, 2011

On Balance

There are two worlds for me, and I'm constantly torn between them. The first world is the one I fit very easily into. It's the writing world. It comes naturally, it feels like breathing. I don't know how to live unless there is a piece of paper or easy access to be able to jot my  thoughts down. I write everything; fiction, nonfiction, poetry. It just depends on whose voice I'm hearing in my head at the time.

But let's be realistic for a second. Unless you're Nick Sparks, or Stephen King, or someone equally as well're not going to make a living writing. It may be the end goal some day, but all of the writers I've spoken with have a job, a "real" job as they call it. 

I went to school for Medical Biology rather than English or creative writing. While there, it was English classes and things of the like that kept my GPA up and allowed me to graduate on time. Science....was a bitch. I am not a scientist. But, I do love animals and I am sick of paying vet bills. So, I figured I'd take the veterinary path. My senior year I got an internship, and it was amazing. I got to watch (and assist) in surgeries, and attend symposiums, and I thought that would be the path I took. Go to Vet School (in Cali), and write on the side. 

And so now this leads me to where I'm at; the place I'm constantly torn. The real world: Science. The dream world: Writing. Something I am naturally talented at, verses something I have to force myself to do and rarely understand. Attaining my degree put me at levels of low I didn't know I was capable of. I had never failed until I started taking all biology classes. My head just does not process things the rest of the world does.

It's a constant war inside me and the bottom line it always comes down to is:

What makes me happier?

But more realistically, What will pay the world? Because as crappy as it is, that's how the world works today.

Right now I'm trying to find balance between the two parts of myself, and I'm not sure how I would be able to do that. If I pursue the science track, it will swallow my life and leave barely any time for me to write. If I follow the writing track, it can lead to heart break, but I can keep writing and stay sane. Then again, the writing track may find me. What if an agent follows me, or asks for pages, or...what does that mean? How far can this path take me?

Writing makes me feel better, makes me feel adequate. Science makes me feel like a fucking idiot. I love and hate them both depending on which day it is. They both challenge me in different ways. And so...

There will be a decision to make, very, very soon.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Kindle Vs Books

I have long been a hater of the Kindle. Why? Because it's new, and I have a hard time dealing with changes. I also used to hate the iPod until my friend Mike forced me to have one. (Now I love it.)

But the Kindle, replacing books...really? Those nicely bound, page filled, nice smelling books. Replaced by something electronic that I don't really understand. So..after much debate, I've decided I want a Kindle. But I will ALWAYS, ALWAYS love books. For fun, here's a list of pros and cons:

Kindle Pros:
*Environmentally friendly; cuts down on the cost of paper waste, isn't producing printed materials, you can upload your manuscript right to it. 
*Not a big bulky book, which means it's easier to pack up when you need to move. It also probably won't get infested with bugs when your house does.
*You can take notes on it
*It looks cool and people will think you have money if you own one :)
*You can keep many books in one small, compact object

Book Pros:
*The smell
*You have something for the author to sign 
*The cover
*If you dog-ear the book, an eternal bookmark
*Helps keep the literary industry alive
*Thrift stores! (Goodwill has books for .99 cents. Some stores on the OBX have them 3/$1.00)
*Book sales, yard sales
*Passing your books on to your children
*Book exchanges/loans

Now the Cons:
Kindle Kons (I had to, I'm sorry!)
*Pricey. Not only the Kindle itself, but the books. Some electronic versions are like $8-$9
*I would never loan my Kindle out to someone--I'm not sure if you can have them uploaded to another Kindle?
*You can't take your Kindle to all the authors you meet and have them sign it, I think that'd look weird
*Some claim they're killing the industry

Book Cons:
*New books can still be pricey, especially hard covers
*They weigh more than a Kindle
*The covers can get bent (as can the bindings)
*When you have a million (like I do) it's hard to move from one place to the other
*They can get infested with bugs, mold, pages can rip, they're not water proof

Overall, I still love books, but I'm rapidly starting to want a Kindle for the soul reason that they're not as space consuming as having tons of books.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Conferences (Social Networking, Round II)

My last blog on Social Networking talks quickly about online things; blogs, twitter, facebook and ways to get yourself out there. 

However, I think the most vital form of social networking is actually being able to go to conferences and meet face-to-face with agents, editors, and fellow writers. The only bad part about this is usually finances. Especially when you have car payments, children or pets to look after, student loans, and other various sources of debt. Conferences can range from $50-$1,000 and even higher up. That's not even including your airfare, travel, cabs, hotel, food, etc. For some, this isn't even realistic. So..start saving money. I'm about to tell you why you -need- to go to at least ONE conference.

AWP is the cheapest and must fundamental conference I have found (and has student prices, which is awesome). It was at this conference I met a role model, a literary friend (or several), and even got to speak with an agent. At the 2011 conference I also met a person who housed me in Washington D.C. so I didn't have to travel an hour each night and day. I also got free liquor one night after a panel :) I also met another person who is now willing to house me in Orlando, FL for Leaky Con's Lit Day. 

Moral of the story is, at conferences, everyone is so approachable, because they're not the nameless, faceless person behind a computer rejecting you. They're friendly, they don't bite, and they want to get to know people, it's why they're there. They're there to help you in any way they can. 

It can only start if you approach them and say "Hi, I'm (insert name here). What are you working on?" or something like that. 

Talk, even if you don't know the person. Network. Be excited.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Words and Power

This segment will primarily be about the Holocaust, but also literary'll do the best I can.

Last night I got to listen to a Holocaust Survivor speak, and the power of words simply amazes me. However, words themselves will always fail in comparison to the experience, which the man presenting continually said, "How can I describe to you?" "There are no words to express..." etc. While words can tell a story, sometimes they just fall short and that's where our memories, our own experiences fill the gap where the words cannot go. 

Sentences he said that broke my heart (quoted to the best of my ability):
While we were waiting in line to be separated from the women and children, a woman refused to let go of her infant. A guard took the tiny baby, and slammed it into the concrete wall, right in front of the mother. The was in pieces. Many other mothers still refused to allow their children to be taken, they were beaten until they could no longer hold on. 

The thing(s) that kept us going were our faith, and the fact we were still with our family. When we arrived in Auschwitz, they separated the woman and children from the men. My father and I went one way, my mother and two sisters went into another line. I waved to them, and they waved back, it was the last time...(Here he broke down and started crying, which then I started crying...) It was the last time I saw my mother or sisters alive. 

He broke down again when he spoke about his father's death, his friend being beaten to death in front of him...This man had gone through so, so much and at the time he was just a young boy. His entire family was murdered, and he even buried his father in a mass, unmarked grave. I cannot believe that people can be this cruel, so uncaring...How can anyone let something like this happen to a single person, let alone the millions of people who were murdered?

And yet, all of these are just words. They project images and feelings into our minds, but they fail to do justice as to what these people went through. The man kept referring to America as the greatest place in the world, the greatest country, etc. I am so blessed to be living here, and have people like this man, this survivor tell his story, and how our troops saved his life. When he started, he told the room that we have no idea what hunger is, and it's true. Even if we grow up in broken homes where our family doesn't really feed us, it's somewhat close, but I feel that that child will probably have gotten more than anyone in the camps. If children here have their own clothing, if they're fed daily, if they're not forced to stand, to be exposed, to be defiled...I can't even imagine. My life hasn't been the easiest in the world, but my story is NOTHING compared to these people. 

These people had their identity stolen from them. Their heads were shaved, clothes were taken, books were burned. They were marked, labeled. Many rest in unmarked graves. Many were burned. Many had no prayers said for them while they went to their resting place. I put a lot of stock in names. A lot. Because of songs, poems, life. And these people were not even allowed to keep their names, the name that was given by their parents....

It's nice to get a dose of reality every once in awhile. 
And as we said last night, I will never forget.
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