Thursday, May 31, 2007

Every fifth word, I swear.

On the bus ride home, I got thinking about "filler" words. These are words we say in conversation to let the other person know we are processing a thought but will return to full verbal flow momentarily. In English, the classic filler word is "um". You say "um" when you need a moment to assemble the rest of your sentence.

The reason this sprang to mind is because the bus I took home also carried a loud-voiced guy whose most-used filler word was "fucking". As in "Yeah, and nearly the first fucking day the fucking place was open? Some fucking guy loses his whole fucking finger."

Mmm. Classy.

I work with eighteen-year-olds. The f-word does not bother me. It really has become just an innocuous (to the person using it) filler word. The only reason this guy's use bothered me was because (1) he was loud enough I couldn't ignore him, (2) I was hungry/tired/too hot/cranky, and (3) bloody hell, buddy, you say it every fifth word. Learn to say "um", would you?

Broadcasters train themselves not to use filler words.

Writers likewise train themselves to prune their prose. To quote the perfect advice of William Strunk Jr. in The Elements of Style, "Omit needless words."

I've gotten decent at not using "that" when it isn't necessary, and I omit things that are implied - "Annoyed, she got off the first bus and caught the next one." Sometimes, that terseness makes a sentence hard to read, and I stick the filler back in. Content above style; clarity above elegance.

Like all the "rules" of writing, omitting needless words isn't a rule at all - it's a form of training that breaks you of bad habits. You're better off aware; the rules teach you to see your writing, and to thus see its weaknesses. Once aware, you can fix the problems.

What "rule" of writing has helped you most in becoming a better writer? Why did it help so much in your particular case and what were you doing before?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Seagull Segues Into Screed

*stares out window* Seagulls have a lot of sex at this time of year, you know?

Why, yes, I am having trouble figuring out what to say now that I'm trying to blog every day. However did you guess, gentle reader?

Since this is supposed to be a writing journal, I should talk about writing, except that - heh - this blog is it. I haven't worked on my novel in about a week. Mais oui; je suis le suq.

So I'll write about not writing.

I've heard many published authors insist on the importance of writing every day, and I think that's good advice. Given that I've committed to blogging every day, you'd think that would be easy for me.

It isn't. It's totally okay to blog about fluff (bear witness, y'all), but I insist on my serious writing being solid and well-crafted.

"[S]olid and well-crafted" takes me some time to create. I write slowly and can go a week or two without writing anything, because I do a lot of brainstorming before I tap out a scene. Organic writers let the words flow and see what comes out, but that doesn't work for me - I end up staring at the screen in frustration. More importantly, the exercise of writing ceases to be fun when I attempt to write organically. I need to have an outline - at least in my head.

For me, the magic starts bubbling out of the ether when I'm plotting, trouble-shooting and brainstorming a scene. Little bits of dialogue start floating out of my noggin, and then I know the scene is about to come alive. As soon as it does, I can then sit down and thrash the scene out, and I'll not only be pleased with the result when I'm finished, I'll also have an absolute blast while I'm writing.

Different writers write in different ways. I should try to write every day; I consider it an excellent habit. (It's too easy to find reasons not to write today if you give yourself permission to not write some days.) However, I don't think I'm deluding myself by failing to feel guilty about not having this good habit - I believe it's the quality of the work that matters, not the speed at which it is produced.

If you're a writer, what are your writing habits? What works best for you and why?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Snort Story

In the comments of my last post, Travis Erwin pointed out the obvious: nobody likes a deadbeat. You have to blog relatively often if you want people to keep coming back.

So, I'm going to make an effort to blog every day. This will likely make my posts shorter (Hey! I heard that sigh of relief) but might also increase the incidence of random brain-fluff being inflicted upon the masses (who consist of, what, like two people? Ha! I shall call your pain "collateral damage" and thereby make it invisible.)

Welcome to that light-headed feeling you get from too much OxyJen! Have a good snort.

I'm reading a great resource on writing - Story by Robert McKee. It's actually for screenwriters, but it dissects the process of writing an engaging story so precisely that it's invaluable. I've never read any other reference that concerned itself so completely with the mechanics of what makes a story work. To a large extent, he's explaining the psychology that makes human beings want to know what happens next, i.e. what keeps them reading/watching/mentally engaged in the story.

I'm finding this book a bit of a tough read (but soooooo worth it), in that it's extremely technical. It's one of those books you read with a notebook handy for scribbling the important points into. You're essentially taking lessons from the prof and desperately deciphering what he says (in technical terms) into words and concepts that make sense in your own head.

I'm only a third of the way through, but I would totally recommend this to other (fiction) writers. Check your library for a copy.

Have you got a great reference book on writing you'd like to recommend? I'd love to hear about it! What did you find so potent and useful about it?

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Sheesh; I was never this concerned with popularity in High School.

This blog is intended to be my official "writer's blog", and I'm still flailing around a bit, trying to figure out what it should be.

It needs to be well-written, and I'm making an effort to do that. It needs to focus on my writing, and bingo, bango, bongo, I'm also doing that.

It needs to be entertaining, but when I post about whatever brain-fluff happens to be accreting on the inside of my skull, I'm not necessarily accomplishing that. What makes a subject a riveting bunch of wiffle to me does not necessarily make it gripping for anyone else to read. Content is something I need to work on.

Someone in my daily roster of blog/LJ reading recently posted a list of useful publishing tips (can't find the link now, mind you) and one of them was that your website should have something on it that will keep people coming back.

I already know what I'd like to do in this regard is provide critiques on other people's writing samples, because holy Hugo Weaving, I love being opinionated. I also think I'm pretty decent at picking things apart in meaningful way and saying what works and what doesn't. (Feel free to decide for yourself: I comment on Evil Editor's blog as "Whitemouse" and on Elektra's Crapometer as "Goblin".)

However, until I'm published - who really cares about my opinion? I'm better off sticking to EE and Elektra's sites for now.

Next, I have to make my blog non-invisible. Currently my fan base (Hi Claud!) is very small. The way to fix that is to get visible myself - start posting on the blogs I've been frequenting, but do so under this name. If I connect my blog to my previous pseudonyms, then some people will pop by simply because they're curious. If they find something of interest here, they'll comment. If not, oh well; that's my fault.

The next tactic is getting whoever swings by interested in having discussion in my comments section. One thing I've noticed works well for this is not just to have posts that interest people, but also to ask those people their opinions. Y'know - make it about them instead of me. (Oh, look; my ego is having a temper tantrum. Isn't it cute? Poor li'l wounded ego. *kicks ego*)

The ever-effervescent Claud recently steered me toward Jaye's Blog, and I think Jaye does this very well. Most of (his? her?) posts end on a question: What do you think? Has this happened to you? What's your story? People jump right in to answer.

Likewise, literary agent Nathan Bransford has a weekly "You tell me" feature, where he starts a discussion and then encourages interested parties to rampage around his comments section. It's usually quite popular.

And lastlastlast!! Um. I probably should try to write shorter posts. Heh.

The internet dismissal "tl;dr" ("too long; didn't read") contains a hard truth - people read this stuff to fill in the little corners of their day; they aren't willing to spend twenty minutes perusing a blog post unless it's really of interest to them, personally.

So...let me finish off by starting a good habit. How do you promote your blog and do you think about how to generate more traffic? Do you think it's important to do so, or do you find self-pimping distasteful? Please comment; I'd love to learn what you've found to be true!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Farewell, Miss Snark

For the past two years, Miss Snark has been the best not-so-friendly friend a young writer could wish for - she provided avalanches of information on the publishing industry in her ruthlessly witty and entertaining blog. I've learned so much there that I have every intention of thanking her in the acknowledgments of my first published book.

And after two years, the incomparable Miss Snark is calling it quits. I'm so dismayed to hear this; I've been reading and loving her blog almost since the beginning. There is no one who could take her place.

I [heart] Miss Snark, I thank her, and I'm going to miss her very much.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Honesty v. Kindness

On this BookEnds, LLC's blog post, Jessica Faust discusses professional jealousy among writers. Of course she dislikes it; who wouldn't? I prefer people who are supportive of one another also.

I've certainly felt such jealousy, and dealt with it in a hopefully-mature way (by keeping my green-eyed sniveling to myself), but her comments gave me an uncomfortable realisation: some comments you make (say, on a blog) that are appropriate to make if you're a reader are not appropriate to make if you're a professional writer.

What I mean is, I have a reading list post at the bottom of this blog. I update it when I finish (or don't finish) a book. I also give a short review of that book.

As a reader, I believe I have the right to say whatever I please about these books. I can slam an author if I want to. Anyone who presents their work to the public should be willing to accept a public criticism.

As a writer, however, that sort of thing looks like sour grapes. There's also the possibility I might tick off someone who otherwise would have become a valuable contact in the industry someday.

So, in the interests of my would-be future career, I've toned down my reviews a bit.

But it felt really cowardly and dishonourable to do so.

I'm a scientist too, after all. I believe in reporting the truth accurately and unflinchingly. Science would be meaningless without that sort of integrity. Toning down even an opinion - if I have good reasons for thinking the way I do - seems dishonest.

I've always had a bit of a war going on within myself between the desire for honesty and the desire for kindness: clarity versus tact. I believe in being kind to my fellow human being but I also believe in speaking truth. You sometimes can't do both; you can either wound someone or lie a little.

Am I being schemingly self-serving by toning down my reviews? Yes. Am I also being a more gracious member of the writing community (that I'm not actually a part of yet)? Yes.

Well, boogers and bogey-men; there's no way to both be honest and refrain from sticking your foot in your mouth! I will have to console myself with the fact that the reviews are still honest - they're just more polite. They also still note what I don't like about the books - they just highlight what I do like.

"Nice" has its merits too. I can swallow that.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Mental Daisies

I got my face half-licked off by a teeny-tiny, nearly-vibrating dog today. It was great.

On Sunday, some friends blasted into town and absconded with me. That was also great. I climbed a blooming cherry tree, walked on snow, and saw waterfalls, sunlit ocean, and white-capped mountains, all on the same day.

Those little, perfect moments happen regularly in an average life, but you tend to forget them. That, more than anything, argues in favour of keeping a journal of some sort. It gives the brain cells a fighting chance to dredge up a reminiscence sometime in the future.

Which is crucial for me, given that my brain cells spend most of their time tra-la-la-ing through a daisy-scape of their own devising. Rambles and rails and puppy dog tales, that's what little blogs are made of, and if the blog doubles as a brain-crutch journal, all the better for we wee scatterbrains.

Sorta Writing News:
I have three scenes left to rewrite in my novel, and then I'm done! Tra-la-la! *tosses mental daisies*

Backpedal, backpedal; what I mean is, my current (and major) round of revisions will be completed. After that, I'll have to go through the book one last time and buff and polish. I know there'll be a bit of that; in checking a plot point on the weekend, I spotted a scene that needs to be sleeked down. Thankfully, it's only sleeking that is needed, not an overhaul.

And then: finished! On to the querying!

Which means on to the query letter writing. *sigh*

That task almost makes me glad work is cutting into my writing time so much this month. No writing? V. bad. No need to think about query letters yet? V. v. good! *throws mental daisies*

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