Tag Archives: writing

The Creative Writer’s Survival Guide by John McNally

The Creative Writer’s Survival Guide: Advice from an Unrepentant Novelist by John McNally: I love the idea of being an “unrepentant” novelist. So many creative writing books fall into one of two categories: 1) publishers don’t like new authors and you won’t get published unless your brother-in-law owns Random House, and 2) let the words flow and worry about quality later, at a time not covered by this book. McNally, who is both a published author and veteran of the academic side of the trade, offers a refreshingly different viewpoint. He works from the assumption that his readers are “young” (that is, inexperienced) writers seriously considering making their pastime passion into a full-time gig. Though there is almost no discussion of the actual craft of writing, he does cover various educational options and goes through the publication and employment processes with equal parts encouragement and realism. If you’re serious about writing as a career, this is an excellent resource.

Also posted on BookCrossing.
Read as part of the Books Won Reading Challenge.

In Defense of the Holiday Card Letter

Each winter, I spend hours composing the letter to be included with the Christmas cards I send out. I write with my audience in mind – mostly relatives and far-away friends. This year I included things like the Japan and Amsterdam trips, Snowmageddon, the troubles with our HOA, and the various conventions and other events we attended. I include some photos of the two of us and, occasionally, a URL at the bottom (usually for an online photo album). I try to keep it interesting and upbeat. Every year I receive compliments from a few of the recipients, saying how much they enjoyed reading about my life.

Ah, but every year there are also those people who declare their hatred for the Christmas card letter. Not anyone I send to, as far as I know, but around the blogosphere I always come across people who think of those letters as bland, impersonal, and worst of all, nothing but a bunch of bragging.

Maybe my experience is atypical, but I’ve never gotten this impression from any of the Christmas card letters I’ve received. But then, I also might be a different sort of audience. I want to know where you vacationed or how your kid’s soccer team did this year, because I care about what happens in your life. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be exchanging Christmas cards with you. And even if I keep up with you during the year, I really enjoy the big recap, seeing which events you found most worth sharing. I don’t expect you to write it all down by hand just for me.

I admit, I am suspicious of those people who get disgusted by positive Christmas card letters. Do you not want to celebrate your friends’ and family’s triumphs with them? No, no one’s life is 100% perfect, but to me, the end of each year calls for reflecting on what you’re grateful for from the past twelve months. Why would I want to gripe about gaining twenty pounds when I could share my excitement about the new running program I just started?

For me it just comes down to practicality. In the letter, which I type mostly because my handwriting is atrocious, I cover the things I want to tell everybody. In the card, I often don’t have anything more to say than that. I’ve chosen the card based on the sentiment printed inside, so writing an additional “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” is kind of pointless. The recipient list is written from scratch every year, and though many of the names are the same from the previous year, there are always a few changes. In short, though people receive a store-bought card and a printed letter, there’s a lot of thought put into the whole process. If I didn’t include the letter, I wouldn’t see much point in sending cards at all. My handwritten notes would have to be composed ahead of time anyway or else each card would be full of scratch-outs. I do my best brainstorming at a keyboard, so if it’s going to be typed anyway I might as well just print it out instead of rewriting it. And I’ll want to tell each person about pretty much the same things, since after all I lived the same year no matter whom I’m writing to. And by that point I might as well just send the same letter to everybody.

So yes, I am a little hurt that there are people who believe that just because something was printed with a computer that there was somehow less effort put into it, or less thought given to the people receiving it. I write my letter because I want to share my life, not because I want to show it off. And I look forward to the letters I get from others, so I can share their lives too. To me, that sort of sharing and connection is the point of sending out all those cards in the first place.

How do you feel about holiday card letters? What do you feel is the purpose of exchanging cards every year?

NaNoWriMo Recap

So it’s the last day of NaNoWriMo and I did not make it to 50,000 words. Not even close. This isn’t surprising, considering I only wrote maybe two hours a week the entire month. Ordinarily I’d be feeling like a failure, but this time around it doesn’t bother me in the slightest. I didn’t have a plot for which I was dying to complete a first draft. I don’t feel empty inside if I don’t scratch out a few lines of dialog or description daily. Sure, if I was a serious writer I’d write even when I don’t feel like it, but lately I haven’t been all that interested in being a serious writer. I mean, I’ve been writing up a storm – in general – just not fiction. This month I’ve churned out loads of blog posts and diary entries and emails and assorted random notes. And, I’ve found, those are all good outlets for the writing bug as well. Yes, I enjoy telling stories, but lately I’ve been more in the mood to draw or collage or journal than weave plots or develop characters. In short, my original intentions for NaNo were satisfied: I increased my creative output. Perhaps eventually I’ll get back into the writing game, but for now, I’m content to be doing other things.

How did your November challenges go?

November is Official Crazy Online Challenges Month

This year I return to National Novel Writing Month for the first time since 2006. I’ve won three of the four times I participated, so I have high hopes for this year. After my last attempt, I wrote a lengthy essay on what I’d learned from this annual writing challenge. At that point I expected not to ever participate again. After all, in 2005 I worked full-time and got married and still found time to win NaNo. In 2006, even without any huge 10k-word writing binges, I finished within two weeks. Clearly, blathering on for pages is not my problem. However, I realized a few weeks ago that I hadn’t written any fiction in months, and thought perhaps this might be a good way to get the old creative faucet running again. After all, creativity begets creativity. I have no idea if this will impact how often I blog. I guess we’ll see.

If writing is not your thing, you could also participate in National Blog Posting Month, Art Every Day Month, or NaNoJouMo (for art journaling). November is a popular month to host creative challenges, most likely because of the popularity of NaNoWriMo. So get creating!

Or just sport a mustache.

WG 2010-19: Getting Graphic

This week’s WG is about graphic novels. Now, despite the fact that I’m married to a webcomic artist, my experience with comics is extremely limited. I am slowly (oh, so slowly) working my way through the Death Note manga series and have read the first few collections of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but I’ve only read three self-contained graphic novels: Malice, which was kind of meh; In Odd We Trust, which was pretty decent; and Cancer Vixen, which was absolutely excellent.

My to-be-read pile has quite a few goodies, however, including The Crow, Watchmen, Preludes and Nocturnes, and Maus. I look forward to those. I have to get into a special mode to read graphic novels, though, or else I just zip from word balloon to word balloon and miss the illustrations all together.  I suspect that comes from reading comic strips (which I love), since often the dialogue is all that really matters.  Not so in graphic novels.

I am also, ostensibly, writing my own graphic novel. As of this writing the story, dialogue, and storyboarding is all finished. All that’s left is the actual drawing. You know, just a minor step.

Writing Prompts Websites

Since Geocities is closing, I’m moving what little I still had over there to here. Today I added the Writing Prompt Websites list. Hope you find it useful.

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron: I confess, I didn’t do this as a twelve-week course. I tried a couple times, but realized that I was never going to be able to set aside three months for a self-guided class, so I went ahead and read it straight through. I suspect I waited too long, as I am not creatively blocked anymore. The ideas in the book are very good – the morning pages in particular are a useful habit to have. I wish there was a little less God talk, but the cover did warn me that this was a “spiritual journey” so I can’t really complain. The thing is, so many of the things attributed to God don’t have to be – for instance, unblocking your creativity doesn’t necessarily mean that God’s giving you more opportunities, just that you’re more open to spotting and pursuing said chances. But anyway, if you want to be more creative and just can’t seem to get yourself to do it, try this out. It certainly can’t hurt.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Write on Wednesday

This week’s WOW is about daily life versus writing life: Is your writing life healthy these days? How do you keep your writing life alive? What are some of the remedies you use to revive it?

Actually, my writing life has recently taken a bit of a turn for the better. I’m currently collaborating on a comic book series with my husband: I write the story and he does the art. Since he can’t really do anything until I’ve done my part, he regularly gets me back in front of the keyboard when I’ve been procrastinating. It’s not easy to find good collaborators, and I’m extremely lucky to have married someone I can also work with.

Lately I’ve also been doing a bunch of creative writing for swaps on Swap-bot. The latest two were fictional diaries: one from the point of view of a vampire, and one from that of a time traveler. They were a blast to write and it felt really good to get back into the groove again.

For a more short-term boost, I’ve collected a large number of writing prompt websites, which other people seem to use far more often than I. Instead of online prompts, I’m slowly working my way through Judy Reeves’s A Writer’s Book of Days, which is basically daily prompts plus weekly inspiration. I don’t write daily, so I’ve fallen a bit behind the schedule, but it’s a nice option to have whenever I feel like writing but need something to start with.

Lastly, one of my resolutions for this year is to finish The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. But not, of course, before finishing the next comic. :)

Write on Wednesday

This week’s Write on Wednesday is a short survey. I know I’ve been horrible about actually doing these on Wednesday, but ehh, whatever.

1. What’s your favourite genre of writing? — Humorous fiction, often with a fantastic bent.
2. How often do you get writer’s block? — I don’t really believe in writer’s block. Sometimes I have more trouble with a story than others, but I’ve never been like “OMG I can’t write anything!” I can always blather aimlessly on paper. The trick is turning it into something worth reading.
3. How do you fix it? — Blather aimlessly on paper until my brain stops farting around and gets down to business.
4. Do you type or write by hand? — Both. Freewriting is better by hand, for me, but when I’m really cooking on a story I prefer to type because I can do it far more quickly.
5. Do you save everything you write? — Yeah. I don’t always look at it again, but it’s all there, either on a drive or in a box.
6. Do you ever go back to an old idea long after you abandoned it? — Yup. Never turns out how I’d expected it to back in the day, but it’s always interesting.
7. Do you have a constructive critic? — My sister is helpful in general. Unless you mean Inner Critic, in which case not just no, but hell no.
8. Did you ever write a novel? — Only if you count NaNoWriMo, but I don’t.
9. What genre would you love to write but haven’t? — Historical fiction. My problem is that I get so excited when I first start a new project that I lack the patience to do the research, then once I get into the research I’ve lost momentum on the story. I’m kind of self-defeating that way.
10. What’s one genre you have never written, and probably never will? — Political drama (science fiction or otherwise).
11. How many writing projects are you working on right now? — Actively? Uh, I guess two. An interesting project on Swap-Bot and the next chapter of Animal Faith.
12. Do you write for a living? Do you want to? — I write for pleasure. I tell myself I would love to get paid for it, but deep down I suspect that harsh deadlines would turn it into a chore.
13. Have you ever written something for a magazine or newspaper? — It was a college magazine, but yeah. Some awful piece on Hare Krishnas.
14. Have you ever won an award for your writing? — Not unless you count a minor poetry award on Artella.
15. What are your five favourite words? — I don’t have favorite words, though an old boyfriend was convinced my favorite word was “obnoxious”.
16. Do you ever write based on your dreams? — I’ve tried but it never comes out very well. So instead I write down my dreams and occasionally take some of the imagery from them, rather than trying to turn the mess into something coherent.
17. Do you favour happy endings, sad endings, or cliff-hangers? — Happy endings. I don’t like going to all the bother of reading something only to have it be a cliff-hanger, nor do I enjoy making an emotional investment in characters only to be disappointed in the outcome. After all, there are more than enough sad and unresolved endings in real life.
18. Have you ever written based on an artwork you’ve seen? — Yes, and the artist loved the story. I kept meaning to write based on other stuff but haven’t gotten around to it yet.

Write on Wednesday

So tell me, what are the areas closest to your heart? What aspects of your life in general do you find yourself sharing in writing? Do you enjoy reading/writing personal essays? Who are some of your favorite essayists?

I could spout about various things close to my heart like education and beauty and adventure, but when I look back through my notebooks I find much uglier themes recurring: obsession over food, frustration with hypocrites, and fear of my future. My freewriting is often whiny or angry.

That said, when I come to the page with a specific subject in mind, I wax introspective about names and titles, come up with crackpot (and often intentionally humorous) theories, or preach about the importance of consistency. Some of these see the light of day; others rightfully stay hidden from the world.

A well-written personal essay can be grand. My personal favorites – David Sedaris and Laurie Notaro – are both very funny. I suspect that’s because it’s just so easy to find tragedy in the everyday that unearthing comedy from the same materials is a rare gift. Granted, not everything Sedaris and Notaro write is funny, but those occasional serious pauses are all the more meaningful for their rarity.

Alas, though I like to write personal essays, I often don’t know how to end them.

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