Writing 101 Advice from Geek*Kon 2015

Quere Baby Deadpool Pole Dancing Avatar

Geek*Kon 2015 was a mixture of seeing old friends and making new ones. I did have a great time and these fans are doing everything they can to put on a great show. I was thrilled to see folks like Emma Bull, Greg Weisman, Christopher Jones, Will Shetterly, and Alex Bledsoe speak to up-and-coming writers, fans, and all around great people.

Rather than give a recap of every panel and anime-related item I purchased (*coughs* Jiji rocks!), I’d like to highlight some of the wonderful advice given during my Writing 101 panel. The panel consisted of Alex Bledsoe, Will Shetterly, Emma Bull and myself. Here are some of the nuggets of advice given during the panel that I hope inspires you to write your heart out. Please note that I made every attempt to attribute said advice correctly, and some of the comments are sub-attributed to Steven Brust. Rather than rehash many of the tidbits I’ve mentioned here on my blog, today’s spotlight is on the other authors and their words of wisdom.

  • Point-of-view (P.O.V.) solves everything. Brust/Bull
  • Story starts with your P.O.V. character. Shetterly
  • Deal with the precipitating event as the first part of your story. Bledsoe
  • What serves the story is what you don’t tell. Shetterly
  • With respect to critiques and feedback from readers, “Worry about reader problems vs. reader solutions.” Shetterly
  • I write first drafts to create a skeleton. Bledsoe
  • With respect to revisions: “I pace around my house, reading the manuscript aloud.” Bledsoe
  • Figure out what drafts are supposed to do. e.g. They can be systematic or intuitive. Bull
  • Make the story more specific during revisions. Shetterly
  • What really matters, is the story itself. Shetterly
  • It’s better to write a bad first draft, than no draft at all. Shetterly

We also talked about info dumps and the Dread PrologueTM, and how many of the info dumps can be avoided by choosing the right character when selecting which character is telling the story. We also mentioned how it’s okay to suck (you’ve no doubt heard me say that before), and how the senses are crucial to add in layers of worldbuilding. For example, Bledsoe mentioned that a sense of smell can really make a big difference.

I hope today’s wrap-up inspires you to write, write, write! And remember, you’ll never internalize or finish what you start unless you sit down and simply…write. GOOD LUCK!

    Mood: Luxuriating in this damp, windy weather.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Mostly managed!
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH.
    In My Ears: Tron Legacy soundtrack
    Game Last Played: Kingdom Rush
    Book Last Read: For research, not pleasure. Ergo…
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Frozen. Because in my house, it’s a horror movie.
    Latest Artistic Project: Sewing project that turned out to be a pescatarian oni. Don’t ask! Am planning Halloween-related crafts, however.
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Gods, Memes, and Monsters
    Latest Game Release: Dread Names, Red List for Vampire: the Masquerade and Ghosts in the Black for the Firefly RPG.
    Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update. A new one coming soon! SOON I SAY!

On Writing with Cats

2015-01-07 10.12.02

I’ve been avoiding the cold, icy northern climes of my office in favor of overstuffed chairs, hot chocolate, sunlight, and warmth by way of cat. So how does one write with cats? Carefully. Oh, very carefully… One does not disrupt the calmness of the fat cat, for fat cat will retaliate in so many ways… For he demands… Cuddles…

I love my boys–I really do–but there are three specific times when I don’t. 1) 4:30 a.m. 2) When I’m beading, because Rimmon goes after the thread and any loose beads. And 3) When I’m on a tight deadline, because they don’t flipping care about the deadline. They care about the cuddles! And the catnip! And the eating at specified times or else they’ll waste away into nothingness!

In all seriousness, the title of this post could easily be: writing regardless of real life distractions. Cats? Oh yes, they can be quite the distraction–but so can everything else. Heck, there’s even software that promises a distraction-free zone. If it works for you, cool…but the software doesn’t matter to me. Distractions will happen, and I think part of developing self-discipline is understanding that. You will fall off the wagon. You will write a piece that sucks. You will write something that your editor loves and your fans will hate. It happens.

I feel that bad habits need to be managed, versus eliminated, because perfection is a work of fiction. It doesn’t exist. Here’s how I view distractions:

  • Am I working too much? Is that “distraction” trying to tell me something? e.g. lover/bff/cat/family member/etc. Breaks are healthy, after all, provided I get back on the wagon. If it gets to that point, where I’ve got people telling me I’ve been sitting on my butt for far too long, then I know I need to look at other methods of managing my time.
  • Have I scheduled a break? Knowing that crunch time isn’t effective, I break up my larger projects into smaller milestones, and take breaks after I achieve a smaller goal. Alternatively, I sometimes go the opposite route when I need to brainstorm in between pushes. Crunch time, just so you know, is a term used in video game management. I also use it, however, because it’s often reflective of the hurry-up-and-wait on projects. Here’s an in-depth article about why crunch time doesn’t work.
  • What is my level of annoyance? Oh, this is a pretty big one. If I’m super pissed that I’m in the middle of something Very Important and I get distracted, then that may be a sign I need to chill out, breathe, and take a step back. I can focus very intently on a project, so much so that the world around me slips away. Just because I can do that, however, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s sustainable for longer periods of time. That, really, is what I am building right now because of the transitions between work-for-hire and my original work. I can’t build sustainable habits if an interruption will, quite literally, break my mood.

And here’s just a few of the tools I use to help me self-assess how I’m managing these distractions:

    1) Timer: Blocking out speedy bursts of word count, followed by timed breaks. Gets a lot done and everybody around me–minus cats–is keyed into my schedule when that’s on.
    2) Code System: Tracking a variety of key indicators in my planner to ensure I’m not off track. Then, I graph those tracks to see how I’m faring.
    3) Associative Behavior: If I was going to do ONE thing every day, that wasn’t writing-related, what would it be? e.g. Dishes, bed, etc. Then, I use this as an indicator that yes, I have done something human-maintenance related to put me in the right frame of mind. Right now, that’s getting dressed for the day. YES I MEAN PANTS!
    4) Meal Planning: Okay, this one may sound a little stupid…but I can’t stress enough how important meal planning is for me. If I know what I’m going to eat ahead of time, I am removing a big ole distraction. e.g. The “What are we having for dinner?” conversation. I’m not scrambling to figure out this basic need, eating out too much, spending too much time away from my computer, etc. Food can be a trigger for multiple distractions, so I try to eliminate this one whenever possible.
    5) Noise-canceling Headphones! Last but not least? I received a rather expensive pair as a gift, but I would replace them if they went away. Cutting down sound really eliminates a lot of distractions for me–especially white noise that would put me to sleep!

That’s all I have time for today! Back to the grind!

On the Importance of New Experiences

There's a trojan on your computer

As I mentioned last week, I’m going to talk about the process of writing a bit more in the coming months. Specifically, though, this is about my process and how I view writing as a lifestyle or vocation–which does make me a little uncomfortable. Soap boxes are supposed to be used for soap and, per the whole reason why I started 365 Days of Squee, my ranting is best channeled into more productive activities like attacking the treadmill, baking cookies for other people, and drinking whiskey on occasion.

As anyone who’s talked to me knows, I’m not a huge fan of one-true-wayisms in life, the universe, love, or anything. I may be a force of nature, but I believe this with every ounce of my icy, black heart: do what works for you. Because of that, I tend to shy away from sharing what I do or think because my goal is not to be a self-help guru for writers. (I’m a helluva lot more Poe than Emerson, to be sure.) However, I think that some amount of prodding on this has done me some good, in the sense that I feel like I’m finding some balance between “what I know” and “how to share” this stuff. Or, in other words, there’s a few of you (e.g. the reader) out there who give a flying piece of bacon about my work.

Thus, I commence the first post!

So what is today’s creed? This might sound totally stupid, but there’s something I feel that’s crucial to being a writer: new and/or random experiences. Having a routine is useful for discipline, but too often this can lead to being comfortable, which can turn into laziness. When it (being lazy) happens to me, it’s because I’m apathetic or desensitized to who (or what) is around me. The days melt into one another, Saturday is no different from Wednesday, and I peer at the ground instead of at the sky. (Now mind you, winter exacerbates this issue because of SAD, and I feel that solutions to developing good habits originate out of being able to identify what’s wrong. So far, so good. Mostly.)

However, having a routine isn’t everything to me as a writer. It’s important, sure, but it can lead to a lot of disillusionment as well, because routines can be a part of unreasonable expectations. I’ve done “x” amount of projects or words like a good, little writer. Why hasn’t “y” happened? Why are there no ticker tape parades? I’ve done 100 sit-ups. Where are my washboard abs that I was promised? To me, being a writer isn’t about levels or tiers on a pyramid; nobody knows what the future holds when you’re a writer.

It’s partly for this reason, the: “Oh crap, do I need to read tarot cards to predict my career path?” that I feel it’s crucial to seek out the random and the new, to fold in new experiences and try different things. That little bit of chaos helps me survive, deal with my big question mark future and–BONUS–gives me more fuel to draw from when I am writing. It could be little things like picking up a book in a genre I normally don’t read, learning a new language, or a bigger thing like planning a trip or scheduling a writer’s retreat. Either way, some amount of new and random is healthy, overall, and can be quite addicting–especially if I’ve fallen into routine for too many days/weeks/months at a time.

Mind you, dealing with the new isn’t the same as conversing with my fellow humans (and possibly some cyborg/alien types), but it can help with social anxiety/shyness, too. As much as I’d like my own private sushi chef, for example, I still need to interact with people to get such culinary fish-ness as I am a lowly writer.

In summary, I feel that new experiences are necessary to maintain my writer’s brain. Not only do they fuel my creativity, they also help make me more resilient as well.

    Mood: Sage writer is sage
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Surprisingly too many
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: 30 on the elliptical
    In My Ears: “Shrunken Heads” by Wolfgang Gartner (Joey Youngman)
    Game Last Played: Brain Age 2
    Book Last Read: The Drunken Botanist
    Movie Last Viewed: The Hogfather
    Latest Artistic Project: B-B-B-Beading
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Last Man Zombie Standing.
    Latest Game Release: Things Don’t Go Smooth
    What I’m Working On: Primarily tie-in games work, original comics, and novels.

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