Category: writing life

How to Beat Writer’s Block

I’ll be honest, that title is sensationalized.  I don’t have a cure-all for writer’s block like others may claim.  What I do have are suggestions, that I am shamelessly reposting from another site.

I’m going to share this article I found from Cracked.com: 5 Writing Exercises That Will Make You More Creative.  At first I thought the article would be about writing prompts, but it’s actually more useful for if you’re in the beginning or middle of your story and feeling stuck.

I’ve been guilty of some of these before, and it’s not a bad way to keep writing.  The first exercise is to start writing the ending before anything else, which is what I tried for Jasper City.  I was intimidated by the plot and not sure if I could pull it off, so I started at the part of the story that (at the time) I felt stronger about.  Did that ending make it to the current draft?  No.  Did I drastically change the ending?  Absolutely.  Did I get more excited about my manuscript after writing that ending?  Also yes.  Problem solved.

One quote that stands out in that article is, “As a writer, never forget that you’re Bill Murray on Groundhog Day.”  If you follow the advice you’ll likely end up scrapping whatever you write, and that’s okay.  If it gets you unstuck on your story, it’s not a waste of time.

For Science!

This post is about experiments.  Not all of them have to do with beakers and odd fizzy chemicals that explode if you look at them the wrong way.  Some are all about words and how you use them.  (But it is possible to combine the two, and write an experimental story about moody, fizzy chemicals.  There’s an interesting thought.)

Writing, and any kind of craft, is a subjective medium.  That’s why you hear about famous authors experiencing the same rejections us little people do all the time.  The more recent instance is with JK Rowling and her novel The Cuckoo’s Calling.  If a bestselling author’s book can fail to stand out to an editor, that speaks less about the name behind the story and more about the story’s merits.

That being said, we’ve all tried certain concepts in our stories that may or may not have worked out for the best.  The deciding factor is execution; maybe it doesn’t work out on paper the way you thought it would, like a literary version of the “that pick-up line sounded better in my head.”

For Jasper City, I originally wanted Edward to be presented as a shining hero and Calvin as an absolute villain.  The intent was not to follow the black and white cliche but play with it, because at the end Edward was supposed to do something so unforgivable that the reader would realize he or she was on the wrong side all along.  This proved difficult to write effectively, and while going through the story I added shades of gray.  (Gray is nice.  It makes stories interesting.)

What crazy ideas did you want to introduce but later scrapped?

Happy Birthday!

I haven’t been neglecting the blog, I’ve been taking a break to get some kinks in Jasper City ironed out.  And now that I’ve made some decent progress, I’m back.

This is only partially inspired by the fact that today is my country’s Independence Day.  I’m currently working on a chapter in which one of my characters celebrates her own birthday, but we are unsure of her true age.  In other news, yesterday marked the births of my own niece and an old friend’s baby, so birthdays have been on my mind lately.

When creating a character, dates for birth and death don’t often come to me.  Because I write about post-apocalyptic scenarios or worlds that definitely aren’t Earth, it’s also difficult for me to pick out a calendar date that makes sense in our world and the fictional world.  Not to mention that birthdays aren’t often plot points in my stories, so I rarely worry about them unless they come up.

This recent chapter was one of those times.  I chose the birthdate of July 3rd for my niece, but hopefully these two do not turn out to be to similar.

So let’s give a belated happy 8th birthday to Dot!

Do you have birthdays for your characters?  How about death dates?  Do you have their tombstones written out already?

One Little Instability

My social life has taken a backseat for the past few months due to work.  I went from having no job at all for two months (I should probably count my blessings that the unemployment was relatively short) to having more hours than I know what to do with, simply because I have coworkers who do not work.  And then things got worse.

One coworker who transferred in from another branch of the company gave us some hope.  She knew the job already, at least.  She turned out to be lazy and much too argumentative.  Before long she was that one coworker that we drew straws to figure out who would have to put up with her for the night.  And this wasn’t the worst of it.  Said coworker became increasingly whiny and attention-seeking, and made her (false) complaints all the way up to the corporate offices to cost one employee his job and threaten another.  And despite documented thefts and walking off of the job more than once, she is still employed.
What have we learned from this?  Two things:  One unstable individual can make some substantial waves, and some characters seem to escape karma.
A blog post for The Bitter Baker will be up in the near future regarding poor employees and the tendency of companies to enable them.  I’ve neglected that blog for far too long.  But that’s not a rant to share here.
This story ties in to a favorite theme of mine, that the bad guys don’t always lose.  Greater influence and cutthroat companions can undermine a “good guy” faster than you can say “justice!”  It isn’t motivations or purity that decide the outcome of a battle, but the actions each side takes.  One threat of a lawsuit can be enough to scare a company into submission, no matter how unfounded an allegation can be.  This is something one never wants to encounter in real life, but necessary in fiction.  It creates the conflict that drives a story forward.  It makes stories such as A Song of Ice and Fire so popular.  It’s also a hell of a lot more interesting than a story about the hero who has everything handed to him.
Let’s aim to make real life more comfortable and fiction less so.

One Word Wednesday: Blamed

As a reminder, for One Word Wednesday visit http://oneword.com/, see the word for today, and start typing.  You have 60 seconds to write without thinking.

Today’s word is: Blamed.

She blamed me for it, but that was nothing new. Whenever something in the office went wrong, there was always something I missed that would have helped her save the day if I had been competent enough to catch it. I missed a note, I wrote the note but failed to email her an update. I emailed her, but she never checks her emails so I should’ve known to send a text instead. I’d be such a good employee if I knew to catch on to the little things.

This one was inspired by a previous employer.  Anyone else had a boss like this?

When Being a Packrat is a Good Thing

This is the first blog post I wrote from my phone.  Let’s see how this goes.

During the editing process for Jasper City one of the first things I did was cut out fluff.  There was a lot of fluff.  Over 20 thousand words of it.  You can imagine how painful that was after so much time spent writing all the fluff.

I’ve always been a packrat.  I don’t like throwing things away, especially if they’re things I created.  There’s a corner in my closet with a pile of beaten up duct tape purses of my creation that I will never use but perhaps never throw away.  The same goes for my writing.  Each draft that I’ve completed is sitting on my hard drive.

This is a good thing, because not all that fluff is bad.  Much of it contributes to the culture of the city and overall worldbuilding.  I plan to save at least one chapter and re-present it as a standalone short story.
So if you’re editing a manuscript and find you don’t have a use for so much filler, don’t get rid of it entirely.  You wrote that chapter for a reason, I’m sure, and it still has potential.  See if it can be recycled!

Changes

If you’re feeling doubly observant today you’ll notice that the name on this blog has changed.  Last week I mentioned the desire to change my pen name, and after giving it some thought I have gone through with it.

Writing-wise I have been focused on my Jasper project, which involves waiting for Jasper City to come back from a couple of betas.  This has left me with some time to focus on networking, and in order to do that effectively I needed to work under a name I felt more comfortable using.

I’m going to be a more active presence in blogs, not just my own, and with writing letters.  I had a few pen pal letters on my desk to which I’d failed to reply in months.  So if my pen pals happen to be reading this (unlikely, but possible,) I’m sorry!  And if you’re not reading this, you’ll get my apology in the mail.

Stay tuned for One Word Wednesday on 6/12, and Weekend Writing Warriors on 6/15!

Name Changes and Regime Changes

It seems I’ve been struggling to find an identity for myself lately as a writer.  This may or may not stem from the fact that I have written or edited little in the past few months, a fact that I intend to remedy.  In the past I changed my pen name of choice from Proctor to Rhodes, but now the name Kay feels wrong to me, like something old and dusty in my childhood that I should have thrown away years ago and have little attachment to anyway.

A little explanation:  the first name I chose for myself was Kay Proctor.  Proctor came from the last name of a maternal ancestor of mine who first came to the US from England.  (It wasn’t until much later that I realized I had misread the handwriting in what exists of our family records, and the name should have been Procter.  But the name stuck by then, and I felt little reason to change it.  After a while Proctor/er felt stale and I abandoned it in favor of a name that had more excitement to it.  Kay derived from a nickname I insisted on calling myself when I was a moody teenager to set myself apart from the many Christines and Christinas I knew, and I’ve long outgrown the shunning of my birth name.

The name I have in mind now is closer to my legal name with the same surname of Rhodes.  I won’t be using it yet, at least not until I keep kicking at it and feel sure it will stick.

Now that that’s out of the way, there is something else I’ve been wanting to say in line with current events in popular entertainment.  I’m speaking of the show Game of Thrones.  These thoughts below WILL contain spoilers if you have not seen the latest episode “Rains of Castamere,” so proceed with caution.

I’d recently finished reading the books and knew about the Red Wedding before this episode aired.  I’m not too proud to admit that I was among the book-readers who sat on the edge of their seats in anticipation, smirking at what the reactions will be of those who would be blindsided by the event.  I was still shocked and shaking when the credits rolled, because even though I’d braced myself for what happened I was not prepared for the execution (har) of the carnage on-screen.

There are many in the camp, including book-readers who made their opinions clear long ago, that believes the Red Wedding was unnecessary brutality that came out of left field, and the Stark rebellion could have been put down by other means.  There are suspicions that George R. R. Martin made up the Red Wedding as an attempt to be and edgier author and kill off main characters as violently as possible.  I disagree.

Ever since Robb took another woman as his bride, there were subtle hints that foreshadowed a brutal confrontation between the Starks and Freys.  In the books, you see the beginning of the fallout before you meet Robb’s wife:  The Freys in the northern rebellion angrily pack up and leave, and Elmar Frey who once bragged about his bring promised to a princess now mourns the fact that the agreement is nullified.  “The Rains of Castamere” as a song is introduced prior to the Red Wedding, and in the previous episode Cersei explains to Margaery the true meaning of the song.

Though Cersei turns her recollection of the story into a thinly-veiled threat against Margaery, this is the major hint that something will go horribly wrong.  The song describes a family that rebels against the Lannisters and is promptly slaughtered.  Which noble family is in rebellion against the Lannisters at this very moment?  And what is the title of the following episode?

The last words Robb Stark heard were, “The Lannisters send their regards.”  (Actually “Jaime Lannister sends his regards,” according to the books.)

In later chapters of the books (and hinted in the preview for the season finale,) it is revealed that Tywin has been plotting out this wedding slaughter all along.  The Freys and Boltons became his allies who carried out the necessary tasks for Tywin’s plan to come into fruition.  The Freys felt wronged because Robb Stark went back on the terms of their alliance, and the Boltons were rivals of the Starks from the beginning.  When Roose saw an opportunity for advancement, he took it.

Conclusion:  The Red Wedding was not a crime of passion or a senseless act of violence, but instead a coldly calculated maneuver to remove one more rebellious king from the equation.  The violence following Lord Edmure’s wedding feast was necessary for the completion of Tywin’s plan.  Robb Stark was just unlucky enough to give the Freys a motive to switch sides.

It can be dangerous to become attached to fictional characters.  (This is especially true if you’re reading a book by someone like George R. R. Martin.)  In a well-executed story the protagonist is not the clean-cut example of good pitted against a great evil.  There is no such thing as a hero.  In our world, those assumed to be “good guys” can fail when pitted against a stronger enemy, or become the enemy in the end.  Fiction can benefit from this quality and feel more “real” to the reader, no matter how much it hurts.

Immortal lines in books.

I’ll admit, another reason why I don’t post as often as I did is that I don’t have as much material to post any more.  I haven’t written anything new, still waiting for Jasper City to come back from a beta (also seeking more betas, if you’re interested), and waiting for Swamp Gas to be rejected by another publisher.  And then work is exhausting.  There are only so many post I can devote solely to those problems before it gets boring.  Perhaps it already has been boring.  I’d like to change that.

I’m going to take this opportunity to show off something new that I’m still excited about.  It’s shameless, I’ll be the first to admit.  But it is mine and I am happy with it.

“Nolite te bastardes carborundorum,” or “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”

Those of you who have read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale will recognize this line.  For those who aren’t, it becomes awkward to explain what the tattoo means and how I came across the line.  It isn’t proper Latin, and that’s the part that makes one’s eyebrow rise in disapproval and give me a “You know this is permanent, right?” look.  But I don’t care.  There are many tattoos like it but this is mine.

The camera in my phone is poor, but you can still see the redness around the tattoo.  This was taken on Sunday, 5-5, less than an hour after it was completed.  At the time of this writing the soreness is long gone and it has begun to itch.  I’m using lots of lotion and avoiding the urge to scratch.

This is going the first of many, including more references to books.