Sunday, December 18, 2011

Setting Up a New Year's Writing Resolution

Resolution Icon
I've never been big on New Year's resolutions, but this year I'm taking the opportunity to goal set and start up a writing routine.  No more excuses.  If I want to call myself a writer, then I need to write! (And regularly, not just when the mood strikes me.)

Between now and April is the most free time I will get all year.  No grad classes.  No reading lists to get ahead on.  Just me and my time.  I've already said that I relish this time of year because I get to read what I want to read, but this year, I'm setting a goal to start and complete a first draft of a new April 1st.  (April is when I get started on my reading list for summer, hence the April 1st deadline.)

It's no NaNo (writing 50,000 words in a single month), but considering there's some research that needs to be done, I think 3 months is a tough but realistic time frame.

Now here's where I had to do some troubleshooting.  I wanted to set up a specific time of day where I could productively write.  I've struggled with this in the past.  I get out of school around 3pm each day.  And while afternoons would be the preferred time to write because I'm not dragging tired yet... it's not realistic considering after school I could have meetings, parent conferences, errands, etc.  So 3-5pm is out.

And 8pm is prime TV hour.  So 8-9pm is out of the picture.  And then to be totally honest, any time after that I'm too tired to be productive.  And I need to start winding down around that time or else I suffer from insomnia.

So, I've decided prime writing time is going to be after fixing dinner, while drinking tea, from 6-8pm.  My goal will be 500-1000 words per day which will place me at perfect first draft range of 45,000-90,000 words over a 3 month time frame.

So if anyone would like to join me in gluing their butt to their chair from 6-8pm every night and cranking out some words.  Let me know.  We can exchange word counts or something.

Here's to a new year filled with the click clacking of freshly typed words!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Divergent by Veronica Roth

My mood and overall outlook on life becomes glowingly positive when I read a great book.  It's like how exercise junkies get endorphins.  Well, I swear there's some hormone that is released in my brain after a satisfying book.

And Divergent by Veronica Roth is going to have me in a good mood for weeks.

First, you should know there are three things that I value more highly than other qualities in books.
  • Pacing
  • Characters
  • Plot
Those three things have to be there for me in my pleasure reading.  My favorite books have to be page turners, have to make me fall in love with the characters and leave me wishing they were real people, and the plot has to be plausible and intriguing.

Divergent by debut author Veronica Roth blew me away in all these categories.  Pacing, characters, and plot were all fantastic.

So without giving away any spoilers, let me tell you why you should read this book:
  1. It's a combination of the Sorting Hat in Harry Potter, the violence and corrupt dystopian world of Hunger Games, with the vulnerability and growth of Ender in Ender's Game.  Plus there's romance and a male lead I swooned for way more than any Edward or Jacob.
  2. The premise: A future dystopian world where people are divided into factions based on what they believe in.  The main character, Beatrice, must decide whether to stay in the faction she grew up in or betray her family and choose a faction that better suits her.
  3. Pacing: I could not put this book down.  I lost sleep.  I took it to school with me to sneak in reading time.  At a hefty 487 pages... this shouldn't have been a quick read, but I started it on Wednesday evening and finished it on Friday evening.
  4. Characters: Hunger Games fans might hate me for this, but I liked the main character, Beatrice, way better than I liked Katniss.  Both girls are tough and must learn to fight for their own survival.  But Beatrice came off as a much more likable character.  This may even cause me to like Divergent better than Hunger Games.  And did I mention I LOVE FOUR.  Four is the male lead.  Weird name I know.  But I love Four.  You will love him too if you read this book.
  5. Plot: I love when I get to the end of a book and see how everthing fit together so perfectly--how events at the beginning led to the ending.  Everything in this book was plausible and not forced.  I never felt like the author was throwing in some deus ex machina to save the day.
I could go into so much more detail but I don't want to ruin this book for anyone.  I'm so glad it's going to be a trilogy because I need more!  As soon as I was finished I wanted to go back and read it all over again.

One Warning: This book is very violent.  Lots of blood.  Lots of gore.  Suicide and murder.  I'd be hesitant to recommend it to anyone under 13.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Adverbs and Adjectives

Back into writing exercises!

I've hopped back into doing writing exercises from Ursula K. Le Guin's Steering the Craft.

Today, I did exercise five which involves writing a paragraph of descriptive prose without adjectives or adverbs.

Here's what I realized:

  1. I need to brush up on my grammar.  Throughout the exercise I was asking myself, "Is this an adjective?"  And because I was actually sitting down and writing for the first time in ages, I really didn't want to substantially interrupt the flow of writing to look up grammar rules.  So I didn't.  But it made me realize that since I've been teaching Reading instead of English for the last two years, I've been neglecting my grammar knowledge.  I think I might start by re-reading a little Strunk and White.
  2. The point of the exercise was to make you more conscious of choosing strong nouns and verbs and making use of simile and metaphor instead of adjectives and adverbs.  I definitely concentrated on that, and more than once found myself trading out weak choices for stronger ones.
  3. My biggest dilemma in avoiding adjectives or adverbs was in describing color, material, size, and time.  You can see below in my sample that I slipped up quite a few times.  I figured I still got what was intended out of the exercise, and didn't want the end product to read weird.  Maybe I shouldn't care about the product if I'm just doing an exercise, but personally, if I'm making the time to sit down and write, then I want to be at least a little happy with the result.
Here's a sample of today's work:
The last time I'd traveled to London was well before my parent’s death, at least six or seven years ago.  I believe I was just ten years old.  The first shock that bombards my senses is the noise.  The din of the carriage that I’d thought was so deafening on the journey is nothing compared to the onslaught of sound that pours in as we open the carriage door.  Whistles of steam, the clanging of metal, bellows of men, and the clicking of gears surround me.  My head whips around as I try to find the sources of such noises.
“Come, Anne.  Or we’ll leave you behind,” my aunt snaps.
I hurry after her, already several paces behind after standing mesmerized by the cacophony.
As I weave between women wearing corsets and men in top hats, I run my hands over my own wool dress.  The color reminds me of a gray field mouse.  The plainness of it must stand out amid the jewel tones that are so clearly in fashion--I push through a sea of people in emerald silks and purple velvet.
Just as the crowd is beginning to be too much, just as my head becomes light and my eyes have trouble focusing, my aunt turns and climbs up a short flight of stairs to a rowhouse.
Feel free to try the exercise for yourself.  It's harder than it looks  ;)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Response to Maggie's "A Proper Education"

Maggie Stiefvater rocks my socks.  I heart her.  Glad that's out of the way because I'm about to agree and disagree with her a little bit.

Maggie recently blogged about her education to become a writer in a post titled "A Proper Education."

Some points I agree with, but others I don't.

Maggie brings up the 10,000 hour rule.  That you must spend 10,000 hours at something to become an expert in a field.  I totally agree with her on this.  People who spend the most time working at something will be the people to succeed.  It's crystal clear to someone who is a teacher: the more time a kid spends on something, the closer they are to mastering it.

Maggie's big argument seems to be that creative writing programs are not the end-all-be-all of getting a writing education.

"But I think that there are lots of ways to accomplish those [10,000] hours. You can self teach. You can apprentice. You can take classes. You can workshop. You can get a writing critique partner. You can steal someone else’s brain." 

I agree that all of the above are important to a writer's education. (Perhaps with the exception of brain stealing--  :P )

Here's where I start to disagree:

"I reckon before I post this, I should emphasize that I have nothing against degrees in Creative Writing. If you think you need one to keep you motivated or to structure your education, go for it. But it’s not the way I learn. And I’d wager in some cases it can do more harm to an introverted creative person’s psyche than good. But the most important thing is: they’re pretty much invisible when it comes to getting your book published. Your education, however you manage it, is the process: the book is the result. Agents, editors, readers: they don’t care how you got there, just that you did."

The whole "if you think you need one" bit comes off a tad on the condescending side.  But knowing that she hasn't been through a writing program, I'll try not to hold it against her.

Because I happened to find a writing program that I consider a total blessing.  It has provided me with:
  • A nurturing creative environment
  • Companionship and writing peers that I respect
  • Mentors whose guidance has helped me develop my craft
  • Classes that have stimulated growth in me as a writer because they forced me to stretch myself outside my comfort zone
I know not everyone can afford to pay thousands of dollars to take college/graduate courses, and I should consider myself lucky that I've been privileged to do so.  But I really don't think I would have grown as a writer as much as I have in the past two years without my graduate program.

I adore my graduate program.  And I do think it's made me a better writer.

But I will concede some points she made:
  • A writing program could be damaging to someone if they don't find the right program.  I've heard horror stories about elitist writing programs that do more damage than good.  Persevering through that kind of program just for a piece of paper is not worth it.  Especially if you aren't growing as a writer and having your self-worth as a writer torn apart.
  • A piece of paper won't necessarily mean you are more qualified.  (Though I do think it will give you some street cred.)  There will be different levels of skill coming out of my program.  One piece of paper for each of us won't mean we're all equally skilled.  Your work will speak for itself.  I think that comes back to the 10,000 hours thing.  People who put in more hours will be more qualified, and that includes the hours you spend putting into your coursework.  If you truly take advantage of a writing program, then you do build up hours towards your 10,000.
I know Maggie's post was not meant to be a personal slight to writing programs.  She just wanted to say that you can become a good writer without one.

But I sincerely wish that everyone could experience what an amazing writing program can have to offer.  I was lucky enough to find a perfect fit.  :)