Unexpected Writing Exercises

I’m seriously, seriously trying to get back into blogging regularly. My mind’s been in about sixty different directions over the last couple of months, so it’s been hard. To give you an idea: Pottermania, Portkey (during LeakyCon), Portkey (after LeakyCon), Deathly Hallows Campaign and general HPA staffer stuff, finding an apartment, signing a lease, moving…Dublin Irish Festival and Columbus Feis and upped rehearsal time that comes with those things, Post-Potter Depression, unpacking, trying to get through my TBR pile, writers group, writers group hiatus, diet, revisions, vlogging…identity crises because of Pottermore, then getting over the identity crises…going to funerals and weddings…planning the 20th Anniversary Homecoming alumni band stuff for my high school marching band…starting an agent search…finally finished unpacking, but still trying to buy stuff for the apartment…trying to keep in touch with friends and family…all while trying not to lose my mind. Oh. And now I kinda want a tumblr.

Yeah, it’s been a weird summer.

So, please bear with me while I try to get back into the swing of blogging.

My calendar says it’s Writing Tuesday. Oh, Writing Tuesday. As I’m taking a small break from serious writing (post-revisions) in favor of researching agents to send my novel to, I had to think for a minute about what to talk about. And then it came to me. Granted, if you watch any of the videos I do on “In the Cardboard Box” (my vlogging project with Emmy), you’ve heard about this a good three times. Deal. I’m better at talking about things through writing, as opposed to the awkward rambling I do on vlogs.

Have you ever done a round robin story? Where you write the first few lines, then pass it on to the next person to add the next lines? Sometimes it’s played by covering the earlier bits of the story up, so you literally end up with one really bizarre story that makes absolutely no sense? I remember we used to do this at the writing camp I went to for a few years when I was younger (yes, I went to a writing camp…it was a day camp and was AMAZING). I think we may have done it in Girl Scouts on a few occasions. It’s one of those things that’s just really entertaining. But we did it at the writing camp because it’s also a great exercise of thinking on your feet. It’s basically the writer’s version of improv.

When I was in high school, I got introduced to RPGs. Not the WoW kind, but the forum kind. The kind that’s a lot like a round robin, because you have your character or characters and you tell the story from their point-of-view, picking up wherever the last person to post left off. I used to be really involved in a Harry Potter RPG over on Darkmark.com, but it died after a few years (I believe Darkmark has a new RPG now, but I don’t participate in that one). At first, I kind of got over it–I was probably a little RPG burnt out–but after a year or two, I really missed the whole thing. Bizarre and wonderful friendships sprout from things like that and I missed chatting and plotting with the friends I’d made on RPDM (granted, it was more chatting than plotting, particularly in my case). I also missed writing the character I’d created. I tried to join other RPGs, but I never stayed very long because it wasn’t the same. And I never resurrected my character from RPDM, even though she continued to live in the back of my mind, because it felt wrong to put her into a different place, among different people, with a different story.

Until about three months ago.

Three or so months ago is when I got introduced to a very non-traditional RPG. It was almost more of an experiment. It didn’t utilize forums. It utilized blog posts in the form of news articles that you could comment on, and Facebook. Called Magic is Might, it was set during the final Harry Potter book…but it looked at everything else that was going on away from the main story we’ve all read half a dozen times. And, even more interestingly, the timing of it was played out to coincide with the release of Deathly Hallows Part 2. The characters in the RPG would be fighting the Battle of Hogwarts at the same time as the characters on screen, essentially.

I was fascinated. I decided to resurrect my old character and have her play. She started commenting on the news posts and (I shouldn’t have been surprised as I was, considering how welcoming a community the Potterheads usually are) she was immediately welcomed into the story. After a few weeks, I created a second, more evil character. Good and evil. Yin and yang. Innocent and a royal pain in the ass. It was fun. Our characters debated, while the players behind them had heartfelt, nerdy conversations out-of-character. And then the movie came out and the Final Battle wrapped up on Facebook, and we mourned.

And once we were done mourning, we created something new, so we could all keep going. We called it Magic Is Might Continues, because that was all our creativity would allow, and we picked up where the story had left off. We decided to figure out what happened after the Battle. What happened in those 19 years between the end of the last chapter in Deathly Hallows and the beginning of the Epilogue?

We’ve been going for a couple of months now. The friendships have grown tighter, but likewise the plots of grown…more confusing. We’re plotting up a storm for our characters. Emails are exchanged all the time and the “evil” characters are being bitter losers and the “good” characters are getting into relationships with each other. And there’s drama and Romeo & Juliet and duels with werewolves and arguments and all kinds of insanity.

BUT (and here’s where I get to the Writing Tuesday stuff), it’s been such a GREAT writing exercise for me. Other than the great friends I’ve made, I’ve also been forced to get used to writing some uncomfortable or emotional or intense scenes. I’ve had to delve into the head of my “evil” character to see what makes her tick that way. I’ve had to break my “good” character about fifty times, just to fix her again. In the more adventurous scenes, I’ve had to pick up the action from the previous poster and carry it forward. It makes me think more about character and action and what someone would say in various situations or debates. I’ve had to argue the negative side of arguments through my “evil” character.

Moral of the story: It’s really amazing, the places you can get practice writing.

On the Value of Taking Breaks

I do this funny thing whenever I re-read the Harry Potter books. I go into what I call my hidey-hole. I rarely emerge for anything. My writing falls by the wayside and I don’t get anything accomplished.

Surely, you’ve noticed I’ve just gotten out of one of these bouts of Pottermania. It happens a couple of times a year for me, usually. It’s just a thing. I can’t explain it.

Recently, I returned to my much-forgotten revisions. And when I picked them back up and started to find out where I’d left off, I realized something. What I had revised before my Potter break was…not great. It was good, but it didn’t entirely make sense. It was obvious as I re-read the last chapter I’d revised that I had been burnt out when I’d written it.

Which is fine, because it happens. Burn out happens and it’s important to realize that breaks are perfectly justified. I’ve gotten back on the revisions train and my couple month break for Potter stuff. I just have to learn to take breaks that aren’t just for re-reading Harry Potter. It’s important to have separation from your novel, if only to get a new perspective on the story.

Writing Pains

“This is the magic/curse of writing: That in crafting your fiction, you leave yourself open to sudden moments of unguarded truth, and you have to be willing to tolerate that again and again. You have to keep raising your sword and charging, even knowing you could retreat scorched and missing a limb. You have to keep doing it even when you don’t want to. Especially when you don’t want to.”

This brilliant quote is from Libba Bray’s most recent blog post. And it’s just so true and spoke to me so much that I felt I needed to add my own thoughts.

I’m not going to lie. There are sometimes when I wonder why I keep at this writing thing. There are times when I feel like my characters are all the same and my stories are all the same and it’s just one giant circle. When I’m smack in the middle of a first draft, there are times when I can barely get up the will power to pick up the pencil (or keyboard…I don’t tend to write longhand unless I have to). It’s times like this when I really have to hunker down and just do it, because otherwise it’s never going to get done.

There are also times when it’s emotionally difficult for me to write a scene. A novel I wrote about a year and a half ago, there was a scene that I was absolutely dreading writing. Even now I can’t pinpoint exactly what it was, but they were emotions I didn’t want to face. More recently, I had to kill off a character I’m pretty partial to. I drew out the scenes leading up to that as much as I could. I dawdled. It took me a week to get to the actual death and then I was depressed for days.

And then there are times that I’m anxious for no reason, but I can tell it has to do with a story on my mind. I had a knot in my stomach all afternoon yesterday and off and on today. There’s a story I keep thinking of and it’s one that I feel like I should tell–but at the same time, I feel like I shouldn’t. It’s incredibly draining.

Writing is a painful and wonderful art. It makes us face emotions that we don’t want to face, but we have to anyway. We have to think about the tough stuff and we have to understand how to get through it. We get to learn right along with our characters. And I feel like all this, as confusing and painful as it can be, is more a blessing than a curse.

“I have to ask…are you writing a novel?”

BACKGROUND: I bought an Alphasmart 3000 word processor a few months ago. It’s kind of a ridiculous looking plastic toy that has become my lifeline to getting significant words down each day. Every day at work, around noon, I go down to the cafeteria, buy a salad, go sit myself down at the smallest table I can find (because when I sit at the longer tables, I end up getting crowded by people when I’d rather have my personal bubble), break out my Alphasmart, and get to work for 45 minutes.

Anyway, so that’s what I’ve been doing almost every lunch break for the last few months. I plug away at my little, silly-looking Alphasmart and try to ignore the people staring at me (because, yes, I have actually caught people staring at me a few times). And then something happened a couple of weeks ago that kind of made my day.

An older gentleman came up to where I was sitting and he said, “Excuse me, but I have to ask. What is that?”

So I explained to him that it’s a word processor that I can keep in my bag and hook up to my home computer later.

And then he asked, “I guessed you were writing something! Are you writing a novel?”

There’s something incredibly…humbling, I guess…about seeing someone get so excited when they find out you’re writing a novel. There’s this whole idea that novelists are magicians of sorts, people to be admired. Or, rather, there’s that idea among people who like to read, anyway. I don’t know about the rest of the population. But you always hear about the dream of “writing the next great American novel” and people say this with a sense of wonder.

And I get that, because I’m a reader. And I follow my favorite authors on the social networks religiously. And I love hearing the backstories.

But, at the same time, I write novels myself. That separation has disappeared for me. I no longer look at writers and say “that’s amazing, I want to do that” because I DO do that. I may not be published yet, but I create worlds of my own, and have characters that bug me in the middle of the night, and fend off the plot bunnies, and do word counts, and celebrate finishing a first draft manuscript by getting frozen yogurt. I feel all the ups and downs of writing a novel. I procrastinate like hell in that lull in the middle.

Over the last couple of years, writing novels has just kind of become, well…life.

So it was something a little surreal when this gentleman got really excited that I was working on a novel during lunch. And then the surrealness has continued, as apparently the two of us eat lunch at the same time, so I’ve run into him almost every day since. Usually, he’ll just wave enthusiastically, but today we got into a conversation about what I’m writing and if I’m published and all the bookstore drama going on.

Seeing someone I don’t know so intrigued and excited about my writing just renews my love of it. It makes me remember what I do, through the eyes of people who don’t do it too. I create worlds. I tell stories. I suck people into these times and places that they never expected to be. There is definitely something magical about being a writer.

So thank god for the random strangers who ask things like “Are you writing a novel?” to keep that in perspective.

Writing Tuesday: From the Playlist

I’ve shared “theme songs” for my novels on here before, so I’m going to do that today too for Writing Tuesday!

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about playlists over on Fiction Flurry. If you read that post, then you know that I’m a big fan of novel playlists. I have a little too much fun creating them. And when I hear a song that I feel would fit in well with a character or a feeling or whatever, I almost always get it for my iPod.

This was one of those songs.

I’ll admit it…I’m a Gleek. I just think the show is a fun one. And when they did this song for the regionals episode (it’s a Glee original, actually!), I knew it belonged on my playlist for Call to Action, the project I’m currently revising. It describes my protagonist, Care’s, journey so well for me.

Writing Tuesday: The Voices in My Head

Tuesdays will be my day of talking about writing and the writing life. Thus, I name them WRITING TUESDAY. This will be my day of the week to talk about whatever it is I feel like talking about regarding writing…be it my writing, or something I read about writing. Maybe I’ll share some passages of WIPs. Who knows?

So, here’s my first Writing Tuesday post!

Last night, this conversation happened between me and one of my best friends…

Me: My character is going to hate me.
Tracy: Huh?
Me: She’s going to hate me. I’m killing off a ton of people.
Tracy: Okay…
Me: She’s never going to talk to me again.
Tracy: You do realize your characters aren’t real, right?

I’ve been told this about a thousand times by people who, well, aren’t writers. Because writers realize that, on some level, the characters are real. We know that we can’t always control what comes out of our characters mouths.

It’s like we have voices in our heads.

I learn new things about my various characters all the time. Right now, I’m writing the first draft of the sequel of the novel I’m about to send out. And I’ve learned some interesting new things about my characters over the last manuscript and a half.

1. One girl doesn’t deal with stress very well. And she’s slightly bi-polar most of the time.
2. Another girl can never keep her opinions to herself. Ever. Even when they’re arguing about life-or-death situations.
3. My protagonist can be an emotional wreck, but she can also be ridiculously intense and focused.
4. One of my protagonist’s best friends…yeah…he actually has a heart. Awwwww.

These things? Yeah, I didn’t know about them when I first created these characters. These are things I only ever found out because I let my characters control the story and say what they need to say.

I think this is one of the best things about being a writer–it’s like no matter how old we get, we can still have our imaginary friends.