This blog, it is a’changin’

Grab a towel and don’t panic – I’m not planning any massive divergence from the stuff my 200+ readers, followers, and friends have already come to expect. This blog has been and always will be a place where I can be myself, talk about my own journey, and express my opinions.

I’ve never claimed to be a blog for “writing advice”, as I strongly believe that we all have our own writing philosophies that work for us. It would be wise of me not to imprint my methods on other people, although I do like sharing what works for me in the hope that people can try it for themselves and see if it helps. Additionally, haven’t we ALL heard about showing and not telling? Haven’t we ALL heard about adverbs and dialogue tags by now?

However, I do update kind of sporadically, my blog is the opposite of SEO optimized, the theme needs a bit of a makeover, and I want to return to the targeted and opinionated content that got me a lot more interaction when I started this blog two (!) years ago. Like “Stop Whining About Book To Movie Adaptations” and “Can You Use Real People As Vectors For Characters?” None of this is advice – they’re conversation pieces meant to get the audience thinking topics that don’t get much attention, particularly from an unusual perspective. I have an inherently contrarian personality, and a background in film. Unlike most of the reading community, I don’t smell books, scorn movie adaptations, or feel that I’m better than people because I read.

So that’s all. I’m hoping to update a bit more frequently, and to target my posts with a question or topic in mind instead of just posting updates about my productivity/progress. I’d like to invite a bit more conversation here, and write stuff that people could perhaps reblog or share or link to with a firm “what she said!” or even an outraged, “who does this person think she is?!” Haha. As always, I’m inspired by whatever creative stage I’m going through, and at the moment it’s 1) finishing the final edits on Paradisa, 2) querying for the first time, 3) a bit more about filmmaking, and 4) trying to publish short fiction/write more short fiction.

TLDR – Same Aether House you love, only MORE! :D

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?

Writing To Blog?

We have not had electricity at work this week because our plant is going through a shutdown. So, I haven’t had much focus or ability to post new entries on my blog. At home, I’ve been focused on my Gamora cosplay, which is actually turning out pretty well (I might devote one day a week, probably Fridays, to posting progress for anyone following the Gamora cosplay tag. Might help them build their own). I’ve been outlining the NaNoWriMo novel some too, which I have to ask myself some hard questions in order to finish. Like yesterday, I made a brainstormed list of “Why Are People Afraid of Death?” just to keep my themes straight and my plot propelled. Tough stuff, yo.

Anyway, today I propose a simple observation that’s cropped up in the past few weeks: when I don’t write, I don’t feel like blogging. Most of my blog entries spring from thoughts I’ve had on my writing journey – thoughts about the editing of my book, the beta process, the character development, outlining, marketing, etc. Every day I work on my book, I walk away with more questions. And even better, I walk away with more concrete awareness of my Personal Writing Philosophy, which I enjoy sharing.

I like to think that my blog covers topics that you don’t see much on writing blogs. For instance, I am not going to write entries about “How To Write A Hook” or “The Three Act Structure.” Not only have such topics been beaten into the ground by hundreds of bloggers before me, they’re also common knowledge. Or, at least, very accessible knowledge. Even more, it’s knowledge given by people with credibility, whereas I am still unpublished. The best I can give are my opinions and philosophy.

Instead, I cover topics like why writing full-time isn’t that obtainable, why I write with my mind instead of my emotions, why I never delete my work, and defending unpopular topics like present tense and book-to-film adaptations. None of this comes out of the blue. A lot of it comes from other people’s posts that spark ideas in me, and a great deal of it comes from working on my book.

I’ve been lax on Paradisa lately. It’s just such a massive revision, and it’s one that I have faith in, but that doesn’t make it easy. I have other artistic priorities tugging at me this month. I have another book I’m outlining. But I’ve noticed that the more I put off Paradisa, the more my blogging suffers. The less I have to say on here, because the less experience I’m having as a writer.

Do you feel the same way? Is your blogging interest directly proportional to your writing strides?

The Three Types of Criticism

As I shuffle through pages of beta feedback, and as I read or re-read writing manuals in preparation for a brutal Draft Five edit, I’ve come to a  realization – writing is subjective.

“Duh, Michelle,” you snort. “Of course art is subjective. We all know that!”

That’s not what I speak of. We all know that our response to art is subjective. Rather, I’m talking about the methodology of our craft, and how it is seriously analyzed by ourselves and others.

Which leads me to the title – the three types of criticism that a work can receive. Keep these in mind when you’re reviewing the comments of beta readers, or analyzing your self-critique.

1. Critique due to taste. I do not like epic fantasy. No huge reason – I just don’t. So I dislike the Lord of The Rings, but that doesn’t mean I think LOTR is bad or invalid. I can still respect that Tolkien achieved something monumental,  and that his work is good. When betas or consumers read your story, hopefully they can self-identify which elements they dislike due to taste, and they won’t dock stars from their review or expect you to change it. If your betas are unable to do this, make sure YOU realize which comments are due to their taste. (This is a big struggle with Dad. He thinks all his comments fall into 2 or 3, when some of them are certainly 1).

2. Critique due to rules. These are the critiques to heed, because they’re the foundations of the craft. Show,  don’t tell. Spell words correctly in narrative and keep spelling consistent.  Follow a three act structure. Cut out the boring parts. Keep your word count competitive to the market.  Make your opposition stronger than the lead. These rules may be tossed if you’re doing experimental or metafiction, or if you’re world famous,  but most of us aren’t. A good deal of criticism will fall into this category,  and it’s honestly the easiest critique to hear. It’s the least personal. Lit rules are usually broken by mistake or ignorance.

3. Critique due to personal philosophy. Here is where you decide what kind of writer you want to be. These are the philosophies that YOU think every writer should follow,  and they’re how you deem other works “bad” or “good.” However, I promise that most are subjective,  and some may even be dated.

I’ve said before that James Scott Bell’s Plot and Structure  is a great tool. It’s also becoming dated. JSB recommends opening your book with something like a phone call in the middle of the night,  or an action prologue. This may have been good advice once, but most agents today would cringe at a prologue, or a hook with dreams, waking up, looking in the mirror, or phone calls. That method became oversaturated and passe.

John Gardner and Ayn Rand,  I’ve realized, have personal philosophies that are almost too literary for me. Both believe that the best novelists are people whose language and style sing. Pat Kubris and JSB think that simply telling a good story is the mark of a great novelist.  Who is right? No one. This isn’t a matter of simple taste like #1, where you can brush it off and say “that’s not for me.” These are valid opinions on the “correct” way to write, supported by more than gut feeling.

They don’t have to be from pros either.  My betas certainly have opinions about what makes a book good,  and I have plenty of agreements and counterarguments. But even though I might disagree, I still take note of their philosophies and respect the evidence.   Maybe they’ll change my mind someday.  Maybe they’re on to something. Or maybe I’m good where I am.

As authors, we get to pick any of these sides in order to shape our writer’s identity. As daunting as that sounds,  it’s somewhat exhilarating.  It means that no two writers are likely identical in how they approach the craft. Cool, huh?

Writing,  like all other fields, is rarely black and white. And it’s in the gray where we figure out who we are,  and how to tell our stories.