Writing Process

Critique Group

I attended my first critique group today. It went well. This was the first time the group was meeting so we handed out what we wanted critiqued, in this case a chapter, and then went over expectations. I am pretty excited/terrified about this. I almost didn’t go but I sucked it up and did it. The first rule we talked about was: be nice. Best rule ever! Most of the people in the group are also in the discussion group I go to. This means some very important things:

  1. I am very comfortable. This matters because if I get too nervous in the situation I’ll look for an escape. I’m going to make this my comfort zone.
  2. I’ve been hearing about the other people’s stories for a while now but not read any of them. It will be great to really dive into these amazing worlds.
  3. While I think everyone will be nice about it, no one will be too afraid to tell me if something I wrote is awful. Sometimes it’s easy to get too close to a project and lose objectivity.

There are more benefits of course.

  1. Osmosis. You can’t be around super creative people without having your own creativity stirred.
  2. I might be in a position to truly help other writers. That’s something I think every writer should strive for.
  3. Each of us will only get better.

This won’t be the first time I’ve been critiqued but it will be the first time I’ve done this in a group setting. Wish me luck and I’ll post an update next week on how it goes.

Random Writing Tip – Free-writing to Prime Your Muse

Sometimes when I want to work on my WIP I sit down at the computer and…nothing. No ideas, no creativity, no words come out. My muse is: sleeping, hiding, sulking, missing, etc. I used to get irritated and try to force myself to work. Still nothing. Finally I turned to free-writing. It’s kind of like stretching before exercising. It’s priming the pump. If I do this for either 10, 15, or 20 minutes (depending on mood) then I generally manage to get my creativity going. If you want to try this all you need to do is grab a timer and either pen and paper or get on your computer. Set the timer for 10 minutes the first time, to see if that works for you, and write. It doesn’t matter what you write. It can be awful, it can be a whole lot of nothing. The point is to do the process and get yourself in the mood to create. I personally like to use a pen and paper to do this. Since I normally do my writing on a computer, this works as a nice little change-up for my brain. The first time I did it, I felt ridiculous. What I wrote in the beginning was silly. It started a lot like this:

I have no idea what on earth to write. All I know is I can’t seem to get started today. My muse hates me or it’s busy. I wish I could just write whenever I want to. It’s really frustrating to finally have the time to do it and then have nothing to say.

More of this went on for several minutes but about halfway into it I started writing the pros and cons of writing when you have a timer sitting next to you. When said timer went off I ignored it and kept going for another 10 minutes. After that I upped the time I did this exercise for. I certainly didn’t write a thing of beauty, but I did write. Afterwards I turned to the computer and ended up writing several scenes, some back story meant only for me, and an amazing fight scene. It won’t be that great every single time, but if it helps even a little then it’s worth it. Some people work better when under pressure and if you’re one of those then I encourage you to use a timer often. http://lifehacker.com/productivity-101-a-primer-to-the-pomodoro-technique-1598992730. This link will take you to one of the many ways to use a timer effectively.

I’ll be honest with you. The first few times I did this I wrote more like the quote above. Eventually I got to the point where I would write about my day, or my dogs, kids, husband. Sometimes I would look around my office and pick something random and write anything I could think of about it. Again, think of this like stretching. If your pen is moving, or your fingers are hitting keys, then you are doing it right. Experiment to find the amount of time that works for you.

Happy writing!

How do you define flash fiction?

There are many definitions for flash fiction. I looked it up and the first thing I found said:

a style of literature in which stories are extremely short and often consist of less than 300 words

Three hundred words! I see that as more micro fiction but I’m pretty wordy so I could be wrong. Several sites that publish flash fiction take submissions that are 500-1000 words. I am working on a course that says 500 words. I guess I think anything under 1000 works.

Using a fantasy prompt I wrote a piece last night that was intended to be flash fiction, in this case, under 500. In the end, before any editing, it was 1075. I also wrote a few questions for myself that I suspect, when answered, will up the word count considerably. Now I’m not sure what I should do with it. I could answer my questions and write whatever else comes to me and let it be a short story. I could cut away at it and force it down to five hundred. For all I know there could be thousands of words in my head waiting to spill out for it. Since I’m trying to work on getting good at flash fiction the logical side of me says to pare it down. The other side says not to restrict myself. I may have to put that story aside for now to let it finish cooking in my brain!

For those of you who write flash fiction, I have two questions

  1. What would you do in a case like this?
  2. What is your take on the definition of flash fiction?

I’m sure a lot of you would not have used a fantasy prompt but I’m trying to challenge myself. Also since I normally write fantasy, I have a hard time coming up with ideas for non-fantasy fiction, short or long. If you are curious, the prompt I used was:

Your character finds dragon bones in a cave. What happens when he/she picks them up?

Any suggestions are welcome!

Flash fiction roadblock

I’m working on an online flash fiction class. One of my biggest struggles is I find it hard to keep it short. All the ideas I’ve ever come up with, except a couple, have always leaned more towards novel length. Because I see short story writing as one of my weaknesses I’m very determined to do this. The problem is I’m not sure how to come up with ideas for flash fiction stories, or even regular short stories. In the class I’m doing there is a method but it doesn’t really work for me. I find myself coming up with ideas that are within my other current projects. If not that, then I come up with boring things. Perhaps I just haven’t found subjects that interest me yet. I fear that I will lose interest and that is not to be allowed! While trying to come up with short story stuff, I’ve managed to come up with lots of ideas for full length books. If any of you write a lot of short stories, on command, feel free to share how you come up with ideas that get you started.

Do NOT take that break from writing!!

So I did nanowrimo and like most others who did the same, I’m exhausted. It was exhilarating in a way. It was overwhelming in another. I feel happy that I ‘won’ but disappointed that I mostly wrote crap. One thing that happened was I developed the desire to take a little break from writing. Just a few days. I needed to get away from the computer. I had to clean and buy groceries. That perpetual ache in my back wanted me to sit up straight for a bit. My poor brain needed some breathing space. So I took the break and all that happened is I proved what an idiot I can be. It’s now December 5, and I haven’t written a thing. I haven’t worked on my story. I didn’t even do a single writing prompt. I started to work on an online flash fiction course, but I stopped. I realize now that the pace of last month made my poor rebellious heart feel chained to my desk. I’ve been seeing writing as a chore. Now I have to fight through all that. No more break. I need to sit down and write. I figure if I do that every day again then I’ll get back in the habit but my goals will be nothing like November’s goals. Hopefully I’ll still have days where I write thousands of words but if I don’t I won’t feel guilty or get depressed because I might not finish in a month. Maybe I’ll alternate between writing and editing. I only know that taking all these days off was bad for me. If I don’t post for a few days, you know what I’ll be doing.

Writing Prompts, Helpful or Not?

I’m of two minds when it comes to writing prompts. Some can be helpful and others aren’t. I got a book of daily prompts. It consisted of a list of words that you were supposed to pick three of and write, well anything. That did nothing for me. It made me freeze up and anything I managed to write was awful. I hear that type works for a lot of people and if you’re one of those people, that’s awesome. Continue doing what you’re doing. For me, it makes me feel boxed in and pressured. I have the type of personality that rebels against being told what to do, even when it’s ME doing the bossing around. Occasionally the list of words worked for me. Mostly it was nonsense that came out. I’ll give some examples of these lists.

  • money, great, sort, now, flower
  • torch, pop, swallow, beige, snow
  • kind, wonderful, chicken, yogurt, after

If you’re anything like me you see those lists and think: huh? That doesn’t do much for me. Added that almost everything I write is fantasy, I get nothing. Not one thing in that list interests me. If seeing that gives you the best idea on the planet then you need to buy one of those books that gives you 365 days worth of lists and have at it. Let me know what you came up with.

One kind of prompt can do wonders for me. I saw one recently that said something like – You are given a key that can unlock only one lock, any lock, what would you do with it? I can make a story out of that! Another said – Your character finds something small lying on the ground along their path, what is it and what does it do? I can and did use that to make a cool subplot in a series I’ve been working on. I see that type of prompt as almost a what-if question and I love what-ifs for plotting, characters, anything!

Another prompt I don’t care for is the ‘describe me’ type. Examples: 1. Describe your hometown to someone who’s never been there. 2. Write the rules to your favorite game. That’s boring!

A better one would be: Pretend you’re a rock, tree, building, etc, and tell the story of a momentous event from its point of view. I haven’t tried this one but it’s on my list because that could be interesting.

So some work for me and some don’t Do writing prompts work for you? Please tell me most of you actually get writer’s block too. If prompts don’t work, what does it for you?

Plotter or Pantser?

So which is best? Being a plotter or a pantser? I really have no idea at this point, but I suspect I’m somewhere in between. I did a lot of plotting for nanowrimo. I won so that seems like a good thing right? I’m not so sure. Somewhere in the middle I lost my way. All my planning and I managed to get stumped? Yep. I made an outline, not a vague outline or a simple one. I made a full-out official looking outline (I hated it). I had a blank wall outside my bedroom door so I made plot cards and taped them up. I didn’t make a card per scene. I made 3-7 per scene. That I loved. When I got writer blocked in the face I looked through my outline and found nothing. I stared at my plot wall and was able to at least see gaps that needed filling and get some more work done. One things that was really helpful was a character sketch. I had written down everything thing I knew about each character, adding anything else I figured out along the way. Those pages helped me come up with what-if questions. Those questions are what got me back on track. Still, it was like a battle plan and most of my strategy went out the window after the first ‘really cool amazing new’ idea popped into my head. Basically the conclusion I’ve come to is I need some planning, but too much doesn’t work for me. Having a simplified outline is a good jump point. Writing character background stories is great for me too. My wall of index cards was wonderful. Even so, at heart, I’m a pantser. Most of what I wrote was unplanned. That’s how my mind works. I need a little organization and a little clutter to function and I’m perfectly happy with that.

That said, I’m sure I’ll change my tune when I really dig into revisions.

Name questions

I’m wondering how other people feel about female characters with names that are traditionally male. I’m not talking John or George. I’m thinking more like Ian, Ethan, Rhett, Nathan, Liam. I have a character that just won’t accept a feminine name.  She’s not boyish, I think she’s just stubborn. This is a girl who inadvertently caused the deaths of most of the human population. She steps up and tries to fix things. She joins the fight to save as many people as she can and stop the war that she knows is her fault.

I want her to have a strong name. In fact I’ve been looking up names that mean strong. I haven’t liked most of the female names for her. I almost liked a few that are feminized male names but not enough.  I have liked several male names. None of the ‘unisex’ names were quite right. My issue is I want to name her whatever I want but I don’t want my choice to throw off a reader. This particular story is pretty new and I don’t want to move too far ahead without knowing who this girl is.  She’s 16 or 17. I haven’t decided exactly what she looks like but I have a vague mental image going. I know she’ll appear more dainty than she is. She’s short and angry. She’s curious and speaks before she thinks, both of which help to cause a disaster. This story is forming oddly for me. I’ve never had another plot so clear in my head without knowing more about my main character.

I guess I’m hoping if I name her then I’ll start to figure her out. Naming characters is not one of my strong suits. For now I’ll go back to writing and typing in GIRL when I need to use her name.

My nanowrimo note for the day is I’m at 38,000. I have finished the rough draft for that. I know that sounds really short but not only is it a book for kids, I need to fill in a lot of holes. I must work on my description but I don’t want to get into editing mode so it will wait until December. I’ve moved on to the story mentioned above. Hopefully between the two of them I will get to 50,000

Writing Groups

I went to my writing discussion group today. We meet every Sunday and talk writing. In this group we don’t do critiques. We talk about what we are writing and the craft in general. Everyone bounces ideas off each other. Sometimes we do writing activities together. Mostly it’s like therapy. We each seem to need some contact with other humans who love what we love, or sometimes who feel the same frustration and pain we feel when it comes to writing. Just being around other creative types can inspire. Today I felt a bit lost in my story. I’ve finished a Very rough draft of book one and I’m tiptoeing into the second story. The problem is I have no idea where it’s going. I haven’t been able to truly sit down and plot it out. I have the basics but the first story has evolved so much that what I have for the second is obsolete. This wasn’t so bad if it wasn’t nanowrimo time. So I griped about this to the group and everyone starts pitching ideas and asking questions. I came away with many lovely what-if questions and my mind is on fire with idea explosions.

I think every writer should get involved in some kind of group like this. For some it’s a critique group. For people too terrified to let anyone ready rough drafts, discussion groups work. Some groups work on projects together. Find the type of group that works for you. Writing is such a solitary endeavor that it’s good to have some regular contact with real people. It’s too easy for creative people to become, if not antisocial, then asocial. Going to my group pulls me out into the real world for a short time. In a way it’s like being able to be social and still live in my stories at the same time. For me that’s about as social as I get. I wonder if people in other creative arts ever get together like this.

Nanowrimo update: I didn’t get much written today but I got some planning done. I should have plenty to write tomorrow. I’m almost believe it’s possible to still win this year. Only 17,000 words to go!

Naming characters

Character names are always hard for me. I tend to like unique or obscure names and I rarely use last names. Most of what I write is fantasy so last names aren’t super important for every character so I shouldn’t complain. I also try really hard not to have names that sound too alike or start with the same letter in the same story. My Nanowrimo project is a middle grade fantasy. This tale has been rattling around in my head for over a year but it wasn’t until this October that I decided it was time to sit down and write it. Until very recently only the main character had a name. While I’ve been writing I’ve been using place holders for the three other main characters and a couple of side characters that have shown up so far. It’s a little time consuming to have to stop and think about typing FAIRY, BOY, CENTAUR, and TROLL every time but I didn’t want to assign a random name that might stick. That all started to change a couple of days ago. In my nano group several people started posting in the forums about name generators, baby name sites, etc. I’ve scoured baby name sites but they don’t generally have good options for non humans. I checked out some of the name generators but most didn’t have enough options. Then I stumbled on one that actually helped.


If you check it out, it might be a bit overwhelming because there are so many things to look at but it’s truly worth it, in my opinion. I didn’t pick any of the two name choices but I saw some first names that I had never heard of and that got my mind rolling.

So after much searching and more thinking I have named my most important characters. Levi, who is a human boy who has a little magic. Yes I know I’ll have to come up with a last name, and I dread it greatly. Nox is a female troll. She’s really pretty and hates it because it makes it hard for her to scare anyone. There is a centaur named Cevon. He’s near sighted and therefore terrible at archery.

I often wonder if other people have as difficult a time as I do with names. Don’t take this wrong, but I certainly hope so. I’d hate to think I’m the only one. However, if you’re great at naming characters, please feel free to share your wisdom.