And Now a Few Words That Have Nothing to Do With Writing

I am currently armpit deep into a MS with a beginning and a middle but no end, and waiting on my Editor for Life to provide feedback for another finished novel. My head is full of [too many] words. So I guess I’ll just unleash a rant on a completely unrelated subject.

Equality and the Fairness Issue

For some reason, there’s been a lot of emphasis put on the “virtues” of being “equal” or “fair.” I really don’t get it.

I know. I’m old. I’m a freaking dinosaur. I’m definitely not hip. I’m so opinionated that I’m politically incorrect. I’m also busy with my own pursuits; I don’t have time to luxuriate in new (maybe imagined?) slights.

There seems to be some consensus that if only the playing field were level, people would be happy. If only minorities could get a special dispensation for being minorities, they could get into college. Or if only the Evil Rich One Percent would give away all their money, the poor wouldn’t be poor. Even our President and our Pope says we have to do something about income inequality.

If only we could get special consideration for our shortcomings, no matter what they are.

If only, if only.

(Let me say right here, right now, that I’m several shades of minority, I’m a woman, and I’ve been on the dole – for three months, the worst three months of my life. So I’m not an over-privileged white person who has never had to struggle.)

It’s not fair! *stomps foot* Remind you of something? Like a headstrong toddler who wants candy NOW or a defiant teen who wants a later curfew? As if demanding “fairness” will make the world right.

The world isn’t right; it was never right. It’s not going to be right, ever.

Life is not fair, so what?

I might be in the minority, but the purpose of life is not to get everything you want. The purpose of life is to work for everything you want. It’s to take your struggles, puzzle out a solution, and come out on the other side a better person.

The past might be a bad thing, full of heartbreak and injustices. So what?

At what point do you drop the past and journey into the present (and the future) on your own two feet?

One should build (positively) on the mistakes of others, instead of falling back on the negatives of the past.

And here, for my own personal rant of things that aren’t fair:

1. It’s not fair that my ancestors were Native American. It’s not fair that my great-grandfather had to take my grandmother (when she was a toddler) and hide her in the northern bogs of Minnesota to escape the Bureau of Indian Affairs and their plan to put them on a reservation. It’s not fair that for much of her life my grandma couldn’t vote, hold property, or drink alcohol because she was 1/2 Chippewa.

2. It’s not fair that the male members of my Greek grandfather’s family were killed by the Turks, and that he had to travel across the ocean all by himself to start a new life in America.

3. It’s not fair that my father had to join the Army to escape poverty. It’s not fair that after he married my mother, she had to wait in the immigration line for two years and accumulate 4 inches of paperwork to come here and become a citizen.

4. It’s not fair that I had to quit college before finishing my degree. It’s not fair that eating and putting a roof over my head became more important than my education.

5. It’s not fair that my health insurance is so high (even though for an old lady, I’m in fairly good shape) that I’ll probably have to work the rest of my life just to be able to afford it.

6. Speaking of that, it’s not fair that I’ve worked since 16 (actually 13, if you count the time spent working for my father in his gas station) and that I’ll NEVER be able to retire.

7. It’s not fair that I have to pay taxes. It wasn’t fair that my tax dollars couldn’t fund a decent school system and we had to pay out of pocket of our kids’ education, or that our tax dollars aren’t enough to repair the city-owned sidewalk in front of our house and we’ll have to pay for that ourselves. Or that we pay exorbitant fuel taxes to keep the roads up, but they’re still like driving on the moon. (I wouldn’t mind taxes, if I could see a return on investment that wasn’t lining some millionaire politician’s pocket with retirement possibilities.)

I guess I could throw a couple more trivial unfairness issues on that shit pile, ones that have to do with writing. It’s not fair that I don’t have unlimited time to write, or that I don’t have a wonderful agent, or that I’m not traditionally published, or that I’m not sitting on a pile of writing-related money.

*********This part of unfairness rant over. It didn’t feel good, so it was likely not worth it.************

My husband (who is very wise) says that for some the whole “fairness” issue is not one of leveling the field, but rather it’s borne out of jealousy. Whipping out fairness (or unfairness) is the easy fall-back explanation for everything not right in your world. It’s a way of blaming everyone else for your woes, instead of working toward fixing the problem on your own. You can give people whatever they want, but you can’t give them happiness, or equality. These things come from within.

As for me, I’m going back to doing what I do best: making my own world better, despite my shortcomings, my history, and my circumstances.

And I’ll be happy no matter how unfair life is.

 

 

 

 

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Gearing Up for NaNoWriMo

Can you believe we’re already into the second week of October? With the current edit, I’ve been neglecting this blog (The original deadline for edit completion was the end of February. Then the end of July. Then the end of September. You know how that goes…) Because I’m armpit deep into rewrites, I  haven’t given much thought to NaNoWriMo this year, even though I plan on participating.

Some of my best work comes out of NaNo. No, really. There’s something about a forced program that really makes one productive. It could be the whips and chains on the wall. And Dr. Wicked running on my laptop helps, too.

NaNoWriMo forced me to complete both Virtually Yours (a love story in thirty days) and Virtually Yours Forever (a wedding in thirty days). Both books were relatively easy for the NaNo challenge. I had characters that I knew intimately (much, much easier for the second book). I had story lines for each character, and an end result in mind.

I’m a pantser, and I detest writing outlines with a passion reserved for my other dislike (squirrels), but it helps to have a plan. While waiting for October to whiz by quickly, why not take a few minutes of time to sketch out your NaNoWriMo strategy. These seem to work for me:

1. Devise your story. This means you must have a beginning, a middle, and an end. It doesn’t have to make sense, so don’t worry about that. Just remember this mantra: a person you like wants something very badly and is having a terrible time obtaining the goal.

2. Figure out your basic characters. You don’t need an entire cast, but start out with one or two people. Antagonist? Protagonist? You can fold in other secondary characters later. You’ll want to write down names, ages, what they look like, and a few basic personality traits. BASIC, remember? Save the rest for the real rewrite on December 1.

3. Choose a setting and become familiar with it. My settings tend to be places I’ve been or lived in. Virtually Yours started out as an online venture. If you are writing fantasy, you’ll have a harder job. I personally don’t get how some writers devise elaborate other worlds (I still think the Three Acre Wood was out of the ordinary) but hey, go with your talent.

4. If you have time, work on a schedule. You’ll have to somehow spew forth at least 1,667 words per day during the month of November, and unless you’re a magician or are retired with all the time in the world, finding time is going to be an issue. (It is for me.) Just remember: It can be done!

Once NaNoWriMo begins, just write. Don’t worry about back story, don’t concern yourself with spelling, edits, don’t even think about grammar. Just start writing, and don’t stop. You might want to carry a notebook like I do. Sometimes you can’t get to a computer, but inspiration will hit you where you can write things down for later.

Look to other participants for help, with strategies or just to commiserate. There’s no such thing as having too many writerly friends, and most writers make great cheerleaders.

If you would like to follow me on my NaNo journey, you can find me here.

Fluff and Stuff – Getting The Junk Out of the Trunk

The road to hell is paved with adverbs. ~Stephen King

Truer, writerly words have never been written. When editing, the rule of thumb is to eliminate any word that ends in the dreaded “-ly.”

I’ve been editing my completed novels (one for YEARS), and while the first pass-through with the red pen might include a perfunctory Microsoft Word Find and Replace of adverbs (and adjectives, the adverbs’ junky step-sibs), there are several other writing no-nos a serious writer might miss. (Easy to do in a shit-storm of fancy descriptors, believe me.)

However, Word’s Find and Replace is rudimentary. I also use Smart Edit, which takes your entire manuscripts and evaluates it for language redundancies. The first time I ran my words through, I realized (with dismay) that, yes, I really DO write like I speak. I cringed as I went through the work to tighten up my sloppy sentences. Some of my mistakes didn’t occur once, twice or three times, but HUNDREDS of times.

It’s nearly impossible to write 100K words and not use the same word or phrase a number of times, especially in dialogue. The reader learns about your characters through their speech. Still, nothing in the written word irritates me more than hum-drum prose, I didn’t want to sound boring. (My first incarnation of Cadence included several thousand uses of “family.” Oy. And OUCH.) With much thought, I kept most of my re-usable words down to 50 or less throughout the entire manuscript.

After you edit out the adverbs and adjectives, then the writer must take a look at the verbs. Passive verbs, a no-no-no. Finding Cadence was once full of passive verbs, perhaps because when I first started writing, Cadence was a passive woman, and I was a passive writer. While toughening her up, I became the warrior writer. All it took was to take the “was” out. “I was looking” turned into “I looked.” (This is a gross simplification, of course.) It’s so brainlessly easy, I don’t know why I didn’t see it before.

And of course, there are the weak, junky verbs: brought, came, enter, gave, held, go, turn, look, stare, watch, struck, ran, move, climb, remove, put, stand, saw. Weak verbs are precisely the reason why I reach for the Thesaurus.

Recently, I’ve taken to tightening up even more. I call this method of editing getting out the fluff and stuff. For one thing, I noticed that I use “something” and “everything” way too much, even in dialogue. I evaluated my usage: Perhaps the speaker knows what the “something” or “everything” is, but does the reader? Is it implied in a previous passage? If that’s the case, you don’t need it. If it’s not implied, it’s necessary to spell it out. Yes, I know what I’m seeing in my head, but the reader may not see it with the words I choose.

You’ll want to delete overused phrases – “at the end of the day” or “through the years” etc. and the purple-y, clumsy prose.

Editing out the fluff and stuff isn’t easy. It may be a harder edit to accomplish. You’ve been looking at your words for months (or in my case, YEARS). You’re invested in your character, you think about the time you’ve spent, the blood, sweat and tears and labor pains. It’s a lot to push that all aside and do the right thing. (And if you’re like me, you’re a horrible proofreader anyway.) What I’ve found is that my paragraphs are lean and mean, and I’ve managed to pare down my word count. (Yes, I’m paring DOWN. I have too many words!)

My advice is to take the plunge. It may take a lot to trim and tone, but in the end, it might be the best exercise your manuscript will ever get.

 

The (High) Price of Art

I spent Friday and Saturday in the Michigan Silversmith Guild booth at the Ann Arbor Art Fair, where I drank lots of water in stifling hot and humidity and hoped to sell a bunch of my creations.

(As luck would have it, my newly re-named “Merkabah” (in honor of my author-friend, LZ Marie) bracelets sold out by Thursday afternoon. Win for me.)

As with writing, I do a fairly decent job of making jewelry, but I’m not such the hot commodity that I can quit my day job. If only…

It’s hard to compete at the art fair. It’s the self-proclaimed largest one in the country, and that means creativity is oozing from every pore of every human being within five miles of the A-Squared. Plus, each Guild member is a great talent, and there are twelve of us sharing a booth. I have no idea yet how I did, as I haven’t picked my inventory up. Hopefully, it’s enough to cover the booth rent.

While my jewelry is cool, it’s also rather eclectic. Steam-punk-y. Left of center. Big! With lots of rocks and stones, and lots of twisted wire. It takes a certain type of person to wear one of my creations; my art is not meant for mass consumption, which is why I don’t mind that I’m not deluged with fans. I like the slow and easy pace of creating. I’m lazy! Well…lackadaisical. Art of any kind for me is about the journey, not about the cha-ching at the end of the road.

Which is why I price my stuff reasonably. I love the creative process, but I don’t ever want to see my work again. Let someone else love it.

At the end of the final day, a couple of older ladies stepped up to the booth. One was enamored of this:

pendantsold

(It’s copper, with pyrite, agate, citrine, and peridot. And I made the chain and clasp.)

The other lady preferred my silver creations. It was late, nearly the end of the fair, but I pulled out piece after piece (after piece – I sometimes forget how many pieces I have!) and they both ooh-ed and ahh-ed.

The one woman, however, kept coming back to the copper pendant. She really loved it.

She asked me for a discount. I gave her a little bit of one, but she hesitated. She was a little older and lived on a fixed income, but her friend was encouraging. She eyed the piece, fingered it, kept bringing it to her neck and back again, looked at herself in the mirror. I explained the hours of work I’d invested in the piece, that making the chain itself was a pain in the behind, that the peridot alone was worth a lot of money. She said she understood.

They both spoke of losing family members in the last year. These were new friends, their bond made while in group grief counseling. Shopping the art fair wasn’t just retail therapy, it was a search for some sort of beauty in a tumultuous life, a life that wasn’t always fair.

Again they came back to the copper pendant. Lady’s Friend said, “You should get this. The way it’s designed, it really speaks to you.”

Lady: “Yes. It’s just like my life.”

What could I do? I discounted it more, and she walked away happy.

I’m happy too. Happy that she’s happy.

You might ask why I’m writing about this, when this blog is all about the writing experience from my perspective. Basically it’s this: sometimes writing, like art, isn’t about making money. Oh sure, money is nice, it’s real nice, especially if you have bills to pay.

A writer can get frustrated with creating, with the editing process, with querying, with rejection. You might want to skip over the journey to get to the pot of gold. If you feel that way, DON’T DO IT. It’s not about the money, and if it is for you, you’re in the wrong line of work. Sometimes you have to give joy to get joy.

Spread that mantra around to the rest of your life, and you’ll find contentment.

 

Review Watching: Dangerous Waters, Don’t Go Near

I keep my Twitter-feed open while I work at my day job. You never know what might pop up. Most Tweets are mundane (like my own regarding my craving for horseradish), some are hilarious (Texts from Last Night, or my daughter’s arcane musings as a hipster in San Francisco), but mostly I use Twitter as a writing reference. Lots of good articles on these Internets, you know.

Oh. And I *discreetly* stalk agents and authors.

So this Tweet recently pops up. Truer words have never been spoken.

Amy Boggs@notjustanyboggs 7m A reminder not to respond to reviews. Once your book leaves your hands, it’s no longer solely yours. You can’t control how readers react.

Thinking about reviews is a timely subject. While on my quick trip to Colorado, I finished two novels, one by an author-friend, the other a random novel I picked up at Barnes and Noble, one with a photo of the Golden Gate Bridge on the cover. (I’m such a sucker for these covers. Authors should slap a photo of the Golden Gate on every cover, no matter what the genre, and I’d buy the book. Yeah. Math for Dummies with a photo of the Bridge on it-priceless.)

Once home from my voyage, I did the Goodreads thing and logged that I’d read the books and also gave my reviews. I rarely have time for words, but I make use of the star ratings. While there, I scrolled down to read the reviews of other readers.

Okay, so I’m clueless, or perhaps just too busy to peruse the entirety of the Goodreads web site. Or maybe I never noticed that readers were writing such comprehensive reviews. Tons of readers, dozens of reviews.

Each book had both huge fans who wrote glowingly of great story lines and meaningful social situations, and those non-fans who panned the book in question, saying that the characters were shallow or the proof-reading was flawed, or something else didn’t appeal. Blah, blah, blah. While it’s interesting to read what others think, their opinions will not sway my opinion of the author or the book.

(It’s actually amusing. Like reading the comment section of the Huff-Po Political Page.)

In fact, I have purchased books because they’ve gotten bad reviews. Largest case in point: Fifty Shades of Gray, although I’ve also purchased other books simply because someone else hated it. I guess I need to see for myself. Besides, every book is worth something, even if it’s horribly written. The author obviously put in time, effort, and energy into producing a novel. To me, even a self-published e-book is worth a spin, if you have the time to read it.

I know my own book and my past articles have reviews. I’ve read them, but I don’t take them to heart. Like Ms. Boggs says, once your work leaves your hands, it’s no longer your baby. It’s sprouted wings and belongs to the masses. If every sharp word from a reviewer causes a pang, perhaps you should consider a different calling than writing. As authors, you certainly don’t want to get dragged into a shouting match with a person who has penned a bad review on your baby. Smile, take a deep breath, and walk away. Silence is golden.

That’s my wise word to the author. For readers, I would weigh each book review carefully. What appeals to one person might not appeal to you, and vice versa. Don’t judge a book by its review.

Watching reviews is like watching the white waters of a swollen river. It might be pretty, but you don’t want to go near. If you’re a writer, write something else; if you’re a reader, pick up a book.

 

Change: Not Bad, But Scary – So USE It!

Celebrating the fact that I’ve been writing every day this week!

As I alluded to in this post, a writer can make use of the rigors of daily life as a tool.

Thinking about rigors, I realize most emotion springs from one thing: CHANGE.

Some people don’t like change. They think change is bad. If you’re old, you want life to stay as it was “in the good old days.” If you’re young, you don’t want to leave your mommy and go to school all day. No matter what the scenario, if you like a situation and it changes, the immediate reaction is of repulsion.

Let’s face it; change is damned scary. You’re enjoying your life, comfortable in the status quo, when suddenly a gust of wind (change) knocks you off your moorings and into the unknown.

How dare there be change! Right?

Writers should take advantage of the gust of wind and note their emotional response.

Example: Your marriage of many years threatens to disintegrate. You get news that a close family member has a life threatening medical condition. You make one small mistake and end up totaling your car.

It would be SO EASY to wallow in the emotion of your change. For example: damn it, but I’ve given him two decades of my life! or how will I live without my mom? or I hate walking, and that guy (uninsured, of course) in the other lane is a jerk for hitting me! Instead of marinating in emotion, write down the emotion of your change; the hurt you felt when you learned of the infidelity, the vulnerability of abandonment, the loss of your family member, the rage you feel knowing the insurance won’t cover it and you have no money. Your characters will need to express these things, once you, Author-Person, gets down to the business of weaving the bits of your ideas into a viable story.

It doesn’t have to make sense; it doesn’t even have to be sentences or paragraphs. It doesn’t take long, and it doesn’t have to be pretty. On the off occasion when I don’t have a notebook, I’ll jot down my winds of change in my iPhone notes.

There is only so much time in a day. Make use of it.

Writing and The Art of the Metal Scrap Pile

In addition to writing – like I have time for other pursuits – I also create jewelry. It started out a simple diversion with pretty beads, but has now grown into a monster of another color. I love rocks and stones, I like copper and silver (silver especially now that the price has plummeted.) My creations are, how do we say this? Not mainstream. It’s not exactly steampunk either. Like my writing, it’s… me. Singular, unusual, and me.

Okay, it’s more than a diversion and you twisted my arm; call me a jewelry artist. A crazed one.

Each Tuesday during the school year, I take a metals class at the local art center. This is known as three hours of ME TIME. I’m a busy woman; if I didn’t consciously manufacture time for writing, working out, gardening, cooking, or cleaning, I would not write, I’d be 300 lbs., my yard would be overgrown, I’d subsist on fast food, and you wouldn’t be able to see the floor through the cat hair. That’s why I carve out one teeny, tiny three hour niche for playing with wire (and fire).

My latest endeavor once I get to class is going through the discards box, which normally contains about 50 lbs. of copper scrap. Copper is the provided metal of choice for this studio. (Honey, if I work in silver and there are leftovers, my bits and pieces goes into my own personal scrap pile.) The failed pieces of other classes, twisted wire, sheets of fire patina flat stock, shards of cut copper triangles that are sharp enough to be used in an operating room, I scavenge through for just the perfect shade or color or twist. I especially love the wire I pull out of there; you can’t replicate the compaction and then the freed wire squiggles, even if you tried.

I take home my little gems of garbage that start out like this:

wire

and sometimes I end up creating something like this:

twistedbracelet

It’s the same with writing.

On my computer hard drive, I have bits and pieces of creative moments. Maybe they’re not well formed stories. Maybe they’re failed stories or the beginnings of ambitious novels. Maybe they are observations or opinions or love letters or chastising treatises on the human condition. Maybe they are parts of poems or the chorus of a song that I wanted to finish once I came into close proximity to my guitar. I have a file of interesting names, places, restaurants. I might note the debris on the beach or the sway of black-eyed Susans in the wind or the roiling energy of clouds before the impending storm.

As a writer, there are always times of self-doubt and self-loathing. Unless you’re a big name author, and a super smart one at that, you’re going to find that writing is hard work. You might love your work, but someone else cuts it down. Your real life might take a turn for the worse and you may want to blow up the entire works as a result. I know of writers who delete and start over.

I’m not that type of artist. I can’t be; I’ve invested too much in my art. I don’t have a lot of free time, and I especially have little time to create anew. Besides, it’s worth it to poke around in the scrap pile. From my perspective, some of the best art can be culled from the depths of the trash heap, re-worked, re-purposed, spiffed up and shined to a glossy finish.

It is so worth the effort.