Eight Ways I’m A Not A “Real” Writer (And One Way I Am)

There are a lot of clichés about how similarly writers behave, and I’m not sure I respond to all of them positively. Every “You Know You’re A Writer If You Do This Stuff!” list never seems to resound with me. Sometimes it actually makes me wonder if I am a “real” writer, or if my personality isn’t actually suited to this craft. How can I be so disconnected from something I’ve done literally all my life?

1. I don’t care about strangers. You know the image of a writer on a park bench, eyes flitting around and observing people, scribbling character ideas and dialogue in her notebook? It’s not me. At all. It’s so incredibly unlike me that I wonder if such people actually exist. Sorry, I may be a writer since birth but that isn’t going to overcome misanthropy and social anxiety. I don’t like strangers. I definitely don’t want to spend 100,000 words worth of headspace with them, nor do I want to pay any more than passing attention to them. I tend to only find people interesting once I actually know them. Most of my characters are based on things that are familiar to me and that I already care about.

2. I don’t care about tea. Or coffee. Aside from a daily latte to get my butt out of bed at 6:00 AM and awake enough to do chemistry, I have no interest in hot caffeinated drinks. There is no correlation between drinking caffeine and writing/creativity to me. I tried, but I just found it distracting. I was trying too hard to down the coffee before it went cold, which led to about twenty minutes of coffee drinking and zero minutes of actual writing.

3. I can’t write in public. This combines 1 and 2! How can anyone write in a coffee shop when you have both coffee AND strangers to distract you? :P Even with headphones, I can’t help but look over my shoulder, hoping no one is spying on my laptop. This extends to airports, airplanes, lobbies, etc.

4. I don’t like prompts. I’ve actually written a whole post about that one before. I understand that a flash fiction writer will need prompts in order to be prolific. But the whole “writing exercise prompt” thing always felt inorganic to me. If it’s not my idea – something that I elected voluntarily to write about – I’m not going to care. And if I don’t care, the writing will appear forced. My post about prompts offers a pretty decent hypothesis for why I am this way – I’m a plotter and a stewer, and prompts simply don’t give me enough time to build a convincing piece.

5. I don’t take rejection personally.  Many of you have submitted queries to agents or publishers and you became disheartened after 5 or 10 of them sent you form rejections. Darlings, do not stop there: you’re just getting warmed up.  Maybe it was a really extensive and frustrating job hunt that hardened me up, but I see any response as positive response. I’d rather cross an avenue off my list than have it sitting open on a spreadsheet, waiting to be confirmed or denied. Plus, I think many writers discount the sheer volume of queries one must make in order to pitch a novel successfully. It took me 60 applications just to find a job in a STEM field – and only 5 of those got ANY response, positive or negative – so I expect it’ll take at least double that to convince an agent to sign me. I can certainly imagine frustration that you’ll never get published after a couple hundred failed submissions – and I’ve felt the sting of beta readers’ comments directly –  but I don’t know why a handful of form letters has such a way of hurting writer feelings.

6. I’m not an avid reader. Out of all these, I’m the least proud to admit this. I do enjoy reading, and I find it informative/inspirational as a writer, but it isn’t like oxygen to me. I don’t need to read a book every week to survive. I’m usually too busy writing to have much time reading. I hope to find a better balance between the two in time, but I will never be the introspective bookworm who’s always curled up with some tea and a blanket. I’m more of a film person, actually – an admission which often earns offended gasps in the writing community.

7. I hate wearing glasses. They may look cute on you, but they don’t on me. They don’t make me look smart or creative. They’re just a veil over a face that needs all the help it can get. Especially because my prescription is so bad that I can’t buy cute frames. And because of my job, I don’t have the option to wear contacts to work. I’m going to a LASIK surgeon as soon as I can afford it.

8. I don’t believe the book is always better than the movie. Sometimes it isn’t.

And the one way I am a real writer?

I love telling stories. That’s it. That’s all the romanticism and reason I need. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m a filmmaker in a novelist’s world, or maybe it’s that I have the emotional range of Ron Weasley (aka, a teaspoon). But even if I’m not the stereotypical hipster in a sweater and glasses, with no desires outside of writing and living in a city apartment I can’t afford, the muse for telling stories and creating worlds has burned within me all my life. At the end of it all, I don’t care that I’m not the writer people think I should be – and you shouldn’t care about what people expect of you either. Honestly, I’d say the person that actually is all eight of the above probably doesn’t exist. Or if she does, somehow she’s been made an industry standard :P

What other clichés about writers do you reject? What romanticism would you like to see vanish? What assumptions do people make about you as a writer?

The Fatal Flaw of High Concept Stories

This past weekend, I read Divergent. It was at the recommendation of a friend, because I wasn’t impressed with the movie. Upon reading, I was pleasantly surprised by Veronica Roth’s writing style and I found the world-building smoother than in the movie. But something bothered me about it, as has bothered me about the last few books I’ve read – a high concept that never delivers on its potential.

High concept fiction is all the rage right now and I blame Lost. People older than me could blame Twin Peaks, but I believe Lost is what brought deep mythology and perpetual puzzles to a mainstream audience. Everyone is still clamoring to copy that formula. Much like the abstract era or the postmodern era or the neoclassical era, mainstream art is now in the M. Night Shamalyan Plot Twist era. Everyone wants to read or watch stories which promise original starting concepts, twist endings, huge cliffhangers, and sudden deaths.

Often, such shocking revelations and bizarre world-building relies on mystery. Mystery isn’t new – Agatha Christie and other writers clamped onto human curiosity long ago. But instead of mystery being its own niche, mystery has now infected all genres to outrageous degrees. Who is the killer? Is it all a dream? Is he a clone? What is the monster? Why did the world end? Does this book actually take place in the past?

I like intrigue, but not the way most writers handle it. Lost itself failed on its own formula. For many series-long questions, there was no payout. There rarely can be. If you open up huge questions that have everyone speculating for YEARS, then the actual canonical answer will probably disappoint. People will say “I wish it ended like that guy on that forum said it would” or “*my* answer makes way more sense!” And that’s if you get an answer at all – half the time, high concept only works with smoke and mirrors, where they omit answers “on purpose” in order to cover up plot holes.

I’m not saying all threads must be tightened. Ambiguity can be good. But Cobb’s top spinning at the end of Inception is only fine because “Is this all a dream?” wasn’t a question you asked yourself for the entire movie. Instead, the damning question bad high concept stories pose is “What does it all mean?” That is a tremendous question that summarizes a whole novel – it should not come down to one twist.

What does this have to do with Divergent? Well, the characters are fine and there are no particularly burning questions propelling the reader through the novel. It’s not The Maze Runner, which works entirely off the manipulation of “What the heck is going on? I have to keep reading to find out!” So for that, Divergent is barely guilty of the high concept sins I’ve spoken about. But it still leaves its world so thinly sketched that the reader is left asking many questions about the origins and the villain’s motivation. And of course, those answers are promised in the sequels.

I…don’t like this. Basically, the only reason I’m reading the sequel is to get some more clarity. I want to find out if Veronica Roth has new ideas to bring to the universe she’s written. I don’t really care enough about Tris and her friends. I don’t really care about the message of the book. Divergent, like so many others, is nothing more than a carrot hanging at the end of a treadmill. From a marketing point of view, I guess it works. I’m still reading her book. But if I get my answers in book 2, who knows if I’ll bother reading book 3? And I certainly won’t bother recommending this series to friends as it currently stands.

And this wouldn’t be so bad if such stories truly used mind-blowing revelations that change how you see the world. Gone Girl is a rare and fantastic example of one that does because the twist was just the beginning. The twist was used as an artistic tool to cleverly manipulate the reader into making fun of themselves, or to manipulate the reader into realizing their own prejudices. Yes, I plowed through the first 100 pages looking for an answer. And once I got there, I kept reading because the answer was so interesting.

Don’t use mystery to bait and switch your readers, my friends. It will leave a bad taste in their mouths. You can be ambiguous and you can plant seeds for future installments, but neither of these things should be the biggest, most crucial thread of the entire book. Unless you’re doing postmodernism, ambiguity should not be the point of your book. There is nothing more unsatisfying to me than huge questions that are answered with a handwave – or never answered at all.

Especially when that question is “Why is this happening?”

What do you think, folks? Have you ever been let down when a story failed to work on concept alone? Or do you think overwhelming ambiguity and/or unexpected plot twists are usually a good thing?

What Happens After This Draft? – My Revision Process

As I approach the end of my next Paradisa draft, I’m already thinking about the steps that will follow. “Spell check it and send it off to beta readers!” says the village fool. Actually, completing a draft is just the first step – a few other “semi-drafts” will follow, plus a heck of a lot of re-reading.

There are a few types of drafts that I operate in at separate times. That seems like it takes too long, but trying to accomplish all of these tasks at once is just too much to me – I would get stuck on the same page for weeks, picking it apart, when I should be writing the rest of the book. So, splitting it into multiple steps is a much more refined process.

1. The Rewrite. A rewrite is a draft that is formed from a new outline. This is absolutely the roughest draft to slug through, because it basically requires me to write a new book (or a third of one, at least.) Unlike many authors, I do not start with a completely new document, riffing from a completely new outline, utterly ignoring all words used in the previous draft. I do pull massive amounts of content – all I can pull, really – from my last attempt. But when you want Plot Point A to occur three chapters before it did in the last draft, and when you want to separate your characters into two all-new locations for the big mid-book fight scene, and when you want to totally restructure your ending…there’s a lot of new content to be whipped up. This is honestly why Draft Five has taken me 4+ months. I am not only rearranging and cannibalizing so much of the existing text, but I’m adding over 30,000 words of new scenes.

2. The Big Picture Revision. Once a rewrite is done (assuming it was needed in the first place – hopefully 5 will be the last real ‘rewrite’ I do, and that all future edits will be minor), I reread my draft on my tablet. Reading as an ebook gets me into the mental state of a reader. Contrarily, reading it as an editable computer document makes me too much of an editor. I do keep a notebook beside me though, documenting all character, plot, pacing, continuity, setting, and structural issues with the novel. Does each scene have a purpose? Does each scene end on a cliffhanger? Does each scene begin in a way that sets the reader into the scene? Does the novel have a good hook?

Now that I’m past my first beta round, I will also revisit my previous critiques during this stage. I will make sure that all valid concerns from my betas have been addressed in the rewrite. When I’m happy with my re-read, I will annotate my Word doc with comments pertaining to all these concerns.

3. The Seasoning. This is where I trudge through and address all the comments. Sometimes it means changing some dialogue in a scene. Sometimes it means deleting or swapping a scene. The most “writing” I’ll do at this stage is to add paragraphs clarifying intent and setting, or to build pacing.

After this, another reread. Steps 2 and 3 may need to be repeated, depending on how much I like the new version of the book.

4. The Style Revision. I have yet to do a style revision for any previous draft. Now, I feel that the book is ready for a line-by-line analysis, in which I make sure every word is used to its full potential and all lines are my own. Ditch the clichés, ditch the redundancy, ditch the awkward phrasing. My style is very functional and inelegant right now – I have yet to regain the naturally beautiful way I wrote as a teenager (which I swear is due to my lack of reading in recent years, but hey, I’m working on that part!) Until I can turn on good style at a whim, this is the gritty alternative.

5. The Copyedit. Just for grammatical and typographical errors. This is my final read through before other humans see the book.

So basically, five ‘drafts’ in one! I will probably start considering this Draft Six around step 3 though.

And while some may warn me of over editing, fear not – as I said, this is my very first time editing style at all, and that is where over editing rears its ugly potential. I don’t think one can go wrong by making the story a more enjoyable one. I’m kicking myself a bit for taking five drafts to get where the plot needs to be, but part of me knows those previous four trials were all necessary. It’s like a scavenger hunt – you can’t jump to the end until you’ve found all the clues.

I do hope to start Beta Round Two in the spring, but you can see I have a lot of work ahead ;) I feel like it’ll all be downhill once I finish the rewrite though. Ugh. Rewrites really are the hardest part.

What is your editing process like? Do you revise your novel in multiple ways at once or break it down into steps?

New Year Updates To Aether House

I’m baaaaaaack! I don’t have a shiny new header or layout, but I have some new features and plans for Aether House in 2015 ;)

+ See that countdown on the sidebar? That’s how many scenes I have left to finish in Draft Five of Paradisa. I’m nearing the end, folks! Hopefully by the end of January, that number will be 0. I feel like displaying progress for all to see will be a good motivator. Give me a shove if you don’t see it descend every few days ;)

+ Check out my 2015 Reading List! I’m not setting a numerical goal, as I feel that’s a bit…strange, for me. I want quality over quantity. So I’ve picked out a dozen or so books that I truly feel I should read ASAP. Infinite Jest and the H.P. Lovecraft book are both over 1000 pages, so it’s plenty to keep me busy this year. I’ve scheduled time to read 30 min-1 hr each day, but I also have to clean, write, edit, cook dinner, exercise, budget, and practice the drums too (not to mention that 40 hr a week job and, heh, sleep!). There are only so many hours in a day.

+ I’ve also made a “favorites” list for my WordPress Reader, where I can easily find the blogs I interact with the most. I think this will help make me a better blog friend. ;) Instead of backtracking through several days and dozens of newsy posts, I can quickly see your recent updates.

+ I want to get back to posting at least 2 times a week. When I started my blog, I wrote a post every day. I had a lot to say ;) Recently, as my writing has lulled into casual editing, I’m at a loss for quality topics. I do not blog just to blog. I only blog when I have something thoughtful to talk about, something different from typical writing blogs. Luckily I have a decent idea list to go by until Draft Five is complete (and I start finishing books on the To Read list), at which point my brain should get interesting again.

Thanks for sticking it out with me. Hope everyone has a great start to 2015!

Who Do I Want To Be In 2015?

I am almost halfway through my “12 Days of Christmas”, aka the amount of days I took off work. I was hoping to use this time to finish Draft Five of Paradisa, but haven’t written much yet. Austin and I have had five Christmases since Tuesday and we’re gearing up for a sixth at the end of this week.

So today was my first semi-reasonable day for writing, but I was stuck with a headache for most of the day. ALAS! So the rest of tonight, Monday, and Tuesday will hopefully be my writing marathon days. I have about 24 scenes left to complete, 6 of which have to be written from scratch. I’m shooting for Beta Round 2 beginning February 1st. We shall see!

But this leads me to other stuff I’ve mulled about during my extended break. The new year is coming. Even if you are against “New Year’s Resolutions,” I think we all have high hopes for what the next cycle around the sun will bring. What we can accomplish. What can make us happy. I am shocked to say that in 2014, I went from a half-finished first draft to a nearly finished fifth draft of my maiden novel. I feel like it’s been longer but…I guess it has only been a year! Now, I also wished that I was querying by now, but I think I can say that goal looks promising for 2015.

Probably autumn of 2015, but 2015 nonetheless.

I think that it’s best to approach each new year with prospects of who we will be rather than what we will do. I would like to be an author of a finished novel by the end of 2015. I would like to be an agented author by the end of 2015. I would like to be a published short story author. I would like to be a successful cosplayer. I want to be a drummer. I want to be a business owner. I want to be a home owner. I want to love how I look and feel. I want to be an avid reader.

If I get any closer to any of those states of being, I consider it a successful year. It’s not about pass/fail accomplishments on a bucket list. It’s about making one New Year’s resolution, the same resolution, every single year – never grow complacent.

Best of luck to us all in 2015, as we continue to grow and develop our crafts. I hope to be blogging more frequently soon, once I get past the editing stage and have more interesting things to talk about again ;)

A Passion Project Is Hard To Find

It’s official: NaNoWriMo 2014? Just not working for me.

And I’m okay with that. I sort of knew going into this that I was fooling around. Experimenting with a story that had a very minimal amount of cook time in my head, that was completely out of my comfort zone as far as genre and construction goes. I’m a plotter. I like having a plot with the appropriate beats. I’m not usually into character driven “200 pages of me telling you about my life” kind of stuff. That’s a lot harder than it looks.

I got about 7000 words into Figments before I realized that I’m not ready for it. I’ve mentioned previously that stories have to stay with me for a while. They have to linger in my mind for at least a year before I grow comfortable with them. Sort of how you wouldn’t bring a stranger home to your mother, or go on a long vacation with them – you want to know them a bit better before you spend a long stretch of time with them. You want to know that you’re compatible.

Most writers have a notebook of ideas to pull from. I have over a hundred. But very few of those ideas are good enough, or familiar enough to me, to last me through the novel-writing process. If you’re going to finish a book, you have to be in love with an idea. You have to be willing to marry it, to work things out through thick and thin, in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer. Otherwise, you’ll run out of steam. You’ll look at your characters like random acquaintances that you’re not sure how you ended up with. You’ll just…stop caring.

That’s not to say the passion projects are easy. We all hate our voice sometimes. It’s not turning out “right.” It’s not true to our vision. There are plotholes. But the great thing is that we say “we’ll fix that in the next draft.” Because we know there will be a next draft, and we know we’ll want to write that draft. Even when we get frustrated, it’s still a good thing. We know that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel because what we want more than anything is for this project to be complete.

With that, I’m refocusing my energy on Paradisa. I miss the characters. I miss the world. I want to put the next beta draft in my readers’ hands. So while I’ve shelved the NaNo novel that just isn’t working out (yet), I’ve still got a real passion project to occupy my time. Even after a straight year of working on Paradisa, the story still excites me. Those sorts of stories are the ones truly worth writing. I’m not sure anything less could get me through this process.

And speaking of passion, my mother’s passion project manifested this past weekend in the form of AtomaCon. It was even more successful than last year! I was delighted to see how full all the panel rooms were. It reflected very well on us for the sake of our panelists and guests. I also received several compliments on my “2014 in Anniversaries” video that we showcased at Opening Ceremonies. :)

Thank you Leona Wisoker, for capturing what is probably the only pic of me during the entire convention.

Thank you Leona Wisoker, for capturing what is probably the only pic of me during the entire convention.

Mom and I are already cooking up some cool things for 2015, so maybe some of you will make it to Charleston next year. And to all of you NaNo participants – hope all is well! Good luck with writing your NaNo novel, or the novel you’d rather be writing instead ;) Follow the project your subconscious is telling you to follow, because that’s the one you will stick with.

If I Can’t Like You, I Might As Well Fear You

Something has disappointed me about modern cinema, literature, and television. The art that’s held to the highest esteem these days seems to concern the most wretched personalities. Fight Club, Black Swan, Wanted, Looper, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, The Sopranos, anything and everything on the FX network (American Horror Story, Sons of Anarchy, Archer, The Americans, It’s Always Sunny…jeez. It’s like FX is the a-hole network!), Gone Girl, and even Seinfeld.

Some of the above, I enjoy. Most, I do not. I’ve heard writers say “you can make a character unlikeable as long as you make him interesting,” but I don’t think that’s the *key,* exactly. Because it depends on what you define as interesting.

I can’t relate to Walter White. Or Joe, from Looper. Or Natalie Portman’s character from Black Swan. To me, they’re all just terrible or messed up people and I really can’t put myself in their shoes or care about their stories because I never would have gotten myself in their situations to begin with. I don’t have sympathy from drug addicted characters. I don’t have sympathy for characters “forced into a life of crime.” I definitely don’t have sympathy for characters who are snarky jerks just for the sake of being snarky jerks, or any other example of What’s Wrong With This World. If a character tilts back his seat on an airplane, I’m done – you, character, are a monster that I don’t care knowing!

Pictured: A deranged sociopath collecting his next victim.

Pictured: A deranged sociopath collecting his next victim.

 

Now, before you accuse me of rose-coating fiction, let me make one thing clear – I know that characters should be flawed. Characters should not be perfect people. They should have weaknesses, they should do crappy things to one another, they should have biases and -isms.

But think about your friends and family. None of them are perfect either, yet there’s something about them that makes you want to keep knowing them. Maybe they have some controversial views, or they drink too much at parties, or they’re flaky, or they’re late. Yet, the good qualities outweigh the bad.

On the other hand, if you’ve ever known a needy, drug-addicted self-destructive emo creep Holden Caulfield wannabe in real life, most people will probably tell you to defriend them on Facebook and cut all ties immediately. No, you probably don’t want to stick around and see if they “turn out okay,” or if they ever “redeem themselves.” You just want out of that relationship, and will probably never look back.

So, here’s my philosophy for what makes a good “damaged” character: make them say stuff that the reader will agree with and relate to. This is why The Joker in Nolan’s The Dark Knight, and Gordon Gekko in Wallstreet and Amy Dunne in Gone Girl were all so terrifying. They’re not really protagonists – they’re antagonists – yet they fascinate us because we agree with so much of what they say. Everyone has some degree of dark thoughts or secret judgement, and the best “dark” characters are those who address it. Not just some whiny, anarchist rebel who may represent a “phase” we went through when we were younger (at best), or the type of person we’d loathe to be around (at worst).

Think about it this way – the only “bad” people who are your friends are people who are “bad” in the same ways you are. Maybe they’re cynical like you, loud-mouthed, or equally as forgetful. You can’t really blame them for being the way they are, because you’re that way too. You understand them. Austin nor I are “nice” people by most standards, but we get along in our mutual misanthropy.

So, if I’m going along with  your story, the characters need to be likeable people, or they need to be so similar to my dark side that it terrifies me. The first are simply enjoyable to read about and the latter make me see the world in a different way. On the flip side, I just don’t get what completely irredeemable characters offer to the reader/viewer. If I’m not relating, I  don’t care. And if I don’t care, it doesn’t matter if they turn their lives around before the end.

Writing Is Not Iron Chef. Or, Why I Dislike Prompts.

Critique groups, workshops, and writing classes offer a wealth of help to an aspiring author. I’ve never been part of a critique group, but I did take two creative writing classes in college. One was screenwriting, and the other was a fiction class taught by Oprah Book Club author Bret Lott.

Both classes had assigned reading that I enjoyed and both professors offered wise feedback. What I didn’t like about either class was the excessive use of prompts. That seems to be how most writing workshops go, probably to make things easier on the teacher’s grading. They throw out an arbitrary scenario/emotion/buzzword and make the whole class write about the same thing.

Each student comes up with a different story. There is an element of fascination for that, because one can see how widely a prompt is interpreted by 30 different minds. But then you realize at least half the class has crappy stories – not necessarily because they’re crappy writers, but because their arms were twisted into writing a scenario they care nothing about.

We all have different reasons for writing. Let’s look at just three – 1) people who write as a stress relief/way to cope with life/way to process emotions (Empaths), 2) people who write because they want an audience (Performers), and 3) people who write because it’s fun to play with fiction (Tinkerers). You might be none, or all, or two of the three. This isn’t all-inclusive. Anyway, prompts seem to be aimed at the Tinkerers – as soon as they’re given a kernel of an idea, they can build anything. They’re easily inspired, they can get excited enough to make most prompts work, and they’re altogether a foreign creature to me. I think Tinkerers are probably Pantsers too, in that they work off-the-cuff.

I’m a Performer. I write because I have stories to tell. Or more to the point, I write because there’s stuff that I want to read and it hasn’t been made yet, so I take it upon myself to make it for the rest of the world. Yes, it is fun to me, and yes, it does help me process some emotion. But ultimately, I write because there are stories within me that are clawing their way out. They take up the majority of my headspace every day. It has been this way all my life. I am hard-wired to build world after world in my head and it’s almost like I’ll run out of room if I don’t sweep some of it out.

A notebook sits by my bed with 98 of my unwritten prompts in it. It’s overwhelming to know that I probably won’t get to them all by the time I die.

Additionally, I’m a Plotter, so I don’t feel comfortable with short deadlines to come up with an entire world (a prompt deadline can be anywhere from 15 minutes to a couple of weeks, and neither are long enough for me to develop anything of meaning). So, I don’t respond to prompts like people are supposed to. I usually find myself shoehorning one of those 98 scenarios into the prompt I’ve been given. I feel like that’s cheating, as prompts are meant to inspire new thought, but otherwise my writing is inorganic and insincere. Which in turn makes it unimpressive. Which in turn frustrates me, because I know I can do better – if only I was writing something I actually cared about.

There are some exercises – like writing a paragraph without using any adverbs, or writing a half page two people after a murder without mentioning the murder – that I find short and clever. These flex a writer’s muscles without straining them. (When prompted with the murder assignment, I did use Connor and Clara from Paradisa as my characters. So…I still cheated.) I seem to like stylistic exercises that force me to use the English language in a unique way, or to play with storytelling mechanics.

But I am not going to be excited with a prompt like “include the words bucket, grenade, and apple in your story!” (an actual prompt from my creative writing class. No lie.)

How do you feel about prompts? Did you enjoy working with prompts in workshops, or were you bothered by them like I was?

Being Realistic About Tackling NaNoWriMo

I have spent the better part of six days in sick girl limbo. Not sick like…flu sick. Just sick with sinuses, lethargia, headaches, and a lack of coffee because my latte-making SO didn’t live with me for a few of those days. With the house to myself for a while, you’d think I’d get a lot done. But you don’t want to do much when a nail’s driving through your eyeball for two straight days, or when you just want to sleep.

I have chronic sinus issues, and the headaches are getting more difficult to deal with. Used to be, I could take two ibuprofen and knock it out. Now it takes about a day and a half and ~8 ibuprofen to kill the headache, and sometimes it’ll still come back the next day. As anyone who’s had a sinus headache knows, it’s not just about the pain. It makes you dizzy, nauseus, loopy. Like you can’t focus on anything and that you just want to sleep.

So, while I went home early on Friday and had a mostly empty weekend, I still barely sewed at all. And because I’m so behind on my cosplay and so swallowed by it, I definitely haven’t looked at my writing!

What does this have to do with the title – planning for NaNoWriMo? Because I know myself. I know my health issues. I know that at least 3-4 days a month are devoted to me clutching my skull and whimpering about how miserable I feel. And I know that on those days, I won’t be writing.

I also know that Thanksgiving is in November. And AtomaCon, which will eat three straight days from November 14-16. Another Saturday will probably be devoted to PlanitCon in Myrtle Beach. These are also days that I won’t be writing. I just know that I won’t. I’ve done this a couple of years now and I know that AtomaCon is WAY too busy to even look at my laptop, and sickly days are really hard to fight through.

I aim to write about 70,000 words (or a finished book – whatever comes first) this month. And I won’t be doing it in thirty days. I’ll probably be doing it in about 21 days, if I’m realistic about my busy schedule and my health.

So that means on the days I do write, I need to write more. I need to strive for about 3300 words a day instead of 2300 if I’m going to really finish in November.

Do you have your own personal minimum word count? Are there days you know that you won’t write in November, or are you determined to write EVERY day? Or are you just winging it, and what happens happens?

Author-Reader Trust: The Key To A Great Book

This weekend, I went to the library’s annual book sale. Most of the books I bought, I’d never heard of – but the synopsis looked interesting, or they dealt with topics/genres that I’m currently involved in. The only book I was curious about previously was Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend + Short Stories. I like that many of Matheson’s stories are about being alone, which is relevant to my NaNo novel, and he’s just a classic pillar of sci-fi.

Anyway, the book I actually started reading was Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox. Knox is revered as an elegant author and the series has supposedly decent world-building.

I’m 40 pages in and I’m constantly editing her prose in my head. On the very opening page (of a prologue -_-), I’m like “I DON’T CARE ABOUT THE TREES. This description is awful! You’re just throwing pretty words into a run-on sentence with places and other Proper Nouns that you haven’t defined!” About three paragraphs in, she brings in a sentence with a setting’s name, a main character, what they’re doing, and some intriguing aspect of their situation, and I’m like there. Why isn’t that your opening line? Everything that came before this doesn’t matter, and THIS is your good sentence.

I have this problem with a lot of books. In fact, it leads me to abandon many these days, and almost table-flip reading entirely. While I recognize that Knox writes like a professional, I find myself overly critical of her. Why? I’ve never even heard of her. All I know is her writing in this one book. And I’m not enjoying it.

It’s not just because I write fast-paced commercial fiction. I’ve also read slow, cerebral novels I’ve enjoyed enough (like Never Let Me Go) because what they lack in action they make up for in intrigue. And there have been some recent reads that my mental editor did not mind. As much as I disliked Hazel and Gus in The Fault In Our Stars, I never mentally edited Green’s prose.  I also enjoy House of Leaves – and so far, I can’t think of anything that I would change about it. Just when you think Mark is going on some tangent about nothing for three pages, his concluding paragraph relates it all together and you’re just like “AHHHH.”

What does this come down to, really? Why can I be patient when Dashner takes his time setting up questions in The Maze Runner, but I’m desperately waiting for Knox to spell out her world in Dreamhunter? Why do I give Mark Danielewski the benefit of the doubt during his tangents, but in other books, I would skim such rants? Why can I look past the poor prose of some novels if I enjoy the characters and story? It’s because for some unexplainable, astral reason, the ‘good’ authors are the ones who gained my trust. They successfully created enough of the fictional dream – the verisimilitude – for me not to care about what rules they break.

I’ve also been reading Gone Girl. The first chapter is awful. It’s boring. It’s clunky. The prose tries way too hard, making you far too aware of the author. The narrator, Nick, is just whiny cardboard.

Then, the second chapter switches tenses, time, and narrators, and suddenly the book is interesting. I’m left wondering why this isn’t the opening chapter, because Amy’s voice is actually interesting. It’s natural. There is motion. I’m less doubtful of Gillian Flynn now. I trust her a bit more, because chapter two proved that she can write. And that’s why I keep reading.

I can’t pinpoint what makes me trust an author. In the end, I can’t say I really enjoyed Never Let Me Go or The Fault in Our Stars, but I did finish them. I finished them because the authors kept me gripped enough by….something. Some sense of trust and investment in them. So, one of my continued exercises is to figure out how readers can trust me. My main tool is a strong opening and an attempt at strong voice. I also try to be really direct. I want to give the sense that the world is deeper and broader than what is on the page, but I don’t want the reader to ask questions every second line.

In the end, you can’t please everyone. My father and my friend Greg both read Paradisa. Dad complained about the book in a very specific way – a way that made me realize he did not trust me. He questioned everything from line one, while Greg kicked his feet up and just ‘went’ with it. In the end, Greg understood the novel nearly as well as I do, and Dad was left lost and bitter about ‘the worst thing he’d ever read.’ How can one truly be ‘right’ if the other one exists?

I think we all have different expectations out of an author we trust, which is one of the primary influences on our ‘taste.’ It’s the reason we gawk at how some books were ever critically acclaimed. It’s the reason we sometimes enjoy stories that most of the population scorns. For whatever reason, those authors gained our trust, and I believe that’s the foundation for a subjectively great book.